Category Archives: Health News

On Mental Health

mental illness

More than one American in 20 has some form of major psychiatric illness, most often schizophrenia. Four times that number, one in five, has some sort of mental health issue. Despite the commonness of mental health problems, these problems continue to be stigmatized. This stigma is one of the most dangerous aspects of mental illness, and one of the largest obstacles to seeking treatment. Much of the difficulty mental illness causes the patient lies not in the illness itself but in lack of treatment and lack of support from friends, family, and co-workers, and an inability for patients to get the help they need, which in turn is due to the stigma preventing the patient from telling anyone or even, in many cases, getting a proper diagnosis.

In fact, only 40 percent of mentally ill people even start treatment, and many of them drop out. The stigma of mental illness is self-perpetuating. People with mental illness hide their conditions from those around them. The popular image of mental illness comes from fiction and from those who are too sick to hide it, and harmful, damaging, and pernicious stereotypes take root. People raised in the stereotypes, and surrounded by people who are raised in the stereotypes, are unable to tell people about their problems, or even recognize them as mental illness, and so it continues.

The stigma of mental illness also means sufferers face discrimination. It may be harder for people who are mentally ill to find jobs or housing, and in some cases they may even face physical violence. Women who are mentally ill are at heightened risk of sexual assault, in part because of the expectation that they will be dismissed as delusional if they report it, and all people with mental illnesses are under threat of violence from people who will be believed if they say it was defensive.

Fortunately, more and more people, including several celebrities, are coming forward about mental illness. By coming forward, they are changing the public face of psychiatric difficulty and helping break the stigma. There are some indicators that thee efforts are having the desired effect. Last year, a study conducted in England found attitudes toward the mentally ill improving, and greater sympathy and understanding of mental illness, with less fear and distrust.

Give A Heart On Valentine’s Day

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Today, 19 people will die who could have been saved. It isn’t yet known who they are, but they are among the more than 120,000 people awaiting organ transplants in the United States. Some of them are children. A small number are infants under one year old. One person will have die waiting for a transplant for every four patients who get transplants. These people will die because there are ten times as many people waiting for organs as there are willing donors, including living donors for some organs, and not all of those donors can donate to every, or even any, would-be recipient.

Organ transplants are necessary. In fact, because they are so difficult—they require not only an exact match, but anti-rejection drugs that suppress immune response to the transplanted organ isn’t rejected for the remainder of the recipients life—transplants are only performed when the recipient has a good chance with a transplant but essentially no chance without one. These people need donors who agree to allow their kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart, and intestines to be removed posthumously and given to someone who needs it, if it is useable, or for a part of any of these organs except the heart to be removed from a living donor and transplanted into a patient in need.

People who volunteer to donate organs are given the same treatment as other patients when they themselves are hospitalized. There’s no rush to declare them dead to use their organs. In fact, their organs require more extensive testing, to determine what is useable and how it can best be used. This testing is paid for by the recipients insurance, or by charitable organizations. These are also the sources of funding for living tissue donors; no expenses are born by the donors or their families. Modern donated organ and tissue recovery techniques mean it’s even possible for someone to have an open-casket funeral after donated tissue is removed. No one is too old or too sick to donate tissue; even people with illnesses affecting some organs are generally able to donate the rest. In most states, enlisting as a donor is done though the department of motor vehicles. but any health care facility should have information on how to volunteer.

Love And Health

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Love is an important part of life. Anthropologists say it has existed across cultures and throughout human history. Some scientists have even proposed a biological component to falling in love. There is some evidence of this—hormones such as oxytocin and PEA that are activated by, among other things, interactions with romantic relationship partners, for example—but love is also a mental state, a set of actions, and a social phenomenon. Additionally, it turns out love, as well as being an important part of life, can have a significant impact on a person’s health.

For one thing, being in a relationship can help lessen stress. Sometimes relationships are a source of stress, but a healthy relationship means a less stressful life overall—though studies have found that unhappily partnered people have higher blood pressure than people in happy relationships or single people. On top of that, being in love can help spur wound healing. Injuries in coupled people healed an average of one full day faster than singles. People’s partners also seem to encourage healthier habits and preventative care, and discourage substance abuse.

There are downsides as well. Love can hamper attention, according to studies. People in love is not a mental illness, at it is sometimes facetiously called, but people in love do seem suffer impaired cognitive abilities. Scientists tested people who had been in relationships for six months or less on the ability to separate out relevant from irrelevant information, a common task to test cognitive ability and attention. The newly partnered people performed worse on this task than others. Previous studies found, however, that in longer relationships, the ability to ignore distractions is essential to the health of the relationship. Thinking about a new partner—male or female, men and women alike—seems to use mental resources that would otherwise be devoted to these tasks.

In the long run, though, being in love is an overall improvement. Even kissing can help make people healthier. Kissing burns calories; not as many as other forms of exercise, but those aren’t as much fun. Kissing helps lower blood pressure, fights calories, and even helps with headaches.

Congenital Heart Defects

The heart is an intricate organ made up of many parts, making open heart surgery a common option when something goes wrong.

Congenital heart defects are the most common kind of birth defect among children born in the United States, affecting nearly one percent of all newborns in the country. There are multiple kinds of heart defect, classified according to the location of the problem within the heart as well as what, specifically, is wrong. The types of heart defect include:

Complete atrioventricular canal defect, a failure of the walls separating the chambers to meet and fully close. This means blood entering the lungs mixes with blood that s to circulate to the rest of the body, causing improper oxygen distribution.

Truncus arteriosus, in which the blood vessels leading in from the lungs and out to the body are fused together, when they are supposed to be separate. This condition also interferes with proper circulation of the blood through the body.

Ebstein’s anomaly, in which the heart valve on the left side cannot fully close.

Tetralogy of Fallot, the co-occurrence of four different malformations. These are a hole between the heart’s lower chambers, the aorta right above this hole and connected to both chambers rather than only the left, a blockage in the link between the heart and the lungs, and a thickening of the wall of the right chamber.

Pulmonary valve stenosis, in which the heart valve doesn’t open all the way and blood sometimes flows back out.

Atrial septal defect, a hole in the wall separating the heart’s upper chambers.

Coarctation of the aorta, a narrowing of the artery that carries blood out of the heart. This can can lead to high blood pressure, which is dangerous in infants.

It is often important that heart defects in newborns and infants be treated, usually with surgery. Because these defects are typically diagnosed so young—symptoms are frequently apparent early on, such as the tetralogy of Fallot, which can result in blue skin—and because infants born with heart defects may have other illnesses as well, there might be limits on the types of surgery that can be performed. In some cases, however, it is possible to leave the defect as is, at least temporarily, and it is sometimes possible for children born with heart defects to grow up quite healthy regardless.

Go Red For Women

Have you considered how exam room layout can affect patient care?

Heart disease kills more women than breast cancer. In fact, it kills more women than every form of cancer combined—one in four American women can expect to die of heart disease, making it the number one cause of death for women in the United States. Not only do more women die of heart disease than die of cancer, more women die of heart disease than men do, in part because people, doctors and patients alike, don’t realize that women don’t show heart disease the way men do. An estimated 42 million women have undiagnosed heart disease, and one reason it is undiagnosed is that health care professionals are looking for male symptoms women don’t have.

On top of that, the symptoms of heart disease in women are more subtle than in men, making them harder to spot as well as harder to recognize. When a woman has heart disease, it affects the main arteries, but is more likely to be in the smaller blood vessels in the chest as well than when a man does. She may experience neck or shoulder ache, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, throat pain, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness and fatigue, or sweating.

The the symptoms are different, the risk factors for heart disease are largely the same in men and women, though not always to the same degree. Diabetes and stress, for example, are more strongly linked to heart disease in women. Smoking is one of the biggest controllable risk factors for heart disease in anyone, because it narrows the blood vessels, but this is particularly the case with the smaller ones that are more affected in women. The danger of smoking is also exacerbated by hormonal birth control; the hormones make the effects of smoking worse. On top of that, hormonal birth control is itself a risk factor, as are the hormonal changes wrought by menopause, both concerns unique to women.

To raise awareness of the special concerns women have for heart health, today is the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Day. Today is the day to start to take steps to lower your risk of heart disease death. That means quitting smoking. It means making the effort to get enough exercise, about 30 to 60 minutes most days. It means a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats. It means maintaining a healthy weight. It means talking to your doctor about an aspirin regimen that can help prevent arterial plaque from building up. It’s never too early, and you’re never too young, to start protecting your heart.

Measles Returns

L0032962 Back of female with measles

Decades ago, measles was a common childhood disease, and complications were also common. Around one-third of people who contract measles—and it was nearly ubiquitous at one time—get some other medical condition a a direct result. The most common of these is otitis media, or a middle ear infection, which may result in hearing loss. Other complications include pneumonia, bronchitis, and encephalitis; in many cases measles can even be fatal. Measles can also cause corneal ulceration and scarring, which could lead to diminished eyesight.

These complications are largely in the past, however, thanks to measles vaccination, which became available in 1963 in the United States and was almost universal after 1977. The measles vaccine provides immunity to 95 percent of children older than one year who receive a single dose, and most of the remaining five percent develop immunity after a second dose.

During the heyday of the disease, "measles parties" to allow infected children in a community to spread the disease to their uninfected neighbors—especially the girls, because women who get the disease as adults, particularly during pregnancy, are prone to miscarriage or to having children with birth defects—were common. Measles vaccination is the same basic principle, stimulating an immune response so the disease doesn’t affect adults, but in a more certain and concentrated way with less suffering involved.

Unfortunately, measles has recently had a resurgence. In the late 1990s, false controversy began to be sown over the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and the 610 cases reported last year were the first large harvest. As parents are delaying vaccinating their children against measles—such as by rejecting the measles-mumps-rubella combined vaccine in favor of getting the three immunizations separately and spaced out—or refusing entirely, communities across the United States are seeing a growing number of measles cases, despite the disease having been declared eradicated in the Americas in 2002. In 2014, there were more than 200 cases of measles reported in the country for the first time in 17 years.

Not all parents who don’t vaccinate fear the bogeyman of alleged safety issues; some interpret religious requirements as forbidding it, and some have genuine medical reasons they can’t. However, when almost all children are vaccinated, herd immunity protects those who are not. Herd immunity means if someone is infect, even a highly contagious disease such as measles has no place to go.

Heart Health

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The heart is the body’s motor, and when it stalls out, it can cause problems. The heart doesn’t deteriorate as its person gets older, but when heart disease strikes, it can interfere with the functioning. Heart disease is deadly, and it gets more likely with age. However, just because it is more likely doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. It is estimated that 80 percent of cardiac-related deaths could have been prevented. That would mean saving close to 650,000 people. It’s easy to keep the heart healthy with a few simple lifestyle changes.

Avoiding stress is one of the most important things a person can do to prevent heart disease, and it has a fairly large return on investment, yielding a lot of improvement for simple actions. Destressing can mean slowing down, getting enough sleep, organizing one’s life—through straightening up the home, the office, and the e-mail inbox as well as staying on top of scheduling by making to-do lists and maintaining a calendar. Taking a relaxed attitude and keeping life in perspective also helps. And some destress techniques are also good for the heart in and of themselves, such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and staying active.

In fact, even simply walking can help the heart—as little as parking at the far end of the lot, or getting off the bus of subway one stop earlier than usual, will make a difference. Just 30 minutes of walking a day provides benefits. More intense workouts are even better for people who can do them. Twenty-five minutes of intense aerobic exercise a day, three days a week is a great way to build a healthy heart.

A heart-healthy diet is also important, but it doesn’t have to be bland or boring. Good menu options for heart health include oatmeal which can be dressed with fruit such as bananas; avocados, including in guacamole; soy; olive oil; and berries. These foods help lower cholesterol, cut fat, and provide protein. Potatoes, tomatoes, red wine, and green tea are all good for the heart, containing substances that actually fight heart disease , such as lycopene in tomatoes and flavonols in red wine. Flavonols are also found in dark chocolate, another indulgence that helps the heart.

Precision Medicine Initiative

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The Information Age is bringing a number of benefits to humanity that were undreamt of, even unimaginable in decades past. One of thee advances ins "e;precision medicine,"e; which means taking into account each individual patient’s medical and personal history, lifestyle, even genetic heritage to find the treatment that will work best for his or her specific situation. To do this requires gathering and cross-referencing data about each patient, as well as research to determine the myriad ways all these factors interact and intersect.

Precision medicine is in some ways a return to medicine’s roots. Medieval medical practice consisted of analyzing not just the patient’s symptoms, but the whole person, including habits and living environment. Although with the rise of industrialization, modern science, and the professional approach, this was derided as superstitious and inefficient, it turns out the problem was merely poor tools and lack of accurate information. The nostrums of old didn’t really work, but the principle was more or less sound—looking at individual factors is actually more efficient than a one-size-fits-all treatment approach that is only truly effective for a subset of the population.

That’s why in the 2015 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama announced government support for research into this new approach, saying:

I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine—one that delivers the right treatment at the right time. In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable. Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes—and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.

In the future, precision medicine could mean stem cell treatments from a patient’s own cells, used to build replacement organs that won’t be rejected. It may mean drugs that don’t merely fight illness but harness the body’s own defenses, thereby reducing side effects. In the speech, Obama alluded to a cystic fibrosis treatment developed by a company in Boston. The researchers worked out a way to create drugs specific to particular genetic mutations of those that cause the disease, rather than the scattershot approach that would otherwise be needed. This means better and more effective treatment, and a similar approach is being investigated for other conditions

Cervical Cancer And HPV

New findings show that one dose of the HPV vaccine may do the trick.

Nearly every person who develops cervical cancer did so as a result of contracting one of around 15 types of human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted disease. There are actually more than 150 types of HPV, though most of them are not associated with cancer; a substantial portion of sexually active people have one form or another of the infection, but because most strains cause no symptoms, the exact percentage is hard to determine.

Both HPV and cervical cancer in its early stages are generally asymptomatic—the strains of HPV that cause genital warts are different from those that cause cancer. That is why it is important to be screened for HPV for someone who is sexually active regularly. A test called a Pap smear, after a shortening of the name of the doctor who developed it, Georgios Papanikolaou, is used to look for signs of cancer in the cervical canal, the exit and entrance of the uterus.

Cervical cancer strikes more than 10,000 women each year. It is very rare for someone to get it except as a result of HPV infection. While a high partner count makes transmission of the virus more likely, anyone who is sexually active can acquire HPV. Not every HPV infection, even with the high-risk strains, leads to cancer. Things like smoking and smoking, stress, poor overall health, and other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia can make it more likely that cancer will develop.

Nonetheless, HPV prevention, quixotic a task as that is, can help reduce the incidence of cervical cancer. Many of the risk factors for HPV appear to be behaviors that are related to having more than one sexual partner—either resulting from decision, facilitating it, or simply the behaviors of someone likely to make it—and it is more likely that their contribution of these factors to getting HPV is mediated by that. Regardless, condom use provides a degree of protection, but it is imperfect because the virus can be transmitted by contact between areas of skin not covered.

The HPV vaccine is becoming more popular. It is available for children and teenagers—since HPV can be transmitted during a person’s first sexual encounter, it is recommended that people be vaccinated before they become sexually active, but the vaccine is effective through age 26 in women and 21 in men. The vaccine provides protection against the three HPV strains that cause more than three quarters of all cervical cancers, and experts say vaccination programs could cut cervical cancer deaths by as much as two-thirds.

January Is Radon Month

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The second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States—after tobacco smoke—is invisible and odorless radon gas, which is blamed for 20,000 lung cancer deaths . Unlike smoking, it’s not something people expose themselves to intentionally. The radioactive element uranium is ubiquitous, albeit in small amounts, in soil, an is gradually decomposes into radon, which naturally occurs in gaseous form. In 1985, scientists realized that this gas comes into homes through the foundation, which is generally slightly porous. In some cases, the building materials can emit radon—this is seldom enough to cause problems, but it can add to the radon from the soil. Whatever the source, it gets trapped by the walls and roof. It can’t be seen or smelled, but it can be spotted with radon testing kits.

It is estimated that one in 15 American homes has what is considered to be a high level of radon, more than 4 picocuries per liter of air. Picocuries per liter is the measurement of the concentration of a radioactive substance, based on the radioactive decay of radium, which Marie and Pierre Curie studied. Excess radon gas can cause cancer. Radon is the most common cause of lung cancer among non-smokers—more than secondhand smoke—and one reason for this is that secondhand smoke can be seen and often avoided, while radon gas cannot be.

That is why home testing is so important. Winter, when the doors and windows are closed, is ordinarily the season of peak radon concentration, meaning if radon levels are not dangerously high in the winter they are unlikely to be dangerously hi in other parts of the year. Test kits are available, for short-term testing over a period of to days to three months, or long-term testing that can be longer than that. The reason even short-term testing can last so long is that the intention is to get an average radon level over time.

There’s no way to completely remove radon gas from the home; there’s always be some around. However sealing up cracks in and near the foundation can help prevent more from entering, and ventilation can help get out what is already there. Specialized radon reduction can can even be installed that is designed to get radon gas out of the home.