Yale University researchers looked at more than 1,600 students at middle schools in one urban school district in Connecticut. Their average age was around 12 years.
Boys were more likely to consume energy drinks than girls. The researchers also found that among boys, black and Hispanic students were more likely to drink the beverages than white students.
Children who consumed energy drinks were 66 percent more likely to be at risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms, according to the study in the current issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics.
RELATED: Energy Drinks Pack a Deadly Punch
Energy drinks have high levels of sugar and also often contain caffeine, the researchers noted. For the study, the investigators took into account the number and type of other sugar-sweetened drinks consumed by the students.
"As the total number of sugar-sweetened beverages increased, so too did risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms among our middle-school students. Importantly, it appears that energy drinks are driving this association," study leader Jeannette Ickovics, a professor in the School of Public Health, said in a Yale news release.
"Our results support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that parents should limit consumption of sweetened beverages and that children should not consume any energy drinks," she added.
The students in this study drank an average of two sugary drinks a day. The number of daily sugary drinks ranged from none to as many as seven or more such drinks. Some sugar-sweetened beverages and energy drinks contain up to 40 grams of sugar each. Depending on how old they are, children should only have about 21 to 33 grams of sugar a day, according to the researchers.
Along with causing problems such as hyperactivity and inattention, sugary drinks increase children's risk of obesity, Ickovics noted. About one-third of American children are overweight or obese, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Efforts by HealthDay to reach out to the beverage industry for comment were unsuccessful.
Last week we posted a blog about the risks of PML for patients taking Tysabri, based on news from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meetings which took place earlier this month. In the comments section, Chris asked that we check our facts and report back.
Well, once again, your commitment to the Life With MS Blog community has paid off.
I jotted off a quick e-mail to the Public Affairs department for Biogen/Idec and waited… and waited… and got nothing. Because, however, of the active participation of our community the conversation was noted and I got an e-mail asking if we needed any assistance directly from the senior manager for international public affairs.
I am not happy that I was wrong, but I am happy to know that we can get the correct information out to you today.
I had reported that Alfred Sandrock, MD, PhD, of Biogen/Idec, presented findings from the company’s study on progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in patients using Biogen/Idec’s MS drug, Tysabri. I was mistaken in my assessment of “immunosuppressive” (IS) therapy in the list of risk factors for PML.
Risk factors for PML include:
More than two years on Tysabri
Prior immunosuppressant therapy
Positive serology for JC virus infection
According to Biogen, immunosuppessants, in the context used by Dr Sandrock are limited as:
“A prior IS would be considered mitoxantrone, azathioprine, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate, cladribine, rituximab, and chemotherapy (not otherwise specified).”
Not included, as you can see, are any of the other MS disease modifying therapies (DMT) or even corticosteroids like Solu-Medral or Prednisone — which is normally considered an IS drug, but not for the case of the PML warning.
The original press release that I received on the topic was incomplete and I apologize for the misunderstanding.
As a side note, I took advantage of the conversation to request more information on the companies rational in keeping the patent on the JC Virus assay test that I also mentioned in that same blog post. I’ll update you on that conversation as soon as it happens.
Once again, your voice was heard by the people who have the answers and I think we’ve cleared up the misunderstanding. Thank you all for your continued involvement in our community. It makes a big difference in the lives of so many!
Wishing you and your family the best of health
When expectant mothers are exposed to plastics chemicals called phthalatesduring the first trimester, their male offspring may have a greater risk of infertility later in life, a new study suggests.
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Boys exposed to the chemical diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) may be born with a significantly shorter anogenital distance than those not exposed to these chemicals. Anogenital distance is the distance between the anus and the genitals. A shorter anogenital distance has been linked to infertility and low sperm count, the researchers explained.
"We saw these changes even though moms' exposure to DEHP has dropped 50 percent in the past 10 years," said lead researcher Shanna Swan, a professor of preventive medicine and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
"Therefore, we have not found a safe level of phthalate exposure for pregnant women," she contended.
Swan said that this study cannot prove that these boys will have fertility problems as adults or that DEHP causes these problems. However, animal studies have implicated the chemical in male reproductive problems. Based on the data from this study, Swan believes there is a strong association between exposure to DEHP and fertility in human males.
DEHP is used to soften plastics. Most exposure results from eating foods that pick up the chemical during processing, Swan said.
"Since food is the largest source of DEHP for consumers, it is difficult for pregnant women to minimize exposure," she said. "Eating unprocessed food will likely help. However, eliminating DEHP from food really has to be done by food producers."
The chemical is also found in medical tubing and in a variety of products, including flooring, wallpaper, lacquers and personal care products, Swan said.
The report was published Feb. 19 in the journal Human Reproduction.
For the study, Swan's team collected data on almost 800 pregnant women and their infants.
Specifically, the researchers found that exposure in the womb to three types of DEHP was associated with a significantly shorter anogenital distance in boys, but not in girls.
A group representing the chemical industry took issue with the study, however.
In a statement, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) stressed that the study only examined one type of phthalate, not all versions of the chemical. And it said that phthalates are "one of the most widely studied family of chemicals in use today."
The ACC added that DEHP "is known to break down into its metabolites within minutes after it enters the body. Information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the last 10 years indicates that, despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure from all sources combined is extremely low -- much lower than the levels established as safe by scientists at regulatory agencies."
But another expert says phthalate exposure may not be benign. Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said, "virtually everyone in the U.S. experiences continual exposure to phthalates."
And, a number of studies have tied the chemicals with changes in developing fetuses. "Phthalates, in particular, have been shown in both human and animal studies to interfere with normal fetal development," he said.
This study supports what has been demonstrated before, that phthalate exposure in the first trimester is linked to male reproductive development, Spaeth said. "This study is an important step forward in establishing this effect because the study included a much larger number of individuals than prior studies and helps identify one particular agent, DEHP, as an important contributor to this effect," he said.
Additionally, this study shows the importance of exposure in the first trimester as a critical window for the effect of phthalates on the male reproductive system. "On the whole, given these features, the authors have contributed important information about the public health risk posed by phthalates," Spaeth suggested.
Having a strong sense of purpose in life may not guarantee happiness, but research shows it could promote good health and longevity.
“There’s no formal definition of having a purpose in life, but the consensus is that it’s a sense of meaning and feeling that life is worth living,” says preventive cardiologist Randy Cohen, MD, medical director of University Medical Practice Associates at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
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Reviewing data from ten studies involving 136,000 men and women, Dr. Cohen and his colleagues found that people with a low sense of purpose, as measured by psychological surveys, were more likely to have a stroke, heart attack, or coronary artery disease requiring a stent or bypass surgery.
Individuals with a high sense of purpose had a lower risk of developing the same conditions. “We found a 23 percent reduction in mortality and a 19 percent reduction in cardiovascular events among those people,” Cohen says. That puts living purposefully on a par with other protective things people do, like engaging in exercise.
“What was so remarkable was that regardless of the country where the study was conducted, regardless of how purpose in life was defined, the effect was consistent,” says Cohen, whose findings were published this month inPsychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.
A 2014 study published in The Lancet found that people over age 65 who had a higher personal sense of purpose and well-being were more likely to live longer. Among 9,000 people followed over an 8 ½-year period, 9 percent of those in the highest well-being category died as compared to 29 percent in the lowest category.
The benefits of living purposefully may not be limited to heart health. Research conducted at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests a strong sense of purpose can protect the brain.
RELATED: The Life-Saving Power of Purpose
“Purpose somehow gives your brain resilience,” says Patricia A. Boyle, PhD, a neuropsychologist with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “It makes your brain stronger and more resistant to the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s.”
Participants in the Rush Memory and Aging Project agree to yearly testing and organ donation so that brain tissue can be examined after death. According to four studies published by the research team, subjects who scored higher on the purpose scale were:
What it is about a strong sense of purpose that benefits the mind and body is not entirely understood.
Evidence suggests that people who believe their lives have meaning take better care of their health. Psychologists at the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin found that the higher men and women scored on a purpose scale, the more likely they were to have routine screenings, such as a colonoscopy, mammogram, prostate exam, Pap smear, and cholesterol test. Higher scores on the purpose scale also translated to fewer days in the hospital.
Dr. Boyle believes a purposeful life has physiologic effects. “There is some evidence that purpose in life protects the brain against the negative effects of stress,” she says. Studies associate a stronger sense of purpose with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which affects a variety of body systems.
The question then is: “If someone has a low sense of purpose, are there concrete steps we can recommend to improve that?" asks Cohen.
Mary Jo Kreitzer, RN, PhD, founder and director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, believes the answer is “yes.” She discusses these steps in workshops and on the university’s website.
Dr. Kreitzer says reflecting on what your individual talents and gifts are is the best place to begin. Next, she says, look at the needs of the world, starting with your loved ones and community: “Ask yourself, ‘Given my unique gifts and talents, how can I make a difference?’”
Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, found that cultures that live longer typically share certain things in common: healthy diet, active lifestyle, and sense of purpose. One of the blue zones Buettner writes about is Okinawa, Japan.
“In the Okinawan language, there is not even a word for retirement,” Buettner said in a speech at a 2010 TED conference. “Instead, there is one word that imbues your entire life, and that word is ‘ikigai.’ And, roughly translated, it means ‘the reason for which you wake up in the morning.’”
The New York Times published an article “Should Athletes Eat Fat or Carbs?” last week which was based on a study that shows a diet comprised of 85 percent fat can help improve overall performance for ultra-endurance athletes more than the traditional high-carbohydrate diet considered best for athletes. And by fat, they mean good fats that come from foods like nuts, avocados, and extra-virgin olive oil — not your cheeseburgers and French fries. But before you throw all your healthy eating rules out the window, it’s important to note that this recommendation is not for most of us — these recommendations for real athletes. We’re talking about people who exercise for a living — think NBA players, Olympic swimmers, or professional marathoners.
Let’s be honest: Most of us don’t run more than two marathons a week or work out at all hours of the day, so this way of eating is not recommended, even for high school and college players and people who exercise regularly. However, this information certainly brings into question traditional thinking and, as so often with these studies, leaves us wondering if this type of eating could benefit other types of athletes or moderately active people. We’ll need to continue to watch the research for more answers.
It’s important to remember that carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy, well-balanced diet and provide fuel for your workouts in the form of glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles. Fat, however, must be broken down into fatty acids before it can be used as fuel, and only endurance athletes who vigorously exercise throughout the day are able to use up all their glycogen stores before their bodies start using fat. A ketogenic diet, like the ones the article reviews with 85 percent of the diet from fat, forces your body to use fat more readily as an energy source. This is referred to as a ‘ketoadaption’ and takes several weeks to achieve.
Still, it’s not a good idea to overdo it on carbohydrates or fat for all your meals. Fats should only comprise 20 to 30 percent of your total daily calorie intake per meal (think two slices of avocado). Carbohydrates should make up 40 to 50 percent of your meal, and sources of good carbohydrates include vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Government experts have offered suggestions for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, (due to be published in the fall) which encourage Americans to cut down on meat, added sugars, and starchy, high-carb foods and include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats into their diets.
“The move toward reducing the amount of carbohydrates recommended for the general public is because most of us are not active. We sit too much! When we don’t move, or if we move for only an hour a day, we’re not utilizing all the carbohydrates we are eating, and therefore we continue to gain weight and increase our risk for chronic diseases. For the most part, we are moving too little and eating too much and especially carbohydrates because they are easy, available, and taste good,” says Maureen Namkoong, MS, RD nutrition and fitness director at Everyday Health.
There’s a place for good carbohydrates and fats in a balanced diet. Good carbohydrates and fats give you energy, may help you lose weight, and promote cardiovascular health. But too much of a good thing can be bad — and this is true for fats and carbs, too.
I've never been one of those people. You know the kind, the ones who wake up in the morning or lace up in the evening and "go for a run."
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I've always been envious of my roommates, who can sneak in a jog with ease and carry on with their day, as if they had done something casually simple like taking the trash out. So, I made a vow to give running another chance. After all, the exercise has been shown to make you happier, reduce your risk for disease and even increase longevity.
While group classes and long walks will probably always be more my speed, I did find that I was enjoying running more than I ever did in the past. However, that doesn't come without a few hiccups. Below are a handful of struggles all new runners can probably relate to.
Getting winded in the first few minutes.
Probably one of the most discouraging elements of getting into a running routine is realizing that you're not as in shape as you thought you were. I continuously find myself doing more walking or jogging than actual running. But just because you need those intermittent breaks doesn't mean you aren't a runner. In fact, research shows that walking intervals during your run can help you maintain your overall pace.
Two words: Sore. Muscles.
The second-day pain is real. If you're experiencing those achy muscles, try one of these post-run remedies. Just make sure you're checking in with your body as you establish your routine. A little soreness is OK, but if the pain is more intense you may have sustained a running-related injury.
Feeling overwhelmed by the copious amount of races.
Color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, princess half marathons... the list is seriously endless. However, there are some perks to picking a race. Signing up for one helps you set a goal as you get into a routine, plus there's an opportunity to turn it into a social event by participating with your friends.
If your goal is to become a marathon runner (and props to you!), there are also some benefits there: Research shows consistent long-distance running can improve cardiovascular health and lower the risk for other organ disorders, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The jolting agony of waking up at 6 a.m.
My sleepy brain is constantly telling me my bed feels better than running (and often, the bed wins). If you need a little extra motivation, try one of these hacks to help you jumpstart your morning workout.
Part of the reason I never got into a routine in the first place was because the exercise itself seemed extremely dull to me (the treadmill is my arch-nemesis). Once I discovered more running-path options, I started to have more fun. However, that's not to say that I don't get a little bored sometimes — and that's OK.
Note: If you still just can't get excited by the process most of the time, you may want to try a more entertaining workout option instead. Exercise should be engaging, not mind-numbing.
Trying to find your perfect route.
Finding your favorite place to run is like finding a good apartment: It feels elusive until one day you hit the lottery. Whether you're into lush scenery or a skyline, it's important to find the routes that work for you in order to make the exercise entertaining.
The joy of picking out new workout clothes.
Sleek tanks! Compression pants! Neon shoes!
Running toward (multiple) "finish lines."
If you've ever uttered to yourself just one more pole, you're not alone. In fact, picking out an arbitrary finish line on your run can improve your performance. Research shows those who stare at a target in the distance go faster and feel less exertion than those who don't concentrate on anything, The Atlantic reported.
Bargaining with yourself on your run.
If you run five more blocks, you can binge-watch Scandal when you get home, I tell myself. Chances are I'd probably do it anyway — but at least it encourages me in the moment.
Creating a playlist that will consistently keep you motivated.
No, a simple music-streaming app won't do when your lungs are on fire and your legs feel weak. You need that one specific song that will inspire you to keep going (shout out to all my Shake It Off comrades). If you're looking for a playlist to spice up your run, check out some of these.
Looking in the mirror for changes as you age? A healthy diet helps to ensure that you'll like the reflection you see. Good nutrition is linked to healthy aging on many levels: It can keep you energized and active as well as fight against slowing metabolism and digestion and the gradual loss of muscle mass and healthy bone as you age.
Making healthy diet choices can help you prevent or better manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It's never too late to adopt healthier eating habits.
Strategies for Healthy Eating as You Age
Replace old eating habits with these healthy approaches:
Overcoming Challenges to Healthy Eating
Eating a healthy diet can be complicated by changes you may face as you age, such as difficulty eating or a limited budget. There are strategies you can try to solve these common challenges:
Larson believes in the importance of enjoying your food. Make healthy-diet changes step by step and have fun experimenting to find new tastes and cooking styles. Eat slowly and pay attention to the experience. “Create a pleasant eatingenvironment," she says. "Sit by a window and enjoy every bite.”
Even small skin traumas like a pimple or bug bite can leave you with complexion-busting dark spots. “This is one of the most common ailments that patients come to see me about,” explains Jeanine Downie, MD, director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey. “It’s an annoying condition that affects all skin types, but the good news is that it’s fairly easy to treat.”
Find out how Dr. Downie helps patients treat and avoid marks on their complexions.
Everyday Health: What causes hyperpigmentation?
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Jeanine Downie: Any trauma or inflammation to the skin — either from acne, pimples, bug bites, or simply a bump, cut, or scratch — disrupts the surface layers where you have melanin, responsible for skin’s color. As the skin heals, it leaves behind residual pigmentation and dark spots.
EH: Is there anything you can do to prevent it?
JD: Unfortunately, if you’re prone to these dark spots, it’s tough to prevent them. Still, picking or scratching at an irritation will further traumatize the area, so hands off! You’ll also want to be vigilant about wearing sunscreen. As your skin gets darker, so will those hyperpigmented areas — it’s not like a tan is going to even out the color. Obviously, daily sunscreen wear is a must anyway, but this is just one more reason to protect your skin from UV rays.
EH: What steps can you take to treat it?
JD: The sooner you start taking care of your wound, the better it’ll look once healed. I recommend keeping the wound covered, especially if the skin is broken, and applying a topical healing ointment.
For large cysts or cuts, you may even want to see your dermatologist for a treatment plan. Once the pimple or cut has healed, apply 2% hydroquinone cream, which is available over-the-counter, or 4% hydroquinone, available by prescription from your doctor.
If the topical creams don’t quite do the trick, talk to your dermatologist about chemical peels or laser treatments to completely eliminate more stubborn discoloration.
EH: Is hyperpigmentation more common in people with darker complexions?
JD: No matter your skin color, everyone is susceptible to hyperpigmentation. Still, those with darker complexions seem to hold on to those spots for much longer because they have more melanin in their skin. It also means those hyperpigmented areas are going to be darker and more visible as well. Pregnancy and certain medications can increase your body’s production of melanin, and lead to hyperpigmentation as well.
Scheduling vacation plans and buying a new swimsuit will mentally prepare you for summer, but your skin may need some help getting ready, too. For gorgeous, smooth skin you'll feel ready to bare, you need to take a few simple steps. Try this head-to-toe refresher to take your skin out of hibernation.
1. Reveal Glowing Skin
Regular exfoliation can be a part of a healthy skin regimen no matter the season; as long as your skin is not sensitive, exfoliation can help you achieve smooth, healthy-looking skin that makes you look more glowing and youthful. “But it must be done with care,” says Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “The goal is to lift off the outer layer of skin cells that are ready to be sloughed off without stripping the skin.”
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Brushes, polishing cloths, and scrubs offer easy ways to smooth away rough spots. Rotating cleansing brushes work by physically buffing off the dead skin cells. Exfoliating cloths, microdermabrasion kits, and scrubs with granular ingredients also operate the same way. “For the body, look for a scrub that contains coarse particles that dissolve over time, like sugar, so you don’t irritate the skin,” says Dr. Day.
Products that chemically exfoliate the skin contain ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic, or polyhydroxy acids that cause the skin to shed its outer layer and reveal the newer layer.
2. Remove Hair Without Irritation
If your summer forecast calls for sunny days at the beach or poolside, you may be putting some effort into removing unwanted hair. But once you rip off the wax strip, it’s also important to care for the skin that’s newly exposed to the elements.
Give your skin some time to recover before rolling out your beach towel or getting active outdoors. “I advise clients to stay out of the sun or heat for at least 48 hours after any hair-removal process,” says Cindy Barshop, owner of Completely Bare spas. “Follicles are vulnerable to irritation, and skin may be sensitive due to any heat or friction from lasers, waxing, or shaving.”
Since most of us don’t plan our hair removal that far in advance, buffer your tender skin with an oil-free sunscreen, wait for it to dry (about 5 minutes), and dust on some talc-free baby powder, says Barshop. To prevent ingrown hairs, it’s helpful to wear loose-fitting clothing and use an after-waxing product that contains glycolic and salicylic acids, which team up to prevent dead skin cells from causing bothersome bumps.
3. Fight UV Rays With Food
All the work you put into making your skin look good won’t be worth it unless you guard it from the sun’s damaging rays, which are strongest during the summer. Surprisingly, you can protect yourself from the inside, too. “In addition to usingsunscreen, eat cooked tomatoes every day if you know you’re going to be in the sun,” says Jessica Wu, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC Medical School. According to research, cooked tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that helps fight the effects of UV rays such as redness, swelling, and blistering from sunburn. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, you may benefit from consuming tomato sauce, grilled tomatoes, or even Bloody Marys. “This doesn’t replace sunscreen, but the habit could give you additional protection if you can’t reach your back and miss a spot,” Dr. Wu adds.
4. Clear Up Body Breakouts
It’s no better to have acne on your body than on the face, especially in the heat, when hiding and covering up isn’t an option. The approach to treating acne on the back, chest, and elsewhere on the body is the same as treating facial acne: “Exfoliate regularly, don’t pick, and treat with effective ingredients,” says Day.
Washing with products that contain salicylic acid helps slough off the dead skin cells; a treatment product with micronized benzoyl peroxide can also help by penetrating the skin and killing off the bacteria that cause acne.
If your skin is sensitive, investing in an acne-treating blue light tool may be worth the cost. “You simply wave the light wand over skin for five minutes daily and it helps kill bacteria,” says Leslie Baumann, MD, a dermatologist in Miami. If you have severe body acne, see a dermatologist.
5. Erase Cellulite
First, the good news: Some products may be able to smooth out the undesirable dimples and unevenness of cellulite. The bad news: They won’t get rid of cellulite forever. The smoothing and toning effect, like many good things in life, is fleeting. Still, it may be worth slathering on a toning body lotion to make your skin look and feel tighter for a day at the beach or a special event.
“Products that contain caffeine and theophylline temporarily dehydrate fat cells,” says Dr. Baumann. “However, it’s the massage and the application of the cream that does the work.” The best course of action long-term is to exercise regularly, coupled with targeted massage, suggests Baumann.
Another way to hide cellulite is to apply a fake tan. Take advantage of the newest self-tanners, which have come a long way from the strong-smelling streaky creams or sprays of yesteryear. “There has been so much progress in the formulations — the colors are natural, there’s no streaking, and the scent is so much better,” says Day.
6. Treat Your Feet
If you’ve stuffed your feet inside boots all winter, they probably could use a little TLC for sandal weather. Jump-start your program with a salon pedicure, or if you’re short on time, you can heed Day’s DIY tip, which will help soften feet while you sleep. First, remove thicker skin with a foot file. Apply a rich emollient cream or ointment, then cover the feet in plastic wrap and cotton socks. Leave on overnight. Repeat every day until you achieve smooth skin, then once a week to maintain soft skin.
The New Hampshire primary's in full swing, and if there’s one thing all the presidential hopefuls can agree on, it’s that running for office is the ultimate endurance challenge. They’re canvassing across the country with little time to exercise or sleep, and it doesn’t help that at every stop they’re tempted by unhealthy foods like pizza, pork chops, and pies. So how do the presidential candidates stay healthy and keep their energy levels up during the grueling primary season? Read on to find out!
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an illness that can result in muscle weakness or loss of muscle function in parts of the body.
In people with Guillain-Barré syndrome (pronounced GHEE-yan ba-RAY), the body's own immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.
The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the limbs. These nerves help control muscle movement.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 or 2 out of every 100,000 people develop GBS each year in the United States.
Anyone can get GBS, but the condition is more common in adults than in children, and more men than women are diagnosed with GBS each year.
Doctors don't know what causes Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Many people with GBS report a bacterial or viral infection (such as the flu) days or weeks before GBS symptoms start.
Less common triggers for GBS may include:
Guillain-Barré syndrome is not contagious — it cannot spread from one person to another.
There are several types of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which are characterized by what part of the nerve cell is damaged.
The most common type of GBS is called acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP).
In AIDP, the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective nerve covering that helps transmit nerve signals from the brain to other parts of the body.
The first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome often include feelings of tingling or weakness in the feet and legs. These feelings may spread to the arms and face.
The chest muscles can also be affected. Up to a quarter of people with GBS experience problems breathing.
In very severe cases, people with GBS may lose all muscle function and movement, becoming temporarily paralyzed.
Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome may include:
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It's unclear what causes binge eating disorder.
Like other eating disorders, BED is probably caused by a combination of genetic, psychological, and social factors.
Some risk factors for binge eating disorder include:
People with binge eating disorder have frequent bingeing episodes, typically at least once a week over the course of three months or more.
Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
Some people also display behavioral, emotional, or physical characteristics, such as:
There are several treatments available for BED. Treatment options may include:
If you have ropy, blue blood vessels in your legs, you may think that they’re unsightly but don't cause any overt symptoms. Yet for some people, varicose veins can cause skin damage and, even worse, lead to dangerous blood clots.
They’re incredibly common: Varicose veins affect about one in four U.S. adults, or about 22 million women and 11 million men between ages 40 and 80.
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Your leg veins face an uphill battle as they carry blood from your toes to your heart. Small flaps, or valves, within these vessels prevent blood from getting backed up on this journey, and the pumping action of your leg muscles helps push the blood along.
But if these valves weaken, blood can pool — primarily in the veins of your legs — increasing pressure in the veins. As a result of this increased pressure, your body tries to widen the veins to compensate, causing them to bulge and thicken, and leading to the characteristic twisted appearance of varicose veins.
To help you learn the facts about these enlarged veins, we've set the record straight on 10 sometimes confusing pieces of information, including who gets varicose veins and why, health problems they can cause, and treatment options.
“A lot of people are told by primary care doctors or others that varicose veins are a cosmetic issue only, when oftentimes they can be much more than that,” saysKathleen D. Gibson, MD, a vascular surgeon practicing in Bellevue, Washington.
“A significant percentage of patients with varicose veins will eventually develop symptoms,” says Pablo Sung Yup Kim, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. “The most common include dull achiness, heaviness, throbbing, cramping, and swelling of the legs.” Other symptoms include severe dryness and itchiness of the skin near varicose veins. People with varicose veins are also at an increased risk for a dangerous type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis.
Other not-so-common signs and symptoms, found in less than 10 percent of patients, include bleeding, skin discoloration, skin thickening, and ulcer formation — all due to varicose veins, says Kim. Unfortunately, once you have skin damage, it’s usually permanent.
“It’s very important to seek medical advice if you have varicose veins and experience symptoms — before changes in the skin are irreversible,” he says.
Aging definitely worsens varicose veins, though not everyone gets them. “It's a degenerative process that gets worse and more prominent as we age,” says Dr. Gibson. But young people can get varicose veins, too. While the average age of patients treated in Gibson’s practice is 52, she and her colleagues have treated patients as young as 13.
If you've got varicose veins, it may run in your family. “The cause of varicose veins is primarily genetic,” Gibson explains.
Changes in hormone levels also come into play as a risk factor for varicose veins. “Your risk can be made worse, especially by pregnancy,” she adds.
While varicose veins are more common in women, men get them, too. About one-quarter of adult women have some visible varicose veins, compared to 10 to 15 percent of men.
Steve Hahn, 51, of Kirkland, Washington, first noticed in his twenties that he had varicose veins in his left leg after he sprained his ankle playing basketball. When he injured his knee about 10 years ago, he noticed that the varicose veins had become more extensive.
“After about five years of thinking about it, I finally had them treated,” he says. “Both of my legs felt very heavy all of the time at this point, as opposed to just after walking a golf course or playing tennis or basketball.”
After treatment, Hahn says, “I feel like I have new legs.” The heaviness is gone, as is the ankle swelling, which he didn't know was related to the varicose veins. And as a side benefit, he adds, he looks better in shorts.
Exercise — including running — is usually a good thing for your veins. “Exercise is always good for the circulation,” Kim says. “Walking or running can lead to more calf-muscle pumping and more blood returning to the heart.”
“Being a runner doesn’t cause varicose veins,” adds Gibson, though there's controversy about whether exercise makes them worse or not.” Compression stockings can help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs during exercise. “For patients who haven't had their varicose veins treated and are running, I recommend compression. When you’re done running and are cooling off, elevate your legs,” she says.
While the varicose veins you notice are right at the surface of the skin, they occur deeper in the body, too, where you can't see them. “It really depends on the makeup of the leg,” Gibson says. “If you've got a lot of fatty tissue between the muscle and the skin, you may not see them. Sometimes surface veins are the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot going on underneath.”
If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet a lot — as a teacher or flight attendant, for example — you may be more bothered by varicose veins. But the jury's still out on whether prolonged standing actually causes varicose veins. “People tend to notice their varicose vein symptoms more when they’re standing or sitting,” Gibson explains.
Your lifestyle does matter, because obesity can worsen varicose veins, and getting down to a healthy weight can help ease symptoms. Becoming more physically active is also helpful. “Wearing compression stockings, doing calf-strengthening exercises, and elevating your legs can all improve or prevent varicose veins,” saysAndrew F. Alexis, MD, MPH, chairman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York City.
The only treatment available for varicose veins used to be a type of surgery called stripping, in which the vein is surgically removed from the body. That’s no longer the case. While this procedure is still the most commonly used varicose vein treatment worldwide, according to Gibson, minimally invasive procedures that don't leave scars have become much more popular in the United States.
Endothermal ablation, for example, involves using a needle to deliver heat to your vein, causing it to close and no longer function. While the procedure doesn't leave a scar, it can be painful, and you may have to undergo sedation before being treated. “You have to have a series of injections along the vein to numb it up; otherwise, you wouldn't be able to tolerate the heat,” Gibson explains. You may need to take a day off from work to recover, as well as a few days off from the gym.
Some medications, called sclerosing agents, close a vein by causing irritation. Others are adhesives that seal a vein shut and don’t require the area to be numbed. Gibson and her colleagues have helped develop some of the new technologies and products used in treating varicose veins, including adhesives.
Milder varicose veins can be treated by dermatologists with non-invasive approaches, such as laser therapy and sclerotherapy, says Dr. Alexis. “For more severe cases where symptoms may be involved, seeing a vascular surgeon for surgical treatment options is advised.”
Although treatment for varicose veins means losing some veins, you have plenty of others in your body that can take up the slack, explains Gibson. “The majority of the blood flow in veins in the leg is not on the surface at all; it's in the deep veins within the muscle,” she says. “Those deep veins … are easily able to take over for any veins that we remove on the surface.”
Newer treatments have quicker recovery times. “These procedures can be performed in an office within 20 to 30 minutes with no recovery time. Patients can usually return to work or daily activities on the same day,” Kim says.
Treatments are effective, but they aren't a cure, Gibson says. Sometimes, varicose veins can make a repeat appearance after treatment. “What I tell my patients is it's kind of like weeding a garden,” she says. “We clear them all out, but that doesn't mean there's never going to be another dandelion popping out.”
Statistically speaking, ovarian cancer is relatively rare: It represents just 1.3 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But although its numbers are small, the fear factor for many women may be disproportionately large.
We spoke to two leading ovarian cancer experts: Robert J. Morgan, Jr., MD, professor, and Mihaela C. Cristea, MD, associate clinical professor, of the medical oncology and therapeutics research department at City of Hope, an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California.
Living With PsA Could Mean Living
With Joint Damage. Learn More Now.
Here are 10 essential facts about ovarian cancer that you should know:
1. About 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. As a comparison, nearly 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, 90 percent will be older than 40; most ovarian cancers occur in women 60 or older, according to the CDC.
2. You should see your doctor if you experience any of these ovarian cancer symptoms:
It’s important to pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you. If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or have any of the other symptoms for two weeks or longer, see your doctor right away.
These symptoms can be caused by many different problems, but it’s best to have them evaluated, suggests the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
3. It’s tricky to pinpoint early, milder symptoms of ovarian cancer. However, the findings of a study published in Cancer in 2007 point to a cluster of vague symptoms that may suggest the need for ovarian cancer testing, says Dr. Morgan. In the study, researchers linked these symptoms to the possibility of ovarian cancer:
If a woman experiences these symptoms on more than 12 days a month for less than one year, she should insist that her doctor perform a thorough ovarian evaluation, says Morgan. This might include the CA-125 blood test or atransvaginal ultrasound exam.
4. Early detection can mean a better prognosis. When detected early enough, ovarian cancer can be cured. “Stage 1 and stage 2 ovarian cancer is curable about 75 to 95 percent of the time, depending on the tumor grade and cell type,” says Morgan. But because this cancer occurs deep inside the body’s pelvic region, it is often diagnosed in later stages, he says. The cure rate for stage 3 ovarian cancer is about 25 to 30 percent, and for stage 4 it's less than 5 percent, he adds.
RELATED: Overcoming Ovarian Cancer, Twice
5. Ovarian cancer has several key risk factors. These include:
6. Ovarian cancer is not a single disease. In reality, it’s a diverse group of cancers that respond to different treatments based on their molecular characteristics, says Dr. Cristea. Treatment will also depend on other health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, that a woman might have.
7. Ovarian cancer treatments are evolving and improving all the time.“Immunotherapy is emerging as a new treatment option for many malignancies, including ovarian cancer,” says Cristea. In another recent development, the firstPARP inhibitor, a DNA-repair drug, has been approved for women with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer when chemotherapy hasn’t worked. “Women should also ask their doctors about clinical trials that are evaluating immunotherapy as well as other new treatments,” she adds.
8. Surgery may prevent ovarian cancer in women at very high risk. For women who carry the BRCA or other genes that predispose them to ovarian cancer, doctors often recommend surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes.Angelina Jolie, the actor and human rights activist, decided to have this surgery in March 2015. “Removing the ovaries can decrease the risk of developing the disease by 98 percent, and can substantially decrease the risk of developing breast cancer,” notes Morgan. Women in this very high-risk group should opt for this surgery after they’ve completed childbearing at around age 35, he notes.
9. Even after remission, ovarian cancer can still respond to treatment. “About 80 to 90 percent of ovarian cancer patients will achieve remission after chemotherapy treatment,” says Morgan. However, many of those women will later experience a recurrence of the cancer. The longer the remission, notes Morgan, the better the chances are for achieving a second remission.
10. It’s best to see an ovarian cancer specialist. When you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, getting a referral to an ovarian cancer specialist is a wise move, says Cristea. If you’re having surgery, it’s best to have a gynecologic oncologist perform the operation instead of a gynecologist, she adds. And to make sure you’re getting state-of-the-art treatment, consider seeking a second opinion at a NCI-Designated Cancer Center.
The aches and pains of rheumatoid arthritis can be hard to overcome, but these strategies may help in treating chronic pain.
From fatigue to loss of appetite, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can impact your life in a number of ways, but the most limiting symptom for many people is pain. Because that pain comes in different forms, you may need more than one strategy to relieve it.
“The primary cause of rheumatoid arthritis pain is inflammation that swells joint capsules," says Yousaf Ali, bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery, an associate professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine and chief of the division of rheumatology at Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City. Joint capsules are thin sacs of fluid that surround a joint, providing lubrication for bone movement. In RA, the body's immune system attacks those capsules.
The first goal of pain relief is the control of inflammation, Dr. Ali explains. “Inflammation can cause acute (short-term) pain or longer-lasting smoldering pain," he says. "Chronic erosion of joint tissues over time is another cause of chronic pain. But there are many options for pain relief.”
Getting RA pain under control may take some work. You may find that you'll need to take several drugs — some to slow the joint damage and some to alleviate joint pain. Alternative therapies, like acupuncture, combined with drugs may help you to feel stronger. It may take some time, too. Try the following strategies — with your doctor's supervision — to discover which are most effective for you:
Treatments and Strategies to Help Relieve Chronic RA Pain
1. Inflammation Medication "In the case of RA, all other pain-relief strategies are secondary to controlling inflammation," Ali says. The No. 1 option in the pain relief arsenal is to control inflammation with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, called DMARDs. These drugs, which work to suppress the body's overactive immune system response, are also used to prevent joint damage and slow the progression of the disease. DMARDs are often prescribed shortly after a diagnosis in order to prevent as much joint damage as possible.
"The most commonly used is the drug methotrexate," he says. It's administered both orally and through injections. Digestive issues, such as nausea and diarrhea, are the most common side effect of DMARDs, and of methotrexate in particular, if taken by mouth. Hair loss, mouth sores, and drowsiness are other potential side effects. Methotrexate, which is taken once a week, can take about five or six weeks to start working, and it may be three to six months before the full effects of the drug are felt; doctors may also combine it with other drugs, including other DMARDs.
"Steroids may be used to bridge the gap during an acute flare," adds Ali. "If flares continue, we can go to triple-drug therapy, or use newer biologic drugs that are more expensive but also effective.” The most common side effect of biologics are infections that may result from their effect on the immune system.
The next tier of pain relief includes these additional approaches:
2. Pain Medication The best drugs for acute pain, Ali says, are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs. Aspirin and ibuprofen belong to this class of drugs, as does a newer type of NSAID called celecoxib. While NSAIDs treat joint pain, research has shown that they don't prevent joint damage. In addition, NSAIDs may irritate the stomach lining and cause kidney damage when used over a long period of time.
"Stronger pain relievers, calledopioids, may be used for severe pain, but we try to avoid them if possible," says Ali. "These drugs must be used cautiously because of the potential to build up tolerance, which can lead to abuse."
3. Diet Although some diets may be touted to help RA symptoms, they aren’t backed by the medical community. “There is no evidence that any special diet will reduce RA pain," Ali says. But there is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation — and the joint pain that results from it. Omega-3s can be found in cold-water fish and in fish oil supplements. A study published in November 2015 in the Global Journal of Health Sciences found that people who took fish oil supplements were able to reduce the amount of pain medication they needed.
4. Weight Management Maintaining a healthy weight may help you better manage joint pain. A study published in November 2015 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research suggested that significant weight loss can lower the need for medication in people with RA. Among the study participants, 93 percent were using DMARDs before they underwent bariatric surgery, but that dropped to 59 percent a year after surgery.
5. Massage A massage from a therapist (or even one you give yourself) can be a soothing complementary treatment to help reduce muscle and joint pain. A study published in May 2013 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice involved 42 people with RA in their arms who received either light massage or medium massage from a massage therapist once a week for a month. The participants were also taught to do self-massage at home. After a month of treatment, the moderate-pressure massage group had less pain and greater range of motion than the others.
6. Exercise Although you may not feel like being active when you have RA, and it might seem that being active could put stress on your body, gentle exercises can actually help reduce muscle and joint pain, too. “Non-impact or low-impact exercise is a proven way to reduce pain," Ali says. "We recommend walking, swimming, and cycling.” In fact, one of the best exercises you can do for RA is water aerobics in a warm pool because the water buoys your body.
The Arthritis Foundation also notes that yoga is another option to help reduce RA pain, and traditional yoga poses can be modified to your abilities. Yoga may also help improve the coordination and balance that is sometimes impaired when you have the disease. When it comes to exercise, though, it’s also wise to use caution. Talk with your doctor if any workouts are making your pain worse, and, in general, put any exercise plan on hold during an acute flare.
7. Orthoses These are mechanical aids that can help support and protect your joints. Examples include padded insoles for your shoes and splints or braces that keep your joints in proper alignment. You can even get special gloves for hand and finger RA. A physical therapist can help you determine the best orthoses options for you.
8. Heat and Cold Heat helps to relax muscles, while cold helps to dull the sensation of pain. You might find that applying hot packs or ice packs, or alternating between hot and cold, helps reduce your joint pain. Relaxing in a hot bath can also bring relief, as can exercising in a warm pool.
9. Acupuncture This Eastern medicine practice, which has been around for centuries, is thought to work by stimulating the body's natural painkillers through the use of fine needles gently placed near nerve endings. “I have found acupuncture to be helpful for some patients, but the pain relief is usually not long-lasting,” says Ali.
10. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) TENS is a form of therapy that uses low-voltage electric currents to stimulate nerves and interfere with pain pathways. “TENS is usually used for stubborn, chronic pain and not as a first-line treatment for RA,” Ali says. One of the benefits of this treatment is the low occurrence of side effects. If you're interested in trying it for pain relief, talk with your physical therapist.
Remember, you’re not alone — your doctor and specialists can help you find relief from chronic pain. If you’re experiencing more pain than before, or if pain is interfering with your ability to get things done, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Ask your rheumatologist about pain relief options, like exercise, massage, yoga, and acupuncture, but remember that the first priority on your pain relief list should be to get RA inflammation under control.
Bone broth was the hipster darling of 2015 food trends, but if healthy eating is one of your resolutions, just sipping on broth isn’t going to cut it. It’s a new year, and 2016 is all about doubling down on fruits and veggies in the most delicious way possible. Sure, salads pack in a lot of produce, but broth-based soups may be the most satisfying — and warming! — route to healthy eating this winter. If you’ve been mainlining gingerbread and peppermint bark for the past two weeks, a detoxifying veggie soup is the perfect way to usher in a healthier new year, one satisfying slurp at a time. Here are five recipes that’ll give your resolutions staying power all month long:
Although the number of people diagnosed with diabetes is still on the rise, the good news is that most people with the disease know they have it, a new study shows.
The research suggests that over the past two and a half decades, the percentage of undiagnosed cases has dropped significantly.
"If you're going to your doctor, you probably don't have to worry about undiagnosed diabetes," said study author Elizabeth Selvin, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Selvin explained that previous estimates suggested that over a quarter to 30 percent of people with diabetes probably didn't know it. But those estimates assumed that doctors were only doing one test for diabetes and not following up with a confirmatory second test, as the American Diabetes Association recommends.
However, "we found that's not consistent with how diabetes is diagnosed in clinical practice. In practice, an abnormal finding is confirmed with a second test for the diagnosis. When you use two tests, we see that we're doing a good job with screening and diagnosing diabetes," Selvin said.
In fact, the two-test method seems to capture about 90 percent of all diabetes cases, the researchers noted.
Selvin and her colleagues used data from U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys done from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2014.
RELATED: 9 Types of Medication That Help Control Type 2 Diabetes
The surveys showed that when the research began in 1988 to 1994, there were about 10 million adults with diabetes and confirmed undiagnosed diabetes (that means people who just had one test and didn't get a follow-up test). By 1999 to 2014, there were 25.5 million adults with diabetes or undiagnosed diabetes.
The new research revealed that the number of undiagnosed cases as a percentage of all diabetes dropped from more than 16 percent to slightly less than 11 percent over 26 years.
People who were undiagnosed were more likely to be overweight or obese, older, or a racial or ethnic minority. They were also less likely to have health insurance or access to health care, the study found.
"What we need to figure out is how to target our screening and prevention efforts to the group that actually is undiagnosed. Some of the people being missed have very high [blood sugar levels] and the efforts should be concentrated on getting those people to the clinic," Selvin said.
The findings were published Oct. 23 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Dr. Anne Peters is director of the clinical diabetes program at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. She wrote an editorial that accompanied the study.
"I think there are fewer undiagnosed cases than we used to think, but there are still a lot of people who are undiagnosed," Peters said.
"People with risk factors need to get tested. But people get afraid of the stigma. They get afraid of the disease. But diabetes doesn't have to be awful. People don't have to give up. We need a lot more public awareness and a lot more prevention," she said.
And that doesn't mean you have to lose 100 pounds. "Losing 15 pounds can make a big difference. Just walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week is incredibly beneficial. Take diabetes on in bite-sized pieces," Peters advised.
"There are so many new ways to treat diabetes. Almost everything has changed in the past 30 years. But the earlier you start treatment, the better. Some things are better to face," she said.
Slower deterioration seen in people with more satisfying relationships, researchers say.
Loneliness and depression are linked to an increased risk of mental decline in the elderly, a new study suggests.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 8,300 American adults aged 65 and older who were assessed every two years between 1998 and 2010. Seventeen percent reported loneliness at the beginning of the study, and half of those who were lonely had depression.
Over the course of the study, mental decline was 20 percent faster among the loneliest people than among those who weren't lonely. People who were depressed at the start of the study also had faster mental decline.
However, lower mental function did not lead to worsening loneliness, according to the study scheduled for presentation Monday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington, D.C. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
RELATED: The Health Risks of Loneliness
"Our study suggests that even one or two depressive symptoms -- particularly loneliness -- is associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline over 12 years," study author Dr. Nancy Donovan said in an association news release. She is a geriatric psychiatrist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
"We found that lonely people decline cognitively at a faster rate than people who report more satisfying social networks and connections. Although loneliness and depression appear closely linked, loneliness may, by itself, have effects on cognitive decline," she explained.
This is important to know for the development of treatments to enhance mental health and quality of life for older adults, she added.
The new study suggested a link between loneliness, depression and heightened risk of mental decline, but it did not prove cause-and-effect.
A new study sheds light -- literally -- on a potential means of easing migraine pain.
Researchers in Boston exposed 69 migraine patients to different colors of light. They found that while blue light exacerbated headache pain, a narrow spectrum of low-intensity green light significantly reduced light sensitivity.
In some cases, this green light also reduced migraine pain by about 20 percent, the researchers found.
They noted that migraine headache affects nearly 15 percent of people worldwide, and a frequent symptom of migraine is light sensitivity, also known as photophobia.
"Although photophobia is not usually as incapacitating as headache pain itself, the inability to endure light can be disabling," study author Rami Burstein, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said in a medical center news release.
RELATED: Home Remedies for Headache Treatment
"More than 80 percent of migraine attacks are associated with and exacerbated by light sensitivity, leading many migraine sufferers to seek the comfort of darkness and isolate themselves from work, family and everyday activities," he added. Burstein directs the medical center's Comprehensive Headache Center.
Two experts said the treatment may have merit.
"Certainly Dr. Burstein's work suggests that more research should be done, as this is a potentially beneficial new avenue for treatment," said Dr. Noah Rosen, who directs Northwell Health's Headache Center in Great Neck, N.Y.
He pointed out that "light therapy has been used successfully in other conditions such as certain dermatologic issues and seasonal affective disorder [SAD]."
Dr. Gayatri Devi is a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
He said the success in some patients with light therapy "implicates the thalamus -- a brain 'relay station' between the sensory organs, including the eyes and the cortex of the brain -- as the area where migraine-related photophobia is amplified."
For his part, Burstein said he's now trying to develop an affordable light bulb that emits narrow-band green light at low intensity, as well as sunglasses that block all but the narrow band of green light.
Rosen stressed, however, that more study may still be needed.
"In general, it seems a safe treatment but one that is limited by cost, access and whether its use on a regular basis would decrease disability," he said.
The findings were published May 17 in the journal Brain.
1 / 13 Seasonal Depression: Common But Treatable
If shorter days and shifts in weather zap your energy and make you feel blue, you’ve got classic symptoms of a seasonal mood disorder. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of seasonal depression triggered by the change in seasons that occurs primarily in winter. Why do some people get SAD? Experts aren’t certain, but some think that seasonal changes disrupt the circadian rhythm: the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours, causing us to feel energized and alert sometimes and drowsy at other times.
Another theory is that the changing seasons disrupt hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, which regulate sleep, mood, and feelings of well-being. About 4 to 6 percent of U.S. residents suffer from SAD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, and as many as 20 percent may have a mild form of it that starts when days get shorter and colder. Women and young people are more likely to experience SAD, as are those who live farther away from the equator. People with a family history or diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder may be particularly susceptible.
"It is important to treat SAD, because all forms of depression limit people's ability to live their lives to the fullest, to enjoy their families, and to function well at work," says Deborah Pierce, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York. Here are a few SAD treatment options you might want to consider.
You don't have to have been personally involved in a traumatic experience to suffer the effects.
Over the last few years, a long string of traumatic events have occurred and been widely covered in the news, including movie theater, school, and workplace shootings, as well as natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes. These events can be devastating for those personally involved, yet their impact may also be felt by others not directly involved at all.
Many people can go through or hear about such traumatic events and be fine after some time without additional interventions, says Anthony Ng, MD, chief medical officer at Acadia Hospital and chief of the psychiatry service at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
But some people who experience such traumatic events — whether personally or just by hearing about them — can become depressed, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Traumatic life events were found to be the biggest single cause of anxiety and depression in a study by researchers at the University of Liverpool published in 2013 in PLoS One.
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For some, traumatic events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting challenge their basic assumptions about how life works, says Irina Firstein, a licensed therapist who has lived and practiced in New York City for more than 25 years. They can become so scared that they develop a generalized anxiety or panic disorder, which can lead to depression, she says.
Depression and PTSD: What's the Connection?
People who continue to experience extreme symptoms of stress long after a traumatic event may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can also lead to depression — a continued feeling of intense sadness that interferes with a person's ability to function normally.
Depression and PTSD often coexist, and their symptoms may overlap. A study on Vietnam veterans counducted 40 years after the war, published in 2015 JAMA Psychiatry, found that about a third of those who suffered from PTSD also had major depressive symptoms.
Symptoms of depression include sadness, feelings of loss, disillusionment, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping, Firstein says.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
Reliving traumatic events through flashbacks or nightmares
Avoiding experiences that remind you of the trauma
Physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, trembling, shortness of breath, or headaches
Symptoms of PTSD and depression that commonly occur together include:
Avoidance of social contacts
Abuse of drugs or alcohol
How to Cope With the Effects of Traumatic Events
"Some of these symptoms are normal after such an event," Firstein notes. "However, if they persist, one should try to get professional help.”
Dr. Ng. says red flags that you're not managing well on your own include:
Missing a significant number of days of work or school
Withdrawing from family members or people around you
Experiencing mood swings, such as being irritable and angry to the point that it’s causing problems at home
Not being able to eat and losing weight
Not being able to sleep at night. “As a result, you feel exhausted and can’t function in the daytime,” Ng says.
Having thoughts of hurting yourself or others
Mental health professionals can help. “Psychotherapy; eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR therapy (trauma reprocessing using eye movements); and medication are very effective," Firstein says.
In addition to getting professional help, ways to cope with PTSD and depression include:
Spending more time with friends and family
Learning as much as you can about PTSD and depression
Taking part in activities you enjoy
Getting regular exercise
Learning relaxation techniques
Joining a support group
Avoiding drugs and alcohol
The following resources can help you find ways to cope with trauma and depression, as well as help you find therapists in your area:
Your family doctor. “Tell your doctor, ‘I’ve experienced these symptoms. What can I do?’ Your doctor might treat you or refer you to a psychiatrist or counselor or therapist,” Ng says.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine. This organization's staff and volunteers can help you find treatment. Call 800-950-NAMI (6264) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call 800-273-TALK (8255). Counselors are available 24/7, and the service is free and confidential.
The American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator.
The PTSD Alliance.
The National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Don’t Ignore Symptoms That Persist
Unexplained and unexpected trauma has always been part of the human experience, and depression and PTSD are common results of these events. The best way to deal with them is to know the symptoms and ask for help.
Additional reporting by Beth W. Orenstein.
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It's unclear what causes binge eating disorder.
Like other eating disorders, BED is probably caused by a combination of genetic, psychological, and social factors.
Some risk factors for binge eating disorder include:
People with binge eating disorder have frequent bingeing episodes, typically at least once a week over the course of three months or more.
Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
Some people also display behavioral, emotional, or physical characteristics, such as:
There are several treatments available for BED. Treatment options may include:
Taking both an antidepressant and a painkiller such as ibuprofen or naproxen may increase risk of a brain hemorrhage, a new study suggests.
Korean researchers found that of more than 4 million people prescribed a first-time antidepressant, those who also used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) had a higher risk of intracranial hemorrhage within the next month.
Intracranial hemorrhage refers to bleeding under the skull that can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
The findings, published online July 14 in BMJ, add to a week of bad news on NSAIDs, which include over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).
Last Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration strengthened the warning labels on some NSAIDs, emphasizing that the drugs can raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
As far as the new link to brain bleeding in antidepressant users, experts stressed that many questions remain unanswered.
And even if the drug combination does elevate the odds, the risk to any one person appears low.
"The incidence of intracranial hemorrhage in people taking antidepressants and NSAIDs was only 5.7 per 1,000 in a year. So about 0.5 percent of people taking these drugs will develop a (hemorrhage) over one year," said Dr. Jill Morrison, a professor of general practice at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
Still, she said, it's wise for people on antidepressants to be careful about using NSAIDs.
Both types of drug are widely used, and about two-thirds of people with major depression complain of chronic pain, the researchers pointed out.
Make sure an NSAID is the appropriate remedy for what ails you, said Morrison, co-author of an editorial published with the study.
It's known that NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal bleeding in some people, and studies have suggested the same is true of SSRI antidepressants -- which include widely prescribed drugs such as Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft.
But neither drug class has been clearly linked to intracranial hemorrhage, said Dr. Byung-Joo Park, the senior researcher on the new study.
So Park's team looked at whether the two drug types, used together, might boost the risk.
RELATED: Some Antidepressants Linked to Bleeding Risk With Surgery
The investigators used records from Korea's national health insurance program to find more than 4 million people given a new prescription for an antidepressant between 2009 and 2013. Half were also using an NSAID.
Park's team found that NSAID users were 60 percent more likely to suffer an intracranial hemorrhage within 30 days of starting their antidepressant -- even with age and chronic medical conditions taken into account.
There was no indication that any particular type of antidepressant carried a greater risk than others, said Park, a professor of preventive medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine.
He agreed that antidepressant users should consult their doctor before taking NSAIDs on their own.
Park also pointed out that the study looked at the risk of brain bleeding within 30 days. So the findings may not apply to people who've been using an antidepressant and an NSAID for a longer period with no problem.
That's an important unanswered question, said Morrison, noting it's possible that the risk of brain bleeding is actually higher for people who used NSAIDs for a prolonged period.
Why would antidepressants have an effect on bleeding? According to Park's team, the drugs can hinder blood cells called platelets from doing their job, which is to promote normal clotting.
Since NSAIDs can also inhibit platelets, combining the two drugs may raise the odds of bleeding, the researchers said.
It's not clear whether there is a safer pain reliever for people on antidepressants, Morrison said. But it's possible that acetaminophen (Tylenol) could fit the bill.
"Acetaminophen does not have the same propensity to cause bleeding problems as NSAIDs do," Morrison said. "So theoretically, this would be safer."
And since this study was conducted in Korea, she added, it's not clear whether the risks would be the same in other racial and ethnic groups. More studies, following people over a longer period, are still needed, Morrison said.
Ask the Fitness Expert, Jennifer Bayliss
Q: What’s the best time of day to exercise?
A: The best time of day to exercise is the time that works best for you. Studies go back and forth on this topic and there are benefits in exercising in the morning and later in the day. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and lifestyle. Choose a time that helps you make exercise a regular and consistent part of your routine. Here’s why:
It’s all about finding your rhythm.
Ever wonder why some of us are morning people while others are not? This has quite a bit to do with your body’s internal clock, or your circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are a daily cycle of sleep and wake cycles. It’s this cycle that regulates physical, mental, and behavioral changes within a 24-hour period. Body temperature, blood pressure, and metabolism are some of the physiological processes that can be affected by your body’s internal clock. These rhythms respond to changes in the environment and can be set and reset. The changes in the environment that can have an effect on circadian rhythms include lightness and darkness, temperatures within the environment, artificial light, the use of an alarm clock to wake, timing of meals, and time of day you exercise. Your personal clock can affect what time of day you prefer to exercise. So, are you a morning person or a night owl?
If you’re a morning person…
It’s a no brainer: You should workout in the AM. Research suggests that those who exercise in the morning tend to be more consistent with their exercise routine. The idea is you’ll get your workout in before any other events or distractions of the day interfere, thus setting yourself up for success. People who exercise earlier in the day generally find they can manage their time better and they feel more energized throughout the day. If you do exercise in the morning, make sure to give yourself a little extra warm-up time to get your body temperature elevated and your muscles warm. Some people have trouble exercising in the morning because of dizziness, fatigue, or lightheadedness experienced when working out on an empty stomach. If that happens to you, try having a small snack, such as a banana or a serving of low-fat yogurt, prior to exercise.
If you’re a night owl…
Afternoon or evening exercise can be the perfect way to unwind. Some people find that afternoon or evening workouts are more productive and help relieve some of the stresses of the day. For others, exercise in the morning doesn’t feel good because, when you wake up, your muscles may feel tight and your blood sugars may be low. Afternoon or evening workouts may just seem that much better because you are more alert, your body temperature is naturally elevated, and your muscles are warm and flexible. You also have the added benefit of having had the opportunity to get some food in your system which can help you feel more energized during your workout.
Whether you exercise for weight loss, stress relief, or one of the many other health benefits, it is important to be consistent. Schedule that time for exercise based on what works best for you — morning, noon, or afternoon. Your body’s internal clock will reset itself and your sleep habits and changes to meal times will either fall into place or can be adjusted based on when you decide to work up a sweat!
Do you have a fitness question for us? Leave a comment below!
Jennifer Bayliss is a fitness expert and coach at Everyday Health. She is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a AFAAcertified personal trainer, and holds both an undergraduate and a graduate degree in exercise science.
The active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" may help patients with tough-to-treat depression, a new study suggests.
Twenty patients received psilocybin -- the psychoactive compound in a group of mushrooms that cause hallucinations. Nineteen who completed the study showed improvement in their depression symptoms for up to five weeks after treatment, according to the researchers at Imperial College London.
None had responded to traditional depression treatment, they noted.
"We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments," said study leader Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial.
However, his team emphasized that patients with depression should not try to self-medicate with magic mushrooms. While these results are promising, the study was small and did not include a comparison group of patients who did not receive psilocybin, they noted.
Still, brain scans before and after treatment suggest psilocybin may reset the activity of brain circuits that play a role in depression.
"Several of our patients described feeling 'reset' after the treatment and often used computer analogies," Carhart-Harris reported in a college news release. One said he felt like his brain had been "defragged" like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt "rebooted," the researcher added.
RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis
"Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick-start' they need to break out of their depressive states, and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy," Carhart-Harris said.
Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients, said study senior author David Nutt.
"But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore," said Nutt, director of neuropsychopharmacology in the division of brain sciences.
He added that a trial scheduled to start early in 2018 will test the psychedelic drug against a leading antidepressant.
For this latest study, patients received two different doses of psilocybin, one week apart.
In recent years, promising results have emerged from a number of clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics in patients with conditions such as depression and addiction.
"Psilocybin can be a promising agent for depression," said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y. "For decades, there has been suspected benefit of psychedelic agents for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders."
However, he said, the clinical trials to date have been very small, and without a placebo arm for comparison. He agreed that replication in larger studies is warranted.
The study was published Oct. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.
For many people, pizza tops the list of favorite foods. Not only is the drool-worthy combo of cheese, bread, and sauce satisfying, but it’s one of the easiest meals to pick up (or have delivered) from your local pizzeria. While your favorite slice may be delicious, it can be easy to go overboard on sodium-laden sauce, toppings, and high-calorie crusts. Luckily it’s just as easy — and delicious — to pop a homemade pie into the oven. With a few simple swaps and key ingredients, you can give your favorite comfort food a wholesome makeover without skimping on flavor. So whether you’re craving a fresh-out-of-the-oven slice or just looking for a hassle-free weeknight meal, these five healthy and delicious pies are better than delivery!
2 / 9 Use the Right Skin Care Products
When shopping for skin care products, there are three powerful ingredients you should look for to maintain youthful-looking skin, says Robinson. One, check the label for a serum containing antioxidants like vitamin C (Robinson likes Elizabeth Arden Prevage Anti-Aging Daily Serum), which will help brighten your skin; two, add retinoids, which increase cell turnover and stimulate collagen renewal, to your routine; and three, start using an alpha hydroxy acid exfoliator to remove the top layer of dead skin cells (Robinson is a fan of Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads, which are gentle enough to be used daily).
Maria Sharapova isn’t just a talented athlete. With supermodel looks, it’s no surprise that the Russian-born blonde has endorsement deals with a slew of beauty and fashion brands and has been photographed for the “Sports Illustrated” Swimsuit Issue. (She even edged out rival Serena Williams to be named the highest paid female athlete in 2014 by “Forbes” magazine.)
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The five-time Grand Slam winner, who is currently gearing up for this year’s US Open, took time out of her busy schedule to chat with Everyday Health at a recent Supergoop! press event. She reveals her healthy skin habits, how she stays energized during a tough match, and more.
1. The most important step in her beauty routine: As one of the best tennis players in the world, Sharapova spends plenty of time out in the sun practicing and playing grueling matches. To ensure her fair skin stays protected, she reaches for SPF almost as soon as she wakes up. And in fact, she says she’s been an avid sunscreen user since her teenage years.
“It’s important for me to think about sunscreen early in the day, because as you go about your day, you’re thinking about the challenges ahead and the activities you’re doing and [sunscreen] is almost not on your mind anymore,” she says. “I have a bottle of sunscreen next to my shower, so I wake up, take a shower, towel off, and apply.” When she’s playing tennis, Sharapova relies on Supergoop! Everyday Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50, which she says has a lightweight texture and doesn’t sting her eyes as she sweats.
2. Her glow-boosting secret: In addition to slathering on SPF in the morning, Sharapova starts her day with a whole lot of water to stay hydrated and keep her skin fresh. “I usually wake up and drink more than a half liter of water, just to get my mind ready and aware that I need to drink [water],” she explains.
3. How she relaxes before a big match: For Sharapova, getting enough sleep is one of the keys to her success. “I love to sleep. I love taking naps,” she says. “That’s been part of my regimen since I was a young girl. I used to have a morning and afternoon practice, and I’d come home and have lunch and then take a 45 minute nap. To this day, I enjoy doing that if I have the opportunity.”
4. Her favorite pre-game meal: When it comes to food, Sharapova keeps it simple. “I’ve learned a lot over the years about how I react to foods and how much energy I have,” she says. “Usually, I eat a little bit of chicken and a lot of green vegetables [before a match].” Sharapova also likes to whip up her own green juices, visiting local stores to pick up veggies and adding lemon and kiwi for sweetness.
5. How she stays confident: One of the easiest ways Sharapova gives herself a boost is by spritzing on her favorite perfume before walking out the door. And before she steps onto the court, she reminds herself of how lucky she is to be following her dream.
“I’ve played this sport for a long time and put in a lot of work and effort,” she says. “And that moment when you’re about to go on the court — that’s what you work for, that’s the goal — it’s a privilege. No matter if you win or lose, the opportunity to go out there is pretty special. It’s very powerful.”
1 / 8 Serotonin Syndrome
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a naturally occurring brain chemical) that helps regulate mood and behavior, and increasing serotonin is one way of treating depression.
But if you're taking antidepressant medication that increases serotonin too much, you could be at risk for a dangerous drug reaction called serotonin syndrome.
"Serotonin syndrome usually happens when a doctor prescribes a drug that increases serotonin to a patient already on an antidepressant," said Mark Su, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Hofstra University and director of the Toxicology Fellowship at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.
People who live with constant road noise may face a higher risk of developing depression, researchers say.
The risk was about 25 percent higher for people living in areas with a lot of traffic, compared to those living in areas with little road noise. However, the risk was largely confined to those who were poor, unemployed, had limited education, smoked or had insomnia, the German study authors found.
"Although we can't say for sure, it has been thought that noise causes stress and annoyance," said lead researcher Ester Orban, of the Center for Urban Epidemiology at University Hospital Essen.
"If this noise persists over a long time and is constant and loud, it may contribute to depression," she said.
Orban cautioned that these findings only show that road noise is associated with depression, not that it causes depression. "Road noise seems to play a role, but I wouldn't talk about causality," she explained.
RELATED: How the Street You Live On May Harm Your Health
Orban said there are some simple things people can do to reduce their exposure to traffic noise, short of moving.
"If you feel annoyed by traffic noise you can use earplugs, and if traffic noise is disturbing your sleep, choose a bedroom away from the busy road," she suggested.
The report was published online Nov. 25 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
For the study, Orban and her colleagues collected data on more than 3,000 people, aged 45 to 75, who took part in the Heinz Nixdorf Recall study. The study participants were followed for an average of five years.
Depressive symptoms include feeling lonely, sad, depressed, having trouble concentrating or feeling like a failure.
Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said this study adds to existing evidence that traffic noise is linked to an increased risk of depressive symptoms.
"This is not surprising, as we already have extensive evidence that noise is associated with both stress and heart disease," he said.
Given that depression is common worldwide and can have a negative effect on individuals and society, and given that its cause is complex, it's important to examine everything that may play a role, including environment and how it interacts with psychological, social and biological factors, Rego said.
Those with a low socioeconomic status and sleep disturbances may be particularly vulnerable to noise effects, he added.
"This suggests that, along with targeting biological factors with medications and psychological factors with treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, interventions may also be aimed at targeting environmental factors," Rego said.
Targeting environmental factors includes both individual and societal approaches, he added.
On an individual level, helping patients get a good night's sleep with better sleep practices may help lower the odds of depression, Rego said.
"On a larger scale, communities can work on improving urban planning to address traffic noise in order to help treat depression or perhaps even prevent it," he added.
Too often, depression and debt are connected — and together, they can spiral out of control. Try these strategies to regain your footing.
Mental problems and money problems often go hand in hand. For one, debt is an increasingly common stressor that can trigger depression. Indeed, people who live with debt are more likely than their peers to be depressed and even contemplate suicide, according to a report on the health effects of debt published in 2014 in BMC Public Health. They're also less likely to take good care of their health. On the other hand, the researchers found that debt management programs can help stave off depression. Here's what else you need to know.
How Debt Leads to Emotional Distress
Debt can make you feel helpless, hopeless, and low on self-esteem — and these are all symptoms and risk factors for depression, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Credit card debt, mortgage foreclosure, student loan debt, medical debt, and job loss can all contribute to depression, agree the authors of the BMC Public Health article, adding that you might also experience anger and anxiety. Other factors, such as being the sole breadwinner with dependent children, being elderly and not having much saved for retirement, or having very high interest debts, seem to increase depression risk.
When Depression Leads to Debt
It’s easy to understand how the stress of debt can trigger or worsen depression, but you may not realize that depression can also lead to debt problems.
Symptoms of depression can lead some people to accumulate growing piles of debt, Dr. Kaslow says. "Someone with depression may exhibit behaviors that can lead them into a debt crisis."
"Some people may try to relieve feelings of depression by compulsive shopping. Depression is often associated with destructive and addictive behaviors that can result in overwhelming debt. This type of debt can lead to extreme despair and even to suicide," Kaslow warns.
RELATED: 5 Ways to Ease Unemployment Blues
Compulsive buying, which can lead to debt, is indeed linked to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, researchers reported in the American Journal of Addiction in 2013. The researchers note that in addition to depression treatment, support groups using cognitive behavioral strategies can help control compulsive buying.
How to Find Debt and Depression Help
If you find you are dealing with debt and depression, it is important to address both, Kaslow says. Many types of help are available. "If a person is feeling trapped, desperate, and hopeless, they may need help for depression and help getting out of debt," she adds.
Depression is a very treatable disorder. The first step is to recognize the problem and ask your doctor for depression help. Once depression is diagnosed, your doctor might recommend a range of treatment strategies, including talk therapy, medications, and support groups.
For someone with addictive spending behaviors, Debtors Anonymous (DA) is an organization that can be very helpful, says Kaslow. DA has meetings all over the country where people share their experiences with compulsive debt and debt management. There are also online meetings. For help with compulsive debt, check out DA's website.
A good source of advice for getting help with a debt problem can be found via the Federal Trade Commission, which recommends the following strategies:
Develop and closely follow a budget.
Contact your creditors instead of avoiding them.
Know your rights when dealing with debt collectors.
Use a credit counseling or debt management agency.
Seek protection through bankruptcy laws.
Learn about the steps you need to take to repair your credit.
Beware of debt management scams promising an easy fix.
Before you feast on chicken and boycott carbs, take a closer look at the U.S. Food Pyramid.
"Carbohydrate is one of the macronutrients that we need, primarily for energy," says Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, a nutritionist, online nutrition coach, and owner of Nutrition Works in Louisville, Ky.
While fats and protein are also necessary for energy, they're more of a long-term fuel source, while carbohydrates fulfill the body's most immediate energy needs. "It's your body's first source of energy — that's what it likes to use," adds Meyerowitz.
For those of you who’ve been with HealthTalk for some time, my name is probably familiar. I’m the founder of this health education company that creates and publishes free audio programming on the latest treatments and quality of life innovations for chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, asthma and various types of cancer.
And also, more recently, I’m a patient treated successfully for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Quite frankly, I stumbled into the healthcare arena by accident some 20-plus years ago. And I’m glad I did, because I’ve become fascinated with the improvements to treatment and patient care over the years.
And it may have saved my life.
When I was diagnosed with CLL in 1996, I had been doing this for more than a decade. I carefully researched my options and found a doctor at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center who recommended what was then an experimental treatment (today, it’s the standard of care). Now I’m in molecular remission.
At HealthTalk, I’m responsible for partnering with advocacy groups and major hospitals (including M. D. Anderson) and I still host many programs, including the upcoming Crohn’s webcast on November 10.
Getting back to my broadcasting roots, I also just launched a radio program called This blog will feature my perspective on the news of the day and other interesting nuggets of useful knowledge that I come across in my work exploring the world of patient empowerment.
This is a very exciting time in medicine. I hope you’ll join me as we travel down the path toward better care together.
Diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome isn’t like diagnosing other diseases. Your doctor can’t take a swab or a vial of blood and test it to determine the problem. There is no single test that can point to IBS as the cause of your symptoms.
Instead, when you go to your doctor about IBS symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and stomach cramps, he has to rule out other conditions and then pay careful attention to your symptoms before giving you a diagnosis.
Diagnosing IBS “For years, anyone who had gastrointestinal symptoms that couldn’t be explained was told they had IBS,” says Steven Field, MD, a gastroenterologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. But now doctors use the "Rome criteria," which are a specific set of symptoms that have to be present in order to give a diagnosis. In addition, the criteria designate red-flag symptoms that don’t point to IBS, he says.
Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and when you experience them will go a long way toward getting an accurate diagnosis. Here’s what your doctor considers before he makes a diagnosis:
Laboratory tests to rule out other conditions. To make sure something other than IBS isn’t causing your symptoms, your doctor may run blood tests, test your stool sample, order an X-ray, or perform a colonoscopy (a procedure in which your doctor uses a small flexible camera to look inside your colon).
Your symptoms. Under the Rome criteria, a diagnosis of IBS can be made if you have had abdominal pain during at least 12 weeks during a 12-month period, even if those 12 weeks aren’t consecutive, and if you experience two of these three things:
Other signs of IBS include mucus in your stool, a swollen abdomen, an urgency to have a bowel movement, having trouble passing stool, or a feeling that your bowel isn’t empty after going to the bathroom.
If you have red flag symptoms. Your doctor will also be looking for red-flag symptoms that aren’t associated with IBS, Dr. Field says. Those include:
Stress — which can result from major life changes such as getting married or getting a new job — is also a major trigger for IBS symptoms, Field says. And for women, symptoms are usually more severe during their menstrual period, possibly because of the effect of hormones on IBS.
The bottom line: Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and knowing what triggers them will help with your diagnosis. Many doctors recommend keeping a food diary to determine exactly what brings on your symptoms and sharing that information with your doctor to make a better diagnosis and get you the right treatment.
For most of the 3.5 million Americans living with a hepatitis C infection today, the promise of a cure is an empty one unless patients can get proper care. And deaths from hepatitis C keep rising, surpassing deaths from HIV.
Now, in a successful pilot program by the Cherokee Nation Health Services of northeastern Oklahoma, a May 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report shows that curing hepatitis C is possible not only in clinical trials, but also in the larger population — even in remote and impoverished areas.
Local Hepatitis C Screening Success
American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of death from hepatitis C of any group in the United States, and also the highest number of new hepatitis C infections, according to the CDC, says Jorge Mera, MD, lead study author and director of infectious diseases at Cherokee Nation Health Services, though he says it’s not known why. “We made a great effort to detect hepatitis C virus-positive patients," he says. "Hepatitis C virus is known as the invisible epidemic — we tried to make it visible.”
To get more people screened, the health services implemented an electronic health record reminder to target everyone born between 1945 and 1965. The automatic alert prompted medical providers if the patient they were seeing that day was due for a hepatitis C screening test based on the patient's birthdate. This pilot program resulted in a fivefold increase in first-time hepatitis C testing between 2012 and 2015, from 3,337 people to 16,772 and included 131,000 American Indian people, mostly from rural northeastern Oklahoma.
The program educated healthcare providers on how important it is to identify these patients as early as possible, and to offer them treatment. It also informed them about the many ways people are exposed to hepatitis C, including by using or having used IV or intranasal drugs, having been incarcerated, or having received a blood transfusion before 1992. The CDC recommends testing for all people with such histories.
Progress in National Hepatitis C Screening
A report on a second, national initiative by the Indian Health Service (IHS) that ramped up hepatitis C testing in a similar way was also published in May 2016 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). As of June 2015, the number of people they had screened overall increased from 14,402 to 68,514 over three years, varying by region from 31 to 41 percent of people in the high-risk age group.
“The Indian Health Service’s screening rates for American Indian and Alaska Native patients in the [1945 to 1965] birth cohort have more than tripled since the national recommendations were released, greatly increasing the potential for early detection and follow-up for our patients living with hepatitis C infection,” says Susan Karol, MD, Indian Health Service chief medical officer and member of the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Niagara Falls, New York. The Indian Health Service provides healthcare for 1.9 million American Indian and Alaska Native people, including 566 different recognized tribes.
A Second Test for Active Hepatitis C
“Once patients were detected as HCV-positive, a confirmatory viral blood test was performed to make sure they had an active infection,” says Mera about his hepatitis C program. This test looks for RNA that’s proof of ongoing hepatitis C virus replication in the patient’s blood.
Of the 715 people who tested positive on the first screening test, 68 percent had an active infection. They were referred to one of five hepatitis C virus clinics set up by Cherokee Nation Health Systems, which had primary care providers who were specifically trained through the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) program. Outreach also included home visits to people who had hepatitis.
Access to Hepatitis C Drugs That Can Cure
A high proportion of the people who had an active infection — 57 percent — received antiviral drug treatment in this pilot program. Ninety percent were cured of hepatitis C.
“We don’t deny treatment to anybody because they’re depressed or have an alcohol dependence medical problem,” says Mera, though this is often a barrier to getting approvals for antiviral treatment. “We do offer and encourage them to be enrolled in a behavioral health program to address the other medical conditions. As long as they’re following up with the medical appointments and interested in HCV treatment, we will treat their hepatitis C virus.”
David Rein, PhD, program area director of the public health analytics division of NORC, an independent research institution at the University of Chicago, says access to hepatitis C care is improving for some. “In March, the U.S. Veterans Administration dropped all restrictions on treatment and began to provide treatment to any veteran in its system who is infected with the virus, regardless of how far the disease has progressed. Unfortunately, the VA is the exception and not the rule. Many state Medicaid programs and private insurance plans still place unnecessary barriers on treatment access.”
Coverage to pay for medications is a barrier for many people with hepatitis C, notes a May 2016 editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
The key to success, Mera says, is being relentless. “We have a wonderful group of case managers dedicated to hepatitis C treatment procurement,” he says. “They will work with the third party payers such as Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance, and also with the patient assistance programs. Our case managers will not take no for an answer very easily, and will exhaust all the possibilities they have to obtain the medications.”
How to Cure Hepatitis C Across the United States
The three steps to a hepatitis C cure are to:
Get screened to see if you’ve ever been exposed to the hepatitis C virus
Get tested for active viral infection
Get effective drug treatment
Yet half of Americans infected with hepatitis C don’t know they have it, while many of those who do know can’t get access to care or can’t pay for the antiviral medication they need.
A plan to cure hepatitis C is important because cases of infection have increased more than 2.5 times from 2010 to 2014, and deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise, exceeding 19,000 per year, according to the CDC's U.S. viral hepatitis surveillance report, published in May 2016.
“Acute cases, which occur when a patient is first infected with hepatitis C, are increasing at an alarming rate, likely due to higher rates of injection drug use,” says Dr. Rein. But this group of people is not likely to develop symptoms of liver dysfunction for several decades.
“The record number of hepatitis C deaths that the CDC reported for 2014 is almost exclusively related to people who were initially infected with the disease in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s who developed chronic infections which gradually destroyed their livers over the course of decades,” he explains.
Rein and his colleagues had predicted in 2010 that deaths from hepatitis C would increase to 18,200 annually by the year 2020, peak at 36,000 in 2033, and kill more than one million Americans by the year 2060 if we didn't take action to prevent it. But the sobering reality is that the U.S. case numbers have already exceeded that prediction, with more than 19,000 cases in 2014.
“I still believe that is what will happen if nothing is done to address the epidemic,“ Rein says. “However, I’m both hopeful and confident in our healthcare system, and I believe that we’ll see vastly expanded testing and treatment, which will lead to dramatic reductions in deaths from hepatitis C in the years to come.”
More people, especially those born between 1945 and 1965, need to be tested for the hepatitis C antibody, he says. “Simply disseminating guidelines and providing reimbursement for testing is insufficient to assure that doctors test their patients. Interventions are needed to prioritize testing for hepatitis C.”
The Cherokee Nation group is now working with the CDC on a model that experts hope can be expanded throughout the country to lead people effectively from screening through to a hepatitis C cure.
What can help the model succeed? According to Mera, support, commitment, and trust:
Political support (in the Cherokee Nation program, from the tribe’s chief and council)
Commitment and trust from the administration to do the right thing to eliminate hepatitis C
Dedicated and motivated team members who include primary care providers (nurse practitioners, physicians, pharmacists), lab technicians, nurses, administrators, behavioral health personnel, case managers, and clerks who understand the importance and urgency of hepatitis C screening and a cure
“My wish would be that patients would ask their medical providers to test them for HCV if they think they could have been exposed. This would increase screening, the first step in visualizing the invisible epidemic,” says Mera.
Treatment and recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol are steps in a lifelong journey. Unfortunately, 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts and almost half of all alcoholics will eventually go through a substance abuse relapse.
If someone dear to you has been in addiction treatment, it is important for you to be able to recognize if that person is relapsing as early as possible. This way, the problem can be addressed before it spirals out of control. Just because your loved one relapses does not mean that their addiction treatment has failed, however; it just means that the current treatment regimen probably needs to be reevaluated.
Addiction Relapse: Obvious Signs
"Most of the time the signs are so obvious," says Thomas Kosten, MD, Jay H. Waggoner chair and founder of the division of substance abuse at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
According to Dr. Kosten, the following are common indicators of a drug or alcohol addiction relapse:
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Addiction Relapse: Early Indicators
There are also signals from the addict that a relapse is just around the corner, when steps can be taken to prevent the relapse or at least address it in its earliest stages. Your loved one may exhibit the following emotions and behaviors:
Addiction Relapse: Stepping in
When you suspect that your loved one has relapsed, Kosten says the best thing to do is tackle the issue head-on. He suggests that you start the conversation in the following way:
If your loved one is showing signs of an impending relapse but hasn’t yet relapsed, Kosten says that it is important to confront him first. Otherwise it is very unlikely that you are going to be able to convince him to get back into addiction treatment. Then you should encourage him to continue with treatment, talk to an addiction counselor or sponsor, and practice good self-care — that is, get enough sleep, eat well, and take steps to relieve stress.
If the addict refuses to talk with a professional or you feel that you need anaddiction expert to help you learn how to confront him, contact your local Council for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Or if you have access to the person’s doctor, addiction counselor, or sponsor, speak to that person about how you might deal with the situation.
Women are more likely than men to seek treatment for depression. Why do men try to manage the condition on their own?
Women are 70 percent more likely than men to have depression. It is this feminine predisposition to depression that may contribute to its being underreported among men, says Amit Anand, MD, a professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner College of Medicine and vice-chair of research for its Center for Behavioral Health.
More than 6 million U.S. men struggle with the condition each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). And it maybe their reluctance to discuss their depression, as well as several other obstacles, that prevent many of them from seeking treatment, Dr. Anand says. These barriers not only affect how men with depression are diagnosed, he says, but also how they are treated.
Why Depression Is Underreported
Several factors contribute to depression often being unreported and undiagnosed in men. For starters, men who are depressed may not recognize their symptoms. “Women are far more likely to acknowledge that they have depression and seek help,” Anand says.
Also, symptoms of depression vary from person to person, and symptoms may not always be obvious, according to NIMH. Complicating matters is that men who are depressed often suppress their feelings rather than showing sadness and crying,reports the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Men and women also have different risk factors for depression that could affect whether they seek treatment, according to a study published in 2014 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The factors most directly linked to depression among women are divorce, lack of parental or social support, and marriage troubles. For men, depression is more closely linked to drug abuse as well as financial, legal, and work-related stress, the researchers say. Their research suggests that men are less likely to seek medical attention if they attribute depression to career disappointment or failures. Rather than seek help, Anand says, men with depression are more likely to try to tough it out.
"Men may be more likely to suffer in silence or try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs," says Dean F. MacKinnon, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
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Men may see their symptoms as a sign of weakness, he explains, likening the situation to the idea that men don't like asking for directions. “Men don't ask for direction because it makes them seem weak, but also they are afraid they won't get the right information,” Dr. MacKinnon says.
Men might also be worried about the social stigma associated with a diagnosis of depression, according to research published in Qualitative Health Research in 2014.
In addition, depression affects men differently than women, according to a 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Though women usually have traditional symptoms, such as feelings of sadness and worthlessness, the study found that men with depression were more likely to experience anger and irritability, and to engage in risky behaviors. This suggests that if men are using traditional criteria to assess their symptoms, their depression could go unreported.
Why Treatment Is Critical
What sets men and women with depression apart can also make the condition more difficult to treat, Anand says. Men with untreated depression can experience issues like anger, aggression, and substance abuse. Using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, he says, can complicate treatment for depression.
Untreated depression among men can also have tragic consequences. “Women may talk about suicide more, but men may be more likely to complete suicide,” Anand says. “They may also use much more violent means of trying to commit suicide, like guns or hanging.” In fact, according to NAMI, men are four times more likely to die of suicide than women.
Most adults with depression improve with treatment, usually a combination of talk therapy and medication, Anand says. He notes, however, that it can be difficult to convince some men to try talk therapy.
Medication used to treat depression may also work differently in men and women. For instance, today the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, according to NIMH, are SSRIs — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Tricyclics, which are older antidepressants, are not used as often today because they come with more serious side effects, like drowsiness, dizziness, and weight gain. However, some research suggests that women respond better to SSRIs — like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline) — and that tricyclics, like imipramine, may be more effective for men, Anand says.
SSRIs may also cause more sexual side effects, which tend to bother men more often than women, and could result in fewer men following through on treatment, Anand says.
If your doctor does recommend an SSRI, adjusting the dosage or switching from one SSRI to another can help alleviate unwanted side effects, according to NIMH.
The right therapist can make all the difference in getting the best treatment for depression, but do some homework before you choose one.
If you're depressed, a therapist can teach you how to deal with your feelings, change the way you think, and change the way you behave to help ease your symptoms.
Finding a therapist you are comfortable with is essential. You will need to talk openly and honestly with your therapist about your thoughts and feelings, so it's important to find the right specialist for you, says Ryan Howes, PhD, a clinical psychologist and a clinical professor at the Fuller School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.
The first step is to look at yourself and determine what it is you need, Dr. Howes says. “Ask yourself, Am I the sort of person who benefits from someone who tells me what to do? Or do I need someone with a good ability to listen and who will talk through things with me?" he advises. Your answer will tell you whether you need someone who will provide directive or non-directive therapy.
Also consider whom you might feel most comfortable with: a man or a woman; someone about your age, or someone younger or older; someone with lots of experience, or someone who is relatively new with fresh ideas. “Once you narrow it down, you can start looking for people who meet your criteria,” Howes says.
Different Types of Therapists and Their Credentials
Several types of mental health professionals can serve as a therapist for people with depression. Being aware of the training differences might help you narrow your search.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD or DO degree) who have completed specialized training in mental and emotional disorders. They can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications for depression. Psychiatrists may also provide individual or group therapy. Philip R. Muskin, MD, professor of psychiatry and chief of consultation-liaison psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, advises starting with a physician if you’re severely depressed.
Psychologists have a doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) in psychology. They are skilled in the diagnosis of emotional disorders and spend most of their time providing individual or group psychotherapy, but do not prescribe medication.
Social workers usually have a master’s degree in social work (MSW) and have training in providing individual or group therapy.
Licensed professional counselors have a master’s degree in psychology (or a related area) and are trained to diagnose and counsel individuals or groups.
Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses (RNs) with training in psychiatric nursing.
Sources of Referrals
How do you go about finding the right therapist for you?
You might want to start by talking with your family doctor. If your doctor feels you need a mental health specialist, he or she should be able to give you referrals, Dr. Muskin says. Or you might be the one to tell your regular doctor, "I need to see a psychiatrist, and this is why,” he adds.
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You could also ask around to see if your friends or family members know of a good therapist who has experience in treating depression. “Personal references can be very good, particularly if they come from someone who knows you well and what you like,” Muskin says.
Here are other resources to help you find a therapist for depression treatment:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) runs a helpline that can help you locate support. Call 800-950-NAMI or email info@NAMI.org.
The American Psychological Association has a therapist locator on its website.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America can also help you locate a therapist near where you live.
Your health insurance company likely has a dropdown menu item, such as “find a provider,” for names of professionals in its network.
Schools and universities often have counseling services that can offer referrals if they can’t help you directly. You may have access if you’re an alum or faculty.
The clergy Faith leaders often know of mental health professionals who can help. And if they know you, they can recommend someone who fits your personality and needs.
Employee Assistance Programs If offered by your employer, they’re part of your benefits package.
How to Interview Potential Therapists
Once you have a list of at least two or three potential therapists, it's time to figure out which one is best for you. Call each therapist to get some key information before making an appointment.
Questions to ask include:
Are you taking new patients?
What experience do you have treating patients who have depression?
Where do the therapy sessions take place? Some psychiatrists have more than one office where they see patients, Muskin says. Their location and when they hold appointments can matter to you, he adds.
How much does the therapy cost? Do you take my insurance?
Can I meet with you before committing to a therapy session?
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If you're able to make a consultation appointment before a therapy session, ask the therapist more specific preliminary questions, such as:
What type of therapy would you recommend for my depression symptoms?
What will this type of therapy involve?
What are the benefits and the primary goals of my depression treatment?
Are you willing to work with other members of my medical team to coordinate my depression treatment? This is especially important if you have a non-MD therapist who will rely on your primary care doctor to prescribe medications.
How often would I need therapy sessions?
After meeting with a potential therapist, take some time to decide whether you are comfortable with them. If you aren’t, keep looking until you find one you like and trust.
Some people will improve with psychotherapy alone; others may need both psychotherapy and a prescription antidepressant. Once you start therapy for your depression, be patient. Psychotherapy (sometimes referred to as talk therapy) for depression can sometimes be painful, and you may find yourself doing most of the talking during the first few sessions. Your therapist will partner with you to ease your depression symptoms and improve your life.
Major depression isn’t always so easy to spot in yourself or someone you love. Use these clues to determine when treatment is needed.
Everyone feels a little down in the dumps now and then. But sadness and withdrawal can become crippling, putting you at risk for a number of serious conditions and consequences, including suicide.
Depression symptoms aren't always as obvious as frequent crying and overwhelming despair. “Oftentimes the changes are subtle, and the person may not notice, but their friends and loved ones may,” says Boadie W. Dunlop, MD, director of the mood and anxiety disorders program in the psychiatry department at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
There's no one pattern. Depression symptoms may gradually progress from the mild, such as choosing to stay home to watch TV instead of going out with friends, to the more severe, such as thoughts of suicide. Or someone may go from seeming perfectly happy to being totally depressed in a matter of days or weeks. The progression varies from person to person.
“Depression symptoms are particularly troubling if someone displays more than one, or if they persist for more than two weeks,” says Simon Rego, PsyD, associate professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein School of Medicine and director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.
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To help you recognize depression that warrants concern, whether in yourself or a loved one, here are six depression symptoms — some of which you might even find surprising — that you shouldn’t ignore:
1. Trouble Sleeping Despite being slower in demeanor and motivation, depressed people often lie awake at night, unable to sleep, says Sarah Altman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. On the other hand, some depressed people may find it difficult to get out of bed and may sleep for long periods during the day.
2. Loss of Interest in Favorite Activities Some people turn to hobbies they enjoy when they feel blue, but people with major depression tend to avoid them. “So if a person who loved spending time with her grandchildren suddenly doesn’t want to see them, or a guy who loves to fish suddenly hangs up his rods, it’s a red flag,” says Tina Walch, MD, psychiatrist and medical director of Northwell Health's South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, New York.
3. Increase in Energy Ironically, when depressed people have made a decision to do something drastic, such as killing themselves, they may go from lackadaisical and slowed to more energetic. That's because they feel a sense of relief in having come to a resolution, Dr. Walch says, "so if you notice a drastic switch like this, you should be very concerned."
4. Change in Appetite Some people overeat when they're depressed or anxious, but in people with severe depression, the opposite is usually true. “A depressed person may stop eating because he or she is no longer concerned with physical well-being,” says John Whyte, MD, MPH, a board-certified internist in Washington, DC and author of Is This Normal?: The Essential Guide to Middle Age and Beyond. “Disregard for personal hygiene is also cause for concern,” Dr. Whyte adds.
5. Touchiness “In some people, depression manifests as more irritability and impatience than feeling down,” Dr. Dunlop says.
6. An Emerging Dark Side “A person who is severely depressed may become preoccupied with death and other morose topics,” Walch says. For example, he or she may talk about what things will be like “after I am gone,” and may also become more likely to take uncalculated risks.
The Next Step: Getting Help
If you notice any of these serious depression symptoms in yourself or someone you love, reach out and get help. “In most people, depression, even major depression, is a very treatable disorder," Walch says. "There is a wide range of medications and therapies that have been proven to work." Specifically, here's what you should do:
Assess the severity. If you or a loved one is considering harming himself or herself, or is having other dark thoughts, immediate treatment is critical. “Go to the nearest emergency room or contact your local or a private mental health provider,” Walch says. Or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK).
Create a safe environment. “If the person expresses suicidal thoughts, remove any potentially lethal items from the home, such as guns,” Dunlop says.
See a mental health professional. “It doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist — it can also be a psychologist or therapist,” Whyte says.
Be kind. “Blaming or chastising depressed people for feeling low or unmotivated is not helpful and typically serves to reinforce negative feelings they already have,” Dunlop says. “Instead, open the discussion in a nonjudgmental way and encourage the person to seek help.”
Ignore the stigma. “The recent story of the [suicidal] German copilot [Andreas Lubitz] has not been helpful in terms of the stigma surrounding depression,” Walch says. “Depressed people who are suicidal are not murderers. Suicidal thinking can be a depression symptom, but homicidal thinking is not.”
Look to resources. “There are many organizations that have online resources about depression,” Dr. Altman says. They include the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Psychological Association.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with depression, these insights from people who are successfully managing their own depression may help you.
Depression can make you feel alone and isolated, but in reality you aren't. Many other people live with depression every day, and you can learn a lot from them. Here, three people diagnosed with depression share insights they’ve gained along the way.
1. It's Not Your Fault
For the longest time, "I felt like something was wrong with me," says Marisa McPeck-Stringham, 37, a social worker in Ogden, Utah, who blogs about her life, including her depression, as Iron Daisy. She first noticed as a teen that she was sometimes down in the dumps, but she wasn't diagnosed until age 20, she says. Before the diagnosis, she would ask herself: What's wrong with me? She knew she had a good family, a good home, and great parents. "I didn't know it was a mental illness," she says. "I didn't know it was a problem with my brain chemistry."
That reaction is a common one, says Michelle B. Riba, MD, associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center in Ann Arbor and past president of the American Psychiatric Association. Patients often tell her they think they did something to bring on the depression, and that they could have been stronger.
Dr. Riba tells her patients, "It's a medical condition and has to be treated like a medical condition." Anyone diagnosed with depression must be evaluated to see which treatment or combination might work for them, Riba says.
2. Being Depressed Takes a Lot of Energy
Elizabeth Moon, 70, of Austin, who wrote Crown of Renewal and other books, was diagnosed in the early 1980s. She didn't understand until after she got a diagnosis and was treated how exhausted she had been from trying to keep up with her life. "I didn't realize how long I had been depressed," she says.
"I was active, very physically active," says Moon. "I didn't think of myself as depressed; I didn't realize I was sliding into depression."
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“Not everyone fits the stereotype of sitting on the couch," unable to do anything, she says. "If you’re feeling worthless, like you have no future — even if you appear to be healthy and holding down a full-time job, get checked out.”
"People may not pinpoint [depression symptoms] right away," Riba says of those who get depressed. They may think they’re sleep deprived, for instance, or just have some temporary issues balancing responsibilities.
3. Exercise Has Been Proven to Help With Symptoms
Often, the last thing you want to do if you’re depressed is go out and get some exercise. But those who’ve been there understand the value of exercise, and say it often helps. "If I don't get out and exercise, I have to really watch myself and make sure I’m not sliding," Moon says. "I do much better if I’m active. I have much less chance of sliding into another episode."
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Exercise ''readjusts our brain chemistry," says McPeck-Stringham. She includes exercise as part of her "self-care" routine. Her workouts also become valuable "me" time, she finds.
And there is good evidence that exercise improves your mental health. A study published in 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry found that exercise does lower your chance of becoming depressed. And in people who already have depression, exercise helps lift depressive symptoms.
4. Writing Helps You Sort Out Your Emotions
Keola Birano, 33, of Hilo, Hawaii, is a full-time writer who also works for his wife's clothing business. Diagnosed at age 19, he soon learned the power of writing — not for his livelihood, but for his depression. First, he wrote a letter to his father and ''without giving it to him," burned it. "It released whatever [negative] feeling I may have held onto," he says.
He has continued writing, both for his blog, Keola Birano Reimagined, and for personal growth. "When you write, it opens up parts of your brain you didn't know were there,'' he says. "I try to do 10 minutes a day on autopilot, to let the feelings out."
5. Managing Depression Is an Ongoing Effort
"It takes a lot of significant work to keep yourself strong," Birano says. "You have to keep working on it. Once you start thinking you have it beat, you set yourself up for failure."
Moon agrees. "I can go downhill in 30 seconds,'' she says. "I've learned to have a plan in place when that happens," she says. Part of her plan is to keep tabs on her mental health before that slide downhill. "At least five times a year, I take the Beck Depression Inventory [a tool used by mental health experts] and see where I am. If I’m coming up [on the score], I need to be very careful. If the score doesn't go back down, I may need meds."
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For her, the best approach has been to take medications when needed and then taper off them, she says, but she doesn’t claim this is best for everyone. It’s important to remember that decisions to stop or start medications should always be done in conjunction with your physician.
6. Having a Depression Relapse Doesn’t Mean You Failed
"Right now, I’m in between episodes," Moon says. "I know another one may come and it isn't a disaster when it does come. It doesn't mean you’ll end up committing suicide either."
Figuring out what works for you to stay on an even keel is critical, Moon says. The most important thing for anyone who's depressed? "Recognize when you’re falling off the cliff," she says. Then go get the help you need and deserve.
For people who battle depression and can't find relief, stimulating the brain with electric impulses may help. But a new study by Brazilian researchers says it's still no better than antidepressant medication.
In a trial that pitted transcranial, direct-current stimulation (tDCS) against the antidepressant escitalopram (Lexapro), researchers found that lessening of depression was about the same for either treatment.
"We found that antidepressants are better than tDCS and should be the treatment of choice," said lead researcher Dr. Andre Brunoni. He's director of the Service of Interdisciplinary Neuromodulation at the University of Sao Paulo.
"In circumstances that antidepressant drugs cannot be used, tDCS can be considered, as it was more effective than placebo," he said.
The researchers used the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. This test has a score range of zero to 52, with higher scores indicating more depression.
People who received brain stimulation lowered their depression score by 9 points. Those taking Lexapro had depression scores drop by 11 points. Patients receiving placebo experienced a drop of 6 points in their depression score, the researchers found.
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"tDCS has been increasingly used as an off-label treatment by physicians," Brunoni said. "Our study revealed that it cannot be recommended as a first-line therapy yet and should be investigated further."
The report was published June 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Sarah Lisanby is director of the Division of Translational Research at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. "When you consider if this treatment adds anything to the ways we have to treat depression, you want to know that a new treatment is better than or at least as good as what's available today," she said.
"But this study failed to show that tDCS was better than medication," said Lisanby, who wrote an accompanying journal editorial.
Lisanby pointed out that unapproved tDCS units are being sold on the internet. She cautioned that trying brain stimulation at home to relieve depression or enhance brain function is risky business, because side effects can include mania.
"There are people who are doing do-it-yourself tDCS," she said. "People are trying to find ways to treat depression, but it's important for them to know that tDCS is experimental and not proven to be as effective or more effective than antidepressant medications."
To get a better idea of how well brain stimulation worked for depression, Brunoni and colleagues randomly assigned 245 patients suffering from depression to one of four groups. One group had brain stimulation plus a placebo pill, another had fake brain stimulation plus Lexapro. The third group had brain stimulation plus Lexapro, and the final group had fake brain stimulation plus a placebo.
Brain stimulation involved wearing sponge-covered electrodes on the head. The treatment was given for 15 consecutive days at 30 minutes each, then once a week for seven weeks.
Lexapro was taken daily for three weeks, after which the daily dose was increased from 10 milligrams (mg) to 20 mg for the next seven weeks.
After 10 weeks, patients receiving brain stimulation fared no better than those taking Lexapro. Patients receiving brain stimulation, however, suffered from more side effects, the researchers found.
Specifically, patients receiving brain stimulation had higher rates of skin redness, ringing in the ears and nervousness than those receiving fake brain stimulation.
In addition, two patients receiving brain stimulation developed new cases of mania. That condition can include elevated mood, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, difficulty maintaining attention and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities.
Patients taking Lexapro reported more frequent sleepiness and constipation.
Brunoni, however, is not ready to write off brain stimulation as a treatment for depression based on this study.
"We did not test, in this study, the combined effects of tDCS with other techniques, such as cognitive behavior therapy and other antidepressant drugs," he said.
"Previous findings from our group showed that tDCS increases the efficacy of antidepressant drugs, however, it should not be used alone, and its use must be supervised by physicians due to the side effects," Brunoni said.
Lisanby said the tDCS dose in the study may be in question. She said it may have to be adjusted to each individual patient in terms of how strong the electrical stimulation should be. The treatment length also needs to be individualized, as does what part of the brain it should be directed toward.
Also, "we need larger studies to give us the definitive answer about whether tDCS is better than the treatments we have today," Lisanby said.