Monthly Archives: June 2011

LEARNING MORE ABOUT SICKLE CELL DISEASE

June 19th marked World Sickle Cell Disease Day, promoting education of a blood disorder that affects millions of people worldwide, yet receives little attention in the media.  Sickle cell disease is a disease of the red blood cells, which deliver oxygen throughout the body.  Normally red blood cells are doughnut shaped, which allows them easy passage through the small blood vessels.  Sickle cell disease damages the cells, rendering them spiked and sickle shaped, causing blockage in the small blood vessels.  Cells affected by sickle cell disease also deteriorate faster than normal cells, causing anemia, a separate illness caused by a decrease in red blood cells.

Sickle cell disease most predominantly affects people of African descent, though it has been found in people from Spanish speaking regions, as well as India, Saudi Arabia and the Mediterranean.  1 in 12 African-Americans is a carrier for the disease, while 1 in every 400 is afflicted by it.  A hereditary disorder, sickle cell disease is not contagious, and can only be transmitted from parent to child.  Because it causes red blood cells to become misshapen and block the flow of blood through smaller vessels, some complications of sickle cell disease include organ damage, erectile dysfunction, blindness, stroke and acute chest syndrome. It is a life-threatening illness that can cause chest pain, fever and difficulty breathing.  Some patients with sickle cell disease may also have hypertension, jaundice, skin ulcers and gallstones.

Complications of sickle cell disease are usually treated with pain medication, antibiotics, folic acid to ward off the effects of anemia and blood transfusions to replace lost red blood cells.  More severe cases can be cured with a bone marrow transplant, though success of this treatment depends on the severity of the illness and if a suitable donor match can be located.  The need for registered bone marrow donors is particularly great in the African-American community, which is often left out of education on the registration and donor process.

Get the word out: encourage anyone you know who might be a carrier of sickle cell disease to get tested.  If they’re not a carrier, encourage them to register as a blood, or even better, bone marrow donor.  Registering is quick and easy and can be done through local donor drives or by requesting information online for free.  Blood donation for transfusions takes about an hour, with a minimal amount of pain, while bone marrow donation is considered a minor surgical procedure, with some discomfort involved.  The vast majority of blood and bone marrow donors recover from the procedure quickly with no long-term ill effects.  Risks are minimal for something that could save another person’s life.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

CELEBRATING DAD

It’s Father’s Day on Sunday! Though not officially designated as a US holiday until 1972, the third Sunday in June has long been the chosen day to honor fathers, grandfathers and other positive male role models.  Instead of the usual necktie or barbecuing equipment, here are some suggestions for fun, healthy gifts to celebrate the fathers and father figures in your life!

Buy him a gym membership.  A gym membership is something a lot of people want but put off because of the cost.  If Dad wants to get fit, but is reluctant to spend extra money, let him know there are a number of affordable gym and fitness club chains, with some charging as little as $10 a month for membership.  Do the research for him, pick a plan that works with his needs and schedule, and then start him off with a pre-paid membership! Consider scheduling him an appointment with a personal trainer who can offer tips on the most effective workouts as a bonus gift.

Help him sit correctly.  If Dad works a desk job, it’s likely that he’s not sitting properly, which may cause back pain and headaches.  Consider buying him an ergonomic chair so that he can get through those long days at the office comfortably and with better posture.  While some chairs are prohibitively expensive, more affordable options can be found in office supply stores like Staples or Office Max, and big box furniture stores such as IKEA.  An even less expensive option is a detachable seat cushion, which can offer back and hip support at a fraction of the cost of a chair.

Put on the coffee.  Long believed to be an indulgence best enjoyed in moderation, coffee has recently been discovered to possess a surprising number of health benefits.  Studies have shown that drinking at least two cups of coffee a day can lower a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Why not use that as an opportunity to buy Dad a gourmet coffee maker? Wrap it up with a bag of his favorite flavor of coffee, or even enroll him in one of many “coffee of the month” clubs, which send new flavors to members each month direct by mail.

Get him moving.  Walking is a great form of exercise, particularly for older individuals and people who are trying to ease into a fitness routine.  Give Dad a soundtrack for getting fit by gifting him with an MP3 player, and encourage him to put music on it that will motivate him.  You can even start him out by adding five or ten of his favorite songs to the player before giving it to him, or by including a gift card for iTunes or Amazon.  Another great motivating gift is a pedometer, which he can use to set daily or weekly goals for walking.

Enjoy the great outdoors.  For dads who are already fit, a great gift is a trip to a rock-climbing wall, or a day of golfing or kayaking.  Websites like Groupon and Living Social offer great deals on such outings, and many boating centers allow customers free access to kayaks or canoes during off-hours (call or check their website in advance to be certain).  Remember to make sure that Dad is healthy and physically fit enough to enjoy himself.  If not, tickets to a baseball game are a great option, as it allows him to get fresh air and sunshine without too much exertion.    

Cook him a healthy meal.  If your gift-giving budget is tight, you could try treating Dad to a healthy lunch or dinner, made by you! You can still have a barbecue as per Father’s Day tradition, but swap out the beef burgers for turkey, or even try veggie burgers with all the trimmings.  Serve frozen yogurt for dessert, or use the grill then too—pineapple and watermelon wedges are delicious after a few minutes over an open flame.

Get some stuff done around the house.  Most homeowners have some task that they’ve been putting off for weeks, perhaps fixing a storm drain or installing a new garbage disposal.  Offer to help Dad with it, or take care of the whole thing yourself, allowing him to have a much needed day of relaxation (just make sure you know what you’re doing so he doesn’t have to call in a repairman later!).  It’s a gift that works in two ways—it takes care of a chore and it shows Dad that you appreciate all that he does around the house, and in your life as well, and it probably won’t cost you more than a trip to Home Depot.

Happy Father’s Day!

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

SAFE ON THE ROAD

June is National Safety Month, with each week dedicated to a different aspect of safety both inside and outside the home.  The week of June 12 through the 18th focuses on safe driving for teenagers.  Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group.  The majority of these accidents occur within the first year after the driver is issued a license.

There are a number of reasons as to why teenagers are more likely to be involved in fatal car accidents than drivers in other age groups.  Teenagers are less likely to wear seat belts, either as a driver or a passenger, and also tend to speed, allowing less room when passing other drivers on the road.  As new drivers, teenagers often underestimate dangerous driving situations, particularly teenage boys, who may try to impress their friends by driving recklessly.  They are also more easily distracted, either by texting or talking on cell phones, which is now illegal in many states, or by other passengers in their vehicle.  Finally, alcohol plays a huge part– over 25% of drivers aged 15 to 20 killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2008 had a BAC (blood alcohol count) of .08 or higher.  Nearly a third of teenagers polled in 2007 admitted to being a passenger in a vehicle when the driver had been drinking.

As most teenagers take a carefree “that won’t happen to me” approach to dangerous situations (we were all there once!), educational programs about the hazards of drunk driving, speeding and not wearing a seat belt are often ineffective.  However, one program that does seem to be working is graduated driver licensing, in which new drivers must go through three stages of licensing.  First, they’re issued a learner’s permit, for use while being taught how to drive.  Next is the provisional license, which restricts unsupervised driving and driving at night.  Only after proficiency in driving and understanding of motor vehicle laws and regulations has been demonstrated will a standard driver’s license be issued.  The process may take longer than a teenager would prefer, but it works:  research suggests that graduated driver licensing programs are associated with a nearly 40% reduction in serious car accidents involving 16 year-old drivers.

Though graduated driver licensing laws vary from state to state, it’s recommended that all new drivers (not just teenagers!) take their time easing into the responsibility of having a driver’s license.  It may be a rite of passage for most young people, not to mention a benefit to the household to have one more person available to drive, but not at the risk of injury or death on the road.

TWEETING FOR A GOOD CAUSE

Though Twitter seems mostly used for advertising, celebrity gossip and teenagers declaring their love for Justin Bieber, it sometimes ends up being a source of good will and community involvement as well, with users banding together to help others in need.  Actress Demi Moore, concerned that one of her followers was threatening to commit suicide, inspired other Twitter users to track down where the troubled follower was located so that police could be called for assistance.  Donnie Wahlberg of pop group New Kids on the Block recently assisted one of his Twitter followers in finding a kidney donor.  Now, millions of Twitter users, celebrities and non-celebrities alike, are helping a dying girl fulfill a wish.

Alice Pyne, a teenager in Ulverston, England with terminal Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, created a blog for her “bucket list,” a list of accomplishments she hopes to complete before dying.  Bucket lists have become popular in recent years, both for terminally ill and healthy people, and have included everything from “stay up all night to watch the sun rise” to “climb Mt. Everest.”  Among the items on Alice’s list is for more people to register as bone marrow donors, and the word is spreading on Twitter, with users passing links to Alice’s blog as well as information on bone marrow donation.  Using the hash tag #alicebucketlist, thousands of Twitter users are getting her message out.

Registering to be a bone marrow donor is quick and easy.  It can either be done through a donor drive (search here for drives in your area) or by sending away for an information packet.  All it requires is swabbing the insides of the cheeks, and the specimen is kept on file until if or when it’s designated as a match for someone in need.  Bone marrow donation is considered minor surgery, with recovery usually taking no more than two to three days.  Illnesses that may require a bone marrow transplant include Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, leukemia or aplastic anemia.

Though, sadly, Alice’s illness is no longer treatable, accomplishing one of the items on her bucket list will bring the possibility of a cure for other individuals with her condition.  Twitter’s impact on communication is becoming a force to be reckoned with, as it allows everyone the opportunity to spread messages of hope and help like Alice’s to friends, followers and strangers alike, all over the world. 

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

A FURRY SHOULDER TO CRY ON

Service animals have long been available to assist visually and hearing impaired individuals, as well as people in wheelchairs, but did you know that they can also be of invaluable assistance to people with depression? In recent years a specialized group of service animals, most commonly dogs, have been trained to specifically help people with depression and other emotional disabilities such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Training is often simple, and no official certification is required by law to own a service animal.

Service animals that are designated to work with people with emotional disorders are essentially trained to offer affection and companionship, so that their owner feels less isolated.  It’s been medically proven that caring for an animal improves the overall mood and well-being of elderly people, as well as those with chronic illnesses.  Like those who assist people with physical disabilities, service animals for people with emotional disorders can also be trained to remind their owner when to take medication, and even help locate lost items, as short-term memory problems are a common issue with chronic depression.  They also encourage their owners to get outdoors and exercise, as well as socialize with other pet owners, all of which can aid in recovery from depression and other mental health issues.

While golden retrievers and German shepherds are the most common breeds of dogs used for standard service animals, nearly any breed can be utilized as a service animal for emotional disorders.  Ideally, it should be a breed that can be trained to learn simple commands, is comfortable being around people, particularly children, and interacts well with other dogs.  As with seeing eye dogs, they should be made readily identifiable as service animals while out in public, so that they will be allowed access in buildings and businesses where animals are normally not permitted.  This can be done by purchasing a service animal vest, an ID badge or collar tags.  Most businesses are required by law to allow access  to service animals.

Though training dogs to be service animals for depressed people is relatively new, it’s likely that, with evidence showing that prescription anti-depressants are not as effective as once believed, individuals seeking relief from emotional disorders will turn more towards alternative treatments.  Taking on a service animal is a considerable responsibility, and one must be absolutely prepared for it, but it’s also a responsibility that comes with a lot of wonderful benefits, for both dog and owner.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

REAL MEN TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES

June is Men’s Health Month, encouraging awareness and education of health issues unique to men and boys.  Men often tend to ignore their health due to a widely held misconception that to be health-conscious is unmasculine, but some issues are simply too important to overlook.

One of these issues is prostate cancer, which develops in a gland in the male reproductive system.  Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men in the United States, and the second leading cause of cancer-related death, after lung cancer.  Most common in men over the age of 50, prostate cancer is slow-growing and may not present symptoms for many years.  When caught relatively early, the prognosis for surviving prostate cancer is excellent, although initially it may cause urinary problems or erectile dysfunction.  More aggressive forms of prostate cancer can spread to the bones or lymph nodes, and may need to be treated with chemotherapy.

Because it involves a very personal part of the body, and often requires an invasive procedure in order to diagnose it, many men may ignore symptoms of advanced prostate cancer, such as difficult or painful urination, fatigue and weight loss.  Because it can be caught before becoming symptomatic, when it’s significantly easier to treat, it’s recommended that all men over the age of 40 get a prostate cancer screening.  The screening may involve a digital rectal examination, as well as a blood test.  Men with a family history of prostate cancer, or who show elevated levels of prostate specific antigen, a protein the prostate releases into the blood, should consider annual screenings.

Though there are no specific preventive measures to avoid prostate cancer, general good health habits such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking and getting regular exercise can always help.  There is also some evidence that drinking coffee or red wine (in moderate amounts), or eating a diet rich in garlic and tomatoes, might lower the risk.

A prostate screening may be an uncomfortable, embarrassing experience, but getting through it just once may save you a great deal of difficulty down the road.  So man up, as the saying goes, and get yourself checked out.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

BACK TO SCHOOL ALREADY?

School may be letting out for the summer, but for medical students it means time to prepare for the next semester.  In addition to securing living arrangements and finalizing schedules and curricula, students must also start acquiring the necessary books and supplies required by their classes.  Supply lists can be extensive and costly, and student loans, scholarship and grant funds rarely cover the expense they require.

Among the most basic supplies required, regardless of what field of medicine will eventually be studied, are cardiology-grade stethoscopes, sphygmomanometers with a variety of cuffs to fit all sizes from infant to obese patients, otoscopes and ophthalmoscopes with accompanying disposable tips, reflex hammers and tuning forks.  For easy transport of equipment from laboratories to lecture halls, a Boston bag or nylon paramedic bag may be useful.  Student may also be expected to provide their own lab coats or surgical scrubs, as well as appropriate footwear and other protective apparel.

Some items that aren’t necessarily essential but may be good to have are ID badge holders, as well as engraved stethoscope tags that will ensure that valuable supplies are not lost or confused for other students’ belongings.   Supplementary education equipment may also be considered, such as instructional DVDs on performing CPR or using a defibrillator, as well as simulator manikins that allow students to train for such procedures as infant airway insertion or starting IV lines.

It may seem overwhelming at first, but with enough planning and smart shopping, it’s possible to get ready for the next step in medical school without breaking the bank.  Don’t be afraid to use coupons and ask about special discounts for volume pricing.  Every student can use a little extra help!

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger