Smart Use of Painkillers

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Many Americans are taking excessive amounts of painkillers and say they do not worry about side effects, according to a recent survey. Researchers from the National Consumers League asked 4,200 U.S. adults about their medication habits and found that 44% take higher-than-recommended doses. Respondents also showed little concern for the potentially serious side effects of nonprescription painkillers, which can include stomach bleeding. Only 16% of respondents reported reading the entire label of a medication before taking it. To help protect against complications, consumers should read precautions and directions of every medication. Tell your doctor about all medications you are taking because many should not be combined. Be aware of possible side effects, and take note if you experience any.

P.S. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 1999 that 16,500 Americans die annually from aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Facts About Fatigue

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Many Americans complain about constantly feeling tired. Fatigue can develop from the simple problem of not getting enough nightly sleep to medical conditions like depression, anemia, or a sinus infection. If constant fatigue is wearing you down, consider some possible causes. Are you recovering from a cold? Going through menopause? Is the fatigue something new or has it become part of your daily life? Examining your lifestyle and noting any symptoms that may be accompanying the fatigue may lead to relief. A medical condition like an underactive thyroid can be managed with medication, as can most other conditions. If you suspect a medical reason for your fatigue, see your doctor. Otherwise, consider some lifestyle changes to get sufficient sleep.

P.S. Avoid caffeine after 3 p.m., exercise regularly, and relax before bedtime to help encourage good sleep.


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Shingles occurs in some people years after they have had chicken pox. The varicella-zoster virus, which causes chicken pox, lies dormant in the body and somehow reactivates. Symptoms include tingling, pain, and itching in a localized area followed by a red blistering rash lasting two to three weeks. Patients may also suffer headaches and fever. The trunk of the body is most commonly affected, but the eye area, face, scalp, inner mouth, arms, and legs may also be stricken. While most people recover from shingles without incident, some get eye infections or posherpetic neuralgia, a condition caused by damaged nerve fibers that leaves skin sensitive to touch. Shingles is treated with prescription medications and typically allowed to run its course.

P.S. Potential triggers for shingles include age, illness, certain medications, and stress.


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Aphasia occurs when a person loses the ability to produce or understand spoken or written language. Many possible causes exist for the disorder. These include stroke, tumors, brain injury, certain surgeries, bacterial or viral infections, and some neurological conditions. It is not caused by sensory or muscle problems or compromised cognitive skills. Patients whose aphasia is caused by stroke or head injury typically see improvement, especially after speech therapy. Those with primary progressive aphasia – a syndrome involving progressive language difficulty – continue to lose their ability to read, speak, write, or comprehend the spoken word. Learning new communication strategies is often helpful for these patients. Speech and language therapy aims at helping aphasia patients regain lost function and compensate for difficulties.

P.S. Aphasia identification cards can help communicate a person’s condition to others.

Myths About Smallpox and It’s Vaccine

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Given the media coverage, a climate of uncertainty, and fears of more terrorist attacks, it may sound smart to receive the smallpox vaccine. Medical experts, however, claim that even the possibility of a major bioterrorist attack in a highly populated area does not warrant a mass public vaccination now. Conventional methods of containing the smallpox disease, which involve isolating the ill and vaccinating close contacts, work well, and the vaccine can produce serious side effects. Even if exposure occurs, receiving the vaccine within a few days can prevent infection. Smallpox patients cannot infect others until a couple of weeks after infection. Bottom line: we have time and plenty of vaccine available should the worst-case scenario become a reality.

P.S. Since 1977, there have been no cases of smallpox reported anywhere in the world.

Skin Cancer

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The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell. Basal cell, which accounts for 90% of all U.S. skin cancer cases, begins in the skin’s inner layers and typically stays localized. Squamous cell begins in the outer layer and is more likely – though still unlikely – than basal cell to spread. Precancerous lesions called actinic (solar) keratosis may progress to squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. Ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer. The artificial radiation people receive from sun lamps and tanning booths may also cause skin cancer. People with fair skin, freckling, red or blonde hair, and/or light-colored eyes have a higher risk of skin cancer.

P.S. Individuals who notice a change in the skin that lasts longer than two weeks should seek medical attention.

Heart Failure

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The term “heart failure” sounds like a sudden, potentially fatal condition. But heart failure is a chronic condition that develops as the heart’s ability to pump blood decreases gradually. Symptoms range from mild to severe. The body becomes deprived of oxygen as blood moves too slowly, causing patients to feel tired and short of breath. Symptoms depend on which pumping system is affected – the left pump sends blood to the body, while the right side sends blood to the lungs to be oxygenated. Heart failure can develop from an underlying condition like coronary artery disease (heart disease), a heart attack, or scar tissue from a heart attack. Certain infections and other diseases may also contribute to heart failure.

P.S. Lifestyle adjustments (diet, exercise, smoking cessation) and medications are treatment options for heart failure.

Sick Building Syndrome

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The words “sick building syndrome” initially conjured up images of hypochondriacs seeking time off. For several reasons, however, this condition is a reality. Efforts to save on the cost of heating and air conditioning have led to nearly airtight buildings. New building materials like plywood, carpet glue, and rug fabrics can release toxic fumes during construction, as can pollutants and chemicals. Airborne viruses, fungi, and allergens also roam free in many workplaces. The key method of diagnosing sick building syndrome is determining whether a person’s symptoms lessen when away from work. Symptoms are varied and can include watery eyes, nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness, nausea, dry skin, chronic fatigue, and lower limb swelling. Miscarriages and cancers may occur with sick building syndrome.

P.S. If 20% of a given workforce experiences symptoms, sick building syndrome may be suspected.

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

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Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, occurs when joints degenerate to the point of thinning and breakage. While men tend to develop osteoarthritis at an earlier age, women over age 65 are five times more likely than men to suffer from this debilitating, painful condition. Weight-bearing joints are most susceptible to osteoarthritis, and symptoms vary depending on which joints are affected. In the hip, osteoarthritis causes painful walking. When the knee is affected, recreational and physical activities may be difficult. In the back’s vertebrae, osteoarthritis can lead to intense back and leg pain. Women’s hands are often stricken with erosive osteoarthritis, which tends to run in families. This condition causes painful swelling and bony prominences in the fingers.

P.S. Several therapies are available to treat osteoarthritis, including medication, acupuncture, chiropractic, and physical or occupational therapy.

Cancer Screenings More Common

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A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that more Americans are undergoing cancer screenings. Age and socioeconomic factors have a considerable impact on screening rates, according to researchers. Older individuals are more likely to get screened for colorectal cancers, while younger Americans are screened more often for breast and cervical cancer. Those with higher education levels were more likely to be screened for all three cancers. Knowing about the risk factors for cancer also influences whether someone chooses to get screened. Usage for all cancer screening tests has risen since 1987. Mammography has seen the biggest usage jumps–between 1987 and 1998, the percentage of women receiving mammograms soared from 17% to 67%.

P.S. Researchers continue to study newer tests such as prostate cancer tests and genetic testing.

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