Archive for the ‘General health’ Category

PET-RELATED DISEASES

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

What are they?

The vast majority of pets do not produce any illnesses in children, or indeed in the rest of the family. Fleas are fairly common in cats and dogs but can be controlled by regular de-fleaing. If your pet scratches a lot, take it to the vet.

Worms can be passed to children via the bowel motions of cats or dogs. Almost all puppies are born with roundworms (toxocara) and by 6 months about half still have worms. The worm eggs can live in dust for months, so worming is essential. Kittens and adult cats need worming too.

Some children are allergic to certain animals, often in fact to the mites in their coats. This can be overcome by washing the animal regularly in special solutions to get rid of the mites.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection with a small, single-celled micro-organism that can produce congenital abnormalities in a baby born to a mother who has the illness during pregnancy. It is spread by cats and poorly cooked meat.

What causes them?

• Poor hygiene.

• Fleas and mites

• Allergies to certain animals.

• Worms and other diseases in the animals themselves that can be transferred to humans.

Prevention

• Never let animals lick your children’s faces or mouths.

• Wash your hands-and see that your children do-after handling pets.

• Always wash hands before meals if there is a pet in the house.

• Train your dog to use a particular part of the garden to open its bowels.

• Make worming a routine-don’t wait until you actually see worms. Ask your vet how often you should worm and what to use.

• Don’t forget that kittens and puppies need worming too.

• Keep your pet’s coat well groomed and free from fleas and mites.

• Never take your dog into food shops.

• Ensure that your dog and cat have their own beds and don’t sleep on yours.

• Never let your dog or cat eat from your food dishes. Give them their own and wash these separately from yours with a separate dishcloth or brush.

• Keep your dog well disciplined so that it comes when called and does not cause accidents on roads by running out uncontrolled.

• Don’t feed your pet in between meals, especially from the table-it will not only become a nuisance and spoil mealtimes for you but could transfer infections to your hands and then to you.

• If a child is allergic to an animal see your doctor to discuss a course of desensitizing injections. This often fails but can be worth a try.

• Never eat poorly cooked meat-you could get toxoplasmosis.

• If you are pregnant avoid handling cats’ litter at all and even if you are not pregnant do so wearing rubber gloves.

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PREVENTIVE MEDECINE: RISK FACTORS IN CANCER RISING

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Tobacco and alcohol

Consumption of these substances plays a substantial part in the rise of cancer levels as a community becomes westernized. Tobacco consumption is directly linked to cancer of the lung and bladder and probably to that of the pancreas. Cigarette consumption was low until 1973 in developing countries but as the public in the westernized world became aware of the dangers and tobacco consumption fell, the companies switched their sales to Third World countries. We can expect to see far more cancers in these countries as a result.

Alcohol interacts with tobacco as a causative agent in cancers of the gullet and larynx and independently of tobacco raises the level of cancer of the liver by producing cirrhosis. In contrast to the situation regarding tobacco consumption there is no direct and consistent relationship between alcohol consumption and economic development. Alcohol consumption is going up everywhere and there is evidence that cancer of the gullet is rising along with it.

Diet

Eating habits have always been a prime suspect as a cause of cancers but are difficult to convict conclusively. In general, westernized countries consume a diet high in energy, fat, protein and sugar and low in unrefined starch, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Western diets make people fat and obesity has now been linked with an increased susceptibility to cancer. Several studies have found that tall, fat women are the most likely to develop breast cancer. Studies of Japanese women have linked the consumption of meat, eggs, butter and cheese to breast-cancer incidence. Breast cancer rates in rats can be greatly increased by feeding them diets high in fat. This raises their levels of prolactin (a hormone that acts on the breast).

Cancer of the body of the uterus (not the cervix) is more strongly linked with obesity than is breast cancer. Fat women seem to produce more oestrogens and these in turn may have a carcinogenic action on both breasts and uterus.

When we look at cancer of the colon the link seems to be with the increased consumption of meat and animal protein more than with fat. A study of Japanese migrants to Hawaii found that sufferers from cancer of the large bowel were more likely than control patients to have adopted a western style of diet and were about two and a half times more likely to have regularly eaten meat, particularly beef. Further support for this finding comes from the many studies done on the Seventh Day Adventists and other vegetarian groups in the US. They all have lower than expected colon-cancer rates. The Mormons, who are big beef consumers, also have low colon-cancer rates, so clearly beef is not the only answer. The worldwide level of cancer of the colon is related to the consumption of unrefined cereals and several experts have suggested that dietary fibre is protective in some way. This may be the result of its bulking action (which dilutes any carcinogens present in the food residue), or of its ability to increase the speed at which food residues pass through the colon (so reducing the amount of time a carcinogen is in contact with the bowel wall). Nobody knows for sure. Certainly studies have found that people with bulky stools have less colon cancer than those with hard, tarry stools. Fibre lack may well not be the only factor here though, and the answer will probably be found to be a combination of fat, meat and fibre-each of which causes has its champions in the scientific world of cancer research.

But we don’t learn about diet and cancer by looking only at the negatives. Stomach cancer has fallen dramatically this century and always falls when a country becomes westernized. No one knows why this should be but in Japan this decline in mortality is paralleled by an increasing consumption of meat, milk, eggs, oil and fruit. Studies of individual Japanese have found that two glasses of milk a day seem to be protective. The daily consumption of green or yellow vegetables appears to be protective too. Perhaps this decline is due to the increased consumption of vitamins A and C. Vitamin A has been shown to reduce the risk of experimentally-induced cancers in laboratory animals and there are several studies that suggest that it reduces the incidence of lung cancers in humans.

This brief survey of the major diseases of the western world shows clearly how they are linked to a western lifestyle, a fact that can be established both historically and by making comparisons with non-westernized peoples around the world today.

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BODY SIGNAL ALERT BREASTS, ENLARGED: DESCRIPTION AND POSSIBLE MEDICAL PROBLEMS

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Among men who regularly work out with weights, firm, defined pectoral muscles are a sign of a well-exercised body. Some people think they’re sexy, while others get turned off if they think they look too much like a woman’s breasts.

However, no matter what your personal feelings are on the issue, if you notice that one or both of your breasts have grown larger recently, you need to see your doctor.

If both breasts feel fleshy and firm and the nipples are pointing slightly downward, you probably have a condition called gynecomastia, which is a frequent side effect of anabolic steroid use and heavy weight training. Sometimes, however, gynecomastia can occur if you have too much estrogen in your system. If your breasts suddenly get bigger and you’re not currently taking anabolic steroids as a muscle enhancement or medication, then you should see your doctor.

Gynecomastia can also result from the presence of a benign or malignant tumor, although a tumor almost always affects just one breast, at least in the beginning. An enlargement will feel like a solid mass, while a tumor tends to be both smaller and harder. Especially in older men, when one breast grows larger, it may be a sign of a tumor.

But breast cancer—or any abnormality in the breast—is extremely rare in men, though it does occur. For every 100 women who get breast cancer, for instance, only 1 man will develop it. Since most men aren’t aware that they can get breast cancer, they rarely check for it or even notice changes in their breasts. As a result, when breast cancer is diagnosed in a man, it’s usually too late.

An underlying liver disease or endocrine disorder may also be responsible for your enlarged breasts. If you’re exhibiting other signs of these diseases—such as jaundice and impotence in the case of liver disease, or sudden loss or gain of weight and fatigue in the case of endocrine disorders—see your doctor immediately. Another cause of gynecomastia in men is certain medications, particularly the drug cimetidine, which is commonly used to treat ulcers, and digoxin, which is prescribed for patients with heart arrhythmia.

Frequently, men who are overweight will develop lipomastia, a form of breast enlargement. In this case, larger breasts are due to an increased distribution of fat all over the body, with some of it settling in the breasts.

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THE POSSIBLE CAUSES OF COLON CANCER

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Researchers have been studying the possible causes of colon cancer for years; in most cases, colon cancer occurs in the lower part of the intestine. Some say it is due to genetics, while others blame the typical sedentary American lifestyle and high-fat, low-fiber diet. However, they have found that the risk of colon cancer increases in families that have a history of intestinal polyps. If you are at risk for colon cancer and have shown signs of a change in appetite, weight loss, depression, or chronic diarrhea, your doctor will conduct one or more of the following common tests:

• A complete history andphysical exam. This will help your doctor discover a possible genetic link or a recent change

in your bowel habits.

• Lab tests. These may include a blood test, a liver test,

and a hemocult test, which is a simple at-home test to help you check for hidden blood in the stool, which is often the first sign of cancer.

• A digital exam. Your doctor will use a gloved finger to check

for growths in your rectum, since many cancers are within the reach of the finger.

• An anuscope. This is a device used to check the lower part of the rectum

• A sigmoidoscope. This is a small, flexible tube your doctor can use to look into the lower part of the large intestine.

• A colonoscope. This is similar to a sigmoidoscope, but it is longer to enable your doctor to examine the entire large intestine. If your doctor wants to perform a colonoscopy, you will need to be mildly sedated.

• A barium enema. This is an X-ray exam that is usually performed on an outpatient basis. A barium enema is usually used when your doctor suspects you have divetticular disease or polyps or a mechanical problem with the intestine.

• An upper GI series. This is another kind of X-ray exam in which you swallow barium on an empty stomach to allow your doctor to view your intestine more closely.

After the diagnosis of colon cancer is confirmed by some or all of these tests, along with, possibly, a CAT scan to see if the cancer has spread, the usual treatment is surgical removal of the tumor, although chemotherapy and radiation may also be used. The bowel will also need to be reattached; the procedure involves a hospitalization period of about two weeks.

Before the tumor is removed, however, your doctor will administer a blood test called the CEA antigen test, which will be used not as a screening tool but as a benchmark for future CEA tests after the tumor has been removed to check that the cancer has not reappeared.

If the tumor was located in the lower part of the intestine, close to the rectum, reattachment of the bowel may not be possible. In this case, a colostomy bag will be necessary. This does not carry the stigma that it once did, even a few years ago. People who wear a colostomy bag can lead active, productive lives without anyone else knowing they have had a colostomy, since the new appliances have no leakage and no smell.

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COUGHING WHILE EATING

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Description and Possible Medical Problems

We’ve all had a piece of food go down the “wrong pipe.” Fortunately, for most of us, this kind of episode stops just short of requiring the Heimlich maneuver. While it may cause a temporary sore throat and loss of appetite, it’s not a serious problem.

For people who are frail and elderly, however, it’s another story. In fact, it’s not uncommon for them to cough while they’re eating or drinking. This especially tends to happen if a family member is feeding them, as the role reversal tends to make both parent and child tense.

In the elderly, the swallowing mechanism can become progressively weaker due to chronic illness, a stroke, or advanced dementia as caused by Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, food can very easily go down into the windpipe, or trachea, which can potentially be very dangerous. Small amounts of food in the trachea can cause a lung infection called aspiration that can lead to aspiration pneumonia, a condition that can be lethal in a person whose immune system is already weakened by age and disease. Aspiration pneumonia requires hospitalization with intravenous antibiotics.

If an elderly relative often coughs while he’s eating, his family should consult with his physician, who may contact an ear, nose, and throat specialist and/or even a speech language pathologist with expertise in swallowing disorders. Either of these specialists may perform special “dysphasia evaluations,” which check a person’s ability to swallow various types of food. These specialists may then recommend dietary adjustments (such as pureeing certain foods) to relieve the difficulties in swallowing.

Treatment

If your elderly relative has developed aspiration pneumonia, hospitalization is necessary. This will include a complete course of intravenous antibiotics. If feeding becomes a consistent problem despite treatment, it may become necessary to insert a feeding tube into the patient’s stomach for a short time to make sure he gets the nutrition he needs.

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BODY SIGNAL ALERT RASH: TREATMENT

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

If the rash is generalized and appears over a large area of your body, a new medication is usually the culprit. Your doctor will recommend that you stop using the medication; he’ll suggest an alternative. He’ll also advise you to apply calamine lotion or over-the-counter Benadryl three or four times a day to soothe the itching. If the rash appears as a small area of bloodlike pimples on your lower legs and ankles, it may be due to a low platelet count, and the treatment will include drug therapy to increase the count, along with dietary iron supplementation. If the rash appears under the breast or in the groin, you probably have a fungal infection that is often seen in diabetics and obese people. Treatment will be in the form of an antifungal ointment such as Lotrimin three times a day.

If the rash appears as a redness around an area of skin that has recently been traumatized or broken, the cause is usually an infection, and treatment will consist of an antibiotic such as Keflex or Cipro taken by mouth. If the rash is particularly severe, you may need to be hospitalized in order to receive the antibiotic intravenously.

If the rash occurs on one side of your body, starting on your back and continuing around to the front of your torso, and the appearance of the rash is preceded by tingling and pain, you probably have shingles or the herpes zoster virus. Treatment will consist of a medication called Zovirax that can be taken orally or spread on in a cream to speed recovery. A viral rash or one that’s caused by a drug reaction may be flat and might itch.

If the rash occurs on your face and itches and is accompanied by pain and fever, and if you never had chicken pox when you were a kid, you should see your doctor right away. Chicken pox can be severe when it occurs in an adult, and a medication such as Zovirax will be used to treat it.

If the rash appears on your hands and feet and in your mouth, and you also have malaise and a fever, you probably have a common summertime virus called a coxsackievirus. This virus lasts about a week, and there is no known treatment for it.

Finally, if the rash occurs in a series of small clusters or as a large sore on your genitalia, possibly accompanied by a discharge of pus from the urethra, you may have herpes or gonorrhea, which will need to be treated with medication.

Again, since all these conditions require a doctor’s attention, the moment you notice a rash starting to form, you should contact your physician for advice on what to do.

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TONGUE, BLACK, HAIRY

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Description and Possible Medical Problems

When you were a kid, your imagination may have run away with you at night when you thought you saw a black, hairy monster under the bed, and you called for Mom and Dad to come take a look.

Now that you’re an adult, the sudden appearance of a black, hairy tongue is just as disturbing as it was when you were a kid. Your imagination may also take over just as it did in childhood, as you ponder the possible causes and come close to driving yourself to the emergency room.

Relax. Have you been taking penicillin or other antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection? If your tongue turns black or brownish in color, it’s probably in response to a lengthy course of antibiotic treatment. The papillae, or tiny, hairlike protrusions on the tongue, can turn dark due to a proliferation of bacterial growth on the tongue. In addition to the color change, you may have bad breath, due to the foul odor of the excess bacteria.

If you’re a cigarette or pipe smoker, regular use of tobacco products can also cause a black, hairy tongue.

Treatment

A black, hairy tongue is harmless. Once you stop taking antibiotics, your tongue should return to normal.

If you still have a few days or weeks to go on your antibiotic therapy, however, you can improve your oral hygiene in the meantime by brushing and/or scraping your tongue at least once a day or as often as you need to.

And if you smoke and you believe this is the cause of your black, hairy tongue, my best advice is simply to stop.

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BULGING, BOTH EYES: DESCRIPTION AND POSSIBLE MEDICAL PROBLEMS

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

If both of your eyes appear to bulge from their sockets, causing a pop-eyed appearance, you may already be aware that you have a thyroid problem known as Graves’ disease, a kind of hyperthyroidism. If only one eye is bulging, it may be due to a tumor behind the eye (see “Bulging, One Eye” below for more information). Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too much thyroxine, a hormone that helps to regulate growth in the body; the condition often results in weight loss and nervousness, and it primarily affects women in midlife. Graves’ disease occurs when an excessively large amount of the hormone is produced; this may cause some parts of the body to grow, including the tissue behind the eyes, causing the eyes to bulge out. In addition to bulging eyes, your eyes may also water frequently and be extrasensitive to light, and your eyesight may be blurry and distorted.

If your eyes start to bulge and you are not aware that you have a thyroid problem, your doctor will probably suggest the possibility when she takes a look at your eyes. Though bulging eyes by themselves are not harmful to your health, the underlying thyroid condition can decrease your quality of life. Fortunately, however, if you begin to treat Graves’ disease when you first notice that your eyes begin to bulge, both your eye condition and your thyroid condition will clear up completely.

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NERVOUSNESS

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Description and Possible Medical Problems

Even though it’s an old-fashioned term, you may have recently heard someone refer to someone as a “nervous Nellie.” As is the case with anxiety, everyone gets nervous at some point, but there are always those who take it to extremes.

Also like anxiety, nervousness can get to the point where it prevents people from functioning normally and begins to interfere with their interpersonal relationships. In fact, nervousness is often linked with anxiety. In most cases, nervousness is a manifestation of stress, problems at home or work, or simply the travails of modern life. It can also result from working too hard and feeling overwhelmed.

In a few cases, however, if you are chronically nervous and also begin to lose weight unintentionally, you may have a thyroid disease.

Treatment

Once your doctor rules out the possibility of thyroid disease, she will suggest that you try some behavioral changes to reduce your nervousness, including exercise, cutting out or down on caffeine, and/or counseling. Sometimes a short vacation or day off is all that’s needed.

If your nervousness is interfering with your life and these methods don’t work, your doctor may prescribe an antianxiety medication or sedative such as Valium, Xanax, or BuSpar. Your doctor will determine your dosage based on factors such as your age, weight, and sex and will lean towards giving you a smaller dose than is customary to help prevent the medication from becoming habit forming. In the case of BuSpar, it takes a week or two of daily doses until it starts to work, and it doesn’t seem to cause dependency like the other antianxiety medications and sedatives.

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BODY SIGNAL ALERT/DIZZINESS WITH VOMITING, HEADACHE, NUMBNESS AROUND THE MOUTH

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Description and Possible Medical Problems

If you feel dizzy no matter if you’re moving around or sitting still and the dizziness is accompanied by vomiting, headache, loss of speech, numbness around the mouth, and/or loss of the use of one of your limbs, you should see your doctor immediately. Your dizziness may be caused by a problem in the brain, not your inner ear. In addition to the dizziness and other symptoms, you may have trouble walking.

These are all signs of a small stroke or a tumor. Arteriosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, often reduces the amount of blood that reaches the brain, which can cause these symptoms. A tumor can grow to the point where it begins to press on an artery, which cuts off the blood going to the brain.

Treatment

Your doctor will take your complete health history and do a complete physical, which will include an evaluation of your neurological system with a CAT scan or MRI scan to check for a possible old or new stroke, an echocardiogram to check for any heart irregularities or clots, or a carotid Doppler test, which measures the flow of blood from the neck to the brain.

If your doctor thinks you’ve had a stroke, he will prescribe treatment that includes a low-fat diet that is also low in sodium if your blood pressure is elevated, and one baby aspirin taken daily, which seems to inhibit the blood’s ability to clot, meaning that no obstructions to the flow of blood to the brain will develop. If your doctor believes you’ve had a series of persistent small strokes as shown by an MRI but that you may have not noticed, he may prescribe a medication called Ticlid, taken three times a day, which also helps keep the blood from clotting but is stronger than baby aspirin. If you are taking Ticlid, your doctor will want to monitor you with periodic blood tests, since the medication can sometimes cause your white blood cell count to decrease.

Another medication is Coumadin, which actually thins the blood and is only used in severe cases when aspirin and Ticlid are not strong enough to prevent the blood from clotting. If you are taking Coumadin and you also have an ulcer, you may need to take an antiulcer medication such as Carafate or Zantac to coat your stomach in order to protect it from the Coumadin. Also, you need to make sure your doctor monitors your health closely when you are taking Coumadin and call your doctor immediately if you notice that you are bleeding excessively from a small cut or notice blood in your stool or urine. All of these symptoms can be a sign of internal bleeding, which can be caused by the Coumadin.

If your doctor thinks you may have a brain tumor, see “Headache in the Morning, Made Worse by Sneezing, Coughing,” below, for a description of the condition and your treatment options.

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