Surprising Physical Signs of Heart Disease
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.
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.
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.
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11 Struggles Every New Runner Understands
I've never been one of those people. You know the kind, the ones who wake up in the morning or lace up in the evening and "go for a run."
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I've always been envious of my roommates, who can sneak in a jog with ease and carry on with their day, as if they had done something casually simple like taking the trash out. So, I made a vow to give running another chance. After all, the exercise has been shown to make you happier, reduce your risk for disease and even increase longevity.
While group classes and long walks will probably always be more my speed, I did find that I was enjoying running more than I ever did in the past. However, that doesn't come without a few hiccups. Below are a handful of struggles all new runners can probably relate to.
Getting winded in the first few minutes.
Probably one of the most discouraging elements of getting into a running routine is realizing that you're not as in shape as you thought you were. I continuously find myself doing more walking or jogging than actual running. But just because you need those intermittent breaks doesn't mean you aren't a runner. In fact, research shows that walking intervals during your run can help you maintain your overall pace.
Two words: Sore. Muscles.
The second-day pain is real. If you're experiencing those achy muscles, try one of these post-run remedies. Just make sure you're checking in with your body as you establish your routine. A little soreness is OK, but if the pain is more intense you may have sustained a running-related injury.
Feeling overwhelmed by the copious amount of races.
Color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, princess half marathons... the list is seriously endless. However, there are some perks to picking a race. Signing up for one helps you set a goal as you get into a routine, plus there's an opportunity to turn it into a social event by participating with your friends.
If your goal is to become a marathon runner (and props to you!), there are also some benefits there: Research shows consistent long-distance running can improve cardiovascular health and lower the risk for other organ disorders, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The jolting agony of waking up at 6 a.m.
My sleepy brain is constantly telling me my bed feels better than running (and often, the bed wins). If you need a little extra motivation, try one of these hacks to help you jumpstart your morning workout.
Part of the reason I never got into a routine in the first place was because the exercise itself seemed extremely dull to me (the treadmill is my arch-nemesis). Once I discovered more running-path options, I started to have more fun. However, that's not to say that I don't get a little bored sometimes — and that's OK.
Note: If you still just can't get excited by the process most of the time, you may want to try a more entertaining workout option instead. Exercise should be engaging, not mind-numbing.
Trying to find your perfect route.
Finding your favorite place to run is like finding a good apartment: It feels elusive until one day you hit the lottery. Whether you're into lush scenery or a skyline, it's important to find the routes that work for you in order to make the exercise entertaining.
The joy of picking out new workout clothes.
Sleek tanks! Compression pants! Neon shoes!
Running toward (multiple) "finish lines."
If you've ever uttered to yourself just one more pole, you're not alone. In fact, picking out an arbitrary finish line on your run can improve your performance. Research shows those who stare at a target in the distance go faster and feel less exertion than those who don't concentrate on anything, The Atlantic reported.
Bargaining with yourself on your run.
If you run five more blocks, you can binge-watch Scandal when you get home, I tell myself. Chances are I'd probably do it anyway — but at least it encourages me in the moment.
Creating a playlist that will consistently keep you motivated.
No, a simple music-streaming app won't do when your lungs are on fire and your legs feel weak. You need that one specific song that will inspire you to keep going (shout out to all my Shake It Off comrades). If you're looking for a playlist to spice up your run, check out some of these.
Looking in the mirror for changes as you age? A healthy diet helps to ensure that you'll like the reflection you see. Good nutrition is linked to healthy aging on many levels: It can keep you energized and active as well as fight against slowing metabolism and digestion and the gradual loss of muscle mass and healthy bone as you age.
Making healthy diet choices can help you prevent or better manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It's never too late to adopt healthier eating habits.
Strategies for Healthy Eating as You Age
Replace old eating habits with these healthy approaches:
Overcoming Challenges to Healthy Eating
Eating a healthy diet can be complicated by changes you may face as you age, such as difficulty eating or a limited budget. There are strategies you can try to solve these common challenges:
Larson believes in the importance of enjoying your food. Make healthy-diet changes step by step and have fun experimenting to find new tastes and cooking styles. Eat slowly and pay attention to the experience. “Create a pleasant eatingenvironment," she says. "Sit by a window and enjoy every bite.”
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.
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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.
6 Ways to Prep Your Skin for Summer
Scheduling vacation plans and buying a new swimsuit will mentally prepare you for summer, but your skin may need some help getting ready, too. For gorgeous, smooth skin you'll feel ready to bare, you need to take a few simple steps. Try this head-to-toe refresher to take your skin out of hibernation.
1. Reveal Glowing Skin
Regular exfoliation can be a part of a healthy skin regimen no matter the season; as long as your skin is not sensitive, exfoliation can help you achieve smooth, healthy-looking skin that makes you look more glowing and youthful. “But it must be done with care,” says Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “The goal is to lift off the outer layer of skin cells that are ready to be sloughed off without stripping the skin.”
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Brushes, polishing cloths, and scrubs offer easy ways to smooth away rough spots. Rotating cleansing brushes work by physically buffing off the dead skin cells. Exfoliating cloths, microdermabrasion kits, and scrubs with granular ingredients also operate the same way. “For the body, look for a scrub that contains coarse particles that dissolve over time, like sugar, so you don’t irritate the skin,” says Dr. Day.
Products that chemically exfoliate the skin contain ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic, or polyhydroxy acids that cause the skin to shed its outer layer and reveal the newer layer.
2. Remove Hair Without Irritation
If your summer forecast calls for sunny days at the beach or poolside, you may be putting some effort into removing unwanted hair. But once you rip off the wax strip, it’s also important to care for the skin that’s newly exposed to the elements.
Give your skin some time to recover before rolling out your beach towel or getting active outdoors. “I advise clients to stay out of the sun or heat for at least 48 hours after any hair-removal process,” says Cindy Barshop, owner of Completely Bare spas. “Follicles are vulnerable to irritation, and skin may be sensitive due to any heat or friction from lasers, waxing, or shaving.”
Since most of us don’t plan our hair removal that far in advance, buffer your tender skin with an oil-free sunscreen, wait for it to dry (about 5 minutes), and dust on some talc-free baby powder, says Barshop. To prevent ingrown hairs, it’s helpful to wear loose-fitting clothing and use an after-waxing product that contains glycolic and salicylic acids, which team up to prevent dead skin cells from causing bothersome bumps.
3. Fight UV Rays With Food
All the work you put into making your skin look good won’t be worth it unless you guard it from the sun’s damaging rays, which are strongest during the summer. Surprisingly, you can protect yourself from the inside, too. “In addition to usingsunscreen, eat cooked tomatoes every day if you know you’re going to be in the sun,” says Jessica Wu, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC Medical School. According to research, cooked tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that helps fight the effects of UV rays such as redness, swelling, and blistering from sunburn. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, you may benefit from consuming tomato sauce, grilled tomatoes, or even Bloody Marys. “This doesn’t replace sunscreen, but the habit could give you additional protection if you can’t reach your back and miss a spot,” Dr. Wu adds.
4. Clear Up Body Breakouts
It’s no better to have acne on your body than on the face, especially in the heat, when hiding and covering up isn’t an option. The approach to treating acne on the back, chest, and elsewhere on the body is the same as treating facial acne: “Exfoliate regularly, don’t pick, and treat with effective ingredients,” says Day.
Washing with products that contain salicylic acid helps slough off the dead skin cells; a treatment product with micronized benzoyl peroxide can also help by penetrating the skin and killing off the bacteria that cause acne.
If your skin is sensitive, investing in an acne-treating blue light tool may be worth the cost. “You simply wave the light wand over skin for five minutes daily and it helps kill bacteria,” says Leslie Baumann, MD, a dermatologist in Miami. If you have severe body acne, see a dermatologist.
5. Erase Cellulite
First, the good news: Some products may be able to smooth out the undesirable dimples and unevenness of cellulite. The bad news: They won’t get rid of cellulite forever. The smoothing and toning effect, like many good things in life, is fleeting. Still, it may be worth slathering on a toning body lotion to make your skin look and feel tighter for a day at the beach or a special event.
“Products that contain caffeine and theophylline temporarily dehydrate fat cells,” says Dr. Baumann. “However, it’s the massage and the application of the cream that does the work.” The best course of action long-term is to exercise regularly, coupled with targeted massage, suggests Baumann.
Another way to hide cellulite is to apply a fake tan. Take advantage of the newest self-tanners, which have come a long way from the strong-smelling streaky creams or sprays of yesteryear. “There has been so much progress in the formulations — the colors are natural, there’s no streaking, and the scent is so much better,” says Day.
6. Treat Your Feet
If you’ve stuffed your feet inside boots all winter, they probably could use a little TLC for sandal weather. Jump-start your program with a salon pedicure, or if you’re short on time, you can heed Day’s DIY tip, which will help soften feet while you sleep. First, remove thicker skin with a foot file. Apply a rich emollient cream or ointment, then cover the feet in plastic wrap and cotton socks. Leave on overnight. Repeat every day until you achieve smooth skin, then once a week to maintain soft skin.
7 Healthy Habits of the 2016 Presidential Candidates
The New Hampshire primary's in full swing, and if there’s one thing all the presidential hopefuls can agree on, it’s that running for office is the ultimate endurance challenge. They’re canvassing across the country with little time to exercise or sleep, and it doesn’t help that at every stop they’re tempted by unhealthy foods like pizza, pork chops, and pies. So how do the presidential candidates stay healthy and keep their energy levels up during the grueling primary season? Read on to find out!
What Is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?
Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an illness that can result in muscle weakness or loss of muscle function in parts of the body.
In people with Guillain-Barré syndrome (pronounced GHEE-yan ba-RAY), the body's own immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.
The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the limbs. These nerves help control muscle movement.
Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 or 2 out of every 100,000 people develop GBS each year in the United States.
Anyone can get GBS, but the condition is more common in adults than in children, and more men than women are diagnosed with GBS each year.
Doctors don't know what causes Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Many people with GBS report a bacterial or viral infection (such as the flu) days or weeks before GBS symptoms start.
Less common triggers for GBS may include:
Guillain-Barré syndrome is not contagious — it cannot spread from one person to another.
There are several types of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which are characterized by what part of the nerve cell is damaged.
The most common type of GBS is called acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP).
In AIDP, the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective nerve covering that helps transmit nerve signals from the brain to other parts of the body.
The first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome often include feelings of tingling or weakness in the feet and legs. These feelings may spread to the arms and face.
The chest muscles can also be affected. Up to a quarter of people with GBS experience problems breathing.
In very severe cases, people with GBS may lose all muscle function and movement, becoming temporarily paralyzed.
Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome may include:
What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
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It's unclear what causes binge eating disorder.
Like other eating disorders, BED is probably caused by a combination of genetic, psychological, and social factors.
Some risk factors for binge eating disorder include:
People with binge eating disorder have frequent bingeing episodes, typically at least once a week over the course of three months or more.
Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
Some people also display behavioral, emotional, or physical characteristics, such as:
If you have binge eating disorder, you should seek help from a specialist in eating disorders, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
There are several treatments available for BED. Treatment options may include:
If you have ropy, blue blood vessels in your legs, you may think that they’re unsightly but don't cause any overt symptoms. Yet for some people, varicose veins can cause skin damage and, even worse, lead to dangerous blood clots.
They’re incredibly common: Varicose veins affect about one in four U.S. adults, or about 22 million women and 11 million men between ages 40 and 80.
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Your leg veins face an uphill battle as they carry blood from your toes to your heart. Small flaps, or valves, within these vessels prevent blood from getting backed up on this journey, and the pumping action of your leg muscles helps push the blood along.
But if these valves weaken, blood can pool — primarily in the veins of your legs — increasing pressure in the veins. As a result of this increased pressure, your body tries to widen the veins to compensate, causing them to bulge and thicken, and leading to the characteristic twisted appearance of varicose veins.
To help you learn the facts about these enlarged veins, we've set the record straight on 10 sometimes confusing pieces of information, including who gets varicose veins and why, health problems they can cause, and treatment options.
“A lot of people are told by primary care doctors or others that varicose veins are a cosmetic issue only, when oftentimes they can be much more than that,” saysKathleen D. Gibson, MD, a vascular surgeon practicing in Bellevue, Washington.
“A significant percentage of patients with varicose veins will eventually develop symptoms,” says Pablo Sung Yup Kim, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. “The most common include dull achiness, heaviness, throbbing, cramping, and swelling of the legs.” Other symptoms include severe dryness and itchiness of the skin near varicose veins. People with varicose veins are also at an increased risk for a dangerous type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis.
Other not-so-common signs and symptoms, found in less than 10 percent of patients, include bleeding, skin discoloration, skin thickening, and ulcer formation — all due to varicose veins, says Kim. Unfortunately, once you have skin damage, it’s usually permanent.
“It’s very important to seek medical advice if you have varicose veins and experience symptoms — before changes in the skin are irreversible,” he says.
Aging definitely worsens varicose veins, though not everyone gets them. “It's a degenerative process that gets worse and more prominent as we age,” says Dr. Gibson. But young people can get varicose veins, too. While the average age of patients treated in Gibson’s practice is 52, she and her colleagues have treated patients as young as 13.
If you've got varicose veins, it may run in your family. “The cause of varicose veins is primarily genetic,” Gibson explains.
Changes in hormone levels also come into play as a risk factor for varicose veins. “Your risk can be made worse, especially by pregnancy,” she adds.
While varicose veins are more common in women, men get them, too. About one-quarter of adult women have some visible varicose veins, compared to 10 to 15 percent of men.
Steve Hahn, 51, of Kirkland, Washington, first noticed in his twenties that he had varicose veins in his left leg after he sprained his ankle playing basketball. When he injured his knee about 10 years ago, he noticed that the varicose veins had become more extensive.
“After about five years of thinking about it, I finally had them treated,” he says. “Both of my legs felt very heavy all of the time at this point, as opposed to just after walking a golf course or playing tennis or basketball.”
After treatment, Hahn says, “I feel like I have new legs.” The heaviness is gone, as is the ankle swelling, which he didn't know was related to the varicose veins. And as a side benefit, he adds, he looks better in shorts.
Exercise — including running — is usually a good thing for your veins. “Exercise is always good for the circulation,” Kim says. “Walking or running can lead to more calf-muscle pumping and more blood returning to the heart.”
“Being a runner doesn’t cause varicose veins,” adds Gibson, though there's controversy about whether exercise makes them worse or not.” Compression stockings can help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs during exercise. “For patients who haven't had their varicose veins treated and are running, I recommend compression. When you’re done running and are cooling off, elevate your legs,” she says.
While the varicose veins you notice are right at the surface of the skin, they occur deeper in the body, too, where you can't see them. “It really depends on the makeup of the leg,” Gibson says. “If you've got a lot of fatty tissue between the muscle and the skin, you may not see them. Sometimes surface veins are the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot going on underneath.”
If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet a lot — as a teacher or flight attendant, for example — you may be more bothered by varicose veins. But the jury's still out on whether prolonged standing actually causes varicose veins. “People tend to notice their varicose vein symptoms more when they’re standing or sitting,” Gibson explains.
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Your lifestyle does matter, because obesity can worsen varicose veins, and getting down to a healthy weight can help ease symptoms. Becoming more physically active is also helpful. “Wearing compression stockings, doing calf-strengthening exercises, and elevating your legs can all improve or prevent varicose veins,” saysAndrew F. Alexis, MD, MPH, chairman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York City.
The only treatment available for varicose veins used to be a type of surgery called stripping, in which the vein is surgically removed from the body. That’s no longer the case. While this procedure is still the most commonly used varicose vein treatment worldwide, according to Gibson, minimally invasive procedures that don't leave scars have become much more popular in the United States.
Endothermal ablation, for example, involves using a needle to deliver heat to your vein, causing it to close and no longer function. While the procedure doesn't leave a scar, it can be painful, and you may have to undergo sedation before being treated. “You have to have a series of injections along the vein to numb it up; otherwise, you wouldn't be able to tolerate the heat,” Gibson explains. You may need to take a day off from work to recover, as well as a few days off from the gym.
Some medications, called sclerosing agents, close a vein by causing irritation. Others are adhesives that seal a vein shut and don’t require the area to be numbed. Gibson and her colleagues have helped develop some of the new technologies and products used in treating varicose veins, including adhesives.
Milder varicose veins can be treated by dermatologists with non-invasive approaches, such as laser therapy and sclerotherapy, says Dr. Alexis. “For more severe cases where symptoms may be involved, seeing a vascular surgeon for surgical treatment options is advised.”
Although treatment for varicose veins means losing some veins, you have plenty of others in your body that can take up the slack, explains Gibson. “The majority of the blood flow in veins in the leg is not on the surface at all; it's in the deep veins within the muscle,” she says. “Those deep veins … are easily able to take over for any veins that we remove on the surface.”
Newer treatments have quicker recovery times. “These procedures can be performed in an office within 20 to 30 minutes with no recovery time. Patients can usually return to work or daily activities on the same day,” Kim says.
Treatments are effective, but they aren't a cure, Gibson says. Sometimes, varicose veins can make a repeat appearance after treatment. “What I tell my patients is it's kind of like weeding a garden,” she says. “We clear them all out, but that doesn't mean there's never going to be another dandelion popping out.”
10 Essential Facts About Ovarian Cancer
Statistically speaking, ovarian cancer is relatively rare: It represents just 1.3 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But although its numbers are small, the fear factor for many women may be disproportionately large.
We spoke to two leading ovarian cancer experts: Robert J. Morgan, Jr., MD, professor, and Mihaela C. Cristea, MD, associate clinical professor, of the medical oncology and therapeutics research department at City of Hope, an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California.
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Here are 10 essential facts about ovarian cancer that you should know:
1. About 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. As a comparison, nearly 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, 90 percent will be older than 40; most ovarian cancers occur in women 60 or older, according to the CDC.
2. You should see your doctor if you experience any of these ovarian cancer symptoms:
It’s important to pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you. If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or have any of the other symptoms for two weeks or longer, see your doctor right away.
These symptoms can be caused by many different problems, but it’s best to have them evaluated, suggests the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
3. It’s tricky to pinpoint early, milder symptoms of ovarian cancer. However, the findings of a study published in Cancer in 2007 point to a cluster of vague symptoms that may suggest the need for ovarian cancer testing, says Dr. Morgan. In the study, researchers linked these symptoms to the possibility of ovarian cancer:
If a woman experiences these symptoms on more than 12 days a month for less than one year, she should insist that her doctor perform a thorough ovarian evaluation, says Morgan. This might include the CA-125 blood test or atransvaginal ultrasound exam.
4. Early detection can mean a better prognosis. When detected early enough, ovarian cancer can be cured. “Stage 1 and stage 2 ovarian cancer is curable about 75 to 95 percent of the time, depending on the tumor grade and cell type,” says Morgan. But because this cancer occurs deep inside the body’s pelvic region, it is often diagnosed in later stages, he says. The cure rate for stage 3 ovarian cancer is about 25 to 30 percent, and for stage 4 it's less than 5 percent, he adds.
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5. Ovarian cancer has several key risk factors. These include:
6. Ovarian cancer is not a single disease. In reality, it’s a diverse group of cancers that respond to different treatments based on their molecular characteristics, says Dr. Cristea. Treatment will also depend on other health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, that a woman might have.
7. Ovarian cancer treatments are evolving and improving all the time.“Immunotherapy is emerging as a new treatment option for many malignancies, including ovarian cancer,” says Cristea. In another recent development, the firstPARP inhibitor, a DNA-repair drug, has been approved for women with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer when chemotherapy hasn’t worked. “Women should also ask their doctors about clinical trials that are evaluating immunotherapy as well as other new treatments,” she adds.
8. Surgery may prevent ovarian cancer in women at very high risk. For women who carry the BRCA or other genes that predispose them to ovarian cancer, doctors often recommend surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes.Angelina Jolie, the actor and human rights activist, decided to have this surgery in March 2015. “Removing the ovaries can decrease the risk of developing the disease by 98 percent, and can substantially decrease the risk of developing breast cancer,” notes Morgan. Women in this very high-risk group should opt for this surgery after they’ve completed childbearing at around age 35, he notes.
9. Even after remission, ovarian cancer can still respond to treatment. “About 80 to 90 percent of ovarian cancer patients will achieve remission after chemotherapy treatment,” says Morgan. However, many of those women will later experience a recurrence of the cancer. The longer the remission, notes Morgan, the better the chances are for achieving a second remission.
10. It’s best to see an ovarian cancer specialist. When you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, getting a referral to an ovarian cancer specialist is a wise move, says Cristea. If you’re having surgery, it’s best to have a gynecologic oncologist perform the operation instead of a gynecologist, she adds. And to make sure you’re getting state-of-the-art treatment, consider seeking a second opinion at a NCI-Designated Cancer Center.
Do you have trouble following a conversation in a noisy room? Do other people complain that you have the television turned up too loud? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you may already have some degree of hearing loss.
Hearing loss can start at any age. According to the National Academy on Aging and Society, the number of affected Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 has increased significantly since 1971. But it’s much more common in seniors: Some 40 percent of the 20 million Americans who have hearing loss are 65 or older.
Contrary to popular belief, however, hearing loss is not an inevitable part of aging. Some causes of hearing loss can be prevented, and most types of hearing loss can be helped.
There are three basic types of hearing loss:
RA Signs And Symptoms
Learn About RA Signs And Symptoms,
And Find A Treatment Option Now.
If you are having trouble hearing or develop sudden deafness, you need to get your hearing checked as soon as possible. Sudden deafness is a serious symptom and should be treated as a medical emergency. For many people, though, hearing loss may be gradual and not obvious. Here are seven warning signs to watch out for:
If you think you have any kind of hearing loss, the place to start is with your doctor. Whether your hearing loss is gradual or sudden, your doctor may refer you to an audiologist (a medical specialist in hearing loss) or an otolaryngologist (a medical doctor specializing in disorders of the ear).
Depending on the cause and type of your hearing loss, treatment may be as simple as removing ear wax or as complicated as reconstructive ear surgery. Sensorineural hearing loss can't be corrected or reversed, but hearing aids and assistive devices can enhance most people’s hearing. For those with profound hearing loss approaching deafness, an electronic hearing device, called a cochlear implant, can even be implanted in the ear.
One type of hearing loss is 100 percent preventable: that due to noise exposure. Noise is measured in units called decibels: Normal conversation is about 45 decibels, heavy traffic may be about 85 decibels, and a firecracker may be about 120 decibels. Loud noise — anything at or above 85 decibels — can cause damage to the cells in the inner ear that convert sound into signals to the brain. Here are some tips for avoiding noise-induced hearing loss:
You should also see your doctor if you have any symptoms of ear pain, fullness, or ringing, or if you experience any sudden change in your hearing. These symptoms could be early warnings of preventable hearing loss.
Hearing loss or deafness can have a serious effect on social well-being. It can cut you off from the world around you. Know the causes of hearing loss, and practice hearing loss prevention to preserve the hearing you still have.
CBT Beats Light Therapy for Seasonal Depression
Cognitive therapy was aimed at 'getting people out of hibernation mode.'
Individuals with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) who participated in 6 weeks of daily cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) saw more improvement than those who used light therapy, with the advantage for CBT becoming apparent two winters post-intervention, researchers reported in AJP In Advance.
Two winters after receiving either CBT or light therapy, researchers found that those who received CBT experienced a smaller proportion of recurrence as measured the SIGH-SAD, a primary measure of SAD symptoms, as compared with those who received the light therapy (27.3 percent versus 45.6 percent, respectively), and larger proportion of remissions from SAD as defined by a score of less then 8 on the Beck Depression Inventory-II (68.3 percent versus 44.5 percent, respectively), according to Kelly Rohan, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Vermont.
For the study, Rohan and colleagues randomized 177 patients to receive either light therapy on a daily basis for 30 minutes upon waking or to receive CBT-SAD, a type of intervention that delivered psychoeducation, behavioral activation, and cognitive restructuring specifically targeting winter depression symptoms in group therapy sessions twice per week for 6 weeks.
Rohan told MedPage Today that CBT-SAD therapy involved "getting people out of hibernation mode so they approach rather than avoid winter... the activities do not necessarily need to be outdoors or involve communing with snow. They involve anything the person finds enjoyable that can be done in the winter to experience pleasure, rather than withdrawing and socially isolating oneself, which breeds depression." This could involve staying active in one's routines, such as going to the gym, maintaining hobbies, or developing new hobbies to take the place of summer-specific hobbies, or seeing people socially, for instance.
The following winter, researchers contacted study participants in both groups, asking them to resume the treatment they received during the previous winter under their own volition.
Those who received light therapy the previous winter received a letter asking them to resume the daily light therapy upon the onset of the first depressive symptom and those who received CBT-SAD were encouraged to use the skills taught to them the previous winter. Researchers instructed participants in both groups that if recommended strategies were insufficient to relieve symptoms of depression, they should pursue formal treatment, and included contact information for local mental health centers.
RELATED: How to Survive Daylight Saving Time and Shorter Days
Researchers conducted in-person visits in January or February of the first winter following the initial intervention as well as the second winter.
Responses to CBT the first winter after the intervention strongly predicted its effectiveness the following winter. Those who were depression-free the first winter following the intervention were markedly more likely to be depression-free during the second winter compared with those had still shown depression symptoms during the first winter.
In contrast, those who received light therapy who remained depression-free the winter following the intervention were only twice as likely to avoid recurrence during the second winter compared with those without a substantial initial response.
Light therapy has long been used as a treatment for SAD, but one major obstacle to success in treatment includes lack of compliance. In the study, only about a third of subjects reported continuing light therapy at each follow-up, which may have been in part due to study design, according to the authors.
Said Rohan, "In practice, these data indicate that there are options for treating SAD. If someone is willing not only to use light therapy to alleviate current symptoms, but also to keep using daily light therapy until spring and resume using it each fall/winter season, that is a viable option -- however, if someone is willing to work on their thoughts and behaviors in CBT-SAD over 12 sessions in a winter, that is also an option. Better yet, CBT-SAD is a treatment that might have longer-lasting benefits than light therapy in terms of lower risk for SAD recurrence and less severe symptoms two winters later."
Rohan said she hopes to get rates of depression recurrence even lower following SAD treatment in her next study. "This may involve early fall booster sessions to reinforce use of CBT-SAD skills as the seasons change," she noted, or for those who receive light therapy, a conversation regarding increasing compliance with the daily regimen to offset depression recurrence.
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.
Can 'Magic Mushrooms' Kick-Start Depression Treatment?
The active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" may help patients with tough-to-treat depression, a new study suggests.
Twenty patients received psilocybin -- the psychoactive compound in a group of mushrooms that cause hallucinations. Nineteen who completed the study showed improvement in their depression symptoms for up to five weeks after treatment, according to the researchers at Imperial College London.
None had responded to traditional depression treatment, they noted.
"We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments," said study leader Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial.
However, his team emphasized that patients with depression should not try to self-medicate with magic mushrooms. While these results are promising, the study was small and did not include a comparison group of patients who did not receive psilocybin, they noted.
Still, brain scans before and after treatment suggest psilocybin may reset the activity of brain circuits that play a role in depression.
"Several of our patients described feeling 'reset' after the treatment and often used computer analogies," Carhart-Harris reported in a college news release. One said he felt like his brain had been "defragged" like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt "rebooted," the researcher added.
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"Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick-start' they need to break out of their depressive states, and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy," Carhart-Harris said.
Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients, said study senior author David Nutt.
"But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore," said Nutt, director of neuropsychopharmacology in the division of brain sciences.
He added that a trial scheduled to start early in 2018 will test the psychedelic drug against a leading antidepressant.
For this latest study, patients received two different doses of psilocybin, one week apart.
In recent years, promising results have emerged from a number of clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics in patients with conditions such as depression and addiction.
"Psilocybin can be a promising agent for depression," said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y. "For decades, there has been suspected benefit of psychedelic agents for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders."
However, he said, the clinical trials to date have been very small, and without a placebo arm for comparison. He agreed that replication in larger studies is warranted.
The study was published Oct. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.
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.
Study Finds No Proof of 'Seasonal' Depression
A new study cast doubts on the existence of seasonal depression -- a mood disorder linked to reduced sunlight in the winter months.
This form of depression -- known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and recognized by the mental health community for nearly 30 years -- "is not supported by objective data," the new study claims.
Depression comes and goes, said study lead researcher Steven LoBello. If someone experiences depression in the fall and winter, "it doesn't mean that seasonal changes have caused the depression," added LoBello, a professor of psychology at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala.
For the study, LoBello and colleagues used data from a telephone survey of more than 34,000 U.S. adults asked about depression and then gathered information on time of year, latitude and more when measuring depression.
LoBello noted the study found no evidence that symptoms of depression were season-related and said, "If this seasonal pattern of depression occurs at all, it may be fairly rare."
Dr. Matthew Lorber, acting director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, also said that seasonal affective disorder may not be a "legitimate diagnosis."
Big drug companies, Lorber said, pushed to have SAD recognized as a standard diagnosis. "It then allowed them to market to a new population to use their medications. That was a motivating factor in creating this disorder," said Lorber, who wasn't involved in the new study.
LoBello thinks the seasons have no place in the diagnosis of depression, and he would like to see these criteria discontinued.
His reasoning? Assuming a cause that isn't accurate may lead patients to pursue treatments that won't deliver relief, LoBello said.
According to the new report, published Jan. 20 in Clinical Psychological Science, seasonal affective disorder was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) -- the bible of psychological diagnosis -- in 1987.
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LoBello isn't the first to explore the validity of this diagnosis.
Kelly Rohan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Vermont, has done her own research on seasonal depression and found "no season differences in reports of depressive symptoms."
"I certainly did not argue that this means SAD does not exist," she said. "However, only a minority of depression cases are actually SAD."
So, how come other research has found that a significant percentage of the public suffers from this condition? (The American Academy of Family Physicians says up to 6 percent of U.S. adults have winter depression, and as many as one in five have mild SAD symptoms).
It all depends on how the studies are done and how the questions are asked, Rohan said. "Also, SAD depressive symptoms tend to be less severe than in nonseasonal major depression and mood tends to be back to normal in the spring and summer," she said. "So when you take all the depressed people in this sample -- including the minority that claims to be SAD -- and look at seasonal differences in their depression scores, I am not surprised that it is a wash."
For the study, LoBello and colleagues used the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The 34,000-plus respondents had been asked about the number of days they felt depressed in the past two weeks. The researchers matched these responses with the location of each person and the day, month, latitude and amount of sun exposure when interviewed.
People who responded to the survey in the winter months, when sunlight exposure was low, had no greater levels of depressive symptoms than those who responded to the survey at other times, the researchers said.
In addition, the researchers found no evidence for seasonal differences in mood when they zeroed in on more than 1,700 participants with clinical depression.
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.
Exposure Therapy: A Surprisingly Effective Treatment for Depression
Exposure therapy isn’t just a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s also used to treat anxiety, depression, phobias, and more.
If you’ve experienced a traumatic, life-altering event, you might be surprised to learn that one treatment for such trauma — exposure therapy — involves repeatedly reliving the terrible event.
Sounds more harmful than helpful, right? But people who experience their fears over and over again — with the help of a therapist in exposure therapy — can actually learn to control those fears.
The technique is used to treat a growing list of health conditions that include anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive behaviors, long-standing grief, and even depression.
How Exposure Therapy Works
Exposure therapy can seem similar to desensitization. People with PTSD, including combat veterans and rape and assault survivors, may experience nightmares and flashbacks that bring the traumatic event back.
They may also avoid situations that can trigger similar memories and may become upset, tense, or have problems sleeping after the trauma.
Edna B. Foa, PhD, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, explains exposure therapy for PTSD to her patients this way: "We are going to help you talk about the trauma so that you can process and digest it, and make it finished business."
While you won't forget about the trauma entirely, she tells them, ''It’s not going to haunt you all the time."
Dr. Foa reassures her patients that they won't be exposed to dangerous situations. She also tells them, "You are going to find out that you are stronger than you think."
Although exposure therapy is considered a short-term treatment — 8 to 12 sessions is common — people with more severe conditions (and those with obsessive-compulsive behaviors) may need more time.
Exposure Therapy Works for Many Conditions
For PTSD, says Matthew Friedman, MD, PhD, senior adviser for the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD, and professor of psychiatry, pharmacology, and toxicology at Dartmouth College's Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, New Hampshire, "It’s one of the best treatments we have.” A 2007 report from the Institute of Medicine also found the technique to be effective for PTSD.
Foa published a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology that showed a reduction in depression and PTSD symptoms in female survivors of assault after 9 to 12 sessions.
And a 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry found that adding exposure therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was more effective at relieving long-standing grief than CBT plus supportive counseling.
Effective, But Different, as a Depression Treatment
While research is still ongoing, some experts believe exposure therapy can be helpful for serious depression, too. Depression and PTSD share common features, like flashbacks and memory flooding, says Adele Hayes, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Delaware in Newark. But there are some important differences, too.
“With depression, it's not necessarily a trauma, but a whole store of memories associated with being a failure, worthless, and defective," she says. A depressed person’s encounter with a rude clerk at a store may trigger thoughts that seem to back up their fears: that no one likes them, that they are worthless, and so on.
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In 20 to 24 sessions of exposure therapy, Hayes persuades her patients with depression to reexamine the events that trigger their ''worthless'' messages. Then she asks them to see if they can reinterpret them in a more positive light. Next, she helps them build up what she calls the ''positive emotion system."
But some people with depression may be fearful of having positive emotions, she says. Paradoxically, if they start to have hope, they may begin to fear that things may fall apart again and get more depressed.
Getting Started With Exposure Therapy
"The first few sessions are distressing," says Foa, but the distress of exposure therapy usually lasts for only three or four weeks. Plus, patients usually work their way up to scarier situations by first tackling challenges that are somewhat less scary. For instance, someone with a social phobia or fear of public places may be advised to go to a supermarket during a time when it’s not busy. After that, they may visit the store when it’s more crowded. At first, it's natural to feel upset, Foa says. But "if you stay long enough, the anxiety will go down," she says. "In the beginning, you’re afraid you won't be able to tolerate it, but in the end, you’re a winner."
Homework is an important part of exposure therapy, so you’ll also do exercises outside of your sessions, Dr. Friedman says. This could include listening to a recording of your account of the trauma or performing a task that could trigger memories of the event. At your next visit, you’d talk through your experiences with your therapist.
Before you begin exposure therapy, make sure to get a clear explanation of what to expect from the therapist you’re working with.
To find an exposure therapy specialist, start by asking your family doctor for a referral, or contact organizations like the American Psychological Association or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies that can help you locate one. Veterans can contact their local VA clinic for more information.
The Real Monthly Cost of Depression
Six people reveal how much they spend to treat their depression, how they save money on medications, and more.
With an illness like depression, the cost of treatment often adds up to more than the price of medication alone. Untreated or undertreated depression can break the bank in the form of lost work, lost productivity, and hospital stays.
In fact, depression is estimated to have cost the U.S. economy more than $210 billion in 2010 (including the cost of comorbid, or simultaneously existing, conditions), according to a study published in 2015 in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. “The key to managing the cost of depression is managing depression itself,” says health economist Adam Powell, PhD, president of Payer+Provider, a Boston-based consulting firm that works with insurance companies and healthcare providers. “The direct cost American society spends on treating depression is far smaller than the indirect costs spent on its consequences.”
And the personal costs of effectively managing depression can add up, too. In addition to medication, many people with depression pay for therapy, top quality foods, gym memberships, yoga or mindfulness meditation classes, supplements, educational materials, or other goods and services that they feel help them manage the condition.
Here we share what six people with depression spend on the condition — including which costs they must absorb on their own — and how they cut corners to make ends meet.
Susan Hyatt, 56, Corporate Social Responsibility Advisor
Monthly Medication: $70
Additional Monthly Treatments: $420-$470
Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $490-$540
Much of what business consultant Susan Hyatt of Denver pays to manage her depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) relates to keeping herself productive. And if her strategies to stay productive aren’t effective, she loses income and can’t pay for the things that help her feel and stay better. In addition to her medication — about $70 a month out-of-pocket for Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Oleptro (trazodone) — Hyatt spends about $100 to $150 on supplements and herbs each month, and a little more than $300 for exercise and other lifestyle activities that help keep her motivated to work.
For example, Hyatt, who founded the consulting company Big Purpose Big Impact, walks to Starbucks or another nearby coffee shop every day to work; her tab adds up to $4 to $8 a day. “The noise forces me to have to really concentrate to get anything done, and it works,” Hyatt says. “Once I go home, I can easily slide back into not being very motivated.”
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Too little motivation becomes costly for an entrepreneur. Hyatt’s depression has caused her to miss phone calls about potential work or speaking opportunities on days when she avoids answering her phone. And as she finishes up her long-term contracts, she often finds it exhausting to apply for new ones, costing her potential income. That means she also can’t currently afford massage, acupuncture, and therapy — all of which have helped her manage her illness in the past. “Friends or family who haven’t had issues with depression or SAD may be sympathetic,” she says, “but they often can’t really get their minds around the fact that depression can be debilitating.”
Her best tip: When her Wellbutrin dosage was increased from 300 milligrams (mg) to 450 mg a day, her doctor originally prescribed three 150 mg tablets. But getting one 300 mg bottle and one 150 mg bottle saved her about $35 a month. If your doctor can similarly prescribe a specific dosage that is cheaper, the savings can add up.
Kathryn Goetzke, 44, Nonprofit Founder
Monthly Medication: $0 currently (previously up to $100)
Additional Monthly Treatments: $300-$700
Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $300-$700
Kathryn Goetzke, who lives in San Francisco, can easily tick off the ways her depression has cost her: lost productivity, strained relationships, bad decisions, a poorly functioning immune system, and an inability to maintain boundaries. It’s also led to unhealthy habits, such as smoking, alcohol use, and overeating. But after dealing with all these ramifications of the illness, she’s now found that exercise and a healthy diet help her the most in dealing with the condition.
She avoids sugar, eats organic food, makes smoothies, and spends $75 a month on a gym membership, plus another $75 on exercise classes such as Spinning. Not included in her monthly costs is the $600 she paid for a Fisher Wallace Stimulator, an FDA-cleared wearable device that treats anxiety and depression by sending slight electrical pulses to the brain through two nodes that are attached to the temples; Goetzke uses the Stimulator twice a day.
The $150 a month she spends on supplements goes toward 5-HTP, omega-3s, vitamin D, GABA, Dr. Amen’s Serotonin Mood Support, and green powder — a supplement mixture of vitamins, minerals, probiotics, prebiotics, and other ingredients, depending on the manufacturer.
When Goetzke, who is also founder of the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred), goes to therapy, it costs about $400 a month.
She emphasizes that depression is treatable, but many people require treatment beyond medication: Therapy is essential, she believes. And while Goetzke no longer needs medication, she would sacrifice anything for it when she did. “There is nothing more important than mental health,” Goetzke says. “I lost my dad to suicide and never want to follow in his footsteps.”
Her best tip: Goetzke has made a lot of changes to cut corners: she finds therapists covered by insurance, does workouts outside instead of taking extra gym classes, borrows books from the library, and quit drinking and smoking. But her biggest tip is to avoid making big decisions while you’re depressed.
“Give it a month to be sure it’s the right decision,” she says. “That’s really helped me avoid making expensive decisions that were more the depression talking than me.”
Maggie White, 34, Stay-At-Home Mom
Monthly Medication: $170
Additional Monthly Treatments: $500-$1,000
Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $670-1,700
Although Maggie White, of Downers Grove, Illinois, spends $80 for Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) and $90 for Klonopin (clonazepam) each month, her other costs vary greatly depending on the month. She cares for five young children at home and needs to “keep [herself] as mentally healthy as possible” since her husband travels frequently, and her mental health affects her family, too.
Her therapy adds up to about $50 a month, and the $40 she spends on essential oils is worthwhile because the aromatherapy helps her feel better. When she can afford gym or yoga classes, they’re about $15 each, but most of her additional costs include organic foods and the $175 per month she spends on a range of supplements: vitamin D3, B-complex, B-12, magnesium/calcium, chromium, 80-billion live probiotics, flaxseed oil, potassium, zinc, and vitamin C.
“You cannot put a price on sound mental health,” White says. “If you’re walking around in that black, haunting fog so many of us know, there is no quality of life, no hope, no way to make healthy decisions, or even to know how to surround yourself with healthy people.”
Her best tip: With five kids, planning ahead and trimming the fat are the secrets to White’s household money management. Clothes are hand-me-downs or come from The Salvation Army; for food, she plans meals two weeks out and purchases only the exact groceries needed. Not only does the family skip restaurants, movies, and vacations, but they also don’t have cable TV or personal electronic devices. Instead, they watch old VHS tapes.
Lisa Keith, PsyD, Assistant Professor of Special Education
Monthly Medication: $80
Additional Monthly Treatments: $105
Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $185
For Dr. Lisa Keith, of Fresno, California, health insurance helps tremendously with medication costs. The $80 she spends monthly on Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Abilify (aripiprazole) would cost closer to $1,000 per month if not for her insurance. In addition to the $30 she spends each month for a gym membership, $25 in co-pays for her psychiatrist, and $50 for multivitamins, iron, calcium and a few other vitamins, the Fresno Pacific University professor invested $150 in a blue light for light therapy.
“I have it good because I work full-time and have benefits,” Keith says, but those without insurance for medications are less fortunate. “I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years on medications, doctors, therapy … but the worst thing is that depression cost me a marriage. There’s no price on that.”
Her best tip: Find apps that help manage mental health effectively for you. Keith uses Headspace for meditation, Focus@Will for concentrating, and Spotify for custom music playlists.
Eating Carbs and Fats Before a Workout? Read This
The New York Times published an article “Should Athletes Eat Fat or Carbs?” last week which was based on a study that shows a diet comprised of 85 percent fat can help improve overall performance for ultra-endurance athletes more than the traditional high-carbohydrate diet considered best for athletes. And by fat, they mean good fats that come from foods like nuts, avocados, and extra-virgin olive oil — not your cheeseburgers and French fries. But before you throw all your healthy eating rules out the window, it’s important to note that this recommendation is not for most of us — these recommendations for real athletes. We’re talking about people who exercise for a living — think NBA players, Olympic swimmers, or professional marathoners.
Let’s be honest: Most of us don’t run more than two marathons a week or work out at all hours of the day, so this way of eating is not recommended, even for high school and college players and people who exercise regularly. However, this information certainly brings into question traditional thinking and, as so often with these studies, leaves us wondering if this type of eating could benefit other types of athletes or moderately active people. We’ll need to continue to watch the research for more answers.
It’s important to remember that carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy, well-balanced diet and provide fuel for your workouts in the form of glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles. Fat, however, must be broken down into fatty acids before it can be used as fuel, and only endurance athletes who vigorously exercise throughout the day are able to use up all their glycogen stores before their bodies start using fat. A ketogenic diet, like the ones the article reviews with 85 percent of the diet from fat, forces your body to use fat more readily as an energy source. This is referred to as a ‘ketoadaption’ and takes several weeks to achieve.
Still, it’s not a good idea to overdo it on carbohydrates or fat for all your meals. Fats should only comprise 20 to 30 percent of your total daily calorie intake per meal (think two slices of avocado). Carbohydrates should make up 40 to 50 percent of your meal, and sources of good carbohydrates include vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Government experts have offered suggestions for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, (due to be published in the fall) which encourage Americans to cut down on meat, added sugars, and starchy, high-carb foods and include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats into their diets.
“The move toward reducing the amount of carbohydrates recommended for the general public is because most of us are not active. We sit too much! When we don’t move, or if we move for only an hour a day, we’re not utilizing all the carbohydrates we are eating, and therefore we continue to gain weight and increase our risk for chronic diseases. For the most part, we are moving too little and eating too much and especially carbohydrates because they are easy, available, and taste good,” says Maureen Namkoong, MS, RD nutrition and fitness director at Everyday Health.
There’s a place for good carbohydrates and fats in a balanced diet. Good carbohydrates and fats give you energy, may help you lose weight, and promote cardiovascular health. But too much of a good thing can be bad — and this is true for fats and carbs, too.
Depression Among Doctors: A Growing Problem
Long shifts of on-the-job training, and caring for patients in life-or-death situations, is enough to wear a person down. And it does.
Close to one-third of medical residents (doctors out of medical school and in training) experience depression, according to a new study published online in JAMA. The risk starts on the first day of residency training, when the probability that a doctor will become depressed more than quadruples compared to those not in residency.
“This is remarkable considering how patients often don’t report their depression because of the social stigma that’s attached to it,” says study author Douglas A. Mata, MD, MPH, a resident physician himself at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
“We also found that the number of depressed residents might be going up — that is, the prevalence of physician depression might be getting worse with time,” adds Dr. Mata. “It’s certainly not getting any better, so we’ve got a public health crisis on our hands that isn’t being talked about enough.”
Depression among doctors in training has been studied extensively over the years, so this study looked at what the research shows as a whole. Mata and his colleagues searched four databases of medical research for all relevant studies from 1963 through September 2015.
They found 31 studies that assessed depression at one point in time, and 23 long-term studies. Together, the studies involved more than 17,500 doctors and showed that 29 percent of them had depression or symptoms of depression. Most of the studies relied on self-reporting, but their methods also differed significantly.
In studies using a nine-question survey to assess depression symptoms, about one in five medical residents (21 percent) had depression. Studies that used another depression measure doubled that, to 43 percent of doctors experiencing depression at some point in their residency.
How Stressful Work Conditions Boost Depression Risk
“Doctor training has a deluge of risk factors for depression,” Mata says. “Many residents spend all their waking hours working like crazy, so their relationships with friends and family go on the back burner, making them feel isolated. Also, constant lack of sleep, combined with ‘time zone changes’ take a toll on the mind and body.”
What Mata means by time zone changes is the effect of being on overnight call every third or fourth night, which is much like taking transatlantic flights twice a week and dealing with the resultant jet lag. Worse, residents must often relocate to new cities each year, where they may lack essential support systems, he says.
“They may have tens of thousands of dollars of debt hanging over their heads as well, since the United States places the financial risks and burdens of training on the students themselves, not on the public health system they’re training to serve,” adds Mata. “To top it all off, they’re responsible for the care of ill patients, and they’re exposed to some mentally traumatic scenarios in the process.”
Is Patient Safety at Risk?
Depression among MDs appears strongly linked to the start of residency training, when the percent of doctors with depression jumped 16 points in the study, putting them at 4.5 times greater risk of depression once residency has begun.
“As clinicians, we’re used to treating others, but we’re often bad at taking care of ourselves,” Mata says. “Doctors need to pay more attention to their own mental well-being, and to that of their colleagues.”
Not doing so could have serious ramifications for patients, points out Victor Fornari, MD, chief of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Manhasset, New York.
RELATED: 5 Things Psychologists Wish Their Patients Would Do
“Depressive symptoms and depression may interfere with attention and focus,” says Dr. Fornari, who was not involved in the study. “Depression in resident physicians may also interfere with the development of the doctor-patient relationship. Patients may experience their depressed resident physicians as less engaged or less interested in their care.”
And attempting to counteract that impression could potentially make the situation worse, suggests Mata. “The doctors who care the most may overextend themselves to give their patients more empathy, which puts them at a higher risk for depression,” he says.
At the same time, sleep deprivation during residency contributes to depression and possible medical mistakes, he says.
“Sleep deprivation has been linked to a high risk of needle-stick injuries and exposure to bloodborne pathogens,” Mata says. “Depression has also been linked to more medical errors. Depressed doctors report more anxiety about making mistakes, whether or not they actually do.”
How Thanking Your Doctor May Help
While patients should not necessarily worry about their doctors’ health and safety, Mata says, they can help in small ways.
“Just tell your doctors ‘thank you’ and make sure they understand what they mean to you,” he says. “That goes a long way.”
But such kindnesses will not solve a problem that appears to be worsening. The study found that prevalence of depression among residents increased by half a percent each year, though the authors note the rise could relate to increased awareness of depression among docs.
Recognizing the problem is the first step. Residents also need support and mentoring, and modified work hours, which is already occurring in many institutions, Fornari says.
“Part of medical training is encouraging the resident physician to regulate their own self-care in an effort to learn how to manage their stress and ask for assistance with depression,” Fornari says.
Mata would like to see a proactive model rather than the current reactive one, which relies on residents to identify their own depression and seek help. Year-long resilience-based programs that teach coping skills from the first day of residency would be an important measure, he says.
“Widespread depression among doctors will inevitably cause good docs to work fewer hours and even leave the field,” Mata says, adding that the situation may even dissuade people from entering the medical field. “This has broad social implications for the health of our population as a whole.”
The Role of Genetics in Depression
These new genetic discoveries may someday lead to new depression treatments.
death thoughts, and more — you might ask yourself, "Why me?" Scientists are trying to answer that question.
Researchers know from twin and family studies that genetics does play a role in depression: You don’t actually inherit depression, but you may inherit genes that predispose you to the condition. If you have a parent or sibling with major depressive disorder, you are two to three times more likely to develop depression than someone with no family history. The risk is higher if family members developed depression early in life or experienced recurrent episodes of depression.
Risk Factors for Depression Vary
Having a genetic predisposition doesn’t mean you’ll become depressed. Environmental factors are also very important, says Mary Fristad, PhD, director of research and psychological services in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Ohio State University in Columbus.
“Even if someone is ‘genetically loaded’ because they have multiple relatives with depression — and their partner is equally genetically loaded — raising a child in a calm, predictable, loving, nurturing, limit-setting household with good nutrition, plenty of exercise, adequate sleep, and participation in enjoyable activities might either prevent or delay the onset of depression,” she says.
Dr. Fristad doesn’t recommend genetic testing for depression. “The simplest and least expensive genetic test at present is to ask if anyone on either side of the family has depression,” she says.
But Chris Aiken, MD, director of the Mood Treatment Center and a clinical psychiatry instructor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, both in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, says one particular type of gene has been implicated in the development of depression — information that may be helpful to some people. It’s called the serotonin transporter (SERT); serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate levels of anxiety, depression, and irritability.
RELATED: How to Tell If It’s a Bad Mood or Depression
“You can have genes for either a short or long version of SERT,” says Dr. Aiken. “These genes predict whether people will get depressed in the face of stress. For people with the long-arm version of the gene, the risk of depression doesn't rise even after a major life stress, like divorce, grief, or job loss. For those with the short-arm version, the rate of depression goes up with each new stress."
“What's interesting is that people have the same rate of depression when they aren't under any stress — regardless of which version of SERT they have,” Aiken says. “It's only after major stress or childhood trauma that the two groups start to look different.”
Having the long form of the gene raises the risk of experiencing depression after stress, but you won’t automatically become depressed if you have that gene and undergo stress. Similarly, you can still get depressed with the short-arm gene after a stressful life event (i.e., having the gene is not totally protective). In a nutshell, having a particular form of the gene raises the risk of depression after stress but cannot 100 percent predict or prevent it.
According to Aiken, the short-arm SERT isn’t unique to depression: It’s also been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, fear responses, and alcoholism.
New Genetic Markers for Depression Revealed
In a study published in July 2015 in Nature, scientists reported finding two genetic markers that appear to be clearly linked to major depression. Researchers sequenced DNA from about 10,600 Chinese women, half of whom had depression. Of that half, 85 percent had a severe type of depression called melancholia, described as a gloomy, foreboding feeling that robs people of their joy. They found two genetic sequences that seemed to be linked to depression and confirmed these correlations in an additional 6,000 subjects and controls.
Norman Sussman, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Treatment Resistant Depression Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City says the results of this study help validate the fact that depression really is an illness, not a psychosomatic disorder or weakness of character.
RELATED: The Real Monthly Cost of Depression
“I tell patients, depression is a medical disease," says Dr. Sussman. "Instead of [showing] physical symptoms (which they can also have), it primarily manifests through abnormalities in cognition and mood. You see things in a negative, hopeless way.”
The Nature findings also offer potential opportunity for treatment. Sussman says if we understand the mechanics of depression, it opens new pathways for drug development. Furthermore, says Aiken, knowing your genotype can also help you avoid wasting time with medications that are less likely to work. For example, people with short-arm SERT genes are less likely to respond to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most common type of antidepressant, but they may respond to other medications.
How You Can Prevent Depression Symptoms
There’s no medical test to diagnose depression, so health professionals rely on patients or family members to report symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic guidelines say patients should not be diagnosed with depression unless they exhibit a persistently low mood or loss of interest in activities once deemed pleasurable or enjoyable, in addition to four or more symptoms of depression.
Depression symptoms might include loss of interest in activities once deemed pleasurable or enjoyable, significant weight loss or gain, lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness, or repeated thoughts of death or suicide.
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At least 10 percent of Americans will eventually experience an incidence of major depressive disorder, the most serious type of depression. Other people have low-grade, chronic depression. “The difference is severity,” says Sussman. “People with chronic depression know they should be happier than they are.”
The important thing to keep in mind is that depression is not inevitable — even if you’re genetically predisposed — and it is treatable.
“Studies show that people whose environments are loving, nurturing, structured, physically active, and have good social networks and friendships are protective for children with genetic risks for depression,” says Aiken.
Online screening tools, such as the Depression Wellness Analyzer and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), can help you evaluate whether you may have depression. Discuss the results with your physician so you can seek treatment if appropriate.
Carbohydrates: Your Diet's Fuel
Before you feast on chicken and boycott carbs, take a closer look at the U.S. Food Pyramid.
Carbohydrates are highlighted as an important part of ahealthy diet, and not banned by any means. Your body needs a wide variety of foods to function and stay healthy.
"Carbohydrate is one of the macronutrients that we need, primarily for energy," says Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, a nutritionist, online nutrition coach, and owner of Nutrition Works in Louisville, Ky.
While fats and protein are also necessary for energy, they're more of a long-term fuel source, while carbohydrates fulfill the body's most immediate energy needs. "It's your body's first source of energy — that's what it likes to use," adds Meyerowitz.
Low Testosterone and Muscle Mass
Loss of muscle is called muscle wasting, and it’s a late sign of low testosterone. But even before you notice muscle wasting, you may feel weaker and less energetic,” says Ronald Tamler, MD, director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center in New York and an associate professor of medicine, endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “Muscle cells have receptors for testosterone called androgen receptors. When testosterone binds to the receptors, muscle fibers are maintained. Without testosterone, maintenance stops and muscle is degraded.”
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.
Can the Anesthetic Ketamine Ease Suicidal Thoughts?
A small study found that the drug worked quickly in people with major depression.
Low doses of the anesthetic ketamine may quickly reduce suicidal thoughts in people with long-standing depression, a small study suggests.
By the end of three weeks of therapy, most of the 14 study volunteers had a decrease in suicidal thoughts and seven ended up not having any such thoughts, the researchers found.
To get into the study, patients had to have had suicidal thoughts for at least three months, plus persistent depression. "So, the fact that they experienced any reduction in suicidal thinking, let alone remission, is very exciting," said lead researcher Dr. Dawn Ionescu, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Despite these results, many mysteries still remain about the drug, Ionescu said. For example, "we don't know yet how the drug works," she said. "In addition, we do not know if the doses of ketamine being used for depression and suicide will lead to addiction -- more research is needed in this area."
The study used only intravenous ketamine, but oral and intranasal doses may also work, she added.
Whether ketamine might ever become a standard therapy for depression and suicidal thoughts is also up in the air. "That is something we need to investigate," Ionescu said.
All of the study volunteers were being treated for major depressive disorder on an outpatient basis. They had all been experiencing suicidal thoughts for three months or more, and were resistant to other treatments, the researchers said. Eleven of the 14 volunteers were female, and their mean age was 50 years.
Ketamine, which is primarily an anesthetic, had been shown in other studies to quickly relieve symptoms of depression, Ionescu said.
For the study, two weekly intravenous infusions of ketamine were given over three weeks. The first three doses of ketamine were five times lower than typically given when the drug is used as an anesthetic. After initial treatment, the dose was increased.
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Patients were checked before, during and after treatment, and every other week during three months of follow-up. Assessments included measurement of suicidal thinking, in which patients were asked how frequent and how intense their suicidal thoughts were, the study authors said.
Of the seven patients who stopped having suicidal thoughts, two continued to be free of both thoughts of suicide and symptoms of depression during the three-month follow-up, the findings showed.
No serious side effects from the drug were seen, the researchers said.
"The most common side effects are an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and changes in the way people perceive their environment. For example, some people will dissociate and feel like their environment looks different or that parts of their body look different. Generally, the side effects are mild and only last for one to two hours," Ionescu said.
Two patients dropped out of the study. One dropped out because of the drug's side effects, and the other had a scheduling conflict, the researchers said.
All of the patients knew they were getting ketamine. The researchers are now finishing up a study in which some patients received the drug and others got a placebo.
Drugs currently used to treat suicidal thinking include lithium and clozapine, but these drugs can have serious side effects requiring careful monitoring of blood levels. Electroconvulsive therapy can also reduce suicidal thoughts, but its availability is limited and it can have serious side effects, such as memory loss, the researchers explained.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of "talk" therapy, can also be an effective treatment for suicidal thinking, but may take weeks to months to be effective, the study authors pointed out.
Dr. Ami Baxi is director of adult inpatient services in the department of psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She said, "Ketamine, often used as an anesthetic in medicine, has been recently shown to cause a rapid antidepressant effect and reduce suicidal thoughts in patients with treatment-resistant depression."
However, this study has many limitations, she added. First, it was a very small study and "only two of the 14 patients were able to maintain this reduction three months after the infusion," Baxi said.
Second, patients knew they were receiving ketamine, "leaving them exposed to a possible placebo effect," she explained.
Baxi agreed this is a promising study, but it's too early to know the effects of ketamine on suicidal thinking. "Additional studies remain essential to enhance our knowledge on the psychiatric benefits of ketamine," she said.
The report was published in the May 10 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Model for a Hepatitis C Cure: Success in the Cherokee Nation
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.
Dry, itchy skin is no joke. Because skin is the body's largest organ (weighing about nine pounds), the frustration and discomfort that go along with dehydration can affect your daily existence, from your wardrobe to your social life. And if you happen to have a skin condition like eczema, you know from experience that flaky skin is no laughing matter.
However, you can fight flakiness and itchiness with a few important tips. Here, skin experts share their best advice for keeping your skin soft and supple.
Exfoliating can be beneficial for those who have dry skin because it helps the dead surface layers of skin cells to be shed, layers that can prevent moisturizers from being absorbed, says Doris Day, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.
The key is to find the exfoliator that works best for your skin. Scrubs and alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids are best for those who don't have sensitive skin. Those with sensitive skin can exfoliate with a home remedy that consists of a paste made from baking soda and water. “It’s great for your face or for rough patches like your heels, and nobody breaks out from it,” says Mona Gohara, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University.
Note that if you have any skin conditions, it’s best to check with a dermatologist before trying anything new. And beware of exfoliating too often because it can cause irritation.
Like exfoliating too much, washing too often can lead to dryness. “I usually tell people to use soap only where they need it — underarms, groin, hands and feet,” says Rebecca Baxt, MD, a dermatologist in Paramus, New Jersey.
“Hot showers can strip the skin of oil and leave skin dry,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Although hot showers are relaxing, fight the urge to parboil yourself and use lukewarm water instead. Also, limit the length of your showers to 10 minutes or less.
Using a moisturizer daily is crucial to combating dry, flaky skin. “When the skin is dry, it needs to be hydrated from the outside in — drinking eight glasses of water is not enough,” says Dr. Day.
For the most effective moisturizer, look for ingredients, including ceramides, that help support and replenish lipids in the skin. Hyaluronic acid and glycerin, both humectants, help the skin attract water and hold in moisture. Additionally, Dr. Zeichner recommends that, to help seal in moisture, you apply moisturizer to damp skin after showering.
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.
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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.
6 Things I Didn't Know About Depression Until It Happened to Me
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with depression, these insights from people who are successfully managing their own depression may help you.
Depression can make you feel alone and isolated, but in reality you aren't. Many other people live with depression every day, and you can learn a lot from them. Here, three people diagnosed with depression share insights they’ve gained along the way.
1. It's Not Your Fault
For the longest time, "I felt like something was wrong with me," says Marisa McPeck-Stringham, 37, a social worker in Ogden, Utah, who blogs about her life, including her depression, as Iron Daisy. She first noticed as a teen that she was sometimes down in the dumps, but she wasn't diagnosed until age 20, she says. Before the diagnosis, she would ask herself: What's wrong with me? She knew she had a good family, a good home, and great parents. "I didn't know it was a mental illness," she says. "I didn't know it was a problem with my brain chemistry."
That reaction is a common one, says Michelle B. Riba, MD, associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center in Ann Arbor and past president of the American Psychiatric Association. Patients often tell her they think they did something to bring on the depression, and that they could have been stronger.
Dr. Riba tells her patients, "It's a medical condition and has to be treated like a medical condition." Anyone diagnosed with depression must be evaluated to see which treatment or combination might work for them, Riba says.
2. Being Depressed Takes a Lot of Energy
Elizabeth Moon, 70, of Austin, who wrote Crown of Renewal and other books, was diagnosed in the early 1980s. She didn't understand until after she got a diagnosis and was treated how exhausted she had been from trying to keep up with her life. "I didn't realize how long I had been depressed," she says.
"I was active, very physically active," says Moon. "I didn't think of myself as depressed; I didn't realize I was sliding into depression."
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“Not everyone fits the stereotype of sitting on the couch," unable to do anything, she says. "If you’re feeling worthless, like you have no future — even if you appear to be healthy and holding down a full-time job, get checked out.”
"People may not pinpoint [depression symptoms] right away," Riba says of those who get depressed. They may think they’re sleep deprived, for instance, or just have some temporary issues balancing responsibilities.
3. Exercise Has Been Proven to Help With Symptoms
Often, the last thing you want to do if you’re depressed is go out and get some exercise. But those who’ve been there understand the value of exercise, and say it often helps. "If I don't get out and exercise, I have to really watch myself and make sure I’m not sliding," Moon says. "I do much better if I’m active. I have much less chance of sliding into another episode."
RELATED: The Real Monthly Cost of Depression
Exercise ''readjusts our brain chemistry," says McPeck-Stringham. She includes exercise as part of her "self-care" routine. Her workouts also become valuable "me" time, she finds.
And there is good evidence that exercise improves your mental health. A study published in 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry found that exercise does lower your chance of becoming depressed. And in people who already have depression, exercise helps lift depressive symptoms.
4. Writing Helps You Sort Out Your Emotions
Keola Birano, 33, of Hilo, Hawaii, is a full-time writer who also works for his wife's clothing business. Diagnosed at age 19, he soon learned the power of writing — not for his livelihood, but for his depression. First, he wrote a letter to his father and ''without giving it to him," burned it. "It released whatever [negative] feeling I may have held onto," he says.
He has continued writing, both for his blog, Keola Birano Reimagined, and for personal growth. "When you write, it opens up parts of your brain you didn't know were there,'' he says. "I try to do 10 minutes a day on autopilot, to let the feelings out."
5. Managing Depression Is an Ongoing Effort
"It takes a lot of significant work to keep yourself strong," Birano says. "You have to keep working on it. Once you start thinking you have it beat, you set yourself up for failure."
Moon agrees. "I can go downhill in 30 seconds,'' she says. "I've learned to have a plan in place when that happens," she says. Part of her plan is to keep tabs on her mental health before that slide downhill. "At least five times a year, I take the Beck Depression Inventory [a tool used by mental health experts] and see where I am. If I’m coming up [on the score], I need to be very careful. If the score doesn't go back down, I may need meds."
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For her, the best approach has been to take medications when needed and then taper off them, she says, but she doesn’t claim this is best for everyone. It’s important to remember that decisions to stop or start medications should always be done in conjunction with your physician.
6. Having a Depression Relapse Doesn’t Mean You Failed
"Right now, I’m in between episodes," Moon says. "I know another one may come and it isn't a disaster when it does come. It doesn't mean you’ll end up committing suicide either."
Figuring out what works for you to stay on an even keel is critical, Moon says. The most important thing for anyone who's depressed? "Recognize when you’re falling off the cliff," she says. Then go get the help you need and deserve.
potting Between Periods: Should You Worry?
leeding between your periods, or “spotting,” can occur for many reasons.
The cause is usually benign; for example, hormonal fluctuations that occur at the very beginning of your reproductive life cycle (menarche, the onset of periods) or toward the end (menopause, when periods stop) are often likely culprits.
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But “spotting is never normal," says Joyce Gottesfeld, MD, an ob/gyn at Kaiser Permanente Colorado in Denver. "It doesn't necessarily mean that something bad is going on, but it's not normal.” So if you do notice spotting, it's worth a call to your physician to get it checked out.
When investigating why you’re spotting, healthcare providers consider your age and whether you’re pregnant, have been having unprotected sex, or recently started using a hormonal contraceptive.
If you’ve started taking the birth control pill or gotten a progesterone implant, it’s not unusual to experience irregular bleeding. If spotting doesn't taper off, talk to your doctor. “You're probably going to want to change birth control pills, because nobody wants to deal with that all the time,” Dr. Gottesfeld says.
Skipping a pill or two may also bring on spotting. “If you're on birth control pills and you missed a pill, that can also make you have bleeding between your cycles, and I wouldn't be so worried,” says Anne C. Ford, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.
Spotting can mean different things at early versus later stages of your reproductive cycle.
When you first start having your period, it may be quite irregular for months or even years. This is because your brain, ovaries, and uterus are still working on getting in sync hormonally. Unless your bleeding is excessively heavy or prolonged, it's usually not a problem, according to Dr. Ford.
Once you become sexually active, spotting after intercourse raises a red flag. This is especially true if you’re having unprotected sex or have just started having sex with a new partner.
Bleeding can signal a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia orgonorrhea, that should be treated promptly, Ford says. “Often, the cervix can be very friable [eroded] or just bleed very easily from the infection,” she explains.
Another condition that can lead to post-sex bleeding is cervical entropion, in which the fragile glandular cells lining the cervical opening grow on the surface of the uterus.
Much more rarely, post-sex spotting can be a sign of cervical cancer. Your doctor can take a Pap smear, a sample of cells from your cervix — the opening of the uterus at the top of the vagina — to test for STIs and abnormal precancerous or cancerous cells.
Mid-cycle bleeding could also mean that you’re pregnant and could be miscarrying, although spotting during pregnancy doesn't always mean the pregnancy will be lost. Ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus (usually within the fallopian tubes), can also cause bleeding, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Spotting may also be due to vaginal trauma. “The vagina and the cervix are very vascular [they have a lot blood vessels], so they bleed very easily,” says Lisa Dabney, MD, an ob/gyn in the division of urogynecology at Mount Sinai West in New York City. “A scratch in the vagina will always bleed more than a scratch in your regular skin would.”
Once you reach your thirties, the chance that spotting could indicate endometrial cancer, a type of cancer of the uterus, increases. Obesity also boosts your risk of endometrial cancer, even if you’re a younger woman. “We're seeing more and more endometrial pathology like that because of the obesity epidemic. We have to worry about that in very obese women, even if they're younger,” Ford says.
Spotting “definitely becomes more worrisome after the age of 35, because it could be an early sign of endometrial cancer,” Dr. Dabney says. “Hormonal changes, fibroids, and polyps are far more common than endometrial cancer. It's probably one of those things, but unless you have it evaluated, you don't know if you're that one in 1,000 people who has the cancer.”
Fibroids, benign growths that can form in your uterus, are more likely to cause irregular bleeding if they grow into the uterine lining. Polyps, another type of benign growth, can also grow in the uterus or on the cervix and may cause bleeding. Bothfibroids and polyps can be removed surgically.
Endometrial hyperplasia, in which the lining of the uterus grows too thick, can also cause abnormal bleeding. While this condition is benign, it can be a precursor to cancer in some cases, according to ACOG.
If your doctor suspects you may have endometrial cancer, he or she will take a sample of tissue from the endometrium so that the cells can be examined under a microscope. Other tests, such as an ultrasound, may be used to determine if bleeding is related to polyps or fibroids.
The long march toward menopause — which officially occurs when a woman has not menstruated for a full year — begins for most women during their fourth decade. As your ovaries begin winding down egg production, your period is likely to become irregular. You may skip a cycle here or there, have your periods unusually close together, or experience heavy bleeding.
“As people's ovaries start to age, you can see mid-cycle spotting,” Ford says. “That's very normal and it comes from fluctuating hormone levels.” It can be hard to tell what's normal and what's not during this tricky time of life, according to Ford. “If your normal period was 3 to 5 days and now you're bleeding 7 to 10 days and it's heavy, then it's probably not a normal period.”
Senior citizens are having a moment. The U.S. population is getting older — average life expectancy for men and women has reached 76 and 81, respectively, and it’s expected to keep rising, thanks to advances in medicine, nutrition, and safety. In fact, about one in seven adults today is older than 80, and the fastest-growing age group is people over 100. But many of today’s seniors aren’t content to sit still and age quietly. Lately we’ve seen headlines of amazing elders who have completed marathons, graduated college, raced in NASCAR, and more.
“No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start living a healthier, more active, more engaging lifestyle,” says Terry Grossman, MD, a physician with an anti-aging and complementary medicine practice in Denver and co-author of Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever. Even walking an extra 10 minutes a day or taking an adult education class can help keep your body and mind sharp over time, he says. So whether you’re 35, 55, or 75, let these inspiring stories motivate you to cross a life goal off that proverbial bucket list.
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Nigel Barker: How a Mediterranean Diet Cut My Cholesterol by 88 Points
You may know Nigel Barker as the encouraging yet truthful judge on America's Next Top Model, or as a famed fashion photographer who has shot pictures for GQ, Lucky, and Town & Country, among others — or as the author of a book about connecting with your best self, Beauty Equation.
He's fit and trim and confident, but under that chiseled frame, the now 44-year-old Barker learned a few years ago that he wasn't nearly as healthy as he'd assumed. And he never would have found out — and had the chance to turn his health around — if it weren't for a routine conversation with his insurance company.
In 2011, when Barker asked for an increase in the amount of coverage on his life insurance policy, what he thought would be a no-brainer (pay more to get more) turned out to be a rude awakening.
The company denied the additional coverage because Barker's cholesterol levels were too high.
Food, Family, and High Cholesterol
Barker was shocked: He'd been following a strict low-carb, high-protein diet for the previous two years and had toned his body in the process, which he thought would be good for his heart and health. But his high-protein diet also included saturated fat-heavy red meat, cheese, and butter, which probably contributed to his total cholesterol level of 253 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and an LDL ("bad") cholesterol level of 155 mg/dL.
"I looked great on the outside," says Barker. But inside, potentially dangerous levels of cholesterol were putting him at risk for heart problems.
The optimal level of total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL, and LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Barker's total cholesterol level put him at risk for heart disease. On the plus side, Barker's "good" HDL cholesterol was fine, at 63; anything above 60 is considered cardio-protective. Though it's important to aim for these numbers, the American Heart Association (AHA) advocates looking at a person's overall health and lifestyle as risk factors in addition to cholesterol counts.
What you eat is one of these factors, and — bonus! — the perks of a healthy meal plan can extend beyond your heart. A study published in July 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in heart-healthy foods like whole grains, olive oil, legumes, fish, and fruits and vegetables had better memories and cognition as they aged.
For Barker, even more concerning than just the numbers was his family history of heart disease: His father had his first of several heart attacks at age 45. Having a parent who had a heart attack predicts your heart disease risk more than any other single factor, according to a study published in February 2011 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
"The combination of Nigel's high LDL levels and family history was really scary," says Barker's cardiologist, Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women's heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "When you have a family history of heart disease, you really have to pay attention to your own health."
Because high cholesterol has no symptoms, it can go undiagnosed for years. And people who have a high risk of heart attack due to family history often have no signs or symptoms until they have a heart attack.
While Dr. Steinbaum encourages everyone to have their levels checked regularly, it's especially important if heart disease runs in your family.
The United Stated Preventive Services Task Force recommends getting your cholesterol levels screened at age 35 for men and 45 for women, although if you have increased risk (such as with Barker), you should be screened as early as age 20.
The AHA recommends a more aggressive screening every five years beginning at age 20, but if you have high cholesterol or other heart disease risk factors, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing.
The main priority is to understand your risk and discuss it with your doctor to determine when cholesterol testing is appropriate for you.
How Barker Lowered His Cholesterol Naturally
Steinbaum recommended that Barker first change his diet instead of immediately turn to cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower his total and LDL cholesterol levels.
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So Barker traded his low-carb, high-protein eating plan for a Mediterranean-style diet. "Before, Nigel was eating exactly what he shouldn't have been eating for his heart health," Steinbaum says. "But he made the decision to change, and stuck with it."
Within a year, Barker's total cholesterol reading dropped to a much healthier 165, and his LDL was about 100.
"He did it on his own by making healthy choices every day," says Steinbaum.
And Barker remains committed to those heart-healthy habits. "Sometimes you need the drugs," he says, "but we decided to try a little bit of common sense and discipline first."