Monthly Archives: July 2011

ITCHING FOR MORE INFO ABOUT PSORIASIS?

Reality television star Kim Kardashian was recently diagnosed with psoriasis, an immune system disorder that affects the skin.  While it’s doubtful that she’ll become a spokesperson for psoriasis awareness, her diagnosis brings attention to a common disease that has its roots in ancient history.

As many as 7.5 Americans have psoriasis, making it the most prevalent autoimmune disorder in the country.  It affects men and women equally, and most people are diagnosed with it between the ages of 15 and 25.  Psoriasis occurs when incorrect signals from the immune system increase skin cell growth, causing red, scaly patches (referred to as “plaques”) to develop, most often on the elbows or knees, but also possibly on the scalp, palms, soles of the feet and genitals.  The plaque form of psoriasis is by far the most common, affecting 80 to 90% of people with the disease.  Less common forms are pustular psoriasis, nail psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, which affects the joints and connective tissues in the body.

Psoriasis is often hereditary, with as much as one-third of people with the disease reporting a family history of it.  It’s a chronic condition, and flare-ups are often aggravated by stress, weather and changes in seasons.  While not considered a life-threatening disorder, the plaques psoriasis causes can be itchy and painful, as well as unpleasant in appearance.  Many people with psoriasis suffer from depression, due to both physical discomfort and poor self-image.  Anxiety over appearance may trigger further psoriasis flare-ups, causing a cyclical effect.

Treatment for psoriasis depends on the severity of the condition.  Mild to moderate psoriasis can be treated with topical creams containing corticosteroids or synthetic vitamin D.  Moisturizers and over the counter creams containing salicylic acid can reduce scaling, itching and dry skin.  More serious cases may require oral or injectable immunosuppressant medication, which can have a number of side effects.  Some advances have also been made using phototherapy, in which affected skin is exposed to UV rays for limited periods of time.  Both real and artificial sunlight using UV lamps have been proven effective, though too much sunlight may actually worsen psoriasis symptoms, so this treatment should not be attempted without a doctor’s approval.

If you show signs of psoriasis, it’s important to try not to treat it on your own without seeing your doctor first.  Undoubtedly in light of Kim Kardashian’s diagnosis, many “celebrity health experts” will offer plenty of misleading, if not downright inaccurate information about it, so make sure you see a dermatologist with experience in treating psoriasis.  While it can be an uncomfortable, embarrassing condition, with proper care and treatment it doesn’t have to rule your life.

Gena Radcliffe
Medex Supply Blogger

SHOULD MIGRAINES STOP MICHELLE BACHMANN?

Responding to a report on news website The Daily Caller, Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann revealed that she suffers from migraines.  Though the Daily Caller claimed that Bachmann’s migraines are so severe that she is left incapacitated for days at a time, which may negatively impact her ability to lead the country, Bachmann disputed this, saying that her condition is controlled with medication.

36 million Americans, or more than ten percent of the population, suffer from migraines, with women three times more likely to experience them than men.  Though mostly attributed to a constriction of the blood vessels in the brain, the underlying cause of migraines is unknown.  There are numerous migraine triggers, both biological and environmental, including stress, hunger, fatigue, secondhand smoke, bright lights, food allergies, certain odors such as strong perfume or paint, food additives like monosodium glutamate and aspartame, excessive caffeine intake, caffeine withdrawal and overexertion while exercising.  In addition to intense pain, migraines may also cause nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, lightheadedness and difficulty speaking.  A migraine can last anywhere between a few hours to a few days, and occasionally the pain may be so great that medical treatment may be required.

The good news is that, despite being extraordinarily painful, migraines are very rarely a sign of a more serious issue, such as a brain tumor.  Also, most migraines can be treated at home.  Over the counter medications such as Advil Migraine and Excedrin Migraine have been proven effective, as has resting in a dark, quiet room.  Drinking a caffeinated beverage may occasionally be helpful, though it should be avoided if caffeine is proven to be a trigger.  Be sure to take only the recommended dosage of any medication designed to treat headaches, as taking too much may lead to a “rebound headache” later.  If migraines are so severe that they affect the ability to go to work or school, or if a person suffers from more than one a week, prescription medication such as a beta blocker or anti-depressant should be considered.

Migraines can usually be prevented by avoiding known triggers—for instance, if bright sunlight sets off a migraine, sunglasses should probably be worn when outdoors as often as possible, even in the winter.  Keeping a “migraine diary” can help recognize patterns and potential triggers, and is useful in finding the most effective treatment.  People who suffer from frequent migraines should also make sure to get enough sleep and exercise, and avoid skipping meals.  With proper care and treatment, most migraines are a painful inconvenience that should not greatly impact a person’s ability to hold down a job, raise a family, or anything else they wish to do.  Should that cover running for President as well? What do you think?

Gena Radcliffe
Medex Supply Blogger

NEW BREATHALYZER FEATURED ON “THE DOCTORS”

In this segment from TV’s The Doctors, the latest in breathalyzer technology is demonstrated outside a Chicago bar:

Drunk driving is back in the news, due largely to the death of Jackass star Ryan Dunn, who killed himself and a passenger in a horrific alcohol-related car crash last month. Dunn’s blood alcohol level was .19, which is more than twice the legal limit in Pennsylvania, where the accident occurred. Though drunk driving deaths have declined in the United States during the past 20 years, it is an issue that is still prevalent. Alcohol is the primary factor behind nearly a third of all traffic fatalities, and over 1.5 million Americans are arrested for driving while intoxicated every year.

Breathalyzers are used by police officers to measure the BAC (blood alcohol content, or percentage of alcohol in the blood) in a person suspected of driving drunk. A BAC of .10 means that one tenth of one percent of the person’s blood is alcohol. In the United States, a BAC of .08 or higher qualifies a person as legally drunk and too impaired to operate a motor vehicle.

Alcohol can negatively impact space and depth perception, making it difficult to navigate traffic safely. It can also cause blurred vision and drowsiness, as well as slow down reaction time, all of which may affect the ability to recognize and avoid a dangerous driving situation. A common myth is that some individuals drive better under the influence of alcohol, but this has been disproved many times. While alcohol affects everyone differently, mostly according to age, size and how fast the body processes it, being legally drunk means that driving ability is significantly compromised. In other words: if you’ve had more than one or two drinks, you have no business trying to drive.

While breathalyzers are most often used by police, they also can be found in bars so that patrons can determine if they’re too drunk to drive. With new, smaller handheld models such as the ones featured in the video above, it may allow people to show friends and loved ones who have partied a little too much clear, undeniable evidence that they need to find another way home, so that they don’t put their own or anybody else’s lives at risk.

Gena Radcliffe
Medex Supply Blogger

BIGGER IS BETTER?

A study on eating habits conducted by researchers from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City revealed a surprising result: using an oversized fork while dining out may actually cause people to eat less.  In the study, subjects who used a fork that was 20% larger than normal ate less food overall than those who used a fork that was 20% smaller.  It may not make sense initially, but the proposed explanation of it is fairly simple: for subjects who eat with bigger forks, their brains are tricked into believing that more food is being eaten than actually is, and their bodies feel full faster.  It works in the opposite way for those using smaller forks: because the brain perceives that less food is being eaten, the subject may in fact feel hungry longer and end up eating more than they need.

One in three Americans is considered overweight, and that number is expected to rise over the next few years.  Confronted with conflicting and often inaccurate information on diet and fitness, many people are now looking towards alternative methods for weight loss.  Some of these methods include hypnosis, yoga, acupuncture, meditation and even prayer, all of which promote a mind-body connection.  Similar to the University of Utah study, eating meals on smaller plates may reduce the amount of food that is taken in.  Eating more slowly and taking time between bites and longer breaks between servings has also shown some positive results for weight loss.  Particularly in American culture, where overly large portions are the norm in restaurants, people are often unable to recognize when they’ve truly had enough food, and must recondition themselves in order to eat less.

Alternative weight loss methods are of course more successful when combined with exercise and a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat, red meat and processed foods.  The basic rules of weight loss–move more, eat less junk–are the most reliable.  Avoid diets that are promoted by celebrities, fashion magazines or talk shows, as more often than not they’re simply acting as paid endorsers, and have little to no experience in actual diet or nutrition planning.  Be particularly wary of any diet that encourages fasting or “cleanses,” or promises improbable, potentially unhealthy results, such as losing more than five pounds in one week, as it may deprive the body of necessary nutrients.  This may cause the metabolism to slow down, which can result in weight gain.

When it comes to weight loss, using your own best judgment, with the assistance of a doctor or professional knowledgeable in diet and fitness is the best rule.  Get moving, eat healthier–and maybe consider reaching for a bigger fork!

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

THE HEAT IS ON

The Midwest is in the middle of an unprecedented heatwave, with temperatures rising as high as 115 degrees in some areas.  At least 40 states will reach temperatures of more than 90 degrees this week, with Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and North and South Dakota especially affected.  The heatwave is expected to reach the East Coast by Wednesday, with Washington, D.C. predicted to break 100 degrees.

Excessive heat for extended periods of time can be very dangerous for people of all ages, particularly the elderly, young children and those in poor health.  Dehydration is common in hot weather, particularly after spending time outdoors.  Symptoms of dehydration include headache, dizziness, reduced urine output and low blood pressure.  While in most cases dehydration can be relieved and avoided by drinking plenty of water, if left untreated it may lead to fainting or seizures.

Another complication is heat exhaustion, which is due to a fluid and salt imbalance in the body.  Some symptoms of heat exhaustion are excessive perspiration, rapid breathing and an accelerated, weak pulse.  If the internal body temperature reaches more than 104 degrees, this is what’s known as heat stroke, with symptoms such as difficulty breathing, disorientation and seizures.  Heat stroke requires immediate medical treatment.

The risk of heat-related illnesses can be lowered by avoiding outdoor physical activity on particularly hot days.  Exercise should be limited to early in the morning or after sundown.  If physical activity cannot be avoided, be sure to drink water often and take the same measures one would take to avoid sunburn, such as wearing a hat, sunglasses and light, loose-fitting clothing.  As high levels of humidity can create poor air quality, it’s recommended that people with asthma or COPD stay indoors as much as possible.  Children playing outdoors should be encouraged to practice sun and heat safety, and recognize when they need a break to cool off.  And don’t forget the family pet–it’s a good idea to keep dogs and cats indoors on days when temperatures reach the 90s or higher, and give them lots of water.

As elderly people are most often the victims of heat-related death, consider checking in on older relatives, neighbors and friends on hot days to make sure they’re safe.  Encourage them to stay at home and use air conditioners or fans to keep cool.  Senior citizens on a fixed income may worry about the expense of using air conditioners–let them know it does not use a large amount of power and will not significantly increase their monthly electric bill.

Though it may not feel like it right now, this latest heatwave will pass eventually.  Be safe, stay cool and we can all get through it unharmed!

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

FEELING THE BURN

Ouch! Are you hurting after a day at the beach? Researchers at King’s College in London have discovered the reason why sunburn is so painful.  A study of sunburned skin on healthy people revealed that CXCLS, a group of proteins that draw immune cells to damaged tissue, is the culprit, triggered by UV radiation.  The proteins cause the tissue to become inflamed and sensitive, leading to that stinging, sore sensation we’re all familiar with after spending too much time in the sun.

At least half of Americans can expect to get at least a minor sunburn this summer.  Though it’s well known at this point that excessive tanning and sunburns can lead to premature wrinkling and age spots, as well as significantly increase the chance of developing skin cancer, many people simply do not take proper precautions to protect themselves from UV rays.  Peak hours for sunlight are between 10am and 4pm—if you’re planning on spending time outside during that time, even for just an hour or so, it’s a good idea to use sunblock with an SPF of at least 30, or higher if you’re fair-skinned.  Make sure to cover all exposed skin, including the back of the neck and ears, and consider wearing a hat and sunglasses, as the scalp and eyes are especially vulnerable.

Tanning beds are still extremely popular, especially with women ages 18 to 25.  However, physicians are calling for more awareness of their hazards, even suggesting that it be made illegal for girls under age 18 to use them.   For a healthier way to obtain a sun-kissed glow, many salons offer tanning spray, which contain chemicals that safely react to amino acids in the skin.  Tanning sprays offer instant results without harmful UV rays, but can sometimes create an artificial, orange tone in users, particularly those with very fair skin.  Cosmetics and skincare companies also sell over the counter tanning sprays, creams and foams that can be purchased for home use and offer the same results, though more gradually than salon sprays.

If your skin skips tanning and goes right to burning, there are a few home remedies you can try to relieve pain and discomfort.  A cool bath or shower followed by a dose of aspirin helps, as does applying white vinegar or aloe vera gel to the afflicted area (avoid if the skin is broken).  If you’re sunburned in an area that may be irritated by clothing, such as the shoulders, try dusting with corn starch to keep bra straps and shirt sleeves from chafing.  If the affected skin is blistered or swollen, or if you have a headache, fever or nausea, medical treatment may be necessary, as you may be suffering from “sun poisoning,” a more serious form of sunburn.

Don’t be afraid of the sun! We need it for good health.  Just be safe and remember that there’s more to life than getting a perfect tan.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

STAND UP FOR GOOD HEALTH

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that women who sit for extended periods of time are two to three times more likely to develop pulmonary embolisms, potentially fatal blood clots that form in the legs and travel to the lungs.

Women who spend more than 41 hours a week outside of work sitting are considered at the highest risk, while women in professions that require them to remain on their feet most of the time, such as nursing or waitressing, are at the lowest.  Other risk factors for developing pulmonary embolisms include smoking, being overweight, using birth control pills and a family history of blood clotting disorders.

Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, severe chest pain and coughing that may produce bloody sputum.  Some other common symptoms are swelling of the legs, sweating, rapid heartbeat and lightheadedness.  A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening condition, and immediate medical treatment is required in order to ensure a successful recovery.

Lowering the risk of developing a pulmonary embolism is easy–all you have to do is move! If you work an office job that requires you to sit at a desk for most of the day, make sure to get up and walk around a couple times a day.  Instead of e-mailing or calling a co-worker, walk to his or her desk.  On your lunch break, walk around the block once or twice.  At home, whether after work or on the weekends, don’t be tempted to spend hours in front of the computer or TV.  Make excuses to move around–take an after dinner walk around your neighborhood, or, if you need to pick up a few groceries, walk instead of driving to the store.  Many individuals rely too often on their cars to make trips that could be easily done on foot.  You don’t have to jog five miles every day to stay healthy–walking up and down your driveway a few times will do some good.  Simply standing up is your first step in the right direction. 

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

LIVE LONG AND PROSPER!

It’s believed that the next generation of children brought into the world will be the first people able to live to age 150.  As it is, it’s no longer considered unusual for people to make it past 100 and beyond.  This is a remarkable feat, considering that the life expectancy for men and women in the United States was half that just one hundred years ago.

Though the media often focuses on depressing statistics regarding obesity, cancer and other health issues that may shorten our lives, in truth we are living longer and healthier than ever before.  We often wonder about the “secret” to living happily to a ripe old age, but there is no secret–longevity is available to all of us, and it’s never too soon to start working towards it.

If you’ve ever heard stories about someone living to age 100 despite smoking, drinking and eating an unhealthy diet, take them with a grain of salt.  While it is possible to live a long life without taking good care of your health, you can usually thank genetics for that.  If most of your relatives lived to be very old, it’s likely you will as well, regardless of your health habits.  Family histories are the best indicators of what kind of health and physical issues you may face in your later years–pay especially close attention to any patterns of diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer.

Good genes aside, there are steps you can take to increase your longevity, and they’re pretty much the same steps taken to remain in good health at any age.  Avoiding cigarettes, keeping alcohol consumption to a modest level, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed flours and sugars all lower your chances of developing illnesses common to the elderly.

Mental and emotional well-being is very important too—though stress, anger and general depression decreases as a person grows older, engaging in hobbies, remaining physically active and spending time with friends and family all help to ensure happy lives well into the senior years.  Now more than ever older people are being encouraged and given opportunities to continue enjoying life for as long as they’re able.  Who knows what the possibilities will be when it’s our turn?