Blog Posts

No Bark, No Bite: Pets at Work

July 6th, 2015
Dog and Cat Family at FHCN

Part of Florida Health Care News’ Fur Family

Ours is a pet-friendly workplace, as are about 20 percent of all companies in the United States, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) — and that number is growing. It’s about time American companies realized the many benefits of having furry friends on the job. Stress reduction is the most obvious and most talked about benefit, but there are others.

In their survey, APPMA found that the majority of employees felt that having pets at work leads to a slew of advantages. For one, they felt that the freedom to have their best friends at work inspired a more creative environment. But, that’s not all. Other benefits they described included increased employee satisfaction, decreased absenteeism and improved relationships between managers and employees. Not bad.

Not only that, but there’s research to back it up. In a study conducted in 2010, researchers discovered that having a dog in the workplace increased collaboration among employees. In another study in 2012, investigators were able to demonstrate that dogs in the workplace reduced stress and increased employee satisfaction. Go, dogs, go!

Let’s face it. Pets at work are bound to make you smile. And that’s infectious, so everyone’s mood gets a boost. Just ask anyone in our office, and they’ll tell you that the presence of our “Morale Officer,” Luna – an amazing Malinois-Tervuren mix (a Belgian shepherd for us laypeople) – is a daily pick-me-up.

Dogs are great to have around the office, but don’t discount the value of having cats on board, too. They might be more aloof than dogs in general, but nothing beats the calming effect of petting a purring feline — and watching them dart through the halls can be a very entertaining break in the day.

You don’t have to tell the government employees of Doña Ana County in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about the benefits of having cats at work. They’ve got a unique set-up in their office where they’ve got cats from a local shelter “on loan” that they can spend time with at their desks. If they prefer, they can spend time with the cats in a special space set aside in their office that they call “the library.”

As an aside, a secondary benefit of having the cats on site is that many of them are being adopted. There is a lot of public traffic through the government office, and when people see the cats in the library, many choose to give them forever homes. Great story. It’s got benefits for everyone.

Sure, there’s some work involved in having pets in the workplace. They have to be fed and watered, and dogs have to be regularly walked outside. But these are small inconveniences considering the many benefits associated with their presence. Higher morale, better relationships, and increased team cooperation, commitment, focus and satisfaction, along with decreased stress and absenteeism more than make up for those inconveniences.

Good planning and a few guidelines can easily deal with the little complications that some places use as excuses, such as allergic employees, so few barriers remain in the way for more companies to employ pet-friendly policies. Let’s hope they do!

A Pain in the Butt

June 29th, 2015
Man Getting Colonoscopy

Public Domain Image

Getting a colonoscopy is not something most of us want to think about. But as we reach age 50 (earlier if there’s a family history of colon cancer or other issues), it’s an imperative screening test that we all need to have.

I will tell you this – the test itself is not bad at all. A shot of propofol, a little nap, and boom. It’s over.

It’s the preparation for the test that is the real challenge.

For doctors to get a good look at the colon during a colonoscopy, it has to be empty. To check for polyps and diverticulitis and a myriad of other possible conditions, the colon has to be clean. I’m talking spic and span.

Unfortunately, there’s only one way to do this, and it’s not especially pleasant.

The day before the procedure, patients are prescribed a liquid that tastes sort of like the ocean. It’s not so much the taste, but the amount of this liquid that must be ingested in a roughly four-hour period the evening before the test: You need to drink 8 ounces of the chilled liquid every 10 minutes. Trips to the bathroom will begin about an hour later and will continue until the stool is watery and clear (which takes three or four liters of the solution. Give yourself a good three hours). After this, you can only have liquids until after your procedure (clear juice, soup broth and jello are good choices, but expect to be hungry).

Tips of the trade: invest in soft toilet paper, warm wet wipes and a good book. You’ll need them.

With luck, your test will be a good one, and you won’t have to do it again for 10 years.

Screening Sense

June 22nd, 2015
Woman getting a Mammogram Cancer Screening

Public Domain Image

Everybody wants to stay healthy and live a long life, and prevention of disease is one way to help you meet that goal. But some disorders, like many cancers, can’t be prevented. The next best thing is to detect them in their earliest stages when they’re most amenable to treatment. Routine screening tests are recommended for some of the more common cancers like breast and prostate.

Until recently, the guidelines for screening set by the medical community in this country were designed with maximum detection in mind. The goal was to use the most sensitive testing available in order to find every possible case of early cancer. It is a noble objective, but not without flaws. Now, the medical community is revisiting this issue.

In the May 19 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, a group from the American College of Physicians (ACP) suggests that many medical professionals and the public have overestimated the benefits of this “high-intensity” approach to cancer screening. Increasingly, however, they are becoming more aware of the other side of the coin. Intensive screening leads to greater harm to patients and increased medical costs.

This awareness has prompted a new way of looking at the screening issue that considers the tradeoffs between benefits, and harms and costs of various screening strategies in terms of value. The authors write:

High-value screening strategies provide a degree of benefit that clearly justifies the harms and costs; low-value strategies return disproportionately small health benefits for the harms and costs incurred. Value and intensity are not the same.

The point is that although a high-intensity screening approach may, indeed, have many benefits, when objectively measured, the benefits often do not outweigh the negatives of significant harm to patients and added cost. That makes it a low-value strategy. The ACP suggests that the American medical community consider more high-value strategies when setting screening schedules. These strategies often take an intermediate level of intensity that best balances benefits with harms and costs. That might mean reserving the most sensitive tests only for people with certain risk factors for that particular cancer.

The ACP offers advice for screening recommendations for five common cancers – breast, cervical, colorectal, ovarian and prostate – in average-risk adults. These are people who have no family history or other risk factors and who do not have any cancer symptoms. Before dispensing this advice, the ACP reviewed clinical guidelines and evidence from a number of sources including the US Preventive Services Task Force, The American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Cancer Society, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Gastrointestinal Association and the American Urological Association. Most of these organizations have already embraced high-value strategies, so the ACP’s advice for screening is not earth shattering.

Screenings remain an important part of your routine preventive health care, so continue to follow your doctor’s recommendations. He or she follows the guidelines approved by the American Cancer Society or other appropriate medical organization and will have access to the most up-to-date schedule for exams. If you have questions or concerns about the necessity of a screening, bring them up to your doctor. Be smart and be your own advocate!

The Ginger Gene: Testing proves redheads need more anesthesia

June 15th, 2015

Red Head Stock Photo

It was just a typical visit to the dentist. An old filling had cracked and needed to be replaced. No biggie, right?

Well, five shots of Novocain later, I’m thinking it’s kind of a biggie. Not the actual repair, but rather the fact that apparently my body thinks its immune to Novocain, a wonder drug that allows modern man to have dental work done without an ounce of pain (minus the shot to get it in there, of course).

I’m typically pretty relaxed when it comes to dental work – I pop in the headphones, turn on the iPod and lay back. But when my dentist sat down to make sure I was numb a few minutes after my first shot – forget about it. I could feel it all and almost jumped out of the chair.

She gave me two more shots in the fleshy part of my cheek, and I waited another few minutes, rocking out and relaxing. It was getting numb, but not like it should have.

“The left side of your tongue should feel numb by now,” she says.

Wrong. Not even close, doc.

“Hmm,” she thinks out loud. “This is strange.”

She proceeds to give me two more shots (that’s five, for those of you who weren’t counting), directly into the gum surrounding the tooth.

Finally, it takes. She quickly gets to work and finishes the procedure before it starts to wear off.

Later, a colleague mentioned to me that redheaded people have a predilection for being especially resistant to anesthesia. Say what?

Guess what – it’s true!

“Some anesthesiologists share an anecdotal impression that patients with natural red hair require more anesthesia than patients with other hair colors,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

Testing proved that gingers, nearly all of whom have a “distinct mutation of the melanocortin-1 receptor gene,” did indeed need more anesthesia – 19 percent more, exactly.

Now I’m not what you’d call a ginger. (Truthfully, I’m now more like a silver.) However, my dad has red hair, and my brother’s hair was basically orange when he was a kid. So clearly, I’m carrying that ginger gene.

Does this mean I have a higher pain threshold, too? I’ve had a few small fillings done without anesthesia, and once I cut my finger pretty deep and had several stitches put in by a Special Forces medic in his office without benefit of pain relief. He said I was tougher than a lot of some of the super commandos he had taken care of. I even gave birth once without benefit of pain relief (not by choice, believe you me), but that sure didn’t feel like I had a high pain threshold.

I’ve never been under general anesthesia, so learning this fact about my DNA makes me a little leery. What if I’m one of those people who can’t move or speak but can feel everything during an operation? That would be just my luck.

Redheads (or ginger gene carriers, like me) who’ve had problems with needing extra anesthesia, or having anesthesia wear off quickly – tell me your story. Nurses, doctors, dentists – what have you seen in your practice? Does this redheaded anesthesia syndrome hold water? Or is it just an urban myth?

I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I know I’ll be asking for lots of Novocain the next time I need dental work.

Matters of Men’s Health!

June 8th, 2015

hand-holding-a-stethoscope “Man is his own worst enemy.” So says Marcus Tullius Cicero, 1st Century BC Roman  philosopher, statesman and writer. Maybe the Romans in Cicero’s time were as  hesitant to see their doctors as contemporary men are today! Although men are  getting better, women are still 33 percent more likely to visit a physician for a health-  related issue. That’s according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC). Men also tend to wait until a problem is serious before they break down and      make an appointment.

Doctor’s appointments aside, the reality is that the average life expectancy for men in  the US is 76.2 years. For women, it is 81, almost five years longer than men. Also,  death rates for men top those of women in all 15 leading causes of death except one,  Alzheimer’s disease. The bottom line is that men need to do a better job with their  health, and a few key prevention strategies are a good place to start.

June is Men’s Health Month. Let’s take a look at a couple of the top men’s health concerns and some ways you can lower your risks and improve your outlook. For a more comprehensive look at the issues men face, the CDC has an entire website dedicated to men’s health, with everything from yearly statistics to articles on specific disorders. For now, let’s look at the top three men’s health threats.

Cardiovascular disease continues to rank at the top of the list, killing as many as 27.2 percent of men. The biggest culprit is the build up of fatty plaque in the arteries, particularly the coronary arteries surrounding and feeding the heart muscle. This eventually blocks the smooth flow of blood, leading to symptoms and – possibly – disaster. The goal is to prevent and even reduce the plaque bulk accumulating in your blood vessels.

Some important things to do include having your cholesterol checked regularly and keeping it at a recommended level, as well as getting and keeping your blood pressure under control if it’s high. Yes, guys. That means an occasional trip to your doctor’s office. Also, stop smoking if you do, get plenty of aerobic exercise and eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Stay away from foods high in salt, cholesterol and saturated and trans fats. Watch your drinking, too. Excess alcohol should be avoided.

Cancer in general is number two on the list of heath threats to men, but the top cancers for men are lung, prostate and colorectal. Although smoking is a huge trigger for lung cancer, most cancers in general can’t be totally prevented. However, risk factors for many cancers can be affected by changing lifestyle habits, such as stopping smoking, getting regular exercise, eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Also, regular screenings are important for catching cancers in their earliest, most treatable stages, so following your doctor’s recommendations for cancer screenings is essential to control and defeat the disease. It really won’t hurt you to see your doctor once in a while!

The third health threat might surprise you – chronic lower respiratory disease or, as it’s most commonly called, COPD. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) actually includes two disorders, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both of these disorders, which can occur at the same time, interfere with normal breathing and often result in shortness of breath and wheezing. Smoking most often triggers COPD. (Prevention alert!) Both chronic bronchitis and emphysema are progressive, which means they get worse over time.

In addition to quitting smoking yourself, try to avoid secondhand smoke as well. When possible, limit your time in dusty or polluted environments. Research suggests exposure to certain chemicals can also have an impact, so if you work around hazardous chemicals – any chemicals, really – be sure you take the appropriate safety precautions and have adequate ventilation.

Stay well. Don’t forget to eat a healthy diet, exercise your mind and body, de-stress and get plenty of rest. Do you have any more advice for the guys in your life?

You, Your Loved Ones and Liver Cancer

June 1st, 2015

Word cloud illustration in shape of hand print showing protest.Not long ago, someone close to me lost a heroic battle with liver cancer. This makes me want to share some wisdom I garnered from his fight. First of all, maintain a positive attitude. I’m convinced my uncle’s optimistic outlook kept him healthier longer and gave him more strength to deal with the treatment and its side effects. Strength in mind, strength in body! What are your thoughts on the mind-body connection?

 

Second, never give up! There are many treatment options. If none of the traditional treatments are effective and you’re able, travel to or contact one of the nation’s major cancer centers. They may have an experimental therapy or know of a clinical trial that’s off the radar.

 

For those who haven’t been diagnosed with liver cancer, don’t wait to see your doctor if you begin to experience any of its symptoms. The sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin, the better the chances treatment will be effective. Here are some noticeable symptoms of liver cancer according to the American Cancer Society:

 

  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Eating just a little bit but feeling full
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A mass under your ribs on the right side (may be an enlarged liver)
  • A mass under your ribs on the left side (may be an enlarged spleen)
  • Swelling in your abdomen (belly) or near your right shoulder blade
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (called jaundice)
  • Abnormal bruising or bleeding

 

Lastly, evaluate and modify your risk factors where appropriate. Liver cancer occurs when the DNA in the cells is somehow damaged and the cells begin to malfunction. Exactly why this happens is still somewhat of a mystery, but we know there are factors that put a person at a greater risk for developing this disease.

Some of the factors that increase your risk for liver cancer cannot be changed or prevented, but living a healthy lifestyle can reduce some others. Suggestions to lower liver cancer risk include:

 

  • Don’t smoke
  • Use alcohol in moderation.
  • Keep diabetes in control.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

 

Also, to avoid getting hepatitis, HIV or other viral infections that affect the liver, don’t use IV drugs or share needles, and don’t have unprotected sex. Live healthy – and smart! Do you have any other suggestions?

Ancient Recipe Kills Modern Bacteria

May 26th, 2015

ancient medicine

Remember the 1992 movie Medicine Man with Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco? He plays an eccentric scientist working on a cure for cancer in the Amazon jungle, on the cusp of a major discovery thanks to help from an indigenous medicine man. Naturally, a logging company is bulldozing the very jungle where he is conducting his research, so time is of the essence.

In the end – spoiler alert! – Connery’s character accidently discovers that it’s a rare species of ant that holds the key to curing cancer. It was the ants all the time! The ants!

As I read an article recently in The Telegraph, it got me to thinking about that movie. In particular, it got me to thinking about natural remedies, and that the cures we so desperately seek for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and more are, like the ants on the sugar bowl in Medicine Man, right under our noses.

The Telegraph article points to a study conducted at the School of English at Nottingham University in England in, where researchers may have found a remedy for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as the superbug MRSA.

Using – get ready for it – a thousand-year-old treatment for eye infections made up of cow bile, garlic and wine, Nottingham’s Dr. Christina Lee and microbiologist Freya Harrison came up with an ointment hat not only killed, but obliterated MRSA in tests.

The recipe, which was very detailed and required a brass pot, straining, and letting the concoction sit for nine days, came from Bald’s Leechbook, an Old English manuscript in the British Library that Dr. Lee, a Viking studies professor, translated.

“We were genuinely astonished at the results of our experiments in the lab,” she said.

“When combined according to the recipe, the MRSA populations were almost totally obliterated: about one bacterial cell in a thousand survived in mice wounds,” according to the Telegraph.

To ensure the salve’s success wasn’t a fluke, a team of scientists at Texas Tech University repeated the experiment with the same results. “The salve performed as ‘good, if not better’ than traditional antibiotics at tackling the superbug,” according to scientists there.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that the answers we need are already there. As Mother Nature provides the problem, so does she provide the cure – we just need to find it.

Maybe our scientists don’t need to spend billions of dollars in labs creating synthetic serums. Maybe we need to spend more time scouring the depths of the oceans, peaks of mountains and yes, fauna and flora of the jungles, to find the answers to how to cure our diseases.

Also, perhaps, we need to take another look at some old wives’ tales. Like a thousand-year-old recipe that is doing what modern medicine can’t, I think medical lore may have some merit. Do you know of any old-fashioned “cures” that should get a second look by modern medicine?

Cancer or a Common Skin Problem? What Do I Do?

May 18th, 2015

It started out looking like a tiny wart. Then it grew, rapidly, swelling to monstrous size in just a few weeks beneath the surface of the skin. It looked to me like it could have been some sort of cancerous growth.

I made an appointment with a dermatologist and it turned out to be something benign but also obscure…at least to me. It was called a pyogenic granuloma, also known as a lobular capillary hemangioma.

A pyogenic granuloma is a benign vascular tumor, which occurs primarily in the skin or mucous membranes. Most frequently found on the hands or feet, these lesions also commonly occur on the face, head, neck, or inside the mouth.

A pyogenic granuloma will initially appear as a pinhead-sized bump or nodule. Most range from dark pink to red in color. Within weeks, the lesion may expand to several centimeters in size as it begins to protrude from the skin.

One of the most distressing aspects of a pyogenic granuloma is that it is subject to persistent bleeding: the slightest bump in the area of the tumor can cause it to bleed profusely. Because the lesion consists of new capillaries, sometimes the bleeding does not stop within the timeframe of a normal wound.

Even more disturbing is the uncertainty of the condition when it has not yet been diagnosed; it is, after all, a tumor, so it looks like a cancer to the layperson.

Surgery is the only way to remove a pyogenic granuloma. For mine, the procedure was a simple outpatient procedure under local anesthesia, and took less than fifteen minutes.

Pyogenic granulomas are mostly just an unsightly nuisance, but their resemblance to malignant tumors makes them a priority when they do appear. Anyone with a suspicious bump on the skin should visit a dermatologist promptly.

Be Aware of Brain Attack! How to Recognize the Symptoms of a Stroke.

May 11th, 2015

StrokeiStock_000042417122

It’s May, which is National Stroke Awareness Month. Because strokes are a serious medical emergency, the health care community often refers to it as a “brain attack,” comparing it in urgency to a heart attack. The statistics from the National Stroke Association vary slightly from those of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), but the bottom line is strokes are a leading cause of death and disability in the United States, and most of them can be prevented.

In its simplest sense, a stroke occurs when the blood flow to an area of the brain is interrupted. As a result, the cells in that area don’t get the necessary oxygen, glucose and other nutrients normally provided by the blood, and the cells begin to whither and die. This cell death is what causes the disability associated with stroke.

There are two primary types of strokes. Blood flow can be blocked by a blood clot, called an ischemic stroke, or interfered with due to bleeding in the brain, called a hemorrhagic stroke. Ischemic strokes are much more common, accounting for about 80 percent of all strokes. Sometimes, blood flow is interrupted very briefly, but the person experiences some stroke-like symptoms. These are called transient ischemic attacks or TIAs.

A big cause of ischemic stroke is atherosclerosis,2 that ugly build-up of fatty plaque deposits on the walls of your arteries. When it builds up in the carotid arteries in your neck, the arteries become narrow and the blood flow to the brain becomes restricted, leading to a TIA or stroke. Hemorrhagic strokes often occur as a result of a ruptured aneurysm (a bulge in a blood vessel) in the brain, but can also result from an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) or from prolonged high blood pressure, the leading risk factor for stroke.

Like many conditions, stroke has both controllable and uncontrollable risk factors. Some of the uncontrollable factors include things like age, gender, race, family history and the presence of arterial abnormalities like aneurysms and AVMs. It’s the controllable risk factors you want to concentrate on, because changing a few behaviors just might help prevent disaster.

The basics of good health apply to stroke prevention, too, so it’s important to manage those controllable risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. To reduce your risk, quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, eat a proper diet and avoid excessive alcohol use. If you have high blood pressure, atherosclerosis or high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes or another chronic disorder, make sure you keep your condition well under control.

Before you go, know the signs of a stroke. And remember, a stroke is an emergency. If you notice the signs of a stroke in someone, don’t hesitate. Call 911 right away. According to the NINDS, the symptoms of a stroke are distinct because they happen quickly.4 Signs of a stroke include the sudden onset of:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

 

Here’s My Beard: Ain’t It Weird?

May 8th, 2015

Waiting Room Cover

Not since the days of George Carlin’s famous Hair Poem have beards been so popular. They’re back in fashion again; although, there might be an unfortunate aspect to facial hair that the medical community is acknowledging in a rather public manner.

According to recent news reports, beard swab tests in New Mexico revealed that the subjects’ facial hair held a host of bacteria more commonly associated with urinary tract infections or rest rooms.

“I’m usually not that surprised; I was surprised by this,” notes Quest Diagnostics microbiologist John Golobic. “These are enterics, the kinds of things that you’d find in feces. It certainly shows a degree of uncleanliness that is somewhat disturbing.”

Not surprisingly, a face full of hair is simply capable of holding onto all sorts of bacteria longer than a face that is clean-shaven on a daily basis. Studies by the International Foundation for Dermatology and the journal Anaesthesia have documented problems with the spread of staphylococcus. Folliculitis, or infection of hair follicles, is common among bearded men.

However, there’s no need for panic. In spite of numerous studies showing that facial hair traps dirt and germs more easily, men can still enjoy their furry faces as long as they maintain excellent hygiene. Keeping a beard neatly trimmed, washing it regularly, and applying conditioner can all keep cleanliness at a fairly healthy level.

Golobic recommends a thorough beard scrubbing, as well as frequent hand washing, and adds, “Try to keep your hands away from your face as much as possible.”

So before you kiss that bearded dude, you might want to run him through a hot shower.

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