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.

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!

Nigel Barker: How a Mediterranean Diet Cut My Cholesterol by 88 Points

You may know Nigel Barker as the encouraging yet truthful judge on America's Next Top Model, or as a famed fashion photographer who has shot pictures for GQ, Lucky, and Town & Country, among others — or as the author of a book about connecting with your best self, Beauty Equation.

He's fit and trim and confident, but under that chiseled frame, the now 44-year-old Barker learned a few years ago that he wasn't nearly as healthy as he'd assumed. And he never would have found out — and had the chance to turn his health around — if it weren't for a routine conversation with his insurance company.

In 2011, when Barker asked for an increase in the amount of coverage on his life insurance policy, what he thought would be a no-brainer (pay more to get more) turned out to be a rude awakening.

The company denied the additional coverage because Barker's cholesterol levels were too high.

Food, Family, and High Cholesterol

Barker was shocked: He'd been following a strict low-carb, high-protein diet for the previous two years and had toned his body in the process, which he thought would be good for his heart and health. But his high-protein diet also included saturated fat-heavy red meat, cheese, and butter, which probably contributed to his total cholesterol level of 253 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and an LDL ("bad") cholesterol level of 155 mg/dL.

"I looked great on the outside," says Barker. But inside, potentially dangerous levels of cholesterol were putting him at risk for heart problems.

The optimal level of total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL, and LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Barker's total cholesterol level put him at risk for heart disease. On the plus side, Barker's "good" HDL cholesterol was fine, at 63; anything above 60 is considered cardio-protective. Though it's important to aim for these numbers, the American Heart Association (AHA) advocates looking at a person's overall health and lifestyle as risk factors in addition to cholesterol counts.

What you eat is one of these factors, and — bonus! — the perks of a healthy meal plan can extend beyond your heart. A study published in July 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in heart-healthy foods like whole grains, olive oil, legumes, fish, and fruits and vegetables had better memories and cognition as they aged.

For Barker, even more concerning than just the numbers was his family history of heart disease: His father had his first of several heart attacks at age 45. Having a parent who had a heart attack predicts your heart disease risk more than any other single factor, according to a study published in February 2011 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"The combination of Nigel's high LDL levels and family history was really scary," says Barker's cardiologist, Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women's heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "When you have a family history of heart disease, you really have to pay attention to your own health."

Because high cholesterol has no symptoms, it can go undiagnosed for years. And people who have a high risk of heart attack due to family history often have no signs or symptoms until they have a heart attack.

While Dr. Steinbaum encourages everyone to have their levels checked regularly, it's especially important if heart disease runs in your family.

The United Stated Preventive Services Task Force recommends getting your cholesterol levels screened at age 35 for men and 45 for women, although if you have increased risk (such as with Barker), you should be screened as early as age 20.

The AHA recommends a more aggressive screening every five years beginning at age 20, but if you have high cholesterol or other heart disease risk factors, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing.

The main priority is to understand your risk and discuss it with your doctor to determine when cholesterol testing is appropriate for you.

How Barker Lowered His Cholesterol Naturally

Steinbaum recommended that Barker first change his diet instead of immediately turn to cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower his total and LDL cholesterol levels.

RELATED: Dr. Dean Ornish Turns Back the Clock on Heart Disease

So Barker traded his low-carb, high-protein eating plan for a Mediterranean-style diet. "Before, Nigel was eating exactly what he shouldn't have been eating for his heart health," Steinbaum says. "But he made the decision to change, and stuck with it."

Within a year, Barker's total cholesterol reading dropped to a much healthier 165, and his LDL was about 100.

"He did it on his own by making healthy choices every day," says Steinbaum.

And Barker remains committed to those heart-healthy habits. "Sometimes you need the drugs," he says, "but we decided to try a little bit of common sense and discipline first."

Moving Just 1 Hour a Week May Curb Depression Risk

Career couch potatoes, take heart: Just one hour a week of any kind of exercise may lower your long-term risk for depression, new research suggests.

The finding comes from a fresh analysis of a Norwegian survey that tracked exercise habits, along with depression and anxiety risk, among nearly 34,000 adults.

After a closer look at the data, a team of British, Australian and Norwegian analysts determined that people who engage in just an hour of exercise per week -- regardless of intensity level -- face a 44 percent lower risk for developing depression over the course of a decade than those who never exercise at all.

"The key finding from this study is that doing even a small amount of regular exercise seems to protect adults against future depression," said study author Samuel Harvey.

"This was not a case of more is better; the vast majority of the mental health benefits of exercise was realized when individuals moved from doing no regular activity to 1 or 2 hours per week," Harvey explained.

"Also, the mental health benefits were there regardless of the intensity of the physical activity," he added. "There is great evidence that there are many physical health benefits to more regular exercise, but the mental health benefits leveled out after 2 hours."

RELATED: 7 Common Myths About Depression

Harvey is an associate professor with the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. "The important point here is that any type of physical activity -- even just walking -- had similar levels of mental health benefits," he concluded.

The original survey was launched between 1984 and 1986. In that timeframe, participants (who were about 45 years old, on average) underwent physical exams, and filled out lifestyle and medical questionnaires. Mental health assessments were also completed.

The Norwegian pollsters conducted a follow-up survey between 1995 and 1997 among roughly two-thirds of the original participants.

About 7 percent of those tracked through 1997 had developed depression, while about 9 percent had developed clinical levels of anxiety, the findings showed.

Exercise did not appear to have any impact on anxiety risk. But investigators found that, regardless of gender or activity intensity, regular exercise lasting at least an hour per week was linked to a lower risk for developing depression over time.

The study authors calculated that roughly 12 percent of the depression cases might have been prevented if those who had become depressed had previously routinely engaged in one hour of low-intensity activity a week.

Exercising more than one hour per week did not, however, appear to substantially decrease depression risk even further; the lion's share of the protective impact appeared to max out at the one-hour mark.

But as to how and why such a minimal amount of regular exercise might help stave off depression, the study team wrote that "the bulk of the observed protective effect remains unexplained." And the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between exercise and lower risk of depression.

Harvey and his colleagues reported their observations in the Oct. 3 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Simon Rego, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said that "there are probably many mechanisms at play that could explain how this works. But it doesn't have the same effect on anxiety, so we just don't know yet exactly what's happening."

However, Rego added, "What we do know is that what they've identified is a very low bar of entry. We're talking about just an hour of activity a week. And it doesn't have to be vigorous or intense. You don't need to go out to a spin class or sign up for a running club. This could just be getting people who aren't moving much to just increase their daily walking habit. That's all."

So, he explained, "while we don't have all the definitive answers yet, this is a very promising finding because this is something many people may find easy to do."

A Diet for Better Energy

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

 

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

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

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

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

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

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

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

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

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

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

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

 

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

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

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

 

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

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

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

 

U.S. Cancer Death Rate Continues to Fall

More Americans are surviving cancer than ever before, but as the population ages, even more will develop the disease.

That's the good and bad news from the 2017 Cancer Progress Report from the American Association for Cancer Research, released Wednesday.

According to the report, the cancer death rate dropped 35 percent among children and 25 percent among adults from 1991 to 2014. That translates to slightly more than 2 million fewer cancer deaths.

On the flip side, new cancer diagnoses are predicted to rise from nearly 1.7 million this year to 2.3 million in 2030, said the association's president, Dr. Michael Caligiuri.

And this year alone, more than 600,000 Americans are predicted to die from cancer, according to the report.

Caligiuri said the increase in cancer cases is simply a consequence of more people living longer. As the report noted, 53 percent of U.S. cancer diagnoses occur among those aged 65 and older, and that population segment is expected to grow from about 49 million in 2016 to just over 74 million in 2030.

"The longer people live, the higher the incidences of cancer are going to be," Caligiuri said.

"The longer you live, the more likely are the chances for serious genetic mutations that cause cancer, and the weaker your system is in repairing your DNA when you do have those genetic changes," he explained.

Dr. Anthony D'Amico is a professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. He said, "The most likely explanation for the progress in cancer survival is a combination of advances in cancer treatment coupled with early detection through screening."

The AACR report noted that death rates for many of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States -- including breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancer -- have been declining for more than a decade. But deaths from other forms of cancer -- brain, liver and uterine cancer -- have been increasing.

RELATED: 'Cancer Pen' Could Help Surgeons Spot Tumor Cells in Seconds

And progress has not benefited every American equally, the researchers noted. Disparities in cancer care continue between whites and blacks, the insured and uninsured, the poor and the elderly.

But there is progress in treatment. Between August 2016 and July 2017, nine new anticancer drugs were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the report said. In addition, the FDA approved the use of eight existing drugs for fighting new cancers.

Two of the new drugs are immunotherapeutics, called checkpoint inhibitors. These treatments increase survival and improve the quality of life for patients with many types of cancer.

Progress was also seen in drugs that target specific cancer molecules. In fact, seven of the new drugs do just that, the researchers said.

The FDA also approved a new optical imaging agent to help doctors see brain tumors and more accurately guide their removal.

The keys to more progress in preventing and curing cancer include basic science to understand the biology of cancers, Caligiuri said, then making those findings relevant to cancer treatment through animal and early human trials. Next comes testing on many people to see how safe and effective these new treatments are, he added.

In addition, more studies are needed to better understand the risks for cancer and to develop ways to lower those risks. These include lifestyle changes -- such as not smoking, eating a healthy diet and exercising -- and screening to detect cancer early.

On the cancer prevention side, cigarette smoking declined by nearly 39 percent from 2000 to 2015, which should mean fewer cases of lung cancer in the future, the report said.

The researchers also said that, in the future, nearly all cases of cervical cancer and many cases of oral and anal cancer could be prevented if girls and boys received the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Yet, only 63 percent of girls and fewer than 50 percent of boys had received at least one dose of HPV vaccine in 2015, the study reported.

According to D'Amico, "There is still a lot more to do, but we are going in the right direction in terms of discovery, screening and biology."

Cancer is not an inexpensive disease. Direct medical costs in 2014 were nearly $88 billion, the report said. This does not include the indirect costs, such as lost productivity from cancer-related care and death.

Yet the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) received only $30 billion in funding for 2014, Caligiuri said. And of that total, only about $5 billion went to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Not surprisingly, Caligiuri believes that both the NIH and the FDA need more money to spend on cancer research and treatment if further progress in the fight against cancer is going to happen.

"The limiting step for more progress against this beast called cancer is funding," Caligiuri said. "The data clearly show that when we have the funding, we can make phenomenal progress."

Exposure Therapy: A Surprisingly Effective Treatment for Depression

Exposure therapy isn’t just a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s also used to treat anxiety, depression, phobias, and more.

If you’ve experienced a traumatic, life-altering event, you might be surprised to learn that one treatment for such trauma — exposure therapy — involves repeatedly reliving the terrible event.

Sounds more harmful than helpful, right? But people who experience their fears over and over again — with the help of a therapist in exposure therapy — can actually learn to control those fears.

The technique is used to treat a growing list of health conditions that include anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive behaviors, long-standing grief, and even depression.

How Exposure Therapy Works

Exposure therapy can seem similar to desensitization. People with PTSD, including combat veterans and rape and assault survivors, may experience nightmares and flashbacks that bring the traumatic event back.

They may also avoid situations that can trigger similar memories and may become upset, tense, or have problems sleeping after the trauma.

Edna B. Foa, PhD, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, explains exposure therapy for PTSD to her patients this way: "We are going to help you talk about the trauma so that you can process and digest it, and make it finished business."

While you won't forget about the trauma entirely, she tells them, ''It’s not going to haunt you all the time."

Dr. Foa reassures her patients that they won't be exposed to dangerous situations. She also tells them, "You are going to find out that you are stronger than you think."

Although exposure therapy is considered a short-term treatment — 8 to 12 sessions is common — people with more severe conditions (and those with obsessive-compulsive behaviors) may need more time.

Exposure Therapy Works for Many Conditions

For PTSD, says Matthew Friedman, MD, PhD, senior adviser for the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD, and professor of psychiatry, pharmacology, and toxicology at Dartmouth College's Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, New Hampshire, "It’s one of the best treatments we have.” A 2007 report from the Institute of Medicine also found the technique to be effective for PTSD.

Foa published a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology that showed a reduction in depression and PTSD symptoms in female survivors of assault after 9 to 12 sessions.

And a 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry found that adding exposure therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was more effective at relieving long-standing grief than CBT plus supportive counseling.

Effective, But Different, as a Depression Treatment

While research is still ongoing, some experts believe exposure therapy can be helpful for serious depression, too. Depression and PTSD share common features, like flashbacks and memory flooding, says Adele Hayes, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Delaware in Newark. But there are some important differences, too.

“With depression, it's not necessarily a trauma, but a whole store of memories associated with being a failure, worthless, and defective," she says. A depressed person’s encounter with a rude clerk at a store may trigger thoughts that seem to back up their fears: that no one likes them, that they are worthless, and so on.

RELATED: 6 Life-Changing Tips From People Living with Depression

In 20 to 24 sessions of exposure therapy, Hayes persuades her patients with depression to reexamine the events that trigger their ''worthless'' messages. Then she asks them to see if they can reinterpret them in a more positive light. Next, she helps them build up what she calls the ''positive emotion system."

But some people with depression may be fearful of having positive emotions, she says. Paradoxically, if they start to have hope, they may begin to fear that things may fall apart again and get more depressed.

Getting Started With Exposure Therapy

"The first few sessions are distressing," says Foa, but the distress of exposure therapy usually lasts for only three or four weeks. Plus, patients usually work their way up to scarier situations by first tackling challenges that are somewhat less scary. For instance, someone with a social phobia or fear of public places may be advised to go to a supermarket during a time when it’s not busy. After that, they may visit the store when it’s more crowded. At first, it's natural to feel upset, Foa says. But "if you stay long enough, the anxiety will go down," she says. "In the beginning, you’re afraid you won't be able to tolerate it, but in the end, you’re a winner."

Homework is an important part of exposure therapy, so you’ll also do exercises outside of your sessions, Dr. Friedman says. This could include listening to a recording of your account of the trauma or performing a task that could trigger memories of the event. At your next visit, you’d talk through your experiences with your therapist.

Before you begin exposure therapy, make sure to get a clear explanation of what to expect from the therapist you’re working with.

To find an exposure therapy specialist, start by asking your family doctor for a referral, or contact organizations like the American Psychological Association or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies that can help you locate one. Veterans can contact their local VA clinic for more information.

8 Healthy Game Day Snacks for Football Season

1 / 9   Skip the Takeout and Whip Up These 8 Winning Snacks

Even if you're not a football fanatic, game day is always an excuse to watch a good matchup, spend time with family and friends, and especially to eat your favorite foods. Nachos, chili, cheese dips — your upcoming game-day gathering will probably boast some of the best non-holiday spreads of the year. Game on! This year, it’s not about what foods you should avoid; instead, we scoured our favorite blogs for healthier game day dishes that score major points for flavor, originality, and nutrition. One look at these winning recipes and you won’t want to order out.

News From AAN: Correction on Tysabri/PML Blog (last of paper)

Last week we posted a blog about the risks of PML for patients taking Tysabri, based on news from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meetings which took place earlier this month. In the comments section, Chris asked that we check our facts and report back.

Well, once again, your commitment to the Life With MS Blog community has paid off.

I jotted off a quick e-mail to the Public Affairs department for Biogen/Idec and waited… and waited… and got nothing. Because, however, of the active participation of our community the conversation was noted and I got an e-mail asking if we needed any assistance directly from the senior manager for international public affairs.

I am not happy that I was wrong, but I am happy to know that we can get the correct information out to you today.

I had reported that Alfred Sandrock, MD, PhD, of Biogen/Idec, presented findings from the company’s study on progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in patients using Biogen/Idec’s MS drug, Tysabri. I was mistaken in my assessment of “immunosuppressive” (IS) therapy in the list of risk factors for PML.

Risk factors for PML include:

More than two years on Tysabri
Prior immunosuppressant therapy
Positive serology for JC virus infection
According to Biogen, immunosuppessants, in the context used by Dr Sandrock are limited as:

“A prior IS would be considered mitoxantrone, azathioprine, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate, cladribine, rituximab, and chemotherapy (not otherwise specified).”

Not included, as you can see, are any of the other MS disease modifying therapies (DMT) or even corticosteroids like Solu-Medral or Prednisone — which is normally considered an IS drug, but not for the case of the PML warning.

The original press release that I received on the topic was incomplete and I apologize for the misunderstanding.

As a side note, I took advantage of the conversation to request more information on the companies rational in keeping the patent on the JC Virus assay test that I also mentioned in that same blog post. I’ll update you on that conversation as soon as it happens.

Once again, your voice was heard by the people who have the answers and I think we’ve cleared up the misunderstanding. Thank you all for your continued involvement in our community. It makes a big difference in the lives of so many!

Wishing you and your family the best of health

 

Why Depression Is Underreported in Men

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

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

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

Why Depression Is Underreported

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

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

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

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

RELATED: 6 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

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

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

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

Why Treatment Is Critical

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBT Beats Light Therapy for Seasonal Depression

Cognitive therapy was aimed at 'getting people out of hibernation mode.'

Individuals with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) who participated in 6 weeks of daily cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) saw more improvement than those who used light therapy, with the advantage for CBT becoming apparent two winters post-intervention, researchers reported in AJP In Advance.

Two winters after receiving either CBT or light therapy, researchers found that those who received CBT experienced a smaller proportion of recurrence as measured the SIGH-SAD, a primary measure of SAD symptoms, as compared with those who received the light therapy (27.3 percent versus 45.6 percent, respectively), and larger proportion of remissions from SAD as defined by a score of  less then 8 on the Beck Depression Inventory-II (68.3 percent  versus 44.5 percent, respectively), according to Kelly Rohan, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Vermont.

For the study, Rohan and colleagues randomized 177 patients to receive either light therapy on a daily basis for 30 minutes upon waking or to receive CBT-SAD, a type of intervention that delivered psychoeducation, behavioral activation, and cognitive restructuring specifically targeting winter depression symptoms in group therapy sessions twice per week for 6 weeks.

Rohan told MedPage Today that CBT-SAD therapy involved "getting people out of hibernation mode so they approach rather than avoid winter... the activities do not necessarily need to be outdoors or involve communing with snow. They involve anything the person finds enjoyable that can be done in the winter to experience pleasure, rather than withdrawing and socially isolating oneself, which breeds depression." This could involve staying active in one's routines, such as going to the gym, maintaining hobbies, or developing new hobbies to take the place of summer-specific hobbies, or seeing people socially, for instance.

The following winter, researchers contacted study participants in both groups, asking them to resume the treatment they received during the previous winter under their own volition.

Those who received light therapy the previous winter received a letter asking them to resume the daily light therapy upon the onset of the first depressive symptom and those who received CBT-SAD were encouraged to use the skills taught to them the previous winter. Researchers instructed participants in both groups that if recommended strategies were insufficient to relieve symptoms of depression, they should pursue formal treatment, and included contact information for local mental health centers.

RELATED: How to Survive Daylight Saving Time and Shorter Days

Researchers conducted in-person visits in January or February of the first winter following the initial intervention as well as the second winter.

Responses to CBT the first winter after the intervention strongly predicted its effectiveness the following winter. Those who were depression-free the first winter following the intervention were markedly more likely to be depression-free during the second winter compared with those had still shown depression symptoms during the first winter.

In contrast, those who received light therapy who remained depression-free the winter following the intervention were only twice as likely to avoid recurrence during the second winter compared with those without a substantial initial response.

Light therapy has long been used as a treatment for SAD, but one major obstacle to success in treatment includes lack of compliance. In the study, only about a third of subjects reported continuing light therapy at each follow-up, which may have been in part due to study design, according to the authors.

Said Rohan, "In practice, these data indicate that there are options for treating SAD. If someone is willing not only to use light therapy to alleviate current symptoms, but also to keep using daily light therapy until spring and resume using it each fall/winter season, that is a viable option -- however, if someone is willing to work on their thoughts and behaviors in CBT-SAD over 12 sessions in a winter, that is also an option. Better yet, CBT-SAD is a treatment that might have longer-lasting benefits than light therapy in terms of lower risk for SAD recurrence and less severe symptoms two winters later."

Rohan said she hopes to get rates of depression recurrence even lower following SAD treatment in her next study. "This may involve early fall booster sessions to reinforce use of CBT-SAD skills as the seasons change," she noted, or for those who receive light therapy, a conversation regarding increasing compliance with the daily regimen to offset depression recurrence.

The Role of Genetics in Depression

These new genetic discoveries may someday lead to new depression treatments.

 death thoughts, and more — you might ask yourself, "Why me?" Scientists are trying to answer that question.

Researchers know from twin and family studies that genetics does play a role in depression: You don’t actually inherit depression, but you may inherit genes that predispose you to the condition. If you have a parent or sibling with major depressive disorder, you are two to three times more likely to develop depression than someone with no family history. The risk is higher if family members developed depression early in life or experienced recurrent episodes of depression.

Risk Factors for Depression Vary

Having a genetic predisposition doesn’t mean you’ll become depressed. Environmental factors are also very important, says Mary Fristad, PhD, director of research and psychological services in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Ohio State University in Columbus.

“Even if someone is ‘genetically loaded’ because they have multiple relatives with depression — and their partner is equally genetically loaded — raising a child in a calm, predictable, loving, nurturing, limit-setting household with good nutrition, plenty of exercise, adequate sleep, and participation in enjoyable activities might either prevent or delay the onset of depression,” she says.

Dr. Fristad doesn’t recommend genetic testing for depression. “The simplest and least expensive genetic test at present is to ask if anyone on either side of the family has depression,” she says.

But Chris Aiken, MD, director of the Mood Treatment Center and a clinical psychiatry instructor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, both in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says one particular type of gene has been implicated in the development of depression — information that may be helpful to some people. It’s called the serotonin transporter (SERT); serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate levels of anxiety, depression, and irritability.

RELATED: How to Tell If It’s a Bad Mood or Depression

“You can have genes for either a short or long version of SERT,” says Dr. Aiken. “These genes predict whether people will get depressed in the face of stress. For people with the long-arm version of the gene, the risk of depression doesn't rise even after a major life stress, like divorce, grief, or job loss. For those with the short-arm version, the rate of depression goes up with each new stress."

“What's interesting is that people have the same rate of depression when they aren't under any stress — regardless of which version of SERT they have,” Aiken says. “It's only after major stress or childhood trauma that the two groups start to look different.”

Having the long form of the gene raises the risk of experiencing depression after stress, but you won’t automatically become depressed if you have that gene and undergo stress. Similarly, you can still get depressed with the short-arm gene after a stressful life event (i.e., having the gene is not totally protective). In a nutshell, having a particular form of the gene raises the risk of depression after stress but cannot 100 percent predict or prevent it.

According to Aiken, the short-arm SERT isn’t unique to depression: It’s also been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, fear responses, and alcoholism.

New Genetic Markers for Depression Revealed

In a study published in July 2015 in Nature, scientists reported finding two genetic markers that appear to be clearly linked to major depression. Researchers sequenced DNA from about 10,600 Chinese women, half of whom had depression. Of that half, 85 percent had a severe type of depression called melancholia, described as a gloomy, foreboding feeling that robs people of their joy. They found two genetic sequences that seemed to be linked to depression and confirmed these correlations in an additional 6,000 subjects and controls.

Norman Sussman, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Treatment Resistant Depression Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City says the results of this study help validate the fact that depression really is an illness, not a psychosomatic disorder or weakness of character.

RELATED: The Real Monthly Cost of Depression

“I tell patients, depression is a medical disease," says Dr. Sussman. "Instead of [showing] physical symptoms (which they can also have), it primarily manifests through abnormalities in cognition and mood. You see things in a negative, hopeless way.”

The Nature findings also offer potential opportunity for treatment. Sussman says if we understand the mechanics of depression, it opens new pathways for drug development. Furthermore, says Aiken, knowing your genotype can also help you avoid wasting time with medications that are less likely to work. For example, people with short-arm SERT genes are less likely to respond to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most common type of antidepressant, but they may respond to other medications.

How You Can Prevent Depression Symptoms

There’s no medical test to diagnose depression, so health professionals rely on patients or family members to report symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic guidelines say patients should not be diagnosed with depression unless they exhibit a persistently low mood or loss of interest in activities once deemed pleasurable or enjoyable, in addition to four or more symptoms of depression.

Depression symptoms might include loss of interest in activities once deemed pleasurable or enjoyable, significant weight loss or gain, lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness, or repeated thoughts of death or suicide.

RELATED: 5 Things Psychologists Wish Their Patients Would Do

At least 10 percent of Americans will eventually experience an incidence of major depressive disorder, the most serious type of depression. Other people have low-grade, chronic depression. “The difference is severity,” says Sussman. “People with chronic depression know they should be happier than they are.” 

The important thing to keep in mind is that depression is not inevitable — even if you’re genetically predisposed — and it is treatable.

“Studies show that people whose environments are loving, nurturing, structured, physically active, and have good social networks and friendships are protective for children with genetic risks for depression,” says Aiken.

Online screening tools, such as the Depression Wellness Analyzer and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), can help you evaluate whether you may have depression. Discuss the results with your physician so you can seek treatment if appropriate.

What to Expect Before and After Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery isn't a spur-of-the-moment operation. In fact, preparing for the procedure may begin a year or more before your surgery date, and lifestyle changes continue well after the surgery has been performed. Be prepared by knowing what will be asked of you every step of the process.

The Year Before Surgery

Leading up to the procedure, your surgical team will likely recommend becoming more informed about diet and exercise.The amount of time you spend in this stage depends on several factors, including your insurance and your team’s recommendations, says bariatric surgeon Ann Rogers, MD, director of the Penn State Hershey Surgical Weight Loss Program in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

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“There’s always some component of nutritional education and some expectation that patients will lose some weight in that program,” explains Dr. Rogers. The dietitians and others who work with you during this stage will send reports on your progress to your surgical team before you schedule your surgery date.

In this phase, you may need to make additional lifestyle changes as well depending on the program. Rogers’ program, for instance, requires smoking cessation, though other weight-loss surgery clinics do not.

The Week Before Surgery

The final days before your surgery can be extremely emotional, filled with excitement, nervousness, and anxiety. Taking these steps as you prepare for your surgery will ease tension and ensure that everything goes smoothly the day of your procedure:

• Read the materials from your clinic.

• Eat and drink as directed. “We have a preoperative diet for eight days, which consists of bariatric-friendly protein shakes,” Rogers says. “They are high in protein, and they do not have sugar.” Most programs have a preoperative diet, although the duration varies, she says. Make sure you understand how long that diet lasts and exactly what you can eat.

• Adjust medications as needed. Discuss how to manage any other conditions you might have, such as diabetes, with your weight-loss surgery team and your primary care physician.

 Meet with the anesthesiologist. Once your surgery date is scheduled, you'll also meet with the anesthesiologist, who will ask about your health history. Although patients will have lots of tests done and medical information detailed during the months before surgery, the anesthesiologist might ask for more tests, advises Rogers.

 Take a blood thinner. Clotting is a risk associated with surgery, says Rogers. Your doctor might recommend taking a blood-thinning medication before and after the surgery.

What to Pack

Rogers suggests taking the following items with you to the hospital:

 Instructions. Bring the manual or other instructions you’ve been given, as well as any preoperative paperwork.

• Identification. You’ll need it to check in.

• CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. If you've been using one for sleep, take it with you.

• Laptop and cellphone.

• Pajamas and toiletries.

• Pillow and blanket.  

The Day of the Surgery

What your weight-loss surgery will entail varies depending on the specific type of surgery you'll be having.

• Roux-en-Y: This procedure is also known as “gastric bypass.” Your stomach will be divided into a small top pouch and a larger lower pouch. Your small intestine will also be divided and the lower part raised up to attach to your new, smaller stomach. This procedure reduces the quantity of food you can eat at any given time.

• Sleeve gastrectomy: In this procedure, the majority of your stomach will be removed, creating a banana-shaped stomach.

• Biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch: In this procedure, a portion of your stomach is removed. The remaining portion is then attached to a lower segment of your small intestine.

 Banding: In this procedure, an inflatable band is wrapped around the upper part of your stomach, creating a small stomach pouch. The band can be adjusted as needed. 

9 Things You’ll Have to Do After Surgery

• Have a ride home in place. Expect to spend at least one night in the hospital, Rogers says. When you're discharged, you'll need to have someone drive you home.

• Prevent blood clots. You will need to adhere to strategies to prevent blood clots from developing. These include taking blood thinners and getting up and walking around while in the hospital and at home.

• Take pain medication. You'll probably get a prescription for pain medication. Laparoscopic surgery reduces pain and hospital stays, but you still may need prescription pain medication for a day or two after discharge, Rogers says.

• Anticipate constipation, as it's a byproduct of the pain medications and the surgery itself. Be sure to talk with your doctor or nurse about how to prevent constipation.

• Eat a restricted diet. Your diet will be restricted to liquid protein shakes for a week or so after the procedure, and then soft foods following that period. Most people can transition to eating food with texture after their one-month follow-up appointment. By three months you should be able to eat fruits and vegetables, Rogers says. The ASMBS recommends cutting down on carbohydrates and increasing protein.

• Drink lots of fluids. The ASMBS recommends at least 64 ounces, or 8 cups, of fluids daily.

• You may need to take supplements. Calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins are among those your doctor might recommend.

 Exercise – but nothing too strenuous. Walking daily, starting the day you get home, is good for you, says Rogers. However, skip the gym until you have your doctor’s permission. You should be able to lift small weights, she says, but avoid heavy items.

• Plan on missing work for a while. People with desk jobs usually can go back to work in about three weeks, Rogers says. Those with physical jobs or jobs that require extended periods of sitting, such as driving trucks, will have to wait a longer period of time.

11 Super Seniors We Admire

1 / 12   Super Seniors We Admire

Senior citizens are having a moment. The U.S. population is getting older — average life expectancy for men and women has reached 76 and 81, respectively, and it’s expected to keep rising, thanks to advances in medicine, nutrition, and safety. In fact, about one in seven adults today is older than 80, and the fastest-growing age group is people over 100. But many of today’s seniors aren’t content to sit still and age quietly. Lately we’ve seen headlines of amazing elders who have completed marathons, graduated college, raced in NASCAR, and more. 

“No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start living a healthier, more active, more engaging lifestyle,” says Terry Grossman, MD, a physician with an anti-aging and complementary medicine practice in Denver and co-author of Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever. Even walking an extra 10 minutes a day or taking an adult education class can help keep your body and mind sharp over time, he says. So whether you’re 35, 55, or 75, let these inspiring stories motivate you to cross a life goal off that proverbial bucket list.

Why Some Seniors Lose Their Hearing

Do you have difficulty hearing conversations held in a noisy room? Do you have a harder time picking up women’s voices than men’s? Do you constantly ask others to repeat what they just said? If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, you may be experiencing hearing loss — especially if you are 65 or older.

About 8.5 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 suffer from hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. That number jumps to 25 percent for those 65 to 74, and it doubles to 50 percent for ages 75 and older. After high blood pressure and arthritis, hearing loss is the most common chronic condition affecting senior health.

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What Causes Hearing Loss?

As you age, you are at risk for two types of hearing loss. The most common type of hearing loss in seniors is presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. A gradual loss of hearing that affects both ears, presbycusis occurs when tiny hairs in the ear, which are necessary for converting sound waves to sound, become damaged or die. Hearing loss from presbycusis is permanent because once these hairs are damaged or die, they are not replaced with new growth.

Related: 11 Early Signs of Dementia

The other type of hearing loss that seniors experience is tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Tinnitus can be either permanent or temporary.

Risk Factors Related to Hearing Loss

A lifetime of exposure to loud noises such as music, motorcycles, or firecrackers can cause hearing loss in seniors. Noise-related hearing loss often results in tinnitus. Other causes of and risk factors for hearing loss experienced by seniors include:

  • Smoking
  • Allergies, high blood pressure, tumors, or stroke
  • Medications
  • A punctured eardrum
  • Viruses or bacteria
  • Earwax buildup

Your genes may also play a role in presbycusis, as it tends to run in families. Environmental factors like loud music and smoking make it difficult to determine the effect of genetics on age-related hearing loss; however, according to American Family Physician, an estimated 50 percent of age-related hearing loss is inherited.

Men are also more likely than women to develop hearing loss, and they’re more likely to develop it at an earlier age, says American Family Physician.

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

Losing hearing can have a significant effect on other aspects of your wellbeing. Researchers in a 2014 survey of 18,300 adults found that about 12 percent of participants with hearing loss had moderate to severe depression compared with about 5 percent of those with excellent hearing. The survey, which was published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, also noted that women were particularly susceptible to depression related to hearing loss.

Hearing loss also appears to worsen cognitive functioning, according to a study published in the February 2013 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. Among the nearly 2,000 seniors studied, hearing loss lowered cognitive functioning on some assessments as much as 41 percent more than it did among those without hearing loss.

Hearing Aids and Other Treatment Options

Though you can’t always fully prevent hearing loss, you can take steps to minimize or overcome it. Age-related hearing loss may be prevented or at least lessened by avoiding loud noises.

Because there is no known cure for age-related hearing loss, treatment is generally focused on improving your ability to function day to day. Your doctor may treat you or refer you to a hearing specialist such an otolaryngologist (or ENT, a medical doctor who specializes in the ear, nose, and throat) or an audiologist (a licensed professional who diagnoses and helps manage hearing problems). The cause and extent of your hearing loss will determine the course of treatment.

hearing aid may be one recommendation from your doctor or audiologist. Hearing aids can be beneficial for many, but according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, fewer than 30 percent of adults older than 70 who could benefit from a hearing aid have one. Hearing aids have come a long way over the years and are available in a variety of styles. A hearing aid and its battery will either fit behind the ear, on the ear, just inside the ear, or in the ear canal.

Types of hearing aids include:

  • Analog hearing aids that increase the volume of some sounds while lowering the volume of others
  • Digital hearing aids that allow you to determine which sounds to make louder or lower

Using assistive listening devices also can help compensate for hearing loss. These products either amplify sound, such as sound from telephones, televisions, and radio listening systems, or alert the user visually, such as with smoke detectors or alarm clocks.

 

 

Surgery may be another consideration. Cochlear implants are electronic devices with one part surgically implanted in the skin and the other part worn behind or in the ear. Used only for severe hearing loss, implants will not restore normal hearing, but they can make sounds louder. Because of the nature of the implants, they are not without risks — they pose the potential for infection, damage to the facial nerve, and tinnitus.

Speech or lip reading and sign language may be an answer for some seniors with hearing loss. Both of these techniques require training and practice and are generally recommended for those with severe hearing loss.

See your doctor as soon as you think you have a hearing problem. The loss of hearing could be a symptom of another medical condition. Seniors with untreated hearing loss are also more likely to suffer emotionally and socially when they areunable to interact with friends and family members. Left untreated, hearing loss could lead to deafness, and seniors who do not address their hearing loss put their lives at risk if they are unable to hear emergency warnings such as car horns or smoke alarms.

Bullied Teens at Risk for Later Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: Living With the Scars of Bullying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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13 Conditions Commonly Mistaken for Multiple Sclerosis

Getting a correct diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) can be a challenge.

No single test can determine a diagnosis conclusively, and not everyone has all of the common symptoms of MS, such as numbness, tingling, pain, fatigue, and heat sensitivity. And to complicate matters, the symptoms you do have may resemble those of some other condition.

To figure out what’s causing possible MS symptoms, doctors look at your medical history, the results of a neurological exam, and an MRI — and sometimes do a spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture), says Jack Burks, MD, a neurologist and chief medical officer for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. "The diagnosis can also require eliminating the possible MS mimicker diseases," he says. That leads to an MS diagnosis by exclusion.

Here are some of the conditions that are sometimes mistaken for multiple sclerosis:

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through a tick bite. Early symptoms include fatigue, fever, headaches, and muscle and joint aches. Later symptoms can include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, as well as cognitive problems such as short-term memory loss and speech issues. If you live in an area that’s known to have Lyme disease or have recently traveled to one, your doctor will want to rule out the possibility, Dr. Burks says.

A migraine is a type of headache that can cause intense pain; throbbing; sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells; nausea and vomiting; blurred vision; and lightheadedness and fainting. A study published online in Neurology in August 2016 found that a migraine was the most common correct diagnosis in study subjects who had definitely or probably been misdiagnosed with MS, occurring in 22 percent of them. That said, headaches — and migraines in particular — do commonly occur with MS, shows a study published in Neurological Sciences in April 2011. And according to a study published in the Journal of Headache Pain in October 2010, they are also significantly associated with other types of pain, as well as with depression.

Migraines can be difficult to diagnose, and doctors use some of the same tools to diagnose the headaches as they do for MS, including taking a medical history and performing a thorough neurological examination.

Conversion and psychogenic disorders are conditions in which psychological stress is converted into a physical problem — such as blindness or paralysis — for which no medical cause can be found. In the Neurology study on MS misdiagnosis, 11 percent of subjects definitely or probably misdiagnosed with MS actually had a conversion or psychogenic disorder.

Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) is an inflammatory disease that, like multiple sclerosis, attacks the myelin sheaths — the protective covering of the nerve fibers — of the optic nerves and spinal cord. But unlike MS, it usually spares the brain in its early stages. Symptoms of NMOSD — which include sudden vision loss or pain in one or both eyes, numbness or loss of sensation in the arms and legs, difficulty controlling the bladder and bowels, and uncontrollable vomiting and hiccups — tend to be more severe than symptoms of MS. Treatments for MS are ineffective for and can even worsen NMOSD, so getting an accurate diagnosis is extremely important. A blood test known as the NMO IgG antibody test can help to differentiate between MS and NMOSD.

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disorder that, like MS, affects more women than men. It can cause muscle pain, joint swelling, fatigue, and headaches. The hallmark symptom of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash covering the cheeks and bridge of the nose, but only about half of people with lupus develop this rash. There is no single diagnostic test for lupus, and because its symptoms are similar to those of many other conditions, it is sometimes called “the great imitator.”

Rheumatologists (physicians specializing in diseases of the muscles and joints) typically diagnose lupus based on a number of laboratory tests and the number of symptoms characteristic of lupus that a person has.

A stroke occurs when a portion of the brain stops receiving a steady supply of blood, and consequently doesn't get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive. Symptoms of a stroke include loss of vision; loss of feeling in the limbs, usually on one side of the body; difficulty walking; and difficulty speaking — all of which can also be signs of an MS flare. The age of the person experiencing the symptoms may help to pin down the correct diagnosis. "While MS can occur in 70-year-olds, if the person is older, you tend to think of stroke, not MS," Burks says. A stroke requires immediate attention; if you think you’re experiencing a stroke, call 911.

Fibromyalgia and MS have some similar symptoms, including headaches, joint and muscle pain, numbness and tingling of extremities, memory problems, and fatigue. Like MS, fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men. But unlike MS, fibromyalgia does not show up as brain lesions on an MRI.

Sjögren’s syndrome is another autoimmune disorder, and the symptoms of many autoimmune disorders overlap, Burks says. Sjögren’s causes fatigue and musculoskeletal pain and is more common in women than in men. But the telltale signs are dry eyes and dry mouth, which are not associated with MS.

RELATED:  The Complex Process of Diagnosing MS

Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels that can mimic MS, says Kathleen Costello, an adult nurse practitioner and at The Johns Hopkins MS Center in Baltimore and vice president of healthcare access at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Depending on the type of vasculitis, symptoms can include joint pain, blurred vision, and numbness, tingling, and weakness in the limbs.

Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness that typically comes and goes, but tends to progress over time. The weakness is caused by a defect in the transmission of nerve impulses to muscles. In many people, the first signs of myasthenia gravis are drooping eyelids and double vision. Like MS, it can also cause difficulty with walking, speaking, chewing, and swallowing. If a doctor suspects myasthenia gravis, a number of tests can help to confirm or rule out the diagnosis.


Sarcoidosis is another inflammatory autoimmune disease that shares some symptoms with MS, including fatigue and decreased vision. But sarcoidosis most commonly affects the lungs, lymph nodes, and skin, causing a cough or wheezing, swollen lymph nodes, and lumps, sores, or areas of discoloration on the skin.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause MS-like symptoms such as fatigue, mental confusion, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. That's because vitamin B12 plays a role in the metabolism of fatty acids needed to maintain the myelin sheath. Vitamin B12 deficiency can be identified with a simple blood test.

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is a severe inflammatory attack affecting the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, vision loss, and difficulty walking. A very rare condition, ADEM typically comes on rapidly, often after a viral or bacterial infection. Children are more likely to have ADEM, while MS is more likely to occur in adults.

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Impulsive, Agitated Behaviors May Be Warning Signs for Suicide

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

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

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

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

One expert in the United States concurred with the findings.

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

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

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

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

RELATED: What Suicidal Depression Feels Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy Drinks Tied to Inattention, Hyper Behavior in Middle Schoolers

Yale University researchers looked at more than 1,600 students at middle schools in one urban school district in Connecticut. Their average age was around 12 years.

Boys were more likely to consume energy drinks than girls. The researchers also found that among boys, black and Hispanic students were more likely to drink the beverages than white students.

Children who consumed energy drinks were 66 percent more likely to be at risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms, according to the study in the current issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics.

RELATED: Energy Drinks Pack a Deadly Punch

Energy drinks have high levels of sugar and also often contain caffeine, the researchers noted. For the study, the investigators took into account the number and type of other sugar-sweetened drinks consumed by the students.

"As the total number of sugar-sweetened beverages increased, so too did risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms among our middle-school students. Importantly, it appears that energy drinks are driving this association," study leader Jeannette Ickovics, a professor in the School of Public Health, said in a Yale news release.

"Our results support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that parents should limit consumption of sweetened beverages and that children should not consume any energy drinks," she added.

The students in this study drank an average of two sugary drinks a day. The number of daily sugary drinks ranged from none to as many as seven or more such drinks. Some sugar-sweetened beverages and energy drinks contain up to 40 grams of sugar each. Depending on how old they are, children should only have about 21 to 33 grams of sugar a day, according to the researchers.

Along with causing problems such as hyperactivity and inattention, sugary drinks increase children's risk of obesity, Ickovics noted. About one-third of American children are overweight or obese, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Efforts by HealthDay to reach out to the beverage industry for comment were unsuccessful.

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For Pain, It Matters Which Doctor You See

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

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

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

The Serious Effects of Pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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