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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.

Hints for Handling Holiday Stress

November 30th, 2021

The holidays are upon us. But along with the holidays comes a dizzying array of demands on our time and energy. These demands include planning and preparing meals, baking, shopping, cleaning, attending holiday events and entertaining guests.

Family celebrating the holidays

This season is supposed to be a joyous time full of celebrations with family and friends. But often, we set impossibly high expectations for our holiday celebrations that cannot be reached, making this one of the most stressful times of the year for many people.

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people reported that their stress level increases during the holidays. In another survey, 53 percent indicated that they feel financially stressed by holiday spending. And more than half of the respondents in that survey noted that they had created budgets for their spending.

Stress can ruin your holiday celebrations and harm your health, so it’s important to recognize its presence in your life. Stress has physical and emotional symptoms. Look out for these physical symptoms of stress, which include:

  • Body aches and pains
  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking
  • Chest pain or a feeling that your heart is racing
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Stomachaches or other digestive problems
  • Sexual dysfunction

Emotional signs of stress include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Memory and concentration difficulties
  • Mood swings

But don’t get discouraged. With a little self-awareness and planning, you can avoid becoming overly stressed this holiday season. Here are just a few hints to help you handle the high expectations of this time of year and stay mentally and physically stress-free:

  • Set realistic expectations. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or repeats of past years’ successes. As families grow, traditions evolve. Choose a few time-honored traditions to carry on and be open to beginning new traditions as your family’s dynamics change.
  • Don’t lose sight of what really counts. When you get frustrated by long lines in the stores or heavy traffic, use the time to reflect on the good things that happened to you that day or the many things in your life that you’re grateful for. Make frustrating moments pleasant by looking at the environment around you with fresh, positive eyes.
  • Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting with friends and other activities. Plan your holiday menu, make a list and then go shopping to avoid last-minute trips to the store for forgotten ingredients. Consider shopping online to save a trip to an overcrowded mall, which can be stressful.
  • Accept that you can’t do it all. There are a million things to do during the holidays and only so much time. Remember that you are only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Acknowledge that you can’t attend every holiday event. It’s OK to say “No” to your neighbor’s holiday party invitation. They’ll understand. They’re facing holiday stress just as you are.
  • Don’t overspend. Create a budget and stick to it. Decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and food before you go shopping. Set aside the amount of money you’ve dedicated to each person’s gift in an envelope with the person’s name on it and stay within that limit. When shopping, consider leaving your credit and debit cards at home and only spending the amount of cash you have on hand.
  • Respond with kindness. You can’t change how others act but you can change how you respond to them. Keep in mind that the holidays are a particularly difficult time for people who are alone. During this holiday season, consider extending a kind act, such as visiting or providing a meal, to someone you know has no family or friends.
  • Take care of yourself. Don’t forget your healthy lifestyle habits. Eat right, exercise regularly and get sufficient sleep. It may be a challenge to maintain these habits during the bustling holiday season but taking care of yourself helps keep your body and mind primed to deal with stress. And don’t overindulge on food or alcohol during the holidays. It only causes guilt and adds to your stress.
  • Take a break. Take a few minutes for yourself to be alone and recharge your batteries. Go for a walk, listen to your favorite music or read a book. You’ll feel refreshed and others will benefit as well when you’re feeling less stressed and more focused. 
  • Seek help. Accepting support from friends and family can help you manage holiday stress. But if you feel persistently sad or anxious, depressed, irritable or hopeless, or if you are unable to sleep or perform everyday tasks due to stress, seek your doctor or a mental health professional’s help.    

Safe in the Summer Sun

August 3rd, 2021

July and August are the hottest months of the year. That’s when the amount of solar energy hitting the earth is at its peak. Many people like to be active outdoors during these hot, humid months: taking vacations, enjoying backyard barbecues, visiting the beach or simply strolling through our neighborhoods. But we must protect ourselves from the scorching summer sun.

August is Summer Sun Safety Month, so let’s explore some ways to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors this month.

Everyone knows that exposure to the sun is a risk factor for skin cancer, so cover as much of your skin as possible to limit that exposure. Wear slacks and a long-sleeved shirt made of material that blocks sunlight to protect your arms and legs. A wide-brimmed hat will shade your face, ears and head as well as the back of your neck. Always wear sunglasses with full UVA and UVB protection to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays.

You should use sunscreen every day of the year, but it’s most important to use sunscreen during the summer months, when the sun’s rays are strongest. The American Cancer Society offers tips for selecting a sunscreen. Here are a few highlights:

  • Choose a sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection. These products protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Select a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Sunscreens with an SPF of 30 filter out about 97 percent of harmful UVB rays.
  • “Water resistant” does not mean “waterproof.” No sunscreen is waterproof. For best results, reapply sunscreen every two hours, more often if you’re swimming or sweating.

Don’t forget your lips. Use a lip balm containing a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

Even if you follow these recommendations, the sunscreen you choose will be less effective if you don’t use it properly. Here are a few sunscreen tips from the publication Summer Sun Essentials: Foolproof Tips for Staying Safe in the Sun to help you get the best protection:

  • Always rub in spray-on sunscreen. If you don’t, you’ll get uneven protection.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before exposure to the sun.
  • Pay attention to expiration dates. Sunscreen loses much of its potency when its’s expired.
  • Apply an SPF lotion under your makeup every day.
  • Use sunscreen even when it’s cloudy outside. The sun’s ultraviolet rays pass through the clouds.

Avoid doing activities in the sun when its light is at its strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you get a sunburn, follow the American Academy of Dermatology’s recommendations for treating it. Some of the AAD’s suggestions include:

  • Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve pain.
  • Use a moisturizer containing aloe vera or soy to soothe sunburned skin.
  • Drink extra water.
  • If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal.

If you’re going to be outdoors in the sun, stay hydrated with cool water and be aware of how your body is responding to the heat to prevent heat illness. The most common heat-related illnesses are heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat rash and heat cramps are considered mild conditions. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are severe.

The Cleveland Clinic describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke in detail. Here’s a brief summary:

Symptoms of heat rash include red, itchy skin, tingling or prickling pain and small bumps or blisters on areas that stay wet when you sweat. To treat heat rash, go to a cool place, gently dry off your skin and put cold compresses on your affected skin. If your symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor.

Symptoms of heat cramps include muscle pain or spasms in the arms, legs or abdomen. Your skin will likely feel cool and moist, but your temperature will probably remain normal. To treat heat cramps, drink water and rest.

With heat exhaustion, you’ll likely experience quick, shallow breathing; heavy sweating; headache; irritability; elevated temperature and heart rate; and a weak, quick pulse. Muscle cramps are also a symptom of heat exhaustion.

To treat heat exhaustion, go to a cool, shaded area or go indoors, drink small sips of cold water, put cold cloths on your skin, and call 911 or go the emergency department.

Symptoms of heat stroke include a quick, strong pulse; slurred speech, confusion or an altered mental state; dry, red, hot skin; nausea; temperature of 105 degrees or higher, muscle twitching; seizures; lack of sweating despite the heat; and dizziness, fainting or loss of consciousness.

If you suspect heat stroke, get out of the hot sun and get treatment right away. Call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. In the meantime, start to cool down by spraying yourself with water or applying cool compresses, loosen or remove your clothing and elevate your feet. Don’t drink any fluids.

If you plan to be active outdoors this month, follow these suggestions and stay safe in the summer sun!

What Does Diet Really Mean?

March 2nd, 2021

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “diet”? Did you immediately think of a restrictive eating regimen that deprives you of your favorite foods? I think most people look at “diet” that way, and because they see it as depriving, they consider diet a bad thing.

For most people, a diet is a tool for losing weight. And according to a survey spearheaded by the International Food and Information Council, 77 percent of Americans are trying to lose weight. But the sad truth is that most of them will fail to achieve sustaining weight loss if they approach their diets in the traditional way.

The better way to look at diet is in the context of overall nutrition. Nutrition is more than eating healthy food. It’s your total nourishment. And diet is more than an eating plan. It’s what you eat and drink every day, as well as the physical and emotional circumstances connected to eating.

Having a nutritious diet is more than eating good food to fill you up. It’s also getting enough nutrients to keep you healthy and full of energy to perform your daily activities at a high level. A side benefit of good nutrition is that you naturally get to and maintain a healthy body weight. (You get even better results when you add regular exercise!)

A critical feature of good nutrition and a healthy diet is variety. Eating a wide variety of foods helps ensure that you get the important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs to function properly.

One recommendation is to keep your plate colorful with foods of a variety of hues. The pigments that produce the color in these foods are actually nutritious substances, and these substances can reduce your risk of cancer and chronic diseases, such as heart disease.

Fruits and vegetables are among the most colorful foods. They provide added protection by decreasing free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage cells, which as a result, can lead to the development of many diseases.

A nutritious diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. It also includes whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and protein in the form of lean meats and seafood. A healthy diet doesn’t eliminate any group of foods, like some popular fad diets today, but instead concentrates on portion sizes.

For help with food choices and portion sizes, consult the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, developed by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture. And don’t’ forget to balance your healthy eating with physical activity.

With a healthy, nutritious diet, you don’t have to deprive yourself of all the foods you love. But think about those foods before you eat them and decide which ones are really important to you.

Consider eating only the foods you absolutely love and avoiding the foods you find mediocre. That way, you can eliminate the foods you can really live without and replace them with healthier options such as fruits and vegetables.

By assessing your eating patterns, you can mindfully include foods you love that might be considered unhealthy. With careful planning, you can eat those foods but in a more controlled manner.

Now you know that diet is not a dirty word, and it’s possible to eat healthy and still have your favorite foods. Here are a few other tips to make eating a positive experience, courtesy of the University of Minnesota:

  • Start small. Pick one thing to change and focus on that until you get comfortable with it, then move on.
  • Acknowledge and honor your hunger. Pay attention to what your body wants. Allow yourself to feel hunger. It’s very satisfying to eat after experiencing hunger.
  • Get rid of distractions. Turn off the televisions, computers, and cells phones. Focus on your food.
  • Lose the “good” and “bad” labels. If you’re putting energy into taking better care of yourself, then you deserve treats, snacks, and junk food from time to time without judgment.
  • Eat with others. Share the pleasure of the food with others. You get valuable emotional support from family members and friends when you eat together.
  • Stop before you feel full. It takes your brain about 20 minutes before it gets the message that your belly is full. But there’s a point before that when your hunger is satiated. Keep in mind that a typical portion is more than you need.

Diets that restrict calories can do more harm than good. Often, people lose weight initially, but the weight loss is usually unsustainable. When they go off of the diet, they generally gain all of the weight back, and sometimes more.

Calorie-restrictive diets are not healthy for your body. You need to eat enough calories for your body to function properly. A nutritious, balanced diet gives you all the calories, vitamins, and nutrients you need. It also helps you, along with exercise, to lose and/or maintain weight by keeping your metabolism operating optimally.

So, eat well and enjoy!

Holding Off Heart Disease

February 22nd, 2021

It’s February, and you know what that means – it’s American Heart Month. It’s that annual opportunity to review what we know about heart disease. And it’s our chance to be sure we’re doing everything we can to prevent or manage it in our lives.

After all, heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women in the US. About 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

What’s more, almost half of all Americans are at risk for developing the condition. The good news is that heart disease is preventable in most people.

Heart disease encompasses a wide array of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. These conditions include arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, congenital heart defects, heart infections, and the main form of heart disease, coronary artery disease (CAD).

Heart disease is often grouped with stroke and related conditions under the more global term cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD involves a number of diseases of the heart and circulatory system. Other conditions that fall under CVD include heart attack, heart failure, and heart valve disorders.

While stroke, heart attack and the other CVD disorders are serious conditions, we’ll concentrate our discussion today on heart disease and primarily on CAD, its most prevalent form.

CAD is a disorder of your coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply your heart muscle with fresh, oxygenated blood. With CAD, the coronary arteries become blocked with a fatty material called plaque, which prevents oxygen and nutrients from getting to your heart. This can lead to a heart attack and to the death of heart muscle tissue.

One common symptom of CAD is a type of chest pain called angina, which may feel like a tightness, heaviness or pressure in your chest. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, weakness, nausea, and rapid heartbeat. It may also feel like your heart is pounding hard and fluttering or skipping beats. These feelings are called palpitations.

Symptoms of heart disease can differ in women. They may feel classic angina in the form of chest pain or pressure, but more often feel chest tightness, squeezing, burning, and general discomfort. Women are also more likely than men to experience discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, throat, or back.

There are certain risk factors for CAD. These factors increase your chances for developing the condition. They can also make it more likely existing heart disease will get worse. Some of these risk factors, such as age, gender, and having a family history of heart disease, cannot be changed.

Age is a big factor. Your risk increases if you’re a women over age 55 or a man over 45. The same is true if your father or brother had heart disease before age 55, or your mother or sister had it before age 65. These are all things you can’t do anything about.

There are other risk factors, however, that you can control. These include having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, having diabetes or prediabetes, smoking, being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, eating an unhealthy diet, and drinking a lot of alcohol. These are the risk factors you should be putting your energy into changing.

The best way to determine your risk for CAD or another type of heart disease is by partnering with your doctor. He or she will evaluate your blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood glucose to check for diabetes, weight, personal and family medical history, and lifestyle.

Your doctor can then recommend steps to lower your risk for heart disease or treat the condition if you already have it.

If you are at risk for heart disease or have already been diagnosed with it, there are some actions you can take to reduce the chance of getting heart disease or keep it from getting worse. Your doctor may recommend simple lifestyle changes and/or drug treatments.

Among the steps you can take to lower your heart disease risk or slow its progression is to control your high cholesterol and high blood pressure. This can often be done by adjusting your diet and getting more exercise, but it may require medication. Be sure to have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly.

Lifestyle changes are pretty much common sense. They including eating a heart-healthy diet that is rich in high-fiber foods and low in saturated and trans fats; becoming more active; getting and staying at a healthy weight; quitting smoking; drinking alcohol in moderation, and managing stress, which can have a negative effect on your heart.

If you’re at high risk for heart disease or already have it, your doctor may recommend that you take an aspirin every day to reduce your chances of having a heart attack. But don’t take aspirin on your own without talking to your doctor first. It isn’t the best course of action for all people.

Now that you’ve been reminded about the basics of heart disease and CAD, you can better take care of your heart health – during American Heart Month and the rest of the year as well.

Be Aware of Birth Defects

January 6th, 2021

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, birth defects affect one in every 33 babies born in the US, which is about 3 percent of all babies. The CDC also reports that birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in the US, accounting for 20 percent of all infant deaths. This blog takes a closer look at birth defects and offers a few strategies to prevent them.

A birth defect is a problem that forms when a baby is developing in the womb, so it is present at birth. Every 4½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the US. A birth defect can affect how the baby’s body looks, works, or both. Some birth defects are relatively harmless and require little or no treatment. Others require immediate surgery and a lifetime of care.

The March of Dimes notes that birth defects can occur at any time during a woman’s pregnancy, but most happen during the first three months, or the first trimester. During that time, the baby’s organs are developing. But birth defects can occur later in pregnancy as well as the organs continue to grow and develop.

In many cases, birth defects are the result of genetics, as mutated genes get passed from the parents to the baby. The mother’s behavior during pregnancy, such as smoking, using illicit drugs, or drinking alcohol; exposure to certain medications or toxic chemicals; having certain types of infections during pregnancy, including sexually transmitted infections; or a combination of these factors, can also lead to birth defects. The cause of some birth defects is unknown.

Being 34 years old or older may put you at an increased risk for having a baby with a birth defect, as can having certain health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and seizure disorders.

Birth defects can be structural or developmental. Structural defects include conditions involving body parts that are missing or malformed. Common structural birth defects include:

Heart defects – The walls, valves, or blood vessels of the heart form abnormally. This affects how well the heart can pump blood through the body.
Cleft lip and cleft palate – If the tissues of the roof of the mouth or lip don’t merge properly during development, an opening or split can result.
Spina bifida – This is a neural tube defect, which involves the brain and spine. With spina bifida, the spine does not form and close properly, affecting the spinal cord and nerves.
Clubfoot – A shortened Achilles tendon causes the foot to point inward and under instead of forward.
Sickle cell disease – The normally round red blood cells are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. These sticky cells get stuck in the small blood vessels, which blocks blood flow and oxygen delivery to organs and tissues.

Down syndrome is a common developmental birth defect. Down syndrome, in which an extra chromosome 21 is present, causes delays in physical and mental development. Another developmental birth defect is cerebral palsy. This condition is most often caused by abnormal brain development before birth. It affects movement, balance, and posture.

Some birth defects can be detected during pregnancy using prenatal ultrasound. Your doctor may employ a more sensitive test such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS) to look for birth defects before your baby is born. Most birth defects can be positively diagnosed through a physical exam and newborn screening test after birth, but some defects are not detectable until the child is older.

If something is detected on your baby’s newborn screening test, more in-depth testing, called diagnostic testing, will be needed to determine if there’s a problem. If the diagnostic testing is positive for a defect, your doctor will guide you through the next steps. When a birth defect, such a heart defect, is found early, it can often be treated and more serious problems can be prevented.

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but there are steps you can take before and during pregnancy to reduce the risk. The CDC suggests that women Commit to Healthy Choices to Help Prevent Birth Defects. Here are some of the CDC’s tips:

• Manage health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and adopt healthy behaviors, including quitting smoking and stopping alcohol, before becoming pregnant. Continue these behaviors during pregnancy.
• Strive to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Women who are obese before pregnancy are at a higher risk for complications during pregnancy. Obesity also increases the risk of several serious birth defects.
• Take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day one month before and during pregnancy. Folic acid can help prevent major birth defects of the developing brain and spine.
• See your health care provider regularly when planning a pregnancy and begin prenatal care as soon as you suspect that you are pregnant. Be sure to tell your provider about any medications that you are taking.
• See your provider regularly throughout your pregnancy. Talk to your provider about any vaccinations you may need. The flu vaccine and the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine are specifically recommended during pregnancy to protect women against infections that can cause birth defects.

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!

What’s Causing Our Superbug Crisis? Sneaky Germs

December 19th, 2019

A report issued in November by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed some bad news and some good news about infections caused by antibiotic-resistant microbes, or superbugs, in America. Superbugs are germs such a bacteria and fungi that can’t be destroyed by the medications currently available to fight them.

First, the bad news: In the report, the CDC noted that antibiotic-resistant superbugs have killed nearly twice as many people as previously believed. Also, the CDC announced it has identified two new, potentially deadly superbugs, bringing the total of most threatening superbugs to five.

One of the new superbugs,, a fungus called Candida auris, was a bit of a surprise to CDC officials. Five years ago, they weren’t even considering Candida auris as a serious threat. But it is now.

Among the superbugs we’ve known about, C difficle is a particularly nasty one. It is considered an urgent threat by health officials. C difficle alone caused nearly 250,000 infections in 2017, the most recent year for available data. It also caused at least 12,000 deaths that year.

The good news is that the total number of deaths from superbug infections has declined by 18 percent. The CDC estimates that 36,000 Americans died as a result of superbug infections in 2017. Compare that to 44,000 deaths in 2013. The decline is attributed, at least in part, to more judicious prescribing of antibiotics by physicians.

Antibiotic resistance is considered one of the world’s most pressing health problems. It happens when the germs find a way to survive the onslaught of death caused by the drugs. Bacteria are sneaky. They can alter antibiotics’ effect on them in several ways. I’ll describe a few of those ways soon.

Just to be clear, it’s the bacteria that become resistant to the medications. Individuals don’t become resistant. But resistant germs can be spread from person to person, and before you know it, an entire community is at risk.

So how do germs become resistant to antibiotics? The short answer is: They fight back!. They develop defense strategies called resistance mechanisms. Bacteria develop these mechanisms by altering the coded instructions found in their DNA. They can then share altered pieces of their DNA with other germs, making them resistant as well.

One of the resistance mechanisms bacteria use is to restrict the access of the antibiotics. Bacteria do this by changing or limiting the entryways for the antibiotics into their cells. That way, the drugs can’t get inside the bacteria to destroy them.

A second defense strategy of bacteria is to rid themselves of the antibiotic. They use pumps located in their cell walls to pump out any antibiotic that gets into the cells. A third strategy is to change or destroy the antibiotic using enzymes and proteins that break down the medication, rendering it useless.

Many antibiotics are designed to single out and destroy specific parts of a bacterium. These are the medications’ targets. One resistance mechanism is to bypass the effects of the antibiotics by developing new cell processes that avoid using the antibiotics’ targets.

Bacteria also develop resistance by changing the antibiotics’ targets. As a result, the antibiotics no longer fit and the drugs can’t do their job of destroying the bacteria.

The CDC and the World Health Organization continue to call on physicians to prescribe antibiotics only when they’re absolutely necessary and appropriate to treat patients’ infections. They ask us to take action as well to use antibiotics wisely. Here are a few suggestions for things you can do:

  • Don’t pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic for a viral infection such as a cold or the flu. Antibiotics aren’t effective on viruses. Ask your doctor about other ways to treat your viral infection.
  • Don’t save antibiotics you didn’t use for the next time you get sick. Discard any medication that’s left over once you’ve completed your prescribed course of treatment.
  • Take your antibiotics exactly as your doctor prescribes. Don’t skip doses, and be sure to take the medication until it’s gone. For it to be most effective, you must take the medication for the entire time of your treatment .You may start to feel better and think you don’t need the medication anymore, but take it for the full course anyway. Some germs may survive the antibiotics’ initial effect and re-infect you if you stop too soon.
  • Don’t take someone else’s antibiotics. They may not be right drugs for your type of infection. Taking the wrong antibiotic can delay your treatment and allow the bacteria to multiply.

 

Diabetes and Your Eyes

November 18th, 2019

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 100 million adults in this country are living with diabetes or prediabetes. Of those, 30.3 million – that’s 9.4 percent of the US population – have full-blown diabetes.

Another 84.1 million US adults have prediabetes. That’s a condition that, if left untreated, can lead to type 2 diabetes within five years. More than a third of adult Americans has prediabetes, and most of them don’t know they have it.

Why should we take note of these figures? Because consistently high blood glucose (sugar) levels, the hallmark of uncontrolled diabetes, can cause serious injury to your body’s nerves and blood vessels, impairing circulation and damaging your heart, liver, brain cells and eyes.

Most serious eye diseases related to diabetes begin when high blood glucose damages the eye’s tiny blood vessels. The four main eye diseases that can threaten the vision of a person with diabetes are diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, glaucoma and cataracts.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for people with diabetes and the leading cause of blindness for all adults in the US. It occurs when high glucose blocks the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, the part of your eye that detects light and sends signals to your brain. These damaged blood vessels can begin to swell and leak fluid. This stage is called non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

In some cases, non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy progresses into the proliferative stage. That’s when the eye grows new blood vessels to make up for the blocked vessels in a process called neovascularization. But the newly formed blood vessels are highly unstable and leak and bleed easily.

These leaking blood vessels may even hemorrhage into the jelly-like material that fills the center of your eyes, called the vitreous. Blood in the vitreous results in dark spots that can block vision.

Diabetic retinopathy can also cause scar tissue to form in the back of your eye, which may pull the retina away from the back of the eye. This is called a retinal detachment, and it’s a serious complication that can cause loss of vision if not repaired quickly.

As the unstable blood vessels in your retina continue to bleed, they eventually cause the macula, the area of the retina that enables you to read, drive and see faces, to swell. This condition is called diabetic macular edema. Over time, this condition can destroy your sharp vision and lead to partial vision loss and eventually blindness.

The natural lenses of your eyes are clear structures that provide sharp vision. But over time, they can become cloudy, a condition called cataracts. People who have diabetes can develop cataracts at an earlier age than people without the disease, and people with diabetes are two to five times more likely to develop cataracts. It’s believed that high glucose levels cause protein deposits to build up on the lenses, leading to the cataracts.

Sometimes, blood from the leaking vessels blocks the normal drainage channels for fluid in the eyes. As a result, fluid builds up and pressure in the eye increases, which can damage the optic nerve and affect vision. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases related to increased eye pressure. Having diabetes nearly doubles your risk of developing a type of glaucoma called open-angle glaucoma.

The best way to prevent vision loss from these eye diseases is to control your blood glucose levels and get regular exams by your eye doctor to look for swelling and changes in the blood vessels in your eyes.

To help control your diabetes, eat a healthy and balanced diet, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy body weight. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can affect your blood glucose level, so take all medications your doctor prescribes for these conditions and get them checked regularly. Don’t smoke and drink alcohol in moderation.

Regular eye exams can help find problems early, when they’re easier to treat. Early detection can save your vision. See you eye doctor yearly or as often as your doctor recommends. Call your eye doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Black spots in your vision
  • Flashes of light
  • “Holes” in your vision
  • Blurred vision

 

Amid his own battle with the disease, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek participates in pancreatic cancer PSA.

November 11th, 2019

Game show host Alex Trebek, who has battled pancreatic cancer since March, has teamed up with the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition to star in a public service announcement aimed at raising awareness and donations for research.

“In nearly every country, pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a five-year survival rate in the single digits,” Trebek said in the clip, filmed on the set of Jeopardy!, which he has hosted for 36 seasons. “Now, in order to help patients fight and survive this disease, more attention and awareness are needed. And that’s why I’ve joined forces with the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, to help raise global awareness of the risk and symptoms of pancreatic cancer.”

The PSA came out on Nov. 1, which marked the start of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Pancreatic cancer accounts for 3 percent of all the cancers in the United States and 7 percent of all cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society projects that about 56,770 people (29,940 men and 26,830 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by the end of this year. About 45,750 people (23,800 men and 21,950 women) are expected to die from the disease this year.

The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not well understood, though risk factors include age and family history. The disease is slightly more prevalent in men than in women. African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews also report more pancreatic cancer cases. Lifestyle choices such as a diet high in red and processed meat consumption, heavy drinking or smoking also may play a role. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may lower risk.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009. Soon after, surgeons removed her pancreas and spleen. Actors John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Patrick Swayze and Michael Landon all died from pancreatic cancer. Other notables who lost their lives include Sally Ride, the first female astronaut in space, legendary Oakland Raider Gene Upshaw, Benjamin Orr, co-founder of the 1980s band, The Cars, and Charlotte Rae, the wise boarding school house mom in the hit TV show “The Facts of Life.” Apple founder Steve Jobs and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin each died after being diagnosed with pancreatic tumors, though not cancer.

No screenings for pancreatic cancer exist, which is why it’s important to get checked out if you have any of the symptoms. Often, the disease is diagnosed in its late stages, which makes treatment more challenging. Trebek’s cancer had already reached stage four when doctors diagnosed him.

“I wish I had known sooner that the persistent stomach pain I experienced prior to my diagnosis was a symptom of pancreatic cancer,” Trebek said during the clip.

Other common symptoms can include mid-back pain, unexplained weight loss, new onset diabetes, stool changes and the yellowing of the skin or eyes.

To help determine if you have pancreatic cancer, your doctor will ask you about your family history, perform an exam that includes looking at your body, skin and eyes and pressing on your abdomen to check for changes around the pancreas, liver and gallbladder, and possibly order blood, urine and stool tests. Your doctor also will order an imaging study such as computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and get a tissue sample called a biopsy.

Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these. You may also have opportunities to participate in clinical trials.

For more information about pancreatic cancer and to see Trebek’s PSA, visit the Pancreatic Action Network.

 

 

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