The Alcohol-Blood Pressure Connection

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Much information has been published about how moderate alcohol consumption may lower blood pressure. A recent study of women, however, showed that it pays to know what “moderate” really means. Researchers found that women who drank more than a few drinks per week actually experienced a rise in blood pressure. More than 70,000 women between the ages of 25 and 42 were studied. Those who drank two to three drinks per week lowered their risk of high blood pressure by 15%. Those who drank more than 10 drinks per week had a 30% greater risk of high blood pressure. Results were the same with beer, wine, and liquor. Hypertension increases a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage.

P.S. Earlier studies have shown that heavy drinking causes about 3-8% of female high blood pressure cases.

Gallbladder Surgery

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Ten percent of Americans have gallstones – cholesterol or calcium salt deposits that form in the gallbladder or adjacent bile ducts. Just 20 percent of gallstone cases cause attacks. During an attack, the patient suffers an intensely steady ache in the upper abdomen accompanied by nausea. Separate from an attack, chronic indigestion may also occur with gallstones. The recommended way to treat symptomatic gallstones is to perform a cholecystectomy to remove the gallbladder. This procedure is one of the safest and most commonly performed in the United States. Gallbladder removal is most often done laparoscopically, using a thin, lit tube and miniature video camera. Since the patient undergoes only a few minor incisions, recovery is quick and postoperative pain is minimal.

P.S. Open surgery is sometimes necessary when gallbladder walls are excessively thick or hard.

The Flu

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More than 100 million Americans are stricken with the flu each year. Peak season runs from December through March. Flu symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, and a cough that may be accompanied by a sore throat and nasal congestion. While fever and other common symptoms typically last for three to four days, feelings of weakness and fatigue can persist for two weeks or longer. Most people suffer no other complications; however, the very young, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems can develop pneumonia from the flu. About 20,000 Americans – 90% of them over age 65 – die from the flu or flu-related pneumonia. To prevent the flu, consider getting a flu shot each year in October or November.

P.S. Check the Centers for Disease Control web site, which offers a state-by-state CDC Weekly Flu Surveillance Report.

Colon Cancer Does Not Discriminate

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Colon cancer strikes men and women in equal numbers. About 130,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year with colon cancer, and 49,000 Americans die from it annually. A combination of genetic and environmental factors causes colon cancer. Older people are most vulnerable, so annual screening after age 50 is critical; those with a family history should begin screening at age 40 or even earlier. Abnormalities in the APC gene, which can be detected with genetic testing, may trigger familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), which involves the growth of thousands of tiny adenomatous polyps through the colon. Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) can also be diagnosed with genetic testing. At least four separate genetic defects can cause HNPCC, which runs in some families.

P.S. Other contributing factors to colon cancer include inflammatory bowel disease, poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking.

Herniated Disks

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The disks in a person’s spinal column are located between the vertebrae and serve to cushion the bones and absorb shock. Made of a ring of tough, fibrous tissue (annulus) surrounding a ball of jelly-like material (nucleus pulposus), each disk has no individual blood supply and contains 80% water. A disk becomes herniated when its exterior tissue suffers tiny tears – resulting from a single trauma or a gradual process of wear and tear – and the interior substance leaks out. Individuals with herniated disks suffer a variety of symptoms that may include sharp or throbbing pain; shooting pain down the leg during coughing, sneezing, or after long periods of sitting; and difficulty performing daily activities due to discomfort.

P.S. Individuals in their 30s and 40s are most prone to herniated disks, most often in the lower back.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves the development of physiological and psychological symptoms after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Natural disasters, military combat, violent personal assaults, and serious accidents are some events that may contribute to PTSD. It is likely that the September 11 terrorist attacks will lead to many cases of PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD include reliving the experience through nightmares or flashbacks, sleeping problems, and feelings of isolation and detachment. Although these symptoms are common in many people after a traumatic event, when individuals become unable to function normally in their daily lives, or when related disorders like depression, substance abuse, and cognitive or memory problems develop, PTSD is suspected. Psychotherapy and medications are prescribed to treat PTSD.

P.S. Seek medical help for anyone you suspect may be suffering from PTSD.

Cardiac Rehabilitation Programs

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Cardiac rehabilitation programs are designed to help patients make lifestyle choices that will improve their health and enhance recovery after a heart attack, angioplasty, or other heart procedure. A team of health care providers, including doctors, nurses, dietitians, exercise physiologists, and rehabilitation specialists, works with the patient as part of a cardiac rehabilitation program. Patients receive education about nutrition, exercise, and stress management. They undergo smoking cessation programs if necessary and participate in exercises designed to help them lose weight and increase strength and endurance. Exercise programs are also designed to boost the patient’s confidence in his or her abilities and potential after a traumatic event like a heart attack. Family members are encouraged to participate in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

P.S. While individual plans vary, health insurance may cover all or part of cardiac rehabilitation.

Cluttered Desks, Inspired Minds?

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It has often been said that a messy desk is evidence of a creative mind. While some may have wondered if this observation has been used solely by individuals with cluttered offices to justify their disorganized workspaces, recent research seems to provide credence for the claim. With the help of some props and questionnaires, researchers were able to conclude that having an organized workspace seems to promote positive behaviors such as generosity, while a messy office may stimulate creative thinking and new ideas. Researchers also noted that disorderly environments inspired people to break free of traditions while orderly environments encouraged individuals to be more conventional and play it safe. Now, take a look at your desk.

P.S. The study mentioned above showed that when given the choice between a new or established product, those in messy offices tended to prefer the new item, which may be a way to identify “early adopters” (the first people to use a new product).

Behaviors That Lead to Living Longer

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According to research involving 75-year-olds, those who later lived and thrived into their 90s seem to share a number of common behaviors. For one thing, they did not smoke. For another, they remained physically active and involved themselves in a number of leisure activities. Beyond that, they also remained connected socially. While the recommendation to not smoke and remain active and connected may seem quite familiar, research also interestingly shows that even older adults with chronic diseases tended to outlive peers with similar illnesses if they followed the no-smoke, stay-active-and-engaged prescription. On average, men lived six years longer by following these live-longer rules while women lived five years longer.

P.S. Research shows that sitting for overly long periods leads to reduced longevity.

Do Seasons Affect Mental State?

Health Wire

It may be that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is not the only mental disorder that is affected by seasonal change. Recent research shows that a number of mental disorders could be exacerbated by the change to winter. This finding is based on a study that looked at the number of Internet searches related to mental illness that occurred during different times of the year. Researchers found a spike in searches for information regarding major mental illnesses (including anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, ADHD, anorexia, and depression) during the winter months. In particular, eating disorders (including anorexia and bulimia) and schizophrenia queries were among the more major mental illnesses that increased 37% more in the winter than in summer.

P.S. Spikes in seasonal mental health issues may have to do with fewer daylight hours; colder temperatures; and the prevalence of more major holidays (e.g., Christmas and New Year’s) that boost expectations and anxiety.