Side Effects of Multiple Sclerosis Medications

Twelve disease-modifying medications are FDA-approved to treat relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Specifically, these drugs help prevent relapses and slow progression of the disease.

The newest disease-modifying medications are called “immunomodulators” because they affect the functioning of your immune system. 

“All these therapies highlight the increased choices and options for patients living with MS, and the ability of physicians to select a therapy based on individual characteristics,” says Ari Green, MD, assistant clinical director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center and director of the UCSF Neurodiagnostics Center in San Francisco.

But all drugs can have adverse side effects, and those associated with MS medications range from mild (such as flu-like symptoms or irritation at an injection site) to serious (such as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy [PML], a viral disease in the brain).

One of the challenges of MS treatment is balancing risk and benefit, says Dr. Green. Stronger medications might be more effective at slowing progression of the disease, but they may also be associated with more risks.

Discussing Medication Side Effects With Your Doctor

"A doctor has to have a frank and open discussion to find out what is tolerable for patients," says Green. "Some side effects go away as the body gets used to MS medications, but others, such as irritation where the injection takes place, do not."

Because people experience side effects differently, each individual has to decide which side effects he or she can live with, he adds.

In some cases, what are thought to be drug side effects may actually be MS symptoms. Fatigue and headache, for example, may be either.

Keeping a detailed log of your symptoms can help your doctor determine whether you are experiencing a symptom of multiple sclerosis or a medication side effect.

Make a note of when your symptom began, how long it lasted, what might have triggered it, and whether anything you did eased the symptom.

“The more patients are engaged in keeping track of things, the more they can be positively and appropriately engaged in directing their own care,” says Green. This information can also help your provider select appropriate therapies in the future.

Managing MS Medication Side Effects

Some simple steps can often help you manage the most common side effects of MS medications:

Infection risk Some of the immunomodulatory medications increase your risk of common infections, so it’s important to practice prevention strategies such as washing your hands frequently and limiting your contact with people who are ill.

Flu-like symptoms Fever, chills, achiness, and feeling generally under the weather are not uncommon following interferon beta injections, leading some users to stop the medication. Interferon beta medications include Betaseron, Extavia, Avonex, Rebif, and Plegridy.

According to nurses with expertise in MS care, the following steps can help to manage these side effects:

Staying hydrated
Eating healthfully
Taking medications before sleep
Warming injectable medicines up to body temperature before injecting
You can also take a small dose of Advil, Motrin, or Nuprin (ibuprofen) an hour before and an hour after your injection. Tylenol (acetaminophen), Aleve (naproxen), or Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may also help ease these side effects, Green says.

RELATED: 7 Side Effects of MS Steroid Treatment

Injection-site irritation Applying ice to your injection sites before injections, and a warm compress afterward, can help ease any irritation.

Some people may also benefit from some retraining on the finer points of giving themselves injections, notes Green. This is especially true because most people learn how to give self-injections right after their diagnosis — a period when they’re undoubtedly absorbing lots of information about the disease.

If you’re having trouble injecting your MS medication, speak to your healthcare provider about working with an MS nurse for training in self-injections.

Heart health The medication Gilenya (fingolimod) is known to slow some users’ heart rate within the first six hours after the first dose. Because of this, your doctor may advise you to have your first dose in a clinical setting, where your pulse and blood pressure can be monitored.

Distinguishing Side Effects From Symptoms

The immediate side effects of MS medications may be more apparent once you experience them. Immediate side effects, such as flu-like symptoms and chills, are easy to discern, says Green. Even the muscle aches and pains that can occur immediately after taking disease-modifying MS medications differ from the pain associated with multiple sclerosis.

The one rare medication side effect that might be hard to distinguish from an MS symptom is PML, which has been related to use of the drug Tysabri (natalizumab). PML, however, will progress much more quickly than multiple sclerosis — a good reason to stay on top of your medical checkups.


Ongoing Medication Monitoring

Most of the medications prescribed for MS require regular blood tests to keep track of the treatment’s effect on your body, including your liver.

The drug Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) requires blood and urine monitoring before, during, and for four years after treatment is given to watch for serious autoimmune conditions associated with the drug.

In addition to monitoring for side effects, you and your doctor should monitor for positive effects of drugs as well. Green says that a change in therapy is needed if you are having more than one MS relapse a year, if multiple new brain lesions are seen on your MRI, or if your symptoms are progressing despite treatment. Switching medications is a decision you and your doctor should make together.

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.

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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.

Light Box Might Help Nonseasonal Depression, Too

Light therapy, a treatment for a kind of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), may also benefit nonseasonal depression, a new study indicates.

"The combination of light and an antidepressant seems to work very well for treating nonseasonal depression," said study leader Dr. Raymond Lam, a professor and head of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Depression, a leading cause of disability worldwide, affects one in 20 people, according to background information with the study. Current treatments include psychotherapy and antidepressant medication, but recurrent episodes are common.

Since bright light treatment is used for people whose seasonal depression occurs in the darker months, the researchers hypothesized it might also lift depression that isn't brought on by light deprivation.

Lam and his team randomly assigned 122 adults with major depression not related to seasonal affective disorder to one of four groups. One group got 30 minutes of bright light treatment a day and took a placebo pill, while another used a device that was not light therapy and took the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac). A third group took a placebo pill and used a placebo device, while a fourth took Prozac and got light therapy.

The researchers followed the men and women for eight weeks, looking to see how many went into remission -- defined as having normal scores on a widely used depression scale.

"About 60 percent of the patients who got the combination [Prozac plus light] treatment went into remission with their symptoms compared to about 40 percent on light therapy alone," Lam said.

RESEARCH: 12 Ways to Treat Seasonal Depression

The antidepressant alone was not superior to placebo medication. Only about 30 percent of those on placebo medication and sham light treatment had remission, as did just 20 percent of those on Prozac with sham light treatment.

Light therapy alone was better than placebo, but not from a statistically significant point of view, Lam said.

Experts can't say for sure why light therapy works, but for seasonal affective disorder they think it may help correct disturbances in the body's circadian rhythms, or internal clock.

The same may be true for nonseasonal depression, Lam said. "Another theory is that light affects neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin [which affects mood]," he said. Or both could play a role, he added.

One limitation of the study, published online Nov. 18 in JAMA Psychiatry, is that patients' natural light exposure was not measured, the researchers said.

Simon Rego is director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center and an associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. He said the study is the first well-designed comparison of light therapy and the combination of light therapy and antidepressant medications in adults with nonseasonal major depressive disorder.

"In this case, the authors found that the light treatment, whether delivered alone or particularly when delivered in combination with an antidepressant medication, was efficacious in the treatment of nonseasonal [depression] and, just as important, the treatments were well-tolerated by the subjects," Rego said.

"It appears that light therapy, which is already seen as an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder, may also be appropriate for nonseasonal [depression]," he added.

However, questions remain, Lam said, such as how long the combination treatment should continue.

Light boxes are sold at drugstores and other locations, Lam said, for less than $100 to $300. Some insurance plans cover them, he said.

Recommended treatment involves sitting in front of the fluorescent light box for a half hour daily as soon as possible after waking up. Lam said this can be done while eating breakfast or working on the computer.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded the study. Lam reports serving as a consultant to or receiving honoraria for speaking from various pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly and Co., which makes Prozac.

How Trauma Can Lead to Depression

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

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

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

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

RELATED: The Healing Power of Horse Therapy for PTSD

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

Depression and PTSD: What's the Connection?

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

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

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

Symptoms of PTSD include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional reporting by Beth W. Orenstein.

9 Best and Worst Milks for Your Heart

1 / 10   Not All Milks Are Alike

The milk aisle is changing, and has a growing number of options for what to pour on your cereal or drink down as a late-night snack. But what do the newer types of milk mean for your heart health if you have high cholesterol? Old-fashioned cow’s milk, for example, is loaded with calcium and vitamins A and D, which are all good for your heart and overall health. But the saturated fat in whole milk — and even in 2 percent milk — may counteract those health benefits. When you're trying to get to healthy cholesterol levels, you'll want to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet.

Alternative milks can provide similar nutritional benefits if you're lactose intolerant, allergic to certain proteins in cow’s milk, vegan, or simply prefer something other than cow's milk. “People choose a milk based on tolerability and taste — in addition to health beliefs,” says Deborah Krivitsky, RD, director of nutrition at the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Each milk will provide different pluses and minuses.”

Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public

Overview

What is hepatitis?

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

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

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

What is Hepatitis C?

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

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

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

 

Statistics

How common is acute Hepatitis C in the United States?

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

How common is chronic Hepatitis C in the United States?

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

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

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

Transmission / Exposure

How is Hepatitis C spread?

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

 

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

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

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

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

Can Hepatitis C be spread through sexual contact?

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

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

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

Can Hepatitis C be spread within a household?

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

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

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

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

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

What are ways Hepatitis C is not spread?

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

Who is at risk for Hepatitis C?

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

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

Less common risks include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis C?

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

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

How soon after exposure to Hepatitis C do symptoms appear?

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

Can a person spread Hepatitis C without having symptoms?

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

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

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

What are the symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C?

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

How serious is chronic Hepatitis C?

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

What are the long-term effects of Hepatitis C?

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

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

Tests

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

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

Who should get tested for Hepatitis C?

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

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

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

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

What blood tests are used to test for Hepatitis C?

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

Treatment

Can acute Hepatitis C be treated?

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

Can chronic Hepatitis C be treated?

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

Is it possible to get over Hepatitis C?

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

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

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

Vaccination

Is there a vaccine that can prevent Hepatitis C?

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

Hepatitis C and Employment

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

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

Hepatitis C and Co-infection with HIV

What is HIV and Hepatitis C virus coinfection?

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

A Diet for Better Energy

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

 

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

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

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

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

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

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

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

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

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

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

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

 

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

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

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

 

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

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

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

 

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.

Healthy Pizza? It’s Possible With These 5 Recipes.

For many people, pizza tops the list of favorite foods. Not only is the drool-worthy combo of cheese, bread, and sauce satisfying, but it’s one of the easiest meals to pick up (or have delivered) from your local pizzeria. While your favorite slice may be delicious, it can be easy to go overboard on sodium-laden sauce, toppings, and high-calorie crusts. Luckily it’s just as easy — and delicious — to pop a homemade pie into the oven. With a few simple swaps and key ingredients, you can give your favorite comfort food a wholesome makeover without skimping on flavor. So whether you’re craving a fresh-out-of-the-oven slice or just looking for a hassle-free weeknight meal, these five healthy and delicious pies are better than delivery!

Hold That Pose: Yoga May Ease Tough Depression

Study finds weekly sessions, plus deep breathing, helped ease cases when medications failed.

The calming poses and meditation of yoga may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to beating depression, new research suggests.

Researchers found that weekly sessions of yoga and deep breathing exercises helped ease symptoms of the common condition. They believe the practice may be an alternative or complementary therapy for tough-to-treat cases of depression.

The intervention seemed helpful for "people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants [but] have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms," study lead author Dr. Chris Streeter said in a news release from Boston Medical Center. He's a psychiatrist at the hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University.

Major depression is common and often persistent and disabling, Streeters' team noted. Up to 40 percent of people taking medication for this form of depression won't see their depression go away, according to the researchers.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

However, prior studies have shown that the ancient practice of yoga may be of help.

"The mechanism of action is similar to other exercise techniques that activate the release of 'feel good' brain chemicals," explained Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who reviewed the new findings.

He added that exercise, especially yoga, may also "reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression."

Then there's yoga's meditative quality, as well, Manevitz said.

"It has been demonstrated that 'mindful' movement -- conscious awareness -- has a much more beneficial impact on the central nervous system," he said.

But would this bear out in a rigorous study? To find out, Streeter's team tracked outcomes for 30 people with major depressive disorder. All were randomly assigned to partake in either a "high-dose" or "low-dose" yoga intervention. The high-dose group had three 90-minute yoga classes each week along with home practice, while the low-dose group engaged in two 90-minute yoga sessions each week in addition to home practice.

The participants practiced Ilyengar yoga, a method that focuses on detail, precision and alignment in posture and breath control.

The study found that both groups had significant reductions in their depression symptoms. Those who took three weekly yoga classes had fewer depressive symptoms than those in the "low-dose" group, but Streeter's team said even two classes a week was still very effective in improving people's mood.

Streeter noted that this intervention targets a different neurochemical pathway in the body than mood-altering medications, suggesting that yoga may provide a new, side effect-free avenue for treatment.

For his part, Manevitz called the study "practical and well-designed." He believes the findings support yoga as a treatment "that can help the millions of people suffering from major depressive disorders around the world."

Dr. Victor Fornari is a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. He agreed that the new study "supports the use of yoga for the treatment of depression... Yoga, like regular exercise, is good for most people for health maintenance as well as to treat what ails them."

Fewer Diabetes Cases Being Missed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recognizing an Addiction Relapse

Treatment and recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol are steps in a lifelong journey. Unfortunately, 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts and almost half of all alcoholics will eventually go through a substance abuse relapse.

If someone dear to you has been in addiction treatment, it is important for you to be able to recognize if that person is relapsing as early as possible. This way, the problem can be addressed before it spirals out of control. Just because your loved one relapses does not mean that their addiction treatment has failed, however; it just means that the current treatment regimen probably needs to be reevaluated.

Addiction Relapse: Obvious Signs

"Most of the time the signs are so obvious," says Thomas Kosten, MD, Jay H. Waggoner chair and founder of the division of substance abuse at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

According to Dr. Kosten, the following are common indicators of a drug or alcohol addiction relapse:

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  • Alcohol is missing from the house.
  • Bottles of alcohol are found around the home.
  • Your loved one comes home obviously intoxicated.
  • Money is missing from bank accounts or stolen from friends or family member.
  • Medicine is missing from the house.

 

 

Addiction Relapse: Early Indicators

 

 

There are also signals from the addict that a relapse is just around the corner, when steps can be taken to prevent the relapse or at least address it in its earliest stages. Your loved one may exhibit the following emotions and behaviors:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Impatience
  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Moodiness
  • Not wanting to be around people
  • Refusing help
  • Not complying with treatment recommendations
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Reminiscing about the past
  • Lying
  • Seeing friends that they've used drugs or alcohol with in the past
  • Talking about relapse

Addiction Relapse: Stepping in

When you suspect that your loved one has relapsed, Kosten says the best thing to do is tackle the issue head-on. He suggests that you start the conversation in the following way:

  • First, say to your loved one, “I think you’re using.”
  • If the person admits he is using again, then say, “We need to do something about this."
  • Kosten suggests that at this point you start setting limits by saying something such as, "Unless you get help, you will have to leave the house."

If your loved one is showing signs of an impending relapse but hasn’t yet relapsed, Kosten says that it is important to confront him first. Otherwise it is very unlikely that you are going to be able to convince him to get back into addiction treatment. Then you should encourage him to continue with treatment, talk to an addiction counselor or sponsor, and practice good self-care — that is, get enough sleep, eat well, and take steps to relieve stress.

If the addict refuses to talk with a professional or you feel that you need anaddiction expert to help you learn how to confront him, contact your local Council for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Or if you have access to the person’s doctor, addiction counselor, or sponsor, speak to that person about how you might deal with the situation.

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

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

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

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

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

Food, Family, and High Cholesterol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Barker Lowered His Cholesterol Naturally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can a Gluten-Free Diet Ease Your Depression?

The gluten-free movement has been a major dietary trend in recent years, with many Americans opting to cut out gluten completely.

A protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, gluten is especially harmful to some people: For those with celiac disease, eating it can cause inflammation and damage the small intestines.

But some say that even if you don’t have celiac disease, going gluten-free can help relieve symptoms of depression.

So can it? Well, the scientific evidence is sparse, and experts haven’t yet reached a consensus. Here’s what you should know before going gluten free to relieve depression symptoms.

Does a Gluten-Free Diet Treat Depression?

Skeptical experts are hesitant to endorse the gluten-free diet as a mood booster. “There is little to no good evidence for this concept,” says Sheila Crowe, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and the vice president of the American Gastroenterological Association.

Her opinion isn’t unique: Alan Manevitz, MD, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital who treats patients with mood disorders, also cites the lack of evidence that a gluten-free diet can alleviate depression.

Instead of cutting out gluten, these experts say that you should focus on eating a healthy diet in general. “My go-to diet for patients without specific disease is a healthy Mediterranean diet,” says Dr. Crowe. This meal plan includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, legumes, and some wine.

RELATED: For Our Family, Gluten-Free Isn’t a Fad, It’s a Lifesaver

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in many staples of the Mediterranean diet, can have a calming effect, says Dr. Manevitz. One April 2015 study in the journal Mental Illness found that when people over 65 took omega-3 supplements, they saw a reduction in their major depression symptoms after 12 weeks.

Can Going Gluten-Free Still Help?

Perhaps. Experts in the gluten-free camp — like David Johnson, MD, professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk — say that there’s some evidence that gluten may cause depression in patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. (For the record, experts also debate whether non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists, says Emily Deans, MD, a psychiatrist and clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.)

But some research suggests that the bacteria in the gut can affect both mood and behavior, Dr. Johnson says. ''Eating gluten may change the bacteria in the gut," and that, in turn, could potentially change behavior, he says.

In a May 2014 study in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, people with irritable bowel syndrome reported better moods when they weren’t eating gluten, despite their continuing gastrointestinal symptoms.

Studies like this one are rare, but there’s also anecdotal evidence. Dr. Deans allows her depression patients to go gluten-free — assuming they’re taking any medications they’ve been prescribed and are participating in therapy, if needed. She believes that “gluten seems to irritate the immune system in some people,” even in those without celiac disease.

But there’s one thing all these experts would agree on: the need for a healthy diet. Simply eliminating gluten is not enough, says Deans. “I don’t think a gluten-free muffin is any healthier than a regular muffin,” she says.

Instead, if you’re depressed you should focus on eating “clean, whole food,” which has been linked to depression relief, Deans says.

How to Cut Out Gluten

Talk to your doctor first about the best approach. Eating gluten-free means including plenty of fruits and vegetables and some meat and eggs in your diet, says Deans. She notes that you may not want to suddenly switch out all of your gluten-containing rice and pasta for the gluten-free kinds.

And keep in mind that eliminating gluten may not help right away. Some patients see a difference in their mood around the two- to four-week mark, while others may not notice a change until after at least 30 days, she says.

Another point on which experts agree: If you suspect that eating gluten affects either your mood or GI tract, talk to your doctor about being tested for celiac disease.

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Could Eating Fish Help Ward Off Depression?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: 10 Foods I Eat Every Day to Beat Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antidepressant, Painkiller Combo May Raise Risk of Brain Bleed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: Some Antidepressants Linked to Bleeding Risk With Surgery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constant Traffic Noise May Boost Depression Risk

People who live with constant road noise may face a higher risk of developing depression, researchers say.

The risk was about 25 percent higher for people living in areas with a lot of traffic, compared to those living in areas with little road noise. However, the risk was largely confined to those who were poor, unemployed, had limited education, smoked or had insomnia, the German study authors found.

"Although we can't say for sure, it has been thought that noise causes stress and annoyance," said lead researcher Ester Orban, of the Center for Urban Epidemiology at University Hospital Essen.

"If this noise persists over a long time and is constant and loud, it may contribute to depression," she said.

Orban cautioned that these findings only show that road noise is associated with depression, not that it causes depression. "Road noise seems to play a role, but I wouldn't talk about causality," she explained.

RELATED: How the Street You Live On May Harm Your Health

Orban said there are some simple things people can do to reduce their exposure to traffic noise, short of moving.

"If you feel annoyed by traffic noise you can use earplugs, and if traffic noise is disturbing your sleep, choose a bedroom away from the busy road," she suggested.

The report was published online Nov. 25 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

For the study, Orban and her colleagues collected data on more than 3,000 people, aged 45 to 75, who took part in the Heinz Nixdorf Recall study. The study participants were followed for an average of five years.

Depressive symptoms include feeling lonely, sad, depressed, having trouble concentrating or feeling like a failure.

Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said this study adds to existing evidence that traffic noise is linked to an increased risk of depressive symptoms.

"This is not surprising, as we already have extensive evidence that noise is associated with both stress and heart disease," he said.

Given that depression is common worldwide and can have a negative effect on individuals and society, and given that its cause is complex, it's important to examine everything that may play a role, including environment and how it interacts with psychological, social and biological factors, Rego said.

Those with a low socioeconomic status and sleep disturbances may be particularly vulnerable to noise effects, he added.

"This suggests that, along with targeting biological factors with medications and psychological factors with treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, interventions may also be aimed at targeting environmental factors," Rego said.

Targeting environmental factors includes both individual and societal approaches, he added.

On an individual level, helping patients get a good night's sleep with better sleep practices may help lower the odds of depression, Rego said.

"On a larger scale, communities can work on improving urban planning to address traffic noise in order to help treat depression or perhaps even prevent it," he added.

Scientists Test 'Magic Mushroom' Chemical for Tough-to-Treat Depression

Study of only 12 people suggests it may help some, but more and better research is needed.

A hallucinogenic compound found in "magic mushrooms" shows promise in treating depression, a small, preliminary study found.

"Depression continues to affect a large proportion of the population, many of whom do not respond to conventional treatments," said Dr. Scott Krakower, a psychiatrist who reviewed the study.

"Although this was a small study, it does offer hope for new, unconventional treatments, to help those who are battling with severe depression," said Krakower, who is chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.

The new trial included 12 people with moderate to severe depression who had been resistant to standard treatment. All of the patients were given the compound psilocybin, found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Three months after treatment, seven patients had reduced symptoms of depression, according to a team led by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London, in England.

There were no serious side effects, the study authors said in the report published May 17 inThe Lancet Psychiatry.

Carhart-Harris' team stressed that no strong conclusions can be made from the findings -- only that further research is warranted.

RELATED: 9 Natural Therapies for Bipolar Depression

About 1 in 5 patients with depression does not respond to treatments such as antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy, the study authors noted.

"This is the first time that psilocybin has been investigated as a potential treatment for major depression," Carhart-Harris said in a journal news release.

"The results are encouraging, and we now need larger trials to understand whether the effects we saw in this study translate into long-term benefits, and to study how psilocybin compares to other current treatments," he said.

How might the drug work to ease depression?

"Previous animal and human brain imaging studies have suggested that psilocybin may have effects similar to other antidepressant treatments," explained study senior author David Nutt, also of Imperial College London.

"Psilocybin targets the serotonin receptors in the brain," he said, "just as most antidepressants do, but it has a very different chemical structure to currently available antidepressants and acts faster than traditional antidepressants."

However, Krakower stressed that caution must be taken with such a powerful drug.

"Psilocybin is still a potent psychedelic compound and can have unwanted side effects," he said. "Patients should interpret these results with caution until more studies are conducted."

Another mental health expert agreed.

"Anyone reading of this study should be cautioned to not use this drug on themselves," said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

He said the study also had some flaws, most notably its small size and the fact that patients had "expectations" of benefit that might have skewed the results.

Furthermore, the need to watch over the patient, "for hours after treatment may make this an impractical drug to clinically use and further research into dosages is required," Manevitz said.

But he noted that this isn't the first time psilocybin has been thought of as medicine.

"Psilocybin has been considered for the use for easing the psychological suffering associated with end-stage cancer," he explained. "Preliminary results indicate that low doses of psilocybin can improve the mood and anxiety of patients with advanced cancer, with the effects lasting two weeks to six months."
 

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.