Blog Posts

Reduce Radon Risks

January 21st, 2018

It’s a new year, and for most of us, that means making a resolution or two. Here’s an important resolution you may not have thought of: Resolve to test your home for radon. January is National Radon Action Month, and it’s a good time to take time to protect yourself and your family from this dangerous element.

So, what’s the deal with radon? Radon is a radioactive gas that can leak into your home from the surrounding environment. You can’t see or smell it, but in high concentrations, it can be deadly. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths behind smoking, killing approximately 21,000 Americans each year.

Radon is produced by the natural decaying of uranium, which is abundant in soil, rock and even water. Radon gets inhaled and accumulates in the lungs, where it irradiates the cells of the airways. It is this process that increases the risk for lung cancer. If you smoke AND your home has a high radon level (EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes), your risk for lung cancer is especially high.

There are no immediate symptoms of radon exposure. Lung cancer is the only health condition conclusively linked to it, and lung cancer can develop years after radon exposure. Lung cancer symptoms include persistent coughing, shortness of breath, hoarseness, coughing up phlegm tinged with blood and recurrent bronchitis or pneumonia. To date, no other respiratory illnesses have been definitively linked to radon exposure.

The amount of radon found in the soil around your home depends on the chemical makeup of the soil, and soil chemistry can be slightly different from house to house. The volume of radon that escapes from the soil and gets into your house depends on several factors. These include the weather, the amount of moisture in the soil and the suction power within your house.

To make its way into your home, the radon gas escapes the ground soil and seeps into the air. It then gets into your house through cracks and other holes in the foundation that might not be apparent. The gas can get trapped inside your home and build up to a dangerous level. Sometimes, radon can get into the house through well water; and in some homes, the actual building materials can give off radon, although this is not common.

It is estimated that nearly one out of every 15 homes in the US has an elevated radon level. The only way to be sure if your home is affected is by testing. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend radon testing in all homes and schools. You can also find out about any radon problems in schools, day care centers, other child care facilities and many workplaces by visiting EPA – United States Environmental Protection Agency.

There are two general ways to test for radon, short-term testing and long-term testing. Short-term tests are left in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the test. Short-term tests don’t tell you your year-round average radon level, but they can help you decided whether or not to make changes to your home to fix any problem. People typically do two or more short-term tests to confirm a radon problem.

Long-term tests are left in your home for longer than 90 days and give you a better idea of your yearly average radon level. You can do the testing yourself, or you can hire a professional tester to do the job for you. Do-it-yourself test kits are available at many home improvement and hardware stores or online. If you choose to hire someone, be sure to first check with your state radon office and ask for a list of qualified testers in your area.

If two consecutive short-term tests or a long-term test indicates a high level of radon in your home, it’s time to consider making repairs to mitigate the problem. There are several ways to reduce radon levels in your home. The most common method is by installing a vent pipe system and fan that pulls the radon from beneath your house and releases it outside. Sealing cracks in the foundation and other openings can make this repair more effective and cost-efficient.

Like the testing, you can choose to do the repair work yourself or hire a qualified radon mitigation professional. If you choose to do it yourself, there are many resources online that give you suggestions and directions for reducing radon levels in your home. More information can be found in this booklet and others from the EPA.

Excessive exposure to radon can be prevented through careful testing and, if necessary, repairs to your home. By taking a few common-sense steps, you can protect yourself and your family from an increased risk for lung cancer. That’s a New Year’s resolution that can save your life!

Adults Get Bullied, Too!

January 16th, 2018

We all know bullying is a rampant problem in our schools, and most everyone – from students to political leaders – is working on effective ways to combat that issue. But did you know bullying can be a problem in the workplace as well? Yes, adults can be victims of bullying, too!Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

The American Psychological Association defines bullying as “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort.” Discomfort is the operative word when it comes to bullies at work. There are several types of adult bullies and different ways they bully others.

One type is the physical bully. These bullies may simulate violence, such as raising a hand like they’re going to hit you or throwing objects in your direction. They may sexually harass you, violate your personal space or loom over you. Some of these bullies use their titles or positions of authority to intimidate or harass others.

Verbal bullies use words to make people uncomfortable. They might threaten, shame, insult or tease you in a hostile way. Maybe they criticize you constantly or use sarcasm, or racist, sexist or other demeaning language to dominate or humiliate you.

Passive-aggressive bullies are harder to spot because they do their bullying on the sly. These bullies behave OK outwardly, but bully subtly. These are the people who spread gossip and lies about you, and use condescending eye contact, facial expressions and gestures toward you. They might deliberately try to embarrass you, leave you out at social gatherings or sabotage your work, success and advancement.

Secondary, or ancillary, bullies are also common in the workplace. These are the employees who don’t initiate the bullying, but join in on the abuse. Secondary bullies generally participate in the bullying to suck up to the primary bullies in order to avoid becoming victims themselves.

Don’t forget cyber bullies. They’re at work, too. A lot of these verbal and passive-aggressive behaviors can be spread through company email, websites and social media, as well as by phone and text. Without intervention, it becomes a living, breathing cycle of abuse.

There’s are negative emotional and psychological impacts of bullying in the workplace. It’s pretty obvious it can lead to reduced job performance. But studies show it can also result in anxiety, depression and even PTSD in the person at the center of that abusive cycle.

What are you supposed to do if you’re getting bullied at work? This article includes ten tips for dealing with workplace bullies, and it’s worth a quick read. Here is a small sampling of its list of solutions:

  • Don’t get emotional. Bullies thrive on getting others all worked up, so stay calm and rational. It may help diffuse the situation.
  • Document everything. This tip is common to many of the articles I read on the subject of dealing with workplace bullies. Keep a journal or diary, something in writing, that notes everything that occurred with dates. If things get really bad, take it to Human Resources. Don’t leave your journal in the office, though.
  • Get counseling. Talking about what’s happening to you will help you manage the stress. This is especially important if you’ve already started feeling anxious or depressed. Some companies have counseling services available on site or close by for their employees.
  • Do your best work. If a bully is trying to make you look bad, don’t make it easier for him or her with a poor performance on the job. Don’t do things you can control like come in late, take long lunches or miss deadlines on your projects.

These steps and the others in the article may not change things right away, so be patient. Also, be assertive. If you consistently present a confident self and remain calm, your bully may back down. He or she is not going to change, but your reaction to them can, and that can make a world of difference for you.

Seeking Cervical Health

January 8th, 2018

In the past, cervical cancer was one of the top cancer killers of women in the United States. But with the introduction of the Pap smear in the 1950s and a growing focus on getting that test, cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths decreased by more than 60 percent. Today, cervical cancer ranks 14th among most common cancers affecting American women.

Yet, as we wrap up 2017, we learn there were approximately 12,800 new cases of invasive cervical cancer diagnosed last year, with about 4,200 deaths. (They’re still tabulating.) That’s a lot fewer deaths than there were in 1975 (5.6 per 100.000 women), but it’s still too many. This month, let’s take a closer look at cervical cancer and its risk factors, and see what we can do to lower our risk and establish cervical health.Graphic from istockphoto.com.

In simple terms, cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. This can occur in just about any area of the body, and in some cases, the exact reason the abnormal cells begin to grow is unclear. Cervical cancer begins in the cells that line a woman’s cervix. The cervix is the lower section of the uterus that connects the main part of the uterus to the vagina.

Like it does in many types of cancer, genetics plays a key role in the development of cervical cancer. The growth and division of cells is controlled by our cells’ DNA, which makes up our genes. Cervical cancer can be initiated by mutations to that DNA, causing the cells to grow out of control. With cervical cancer, there are risk factors that make this process more likely to occur.

Infection with the human papillomavirus, or HPV, is one of the strongest risk factors for cervical cancer. HPV has been found to produce proteins that affect certain genes and allows cervical cells to overgrow. HPV also causes changes to other genes that can lead to the development of cancer. It greatly increases a woman’s chances of getting the disease.

Regrettably, HPV, primarily a sexually transmitted infection, is very common. About nine in ten people will be infected at some point in their lives. Fortunately, today there are very safe and effective vaccines to prevent HPV infection. These vaccines are most effective if given to boys and girls before they become sexually active.

There are other risk factors that increase the odds of developing cervical cancer. These include having a family history of cervical cancer, smoking, having a weakened immune system, being infected with chlamydia (another STI), eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables, and being overweight. Long-term use of birth control pills and use of IUDs can also contribute, as can having multiple babies and having your first baby before you were 17 years old.

In most cases, cervical cancer begins with pre-cancerous changes in the cells of the cervix that, without intervention, can develop further into full-fledged cancer. That’s where Pap tests have proven their worth. Pap smears can detect these pre-cancerous changes when done on a routine basis. They can also catch the cancer in its early, most treatable stages.

In the early 1970s, the most common treatments for cervical cancer were cone biopsy and hysterectomy. Today, common treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy, and most often a combination of these treatments is used. Treatments chosen depends on whether the cancer is caught at an early stage or is advanced. For stage 1, or early cervical cancer, the five-year survival rate is about 93 percent.

Ninety-three percent is pretty good, but that’s if you catch the cancer very early on. To do that, you need to keep to your routine pelvic exam and Pap test schedule. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for how often to have these tests performed. These can vary by age and number of individual risk factors. There are additional steps to take to reduce your risk as well.

One step is to reduce your chance of HPV infection. Limit your number of sexual partners and use a condom every time you have sex. In addition, get vaccinated against HPV. While the vaccine is normally given to younger boys and girls, people up to age 26 are eligible to receive it.

Other preventive steps include quitting smoking, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and maintaining an appropriate weight. There’s nothing you can do if you’ve got a family history of cervical cancer, you can’t change your genes, but living a healthy lifestyle is a benefit to your cervical health and your overall health. Think about it.

Gum Disease: A Health Disaster

January 1st, 2018

We all know the routine: Brush and floss at least twice a day to keep your teeth and gums healthy. By doing this, you can avoid cavities that require extra trips to the dentist and that annoying and uncomfortable drilling to repair. Brushing and flossing are good for your gums, too, and having healthy gums can help you avoid a slew of other problems.

Graphic from istockphoto.com.

Stages of Gum Disease

That’s because periodontal disease, or gum disease, has been shown in research study after research study to affect the body systemically, beyond the mouth into other areas such as the heart, lungs and blood. It has been linked to an increased risk of a number of heath conditions.

Gum disease has different forms. The mildest is gingivitis, which is generally associated with poor oral health habits. With this form, you might notice your gums becoming red and swollen, and they may bleed easily. Gingivitis can be reversed with professional treatment and better oral hygiene.

Periodontitis, a more serious form of gum disease, can develop if gingivitis is left untreated. In this case, plaque that is left on the teeth spreads and grows beneath the gum line. Bacteria in the plaque produce toxins that stimulate a chronic inflammatory response.

As part of this response, the body reacts by essentially turning on itself, and eventually the tissues that support the teeth break down and are destroyed. What happens is the gums start to separate from the teeth and form pockets around the teeth that can become infected. If the pockets become large over time, the teeth can loosen and have to be pulled.

One disorder linked to periodontal disease is diabetes. Research shows people with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontal disease. Gum disease, in turn, can increase blood glucose levels and the risk for diabetes complications. It goes both ways, though. Having gum disease makes it more difficult to control blood glucose.

There are other disorders associated with gum disease, including osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw, which may lead to tooth loss and decreased bone density. Research has found that bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can be inhaled into the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses.

An increased risk of various cancers has also been associated with periodontal disease. For example, research found that men were 49 percent more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer and 30 percent more likely to develop blood cancers. There was an increased risk for some cancers in women as well. The risk of esophageal cancer increases in both men and women.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. Some have shown that the bacteria involved in developing periodontitis can make its way into the bloodstream and cause an elevation of a certain substance in the blood. This substance, C-reactive protein, is a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. That inflammation increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

There’s more. A recent Chinese study revealed that aggressively treating gum disease may help lower blood pressure in people at high risk for high blood pressure, such as those who have elevated blood pressure levels. This study’s results were reported in November at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting.

Another recent study, this one conducted in the United Kingdom, discovered that gum disease could raise the risk of dementia by as much as 70 percent. These findings were presented this past August.

The facts are pretty clear. Gum disease can lead to a host of health disorders. This point underscores the importance of keeping your teeth and gums healthy through regular dental checkups and good oral hygiene practices.

Your parents were right when they bugged you to brush your teeth when you were a kid. I’m bugging you now. Brush and floss, and follow your dentist’s advice for routine care. It’s not just for your teeth; it’s for total body health!

Holiday Stressed?

December 19th, 2017

According to a survey report from the American Psychological Association released last month, more than half of Americans consider the present the lowest point in US history they can remember. This conclusion came from people of every generation including those who lived through Word War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crises and the attacks on September 11. The purpose of the survey was to measure stress in America.Stock photo from istockphoto.com.

If we’re already stressed, how are we going to handle the upcoming holidays, which can be stressful on their own? For many people, the holidays also bring feelings of sadness and depression. And some are affected by the shortened days and dearth of daylight at this time of the year. Most of us need some help to get through it.

Don’t worry. There are many steps you can take to help manage stress, and the anxiety and depression that can come with it. I’ll tell you more about that later. But first, let’s consider one reason the holidays are so stressful to start out with.

According to an article from Harvard, it’s a brain thing. The article’s author noted another survey whose respondents reported financial demands, dealing with family and maintaining personal health habits as their main holiday stressors. Responding to challenges like these requires shifting our cognitive strategies, and that’s where brain function comes in, specifically cognitive function.

Cognitive functioning is a type of executive functioning, which is responsible for getting things done. This type of functioning is done by the frontal lobe of the brain. The skills that are part of cognitive functioning include managing time, being attentive, switching focus, planning and organizing, and remembering details.

These skills are in very high demand during the holidays. People who manage holiday stress the best are those who have “cognitive flexibility.” They are able to shift their attention between tasks and rapidly adapt to changing environments. Unfortunately, that flexibility can be difficult to achieve for most people.

For those of us who are less flexible and need more help managing stress, there are many resources with coping strategies on the Internet. I’ve chosen these three to garner a few tips to note.3,4,5 There are more tips in these articles and elsewhere.

  • Be realistic and keep things in perspective. We often set high expectations for the holidays, but rarely do the actually experiences match our images. Accept that the holidays don’t have to be perfect, and remember what the season is really about. You don’t have to buy extravagant gifts to have a happy holiday.
  • Take time for yourself. You’ll be running around trying to make the holidays fun for everyone else, but take a few minutes to take a breath and take care of yourself. Even if it’s just 15 minutes alone, it will help recharge you. Do some yoga if you can or just some deep breathing.
  • Don’t neglect your healthy habits. Just because it’s the holidays, don’t give up your healthy diet or your exercise routine. Try to get at least eight hours of good sleep every night. These behaviors are natural stress busters, so try not to abandon them just because you’re busy with other things.
  • Learn to say “no.” For most of us, it’s impossible to make it to every party and do every activity scheduled around the holidays, and still fit in work. It’s okay if you can’t make it to someone’s event, and don’t feel guilty about it. They’ll understand how tightly your time is stretched. They’re going through the same thing!
  • Be grateful. The thoughts around the holidays generally center on “what I want” and “who is not here.” Instead, try changing your focus and thinking about “what I have” and “who is with me.” Recent research found that gratitude led to lower levels of stress and depression.

These are just a few ideas for managing the holidays. If you still suffer after taking steps to reduce stress, especially if you feel anxious or depressed, see a qualified therapist. Talking to a therapist can help you work through your struggle and feel better. The therapist can also give you additional strategies for your battle against stress.

Coping with Chronic Fibromyalgia Symptoms

December 3rd, 2017

Body aches are often an unfortunate but normal part of aging. But the widespread, chronic pain that comes with fibromyalgia can be debilitating, robbing our “golden years” of much of their luster.Fibromyalgia

Late in her life, my maternal grandmother, who died in December 2000, often complained that her legs hurt. At that time, fibromyalgia wasn’t part of the discussion, so we dismissed her discomfort as a side effect of her Parkinson’s disease and/or an unfortunate consequence of living into her 90s.

Today, as I struggle with fibromyalgia and watch my mother do the same, I’m left to wonder if my grandmother suffered with the disorder as well, and perhaps her own mother before her.

Fibromyalgia once was little more than a catch-all diagnosis when doctors couldn’t find an obvious physical cause for tenderness and stiffness of muscles and associated connective tissue. What’s more, many in the medical community, and in society at large, didn’t accept fibromyalgia as a legitimate ailment.

Imagine suffering with near-constant pain, along with other equally troubling symptoms, and being told by doctors, family and friends that it was all in your head.

Now, thanks to television commercials and other advertising touting medications commonly prescribed for fibromyalgia, the word has become part of our national vocabulary, and most people have at least heard of it.

In addition to the pain, which frequently worsens at night, robbing the patient of much-needed rest, those with fibromyalgia typically become fatigued quickly and endure headaches, restless leg syndrome, brain “fog,” depression, sensitivity to touch, muscle spasms, digestive issues and other symptoms. It can be like having a flu that won’t go away.

My muscles get so knotted that I can feel the bulges beneath my skin. I become quite stiff and can’t sit for long periods. Just getting out of bed can be agony on the worst days.

After I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia sometime before 2008, I fell into a funk, I’m not proud to say, and let my malady rule my life. My work performance surely suffered, as did my personal relationships.

When I was downsized out of my journalism job, I focused for much too long on being sick instead of on what direction to take my professional life next. I became a classic couch potato.

Then I landed a part-time position as a recess supervisor at an elementary school, which forced me to get out of my recliner and start moving – and living – again.

Today, I’m an active volunteer at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where I give presentations and tours, do community outreach, and help rescue marine animals in distress. While my body often balks at being so physical – walking too many steps to count, standing for hours and occasionally helping capture manatees weighing hundreds of pounds – I’m convinced that being sedentary is worse for my health and well-being.

My eating habits aren’t as healthful as they ought to be, and there are periods during which I don’t exercise as regularly as I should. But I’d like to share a few of my tried-and-true strategies for coping with fibromyalgia.

  • Attitude is key. If you think you’re sick and useless, you will be.
  • Hot water helps. If you don’t have a spa with massage jets, a long soak in the bathtub or a hot shower can do wonders for knotted muscles and creaky joints.
  • Hand-held massage devices are OK. But getting a massage by hand is better because you can relax and enjoy it. And buying a massage chair that does more than just vibrate – one that kneads and rolls along your body – is a good investment.
  • Take medication when needed, but don’t pop pills if you can tough it out. And don’t exceed recommended dosages. I’ve found best results from naproxen, an over-the-counter pain reliever. I tried two medications commonly prescribed for fibromyalgia, but neither was very effective, at least for me, and one left my brain so foggy I had memory difficulties.
  • Get as much sleep as possible.
  • Make time for hobbies and time spent with people whose company you enjoy. Laughter is great medicine, and it’s free and unlimited.
  • Give yourself a break. But don’t fall back on your pain as an all-purpose excuse for frequent inaction.
  • Use your time and talents to help others. Volunteering is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s given me a renewed sense of purpose, improved my social life, helped me feel better about myself and, most importantly, filled a need in my community. Figure out what you love and get involved.

Seriously Shingles

November 14th, 2017

If you’re over 50, and especially if you’re 60 or older, you need to think seriously about shingles. In the US, there are an estimated one million cases of shingles each year, about 50 percent of them in people 60 or older. It affects one in three Americans during their lifetime. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those odds. And from what I’ve heard, shingles is a real pain!

Shingles is a painful skin rash that usually appears in a strip on one side of the face or body. The pain has been described as excruciating, aching, burning, stabbing and shock-like. The rash eventually turns into clusters of blisters that fill with fluid then crust over. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same bug that causes chickenpox. Shingles is also called herpes zoster.

What happens is after you’ve had chickenpox, the virus stays in your body, but remains dormant in your nerves. In some people, a disease, stress or simply aging weakens the immune system (it’s not completely understood how), and that dormant virus reactivates, triggering a shingles outbreak. This is important to know because studies show more than 99 percent of Americans age 40 and older have had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember having it.

The active varicella zoster virus is contagious, but it doesn’t spread shingles to other people. The virus can cause chickenpox in those who’ve never had it or never been immunized against it. Since chickenpox vaccine has been a routine part of the childhood immunization schedule for years, this is a rare occurrence.

Symptoms of shingles often come in phases. It may start with a stabbing pain on one side of the body. You may experience a tingling, burning, stinging or itchy sensation followed in a few days by the outbreak of the rash. Other, associated symptoms can include headaches, fever, chills, nausea, malaise, swollen lymph nodes and body aches.

A shingles rash typically lasts from two to four weeks and is treated with antiviral and pain medications. However, one in five people with shingles will go on to experience severe pain long after the rash clears up. This condition is called post-herpetic neuralgia, and it can be debilitating. This pain can last for months or even years.

That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend people 60 and older be vaccinated against shingles. A single-dose vaccine, Zostavax®, has been in use in the United States since 2006. Now, people looking for protection from shingles have two choices. On October 20, the FDA approved a second vaccine called Shingrix. It is touted to offer stronger protection against the virus than Zostavax.

Studies showed Shingrix offered 98 percent protection against shingles in the first year, and that protection remained at 85 percent or higher three years after vaccination. By comparison, Zostavax offers 51 percent and 67 percent protection respectively. Shingrix also reduces the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia by 90 percent.

Two-dose Shingrix is expected to be available to consumers by the end of 2017.

Stimulating the Brain

November 14th, 2017

There’s good news and bad news about Parkinson’s disease, the neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement. The bad news is that an estimated seven to ten million people worldwide have it, and that number is growing with the aging population. The good news is there might be a new, noninvasive way to treat it.

Treatment for Parkinson’s, as well as other movement disorders such as essential tremor, rigidity, stiffness and walking problems, are generally initially treated with medications. These medications target cells in the brain that make the chemicals that help cells pass along messages telling the body to move. Many people respond to this therapy.

For years, when people were at the point their disorder did not respond to medicines, or it began interfering with daily activities, they had few good options. Then in 2002, the FDA approved a procedure called deep brain stimulation (DBS) as a therapy for advanced Parkinson’s disease. After that, its use in thousands of patients in the US and Europe prompted studies of the treatment in earlier stages of the disease as well.

DBS is a surgical procedure that blocks nerve signals in targeted areas of the brain, which are generally identified using MRI or CT imaging. During DBS, a battery-operated medical device, similar to a pacemaker, is implanted to deliver electrical stimulation to the specific brain areas to control movement and other Parkinson’s symptoms.

The DBS system has three components, including the lead, which is a thin, insulated wire that is inserted through a small opening in the skull and implanted in the brain. The extension is another insulated wire that is passed under the skin of the head, neck and shoulder and connects the lead to the third component, the neurostimulator. That is the battery pack, and it is usually implanted under the skin near the collarbone or in the abdomen.

DBS has proven very effective in helping to reduce symptoms and medication use, as well as increase patients’ quality of life. However, DBS surgery has risks, including infection, stroke, cranial bleeding and other complications. Then in June, researchers at MIT announced they developed a new, noninvasive method for deep brain stimulation.

The MIT researchers, in collaboration with investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the IT’IS Foundation, have developed a method to stimulate regions deep in the brain using electrodes placed on the scalp. This approach could make DBS less risky, less expensive and more accessible to patients.

The approach involves generating two high-frequency electrical currents using the electrodes on the scalp. These currents are too fast for the brain cells, or neurons, to respond to. However, the two currents interfere with one another, and when they intersect, deep in the brain, they essentially cancel out all but a small, low-frequency current. This current can influence the neurons’ response, while the high-frequency current has no effect on surrounding tissue.

Using the electrodes this way, researchers can target the areas they want deep inside the brain, without affecting any other brain structures. Also, without having to move the electrodes, they can direct the location of the stimulation by altering the currents. They can stimulate the brain for treatment or research.

The new method has shown promise in mice, and researchers have started testing the strategy on people without disorders to see if it works on human brains. A clinician at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School said if those testing results are promising, he would collaborate with the MIT team to evaluate the technique for treatment of another disorder, epilepsy.

The pulses of electricity delivered by DBS can improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. They can also be used to treat those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and other psychiatric disorders that fail to respond to medication. This noninvasive approach to DBS could help more people enjoy that improvement.

Skin Deep and Beyond

November 13th, 2017

Let me ask you this: How often do you think about the health of your skin? When you do, how often do you consider the skin that’s NOT on your face? After all, the skin is the largest organ in the human body, safeguarding everything underneath. Want to learn a little more about this protective organ and how to take better care of it? Read on.

Skin has many functions, including shielding our bodies from germs and the harsh elements outside. It also helps control the temperature inside the body and enables us to feel touch. It is composed of three main layers, the epidermis, or outermost layer; the dermis, the middle layer; and the hypodermis, the deeper tissues.

Because it is exposed, skin is susceptible to a variety of health problems, including the serious and potentially fatal cancer, melanoma. There are also a number of other disorders of the skin that are less serious (although often annoying and unsightly) such as acne. This scourge not only affects the face, but also the neck, back, shoulders and chest.

Eczema, which causes itchy, dry and red skin due to inflammation; seborrheic dermatitis, which leads to oily, waxy patches on the scalp (as well as other forms of dermatitis); and non-lethal types of cancer are other common skin disorders. There’s also psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that can cause rashes. In many cases, these rashes turn into thick, scaly plaques on the surface of the skin.

Some of these disorders, like many skin cancers, can be avoided by taking the appropriate preventive steps. Others, like acne and eczema, you can’t escape but you can control with the right skin care products and proper skin care routines. That leads us into the second half of our story: caring for your skin.

Keeping your skin hale and hearty is the focus of Healthy Skin Month, which is celebrated in November. Just look on the Internet and you’ll find numerous articles with tips on being good to your skin. There are a few suggestions many have in common, like “drink plenty of water” and “avoid taking hot, hot showers and baths.”

To make for a quicker read, I’ve put together a list of common tips for maintaining healthy skin, including some tips for winter skin care. More tips can be found in these articles. But to sum them up, here are a few highlights:

  • Don’t skimp on sleep. The cells of your skin use the nighttime hours to refresh and repair themselves. If you don’t sleep, your cells don’t get a chance to do their thing. Then your skin starts to show the wear-and-tear of constant exposure to the elements such as the sun and air pollution.
  • Get sweaty. Doing some form of aerobic exercise in the morning increases blood flow to your skin, which keeps it supplied with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to stay healthy and glowing.
  • Resist over-exfoliating. Exfoliating too often can lead to microscopic tears in the skin that can result in inflammation, redness, dryness and peeling. Many common exfoliating scrubs recommend you use them no more than twice a week.
  • Use softer soaps. Harsh bath soaps and laundry detergents can irritate the skin. Try softer soaps like fragrance-free or sensitive skin brands. The same holds true for deodorants. Try a sensitive skin or natural deodorant instead of scented versions.
  • Remember to humidify. Use a humidifier, especially in the winter months, to keep moisture in the air, which moisturizes the skin as well.
  • Avoid wet gloves and socks. If your gloves and socks get wet due to rain or snow, get them off. If you linger in these wet clothes, it can lead to itching, cracking and sores on the skin, even flare-ups of eczema.
  • Support your immune system. The typical winter ailments, colds and flu, can stress your skin to the max. Try to avoid these illnesses by taking preventive measures, such as consuming Vitamin C and getting your flu shot. Practice general good hygiene to avoid picking up or spreading cold and flu germs.

There are many more healthy skin tips out there, so don’t stop here. During National Healthy Skin Month, take some time and investigate more ways to keep your skin looking and feeling its best!

Contemplating COPD

November 6th, 2017

How much do you know about COPD? For one thing, it’s a killer. In fact, it’s the third leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 16 million Americans have COPD, but many more have it and haven’t be diagnosed, which pushes the estimate closer to 30 million. That’s because 50 percent of people who have it don’t know they do.Photo courtesy of istock photo

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is actually an umbrella term for a group of progressive lung diseases that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis and non-reversible asthma.

With emphysema, the walls between the air sacs in the lungs are damaged, affecting the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange and the amount of oxygen that gets into the bloodstream. Chronic bronchitis is the constant irritation and inflammation of the lining of the airways. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways.

COPD symptoms most often appear in people who are 40 and older. There are, however, certain cases in which it develops in younger people. An example is the genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. AAT is a protein, and low levels of it can lead to COPD, especially if you are exposed to lung irritants such as cigarette smoke or chemical fumes.

Generally, COPD is not diagnosed until it is in an advanced stage. That’s mostly because people don’t recognize the early warning signs, or they attribute the coughing, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties they feel to a normal part of aging. Also, COPD can be developing for years without noticeable symptoms.

Other symptoms you may recognize include the inability to perform basic activities due to shortness of breath, the presence of a lot of mucus when coughing, a wheezing or whistling sound when breathing and tightness in the chest. There are additional, more serious COPD symptoms such as swelling in the ankles, feet or legs; weight loss; and lower muscle endurance.

If you are experiencing a fast heartbeat, decreased mental alertness, trouble catching your breath when talking, or discoloration of the lips or fingernails, you need immediate medical attention.

Long-term exposure to lung irritants is the cause of most cases of COPD, about 75 percent of them, and inhaled cigarette smoke is the most common culprit. Secondhand smoke also contributes to the development of COPD, as do air pollution, chemical fumes and dusts, both from the environment and from the workplace.

COPD is most common in current and former smokers. It’s estimated that smoking is responsible for nine out ten COPD-related deaths. Smoking is harmful to the whole body, but especially the lungs by causing inflammation and destroying the lungs’ air sacs.

This damage in the lungs is irreversible, but steps can be taken to manage and slow the progression of COPD. Treatment often starts by making lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and avoiding other lung irritants, following a healthy diet and finding a physical activity that strengthens the muscles that help you breathe.

Your doctor may also recommend pulmonary rehabilitation. This is a guided program that includes exercise, disease management training, and nutritional and psychological counseling. The goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to help you stay active and able to perform your daily activities.

If you have a low level of oxygen in your blood, you may be placed on oxygen therapy. With this treatment, supplemental oxygen is delivered through the nose. Another way to improve breathing is by using bronchodilators, with or without inhaled corticosteroids. Bronchodilators relax the muscles around your airway, which helps open them up and make breathing easier.

Staying healthy overall is important, too. Disorders such as pneumonia and flu can lead to serious problems for people with COPD. Follow your doctor’s recommendations about getting the flu shot and pneumococcal vaccine to help avoid these conditions and their complications. Stay healthy and breathe deeply!

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