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

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

For most of the 3.5 million Americans living with a hepatitis C infection today, the promise of a cure is an empty one unless patients can get proper care. And deaths from hepatitis C keep rising, surpassing deaths from HIV.

Now, in a successful pilot program by the Cherokee Nation Health Services of northeastern Oklahoma, a May 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report shows that curing hepatitis C is possible not only in clinical trials, but also in the larger population — even in remote and impoverished areas.

 

Local Hepatitis C Screening Success

American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of death from hepatitis C of any group in the United States, and also the highest number of new hepatitis C infections, according to the CDC, says Jorge Mera, MD, lead study author and director of infectious diseases at Cherokee Nation Health Services, though he says it’s not known why. “We made a great effort to detect hepatitis C virus-positive patients," he says. "Hepatitis C virus is known as the invisible epidemic — we tried to make it visible.”

To get more people screened, the health services implemented an electronic health record reminder to target everyone born between 1945 and 1965. The automatic alert prompted medical providers if the patient they were seeing that day was due for a hepatitis C screening test based on the patient's birthdate. This pilot program resulted in a fivefold increase in first-time hepatitis C testing between 2012 and 2015, from 3,337 people to 16,772 and included 131,000 American Indian people, mostly from rural northeastern Oklahoma.

The program educated healthcare providers on how important it is to identify these patients as early as possible, and to offer them treatment. It also informed them about the many ways people are exposed to hepatitis C, including by using or having used IV or intranasal drugs, having been incarcerated, or having received a blood transfusion before 1992. The CDC recommends testing for all people with such histories.

 

Progress in National Hepatitis C Screening

A report on a second, national initiative by the Indian Health Service (IHS) that ramped up hepatitis C testing in a similar way was also published in May 2016 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). As of June 2015, the number of people they had screened overall increased from 14,402 to 68,514 over three years, varying by region from 31 to 41 percent of people in the high-risk age group.

“The Indian Health Service’s screening rates for American Indian and Alaska Native patients in the [1945 to 1965] birth cohort have more than tripled since the national recommendations were released, greatly increasing the potential for early detection and follow-up for our patients living with hepatitis C infection,” says Susan Karol, MD, Indian Health Service chief medical officer and member of the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Niagara Falls, New York. The Indian Health Service provides healthcare for 1.9 million American Indian and Alaska Native people, including 566 different recognized tribes.
A Second Test for Active Hepatitis C

“Once patients were detected as HCV-positive, a confirmatory viral blood test was performed to make sure they had an active infection,” says Mera about his hepatitis C program. This test looks for RNA that’s proof of ongoing hepatitis C virus replication in the patient’s blood.

Of the 715 people who tested positive on the first screening test, 68 percent had an active infection. They were referred to one of five hepatitis C virus clinics set up by Cherokee Nation Health Systems, which had primary care providers who were specifically trained through the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) program. Outreach also included home visits to people who had hepatitis.
Access to Hepatitis C Drugs That Can Cure

A high proportion of the people who had an active infection — 57 percent — received antiviral drug treatment in this pilot program. Ninety percent were cured of hepatitis C.

“We don’t deny treatment to anybody because they’re depressed or have an alcohol dependence medical problem,” says Mera, though this is often a barrier to getting approvals for antiviral treatment. “We do offer and encourage them to be enrolled in a behavioral health program to address the other medical conditions. As long as they’re following up with the medical appointments and interested in HCV treatment, we will treat their hepatitis C virus.”

David Rein, PhD, program area director of the public health analytics division of NORC, an independent research institution at the University of Chicago, says access to hepatitis C care is improving for some. “In March, the U.S. Veterans Administration dropped all restrictions on treatment and began to provide treatment to any veteran in its system who is infected with the virus, regardless of how far the disease has progressed. Unfortunately, the VA is the exception and not the rule. Many state Medicaid programs and private insurance plans still place unnecessary barriers on treatment access.”   

Coverage to pay for medications is a barrier for many people with hepatitis C, notes a May 2016 editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The key to success, Mera says, is being relentless. “We have a wonderful group of case managers dedicated to hepatitis C treatment procurement,” he says. “They will work with the third party payers such as Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance, and also with the patient assistance programs. Our case managers will not take no for an answer very easily, and will exhaust all the possibilities they have to obtain the medications.”
How to Cure Hepatitis C Across the United States

The three steps to a hepatitis C cure are to:

    Get screened to see if you’ve ever been exposed to the hepatitis C virus
    Get tested for active viral infection
    Get effective drug treatment

Yet half of Americans infected with hepatitis C don’t know they have it, while many of those who do know can’t get access to care or can’t pay for the antiviral medication they need.

A plan to cure hepatitis C is important because cases of infection have increased more than 2.5 times from 2010 to 2014, and deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise, exceeding 19,000 per year, according to the CDC's U.S. viral hepatitis surveillance report, published in May 2016.  

“Acute cases, which occur when a patient is first infected with hepatitis C, are increasing at an alarming rate, likely due to higher rates of injection drug use,” says Dr. Rein. But this group of people is not likely to develop symptoms of liver dysfunction for several decades.

“The record number of hepatitis C deaths that the CDC reported for 2014 is almost exclusively related to people who were initially infected with the disease in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s who developed chronic infections which gradually destroyed their livers over the course of decades,” he explains.

Rein and his colleagues had predicted in 2010 that deaths from hepatitis C would increase to 18,200 annually by the year 2020, peak at 36,000 in 2033, and kill more than one million Americans by the year 2060 if we didn't take action to prevent it. But the sobering reality is that the U.S. case numbers have already exceeded that prediction, with more than 19,000 cases in 2014.

“I still believe that is what will happen if nothing is done to address the epidemic,“ Rein says. “However, I’m both hopeful and confident in our healthcare system, and I believe that we’ll see vastly expanded testing and treatment, which will lead to dramatic reductions in deaths from hepatitis C in the years to come.”

More people, especially those born between 1945 and 1965, need to be tested for the hepatitis C antibody, he says. “Simply disseminating guidelines and providing reimbursement for testing is insufficient to assure that doctors test their patients. Interventions are needed to prioritize testing for hepatitis C.”

The Cherokee Nation group is now working with the CDC on a model that experts hope can be expanded throughout the country to lead people effectively from screening through to a hepatitis C cure.

What can help the model succeed? According to Mera, support, commitment, and trust:

    Political support (in the Cherokee Nation program, from the tribe’s chief and council)
    Commitment and trust from the administration to do the right thing to eliminate hepatitis C
    Dedicated and motivated team members who include primary care providers (nurse practitioners, physicians, pharmacists), lab technicians, nurses, administrators, behavioral health personnel, case managers, and clerks who understand the importance and urgency of hepatitis C screening and a cure

“My wish would be that patients would ask their medical providers to test them for HCV if they think they could have been exposed. This would increase screening, the first step in visualizing the invisible epidemic,” says Mera.

 

Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public

Overview

What is hepatitis?

“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

What is the difference between Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis AHepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.”

Acute Hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.

Chronic Hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.

 

Statistics

How common is acute Hepatitis C in the United States?

In 2014, there were an estimated 30,500 cases of acute hepatitis C virus infections reported in the United States.

How common is chronic Hepatitis C in the United States?

An estimated 2.7-3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.

How likely is it that acute Hepatitis C will become chronic?

Approximately 75%–85% of people who become infected with Hepatitis C virus develop chronic infection.

Transmission / Exposure

How is Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

 

People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus during such activities as

  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
  • Needlestick injuries in health care settings
  • Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C

Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through

  • Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Having sexual contact with a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus

Can Hepatitis C be spread through sexual contact?

Yes, but the risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed to be low. The risk increases for those who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV. More research is needed to better understand how and when Hepatitis C can be spread through sexual contact.

Can you get Hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?

A few major research studies have not shown Hepatitis C to be spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. However, transmission of Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. Body art is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and other informal or unregulated settings. Further research is needed to determine if these types of settings and exposures are responsible for Hepatitis C virus transmission.

Can Hepatitis C be spread within a household?

Yes, but this does not occur very often. If Hepatitis C virus is spread within a household, it is most likely a result of direct, through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an infected household member.

How should blood spills be cleaned from surfaces to make sure that Hepatitis C virus is gone?

Any blood spills — including dried blood, which can still be infectious — should be cleaned using a dilution of one part household bleach to 10 parts water. Gloves should be worn when cleaning up blood spills.

How long does the Hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?

The Hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature, on environmental surfaces, for up to 3 weeks.

What are ways Hepatitis C is not spread?

Hepatitis C virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. It is also not spread through food or water.

Who is at risk for Hepatitis C?

Some people are at increased risk for Hepatitis C, including:

  • Current injection drug users (currently the most common way Hepatitis C virus is spread in the United States)
  • Past injection drug users, including those who injected only one time or many years ago
  • Recipients of donated blood, blood products, and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
  • People who received a blood product for clotting problems made before 1987
  • Hemodialysis patients or persons who spent many years on dialysis for kidney failure
  • People who received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments
  • People with known exposures to the Hepatitis C virus, such as
    • Health care workers injured by needlesticks
    • Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus
  • HIV-infected persons
  • Children born to mothers infected with the Hepatitis C virus

Less common risks include:

  • Having sexual contact with a person who is infected with the Hepatitis C virus
  • Sharing personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes, that may have come in contact with the blood of an infected person

What is the risk of a pregnant woman passing Hepatitis C to her baby?

Hepatitis C is rarely passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. About 6 of every 100 infants born to mothers with Hepatitis C become infected with the virus. However, the risk becomes greater if the mother has both HIV infection and Hepatitis C.

Can a person get Hepatitis C from a mosquito or other insect bite?

Hepatitis C virus has not been shown to be transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects.

Can I donate blood, organs, or semen if I have Hepatitis C?

No, if you ever tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus (or Hepatitis B virus), experts recommend never donating blood, organs, or semen because this can spread the infection to the recipient.

 

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis C?

Approximately 70%–80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected, including:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)

How soon after exposure to Hepatitis C do symptoms appear?

If symptoms occur, the average time is 6–7 weeks after exposure, but this can range from 2 weeks to 6 months. However, many people infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not develop symptoms.

Can a person spread Hepatitis C without having symptoms?

Yes, even if a person with Hepatitis C has no symptoms, he or she can still spread the virus to others.

Is it possible to have Hepatitis C and not know it?

Yes, many people who are infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not know they are infected because they do not look or feel sick.

What are the symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C?

Most people with chronic Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. However, if a person has been infected for many years, his or her liver may be damaged. In many cases, there are no symptoms of the disease until liver problems have developed. In persons without symptoms, Hepatitis C is often detected during routine blood tests to measure liver function and liver enzyme (protein produced by the liver) level.

How serious is chronic Hepatitis C?

Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. It is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Approximately 19,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C related liver disease.

What are the long-term effects of Hepatitis C?

Of every 100 people infected with the Hepatitis C virus, about

  • 75–85 people will develop chronic Hepatitis C virus infection; of those,
    • 60–70 people will go on to develop chronic liver disease
    • 5–20 people will go on to develop cirrhosis over a period of 20–30 years
    • 1–5 people will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer

Tests

Can a person have normal liver enzyme (e.g., ALT) results and still have Hepatitis C?

Yes. It is common for persons with chronic Hepatitis C to have a liver enzyme level that goes up and down, with periodic returns to normal or near normal. Some infected persons have liver enzyme levels that are normal for over a year even though they have chronic liver disease. If the liver enzyme level is normal, persons should have their enzyme level re-checked several times over a 6–12 month period. If the liver enzyme level remains normal, the doctor may check it less frequently, such as once a year.

Who should get tested for Hepatitis C?

Talk to your doctor about being tested for Hepatitis C if any of the following are true:

  • You were born from 1945 through 1965
  • You are a current or former injection drug user, even if you injected only one time or many years ago.
  • You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
  • You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
  • You are on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
  • You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
  • You work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needlestick or other sharp object injury.
  • You are infected with HIV.

If you are pregnant, should you be tested for Hepatitis C?

No, getting tested for Hepatitis C is not part of routine prenatal care. However, if a pregnant woman has risk factors for Hepatitis C virus infection, she should speak with her doctor about getting tested.

What blood tests are used to test for Hepatitis C?

Several different blood tests are used to test for Hepatitis C. A doctor may order just one or a combination of these tests. Typically, a person will first get a screening test that will show whether he or she has developed antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus. (An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus.) Having a positive antibody test means that a person was exposed to the virus at some time in his or her life. If the antibody test is positive, a doctor will most likely order a second test to confirm whether the virus is still present in the person's bloodstream.

Treatment

Can acute Hepatitis C be treated?

Yes, acute hepatitis C can be treated. Acute infection can clear on its own without treatment in about 25% of people. If acute hepatitis C is diagnosed, treatment does reduce the risk that acute hepatitis C will become a chronic infection. Acute hepatitis C is treated with the same medications used to treat chronic Hepatitis C. However, the optimal treatment and when it should be started remains uncertain.

Can chronic Hepatitis C be treated?

Yes. There are several medications available to treat chronic Hepatitis C, including new treatments that appear to be more effective and have fewer side effects than previous options. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a complete list of approved treatments for Hepatitis C.

Is it possible to get over Hepatitis C?

Yes, approximately 15%–25% of people who get Hepatitis C will clear the virus from their bodies without treatment and will not develop chronic infection. Experts do not fully understand why this happens for some people.

What can a person with chronic Hepatitis C do to take care of his or her liver?

People with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly by an experienced doctor. They should avoid alcohol because it can cause additional liver damage. They also should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, as these can potentially damage the liver. If liver damage is present, a person should check with his or her doctor about getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Vaccination

Is there a vaccine that can prevent Hepatitis C?

Not yet. Vaccines are available only for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Research into the development of a vaccine is under way.

Hepatitis C and Employment

Should a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus be restricted from working in certain jobs or settings?

CDC's recommendations for prevention and control of the Hepatitis C virus infection state that people should not be excluded from work, school, play, child care, or other settings because they have Hepatitis C. There is no evidence that people can get Hepatitis C from food handlers, teachers, or other service providers without blood-to-blood contact.

Hepatitis C and Co-infection with HIV

What is HIV and Hepatitis C virus coinfection?

HIV and Hepatitis C virus coinfection refers to being infected with both HIV and the Hepatitis C virus. Coinfection is more common in persons who inject drugs. In fact, 50%–90% of HIV-infected persons who use injection drugs are also infected with the Hepatitis C virus. To learn more about coinfection, visithttp://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/hepatitis.htm.

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.

The boredom.

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.

Eating Well As You Age

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:

  • Eat every three or four hours. “This keeps energy levels high and keeps appetite hormones in check to avoid overeating,” says Kim Larson, RD, of Total Health in Seattle and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Eat protein at each meal. Aim for 20 to 30 grams to help maintain muscle mass. Choose fish at least twice a week as a source of high quality protein. Other good sources of protein include lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Choose whole grains. Replace refined flour products with whole grains for more nutrients and fiber.
  • Choose low-fat dairy. Cutting out the saturated fat may help lower your risk for heart disease.
  • Learn about portion sizes. You may need to scale back on the serving sizes of foods to control your weight.
  • Choose nutrient-rich whole foods over empty calories. Whole foods are those closest to their natural state. Empty calories are typically processed foods with added salt, sugar, and fat. For example, snack on whole fruit instead of cookies.
  • Eat a “rainbow” of foods. “Eat five to seven servings of fruits and veggies each day to keep antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E high,” Larson says. Choosing fruits and vegetables of different colors provides your body with a wide range of nutrients. According to research published in the May 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Societyexercise coupled with higher fruit and vegetable intake led to longer lives. Fruits and veggies also fill you up with fiber, which cuts down on snacking and helps control weight, Larson says.
  • Choose healthy cooking techniques. Try steaming, baking, roasting, or sautéing food rather than frying it to cut back on fat.
  • Cut down on salt. If you’re over 51, national recommendations are to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day. Look for low-sodium foods and season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
  • Stay hydrated. “Dehydration can cause irritability, fatigue, confusion, and urinary tract infections,” Larson says. Be sure to drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated liquids throughout the day.
  • Ask about supplements. You may have changing nutrient needs as you get older and might benefit from vitamins B12 and D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, Larson says. Ask your doctor or a dietitian for guidance.

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:

  • If you've lost your appetite or sense of taste: Try new recipes and flavors — adding spices, herbs, and lemon juice can make foods more appealing. If you take medication, ask your doctor if appetite or taste changes are side effects and if switching to another drug might help.
  • If you have a hard time swallowing or chewing: Choose foods that are moist and easy to eat, such as nutritious soups made with beans and vegetables, Larson says.
  • If affording groceries is difficult: Shop from a list — careful planning can help you make the healthiest and most cost-effective food choices. Use coupons or shop on days when discounts are offered. Buying fruits and veggies when they’re in season and frozen produce in bulk can also help control expenses.
  • If you have trouble preparing meals: Consider buying healthy prepared or semi-prepared meals or at least pre-cut ingredients to cut down on energy-draining prep time.

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.

Everyday Health: What causes hyperpigmentation?

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Jeanine Downie: Any trauma or inflammation to the skin — either from acne, pimples, bug bites, or simply a bump, cut, or scratch — disrupts the surface layers where you have melanin, responsible for skin’s color. As the skin heals, it leaves behind residual pigmentation and dark spots.

 

 

 

EH: Is there anything you can do to prevent it?

JD: Unfortunately, if you’re prone to these dark spots, it’s tough to prevent them. Still, picking or scratching at an irritation will further traumatize the area, so hands off! You’ll also want to be vigilant about wearing sunscreen. As your skin gets darker, so will those hyperpigmented areas — it’s not like a tan is going to even out the color. Obviously, daily sunscreen wear is a must anyway, but this is just one more reason to protect your skin from UV rays.

EH: What steps can you take to treat it?

JD: The sooner you start taking care of your wound, the better it’ll look once healed. I recommend keeping the wound covered, especially if the skin is broken, and applying a topical healing ointment.

 

 

For large cysts or cuts, you may even want to see your dermatologist for a treatment plan. Once the pimple or cut has healed, apply 2% hydroquinone cream, which is available over-the-counter, or 4% hydroquinone, available by prescription from your doctor.

If the topical creams don’t quite do the trick, talk to your dermatologist about chemical peels or laser treatments to completely eliminate more stubborn discoloration.

EH: Is hyperpigmentation more common in people with darker complexions?

JD: No matter your skin color, everyone is susceptible to hyperpigmentation. Still, those with darker complexions seem to hold on to those spots for much longer because they have more melanin in their skin. It also means those hyperpigmented areas are going to be darker and more visible as well. Pregnancy and certain medications can increase your body’s production of melanin, and lead to hyperpigmentation as well.

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.

GBS Prevalence

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.

Causes and Risk Factors

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:

  • Immunizations
  • Surgery
  • Trauma

Guillain-Barré syndrome is not contagious — it cannot spread from one person to another.

Types of GBS

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.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome Symptoms

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:

  • Pricking or tingling "pins and needles" sensations in the fingers, toes, ankles, or wrists
  • Muscle weakness that starts in the legs and spreads to the upper body
  • Unsteady walking
  • Difficulty with eye or facial movements (blinking, chewing, speaking)
  • Difficulty controlling the bowels or bladder
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing

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:

  • A history of anxiety or depression
  • A history of dieting (especially in unhealthy ways, such as skipping meals or not eating enough food each day)
  • Painful childhood experiences, such as family problems

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

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:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you're not feeling hungry
  • Eating alone, because you feel embarrassed about how much you're eating
  • Feeling extremely disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating

Some people also display behavioral, emotional, or physical characteristics, such as:

  • Secretive food behaviors, including hoarding, hiding, or stealing food
  • Feelings of anger, anxiety, worthlessness, or shame preceding a binge
  • Feeling disgusted with your body size
  • A strong need to be in control, or perfectionist tendencies

Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

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:

 

10 Varicose Veins Myths

If you have ropy, blue blood vessels in your legs, you may think that they’re unsightly but don't cause any overt symptoms. Yet for some people, varicose veins can cause skin damage and, even worse, lead to dangerous blood clots.

They’re incredibly common: Varicose veins affect about one in four U.S. adults, or about 22 million women and 11 million men between ages 40 and 80.

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Your leg veins face an uphill battle as they carry blood from your toes to your heart. Small flaps, or valves, within these vessels prevent blood from getting backed up on this journey, and the pumping action of your leg muscles helps push the blood along. 

But if these valves weaken, blood can pool — primarily in the veins of your legs — increasing pressure in the veins. As a result of this increased pressure, your body tries to widen the veins to compensate, causing them to bulge and thicken, and leading to the characteristic twisted appearance of varicose veins.

 

 

To help you learn the facts about these enlarged veins, we've set the record straight on 10 sometimes confusing pieces of information, including who gets varicose veins and why, health problems they can cause, and treatment options.

Myth 1: Varicose Veins Are Only a Cosmetic Issue

“A lot of people are told by primary care doctors or others that varicose veins are a cosmetic issue only, when oftentimes they can be much more than that,” saysKathleen D. Gibson, MD, a vascular surgeon practicing in Bellevue, Washington.

“A significant percentage of patients with varicose veins will eventually develop symptoms,” says Pablo Sung Yup Kim, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. “The most common include dull achiness, heaviness, throbbing, cramping, and swelling of the legs.” Other symptoms include severe dryness and itchiness of the skin near varicose veins. People with varicose veins are also at an increased risk for a dangerous type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis.

Other not-so-common signs and symptoms, found in less than 10 percent of patients, include bleeding, skin discoloration, skin thickening, and ulcer formation — all due to varicose veins, says Kim. Unfortunately, once you have skin damage, it’s usually permanent.

“It’s very important to seek medical advice if you have varicose veins and experience symptoms — before changes in the skin are irreversible,” he says.

Myth 2: Varicose Veins Are an Inevitable Sign of Aging

Aging definitely worsens varicose veins, though not everyone gets them. “It's a degenerative process that gets worse and more prominent as we age,” says Dr. Gibson. But young people can get varicose veins, too. While the average age of patients treated in Gibson’s practice is 52, she and her colleagues have treated patients as young as 13.

If you've got varicose veins, it may run in your family. “The cause of varicose veins is primarily genetic,” Gibson explains.

Changes in hormone levels also come into play as a risk factor for varicose veins. “Your risk can be made worse, especially by pregnancy,” she adds.

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

While varicose veins are more common in women, men get them, too. About one-quarter of adult women have some visible varicose veins, compared to 10 to 15 percent of men.

Steve Hahn, 51, of Kirkland, Washington, first noticed in his twenties that he had varicose veins in his left leg after he sprained his ankle playing basketball. When he injured his knee about 10 years ago, he noticed that the varicose veins had become more extensive.

“After about five years of thinking about it, I finally had them treated,” he says. “Both of my legs felt very heavy all of the time at this point, as opposed to just after walking a golf course or playing tennis or basketball.”

After treatment, Hahn says, “I feel like I have new legs.” The heaviness is gone, as is the ankle swelling, which he didn't know was related to the varicose veins. And as a side benefit, he adds, he looks better in shorts.

Myth 4: Running Can Cause Varicose Veins

Exercise — including running — is usually a good thing for your veins. “Exercise is always good for the circulation,” Kim says. “Walking or running can lead to more calf-muscle pumping and more blood returning to the heart.”

“Being a runner doesn’t cause varicose veins,” adds Gibson, though there's controversy about whether exercise makes them worse or not.” Compression stockings can help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs during exercise. “For patients who haven't had their varicose veins treated and are running, I recommend compression. When you’re done running and are cooling off, elevate your legs,” she says.

Myth 5: Varicose Veins Are Always Visible

While the varicose veins you notice are right at the surface of the skin, they occur deeper in the body, too, where you can't see them. “It really depends on the makeup of the leg,” Gibson says. “If you've got a lot of fatty tissue between the muscle and the skin, you may not see them. Sometimes surface veins are the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot going on underneath.”

Myth 6: Standing on the Job Causes Varicose Veins

If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet a lot — as a teacher or flight attendant, for example — you may be more bothered by varicose veins. But the jury's still out on whether prolonged standing actually causes varicose veins. “People tend to notice their varicose vein symptoms more when they’re standing or sitting,” Gibson explains.

RELATED: Steer Clear of These 9 Artery and Vein Diseases

Myth 7: Making Lifestyle Changes Won't Help

Your lifestyle does matter, because obesity can worsen varicose veins, and getting down to a healthy weight can help ease symptoms. Becoming more physically active is also helpful. “Wearing compression stockings, doing calf-strengthening exercises, and elevating your legs can all improve or prevent varicose veins,” saysAndrew F. Alexis, MD, MPH, chairman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York City.

Myth 8: Surgery Is Your Only Treatment Option

The only treatment available for varicose veins used to be a type of surgery called stripping, in which the vein is surgically removed from the body. That’s no longer the case. While this procedure is still the most commonly used varicose vein treatment worldwide, according to Gibson, minimally invasive procedures that don't leave scars have become much more popular in the United States.

Endothermal ablation, for example, involves using a needle to deliver heat to your vein, causing it to close and no longer function. While the procedure doesn't leave a scar, it can be painful, and you may have to undergo sedation before being treated. “You have to have a series of injections along the vein to numb it up; otherwise, you wouldn't be able to tolerate the heat,” Gibson explains. You may need to take a day off from work to recover, as well as a few days off from the gym.

Some medications, called sclerosing agents, close a vein by causing irritation. Others are adhesives that seal a vein shut and don’t require the area to be numbed. Gibson and her colleagues have helped develop some of the new technologies and products used in treating varicose veins, including adhesives.

Milder varicose veins can be treated by dermatologists with non-invasive approaches, such as laser therapy and sclerotherapy, says Dr. Alexis. “For more severe cases where symptoms may be involved, seeing a vascular surgeon for surgical treatment options is advised.”

Although treatment for varicose veins means losing some veins, you have plenty of others in your body that can take up the slack, explains Gibson. “The majority of the blood flow in veins in the leg is not on the surface at all; it's in the deep veins within the muscle,” she says. “Those deep veins … are easily able to take over for any veins that we remove on the surface.”

Myth 9: Recovery After Varicose Vein Treatments Is Difficult

 

 

Newer treatments have quicker recovery times. “These procedures can be performed in an office within 20 to 30 minutes with no recovery time. Patients can usually return to work or daily activities on the same day,” Kim says.

Myth 10: Varicose Veins Can Be Cured

Treatments are effective, but they aren't a cure, Gibson says. Sometimes, varicose veins can make a repeat appearance after treatment. “What I tell my patients is it's kind of like weeding a garden,” she says. “We clear them all out, but that doesn't mean there's never going to be another dandelion popping out.”

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:

  • Vaginal bleeding (especially if you’re past menopause)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Pain or pressure in the area below your stomach and between your hip bones
  • Back pain
  • A change in bathroom habits, such as urgently needing to urinate, urinating frequently, or having constipation or diarrhea

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:

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Strong urge to urinate or frequent urination
  • Bloating or increased abdominal size
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full early

If a woman experiences these symptoms on more than 12 days a month for less than one year, she should insist that her doctor perform a thorough ovarian evaluation, says Morgan. This might include the CA-125 blood test or atransvaginal ultrasound exam.

4. Early detection can mean a better prognosis. When detected early enough, ovarian cancer can be cured. “Stage 1 and stage 2 ovarian cancer is curable about 75 to 95 percent of the time, depending on the tumor grade and cell type,” says Morgan. But because this cancer occurs deep inside the body’s pelvic region, it is often diagnosed in later stages, he says. The cure rate for stage 3 ovarian cancer is about 25 to 30 percent, and for stage 4 it's less than 5 percent, he adds.

RELATED: Overcoming Ovarian Cancer, Twice

5. Ovarian cancer has several key risk factorsThese include:

  • Women with a family history of ovarian cancer may be at higher risk.
  • Women who have never been pregnant and women who have uninterrupted ovulation due to infertility treatments seem to be at higher risk.
  • Early onset of your period, or having a late menopause, seems to increase risk.
  • Using talcum powder in the genital area may increase risk.
  • Smoking is a risk factor for a type of ovarian cancer known as mucinous ovarian cancer. Quitting smoking seems to reverse the risk back to normal, says Morgan.

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.

How to Prevent Hearing Loss

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.

Types and Causes of Hearing Loss

There are three basic types of hearing loss:

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  • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear nerves or the nerves that carry sound to the hearing area of the brain. Once you have this type of nerve damage, the only treatment is a hearing aid. Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include injuries, tumors, infection, certain medications, and excessive noise exposure.
  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a condition that blocks sound waves from being transferred to the nerves involved in the hearing process. Whereas sensorineural hearing loss usually affects both ears, conductive hearing loss may only affect one ear. Common causes include ear infections, ear wax, ear trauma such as a punctured eardrum, and other diseases that affect the ear canal, the eardrum, or the tiny bones in the middle ear. Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, this type of hearing loss can often be corrected and restored.
  • Mixed hearing loss occurs when someone who has nerve type hearing loss from aging or noise trauma then gets an ear infection or develops a wax impaction, causing their hearing to suddenly get much worse. It’s a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Evaluation

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:

  • You have trouble hearing while on the telephone.
  • You can’t seem to follow a conversation if there is background noise.
  • You struggle to understand women’s or children's voices.
  • People complain that you turn up the TV volume too high.
  • You constantly ask people to repeat themselves.
  • You have a long history of working around loud noises.
  • You notice a ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in your ears.

 

 

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.

Tips for Hearing Loss Prevention

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:

  • Minimize your exposure to loud noises that are persistent.
  • Never listen to music through headphones or ear buds with the volume all the way up.
  • Wear ear plugs or protective earmuffs during any activity that exposes you to noise at or above 85 decibels.
  • See your doctor about a baseline hearing test, called an audiogram, to find out if you already have some early 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.

New Cholesterol Drugs Vastly Overpriced, Study Contends

The list price of these newer drugs is upwards of $14,000 a year per patient.Getty Images
Are new medicines for people with out-of-control cholesterol wildly overpriced? It's a question that's sparking debate among consumers and providers of care.

Now, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) report that the price of these drugs -- called PCSK9 inhibitors -- would have to be slashed by a whopping 71 percent to be deemed cost-effective.

PCSK9 inhibitors are a relatively new class of medicines for treating patients whose LDL (bad) cholesterol isn't well-controlled on statins or who cannot tolerate statins. Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Crestor (rosuvastatin) are examples of first-line statins doctors typically prescribe to patients with high cholesterol.

The UCSF team didn't question whether these new medicines are effective in reducing heart attacks and strokes.

"These are super awesome drugs, they really work," said study co-author Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo.

But the price is "far in excess" of what would be considered a reasonable cost for the clinical benefit they provide, added Bibbins-Domingo, a UCSF professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics.

The list price of these newer PCSK9 drugs is upwards of $14,000 a year per patient.

Dr. Kim Allan Williams, who was not involved in the study, is past president of the American College of Cardiology. He said some doctors have a difficult time with such studies because they compare patients' lives and "events" — such as heart attack and stroke — versus dollars spent on these medicines.

The new study doesn't change his view of the value of the PCSK9 inhibitor class.

"No one's giving those drugs unless the patient is incapable of getting to the target [level of LDL cholesterol]," said Williams, who is chief of cardiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "You're only going to use it for a situation where you have no choice."

RELATED: 8 Foods That Can Cause High Cholesterol

Because the study is based on list prices, not what patients actually pay, it's also "difficult to analyze the cost-effectiveness when [you] don't know exactly what the cost is," Williams added.

He said he's had patients with copays of $380 a month and others who had zero copays because the cost was completely covered by insurance. He worries, though, that poor patients may not be offered the same access to these medicines.

The CSF researchers designed the study to find out how much bang for the buck these drugs actually provide.

Their study updates a prior cost-effectiveness analysis using current list prices as well as results of a recent clinical trial. That trial demonstrated the clinical effectiveness of Repatha (evolocumab), one of two PCSK9 inhibitors approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Based on a simulation involving 8.9 million adults who would meet trial criteria, adding PCSK9 inhibitors to statins would prevent 2.9 million more heart attacks and strokes compared with adding Zetia (ezetimibe), another type of medication that blocks the production of cholesterol by the liver.

But the PCSK9 inhibitor class is not cost-effective based on a threshold of $100,000 for each life year gained, the study authors contend. They found that you would have to spend $450,000 per year to get one extra year of life per year.

"The price would have to be between $4,000 and $5,000 [per year] for it to be cost-effective," said Bibbins-Domingo. "If you look in other countries, in Europe, for example, that is in fact where this drug is priced."

Dr. Josh Ofman, senior vice president of global value, access and policy at Amgen Inc., the maker of Repatha, took issue with the findings. "We think that their model is deeply flawed," he said.

The study was based a 3 percent per-year rate of heart attacks and strokes, while other studies use much higher rates — more than three times higher — based on "real-world" data, Ofman said. The study is modeling a population that's not having many heart attacks and strokes, he said.

Ofman also questioned the threshold for determining cost-effectiveness that the UCSF researchers used. He said other organizations use a minimum of $150,000 per quality-adjusted life-year saved.

As for the price differential between the United States and Europe, Ofman cited many factors, from government price controls to how those countries price these drugs.

Amgen isn't alone in its criticism of how these medicines are valued. Earlier this month, several national provider and payer groups raised concerns about how the PCSK9 inhibitors are valued in a letter to the nonprofit Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, which assesses the value of new medicines.

More than a dozen organizations, including the National Forum for Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention, the American Pharmacists Association Foundation and the American Society for Preventive Cardiology, signed the letter citing concerns ranging from the types of patients that could benefit from these drugs to the importance of preventing heart attacks and strokes — not just deaths.

"The big controversy about all these types of analyses is what we're willing to value a patient's year of life at," Ofman said.

The new study was published in the Aug. 22/29 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Calming Power of Nature

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

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

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

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

RELATED: How to Create a Depression Treatment Plan

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

What Nature-Depression Research Shows

Among the studies finding nature helps with depression:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

  • A history of anxiety or depression
  • A history of dieting (especially in unhealthy ways, such as skipping meals or not eating enough food each day)
  • Painful childhood experiences, such as family problems

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

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:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you're not feeling hungry
  • Eating alone, because you feel embarrassed about how much you're eating
  • Feeling extremely disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating

Some people also display behavioral, emotional, or physical characteristics, such as:

  • Secretive food behaviors, including hoarding, hiding, or stealing food
  • Feelings of anger, anxiety, worthlessness, or shame preceding a binge
  • Feeling disgusted with your body size
  • A strong need to be in control, or perfectionist tendencies

Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

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:

 

Side Effects of Multiple Sclerosis Medications

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

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

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

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

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

Discussing Medication Side Effects With Your Doctor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing MS Medication Side Effects

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: 7 Side Effects of MS Steroid Treatment

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

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

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

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

Distinguishing Side Effects From Symptoms

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

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


Ongoing Medication Monitoring

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

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

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

News From AAN: Correction on Tysabri/PML Blog (last of paper)

Last week we posted a blog about the risks of PML for patients taking Tysabri, based on news from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meetings which took place earlier this month. In the comments section, Chris asked that we check our facts and report back.

Well, once again, your commitment to the Life With MS Blog community has paid off.

I jotted off a quick e-mail to the Public Affairs department for Biogen/Idec and waited… and waited… and got nothing. Because, however, of the active participation of our community the conversation was noted and I got an e-mail asking if we needed any assistance directly from the senior manager for international public affairs.

I am not happy that I was wrong, but I am happy to know that we can get the correct information out to you today.

I had reported that Alfred Sandrock, MD, PhD, of Biogen/Idec, presented findings from the company’s study on progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in patients using Biogen/Idec’s MS drug, Tysabri. I was mistaken in my assessment of “immunosuppressive” (IS) therapy in the list of risk factors for PML.

Risk factors for PML include:

More than two years on Tysabri
Prior immunosuppressant therapy
Positive serology for JC virus infection
According to Biogen, immunosuppessants, in the context used by Dr Sandrock are limited as:

“A prior IS would be considered mitoxantrone, azathioprine, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate, cladribine, rituximab, and chemotherapy (not otherwise specified).”

Not included, as you can see, are any of the other MS disease modifying therapies (DMT) or even corticosteroids like Solu-Medral or Prednisone — which is normally considered an IS drug, but not for the case of the PML warning.

The original press release that I received on the topic was incomplete and I apologize for the misunderstanding.

As a side note, I took advantage of the conversation to request more information on the companies rational in keeping the patent on the JC Virus assay test that I also mentioned in that same blog post. I’ll update you on that conversation as soon as it happens.

Once again, your voice was heard by the people who have the answers and I think we’ve cleared up the misunderstanding. Thank you all for your continued involvement in our community. It makes a big difference in the lives of so many!

Wishing you and your family the best of health

 

How to Find the Right Therapist for Your Depression

The right therapist can make all the difference in getting the best treatment for depression, but do some homework before you choose one.


If you're depressed, a therapist can teach you how to deal with your feelings, change the way you think, and change the way you behave to help ease your symptoms.

Finding a therapist you are comfortable with is essential. You will need to talk openly and honestly with your therapist about your thoughts and feelings, so it's important to find the right specialist for you, says Ryan Howes, PhD, a clinical psychologist and a clinical professor at the Fuller School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.

The first step is to look at yourself and determine what it is you need, Dr. Howes says. “Ask yourself, Am I the sort of person who benefits from someone who tells me what to do? Or do I need someone with a good ability to listen and who will talk through things with me?" he advises. Your answer will tell you whether you need someone who will provide directive or non-directive therapy.

Also consider whom you might feel most comfortable with: a man or a woman; someone about your age, or someone younger or older; someone with lots of experience, or someone who is relatively new with fresh ideas. “Once you narrow it down, you can start looking for people who meet your criteria,” Howes says.

Different Types of Therapists and Their Credentials

Several types of mental health professionals can serve as a therapist for people with depression. Being aware of the training differences might help you narrow your search.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD or DO degree) who have completed specialized training in mental and emotional disorders. They can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications for depression. Psychiatrists may also provide individual or group therapy. Philip R. Muskin, MD, professor of psychiatry and chief of consultation-liaison psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, advises starting with a physician if you’re severely depressed.

Psychologists have a doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) in psychology. They are skilled in the diagnosis of emotional disorders and spend most of their time providing individual or group psychotherapy, but do not prescribe medication.

Social workers usually have a master’s degree in social work (MSW) and have training in providing individual or group therapy.

Licensed professional counselors have a master’s degree in psychology (or a related area) and are trained to diagnose and counsel individuals or groups.

Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses (RNs) with training in psychiatric nursing.

Sources of Referrals

How do you go about finding the right therapist for you?

You might want to start by talking with your family doctor. If your doctor feels you need a mental health specialist, he or she should be able to give you referrals, Dr. Muskin says. Or you might be the one to tell your regular doctor, "I need to see a psychiatrist, and this is why,” he adds.

RELATED: 5 Things Psychologists Wish Their Patients Would Do

You could also ask around to see if your friends or family members know of a good therapist who has experience in treating depression. “Personal references can be very good, particularly if they come from someone who knows you well and what you like,” Muskin says.

Here are other resources to help you find a therapist for depression treatment: 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) runs a helpline that can help you locate support. Call 800-950-NAMI or email info@NAMI.org.
The American Psychological Association has a therapist locator on its website.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America can also help you locate a therapist near where you live. 
Your health insurance company likely has a dropdown menu item, such as “find a provider,” for names of professionals in its network.
Schools and universities often have counseling services that can offer referrals if they can’t help you directly. You may have access if you’re an alum or faculty.
The clergy Faith leaders often know of mental health professionals who can help. And if they know you, they can recommend someone who fits your personality and needs. 
Employee Assistance Programs If offered by your employer, they’re part of your benefits package.  
How to Interview Potential Therapists

Once you have a list of at least two or three potential therapists, it's time to figure out which one is best for you. Call each therapist to get some key information before making an appointment.

Questions to ask include:

Are you taking new patients?
What experience do you have treating patients who have depression?
Where do the therapy sessions take place? Some psychiatrists have more than one office where they see patients, Muskin says. Their location and when they hold appointments can matter to you, he adds.
How much does the therapy cost? Do you take my insurance?
Can I meet with you before committing to a therapy session?
RELATED: 6 Questions Everyone Should Ask Their Therapist

If you're able to make a consultation appointment before a therapy session, ask the therapist more specific preliminary questions, such as:

What type of therapy would you recommend for my depression symptoms?
What will this type of therapy involve?
What are the benefits and the primary goals of my depression treatment?
Are you willing to work with other members of my medical team to coordinate my depression treatment? This is especially important if you have a non-MD therapist who will rely on your primary care doctor to prescribe medications.
How often would I need therapy sessions?
After meeting with a potential therapist, take some time to decide whether you are comfortable with them. If you aren’t, keep looking until you find one you like and trust.

Some people will improve with psychotherapy alone; others may need both psychotherapy and a prescription antidepressant. Once you start therapy for your depression, be patient. Psychotherapy (sometimes referred to as talk therapy) for depression can sometimes be painful, and you may find yourself doing most of the talking during the first few sessions. Your therapist will partner with you to ease your depression symptoms and improve your life.

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.

Why Some Seniors Lose Their Hearing

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

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

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What Causes Hearing Loss?

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

Related: 11 Early Signs of Dementia

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

Risk Factors Related to Hearing Loss

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

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

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

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

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

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

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

Hearing Aids and Other Treatment Options

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

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

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

Types of hearing aids include:

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Many Under 40 May Not Need Regular Cholesterol Checks: Study

Many adults under 40 may not need to have routine cholesterol screenings, a new study suggests.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers looked at the real world implications of two conflicting sets of guidelines on cholesterol testing.

One, from the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA), says that all adults older than 20 should have a cholesterol screening. They also suggest a repeat test every four to six years.

The other guidelines come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-funded, independent panel of medical experts. They say many adults can go longer before their first cholesterol test -- until age 35 for men, and age 45 for women.

The exception would be people with a major risk factor for heart problems -- such as high blood pressure, smoking or a family history of early heart disease.

Those patients can start cholesterol testing at age 20, the task force adds.

The new findings support the "more targeted" approach the task force uses, according to lead researcher Dr. Krishna Patel, of Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Mo.

Why? The study, Patel explained, tried to estimate the impact of the two different guidelines in the "real world."

To do that, the researchers used data on 9,600 U.S. adults aged 30 to 49 who were part of a government health study.

The study team found that among nonsmokers with normal blood pressure, very few were at heightened risk of suffering a heart attack in the next 10 years. That means very few would be considered candidates for a cholesterol-lowering statin -- even with elevated LDL (so-called "bad" cholesterol) levels.

"So, screening cholesterol early doesn't bring much actionable information," Patel said. "If we're not going to treat, there's no point in doing it."

The study was published May 15 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Others disagreed with Patel's point.

The point of screening younger adults is not so doctors can put them all on statins, said Dr. Neil Stone, one of the authors of the ACC/AHA guidelines.

Instead, there are two central reasons, Stone explained.

One is to spot younger adults who may be heading down a path toward heart disease later in life.

Once they know their LDL is high, they and their doctors can have an "all-important discussion" about diet and lifestyle changes, said Stone, who is also professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

READ MORE: 9 Things Dietitians Wish You Knew About High Cholesterol

The other reason is to catch cases of familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic condition that causes very high LDL levels (above 190 mg/dL), he said.

People with the condition have a much higher-than-average risk of heart disease, and often develop it at a young age.

Because of that, the condition should be treated with statins, according to the ACC/AHA.

There is "strong and compelling evidence," Stone said, that catching the condition in younger adults makes a difference.

Dr. Paul Ridker, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, had a similar view.

"Familial hypercholesterolemia is a common disorder, and it's easy to detect," said Ridker, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Why delay something as simple and inexpensive as a cholesterol test?"

Plus, he said, catching even "run-of-the-mill" high LDL is important.

"Knowing about it early in life can be a good motivator to make lifestyle changes," Ridker said.

What if a young adult has healthy LDL levels? Ridker said he'd be "fine" with that patient forgoing further tests until later in life.

For her part, Patel agreed that a one-time check, to catch familial hypercholesterolemia, is a wise move for young adults. But she questioned the value of repeat testing.

According to Stone, the ACC/AHA guidelines say it's "reasonable" to repeat cholesterol testing every four to six years. "It's not mandatory," he noted.

But people's lives, and heart disease risk factors, change as they move through adulthood, Stone said. So, a periodic cholesterol check can be useful when it's done as part of a "global risk assessment" where doctors look at blood pressure, smoking habits and other major risk factors for heart disease.

Motivating younger adults to get those risk factors under control is critical, according to Stone. "We know it's a big deal if you can have optimal risk factor [control] by age 45 or 50," he said.

In the study, very few people were at elevated risk of heart attack -- as long as they didn't smoke or have high blood pressure. ("Elevated" meant a greater than 5 percent chance of having a heart attack in the next 10 years.)

In the absence of those two risk factors, only 0.09 percent of men younger than 40 were at elevated risk of heart attack. And only 0.04 percent of women younger than 50 were.

But smoking, in particular, changed everything: Among male smokers in their 40s, one-half to three-quarters were at elevated risk of a heart attack.

"Smoking had a huge effect," Patel said. Smokers, she stressed, should "definitely" have their cholesterol tested -- and, more importantly, quit the habit.

7 Dietitian-Approved Pumpkin Spice Foods You'll Love

1 / 8   Healthy Treats to Celebrate the Season

Fall means beautiful foliage, back-to-school time, and, you guessed it, pumpkin spice everything. From lattes to hummus (yes, you read that right), there’s no shortage of pumpkin spice-flavored products on the market. The problem is that many of these foods are laden with fat and sugar. A grande pumpkin spice latte with whipped cream at Starbucks, for example, contains a whopping 50 grams (g) of sugar and 380 calories — enough for a whole meal! Then there’s the pumpkin muffin from Dunkin’ Donuts, which weighs in at 550 calories and 24 g of fat.

The good news is you don’t have to steer clear of foods with pumpkin: They contain even more potassium than bananas, which means they can help lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. Plus, a study published in February 2014 in the International Journal of Clinical Oncology found that consuming foods rich in beta-carotene — like pumpkins — is associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer, and a study published in 2004 showed that it may also reduce risk of prostate cancer.

To help you get into the spirit of the season — without widening your waistline — try these dietitian-approved pumpkin spice treats!

6 Ways To Tone Your Entire Bod Using Just A Resistance Band

Not only are resistance bands a great toning tool, but you can take them anywhere because they're light and super compact. They're also a smart transition to using weights.

For this workout, try to do 10-12 repetitions of each move using a band that challenges you. (Try this Adjustable Resistance Tube, $8, ) Bands usually come with a light, medium, and heavy option, so choose the best match for your fitness level (and switch to a heavier one as you get stronger). Try to flow from one exercise to the next without taking a break.

(The Slim, Sexy, Strong Workout DVD is the fast, flexible workout you've been waiting for!)‚Äč

To start, step on the center of the band with one leg and then step forward with your other leg. Lean your torso forward and keep reaching out through the top of your head all the way down to your tailbone. Try not to hunch over, and make sure to keep tension on your band the whole time. This will be your base posture throughout all six of these moves:

Getting an IBS Diagnosis

Diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome isn’t like diagnosing other diseases. Your doctor can’t take a swab or a vial of blood and test it to determine the problem. There is no single test that can point to IBS as the cause of your symptoms.

Instead, when you go to your doctor about IBS symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and stomach cramps, he has to rule out other conditions and then pay careful attention to your symptoms before giving you a diagnosis.

Diagnosing IBS “For years, anyone who had gastrointestinal symptoms that couldn’t be explained was told they had IBS,” says Steven Field, MD, a gastroenterologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. But now doctors use the "Rome criteria," which are a specific set of symptoms that have to be present in order to give a diagnosis. In addition, the criteria designate red-flag symptoms that don’t point to IBS, he says.

 

 

Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and when you experience them will go a long way toward getting an accurate diagnosis. Here’s what your doctor considers before he makes a diagnosis:

Laboratory tests to rule out other conditions. To make sure something other than IBS isn’t causing your symptoms, your doctor may run blood tests, test your stool sample, order an X-ray, or perform a colonoscopy (a procedure in which your doctor uses a small flexible camera to look inside your colon).

Your symptoms. Under the Rome criteria, a diagnosis of IBS can be made if you have had abdominal pain during at least 12 weeks during a 12-month period, even if those 12 weeks aren’t consecutive, and if you experience two of these three things:

  • A bowel movement that causes the abdominal pain to go away
  • A change in the frequency of your bowel movements
  • A change in your stool’s appearance (it becomes hard and lumpy or loose and watery

Other signs of IBS include mucus in your stool, a swollen abdomen, an urgency to have a bowel movement, having trouble passing stool, or a feeling that your bowel isn’t empty after going to the bathroom.

If you have red flag symptoms. Your doctor will also be looking for red-flag symptoms that aren’t associated with IBS, Dr. Field says. Those include: 

  • Blood in your stool
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain or diarrhea that’s so intense it wakes you up when you’re asleep
  • What triggers your symptoms. The factors that bring on your symptoms are another clue as to whether or not you have IBS. Eating such items as fried and greasy foods, caffeine, dairy products, chocolate, alcohol, and carbonated drinks often trigger symptoms, but the exact food triggers are different for everyone. Large meals may also trigger IBS symptoms.

 

 

Stress — which can result from major life changes such as getting married or getting a new job — is also a major trigger for IBS symptoms, Field says. And for women, symptoms are usually more severe during their menstrual period, possibly because of the effect of hormones on IBS.

The bottom line: Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and knowing what triggers them will help with your diagnosis. Many doctors recommend keeping a food diary to determine exactly what brings on your symptoms and sharing that information with your doctor to make a better diagnosis and get you the right treatment.

By Marie Suszynski | Medically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD

10 Winter Foods for Depression

1 / 11   Boost Your Mood With Seasonal Bounty
It’s winter, and depending on where you live, it could be very cold and gray, with sunshine in short supply. The winter doldrums plus holiday high anxiety make this season especially stressful and depressing for many people. But you might be able to eat your way to a better mood. Load your plate with these winter foods for depression to lift your spirits.

7 Detox Tips From Scientists Who Actually Tried Them

One of the realities of 2014 is that when a baby is born, he or she has already been exposed to toxic chemicals. The evidence is in umbilical cords, which research has confirmed contain pesticides, waste from burning coal and gasoline, and garbage. Even if you try to do everything right (eat organic, buy natural products, live in a cabin in the middle of the woods, etc.), you can’t avoid all of the chemicals that have become pervasive.

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Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith researched the dominance of these chemicals while writing their first book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health (2009), which took a look at everyday items, including canned food, pajamas, Tupperware, and rubber ducks, that put toxins into our bodies. Their readers bombarded them with a simple question: If all this stuff is inside us, how do we get it out?

So the two authors, armed with Smith’s PhD in biology and collective decades working in the environmental field (Smith's the executive director of the Broadbent Institute and Lourie is the president of the Ivey Foundation), went out again to determine what actually worked to get toxins out of the body. Through a series of self-designed experiments on themselves and others, they take readers through their journey in Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World.

Here are some key facts they learned about what actually matters when it comes to detoxing:

1. Chemicals are everywhere, but you don’t have to worry about all of them.Not all chemicals are actually going to damage us, Laurie said, and people have different tolerance to chemicals (though you may find that out the hard way). Some chemicals are disappearing from our lives (DDT, dioxin, lead) because of awareness of their dangers. “I joke sometimes that I’m a worrier, and I carry around a worry list with me,” Smith said. “In the book, we tried to come up with a short worry list.” The list included phthalates, BPA, pesticides, methyl paraben, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulphatel, and metals that can be harmful when they accumulate, such as aluminum, tin, and mercury. Yes, that’s still a long (and confusing) list, but there are some simple ways to avoid or eliminate them.

 

 

2. Avoid some toxins by shopping natural. Chemicals don’t just get into our bodies through what we eat — they come in through what we slather on our skin, what furniture we sit on, and what we breathe. While reporting for the book, Smith measured his urine before and after simply sitting and breathing in a new Chevy Tahoe for eight hours, and found that doing so had elevated his body's levels of four chemicals from the worry list. So shop smart (and roll down the windows when driving). “When you’re making a purchase, be it a cosmetic, a shampoo, or a new sofa, ask ‘Is this the most natural thing I could buy?’” Lourie said. Read ingredient labels and look up the ones you can’t pronounce. Do your research and check out eco-certifications before making big purchases like sofas or cars to see which, like the Tahoe, are made with dangerous chemicals. 

RELATED: 6 Easy Green Beauty Swaps

3. Organic is actually better, if you want to avoid pesticides. Recent research — particularly one study from Stanford that concluded organic produce doesn’t have more nutrients — has ignored the intended benefit of going organic, Smith and Lourie argue. Organic farming isn’t necessarily meant to yield more nutrient-dense food. It’s meant to make food that won’t contain excessive pesticides. (Yes, it may have traces of pesticides, because almost everything does. Remember the umbilical cords?) Smith and Laurie asked nine kids who hadn’t eaten organic before to eat an all-organic diet for five days while giving urine samples. The urine samples showed the switch yielded a big drop in pesticide levels. “Once people start eating organic food, pesticide reduction occurs in a matter of hours,” Smith said.

 

 

4. It’s better to adjust your habits than to go through a cleanse.  One of the most basic things you can do to get toxins out of your body is to drink more water. Another is to eat less animal fat and more (preferably organic) fruits and vegetables. But is the best way to do that a four-day juice cleanse? Probably not, say Smith and Laurie. "'Cleanse' makes it sound like it’s a special thing,” Lourie said. “If you’re eating more vegetables and drinking plenty of water, and you want to put the vegetables in the water, that’s a good thing to do. Just don’t be mistaken that if you do that for four days out of the year, you’re going to be detoxing your body — it doesn’t work that way.” It’s much better to incorporate fruits, veggies, and water into your daily diet.

5. Embrace sweat — and saunas. Toxins enter your body through what you eat, breathe and touch, and they go out the same way, through breath, digested food and drink, and sweat. While exhaling and urinating are pretty non-negotiable, a lot of us are engaged in a war against sweat. “We’re really confused as to what clean smells like,” Jessa Blades, an eco-blogger, tells the authors in the book.Antiperspirants and some deodorants prevent us from sweating out toxins while using toxic metals to keep the sweat in, a “double toxic whammy” Smith said. Lourie even admitted that he’s stopped using deodorant. Even if you change or quit your antiperspirant, you should try to sweat more, too. You can do this by exercising more or by using saunas to “detox through heavy sweating,” Lourie said. You’ll also end up drinking more water, which is good for eliminating toxins.

6. Be wary of fat. Fat holds on to toxins, which is part of the reason chemicals like DDT still hang around our systems. So if you’re eating lots of animal fat, you’re also eating the chemicals that the animal fat is holding. Then, you’re probably also putting on weight and thus adding fat to your body, which will hold on to those chemicals. “It’s a positive feedback loop,” Lourie said. In fact, if you’re worried about toxins and you’re overweight, losing that extra body fat should be the first step toward reducing the toxins in your body.

7. Push companies to do the right thing, and support regulation of toxins.“Only part of the solution to this problem is being a more careful consumer,” Smith said. ‘The other part is to be a more engaged citizen.” Remember when people learned that Subway bread contained a yoga mat chemical, and took to social media to demand that change? “Never has a company capitulated so quickly,” Smith said. It’s easier than ever to make your voice heard. 

8 Things Your Dentist Knows About You Just By Looking In Your Mouth

You flossed right before your appointment—and that’s the only time.

Sorry, but you can’t fool your dentist into thinking you floss daily by doing it the night before or morning of your visit. 

“The gums of people who only floss right before a visit are bleeding or look damaged,” says Timothy Stirneman, D.D.S., of All Smiles Dental in Algonquin, Illinois. “Healthy gums are nice and tight and pink.”

Santa Monica-based dentist Kenneth Wong, D.D.S., is on to you, too. “When patients floss right before coming in for a cleaning, I can see the slices where the floss cut at the gum because they were overzealous,” he says. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: 7 Supplement Risks Every Woman Should Know About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

"Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick-start' they need to break out of their depressive states, and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy," Carhart-Harris said.

Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients, said study senior author David Nutt.

"But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore," said Nutt, director of neuropsychopharmacology in the division of brain sciences.

He added that a trial scheduled to start early in 2018 will test the psychedelic drug against a leading antidepressant.

For this latest study, patients received two different doses of psilocybin, one week apart.

In recent years, promising results have emerged from a number of clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics in patients with conditions such as depression and addiction.

"Psilocybin can be a promising agent for depression," said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y. "For decades, there has been suspected benefit of psychedelic agents for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders."

However, he said, the clinical trials to date have been very small, and without a placebo arm for comparison. He agreed that replication in larger studies is warranted.

The study was published Oct. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.

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.”

More Evidence That Depression Shortens Lives

People with depression tend to die earlier than expected -- a pattern that has grown stronger among women in recent years, new research finds.

The study followed thousands of Canadian adults between 1952 and 2011. Overall, it found people with depression had a higher death rate versus those without the mood disorder.

The link only emerged among women starting in the 1990s. Yet by the end of the study, depression was affecting men's and women's longevity equally.

The findings do not prove that depression itself shaves years off people's lives, said lead researcher Stephen Gilman.

The study could not account for the effects of physical health conditions, for example.

"So one explanation could be that people with depression were more likely to have a chronic condition," said Gilman, of the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

RELATED: Can 'Magic Mushrooms' Kick-Start Depression Treatment?

But even if that were true, he added, it would not mean that depression bears no blame -- because depression can take a toll on physical health.

"Many studies have found that people with depression have higher risks of heart disease and stroke, for example," Gilman said.

The findings are based on 3,410 Canadian adults who were followed for up to several decades. The first wave of participants was interviewed in 1952, the next in 1970, and the final in 1992.

At each wave, roughly 6 percent of adults had depression, based on a standard evaluation.

And on average, those people had a shorter life span. For example, a 25-year-old man who was depressed in 1952 could expect to live another 39 years, on average. That compared with 51 years for a man without depression.

Men with depression at any point had a higher risk of dying over the coming years, versus those free of the disorder.

The picture was different for women, though. The connection between depression and mortality only surfaced in the 1990s.

Women with depression at that point were 51 percent more likely to die by 2011, compared with other women. That brought their risk on par with depressed men.

The reasons are unclear. "Why would depression be less toxic to women at one time point than another?" Gilman said.

He speculated that societal shifts have some role. Women in recent decades have been much more likely to juggle work and home life, or be single mothers, for example.

Another possibility, Gilman said, is that women tend to suffer more severe depression these days.

There was some evidence that the impact of depression lessened over time. Men with depression in 1952 no longer showed a higher death risk after 1968, for example -- unless they also had depression at the later interviews, too.

As for causes of death, there was no evidence that suicides explained the risks among people with depression.

"There were actually few suicides," Gilman said. "People with depression died of the same causes that other people did -- like cardiovascular disease and cancer."

Dr. Aaron Pinkhasov is chairman of behavioral health at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.

He said depression can indirectly shorten life span in a number of ways. Depressed people are less able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and are more vulnerable to smoking and drinking. They may also be less equipped to manage any physical health conditions.

"Once depression sets in, you may not have the motivation or energy," said Pinkhasov, who was not involved with the research.

Gilman said his study can't say whether treating depression erases the higher death risk associated with it.

But, Pinkhasov said, there is evidence that depression treatment can help people better control high blood pressure and diabetes, for example.

He stressed that there are various effective treatments -- from "talk therapy" to medication.

"Don't blame yourself for being 'weak,' or tell yourself you should just snap out of it," Pinkhasov said.

John Hamilton, a counselor at Mountainside Treatment Center in Canaan, Conn., agreed.

He said that women, in particular, can have a "sense of shame" over mental health symptoms in part because they feel they need to be the rock of the family. "They might even have people around them saying, 'Snap out of it, you have kids,'" said Hamilton, who also had no role in the study.

"But depression is no different from any other chronic disease," he said. "We need to have a compassionate, nonjudgmental approach to it."

The results were published Oct. 23 in the journal CMAJ.

7 Quick Fixes to Look More Attractive

One look at the billion dollar anti-aging industry and it's no surprise we find youth beautiful above all else. But skin isn't the only indicator of it — the size of your eyes is, too. "Women with baby-like features such as large, widely-spaced eyes are typically judged to be most attractive," says Viren Swami, PhD, author of The Psychology of Physical Attraction,who cites cross-cultural study data from African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Taiwanese participants.

The quickest and easiest way to maximize your eyes is to sketch a line on the top lash line using a smoky shade, and then smudge the shadow with a brush or your fingertip to soften and blend, says Tina Turnbow, a celebrity makeup aritst.

Why Depression Is Underreported in Men

Women are more likely than men to seek treatment for depression. Why do men try to manage the condition on their own?

Women are 70 percent more likely than men to have depression. It is this feminine predisposition to depression that may contribute to its being underreported among men, says Amit Anand, MD, a professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner College of Medicine and vice-chair of research for its Center for Behavioral Health.

More than 6 million U.S. men struggle with the condition each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). And it maybe their reluctance to discuss their depression, as well as several other obstacles, that prevent many of them from seeking treatment, Dr. Anand says. These barriers not only affect how men with depression are diagnosed, he says, but also how they are treated.

Why Depression Is Underreported

Several factors contribute to depression often being unreported and undiagnosed in men. For starters, men who are depressed may not recognize their symptoms. “Women are far more likely to acknowledge that they have depression and seek help,” Anand says.

Also, symptoms of depression vary from person to person, and symptoms may not always be obvious, according to NIMH. Complicating matters is that men who are depressed often suppress their feelings rather than showing sadness and crying,reports the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Men and women also have different risk factors for depression that could affect whether they seek treatment, according to a study published in 2014 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The factors most directly linked to depression among women are divorce, lack of parental or social support, and marriage troubles. For men, depression is more closely linked to drug abuse as well as financial, legal, and work-related stress, the researchers say. Their research suggests that men are less likely to seek medical attention if they attribute depression to career disappointment or failures. Rather than seek help, Anand says, men with depression are more likely to try to tough it out.

"Men may be more likely to suffer in silence or try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs," says Dean F. MacKinnon, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

RELATED: 6 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

Men may see their symptoms as a sign of weakness, he explains, likening the situation to the idea that men don't like asking for directions. “Men don't ask for direction because it makes them seem weak, but also they are afraid they won't get the right information,” Dr. MacKinnon says.

Men might also be worried about the social stigma associated with a diagnosis of depression, according to research published in Qualitative Health Research in 2014.

In addition, depression affects men differently than women, according to a 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Though women usually have traditional symptoms, such as feelings of sadness and worthlessness, the study found that men with depression were more likely to experience anger and irritability, and to engage in risky behaviors. This suggests that if men are using traditional criteria to assess their symptoms, their depression could go unreported.

Why Treatment Is Critical

What sets men and women with depression apart can also make the condition more difficult to treat, Anand says. Men with untreated depression can experience issues like anger, aggression, and substance abuse. Using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, he says, can complicate treatment for depression.

Untreated depression among men can also have tragic consequences. “Women may talk about suicide more, but men may be more likely to complete suicide,” Anand says. “They may also use much more violent means of trying to commit suicide, like guns or hanging.” In fact, according to NAMI, men are four times more likely to die of suicide than women.

Most adults with depression improve with treatment, usually a combination of talk therapy and medication, Anand says. He notes, however, that it can be difficult to convince some men to try talk therapy.

Medication used to treat depression may also work differently in men and women. For instance, today the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, according to NIMH, are SSRIs — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Tricyclics, which are older antidepressants, are not used as often today because they come with more serious side effects, like drowsiness, dizziness, and weight gain. However, some research suggests that women respond better to SSRIs — like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline) — and that tricyclics, like imipramine, may be more effective for men, Anand says.

SSRIs may also cause more sexual side effects, which tend to bother men more often than women, and could result in fewer men following through on treatment, Anand says.

If your doctor does recommend an SSRI, adjusting the dosage or switching from one SSRI to another can help alleviate unwanted side effects, according to NIMH.

Surprising Physical Signs of Heart Disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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