Urinary Troubles

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Certain foods, medications, and supplements can cause harmless changes in urine color, odor, and appearance. Urinary changes can also signal illness and disease, however, so they are worth mentioning to a doctor. A urinary tract infection, for example, may make the urine appear cloudy or murky. Urine may appear black or darkened due to simple causes like laxatives or high doses of iron, or it could be due to liver or kidney disease. Yellow or orange urine could simply mean a person has eaten carrots, beets, or rhubarb, but it could also indicate dehydration. Strong or foul-smelling urine can signal dehydration, a urinary tract infection, or uncontrolled diabetes. Difficulty with urination could mean the prostate gland is enlarged or infected.

P.S. Decreased urination is sometimes a sign of kidney disease.

Promising Study for Lupus Patients

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A recent study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism offers hope for lupus patients who currently take steroids to regulate their immune systems. When added to a patient’s treatment regimen, the male hormone prasterone has been shown to delay the onset of symptoms, reduce mortality, and reduce the need for steroids. Prasterone, known sometimes as DHEA, also seems to build bone in lupus patients on steroids. Lupus is an autoimmune disease affecting approximately 1.4 million Americans, 90% of them women. The patient’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs, causing joint pain, anemia, arthritis, fatigue, and kidney problems. Many lupus patients take steroids, which can cause serious side effects like bone thinning and breakage, heart problems, muscle weakness, and cataracts.

P.S. Major advances in lupus treatments are expected in the near future.


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Potassium is stored within the cells and serves many functions. It plays a role in maintaining electrical and chemical balances and regulating muscle activity. The body’s potassium concentration must be efficiently maintained via the consumption and excretion process to avoid serious health problems, including cardiac arrest. Hyperkalemia occurs when the body has excess potassium in the blood. This condition can develop for several reasons. Impaired kidney function may decrease the body’s ability to eliminate excess potassium via the urine. Some medications may encourage kidneys to retain potassium. Burns, injuries, and reactions from blood transfusions can destroy blood cells and affect potassium levels. High doses of potassium supplements can also cause hyperkalemia.

P.S. Treating hyperkalemia involves addressing and treating the underlying condition.

Vein Conditions

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Varicose veins and spider veins are two common vein conditions affecting millions of Americans. About 40 million Americans suffer from painful varicose veins, which are caused by a weakening of the vein walls and valves that leads to an enlargement of the veins. Veins in the legs and feet are most often affected. Symptoms include the appearance of bluish blood vessels; pain, burning sensations, and a “heavy” feeling in the legs; and ankle swelling. With spider veins, symptoms are more cosmetic. Veins close to the skin surface become dilated and look like tiny spider webs of red, purple, and blue. Spider veins commonly occur in the ankles, calves, thighs, and face and sometimes cause aching, leg cramping, and swelling.

P.S. Vein conditions should be evaluated by a doctor, who can then determine the best course of treatment.

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.