Monthly Archives: April 2011

CELEBRATING ONCOLOGY NURSING MONTH

May is Oncology Nursing Month, and though nursing overall is a career long overdue for celebration, oncology nurses are especially deserving of acknowledgment.  They offer medical care, pain relief and compassionate support to cancer patients in every stage of treatment from beginning chemotherapy to end of life hospice care.  It’s a job in which every day may bring both the joy of a successful recovery and the heartbreak of losing a patient with whom an emotional bond has formed.  Oncology nurses also support and inform patients’ families during treatment and provide invaluable assistance to physicians, surgeons and other hospital staff.  It is safe to say that without them oncology wards and clinics would be unable to function in a manner that allows individuals with cancer to get the best quality care with hope of the best possible outcome.

With many hospitals across the country facing near insurmountable budget cuts, not just oncology nurses but all nurses may find themselves without all the necessary equipment to provide patient care.  Most are already required to provide their own uniforms and scrubs, as well as stethoscopes, penlights and all-purpose dressing scissors.  Traveling home health care nurses may be further responsible for acquiring blood pressure monitors, fingertip pulse oximeters and other accessories, as well as tote bags to keep it all organized for quick and easy access.  Though nursing is generally considered a well-paying career, it’s also one of the most stressful, exacerbated by long hours, emotional and physical exhaustion and often a lack of respect and support from doctors and hospital administration.  Due to the economic crisis of the last few years, nursing also no longer boasts the job stability it once had.

If you know a nurse, show your appreciation in May by thanking them for their service in a difficult job.  Send flowers, offer to take them to lunch or dinner, or even consider providing them with one of the accessories mentioned above as a gift.  If nothing else, let them know that they’re the unsung heroes of healthcare, and you’re grateful for their hard work and dedication.  They deserve to hear it!


Gena Radcliffe
Medex Supply Blogger

CAN EARLY DETECTION MEAN AN END TO ALZHEIMER’S?

The U.S. National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association have worked together to create new guidelines for diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease that may help to catch and treat it in earlier stages.  The guidelines, updated for the first time in more than 30 years, recognizes three specific phases of the deteriorative brain disorder–an early, pre-symptomatic stage in which changes in brain structure can be detected by MRI scans, cognitive impairment and full-blown Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s Disease is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 65, but symptoms may present themselves many years earlier, starting with mood swings, loss of memory for names and places, confusion and difficulty with familiar tasks, such as dressing or paying bills.  Eventually the majority of all cognitive ability is lost to the illness, and the majority of Alzheimer’s patients die within seven years after diagnosis.  Though there is currently no cure, there are some preventative measures believed to hinder development of the disease, such as maintaining a diet heavy in fruits, vegetables and fish, light consumption of red wine and using medicinal marijuana.  The most effective measure so far in reducing the risk and effects of Alzheimer’s Disease is engaging in intellectual activities such as board games, crossword puzzles, reading or playing a musical instrument, as well as maintaining an active social life.

Alzheimer’s is thought to be caused by an accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain, followed by the loss of neurons and synapses in the cerebral cortex, which eventually causes portions of the brain to literally reduce in size.  The initial damage takes place often before the patient is even aware of a problem, and it is hoped that earlier detection according to the new diagnosis guidelines may offer doctors the ability to slow down or even stop further deterioration.  Earlier detection may also eventually lead to pattern recognition in people with Alzheimer’s Disease, which could open the doors for pre-screening and the possibility of a cure.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

AN APPLE A DAY

It looks as though the cliche of an apple a day keeping the doctor away might have some truth to it–a study at Florida State University in Tallahassee proved that eating at least one apple daily can lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation in cardiac arteries.  This is in addition to the other health benefits it offers, including regulating blood sugar and and controlling appetite.

In the study, 160 women were randomly assigned to eat a serving of either apples or prunes every day for one year.  By the end of the year, the women who were assigned apples exhibited a 14% drop in their overall cholesterol, as well as a reduction in the biochemicals and proteins that can cause arterial inflammation.  They even lost weight, an average of around three pounds over a year.  The women assigned to eat prunes also saw a reduction in cholesterol, but not at the same level as those who ate apples.

There are several theories as to why apples offer such benefits.  One is that apples contain pectin, fiber that blocks cholesterol absorption and allows the body to burn it instead of storing it.  Another is that apple peels contain antioxidants that prevent cellular damage.  Dried apples were used for the study, but it’s likely that fresh apples may be even more effective, and all varieties of apples are beneficial.  Apples are also believed to reduce the risk of some cancers, including prostate and lung, boost the immune system, protect the brain from the kind of damage that can lead to Alzheimer’s Disease and even whiten the teeth.

How many apples a day should you eat to keep high cholesterol away? Just one is sufficient, though two is probably even better.  An apple makes a fine addition to breakfast, or as a substitute for what would normally be a snack high in salt or fat during the day, and is often less expensive than other fruits.  If you don’t enjoy apples by themselves, try them chopped up and mixed into yogurt, sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon or dipped in natural peanut butter.  Unsweetened apple juice with no additives also has some of the same benefits, but not as much as just grabbing a whole apple from the fruit bowl and taking a bite right out of it.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

GETTING IN TOUCH WITH MASSAGE

Stress doesn’t just affect the mind, it also has a negative impact on the body.  It can cause chronic pain in the back, shoulders and neck, as well as tension headaches and migraines.  Most of time over the counter or even prescription pain medication is used for a quick fix, but if stress has got you feeling like you’ve been hit by a car, perhaps you should consider a massage.  A professional massage used to be considered a luxurious indulgence, often accompanied by a trip to a spa or high-end hotel.  But now that it’s proven to do more than just relax loosen up your muscles for a little while, many doctors are recommending massage as an alternative treatment for pain and stress relief.

Massage has roots in ancient civilization, including Rome, Greece, India, Japan and China.  There are nearly 30 different styles of massage, with the most common being Swedish, deep tissue, sports and trigger point.  Swedish massage involves gentle motion and kneading, and is most often used to promote relaxation and overall comfort.  Deep tissue massage, which involves more intense pressure on specific muscle groups, is usually used to treat pain and damaged muscles.  Sports massage, as the name indicates, is used by physical therapists to treat athletic injuries, while trigger point massage focuses on especially sensitive muscle groups.

Massage has been successfully used to manage pain, reduce muscle stiffness, lower blood pressure, boost immunity, relieve the side effects of chemotherapy and even help with anxiety and depression.  It’s even used on infants to stimulate muscle growth.  It is unknown how massage helps with anxiety and depression, though it’s suggested that people by nature find another person’s touch soothing and immediately relaxing.  Acupressure, which is similar to massage, is a suggested calming technique for panic attack sufferers.

Massage is recommended as supplementary pain management, not as a substitute for professional medical treatment.  Though some light massage can be performed at home with appropriate equipment, deep tissue massage should only be performed by a licensed massage therapist, and is best avoided by people with blood clotting disorders, rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis.  Most people can consider this a safe treatment, however, so if you’re feeling sore or out of sorts, instead of overdoing it on aspirin or other painkillers, consider a good rubdown instead.  The effects last longer and are better for you!

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY

You may have heard the heartbreaking story of Nathan and Elisa Bond, a Brooklyn, New York couple who was diagnosed with cancer within days of each other.  Nathan, 38, was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in February, then, just nine days later, received the terrible news that Elisa, 36, had stage 4 breast cancer.

Though it’s very rare for people as young as Nathan and Elisa to have colorectal or breast cancer, particularly if there’s no family history of it, it does happen on occasion, which is why early detection is crucial in cancer treatment and recovery.  In its earliest stages, colorectal cancer often exhibits no symptoms.  However, some symptoms include changes in bowel movements, such as color or consistency, abdominal discomfort and bloating, fatigue and unexplained weight loss.  Colorectal cancer symptoms often resemble those of less serious conditions, so it’s important to see a doctor if symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks.  Patients who are diagnosed at stage 1 have a 90% chance of survival five years after treatment, while at stage 4 that chance drops to less than 7%, with the cancer considered incurable.

Annual mammograms are usually recommended only to women over 40 or who have a family history of breast cancer, but women of all ages should be encouraged to perform regular breast examinations at home.  Any growths in the breasts should be addressed by a physician as soon as possible.  Though the vast majority of breast lumps are unrelated to cancer, those that are malignant may spread to the lymph nodes, lungs and other organs without treatment, so no lump should go ignored.  Women with stage 1 breast cancer have an excellent prognosis, with a survival rate of over 90%, and rarely require chemotherapy for treatment.  Stage 4 requires much more aggressive treatment, and has a survival rate of less than 20%.

The risk of both colorectal and breast cancer, as well as many other cancers can be lowered by not smoking, keeping alcohol use to a minimum, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight and diet.  However, nothing is more efficient than regular checkups with your doctor, and acknowledging when something just doesn’t feel right.  Nathan and Elisa’s story seems unthinkable, but the truth is that cancer can impact most families at some point.  The good news is that with efficient, timely care and treatment, most people with cancer can recover and go on with their lives, but it’s up to us to make the first move and see a doctor.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

ARE YOU JUST TIRED OR IS IT EXHAUSTION?

We all have days, or even weeks, where we want nothing more than to stay in bed all day.  You drink an extra cup of coffee or have more soda at work for the caffeine boost, and all you can think is “Gosh, I’m exhausted.”

But are you really exhausted, or are you just tired? There is a difference between the two, as well as fatigue, and it’s important to recognize it.  Tiredness is more of a physical issue, with sufferers reporting mild muscle weakness and moodiness.  It can usually be relieved with a good night’s sleep, or by rearranging one’s schedule to allow for more rest and relaxation.  People who are fatigued report difficulties concentrating, increased anxiety and sensitivity to light.  If you’ve ever heard someone say they’re “too tired to sleep,” that’s not an exaggeration–it is possible to be so fatigued that falling asleep is difficult, if not impossible.  Exhaustion can cause mental confusion that is so serious it resembles delirium, as well as sleeping problems and social withdrawal.

While tiredness can be relieved largely by getting more rest, exhaustion and fatigue may be related to underlying physical issues.  Fatigue lasting longer than two weeks should be addressed by a physician, as it could be caused by anemia, diabetes or irregular thyroid activity.  It may also mean that you’re under too much stress or are depressed.  Fatigue and exhaustion also must be relieved through different means than ordinary tiredness–for instance, caffeine, while often safely used as a quick cure for tiredness, can actually make fatigue worse.  Taking vitamin D, getting more sunshine and exercise, drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol can both relieve fatigue and exhaustion and lower the risk of it, though nothing is as effective as getting enough sleep and finding time to relax and regroup.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

STRETCHING TOWARDS A HEALTHIER HEART

The benefits of yoga in relieving depression and lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol have already been proven, but a recent study shows that yoga also relieves the effects of atrial fibrillation, a disorder that causes an irregular heartbeat.

In the study, 49 patients with atrial fibrillation participated in a three month long program that consisted of 45 minute long yoga sessions with a professional instructor three times a week, as well as sessions at home on their own.  At the end of the study, most of the patients reported that irregular heartbeat episodes were cut in half.  Fewer episodes meant a reduction in depression and anxiety, which contributed to an overall improved sense of health and well-being.  The results were impressive enough that researchers behind the study recommended that yoga be included in an overall treatment plan for atrial fibrillation, provided patients do not have any other physical limitations.

Yoga has fast become one of the most popular forms of exercise and alternative treatments for chronic pain and illnesses in the United States.  Once considered prohibitively expensive for most people, there are now classes available in most parts of the country for all ages and incomes, with some studios even offering a “pay what you wish” fee.  For those less inclined to take classes, DVDs and instruction manuals are available, as well as downloadable videos on YouTube and iTunes.  Yoga encourages not just physical exercise but aligning healthy breathing with movement, as well as “mindfulness,” a meditative state that helps with relaxation and stress relief.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

COLOR US HUNGRY

COLOR US HUNGRY

Would you eat beige Jell-O? How about a gray pickle? If your answer is no, you’re not alone—though the familiar green shade of a pickle comes from a flavorless artificial additive, the human brain registers it as tasting better than a pickle would without additional coloring.

Colored Jello

Though recently concerns have been raised over the effect artificial dyes in pre-packaged food have on children with hyperactivity disorders, a government panel concluded that the worries are unfounded.  Artificial coloring has long been added to junk food and convenience foods to make it visually appealing, and it’s worked so well that we now associate certain colors with certain flavors.  According to an article in the New York Times , color dictates how many foods taste to us.  For instance, plain vanilla pudding with yellow food coloring will taste like banana, while pink food coloring will make it taste like strawberry.  Our brains have been trained to correlate yellow colored foods with banana or lemon flavor, regardless of what the actual flavor may be.  It works in the opposite fashion as well—food without coloring will taste less flavorful.

Though food coloring has been deemed reasonably safe, some well-known brands such as Kool-Aid and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese are offering dye-free alternatives to their products, while organic food markets Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods refuse to carry products containing artificial coloring.  Pureed fruits and vegetables are often used as natural food coloring, but to less successful results than artificial.  Are Blue No. 1 and Red No. 40 here to stay? Probably, but once consumers realize that the color of a food’s impact on its taste is simply a trick of the mind, it may mean that marketers will eventually have to find new ways to attract business.

Gena Radcliffe
Medex Supply Blogger

WHAT’S IN THAT KISS?

WHAT’S IN THAT KISS?

Kissing may be a fun pastime, but it may also pass cavities from your sweetheart to you. According to a study released by the National Institute of Health, streptococcus mutans, one of the bacterias that causes cavities, can be transmitted from one mouth to another, much in the same way a cold virus is passed. It can even be transmitted to small children from caregivers who taste their food to make sure it’s not too hot. This bacteria can also cause tooth erosion and gum disease, even in those who have never previously experienced dental problems.

Don’t be too quick to kiss kissing goodbye, however. The good news is that the risk of bacteria transmission and its effects can be significantly lowered by simply maintaining proper dental habits. Brushing regularly, flossing, using antibacterial mouthwashes such as Listerine and chewing sugar-free gum can help wash away excess bacteria, while regular dental check-ups will catch signs of gum disease while it’s still treatable. So take care of your teeth, and keep smooching away!

Gena Radcliffe
Medex Supply Blogger

FIVE HEALTHY WAYS TO SPEND THAT TAX RETURN

Tax Day is two weeks from now, and hopefully we’ll all be getting refunds! While normally we have visions of flat-screen TVs or designer purses when waiting for that bank transfer or check to come through, here are a few suggestions for healthier ways to spend some excess income.

1. Get a bicycle.  Biking is a fun, inexpensive way to get exercise and fresh air, as well as explore your town.  With smart shopping a new bicycle can be purchased for a relatively low amount of money, or you can find a used one for even cheaper through Craigslist or other community bulletin boards.  Don’t forget to grab a helmet!

2. Buy a share in CSA.  If you’re interested in both eating healthier and supporting local farmers and gardeners, you may want to become involved in community supported agriculture, or CSA.  CSA group members purchase “shares” that allow them weekly or bi-weekly deliveries of fresh, locally grown produce for an entire season, with up to ten different kinds of vegetables. Half-shares can be purchased for smaller families on a budget, and most CSA groups offer payment plans for lower income members.  Some even offer shares for meat, dairy products and flowers!

3. Purchase home exercise equipment.  If you prefer to work out at home, exercise equipment and accessories such as resistance bands, kettle bells, yoga mats and weights can be found at a low cost online.  If you need a little guidance while exercising, you can download fitness podcasts or find yoga or Pilates videos at YouTube for free.  Make sure to check with your doctor beforehand if you have any health conditions that may restrict movement.

4. Join a gym.  Gone are the days when gym memberships cost three figures a month and were reserved to the wealthy.  With working class Americans being encouraged to get more active, many fitness center chains are lowering their monthly fees, some even to as little as $10 or $20.  Often as an incentive for new members, the initial joining fee will be drastically reduced or even waived.  Also check out the local YMCA—with its quality gym equipment and vast selection of exercise classes for all ages and fitness levels, it may be your town’s best kept secret!

5. Donate to charity.  Far too often we neglect our mental health, and simply doing good can increase our emotional well-being.  Volunteering and performing other charitable acts has been proven to help lessen the effects of depression, as well as boost confidence and self-esteem.  Check out United Way or idealist.org for opportunities to get involved in your community.  You may only donate your money initially, but you may end up donating your time as well.