Blog Posts

Holiday Drinking: Time for Wisdom and Moderation

December 22nd, 2020

The holidays are marked by festive celebrations with family, friends and coworkers. Typically, alcohol flows freely at these celebrations, and it’s not uncommon to drink more at these events than you do during the rest of the year. But binge drinking has negative physical and emotional effects, and puts you – and others – at risk.

Most people know that drinking too much is bad for your liver. Consistent heavy drinking causes different types of inflammation in the liver, such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. And any damage to the liver, including damage caused by alcohol, can lead to liver cancer.

Drinking affects other parts of your body as well. A single episode of binge drinking can damage your heart and throw off your heartbeat. In fact, the rate of deadly heart attacks spikes during the winter holiday season. This phenomenon is known as holiday heart syndrome. Binge drinking can also lead to high blood pressure and even stroke.

Further, a night of binge drinking can impair your immune system’s ability to fight infection for up to 24 hours, putting you at increased risk for colds, flu and other infections. Too much alcohol can also worsen medical and psychiatric conditions. Alcohol is a depressant and can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also affect blood sugar levels in the blood of people with diabetes.

And that’s not all. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and for some people, drinking too much releases pent-up anger and frustration. After drinking, these people may act on the their anger, which can result in violence and physical injury. And with lowered inhibitions, you’re more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, which can result in contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

Drinking too much can also be deadly. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes annually. That makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the US.

In addition to having negative effects on your health and wellbeing, binge drinking is expensive. NIAAA notes that alcohol misuse costs the US $249 billion a year, and 75 percent of those costs are related to binge drinking. These costs include lost productivity, health care costs and criminal justice costs.

Another serious concern related to holiday drinking is the increase in people drinking and hitting the road. NIAAA reports that drunk drivers play a role in 40 percent of traffic deaths over Christmas and New Year’s. The institute notes that this figure is an increase of 12 percent over the rest of December.

The US Department of Transportation elaborates on NIAAA’s statistics. They report that 300 Americans die each year in the handful of days surrounding the Christmas and New Year holidays. They go on to report that an average of 27 people die each day in December due to drunk driving accidents. NIAAA notes that there is a 155 percent increase in DUI violations on New Year’s Eve alone.

One thing you should know about alcohol; it sneaks up on you. Typically, people don’t realize that their critical decision-making abilities and driving-related skills are already diminished long before they show any overt signs of intoxication. You may think you’re “okay to drive,” but you’re just fooling yourself. Your reflexes and judgment are impaired by the alcohol even if you don’t “feel” it.

Impairment is not determined by what you drink, but by the amount of alcohol you drink over time. Binge drinking is when you drink enough alcohol to bring your blood alcohol level up to the legal limit for driving, which is 0.08 in most states. Generally, this works out to about five alcoholic drinks for men and four drinks for women in less than two hours.

And don’t think that you’ll sober up and be able to drive once you’ve stopped drinking and had a cup of coffee. In reality, alcohol continues to affect your brain and body long after you’ve finished your last drink. The alcohol in your stomach and intestines continues to enter your bloodstream, resulting in impaired judgement and coordination for hours.

Coffee isn’t the answer. Caffeine may help with drowsiness in the short-term, but it does nothing to counter the effects of alcohol on decision-making and coordination. And then, when the caffeine wears off, you’ll feel post-caffeine sleepiness, which only compounds the depressant effects of the alcohol. Then, you can easily nod off or lose attention if you get behind the wheel.

You don’t have to skip the holiday party or abstain from alcohol altogether, but consider these tips for safer drinking:

• Have a snack before you leave for the party. When you drink on an empty stomach, the alcohol quickly passes from your stomach into your small intestine, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream and begins to affect your body.
• Make your first drink nonalcoholic. It keeps you from gulping down your first alcoholic drink.
• Alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. Nonalcoholic drinks help counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
• Eat throughout the night. Food can slow the absorption of alcohol and reduce the peak level of it in your body by about one-third.
• If you are in an awkward situation, don’t escape by making a beeline to the bar. Walk around the room, mingle with other guests, check out the decorations, etc.
• Establish a designated driver who isn’t drinking or take a ride-share home and to the party.

You can still enjoy alcohol during the festivities, just use wisdom and moderation to keep yourself – and others – safe this holiday season!

Handwashing for a Healthy Life and Community

December 14th, 2020

When it comes to staying healthy, it helps to remember your mom’s advice to, “Wash your hands.” And the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up your mom. They maintain that, “Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.” Let’s explore why the CDC’s statement is true.

First, consider these germ facts, courtesy of Tri-County Health Care in Minnesota:

• There are between 2 and 10 million bacteria on your fingertips and elbows.
• The number of germs on your fingertips doubles after using the toilet.
• One germ can multiply into more than 8 million germs in one day.
• Nearly 80 percent of illness-causing germs are spread by your hands.
• Germs can survive for up to three hours on your hands.

Here’s another fact: Feces from people or animals, which can get on your hands after you use the toilet, change a diaper, or handle raw meat or pet waste, is a huge source of germs, including Salmonella, E. coli and norovirus. These germs cause diarrhea and can also spread certain respiratory infections such as adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease.

According to the CDC, a single gram of human feces, which is about the weight of a paper clip, can contain one trillion germs! If you get these germs on your hands and you don’t wash them off, you can pass them to other people and make them sick. Washing your hands with soap and water clears these germs from your hands and prevents their transmission to others.

In fact, research has shown that proper handwashing can prevent about 30 percent of diarrhea-related illnesses and about 20 percent of respiratory infections, such as colds and flu.

In addition to limiting the transfer of germs to other people, there are other great benefits to keeping your hands clean. It keeps your workplace healthy, decreases the number of food-borne illnesses and keeps kids healthier. It also helps combat the rise in antibiotic resistance because it reduces viral infections that are often incorrectly treated with antibiotics, which causes the germs to become resistant to the antibiotics.

In addition to the millions of bacteria that accumulate on your hands every day, many illness-causing viruses find a home on your hands as well, and frequent handwashing remains the number one tip for preventing the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19. But handwashing must be done properly, using soap and water.

Proper handwashing requires five simple steps:

• Wet: Put both your hands under clean running water.
• Lather: Apply a generous amount of soap to the inside and back of your hands, as well as your fingertips. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Skip the antibacterial soap. Studies show it’s not any more effective at killing germs than regular soap.
• Scrub: Rub both hands together and move your fingertips around both hands and up to your wrists. You don’t need a scrub brush, and you don’t need to make harsh, scrubbing movements.
• Rinse: Return both hands to the running water and gently wash away the soap.
• Dry: Completely dry the water from both hands.

If you don’t have ready access to soap and water, you can clean your hands using a hand sanitizer. Make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Sanitizers that contain ethanol alcohol and isopropanol alcohol are acceptable types, but those containing methanol have been recalled by the FDA after reports of adverse and even serious side effects.

When using a hand sanitizer, apply a generous drop to the palm of your hand, enough to cover all surfaces of your hands. Rub the sanitizer across both hands front and back, and your fingertips, until they feel dry,

Remember, hand sanitizers are good in a pinch, but they shouldn’t replace frequent handwashing as the primary method for keeping your hands clean.

We know that frequent, proper handwashing can protect you from COVID-19, as well as from respiratory infections such as colds, flu and even pneumonia. It can also protect against gastrointestinal infections that cause diarrhea. And we can pass on the germs that cause these disorders to others, even if we’re not sick. For many older people, babies and children, and those who have weakened immune systems, these disorders can be deadly.

So what the CDC maintains is definitely true. Keeping our hands clean protects us from getting sick as well as from passing on potentially deadly germs to others. It’s a small price to pay for a healthier life and community, don’t you think?

Handling Holiday Stress

December 7th, 2020

The holidays are a happy season for joyfully celebrating with family, friends, and coworkers. But for many people, this season is also a time of heightened anxiety and stress. Often, people get worked up from the increased responsibilities, lofty expectations and soaring financial pressures that go along with the holidays, and that causes them distress.

If you get stressed out during the holidays, this blog is for you. In it, we explore some helpful suggestions for staying calm during the upcoming holiday season.

It’s impossible to avoid all stressful situations. Chances are there will be increased traffic – and maybe bad weather, road closures and delays – at this time of year. But you don’t have to add to that stress by trying to accomplish everything this holiday season and expecting to be perfect. Tell yourself that you don’t have to be perfect and repeat it until you believe it.

No Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other holiday celebration is going to be perfect, so don’t set unrealistic expectations for your family activities. Don’t get overwhelmed by the pressure of creating holiday events that resemble a Norman Rockwell portrait. Keep in mind that as families grow and change, their holiday traditions and rituals change as well.

Instead of trying to fit in all of your holiday traditions, identify your most important traditions and take small steps to make them a reality. Be open to creating new traditions as well. For example, if your adult children can’t be with you, make them part of your celebration by sharing emails, photos, and videos.

And when your family is gathered together, set aside any differences you may have. Accept your family members as they are, even if they haven’t lived up to your expectations. Be understanding if others become distressed when something goes wrong. They’re probably feeling the stress of the holidays just like you are.

Be proactive. The holidays are about bringing people together, not driving them apart. Focus on good memories and what family members have in common. Don’t debate differences of opinion during your holiday dinner. There are more appropriate times and places for those discussions.

Keep things in perspective. It helps to remember that the holiday season is short. If something goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world. That situation will quickly pass. To recover, think of the good things in your life and accept that there’s time after the holidays to do more of the things you didn’t have time to do during the actual holiday season.

Remember what’s important. Our consumer culture has a way of robbing the holiday season of its authentic meaning and cashing in on a time that once had personal significance to us. For you, that significance may surround family, community, or faith. Take time to re-establish what made the season significant for you in the first place. Volunteer in the community or help someone in need to reaffirm what the season is all about.

Many people spend excessive amounts in pursuit of perfect holiday gifts for family and friends, but that can intensify stress. Remember, you can’t buy happiness with expensive gifts. Before you go shopping, determine how much money you can really afford to spend on gifts and stick to your budget. Try online shopping to avoid crowded malls and the stress that goes along with that.

As an alternative to buying expensive gift for everyone on your list, consider donating to a charity in a loved one’s name, giving homemade gifts, or starting a family gift exchange.

Accept that there’s only so much time during the holidays and you cannot attend every party and event. Your friends will understand if you can’t make their get-together. They’re in the same boat with similar limits on their time. Skip seeing the Nutcracker, even if it’s a holiday tradition. The ballet will run again next year when you may have more time to see it.

Skip the alcohol. Drinking alcohol is a big contributor to holiday stress. A drink or two in moderation probably won’t hurt, unless you’re a recovering alcoholic, but drinking heavily can lead to serious problems, including an arrest for driving under the influence. Consider drinking something festive and nonalcoholic. It’s a safer choice and will reduce your stress level.

Make sure to take care of your health. Get adequate sleep and don’t forget your regular workouts, even when your time is consumed by holiday preparations and activities. Your body needs sleep to recharge and renew its cells. Even with the crunch on your time, try to get 8 hours of sleep each night.

Exercise is a natural stress reliever. It rids the body of stress hormones and releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good neurotransmitters. Exercise has been found to reduce anger, tension, fatigue and confusion. Studies show that when regular exercisers become inactive, they begin to feel depressed and fatigued after just one week.

If you’ve tried multiple stress relieving tips and still suffer, consider seeing a professional for help. A therapist can teach you additional strategies for easing the stress of the holiday season and anytime.

United Against HIV and AIDS

November 30th, 2020

World AIDS Day, which is observed on December 1st, was created to unite people worldwide in the battle against HIV and AIDS. It’s also a time to show support for people who have the virus and commemorate those who have died from it. World AIDS Day serves as a perfect opportunity to review what we know about HIV and AIDS.

HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks your body’s immune system, specifically its infection-fighting CD4 cells. If your CD4 cells are depleted, you become more susceptible to other infections and diseases. Your body cannot eliminate HIV and there is no cure for its infection, so once you get the virus, you have it for life.

HIV is spread through contact with the body fluids of someone who is infected with HIV. These body fluids include blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breast milk. In the US, HIV is spread mainly by having anal or vaginal sex without a condom, or sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs with someone who has HIV.

Some people develop flu-like symptoms within two to four weeks after HIV infection, which is considered stage 1, or the acute infection stage. The common symptoms during this stage, which include fever, chills, skin rashes, night sweats, muscle aches, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, swollen lymph nodes and mouth sores, may last a few days or several weeks.

If you experience any of these symptoms and suspect that you’ve been exposed to HIV, see your health care provider and get an HIV test to determine for sure if you’ve been infected.

If you have HIV and don’t begin treatment right away, your condition can progress into stage 2: the chronic, or clinical latency, stage. During this stage, your HIV is still active, but is reproducing at a slower rate, so you may not experience any symptoms. Without treatment, this stage can last for a decade or longer. But in some people, it progresses more rapidly.

The third and most serious stage of HIV is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. You are considered to have AIDS when your number of CD4 cells falls below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood  (a healthy count is between 500 and 1,500 cells/mm3) or when you develop one or more severe illnesses called opportunistic infections even if your CD4 count is above 200.

These opportunist infections, which include recurrent pneumonia, tuberculosis, brain and spinal cord disease, various lung infections, chronic intestinal infection, cytomegalovirus, salmonella and toxoplasmosis, remain a major cause of death in people with AIDS.

Without treatment, people with AIDS typically survive about three years. But if they contract a dangerous opportunistic infection, their life expectancy without treatment drops to about one year. Treatment with HIV medication at this point can still help and may even be life-saving, but beginning treatment as soon as you learn you have HIV gives you the best possible outcome.

There’s only one way to know for sure if you have HIV and that’s to get tested. There are several  types of tests, such as tests that look for antibodies and antigens in your blood, that you can get through your health care provider. Tests are also available at most medical clinics, community health centers and hospitals. Further, home testing kits are available at your pharmacy or online.

Home HIV testing is an especially valuable tool today, as many people are unable to visit their providers or an outpatient clinic due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Treatment for HIV is a combination of medications called antiretroviral therapy, or ART. People on ART follow a regimen of certain medications every day. ART works by preventing HIV from multiplying, which reduces the amount of the virus in your body, which is called a virus load. A lowered virus load protects your immune system and prevents the progression of HIV into AIDS.

A main goal of ART is to reduce your viral load to an undetectable level, meaning the amount of HIV in your blood is too low to be detected on a viral load test. If you maintain an undetectable virus load, you will have virtually no risk of transmitting HIV to an uninfected partner.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were 1.2 million people in the United States with HIV in 2018, the most recent year with available statistics. Of those people, the CDC estimated that about 14 percent, or 1 in 7, did not know they had the infection. Fortunately, the outlook for people with HIV has continued to improve over the decades.

In the 1990s, a 20-year-old individual with HIV had a life expectancy of 19 years. By 2011, it had improved to 53 years. Today, life expectancy is near normal if ART is started soon after contracting HIV.

If you don’t have HIV, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself against it. Practice safe sex. Use a condom each time you have anal, vaginal or oral sex. Don’t share needles or other equipment to inject drugs. If you think you’re at risk for HIV, consider pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. That involves taking certain HIV medications every day.

If you’re HIV-negative and are exposed to HIV, post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, is an emergency medication you take after exposure that can stop HIV before it infects your body. PEP consists of three antiretroviral medications given for 28 days. It should be started as soon as possible after exposure, but before 36 to 72 hours have passed.


Diabetes and Your Eyes

November 14th, 2020

Diabetes increases the risk for multiple health problems, from cardiovascular disease to kidney damage to skin conditions. Another common – and often preventable – problem linked to diabetes is vision loss. November is Diabetes Eye Disease Month, a time to spotlight the most common eye disorders associated with diabetes and focus on ways to decrease your risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020,” which analyzed health data through 2018, 34.2 million Americans – just over 1 in 10 – have diabetes. In addition, 88 million American adults – approximately 1 in 3 – have prediabetes. Further, 7.3 million adults over 18 were unaware or did not report having diabetes.

Over time, diabetes can damage your eyes and cause poor vision, even blindness. It can lead to
diabetic eye disease, a group of eye problems that includes diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts and glaucoma.

The retina is the inner lining of the back of the eye. It senses light entering the eye and turns it into signals that your brain translates into images. Consistently high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes damages the small blood vessels in the eye, which can harm the retina and cause a disease called diabetic retinopathy.

In the early stage of diabetic retinopathy, called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy, damaged blood vessels can weaken, swell, or leak into the retina. In the more serious stage, called proliferative diabetic retinopathy, some blood vessels close off and new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These blood vessels are abnormal and can cause serious vision problems.

Diabetic macular edema involves fluid build-up on the center part of the retina, called the macula, which is responsible for the detailed, straight-ahead vision necessary for reading, driving and seeing faces. The built-up fluid makes the macula swell, blurring vision and destroying this sharp vision. Diabetic macular edema, which can cause permanent vision loss, typically develops in people who already have other signs of diabetic retinopathy.

The eye’s lens is a clear structure that sits behind the iris (the colored part of the eye) and helps focus light onto the retina. Natural lenses tend to become cloudy from protein deposits as people age. Cloudy lenses are called cataracts. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop cataracts at a younger age than people without diabetes. That’s because, it is believed, high glucose levels cause protein deposits to build up on the lens.

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that cause damage to your eye’s optic nerve, which can lead to permanent vision loss. Glaucoma occurs when pressure builds up in your eyes. This pressure pinches the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve, causing gradual vision loss. Having diabetes doubles your chances of getting glaucoma.

With open-angle glaucoma, the most common type, pressure builds up inside your eye when fluid can’t drain effectively through the normal drainage channel, called the trabecular meshwork. This type of glaucoma can be treated with medication and eye drops that lower eye pressure, speed up drainage, and reduce the amount of fluid your eyes make

People with diabetes are at risk for a condition called neovascular glaucoma, in which new blood vessels form on the eye’s iris. These blood vessels block the normal flow of fluid and raise eye pressure. Treatment for neovascular glaucoma may include use of a laser to reduce the number of blood vessels or anti-neovascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections to halt the growth of new blood vessels.

There are other eye conditions associated with diabetes including branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO) and central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO). Arteries and veins are blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body. There is one main artery and one main vein supplying the retina.

When this vein becomes blocked, blood and fluid spills out into the retina and the macula can swell, which affects your sharp central vision. Over time, if blood circulation remains cut off, nerve cells in your eye can die and more vision can be lost.

When branches of the retinal vein become blocked, the resulting condition is called branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO). When the main retinal vein becomes blocked, it is called a central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO).

Here’s the good news: You can help prevent all of these diabetes-related eye disorders by taking steps to manage your diabetes. To do that, you must control your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Take good care of yourself through healthy eating, exercising regularly and taking medications as prescribed.

In addition, if you smoke, quit. There are many resources online and in the community to help you quit smoking. And don’t forget to get a complete, dilated eye exam once a year, so your eye care professional can detect early signs of diabetic eye disease. Be eye smart: Take steps to protect your vision.

Increase Your Lung Cancer IQ

November 9th, 2020

Your lungs are a pair of spongy, pyramid-shaped organs in your chest that bring fresh oxygen into your body when you inhale. The lungs also send out carbon dioxide, a waste product of cellular function, when you exhale. The lungs, along with a network of air passages, are part of your body’s respiratory system.

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the lungs. Cancer is a disease that occurs when cells grow and divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue. Lung cancers can begin in any part of the lungs, but 90 to 95 percent of cancers of the lung arise from the epithelial cells. Those are the cells that line the larger and smaller air passages, called bronchi and bronchioles.

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the United States and worldwide. It’s estimated that in 2020, 228,820 adults in the US will be diagnosed with lung cancer, and 135,720 Americans are expected to die from it. But there is some good news. Death rates have declined by 51 percent since 1990 in men and 26 percent in women since 2002.

Research suggests that these declines are the result of more people not smoking and more people quitting smoking, as well as to advances in lung cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Lung cancers are generally grouped into two main categories: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). These cancers are distinguished by the way their cells look under a microscope, particularly the size of their cells. SCLC and NSCLC grow and spread differently and are often treated differently.

NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for 84 percent of all lung cancer diagnoses. NSCLC is an umbrella term for several subtypes of lung cancer: Adenocarcinomas start in the mucus-secreting cells of the lungs, squamous cell carcinomas generally arise in the central chest area in the bronchi, and large cell carcinomas, the least common, start in the lungs’ outer edges.

SCLC, which accounts for 10 percent to 15 percent of all lung cancer cases, is the most aggressive lung cancer. It spreads rapidly to other areas of the body and is most often discovered after it has spread extensively. In fact, about 70 percent of people with SCLC will have disease that has already spread at the time they are diagnosed.

Other cancers can occur in the lungs as well. Bronchial carcinoids, which account for up to 5 percent of lung cancers, are typically small when diagnosed and most often occur in people under 40 years old. Other types of lung cancer, including adenoid cystic carcinomas, lymphomas and sarcomas, as well as benign lung tumors such as hamartomas, are rare.

There are certain factors that put you at higher risk for developing lung cancer. The number one risk factor for lung cancer is smoking. Lung cancer is strongly associated with cigarette smoking, with about 90 percent of lung cancers arising because of tobacco use. Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases your risk for developing lung cancer.

Another lung cancer risk factor is exposure to radon, a naturally occurring gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks that can accumulate in your home. Other risk factors include exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust and other cancer-causing agents in the workplace; air pollution; previous radiation therapy and a personal or family history of lung cancer.

In many cases, there are no symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer. It is often discovered on a routine imaging exam for another condition. But in some cases, symptoms are present. If you notice any signs and symptoms of lung cancer, visit your doctor right away. Your doctor may be able to diagnose lung cancer at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be effective.

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer include: a cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse; coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum; chest pain that’s worse with deep breathing, coughing or laughing, shortness of breath; hoarseness; loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss; fatigue; a respiratory infection that won’t go away; and new onset of wheezing.

Diagnosing lung cancer begins with a thorough medical history and physical exam followed by a combination of diagnostic tests and procedures. Tests used may include x-ray, CT, MRI; PET, bone scan, blood tests and sputum cytology. Your doctor may also perform a bronchoscopy, thoracentesis and/or needle biopsy to obtain tissue samples for examination under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

The treatment you receive will depend on several factors, including the type of lung cancer you have, how far it has spread, called the stage, and your overall health. You may get more than one type of treatment.

Treatments for SCLC include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and laser therapy, which uses a laser to kill cancer cells. Treatments for NSCLC include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, laser therapy and targeted therapy, which uses specific medications to target and kill cancer cells while avoiding harming healthy cells.

There’s no sure way to prevent lung cancer, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for developing it. Don’t smoke, but if you do, quit, and avoid secondhand smoke; test your home for radon and make any necessary upgrades; avoid asbestos, diesel exhaust and other cancer-causing agents at work; and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly.


Bolstering Bladder Health

November 9th, 2020

November is Bladder Health Awareness Month. Your bladder is a hollow, muscular sac located in your lower abdomen. It temporarily stores the urine made by your kidneys until it is released into a tube called the urethra, which transports the urine out of your body. When empty, the bladder is about the size and shape of a pear.

The muscles of the bladder enable it to stretch to hold urine. A healthy bladder can hold one and a half to two cups of urine during the day and about four cups at night. When urinating, the muscles of the bladder contract, and two valves, called sphincters, open. This allows the urine to flow into the urethra and ultimately out of your body.

There are a number of conditions than can affect your bladder. Among the most common are urinary incontinence, overactive bladder (OAB), cystitis and bladder cancer. We’re going to take a brief look at these four disorders in this blog.

According to the American Urological Society, an estimated one quarter to one-third of adults in the US, both men and women, have urinary incontinence, which is a loss of bladder control. There are several types of urinary incontinence including stress incontinence, urge incontinence, overflow incontinence and mixed incontinence.

With stress incontinence, activities such as coughing, sneezing, heavy lifting, straining when using the bathroom and even laughing put pressure on the bladder and causes it to leak. Urge incontinence occurs when you feel the need to use the bathroom right away, but some urine leaks out before you can get there.

Overflow incontinence occurs when you don’t empty your bladder completely initially, so it overflows with new urine and leaks. Some people have more than one type of incontinence. They may leak urine when coughing or sneezing and leak when they have a strong urge to use the bathroom. In these cases, the condition is called mixed incontinence.

Overactive bladder, or OAB, is a combination of symptoms that may include the need to urinate more frequently, increased urgency and incontinence. You may also feel the need to urinate often at night. An estimated 33 million adults in the US suffer with OAB. About 17 percent of women over 18 years of age have OAB.

Weak pelvic muscles are a common cause of OAB, but it can also be caused by damage to the nerves that send signals from the brain to the bladder telling it to empty at the wrong time. Certain medications, infection, excess weight and an estrogen deficiency, such as what occurs after menopause, are other potential causes.

You can lessen your OAB symptoms by decreasing or eliminating foods and beverages known to worsen symptoms such as tea, coffee, alcohol, chocolate and caffeinated soft drinks. In addition, maintaining bowel regularity, maintaining a healthy weight and stopping smoking can help. There are also techniques for retraining your bladder so it holds and releases urine more efficiently.

Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder, most often due to a bacterial infection. It is considered a type of urinary tract infection, or UTI. UTIs are one of the most common reasons patients visit their physicians. Estimates based on physician office and emergency department statistics suggest there are about 7 million episodes of acute cystitis each year.

Common symptoms of cystitis include a strong, persistent urge to urinate, a burning sensation when urinating, urinating frequently but only small amounts, blood in the urine, cloudy or strong-smelling urine, pelvic discomfort, a feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen and a low-grade fever. See your doctor immediately if you experience back or side pain, fever and chills, or nausea and vomiting.

Bacterial cystitis is the most common type of cystitis, but there are other types as well. These include interstitial cystitis, drug-induced cystitis, radiation cystitis, foreign-body cystitis, chemical cystitis and cystitis caused by other conditions such as diabetes, kidney stones, an enlarged prostate or spinal cord injury.

Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 82.400 new cases of bladder cancer in the United States in 2020. That includes 62,100 cases in men and 19,300 in women. And according to the ACS, there will be about 17,980 deaths from bladder cancer in 2020, 13,050 in men and 4,930 in women.

There are three types of bladder cancer that begin in the cells that line your bladder. They are transitional cell carcinomas, which start in the innermost tissue layer of the bladder; squamous cell carcinomas, which start in the thin, flat squamous cells lining the inside of the bladder; and adenocarcinomas, which begin in the glandular cells found in the lining of the bladder.

Blood in the urine is often the first sign of bladder cancer. Other signs and symptoms of bladder cancer include: the need to urinate more often than usual, pain or burning while urinating, an urgent need to urinate even when your bladder isn’t full, trouble urinating or having a weak urine stream and frequent nighttime urination.

Treatment for bladder cancer depends on its stage, which is the extent to which the cancer has grown and spread. Five types of standard treatment are traditionally used for bladder cancer: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy. In addition, new therapies are currently being evaluated in clinical trials.

You may not be able to prevent bladder cancer, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and improve the overall health of your bladder. Some things you can do to keep your bladder healthy include: drinking an appropriate amount of water, avoiding constipation, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking.

Defend Yourself Against Diabetes

November 9th, 2020

In its “National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Diabetes Translation details the most updated “state of the disease” in America. The CDC aims to use the report’s information to improve diabetes prevention and management strategies available in this country.

According to the report, which analyzed health data through 2018, 34.2 million Americans, or just over one in 10 individuals, have diabetes. Further, 88 million American adults, approximately one in three, have prediabetes. Unfortunately, most people with prediabetes are unaware they have it.

Diabetes is a chronic, or long-lasting, disease that affects how your body turns the food you eat into fuel your body can use for energy. When you eat food, most of it is broken down into a sugar called glucose that is then released into your bloodstream.

When you eat, your glucose level increases, and that signals your pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin serves as the “key” to unlock your body’s cells and allow glucose to enter. The cells can then use the sugar for energy. Diabetes occurs when there isn’t enough insulin or your body doesn’t use it efficiently, and the glucose in your blood becomes too high.

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Approximately 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes, which is typically diagnosed in children and teens. With type 1 diabetes, your own immune system attacks the specialized insulin-creating cells in the pancreas called islet cells. Normally, islet cells produce the exact amount of insulin necessary to normalize the glucose level in your blood.

With type 2 diabetes, the more common type, you still produce insulin but it’s inadequate for your body’s needs. Generally, the release of insulin from your pancreas is defective and, as a result, the amount is insufficient. Type 2 diabetes occurs most often in people over 30 years old, and its incidence increases with age. It is sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes.

Prediabetes is when your blood sugar is higher than it should be but not high enough for your doctor to diagnose diabetes. Almost all people with type 2 diabetes had prediabetes first.

Symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, irritability, blurred vision, slow-healing sores and frequent infections,. Abdominal pain, itchy skin and tingling or numbness in the feet or toes may also occur. Symptoms vary depending on the level of glucose in your blood.

The onset of type 2 diabetes is typically slower than that of type 1 diabetes, and the symptoms may be less noticeable. Or you may overlook the symptoms or attribute them to another condition or to simply getting older. But if you notice symptoms, see your health care provider to be tested for prediabetes or diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is treated using injections of insulin or wearing an insulin pump. The injected insulin performs the same function as the insulin normally made by the islet cells of your pancreas. It serves as the key to allow glucose to enter your cells for use as energy.

Treatment for type 2 diabetes generally begins with lifestyle modification, such as altering your diet, increasing your exercise and losing weight. If your glucose level remains high, you may be instructed to use medications that help your body use insulin more efficiently. It may be necessary to use insulin injections to manage your blood glucose.

If you cannot adequately control the glucose level in your blood, you may develop chronic complications of diabetes. These arise due to blood vessel damage caused by consistently high blood glucose and can affect your eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart. These complications include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic neuropathy, erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease.

Currently, there is no cure for diabetes, so the aim of treatment is to manage the disease and prevent complications. Management involves controlling your blood glucose, and that requires consistent monitoring. You must test your blood glucose level throughout the day to be sure it is not too high or too low. Both extremes can have serious consequences.

One way to test your glucose level at home is to use a fingerstick to obtain a drop of blood that you place on a meter that calculates your glucose level. There are also monitors that you wear on your body, called continuous glucose monitors (CGMs). CGMs use sensors to measure your glucose level. They provide continuous, dynamic glucose information every five minutes.

If you notice symptoms of diabetes, visit your doctor for testing. If you test positive for diabetes or if you’ve had diabetes for a while, follow your doctor’s recommendations for controlling your blood glucose and managing your condition. And most of all, monitor, monitor, monitor.

Brushing Up on Dental Hygiene

October 26th, 2020

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 69 percent of Americans ages 35 to 44 have lost at least one of their permanent teeth. The CDC also notes that by age 50, Americans have typically lost an average of 12 teeth, including their wisdom teeth. Further, among adults ages 65 to 74, 26 percent have lost all their teeth.

You don’t have to be one of those statistics. You can keep your teeth – and your smile – throughout your lifetime by maintaining a healthy mouth and practicing good dental care. October is National Dental Hygiene Month, a time to spread the word that odorless breath, strong teeth, and clean gums are all part of good overall oral health.

This month also serves as a perfect opportunity to review a few key strategies for brushing up on your dental hygiene practices. Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent cavities, gum disease, and other dental disorders. It also helps prevent bad breath. Oral hygiene consists of both personal and professional care.

On the personal side, everybody knows they’re supposed to brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. But do you know the proper brushing technique? To begin, hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle. Aim its bristles at the spot where your teeth meet your gums. Brush gently, using short, back-and-forth strokes across the sides and tops of your teeth. Brush for at least two minutes.

Be sure to use a soft-bristled toothbrush, and don’t brush too hard because it can harm your gums. Replace your toothbrush every three months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed or irregular. Don’t forget to clean between your teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaning device such as a Waterpik. And use a mouthwash. It can go where brushing and flossing can’t.

Your lifestyle habits can have an impact on your oral health as well. To best maintain a healthy mouth and keep your teeth, adopt a diet that’s tooth-friendly. It should include plenty of nuts, fruits, cheese, chicken, and vegetables. Cheese causes your salivary glands to produce more saliva, which neutralizes the acid. Acid damages your teeth.

For overall better oral health, it’s also recommended that you stop smoking and limit your intake of soda and alcohol. Tobacco can cause periodontal complications including oral cancer, and soda and alcohol contain phosphorus, which on its own is important for health. But too much phosphorus depletes your body of calcium, and that can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Good dental hygiene also has a professional component, which includes seeing your dentist regularly. The standard recommendation is to visit your dentist twice a year for check-ups and cleanings. But your dentist may want to see you more or less often, so talk with your dentist about the frequency that’s best for you.

During a routine dental visit, your dentist or a hygienist will clean your teeth and check for cavities and gum disease. Your dentist will also evaluate your risk for other oral problems and check your mouth, face, and neck for signs of cancer. X-rays of your teeth are generally taken once a year, but your dentist may recommend other procedures to help diagnose a suspected dental condition.

Not only is good dental hygiene key to maintaining a healthy mouth and keeping your teeth for a lifetime, but it’s also important for your body’s overall health. Research study after research study has shown that people who have poor oral health have higher rates of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke than people with good oral health.

Several theories about how this happens have been proposed. One suggests that the bacteria that infect the gums and cause gum disease travel through the blood vessels to other areas of the body. There, they cause blood vessel inflammation and damage, and tiny blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes may follow.

Another theory suggests that it’s not the bacteria, but the body’s immune response to it that sets off the vascular damage. A third theory states that there may be no direct connection between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, but a third factor, such as smoking, is a risk factor for both conditions.

What’s more, gum disease associated with a particular bacterium called porphyromonas gingivalis has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis and pancreatic cancer.

However you look at it, brushing up on your dental hygiene is a good way to go. Make it the focus of this Dental Hygiene Month and always.

Down Syndrome Defined

October 22nd, 2020

Generally speaking, people have 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46 chromosomes. Chromosomes are rod-like structures on DNA that store your genes, the material that carries the instructions for inherited traits such as hair color, skin color, and height. For each pair of chromosomes, you get one from your mother and one from your father.

A person with Down syndrome has a third copy of one chromosome, chromosome 21, instead of the usual pair. This extra copy of chromosome 21 disrupts the course of normal brain and body development. Those with Down syndrome typically have distinct physical features and often experience physical and mental delays and disabilities.

Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition identified in the United States. Each year, approximately 6,000 American babies are diagnosed with Down syndrome. It occurs in about one in every 700 babies. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, there are more than 350,000 people living with Down syndrome in the US.

Certain physical features are common in people with Down syndrome. These features include a slightly flattened face, particularly the bridge of the nose, almond-shaped eyes that slant upward, a short neck, small ears, bulging tongue, small hands and feet, short stature, and poor muscle tone. People with Down syndrome may have some or all of these features to varying degrees.

People with Down syndrome typically have some degree of developmental disability, but it’s generally mild to moderate. They may be slow to reach developmental milestones such as crawling, walking, and talking. Mental and social delays may result in impulsive behavior, poor judgment, short attention spans, and slow learning.

There are also certain medical problems that are common in people with Down syndrome. These conditions include congenital (meaning present at birth) heart defects; obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing temporarily stops while the person is sleeping; hearing loss; ear infections; eye disorders, and thyroid problems. People with Down syndrome must be routinely monitored for these conditions by a health care provider.

There are three types of Down syndrome: trisomy 21, translocation Down syndrome, and mosaic Down syndrome. Trisomy 21 is the most common, occurring in about 95 percent of Down syndrome cases. With trisomy 21, each cell in the body has three separate copies of chromosome 21.

Translocation Down syndrome occurs in about 3 percent of cases. With this type, an additional full or partial copy of chromosome 21 is present, but it attaches, or translocates, to another chromosome, usually chromosome 14, instead of existing on its own.

People with translocation Down syndrome can inherit the condition from an unaffected parent who is a carrier of the genetic rearrangement. In one-third of cases of Down syndrome resulting from translocation, there is a hereditary component, accounting for about 1 percent of all cases of Down syndrome.

Mosaic means mixture or combination, so people with mosaic Down syndrome have a mixture of cells with three copies of chromosome 21 and cells with the normal two copies. People with this type of Down syndrome, which occurs in about 2 percent of cases, may have milder symptoms and effects because they have fewer cells with an extra chromosome 21.

The cause of Down syndrome is unknown, but certain factors increase your risk of having a baby with the syndrome. One factor is the mother’s age. Your risk of having a baby with Down syndrome increases as you get older, especially if you are age 35 or older. Still, the majority of babies with Down syndrome are born to mothers younger than 35 because there are many more births in younger women.

In addition, if you or your partner are a carrier of the translocation Down syndrome gene, you can pass it on to your baby. And if you already have a baby with Down syndrome, your risk of having another baby with the same syndrome is increased.

If you want to know if your baby has Down syndrome before it is born, there are two types of tests that can be done: screening tests and diagnostic tests. Screening tests can reveal if your baby has a higher risk, but cannot determine if your baby definitely has Down syndrome. Screening tests typically include various blood tests and ultrasound.

Diagnostic tests can determine if your child has Down syndrome, but there’s a slightly higher risk for miscarriage associated with these tests. One diagnostic test is chorionic villus sampling, which analyzes a tissue sample removed from the placenta to look for genetic disorders.

Other diagnostic tests include amniocentesis, which examines some of the amniotic fluid surrounding your baby in the uterus, and percutaneous umbilical cord sampling, which involves taking a small amount of blood from the baby’s umbilical cord to check for chromosomal defects.

If you choose not to have these prenatal tests, Down syndrome will be diagnosed when your baby is born. If your doctor suspects Down syndrome, he or she will take a sample of your baby’s blood for karyotype testing. This test is done to identify and evaluate the size, shape, and number of chromosomes. It can detect three copies of chromosome 21.

Many problems associated with Down syndrome are lifelong, but early intervention, beginning in infancy, can help people overcome the challenges and live long lives. In 1960, babies born with Down syndrome often didn’t see their 10th birthday. Today, the average life expectancy of individuals with Down syndrome is 60 years, with many living into their 60s and 70s.

What’s more, many people with Down syndrome are able to work and fully participate in social activities. These people live full and meaningful lives.

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