Type 2 Diabetes Complications: More Than Just Heart Disease
Having diabetes isn’t a death sentence. In fact, an article published in September 2017 in the journal BMJ suggests that, with proper management and weight loss, you can effectively reverse symptoms of the disease. But on the flip side, poorly managed type 2 diabetes can lead to certain complications that can altogether result in increased medical costs, more stress, and potentially a reduced life expectancy.
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you likely know the major complications for which having diabetes may leave you at risk: heart disease, kidney disease, neuropathy (or nerve damage), and amputations. But complications associated with poor blood sugar control can affect other parts of the body as well.
"When we talk about diabetes complications, we talk about it from head to toe," says Cathy L. Reeder-McIntosh, RN, MPH, a certified diabetes educator at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. "Even if you don't have perfectly controlled blood sugar, lowering your A1C level — which measures your average blood sugar level over the past two to three months — even a small amount helps reduce your risk of complications."
The A1C test is the most common diagnostic tool for type 2 diabetes, but its function doesn’t end there — for managing diabetes, these test results are crucial, too. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting the A1C test twice per year if you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, don’t use insulin, and your blood sugar is within the goal range that you and your doctor have set.
But if you are on insulin or your blood sugar is poorly controlled, the Mayo Clinic recommends you receive the test four times per year. A normal A1C level is below 5.7 percent, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
To help lower your A1C and reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes complications, you can follow tried-and-true diabetes management advice, like adhering to your medication regimen, practicing portion control while eating a diabetes-friendly diet, and exercising regularly.
But even if you’re meeting your blood sugar level and A1C goals, it’s important to be aware of the potential diabetes complications that may affect you should your situation change. That’s because although taking certain steps to manage diabetes well can potentially lead to reversal, for many people, diabetes remains a progressive disease. Knowing how to spot the signs of all diabetes complications, regardless of their commonality, can be crucial for getting the proper treatment.
For one, your age and ethnicity may play a role in your risk for developing these issues, research suggests. According to a study published in September 2016 in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, people diagnosed with diabetes in midlife may be more prone to complications such as vision loss and kidney disease compared with people diagnosed with the disease while they are elderly, as middle-age people have more time to develop these problems than those who are diagnosed later in life.
And a review published in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research suggested minorities may be at a greater risk for amputations.
Whether it’s signs of neuropathy, heart disease, kidney disease, or other issues, like digestive problems, skin infections, or the like, some people won't make changes until they see signs of complications caused by years of high blood sugar, Reeder-McIntosh points out. To keep that from happening, you should be aware of all the potential diabetes complications. Following are nine you may not already know.
Drinking Tea for Diabetes: Green Tea or Black Tea?
When it comes to drinking tea for diabetes, Steinbaum says benefits are tied to all teas, but that green tea is the clear winner. "For one, when you drink green tea for diabetes, you will get a higher level of polyphenols than you would get in black,” she explains. It’s the polyphenols in fruits and vegetables that give them their bright colors. So, having more color means that green tea is richer in polyphenols. “Of the black teas, the more orange the color, the higher the polyphenols,” she adds.
"Green tea is good for people with diabetes because it helps the metabolic system function better."
Suzanne Steinbaum, DO
Besides its color, green tea also contains higher polyphenol levels because it's prepared from unfermented leaves, "so it is really pure,” Steinbaum says. Black tea, on the other hand, is made from leaves that are fully fermented, which robs it of some nutrients. “Plus, some black tea varieties can have two to three times more caffeine than green, which isn’t good in excess,” she says.
Polyphenols: Beyond Drinking Tea for Diabetes
The benefits of tea are clear. But besides tea, a number of foods high in polyphenols also can help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. “The fruits highest in polyphenols are berries, grapes, apples, and pomegranates — because of their rich color,” Steinbaum says. Broccoli, onions, garlic, tomatoes, eggplant, and spinach are also good sources, as are cranberries, blood oranges, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, lemons, limes, and kiwis. “We know red wine contains resveratrol, which is a polyphenol — the highest concentration is in Bordeaux,” Steinbaum says.
While I aim for 20 or 30 minutes of daily exercise, I never miss an opportunity to sneak in extra movement throughout the day. After all, your muscles have no idea if you’re in a fancy gym or in your kitchen — as long as you’re working them, they’ll get toned!
By doing little exercises throughout the day wherever you can — in the kitchen, in your car, while you brush your teeth, or while you're sitting at your computer — you’ll keep the oxygen flowing and stretch and tone your muscles.
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You’ll also boost your metabolism: Did you know you can burn up to 500 calories per day just by fidgeting? It’s true! I like to call these little movements "fidget-cizes." They take only one minute or less and they really do work! Fidget-cizes don't replace your regular workouts, but when life gets too hectic, use these moves as a way to squeeze in a little extra fitness all day long. Here are a few of my favorites. Give them a try!
Go ahead: Turn idle time into exercise time and look for every opportunity to move your body. All of those little moments will add up to major health benefits — you’ll see!
Treatment and recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol are steps in a lifelong journey. Unfortunately, 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts and almost half of all alcoholics will eventually go through a substance abuse relapse.
If someone dear to you has been in addiction treatment, it is important for you to be able to recognize if that person is relapsing as early as possible. This way, the problem can be addressed before it spirals out of control. Just because your loved one relapses does not mean that their addiction treatment has failed, however; it just means that the current treatment regimen probably needs to be reevaluated.
Addiction Relapse: Obvious Signs
"Most of the time the signs are so obvious," says Thomas Kosten, MD, Jay H. Waggoner chair and founder of the division of substance abuse at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
According to Dr. Kosten, the following are common indicators of a drug or alcohol addiction relapse:
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Addiction Relapse: Early Indicators
There are also signals from the addict that a relapse is just around the corner, when steps can be taken to prevent the relapse or at least address it in its earliest stages. Your loved one may exhibit the following emotions and behaviors:
Addiction Relapse: Stepping in
When you suspect that your loved one has relapsed, Kosten says the best thing to do is tackle the issue head-on. He suggests that you start the conversation in the following way:
If your loved one is showing signs of an impending relapse but hasn’t yet relapsed, Kosten says that it is important to confront him first. Otherwise it is very unlikely that you are going to be able to convince him to get back into addiction treatment. Then you should encourage him to continue with treatment, talk to an addiction counselor or sponsor, and practice good self-care — that is, get enough sleep, eat well, and take steps to relieve stress.
If the addict refuses to talk with a professional or you feel that you need anaddiction expert to help you learn how to confront him, contact your local Council for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Or if you have access to the person’s doctor, addiction counselor, or sponsor, speak to that person about how you might deal with the situation.
bad habit or not nutration food is a cause of diabetes
In Figure 2 Teen e-cig users are more likely to start smoking.
30.7 percent of e-cig users started smoking within 6 months while 8.1 percent of non users started smoking. Smoking includes combustible tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, and hookahs).
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.
Thursday, April 03, 2014
The headlines appear with unnerving frequency about mass shootings somewhere in the United States -- at a movie theater, a shopping mall, a school, a sporting event. Yesterday, a shooting tragedy took place at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, the second at this site since November 2009.
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Precisely how often mass shootings have occurred depends somewhat on interpretation. The Congressional Research Service, which defines a mass shooting as one that takes place in a relatively public place and results in four or more deaths, not including the shooter, identified 78 such shootings in the United States from 1983 to early 2013. A report by researchers at Texas State University, done after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, used different parameters and identified 84 mass shootings from 2000 to 2010 by people whose main motive appears to have been mass murder.
Though the precise number of mass casualty shootings may be hard to determine, there's no disagreement that people today need to think about their safety whenever they go out in public, said Dennis Krebs, a retired captain and paramedic with the Baltimore County Fire Department and author of "When Violence Erupts, A Survival Guide for Emergency Responders" and the "Special Operations Mission Planning Field Guide."
“If you at least think about what you would do if you were confronted with such a situation, it gives you an edge,” Krebs said.
Irwin Redlener, MD, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said that people don’t need to panic or even fear going to public places to avoid mass casualty shootings. He does agree with Krebs though: In 2014, it’s worth giving some thought to how to protect yourself during a mass shooting.
What you can do if faced with a mass shooting depends greatly on the situation and your physique and physical capabilities, Dr. Redlener noted. “If you’re small and alone or with your 1-year-old or your 14-year-old, it’s going to be different,” he said. “Everything about survival guidelines is dependent on the details of the particular situation.”
However, experts in public safety do have advice on how to protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of a mass shooting.
Pay attention to your surroundings. No matter where you go, "be aware of your environment," Redlener said. "If you see something that looks suspicious or out of place, or you notice an unusual gathering of people, you can begin taking action prior to the event occurring." By being aware, you may be able to avoid the scene and not walk into trouble. “Situational awareness is something that police officers and the military are taught and trained to do,” he said. When you go to a mall or a movie, know where the nearest exits are.
Flee if you can. If you’re caught in a mass shooting, “you want to get outside of the building as quickly as you possibly can," Krebs said. A lot of people freeze, but "that's the last thing you want to do,” he said. Urge any people you're with to come with you, but don’t waste precious time trying to persuade them to get out while you can.
Irwin Redlener, MDTWEET
David Reiss, MD, a San Diego psychiatrist, said that some training in the martial arts can help prepare you to deal with your body’s natural fight-or-flight response and not be paralyzed when faced with traumatic events from which you should flee. “To be aware of that response and have some training in dealing with it can be useful without going overboard,” he said.
Leave your belongings behind. Drop whatever stuff you have with you -- packages, luggage, purse, or backpack. It will make your exit easier. Nothing is more important than your life, Krebs said. Video of the mass shooting at the Los Angeles airport in November 2013 showed people fleeing with their suitcases, but, as Krebs said, "there's nothing in that piece of Samsonite that’s worth your life."
If you can’t run, hide. “You want to be in an area that allows you to be protected from the gunman or further mischief by the armed perpetrator,” said Stephen Hargarten, MD, MPH, professor and chairman of emergency medicine and director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Lock and barricade the doors to your hiding place. In one recent mass shooting at a mall, a store clerk was able to protect some shoppers by hitting the button for a gate in front of the store, sealing everyone inside, Krebs said.
Once in hiding, be quiet. Shut off your cellphone. Instinct may tell you to keep it on and try to call for help, but a ringing phone could be dangerous if it attracts the shooter's attention, Krebs said. Call 911 for help only if and when it’s safe to do so.
Try to avoid confronting the shooter. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, taking any action against the shooter should be a last resort -- something you do only if your life is in imminent danger. But, if there's no other option, yell, act aggressively, or look around for something that might work as a weapon.
Afterwards, exit carefully. Once the shooting has stopped and you are able to leave the building, go out with your hands up. Drop whatever you are carrying. “Police may not have a description of the suspect they’re after," Krebs said, "and if you come running out the door with something in your hand, you could end up getting hurt."
Parents with young children should follow the same advice that flight attendants give passengers: Take care of yourself first because, if you don’t, you won’t be able to help your children, Dr. Hargarten said.
Before you're faced with a traumatic event, talk with your children about the best ways to handle such situations. What you say will depend on their age, but whatever you say, try not to frighten them unnecessarily. Emphasize that in an emergency situation like that, they would need to follow your directions, no questions asked. If you have to scream at your children, it could attract the attention of the shooter.
As part of your family's disaster preparedness plan, decide where to meet if you get separated in an emergency -- even if it's a place you've been many times before.
Dr. Reiss said you can’t anticipate mass casualty shootings and should not spend your days fretting over what you would do if you were caught up in one. “If you expect emergencies every moment of your day, it will ruin your life,” he said. It’s best to give it some thought but not let it overwhelm you
The active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" may help patients with tough-to-treat depression, a new study suggests.
Twenty patients received psilocybin -- the psychoactive compound in a group of mushrooms that cause hallucinations. Nineteen who completed the study showed improvement in their depression symptoms for up to five weeks after treatment, according to the researchers at Imperial College London.
None had responded to traditional depression treatment, they noted.
"We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments," said study leader Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial.
However, his team emphasized that patients with depression should not try to self-medicate with magic mushrooms. While these results are promising, the study was small and did not include a comparison group of patients who did not receive psilocybin, they noted.
Still, brain scans before and after treatment suggest psilocybin may reset the activity of brain circuits that play a role in depression.
"Several of our patients described feeling 'reset' after the treatment and often used computer analogies," Carhart-Harris reported in a college news release. One said he felt like his brain had been "defragged" like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt "rebooted," the researcher added.
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"Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick-start' they need to break out of their depressive states, and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy," Carhart-Harris said.
Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients, said study senior author David Nutt.
"But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore," said Nutt, director of neuropsychopharmacology in the division of brain sciences.
He added that a trial scheduled to start early in 2018 will test the psychedelic drug against a leading antidepressant.
For this latest study, patients received two different doses of psilocybin, one week apart.
In recent years, promising results have emerged from a number of clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics in patients with conditions such as depression and addiction.
"Psilocybin can be a promising agent for depression," said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y. "For decades, there has been suspected benefit of psychedelic agents for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders."
However, he said, the clinical trials to date have been very small, and without a placebo arm for comparison. He agreed that replication in larger studies is warranted.
The study was published Oct. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.
These new genetic discoveries may someday lead to new depression treatments.
death thoughts, and more — you might ask yourself, "Why me?" Scientists are trying to answer that question.
Researchers know from twin and family studies that genetics does play a role in depression: You don’t actually inherit depression, but you may inherit genes that predispose you to the condition. If you have a parent or sibling with major depressive disorder, you are two to three times more likely to develop depression than someone with no family history. The risk is higher if family members developed depression early in life or experienced recurrent episodes of depression.
Risk Factors for Depression Vary
Having a genetic predisposition doesn’t mean you’ll become depressed. Environmental factors are also very important, says Mary Fristad, PhD, director of research and psychological services in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Ohio State University in Columbus.
“Even if someone is ‘genetically loaded’ because they have multiple relatives with depression — and their partner is equally genetically loaded — raising a child in a calm, predictable, loving, nurturing, limit-setting household with good nutrition, plenty of exercise, adequate sleep, and participation in enjoyable activities might either prevent or delay the onset of depression,” she says.
Dr. Fristad doesn’t recommend genetic testing for depression. “The simplest and least expensive genetic test at present is to ask if anyone on either side of the family has depression,” she says.
But Chris Aiken, MD, director of the Mood Treatment Center and a clinical psychiatry instructor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, both in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says one particular type of gene has been implicated in the development of depression — information that may be helpful to some people. It’s called the serotonin transporter (SERT); serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate levels of anxiety, depression, and irritability.
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“You can have genes for either a short or long version of SERT,” says Dr. Aiken. “These genes predict whether people will get depressed in the face of stress. For people with the long-arm version of the gene, the risk of depression doesn't rise even after a major life stress, like divorce, grief, or job loss. For those with the short-arm version, the rate of depression goes up with each new stress."
“What's interesting is that people have the same rate of depression when they aren't under any stress — regardless of which version of SERT they have,” Aiken says. “It's only after major stress or childhood trauma that the two groups start to look different.”
Having the long form of the gene raises the risk of experiencing depression after stress, but you won’t automatically become depressed if you have that gene and undergo stress. Similarly, you can still get depressed with the short-arm gene after a stressful life event (i.e., having the gene is not totally protective). In a nutshell, having a particular form of the gene raises the risk of depression after stress but cannot 100 percent predict or prevent it.
According to Aiken, the short-arm SERT isn’t unique to depression: It’s also been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, fear responses, and alcoholism.
New Genetic Markers for Depression Revealed
In a study published in July 2015 in Nature, scientists reported finding two genetic markers that appear to be clearly linked to major depression. Researchers sequenced DNA from about 10,600 Chinese women, half of whom had depression. Of that half, 85 percent had a severe type of depression called melancholia, described as a gloomy, foreboding feeling that robs people of their joy. They found two genetic sequences that seemed to be linked to depression and confirmed these correlations in an additional 6,000 subjects and controls.
Norman Sussman, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Treatment Resistant Depression Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City says the results of this study help validate the fact that depression really is an illness, not a psychosomatic disorder or weakness of character.
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“I tell patients, depression is a medical disease," says Dr. Sussman. "Instead of [showing] physical symptoms (which they can also have), it primarily manifests through abnormalities in cognition and mood. You see things in a negative, hopeless way.”
The Nature findings also offer potential opportunity for treatment. Sussman says if we understand the mechanics of depression, it opens new pathways for drug development. Furthermore, says Aiken, knowing your genotype can also help you avoid wasting time with medications that are less likely to work. For example, people with short-arm SERT genes are less likely to respond to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most common type of antidepressant, but they may respond to other medications.
How You Can Prevent Depression Symptoms
There’s no medical test to diagnose depression, so health professionals rely on patients or family members to report symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic guidelines say patients should not be diagnosed with depression unless they exhibit a persistently low mood or loss of interest in activities once deemed pleasurable or enjoyable, in addition to four or more symptoms of depression.
Depression symptoms might include loss of interest in activities once deemed pleasurable or enjoyable, significant weight loss or gain, lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness, or repeated thoughts of death or suicide.
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At least 10 percent of Americans will eventually experience an incidence of major depressive disorder, the most serious type of depression. Other people have low-grade, chronic depression. “The difference is severity,” says Sussman. “People with chronic depression know they should be happier than they are.”
The important thing to keep in mind is that depression is not inevitable — even if you’re genetically predisposed — and it is treatable.
“Studies show that people whose environments are loving, nurturing, structured, physically active, and have good social networks and friendships are protective for children with genetic risks for depression,” says Aiken.
Online screening tools, such as the Depression Wellness Analyzer and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), can help you evaluate whether you may have depression. Discuss the results with your physician so you can seek treatment if appropriate.
Carolyn Jacob, MD, director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, doesn’t just treat patients with psoriasis — she manages her own. Dr. Jacob has been living with psoriasis since she was 14 years old.
Jacob’s psoriasis primarily affects her scalp and nails, both of which can be tough to hide. “I hated it when I had scalp involvement, which would show flakes on my clothing and itch constantly,” Jacob says.
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Embarrassed about her nail psoriasis, Jacob used to paint them a color that would mask her symptoms. The National Psoriasis Foundation says that about half of all people with psoriasis will have symptoms affecting the nails, which can include changes in color, thickening of the nails, separation of the nail, and the formation of pits or holes.
For healthy skin, Jacob knows she has to keep her skin clear and moisturized as much as possible. She uses CeraVe cleanser, available at many drugstores. “It adds ceramides to the skin, which help to rebalance the natural moisturizing factor in your skin,” she says. She follows that up with CeraVe lotion.
Other daily psoriasis treatment tips that Jacob offers her patients and practices herself include:
When Jacob’s psoriasis flares, she turns to a prescription Avène product called Akérat cream because it contains exfoliators and softeners to soothe the skin.
Jacob knows that psoriasis and its treatments are more than just skin deep. She sticks to a healthy, balanced diet to help keep inflammation down and her symptoms in check. She eats salmon and walnuts for the omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation and promote better heart health. Jacob also takes omega-3 supplements for an extra boost. “They are great for inflammatory conditions, especially psoriasis, and they help balance cholesterol levels and improve your skin texture,” she explains. The heart-healthy supplements can prove particularly beneficial since people with psoriasis have a 58 percent greater chance of suffering a major cardiovascular event like a heart attack, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
Stress is also a trigger for psoriasis, so Jacob tries to keep it in check, particularly by exercising. With twin toddlers and a busy schedule, she has to make time to work out. How does she fit it in? “I get up early to exercise so it is done for the day,” she says. It’s a prudent strategy that’s backed by a study from the August 2012 issue of Archives of Dermatology, which found that women who engaged in regular vigorous exercise were less likely to develop psoriasis.
Another of Jacob’s secrets: avoiding alcohol. “It makes stress worse and makes psoriasis worse,” she says. The National Psoriasis Foundation notes that alcohol can interfere with psoriasis treatments and causes side effects when combined with many psoriasis medications. Plus, alcohol can change the way you perceive and manage your stress, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Jacob’s psoriasis is now well controlled with biologic medications, and she says her skin, scalp, and nails stay pretty healthy. Her best advice? Work with your dermatologist to find the right treatment for you.
“The availability of biologic medications was life changing — to not have to deal with other messy medicines that do not work well, to not itch, and to have normal nails is wonderful,” she says. “This type of treatment makes me feel like a normal person again!”
You may know Nigel Barker as the encouraging yet truthful judge on America's Next Top Model, or as a famed fashion photographer who has shot pictures for GQ, Lucky, and Town & Country, among others — or as the author of a book about connecting with your best self, Beauty Equation.
He's fit and trim and confident, but under that chiseled frame, the now 44-year-old Barker learned a few years ago that he wasn't nearly as healthy as he'd assumed. And he never would have found out — and had the chance to turn his health around — if it weren't for a routine conversation with his insurance company.
In 2011, when Barker asked for an increase in the amount of coverage on his life insurance policy, what he thought would be a no-brainer (pay more to get more) turned out to be a rude awakening.
The company denied the additional coverage because Barker's cholesterol levels were too high.
Food, Family, and High Cholesterol
Barker was shocked: He'd been following a strict low-carb, high-protein diet for the previous two years and had toned his body in the process, which he thought would be good for his heart and health. But his high-protein diet also included saturated fat-heavy red meat, cheese, and butter, which probably contributed to his total cholesterol level of 253 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and an LDL ("bad") cholesterol level of 155 mg/dL.
"I looked great on the outside," says Barker. But inside, potentially dangerous levels of cholesterol were putting him at risk for heart problems.
The optimal level of total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL, and LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Barker's total cholesterol level put him at risk for heart disease. On the plus side, Barker's "good" HDL cholesterol was fine, at 63; anything above 60 is considered cardio-protective. Though it's important to aim for these numbers, the American Heart Association (AHA) advocates looking at a person's overall health and lifestyle as risk factors in addition to cholesterol counts.
What you eat is one of these factors, and — bonus! — the perks of a healthy meal plan can extend beyond your heart. A study published in July 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in heart-healthy foods like whole grains, olive oil, legumes, fish, and fruits and vegetables had better memories and cognition as they aged.
For Barker, even more concerning than just the numbers was his family history of heart disease: His father had his first of several heart attacks at age 45. Having a parent who had a heart attack predicts your heart disease risk more than any other single factor, according to a study published in February 2011 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
"The combination of Nigel's high LDL levels and family history was really scary," says Barker's cardiologist, Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women's heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "When you have a family history of heart disease, you really have to pay attention to your own health."
Because high cholesterol has no symptoms, it can go undiagnosed for years. And people who have a high risk of heart attack due to family history often have no signs or symptoms until they have a heart attack.
While Dr. Steinbaum encourages everyone to have their levels checked regularly, it's especially important if heart disease runs in your family.
The United Stated Preventive Services Task Force recommends getting your cholesterol levels screened at age 35 for men and 45 for women, although if you have increased risk (such as with Barker), you should be screened as early as age 20.
The AHA recommends a more aggressive screening every five years beginning at age 20, but if you have high cholesterol or other heart disease risk factors, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing.
The main priority is to understand your risk and discuss it with your doctor to determine when cholesterol testing is appropriate for you.
How Barker Lowered His Cholesterol Naturally
Steinbaum recommended that Barker first change his diet instead of immediately turn to cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower his total and LDL cholesterol levels.
RELATED: Dr. Dean Ornish Turns Back the Clock on Heart Disease
So Barker traded his low-carb, high-protein eating plan for a Mediterranean-style diet. "Before, Nigel was eating exactly what he shouldn't have been eating for his heart health," Steinbaum says. "But he made the decision to change, and stuck with it."
Within a year, Barker's total cholesterol reading dropped to a much healthier 165, and his LDL was about 100.
"He did it on his own by making healthy choices every day," says Steinbaum.
And Barker remains committed to those heart-healthy habits. "Sometimes you need the drugs," he says, "but we decided to try a little bit of common sense and discipline first."
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.”
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.”
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.
Even small skin traumas like a pimple or bug bite can leave you with complexion-busting dark spots. “This is one of the most common ailments that patients come to see me about,” explains Jeanine Downie, MD, director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey. “It’s an annoying condition that affects all skin types, but the good news is that it’s fairly easy to treat.”
Find out how Dr. Downie helps patients treat and avoid marks on their complexions.
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Jeanine Downie: Any trauma or inflammation to the skin — either from acne, pimples, bug bites, or simply a bump, cut, or scratch — disrupts the surface layers where you have melanin, responsible for skin’s color. As the skin heals, it leaves behind residual pigmentation and dark spots.
EH: Is there anything you can do to prevent it?
JD: Unfortunately, if you’re prone to these dark spots, it’s tough to prevent them. Still, picking or scratching at an irritation will further traumatize the area, so hands off! You’ll also want to be vigilant about wearing sunscreen. As your skin gets darker, so will those hyperpigmented areas — it’s not like a tan is going to even out the color. Obviously, daily sunscreen wear is a must anyway, but this is just one more reason to protect your skin from UV rays.
EH: What steps can you take to treat it?
JD: The sooner you start taking care of your wound, the better it’ll look once healed. I recommend keeping the wound covered, especially if the skin is broken, and applying a topical healing ointment.
For large cysts or cuts, you may even want to see your dermatologist for a treatment plan. Once the pimple or cut has healed, apply 2% hydroquinone cream, which is available over-the-counter, or 4% hydroquinone, available by prescription from your doctor.
If the topical creams don’t quite do the trick, talk to your dermatologist about chemical peels or laser treatments to completely eliminate more stubborn discoloration.
EH: Is hyperpigmentation more common in people with darker complexions?
JD: No matter your skin color, everyone is susceptible to hyperpigmentation. Still, those with darker complexions seem to hold on to those spots for much longer because they have more melanin in their skin. It also means those hyperpigmented areas are going to be darker and more visible as well. Pregnancy and certain medications can increase your body’s production of melanin, and lead to hyperpigmentation as well.
People with sleep apnea are at increased risk for depression, but continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy for their apnea may ease their depression, a new study suggests.
The Australian study included 293 men and women who were newly diagnosed with sleep apnea. Nearly 73 percent had depression when the study began. The worse their apnea, the more severe their depression.
However, after three months, only 4 percent of the 228 apnea patients who used CPAP for an average of at least five hours a night still had clinically significant symptoms of depression.
At the start of the study, 41 patients reported thinking about harming themselves or feeling they would be better off dead. After three months of CPAP therapy, none of them had persistent suicidal thoughts.
The study appears in the September issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
"Effective treatment of obstructive sleep apnea resulted in substantial improvement in depressive symptoms," including suicidal thoughts, senior study author Dr. David Hillman said in a journal news release. Hillman is a clinical professor at the University of Western Australia and a sleep physician at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth.
RELATED: 6 Things People With Sleep Apnea Wish You Knew
"The findings highlight the potential for sleep apnea, a notoriously underdiagnosed condition, to be misdiagnosed as depression," he added.
People with symptoms of depression should be screened for sleep apnea by being asked about symptoms such as snoring, breathing pauses while sleeping, disrupted sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness, the researchers said.
Sleep apnea affects at least 25 million American adults. Untreated sleep apnea increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and depression, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
A new study sheds light -- literally -- on a potential means of easing migraine pain.
Researchers in Boston exposed 69 migraine patients to different colors of light. They found that while blue light exacerbated headache pain, a narrow spectrum of low-intensity green light significantly reduced light sensitivity.
In some cases, this green light also reduced migraine pain by about 20 percent, the researchers found.
They noted that migraine headache affects nearly 15 percent of people worldwide, and a frequent symptom of migraine is light sensitivity, also known as photophobia.
"Although photophobia is not usually as incapacitating as headache pain itself, the inability to endure light can be disabling," study author Rami Burstein, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said in a medical center news release.
RELATED: Home Remedies for Headache Treatment
"More than 80 percent of migraine attacks are associated with and exacerbated by light sensitivity, leading many migraine sufferers to seek the comfort of darkness and isolate themselves from work, family and everyday activities," he added. Burstein directs the medical center's Comprehensive Headache Center.
Two experts said the treatment may have merit.
"Certainly Dr. Burstein's work suggests that more research should be done, as this is a potentially beneficial new avenue for treatment," said Dr. Noah Rosen, who directs Northwell Health's Headache Center in Great Neck, N.Y.
He pointed out that "light therapy has been used successfully in other conditions such as certain dermatologic issues and seasonal affective disorder [SAD]."
Dr. Gayatri Devi is a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
He said the success in some patients with light therapy "implicates the thalamus -- a brain 'relay station' between the sensory organs, including the eyes and the cortex of the brain -- as the area where migraine-related photophobia is amplified."
For his part, Burstein said he's now trying to develop an affordable light bulb that emits narrow-band green light at low intensity, as well as sunglasses that block all but the narrow band of green light.
Rosen stressed, however, that more study may still be needed.
"In general, it seems a safe treatment but one that is limited by cost, access and whether its use on a regular basis would decrease disability," he said.
The findings were published May 17 in the journal Brain.
More Americans are surviving cancer than ever before, but as the population ages, even more will develop the disease.
That's the good and bad news from the 2017 Cancer Progress Report from the American Association for Cancer Research, released Wednesday.
According to the report, the cancer death rate dropped 35 percent among children and 25 percent among adults from 1991 to 2014. That translates to slightly more than 2 million fewer cancer deaths.
On the flip side, new cancer diagnoses are predicted to rise from nearly 1.7 million this year to 2.3 million in 2030, said the association's president, Dr. Michael Caligiuri.
And this year alone, more than 600,000 Americans are predicted to die from cancer, according to the report.
Caligiuri said the increase in cancer cases is simply a consequence of more people living longer. As the report noted, 53 percent of U.S. cancer diagnoses occur among those aged 65 and older, and that population segment is expected to grow from about 49 million in 2016 to just over 74 million in 2030.
"The longer people live, the higher the incidences of cancer are going to be," Caligiuri said.
"The longer you live, the more likely are the chances for serious genetic mutations that cause cancer, and the weaker your system is in repairing your DNA when you do have those genetic changes," he explained.
Dr. Anthony D'Amico is a professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. He said, "The most likely explanation for the progress in cancer survival is a combination of advances in cancer treatment coupled with early detection through screening."
The AACR report noted that death rates for many of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States -- including breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancer -- have been declining for more than a decade. But deaths from other forms of cancer -- brain, liver and uterine cancer -- have been increasing.
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And progress has not benefited every American equally, the researchers noted. Disparities in cancer care continue between whites and blacks, the insured and uninsured, the poor and the elderly.
But there is progress in treatment. Between August 2016 and July 2017, nine new anticancer drugs were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the report said. In addition, the FDA approved the use of eight existing drugs for fighting new cancers.
Two of the new drugs are immunotherapeutics, called checkpoint inhibitors. These treatments increase survival and improve the quality of life for patients with many types of cancer.
Progress was also seen in drugs that target specific cancer molecules. In fact, seven of the new drugs do just that, the researchers said.
The FDA also approved a new optical imaging agent to help doctors see brain tumors and more accurately guide their removal.
The keys to more progress in preventing and curing cancer include basic science to understand the biology of cancers, Caligiuri said, then making those findings relevant to cancer treatment through animal and early human trials. Next comes testing on many people to see how safe and effective these new treatments are, he added.
In addition, more studies are needed to better understand the risks for cancer and to develop ways to lower those risks. These include lifestyle changes -- such as not smoking, eating a healthy diet and exercising -- and screening to detect cancer early.
On the cancer prevention side, cigarette smoking declined by nearly 39 percent from 2000 to 2015, which should mean fewer cases of lung cancer in the future, the report said.
The researchers also said that, in the future, nearly all cases of cervical cancer and many cases of oral and anal cancer could be prevented if girls and boys received the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
Yet, only 63 percent of girls and fewer than 50 percent of boys had received at least one dose of HPV vaccine in 2015, the study reported.
According to D'Amico, "There is still a lot more to do, but we are going in the right direction in terms of discovery, screening and biology."
Cancer is not an inexpensive disease. Direct medical costs in 2014 were nearly $88 billion, the report said. This does not include the indirect costs, such as lost productivity from cancer-related care and death.
Yet the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) received only $30 billion in funding for 2014, Caligiuri said. And of that total, only about $5 billion went to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
Not surprisingly, Caligiuri believes that both the NIH and the FDA need more money to spend on cancer research and treatment if further progress in the fight against cancer is going to happen.
"The limiting step for more progress against this beast called cancer is funding," Caligiuri said. "The data clearly show that when we have the funding, we can make phenomenal progress."
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.
Exposure therapy isn’t just a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s also used to treat anxiety, depression, phobias, and more.
If you’ve experienced a traumatic, life-altering event, you might be surprised to learn that one treatment for such trauma — exposure therapy — involves repeatedly reliving the terrible event.
Sounds more harmful than helpful, right? But people who experience their fears over and over again — with the help of a therapist in exposure therapy — can actually learn to control those fears.
The technique is used to treat a growing list of health conditions that include anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive behaviors, long-standing grief, and even depression.
How Exposure Therapy Works
Exposure therapy can seem similar to desensitization. People with PTSD, including combat veterans and rape and assault survivors, may experience nightmares and flashbacks that bring the traumatic event back.
They may also avoid situations that can trigger similar memories and may become upset, tense, or have problems sleeping after the trauma.
Edna B. Foa, PhD, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, explains exposure therapy for PTSD to her patients this way: "We are going to help you talk about the trauma so that you can process and digest it, and make it finished business."
While you won't forget about the trauma entirely, she tells them, ''It’s not going to haunt you all the time."
Dr. Foa reassures her patients that they won't be exposed to dangerous situations. She also tells them, "You are going to find out that you are stronger than you think."
Although exposure therapy is considered a short-term treatment — 8 to 12 sessions is common — people with more severe conditions (and those with obsessive-compulsive behaviors) may need more time.
Exposure Therapy Works for Many Conditions
For PTSD, says Matthew Friedman, MD, PhD, senior adviser for the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD, and professor of psychiatry, pharmacology, and toxicology at Dartmouth College's Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, New Hampshire, "It’s one of the best treatments we have.” A 2007 report from the Institute of Medicine also found the technique to be effective for PTSD.
Foa published a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology that showed a reduction in depression and PTSD symptoms in female survivors of assault after 9 to 12 sessions.
And a 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry found that adding exposure therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was more effective at relieving long-standing grief than CBT plus supportive counseling.
Effective, But Different, as a Depression Treatment
While research is still ongoing, some experts believe exposure therapy can be helpful for serious depression, too. Depression and PTSD share common features, like flashbacks and memory flooding, says Adele Hayes, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Delaware in Newark. But there are some important differences, too.
“With depression, it's not necessarily a trauma, but a whole store of memories associated with being a failure, worthless, and defective," she says. A depressed person’s encounter with a rude clerk at a store may trigger thoughts that seem to back up their fears: that no one likes them, that they are worthless, and so on.
RELATED: 6 Life-Changing Tips From People Living with Depression
In 20 to 24 sessions of exposure therapy, Hayes persuades her patients with depression to reexamine the events that trigger their ''worthless'' messages. Then she asks them to see if they can reinterpret them in a more positive light. Next, she helps them build up what she calls the ''positive emotion system."
But some people with depression may be fearful of having positive emotions, she says. Paradoxically, if they start to have hope, they may begin to fear that things may fall apart again and get more depressed.
Getting Started With Exposure Therapy
"The first few sessions are distressing," says Foa, but the distress of exposure therapy usually lasts for only three or four weeks. Plus, patients usually work their way up to scarier situations by first tackling challenges that are somewhat less scary. For instance, someone with a social phobia or fear of public places may be advised to go to a supermarket during a time when it’s not busy. After that, they may visit the store when it’s more crowded. At first, it's natural to feel upset, Foa says. But "if you stay long enough, the anxiety will go down," she says. "In the beginning, you’re afraid you won't be able to tolerate it, but in the end, you’re a winner."
Homework is an important part of exposure therapy, so you’ll also do exercises outside of your sessions, Dr. Friedman says. This could include listening to a recording of your account of the trauma or performing a task that could trigger memories of the event. At your next visit, you’d talk through your experiences with your therapist.
Before you begin exposure therapy, make sure to get a clear explanation of what to expect from the therapist you’re working with.
To find an exposure therapy specialist, start by asking your family doctor for a referral, or contact organizations like the American Psychological Association or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies that can help you locate one. Veterans can contact their local VA clinic for more information.
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.
Having a strong sense of purpose in life may not guarantee happiness, but research shows it could promote good health and longevity.
“There’s no formal definition of having a purpose in life, but the consensus is that it’s a sense of meaning and feeling that life is worth living,” says preventive cardiologist Randy Cohen, MD, medical director of University Medical Practice Associates at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
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Reviewing data from ten studies involving 136,000 men and women, Dr. Cohen and his colleagues found that people with a low sense of purpose, as measured by psychological surveys, were more likely to have a stroke, heart attack, or coronary artery disease requiring a stent or bypass surgery.
Individuals with a high sense of purpose had a lower risk of developing the same conditions. “We found a 23 percent reduction in mortality and a 19 percent reduction in cardiovascular events among those people,” Cohen says. That puts living purposefully on a par with other protective things people do, like engaging in exercise.
“What was so remarkable was that regardless of the country where the study was conducted, regardless of how purpose in life was defined, the effect was consistent,” says Cohen, whose findings were published this month inPsychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.
A 2014 study published in The Lancet found that people over age 65 who had a higher personal sense of purpose and well-being were more likely to live longer. Among 9,000 people followed over an 8 ½-year period, 9 percent of those in the highest well-being category died as compared to 29 percent in the lowest category.
The benefits of living purposefully may not be limited to heart health. Research conducted at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests a strong sense of purpose can protect the brain.
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“Purpose somehow gives your brain resilience,” says Patricia A. Boyle, PhD, a neuropsychologist with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “It makes your brain stronger and more resistant to the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s.”
Participants in the Rush Memory and Aging Project agree to yearly testing and organ donation so that brain tissue can be examined after death. According to four studies published by the research team, subjects who scored higher on the purpose scale were:
What it is about a strong sense of purpose that benefits the mind and body is not entirely understood.
Evidence suggests that people who believe their lives have meaning take better care of their health. Psychologists at the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin found that the higher men and women scored on a purpose scale, the more likely they were to have routine screenings, such as a colonoscopy, mammogram, prostate exam, Pap smear, and cholesterol test. Higher scores on the purpose scale also translated to fewer days in the hospital.
Dr. Boyle believes a purposeful life has physiologic effects. “There is some evidence that purpose in life protects the brain against the negative effects of stress,” she says. Studies associate a stronger sense of purpose with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which affects a variety of body systems.
The question then is: “If someone has a low sense of purpose, are there concrete steps we can recommend to improve that?" asks Cohen.
Mary Jo Kreitzer, RN, PhD, founder and director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, believes the answer is “yes.” She discusses these steps in workshops and on the university’s website.
Dr. Kreitzer says reflecting on what your individual talents and gifts are is the best place to begin. Next, she says, look at the needs of the world, starting with your loved ones and community: “Ask yourself, ‘Given my unique gifts and talents, how can I make a difference?’”
Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, found that cultures that live longer typically share certain things in common: healthy diet, active lifestyle, and sense of purpose. One of the blue zones Buettner writes about is Okinawa, Japan.
“In the Okinawan language, there is not even a word for retirement,” Buettner said in a speech at a 2010 TED conference. “Instead, there is one word that imbues your entire life, and that word is ‘ikigai.’ And, roughly translated, it means ‘the reason for which you wake up in the morning.’”