Depression and Substance Abuse

Depression often feeds a substance abuse problem, but the opposite may also be true. Find out just how intertwined these two conditions are.

Mood disorders, like depression, and substance abuse go together so frequently that doctors have coined a term for it: dual diagnosis. The link between these conditions is a two-way street. They feed each other. One problem will often make the other worse, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

About 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder, such as depression, also have a substance abuse disorder, and about 20 percent of those with a substance abuse problem also have an anxiety or mood disorder, the ADAA reports.

Compared with the general population, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to have mood and anxiety disorders, and vice versa, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The Shared Triggers of Depression and Substance Abuse

When it comes to substance abuse and depression, it isn't always clear which one came first, although depression may help predict first-time alcohol dependence, according to a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The conditions share certain triggers. Possible connections between depression and substance abuse include:

The brain. Similar parts of the brain are affected by both substance abuse and depression. For example, substance abuse affects brain areas that handle stress responses, and those same areas are affected by some mental disorders.
Genetics. Your DNA can make you more likely to develop a mental disorder or addiction, according to research published in 2012 in Disease Markers. Genetic factors also make it more likely that one condition will occur once the other has appeared, NIDA reports.
Developmental problems. Early drug use is known to harm brain development and make later mental illness more likely. The reverse also is true: Early mental health problems can increase the chances of later drug or alcohol abuse.
The Role of Environment

Environmental factors such as stress or trauma are known to prompt both depression and substance abuse.

Family history is another factor. A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2014 found that a family history of substance abuse is a significant risk factor for attempted suicide among people with depression and substance abuse.

These types of dual diagnosis may also be traced back to a time in early life when children are in a constant process of discovery and in search of gratification, according to David MacIsaac, PhD, a licensed psychologist in New York and New Jersey and president of the New York Institute for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology.

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Any interruption or denial of this natural discovery process can manifest clinically and lead people to believe that everything they feel and think is wrong, he explains.

This idea, which Dr. MacIsaac says is based on the work of Crayton Rowe, author of the book Empathic Attunement: The 'Technique' of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, challenges the idea that people dealing with depression try to self-medicate using drugs or alcohol. In fact, people with a dual diagnosis may be doing just the opposite, MacIsaac suggests.

"Individuals who are severely depressed drink to feed this negativity," he explains. "Initially it's soothing, but only for about 15 minutes. After that individuals sink deeper and deeper and feel worse than they did before."

For these people, MacIsaac points out, negativity is "where they get their oxygen." Any inclination that treatment is working will trigger a need to go back into the black hole of negative discovery, and alcohol will intensify their depression, he adds.

Why Simultaneous Treatment Is Important

Successful recovery involves treatment for both depression and substance abuse. If people are treated for only one condition, they are less likely to get well until they follow up with treatment for the other.

If they are told they need to abruptly stop drinking, however, depressed people with a substance abuse problem may be reluctant to undergo treatment, MacIsaac cautions. "They cling to drinking because they are terrified of losing that negativity," he says.

People with dual diagnoses must understand the root of their issues on a profound level, MacIsaac says. Once they understand, he says, they may have the ability to change. Treatment for depression and substance abuse could involve therapy, antidepressants, and interaction with a support group.

If you think you need treatment but are unsure where to start, the American Psychological Association provides the following suggestions:

Ask close friends and relatives whether they have recommendations for qualified psychologists, psychiatrists, or other mental health counselors.
Find out whether your state psychological association has a referral service for licensed mental health professionals.

Prescription Drugs That Cause Depression

Some prescription drugs can cause or contribute to the development of depression and other mood disorders.

What do certain asthma, acne, malaria, and smoking-cessation prescription drugs have in common? Answer: Their possible side effects include depression or other mood disorders.

Depression as a side effect of prescription drugs is widespread and increasingly gaining attention. The medications that contribute to drug-induced depression might surprise you. For example, an asthma medication, Singulair (montelukast), is prescribed to help people breathe more easily, but its side effects may include depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking, according to a research review published in Pharmacology in 2014.

“In 2009, Merck added psychiatric side effects as possible outcomes with Singulair, including tremor, depression, suicidality — suicidal thinking and behavior — and anxiousness,” says J. Douglas Bremner, MD, researcher and professor of psychiatry and radiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Drugs With Depression as a Side Effect

Dr. Bremner has published studies on the possible relationship between the use of retinoic acid acne treatments and the development of depression. One of the drugs within this category is Accutane (isotretinoin), the oral treatment for severe acne that has been associated with psychiatric problems, including depression.

“The original brand-name version of isotretinoin, Accutane, was taken off the market in 2009, although it continues to be marketed as Roaccutane in the U.K., Australia, and other countries," Bremner notes. "In the U.S. there are three generic versions available that have also been associated with reports of depression and suicide, Sotret, Claravis, and Amnesteem."

RELATED: Are You Getting Hooked on Anxiety Medications?

The full list of drugs that could cause depression is a long one. British researchers found 110 different medications between 1998 and 2011 that were associated with increased depression risk, according to a report published in BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology in September 2014.

Besides isotretinoin and montelukast, drugs that can cause or contribute to the development of depression or other mood symptoms include:

Lariam (mefloquine), used to treat malaria. Depression, anxiety, and psychosis are among the side effects of this medication, according to an article in Medical Science Monitor in 2013 that explored the chemical cascade behind mood changes.
Chantix (varenicline), used to stop smoking. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists hostility, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts as possible side effects of this medication.
Inderal (propranolol hydrochloride) and other drugs in the beta-blocker class, used to treat high blood pressure. Research on beta-blockers and depression suggests that some, but not all, of the medications in this class can contribute to depression, according to a report in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.
Contraceptives. Contraceptives including those delivered by vaginal ring or patch could lead to depression in some people, according to research published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2010.
Corticosteroids. Some people who take corticosteroids experience side effects such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, among other symptoms, according to a review of research published in Rheumatology International in 2013.
Interferon-alpha. As many as 40 percent of people using this immunologic medication may experience depression, according to a 2009 report in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience.
Interferon-beta. The link between this immunologic medication and depression is debated, but researchers reporting in Therapeutic Advances in Neurologic Disorders in 2011 note that depression is a concern for those who take it, in part because of their underlying conditions.
Nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. These HIV medications may increase the risk for depression, according to research published in the September 2014 issue of HIV Medicine. Arimidex (anastrozole) and aromasin (exemestane). Both of these long-term breast cancer therapies may contribute to depression, according to the FDA.
Vigabatrin. This anticonvulsant may cause depression, irritability, and psychosis, notes a review of studies in Acta Neurologica Scandinavica in 2011.
The FDA investigates drugs that have many reports of depression symptoms as a side effect. It requires what are called black-box warnings to be clearly printed on medications, like isotretinoin, that have been linked to depression and suicidal behavior, among other serious health threats. Make sure you read the information pamphlets that come with your prescription medications (and ask your pharmacist if you don’t understand what they say). You can stay on top of any news about their side effects by setting up a news alert on Google.

You can get the latest drug safety information on the FDA website.

Also, pay attention to how you feel. Though you may be taking medications that seem unrelated to mood, let your doctor know if you have symptoms such as sadness, difficulty sleeping, hopelessness, sleep changes, or thoughts of suicide.

“If you suspect your medication may be causing depression or similar problems, talk with your doctor and, if necessary, consult with a psychiatrist,” Bremner advises. The good news is that drug-induced depression usually clears up once you stop taking the medication.

Are Your Drugs Causing Depression?

It can be challenging to figure out whether your depression is related to taking a prescription drug, but here are some indicators:

Timeline. Drug-induced depression is defined as depression that appears within a month of starting or stopping a medication, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). The society also advises that other conditions that might cause depression have to be considered in figuring out whether medication is the contributing factor. Bremner found in his research that the timeline varies from weeks to a month or two.
Dose-response relationship. With some drugs, depression symptoms may get better as the dose is reduced or worse as it is increased. This is usually a clear indicator of a relationship.
If you are uncertain about whether your changes in mood or energy are drug symptoms, talk with your doctor. Screening tools and questionnaires can reliably identify depression. You can also send information about your experiences to the FDA.

Prescription Drug-Induced Depression Treatment

In severe cases, people taking prescription drugs have developed depression leading to suicidal behavior. Because of this risk, don’t ignore or try to wait out feelings of depression, even if you believe they are only a prescription drug side effect. Talk with your doctor about these options to correct the situation:

Switching to an alternative treatment. If an equally effective medication that does not have depression as a side effect exists, the easiest option is to switch prescription drugs.
Getting a psychiatric evaluation. This may be recommended in any case to make sure you do not have an underlying psychiatric condition that has gone undiagnosed. People with a history of depression may have a worse response to some medications. An antidepressant might be prescribed in order to help manage depression symptoms.
Talk therapy will not work in this case, says Bremner, because the problem is chemically based. You will need prescription medication to address the depression if you cannot stop taking the drugs that are causing it.

If you think your depression symptoms are linked to a prescription drug you’re taking, talk with your doctor right away, get screened for depression, and find a better way to manage both your health issues and your mood.

The Calming Power of Nature

Spending time in nature eases depression, and could be a good supplement to medicine and therapy.

Remedies for depression abound, from medications to psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Having a range of treatment options is a good idea because no single treatment works equally well for each of the millions of U.S. adults with depression. Now researchers say a new therapy, proven to relieve depression, should be added to the mix as a supplement to established treatments. It's called nature.

Interacting with nature can have replenishing effects for those with depression, says Ethan Kross, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and one of many experts who has studied the nature-depression link.

A little dose of nature helps us all recharge, but it may have special benefit for those who are depressed. "It seems that, from our work, the restorative effect of nature seems to be stronger for individuals diagnosed with depression," says Marc Berman, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. That might be because they feel mentally fatigued, and being in nature re-energizes them. However, Dr. Berman has a strong caveat: "We're not arguing that interacting with nature should replace clinically proven therapies for depression," he says. Nor should those with clinical depression try to treat themselves.

RELATED: How to Create a Depression Treatment Plan

However, Berman and others say, interactions with nature could serve as a very effective supplemental treatment.

What Nature-Depression Research Shows

Among the studies finding nature helps with depression:

Adults with depression who took a 50-minute walk in a natural setting for one research session and then a 50-minute walk in an urban setting for another research session were less depressed and had better memory skills after they took the nature walk.
Adults who moved to greener urban areas, compared to less green, had better mental health during follow-up three years after the move.
Those who took group nature walks reported less depression, less stress, and a better sense of well-being than those who didn't take nature walks, according to a study that looked at more than 1,500 people in a walking program.
Being outdoors and in nature boosts vitality, which experts define as having physical and mental energy. Those with depression often report fatigue and decreased energy. Researchers found the energy-boosting effect of nature was independent of the physical activity or social interaction experienced while outdoors.
How Nature Works Its Magic

The phenomenon of how nature helps improve depression is still being analyzed fully, Dr. Kross says.

One possibility, Berman says, is that interacting with nature helps due to the attention-restoration theory. "We have two kinds of attention," he says. "One is top-down (also called directed), the kind we use at work." Directed attention can be depleted fairly quickly, as you can only focus and concentrate for so long.

Another type of attention is bottom-up, or involuntary. "That's the kind automatically captured by things in the environment, such as lights or music." Involuntary attention is less susceptible to depletion. "You don't often hear people say, 'I can't look at this waterfall any longer,'" Berman says.

Why does nature hold this special effect? In a natural environment, we can choose to think or not, Berman says, and this choice is believed to help us rest our brains. You can then pay attention later, when you need to. "It is giving people more ability to concentrate, which is a big problem for those with depression," Berman says. Nature provides an effective setting for resting our brains, unlike urban settings. Even in the most peaceful urban environment, you have to pay attention to such things as traffic and stoplights.

Nature's replenishing effect is fairly instantaneous, Berman says. So if you're depressed and having an especially bad day, a quick dose of nature might help.

However, Berman cautions that anyone with clinical depression needs to be under a doctor's care, with supervision of all their treatments.

Essential Facts About Antidepressants

Newer antidepressants target brain chemicals involved in regulating mood, but they're not magic bullets. Here are the risks and benefits of these commonly prescribed drugs.

Although mild forms of depression are often treated without medication, those with more severe symptoms may benefit from taking antidepressant drugs. These medications, which target brain chemicals involved in mood, may help people with severe depression who do not respond to talk therapy or healthy lifestyle changes alone, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The Use of Antidepressants Is on the Rise

Roughly 67 percent of people living with depression use medication as their primary form of treatment, NAMI reports. Antidepressants are the second most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, according to a study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. Overall, use of antidepressants increased from 6.5 percent in 2000 to 10.4 percent by 2010, a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reveals.

How Antidepressants May Help

There are many theories about what causes depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Brain imaging technology shows that parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, and behavior look different in people with depression than in those who are not depressed. Genetics, stress, and grief could also trigger depression, according to NIMH.

RELATED: 6 Need-to-Know Antidepressant Facts

Because specific chemicals called neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin and norepinephrine, are involved in regulating mood, medications that target these chemicals are often used to treat depression. Antidepressants work by increasing concentrations of these chemicals. These drugs include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs work by making more of the neurotransmitter serotonin available to your brain. Some of the drug names you may be familiar with are Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram).

The most common side effects associated with these medications include sexual problems, headache, nausea, dry mouth, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms often fade over time, NAMI notes.

Atypical antidepressants: This class of drugs includes serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine). In addition to serotonin, these antidepressants may target other brain chemicals such as dopamine or norepinephrine.

Side effects of SNRIs are similar to those associated with SSRI drugs. You may also experience, fatigue, weight gain, or blurred vision.

The antidepressant Wellbutrin (bupropion) affects only the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. This drug, known as a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI), has similar side effects as SSRIs and SNRIs, but it is less likely to cause sexual problems. Rarely, seizures may occur.

Tricyclic antidepressants: Tricyclics also affect levels of brain chemicals, but they are no longer commonly used because they have more side effects, including fatigue, dry mouth, blurred vision, urination difficulties, and constipation. If you have glaucoma, you should not take any tricyclic antidepressant. Some tricyclics antidepressants include amitriptyline, amoxapine, and Norpramin (desipramine).

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Like tricyclics, MAOIs are now prescribed less often because of their risk for serious side effects. These drugs work by blocking an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine. People taking MAOIs can experience dangerous reactions if they eat certain foods, drink alcohol, or take over-the-counter cold medicines.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Emsam (selegiline), the first skin patch for treating major depression. At its lowest dose, this once-a-day patch can be used without the dietary restrictions associated with oral MAOIs. Some other MAOIs include Marplan (isocarboxazid) and Nardil (phenelzine).

Depression Medications and Government Warnings

In 2005, the FDA warned that the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior could be higher in children and adolescents taking depression drugs. In 2007, the warning was expanded to include anyone under age 25 taking antidepressants.

However, to balance the risks and benefits of antidepressants, the FDA’s so-called black box warning also states that depression itself is associated with a greater risk for suicide, notes a 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nevertheless, if you are taking an antidepressant, especially if you are under 25, let your doctor know if your depression seems to be getting worse or if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself.

Antidepressants Are Not Magic Bullets

It's important to remember that simply taking a pill will not cure depression. It may take up to 12 weeks before these drugs have their full effect. Some people need to take various doses or combinations of different medications before they find the treatment strategy that works best for them, according to NAMI.

It’s also important to take antidepressants as prescribed and to follow up with your mental health professional on a regular basis. Some depression drugs must be stopped gradually — if you suddenly stop taking your medication, you could experience withdrawal symptoms or a relapse of your depression.

Often the most effective treatment for depression involves some form of talk therapy, notes NAMI. Discuss with your doctor how exercise and limiting alcohol can also help ease your symptoms.

The Link Between Depression and Debt

Too often, depression and debt are connected — and together, they can spiral out of control. Try these strategies to regain your footing.

Mental problems and money problems often go hand in hand. For one, debt is an increasingly common stressor that can trigger depression. Indeed, people who live with debt are more likely than their peers to be depressed and even contemplate suicide, according to a report on the health effects of debt published in 2014 in BMC Public Health. They're also less likely to take good care of their health. On the other hand, the researchers found that debt management programs can help stave off depression. Here's what else you need to know.

How Debt Leads to Emotional Distress

Debt can make you feel helpless, hopeless, and low on self-esteem — and these are all symptoms and risk factors for depression, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Credit card debt, mortgage foreclosure, student loan debt, medical debt, and job loss can all contribute to depression, agree the authors of the BMC Public Health article, adding that you might also experience anger and anxiety. Other factors, such as being the sole breadwinner with dependent children, being elderly and not having much saved for retirement, or having very high interest debts, seem to increase depression risk.

When Depression Leads to Debt

It’s easy to understand how the stress of debt can trigger or worsen depression, but you may not realize that depression can also lead to debt problems.

Symptoms of depression can lead some people to accumulate growing piles of debt, Dr. Kaslow says. "Someone with depression may exhibit behaviors that can lead them into a debt crisis."

"Some people may try to relieve feelings of depression by compulsive shopping. Depression is often associated with destructive and addictive behaviors that can result in overwhelming debt. This type of debt can lead to extreme despair and even to suicide," Kaslow warns.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Ease Unemployment Blues

Compulsive buying, which can lead to debt, is indeed linked to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, researchers reported in the American Journal of Addiction in 2013. The researchers note that in addition to depression treatment, support groups using cognitive behavioral strategies can help control compulsive buying.

How to Find Debt and Depression Help

If you find you are dealing with debt and depression, it is important to address both, Kaslow says. Many types of help are available. "If a person is feeling trapped, desperate, and hopeless, they may need help for depression and help getting out of debt," she adds.

Depression is a very treatable disorder. The first step is to recognize the problem and ask your doctor for depression help. Once depression is diagnosed, your doctor might recommend a range of treatment strategies, including talk therapy, medications, and support groups.

For someone with addictive spending behaviors, Debtors Anonymous (DA) is an organization that can be very helpful, says Kaslow. DA has meetings all over the country where people share their experiences with compulsive debt and debt management. There are also online meetings. For help with compulsive debt, check out DA's website.

A good source of advice for getting help with a debt problem can be found via the Federal Trade Commission, which recommends the following strategies:

Develop and closely follow a budget.
Contact your creditors instead of avoiding them.
Know your rights when dealing with debt collectors.
Use a credit counseling or debt management agency.
Seek protection through bankruptcy laws.
Learn about the steps you need to take to repair your credit.
Beware of debt management scams promising an easy fix.

Scans Suggest Recurrent Depression May Take Toll on the Brain

The area of the brain involved in forming new memories, known as the hippocampus, seems to shrink in people with recurring depression, a new study shows.

Australian researchers say the findings highlight the need to spot and treat depression when it first develops, particularly among young people.

Ian Hickie, who co-directs the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, led the study. His team looked at the neurology of almost 9,000 people from the United States, Europe and Australia. To do so, they analyzed brain scans and medical data for about 1,700 people with major depression, and almost 7,200 people who didn't suffer from depression.

The researchers noted that 65 percent of the participants with major depression had suffered recurring symptoms.

The study, published June 30 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, found that people with major depression, particularly recurring forms of the condition, had a smaller hippocampus. This part of the brain was also smaller among participants diagnosed with depression before they reached the age of 21.

Many young people diagnosed with depression go on to develop recurring symptoms, Hickie's team noted.

RELATED: Depression as a Risk Factor for Dementia

Recurrence seemed key: About a third of participants had had only one episode of major depression, and they did not show any reduction in the size of their hippocampus compared to non-depressed people.

According to the researchers, that suggests that it is recurring depression that takes a toll on brain anatomy.

The take-home message: Get depression diagnosed and treated before brain changes can occur, the Australian team said.

"This large study confirms the need to treat first episodes of depression effectively, particularly in teenagers and young adults, to prevent the brain changes that accompany recurrent depression," Hickie said in a university news release.

According to co-researcher Jim Lagopoulos, "these findings shed new light on brain structures and possible mechanisms responsible for depression."

"Despite intensive research aimed at identifying brain structures linked to depression in recent decades, our understanding of what causes depression is still rudimentary," Lagopoulos, who is an associate professor at the institute, said in the news release.

The study couldn't prove cause-and-effect, however, and the study authors say that more research could help explain if the brain changes are the result of chronic stress, or if these changes could help spot people who are more vulnerable to depression.

Antidepressant, Painkiller Combo May Raise Risk of Brain Bleed

Taking both an antidepressant and a painkiller such as ibuprofen or naproxen may increase risk of a brain hemorrhage, a new study suggests.

Korean researchers found that of more than 4 million people prescribed a first-time antidepressant, those who also used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) had a higher risk of intracranial hemorrhage within the next month.

Intracranial hemorrhage refers to bleeding under the skull that can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

The findings, published online July 14 in BMJ, add to a week of bad news on NSAIDs, which include over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).

Last Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration strengthened the warning labels on some NSAIDs, emphasizing that the drugs can raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.

As far as the new link to brain bleeding in antidepressant users, experts stressed that many questions remain unanswered.

And even if the drug combination does elevate the odds, the risk to any one person appears low.

"The incidence of intracranial hemorrhage in people taking antidepressants and NSAIDs was only 5.7 per 1,000 in a year. So about 0.5 percent of people taking these drugs will develop a (hemorrhage) over one year," said Dr. Jill Morrison, a professor of general practice at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Still, she said, it's wise for people on antidepressants to be careful about using NSAIDs.

Both types of drug are widely used, and about two-thirds of people with major depression complain of chronic pain, the researchers pointed out.

Make sure an NSAID is the appropriate remedy for what ails you, said Morrison, co-author of an editorial published with the study.

It's known that NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal bleeding in some people, and studies have suggested the same is true of SSRI antidepressants -- which include widely prescribed drugs such as Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft.

But neither drug class has been clearly linked to intracranial hemorrhage, said Dr. Byung-Joo Park, the senior researcher on the new study.

So Park's team looked at whether the two drug types, used together, might boost the risk.

RELATED: Some Antidepressants Linked to Bleeding Risk With Surgery

The investigators used records from Korea's national health insurance program to find more than 4 million people given a new prescription for an antidepressant between 2009 and 2013. Half were also using an NSAID.

Park's team found that NSAID users were 60 percent more likely to suffer an intracranial hemorrhage within 30 days of starting their antidepressant -- even with age and chronic medical conditions taken into account.

There was no indication that any particular type of antidepressant carried a greater risk than others, said Park, a professor of preventive medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine.

He agreed that antidepressant users should consult their doctor before taking NSAIDs on their own.

Park also pointed out that the study looked at the risk of brain bleeding within 30 days. So the findings may not apply to people who've been using an antidepressant and an NSAID for a longer period with no problem.

That's an important unanswered question, said Morrison, noting it's possible that the risk of brain bleeding is actually higher for people who used NSAIDs for a prolonged period.

Why would antidepressants have an effect on bleeding? According to Park's team, the drugs can hinder blood cells called platelets from doing their job, which is to promote normal clotting.

Since NSAIDs can also inhibit platelets, combining the two drugs may raise the odds of bleeding, the researchers said.

It's not clear whether there is a safer pain reliever for people on antidepressants, Morrison said. But it's possible that acetaminophen (Tylenol) could fit the bill.

"Acetaminophen does not have the same propensity to cause bleeding problems as NSAIDs do," Morrison said. "So theoretically, this would be safer."

And since this study was conducted in Korea, she added, it's not clear whether the risks would be the same in other racial and ethnic groups. More studies, following people over a longer period, are still needed, Morrison said.

Loneliness May Fuel Mental Decline in Old Age

Slower deterioration seen in people with more satisfying relationships, researchers say.

Loneliness and depression are linked to an increased risk of mental decline in the elderly, a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 8,300 American adults aged 65 and older who were assessed every two years between 1998 and 2010. Seventeen percent reported loneliness at the beginning of the study, and half of those who were lonely had depression.

Over the course of the study, mental decline was 20 percent faster among the loneliest people than among those who weren't lonely. People who were depressed at the start of the study also had faster mental decline.

However, lower mental function did not lead to worsening loneliness, according to the study scheduled for presentation Monday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington, D.C. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

RELATED: The Health Risks of Loneliness 

"Our study suggests that even one or two depressive symptoms -- particularly loneliness -- is associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline over 12 years," study author Dr. Nancy Donovan said in an association news release. She is a geriatric psychiatrist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

"We found that lonely people decline cognitively at a faster rate than people who report more satisfying social networks and connections. Although loneliness and depression appear closely linked, loneliness may, by itself, have effects on cognitive decline," she explained.

This is important to know for the development of treatments to enhance mental health and quality of life for older adults, she added.

The new study suggested a link between loneliness, depression and heightened risk of mental decline, but it did not prove cause-and-effect.

Serotonin Syndrome: 7 Things You Need to Know

1 / 8   Serotonin Syndrome
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a naturally occurring brain chemical) that helps regulate mood and behavior, and increasing serotonin is one way of treating depression.

But if you're taking antidepressant medication that increases serotonin too much, you could be at risk for a dangerous drug reaction called serotonin syndrome.

"Serotonin syndrome usually happens when a doctor prescribes a drug that increases serotonin to a patient already on an antidepressant," said Mark Su, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Hofstra University and director of the Toxicology Fellowship at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.

Expert Panel Recommends Questionnaire to Help Spot Depression

Part of your next visit to your family doctor's office should be spent filling out a questionnaire to assess whether you're suffering from depression, an influential panel of preventive medicine experts recommends.

What's more, people concerned that they might be depressed could download an appropriate questionnaire online, fill it out ahead of time and hand it over to their doctor for evaluation, the panel added.

In an updated recommendation released Monday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force urged that family doctors regularly screen patients for depression, using standardized questionnaires that detect warning signs of the mental disorder.

If a patient shows signs of depression, they would be referred to a specialist for a full-fledged diagnosis and treatment using medication, therapy or a combination of the two, according to the recommendation.

These questionnaires can be self-administered in a matter of minutes, with doctors reviewing the results after patients fill out the forms, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, vice chair of the task force.

"This could be a checklist that patients fill out in the waiting room, or at home prior to the visit," she said. "The good thing is we have many instruments, measures that have been studied for screening for depression."

About 7 percent of adults in the United States currently suffer from depression, but only half have been diagnosed with the condition, said Bibbins-Domingo, who is a professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

"We know that depression itself is a source of poor health," she said. "It leads people to miss work, to not function as fully as they might, and we know it is linked and associated with other types of chronic diseases."

It makes sense that family doctors perform front-line screening for depression, since they are more likely than a mental health professional to come across a person with undetected symptoms, said Michael Yapko, a clinical psychologist and internationally recognized depression expert based in Fallbrook, Calif.

"Only about 25 percent of depression sufferers seek out professional help, but more than 90 percent will see a physician and present symptoms and signs that could be diagnosed," said Yapko, who is not on the task force.

The panel has recommended regular depression screening for adults since 2002, but their guidelines currently urge doctors to ask two specific questions that provide a quick evaluation of a person's mood. The questions are, "Over the past two weeks, have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?" and "Over the past two weeks, have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?"

The updated recommendation expands doctors' options for depression screening, adding commonly used questionnaires like the Patient Health Questionnaire, or PHQ-9.

The PHQ-9 is a list of 10 questions that focus on problems that a person might have experienced during the past two weeks, including poor appetite, low energy, sleep problems and a lack of interest in doing things.

"These are not instruments that diagnose depression," Bibbins-Domingo noted. "They give clinicians the first indication of something that should be followed up on."

RELATED: 10 Drug-Free Therapies for Depression

Yapko said that someone who wanted to could lie on the questionnaires and avoid having their symptoms detected, but he added that in his experience it's not a very likely scenario.

"When you have people who are suffering who genuinely want help, they're happy to give you as accurate a portrayal as they can give you," he said. "Generally speaking, the people seeking help want help and they want to do their best in filling these things out. That's what makes the test worthwhile."

The task force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts that has been issuing recommendations on preventive medicine since 1984.

Yapko and Bibbins-Domingo said depression screening shouldn't eat into a doctor's time, since patients can fill out and score the questionnaires on their own.

Instead of wasting time reading magazines in the waiting room, patients "could be filling out an inventory that is self-administered, self-scored and wouldn't take any physician time at all," Yapko said.

Patients also could download and fill out a depression questionnaire at home and hand it in when they go to the doctor, but Yapko said patients should make sure they're using the form their doctor prefers.

"Which of the many inventories and questionnaires a doctor might wish to use is a matter of personal and professional judgment," he said. "So, a doctor would need to specify which form to obtain online and the patient would then need to remember to bring it in, not always easy when depression negatively affects your memory. Easier to have the form in the office and have them fill it out in the waiting room."

Yapko added that it's important that doctors who screen for depression follow up by referring patients to a mental health professional, rather than trying to diagnose and treat depression themselves.

"When physicians get a diagnosis of depression, their most immediate thing to do is prescribe an antidepressant," Yapko said, noting that more than 70 percent of antidepressants are prescribed by non-psychiatrists. "Only a minority of people walk out of a doctor's office with a referral to a mental health professional, a fact which drives me a little crazy."

Herbal remedy isn't regulated, and can have side effects and serious drug interactions.

Herbal remedy isn't regulated, and can have side effects and serious drug interactions.

St. John's wort is a popular herbal therapy for depression, but a new Australian study highlights the fact that "natural" does not always equal "safe."

Using reports filed with Australia's drug safety agency, the researchers found that adverse reactions to St. John's wort were similar to those reported for the antidepressant fluoxetine -- better known by the brand name Prozac.

Those side effects included anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, nausea and spikes in blood pressure, the researchers reported in the July issue of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology.

"It's concerning to see such severe adverse reactions in our population, when people believe they are doing something proactive for their health with little risk," lead researcher Claire Hoban, of the University of Adelaide, said in a university news release.

Research has shown that St. John's wort can help ease mild to moderate depression. But the fact that it works also means there is a risk of side effects, said Dr. Samar McCutcheon, a psychiatrist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

"Even if the bottle says 'natural' or 'herbal,' it still has ingredients that are active in your body," said McCutcheon, who was not involved in the study.

It has long been recognized that St. John's wort can have significant side effects and interact with certain medications, McCutcheon pointed out.

But many consumers may not know that, she noted, largely because dietary supplements are not regulated in the way that drugs are.

"I definitely think this [lack of awareness] is still an issue," McCutcheon said. "People think St. John's wort is safe because they can buy it at a health food store."

In the United States, dietary supplements do not have to be studied for safety and effectiveness before they reach the market.

"Plus," McCutcheon said, "you're relying on companies to make sure these products include the ingredients they're supposed to, and keep out ingredients that they shouldn't."

The situation is similar in Australia, and many consumers there are unaware that supplements are largely unregulated, according to Hoban's team.

RELATED: 7 Supplement Risks Every Woman Should Know About

The researchers based their findings on doctors' reports to Australia's national agency on drug safety. Between 2000 and 2013, there were 84 reports of adverse reactions to St. John's wort, and 447 reports on Prozac.

But since those are voluntary reports, they do not reflect the actual rate of side effects from either therapy, according to the researchers. And, Hoban said, bad reactions to St. John's wort are particularly likely to go unreported, since the herb is often not even considered a drug.

According to McCutcheon, it's important for people with depression symptoms to see a health professional before self-medicating with St. John's wort. "That will help ensure you have the right diagnosis," she said.

If your symptoms are actually part of a different disorder, St. John's wort may be ineffective -- or possibly even risky. For example, McCutcheon said that in people with bipolar disorder, the herb might fuel a manic episode.

But possibly the biggest concern, she said, is the potential for St. John's wort to interact with commonly used medications.

The herb can dampen the effectiveness of birth control pills, blood thinners and heart disease drugs, along with some HIV and cancer drugs, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

What's more, it can interact with antidepressants. It's not clear exactly how St. John's wort works, McCutcheon said, but it's thought to boost levels of the brain chemical serotonin -- which is how the most commonly used antidepressants work.

"If you use the two together, you run the risk of having too much serotonin," she said. And that raises the risk of a potentially fatal condition called serotonin syndrome, whose symptoms include confusion, tremors, diarrhea and a drop in body temperature.

Some side effects of St. John's wort are caused by the herb itself, such as skin rash that's worsened by sunlight, said Dr. John Reed, director of inpatient services at the University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Medicine in Baltimore.

But the main concern is still its potential for interacting with other medications, he said. "Compared with other herbs, St. John's has more drug interactions," Reed explained. "So if you're using it, don't take other medications unless it's under medical supervision."

He added that anyone on any medication should do some homework before starting an herbal product. "Go online and do a search for drug interactions. Ask your pharmacist or doctor," Reed advised.

"Unfortunately," he said, "this type of information [on drug interactions] doesn't have to be printed on product labels."

The bottom line, according to McCutcheon, is that people with depression should talk to their providers about any supplements they take, or want to take. And those providers, she said, should be willing to have nonjudgmental discussions.

"I want all my patients to be comfortable enough to bring up anything with me," McCutcheon said.

Why Depression Is Underreported in Men

Women are more likely than men to seek treatment for depression. Why do men try to manage the condition on their own?

Women are 70 percent more likely than men to have depression. It is this feminine predisposition to depression that may contribute to its being underreported among men, says Amit Anand, MD, a professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner College of Medicine and vice-chair of research for its Center for Behavioral Health.

More than 6 million U.S. men struggle with the condition each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). And it maybe their reluctance to discuss their depression, as well as several other obstacles, that prevent many of them from seeking treatment, Dr. Anand says. These barriers not only affect how men with depression are diagnosed, he says, but also how they are treated.

Why Depression Is Underreported

Several factors contribute to depression often being unreported and undiagnosed in men. For starters, men who are depressed may not recognize their symptoms. “Women are far more likely to acknowledge that they have depression and seek help,” Anand says.

Also, symptoms of depression vary from person to person, and symptoms may not always be obvious, according to NIMH. Complicating matters is that men who are depressed often suppress their feelings rather than showing sadness and crying,reports the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Men and women also have different risk factors for depression that could affect whether they seek treatment, according to a study published in 2014 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The factors most directly linked to depression among women are divorce, lack of parental or social support, and marriage troubles. For men, depression is more closely linked to drug abuse as well as financial, legal, and work-related stress, the researchers say. Their research suggests that men are less likely to seek medical attention if they attribute depression to career disappointment or failures. Rather than seek help, Anand says, men with depression are more likely to try to tough it out.

"Men may be more likely to suffer in silence or try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs," says Dean F. MacKinnon, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

RELATED: 6 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

Men may see their symptoms as a sign of weakness, he explains, likening the situation to the idea that men don't like asking for directions. “Men don't ask for direction because it makes them seem weak, but also they are afraid they won't get the right information,” Dr. MacKinnon says.

Men might also be worried about the social stigma associated with a diagnosis of depression, according to research published in Qualitative Health Research in 2014.

In addition, depression affects men differently than women, according to a 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Though women usually have traditional symptoms, such as feelings of sadness and worthlessness, the study found that men with depression were more likely to experience anger and irritability, and to engage in risky behaviors. This suggests that if men are using traditional criteria to assess their symptoms, their depression could go unreported.

Why Treatment Is Critical

What sets men and women with depression apart can also make the condition more difficult to treat, Anand says. Men with untreated depression can experience issues like anger, aggression, and substance abuse. Using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, he says, can complicate treatment for depression.

Untreated depression among men can also have tragic consequences. “Women may talk about suicide more, but men may be more likely to complete suicide,” Anand says. “They may also use much more violent means of trying to commit suicide, like guns or hanging.” In fact, according to NAMI, men are four times more likely to die of suicide than women.

Most adults with depression improve with treatment, usually a combination of talk therapy and medication, Anand says. He notes, however, that it can be difficult to convince some men to try talk therapy.

Medication used to treat depression may also work differently in men and women. For instance, today the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, according to NIMH, are SSRIs — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Tricyclics, which are older antidepressants, are not used as often today because they come with more serious side effects, like drowsiness, dizziness, and weight gain. However, some research suggests that women respond better to SSRIs — like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline) — and that tricyclics, like imipramine, may be more effective for men, Anand says.

SSRIs may also cause more sexual side effects, which tend to bother men more often than women, and could result in fewer men following through on treatment, Anand says.

If your doctor does recommend an SSRI, adjusting the dosage or switching from one SSRI to another can help alleviate unwanted side effects, according to NIMH.

Psoriasis Linked to Higher Risk of Depression

People with psoriasis may be twice as likely to experience depression as those without the common skin condition, regardless of its severity, a new study suggests.

"Psoriasis in general is a pretty visible disease," said study author Dr. Roger Ho, an assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. "Psoriasis patients are fearful of the public's stigmatization of this visible disease and are worried about how people who are unfamiliar with the disease may perceive them or interact with them."

Genetic or biologic factors may also play a role in the link between depression and psoriasis, which requires more research, he said. Either way, the findings mean that all individuals with psoriasis could benefit from screening for depression, Ho said, and their friends and family members should be aware of the connection as well.

The findings were scheduled for presentation Thursday at an American Academy of Dermatology meeting in New York City. They have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal and should be considered preliminary.

Most people with psoriasis have red, raised patches of skin covered with silvery-white scales, the researchers noted. These patches usually appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, lower back, hands and feet.

The researchers analyzed the responses of more than 12,000 U.S. adults in the 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, nearly 3 percent of responders reported that they had psoriasis, and about 8 percent had major depression based on their answers to a depression screening assessment. Among those with psoriasis, 16.5 percent had sufficient symptoms for a diagnosis of major depression.

Those with any degree of psoriasis had double the odds of having depression even after taking into account their age, sex, race, weight, physical activity level, alcohol use and history of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and smoking, the researchers said.

Depression is one of several concerns that someone with psoriasis should look out for, said Dr. Delphine Lee, a dermatologist at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

"Patients with psoriasis should be aware that there are several other health issues associated with this condition, including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, as well as psychological or psychiatric disorders," Lee said. "To address your health beyond your skin is critical to maximizing a person's quality of life."

Several aspects of dealing with psoriasis may contribute to depression, said Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

RELATED: 7 Hidden Dangers of Psoriasis

What matters more than its severity is the location of flare-ups, she said. Some of her patients won't wear shorts if it's on their legs or won't go on dates because they're embarrassed about red spots on their skin, she added.

"Also, because it's a chronic illness, you don't know if it's going to get worse and you don't get to take a vacation from it either," Day said. "You're using topical treatments all year long, and as soon as you stop, it comes right back. It's very depressing, and it can affect your self-esteem and your quality of life."

Anxiety about how psoriasis and its treatment may affect your future health might also contribute to depression, Day explained.

"It's unsightly, it can be itchy, people are worried about it spreading to other parts of their body, they worry about the side effects of medication, they worry about psoriatic arthritis, they worry about taking medications when they're pregnant, and they worry about passing it along to their children," she said.

Day recommended that people with psoriasis seek mental health treatment to get to the bottom of their depression.

"It's about that emotional connection and finding out what about this condition is affecting someone in the way that it is," Day explained.

Not seeking help can make matters worse, said Dr. Tien Nguyen, a dermatologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif.

"Psoriasis can cause severe emotional distress," he said, noting some patients may have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide. "Stress is a known cause of exacerbation of psoriasis, so this will lead to a vicious cycle."

Day added that it's critically important to continue seeing a dermatologist to learn about new medications that become available.

"There are some really amazing new treatments that have a great safety profile that can have excellent clearance with lasting results," Day said.

Impulsive, Agitated Behaviors May Be Warning Signs for Suicide

Risky behaviors such as reckless driving or sudden promiscuity, or nervous behaviors such as agitation, hand-wringing or pacing, can be signs that suicide risk may be high in depressed people, researchers report.

Other warning signs may include doing things on impulse with little thought about the consequences. Depressed people with any of these symptoms are at least 50 percent more likely to attempt suicide, the new study found.

"Assessing these symptoms in every depressed patient we see is extremely important, and has immense therapeutical implications," study lead author Dr. Dina Popovic, of the Hospital Clinic de Barcelona, in Spain, said in a news release from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP).

The findings were scheduled for presentation Saturday at the ECNP's annual meeting in Amsterdam.

One expert in the United States concurred with the findings.

"It has long been known that those patients with depression who also experience anxiety and/or agitation are more likely to attempt or complete suicide," said Dr. Donald Malone, chair of psychiatry and psychology at the Cleveland Clinic. "These symptoms can also be a clue that the underlying diagnosis is bipolar depression (manic depressive disorder)," he added.

In the study, Popovic's team looked at more than 2,800 people with depression, including nearly 630 who had attempted suicide. The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with each patient, and especially looked for differences in behaviors between depressed people who had attempted suicide and those who had not. Certain patterns of behavior began to emerge, the study authors said.

"Most of these symptoms will not be spontaneously referred by the patient, [so] the clinician needs to inquire directly," Popovic said.

She and her colleagues also found that "depressive mixed states" often precede suicide attempts.

RELATED: What Suicidal Depression Feels Like

"A depressive mixed state is where a patient is depressed, but also has symptoms of 'excitation,' or mania," Popovic explained. "We found this significantly more in patients who had previously attempted suicide, than those who had not. In fact, 40 percent of all the depressed patients who attempted suicide had a 'mixed episode' rather than just depression. All the patients who suffer from mixed depression are at much higher risk of suicide."

The researchers reported that the standard criteria for diagnosing depression spotted only 12 percent of patients with mixed depression. In contrast, using the new criteria identified 40 percent of these patients, Popovic's team said.

"This means that the standard methods are missing a lot of patients at risk of suicide," she said.

Malone agreed that a "mixed state" can heighten odds for suicide.

"This study appropriately cautions caregivers to pay particular attention to suicide risk when treating patients with mixed states," he said.

"Bipolar patients are at higher risk of suicide in general when compared with non-bipolar depression, even when not in a mixed state," Malone said. Drug treatments for bipolar depression "also can differ significantly from those of unipolar depression," he added. "In fact, antidepressants can worsen the situation with bipolar patients."

According to Malone, all of this means that "accurate diagnosis is essential to deciding on effective treatment."

Dr. Patrice Reives-Bright directs the division of child and adolescent services at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, N.Y. She said that the "more commonly known risk factors for suicide include hopelessness, history of previous attempts and recent loss or change in one's life."

However, the impulsive and risky behaviors outlined in the new study can "also increase the likelihood of someone who is depressed to act on thoughts to end his or her life," Reives-Bright said.

She agreed with Malone that "identifying these symptoms of a mixed state is important when assessing mood symptoms and selecting treatment options for the patient."

Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. However, according to Popovic, one strength of the new study is that "it's not a clinical trial, with ideal patients -- it's a big study, from the real world."

More than 800,000 people worldwide die by suicide every year, and about 20 times that number attempt suicide, according to the World Health Organization. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people.

Could Eating Fish Help Ward Off Depression?

Consuming more meals from the sea linked to lower risk, study suggests, but cause-and-effect not proven.

Can eating a lot of fish boost your mood? Maybe, say Chinese researchers.

Overall, the researchers found that people who consumed the most fish lowered their risk of depression by 17 percent compared to those who ate the least.

"Studies we reviewed indicated that high fish consumption can reduce the incidence of depression, which may indicate a potential causal relationship between fish consumption and depression," said lead researcher Fang Li, of the department of epidemiology and health statistics at the Medical College of Qingdao University in China.

But this association was only statistically significant for studies done in Europe, the researchers said. They didn't find the same benefit when they looked at studies done in North America, Asia, Australia or South America. The researchers don't know why the association was only significant for fish consumption in Europe.

The study was also only able to show an association between eating fish and the risk for depression, not that eating fish causes a lower risk for depression, Li said.

Still, Li thinks there may be reasons why fish may have an effect on depression.

"Fish is rich in multiple beneficial nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals, which were associated with decreased risk of depression from our study," Li said.

The researchers pointed out that it's possible that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish may change the structure of brain membranes, or these acids may alter the way certain neurotransmitters work. Neurotransmitters are the brain's chemical messengers, sending information from brain cell to brain cell. Some neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are thought to be involved in depression, the researchers said.

RELATED: 10 Foods I Eat Every Day to Beat Depression

The report was published Sept. 10 online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Depression affects 350 million people around the globe, according to background information in the study. The mood disorder is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Past research has suggested that dietary factors may play a role in depression, the researchers said.

To look at the possible connection between eating fish and depression, Li and colleagues reviewed 26 studies published between 2001 and 2014. The studies included more than 150,000 people. Ten of the studies were done in Europe.

This process, called a meta-analysis, attempts to find consistent patterns across multiple studies.

In addition to an overall benefit from fish in curbing depression, Li's team found a difference between men and women. Specifically, the researchers found a slightly stronger association between eating a lot of fish and lowered depression risk in men by 20 percent. Among women, reduction in risk was 16 percent, the researchers said.

Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said it's "impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about direct cause and effect" due to the study's design.

But, he added, "While the exact way fish may prevent depression is unknown, it's promising to learn that depression may be preventable for some people by making simple modifications to their lifestyle, such as by eating more fish."

Rego said it's especially important to look for novel treatments because depression can have a significant impact on people's lives, and many people don't respond fully to first-line depression treatments.

Future research needs to look into whether the effects of fish on depression vary by the type of fish eaten. In addition, this review didn't look at whether or not fish oil supplements could have the same effect.

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Eating Well As You Age

Looking in the mirror for changes as you age? A healthy diet helps to ensure that you'll like the reflection you see. Good nutrition is linked to healthy aging on many levels: It can keep you energized and active as well as fight against slowing metabolism and digestion and the gradual loss of muscle mass and healthy bone as you age.

Making healthy diet choices can help you prevent or better manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It's never too late to adopt healthier eating habits.

Strategies for Healthy Eating as You Age

Replace old eating habits with these healthy approaches:

  • Eat every three or four hours. “This keeps energy levels high and keeps appetite hormones in check to avoid overeating,” says Kim Larson, RD, of Total Health in Seattle and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Eat protein at each meal. Aim for 20 to 30 grams to help maintain muscle mass. Choose fish at least twice a week as a source of high quality protein. Other good sources of protein include lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Choose whole grains. Replace refined flour products with whole grains for more nutrients and fiber.
  • Choose low-fat dairy. Cutting out the saturated fat may help lower your risk for heart disease.
  • Learn about portion sizes. You may need to scale back on the serving sizes of foods to control your weight.
  • Choose nutrient-rich whole foods over empty calories. Whole foods are those closest to their natural state. Empty calories are typically processed foods with added salt, sugar, and fat. For example, snack on whole fruit instead of cookies.
  • Eat a “rainbow” of foods. “Eat five to seven servings of fruits and veggies each day to keep antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E high,” Larson says. Choosing fruits and vegetables of different colors provides your body with a wide range of nutrients. According to research published in the May 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Societyexercise coupled with higher fruit and vegetable intake led to longer lives. Fruits and veggies also fill you up with fiber, which cuts down on snacking and helps control weight, Larson says.
  • Choose healthy cooking techniques. Try steaming, baking, roasting, or sautéing food rather than frying it to cut back on fat.
  • Cut down on salt. If you’re over 51, national recommendations are to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day. Look for low-sodium foods and season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
  • Stay hydrated. “Dehydration can cause irritability, fatigue, confusion, and urinary tract infections,” Larson says. Be sure to drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated liquids throughout the day.
  • Ask about supplements. You may have changing nutrient needs as you get older and might benefit from vitamins B12 and D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, Larson says. Ask your doctor or a dietitian for guidance.

Overcoming Challenges to Healthy Eating

Eating a healthy diet can be complicated by changes you may face as you age, such as difficulty eating or a limited budget. There are strategies you can try to solve these common challenges:

  • If you've lost your appetite or sense of taste: Try new recipes and flavors — adding spices, herbs, and lemon juice can make foods more appealing. If you take medication, ask your doctor if appetite or taste changes are side effects and if switching to another drug might help.
  • If you have a hard time swallowing or chewing: Choose foods that are moist and easy to eat, such as nutritious soups made with beans and vegetables, Larson says.
  • If affording groceries is difficult: Shop from a list — careful planning can help you make the healthiest and most cost-effective food choices. Use coupons or shop on days when discounts are offered. Buying fruits and veggies when they’re in season and frozen produce in bulk can also help control expenses.
  • If you have trouble preparing meals: Consider buying healthy prepared or semi-prepared meals or at least pre-cut ingredients to cut down on energy-draining prep time.

Larson believes in the importance of enjoying your food. Make healthy-diet changes step by step and have fun experimenting to find new tastes and cooking styles. Eat slowly and pay attention to the experience. “Create a pleasant eatingenvironment," she says. "Sit by a window and enjoy every bite.”

7 Quick Fixes to Look More Attractive

One look at the billion dollar anti-aging industry and it's no surprise we find youth beautiful above all else. But skin isn't the only indicator of it — the size of your eyes is, too. "Women with baby-like features such as large, widely-spaced eyes are typically judged to be most attractive," says Viren Swami, PhD, author of The Psychology of Physical Attraction,who cites cross-cultural study data from African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Taiwanese participants.

The quickest and easiest way to maximize your eyes is to sketch a line on the top lash line using a smoky shade, and then smudge the shadow with a brush or your fingertip to soften and blend, says Tina Turnbow, a celebrity makeup aritst.

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Regis Philbin Takes on High Cholesterol

The legendary talk-show host is helping raise awareness about heart health and the importance of staying on drug treatment.

Regis Philbin has been entertaining us for more than 50 years — from his legendary morning show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Kelly Ripa to . With his carefree personality and love of the sharp, off-the-cuff one-liner, at age 86 he remains one of America’s favorite television personalities. Seemingly forever young, he got a wake-up call in 1992, when he faced a major health scare that spurred him to lead a more .

Philbin was away from the TV studio and on a trip in Florida when he started to experience sharp chest pains.

“My heart was driving me crazy, I couldn’t believe it, I had these chest pains,” Philbin says. “We did an down there in Florida and my doctor told me my cholesterol levels were at 300. Are you kidding me? Three hundred!”

High blood cholesterol is one of the major markers of heart disease. According to the , a healthy total cholesterol level is less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Any levels at 240 mg/dL or above — like the levels Philbin had — would be considered significantly high.

Once Philbin was back in New York, his doctor put him on his first , and Philbin, with his wife, Joy, by his side, decided that he would make significant to fight off the progression of his heart disease.

“I think things changed in a hurry,” Philbin says about his approach to his health.

“It shook us both up, it was a wake-up call,” Joy recalls of her husband’s health scare. “Quite frankly, I didn’t give cholesterol a thought myself. I mean, Regis didn’t have the best diet, but I never thought it was that bad. It kind of set him on a new regimen. You really start to feel your mortality. He was only 61 when he had his first event.”

This wouldn’t be his only heart health scare. Philbin had triple bypass surgery in 2007 because of a buildup of .

The ‘Take the Cholesterol to Heart’ Campaign

Right now, the Philbins are raising awareness about heart health through the “” campaign, which they launched in October 2017 in cooperation with Kowa Pharmaceuticals and the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation. The campaign aims to encourage people to remain on a heart-healthy routine while also seeking out better information and asking questions before considering stopping their . Philbin, who has shared almost everything about his life over decades of being on air, has always been very open about his experiences with and was approached by the campaign to be its public face.

Joy says that what was most stunning to her about being part of the campaign was learning that 50 percent of people who are on statins stop taking the drugs after one year of use. She adds this shocked her because of how helpful the drugs were for her husband’s health.

Statins are drugs that lower blood cholesterol levels by blocking an enzyme that produces cholesterol in the liver. Getting people to maintain their drug regimen is one of the big challenges of treating high cholesterol, says , the president of the Utah Lipid Center and a fellow at the American Heart Association and the National Lipid Association.

“The big question is, why do these people stop taking their statins? One issue is you don’t necessarily feel better or worse when you take a statin; you have to go through testing to know your cholesterol is lower, so you don’t necessarily have a daily reminder every morning telling you you’re getting better,” Brinton says. “Another thing is that some patients will experience , like muscle pain or weakness. They might have stomach pain or a skin rash.

"There’s also a lot of negative and sometimes factually inaccurate information on the web. However, reputable medical sites cite evidence that highlight the positive health benefits of statins and show that these side effects do not occur in anywhere near the high numbers some of these other sites might lead you to believe.”

Reasons to Stay on Your Statins

A looked into the effectiveness of both statin and non-statin therapies for lowering cholesterol. The study reviewed 49 trials from 1966 to 2016 that involved 312,175 people in total. The report’s authors assert that statins should remain at the front of the line in treating cholesterol, but alternative therapies could be just as helpful if a person can’t tolerate statins or is looking for a different source of treatment. These could involve bile acid sequestrants or even a simple .

“I’ll say this up front, . They prevent heart attack and can prevent stroke. But a statin can’t work if you don’t take it,” Brinton stresses.

Brinton says there are a few things people should keep in mind when looking to lower their cholesterol with statin treatment:

Stay informed. To help counter some potentially inaccurate information out there, Brinton says the first person to turn to is your doctor. Beyond that, he says there’s useful information at places like the , the American Heart Association, and the National Lipid Association website, .

Know your options. Brinton says that people who are discouraged by one drug should know that there are multiple statin drugs out there. “A lot of people who stop their statin for whatever reason didn’t talk to or consult their doctor, who then doesn’t have a chance of helping them decide what to do,” he adds. “There are several statins out there, and people need to realize that there are other options if what they try first doesn’t work out.”

Be vigilant. If you’re having a bad experience, your statin medication could be reacting with other medications you are taking. Brinton says it is important that people tell their doctor about other medications or supplements they're on. They could then be prescribed a different statin.

How Regis Stays Healthy in Retirement

This all rings true for the Philbins. After his scare in the early '90s, Philbin started seeing a cardiologist, , and became even more of a “fitness freak,” Joy says.

“When you’re in your thirties, for example, you aren’t running to a doctor. But when you hit your sixties, you become a little more proactive about your health,” Joy says. “If your diet is wrong, you start looking into it. You become more aware.”

Echoing Brinton, Joy says that communication between you and your doctor is key in maintaining the best possible heart health.

“Some people avoid going to the doctor; they’re afraid of bad news,” she adds. “It’s important to maintain that [relationship]. You get closer to your doctor as you age, it’s one of the things you do. That’s crucial. It was so important for Regis.”

For his part, Philbin is doing everything he can to stay healthy in retirement. The talk-show host with the gift of gab is more than happy to share his heart health journey.

“I’ve been dealing with this for 25 years. It’s been a long time,” Philbin says. “I'm always more than happy to talk about this. For me, it’s everything.”

For Pain, It Matters Which Doctor You See

As a physician anesthesiologist, I know how challenging it can be to treat patients who are in pain. For most people, pain is temporary. But for more than 100 million Americans, there is no end to pain.

Chronic pain can be broad or focused, dull or sharp, distracting or excruciating, and in many cases, debilitating.

Your likelihood of experiencing chronic pain increases with age. Gender can also influence how much pain you have. In general, women report having more pain than men.

The Serious Effects of Pain

Living with chronic pain can affect your life in many ways:

Mental health changes. According to a 2006 survey from the American Academy of Pain Medicine, almost two-thirds of people living with chronic pain have reported a decrease in overall happiness and 77 percent reported feeling depressed.
Increased fatigue. Pain can affect your daily functioning, resulting in decreased concentration, diminished energy levels, and difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Decreased job performance. Chronic pain costs the U.S. more than cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Health economists estimate that the cost of chronic pain may be as high as $635 billion a year, according to a report published in the Journal of Pain. We can only guess how many people have been limited in their professional advancement because of pain.
Which Doctor Is Best at Treating Pain?

If you  are experiencing pain, your first stop should be to visit your primary care physician. A 2010 analysis of a national medical database found that 13 percent of all doctors visits were to discuss pain. Of these visits, 45 percent were at a primary care physician's office. Less than 1 percent of those surveyed sought help from a specialized pain physician.

Specialized pain physicians are underused by patients, probably because the specialty is relatively new and people don't know about it. These physicians are trained to treat difficult pain conditions using the most advanced treatments.

I like to compare pain physicians to football players. The goal of all of these doctors is the same — to relieve pain — but the role they play varies:

Anesthesiologists spend four years of their training managing anesthesia and pain control in surgical patients. Most pain specialists are anesthesiologists, and they can offer a full array of pain treatments.
Neurologists focus on targeting the neural, or nerve, aspects of pain. Treatments include medications and procedures to treat nerve-related pain.
Physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians focus on relieving pain and improving their patients' day-to-day functioning via physical therapy and physical reconditioning.
The Future of Pain Treatment

Recently, the American Society of Anesthesiologists analyzed dozens of peer-reviewed medical journals from the past year to create its first Women’s Pain Update. Highlights from the report include:

Success with alternative pain-relief methods such as music, yoga, and rose oil.
Breast cancer research that found the type of anesthesia used during breast cancer surgery can affect how quickly and comfortably you recover.
New research has also led to the development of medications that can decrease nerve irritation and depression caused by pain. Similarly, there are several new procedures that can treat pain.

For example, pain specialists can use X-ray or ultrasound imaging guidance to provide relief through steroid injections that target specific nerves and areas of the spinal cord. The procedure is fairly low risk when administered by a physician specifically trained in interventional pain treatments. All three major pain societies, the American Pain Society, the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, and the American Academy of Neurology, state that epidural steroid injections are best suited for those with a pinched or inflamed nerve root (also called radiculopathy).

However, we still have a lot to learn about steroid procedures. Studies have shown that any type of epidural injection — including saline — can relieve pain. In fact, such injections provide twice the pain relief of intramuscular steroid injections, without the associated risks.

Don't resign yourself to a life  in pain. If you are one of the millions of people lacking an effective remedy for your pain, a trained pain medicine physician may be able to help you achieve your pain management goals.

Resting Heart Rate for MEN Or WOMEN

Resting Heart Rate for MEN

Age 18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Athlete 49-55 49-54 50-56 50-57 51-56 50-55
Excellent 56-61 55-61 57-62 58-63 57-61 56-61
Good 62-65 62-65 63-66 64-67 62-67 62-65
Above Average 66-69 66-70 67-70 68-71 68-71 66-69
Average 70-73 71-74 71-75 72-76 72-75 70-73
Below Average 74-81 75-81 76-82 77-83 76-81 74-79
Poor 82+ 82+ 83+ 84+ 82+ 80+

Resting Heart Rate for WOMEN

Age 18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+
Athlete 54-60 54-59 54-59 54-60 54-59 54-59
Excellent 61-65 60-64 60-64 61-65 60-64 60-64
Good 66-69 65-68 65-69 66-69 65-68 65-68
Above Average 70-73 69-72 70-73 70-73 69-73 69-72
Average 74-78 73-76 74-78 74-77 74-77 73-76
Below Average 79-84 77-82 79-84 78-83 78-83 77-84
Poor 85+ 83+ 85+ 84+ 84+ 84+

Influenza, a viral infection, illness that can range from mild to life-threatening

Influenza, commonly known as "the flu," is a viral infection of the respiratory tract that affects the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs.

 tend to happen annually, at about the same time every year. This period is commonly referred .

However, each outbreak may be caused by a different subtype or strain of the virus, so a different flu vaccine is needed to prevent the flu each year.

For most people, a bout of flu is an unpleasant but short-lived illness.

For others, however, flu can pose serious health risks, particularly if complications such as pneumonia develop.

Every year, thousands of Americans die from the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of deaths caused annually by flu in the United States ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 between 1976 and 2006, with an annual average of 23,607 flu-related deaths.

The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get an annual flu vaccination, encourage the people you live and work with to do likewise, stay away from people who are sick, and wash your hands frequently.

Bullied Teens at Risk for Later Depression

Getting picked on at age 13 tied to raised odds of poor mental health at 18, U.K. researchers report.

Young teens who are bullied appear to be at higher risk of depression when they reach early adulthood, according to new research.

"We found that teenagers who reported being frequently bullied were twice as likely to be clinically depressed at 18 years," said Lucy Bowes, a researcher at the University of Oxford in England, who led the research.

The researchers found an association, not a definitive cause-and-effect relationship, Bowes said. "In our type of study, we can never be certain that bullying causes depression," she explained. "However, our evidence suggests that this is the case."

To explore the possible link, the investigators used data on nearly 4,000 teens in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a community-based group born in the United Kingdom. At age 13, all completed a questionnaire about bullying. At 18, they were assessed for depression.

The study found that nearly 700 teens said they had been bullied "often" -- more than once a week -- at age 13. Of those, nearly 15 percent were depressed at age 18. More than 1,440 other teens reported some bullying -- one to three times over a six-month period -- at age 13. Of these, 7 percent were depressed at age 18. In comparison, only 5.5 percent of teens who weren't bullied were depressed at age 18.

RELATED: Living With the Scars of Bullying

Bowes also found the often-bullied teens tended to stay depressed longer than others. For 10 percent of those often-bullied who became depressed, the depression lasted more than two years. By comparison, only 4 percent of the never-bullied group had long-lasting depression.

Among the bullying tactics, name calling was the most common type, experienced by more than one-third of the teens. About one of four had their belongings taken. About 10 percent were hit or beaten up. Most never told a teacher and up to half didn't tell a parent. But up to three-quarters did tell an adult if the bullying was physical, according to the study published in the June 2 online edition of the BMJ.

Bowes noted that other studies have found the same bullying-depression link. If it does prove to be a causative factor, she added, bullying may account for 30 percent of those who develop depression in early adulthood.

In addition, the link held even when factors such as mental and behavioral problems and stressful live events were taken into account, Bowes said.

The research did not look at why bullying might increase the risk of depression or why some teens appear more vulnerable.

The study findings ring true in practice, said Gilda Moreno, a clinical psychologist at Nicklaus Children's Hospital and Baptist Hospital in Miami, who reviewed the findings.

Children who are bullied over time may develop a ''learned helplessness," she said. "It's not having the skills to stand up to the bullying. That's what may lead to the depression."

Because bullied children often don't tell their parents or teachers, Bowes said that parents need to be aware of potential signs. If a child is reluctant to go to school, parents should talk about why and ask about their relationships with friends, she suggested.

Bowes said parents should also believe their child if he or she complains about bullying, and follow up with the school administrators.

Loners are more likely than others to get picked on, Moreno added. Parents can encourage their kids to develop friendships, she said, to foster a kind of core support group.

6 Easy and Amazing Oatmeal Recipes to Try This Week

Ask anyone what their favorite breakfast is, and you’ll likely get answers ranging from veggie omelets to sugary cinnamon buns. But how many people can say their favorite morning meal is oatmeal? Well, that’s all about to change. Not only is oatmeal super healthy (it’s packed with belly-filling fiber), but it’s also incredibly versatile. Whether you prefer the grains sweet or savory — or packed with protein or healthy fats — we have the right recipe for you. And remember that no matter which flavor combination you choose, one thing is guaranteed: You’ll never look at oatmeal the same way again.

Tomato Basil Oatmeal
Sweet oatmeal recipes are easy enough to find, but savory ones? Those are a little harder to pull off. With its tomato puree, pine nuts, fresh herbs, and Parmesan cheese, Oatgasm’s tomato and basil oatmeal reminds us of a lower-carb bowl of pasta — one that you’ll want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mangia!

Slow Cooker Overnight Oatmeal
Don’t have time to cook breakfast in the morning? No problem. Just toss 2 cups of oats into a slow cooker, top with some dried berries, and add water. Wait 90 minutes, and voila! With just 193 calories, this slow cooker overnight oatmeal will be your new favorite breakfast.

Blueberry Muffin Overnight Oats
Our love of overnight oats continues with this mouthwatering blueberry version from Eat Yourself Skinny. (Seriously, how gorgeous is this?) The Greek yogurt and chia seeds add an extra shot of protein (13.4 grams in one jar!) and a chewy, flavorful texture. And did we mention it only takes a few minutes to make?

Date-Sweetened Apple Pie Oatmeal
This gluten-free apple pie oatmeal from the Minimalist Baker is sweetened with dates, apple slices, and a dash of honey. It’s part crispy, part thick and creamy, and all parts totally delicious. Plus, it’s easy to mix and match this base recipe with other toppings — think: toasted nuts and flaxseed.

5-Minute Oatmeal Power Bowl
Who says comfort food can’t be healthy, too? This oatmeal power bowl from Oh She Glows is not only delicious, but it also lives up to its belly-filling promise: laden with chia seeds, almonds, and cinnamon, it’s an instant, energizing way to start your day.

Raspberry-Almond Overnight Oatmeal
Breakfast doesn’t get much easier than this raspberry almond oatmeal. Simply combine oats, milk, yogurt, almonds, chia seeds, and a dash of almond extract in a pint-sized mason jar, then shake, stir, and refrigerate. It’s packed with healthy ingredients, and served up in a perfect portion size, too!

How to Prevent Hearing Loss

Do you have trouble following a conversation in a noisy room? Do other people complain that you have the television turned up too loud? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you may already have some degree of hearing loss.

Hearing loss can start at any age. According to the National Academy on Aging and Society, the number of affected Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 has increased significantly since 1971. But it’s much more common in seniors: Some 40 percent of the 20 million Americans who have hearing loss are 65 or older.

Contrary to popular belief, however, hearing loss is not an inevitable part of aging. Some causes of hearing loss can be prevented, and most types of hearing loss can be helped.

Types and Causes of Hearing Loss

There are three basic types of hearing loss:

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  • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear nerves or the nerves that carry sound to the hearing area of the brain. Once you have this type of nerve damage, the only treatment is a hearing aid. Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include injuries, tumors, infection, certain medications, and excessive noise exposure.
  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a condition that blocks sound waves from being transferred to the nerves involved in the hearing process. Whereas sensorineural hearing loss usually affects both ears, conductive hearing loss may only affect one ear. Common causes include ear infections, ear wax, ear trauma such as a punctured eardrum, and other diseases that affect the ear canal, the eardrum, or the tiny bones in the middle ear. Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, this type of hearing loss can often be corrected and restored.
  • Mixed hearing loss occurs when someone who has nerve type hearing loss from aging or noise trauma then gets an ear infection or develops a wax impaction, causing their hearing to suddenly get much worse. It’s a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Evaluation

If you are having trouble hearing or develop sudden deafness, you need to get your hearing checked as soon as possible. Sudden deafness is a serious symptom and should be treated as a medical emergency. For many people, though, hearing loss may be gradual and not obvious. Here are seven warning signs to watch out for:

  • You have trouble hearing while on the telephone.
  • You can’t seem to follow a conversation if there is background noise.
  • You struggle to understand women’s or children's voices.
  • People complain that you turn up the TV volume too high.
  • You constantly ask people to repeat themselves.
  • You have a long history of working around loud noises.
  • You notice a ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in your ears.

 

 

If you think you have any kind of hearing loss, the place to start is with your doctor. Whether your hearing loss is gradual or sudden, your doctor may refer you to an audiologist (a medical specialist in hearing loss) or an otolaryngologist (a medical doctor specializing in disorders of the ear).

 

 

Depending on the cause and type of your hearing loss, treatment may be as simple as removing ear wax or as complicated as reconstructive ear surgery. Sensorineural hearing loss can't be corrected or reversed, but hearing aids and assistive devices can enhance most people’s hearing. For those with profound hearing loss approaching deafness, an electronic hearing device, called a cochlear implant, can even be implanted in the ear.

Tips for Hearing Loss Prevention

One type of hearing loss is 100 percent preventable: that due to noise exposure. Noise is measured in units called decibels: Normal conversation is about 45 decibels, heavy traffic may be about 85 decibels, and a firecracker may be about 120 decibels. Loud noise — anything at or above 85 decibels — can cause damage to the cells in the inner ear that convert sound into signals to the brain. Here are some tips for avoiding noise-induced hearing loss:

  • Minimize your exposure to loud noises that are persistent.
  • Never listen to music through headphones or ear buds with the volume all the way up.
  • Wear ear plugs or protective earmuffs during any activity that exposes you to noise at or above 85 decibels.
  • See your doctor about a baseline hearing test, called an audiogram, to find out if you already have some early hearing loss.

You should also see your doctor if you have any symptoms of ear pain, fullness, or ringing, or if you experience any sudden change in your hearing. These symptoms could be early warnings of preventable hearing loss.

Hearing loss or deafness can have a serious effect on social well-being. It can cut you off from the world around you. Know the causes of hearing loss, and practice hearing loss prevention to preserve the hearing you still have.

Getting an IBS Diagnosis

Diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome isn’t like diagnosing other diseases. Your doctor can’t take a swab or a vial of blood and test it to determine the problem. There is no single test that can point to IBS as the cause of your symptoms.

Instead, when you go to your doctor about IBS symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and stomach cramps, he has to rule out other conditions and then pay careful attention to your symptoms before giving you a diagnosis.

Diagnosing IBS “For years, anyone who had gastrointestinal symptoms that couldn’t be explained was told they had IBS,” says Steven Field, MD, a gastroenterologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. But now doctors use the "Rome criteria," which are a specific set of symptoms that have to be present in order to give a diagnosis. In addition, the criteria designate red-flag symptoms that don’t point to IBS, he says.

 

 

Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and when you experience them will go a long way toward getting an accurate diagnosis. Here’s what your doctor considers before he makes a diagnosis:

Laboratory tests to rule out other conditions. To make sure something other than IBS isn’t causing your symptoms, your doctor may run blood tests, test your stool sample, order an X-ray, or perform a colonoscopy (a procedure in which your doctor uses a small flexible camera to look inside your colon).

Your symptoms. Under the Rome criteria, a diagnosis of IBS can be made if you have had abdominal pain during at least 12 weeks during a 12-month period, even if those 12 weeks aren’t consecutive, and if you experience two of these three things:

  • A bowel movement that causes the abdominal pain to go away
  • A change in the frequency of your bowel movements
  • A change in your stool’s appearance (it becomes hard and lumpy or loose and watery

Other signs of IBS include mucus in your stool, a swollen abdomen, an urgency to have a bowel movement, having trouble passing stool, or a feeling that your bowel isn’t empty after going to the bathroom.

If you have red flag symptoms. Your doctor will also be looking for red-flag symptoms that aren’t associated with IBS, Dr. Field says. Those include: 

  • Blood in your stool
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain or diarrhea that’s so intense it wakes you up when you’re asleep
  • What triggers your symptoms. The factors that bring on your symptoms are another clue as to whether or not you have IBS. Eating such items as fried and greasy foods, caffeine, dairy products, chocolate, alcohol, and carbonated drinks often trigger symptoms, but the exact food triggers are different for everyone. Large meals may also trigger IBS symptoms.

 

 

Stress — which can result from major life changes such as getting married or getting a new job — is also a major trigger for IBS symptoms, Field says. And for women, symptoms are usually more severe during their menstrual period, possibly because of the effect of hormones on IBS.

The bottom line: Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and knowing what triggers them will help with your diagnosis. Many doctors recommend keeping a food diary to determine exactly what brings on your symptoms and sharing that information with your doctor to make a better diagnosis and get you the right treatment.

By Marie Suszynski | Medically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD

An Expert's Guide to Sneezin' Season

Allergy sufferers should prepare for a particularly 'nasty' spring, New York sinus specialist says.

This could be a bad spring allergy season and people with allergies need to be prepared, an expert warns.

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"With the crazy up and down weather, some parts of the country could see worse allergy-provoking conditions. There is likely to be a pollen superburst this season, so sufferers should get ready," Dr. Jordan Josephson, a sinus specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said in a hospital news release.

"It promises to be a nasty spring," he added.

It's crucial to deal with allergy symptoms immediately, according to Josephson.

"Allergies left untreated can cause sinus swelling leading to chronic sinusitis. Allergies can also affect your digestive tract. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be a direct response of the allergic response. So allergies can seriously affect your quality of life. Just ask any allergy or sinus sufferer," he said.

 

 

Dr. Punita Ponda is assistant chief in the division of allergy and immunology at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y. She suggested that if you know you have spring allergies, start taking allergy medication at least one to two weeks before the start of allergy season. Then continue taking it throughout the season, she noted in the news release.

RELATED: 9 Seasonal Allergy Signs You May Be Overlooking

 

 

Josephson outlined a number of other ways to keep your allergy symptoms under control, including: staying indoors as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when pollen counts are highest; using your air conditioner, which cleans and dries the air; keeping doors and windows closed; and using an air purifier.

After being outdoors, remove your clothes and wash them immediately. Keep pollen-exposed clothes separate from clean clothes. You should also take a shower after being outside in order to remove pollen from your skin and hair, he suggested.

In addition, irrigate your sinuses daily to flush out pollen. And take antihistamines, but try to avoid decongestants.

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Teens and E-cigarettes

In picture shows that "Teens are more likely to use e-cigarettes than cigarettes."

Past-month use of cigarettes was 3.6 percent among 8th graders, 6.3 percent among 10th graders, and 11.4 percent among 12th graders. Past-month use of e-cigarettes was 9.5 percent among 8th graders, 14.0 percent among 10th graders, and 16.2 percent among 12 graders.

Two times as many boys use e-cigs as girls.

8 Things You Can Start Doing Now to Look Younger


1 / 9   Who Says You Have to Look Your Age?

When it comes to how old you are, age really is just a number. In 2014, researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis published a study stating that there are a lot more factors that should go into determining age than how long you’ve been alive. There are plenty of super-simple things you can do to keep your complexion healthy and radiant regardless of what birthday you most recently celebrated. Andrea Robinson, the former head of beauty for Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford and the author of “Toss the Gloss: Beauty Tips and Tricks for Women 50+”, shares her insider knowledge on what anti-aging products really work, makeup tips that are guaranteed to make you look younger, and more.

 

only am I not alone, but I am connecting in a significant and meaningful way

only am I not alone, but I am connecting in a significant and meaningful way

Low Testosterone and Muscle Mass

Loss of muscle is called muscle wasting, and it’s a late sign of low testosterone. But even before you notice muscle wasting, you may feel weaker and less energetic,” says Ronald Tamler, MD, director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center in New York and an associate professor of medicine, endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “Muscle cells have receptors for testosterone called androgen receptors. When testosterone binds to the receptors, muscle fibers are maintained. Without testosterone, maintenance stops and muscle is degraded.”

This week marks the second anniversary of my writing this blog.  It’s a good chance to remember why I write the blog,

This week marks the second anniversary of my writing this blog.  It’s a good chance to remember why I write the blog, what it has meant to me, and to think about what’s ahead.  I originally wanted to write because the original site, HealthTalk.com, helped me immensely with their psoriasis web content.  I especially enjoyed the various topics presented in the monthly webcast.   By writing I believed I could bring my own story and perspective to the discussion of how to live with and treat psoriasis.  At that time I also felt down about many aspects of my life, including psoriasis.  With no end in sight managing this disease I wondered if anything good could be redeemed from the experience.  If I could help one other person feel like they are not alone in battling psoriasis, if anyone could benefit from my trial and errors with medications, or if caregivers could understand the different dimensions of living with psoriasis then writing would be worth it.  Finally, I wanted a community I could share the struggles with and how better to find one than to help create one?

All Diet and Nutrition Articles

All Diet and Nutrition Articles

 

A Diet for Better Energy

Complex carbs are key for sustained energy throughout the day, while too many sugary snacks can lead to energy crashes. Find out which foods you need for round-the-clock energy.

 

Juggling the responsibilities of work, life, and family can cause too little sleep, too much stress, and too little time.

Yet even when you're at your busiest, you should never cut corners when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Your body needs food to function at its best and to fight the daily stress and fatigue of life.

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

Our energy comes from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. The three main nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates, protein, and fats, with carbohydrates being the most important source.

Your body can also use protein and fats for energy when carbs have been depleted. When you eat, your body breaks down nutrients into smaller components and absorbs them to use as fuel. This process is known as metabolism.

Carbohydrates come in two types, simple and complex, and both are converted to sugar (glucose). “The body breaks the sugar down in the blood and the blood cells use the glucose to provide energy,” says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a registered dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

Complex carbohydrates such as high-fiber cereals, whole-grain breads and pastas, dried beans, and starchy vegetables are the best type of foods for prolonged energy because they are digested at a slow, consistent rate. “Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which takes a longer time to digest in the body as it is absorbed slowly," says Rifkin. Complex carbs also stabilize your body’s sugar level, which in turn causes the pancreas to produce less insulin. This gives you a feeling of satiety and you are less hungry.”

Also important in a healthy, energy-producing diet is protein (preferably chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, and fish), legumes (lentils and beans), and a moderate amount of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocados, seeds, nuts, and certain oils).

“Adequate fluids are also essential for sustaining energy,” says Suzanne Lugerner, RN, director of clinical nutrition at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Water is necessary for digestion, absorption, and the transport of nutrients for energy. Dehydration can cause a lack of energy. The average person needs to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.”

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

 

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, should be limited. Ranging from candy and cookies to sugary beverages and juices, simple carbs are broken down and absorbed quickly by the body. They provide an initial burst of energy for 30 to 60 minutes, but are digested so quickly they can result in a slump afterward.

You should also avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a depressant and can reduce your energy levels, while caffeine usually provides an initial two-hour energy burst, followed by a crash.

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

 

“I always recommend three meals and three snacks a day and to never go over three to four hours without eating something,” says Tara Harwood, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “If you become too hungry, this can cause you to overeat.”

Also, try to include something from each food group at every meal, remembering that foods high in fiber, protein, and fat take a longer time to digest.

Even if life is hectic, it’s important to make wise food choices that provide energy throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

 

How to Protect Your Child From an Allergic Reaction While You're Away

You may feel in complete control of your child's allergies — at least when he or she is under your watchful eye. But you can't be with him or her 24/7, and you want her to live as normal a life as possible. What's the balance between letting your child enjoy life and managing your stress in the face of severe childhood allergies? You’ll need to explain to other parents, teachers, and caregivers all they need to know to try to avoid the allergens, recognize allergy symptoms, and treat an allergic reaction so they’ll be as knowledgeable and vigilant as you are. There are steps you can take to clearly convey this potentially life-saving information about your child’s allergies.

Create an Allergy Action Plan

Before a child with severe allergies goes to school, day care, or a babysitter (even a close relative), put an allergy action plan in place to ensure your child’s safety. First, meet with your child’s doctor and ask for a letter that outlines the following:

  • What your child is allergic to as confirmed by allergy testing
  • How to avoid exposure to the allergens, including reducing the risk of cross-contamination in food preparation for food allergies
  • What medications and treatment are needed in case of an allergic reaction, whether mild or severe

This letter is the basis of your written allergy action plan at home, school, and anywhere else your child goes. Send a copy of this letter along with your instructions wherever your child is being watched by others.

Share Your Child’s Allergy Action Plan

Whenever a child with severe allergies is under the care of anyone other than a parent, whether it’s a relative or a babysitter, make sure the caregiver is familiar with your child’s allergy action plan.

However, it's not enough to just hand a written emergency plan to another caregiver, says Scott H. Sicherer, MD, an Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe professor of pediatrics, allergy, and immunology and the chief of the division of allergy and immunology in the department of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and author of Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends on It. “You should still educate them about avoiding, recognizing, and managing an allergic reaction,” Dr. Sicherer says.

Manage Severe Childhood Allergies at School

Make an appointment to talk with the principal and school nurse before the school year starts, or as soon as you learn of your child's allergy, to discuss the situation and the school’s allergy policy. Take the letter from your child’s doctor along and use the information to work with the school nurse to develop an at-school allergy action plan that meets your child’s specific needs.

Also meet with your child’s teacher and discuss what measures will be taken to prevent an allergic reaction in the classroom, such as regular hand washing, safe foods allowed in the classroom, and allergy-free celebration treats.

"Most schools have allergy policies in place and have had children with allergies before,” Sicherer says. “They may have a variety of approaches for keeping children safe and being ready to recognize and treat reactions." For example, some schools may have special tables in the lunchroom for children with food allergies or offer closer supervision while they’re eating.

Here are three questions to ask about a school’s allergy policy:

  • Where is allergy medication stored?
  • Who is authorized to give allergy medications?
  • What is the allergy emergency plan for field trips and other extracurricular activities?

“Allergy medications at school must be immediately available with clear instructions, and they should not be locked up,” says Robert Wood, MD, a professor of pediatrics and the chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, Md. “Medication needs to be within five minutes of where the child is.”

In October 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first voluntary guidelines for managing food allergies at school, but there are no mandatory national standards. Some states have their own allergy guidelines in place for schools, which can help you and your school design your own allergy action plan.

Share Information With Your Child About Allergies

How you educate your child to protect him or herself from allergic reactions will depend on his or her age. Preschool and early elementary school kids can’t be expected to speak up for themselves about their allergies and should have close supervision. In the case of a food allergy, there should be very explicit instructions about what they’re allowed to eat, Dr. Wood says.

Young children with severe food allergies may learn that they can’t share food with another child, Sicherer says, or that there are specific people, like Mom, Dad, and their teacher, who know what they're allergic to and what's safe to eat — and that no one else can give them food. But as they get older, they can learn more and take more responsibility for themselves. "They may learn to speak up in restaurants and read food labels to begin to decide what’s safe under supervision," Sicherer says.

Many Under 40 May Not Need Regular Cholesterol Checks: Study

Many adults under 40 may not need to have routine cholesterol screenings, a new study suggests.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers looked at the real world implications of two conflicting sets of guidelines on cholesterol testing.

One, from the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA), says that all adults older than 20 should have a cholesterol screening. They also suggest a repeat test every four to six years.

The other guidelines come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-funded, independent panel of medical experts. They say many adults can go longer before their first cholesterol test -- until age 35 for men, and age 45 for women.

The exception would be people with a major risk factor for heart problems -- such as high blood pressure, smoking or a family history of early heart disease.

Those patients can start cholesterol testing at age 20, the task force adds.

The new findings support the "more targeted" approach the task force uses, according to lead researcher Dr. Krishna Patel, of Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Mo.

Why? The study, Patel explained, tried to estimate the impact of the two different guidelines in the "real world."

To do that, the researchers used data on 9,600 U.S. adults aged 30 to 49 who were part of a government health study.

The study team found that among nonsmokers with normal blood pressure, very few were at heightened risk of suffering a heart attack in the next 10 years. That means very few would be considered candidates for a cholesterol-lowering statin -- even with elevated LDL (so-called "bad" cholesterol) levels.

"So, screening cholesterol early doesn't bring much actionable information," Patel said. "If we're not going to treat, there's no point in doing it."

The study was published May 15 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Others disagreed with Patel's point.

The point of screening younger adults is not so doctors can put them all on statins, said Dr. Neil Stone, one of the authors of the ACC/AHA guidelines.

Instead, there are two central reasons, Stone explained.

One is to spot younger adults who may be heading down a path toward heart disease later in life.

Once they know their LDL is high, they and their doctors can have an "all-important discussion" about diet and lifestyle changes, said Stone, who is also professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

READ MORE: 9 Things Dietitians Wish You Knew About High Cholesterol

The other reason is to catch cases of familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic condition that causes very high LDL levels (above 190 mg/dL), he said.

People with the condition have a much higher-than-average risk of heart disease, and often develop it at a young age.

Because of that, the condition should be treated with statins, according to the ACC/AHA.

There is "strong and compelling evidence," Stone said, that catching the condition in younger adults makes a difference.

Dr. Paul Ridker, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, had a similar view.

"Familial hypercholesterolemia is a common disorder, and it's easy to detect," said Ridker, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Why delay something as simple and inexpensive as a cholesterol test?"

Plus, he said, catching even "run-of-the-mill" high LDL is important.

"Knowing about it early in life can be a good motivator to make lifestyle changes," Ridker said.

What if a young adult has healthy LDL levels? Ridker said he'd be "fine" with that patient forgoing further tests until later in life.

For her part, Patel agreed that a one-time check, to catch familial hypercholesterolemia, is a wise move for young adults. But she questioned the value of repeat testing.

According to Stone, the ACC/AHA guidelines say it's "reasonable" to repeat cholesterol testing every four to six years. "It's not mandatory," he noted.

But people's lives, and heart disease risk factors, change as they move through adulthood, Stone said. So, a periodic cholesterol check can be useful when it's done as part of a "global risk assessment" where doctors look at blood pressure, smoking habits and other major risk factors for heart disease.

Motivating younger adults to get those risk factors under control is critical, according to Stone. "We know it's a big deal if you can have optimal risk factor [control] by age 45 or 50," he said.

In the study, very few people were at elevated risk of heart attack -- as long as they didn't smoke or have high blood pressure. ("Elevated" meant a greater than 5 percent chance of having a heart attack in the next 10 years.)

In the absence of those two risk factors, only 0.09 percent of men younger than 40 were at elevated risk of heart attack. And only 0.04 percent of women younger than 50 were.

But smoking, in particular, changed everything: Among male smokers in their 40s, one-half to three-quarters were at elevated risk of a heart attack.

"Smoking had a huge effect," Patel said. Smokers, she stressed, should "definitely" have their cholesterol tested -- and, more importantly, quit the habit.

DIY Beauty Solutions

Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.
Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.

Read on to learn these six expert-recommended at-home treatments that can help combat your biggest beauty woes.

Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.

Read on to learn these six expert-recommended at-home treatments that can help combat your biggest beauty woes.

DIY Beauty Treatments for Every Skin Problem

  • 1 / 7   DIY Beauty Solutions

    Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.

    Read on to learn these six expert-recommended at-home treatments that can help combat your biggest beauty woes.

  • 2 / 7   Problem: Hyperpigmentation and dark spots

    Solution: Fresh lemon juice and a red onion


    Lemon juice and red onions are naturally acidic, and when combined together, they create a gentle-yet-effective at-home alternative to dark spot and hyperpigmentation treatments that are often formulated with harsh chemicals.

    For best results, Michael Lin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, suggests blending ¼ of a red onion with freshly squeezed lemon  juice before applying it to the desired area with a Q-tip. After 10 to15 minutes, wash off the homemade treatment with a mild cleanser.

  • 3 / 7   Problem: Dry, calloused hands and feet

    Solution: Almond milk and coffee grounds


    For a smoothing hand and foot scrub, Lin suggests combining almond milk with leftover coffee grounds from your morning roast. Almond milk is rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, which helps protect skin from free radicals that can damage cells and break down collagen. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, offer exfoliating benefits that help reveal radiant skin. “Using a caffeine scrub helps to stimulate cells and elastin, and temporarily firm the skin,” says Lin. 

    Combine 2 cups of almond milk and the coffee grounds in a bowl, then scrub the formula in circular motions on your hands and feet.

  • 4 / 7   Problem: Dull skin

    Solution: Peppermint tea


    Using topical treatments isn’t the only way to achieve gorgeous, glowing skin. In fact, radiant skin can be attained from the inside out by drinking a generous cup of peppermint tea. Dallas-based celebrity aesthetician Renee Rouleau advises her celebrity clients to drink a cup of the minty stuff before red carpet events.  

    “Peppermint tea is known to boost blood circulation, giving skin a vibrant glow,” says Rouleau, adding that peppermint can also help decrease stress. 

  • 5 / 7   Problem: Uneven skin tone and UV damage

    Solution: Strawberries and honey


    Strawberries in particular are jam-packed with vitamin C and are a natural source of salicylic acid, which is often found in anti-acne treatments to help clear skin and keep flare-ups at bay. When paired with honey, which has anti-bacterial benefits, they create a powerful at-home alternative to a store-bought mask. 

    Mash together three strawberries and 1 Tbsp. honey and apply the mixture. Wash off the mask with warm water after 15 minutes.

  • 6 / 7   Problem: Dry, frizzy hair

    Solution: Coconut oil


    As the weather gets warmer, your hair can become dry, frizzy, and completely unmanageable. Because of its moisturizing benefits, coconut oil is highly effective when it comes to nourishing hair and battling frizz. 

    For a hydrating hair treatment, New York City stylist Nunzio Saviano, owner of Nunzio Saviano Salon in New York City, recommends working a tablespoon of liquefied coconut oil through your hair post-shampoo. Leave the oil in for five to 10 minutes and rinse it out with chilly water, which will also help close the hair cuticle and seal in moisture, fighting frizz.

  • 7 / 7   Problem: Product buildup

    Solution: Apple cider vinegar

    Product buildup (sometimes confused for dandruff) is residue left behind on your hair and scalp by shampoo, mousse, hairspray, and other styling products. Additionally, dirt, natural oils, and hard water mineral deposits can build up on your hair shaft, leaving locks dull and weighed down. For a quick at-home fix, celebrity colorist Kyle White recommends a five-minute apple cider vinegar treatment.

    “Apple cider vinegar is an effective clarifying

10 Essential Facts About Ovarian Cancer

Statistically speaking, ovarian cancer is relatively rare: It represents just 1.3 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But although its numbers are small, the fear factor for many women may be disproportionately large.

We spoke to two leading ovarian cancer experts: Robert J. Morgan, Jr., MD, professor, and Mihaela C. Cristea, MD, associate clinical professor, of the medical oncology and therapeutics research department at City of Hope, an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California.

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Here are 10 essential facts about ovarian cancer that you should know:

1. About 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. As a comparison, nearly 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, 90 percent will be older than 40; most ovarian cancers occur in women 60 or older, according to the CDC.

2. You should see your doctor if you experience any of these ovarian cancer symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding (especially if you’re past menopause)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Pain or pressure in the area below your stomach and between your hip bones
  • Back pain
  • A change in bathroom habits, such as urgently needing to urinate, urinating frequently, or having constipation or diarrhea

It’s important to pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you. If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or have any of the other symptoms for two weeks or longer, see your doctor right away.

 

 

These symptoms can be caused by many different problems, but it’s best to have them evaluated, suggests the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

3. It’s tricky to pinpoint early, milder symptoms of ovarian cancer. However, the findings of a study published in Cancer in 2007 point to a cluster of vague symptoms that may suggest the need for ovarian cancer testing, says Dr. Morgan. In the study, researchers linked these symptoms to the possibility of ovarian cancer:

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Strong urge to urinate or frequent urination
  • Bloating or increased abdominal size
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full early

If a woman experiences these symptoms on more than 12 days a month for less than one year, she should insist that her doctor perform a thorough ovarian evaluation, says Morgan. This might include the CA-125 blood test or atransvaginal ultrasound exam.

4. Early detection can mean a better prognosis. When detected early enough, ovarian cancer can be cured. “Stage 1 and stage 2 ovarian cancer is curable about 75 to 95 percent of the time, depending on the tumor grade and cell type,” says Morgan. But because this cancer occurs deep inside the body’s pelvic region, it is often diagnosed in later stages, he says. The cure rate for stage 3 ovarian cancer is about 25 to 30 percent, and for stage 4 it's less than 5 percent, he adds.

RELATED: Overcoming Ovarian Cancer, Twice

5. Ovarian cancer has several key risk factorsThese include:

  • Women with a family history of ovarian cancer may be at higher risk.
  • Women who have never been pregnant and women who have uninterrupted ovulation due to infertility treatments seem to be at higher risk.
  • Early onset of your period, or having a late menopause, seems to increase risk.
  • Using talcum powder in the genital area may increase risk.
  • Smoking is a risk factor for a type of ovarian cancer known as mucinous ovarian cancer. Quitting smoking seems to reverse the risk back to normal, says Morgan.

6. Ovarian cancer is not a single disease. In reality, it’s a diverse group of cancers that respond to different treatments based on their molecular characteristics, says Dr. Cristea. Treatment will also depend on other health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, that a woman might have.

7. Ovarian cancer treatments are evolving and improving all the time.Immunotherapy is emerging as a new treatment option for many malignancies, including ovarian cancer,” says Cristea. In another recent development, the firstPARP inhibitor, a DNA-repair drug, has been approved for women with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer when chemotherapy hasn’t worked. “Women should also ask their doctors about clinical trials that are evaluating immunotherapy as well as other new treatments,” she adds.

 

 

8. Surgery may prevent ovarian cancer in women at very high risk. For women who carry the BRCA or other genes that predispose them to ovarian cancer, doctors often recommend surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes.Angelina Jolie, the actor and human rights activist, decided to have this surgery in March 2015. “Removing the ovaries can decrease the risk of developing the disease by 98 percent, and can substantially decrease the risk of developing breast cancer,” notes Morgan. Women in this very high-risk group should opt for this surgery after they’ve completed childbearing at around age 35, he notes.

9. Even after remission, ovarian cancer can still respond to treatment. “About 80 to 90 percent of ovarian cancer patients will achieve remission after chemotherapy treatment,” says Morgan. However, many of those women will later experience a recurrence of the cancer. The longer the remission, notes Morgan, the better the chances are for achieving a second remission.

10. It’s best to see an ovarian cancer specialist. When you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, getting a referral to an ovarian cancer specialist is a wise move, says Cristea. If you’re having surgery, it’s best to have a gynecologic oncologist perform the operation instead of a gynecologist, she adds. And to make sure you’re getting state-of-the-art treatment, consider seeking a second opinion at a NCI-Designated Cancer Center.

New Cholesterol Drugs Vastly Overpriced, Study Contends

The list price of these newer drugs is upwards of $14,000 a year per patient.Getty Images
Are new medicines for people with out-of-control cholesterol wildly overpriced? It's a question that's sparking debate among consumers and providers of care.

Now, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) report that the price of these drugs -- called PCSK9 inhibitors -- would have to be slashed by a whopping 71 percent to be deemed cost-effective.

PCSK9 inhibitors are a relatively new class of medicines for treating patients whose LDL (bad) cholesterol isn't well-controlled on statins or who cannot tolerate statins. Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Crestor (rosuvastatin) are examples of first-line statins doctors typically prescribe to patients with high cholesterol.

The UCSF team didn't question whether these new medicines are effective in reducing heart attacks and strokes.

"These are super awesome drugs, they really work," said study co-author Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo.

But the price is "far in excess" of what would be considered a reasonable cost for the clinical benefit they provide, added Bibbins-Domingo, a UCSF professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics.

The list price of these newer PCSK9 drugs is upwards of $14,000 a year per patient.

Dr. Kim Allan Williams, who was not involved in the study, is past president of the American College of Cardiology. He said some doctors have a difficult time with such studies because they compare patients' lives and "events" — such as heart attack and stroke — versus dollars spent on these medicines.

The new study doesn't change his view of the value of the PCSK9 inhibitor class.

"No one's giving those drugs unless the patient is incapable of getting to the target [level of LDL cholesterol]," said Williams, who is chief of cardiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "You're only going to use it for a situation where you have no choice."

RELATED: 8 Foods That Can Cause High Cholesterol

Because the study is based on list prices, not what patients actually pay, it's also "difficult to analyze the cost-effectiveness when [you] don't know exactly what the cost is," Williams added.

He said he's had patients with copays of $380 a month and others who had zero copays because the cost was completely covered by insurance. He worries, though, that poor patients may not be offered the same access to these medicines.

The CSF researchers designed the study to find out how much bang for the buck these drugs actually provide.

Their study updates a prior cost-effectiveness analysis using current list prices as well as results of a recent clinical trial. That trial demonstrated the clinical effectiveness of Repatha (evolocumab), one of two PCSK9 inhibitors approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Based on a simulation involving 8.9 million adults who would meet trial criteria, adding PCSK9 inhibitors to statins would prevent 2.9 million more heart attacks and strokes compared with adding Zetia (ezetimibe), another type of medication that blocks the production of cholesterol by the liver.

But the PCSK9 inhibitor class is not cost-effective based on a threshold of $100,000 for each life year gained, the study authors contend. They found that you would have to spend $450,000 per year to get one extra year of life per year.

"The price would have to be between $4,000 and $5,000 [per year] for it to be cost-effective," said Bibbins-Domingo. "If you look in other countries, in Europe, for example, that is in fact where this drug is priced."

Dr. Josh Ofman, senior vice president of global value, access and policy at Amgen Inc., the maker of Repatha, took issue with the findings. "We think that their model is deeply flawed," he said.

The study was based a 3 percent per-year rate of heart attacks and strokes, while other studies use much higher rates — more than three times higher — based on "real-world" data, Ofman said. The study is modeling a population that's not having many heart attacks and strokes, he said.

Ofman also questioned the threshold for determining cost-effectiveness that the UCSF researchers used. He said other organizations use a minimum of $150,000 per quality-adjusted life-year saved.

As for the price differential between the United States and Europe, Ofman cited many factors, from government price controls to how those countries price these drugs.

Amgen isn't alone in its criticism of how these medicines are valued. Earlier this month, several national provider and payer groups raised concerns about how the PCSK9 inhibitors are valued in a letter to the nonprofit Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, which assesses the value of new medicines.

More than a dozen organizations, including the National Forum for Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention, the American Pharmacists Association Foundation and the American Society for Preventive Cardiology, signed the letter citing concerns ranging from the types of patients that could benefit from these drugs to the importance of preventing heart attacks and strokes — not just deaths.

"The big controversy about all these types of analyses is what we're willing to value a patient's year of life at," Ofman said.

The new study was published in the Aug. 22/29 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Model for a Hepatitis C Cure: Success in the Cherokee Nation

For 9 out of 10 American Indians, treatment led to a hepatitis C cure.

For most of the 3.5 million Americans living with a hepatitis C infection today, the promise of a cure is an empty one unless patients can get proper care. And deaths from hepatitis C keep rising, surpassing deaths from HIV.

Now, in a successful pilot program by the Cherokee Nation Health Services of northeastern Oklahoma, a May 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report shows that curing hepatitis C is possible not only in clinical trials, but also in the larger population — even in remote and impoverished areas.

 

Local Hepatitis C Screening Success

American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of death from hepatitis C of any group in the United States, and also the highest number of new hepatitis C infections, according to the CDC, says Jorge Mera, MD, lead study author and director of infectious diseases at Cherokee Nation Health Services, though he says it’s not known why. “We made a great effort to detect hepatitis C virus-positive patients," he says. "Hepatitis C virus is known as the invisible epidemic — we tried to make it visible.”

To get more people screened, the health services implemented an electronic health record reminder to target everyone born between 1945 and 1965. The automatic alert prompted medical providers if the patient they were seeing that day was due for a hepatitis C screening test based on the patient's birthdate. This pilot program resulted in a fivefold increase in first-time hepatitis C testing between 2012 and 2015, from 3,337 people to 16,772 and included 131,000 American Indian people, mostly from rural northeastern Oklahoma.

The program educated healthcare providers on how important it is to identify these patients as early as possible, and to offer them treatment. It also informed them about the many ways people are exposed to hepatitis C, including by using or having used IV or intranasal drugs, having been incarcerated, or having received a blood transfusion before 1992. The CDC recommends testing for all people with such histories.

 

Progress in National Hepatitis C Screening

A report on a second, national initiative by the Indian Health Service (IHS) that ramped up hepatitis C testing in a similar way was also published in May 2016 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). As of June 2015, the number of people they had screened overall increased from 14,402 to 68,514 over three years, varying by region from 31 to 41 percent of people in the high-risk age group.

“The Indian Health Service’s screening rates for American Indian and Alaska Native patients in the [1945 to 1965] birth cohort have more than tripled since the national recommendations were released, greatly increasing the potential for early detection and follow-up for our patients living with hepatitis C infection,” says Susan Karol, MD, Indian Health Service chief medical officer and member of the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Niagara Falls, New York. The Indian Health Service provides healthcare for 1.9 million American Indian and Alaska Native people, including 566 different recognized tribes.
A Second Test for Active Hepatitis C

“Once patients were detected as HCV-positive, a confirmatory viral blood test was performed to make sure they had an active infection,” says Mera about his hepatitis C program. This test looks for RNA that’s proof of ongoing hepatitis C virus replication in the patient’s blood.

Of the 715 people who tested positive on the first screening test, 68 percent had an active infection. They were referred to one of five hepatitis C virus clinics set up by Cherokee Nation Health Systems, which had primary care providers who were specifically trained through the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) program. Outreach also included home visits to people who had hepatitis.
Access to Hepatitis C Drugs That Can Cure

A high proportion of the people who had an active infection — 57 percent — received antiviral drug treatment in this pilot program. Ninety percent were cured of hepatitis C.

“We don’t deny treatment to anybody because they’re depressed or have an alcohol dependence medical problem,” says Mera, though this is often a barrier to getting approvals for antiviral treatment. “We do offer and encourage them to be enrolled in a behavioral health program to address the other medical conditions. As long as they’re following up with the medical appointments and interested in HCV treatment, we will treat their hepatitis C virus.”

David Rein, PhD, program area director of the public health analytics division of NORC, an independent research institution at the University of Chicago, says access to hepatitis C care is improving for some. “In March, the U.S. Veterans Administration dropped all restrictions on treatment and began to provide treatment to any veteran in its system who is infected with the virus, regardless of how far the disease has progressed. Unfortunately, the VA is the exception and not the rule. Many state Medicaid programs and private insurance plans still place unnecessary barriers on treatment access.”   

Coverage to pay for medications is a barrier for many people with hepatitis C, notes a May 2016 editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The key to success, Mera says, is being relentless. “We have a wonderful group of case managers dedicated to hepatitis C treatment procurement,” he says. “They will work with the third party payers such as Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance, and also with the patient assistance programs. Our case managers will not take no for an answer very easily, and will exhaust all the possibilities they have to obtain the medications.”
How to Cure Hepatitis C Across the United States

The three steps to a hepatitis C cure are to:

    Get screened to see if you’ve ever been exposed to the hepatitis C virus
    Get tested for active viral infection
    Get effective drug treatment

Yet half of Americans infected with hepatitis C don’t know they have it, while many of those who do know can’t get access to care or can’t pay for the antiviral medication they need.

A plan to cure hepatitis C is important because cases of infection have increased more than 2.5 times from 2010 to 2014, and deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise, exceeding 19,000 per year, according to the CDC's U.S. viral hepatitis surveillance report, published in May 2016.  

“Acute cases, which occur when a patient is first infected with hepatitis C, are increasing at an alarming rate, likely due to higher rates of injection drug use,” says Dr. Rein. But this group of people is not likely to develop symptoms of liver dysfunction for several decades.

“The record number of hepatitis C deaths that the CDC reported for 2014 is almost exclusively related to people who were initially infected with the disease in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s who developed chronic infections which gradually destroyed their livers over the course of decades,” he explains.

Rein and his colleagues had predicted in 2010 that deaths from hepatitis C would increase to 18,200 annually by the year 2020, peak at 36,000 in 2033, and kill more than one million Americans by the year 2060 if we didn't take action to prevent it. But the sobering reality is that the U.S. case numbers have already exceeded that prediction, with more than 19,000 cases in 2014.

“I still believe that is what will happen if nothing is done to address the epidemic,“ Rein says. “However, I’m both hopeful and confident in our healthcare system, and I believe that we’ll see vastly expanded testing and treatment, which will lead to dramatic reductions in deaths from hepatitis C in the years to come.”

More people, especially those born between 1945 and 1965, need to be tested for the hepatitis C antibody, he says. “Simply disseminating guidelines and providing reimbursement for testing is insufficient to assure that doctors test their patients. Interventions are needed to prioritize testing for hepatitis C.”

The Cherokee Nation group is now working with the CDC on a model that experts hope can be expanded throughout the country to lead people effectively from screening through to a hepatitis C cure.

What can help the model succeed? According to Mera, support, commitment, and trust:

    Political support (in the Cherokee Nation program, from the tribe’s chief and council)
    Commitment and trust from the administration to do the right thing to eliminate hepatitis C
    Dedicated and motivated team members who include primary care providers (nurse practitioners, physicians, pharmacists), lab technicians, nurses, administrators, behavioral health personnel, case managers, and clerks who understand the importance and urgency of hepatitis C screening and a cure

“My wish would be that patients would ask their medical providers to test them for HCV if they think they could have been exposed. This would increase screening, the first step in visualizing the invisible epidemic,” says Mera.