Blog Posts

Safeguard Your Child’s Dental Health

February 28th, 2022

Each February, the American Dental Association (ADA) celebrates National Children’s Dental Health Month. The theme for 2022 is “Sealants Make Sense.” But before we talk about sealants, let’s review some basic strategies for safeguarding your child’s dental health.

Your child’s primary – or baby – teeth begin to form during the second trimester of pregnancy. This is the time from week 13 to week 28, or months four, five and six of pregnancy. To help ensure that your child develops healthy teeth, practice good oral hygiene during your pregnancy. Brush twice a day and floss daily. Also, visit a dentist before you deliver your baby.

Most children have 20 baby teeth, which typically begin to come in at around 6 months of age. It is important to protect these teeth because they maintain the proper spacing in the mouth for the permanent – or adult – teeth. Baby teeth generally begin to loosen and fall out when your child is about 6 years old. A full set of 32 adult teeth is usually in place by the time your child is in his or her teens.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood in the US. Cavities, which result from tooth decay, are permanent damage to a tooth’s enamel, the tough outer shell, that develops into holes. Untreated cavities can cause pain and infection and can lead to tooth loss.

To prevent cavities and safeguard your child’s dental health, begin good dental care before the first baby teeth come in. Wipe your child’s gums with a soft, clean cloth after feedings and before bed. If your baby has teeth, brush them twice a day with a soft-bristled infant toothbrush and plain water. If your child has teeth that touch, gently floss in between them.

Visit the dentist by your baby’s first birthday so the dentist can detect any potential issues with your child’s teeth early on. Consider visiting a pediatric dentist, who is specially trained to deal with children and their dental problems. Get your child regular dental check-ups. This helps your child grow comfortable with visiting the dentist and maintains good oral health.

Children should brush their teeth twice a day with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Supervise your child’s brushing until he or she is 7 or 8 years old or until he or she learns to spit out the toothpaste and not swallow it. If your older child participates in sports, he or she should wear a mouth guard to protect the teeth from injury.

Fluoride is a mineral that strengthens the enamel and helps make your child’s teeth more resistant to the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Many US cities put fluoride in their water. If your city doesn’t fluoridate its water, ask the dentist about fluoride supplements for your child.

Your dentist may recommend placing a sealant on your child’s teeth, particularly the molars in the back of the mouth that bear the brunt of chewing. Bits of food can get lodged in these teeth and be hard to remove with brushing and flossing. Food that remains on the teeth can cause more bacteria to grow, which can lead to tooth decay.

A sealant is a thin, protective coating made of plastic or another dental material that adheres to the rough chewing surfaces of the premolars and molars and helps protect them from cavity-causing bacteria. According to the ADA, sealants have been shown to reduce the risk of tooth decay in molars by nearly 80 percent. Ask your dentist if he or she recommends a sealant for your child’s teeth.

Sealants can protect the teeth from decay for up to 10 years. Visit the dentist regularly so he or she can check your child’s sealant for any chipping or wearing. Sealants can be reapplied as necessary.

Healthy teeth are important for your child’s overall health. Poor oral health can lead to infection, disease or other teeth problems. Problems associated with poor dental health include heart disease, respiratory disorders and even cancer. So, teach your children to practice good oral hygiene for strong teeth and good health for a lifetime.

An Education on Eating Disorders

February 28th, 2022

The American Psychiatric Association defines eating disorders as “behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbances in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions.” National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which just ended (February 21-27), serves as a time to learn more about these disorders and actively support those affected by them.

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that can lead to nutritional deficiencies and dangerous medical complications, even death. They are associated with an intense preoccupation with weight, body shape and food, which leads to dangerous behaviors. These behaviors include restrictive eating, binge eating, purging by vomiting or misusing laxatives and compulsive exercising.

Eating disorders are prevalent in the US, affecting approximately 30 million Americans. Most eating disorders develop during adolescence and young adulthood but can occur at any age. They are more common in young girls and women, but men can have eating disorders as well. Often, eating disorders co-occur with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorder.

The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

People with anorexia nervosa typically see themselves as “fat” even though they are underweight. There are two subtypes: the restrictor type, in which people limit their food intake to the point of starvation, and the binging and purging type, where people eat a lot of food (binge) and then make themselves throw up the food they’ve eaten (purge).

Anorexia is very harmful to the body. It can lead to serious health issues including heart problems such as arrythmias, heartbeats that are too fast, too slow or irregular, and heart failure, the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Other serious consequences include anemia, low blood pressure, kidney problems, bone loss and death.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by eating large amounts of food and then trying to get rid of the calories consumed by vomiting, fasting, using laxatives or compulsively exercising. People with bulimia often weigh withing the normal limits for their age and height but intensely fear gaining weight. And they are usually very dissatisfied with their body shape.  

Repeated exposure to stomach acids from purging can erode the enamel on the teeth and lead to cavities and gum disease. Other complications associated with bulimia include stomach ulcers, ruptures of the stomach or esophagus, dehydration, irregular heartbeat, low sex drive and gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach takes too long to digest food. In addition, people with severe bulimia have a higher risk for heart attack.

People with binge eating disorder eat a lot of food in a short amount of time, even if they’re not hungry, and feel intense distress or guilt afterward. But unlike bulimia, people with binge eating disorder don’t purge after eating. An episode of binge eating can be triggered by stress, negative feelings about weight or body shape, availability of food or even boredom. People with this disorder may eat in secret so others can’t see how much they’re eating.

Many people with binge eating disorder are overweight or obese, which increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer. These people may also experience sleep problems, chronic pain, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and fertility problems. Pregnant women with binge eating disorder tend to have more complications during their pregnancy.

Eating disorders also increase the risk for suicide.

Each eating disorder has its own symptoms, but there are some red flags to look out for. These include skipping meals or following an overly restrictive diet, leaving during meals to use the bathroom, eating more food during a meal than considered normal, frequently using laxatives for weight loss, exercising excessively and frequently talking about weight or dieting.

There are multiple factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder, including genetic, biologic, psychological and emotional factors. Your risk is increased if you have a family history of eating disorders, have another mental health disorder and have a lot of stress in your life. Eating disorders are more common in those that engage in activities that stress weight, such as gymnastics, wrestling, dancing and modeling. Peer pressure is also a factor.

If your doctor suspects an eating disorder based on your history and physical examination, he or she may refer you to a mental health professional, who uses special interviewing and assessment tools to make the diagnosis and determine which type of eating disorder you have. They follow the guidelines set down by the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Treatment for eating disorders depends on the type of disorder but usually involves psychotherapy, medication, nutritional counseling and weight monitoring. In severe cases, hospitalization or a stay in an inpatient treatment facility is required. Family support is essential in helping people with eating disorders cope and recover.

The Lowdown on AMD and Low Vision

February 22nd, 2022

February is AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month! AMD, or age-related macular degeneration, is a progressive eye disease that affects the macula, the center portion of the retina. The retina is the layer of nerve tissue lining the back of the eye that converts light into electrical impulses, which the brain translates as visual images.

The macula is responsible for our sharp, clear central – or straight-ahead – vision, which is necessary for reading, driving, recognizing faces, seeing color and doing close-up tasks.

There are two main types of AMD: dry and wet. Most people, about 85 to 90 percent, have the dry type, which is characterized by the degeneration and thinning of macular tissue.

With dry AMD, which is the early stage of the disease, small, yellowish deposits of cellular material called drusen are often present under the macula. Typically, dry macular degeneration causes minimal problems with your eyesight, but you might notice some blurriness or blank spots in your central vision, and straight lines may appear wavy.

Dry AMD is generally detected during a routine eye exam, when your eye doctor can visualize the drusen. The doctor may also test for defects in your vision using an Amsler grid, a chart containing a series of horizontal and vertical lines. With AMD, the lines in the grid may look wavy or distorted.

There is no treatment for dry AMD. Your eye doctor may recommend you take a dietary supplement with a special combination of antioxidant vitamins and minerals (AREDS2 formulation), such as PreserVision or Ocuvite. AREDS2 supplements may help slow down vision loss due to AMD.

About 10 to 15 percent of people with dry AMD progress to wet AMD, which is the advanced stage of the disease. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels begin to grow in the back of the eye. These unstable blood vessels can leak fluid and blood into the retina and macula, which can damage the macula.

Symptoms of wet AMD include a distortion of vision (straight lines appear wavy), trouble reading or doing close-up activities in low light, decreased intensity of colors, blurriness of the printed word and a well-defined blind spot in your field of vision. Because AMD is progressive, symptoms generally get worse over time.

In addition to a thorough eye examination and testing with an Amsler grid, your eye doctor may use certain tests to diagnose wet AMD. These tests include fluorescein angiography, the use of a special dye and camera to look at the blood vessels in your eye, and optical coherence tomography (OCT), an imaging test that takes clear, cross-sectional pictures of your retina.  

Fortunately, there are treatments for wet AMD that can slow down or stop vision loss. The primary treatment is injections of an anti-VEGF medication, which interferes with the formation of blood vessels. Another, less common treatment is photodynamic therapy, which involves the use of a light-sensitive medication that is activated when exposed to a laser.

AMD can lead to low vision, vision loss that cannot be corrected with prescription glasses, contact lenses, medication or surgery, although these treatments may help you to see better. Other eye conditions, such as glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa and eye cancer, as well as disorders such as diabetes and stroke can also cause low vision.

Low vision, which is typically defined as a visual acuity of 20/70 or poorer, can affect your central or peripheral vision. People with low vision must learn to adjust to their condition. If you have low vision, you may benefit from using low vision aids, such as magnifying glasses, hand-held magnifiers and large-print versions of reading materials.

Your eye doctor may refer you to a specialist in vision rehabilitation. Vision rehabilitation begins by recognizing the challenges of vision loss and making adjustments to maximize what vision you have left. It’s a process of learning how to do tasks, such as reading and writing, in news ways that keep you as independent as possible To maintain your best possible vision, see your eye care specialist routinely for a complete eye exam.

Defining Heart Disease

February 15th, 2022

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US, impacting Americans of all ages and ethnicities. It is responsible for about 659,000 deaths each year in the US, which translates to one in every four deaths. One person dies from cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds.

The term “heart disease” actually refers to any condition that affects your cardiovascular system, so it is also called cardiovascular disease. Your cardiovascular system includes your heart, which is a strong muscle that pumps blood to the rest of your body, and the blood vessels that carry blood to and from the heart and throughout your body.

Recent statistics suggest that nearly half (48 percent) of the US population has some type of heart disease. The most common type, affecting about 18.2 million adults 20 and older, is coronary artery disease (CAD). It develops when the blood vessels that supply the heart – the coronary arteries – become clogged with a fatty material called plaque.

A buildup of plaque causes the coronary arteries to harden and narrow, a condition called atherosclerosis. This restricts blood flow to the heart. As a result, the heart muscle receives less oxygen and nutrients and becomes weak. Plaque accumulation can eventually block blood flow through the coronary arteries, leading to a heart attack.

Every year, more than a million Americans suffer a heart attack. Warning signs of a heart attack include pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes; pain or discomfort in your arms, neck, back or stomach; shortness of breath; weakness or lightheadedness; sweating; fatigue; and nausea. You can have a heart attack without knowing it. One in five heart attacks is silent, occurring without telltale symptoms.

Other types of heart disease include heart failure, which is the inability of your heart to pump blood efficiently; arrhythmia, which is a heartbeat that’s too fast, too slow or irregular; congenital heart defects, which are problems with your heart’s structure that are present at birth; cardiomyopathy, which causes your heart to become enlarged, thickened or stiff, affecting its ability to pump blood; and heart infections such as endocarditis and myocarditis.

Anybody can develop heart disease, but certain factors increase your risk. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as age (heart disease is more common in people 65 and older), gender (males are at increased risk) and family history (children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves).

Other risk factors can be modified or controlled. These include having high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes;, smoking; drinking in excess; being overweight or obese; eating an unhealthy diet; having a high level of stress or anxiety; and getting little or no physical activity. About half (47 percent) of all Americans have one of these key risk factors: high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking.

Heart disease can lead to complications such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke and peripheral artery disease, which is the narrowing of the arteries outside of the heart often caused by atherosclerosis. An even more serious complication is sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart suddenly stops beating. This is a medical emergency. If not treated immediately, sudden cardiac arrest can be fatal.

Certain types of heart disease, such as congenital heart defects, cannot be prevented. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk for other types of heart disease and prevent these complications:

  • Eat a healthy diet that is rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt and sugar. Limit your intake of processed food.
  • Get regular physical activity, which strengthens the heart. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day on most days of the week.
  • Quit smoking, which is the best way to reduce your risk.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. A body mass index (BMI) between 20 and 25 is ideal.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. A standard drink is defined as 1½ ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine or one 12-ounce beer
  • Manage your health conditions. Follow your doctor’s advice for keeping high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes under control. Learn to manage the stress in your life. Techniques for reducing stress include meditation, tai chi and deep breathing.

Discussing Birth Defects

January 17th, 2022

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 4½ minutes a baby is born with a birth defect in the US. One in every 33 babies born in this country each year is affected by birth defects. They are the leading cause of infant mortality, which is the death of babies before their first birthday. Birth defects account for 20 percent of all infant deaths in the US.

The March of Dimes defines birth defects as structural changes that are present at birth. They may affect how the body looks, works or both.

Some birth defects, such as clubfoot and cleft lip, are easy to see and diagnose at the time of your baby’s birth. Others, such as heart defects and hearing loss, are detected after newborn testing. Still others, such as scoliosis and certain kidney defects, may not be discovered until your child is older. But most birth defects are found within the first year of the baby’s life.

The most common birth defects include congenital heart defects (CHDs), cleft lip and/or cleft palate, Down syndrome and spina bifida.

CHDs are the most common birth defects and include holes in the wall separating the heart’s chambers, a heart that beats too fast or too slow, defects in the heart’s valves that prevent blood from flowing smoothly through the heart, and misplaced blood vessels, which can interfere with the heart’s ability to function efficiently.

A cleft lip is an opening or split in the upper lip. A cleft palate is a split or opening in the roof of the mouth. Cleft lip and cleft palate result when your baby’s lips and mouth don’t form properly during pregnancy.   

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21. Chromosomes are thread-like structures made up of DNA. Down syndrome symptoms include developmental disabilities; abnormal facial features, including a flat face, small ears and almond-shaped eyes; and health problems such as impaired vision and hearing and heart defects.

Spina bifida is a neural tube defect. With spina bifida, the neural tube, which forms the brain and spinal cord, does not develop properly. When this occurs, the spinal column that protects the spinal cord may not fully form and close around the spinal cord. This can result in damage to the spinal cord and nerves. Babies with severe spina bifida require surgery within 48 hours of birth.

Birth defects can occur at any stage of pregnancy, but most occur during the first three months. That’s when your baby’s organs are forming. But defects can occur during the remaining six months as well, when your baby’s tissues and organs are developing and growing.

The cause of most birth defects is unknown but doctors believe a combination of genetic, behavioral and environmental factors are involved in most cases. Certain factors increase your chances of having a baby with a birth defect. These risk factors include:

  • Smoking, drinking alcohol or taking street drugs during pregnancy
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure, and being obese
  • Having a family member with a birth defect
  • Having certain types of infections while pregnant such as those caused by the Zika virus and cytomegalovirus and the parasite Toxoplasma gondii
  • Being an older mother. The risk of birth defects increases after age 35

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are some strategies you can follow to help increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. These include:

  • See your health care provider as soon as you find out you are pregnant and keep all your routine prenatal appointments.
  • Keep your diabetes and blood pressure under control and try to maintain a healthy weight. Eat a healthy diet and get regular physical activity. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to exercise while pregnant.
  • Tell your doctor about all medications you take including prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as all dietary supplements and herbal products. Tell all health care providers who prescribe medication to you that you are pregnant.
  • Take a multivitamin that contains at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is a synthetic version of a B vitamin called folate. It can help prevent birth defects of your brain and spinal cord such as spina bifida.
  • Avoid substances that can harm your baby. Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use street drugs during pregnancy.

Take steps to avoid infections and keep your vaccinations up to date. Conditions such as measles and whooping cough can affect your baby during and after pregnancy. A high fever that can accompany an infection can harm your developing baby.

by Patti DiPanfilo

A Short Course on Cervical Health

January 10th, 2022

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus, or womb. It forms a canal between the uterus and vagina, which opens to the outside of the body. The cervix acts as a gateway to the uterus through which sperm travel to reach and fertilize an ovum, or egg cell, to create an embryo.

January is a cervical cancer awareness month. Healthcare, medicine and early prevention concept. Hope matters.

The aim of Cervical Health Awareness month is to encourage women to visit their health care providers for routine gynecological exams. Simple screening tests are available that can detect  common cervical disorders, such ashuman papillomavirus infection andcervical cancer. Other disorders of the cervix includecervicitis,cervical stenosis and incompetent cervix.

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common virus that is passed through skin-to-skin contact. There are more than 100 strains of HPV that affect different parts of the body. About 30 of them affect the genitals. HPV, which is typically transmitted during sex, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in America. Approximately 79 million people in the US are infected with HPV. It is so common that about 80 percent of sexually active people, men and women, are infected with HPV at some point in their lives.

In about 90 percent of cases, HPV infections go away on their own. But some can lead to genital warts and cancer of the cervix, anus and throat. Certain strains of HPV – mainly types 16 and 18 – cause changes in the cells of the cervix, a condition called cervical dysplasia. If not treated, cervical dysplasia can progress to cervical cancer.

A vaccine is available for the prevention of genital warts and cancers caused by HPV infection. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine be given to boys and girls ages 11 or 12 because it produces a stronger immune response when given during the preteen years. But the vaccine can be given to adults as well. 

According to the American Cancer Society, there are approximately 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year resulting in about 4,000 deaths annually. Cervical cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages. Advanced cervical cancer may cause abnormal discharge from the vagina or unusual bleeding, such as bleeding after sex.

There are two main types of cervical cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Most cervical cancers (up to nine out of 10 cases) are squamous cell carcinomas. They develop in the outer part of the cervix, which is covered in squamous cells. Adenocarcinomas develop in the glandular cells of the cervix.

Treatments for cervical cancer include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The treatment recommended depends on the kind of cervical cancer you have and how far it has spread.

Cervicitis is inflammation of the cervix caused by a sexually transmitted infection, an allergic reaction to spermicide or bacterial overgrowth. It often has no symptoms but when symptoms do appear, they may include an abnormal vaginal discharge, pain during sex, bleeding after sex and vulvar or vaginal irritation. Cervicitis is usually treated with antibiotics, but in severe cases laser therapy or surgery may be required. 

Cervical stenosis is narrowing of the passageway through the cervix. If often causes no symptoms, but it can result in changes to your menstrual periods, painful periods and abnormal bleeding. In cases of severe stenosis, the cervix can be widened by inserting small, lubricated metal rods in progressively larger sizes into the cervical opening. Your doctor may place a stent to keep the cervix open.

Incompetent cervix, also called cervical insufficiency, occurs when the cervix opens too early during pregnancy. It occurs in about one in 100 pregnancies and can result in miscarriage or premature birth. Incompetent cervix has no signs or symptoms. The most common treatment is cerclage, a procedure to sew a stich in the cervix to make it stronger and keep it closed.       

Your health care provider can diagnose most cervical disorders during a pelvic exam and Pap test, which involves collecting a sample of cells from the cervix for testing. Depending on the disorder, your provider may order:

  • HPV test – detects the presence of the human papillomavirus
  • Transvaginal ultrasound – provides clear images of a woman’s reproductive organs
  • Colposcopy – allows your provider to get a close-up look at your cervix.

Your health care provider can tell you how often your need to have a pelvic exam and Pap test to help prevent cervical cancer and detect other common disorders of the cervix. 

by Patti DiPanfilo

A Glance at Glaucoma

January 4th, 2022

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is a group of progressive eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the retina, which converts light entering the eye into electrical signals, to the brain, which interprets those signals as visual images.

Continuing damage to the optic nerve from glaucoma can lead to vision loss. In fact, glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness in the US and the second leading cause of blindness in the world. It’s estimated that more than 3 million Americans are affected by glaucoma, and half of those people don’t know they have the disease. More than 120,000 people in the US are blind due to glaucoma.

The damage to the optic nerve from glaucoma is most often associated with an abnormally high pressure in the eyes called intraocular pressure (IOP). Many types of glaucoma have no warning signs. Symptoms typically don’t become noticeable until vision loss has begun. That’s why glaucoma is called a “silent thief of sight.”

High IOP is the result of an excess of fluid called aqueous humor, which bathes and nourishes the eye. Normally, the eye produces and drains this fluid at the same rate, maintaining a consistent pressure within the eye. An abnormality in the eye’s drainage system can cause the fluid to build up in the eye and increase IOP.

There are several types of glaucoma. The most common is open-angle glaucoma, which affects about 95 percent of people with the disease. With this type the drainage angle in the eye is open but the trabecular meshwork is blocked, which results in the build-up of fluid and an increase in eye pressure.

The drainage angle is located where the iris, the colored part of the eye, meets the cornea, the clear cap on the front of the eye. Fluid drains from the eye through this angle. The trabecular meshwork is a spongy material through which aqueous humor flows out of the eye.

Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the iris bulges forward and physically blocks or narrows the drainage angle. Angle-closure glaucoma can be acute, where there’s a rapid and sudden increase in IOP, or chronic, which develops slowly over time.

Symptoms of acute angle-closure glaucoma come on quickly and may include eye pain, severe headache, blurry vision, rainbows or halos around lights, sudden vision loss, eye redness, and nausea or vomiting. Acute angle-closure glaucoma is a medical emergency. Seek help immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.

With normal-tension glaucoma, the optic nerve becomes damaged even though IOP is in the normal range. The reason this happens is unknown. The optic nerve may be highly sensitive or there may be less blood being supplied to the optic nerve due to another condition, such as atherosclerosis, the build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries that blocks blood flow.

Having high IOP is the main risk factor for glaucoma, but there are other factors that may increase your risk for developing the eye disease as well. Because glaucoma can destroy vision before any signs and symptoms are noticeable, it’s important to be aware of the risk factors. You may be at a greater risk for developing glaucoma if you:

  • Are over age 60
  • Are of African. Asian or Hispanic heritage  
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or sickle cell disease
  • Have a thin cornea
  • Are extremely nearsighted or farsighted
  • Suffered an eye injury or underwent certain types of eye surgery
  • Used corticosteroids, especially eyedrops, for an extended period of time

The best way to detect glaucoma in its early stages is through a comprehensive eye examination, including a dilated eye exam. Your doctor may also use certain tests, including the following:

  • Tonometry measures eye pressure
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT) provides a clear image of the optic nerve to look for damage
  • Visual acuity test checks for vision loss
  • Visual field test looks for changes in your peripheral vision, which is often affected first
  • Gonioscopy examines the drainage angle
  • Pachymetry measures corneal thickness

Vision lost due to glaucoma is permanent. It cannot be restored. But treatment can slow down any additional vision loss. Glaucoma treatments include:

  • Medication – Prescription eyedrops can help decrease eye pressure by improving how fluid drains from your eyes or by decreasing the amount of aqueous humor produced by your eyes. There are many types of eyedrops available that fulfill these functions.
  • Laser treatment – This may be an option if you have open-angle glaucoma. The laser is used to open up blocked channels in the trabecular meshwork, allowing fluid to drain better.
  • Surgery – Surgery is more invasive but can typically achieve better eye pressure control and do it faster than eyedrops or laser treatment. There are many types of surgery. Your eye doctor will select a surgery based on your specific type of glaucoma and its severity.

Don’t let glaucoma steal your sight. Routine eye exams can catch this disease in its early stages, and prompt treatment can help slow the progression of glaucoma and save your vision. Ask your eye specialist how often you should have your eyes examined.

by Patti DiPanfilo

Think About Your Thyroid

December 30th, 2021

January is typically the time when we set our priorities for the new year. Many of us make resolutions to improve our bodies on the outside, such as losing weight. But in this blog, we’re going to take a closer look at our bodies on the inside. So, as Thyroid Awareness Month begins, we’re going to think about our thyroids.

Overview of the position of the thyroid gland in the neck

The thyroid is a gland that’s part of the body’s endocrine system. It’s responsible for making and releasing a steady amount of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. Thyroid hormones help regulate metabolism, the process of breaking down the food you eat into energy. Your metabolism affects how fast your body performs its daily functions.

Thyroid hormones regulate many other body processes as well. These include your breathing, heart rate, body weight, temperature, cholesterol level, muscle strength and even women’s menstrual cycles. It’s important that these hormones stay at a consistent level in your bloodstream.

The thyroid is shaped a little like a butterfly and sits at the base of your throat, just below your voice box. It’s about two inches long and has two lobes that lie on either side of your windpipe. The lobes are connected by a small strip of tissue called an isthmus.

The main hormones produced by the thyroid are triiodothyronine or T3 and thyroxine or T4. T3 and T4 are made by special cells called follicular epithelial cells. The thyroid also makes calcitonin in its C-cells.  Calcitonin regulates the amount of calcium and phosphorus in your blood and inhibits the breakdown of your bones.

The amount of T3 and T4 in your blood is controlled by two other glands, the pituitary in the center of the skull below the brain, and the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus produces a hormone that signals the pituitary to release its thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH tells the thyroid to release more or less T3 and T4 to maintain a balance.

When there’s an imbalance, too much or too little T3 and T4 in your blood, your body reacts. Too little thyroid hormone is a condition called hypothyroidism. It occurs when your thyroid doesn’t make enough of its hormones. Too much thyroid hormone is called hyperthyroidism.

With hypothyroidism, your metabolism slows down. Common symptoms include weight gain, sluggishness, fatigue, dry skin and hair, intolerance to cold, and depression. With hyperthyroidism, your metabolism speeds up. Symptoms include irritability, racing heartbeat, muscle weakness, weight loss and sleep problems.

There are multiple causes of thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism may be caused by inflammation of the thyroid gland that can lower the amount of hormones produced or by a hereditary disease of the immune system called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. An iodine deficiency can affect the production of thyroid hormone as well. Removal of the thyroid also gives you hypothyroidism.

Causes of hyperthyroidism include Graves’ disease, a condition in which the entire thyroid is overactive. Sometimes, just one or a few nodules inside the thyroid produce too much hormone. Too much iodine can cause some people to have too much thyroid hormone and some to have too little.

Treatment of these disorders focuses on restoring normal blood levels of the thyroid hormones. Treatment for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement with a synthetic version in pill form. Your doctor will monitor your hormone levels with periodic blood tests and adjust your dose accordingly.

Treatment for hyperthyroidism is a little trickier. To normalize hormone levels, your doctor may use medications to block hormone production or radioactive iodine to disable your thyroid. Another treatment option is the removal of the thyroid. This will give you hypothyroidism, as can the radioactive iodine. Then, you’ll have to take hormone replacement therapy.

Thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism, are lifelong conditions. But by following your doctor’s instructions and having your hormone levels monitored regularly, you can still live a normal, healthy life.

by Patti DiPanfilo

Pondering Pancreatic Cancer

December 21st, 2021

Let’s take a few minutes to ponder pancreatic cancer. First, let’s learn a little bit about the pancreas and its important contributions to the body’s day-to-day functioning.

The pancreas is an oblong organ that sits across the back of the abdomen, between the stomach and the spine. It consists primarily of two types of cells. Exocrine cells make key enzymes for digestion, which they release into tiny tubes called ducts. Endocrine cells produce hormones such as insulin and glucagon, which help the body absorb glucose (sugar) for energy and control glucose levels in the blood. Endocrine cells release their hormones directly into the bloodstream.

Pancreatic cancer develops when abnormal cells grow out of control and form a mass, or tumor. About 95 percent of pancreatic cancers start in the exocrine cells. These are called pancreatic adenocarcinomas. About 7 percent of pancreatic cancers begin in the endocrine cells. Those are called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, or PNETs.

According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all cancer diagnoses in the United States and is responsible for 7 percent of cancer deaths. The ACS estimates that about 60,430 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2021 and about 48,220 people will die from it.

Pancreatic cancer is often called a “silent cancer” because it generally has no detectable symptoms in its early stages. Consequently, it has typically progressed and affected other organs and tissues before it is diagnosed.

When present, pancreatic cancer symptoms can include: yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice); dark urine; pain in the abdomen or lower back; digestive upset (nausea, vomiting or indigestion); fatigue; depression; blood clots, decreased appetite; unexplained weight loss, and sudden onset of diabetes.

The cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, but certain factors have been identified that increase your risk for developing this cancer. Pancreatic cancer risk factors include: smoking cigarettes, being obese, not exercising regularly, eating a diet high in fat and processed meats, drinking heavily, being exposed to chemicals and pesticides, having Type 2 diabetes or a chronically inflamed pancreas, being African-American, being male; being older than 55 and having a family history of pancreatic cancer..

To diagnose pancreatic cancer, your doctor will begin with a thorough review of your symptoms and medical history. The doctor will likely order a CT or MRI scan to get a detailed image of your pancreas. Other tests your doctor may recommend include endoscopic ultrasound and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).

These tests are performed through an endoscope, a thin, flexible tube with a tiny video camera attached to its end, that is passed down your throat and into your digestive system. During these endoscopic procedures, your doctor can obtain a sample of tissue to study under a microscope to look for cancer cells. This is called a biopsy.

Blood tests are also used to look for certain tumor markers that may indicate pancreatic cancer. Tumor markers are substances that are often found in high concentrations when cancer is present. Tumor marker CA 19-9 may be helpful in diagnosing pancreatic cancer. Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) is another tumor marker for pancreatic cancer, but it’s not used as often as CA 19-9.

Once a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer has been made, your doctor will assign a stage based on the test results. The stage of a cancer indicates the size of the tumor and how far it has spread from where it originated. Pancreatic cancer has four stages:

• Stage 1 – The tumors are in the pancreas only
• Stage 2 – The tumors have spread to nearby abdominal tissue or lymph nodes
• Stage 3 – The cancer has spread to major blood vessels and lymph nodes
• Stage 4 – The tumors have spread to other organs, such as the liver

Treatment for pancreatic cancer depends on the stage. The goals of treatment are to kill the cancerous cells, prevent the spread of the disease and relieve symptoms. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy and immunotherapy.

If the cancer is localized to the pancreas, it may be possible to eliminate the cancer cells by surgically removing all or part of the pancreas. A common procedure for pancreatic cancer is the Whipple procedure during which the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas and sometimes the entire pancreas, along with a portion of the stomach, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder, the bile duct and other tissue.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy destroys cancer by focusing high-energy rays on the cancer cells. These treatments may be used before surgery to shrink tumors or after surgery to eliminate any remaining traces of the cancer.

Targeted drug therapy is a type of cancer treatment that targets proteins that control how cancer cells grow, divide and spread. Immunotherapy works with your body’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Because pancreatic cancer is typically not diagnosed until it is in its advanced stages, it continues to be difficult to treat and cure. Fortunately, the outlook for people with this cancer is improving. Ongoing research and clinical trials, along with new treatments, are expanding the average five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer.

If You Drink This Holiday Season, Don’t Even Think About Driving

December 13th, 2021

Each year, more than 10,000 people, about 1,000 of them children, lose their lives on America’s roadways due to drunk driving. That’s about 1/3 of all traffic-related deaths. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking and driving kills nearly 30 people every day in the US or about one person every 50 minutes.

Car accidents involving intoxicated drivers happen even more often during the holidays, when social binge-drinking is more accepted and prevalent. Increased drinking at holiday parties and gatherings leads to an uptick in impaired drivers on the road and a higher risk for alcohol-related accidents. So, even if you drive sober, there’s a greater chance you’ll be sharing the road with other drivers who are not.

During the winter holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, 40 percent of highway deaths are alcohol related. During the same period, there’s an estimated 25,000 injuries from alcohol-related accidents. Curiously, a quarter of the profits for the $49 billion alcohol industry are made during this same time span.

While the risk for encountering a drunk driver is higher throughout the holiday season, New Year’s Day is the most dangerous holiday to be on the road, with 58 percent of car accidents being alcohol related. During the month of December, 28 percent of fatal car accidents involve intoxicated drivers. An average of 300 people are killed in drunk-driving accidents during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Alcohol impairs by affecting key skills needed for driving. It slows your reflexes, which can decrease your ability to quickly react to changing situations. It can alter your visual perception and even cause blurry vision. It can impact your ability to judge your car’s position on the road. Alcohol can affect your concentration, coordination and decision-making capability as well.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC), also called blood alcohol content or blood alcohol limit, is the percentage of alcohol in your blood after you’ve been drinking. In 49 of 50 states and Washington DC, you are considered legally drunk if you have a BAC of 0.08 percent or above. But in Utah, the BAC limit is 0.05 percent. Any detectable blood alcohol concentration is a violation in people under 21.

Many factors contribute to how fast you reach a BAC of 0.08 percent. Your weight, body fat percentage, hydration, digestion and the way alcohol affects you, as well as the length of time you’ve been drinking, all affect how quickly you become impaired.

But generally speaking, a 180-pound man can reach a BAC of 0.08 percent after four drinks and a 120-pound woman can reach it after just two drinks. A standard “drink” is defined as one shot of liquor, a five-ounce glass of wine or one 12-ounce beer.

Even if you don’t kill anyone, driving while intoxicated will impact your life in many ways and cost you big time. If you’re arrested for a DUI or DWI, you could face the suspension of your driver’s license, jail time – up to a year for a first offense in some states – and thousands of dollars in fines and court costs. When all is said and done, alcohol-impaired drivers cost the US about $132 billion each year.

The fact of the matter is 100 percent of alcohol-related fatalities and injuries are preventable. The bottom line: there are no excuses. If you drink, don’t drive!

Try these common-sense tips for a safe holiday season:

  • If you plan to drink at a holiday gathering, line up a sober driver.
  • If you don’t have a designated driver, call a cab, ride-sharing service or friend to take you home at the end of the event.
  • Consider spending the night at a nearby hotel or motel that you can walk to if you have more than a few drinks.
  • Eat food and drink water while you’re consuming alcoholic beverages. Don’t drink on an empty stomach.
  • Even if you only feel a little buzzed, you’re impaired. Get a ride with a sober driver or call a cab.

If you’re hosting a holiday gathering, follow these recommendations:

  • Serve a variety of food and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as coffee.
  • Avoid providing salty snacks. They make your guests drink more.
  • Don’t make alcohol the main attraction at the party.
  • Stop serving alcohol one to two hours before the event ends.
  • Keep an eye on your guests. If someone is visibly intoxicated, don’t serve them any more alcohol.
  • Don’t let drinking guests drive. Take their keys and be sure a sober driver, cab or ride-sharing service takes them home.
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