Category: Health

Health Scare of the Week: Getting Sick in Sick Houses

The seizure of methamphetamine labs in the U.S. is on the rise, according to The Week. That’s good news for law enforcement, but as thousands of these labs become ordinary homes again, the unknowing people who move in are exposed to a potentially sickening toxic stew of drug-making chemicals left behind. One family was plagued by migraines, kidney trouble, and severe breathing problems after they unwittingly moved into a home infused with meth chemistry. The cost of cleanup–thousands of dollars–is an added blow to the innocent homeowner. There are tens of thousands of contaminated homes in the U.S., many of them falling into foreclosure, where their histories grow opaque. “The meth-lab home problem is only going to grow,” activist Dawn Turner tells The New York Times. She runs an informational website, “As foreclosures rise, so with the number of new meth-lab homeowners.” This is a clear indication folks to be sure and do your due dilligence when buying a foreclosed home! The money you save in real estate may end up costing you more in health care costs.

Get Over Workout Excuses

You know that exercise is good for you—it gives you energy, boosts your immune system, and keeps you healthy and strong. But you may have a million excuses for not lacing up a pair of sneakers and fitting in fitness. Keep reading for ways to get over the most common workout excuses.
You know that exercise is good for you—it gives you energy, boosts your immune system, and keeps you healthy and strong. But you may have a million excuses for not lacing up a pair of sneakers and fitting in fitness. Which one of these have you used?

“I don’t have enough time to exercise!”
Yes, you do. We’re all overbooked these days, and treat it like a badge of honor when we can hardly find the time to sleep. However, you have to make time for the things that are important to you, and looking and feeling good about yourself should be priority number one.

“I’ll start tomorrow.”
How many times have you said this one? This works until tomorrow comes, and you put it off another day. Waiting until tomorrow is like making a New Year’s resolution—you join that health club on January 1 with every intention of working out five days a week, every week . . . but then there you are, three months later, and your membership card is collecting dust.

If you’re serious about getting fit, then start today. Put on those sneakers and go to the gym, or head to the park for a nice walk. Or just stand up and do a few squats or lie down on the floor for a series of sit-ups. Every little bit of exercise counts!

“Exercise hurts!”
Starting a new fitness routine will probably have you feeling sore at first. Or a lot sore, if you jump right into an advanced aerobic class before your body is ready to handle it. That’s okay—those aches and pains are just your muscles repairing themselves and getting used to moving and being challenged in different ways.

Working out doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t have to go to they gym every day to get and stay in shape.  And you definitely don’t have to look like a supermodel or athlete to be motivated to exercise.  Take small steps towards getting in shape so you won’t feel overwhelmed and it will be easier to make exercise part of your regular routine.

Have You Had Your Tetanus Shot?

When was the last time you had a tetanus shot? I’m trying to remember the last time I had a booster . . . I’m thinking it was that time when I accidently stuck a pitch-fork into my foot, or maybe it was the time I cut myself on that rusty piece of barbed-wire fence. Or, maybe it was the time I nearly impaled myself with that hay-bale hook. Hmmm . . . that was a few years ago. I’m thinking given my track record with rusty, dirty objects it might be time for another. So, what exactly is tetanus, and why do you need a shot to protect against it? How often should your tetanus booster be updated? And what happens if you get tetanus? Keep reading for the answers to all of those questions – and more!

What is tetanus?
The disease of tetanus (or commonly called lockjaw) is not one you hear about too often in the “modern” world, as an effective vaccine was developed many years ago.  The vaccine is administered to most infants and children as a mandatory immunization.  It is often combined with other immunizing agents to prevent diseases such as pertussis and diphtheria.  The vaccine immunization does require boosters every ten years or so to retain its full effectiveness.

Bacteria are the active agents in the disease of tetanus and can commonly be found in your everyday surroundings.  Dirt, dust and animal droppings can all contain the bacteria, usually in the form of spores.  If you get a significantly dirty wound, especially one where you’re exposed to animal feces in or around the wound area, the spores may be introduced into your body.  This is one of many reasons to keep wounds clean and well treated with antibiotic first aid creams.

What happens if you get infected?
If the spores enter your body, they spawn bacteria by the thousands and invade your tissues.  The target for these bacteria is the nervous system.  The reason for the common name of lockjaw is that the bacteria interfere with the functions of the nerves and muscles around the head and jaw.  The bacteria produce toxic substances that affect the functions very quickly.  In advanced cases, the jaw locks closed and will not open causing breathing difficulties and eating problems.  The area around the chest and neck can be affected by muscle spasms as well, causing more potential breathing and motion difficulties.  The disease can be fatal and often is if left undiscovered for a short period of time in a non-immunized body.  It spreads rapidly and treatments are not always effective.

How do you know if you’re at risk?
Everyone gets cuts, so when should you go to a doctor suspecting tetanus?  If your cut for some reason gets dirty and you are unable to clean it effectively, you should probably check in with a doctor when possible.  Fairly certain signs of tetanus are muscle spasms in the neck, mouth and jaw area.  Uncontrolled spasms can be scary enough on their own, but can be fatal if they really are caused by the tetanus bacteria.  Another time to seek medical advice or treatment is if you have cause to worry and you are not sure or have not had a tetanus immunization booster within 10 years.  The doctor may actually prescribe a booster dose immediately if the nature of your immunization status can not be determined precisely.  Prevention is by far the best medicine where tetanus is involved.

After you go to the doctor, there are not any tests to detect the certainty of tetanus except for a physical examination and list of the symptoms.  If you are decided to be at risk, the treatments will require long hospital stays and drugs to relax your muscles.  Your breathing will be closely monitored and possibly aided mechanically.  You will receive shots of tetanus vaccine and possibly some very powerful antibiotics.  Many patients recover fully, but not all, so for tetanus the immunization vaccine is of paramount importance.

Ok, enough said. I’m on my way to the doc’s office right now . . .

Ibuprofen Linked to a Rare Condition

When you get an ache or a pain, what do you reach for in your medicine cabinet? Aspirin? Ibuprofen? Acetaminophen? Well, one of those options has been linked to a rare condition called Stevens Johnson Syndrome, or SJS, and is being blamed for the cause of a California girl’s blindness. Keep reading for more information on this rare condition and the pain-reliever that may cause it.
Children’s Motrin is being blamed for the cause of a California girl’s blindness, according to a recent news report.  Sabrina Johnson, 6 years old, was sent home from school with a fever in September of 2003.  Her parents did what any parent would likely do; they gave her some Children’s Motrin.  She went to bed and woke up with a high fever, pink eyes and a swollen mouth filled with sores.  Sabrina was rushed to Cedars Sinai Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.  The next day she was blind.

This story is likely shocking to parents who have never heard of Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS).  Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is what Sabrina was diagnosed with, and is a rare but serious and life-threatening condition.

What is SJS?
SJS occurs as a result of a reaction from a medication – prescription or over-the-counter.  It forms as a simple rash or lesions known as erythema multiforme. It then becomes severe and generally spreads around the eyes, mouth, vagina, urethra, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal area, and other internal organs.  SJS usually starts as an upper respiratory tract infection.

The following symptoms can occur within the first 14 days.

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Any other flu like symptoms

When the eyes are involved, the following things can happen to the ocular: severe conjunctivitis, iritis, conjunctiva and corneal abrasions, and corneal perforation. Sadly, Sabrina developed symptoms that affected her eyesight.
Most cases of SJS occur in children and young adults that are under 30 years old.  However, anyone is at risk.

SJS and Ibuprofen: The Aftermath
Lawsuits have been scheduled for the next two years in cities across the U.S. The objective of these lawsuits is to convince drug makers to create label warnings for ibuprofen products.  The lawsuits are also asking for compensation for medical and legal expenses, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.

According to Browne Greene, the attorney representing the Johnson family, “This is a very important consumer case involving the really potent tragedy of a little girl blinded by Children’s Motrin, an over-the-counter, seemingly benign medication.”

“The parents gave the Motrin to a very healthy little girl, 6 at the time, and soon thereafter she started getting worse, and there was nothing on the package insert or label that said anything significant or life-threatening might happen,” Greene says. “The label carries only the most benign and general kind of stuff.”

The Johnson’s attorney states that McNeil PPC, which is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, has known about this link between the active ingredients in Motrin and SJS.  The prescription version of ibuprofen does carry warning labels; however, the over-the-counter versions do not, which is exactly what happened to Sabrina.  Had her parents realized the effects ibuprofen could have on children, they may have chosen an alternative pain reliever and their daughter would have her sight today.

Many parents are not aware of the dangers of ibuprofen.  In fact, most parents tend to go straight to ibuprofen to relieve fevers and pain because of its strength and how long it lasts.

A McNeil spokesman did comment that the company is aware of the allegations being made with the association of Children’s Motrin and SJS.  This spokesman also stated that SJS is also linked with a variety of medications and has even been caused by viral infections.

“We are deeply concerned about all matters related to our products and have reviewed case reports, reviewed the scientific literature, reviewed the latest studies and consulted with the top experts in the field,” the statement says. “Based upon our investigation we firmly believe that it is unlikely ibuprofen can cause SJS and that Children’s Motrin is safe and effective when used as directed and if labeled appropriately.”

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a rare condition.  However, to little Sabrina, rare does not matter.  She is suffering not only from blindness, but also a heightened sensitivity to light.  She must wear a large hat pulled down over her face every time she leaves the house.

Although ibuprofen has been “linked” to Stevens-Johnson syndrome, it has not been proven to “cause” SJS.  Millions of adults and children have used ibuprofen and have never suffered the side effects of SJS.  The purpose of this lawsuit is to make people aware of the possible links by having warning labels added to ibuprofen products.  Therefore, parents can make informed decisions on whether to give their children ibuprofen or not.

Who knows whether or not the Johnson family would have decided to give their daughter Children’s Motrin, even if there was a label.  Children’s Motrin, after all, is a well known and respectable drug.  However, if there are warning labels parents can make these decisions instead of the drug makers.

The Truth About LASIK Surgery: The FDA Investigates

Have you had laser eye surgery, or know someone who has? Hopefully your experience with the surgery was a good one and that you’re seeing better than ever. Unfortunately not all laser eye patients are that lucky. And now the FDA is taking note. One by one, people who have suffered poor outcomes after having undergone Lasik eye surgery spoke openly of their ordeals to federal health officials this past April. Let’s take a closer look at the truth about LASIK surgery . . .

The former patients took turns and told federal health advisors the ways in which they have suffered. Some told of blurred vision and extreme eye pain. Distressed parents told of their son’s suicide, which they feel was a direct result of the harm he incurred as a side-effect of Lasik eye surgery. It was strongly recommended by the health advisers that the government must take steps to issue much clearer warnings about the possible risks associated with this procedure.

Lasik has been a popular surgery in the United States for a little more than a decade. It is reported that 700,000 Americans per year elect to have the vision-correcting laser surgery. The vast majority of patients benefit greatly from the procedure and report no side-effects or complications. Legendary golf pro, Tiger Woods, is among the many success stories.  The advertisements promise Lasik surgery will allow you to throw away your eyeglasses altogether. Unfortunately this is not the outcome for everyone.

75 percent of Lasik patients do benefit greatly, often seeing 20-20 (or better). About 25 percent (one in four) seeking the surgery are deemed unsuitable candidates.

While those who suffer serious, life-changing side effects are rare -about one percent of those undergoing surgery – even one percent is one too many.  Of the one percent, complaints range from worsened vision, glare, severely dry eyes and the inability to drive at night.

“Too many Americans have been harmed by his procedure, and it’s about time this message was heard,” David Shell of Washington told the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) scientific advisers. The FDA has decided to go forward with an in-depth study of Lasik side effects and, in the meantime, has agreed to provide clearer, sterner warnings to patients considering the surgery.

The testimonies heard at the forum served to reinforce the fact that even after ten years on the market there are many unanswered questions about Lasik corrective surgery. To date, there is no firm data as to just how often patients suffer poor outcomes from the costly procedure.

While some insurance plans cover the surgery, many do not and the cost can be as much as $2,000 per eye.

As of now, there is no indication that restrictions will actually be imposed on the Lasik procedure.  The Federal Drug Administration is, however, working with a group of highly-regarded eye surgeons to begin a major study in 2009.  The focus of the study will be to identify who suffers poor outcomes and why.

Anyone considering Lasik surgery should read all of the data available, speak to your doctor and make your own decision.  Experts do point out the risks are small with the approximate one percent of patients suffering serious or life-changing side effects.  If after reviewing all of the available information you are still not sure, you may want to consider waiting or consulting another doctor for a second opinion.

Diet Profiler: The Atkins Diet

How many diets do you think you’ve been on in your lifetime? One? Five? Twenty? Shedding unwanted weight is never easy, and many people turn to popular diets or weight-loss methods to try to reach their goal. But not every diet works for every person. So, which diet is the right one for you? Let’s examine one possibility in the Atkins Diet . . .

In dieting, Atkins is a household name. Popularized by Dr. Robert Atkins, it got its start in a medical publication called the Journal of the American Medical Association. Atkins took some of the ideas from the journal diet and worked on the plan to fit his own weight-loss goals. During 2003 and 2004, the Atkins diet reached its peak. However, it is still a valid weight-loss option today.

What does it do?

The Atkins diet advises low carbohydrate intake. This tactic is intended to make the body burn more calories as it loses the excess carbs and the energy that they contain. It also focuses on insulin; one of the functions of insulin is to turn leftover energy to fat. While on the Atkins diet, you will be encouraged to take multi-vitamins and exercise regularly in order to get the most from your plan.

What can I eat?

The Atkins diet is essentially a low-carb diet. This means avoiding foods that are high in starch, like bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, and other grains. You also will want to steer clear of corn syrups, which are found in most soft drinks and even in so-called fruit juices. You’ll be encouraged to eat whole foods that are not processed.

What’s this about phases?

The Atkins diet consists of four phases. The first is called the “induction phase” and it causes your body to run out of extra carbs. Once this energy source is depleted, your body will begin to burn calories, and you will start to see weight loss. The induction phase puts heavy emphasis on salads and green vegetables, but you are still allowed to eat good-sized amounts of meat. You can have eggs, cheese (except for hard cheese), butter, oils from vegetables, and vegetables that would normally go in a salad. If you enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, there is good news: you won’t have to give it up! Caffeine can be a small part of this diet. Some people have lost as many as 10 pounds per week in the induction phase.

The second phase is the “ongoing weight-loss phase” or OWL for short. This phase is just what it sounds like: you continue dropping pounds. Once you have reached this milestone, you can bring up your net carb amount to 25 net grams a day (net carbs are calculated as total carbohydrates minus fiber). The purpose of the OWL phase is to find out two things: how many calories you can eat and still shed weight, and how some foods affect your body and weight-loss plan. You’ll eat more of the same types of vegetables that you had during the induction phase. Dairy is also added during this stage. Dr. Atkins devised a rung system to help you add the right foods back into your diet at the right time.

The third phase is called “pre-maintenance” and serves to find out how many calories you can have without gaining weight. You’ll add 10 net grams daily per week until this is determined.

The final phase is called “lifetime maintenance” and consists of keeping in step with your new, healthier habits. If you find that the weight is coming back, you can go back to an earlier rung in order to lose it again.

So, is the Atkins Diet right for you? It just might be! But remember, before starting any diet with significant weight-loss goals, visit your primary care health provider in order to discuss and address any health concerns that might go along with those goals.

Everything You Need to Know About Chicken Pox

Have you ever had the dreaded Chicken Pox? If so, you may remember the awful itching and red sores very clearly. Or, if you’re one of the lucky ones and contracted chicken pox when you were very young (or have never had the virus), you may have no memory at all! Regardless of whether you’ve had the chicken pox or not, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease as well as treatment options. That way when your kids or grandkids come down with the pox, you’ll know exactly what to do! Keep reading for everything you need to know about chicken pox.

I will never forget my bout with chicken pox – but not for the reasons you might think. No, I wasn’t hospitalized or in extreme pain or discomfort or anything like that. I wasn’t even that itchy. But having the chicken pox caused me to miss my elementary school Valentine’s trip to the roller-skating rink and that, my friends, has scarred me for life.

Well, maybe not scarred. But it really upset me at the time.

Chicken pox is caused by a virus (varicella-zoster) which is spread very easily.  The virus is contained in the mucus of infected people; as such, it can be spread when they cough or sneeze.  Those who are infected should not share food or beverages, as the virus can also be contracted that way as well.  Direct contact with open sores from the illness can also cause the spread of the disease.  The virus has an incubation period of 10 to 21 days.  During this time a person carries the virus, but is unaware.  Unfortunately, chicken pox is most contagious in the few days before symptoms appear; therefore it is difficult to avoid the illness entirely.

Symptoms and Progression
The initial symptoms of chicken pox mirror other viruses, including the common cold.  These symptoms include headache, fever, sore throat, and possibly decreased appetite.  While these symptoms are common, they are not always present and the first sign may in fact be the rash that develops (normally within one or two days of the early symptoms).

The rash starts as a simple red spot.  It spreads out slightly, causing an irregular outline, and then a “blister” forms on the spot.  Over the course of several hours, the fluid becomes cloudy, and then the blister breaks and a scab forms.  This cycle from spot to scab generally takes 24 to 48 hours.  Spots usually appear daily for up to a week.  A person with chicken pox is contagious until all sores have scabbed over and no new spots appear.

The best prevention against chicken pox is actually having a case of it.  Once a person has chicken pox, they are unlikely to be re-infected.  With this in mind, an immunization has been developed and is being used with great success.  However, many people feel that the immunization is less effective than exposure to the virus.  It is wise for adult women who have never had the virus to obtain the protection though, since chicken pox is most dangerous for pregnant women and can cause permanent harm to the developing baby.

As chicken pox is viral in nature, antibiotics are not necessary.  The disease simply needs to run its course, and treatment generally consists of comfort measures.  As the sores can become infected, it is wise to keep them clean and to prevent the infected person from itching them.   Oatmeal baths can help reduce the itchiness of the rash, as can application of cool compresses.  Fever reduction methods should only be used under the advice of a physician in specific cases of dangerously high fevers.  Otherwise, the fever should also be allowed to run its course as it is simply a sign that the patient’s body is fighting the virus.

While it can be uncomfortable, chicken pox is generally a mild illness.  If proper care is given at home, the illness has no lasting effects and the patient should be able to go back to school or work in a very short amount of time.

So, now you know! If you’ve had the chicken pox, the hard part is over! And if you haven’t, at least you know how to protect yourself, or in the event that you or your loved ones do contract it, how to treat it – or at least ease some of the symptoms.