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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.

11 Super Seniors We Admire

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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.

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.

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

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

How to Find the Right Therapist for Your Depression

The right therapist can make all the difference in getting the best treatment for depression, but do some homework before you choose one.


If you're depressed, a therapist can teach you how to deal with your feelings, change the way you think, and change the way you behave to help ease your symptoms.

Finding a therapist you are comfortable with is essential. You will need to talk openly and honestly with your therapist about your thoughts and feelings, so it's important to find the right specialist for you, says Ryan Howes, PhD, a clinical psychologist and a clinical professor at the Fuller School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.

The first step is to look at yourself and determine what it is you need, Dr. Howes says. “Ask yourself, Am I the sort of person who benefits from someone who tells me what to do? Or do I need someone with a good ability to listen and who will talk through things with me?" he advises. Your answer will tell you whether you need someone who will provide directive or non-directive therapy.

Also consider whom you might feel most comfortable with: a man or a woman; someone about your age, or someone younger or older; someone with lots of experience, or someone who is relatively new with fresh ideas. “Once you narrow it down, you can start looking for people who meet your criteria,” Howes says.

Different Types of Therapists and Their Credentials

Several types of mental health professionals can serve as a therapist for people with depression. Being aware of the training differences might help you narrow your search.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD or DO degree) who have completed specialized training in mental and emotional disorders. They can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications for depression. Psychiatrists may also provide individual or group therapy. Philip R. Muskin, MD, professor of psychiatry and chief of consultation-liaison psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, advises starting with a physician if you’re severely depressed.

Psychologists have a doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) in psychology. They are skilled in the diagnosis of emotional disorders and spend most of their time providing individual or group psychotherapy, but do not prescribe medication.

Social workers usually have a master’s degree in social work (MSW) and have training in providing individual or group therapy.

Licensed professional counselors have a master’s degree in psychology (or a related area) and are trained to diagnose and counsel individuals or groups.

Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses (RNs) with training in psychiatric nursing.

Sources of Referrals

How do you go about finding the right therapist for you?

You might want to start by talking with your family doctor. If your doctor feels you need a mental health specialist, he or she should be able to give you referrals, Dr. Muskin says. Or you might be the one to tell your regular doctor, "I need to see a psychiatrist, and this is why,” he adds.

RELATED: 5 Things Psychologists Wish Their Patients Would Do

You could also ask around to see if your friends or family members know of a good therapist who has experience in treating depression. “Personal references can be very good, particularly if they come from someone who knows you well and what you like,” Muskin says.

Here are other resources to help you find a therapist for depression treatment: 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) runs a helpline that can help you locate support. Call 800-950-NAMI or email info@NAMI.org.
The American Psychological Association has a therapist locator on its website.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America can also help you locate a therapist near where you live. 
Your health insurance company likely has a dropdown menu item, such as “find a provider,” for names of professionals in its network.
Schools and universities often have counseling services that can offer referrals if they can’t help you directly. You may have access if you’re an alum or faculty.
The clergy Faith leaders often know of mental health professionals who can help. And if they know you, they can recommend someone who fits your personality and needs. 
Employee Assistance Programs If offered by your employer, they’re part of your benefits package.  
How to Interview Potential Therapists

Once you have a list of at least two or three potential therapists, it's time to figure out which one is best for you. Call each therapist to get some key information before making an appointment.

Questions to ask include:

Are you taking new patients?
What experience do you have treating patients who have depression?
Where do the therapy sessions take place? Some psychiatrists have more than one office where they see patients, Muskin says. Their location and when they hold appointments can matter to you, he adds.
How much does the therapy cost? Do you take my insurance?
Can I meet with you before committing to a therapy session?
RELATED: 6 Questions Everyone Should Ask Their Therapist

If you're able to make a consultation appointment before a therapy session, ask the therapist more specific preliminary questions, such as:

What type of therapy would you recommend for my depression symptoms?
What will this type of therapy involve?
What are the benefits and the primary goals of my depression treatment?
Are you willing to work with other members of my medical team to coordinate my depression treatment? This is especially important if you have a non-MD therapist who will rely on your primary care doctor to prescribe medications.
How often would I need therapy sessions?
After meeting with a potential therapist, take some time to decide whether you are comfortable with them. If you aren’t, keep looking until you find one you like and trust.

Some people will improve with psychotherapy alone; others may need both psychotherapy and a prescription antidepressant. Once you start therapy for your depression, be patient. Psychotherapy (sometimes referred to as talk therapy) for depression can sometimes be painful, and you may find yourself doing most of the talking during the first few sessions. Your therapist will partner with you to ease your depression symptoms and improve your life.

Obesity Linked to 13 Types of Cancer

There's a link between obesity and 40 percent of all the cancers diagnosed in the United States, health officials reported Tuesday.

That doesn't mean too much weight is causing all these cancer cases, just that there's some kind of still-to-be explained association, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, the study findings suggest that being obese or overweight was associated with cancer cases involving more than 630,000 Americans in 2014, and this includes 13 types of cancer.

"That obesity and overweight are affecting cancers may be surprising to many Americans. The awareness of some cancers being associated with obesity and overweight is not yet widespread," Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC deputy director, said during a midday media briefing.

The 13 cancers include: brain cancer; multiple myeloma; cancer of the esophagus; postmenopausal breast cancer; cancers of the thyroid, gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, ovaries, uterus and colon, the researchers said.

Speaking at the news conference, Dr. Lisa Richardson, director of CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, said early evidence indicates that losing weight can lower the risk for some cancers.

According to the new report from the CDC and the U.S. National Cancer Institute, these 13 obesity-related cancers made up about 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States in 2014.

RELATED: U.S. Cancer Death Rate Continues to Fall

Although the rate of new cancer cases has decreased since the 1990s, increases in overweight and obesity-related cancers are likely slowing this progress, the researchers said.

Of the 630,000 Americans diagnosed with a cancer associated with overweight or obesity in 2014, about two out of three occurred in adults aged 50 to 74, the researchers found.

Excluding colon cancer, the rate of obesity-related cancer increased by 7 percent between 2005 and 2014. During the same time, rates of non-obesity-related cancers dropped, the findings showed.

In 2013-2014, about two out of three American adults were overweight or obese, according to the report.

For the study, researchers analyzed 2014 cancer data from the United States Cancer Statistics report and data from 2005 to 2014.

Key findings include:

Of all cancers, 55 percent in women and 24 percent in men were associated with overweight and obesity.
Blacks and whites had higher rates of weight-related cancer than other racial or ethnic groups.
Black men and American Indian/Alaska Native men had higher rates of cancer than white men.
Cancers linked to obesity increased 7 percent between 2005 and 2014, but colon cancer decreased 23 percent. Screening for colon cancer is most likely the reason for that cancer's continued decline, Schuchat said.
Cancers not linked to obesity dropped 13 percent.
Except for colon cancer, cancers tied to overweight and obesity increased among those younger than 75.
The new report was published online Oct. 3 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Dr. Farhad Islami is strategic director of cancer surveillance research for the American Cancer Society.

He said it's "important to note that only a fraction of the cancers included in the calculation in this report are actually caused by excess body weight."

According to Islami, "many are attributable to other known risk factors, like smoking, while for many others, the cause is unknown. Obesity is more strongly associated with some cancers than others."

The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that "20 percent of all cancers in the United States are caused by a combination of excess body weight, physical inactivity, excess alcohol, and poor nutrition. The American Cancer Society is currently doing its own extensive calculation of the numbers and proportions of cancer cases attributable to excess body weight, the results of which will be published soon," he said.

Getting an IBS Diagnosis

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

By Marie Suszynski | Medically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD

10 Ways to Make Your Treadmill Workout Safer

With the news of SurveyMonkey CEO David Goldberg's accidental death on a treadmill, we are reminded that there are risks to exercise, particularly when using gym equipment. Because a treadmill is powered by a motor, rather than self-propelled, accidents can happen, especially when people lose their balance. Injuries can include bruises, sprains, broken bones, concussions, and sometimes, even death. 

While the Consumer Products Safety Commission reported over 24,000 emergency room visits associated with treadmills in the United States in 2014, deaths are rare. That said, it's important for people to know their physical limits and keep safety in mind when using a treadmill.

Expert Panel Recommends Questionnaire to Help Spot Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: 10 Drug-Free Therapies for Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loneliness May Fuel Mental Decline in Old Age

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: The Health Risks of Loneliness 

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

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

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

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

10 Ways to Fight Chronic RA Pain

The aches and pains of rheumatoid arthritis can be hard to overcome, but these strategies may help in treating chronic pain.

From fatigue to loss of appetite, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can impact your life in a number of ways, but the most limiting symptom for many people is pain. Because that pain comes in different forms, you may need more than one strategy to relieve it.

“The primary cause of rheumatoid arthritis pain is inflammation that swells joint capsules," says Yousaf Ali, bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery, an associate professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine and chief of the division of rheumatology at Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City. Joint capsules are thin sacs of fluid that surround a joint, providing lubrication for bone movement. In RA, the body's immune system attacks those capsules.

The first goal of pain relief is the control of inflammation, Dr. Ali explains. “Inflammation can cause acute (short-term) pain or longer-lasting smoldering pain," he says. "Chronic erosion of joint tissues over time is another cause of chronic pain. But there are many options for pain relief.”

Getting RA pain under control may take some work. You may find that you'll need to take several drugs — some to slow the joint damage and some to alleviate joint pain. Alternative therapies, like acupuncture, combined with drugs may help you to feel stronger. It may take some time, too. Try the following strategies — with your doctor's supervision — to discover which are most effective for you:

Treatments and Strategies to Help Relieve Chronic RA Pain

1. Inflammation Medication "In the case of RA, all other pain-relief strategies are secondary to controlling inflammation," Ali says. The No. 1 option in the pain relief arsenal is to control inflammation with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, called DMARDs. These drugs, which work to suppress the body's overactive immune system response, are also used to prevent joint damage and slow the progression of the disease. DMARDs are often prescribed shortly after a diagnosis in order to prevent as much joint damage as possible.

"The most commonly used is the drug methotrexate," he says. It's administered both orally and through injections. Digestive issues, such as nausea and diarrhea, are the most common side effect of DMARDs, and of methotrexate in particular, if taken by mouth. Hair loss, mouth sores, and drowsiness are other potential side effects. Methotrexate, which is taken once a week, can take about five or six weeks to start working, and it may be three to six months before the full effects of the drug are felt; doctors may also combine it with other drugs, including other DMARDs.

"Steroids may be used to bridge the gap during an acute flare," adds Ali. "If flares continue, we can go to triple-drug therapy, or use newer biologic drugs that are more expensive but also effective.” The most common side effect of biologics are infections that may result from their effect on the immune system.

The next tier of pain relief includes these additional approaches:

2. Pain Medication The best drugs for acute pain, Ali says, are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs. Aspirin and ibuprofen belong to this class of drugs, as does a newer type of NSAID called celecoxib. While NSAIDs treat joint pain, research has shown that they don't prevent joint damage. In addition, NSAIDs may irritate the stomach lining and cause kidney damage when used over a long period of time.

"Stronger pain relievers, calledopioids, may be used for severe pain, but we try to avoid them if possible," says Ali. "These drugs must be used cautiously because of the potential to build up tolerance, which can lead to abuse."

3. Diet Although some diets may be touted to help RA symptoms, they aren’t backed by the medical community. “There is no evidence that any special diet will reduce RA pain," Ali says. But there is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation — and the joint pain that results from it. Omega-3s can be found in cold-water fish and in fish oil supplements. A study published in November 2015 in the Global Journal of Health Sciences found that people who took fish oil supplements were able to reduce the amount of pain medication they needed.

4. Weight Management Maintaining a healthy weight may help you better manage joint pain. A study published in November 2015 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research suggested that significant weight loss can lower the need for medication in people with RA. Among the study participants, 93 percent were using DMARDs before they underwent bariatric surgery, but that dropped to 59 percent a year after surgery.

5. Massage A massage from a therapist (or even one you give yourself) can be a soothing complementary treatment to help reduce muscle and joint pain. A study published in May 2013 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice involved 42 people with RA in their arms who received either light massage or medium massage from a massage therapist once a week for a month. The participants were also taught to do self-massage at home. After a month of treatment, the moderate-pressure massage group had less pain and greater range of motion than the others.

6. Exercise Although you may not feel like being active when you have RA, and it might seem that being active could put stress on your body, gentle exercises can actually help reduce muscle and joint pain, too. “Non-impact or low-impact exercise is a proven way to reduce pain," Ali says. "We recommend walking, swimming, and cycling.” In fact, one of the best exercises you can do for RA is water aerobics in a warm pool because the water buoys your body.

The Arthritis Foundation also notes that yoga is another option to help reduce RA pain, and traditional yoga poses can be modified to your abilities. Yoga may also help improve the coordination and balance that is sometimes impaired when you have the disease. When it comes to exercise, though, it’s also wise to use caution. Talk with your doctor if any workouts are making your pain worse, and, in general, put any exercise plan on hold during an acute flare.

7. Orthoses These are mechanical aids that can help support and protect your joints. Examples include padded insoles for your shoes and splints or braces that keep your joints in proper alignment. You can even get special gloves for hand and finger RA. A physical therapist can help you determine the best orthoses options for you.

8. Heat and Cold Heat helps to relax muscles, while cold helps to dull the sensation of pain. You might find that applying hot packs or ice packs, or alternating between hot and cold, helps reduce your joint pain. Relaxing in a hot bath can also bring relief, as can exercising in a warm pool.

9. Acupuncture This Eastern medicine practice, which has been around for centuries, is thought to work by stimulating the body's natural painkillers through the use of fine needles gently placed near nerve endings. “I have found acupuncture to be helpful for some patients, but the pain relief is usually not long-lasting,” says Ali.

10. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) TENS is a form of therapy that uses low-voltage electric currents to stimulate nerves and interfere with pain pathways. “TENS is usually used for stubborn, chronic pain and not as a first-line treatment for RA,” Ali says. One of the benefits of this treatment is the low occurrence of side effects. If you're interested in trying it for pain relief, talk with your physical therapist.

Remember, you’re not alone — your doctor and specialists can help you find relief from chronic pain. If you’re experiencing more pain than before, or if pain is interfering with your ability to get things done, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Ask your rheumatologist about pain relief options, like exercise, massage, yoga, and acupuncture, but remember that the first priority on your pain relief list should be to get RA inflammation under control.

18 Ways to Make This Your Healthiest Summer Ever

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of summer always being linked to the dread of bathing suit season when there are so many healthy aspects to celebrate this time of year. Fresh produce is abundant, beautiful, and more affordable. The weather (at least in most parts of the country) is perfect for outdoor walking, biking, hiking, and swimming, and the days are longer so you have more time to fit in physical activity. Vacations allow you time to relax, de-stress, and get active with friends and family, and your schedule may be more flexible, allowing you more time to focus on healthy habits.

With summer upon us, it’s the perfect time to set some health goals and embrace new opportunities to eat smart and get fit. Here are 18 ideas to motivate and inspire you throughout the sunny months ahead:

Head to the Farmer’s Market

Loading up on summer’s best and freshest produce, including leafy greens, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, green beans, berries, and stone fruits will make it easier to gobble up more vegetable and fruit servings.

Make salad your main course a few times a week. Take advantage of farm-fresh lettuce and the bounty of seasonal produce to concoct creative salad bowls. For a quintessential summer meal, top your greens with sweet corn, diced tomato, avocado, and crumbled feta.
Swap sugary desserts for delicious seasonal fruits. Instead of reaching for cookies, pastries, or chocolate after dinner, dig into a bowl of naturally sweet, ripe fruit. Best bets include berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, and plums.
Lay out a healthy, no-cook summer spread. If it’s too hot to cook, throw together a picnic-style meal of sliced raw veggies (carrots, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, etc.) with hummus, sliced whole-grain bread or crackers, cheeses, olives, fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and other tasty nibbles.
Get grilling. It’s a terrific way to infuse flavor into lean proteins like skinless chicken breasts and thighs, turkey burgers, fish, shrimp, and pork tenderloin, especially if you start with a tasty spice rub or marinade. If you cook extra, you’ll have ready-to-eat proteins to add to leafy green or grain-based salads for simple meals later in the week.
And don’t forget the grilled veggies. Whenever you fire up the grill, toss on some sliced zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, bell peppers, and/or mushrooms. Chop them up and toss with pasta or cooked whole grains like brown rice, farro, and quinoa for a simple meal. Or, layer grilled vegetables on whole-grain bread spread with goat cheese or hummus for a tasty vegetarian sandwich.
Cool down with fruit smoothies. Blend your favorite summer fruits — and veggies like carrots, spinach, and beets — with yogurt and your milk of a choice for a hydrating breakfast or snack. The fruit will add plenty of sweetness, so you can skip added sugars like maple syrup and honey. Make extra and pour into ice pop molds or small paper cups with popsicle sticks for a fun frozen dessert.
Start your day with a hearty, refreshing breakfast. Overnight oats are a great choice this time of year (they’re the more seasonally appropriate counterpart to a hearty bowl of hot oatmeal). Or, top fresh fruit with a dollop of protein-rich yogurt or part-skim ricotta cheese and optional chopped nuts. I can’t wait to dig into my first bowl of fresh cherries, peaches, or nectarines with ricotta!
Go skinny-dipping. Whip up a tasty new dip each week to enjoy with all of the deliciously dunkable summer produce. Try Greek yogurt with mixed fresh herbs, artichoke pesto (you have to try this recipe!), or any number of unique hummus variations, including roasted red pepper, beet, edamame, and carrot-based blends.
Start spiralizing. I don’t endorse a lot of single-use kitchen gadgets, but I’m pretty fond of the vegetable spiral slicers that are all the rage right now. The price is right at about $15 to $25 per machine, and you can use it to make low-cal veggie pastas and salads out of all of the inexpensive summer bumper crops like zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, carrots, and even beets. Check out this recipe for zesty Carrot Noodle Stir Fry from the blog Inspiralized.
Sip on iced tea. To help you stay hydrated in the hot weather, I suggest keeping a pitcher or two of unsweetened iced tea in the fridge at all times. Switching up the flavor from week to week will prevent you from getting bored in the beverage department. Mint green tea is a classic summertime brew, but I also love fruity combos like pomegranate and raspberry.
Plant something … anything! Never grown anything edible before? Don’t let that stop you; starting a simple garden in pots or other containers is actually really easy. Go to the nearest hardware store and pick up a large planter, a bag of potting soil, and a small potted plant, like any fresh herb or one of the vegetables listed here. Consider starting with basil or a cherry tomato varietal; they’re both easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen.
Go on a pick-your-own adventure! Don’t wait for apple picking in the fall. Make a date with family or friends to harvest summer produce at a local orchard or farm (visit pickyourown.org to find a site near you). If you’re willing to put in the labor, you can buy buckets of berries, stone fruit, and other seasonal items at a great price.
Sit down and enjoy meals outdoors. So many people I know own lovely patio sets but rarely use them. Make a plan to sit down to a family meal in your backyard once a week. You’ll likely eat more slowly and mindfully when you’re dining al fresco. If you don’t have access to an outdoor eating space, plan a fun picnic at a local park.
Master a few healthy recipes for summer cookouts. Finding lighter fare at barbecues can be a challenge, but if you volunteer to bring a healthy dish, you know you’ll have at least one good option to pile onto your plate and dilute some of the heavier entrees and sides. To keep things simple, bring a big bowl of fruit salad or pick up a crudite platter from the grocery store. If you don’t mind doing a bit more prep, I recommend throwing together a pasta salad with lots of veggies, like this colorful soba noodle salad with edamame, red pepper, and purple cabbage.
Go for a daily walk. Now that the days are longer, it’s easier to squeeze in a short walk at the start or end of your day. Aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week (but if you can only commit to 15 or 20, that’s still well worth the effort). When things start to heat up, schedule an early morning or late evening walk when temps are cooler.
Hit the trail. For a change of scenery, seek out some local walking and hiking trails in your area using sites like alltrails.com and traillink.com. Pack a healthy lunch or snacks and make a day of it!
Take a hiatus from TV. With all the network hit shows on summer break, it’s the perfect time to reduce your screen time. Cut down on evening television viewing and spend that time outdoors walking, biking, doing yardwork, or playing with the kids or grandkids.

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.

How to Protect Yourself During a Mass Shooting

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

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The headlines appear with unnerving frequency about mass shootings somewhere in the United States -- at a movie theater, a shopping mall, a school, a sporting event. Yesterday, a shooting tragedy took place at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, the second at this site since November 2009.

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Precisely how often mass shootings have occurred depends somewhat on interpretation. The Congressional Research Service, which defines a mass shooting as one that takes place in a relatively public place and results in four or more deaths, not including the shooter, identified 78 such shootings in the United States from 1983 to early 2013. A report by researchers at Texas State University, done after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, used different parameters and identified 84 mass shootings from 2000 to 2010 by people whose main motive appears to have been mass murder.

Though the precise number of mass casualty shootings may be hard to determine, there's no disagreement that people today need to think about their safety whenever they go out in public, said Dennis Krebs, a retired captain and paramedic with the Baltimore County Fire Department and author of "When Violence Erupts, A Survival Guide for Emergency Responders" and the "Special Operations Mission Planning Field Guide." 

“If you at least think about what you would do if you were confronted with such a situation, it gives you an edge,” Krebs said. 

Life-Saving Tips in the Event of a Mass Shooting

Irwin Redlener, MD, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said that people don’t need to panic or even fear going to public places to avoid mass casualty shootings. He does agree with Krebs though: In 2014, it’s worth giving some thought to how to protect yourself during a mass shooting. 

 

 

What you can do if faced with a mass shooting depends greatly on the situation and your physique and physical capabilities, Dr. Redlener noted. “If you’re small and alone or with your 1-year-old or your 14-year-old, it’s going to be different,” he said. “Everything about survival guidelines is dependent on the details of the particular situation.” 

However, experts in public safety do have advice on how to protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of a mass shooting.

Pay attention to your surroundings. No matter where you go, "be aware of your environment," Redlener said. "If you see something that looks suspicious or out of place, or you notice an unusual gathering of people, you can begin taking action prior to the event occurring." By being aware, you may be able to avoid the scene and not walk into trouble. “Situational awareness is something that police officers and the military are taught and trained to do,” he said. When you go to a mall or a movie, know where the nearest exits are. 

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

Flee if you can. If you’re caught in a mass shooting, “you want to get outside of the building as quickly as you possibly can," Krebs said. A lot of people freeze, but "that's the last thing you want to do,” he said. Urge any people you're with to come with you, but don’t waste precious time trying to persuade them to get out while you can. 

 

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

Irwin Redlener, MDTWEET

 

David Reiss, MD, a San Diego psychiatrist, said that some training in the martial arts can help prepare you to deal with your body’s natural fight-or-flight response and not be paralyzed when faced with traumatic events from which you should flee. “To be aware of that response and have some training in dealing with it can be useful without going overboard,” he said. 

Leave your belongings behind. Drop whatever stuff you have with you -- packages, luggage, purse, or backpack. It will make your exit easier. Nothing is more important than your life, Krebs said. Video of the mass shooting at the Los Angeles airport in November 2013 showed people fleeing with their suitcases, but, as Krebs said, "there's nothing in that piece of Samsonite that’s worth your life." 

If you can’t run, hide. “You want to be in an area that allows you to be protected from the gunman or further mischief by the armed perpetrator,” said Stephen Hargarten, MD, MPH, professor and chairman of emergency medicine and director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Lock and barricade the doors to your hiding place. In one recent mass shooting at a mall, a store clerk was able to protect some shoppers by hitting the button for a gate in front of the store, sealing everyone inside, Krebs said. 

Once in hiding, be quiet. Shut off your cellphone. Instinct may tell you to keep it on and try to call for help, but a ringing phone could be dangerous if it attracts the shooter's attention, Krebs said. Call 911 for help only if and when it’s safe to do so. 

 

 

Try to avoid confronting the shooter. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, taking any action against the shooter should be a last resort -- something you do only if your life is in imminent danger. But, if there's no other option, yell, act aggressively, or look around for something that might work as a weapon. 

Afterwards, exit carefully. Once the shooting has stopped and you are able to leave the building, go out with your hands up. Drop whatever you are carrying. “Police may not have a description of the suspect they’re after," Krebs said, "and if you come running out the door with something in your hand, you could end up getting hurt." 

Disaster Preparedness With Children 

Parents with young children should follow the same advice that flight attendants give passengers: Take care of yourself first because, if you don’t, you won’t be able to help your children, Dr. Hargarten said.

Before you're faced with a traumatic event, talk with your children about the best ways to handle such situations. What you say will depend on their age, but whatever you say, try not to frighten them unnecessarily. Emphasize that in an emergency situation like that, they would need to follow your directions, no questions asked. If you have to scream at your children, it could attract the attention of the shooter. 

As part of your family's disaster preparedness plan, decide where to meet if you get separated in an emergency -- even if it's a place you've been many times before. 

Dr. Reiss said you can’t anticipate mass casualty shootings and should not spend your days fretting over what you would do if you were caught up in one. “If you expect emergencies every moment of your day, it will ruin your life,” he said. It’s best to give it some thought but not let it overwhelm you

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."

7 Dietitian-Approved Pumpkin Spice Foods You'll Love

1 / 8   Healthy Treats to Celebrate the Season

Fall means beautiful foliage, back-to-school time, and, you guessed it, pumpkin spice everything. From lattes to hummus (yes, you read that right), there’s no shortage of pumpkin spice-flavored products on the market. The problem is that many of these foods are laden with fat and sugar. A grande pumpkin spice latte with whipped cream at Starbucks, for example, contains a whopping 50 grams (g) of sugar and 380 calories — enough for a whole meal! Then there’s the pumpkin muffin from Dunkin’ Donuts, which weighs in at 550 calories and 24 g of fat.

The good news is you don’t have to steer clear of foods with pumpkin: They contain even more potassium than bananas, which means they can help lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. Plus, a study published in February 2014 in the International Journal of Clinical Oncology found that consuming foods rich in beta-carotene — like pumpkins — is associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer, and a study published in 2004 showed that it may also reduce risk of prostate cancer.

To help you get into the spirit of the season — without widening your waistline — try these dietitian-approved pumpkin spice treats!

More Than 1 in 10 Pilots Suffer From Depression, Study Finds

Report highlights need for accurate screening.

More than one-tenth of professional airline pilots may suffer from depression, and a small percentage might experience suicidal thoughts, a new survey reveals.

The findings come in the wake of the Germanwings air crash in 2015. In that tragedy, a co-pilot with depression deliberately crashed an airliner in the French Alps, killing all 150 people onboard.

"We found that many pilots currently flying are managing depressive symptoms, and it may be that they are not seeking treatment due to the fear of negative career impacts," said senior study author Joseph Allen. He is an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

"There is a veil of secrecy around mental health issues in the cockpit. By using an anonymous survey, we were able to guard against people's fears of reporting due to stigma and job discrimination," he explained in a Harvard news release.

In the online survey, conducted between April and December of 2015, the researchers asked just over 1,800 pilots in the United States, Canada and Australia about their mental health.

RELATED: 6 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

The findings showed that 12.6 percent of the pilots met the criteria for likely depression and 4 percent reported having suicidal thoughts within the previous two weeks.

Male pilots were more likely than female pilots to report that they had instances "nearly every day" of loss of interest, feeling like a failure, difficulty concentrating and thinking they would be better off dead.

Meanwhile, compared with male pilots, female pilots were more likely to have had at least one day of poor mental health in the previous month, and were more likely to have been diagnosed with depression, according to the researchers.

In addition, depression was more common among pilots who used more sleep aid medications and those who were subjected to sexual or verbal harassment, the investigators found.

According to study first author Alex Wu, the study "hints at the prevalence of depression among pilots -- a group of professionals that is responsible for thousands of lives every day -- and underscores the importance of accurately assessing pilots' mental health and increasing support for preventative treatment." Wu is a doctoral student at Harvard.

The study was published online Dec. 14 in the journal Environmental Health.

About 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, the researchers said. But less than half receive treatment, partly because of the social stigma, according to the World Health Organization.

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Many Under 40 May Not Need Regular Cholesterol Checks: Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others disagreed with Patel's point.

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

Instead, there are two central reasons, Stone explained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Diet and Nutrition Articles

All Diet and Nutrition Articles

 

The Link Between Depression and Debt

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

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

How Debt Leads to Emotional Distress

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

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

When Depression Leads to Debt

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

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

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

RELATED: 5 Ways to Ease Unemployment Blues

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

How to Find Debt and Depression Help

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

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

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

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

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

New Cholesterol Drugs Vastly Overpriced, Study Contends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: 8 Foods That Can Cause High Cholesterol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: 7 Supplement Risks Every Woman Should Know About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIY Beauty Treatments for Every Skin Problem

  • 1 / 7   DIY Beauty Solutions

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

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

  • 2 / 7   Problem: Hyperpigmentation and dark spots

    Solution: Fresh lemon juice and a red onion


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

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

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

    Solution: Almond milk and coffee grounds


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

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

  • 4 / 7   Problem: Dull skin

    Solution: Peppermint tea


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

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

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

    Solution: Strawberries and honey


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

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

  • 6 / 7   Problem: Dry, frizzy hair

    Solution: Coconut oil


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

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

  • 7 / 7   Problem: Product buildup

    Solution: Apple cider vinegar

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

    “Apple cider vinegar is an effective clarifying

Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2017

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer risks, the value of screening and early detection, and treatment options available to women and men who are diagnosed with one of the many forms of breast cancer. More than 249,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year, and nearly 41,000 die from the disease.

Over the years, a loop of pink ribbon has come to symbolize breast cancer awareness, and today the image of a pink ribbon can be found emblazoned on thousands of products, from apparel to dishware to office supplies. But there's more to awareness than just wearing pink.

Surprising Physical Signs of Heart Disease

Many people associate heart disease with obvious symptoms, like chest pain. But there are some not-so-obvious connections, like swollen feet or bleeding gums, that should also merit a heart check from your doctor.

The classic red flags for a heart attack are familiar to anyone who has watched medical dramas on television. The patient, usually an older man, starts wheezing and gasping for breath. Then he clutches his chest, staggers, and eventually falls over. In real life, the signs and symptoms of heart disease are much more varied and subtle.

Signs Versus Symptoms of Heart Disease
First, some definitions. Heart disease symptoms are indications that you feel or experience, while a sign of heart disease is something your doctor can see or find. Obvious heart disease symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain. But your doctor will also look for common heart disease signs during an examination or in a patient interview.

Knowing the signs of heart disease is important because you may have them before you have any of the common heart disease symptoms. Letting your doctor know about these warning signs could help you get early treatment for heart disease.

"Signs like ankle swelling or weight gain do not necessarily mean you have heart disease, but taken together with other symptoms of heart disease, laboratory studies, and family history, they are an important part of making a diagnosis of heart disease or heart failure," says Carl E. Orringer, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of the Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine and LDL Apheresis Programs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Swelling of the Feet and Lower Legs
Retention of fluid in the feet and legs is known as peripheral edema. Edema may appear as "sock marks" on your legs and ankles at the end of the day, especially if you wear tight socks or hose. Mild peripheral edema is common. Your doctor may check for this sign by pressing a finger against your ankle or shin bone to see if a depression or dent is left behind. This is called "pitting edema” and it could indicate congestive heart failure.

Edema may be a sign of heart failure because when your heart is not pumping well, fluid from inside your blood vessels tends to leak out into surrounding tissues. The legs and ankles are common areas for edema because of the effects of gravity.

"Peripheral edema may be caused by a host of issues,” says Dr. Orringer. “The bottom line is that most people with peripheral edema do not have heart disease, but it could be an important sign if there are other signs and symptoms of heart failure."

Male Pattern Baldness
"If you watched any of the royal wedding, you might have noticed that Prince William is balding on the top of his head. This type of balding of the crown of the head in young men may be a sign of an increased risk for heart disease," says Orringer.

Several large studies have confirmed the link between baldness and heart disease. Compared with men with a full head of hair, men with crown loss have an increased risk of heart disease of about 23 percent. Men with complete loss of hair on the top of their head have an increased risk of 36 percent.

The combination of hair loss, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol pushes the risk even higher. This link may be due to too much of the male hormone testosterone, which interferes with hair growth on the head and causes hardening of the arteries. That doesn't mean you are doomed to heart disease if you are bald, but it does suggest you should be screened more carefully for other signs and symptoms of heart disease.

Yellow Bumps on the Skin
Xanthomas are deposits of fat that build up under the skin. They may appear as small yellow bumps or as flat, wide plaques on your elbows, knees, hands, feet, or buttocks. A type of xanthoma called xanthelasma palpebrarum appears on the eyelids. These yellow, fat deposits can potentially be signs of heart disease because they may indicate high levels of fats in the blood.

"Xanthomas may be a sign of a rare, inherited type of blood disorder in which high levels of triglycerides accumulate in the blood. Xanthomas may also be a sign of increased cholesterol, and they may disappear once cholesterol levels are under control," says Orringer.

Gum Disease
Swollen, sore, or bleeding gums are usually a sign of poor oral hygiene, but may also be an important sign of heart disease. "The association between gum disease and heart disease is the real deal," says Orringer. "There is plenty of research available now that backs up this connection."

Gum disease and heart disease may be linked because they are both signs of poor circulation, or there could be common bacteria that are involved in both gum disease and plaque buildup inside coronary arteries. The link may also have something to do with the body's response to prolonged inflammation. In any case, taking better care of your teeth and gums may be a good way to cut down your risk for heart disease.

Emotional Stress
Weakening of the heart muscle accompanied by extreme emotional stress, grief, or loss, especially in women, is called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome. When this occurs, surging stress hormones, especially adrenaline, trigger cardiac pain that feels a lot like a heart attack, often with heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and flushing. But unlike during a real heart attack, the arteries are not blocked. This potentially serious and often overlooked condition is more common in women than in men; in fact, men make up for only 10 percent of diagnosed cases.

Signs of Heart Failure
Heart failure means the heart is not functioning as well as it should. It doesn't mean the heart has failed. Another term for heart failure is congestive heart failure, or CHF. Heart failure gradually gets worse over time. Some early warning signs may include:

Weight Gain If your heart starts to fail and fluid starts to build up in your tissue, causing edema, you might see a sudden weight gain.

Frequent Urination Heart failure may cause decreased blood flow to the kidneys, which causes you to retain more fluid. One of the signs of this fluid may be frequent urination.

Cataracts Although the exact cause of the relationship between cataracts and heart disease is not known, studies show that people who have cataracts are at higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. "This link is probably more of an association than a sign of heart disease," says Orringer.

Nighttime Cough "One of the signs of heart failure may be the buildup of fluid in the chest and heart when lying flat at night. This increased fluid can cause a nighttime cough," explains Orringer.

Remember that all these heart disease signs may have many different causes. They do not mean you have or will get heart disease. But combined with other heart disease signs and symptoms, your blood tests, and your family history, they give your doctor the best chance to find heart disease early and keep you in good health.

5 Cooking Tips to Spice Up Your Heart-Healthy Diet

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

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

The Calming Power of Nature

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

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

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

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

RELATED: How to Create a Depression Treatment Plan

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

What Nature-Depression Research Shows

Among the studies finding nature helps with depression:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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