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.

 

Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public

Overview

What is hepatitis?

“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

What is the difference between Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis AHepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.”

Acute Hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.

Chronic Hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.

 

Statistics

How common is acute Hepatitis C in the United States?

In 2014, there were an estimated 30,500 cases of acute hepatitis C virus infections reported in the United States.

How common is chronic Hepatitis C in the United States?

An estimated 2.7-3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.

How likely is it that acute Hepatitis C will become chronic?

Approximately 75%–85% of people who become infected with Hepatitis C virus develop chronic infection.

Transmission / Exposure

How is Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

 

People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus during such activities as

  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
  • Needlestick injuries in health care settings
  • Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C

Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through

  • Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Having sexual contact with a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus

Can Hepatitis C be spread through sexual contact?

Yes, but the risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed to be low. The risk increases for those who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV. More research is needed to better understand how and when Hepatitis C can be spread through sexual contact.

Can you get Hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?

A few major research studies have not shown Hepatitis C to be spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. However, transmission of Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. Body art is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and other informal or unregulated settings. Further research is needed to determine if these types of settings and exposures are responsible for Hepatitis C virus transmission.

Can Hepatitis C be spread within a household?

Yes, but this does not occur very often. If Hepatitis C virus is spread within a household, it is most likely a result of direct, through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an infected household member.

How should blood spills be cleaned from surfaces to make sure that Hepatitis C virus is gone?

Any blood spills — including dried blood, which can still be infectious — should be cleaned using a dilution of one part household bleach to 10 parts water. Gloves should be worn when cleaning up blood spills.

How long does the Hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?

The Hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature, on environmental surfaces, for up to 3 weeks.

What are ways Hepatitis C is not spread?

Hepatitis C virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. It is also not spread through food or water.

Who is at risk for Hepatitis C?

Some people are at increased risk for Hepatitis C, including:

  • Current injection drug users (currently the most common way Hepatitis C virus is spread in the United States)
  • Past injection drug users, including those who injected only one time or many years ago
  • Recipients of donated blood, blood products, and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
  • People who received a blood product for clotting problems made before 1987
  • Hemodialysis patients or persons who spent many years on dialysis for kidney failure
  • People who received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments
  • People with known exposures to the Hepatitis C virus, such as
    • Health care workers injured by needlesticks
    • Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus
  • HIV-infected persons
  • Children born to mothers infected with the Hepatitis C virus

Less common risks include:

  • Having sexual contact with a person who is infected with the Hepatitis C virus
  • Sharing personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes, that may have come in contact with the blood of an infected person

What is the risk of a pregnant woman passing Hepatitis C to her baby?

Hepatitis C is rarely passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. About 6 of every 100 infants born to mothers with Hepatitis C become infected with the virus. However, the risk becomes greater if the mother has both HIV infection and Hepatitis C.

Can a person get Hepatitis C from a mosquito or other insect bite?

Hepatitis C virus has not been shown to be transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects.

Can I donate blood, organs, or semen if I have Hepatitis C?

No, if you ever tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus (or Hepatitis B virus), experts recommend never donating blood, organs, or semen because this can spread the infection to the recipient.

 

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis C?

Approximately 70%–80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected, including:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)

How soon after exposure to Hepatitis C do symptoms appear?

If symptoms occur, the average time is 6–7 weeks after exposure, but this can range from 2 weeks to 6 months. However, many people infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not develop symptoms.

Can a person spread Hepatitis C without having symptoms?

Yes, even if a person with Hepatitis C has no symptoms, he or she can still spread the virus to others.

Is it possible to have Hepatitis C and not know it?

Yes, many people who are infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not know they are infected because they do not look or feel sick.

What are the symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C?

Most people with chronic Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. However, if a person has been infected for many years, his or her liver may be damaged. In many cases, there are no symptoms of the disease until liver problems have developed. In persons without symptoms, Hepatitis C is often detected during routine blood tests to measure liver function and liver enzyme (protein produced by the liver) level.

How serious is chronic Hepatitis C?

Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. It is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Approximately 19,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C related liver disease.

What are the long-term effects of Hepatitis C?

Of every 100 people infected with the Hepatitis C virus, about

  • 75–85 people will develop chronic Hepatitis C virus infection; of those,
    • 60–70 people will go on to develop chronic liver disease
    • 5–20 people will go on to develop cirrhosis over a period of 20–30 years
    • 1–5 people will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer

Tests

Can a person have normal liver enzyme (e.g., ALT) results and still have Hepatitis C?

Yes. It is common for persons with chronic Hepatitis C to have a liver enzyme level that goes up and down, with periodic returns to normal or near normal. Some infected persons have liver enzyme levels that are normal for over a year even though they have chronic liver disease. If the liver enzyme level is normal, persons should have their enzyme level re-checked several times over a 6–12 month period. If the liver enzyme level remains normal, the doctor may check it less frequently, such as once a year.

Who should get tested for Hepatitis C?

Talk to your doctor about being tested for Hepatitis C if any of the following are true:

  • You were born from 1945 through 1965
  • You are a current or former injection drug user, even if you injected only one time or many years ago.
  • You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
  • You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
  • You are on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
  • You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
  • You work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needlestick or other sharp object injury.
  • You are infected with HIV.

If you are pregnant, should you be tested for Hepatitis C?

No, getting tested for Hepatitis C is not part of routine prenatal care. However, if a pregnant woman has risk factors for Hepatitis C virus infection, she should speak with her doctor about getting tested.

What blood tests are used to test for Hepatitis C?

Several different blood tests are used to test for Hepatitis C. A doctor may order just one or a combination of these tests. Typically, a person will first get a screening test that will show whether he or she has developed antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus. (An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus.) Having a positive antibody test means that a person was exposed to the virus at some time in his or her life. If the antibody test is positive, a doctor will most likely order a second test to confirm whether the virus is still present in the person's bloodstream.

Treatment

Can acute Hepatitis C be treated?

Yes, acute hepatitis C can be treated. Acute infection can clear on its own without treatment in about 25% of people. If acute hepatitis C is diagnosed, treatment does reduce the risk that acute hepatitis C will become a chronic infection. Acute hepatitis C is treated with the same medications used to treat chronic Hepatitis C. However, the optimal treatment and when it should be started remains uncertain.

Can chronic Hepatitis C be treated?

Yes. There are several medications available to treat chronic Hepatitis C, including new treatments that appear to be more effective and have fewer side effects than previous options. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a complete list of approved treatments for Hepatitis C.

Is it possible to get over Hepatitis C?

Yes, approximately 15%–25% of people who get Hepatitis C will clear the virus from their bodies without treatment and will not develop chronic infection. Experts do not fully understand why this happens for some people.

What can a person with chronic Hepatitis C do to take care of his or her liver?

People with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly by an experienced doctor. They should avoid alcohol because it can cause additional liver damage. They also should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, as these can potentially damage the liver. If liver damage is present, a person should check with his or her doctor about getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Vaccination

Is there a vaccine that can prevent Hepatitis C?

Not yet. Vaccines are available only for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Research into the development of a vaccine is under way.

Hepatitis C and Employment

Should a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus be restricted from working in certain jobs or settings?

CDC's recommendations for prevention and control of the Hepatitis C virus infection state that people should not be excluded from work, school, play, child care, or other settings because they have Hepatitis C. There is no evidence that people can get Hepatitis C from food handlers, teachers, or other service providers without blood-to-blood contact.

Hepatitis C and Co-infection with HIV

What is HIV and Hepatitis C virus coinfection?

HIV and Hepatitis C virus coinfection refers to being infected with both HIV and the Hepatitis C virus. Coinfection is more common in persons who inject drugs. In fact, 50%–90% of HIV-infected persons who use injection drugs are also infected with the Hepatitis C virus. To learn more about coinfection, visithttp://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/hepatitis.htm.

11 Struggles Every New Runner Understands

I've never been one of those people. You know the kind, the ones who wake up in the morning or lace up in the evening and "go for a run."

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I've always been envious of my roommates, who can sneak in a jog with ease and carry on with their day, as if they had done something casually simple like taking the trash out. So, I made a vow to give running another chance. After all, the exercise has been shown to make you happier, reduce your risk for disease and even increase longevity.

While group classes and long walks will probably always be more my speed, I did find that I was enjoying running more than I ever did in the past. However, that doesn't come without a few hiccups. Below are a handful of struggles all new runners can probably relate to.

Getting winded in the first few minutes.

Probably one of the most discouraging elements of getting into a running routine is realizing that you're not as in shape as you thought you were. I continuously find myself doing more walking or jogging than actual running. But just because you need those intermittent breaks doesn't mean you aren't a runner. In fact, research shows that walking intervals during your run can help you maintain your overall pace.

Two words: Sore. Muscles.

The second-day pain is real. If you're experiencing those achy muscles, try one of these post-run remedies. Just make sure you're checking in with your body as you establish your routine. A little soreness is OK, but if the pain is more intense you may have sustained a running-related injury.

 

 

Feeling overwhelmed by the copious amount of races.

Color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, princess half marathons... the list is seriously endless. However, there are some perks to picking a race. Signing up for one helps you set a goal as you get into a routine, plus there's an opportunity to turn it into a social event by participating with your friends.

If your goal is to become a marathon runner (and props to you!), there are also some benefits there: Research shows consistent long-distance running can improve cardiovascular health and lower the risk for other organ disorders, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The jolting agony of waking up at 6 a.m.

My sleepy brain is constantly telling me my bed feels better than running (and often, the bed wins). If you need a little extra motivation, try one of these hacks to help you jumpstart your morning workout.

The boredom.

Part of the reason I never got into a routine in the first place was because the exercise itself seemed extremely dull to me (the treadmill is my arch-nemesis). Once I discovered more running-path options, I started to have more fun. However, that's not to say that I don't get a little bored sometimes — and that's OK.

Note: If you still just can't get excited by the process most of the time, you may want to try a more entertaining workout option instead. Exercise should be engaging, not mind-numbing.

Trying to find your perfect route.

Finding your favorite place to run is like finding a good apartment: It feels elusive until one day you hit the lottery. Whether you're into lush scenery or a skyline, it's important to find the routes that work for you in order to make the exercise entertaining.

The joy of picking out new workout clothes.

Sleek tanks! Compression pants! Neon shoes!

Running toward (multiple) "finish lines."

If you've ever uttered to yourself just one more pole, you're not alone. In fact, picking out an arbitrary finish line on your run can improve your performance. Research shows those who stare at a target in the distance go faster and feel less exertion than those who don't concentrate on anything, The Atlantic reported.

 

 

Bargaining with yourself on your run.

If you run five more blocks, you can binge-watch Scandal when you get home, I tell myself. Chances are I'd probably do it anyway — but at least it encourages me in the moment.

Creating a playlist that will consistently keep you motivated.

No, a simple music-streaming app won't do when your lungs are on fire and your legs feel weak. You need that one specific song that will inspire you to keep going (shout out to all my Shake It Off comrades). If you're looking for a playlist to spice up your run, check out some of these.

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.”

What You Need to Know About Hyperpigmentation

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.

Everyday Health: What causes hyperpigmentation?

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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.

6 Ways to Prep Your Skin for Summer

Scheduling vacation plans and buying a new swimsuit will mentally prepare you for summer, but your skin may need some help getting ready, too. For gorgeous, smooth skin you'll feel ready to bare, you need to take a few simple steps. Try this head-to-toe refresher to take your skin out of hibernation.

1. Reveal Glowing Skin

Regular exfoliation can be a part of a healthy skin regimen no matter the season; as long as your skin is not sensitive, exfoliation can help you achieve smooth, healthy-looking skin that makes you look more glowing and youthful. “But it must be done with care,” says Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “The goal is to lift off the outer layer of skin cells that are ready to be sloughed off without stripping the skin.”

 

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Brushes, polishing cloths, and scrubs offer easy ways to smooth away rough spots. Rotating cleansing brushes work by physically buffing off the dead skin cells. Exfoliating cloths, microdermabrasion kits, and scrubs with granular ingredients also operate the same way. “For the body, look for a scrub that contains coarse particles that dissolve over time, like sugar, so you don’t irritate the skin,” says Dr. Day.

Products that chemically exfoliate the skin contain ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic, or polyhydroxy acids that cause the skin to shed its outer layer and reveal the newer layer.

2. Remove Hair Without Irritation

If your summer forecast calls for sunny days at the beach or poolside, you may be putting some effort into removing unwanted hair. But once you rip off the wax strip, it’s also important to care for the skin that’s newly exposed to the elements.

Give your skin some time to recover before rolling out your beach towel or getting active outdoors. “I advise clients to stay out of the sun or heat for at least 48 hours after any hair-removal process,” says Cindy Barshop, owner of Completely Bare spas. “Follicles are vulnerable to irritation, and skin may be sensitive due to any heat or friction from lasers, waxing, or shaving.”

Since most of us don’t plan our hair removal that far in advance, buffer your tender skin with an oil-free sunscreen, wait for it to dry (about 5 minutes), and dust on some talc-free baby powder, says Barshop. To prevent ingrown hairs, it’s helpful to wear loose-fitting clothing and use an after-waxing product that contains glycolic and salicylic acids, which team up to prevent dead skin cells from causing bothersome bumps.

 

 

3. Fight UV Rays With Food

All the work you put into making your skin look good won’t be worth it unless you guard it from the sun’s damaging rays, which are strongest during the summer. Surprisingly, you can protect yourself from the inside, too. “In addition to usingsunscreen, eat cooked tomatoes every day if you know you’re going to be in the sun,” says Jessica Wu, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC Medical School. According to research, cooked tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that helps fight the effects of UV rays such as redness, swelling, and blistering from sunburn. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, you may benefit from consuming tomato sauce, grilled tomatoes, or even Bloody Marys. “This doesn’t replace sunscreen, but the habit could give you additional protection if you can’t reach your back and miss a spot,” Dr. Wu adds.

4. Clear Up Body Breakouts

It’s no better to have acne on your body than on the face, especially in the heat, when hiding and covering up isn’t an option. The approach to treating acne on the back, chest, and elsewhere on the body is the same as treating facial acne: “Exfoliate regularly, don’t pick, and treat with effective ingredients,” says Day.

Washing with products that contain salicylic acid helps slough off the dead skin cells; a treatment product with micronized benzoyl peroxide can also help by penetrating the skin and killing off the bacteria that cause acne.

If your skin is sensitive, investing in an acne-treating blue light tool may be worth the cost. “You simply wave the light wand over skin for five minutes daily and it helps kill bacteria,” says Leslie Baumann, MD, a dermatologist in Miami. If you have severe body acne, see a dermatologist.

5. Erase Cellulite

First, the good news: Some products may be able to smooth out the undesirable dimples and unevenness of cellulite. The bad news: They won’t get rid of cellulite forever. The smoothing and toning effect, like many good things in life, is fleeting. Still, it may be worth slathering on a toning body lotion to make your skin look and feel tighter for a day at the beach or a special event.

“Products that contain caffeine and theophylline temporarily dehydrate fat cells,” says Dr. Baumann. “However, it’s the massage and the application of the cream that does the work.” The best course of action long-term is to exercise regularly, coupled with targeted massage, suggests Baumann.

Another way to hide cellulite is to apply a fake tan. Take advantage of the newest self-tanners, which have come a long way from the strong-smelling streaky creams or sprays of yesteryear. “There has been so much progress in the formulations — the colors are natural, there’s no streaking, and the scent is so much better,” says Day.

6. Treat Your Feet

If you’ve stuffed your feet inside boots all winter, they probably could use a little TLC for sandal weather. Jump-start your program with a salon pedicure, or if you’re short on time, you can heed Day’s DIY tip, which will help soften feet while you sleep. First, remove thicker skin with a foot file. Apply a rich emollient cream or ointment, then cover the feet in plastic wrap and cotton socks. Leave on overnight. Repeat every day until you achieve smooth skin, then once a week to maintain soft skin.

7 Healthy Habits of the 2016 Presidential Candidates

The New Hampshire primary's in full swing, and if there’s one thing all the presidential hopefuls can agree on, it’s that running for office is the ultimate endurance challenge. They’re canvassing across the country with little time to exercise or sleep, and it doesn’t help that at every stop they’re tempted by unhealthy foods like pizza, pork chops, and pies. So how do the presidential candidates stay healthy and keep their energy levels up during the grueling primary season? Read on to find out!

What Is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an illness that can result in muscle weakness or loss of muscle function in parts of the body.

In people with Guillain-Barré syndrome (pronounced GHEE-yan ba-RAY), the body's own immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.

The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the limbs. These nerves help control muscle movement.

GBS Prevalence

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 or 2 out of every 100,000 people develop GBS each year in the United States.

Anyone can get GBS, but the condition is more common in adults than in children, and more men than women are diagnosed with GBS each year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Doctors don't know what causes Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Many people with GBS report a bacterial or viral infection (such as the flu) days or weeks before GBS symptoms start.

Less common triggers for GBS may include:

  • Immunizations
  • Surgery
  • Trauma

Guillain-Barré syndrome is not contagious — it cannot spread from one person to another.

Types of GBS

There are several types of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which are characterized by what part of the nerve cell is damaged.

The most common type of GBS is called acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP).

In AIDP, the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective nerve covering that helps transmit nerve signals from the brain to other parts of the body.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome Symptoms

The first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome often include feelings of tingling or weakness in the feet and legs. These feelings may spread to the arms and face.

The chest muscles can also be affected. Up to a quarter of people with GBS experience problems breathing.

In very severe cases, people with GBS may lose all muscle function and movement, becoming temporarily paralyzed.

Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome may include:

  • Pricking or tingling "pins and needles" sensations in the fingers, toes, ankles, or wrists
  • Muscle weakness that starts in the legs and spreads to the upper body
  • Unsteady walking
  • Difficulty with eye or facial movements (blinking, chewing, speaking)
  • Difficulty controlling the bowels or bladder
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

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It's unclear what causes binge eating disorder.

Like other eating disorders, BED is probably caused by a combination of genetic, psychological, and social factors.

Some risk factors for binge eating disorder include:

  • A history of anxiety or depression
  • A history of dieting (especially in unhealthy ways, such as skipping meals or not eating enough food each day)
  • Painful childhood experiences, such as family problems

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder have frequent bingeing episodes, typically at least once a week over the course of three months or more.

Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you're not feeling hungry
  • Eating alone, because you feel embarrassed about how much you're eating
  • Feeling extremely disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating

Some people also display behavioral, emotional, or physical characteristics, such as:

  • Secretive food behaviors, including hoarding, hiding, or stealing food
  • Feelings of anger, anxiety, worthlessness, or shame preceding a binge
  • Feeling disgusted with your body size
  • A strong need to be in control, or perfectionist tendencies

Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

If you have binge eating disorder, you should seek help from a specialist in eating disorders, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

There are several treatments available for BED. Treatment options may include:

 

10 Varicose Veins Myths

If you have ropy, blue blood vessels in your legs, you may think that they’re unsightly but don't cause any overt symptoms. Yet for some people, varicose veins can cause skin damage and, even worse, lead to dangerous blood clots.

They’re incredibly common: Varicose veins affect about one in four U.S. adults, or about 22 million women and 11 million men between ages 40 and 80.

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Your leg veins face an uphill battle as they carry blood from your toes to your heart. Small flaps, or valves, within these vessels prevent blood from getting backed up on this journey, and the pumping action of your leg muscles helps push the blood along. 

But if these valves weaken, blood can pool — primarily in the veins of your legs — increasing pressure in the veins. As a result of this increased pressure, your body tries to widen the veins to compensate, causing them to bulge and thicken, and leading to the characteristic twisted appearance of varicose veins.

 

 

To help you learn the facts about these enlarged veins, we've set the record straight on 10 sometimes confusing pieces of information, including who gets varicose veins and why, health problems they can cause, and treatment options.

Myth 1: Varicose Veins Are Only a Cosmetic Issue

“A lot of people are told by primary care doctors or others that varicose veins are a cosmetic issue only, when oftentimes they can be much more than that,” saysKathleen D. Gibson, MD, a vascular surgeon practicing in Bellevue, Washington.

“A significant percentage of patients with varicose veins will eventually develop symptoms,” says Pablo Sung Yup Kim, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. “The most common include dull achiness, heaviness, throbbing, cramping, and swelling of the legs.” Other symptoms include severe dryness and itchiness of the skin near varicose veins. People with varicose veins are also at an increased risk for a dangerous type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis.

Other not-so-common signs and symptoms, found in less than 10 percent of patients, include bleeding, skin discoloration, skin thickening, and ulcer formation — all due to varicose veins, says Kim. Unfortunately, once you have skin damage, it’s usually permanent.

“It’s very important to seek medical advice if you have varicose veins and experience symptoms — before changes in the skin are irreversible,” he says.

Myth 2: Varicose Veins Are an Inevitable Sign of Aging

Aging definitely worsens varicose veins, though not everyone gets them. “It's a degenerative process that gets worse and more prominent as we age,” says Dr. Gibson. But young people can get varicose veins, too. While the average age of patients treated in Gibson’s practice is 52, she and her colleagues have treated patients as young as 13.

If you've got varicose veins, it may run in your family. “The cause of varicose veins is primarily genetic,” Gibson explains.

Changes in hormone levels also come into play as a risk factor for varicose veins. “Your risk can be made worse, especially by pregnancy,” she adds.

Myth 3: Varicose Veins Are Strictly a Women’s Issue

While varicose veins are more common in women, men get them, too. About one-quarter of adult women have some visible varicose veins, compared to 10 to 15 percent of men.

Steve Hahn, 51, of Kirkland, Washington, first noticed in his twenties that he had varicose veins in his left leg after he sprained his ankle playing basketball. When he injured his knee about 10 years ago, he noticed that the varicose veins had become more extensive.

“After about five years of thinking about it, I finally had them treated,” he says. “Both of my legs felt very heavy all of the time at this point, as opposed to just after walking a golf course or playing tennis or basketball.”

After treatment, Hahn says, “I feel like I have new legs.” The heaviness is gone, as is the ankle swelling, which he didn't know was related to the varicose veins. And as a side benefit, he adds, he looks better in shorts.

Myth 4: Running Can Cause Varicose Veins

Exercise — including running — is usually a good thing for your veins. “Exercise is always good for the circulation,” Kim says. “Walking or running can lead to more calf-muscle pumping and more blood returning to the heart.”

“Being a runner doesn’t cause varicose veins,” adds Gibson, though there's controversy about whether exercise makes them worse or not.” Compression stockings can help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs during exercise. “For patients who haven't had their varicose veins treated and are running, I recommend compression. When you’re done running and are cooling off, elevate your legs,” she says.

Myth 5: Varicose Veins Are Always Visible

While the varicose veins you notice are right at the surface of the skin, they occur deeper in the body, too, where you can't see them. “It really depends on the makeup of the leg,” Gibson says. “If you've got a lot of fatty tissue between the muscle and the skin, you may not see them. Sometimes surface veins are the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot going on underneath.”

Myth 6: Standing on the Job Causes Varicose Veins

If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet a lot — as a teacher or flight attendant, for example — you may be more bothered by varicose veins. But the jury's still out on whether prolonged standing actually causes varicose veins. “People tend to notice their varicose vein symptoms more when they’re standing or sitting,” Gibson explains.

RELATED: Steer Clear of These 9 Artery and Vein Diseases

Myth 7: Making Lifestyle Changes Won't Help

Your lifestyle does matter, because obesity can worsen varicose veins, and getting down to a healthy weight can help ease symptoms. Becoming more physically active is also helpful. “Wearing compression stockings, doing calf-strengthening exercises, and elevating your legs can all improve or prevent varicose veins,” saysAndrew F. Alexis, MD, MPH, chairman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York City.

Myth 8: Surgery Is Your Only Treatment Option

The only treatment available for varicose veins used to be a type of surgery called stripping, in which the vein is surgically removed from the body. That’s no longer the case. While this procedure is still the most commonly used varicose vein treatment worldwide, according to Gibson, minimally invasive procedures that don't leave scars have become much more popular in the United States.

Endothermal ablation, for example, involves using a needle to deliver heat to your vein, causing it to close and no longer function. While the procedure doesn't leave a scar, it can be painful, and you may have to undergo sedation before being treated. “You have to have a series of injections along the vein to numb it up; otherwise, you wouldn't be able to tolerate the heat,” Gibson explains. You may need to take a day off from work to recover, as well as a few days off from the gym.

Some medications, called sclerosing agents, close a vein by causing irritation. Others are adhesives that seal a vein shut and don’t require the area to be numbed. Gibson and her colleagues have helped develop some of the new technologies and products used in treating varicose veins, including adhesives.

Milder varicose veins can be treated by dermatologists with non-invasive approaches, such as laser therapy and sclerotherapy, says Dr. Alexis. “For more severe cases where symptoms may be involved, seeing a vascular surgeon for surgical treatment options is advised.”

Although treatment for varicose veins means losing some veins, you have plenty of others in your body that can take up the slack, explains Gibson. “The majority of the blood flow in veins in the leg is not on the surface at all; it's in the deep veins within the muscle,” she says. “Those deep veins … are easily able to take over for any veins that we remove on the surface.”

Myth 9: Recovery After Varicose Vein Treatments Is Difficult

 

 

Newer treatments have quicker recovery times. “These procedures can be performed in an office within 20 to 30 minutes with no recovery time. Patients can usually return to work or daily activities on the same day,” Kim says.

Myth 10: Varicose Veins Can Be Cured

Treatments are effective, but they aren't a cure, Gibson says. Sometimes, varicose veins can make a repeat appearance after treatment. “What I tell my patients is it's kind of like weeding a garden,” she says. “We clear them all out, but that doesn't mean there's never going to be another dandelion popping out.”

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.

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.

Can 'Magic Mushrooms' Kick-Start Depression Treatment?

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.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

"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.

Eating Carbs and Fats Before a Workout? Read This

The New York Times published an article “Should Athletes Eat Fat or Carbs?” last week which was based on a study that shows a diet comprised of 85 percent fat can help improve overall performance for ultra-endurance athletes more than the traditional high-carbohydrate diet considered best for athletes. And by fat, they mean good fats that come from foods like nuts, avocados, and extra-virgin olive oil — not your cheeseburgers and French fries. But before you throw all your healthy eating rules out the window, it’s important to note that this recommendation is not for most of us — these recommendations for real athletes. We’re talking about people who exercise for a living — think NBA players, Olympic swimmers, or professional marathoners.

Let’s be honest: Most of us don’t run more than two marathons a week or work out at all hours of the day, so this way of eating is not recommended, even for high school and college players and people who exercise regularly. However, this information certainly brings into question traditional thinking and, as so often with these studies, leaves us wondering if this type of eating could benefit other types of athletes or moderately active people. We’ll need to continue to watch the research for more answers.

It’s important to remember that carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy, well-balanced diet and provide fuel for your workouts in the form of glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles. Fat, however, must be broken down into fatty acids before it can be used as fuel, and only endurance athletes who vigorously exercise throughout the day are able to use up all their glycogen stores before their bodies start using fat. A ketogenic diet, like the ones the article reviews with 85 percent of the diet from fat, forces your body to use fat more readily as an energy source. This is referred to as a ‘ketoadaption’ and takes several weeks to achieve.

Still, it’s not a good idea to overdo it on carbohydrates or fat for all your meals. Fats should only comprise 20 to 30 percent of your total daily calorie intake per meal (think two slices of avocado). Carbohydrates should make up 40 to 50 percent of your meal, and sources of good carbohydrates include vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Government experts have offered suggestions for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, (due to be published in the fall) which encourage Americans to cut down on meat, added sugars, and starchy, high-carb foods and include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats into their diets.

“The move toward reducing the amount of carbohydrates recommended for the general public is because most of us are not active. We sit too much! When we don’t move, or if we move for only an hour a day, we’re not utilizing all the carbohydrates we are eating, and therefore we continue to gain weight and increase our risk for chronic diseases. For the most part, we are moving too little and eating too much and especially carbohydrates because they are easy, available, and taste good,” says Maureen Namkoong, MS, RD nutrition and fitness director at Everyday Health.

There’s a place for good carbohydrates and fats in a balanced diet. Good carbohydrates and fats give you energy, may help you lose weight, and promote cardiovascular health. But too much of a good thing can be bad — and this is true for fats and carbs, too.

How to Protect Yourself During a Mass Shooting

No one thinks they could be in this situation, but here's advice from safety experts if it happens.

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. 

Life-Saving Tips in the Event of a Mass Shooting

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. 

RELATED: Media Exposure to Traumatic Events Can Be More Stressful Than Being There

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. 

 

"If you see something... suspicious or out of place...you can begin taking action prior to the event."

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." 

Disaster Preparedness With Children 

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

Fewer Diabetes Cases Being Missed

Although the number of people diagnosed with diabetes is still on the rise, the good news is that most people with the disease know they have it, a new study shows.

The research suggests that over the past two and a half decades, the percentage of undiagnosed cases has dropped significantly.

"If you're going to your doctor, you probably don't have to worry about undiagnosed diabetes," said study author Elizabeth Selvin, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Selvin explained that previous estimates suggested that over a quarter to 30 percent of people with diabetes probably didn't know it. But those estimates assumed that doctors were only doing one test for diabetes and not following up with a confirmatory second test, as the American Diabetes Association recommends.

However, "we found that's not consistent with how diabetes is diagnosed in clinical practice. In practice, an abnormal finding is confirmed with a second test for the diagnosis. When you use two tests, we see that we're doing a good job with screening and diagnosing diabetes," Selvin said.

In fact, the two-test method seems to capture about 90 percent of all diabetes cases, the researchers noted.

Selvin and her colleagues used data from U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys done from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2014.

RELATED: 9 Types of Medication That Help Control Type 2 Diabetes

The surveys showed that when the research began in 1988 to 1994, there were about 10 million adults with diabetes and confirmed undiagnosed diabetes (that means people who just had one test and didn't get a follow-up test). By 1999 to 2014, there were 25.5 million adults with diabetes or undiagnosed diabetes.

The new research revealed that the number of undiagnosed cases as a percentage of all diabetes dropped from more than 16 percent to slightly less than 11 percent over 26 years.

People who were undiagnosed were more likely to be overweight or obese, older, or a racial or ethnic minority. They were also less likely to have health insurance or access to health care, the study found.

"What we need to figure out is how to target our screening and prevention efforts to the group that actually is undiagnosed. Some of the people being missed have very high [blood sugar levels] and the efforts should be concentrated on getting those people to the clinic," Selvin said.

The findings were published Oct. 23 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Anne Peters is director of the clinical diabetes program at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. She wrote an editorial that accompanied the study.

"I think there are fewer undiagnosed cases than we used to think, but there are still a lot of people who are undiagnosed," Peters said.

"People with risk factors need to get tested. But people get afraid of the stigma. They get afraid of the disease. But diabetes doesn't have to be awful. People don't have to give up. We need a lot more public awareness and a lot more prevention," she said.

And that doesn't mean you have to lose 100 pounds. "Losing 15 pounds can make a big difference. Just walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week is incredibly beneficial. Take diabetes on in bite-sized pieces," Peters advised.

"There are so many new ways to treat diabetes. Almost everything has changed in the past 30 years. But the earlier you start treatment, the better. Some things are better to face," she said.

Plastics Chemical Tied to Changes in Boys' Reproductive Development

When expectant mothers are exposed to plastics chemicals called phthalatesduring the first trimester, their male offspring may have a greater risk of infertility later in life, a new study suggests.

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Boys exposed to the chemical diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) may be born with a significantly shorter anogenital distance than those not exposed to these chemicals. Anogenital distance is the distance between the anus and the genitals. A shorter anogenital distance has been linked to infertility and low sperm count, the researchers explained.

"We saw these changes even though moms' exposure to DEHP has dropped 50 percent in the past 10 years," said lead researcher Shanna Swan, a professor of preventive medicine and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

"Therefore, we have not found a safe level of phthalate exposure for pregnant women," she contended.

Swan said that this study cannot prove that these boys will have fertility problems as adults or that DEHP causes these problems. However, animal studies have implicated the chemical in male reproductive problems. Based on the data from this study, Swan believes there is a strong association between exposure to DEHP and fertility in human males.

DEHP is used to soften plastics. Most exposure results from eating foods that pick up the chemical during processing, Swan said.

RELATED: 10 Toxic Household Items You Should Throw Away Now

 

 

"Since food is the largest source of DEHP for consumers, it is difficult for pregnant women to minimize exposure," she said. "Eating unprocessed food will likely help. However, eliminating DEHP from food really has to be done by food producers."

The chemical is also found in medical tubing and in a variety of products, including flooring, wallpaper, lacquers and personal care products, Swan said.

The report was published Feb. 19 in the journal Human Reproduction.

For the study, Swan's team collected data on almost 800 pregnant women and their infants.

Specifically, the researchers found that exposure in the womb to three types of DEHP was associated with a significantly shorter anogenital distance in boys, but not in girls.

A group representing the chemical industry took issue with the study, however.

In a statement, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) stressed that the study only examined one type of phthalate, not all versions of the chemical. And it said that phthalates are "one of the most widely studied family of chemicals in use today."

The ACC added that DEHP "is known to break down into its metabolites within minutes after it enters the body. Information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the last 10 years indicates that, despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure from all sources combined is extremely low -- much lower than the levels established as safe by scientists at regulatory agencies."

 

 

But another expert says phthalate exposure may not be benign. Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said, "virtually everyone in the U.S. experiences continual exposure to phthalates."

And, a number of studies have tied the chemicals with changes in developing fetuses. "Phthalates, in particular, have been shown in both human and animal studies to interfere with normal fetal development," he said.

This study supports what has been demonstrated before, that phthalate exposure in the first trimester is linked to male reproductive development, Spaeth said. "This study is an important step forward in establishing this effect because the study included a much larger number of individuals than prior studies and helps identify one particular agent, DEHP, as an important contributor to this effect," he said.

Additionally, this study shows the importance of exposure in the first trimester as a critical window for the effect of phthalates on the male reproductive system. "On the whole, given these features, the authors have contributed important information about the public health risk posed by phthalates," Spaeth suggested.

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

8 Ways to Squeeze Fitness Into Your Day

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!

  • Squeeze that butt: Do it in the elevator, as you're walking down the aisles of a grocery store, and while you're waiting in line at the bank. No one will know — and it's so effective!
  • Work those legs: Try doing leg lifts at your desk or squats while you brush your teeth at night.
  • Add some steps to your day: Whenever you can, sneak in extra walking. Park your car far away from the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator at work, or do a few laps of the mall before you shop this weekend. Every step counts!
  • Tuck that tummy: If you're relaxing in the living room in front of the TV, try lying on the floor or on a blanket and doing crunches. Make a deal with yourself that you'll do them throughout each commercial break. Easy!
  • Take a “dip” on the couch: Sit at the edge of the couch and place your palms down on each side of you. Move forward so that your body is off the couch, bend your elbows behind you, and lower your body toward the floor with your knees bent and feet together. Bend and extend your arms multiple times as you watch TV — you’ll lose that arm jiggle in no time!
  • Stretch it out: Tension can build up in the neck and shoulders simply from sitting at your desk, and it gets even worse as the long work day drags on. Stretching encourages those tense muscles to relax and counteracts any tightness from poor posture and tired muscles. Try doing my Shoulder and Chest Relaxer, One-Arm Reach, and Neck and Shoulder Release at your desk — you'll probably start an office trend!
  • Get firm on the phone: If you spend a lot of time on the phone like I do, don't just sit there — make it a workout by "pretending" to sit! Press your back flat against a wall and lower your body by bending your knees to a 45- to 90-degree angle. Hold the position for as long as you can.
  • Get lean while you clean: Did you know that by doing household chores — carrying laundry upstairs, vacuuming, making your bed, dusting — you can burn up to 400 calories an hour? You’ve got to do these tasks anyway, so you might as well turn on some music and think of it as exercise!

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!

How Trauma Can Lead to Depression

You don't have to have been personally involved in a traumatic experience to suffer the effects.

Over the last few years, a long string of traumatic events have occurred and been widely covered in the news, including movie theater, school, and workplace shootings, as well as natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes. These events can be devastating for those personally involved, yet their impact may also be felt by others not directly involved at all.

Many people can go through or hear about such traumatic events and be fine after some time without additional interventions, says Anthony Ng, MD, chief medical officer at Acadia Hospital and chief of the psychiatry service at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

But some people who experience such traumatic events — whether personally or just by hearing about them — can become depressed, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Traumatic life events were found to be the biggest single cause of anxiety and depression in a study by researchers at the University of Liverpool published in 2013 in PLoS One. 

RELATED: The Healing Power of Horse Therapy for PTSD

For some, traumatic events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting challenge their basic assumptions about how life works, says Irina Firstein, a licensed therapist who has lived and practiced in New York City for more than 25 years. They can become so scared that they develop a generalized anxiety or panic disorder, which can lead to depression, she says.

Depression and PTSD: What's the Connection?

People who continue to experience extreme symptoms of stress long after a traumatic event may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can also lead to depression — a continued feeling of intense sadness that interferes with a person's ability to function normally.

Depression and PTSD often coexist, and their symptoms may overlap. A study on Vietnam veterans counducted 40 years after the war, published in 2015 JAMA Psychiatry, found that about a third of those who suffered from PTSD also had major depressive symptoms.

Symptoms of depression include sadness, feelings of loss, disillusionment, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping, Firstein says.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

Reliving traumatic events through flashbacks or nightmares
Avoiding experiences that remind you of the trauma
Panic attacks
Physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, trembling, shortness of breath, or headaches
Symptoms of PTSD and depression that commonly occur together include:

Trouble concentrating
Avoidance of social contacts
Irritability
Abuse of drugs or alcohol
How to Cope With the Effects of Traumatic Events

"Some of these symptoms are normal after such an event," Firstein notes. "However, if they persist, one should try to get professional help.”

Dr. Ng. says red flags that you're not managing well on your own include:

Missing a significant number of days of work or school
Withdrawing from family members or people around you
Experiencing mood swings, such as being irritable and angry to the point that it’s causing problems at home
Not being able to eat and losing weight
Not being able to sleep at night. “As a result, you feel exhausted and can’t function in the daytime,” Ng says.
Having thoughts of hurting yourself or others
Mental health professionals can help. “Psychotherapy; eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR therapy (trauma reprocessing using eye movements); and medication are very effective," Firstein says.

In addition to getting professional help, ways to cope with PTSD and depression include:

Spending more time with friends and family
Learning as much as you can about PTSD and depression
Taking part in activities you enjoy
Getting regular exercise
Learning relaxation techniques
Joining a support group
Avoiding drugs and alcohol
The following resources can help you find ways to cope with trauma and depression, as well as help you find therapists in your area: 

Your family doctor. “Tell your doctor, ‘I’ve experienced these symptoms. What can I do?’ Your doctor might treat you or refer you to a psychiatrist or counselor or therapist,” Ng says.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine. This organization's staff and volunteers can help you find treatment. Call 800-950-NAMI (6264) or email info@nami.org.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call 800-273-TALK (8255). Counselors are available 24/7, and the service is free and confidential.
The American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator.
The PTSD Alliance.
The National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Don’t Ignore Symptoms That Persist

Unexplained and unexpected trauma has always been part of the human experience, and depression and PTSD are common results of these events. The best way to deal with them is to know the symptoms and ask for help.

Additional reporting by Beth W. Orenstein.

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5 Cooking Tips to Spice Up Your Heart-Healthy Diet

Add Flavor, Texture, and Zest with Heart-Healthy Ingredients

If you have high cholesterol and blood pressure, your doctor has probably advised you to start following a healthy diet as part of your treatment plan. The good news is that delighting your taste buds while sticking to a heart-healthy meal plan is easy — and many of the foods you enjoy most likely aren’t off limits. Healthy herbs and spices lend robust and savory flavor, hearty nuts add texture and a buttery taste, and teas infuse a bright flavor and antioxidants. Michael Fenster, MD (also known as Dr. Mike), a board-certified interventional cardiologist and gourmet chef, shares his cooking tips for preparing delicious meals that will boost your heart health. These choices are part of a healthy lifestyle that may reduce your risk for heart conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke down the road.

12 Ways to Ease Seasonal Depression

1 / 13   Seasonal Depression: Common But Treatable
If shorter days and shifts in weather zap your energy and make you feel blue, you’ve got classic symptoms of a seasonal mood disorder. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of seasonal depression triggered by the change in seasons that occurs primarily in winter. Why do some people get SAD? Experts aren’t certain, but some think that seasonal changes disrupt the circadian rhythm: the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours, causing us to feel energized and alert sometimes and drowsy at other times.

Another theory is that the changing seasons disrupt hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, which regulate sleep, mood, and feelings of well-being. About 4 to 6 percent of U.S. residents suffer from SAD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, and as many as 20 percent may have a mild form of it that starts when days get shorter and colder. Women and young people are more likely to experience SAD, as are those who live farther away from the equator. People with a family history or diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder may be particularly susceptible.

"It is important to treat SAD, because all forms of depression limit people's ability to live their lives to the fullest, to enjoy their families, and to function well at work," says Deborah Pierce, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York. Here are a few SAD treatment options you might want to consider.

Electric Brain Stimulation No Better Than Meds For Depression: Study

For people who battle depression and can't find relief, stimulating the brain with electric impulses may help. But a new study by Brazilian researchers says it's still no better than antidepressant medication.

In a trial that pitted transcranial, direct-current stimulation (tDCS) against the antidepressant escitalopram (Lexapro), researchers found that lessening of depression was about the same for either treatment.

"We found that antidepressants are better than tDCS and should be the treatment of choice," said lead researcher Dr. Andre Brunoni. He's director of the Service of Interdisciplinary Neuromodulation at the University of Sao Paulo.

"In circumstances that antidepressant drugs cannot be used, tDCS can be considered, as it was more effective than placebo," he said.

The researchers used the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. This test has a score range of zero to 52, with higher scores indicating more depression.

People who received brain stimulation lowered their depression score by 9 points. Those taking Lexapro had depression scores drop by 11 points. Patients receiving placebo experienced a drop of 6 points in their depression score, the researchers found.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

"tDCS has been increasingly used as an off-label treatment by physicians," Brunoni said. "Our study revealed that it cannot be recommended as a first-line therapy yet and should be investigated further."

The report was published June 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Sarah Lisanby is director of the Division of Translational Research at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. "When you consider if this treatment adds anything to the ways we have to treat depression, you want to know that a new treatment is better than or at least as good as what's available today," she said.

"But this study failed to show that tDCS was better than medication," said Lisanby, who wrote an accompanying journal editorial.

Lisanby pointed out that unapproved tDCS units are being sold on the internet. She cautioned that trying brain stimulation at home to relieve depression or enhance brain function is risky business, because side effects can include mania.

"There are people who are doing do-it-yourself tDCS," she said. "People are trying to find ways to treat depression, but it's important for them to know that tDCS is experimental and not proven to be as effective or more effective than antidepressant medications."

To get a better idea of how well brain stimulation worked for depression, Brunoni and colleagues randomly assigned 245 patients suffering from depression to one of four groups. One group had brain stimulation plus a placebo pill, another had fake brain stimulation plus Lexapro. The third group had brain stimulation plus Lexapro, and the final group had fake brain stimulation plus a placebo.

Brain stimulation involved wearing sponge-covered electrodes on the head. The treatment was given for 15 consecutive days at 30 minutes each, then once a week for seven weeks.

Lexapro was taken daily for three weeks, after which the daily dose was increased from 10 milligrams (mg) to 20 mg for the next seven weeks.

After 10 weeks, patients receiving brain stimulation fared no better than those taking Lexapro. Patients receiving brain stimulation, however, suffered from more side effects, the researchers found.

Specifically, patients receiving brain stimulation had higher rates of skin redness, ringing in the ears and nervousness than those receiving fake brain stimulation.

In addition, two patients receiving brain stimulation developed new cases of mania. That condition can include elevated mood, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, difficulty maintaining attention and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities.

Patients taking Lexapro reported more frequent sleepiness and constipation.

Brunoni, however, is not ready to write off brain stimulation as a treatment for depression based on this study.

"We did not test, in this study, the combined effects of tDCS with other techniques, such as cognitive behavior therapy and other antidepressant drugs," he said.

"Previous findings from our group showed that tDCS increases the efficacy of antidepressant drugs, however, it should not be used alone, and its use must be supervised by physicians due to the side effects," Brunoni said.

Lisanby said the tDCS dose in the study may be in question. She said it may have to be adjusted to each individual patient in terms of how strong the electrical stimulation should be. The treatment length also needs to be individualized, as does what part of the brain it should be directed toward.

Also, "we need larger studies to give us the definitive answer about whether tDCS is better than the treatments we have today," Lisanby 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.

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Giving the 'Green Light' to Migraine Relief

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.

Does being short help you live longer?

Researchers believe so.

Guys who are 5'3" and under have a lower risk of developing blood clots, and smaller odds of heart attack and cancer.

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5 Reasons Why Skin Cancer Surgery Isn’t So Scary

Veva Vesper has dealt with more than her fair share of skin cancer in the last 25 years. The 69-year-old Ohio resident has had more than 500 squamous cell carcinomas removed since the late 1980s, when the immunosuppressant medication she was taking for a kidney transplant caused her to develop them all over her body — everywhere from the corner of her eye to her legs. 

While Vesper’s story is unusual, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. In fact, it’s currently estimated that one in five Americans will get skin cancer in his or her lifetime.  

Mike Davis, a 65-year-old retired cop, and like Vesper, a patient at The Skin Cancer Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, has a more familiar story. Earlier this year, he had a basal cell carcinoma removed from his left ear — the side of his face most exposed to UV damage when driving on patrol. 

The buildup of sun exposure over your lifetime puts you at greater risk for developing basal and squamous cell skin carcinomas as you age. Both Vesper and Davis had Mohs surgery, the most effective and precise way to remove the two most common types of skin cancer. 

Parent's Depression May Harm Child's Grades, Study Finds

A child's grades in school might suffer if a parent is suffering from depression, according to a new study.

Researchers found that Swedish teens received lower grades during their final year in school if either of their parents had previously been diagnosed with depression.

The difference in grades was noticeable but not huge, said senior author Brian Lee, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health in Philadelphia.

"It's not an entire letter grade drop, but at the same time it might be the difference between a student passing or failing," Lee said.

Parents' depression could affect the children's home lives, causing stress that impacts their academic performance, Lee said.

"Depression is a social disease," he said. "It doesn't just affect you. It affects your relationships as well. If there's strain there, it may affect the child's academic performance."

Since depression can be handed down, it also could be that the children are not doing as well in school because they suffer from undiagnosed mood disorders, he added.

Infants also might receive poorer care during early development if their mothers are depressed -- less breast-feeding or nurturing, for example -- which could have long-term impacts on children's ability to learn and problem-solve, he said.

"There are many different mechanisms to explain what we've found, and those are just a few possibilities," Lee said.

The study, published online Feb. 3 in JAMA Psychiatry, only found an association between parental depression and worse grades, however, not a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

In the study, Lee and his colleagues examined data on more than 1.1 million children born in Sweden between 1984 and 1994.

Compulsory education ends at age 16 in Sweden, and kids leaving school are assigned a final school grade based on how well they did in their last year. The researchers compared the final grades of teens whose mothers and fathers had been diagnosed with depression against those of teens whose parents do not have a mood disorder.

RELATED: Should You Have Kids If You’re Depressed?

They found that maternal and paternal depression affected a teen's performance during that final year in school, even if the depression occurred years earlier.

In general, both maternal and paternal depression in any period of a child's life were associated with worse school performance. Maternal depression was associated with a larger negative effect on school performance for girls compared with boys, according to the results.

The impact of depression is as large as similar effects on grades caused by differences in family income and the level of mom's education, the researchers reported.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said, "This study provides strong evidence to suggest that children who have a depressed parent are at increased risk for lower academic performance."

Adesman, who was not involved with the research, found it "striking" that parental depression affects learning "regardless of whether the parental depression occurred early in a child's life or later and regardless of whether it is the mother who is depressed or the father."

The findings show that parents suffering from depression need to get help if they want to protect their kids, said Myrna Weissman, chief of epidemiology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor at Columbia University in New York City.

"We must make sure there's good available treatment for the parent so they stay asymptomatic. That would help a great deal," said Weissman, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. "We have great data now showing if you treat the parent, the children function better."

Friends of a parent with depression should urge them to seek help, Weissman said.

Schools can offer programs to help children of depressed parents, but Weissman thinks it would be better to get treatment for the adult.

"Depression is highly treatable," she said. "I would certainly begin there."

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!

How to Get Glowing Skin When You Have Psoriasis

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.

An Accessible Skin Care Routine

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:

  • Cleanse and moisturize your skin just once daily to avoid drying.
  • Use a soft cloth or your hands to lather up with cleanser; never use a loofah on skin that’s actively flaring because the rubbing and scratching could worsen symptoms.
  • If you have psoriasis on your face, Jacob advises against using harsh toners because they can be aggravating.
  • During the frigid Chicago winters, Jacob switches to a cream or moisturizing cream from a lighter lotion because it’s more hydrating for thirsty winter skin.
  • For scalp psoriasis, she recommends over-the-counter favorites like Neutrogena T/Gel, DHS tar shampoos, or those containing salicylic acid (her personal pick is Neutrogena T/Sal.) For something stronger, she likes Clobex, a steroid shampoo that you can get with a prescription from your dermatologist.

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.

Daily Psoriasis Treatment Starts from the Inside Out

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.

Find What Works for You

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!”

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.

RELATED: 6 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

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.