Alcoholism is characterized by powerful cravings or an uncontrollable need for alcohol. Those who abuse alcohol may suffer problems at home, school, or work; physically harm themselves or others when driving or operating machinery; get in trouble with the law; and suffer health problems. Alcoholics cannot stop or limit drinking even when they try. They suffer withdrawal symptoms with attempts to stop drinking – nausea, sweating, shaking, anxiety, etc. – and continue drinking even when it interferes with daily activities and relationships. They often miss events or activities because they are drinking or hung over. Several factors contribute to physical alcohol dependence, including a family history, brain chemicals, social pressure, stress, pain, depression, and learned behaviors from family and friends.
P.S. Alcoholism can be successfully managed with safe detoxification, counseling, and ongoing support.
The pancreas releases insulin continuously and increases production after meals. Insulin carries sugar from the blood to cells, lowering blood sugar levels. In people with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Those with Type 2 diabetes still produce insulin, but the body fails to process it efficiently. Both types of patients benefit from insulin therapy. Goals of insulin therapy include the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels and prevention of long-term complications associated with diabetes. When successful, insulin – whether administered daily or as needed – reduces the risk of eye, kidney, and nerve damage; improves cholesterol levels; and lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Insulin is administered via an injection or infusion from an insulin pump.
P.S. Two risks associated with insulin therapy include low blood sugar and weight gain.
Fainting, also called syncope, occurs when a person loses consciousness suddenly due to a drop in blood flow to the brain. People typically recover from a fainting spell within seconds or minutes. Those who are most at risk for fainting include the elderly, recreational drug users, pregnant women, heart disease patients, and those taking certain medications (insulin, antihypertensives, diuretics, and anticoagulants, among others). Before fainting, a person often feels lightheaded, nauseous, and confused. He or she may experience blurred vision, sweating, giddiness, or heaviness in the lower limbs. Once fainting has occurred, a person may appear abnormally pale and have a weak pulse. The body may jerk spasmodically. Always seek medical attention after fainting to pinpoint a possible cause.
P.S. Between 3% and 4% of people experience fainting spells.
A leading cause of blindness in the United States, glaucoma affects approximately three million Americans – and half do not know they have it. An increase in fluid pressure in the eye causes glaucoma, a condition that can destroy the optic nerve. In a normal eye, a fluid (aqueous humor) circulates through the eye and drains through a tiny opening (drainage angle) into a small tube that carries it into the bloodstream. With open-angle glaucoma, which occurs in 90% of glaucoma cases, the tube carrying aqueous humor out of the eye gets blocked. Fluid accumulates, and intraocular pressure increases slowly over time. Without treatment, patients eventually suffer vision loss. Closed-angle glaucoma occurs when the drain itself becomes blocked, a medical emergency.
P.S. Catching glaucoma early through periodic screenings, especially after age 60, can help prevent or slow vision loss.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee extends from the back of the thigh bone (femur) to the front of the inner shin (tibia). Its job is to stabilize the knee during twisting, pivoting, or deceleration activities, for example, stopping and starting in a basketball or soccer game, skiing, or aerobics. Injury to the ACL is common, affecting about four people out of every 1,000. Problems most often occur when the knee twists while the foot is still planted on the ground. People often hear and feel a “pop” followed by pain, swelling, and instability. Because the ACL is a unique area surrounded by joint fluid and receiving poor blood supply, treatment often involves surgery to replace damaged tissue.
P.S. Women are two to eight times more likely to injure their ACL than men.
The words “brain tumor” conjure up fatal thoughts for many people, but treatments have advanced in recent years. Many people recover from brain tumors, and not all masses are cancerous. If left untreated, however, tumors can be fatal, so it pays to know the signs. Symptoms vary depending on the tumor’s size and location. Intermittent headaches, especially in the morning, may indicate a tumor. Convulsion-causing seizures may occur. Some patients experience behavioral or personality changes, impaired bodily movement and sensation, numbness, weakness, or clumsiness. Memory, speech, and the ability to concentrate may suffer. After a tumor is diagnosed, treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, depending on the tumor’s type, size, location, and the patient’s health.
P.S. In about 80% of cancerous brain tumor cases, the cancer has originated elsewhere in the body.
Patients who plan ahead for doctor’s visits as if they were business meetings prepare questions; request extra meeting time if necessary; and clarify all responses, decisions, and diagnoses. These patients foster more productive relationships with their physicians by becoming active participants in their medical care. Before the next doctor’s visit, determine the goal of the meeting. Keep track of all relevant information before the appointment, including symptom descriptions and attempted remedies. Inform the doctor of all medications – prescription and over-the-counter – and herbal supplements currently being taken and if they trigger any side effects. Whenever you do not understand something, ask the doctor to clarify the information. Review what was discussed at the appointment and any necessary follow-up before leaving.
P.S. Patients who know their family medical history can offer doctors valuable information.
Appendicitis, an inflammation of the appendix, is a medical emergency. The appendix is a small appendage of the large intestine that hangs down on the abdomen’s right side. Inflammation may occur from a gastrointestinal infection or from an obstruction in the tube connecting the appendix and large intestine. Symptoms include localized pain that worsens with coughing, deep breathing, sneezing, or pressure; appetite loss; low fever; frequent urination; bowel changes; nausea and vomiting; and bloating. The biggest complication associated with appendicitis is the risk of the organ rupturing, which can lead to a potentially fatal infection. Appendicitis is usually treated by surgically removing the appendix and administering antibiotics. Depending on the patient, an appendectomy can be performed traditionally or laparoscopically.
P.S. People typically develop appendicitis in their teens and twenties.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in women, killing ten times more women than breast cancer each year. Women’s symptoms are completely different from men’s, which may explain why so many cases of female heart disease go undetected until a heart attack occurs. Women’s arteries are softer than men’s, which contributes to the different symptoms. Also, calcium accumulation in the arteries does not seem to affect women as much as men – 90% of male heart attack victims have arterial calcium, while just 30% of women do. Warning signs of heart disease in women include nausea; indigestion; back pain; dizziness; unexplained fatigue; chest discomfort; and pain that radiates to the shoulders, neck, arms, or jaw.
P.S. Consult a doctor immediately with any signs of heart disease.
People with Munchausen syndrome seek attention by acting sick or injured. Many patients harm themselves intentionally to receive medical care. They may inject themselves with insulin to induce low blood sugar, or ingest harmful substances to trigger illness. Munchausen syndrome patients differ from hypochondriacs in their awareness that they are not sick – hypochondriacs truly believe they are ill. They actively seek physical exams, diagnostic tests, and hospitalization. Munchausen syndrome often accompanies other conditions like chemical dependency, depression, or chronic coping difficulties. Patients are often secretive about their actions. The disease typically starts in early adulthood, with more women suffering from it than men. Male cases, however, are typically more severe. Treatment involves addressing any valid medical conditions and psychiatric care.
P.S. Munchausen syndrome by proxy involves harming a child in an attempt to receive medical attention.