Blog Posts

Oral Cancer Concerns

April 10th, 2018

Let’s discuss something we don’t usually think about and don’t often hear about: oral cancer, or more specifically oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer. Often grouped together, these cancers are not among the most hyped, but they’re disfiguring – and deadly – just the same.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

Where are we talking about? The oral cavity, essentially the mouth, includes the lips, inside lining of the lips and cheeks, teeth, gums, front two-thirds of the tongue, floor of the mouth under the tongue, and bony roof of the mouth, or hard palate.

The oropharynx is the top part of the throat that starts in the back of the mouth. It begins where the oral cavity ends. The oropharynx generally includes the area behind the wisdom teeth, the last third of the tongue, the back part of the roof of the mouth (soft palate), the tonsils, and the side and back wall of the throat.

Anatomy of the pharynx (throat). The three parts of the pharynx are the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx.

There’s a lot we don’t know about what causes cancer, but we know it often occurs when mutations in certain genes cause certain cells to grow out of control, causing tumors to form. What researchers are trying to pin down in most cases is what causes the mutations in the first place. That’s a really simplistic explanation.

Here, I’m going to tell you about risk factors and symptoms, so maybe you can catch an oral cancer in its early stages. Then, I’ll give you a few strategies for prevention, but if you want the full scoop on oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer, read this information from the American Cancer Society.

One of the things you’ll read is that the American Cancer Society estimates 51,540 American will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in 2018, and an estimated 10,030 of them will die from it. Fortunately, the death rate has actually been declining over the last ten years. These cancers are much more common in men than women.

Let’s start with risk factors. What traits and behaviors put you at greater risk for becoming one of those estimated 51,500 people to get one of these cancers. The top two risk factors are using tobacco and drinking alcohol. The tobacco risk increases the more you use it and the longer you’ve done so.

Also, about seven out of ten people with oral cancer are heavy drinkers. The risk is increased even more in people who use tobacco and drink heavily. Some studies suggest the combination leaves people as much as 100 times more at risk than people who don’t smoke or drink.

There are some genetic syndromes that can lead to oral cancer, and a weakened immune system can make a person more susceptible. Risk also increases with age and is affected by an unhealthy diet. Researchers are now finding that infection with the HPV virus is a rising risk factor for some forms of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer.

These cancers generally appear as a growth or sore in your mouth that doesn’t go away. It can be on anywhere in your mouth, including your lips, tongue and cheeks Here are a few other symptoms to watch out for:

  • White, red or speckled patches in your mouth
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Loss of feeling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Hoarseness or persistent sore throat
  • Lump in the neck

There are other signs and symptoms as well.

Oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer are generally treated with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, or a combination of these treatments. The choice of treatment depends on the patient’s age and how advanced the cancer is, it’s stage. Treatment can leave you disfigured or with problems speaking or eating. Additional treatment may be necessary.

Today, patients also have the benefit of biological and targeted therapies. These therapies kill cancer cells without damaging the surrounding healthy tissues.

Some of the risk factors can’t be controlled, but these are things you can do to reduce your risk or find oral cancer early. These include:

  •  Limit your tobacco use
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables
  • Protect yourself against HPV infection
  • Examine your mouth at least once a mouth and look for lumps or spots
  • See your dentist regularly. The dentist can often spot suspicious areas in your mouth before you do.

You don’t want to be one of the 51,500 who will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer this year, and you especially don’t want to be one of the 10,000 who don’t make it. Now that you know about these cancers, be aware of your risk factors and on the lookout for symptoms.

Sexual Violence: Be Aware

March 31st, 2018

It happens every 98 seconds. Someone in the US becomes a victim of sexual assault. So says this article from HuffingtonPost.com. That works out to more than 570 people who fall prey to sexual violence every day. April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. It’s a good time to think about this problem and aim at preventing it.

Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

Stop Sexual Violence

There’s a lot more to know about sexual violence. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 19 percent of women and 2 percent of men will have been raped at some point in their lifetime. Another statistic from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) states that nearly one in five women and one in 71 men are victims of rape or attempted rape.

In addition, 44 percent of women and 23 percent of men will experience some other form of sexual assault, yet less than 40 percent of these incidents are reported to police. Sexual violence is 2.5 times more prevalent than the most common health conditions – cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and HIV/AIDS – combined.

Sexual assault doesn’t discriminate, either. It affects people of any age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religious belief, ethnicity and income level. Those who perpetrate the violence can be male or female and may be a family member, acquaintance, trusted friend or stranger. More often than not, the perpetrator is someone the survivor knows.

Rape is a pretty obvious form of sexual violence, but what else is considered a sexual assault? The US Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” It’s an umbrella term that includes many specific acts, which are determined by state law.

In general, sexual assault incorporates all types of rape, including statutory rape and marital or partner rape. It also includes incest, sex with children, sexual exploitation and trafficking, unwanted sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, masturbating in public and voyeurism. The definitions of these acts can vary slightly from state to state.

Many survivors are reluctant to reveal what’s happened to them, so sexual assaults are seriously underreported. In many cases, survivors don’t even tell their families or friends about their experiences, much less the police. Often, they feel ashamed and, sometimes, blame themselves.

Stock photo from istockphoto.com.Survivors may also be afraid of their attackers or want to protect them. They may distrust the police or believe there’s not enough evidence to convict the attacker. That fear is not unfounded, since it’s very difficult to get convictions in these cases. In fact, close to 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence will walk free.

The perpetrator may use force, but they may also use threats, manipulation or coercion to commit their crimes. Just because the survivor may lack physical injuries does not mean he or she consented to the act and an assault did not occur. In reality, the number of false cases of sexual violence reported to police is low.

Before these statistics leave you feeling too depressed, know that the NSVRC is confident that prevention is possible. According to them, prevention can happen when individuals and communities take action to promote safety, respect and equality, and reject oppression, which creates a culture in which violence is seen as normal.

In their fact sheet titled “Prevention is Possible,” the NSVRC gives some suggestions for steps individuals, businesses and communities can take to change the culture of oppression in this country, which condones violence, uses power over others, and excuses unfair treatment and harm. Sexual violence is born of this oppression and control over others.

Here are a few strategies from that NSVRC fact sheet that individuals and communities can use to help eliminate the culture of oppression and prevent sexual violence.

  • Individuals can intervene to stop problematic and disrespectful behavior.
  • Individuals can promote and model healthy attitudes, behaviors and relationships.
  • Individuals can believe survivors of sexual assault and help them find local resources.
  • Communities can assess the risks in their environments and improve problem areas.
  • Communities can provide support for survivors of sexual violence.
  • Communities can hold those who harm others accountable and ensure that appropriate treatment options are available.

Prevention strategies that are most successful are those that address the root causes and social norms that enable sexual violence to exist in the first place. Respecting others and treating them equally ends oppression and promotes safer communities. We all have roles to play in preventing sexual assault. Will you play yours?

Endometriosis Agony

March 27th, 2018

For about 10 percent of women in their childbearing years, a difficult, sometimes agonizing condition called endometriosis is an unwelcomed reality. This disruptive disorder, which primarily strikes those in their teens to their 40s, affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide. There’s a lot we know about endometriosis, and a lot we don’t.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

For starters, we know endometriosis occurs when the type of tissue that lines the uterus, called the endometrium, is found growing outside of the uterus. Most often, this tissue is found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, peritoneum, rectum, lymph nodes, and bladder and other pelvic organs. These areas of tissue are called endometriosis implants.

During a woman’s menstrual cycle, the endometrium in the uterus gets thicker in response to estrogen to prepare for implantation of a fertilized egg. If an egg is not fertilized and implanted, the cells of the thickened endometrium are sloughed off, and you have the bleeding of the menstrual period.

There’s a problem, however, with the endometriosis implants growing outside of the uterus. They also build up in response to estrogen, but they have nowhere to bleed at the end of the cycle. This leads to inflammation and pain that can be excruciating. It can also lead to the formation of cysts and scar tissue, called adhesions. These adhesions can cause pelvic organs to stick together, causing pain and interfering with function.

Pelvic pain is the most common symptom of endometriosis. Other symptoms include painful periods, low back pain before and during menstruation, cramps, heavy menstrual bleeding, pain during sex and pain during bowel movements. In addition, 30 to 40 percent of women with endometriosis suffer from infertility.

One of the things we don’t know about endometriosis is what exactly causes it. There are, however, several theories. One of the theories is that endometrial tissue has the ability to turn into and replace other types of tissue outside of the uterus.

Another theory is endometrial tissue fragments travel through blood vessels or the lymphatic system to other parts of the body, where they settle and grow. Another involves dysfunction of the immune system. Researchers have demonstrated, however, that endometriosis runs in families, so there is a genetic component to its development.

Being of childbearing age is the biggest risk factor for developing endometriosis, but there are others. Additional risk factors include having menstrual cycles shorter than 28 days and having periods longer than seven days. If you had your first period before age 12, you’re at a higher risk, as you are if you’ve never been pregnant.

Diagnosing endometriosis can be a challenge because other conditions have similar symptoms. For women in the US, it can take 10 to 12 years to get a correct diagnosis. Your best bet for an accurate diagnosis is to find a doctor who specializes in endometriosis.

A knowledgeable OB/GYN will often suspect endometriosis based on your history and physical examination. It’s important to be totally honest with your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor may order an imaging test such as an ultrasound, MRI or CT scan to look for cysts or adhesions, but the only definitive way to diagnose endometriosis is by laparoscopy.

During a laparoscopy, which is a minimally invasive surgery, your doctor will insert a slender tube with a camera attached to it through a tiny incision in your abdomen. He or she can then see the misplaced tissue and remove the endometriosis implants during the same procedure.

Treatment for endometriosis may include anti-inflammatory medications for pain and/or hormone medications to suppress the production of estrogen. Laparoscopic surgery may be used to remove the problematic tissue. If all else fails and symptoms impact the quality of your life, removal of your uterus and ovaries is a last-ditch option to treat this devastating disorder.

Stock photo from istockphoto.com.None of these treatments is a cure, and endometriosis pain can continue or return. So, you might want to also look at alternative treatments that have proven to benefit other painful conditions. They may help with endometriosis pain, as well. These include acupuncture and acupressure to relieve pain, and meditation to lower stress and ease pain.

Symptoms of endometriosis generally improve after menopause, when production of estrogen is significantly decreased. But in the meantime, don’t suffer. Tell your doctor in detail about the symptoms you suffer. Together, you and your doctor can create a treatment plan that works best for you.

Aiming at AMD

March 20th, 2018

If you’re a Baby Boomer, like me, now’s the time to get wise about a dangerous threat to your eyesight. It’s age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, and it’s one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over 50. To get you started learning more, here are a few realities about this insidious eye disease.

For one thing, AMD is everywhere. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.8 million Americans currently have AMD and another 7.3 million are at substantial risk for vision loss from the disorder. And as we Baby Boomers continue to age, the number with AMD is expected to rise significantly, to an estimated 6.3 million by 2030.

AMD is a disease that affects the macula, the center portion of the retina. The retina is the sensitive area in the back of the eyeball responsible for capturing light that enters the eye and turning it into nerve impulses sent to the brain by the optic nerve. The brain translates the impulses into images.

The macula is responsible for the straight-ahead central vision that allows us to see fine detail. This central vision provided by the macula enables us to distinguish faces, read, write and do close-up work like sewing and baiting a fishing hook.

There are two forms of AMD, the dry form and the wet form. About 80 percent of people with AMD have the dry form, which occurs when the tissue of the macula gets thinner and deteriorates with age. With the dry form of AMD, small clumps of protein, called drusen, begin to grow, and you may start to slowly lose vision.

The wet form of AMD, which is much less common, involves the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. In time, these abnormal vessels can leak blood and other fluids. The leaked fluids can damage the macula and lead to loss of vision, which typically occurs more quickly than with dry AMD. The dry form can progress into the wet form over time.

The key to saving your vision is early detection and intervention, but you’ve got to watch out. AMD is tricky. It can be hard to detect initially because it doesn’t typically have noticeable symptoms in its early stages, outside of the presence of drusen. That’s why it’s important to see your eye doctor regularly so he or she can examine your retinas closely to look for drusen and any other signs AMD is developing.

As AMD progresses, however, you may notice a blurry area in the center of your vision that may evolve into an empty spot. That empty area may be apparent when reading a page of type, like a book or newspaper. In addition, straight lines may look wavy, and colors might not be as sharp. Objects in your view may also appear blurry or distorted. If these symptoms occur, see your eye doctor right away.

Currently, there is no treatment for dry AMD, especially in its early stages. However, research has shown that this disease is less prevalent in people who exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet with lots of green leafy vegetables and fish, and don’t smoke. Eye professionals believe these healthy behaviors may also help people with dry AMD keep their vision longer.

The belief about a healthy diet was bolstered by two research trials called the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2). During these trials, scientists at the National Eye Institute studied the effects of vitamin and mineral supplementation on AMD. They determined that taking a specific formulation of vitamins and minerals slowed the progression of AMD in people who had intermediate and late disease. AREDS2 supplement therapy is now routine.

For people with wet AMD, there are several treatments available to destroy the abnormal blood vessels growing underneath the retina and halt the progression of the disease. These include laser surgery and photodynamic therapy, both of which use lasers to close the abnormal vessels and slow the loss of vision.

More commonly, though, are monthly injections into the eye to slow the progression of wet AMD. With wet AMD, high levels of a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) are released into the eyes. VEGF promotes the growth of the new, abnormal blood vessels. During this treatment, anti-VEGF medications are injected into the eye, which blocks the new vessels growth.

None of these treatments for AMD are cures, and they can’t restore vision that is already lost. But they can help slow additional vision loss. If you’re a Baby Boomer, be sure to see your eye doctor regularly to check for signs AMD is developing. Remember, early action can limit loss and save your remaining vision.

Progression to Periodontitis

March 13th, 2018

Recently, I had a chance to learn more about a common oral health problem. The problem is peridontal disease, or periodontitis. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47.2 percent of American adults age 30 and older have some form of gum disease. They add that gum disease increases with age, with 70.1 percent of adults 65 and older affected by it.

How does a person get to that point? I’ll try to explain. Periodontitis generally starts with gum inflammation, a condition called gingivitis. It’s called gingivitis because this inflammation primarily affects the gingiva, the part of the gums surrounding the neck of the teeth.

If you brush and floss regularly, it will remove most of the plaque that naturally builds up on your teeth. But if you don’t, some plaque may remain. Bacteria in this plaque can cause the gums to become irritated, which is gingivitis. When this occurs, it’s common for the gums to bleed when brushed. Other gingivitis symptoms include red, swollen and tender gums, and bad breath.

Even though your gums may swell and bleed with gingivitis, no irreversible damage to your bone or other tissue typically occurs at this stage. Your teeth are still secure in your jaw. And with proper care and good oral hygiene, you can restore your gum health on your own at this point in the game.

If you don’t treat your gingivitis, however, it can progress into full-blown periodontitis. Like gingivitis, periodontitis is also caused by an overgrowth of bacteria, and it can lead to red, swollen and bleeding gums. But, periodontitis generally also leads to tissue damage that cannot be repaired without professional intervention.

If you develop periodontitis, it’s likely you’ll see gum pockets start to form around your teeth, which provide an opening between the gum tissue and the teeth. This opening enables bacteria and tartar to get under your gum line, which can lead to bone destruction. With bone loss, your teeth can become loose and eventually fall out.

To make matters worse, researchers are also studying possible links between the bacterial infection of periodontitis and other health conditions. Some studies suggest a possible connection between gum disease and heart disease, stroke, premature births, diabetes and respiratory disease. Research is ongoing to further study these potential links.

Treatment for periodontitis typically starts with deep cleaning. During a deep cleaning, the problem plaque is removed using a method called scaling and root planing. Scaling involves scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line, and root planing is removing the spots on the tooth roots where the bacteria accumulate. You may also be prescribed antibiotic medications to take along with the deep cleaning.

If the deep cleaning and medications fail to reduce the inflammation and tighten your gum pockets, surgery may be the next option. The most common surgical technique for periodontitis is flap surgery, which involves lifting back the gums, removing the tartar and reattaching the gums. Along with this, the dentist may place bone and tissue grafts to regenerate lost tissue.

Instead of surgery, some dentists offer an alternative treatment for periodontitis using laser technology. During this procedure, the laser penetrates deep below the gum line to destroy the bacteria and restore your gum health.

There is some good news. You can reverse gingivitis and prevent any progression to periodontitis by keeping your teeth and gums healthy. To do that, practice good oral hygiene: brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss regularly, and visit your dentist routinely for checkups and cleanings. And if you smoke, quit. It’s not healthy in general, and it’s a big risk factor for mouth and gum diseases, including cancer as well as periodontitis.

There you have it. Now that you know more about gum disease, you’re aware of what to do to avoid it. You also know how to treat it if you’re one of the 47.2 American adults dealing with gum disease. Good health to your gums!

A Fearsome Fungus

March 6th, 2018

Who’s afraid of fungus? If you’re like me, you probably don’t think too much of fungi you can see, like mold on a piece of bread or a mushroom. But the tiny fungi living on your skin and inside your body can grow out of control and cause annoying, and sometimes serious, infections. Fungal infections are extremely common.

A July 2017 article in The Lancet reports these infections affect more than one billion people world-wide each year. What’s frightening is that these result in approximately 11.5 million life-threatening infections and more than 1.5 million deaths per year. You read that right, deaths from fungi.

When I hear “fungal infection,” I immediately think of the common culprits: athlete’s foot, yeast infections, jock itch, toenail fungus and diaper rash. These uncomfortable conditions have a few things in common. They’re all relatively mild skin infections, are easily treated with over-the-counter or prescription medicines, and are all caused by a strain of fungus called Candida.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 150 species of Candida. The majority of infections in humans are caused by a species called Candida albicans. C albicans infections occur mostly on the skin, but can enter the bloodstream and become invasive. The CDC says there are about 46,000 cases of invasive infection with this fungus in the US annually. These invasive infections can be very serious, even fatal.

Recently, another Candida species popped up on the scene that’s causing some alarm in health officials. It’s called Candida auris. C auris is a fungus to be feared. It’s deadly and some of its strains are multi-drug resistant. Infection with this fungus has been found in more than a dozen countries, including the US. Here, it typically strikes people in hospitals and nursing homes who have one or more medical conditions.

People who are sick are at greater risk for C auris infection because their immune systems are weakened by their illnesses. People who have been recently treated with antibiotic or anti-fungal medications are also at risk, as are those who have tubes going into their bodies. These include tubes to help them breathe or eat, central lines in their veins, or catheters in their bladders.

These infections can be difficult to detect. Symptoms of C auris infection are often not noticeable because of the patients’ other illnesses. Symptoms also depend on where in the body the infection occurs. C auris causes wound and ear infections, as well as infections in the mouth and genitals. It can also enter the bloodstream, and causes sepsis, which can slow blood flow, damage organs and lead to death.

C auris is a huge concern to health officials because it is often resistant to multiple types of medications used to treat fungal infections. Fortunately, the cases identified in this country so far have responded to one class of anti-fungal drugs called echinocandins.

Another concern surrounds the proper diagnosis of C auris infections. That requires specialized laboratory technology and methods, which are not universally available. Misdiagnosis can lead to mismanagement of care and increased spread of the infection. Spread occurs through contact with equipment or surfaces contaminated with the fungus, or from person to person contact. Early detection and good hygiene are the best weapons against C auris infections.

It’s important to be aware of this new fearsome fungus, but it’s not time to panic. C auris infections are still pretty rare in the US. If we’re educated and vigilant, they can stay that way!

Early Cancer Diagnosis Can Save Lives

March 1st, 2018

Getting regular wellness checkups at the doctor is like doing preventive maintenance on your car. If you wait until you know something’s wrong, fixing it becomes much more complicated.Early Cancer Diagnosis Can Save Lives

Let’s say you never change your oil regularly as recommended. You’re subjecting your engine to more wear and tear than necessary and taking the risk of a catastrophic failure.

Our bodies react much the same way if we don’t give them proper care. Someone who is having symptoms but won’t go to the doctor for fear of getting bad news is a lot like the motorist who ignores the check engine light. The solution could be as simple as tightening your car’s gas cap or as costly as replacing the catalytic converter. But you won’t know until you check it out.

Women are used to having annual gynecology exams and mammograms, which can help alert their doctor to the presence of various cancers and other health issues. But how many men get a regular physical and prostate screening?

Prostate cancer is one of the most treatable malignancies if caught early. The cancer begins in tissues of the prostate gland, which produces semen and is located just below the bladder.

By age 50, about half of all men experience small changes in the size and shape of the cells in the prostate. It’s a normal part of the aging process. But sometimes those changes are a sign of prostate cancer. A doctor’s exam and diagnostic tests can help distinguish the difference.

Because the prostate gland is so close to the bladder and the urethra, the tube through which men release urine from their body, prostate cancer may be accompanied by various urinary symptoms. For example, a tumor may press on and narrow the urethra, making it difficult to urinate or hindering the ability to start and stop the flow.

Here are other urinary symptoms of prostate cancer:

  • Burning or pain during urination;
  • More frequent urge to urinate at night;
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Blood in the urine.

Additional symptoms of prostate cancer are: blood in the semen; erectile dysfunction; swelling in the legs or pelvic area; and numbness or pain in the hips, legs or feet.

If left unchecked, prostate cancer may spread, or metastasize, to nearby bones or tissues. One sign that this has happened may be bone pain that won’t go away or that leads to fractures.

Prostate cancer can often be detected in its early stages by testing the amount of prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, in a man’s blood. Or a doctor may perform a digital rectal exam by inserting a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland for any hard or lumpy areas.

Unfortunately, neither of those initial tests for prostate cancer is perfect. A man with a mildly elevated PSA may not have prostate cancer, while a patient with prostate cancer may have a normal PSA reading. The digital exam isn’t foolproof, either, because it only assesses the back part of the prostate gland. A biopsy of tissue from the prostate may be needed to confirm, or deny, a preliminary diagnosis.

Thus, there’s still a debate over the value of regular prostate cancer screenings because of the risk of overtreating malignancies that may not be fatal. However, researchers have concluded that preventive screening can reduce a man’s risk of dying from the disease.

And there’s no disputing that catching any cancer in its early stages is the best medicine.

Eczema Experience

February 27th, 2018

A few weeks ago, I noticed strange patches of dry, scaly skin popping up all over my face and legs. I can deal with ugly patches of skin, except these itched like a son of a b! I tried to get by with over-the-counter creams and a promise to myself I wouldn’t scratch, but that failed miserably.

With the patches now inflamed, I finally scheduled an appointment with the dermatologist. She took one look at my skin and said, You’ve got eczema. I wasn’t surprised, yet I was. I knew my symptoms pointed to eczema, but I never had it before that I remember. I proceeded to learn more about the skin condition, and I decided to share some of what I learned with you.

Eczema is actually a general term describing many types of rash-like skin problems. The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis, or AD, and the terms are often used interchangeably. AD is a common, chronic inflammatory skin condition that most often affects children, but can occur in adults as well.

It is estimated that 17.8 million Americans suffer with AD. Ninety percent of cases are diagnosed in children before the age of 5, and 65 percent are diagnosed in children before their first birthday. Only five percent of AD begins in adulthood. It is more common in people who live in urban areas and dry climates.

The signs and symptoms of eczema are not the same for everyone, and it can appear differently in children and adults. In general, though, it begins as a rash with areas of dry, itchy skin. Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, but some of the more common sites include the face, neck, inside the elbows, behind the knees, and on the hands and feet.

I can attest to just how itchy the skin with eczema becomes; it’s absolutely maddening! However, scratching can lead to redness, swelling, cracking, crusting, scaling and thickening of the skin. You might even get some oozing of clear fluid from the patches you’ve scratched. Ultimately, this can lead to infection of the skin.

An exact cause of eczema is not yet known, but through studies, researchers have learned a few key things about the disorder. For one thing, it’s not contagious. You can’t spread it to others or catch it from someone else. It has also been discovered that genetics plays a part in the development of eczema. People who get it usually have family members who have it or have asthma or hay fever.

While they don’t cause eczema, certain foods and allergens can trigger flares of the disorder or make an outbreak worse. My sister has eczema and she can’t eat anything made with tomatoes. Another trigger is winter weather when the furnaces are on and the heaters in our cars are blowing. This heat dries the air and the skin, playing a role in eczema. Stress has been found to be a contributing factor as well.

There is no test to diagnose eczema. Your dermatologist can generally make the diagnosis based on the appearance of your skin and your description of your symptoms, as well as your family history. There is no cure for eczema, but there are treatments to control it. The goals of treatment are to treat infection; calm inflamed, itchy skin; prevent worsening; and avoid future flare-ups.

Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on your specific condition. He or she may recommend skin creams or ointments, like corticosteroids, to calm the itching and control swelling. Recently, the FDA approved a new prescription ointment called Eucrisa to reduce the itchiness and inflammation of eczema.

Other treatments may include a topical antibiotic to treat any infection present and a recommended skin care regimen that helps heal the skin and keep it healthy. You’ll also be told to avoid anything that triggers your eczema symptoms. In more severe cases, eczema can be treated with a specialized light therapy in your dermatologist’s office.

Unfortunately, people with eczema will always have it and always face the possibility of a flare-up. Don’t despair, there are things you can do to make living with eczema a less stressful endeavor. There are some tips in these articles that may help you. Here are a few:

  • Keep your skin moist. Try using a humidifier in your bedroom to moisten the air when you sleep. Apply body lotion right after you bathe or shower. Take lukewarm baths and put small amounts of baking soda, bath oil or colloidal oatmeal into the water to moisturize your skin and reduce itching.
  • Know your triggers. Eczema triggers may be certain foods, as in my sister’s case, or it may be detergents, soaps or deodorants you use. It may even be pet dander. If you know what gets the ball rolling for you, you can take steps to avoid these triggers. Stay away from the offending foods, use products for sensitive skin, and limit time with your pets.
  • Don’t scratch your skin. This sounds simple enough, but unless you’ve got eczema you can’t know how difficult this can be. Keep in mind scratching an itch is a temporary solution. And it can lead to bigger problems, including skin thickening, oozing and infection. If you follow your doctor’s treatment plan and keep your skin moisturized, it will help ease the itch and lessen the urge to scratch.
  • Manage your stress. Stress can contribute to eczema, so learning healthy ways to cope with stress can reduce your risk for a flare up. If you have a lot of stress in your life, consider a stress-relieving activity such as yoga, aromatherapy, massage therapy or meditation. Soaking in a warm bath may also help ease tension, and moisturize your skin at the same time. If you can’t manage stress on your own, seek professional help.

I’m treating my eczema now, and I’m hopeful. I believe stress is a factor in my case, so I think I deserve a little massage therapy on top of the treatments my doctor prescribed. I guess I’ll have to make a massage appointment real soon!

Decreasing “Diabesity”

February 20th, 2018

Obesity is a huge problem in our country, pun intended. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third (37.9 percent) of adults aged 20 and over in the US are obese, which is defined as having a Body Mass Index of 30 or above. Obesity puts people at risk for a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.Graphic from istockphoto.com.

One of the most common health conditions associated with obesity is diabetes, specifically Type 2 diabetes. These conditions are so intricately entwined that experts have coined the term “diabesity” to describe their relationship. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 95 percent of all cases of diabetes in the US, and more than 90 percent of people with the disorder are overweight or obese.

Our bodies need energy to function, and they get that energy from the food we eat. During digestion, food is broken down into a sugar called glucose that travels through the bloodstream. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, is like a key. It opens up your body’s cells to let the glucose enter to be used by the cells as fuel.

Some people’s bodies don’t make enough, or any, insulin, or they don’t use insulin appropriately, and glucose remains in the blood instead of getting into the cells. When the glucose level in your blood is too high, you’ve got diabetes. High glucose levels can damage many parts of the body, including the eyes, heart, kidneys, nerves and feet. With Type 2 diabetes, your body does not make or use insulin properly. Its onset can occur at any time, but it most often starts when people are middle-aged or older.

Many studies have demonstrated a link between obesity and diabetes, but just how diabesity occurs is complex and yet to be understood fully. What we do know is that people who are overweight or obese put added pressure on their bodies’ ability to use insulin properly to control glucose levels in their blood. This makes them more susceptible to developing diabetes.

One way obesity may lead to diabetes is by triggering changes in your metabolism, the processes that occur in your body in order to function. It’s believed that these changes cause fat tissue to release fat molecules into the blood. The increased fat in the blood affects the cells that are responsive to insulin and reduces insulin sensitivity. Calorie-dense foods leads to increased fat accumulation, and calorie-dense diets are common with overweight individuals.

When the body has to store excess fat and cannot properly control insulin levels in the blood, substances called free fatty acids are deposited in the liver, causing a condition known as fatty liver. Free fatty acids also move through the circulatory system causing reactions within other organs such as the pancreas, heart and muscles. This starts a vicious cycle of organ damage, inflammation, and deteriorating insulin resistance and insulin secretion from the pancreas.

Where the fat accumulates on your body is also a factor in diabesity. If your fat is primarily located around your belly, which is a predictor of visceral fat that lies around your internal organs, you are at an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Like diets high in fat and carbohydrates, visceral fat is associated with worsening insulin resistance.

It’s no surprise that major factors contributing to diabesity are chronic unhealthy behaviors, including eating a high-calorie diet and avoiding physical activity. We know weight loss has a beneficial effect on blood glucose control and fat metabolism, so lifestyle modification through changes in diet and exercise is generally the first diabesity management strategy. If you are also taking diabetes medications, your doses will have to be reviewed regularly, as they may need to be adjusted as you lose weight.

In certain cases, weight loss medications may be used to assist those with diabesity achieve and sustain substantial weight reduction. For some people, a surgical weight loss option, such as a gastric band or bypass, is a good choice, especially if they’ve not achieved positive results with lifestyle modification and medication therapies.

With 90 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes being overweight or obese, diabesity is expensive, too. More than one in five US health care dollars are spent on diabetes, about $245 billion. That doesn’t include the indirect costs of absenteeism, reduced work productivity, inability to work and lost workers due to premature death, accounting for another $68.6 billion.

Because it can damage many organs and tissues, diabesity lowers quality of life as well. If you are overweight, especially if you notice any symptoms of diabetes, have your blood glucose level checked by your doctor. Type 2 diabetes doesn’t always have symptoms, but some of the possible symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, hunger, fatigue and blurred vision.

Don’t wait until diabesity damages your body, get tested today, and get on the road to weight loss and glucose control. And a healthier, higher quality of life!

Flu Review 2018

February 14th, 2018

Here’s some advice. If you haven’t gotten a flu shot, get one. The 2017-2018 flu season is turning out to be a real monster, and it isn’t close to over yet. In fact, we’re only about halfway through the season.Flu Review 2018

In general, flu season starts getting worse in October, then peaks between December and February. The latest data show this year’s season has not yet peaked, and many more weeks of serious flu activity are expected.

One of things making this flu season so harsh is that the main bug in this year’s viral combination is the particularly nasty H3N2 influenza A strain. This year, it’s combined with another influenza A virus and two influenza B viruses. The H3N2 is known to cause serious seasonal flu epidemics. H3N2 is the most dangerous of the flu strains this flu season.

According to Daniel Jernigan of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Of the viruses we hate, we hate H3N2 more than the other ones.” They hate it because it’s able to adapt rapidly in order to evade the efforts of the immune system, the body’s natural germ-fighting force.

This year’s flu season is one of the worst in years. The CDC reports that as of the beginning of February, infection rates were higher this year than any year since the swine flu hit in 2009. In addition, the number of people being admitted to hospitals due to the flu is the highest they’ve ever recorded at this point in a season.

Currently, there have been more people admitted to hospitals than were admitted during what was a horrendous flu season in 2014-2015. That year, 710,000 Americans went to the hospital, and 56,000 people lost their lives as a complication of the flu.

Many people are being hospitalized, but what about those who don’t get that bad. The CDC releases statistics on the flu weekly. The most recent report indicated the percentage of people going to their doctors with flu symptoms is 7.1 percent. That’s an increase over the previous week, which was 6.5 percent.

Flu symptoms can be different in each person, but there are a few symptoms that are pretty common signals you’ve got the bug. These include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body/muscle aches, headaches and fatigue. Some people may get diarrhea or start vomiting.

For most, otherwise healthy people, the virus will run its course in a few days without treatment other than managing the symptoms. For others, especially the elderly, young children, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart or lung disease, the flu can be a serious proposition requiring treatment with anti-viral medications. This year, Baby Boomers are getting hit hard by the flu, but health officials aren’t sure why.

As of February 5, the CDC rated the flu as widespread in 48 states. Hawaii and Oregon were the only states reporting activity that rated lower than the widespread designation. Also, as of that date, 53 children have died from the flu. It’s not been reported how many adult deaths there have been thus far.

Flu kills by compromising the immune system or using it against you. When a virus enters the body, the immune system sends out special cells to find and kill it. Inflammation occurs as part of this process, but inflammation can keep oxygen from reaching the tissues in the organs. In the lungs, it can affect the blood vessels where oxygen transfer is done, leading to pneumonia. That can be deadly in anyone, but especially in older adults and those with heart or lung disease.

The flu can kill in other ways, too. If inflammation affects several organs, it can lead to body-wide inflammation, or sepsis, which can cause multiple organ failure and death. In addition, the energy needed for the initial reaction to battle the virus takes a toll on and weakens the immune system. This makes the body more susceptible to other infections that can lead to death.

Prevention is your best weapon against the flu, and that includes getting a flu shot. You may think it’s too late or think this year’s flu shot won’t protect you, but do it anyway. Remember, we’ve still got a long way to go before this flu season is over, so don’t put off getting the flu vaccine any longer.

The H3N2 strain tends to be resistant to vaccines, but health officials don’t know how effective this year’s vaccine is against this year’s version of the bug. They won’t know until the flu stops spreading. Keep in mind, though, there are also the three other strains of viruses in this season’s combination. They can also make you sick, and the flu shot protects you against those, as well. It doesn’t guarantee you won’t get sick, but it helps.

There are a few additional things you can do to help prevent the flu or stop the spread of it. One of the most important is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. And if you do have symptoms, stay put at home. Don’t go out, and stay home from work or school to keep from giving the virus to someone else.

Also, clean surfaces you touch regularly. This includes common things like doorknobs and the TV remote, especially if you stay home and park in front of the TV while you’re sick. Keep your tooth brush separated from those of the other people in your house, and wash the sheets and blankets on your bed frequently.

Your best bet against this virus? Use common sense – and get a flu shot.

Page 5 of 16