Depression and Substance Abuse

Depression often feeds a substance abuse problem, but the opposite may also be true. Find out just how intertwined these two conditions are.

Mood disorders, like depression, and substance abuse go together so frequently that doctors have coined a term for it: dual diagnosis. The link between these conditions is a two-way street. They feed each other. One problem will often make the other worse, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

About 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder, such as depression, also have a substance abuse disorder, and about 20 percent of those with a substance abuse problem also have an anxiety or mood disorder, the ADAA reports.

Compared with the general population, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to have mood and anxiety disorders, and vice versa, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The Shared Triggers of Depression and Substance Abuse

When it comes to substance abuse and depression, it isn't always clear which one came first, although depression may help predict first-time alcohol dependence, according to a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The conditions share certain triggers. Possible connections between depression and substance abuse include:

The brain. Similar parts of the brain are affected by both substance abuse and depression. For example, substance abuse affects brain areas that handle stress responses, and those same areas are affected by some mental disorders.
Genetics. Your DNA can make you more likely to develop a mental disorder or addiction, according to research published in 2012 in Disease Markers. Genetic factors also make it more likely that one condition will occur once the other has appeared, NIDA reports.
Developmental problems. Early drug use is known to harm brain development and make later mental illness more likely. The reverse also is true: Early mental health problems can increase the chances of later drug or alcohol abuse.
The Role of Environment

Environmental factors such as stress or trauma are known to prompt both depression and substance abuse.

Family history is another factor. A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2014 found that a family history of substance abuse is a significant risk factor for attempted suicide among people with depression and substance abuse.

These types of dual diagnosis may also be traced back to a time in early life when children are in a constant process of discovery and in search of gratification, according to David MacIsaac, PhD, a licensed psychologist in New York and New Jersey and president of the New York Institute for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology.

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Any interruption or denial of this natural discovery process can manifest clinically and lead people to believe that everything they feel and think is wrong, he explains.

This idea, which Dr. MacIsaac says is based on the work of Crayton Rowe, author of the book Empathic Attunement: The 'Technique' of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, challenges the idea that people dealing with depression try to self-medicate using drugs or alcohol. In fact, people with a dual diagnosis may be doing just the opposite, MacIsaac suggests.

"Individuals who are severely depressed drink to feed this negativity," he explains. "Initially it's soothing, but only for about 15 minutes. After that individuals sink deeper and deeper and feel worse than they did before."

For these people, MacIsaac points out, negativity is "where they get their oxygen." Any inclination that treatment is working will trigger a need to go back into the black hole of negative discovery, and alcohol will intensify their depression, he adds.

Why Simultaneous Treatment Is Important

Successful recovery involves treatment for both depression and substance abuse. If people are treated for only one condition, they are less likely to get well until they follow up with treatment for the other.

If they are told they need to abruptly stop drinking, however, depressed people with a substance abuse problem may be reluctant to undergo treatment, MacIsaac cautions. "They cling to drinking because they are terrified of losing that negativity," he says.

People with dual diagnoses must understand the root of their issues on a profound level, MacIsaac says. Once they understand, he says, they may have the ability to change. Treatment for depression and substance abuse could involve therapy, antidepressants, and interaction with a support group.

If you think you need treatment but are unsure where to start, the American Psychological Association provides the following suggestions:

Ask close friends and relatives whether they have recommendations for qualified psychologists, psychiatrists, or other mental health counselors.
Find out whether your state psychological association has a referral service for licensed mental health professionals.

Prescription Drugs That Cause Depression

Some prescription drugs can cause or contribute to the development of depression and other mood disorders.

What do certain asthma, acne, malaria, and smoking-cessation prescription drugs have in common? Answer: Their possible side effects include depression or other mood disorders.

Depression as a side effect of prescription drugs is widespread and increasingly gaining attention. The medications that contribute to drug-induced depression might surprise you. For example, an asthma medication, Singulair (montelukast), is prescribed to help people breathe more easily, but its side effects may include depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking, according to a research review published in Pharmacology in 2014.

“In 2009, Merck added psychiatric side effects as possible outcomes with Singulair, including tremor, depression, suicidality — suicidal thinking and behavior — and anxiousness,” says J. Douglas Bremner, MD, researcher and professor of psychiatry and radiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Drugs With Depression as a Side Effect

Dr. Bremner has published studies on the possible relationship between the use of retinoic acid acne treatments and the development of depression. One of the drugs within this category is Accutane (isotretinoin), the oral treatment for severe acne that has been associated with psychiatric problems, including depression.

“The original brand-name version of isotretinoin, Accutane, was taken off the market in 2009, although it continues to be marketed as Roaccutane in the U.K., Australia, and other countries," Bremner notes. "In the U.S. there are three generic versions available that have also been associated with reports of depression and suicide, Sotret, Claravis, and Amnesteem."

RELATED: Are You Getting Hooked on Anxiety Medications?

The full list of drugs that could cause depression is a long one. British researchers found 110 different medications between 1998 and 2011 that were associated with increased depression risk, according to a report published in BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology in September 2014.

Besides isotretinoin and montelukast, drugs that can cause or contribute to the development of depression or other mood symptoms include:

Lariam (mefloquine), used to treat malaria. Depression, anxiety, and psychosis are among the side effects of this medication, according to an article in Medical Science Monitor in 2013 that explored the chemical cascade behind mood changes.
Chantix (varenicline), used to stop smoking. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists hostility, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts as possible side effects of this medication.
Inderal (propranolol hydrochloride) and other drugs in the beta-blocker class, used to treat high blood pressure. Research on beta-blockers and depression suggests that some, but not all, of the medications in this class can contribute to depression, according to a report in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.
Contraceptives. Contraceptives including those delivered by vaginal ring or patch could lead to depression in some people, according to research published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2010.
Corticosteroids. Some people who take corticosteroids experience side effects such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, among other symptoms, according to a review of research published in Rheumatology International in 2013.
Interferon-alpha. As many as 40 percent of people using this immunologic medication may experience depression, according to a 2009 report in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience.
Interferon-beta. The link between this immunologic medication and depression is debated, but researchers reporting in Therapeutic Advances in Neurologic Disorders in 2011 note that depression is a concern for those who take it, in part because of their underlying conditions.
Nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. These HIV medications may increase the risk for depression, according to research published in the September 2014 issue of HIV Medicine. Arimidex (anastrozole) and aromasin (exemestane). Both of these long-term breast cancer therapies may contribute to depression, according to the FDA.
Vigabatrin. This anticonvulsant may cause depression, irritability, and psychosis, notes a review of studies in Acta Neurologica Scandinavica in 2011.
The FDA investigates drugs that have many reports of depression symptoms as a side effect. It requires what are called black-box warnings to be clearly printed on medications, like isotretinoin, that have been linked to depression and suicidal behavior, among other serious health threats. Make sure you read the information pamphlets that come with your prescription medications (and ask your pharmacist if you don’t understand what they say). You can stay on top of any news about their side effects by setting up a news alert on Google.

You can get the latest drug safety information on the FDA website.

Also, pay attention to how you feel. Though you may be taking medications that seem unrelated to mood, let your doctor know if you have symptoms such as sadness, difficulty sleeping, hopelessness, sleep changes, or thoughts of suicide.

“If you suspect your medication may be causing depression or similar problems, talk with your doctor and, if necessary, consult with a psychiatrist,” Bremner advises. The good news is that drug-induced depression usually clears up once you stop taking the medication.

Are Your Drugs Causing Depression?

It can be challenging to figure out whether your depression is related to taking a prescription drug, but here are some indicators:

Timeline. Drug-induced depression is defined as depression that appears within a month of starting or stopping a medication, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). The society also advises that other conditions that might cause depression have to be considered in figuring out whether medication is the contributing factor. Bremner found in his research that the timeline varies from weeks to a month or two.
Dose-response relationship. With some drugs, depression symptoms may get better as the dose is reduced or worse as it is increased. This is usually a clear indicator of a relationship.
If you are uncertain about whether your changes in mood or energy are drug symptoms, talk with your doctor. Screening tools and questionnaires can reliably identify depression. You can also send information about your experiences to the FDA.

Prescription Drug-Induced Depression Treatment

In severe cases, people taking prescription drugs have developed depression leading to suicidal behavior. Because of this risk, don’t ignore or try to wait out feelings of depression, even if you believe they are only a prescription drug side effect. Talk with your doctor about these options to correct the situation:

Switching to an alternative treatment. If an equally effective medication that does not have depression as a side effect exists, the easiest option is to switch prescription drugs.
Getting a psychiatric evaluation. This may be recommended in any case to make sure you do not have an underlying psychiatric condition that has gone undiagnosed. People with a history of depression may have a worse response to some medications. An antidepressant might be prescribed in order to help manage depression symptoms.
Talk therapy will not work in this case, says Bremner, because the problem is chemically based. You will need prescription medication to address the depression if you cannot stop taking the drugs that are causing it.

If you think your depression symptoms are linked to a prescription drug you’re taking, talk with your doctor right away, get screened for depression, and find a better way to manage both your health issues and your mood.

The Calming Power of Nature

Spending time in nature eases depression, and could be a good supplement to medicine and therapy.

Remedies for depression abound, from medications to psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Having a range of treatment options is a good idea because no single treatment works equally well for each of the millions of U.S. adults with depression. Now researchers say a new therapy, proven to relieve depression, should be added to the mix as a supplement to established treatments. It's called nature.

Interacting with nature can have replenishing effects for those with depression, says Ethan Kross, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and one of many experts who has studied the nature-depression link.

A little dose of nature helps us all recharge, but it may have special benefit for those who are depressed. "It seems that, from our work, the restorative effect of nature seems to be stronger for individuals diagnosed with depression," says Marc Berman, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. That might be because they feel mentally fatigued, and being in nature re-energizes them. However, Dr. Berman has a strong caveat: "We're not arguing that interacting with nature should replace clinically proven therapies for depression," he says. Nor should those with clinical depression try to treat themselves.

RELATED: How to Create a Depression Treatment Plan

However, Berman and others say, interactions with nature could serve as a very effective supplemental treatment.

What Nature-Depression Research Shows

Among the studies finding nature helps with depression:

Adults with depression who took a 50-minute walk in a natural setting for one research session and then a 50-minute walk in an urban setting for another research session were less depressed and had better memory skills after they took the nature walk.
Adults who moved to greener urban areas, compared to less green, had better mental health during follow-up three years after the move.
Those who took group nature walks reported less depression, less stress, and a better sense of well-being than those who didn't take nature walks, according to a study that looked at more than 1,500 people in a walking program.
Being outdoors and in nature boosts vitality, which experts define as having physical and mental energy. Those with depression often report fatigue and decreased energy. Researchers found the energy-boosting effect of nature was independent of the physical activity or social interaction experienced while outdoors.
How Nature Works Its Magic

The phenomenon of how nature helps improve depression is still being analyzed fully, Dr. Kross says.

One possibility, Berman says, is that interacting with nature helps due to the attention-restoration theory. "We have two kinds of attention," he says. "One is top-down (also called directed), the kind we use at work." Directed attention can be depleted fairly quickly, as you can only focus and concentrate for so long.

Another type of attention is bottom-up, or involuntary. "That's the kind automatically captured by things in the environment, such as lights or music." Involuntary attention is less susceptible to depletion. "You don't often hear people say, 'I can't look at this waterfall any longer,'" Berman says.

Why does nature hold this special effect? In a natural environment, we can choose to think or not, Berman says, and this choice is believed to help us rest our brains. You can then pay attention later, when you need to. "It is giving people more ability to concentrate, which is a big problem for those with depression," Berman says. Nature provides an effective setting for resting our brains, unlike urban settings. Even in the most peaceful urban environment, you have to pay attention to such things as traffic and stoplights.

Nature's replenishing effect is fairly instantaneous, Berman says. So if you're depressed and having an especially bad day, a quick dose of nature might help.

However, Berman cautions that anyone with clinical depression needs to be under a doctor's care, with supervision of all their treatments.

Essential Facts About Antidepressants

Newer antidepressants target brain chemicals involved in regulating mood, but they're not magic bullets. Here are the risks and benefits of these commonly prescribed drugs.

Although mild forms of depression are often treated without medication, those with more severe symptoms may benefit from taking antidepressant drugs. These medications, which target brain chemicals involved in mood, may help people with severe depression who do not respond to talk therapy or healthy lifestyle changes alone, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The Use of Antidepressants Is on the Rise

Roughly 67 percent of people living with depression use medication as their primary form of treatment, NAMI reports. Antidepressants are the second most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, according to a study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. Overall, use of antidepressants increased from 6.5 percent in 2000 to 10.4 percent by 2010, a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reveals.

How Antidepressants May Help

There are many theories about what causes depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Brain imaging technology shows that parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, and behavior look different in people with depression than in those who are not depressed. Genetics, stress, and grief could also trigger depression, according to NIMH.

RELATED: 6 Need-to-Know Antidepressant Facts

Because specific chemicals called neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin and norepinephrine, are involved in regulating mood, medications that target these chemicals are often used to treat depression. Antidepressants work by increasing concentrations of these chemicals. These drugs include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs work by making more of the neurotransmitter serotonin available to your brain. Some of the drug names you may be familiar with are Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram).

The most common side effects associated with these medications include sexual problems, headache, nausea, dry mouth, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms often fade over time, NAMI notes.

Atypical antidepressants: This class of drugs includes serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine). In addition to serotonin, these antidepressants may target other brain chemicals such as dopamine or norepinephrine.

Side effects of SNRIs are similar to those associated with SSRI drugs. You may also experience, fatigue, weight gain, or blurred vision.

The antidepressant Wellbutrin (bupropion) affects only the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. This drug, known as a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI), has similar side effects as SSRIs and SNRIs, but it is less likely to cause sexual problems. Rarely, seizures may occur.

Tricyclic antidepressants: Tricyclics also affect levels of brain chemicals, but they are no longer commonly used because they have more side effects, including fatigue, dry mouth, blurred vision, urination difficulties, and constipation. If you have glaucoma, you should not take any tricyclic antidepressant. Some tricyclics antidepressants include amitriptyline, amoxapine, and Norpramin (desipramine).

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Like tricyclics, MAOIs are now prescribed less often because of their risk for serious side effects. These drugs work by blocking an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine. People taking MAOIs can experience dangerous reactions if they eat certain foods, drink alcohol, or take over-the-counter cold medicines.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Emsam (selegiline), the first skin patch for treating major depression. At its lowest dose, this once-a-day patch can be used without the dietary restrictions associated with oral MAOIs. Some other MAOIs include Marplan (isocarboxazid) and Nardil (phenelzine).

Depression Medications and Government Warnings

In 2005, the FDA warned that the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior could be higher in children and adolescents taking depression drugs. In 2007, the warning was expanded to include anyone under age 25 taking antidepressants.

However, to balance the risks and benefits of antidepressants, the FDA’s so-called black box warning also states that depression itself is associated with a greater risk for suicide, notes a 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nevertheless, if you are taking an antidepressant, especially if you are under 25, let your doctor know if your depression seems to be getting worse or if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself.

Antidepressants Are Not Magic Bullets

It's important to remember that simply taking a pill will not cure depression. It may take up to 12 weeks before these drugs have their full effect. Some people need to take various doses or combinations of different medications before they find the treatment strategy that works best for them, according to NAMI.

It’s also important to take antidepressants as prescribed and to follow up with your mental health professional on a regular basis. Some depression drugs must be stopped gradually — if you suddenly stop taking your medication, you could experience withdrawal symptoms or a relapse of your depression.

Often the most effective treatment for depression involves some form of talk therapy, notes NAMI. Discuss with your doctor how exercise and limiting alcohol can also help ease your symptoms.

The Link Between Depression and Debt

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.

Scans Suggest Recurrent Depression May Take Toll on the Brain

The area of the brain involved in forming new memories, known as the hippocampus, seems to shrink in people with recurring depression, a new study shows.

Australian researchers say the findings highlight the need to spot and treat depression when it first develops, particularly among young people.

Ian Hickie, who co-directs the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, led the study. His team looked at the neurology of almost 9,000 people from the United States, Europe and Australia. To do so, they analyzed brain scans and medical data for about 1,700 people with major depression, and almost 7,200 people who didn't suffer from depression.

The researchers noted that 65 percent of the participants with major depression had suffered recurring symptoms.

The study, published June 30 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, found that people with major depression, particularly recurring forms of the condition, had a smaller hippocampus. This part of the brain was also smaller among participants diagnosed with depression before they reached the age of 21.

Many young people diagnosed with depression go on to develop recurring symptoms, Hickie's team noted.

RELATED: Depression as a Risk Factor for Dementia

Recurrence seemed key: About a third of participants had had only one episode of major depression, and they did not show any reduction in the size of their hippocampus compared to non-depressed people.

According to the researchers, that suggests that it is recurring depression that takes a toll on brain anatomy.

The take-home message: Get depression diagnosed and treated before brain changes can occur, the Australian team said.

"This large study confirms the need to treat first episodes of depression effectively, particularly in teenagers and young adults, to prevent the brain changes that accompany recurrent depression," Hickie said in a university news release.

According to co-researcher Jim Lagopoulos, "these findings shed new light on brain structures and possible mechanisms responsible for depression."

"Despite intensive research aimed at identifying brain structures linked to depression in recent decades, our understanding of what causes depression is still rudimentary," Lagopoulos, who is an associate professor at the institute, said in the news release.

The study couldn't prove cause-and-effect, however, and the study authors say that more research could help explain if the brain changes are the result of chronic stress, or if these changes could help spot people who are more vulnerable to depression.

Antidepressant, Painkiller Combo May Raise Risk of Brain Bleed

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.

Loneliness May Fuel Mental Decline in Old Age

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.

Serotonin Syndrome: 7 Things You Need to Know

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.

Expert Panel Recommends Questionnaire to Help Spot Depression

Part of your next visit to your family doctor's office should be spent filling out a questionnaire to assess whether you're suffering from depression, an influential panel of preventive medicine experts recommends.

What's more, people concerned that they might be depressed could download an appropriate questionnaire online, fill it out ahead of time and hand it over to their doctor for evaluation, the panel added.

In an updated recommendation released Monday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force urged that family doctors regularly screen patients for depression, using standardized questionnaires that detect warning signs of the mental disorder.

If a patient shows signs of depression, they would be referred to a specialist for a full-fledged diagnosis and treatment using medication, therapy or a combination of the two, according to the recommendation.

These questionnaires can be self-administered in a matter of minutes, with doctors reviewing the results after patients fill out the forms, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, vice chair of the task force.

"This could be a checklist that patients fill out in the waiting room, or at home prior to the visit," she said. "The good thing is we have many instruments, measures that have been studied for screening for depression."

About 7 percent of adults in the United States currently suffer from depression, but only half have been diagnosed with the condition, said Bibbins-Domingo, who is a professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

"We know that depression itself is a source of poor health," she said. "It leads people to miss work, to not function as fully as they might, and we know it is linked and associated with other types of chronic diseases."

It makes sense that family doctors perform front-line screening for depression, since they are more likely than a mental health professional to come across a person with undetected symptoms, said Michael Yapko, a clinical psychologist and internationally recognized depression expert based in Fallbrook, Calif.

"Only about 25 percent of depression sufferers seek out professional help, but more than 90 percent will see a physician and present symptoms and signs that could be diagnosed," said Yapko, who is not on the task force.

The panel has recommended regular depression screening for adults since 2002, but their guidelines currently urge doctors to ask two specific questions that provide a quick evaluation of a person's mood. The questions are, "Over the past two weeks, have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?" and "Over the past two weeks, have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?"

The updated recommendation expands doctors' options for depression screening, adding commonly used questionnaires like the Patient Health Questionnaire, or PHQ-9.

The PHQ-9 is a list of 10 questions that focus on problems that a person might have experienced during the past two weeks, including poor appetite, low energy, sleep problems and a lack of interest in doing things.

"These are not instruments that diagnose depression," Bibbins-Domingo noted. "They give clinicians the first indication of something that should be followed up on."

RELATED: 10 Drug-Free Therapies for Depression

Yapko said that someone who wanted to could lie on the questionnaires and avoid having their symptoms detected, but he added that in his experience it's not a very likely scenario.

"When you have people who are suffering who genuinely want help, they're happy to give you as accurate a portrayal as they can give you," he said. "Generally speaking, the people seeking help want help and they want to do their best in filling these things out. That's what makes the test worthwhile."

The task force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts that has been issuing recommendations on preventive medicine since 1984.

Yapko and Bibbins-Domingo said depression screening shouldn't eat into a doctor's time, since patients can fill out and score the questionnaires on their own.

Instead of wasting time reading magazines in the waiting room, patients "could be filling out an inventory that is self-administered, self-scored and wouldn't take any physician time at all," Yapko said.

Patients also could download and fill out a depression questionnaire at home and hand it in when they go to the doctor, but Yapko said patients should make sure they're using the form their doctor prefers.

"Which of the many inventories and questionnaires a doctor might wish to use is a matter of personal and professional judgment," he said. "So, a doctor would need to specify which form to obtain online and the patient would then need to remember to bring it in, not always easy when depression negatively affects your memory. Easier to have the form in the office and have them fill it out in the waiting room."

Yapko added that it's important that doctors who screen for depression follow up by referring patients to a mental health professional, rather than trying to diagnose and treat depression themselves.

"When physicians get a diagnosis of depression, their most immediate thing to do is prescribe an antidepressant," Yapko said, noting that more than 70 percent of antidepressants are prescribed by non-psychiatrists. "Only a minority of people walk out of a doctor's office with a referral to a mental health professional, a fact which drives me a little crazy."

Herbal remedy isn't regulated, and can have side effects and serious drug interactions.

Herbal remedy isn't regulated, and can have side effects and serious drug interactions.

St. John's wort is a popular herbal therapy for depression, but a new Australian study highlights the fact that "natural" does not always equal "safe."

Using reports filed with Australia's drug safety agency, the researchers found that adverse reactions to St. John's wort were similar to those reported for the antidepressant fluoxetine -- better known by the brand name Prozac.

Those side effects included anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, nausea and spikes in blood pressure, the researchers reported in the July issue of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology.

"It's concerning to see such severe adverse reactions in our population, when people believe they are doing something proactive for their health with little risk," lead researcher Claire Hoban, of the University of Adelaide, said in a university news release.

Research has shown that St. John's wort can help ease mild to moderate depression. But the fact that it works also means there is a risk of side effects, said Dr. Samar McCutcheon, a psychiatrist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

"Even if the bottle says 'natural' or 'herbal,' it still has ingredients that are active in your body," said McCutcheon, who was not involved in the study.

It has long been recognized that St. John's wort can have significant side effects and interact with certain medications, McCutcheon pointed out.

But many consumers may not know that, she noted, largely because dietary supplements are not regulated in the way that drugs are.

"I definitely think this [lack of awareness] is still an issue," McCutcheon said. "People think St. John's wort is safe because they can buy it at a health food store."

In the United States, dietary supplements do not have to be studied for safety and effectiveness before they reach the market.

"Plus," McCutcheon said, "you're relying on companies to make sure these products include the ingredients they're supposed to, and keep out ingredients that they shouldn't."

The situation is similar in Australia, and many consumers there are unaware that supplements are largely unregulated, according to Hoban's team.

RELATED: 7 Supplement Risks Every Woman Should Know About

The researchers based their findings on doctors' reports to Australia's national agency on drug safety. Between 2000 and 2013, there were 84 reports of adverse reactions to St. John's wort, and 447 reports on Prozac.

But since those are voluntary reports, they do not reflect the actual rate of side effects from either therapy, according to the researchers. And, Hoban said, bad reactions to St. John's wort are particularly likely to go unreported, since the herb is often not even considered a drug.

According to McCutcheon, it's important for people with depression symptoms to see a health professional before self-medicating with St. John's wort. "That will help ensure you have the right diagnosis," she said.

If your symptoms are actually part of a different disorder, St. John's wort may be ineffective -- or possibly even risky. For example, McCutcheon said that in people with bipolar disorder, the herb might fuel a manic episode.

But possibly the biggest concern, she said, is the potential for St. John's wort to interact with commonly used medications.

The herb can dampen the effectiveness of birth control pills, blood thinners and heart disease drugs, along with some HIV and cancer drugs, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

What's more, it can interact with antidepressants. It's not clear exactly how St. John's wort works, McCutcheon said, but it's thought to boost levels of the brain chemical serotonin -- which is how the most commonly used antidepressants work.

"If you use the two together, you run the risk of having too much serotonin," she said. And that raises the risk of a potentially fatal condition called serotonin syndrome, whose symptoms include confusion, tremors, diarrhea and a drop in body temperature.

Some side effects of St. John's wort are caused by the herb itself, such as skin rash that's worsened by sunlight, said Dr. John Reed, director of inpatient services at the University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Medicine in Baltimore.

But the main concern is still its potential for interacting with other medications, he said. "Compared with other herbs, St. John's has more drug interactions," Reed explained. "So if you're using it, don't take other medications unless it's under medical supervision."

He added that anyone on any medication should do some homework before starting an herbal product. "Go online and do a search for drug interactions. Ask your pharmacist or doctor," Reed advised.

"Unfortunately," he said, "this type of information [on drug interactions] doesn't have to be printed on product labels."

The bottom line, according to McCutcheon, is that people with depression should talk to their providers about any supplements they take, or want to take. And those providers, she said, should be willing to have nonjudgmental discussions.

"I want all my patients to be comfortable enough to bring up anything with me," McCutcheon said.

Why Depression Is Underreported in Men

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.

RELATED: 6 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

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.

Psoriasis Linked to Higher Risk of Depression

People with psoriasis may be twice as likely to experience depression as those without the common skin condition, regardless of its severity, a new study suggests.

"Psoriasis in general is a pretty visible disease," said study author Dr. Roger Ho, an assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. "Psoriasis patients are fearful of the public's stigmatization of this visible disease and are worried about how people who are unfamiliar with the disease may perceive them or interact with them."

Genetic or biologic factors may also play a role in the link between depression and psoriasis, which requires more research, he said. Either way, the findings mean that all individuals with psoriasis could benefit from screening for depression, Ho said, and their friends and family members should be aware of the connection as well.

The findings were scheduled for presentation Thursday at an American Academy of Dermatology meeting in New York City. They have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal and should be considered preliminary.

Most people with psoriasis have red, raised patches of skin covered with silvery-white scales, the researchers noted. These patches usually appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, lower back, hands and feet.

The researchers analyzed the responses of more than 12,000 U.S. adults in the 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, nearly 3 percent of responders reported that they had psoriasis, and about 8 percent had major depression based on their answers to a depression screening assessment. Among those with psoriasis, 16.5 percent had sufficient symptoms for a diagnosis of major depression.

Those with any degree of psoriasis had double the odds of having depression even after taking into account their age, sex, race, weight, physical activity level, alcohol use and history of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and smoking, the researchers said.

Depression is one of several concerns that someone with psoriasis should look out for, said Dr. Delphine Lee, a dermatologist at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

"Patients with psoriasis should be aware that there are several other health issues associated with this condition, including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, as well as psychological or psychiatric disorders," Lee said. "To address your health beyond your skin is critical to maximizing a person's quality of life."

Several aspects of dealing with psoriasis may contribute to depression, said Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

RELATED: 7 Hidden Dangers of Psoriasis

What matters more than its severity is the location of flare-ups, she said. Some of her patients won't wear shorts if it's on their legs or won't go on dates because they're embarrassed about red spots on their skin, she added.

"Also, because it's a chronic illness, you don't know if it's going to get worse and you don't get to take a vacation from it either," Day said. "You're using topical treatments all year long, and as soon as you stop, it comes right back. It's very depressing, and it can affect your self-esteem and your quality of life."

Anxiety about how psoriasis and its treatment may affect your future health might also contribute to depression, Day explained.

"It's unsightly, it can be itchy, people are worried about it spreading to other parts of their body, they worry about the side effects of medication, they worry about psoriatic arthritis, they worry about taking medications when they're pregnant, and they worry about passing it along to their children," she said.

Day recommended that people with psoriasis seek mental health treatment to get to the bottom of their depression.

"It's about that emotional connection and finding out what about this condition is affecting someone in the way that it is," Day explained.

Not seeking help can make matters worse, said Dr. Tien Nguyen, a dermatologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif.

"Psoriasis can cause severe emotional distress," he said, noting some patients may have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide. "Stress is a known cause of exacerbation of psoriasis, so this will lead to a vicious cycle."

Day added that it's critically important to continue seeing a dermatologist to learn about new medications that become available.

"There are some really amazing new treatments that have a great safety profile that can have excellent clearance with lasting results," Day said.

Impulsive, Agitated Behaviors May Be Warning Signs for Suicide

Risky behaviors such as reckless driving or sudden promiscuity, or nervous behaviors such as agitation, hand-wringing or pacing, can be signs that suicide risk may be high in depressed people, researchers report.

Other warning signs may include doing things on impulse with little thought about the consequences. Depressed people with any of these symptoms are at least 50 percent more likely to attempt suicide, the new study found.

"Assessing these symptoms in every depressed patient we see is extremely important, and has immense therapeutical implications," study lead author Dr. Dina Popovic, of the Hospital Clinic de Barcelona, in Spain, said in a news release from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP).

The findings were scheduled for presentation Saturday at the ECNP's annual meeting in Amsterdam.

One expert in the United States concurred with the findings.

"It has long been known that those patients with depression who also experience anxiety and/or agitation are more likely to attempt or complete suicide," said Dr. Donald Malone, chair of psychiatry and psychology at the Cleveland Clinic. "These symptoms can also be a clue that the underlying diagnosis is bipolar depression (manic depressive disorder)," he added.

In the study, Popovic's team looked at more than 2,800 people with depression, including nearly 630 who had attempted suicide. The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with each patient, and especially looked for differences in behaviors between depressed people who had attempted suicide and those who had not. Certain patterns of behavior began to emerge, the study authors said.

"Most of these symptoms will not be spontaneously referred by the patient, [so] the clinician needs to inquire directly," Popovic said.

She and her colleagues also found that "depressive mixed states" often precede suicide attempts.

RELATED: What Suicidal Depression Feels Like

"A depressive mixed state is where a patient is depressed, but also has symptoms of 'excitation,' or mania," Popovic explained. "We found this significantly more in patients who had previously attempted suicide, than those who had not. In fact, 40 percent of all the depressed patients who attempted suicide had a 'mixed episode' rather than just depression. All the patients who suffer from mixed depression are at much higher risk of suicide."

The researchers reported that the standard criteria for diagnosing depression spotted only 12 percent of patients with mixed depression. In contrast, using the new criteria identified 40 percent of these patients, Popovic's team said.

"This means that the standard methods are missing a lot of patients at risk of suicide," she said.

Malone agreed that a "mixed state" can heighten odds for suicide.

"This study appropriately cautions caregivers to pay particular attention to suicide risk when treating patients with mixed states," he said.

"Bipolar patients are at higher risk of suicide in general when compared with non-bipolar depression, even when not in a mixed state," Malone said. Drug treatments for bipolar depression "also can differ significantly from those of unipolar depression," he added. "In fact, antidepressants can worsen the situation with bipolar patients."

According to Malone, all of this means that "accurate diagnosis is essential to deciding on effective treatment."

Dr. Patrice Reives-Bright directs the division of child and adolescent services at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, N.Y. She said that the "more commonly known risk factors for suicide include hopelessness, history of previous attempts and recent loss or change in one's life."

However, the impulsive and risky behaviors outlined in the new study can "also increase the likelihood of someone who is depressed to act on thoughts to end his or her life," Reives-Bright said.

She agreed with Malone that "identifying these symptoms of a mixed state is important when assessing mood symptoms and selecting treatment options for the patient."

Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. However, according to Popovic, one strength of the new study is that "it's not a clinical trial, with ideal patients -- it's a big study, from the real world."

More than 800,000 people worldwide die by suicide every year, and about 20 times that number attempt suicide, according to the World Health Organization. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people.

Could Eating Fish Help Ward Off Depression?

Consuming more meals from the sea linked to lower risk, study suggests, but cause-and-effect not proven.

Can eating a lot of fish boost your mood? Maybe, say Chinese researchers.

Overall, the researchers found that people who consumed the most fish lowered their risk of depression by 17 percent compared to those who ate the least.

"Studies we reviewed indicated that high fish consumption can reduce the incidence of depression, which may indicate a potential causal relationship between fish consumption and depression," said lead researcher Fang Li, of the department of epidemiology and health statistics at the Medical College of Qingdao University in China.

But this association was only statistically significant for studies done in Europe, the researchers said. They didn't find the same benefit when they looked at studies done in North America, Asia, Australia or South America. The researchers don't know why the association was only significant for fish consumption in Europe.

The study was also only able to show an association between eating fish and the risk for depression, not that eating fish causes a lower risk for depression, Li said.

Still, Li thinks there may be reasons why fish may have an effect on depression.

"Fish is rich in multiple beneficial nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals, which were associated with decreased risk of depression from our study," Li said.

The researchers pointed out that it's possible that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish may change the structure of brain membranes, or these acids may alter the way certain neurotransmitters work. Neurotransmitters are the brain's chemical messengers, sending information from brain cell to brain cell. Some neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are thought to be involved in depression, the researchers said.

RELATED: 10 Foods I Eat Every Day to Beat Depression

The report was published Sept. 10 online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Depression affects 350 million people around the globe, according to background information in the study. The mood disorder is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Past research has suggested that dietary factors may play a role in depression, the researchers said.

To look at the possible connection between eating fish and depression, Li and colleagues reviewed 26 studies published between 2001 and 2014. The studies included more than 150,000 people. Ten of the studies were done in Europe.

This process, called a meta-analysis, attempts to find consistent patterns across multiple studies.

In addition to an overall benefit from fish in curbing depression, Li's team found a difference between men and women. Specifically, the researchers found a slightly stronger association between eating a lot of fish and lowered depression risk in men by 20 percent. Among women, reduction in risk was 16 percent, the researchers said.

Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said it's "impossible to draw any definitive conclusions about direct cause and effect" due to the study's design.

But, he added, "While the exact way fish may prevent depression is unknown, it's promising to learn that depression may be preventable for some people by making simple modifications to their lifestyle, such as by eating more fish."

Rego said it's especially important to look for novel treatments because depression can have a significant impact on people's lives, and many people don't respond fully to first-line depression treatments.

Future research needs to look into whether the effects of fish on depression vary by the type of fish eaten. In addition, this review didn't look at whether or not fish oil supplements could have the same effect.

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Energy Drinks Tied to Inattention, Hyper Behavior in Middle Schoolers

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.

9 Best and Worst Milks for Your Heart

1 / 10   Not All Milks Are Alike

The milk aisle is changing, and has a growing number of options for what to pour on your cereal or drink down as a late-night snack. But what do the newer types of milk mean for your heart health if you have high cholesterol? Old-fashioned cow’s milk, for example, is loaded with calcium and vitamins A and D, which are all good for your heart and overall health. But the saturated fat in whole milk — and even in 2 percent milk — may counteract those health benefits. When you're trying to get to healthy cholesterol levels, you'll want to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet.

Alternative milks can provide similar nutritional benefits if you're lactose intolerant, allergic to certain proteins in cow’s milk, vegan, or simply prefer something other than cow's milk. “People choose a milk based on tolerability and taste — in addition to health beliefs,” says Deborah Krivitsky, RD, director of nutrition at the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Each milk will provide different pluses and minuses.”

9 Surprising Complications of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes Complications: More Than Just Heart Disease

Having diabetes isn’t a death sentence. In fact, an article published in September 2017 in the journal BMJ suggests that, with proper management and weight loss, you can effectively reverse symptoms of the disease. But on the flip side, poorly managed type 2 diabetes can lead to certain complications that can altogether result in increased medical costs, more stress, and potentially a reduced life expectancy. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you likely know the major complications for which having diabetes may leave you at risk: heart disease, kidney disease, neuropathy (or nerve damage), and amputations. But complications associated with poor blood sugar control can affect other parts of the body as well.

"When we talk about diabetes complications, we talk about it from head to toe," says Cathy L. Reeder-McIntosh, RN, MPH, a certified diabetes educator at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. "Even if you don't have perfectly controlled blood sugar, lowering your A1C level — which measures your average blood sugar level over the past two to three months — even a small amount helps reduce your risk of complications."

The A1C test is the most common diagnostic tool for type 2 diabetes, but its function doesn’t end there — for managing diabetes, these test results are crucial, too. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting the A1C test twice per year if you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, don’t use insulin, and your blood sugar is within the goal range that you and your doctor have set.

But if you are on insulin or your blood sugar is poorly controlled, the Mayo Clinic recommends you receive the test four times per year. A normal A1C level is below 5.7 percent, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

To help lower your A1C and reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes complications, you can follow tried-and-true diabetes management advice, like adhering to your medication regimen, practicing portion control while eating a diabetes-friendly diet, and exercising regularly.

But even if you’re meeting your blood sugar level and A1C goals, it’s important to be aware of the potential diabetes complications that may affect you should your situation change. That’s because although taking certain steps to manage diabetes well can potentially lead to reversal, for many people, diabetes remains a progressive disease. Knowing how to spot the signs of all diabetes complications, regardless of their commonality, can be crucial for getting the proper treatment.

For one, your age and ethnicity may play a role in your risk for developing these issues, research suggests. According to a study published in September 2016 in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, people diagnosed with diabetes in midlife may be more prone to complications such as vision loss and kidney disease compared with people diagnosed with the disease while they are elderly, as middle-age people have more time to develop these problems than those who are diagnosed later in life.

And a review published in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research suggested minorities may be at a greater risk for amputations.

Whether it’s signs of neuropathy, heart disease, kidney disease, or other issues, like digestive problems, skin infections, or the like, some people won't make changes until they see signs of complications caused by years of high blood sugar, Reeder-McIntosh points out. To keep that from happening, you should be aware of all the potential diabetes complications. Following are nine you may not already know. 

Why Drinking Tea May Help Prevent and Manage Type 2 Diabetes

Drinking Tea for Diabetes: Green Tea or Black Tea?

When it comes to drinking tea for diabetes, Steinbaum says benefits are tied to all teas, but that green tea is the clear winner. "For one, when you drink green tea for diabetes, you will get a higher level of polyphenols than you would get in black,” she explains. It’s the polyphenols in fruits and vegetables that give them their bright colors. So, having more color means that green tea is richer in polyphenols. “Of the black teas, the more orange the color, the higher the polyphenols,” she adds.

    "Green tea is good for people with diabetes because it helps the metabolic system function better."

Suzanne Steinbaum, DO

Besides its color, green tea also contains higher polyphenol levels because it's prepared from unfermented leaves, "so it is really pure,” Steinbaum says. Black tea, on the other hand, is made from leaves that are fully fermented, which robs it of some nutrients. “Plus, some black tea varieties can have two to three times more caffeine than green, which isn’t good in excess,” she says.

Polyphenols: Beyond Drinking Tea for Diabetes

The benefits of tea are clear. But besides tea, a number of foods high in polyphenols also can help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. “The fruits highest in polyphenols are berries, grapes, apples, and pomegranates — because of their rich color,” Steinbaum says. Broccoli, onions, garlic, tomatoes, eggplant, and spinach are also good sources, as are cranberries, blood oranges, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, lemons, limes, and kiwis. “We know red wine contains resveratrol, which is a polyphenol — the highest concentration is in Bordeaux,” Steinbaum says.

Side Effects of Multiple Sclerosis Medications

Twelve disease-modifying medications are FDA-approved to treat relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Specifically, these drugs help prevent relapses and slow progression of the disease.

The newest disease-modifying medications are called “immunomodulators” because they affect the functioning of your immune system. 

“All these therapies highlight the increased choices and options for patients living with MS, and the ability of physicians to select a therapy based on individual characteristics,” says Ari Green, MD, assistant clinical director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center and director of the UCSF Neurodiagnostics Center in San Francisco.

But all drugs can have adverse side effects, and those associated with MS medications range from mild (such as flu-like symptoms or irritation at an injection site) to serious (such as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy [PML], a viral disease in the brain).

One of the challenges of MS treatment is balancing risk and benefit, says Dr. Green. Stronger medications might be more effective at slowing progression of the disease, but they may also be associated with more risks.

Discussing Medication Side Effects With Your Doctor

"A doctor has to have a frank and open discussion to find out what is tolerable for patients," says Green. "Some side effects go away as the body gets used to MS medications, but others, such as irritation where the injection takes place, do not."

Because people experience side effects differently, each individual has to decide which side effects he or she can live with, he adds.

In some cases, what are thought to be drug side effects may actually be MS symptoms. Fatigue and headache, for example, may be either.

Keeping a detailed log of your symptoms can help your doctor determine whether you are experiencing a symptom of multiple sclerosis or a medication side effect.

Make a note of when your symptom began, how long it lasted, what might have triggered it, and whether anything you did eased the symptom.

“The more patients are engaged in keeping track of things, the more they can be positively and appropriately engaged in directing their own care,” says Green. This information can also help your provider select appropriate therapies in the future.

Managing MS Medication Side Effects

Some simple steps can often help you manage the most common side effects of MS medications:

Infection risk Some of the immunomodulatory medications increase your risk of common infections, so it’s important to practice prevention strategies such as washing your hands frequently and limiting your contact with people who are ill.

Flu-like symptoms Fever, chills, achiness, and feeling generally under the weather are not uncommon following interferon beta injections, leading some users to stop the medication. Interferon beta medications include Betaseron, Extavia, Avonex, Rebif, and Plegridy.

According to nurses with expertise in MS care, the following steps can help to manage these side effects:

Staying hydrated
Eating healthfully
Taking medications before sleep
Warming injectable medicines up to body temperature before injecting
You can also take a small dose of Advil, Motrin, or Nuprin (ibuprofen) an hour before and an hour after your injection. Tylenol (acetaminophen), Aleve (naproxen), or Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may also help ease these side effects, Green says.

RELATED: 7 Side Effects of MS Steroid Treatment

Injection-site irritation Applying ice to your injection sites before injections, and a warm compress afterward, can help ease any irritation.

Some people may also benefit from some retraining on the finer points of giving themselves injections, notes Green. This is especially true because most people learn how to give self-injections right after their diagnosis — a period when they’re undoubtedly absorbing lots of information about the disease.

If you’re having trouble injecting your MS medication, speak to your healthcare provider about working with an MS nurse for training in self-injections.

Heart health The medication Gilenya (fingolimod) is known to slow some users’ heart rate within the first six hours after the first dose. Because of this, your doctor may advise you to have your first dose in a clinical setting, where your pulse and blood pressure can be monitored.

Distinguishing Side Effects From Symptoms

The immediate side effects of MS medications may be more apparent once you experience them. Immediate side effects, such as flu-like symptoms and chills, are easy to discern, says Green. Even the muscle aches and pains that can occur immediately after taking disease-modifying MS medications differ from the pain associated with multiple sclerosis.

The one rare medication side effect that might be hard to distinguish from an MS symptom is PML, which has been related to use of the drug Tysabri (natalizumab). PML, however, will progress much more quickly than multiple sclerosis — a good reason to stay on top of your medical checkups.


Ongoing Medication Monitoring

Most of the medications prescribed for MS require regular blood tests to keep track of the treatment’s effect on your body, including your liver.

The drug Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) requires blood and urine monitoring before, during, and for four years after treatment is given to watch for serious autoimmune conditions associated with the drug.

In addition to monitoring for side effects, you and your doctor should monitor for positive effects of drugs as well. Green says that a change in therapy is needed if you are having more than one MS relapse a year, if multiple new brain lesions are seen on your MRI, or if your symptoms are progressing despite treatment. Switching medications is a decision you and your doctor should make together.

5 Cooking Tips to Spice Up Your Heart-Healthy Diet

Add Flavor, Texture, and Zest with Heart-Healthy Ingredients

If you have high cholesterol and blood pressure, your doctor has probably advised you to start following a healthy diet as part of your treatment plan. The good news is that delighting your taste buds while sticking to a heart-healthy meal plan is easy — and many of the foods you enjoy most likely aren’t off limits. Healthy herbs and spices lend robust and savory flavor, hearty nuts add texture and a buttery taste, and teas infuse a bright flavor and antioxidants. Michael Fenster, MD (also known as Dr. Mike), a board-certified interventional cardiologist and gourmet chef, shares his cooking tips for preparing delicious meals that will boost your heart health. These choices are part of a healthy lifestyle that may reduce your risk for heart conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke down the road.

Why Some Seniors Lose Their Hearing

Do you have difficulty hearing conversations held in a noisy room? Do you have a harder time picking up women’s voices than men’s? Do you constantly ask others to repeat what they just said? If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, you may be experiencing hearing loss — especially if you are 65 or older.

About 8.5 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 suffer from hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. That number jumps to 25 percent for those 65 to 74, and it doubles to 50 percent for ages 75 and older. After high blood pressure and arthritis, hearing loss is the most common chronic condition affecting senior health.

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What Causes Hearing Loss?

As you age, you are at risk for two types of hearing loss. The most common type of hearing loss in seniors is presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. A gradual loss of hearing that affects both ears, presbycusis occurs when tiny hairs in the ear, which are necessary for converting sound waves to sound, become damaged or die. Hearing loss from presbycusis is permanent because once these hairs are damaged or die, they are not replaced with new growth.

Related: 11 Early Signs of Dementia

The other type of hearing loss that seniors experience is tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Tinnitus can be either permanent or temporary.

Risk Factors Related to Hearing Loss

A lifetime of exposure to loud noises such as music, motorcycles, or firecrackers can cause hearing loss in seniors. Noise-related hearing loss often results in tinnitus. Other causes of and risk factors for hearing loss experienced by seniors include:

  • Smoking
  • Allergies, high blood pressure, tumors, or stroke
  • Medications
  • A punctured eardrum
  • Viruses or bacteria
  • Earwax buildup

Your genes may also play a role in presbycusis, as it tends to run in families. Environmental factors like loud music and smoking make it difficult to determine the effect of genetics on age-related hearing loss; however, according to American Family Physician, an estimated 50 percent of age-related hearing loss is inherited.

Men are also more likely than women to develop hearing loss, and they’re more likely to develop it at an earlier age, says American Family Physician.

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

Losing hearing can have a significant effect on other aspects of your wellbeing. Researchers in a 2014 survey of 18,300 adults found that about 12 percent of participants with hearing loss had moderate to severe depression compared with about 5 percent of those with excellent hearing. The survey, which was published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, also noted that women were particularly susceptible to depression related to hearing loss.

Hearing loss also appears to worsen cognitive functioning, according to a study published in the February 2013 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. Among the nearly 2,000 seniors studied, hearing loss lowered cognitive functioning on some assessments as much as 41 percent more than it did among those without hearing loss.

Hearing Aids and Other Treatment Options

Though you can’t always fully prevent hearing loss, you can take steps to minimize or overcome it. Age-related hearing loss may be prevented or at least lessened by avoiding loud noises.

Because there is no known cure for age-related hearing loss, treatment is generally focused on improving your ability to function day to day. Your doctor may treat you or refer you to a hearing specialist such an otolaryngologist (or ENT, a medical doctor who specializes in the ear, nose, and throat) or an audiologist (a licensed professional who diagnoses and helps manage hearing problems). The cause and extent of your hearing loss will determine the course of treatment.

hearing aid may be one recommendation from your doctor or audiologist. Hearing aids can be beneficial for many, but according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, fewer than 30 percent of adults older than 70 who could benefit from a hearing aid have one. Hearing aids have come a long way over the years and are available in a variety of styles. A hearing aid and its battery will either fit behind the ear, on the ear, just inside the ear, or in the ear canal.

Types of hearing aids include:

  • Analog hearing aids that increase the volume of some sounds while lowering the volume of others
  • Digital hearing aids that allow you to determine which sounds to make louder or lower

Using assistive listening devices also can help compensate for hearing loss. These products either amplify sound, such as sound from telephones, televisions, and radio listening systems, or alert the user visually, such as with smoke detectors or alarm clocks.

 

 

Surgery may be another consideration. Cochlear implants are electronic devices with one part surgically implanted in the skin and the other part worn behind or in the ear. Used only for severe hearing loss, implants will not restore normal hearing, but they can make sounds louder. Because of the nature of the implants, they are not without risks — they pose the potential for infection, damage to the facial nerve, and tinnitus.

Speech or lip reading and sign language may be an answer for some seniors with hearing loss. Both of these techniques require training and practice and are generally recommended for those with severe hearing loss.

See your doctor as soon as you think you have a hearing problem. The loss of hearing could be a symptom of another medical condition. Seniors with untreated hearing loss are also more likely to suffer emotionally and socially when they areunable to interact with friends and family members. Left untreated, hearing loss could lead to deafness, and seniors who do not address their hearing loss put their lives at risk if they are unable to hear emergency warnings such as car horns or smoke alarms.

9 Allergy Safe Beauty Products

For a hypoallergenic beauty product to plump up your lashes, Van Dyke suggests Almay Thickening Mascara. It's affordable, available at mass-market stores, and a great beauty product to avoid skin allergy reactions. Almay products go through rigorous testing to avoid allergens and irritants and maintain the brand's reputation for hypoallergenic beauty products, says Van Dyke. "It is hard to beat Almay for dermatologist-approved makeup, particularly around the eye," she adds.

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Overly Controlling Moms Lose Out, Study Says

Helicopter parents, take note: A mother has a better relationship with her child if she respects the youngster's need for independence at a young age, a new study suggests.

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Mothers who allowed children more freedom at age 2 were viewed more positively by their children later in childhood, according to the University of Missouri study.

The study included more than 2,000 mothers and their children. The researchers observed how much the mothers controlled the children's play at age 2 and then interviewed the children at fifth grade to assess how they felt about their mothers.

"When mothers are highly controlling of small children's play, those children are less likely to want to engage with them," Jean Ispa, co-chair of the department of human development and family studies, said in a university news release.

 

 

Respect for independence is important both for children's growth and for creating positive parent-child relationships, she said. "We found that mothers who supported their children's autonomy were regarded more positively by their children than mothers who were highly directive," she said.

RELATED: Being a Good Parent Without Judging Other Parents

"Mothers who are very directive when their children are toddlers often tend to still be controlling when their children enter adolescence," Ispa noted.

Mothers with small children mostly use physical controls, she said, but when children are older these directives become more verbal and psychological -- not allowing kids to speak their mind, for instance. "It's not surprising that their children begin to view them in a negative light," Ispa said.

The findings, published online recently in the journal Social Development, don't mean that parents should not establish and enforce rules or offer advice, Ispa said. She noted that behavioral rules -- such as teaching children to check for cars before crossing the street -- did not have a negative impact on mother-child relationships.

It was psychological control -- such as inducing guilt or telling children what to think and feel, or to play in certain ways -- that damaged mother-child relationships, the study found.

 

 

"Many times, parents think that employing these controlling behaviors is the 'right way' to raise children, but our research shows that really does not work," Ispa said.

"Allowing children age-appropriate levels of autonomy to make safe decisions is very good for kids, and they usually will make wise decisions when they have been taught about safe choices as well as consequences," she added.

"A good place for parents to start would be to have open discussions and allow their children to express their own points of view," she suggested. "When giving children instructions, explain reasons for decisions rather than simply saying, 'Because I said so.' "

The 1-Hour Workout That Gets Ciara THIS Bod

The singer — who gave birth to a son in May — recently appeared on MTV’s House of Style and continues to work with Degree Women for the brand’s Do More campaign. Users can search for fitness classes and view behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage on Degree’s web site

“As a hardworking woman, I’m always trying to figure out how I can get better and improve at everything I do," explains Ciara. "I really love being able to share this message with other women and encourage them to keep pursuing their dreams.”

 

 

 

 

At a Degree Women press event, Ciara gave Everyday Health the scoop on how she stays fit, healthy, and gorgeous while trying to juggle a packed schedule. 

On her fitness regimen: “I work out an hour a day. That’s all you need — the rest of it’s all about how you eat,” says Ciara. “When I train with Gunnar [Peterson], we do a mix of plyometric moving and weight training because you want a good balance of cardio, while still maintaining your muscle.”

 

 

 

On eating right: “For breakfast, I love an egg white omelet with spinach and turkey. I’ll also have a side of fruit and wheat toast,” she says. If she gets a late-night craving, Ciara satiates herself with chocolate Ensure protein shakes. “Sometimes I get hungry before I go to bed — I’ll drink one of these and it holds me over until the morning.” 

On how she motivates herself before a performance: “I think about what it is that I want to do onstage and how great I want the show to be,” she says. “I pray, stretch, jump, and move around to get my body warmed up.”

On maintaining her glow: “When I wake up, I wash my face with my dermatologist’s [Dr. Sabena Toor] foaming cleanser, which is made with organic ingredients,” says Ciara. “Then I put vitamin C and Revisions tinted moisturizer all over my face. I do that twice a day.”

Teens and E-cigarettes

In picture shows that "Teens are more likely to use e-cigarettes than cigarettes."

Past-month use of cigarettes was 3.6 percent among 8th graders, 6.3 percent among 10th graders, and 11.4 percent among 12th graders. Past-month use of e-cigarettes was 9.5 percent among 8th graders, 14.0 percent among 10th graders, and 16.2 percent among 12 graders.

Two times as many boys use e-cigs as girls.

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Bullied Teens at Risk for Later Depression

Getting picked on at age 13 tied to raised odds of poor mental health at 18, U.K. researchers report.

Young teens who are bullied appear to be at higher risk of depression when they reach early adulthood, according to new research.

"We found that teenagers who reported being frequently bullied were twice as likely to be clinically depressed at 18 years," said Lucy Bowes, a researcher at the University of Oxford in England, who led the research.

The researchers found an association, not a definitive cause-and-effect relationship, Bowes said. "In our type of study, we can never be certain that bullying causes depression," she explained. "However, our evidence suggests that this is the case."

To explore the possible link, the investigators used data on nearly 4,000 teens in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a community-based group born in the United Kingdom. At age 13, all completed a questionnaire about bullying. At 18, they were assessed for depression.

The study found that nearly 700 teens said they had been bullied "often" -- more than once a week -- at age 13. Of those, nearly 15 percent were depressed at age 18. More than 1,440 other teens reported some bullying -- one to three times over a six-month period -- at age 13. Of these, 7 percent were depressed at age 18. In comparison, only 5.5 percent of teens who weren't bullied were depressed at age 18.

RELATED: Living With the Scars of Bullying

Bowes also found the often-bullied teens tended to stay depressed longer than others. For 10 percent of those often-bullied who became depressed, the depression lasted more than two years. By comparison, only 4 percent of the never-bullied group had long-lasting depression.

Among the bullying tactics, name calling was the most common type, experienced by more than one-third of the teens. About one of four had their belongings taken. About 10 percent were hit or beaten up. Most never told a teacher and up to half didn't tell a parent. But up to three-quarters did tell an adult if the bullying was physical, according to the study published in the June 2 online edition of the BMJ.

Bowes noted that other studies have found the same bullying-depression link. If it does prove to be a causative factor, she added, bullying may account for 30 percent of those who develop depression in early adulthood.

In addition, the link held even when factors such as mental and behavioral problems and stressful live events were taken into account, Bowes said.

The research did not look at why bullying might increase the risk of depression or why some teens appear more vulnerable.

The study findings ring true in practice, said Gilda Moreno, a clinical psychologist at Nicklaus Children's Hospital and Baptist Hospital in Miami, who reviewed the findings.

Children who are bullied over time may develop a ''learned helplessness," she said. "It's not having the skills to stand up to the bullying. That's what may lead to the depression."

Because bullied children often don't tell their parents or teachers, Bowes said that parents need to be aware of potential signs. If a child is reluctant to go to school, parents should talk about why and ask about their relationships with friends, she suggested.

Bowes said parents should also believe their child if he or she complains about bullying, and follow up with the school administrators.

Loners are more likely than others to get picked on, Moreno added. Parents can encourage their kids to develop friendships, she said, to foster a kind of core support group.

The Link Between Diet and Eye Disease

Eye disease is one of the most common causes of permanent disability in the United States. More than 20 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, and 10 million Americans age 60 and over have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These eye diseases occur as we grow older, and proper nutrition may have some affect on both of them.

Cataracts develop on the lens of the eye when the proteins in the lens are damaged. These proteins are responsible for keeping the lens clear. When they become damaged, the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, and your vision may become blurry. You may also have poor night vision or double vision with cataracts. Cataract surgery is often necessary to remove and replace the damaged lens with an artificial lens.

AMD occurs when cells in the macula of the eye die. The macula is located in the center of the retina in the back of the eye, and is responsible for your sharp, central vision, which you need for reading and other tasks that require good eyesight. Once the macula is damaged, your vision is no longer clear, and you cannot make out fine details of objects. There is no cure for AMD, but proper nutrition may help prevent it from worsening.

Diet and Eye Disease: What Is a “Healthy Eyes” Diet?

According to Nelson, the nutrients associated with eye health are vitamins C and E; carotenoids, beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin; omega-3 fatty acids; zinc; and vitamins B6, B9 (folic acid or folate), and B12.

“Antioxidants, especially lutein, help deter build-up of waste products in the retina, which in turn helps reduce your risk for AMD,” says Jennifer K. Nelson, MS, RD, director of clinical dietetics and associate professor of nutrition at the Mayo School of Health Sciences in Rochester, Minn. “Folate and vitamin B6 decrease the presence of the blood chemical homocysteine, which lowers your risk for AMD. Antioxidants also help prevent the cross linking of proteins in the lens which can cause cataracts.”


Here's a list of foods containing eye-healthy nutrients:

  • Fruits and vegetables (good sources of vitamins C and E)
  • Dark green vegetables such as kale and spinach (lutein, vitamin E)
  • Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables (beta carotene and zeaxanthin)
  • Anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and white fish (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Beef, eggs, lamb, milk, peanuts, pork, and whole grains (zinc)
  • Bananas, chicken, dried beans, fish, liver, pork, and potatoes (vitamin B6)
  • Citrus fruits, fortified cereals, dried beans, green leafy vegetables, liver, mushrooms, nuts, and peas (folic acid)
  • Dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, and shellfish (vitamin B12)

A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white bread, and pasta, may actually increase your risk of developing AMD. These foods have a high glycemic index, which means they are broken down rapidly into blood glucose or sugar. Choose breads and pasta made from whole grains and brown rice for your complex carbohydrates.

Diet and Eye Disease: Nutrition Supplements for Eye Health

 

In 2001, the National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking a specific supplement of high doses of vitamin E, beta carotene, zinc, and copper may prevent intermediate AMD from progressing to the advanced stage. AREDS found no evidence that the supplement benefited anyone who showed no signs of AMD or those with early stage AMD. The AREDS-2 clinical trials are currently being conducted to look at the addition of lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids to the original AREDS formula.

For those with intermediate AMD who want to try the supplement formula, a discussion with your doctor is a must. “Because the AREDS-recommended supplement contains relatively high doses of antioxidants and zinc, you and your health care provider need to determine if the AREDS supplement is right for you,” cautions Nelson. “It is important that you do not self-medicate any supplements higher than the daily recommended intakes."

“We also need to look at the long-term effects of taking the AREDS supplement,” says Nelson. “For example, the AREDS formula has a very high level of beta carotene, which may increase the risk for lung cancer in smokers.” Nelson adds that eating a diet with plenty of green leafy vegetables, fish, and fortified cereals should make taking supplements for eye health unnecessary for most people.

“We’re only just beginning to look at nutrition and eye health, and it’s an exciting time because we have found such a link,” says Nelson. “A healthy diet is the foundation for healthy eyes.”

10 Ways to Live Better With Psoriasis

The keys to successful psoriasis management are working with your doctor to find a treatment plan that’s right for you and then sticking to that plan. But your role in treatment doesn’t stop with medication. Making certain lifestyle changes is important, too.

From the foods you eat to the support you seek, making healthy choices every day can help you ease the discomfort of flaky, red itchy skin, avoid flares, and start living life to the fullest. Follow these 10 steps.  

1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Despite extensive research, there’s no evidence supporting a specific “psoriasis diet,” says Caitríona Ryan, MD, a dermatologist at Texas Dermatology Associates in Dallas and vice chair of the dermatology residency program at Baylor University Medical Center. However, many people with psoriasis report feeling better when they avoid foods that have been shown to cause or increase inflammation (such as fatty red meats, processed foods, refined sugar, and nightshade vegetables) and embrace foods that are known to reduce inflammation. Inflammation-fighting foods include those rich in omega-3s, such as salmon, albacore tuna, flaxseeds, and walnuts, and colorful fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, and blueberries, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). 

2. Maintain a healthy weight. People who are overweight tend to have more severe psoriasis, according to a study published in November 2012 in Clinical & Experimental Dermatology Research. “We know that adipose tissue (fat) produces inflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor (TNF),” Dr. Ryan says. Overproduction of TNF, a cell signaling protein, can trigger psoriasis. In addition, systemic and biologic agents for treating psoriasis tend to work better in patients who aren’t overweight, she says.

3. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days. Physical activity goes along when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and lowering your risk for comorbid conditions — such as your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which increase when you have psoriasis. Try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week, and add in some strength training. Although a study published in 2012 in the Archives of Dermatology showed that women who exercised vigorously lowered their risk of developing psoriasis, any level of exercise is better than none, says the NPF. That may mean simply taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator or parking farther away in parking lots.

4. Quit smoking and drinking too much. Neither of these habits is good for anyone, says Mark Lebwohl, MD, a professor and chairman of the department of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. But they may be even worse for people with psoriasis, he says. The chemicals in tobacco may trigger inflammation that can both cause psoriasis and make flares more severe, according to the NPF. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption may interfere with your response to psoriasis treatment and make it less effective. If you need help quitting smoking or drinking excessively, talk to your doctor.

5. Arm yourself with moisturizer to fight dry skin. “The skin of people with psoriasis is very dry,” Dr. Lebwohl says. “Moisturizing makes it feel better.” Apply moisturizer after showering and after washing your hands. The thicker the moisturizer the better — creams and ointments lock more moisture in your skin.

6. Avoid illness. “Infections worsen psoriasis — even mild colds or urinary tract infections,” Ryan says. “So keeping healthy is rather important.” To stay healthy, eat well, wash your hands frequently, get quality sleep, and be sure your immunizations are up to date. Also be sure to get a flu shot before the start of the flu season.

7. Avoid injuries, too. Some people can develop lesions in new areas if their skin is cut, bruised, or burned, according to The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance (PAPAA). Try not to scratch, Ryan says. Be sure to protect your hands and skin when doing activities that could lead to injury such as household chores in the kitchen or pruning bushes in the garden.

8. Cut back on stress. Stressed out? Like most inflammatory conditions, too much tension can cause psoriasis to flare or can exacerbate lesions, according to the NPF. If you’re feeling overextended, look for ways to reduce stress in your life — be it meditation, exercise, or talking to a therapist.

9. Reach out for support. “There are a lot of benefits to support groups,” Lebwohl says. Whether the groups meet online or in person, people with psoriasis often share tips that work well for them and that can help others in their group, Lebwohl says. And sometimes, it helps just having someone listen to you who understands what you’re going through.

10. Stick to your treatment plan—even when you feel good. “Many patients think they’re better off minimizing treatment,” Lebwohl says. They stop taking their medication or go longer than they should between injections. But if you want to avoid flares, you need to stick to the plan. Says the NPF: Using your treatments as prescribed makes a big difference in how well they work.

Healthy Pizza? It’s Possible With These 5 Recipes.

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!

Purpose in Life Is Good for Your Health

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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A Healthier Heart

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.

Protect the Brain

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:

  •          29 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
  •          52 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease (AD)
  •          2 ½ times more likely to be free of dementia
  •          44 percent less likely to have a stroke
  •          52.3 percent less likely to have microscopic blood vessel infarcts that damage brain tissue

How Purpose Works

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.

Finding Purpose

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.’”

Which Gets More TLC: Your Car or Your Body?

The mass production of the Ford Model T sparked a new love affair – one between people and their cars. We carve out time to wash them, cringe at the sight of a dent or scratch, and even name them (although, the nameChristine for a car has yet to make a comeback).

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Our car–caregiver behavior is strange, especially when you consider that a 2011 study found that 40 percent of men said they’re more likely to resolve car problems than their own health problems. Where does your health rank? Are you taking better care of your car than your health? 

Check out our article to see which gets more TLC – your car or your body.

Mechanic Vs. Doctor

If you have a trusted mechanic but not a trusted doctor, you may care more about your car than your health. Choosing a doctor you trust and feel comfortable asking questions fills a critical piece of the health puzzle. In fact, a 2012 study showed that people spend more time researching car purchases than they do selecting a physician

Maybe you're new to insurance because you've just signed up for Obamacare. While insurance plans can limit which primary care providers you can choose, there are other factors to consider when picking a PCP. For example: Is the office staff friendly and helpful, is the doctor easy to talk to, and does the doctor’s approach to testing and treatment suit you? Still unsure which PCP to pick? Ask co-workers, friends and family members for their recommendations.

RELATED: 5 Worst Celebrity Health Bloopers 

 

 

Engine Health Vs. Heart Health

It’s a familiar situation. Your check engine-light pops up and you call your mechanic or hightail it to your nearest car dealership. But can you spot symptoms of heart disease — the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States — when they strike?

In addition to having regular cholesterol and blood pressure tests, look for these check-engine lights for your heart, and see your doctor promptly if you have any of them:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling of your feet and lower legs, also known as peripheral edema
  • Yellow bumps on the skin called xanthomas
  • Swollen, sore or bleeding gums

 

Americans spend more time researching car purchases than they do selecting a physician.

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Car Weight Vs. Your Weight

Packing your car to the gills with stuff isn’t the best idea. Extra weight kills your gas mileage, makes your car work harder, and causes premature wear and tear. 

The same concept applies to your own body! If you’re still carrying extra pounds around your waist, you’re at greater risk for health conditions like stroke,hypertension, diabetes, cancer, sleep apnea, gout,depression, and even fatty liver disease. The extra weight also puts stress on your joints and can lead to arthritis.

Changing Your Oil Vs. Checking Your Blood Pressure

You should probably get an oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, depending on the make and model of your car. But how often do you get your blood pressure checked?

High blood pressure is a serious health condition that can put you at risk for heart attack, stroke and other illnesses, and every healthcare visit should include a blood pressure reading. But if you're dodging the doctor altogether you're missing out on this vital checkpoint. The American Heart Association recommends that you get your blood pressure checked at least every two years if your blood pressure stays below the healthy standard 120/80 mm Hg — more often if it's inching up.

 

 

RELATED: The Hurt Blogger: How I Became a Runner With RA 

Brake Check Vs. Flu Shot

If you get your brakes checked at least once a year, but don’t get a flu shot every year, you're putting yourself at risk for infections caused by particular flu season's bugs. For the 2012-2013 flu season, the flu vaccine prevented an estimated 6.6 million flu-associated illnesses and 3.2 million flu-associated medical visits,according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, more than half of Americans didn’t get a vaccination for the most recent season. Make the flu shot a yearly habit and you'll not only cut your risk of getting the flu, you'll also lower your risk of death if you have heart disease, according to research conducted by Jacob Udell, MD, and colleagues at the University of Toronto, published in JAMA

Model for a Hepatitis C Cure: Success in the Cherokee Nation

For 9 out of 10 American Indians, treatment led to a hepatitis C cure.

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.

 

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Surprising Physical Signs of Heart Disease

Many people associate heart disease with obvious symptoms, like chest pain. But there are some not-so-obvious connections, like swollen feet or bleeding gums, that should also merit a heart check from your doctor.

The classic red flags for a heart attack are familiar to anyone who has watched medical dramas on television. The patient, usually an older man, starts wheezing and gasping for breath. Then he clutches his chest, staggers, and eventually falls over. In real life, the signs and symptoms of heart disease are much more varied and subtle.

Signs Versus Symptoms of Heart Disease
First, some definitions. Heart disease symptoms are indications that you feel or experience, while a sign of heart disease is something your doctor can see or find. Obvious heart disease symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain. But your doctor will also look for common heart disease signs during an examination or in a patient interview.

Knowing the signs of heart disease is important because you may have them before you have any of the common heart disease symptoms. Letting your doctor know about these warning signs could help you get early treatment for heart disease.

"Signs like ankle swelling or weight gain do not necessarily mean you have heart disease, but taken together with other symptoms of heart disease, laboratory studies, and family history, they are an important part of making a diagnosis of heart disease or heart failure," says Carl E. Orringer, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of the Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine and LDL Apheresis Programs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Swelling of the Feet and Lower Legs
Retention of fluid in the feet and legs is known as peripheral edema. Edema may appear as "sock marks" on your legs and ankles at the end of the day, especially if you wear tight socks or hose. Mild peripheral edema is common. Your doctor may check for this sign by pressing a finger against your ankle or shin bone to see if a depression or dent is left behind. This is called "pitting edema” and it could indicate congestive heart failure.

Edema may be a sign of heart failure because when your heart is not pumping well, fluid from inside your blood vessels tends to leak out into surrounding tissues. The legs and ankles are common areas for edema because of the effects of gravity.

"Peripheral edema may be caused by a host of issues,” says Dr. Orringer. “The bottom line is that most people with peripheral edema do not have heart disease, but it could be an important sign if there are other signs and symptoms of heart failure."

Male Pattern Baldness
"If you watched any of the royal wedding, you might have noticed that Prince William is balding on the top of his head. This type of balding of the crown of the head in young men may be a sign of an increased risk for heart disease," says Orringer.

Several large studies have confirmed the link between baldness and heart disease. Compared with men with a full head of hair, men with crown loss have an increased risk of heart disease of about 23 percent. Men with complete loss of hair on the top of their head have an increased risk of 36 percent.

The combination of hair loss, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol pushes the risk even higher. This link may be due to too much of the male hormone testosterone, which interferes with hair growth on the head and causes hardening of the arteries. That doesn't mean you are doomed to heart disease if you are bald, but it does suggest you should be screened more carefully for other signs and symptoms of heart disease.

Yellow Bumps on the Skin
Xanthomas are deposits of fat that build up under the skin. They may appear as small yellow bumps or as flat, wide plaques on your elbows, knees, hands, feet, or buttocks. A type of xanthoma called xanthelasma palpebrarum appears on the eyelids. These yellow, fat deposits can potentially be signs of heart disease because they may indicate high levels of fats in the blood.

"Xanthomas may be a sign of a rare, inherited type of blood disorder in which high levels of triglycerides accumulate in the blood. Xanthomas may also be a sign of increased cholesterol, and they may disappear once cholesterol levels are under control," says Orringer.

Gum Disease
Swollen, sore, or bleeding gums are usually a sign of poor oral hygiene, but may also be an important sign of heart disease. "The association between gum disease and heart disease is the real deal," says Orringer. "There is plenty of research available now that backs up this connection."

Gum disease and heart disease may be linked because they are both signs of poor circulation, or there could be common bacteria that are involved in both gum disease and plaque buildup inside coronary arteries. The link may also have something to do with the body's response to prolonged inflammation. In any case, taking better care of your teeth and gums may be a good way to cut down your risk for heart disease.

Emotional Stress
Weakening of the heart muscle accompanied by extreme emotional stress, grief, or loss, especially in women, is called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome. When this occurs, surging stress hormones, especially adrenaline, trigger cardiac pain that feels a lot like a heart attack, often with heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and flushing. But unlike during a real heart attack, the arteries are not blocked. This potentially serious and often overlooked condition is more common in women than in men; in fact, men make up for only 10 percent of diagnosed cases.

Signs of Heart Failure
Heart failure means the heart is not functioning as well as it should. It doesn't mean the heart has failed. Another term for heart failure is congestive heart failure, or CHF. Heart failure gradually gets worse over time. Some early warning signs may include:

Weight Gain If your heart starts to fail and fluid starts to build up in your tissue, causing edema, you might see a sudden weight gain.

Frequent Urination Heart failure may cause decreased blood flow to the kidneys, which causes you to retain more fluid. One of the signs of this fluid may be frequent urination.

Cataracts Although the exact cause of the relationship between cataracts and heart disease is not known, studies show that people who have cataracts are at higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. "This link is probably more of an association than a sign of heart disease," says Orringer.

Nighttime Cough "One of the signs of heart failure may be the buildup of fluid in the chest and heart when lying flat at night. This increased fluid can cause a nighttime cough," explains Orringer.

Remember that all these heart disease signs may have many different causes. They do not mean you have or will get heart disease. But combined with other heart disease signs and symptoms, your blood tests, and your family history, they give your doctor the best chance to find heart disease early and keep you in good health.

What You Need to Know About Hyperpigmentation

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.

Welcome to HealthTalk Blog

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.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2017

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer risks, the value of screening and early detection, and treatment options available to women and men who are diagnosed with one of the many forms of breast cancer. More than 249,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year, and nearly 41,000 die from the disease.

Over the years, a loop of pink ribbon has come to symbolize breast cancer awareness, and today the image of a pink ribbon can be found emblazoned on thousands of products, from apparel to dishware to office supplies. But there's more to awareness than just wearing pink.

5 Reasons Why Skin Cancer Surgery Isn’t So Scary

Veva Vesper has dealt with more than her fair share of skin cancer in the last 25 years. The 69-year-old Ohio resident has had more than 500 squamous cell carcinomas removed since the late 1980s, when the immunosuppressant medication she was taking for a kidney transplant caused her to develop them all over her body — everywhere from the corner of her eye to her legs. 

While Vesper’s story is unusual, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. In fact, it’s currently estimated that one in five Americans will get skin cancer in his or her lifetime.  

Mike Davis, a 65-year-old retired cop, and like Vesper, a patient at The Skin Cancer Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, has a more familiar story. Earlier this year, he had a basal cell carcinoma removed from his left ear — the side of his face most exposed to UV damage when driving on patrol. 

The buildup of sun exposure over your lifetime puts you at greater risk for developing basal and squamous cell skin carcinomas as you age. Both Vesper and Davis had Mohs surgery, the most effective and precise way to remove the two most common types of skin cancer. 

10 Varicose Veins Myths

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.

Myth 1: Varicose Veins Are Only a Cosmetic Issue

“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.

Myth 2: Varicose Veins Are an Inevitable Sign of Aging

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.

Myth 3: Varicose Veins Are Strictly a Women’s Issue

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.

Myth 4: Running Can Cause Varicose Veins

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.

Myth 5: Varicose Veins Are Always Visible

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.”

Myth 6: Standing on the Job Causes Varicose Veins

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.

RELATED: Steer Clear of These 9 Artery and Vein Diseases

Myth 7: Making Lifestyle Changes Won't Help

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.

Myth 8: Surgery Is Your Only Treatment Option

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.”

Myth 9: Recovery After Varicose Vein Treatments Is Difficult

 

 

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.

Myth 10: Varicose Veins Can Be Cured

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.”