Five Teen Health Concerns

Teen Eating DisorderAs children move into their teenage years, there are many health concerns that may affect them.  Teens deal with peer pressure and stress, issues of weight and body image, problems of drug and alcohol use, and questions about puberty, sex, and relationships.  They may be hesitant to discuss these concerns with parents or their family doctor.  Open lines of communication may help teens work through some of these concerns.  Here are five common health concerns of teenagers.

Eating Disorders and Obesity – Obesity is a significant concern for children and adolescents.  According to a report in American Pediatrics, obesity puts them at risk for diabetes and heart disease.  Overweight children and teens are less likely to participate in a sport or get adequate exercise.  Changes in lifestyle and diet can help promote weight loss and improved health. 

Many eating disorders develop during adolescence and can have serious health implications.  Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia (binging and purging), and binge-eating disorder.  It is important to seek treatment early.

Lack of Physical Activity – As teenagers spend more time on their Smartphone, computer, or watching TV, they tend to be less physically active.  Sedentary lifestyles lead to an increase in health issues including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  Teens may need to be encouraged to exercise more or participate in a sport.  Parents can set a good example by being physically active themselves.

Sexually Transmitted Disease and Pregnancy – Teens need to be aware of the risks and complications of STDs and how to protect themselves.  Parents should ensure their teen has had the HPV vaccine to protect against human papillomavirus.  This common virus can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and the back of the throat.  Teens who are sexually active should understand the use of contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancy.

Drug and Alcohol Use – Alcohol use by teenagers can lead to other risky behaviors including drunk driving and unsafe sex.  Marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines continue to be commonly abused drugs among teenagers.  In addition, abuse of prescription drugs, particularly painkillers, is on the rise.  Smoking among US adolescents has declined in recent years, just as it has in the general population.  Those who do smoke develop more respiratory illnesses.  Many teens are unaware that use of e-cigarettes or vaping is also unhealthy.

Suicide – The third leading cause of death for teenagers is suicide.  There are many contributing factors including family problems, loneliness, isolation, depression, and substance or alcohol abuse.  More males than females are likely to choose suicide, and many were reluctant to seek help.  Good family communication can help.

How Do Triglyceride Levels Affect My Health?

Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood.  Most people are familiar with cholesterol levels but may have less knowledge about how triglycerides affect their health.  Triglycerides are stored in fat cells and released when the body needs energy between meals.  When we eat more calories than our body can burn, the level of triglycerides can become too high.  This can lead to serious health issues.

Anyone at any age can develop high triglyceride levels.  However, there are certain risk factors unique to women.  Triglycerides can be elevated during pregnancy, by using birth control pills with estrogen, and by hormone replacement therapy.  Certain medications can also raise triglyceride levels.

TriglyceridesA high triglyceride level can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.  It can contribute to hardening and thickening of the walls of the arteries.  High triglycerides can also lead to inflammation of the pancreas.  There are often no visible symptoms of high triglyceride levels.  Routine blood tests, usually done along with cholesterol testing, will determine triglyceride levels.  These tests are sometimes called a lipid profile or lipid panel.  A normal triglyceride level is measured at less than 150 mg/dL; high triglycerides are between 200-499 mg/dL; very high levels are 500 mg/dL and over.

Lifestyle changes can sometimes lower triglyceride levels naturally.  Healthy eating habits can make a big difference.  Avoid foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, and sugary carbohydrates.  Choose low fat dairy and lean meats.  Eat fish twice a week.  Choose whole grains and foods high in fiber.  Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids including salmon, tuna, kale, spinach, and brussel sprouts can help lower triglycerides.  Other lifestyle changes that are beneficial include exercising more, losing excess weight, and decreasing alcohol use.

Your doctor can monitor triglyceride levels through regular checkups and routine blood work.  If lifestyle changes have not been enough to keep triglycerides under control, medications can be prescribed.

Top Men’s Health Issues

Men's Health and FitnessAccording to statistics compiled by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), women outlive men by an average of five years.  Men typically do not see a doctor for regular checkups as often as women.  When men do see a doctor, their health problems are usually of a more serious nature.  Awareness, health screenings, and early diagnosis of many diseases can help men live longer.  Here are some of the top health issues affecting men.

Cardiovascular Disease

The American Heart Association says that 1 in 3 men have some form of cardiovascular disease.  It’s the leading cause of death in men and includes heart attack and stroke.  While hereditary factors or family history of the disease are factors beyond our control, other risk factors are impacted by lifestyle choices.  Stress, obesity, and lack of exercise all contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.  High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels should be monitored and controlled.  Sometimes diet and exercise are enough to reduce the risk, but medication may be necessary.

Diabetes 

Type 2, or adult onset diabetes, is on the rise in this country.  Lifestyle changes can reduce the risk.  A diet rich in fiber and heart healthy fats can help to control blood sugar levels.  Regular exercise will help keep weight under control.  Untreated diabetes can lead to kidney disease, nerve damage, stroke, heart attack, vision problems, and sexual impotence.

Lung Cancer 

Lung cancer remains a leading cause of cancer deaths in men.  Those who smoke should quit.  There are no effective screening tests for lung cancer currently available.  Lung cancer can spread to other parts of the body even before it shows up on an x-ray.  Advanced lung cancer is difficult to treat.

Prostate Problems

Men are more likely to develop prostate problems as they age.  An enlarged prostate can lead to frequent urination or a slow or weak urine stream.  Having an enlarged prostate does not increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.  A doctor can perform a prostate screening test during a routine medical exam.  A blood test can screen for prostate specific antigen (PSA).  Some types of prostate cancer are slow growing and unlikely to spread.  Other types are more aggressive.  Treatment depends on the type of prostate cancer.

Osteoporosis – The Silent Disease

Osteoporosis patientOsteoporosis is a disease affecting approximately 10 million Americans.  The disease causes the loss of minerals from the bones, leaving them vulnerable to fractures.  Osteoporosis is more common as we age, because new bone is not being made as quickly as old bone is breaking down.  Although both men and women can develop the disease, it is more common in women.

There are no early symptoms of osteoporosis, so it is sometimes called the silent disease.  Many people do not realize they have bone loss until they experience a fracture.  Later symptoms of osteoporosis include loss of height, a stooped posture, back pain, and bone breakage.  The most frequent fractures occur in the hips, wrist, and spine.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include age, having a smaller frame, family history, white or Asian women past menopause, having thyroid or bowel disease, and taking certain medications.  The reduced level of estrogen in post-menopausal women is a strong risk factor.  Long term use of prednisone and cortisone also increases risk, as does thyroid hormone medication.

Lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.  A diet of calcium rich foods including dairy, salmon, and dark green leafy vegetables promotes bone health.  Calcium supplements may be appropriate if someone does not get enough calcium in their diet.  Vitamin D improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium.  Eating protein helps the body build strong bones.  Maintaining appropriate body weight is important.  Regular exercise can help slow bone loss.  A combination of strength training, weight-bearing, and balance exercises works best.

The National Institutes of Health recommends women should have a bone density scan at age 65.  The scan estimates bone mass and determines whether bones are thinning or weakening.  If bone density is good, women should be rescreened in 2-3 years.  The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that anyone who breaks a bone after age 50 have a bone density scan.

There is no cure for osteoporosis.  Treatment of the disease includes lifestyle changes such as modifying diet and exercise routines.  Doctors may prescribe medications that slow the breakdown of bone or help promote bone formation.

Who Should Receive the Pneumonia Vaccine?

WPneumoniahat is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the air sacs in the lungs.  One or both lungs may be affected.  Pneumonia is usually caused by bacteria or viruses but can sometimes be caused by fungi.  It is a serious infection for infants, the elderly, those with chronic health issues, and people with compromised immune systems.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain when coughing or breathing.  The infection may cause confusion in elderly patients as well as a body temperature that is lower than normal.  Pneumonia can follow a cold or the flu.  Bacterial and viral pneumonia can be spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing.

Who Should Get a Pneumonia Shot?

It is not necessary for healthy adults under the age of 65 to get pneumonia vaccines.  It is recommended that adults age 65 and older receive the vaccines because it is harder to fight infections as we age.  People with weakened immune systems should also be vaccinated.  This includes those with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, lung diseases, and asthma.  Cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments should be vaccinated.  Smokers should also receive the vaccine.Pneumonia shot

There are two types of pneumonia vaccines that protect against different types of pneumonia.  The PCV13 shot , which protects against the most serious types of pneumonia, is given first.  A year or more later, the PPSV23 shot is given to protect against additional types of pneumonia.  There are no serious side effects from either shot, and people cannot get pneumonia from the shot itself.  The vaccines are 50-70% effective, and they protect for years.  People receiving the shots at age 65 and older will most likely be protected for the rest of their lives.

Speak with your doctor to see if the pneumonia vaccine is right for you.

Tips to Stay Healthy During Holiday Travel

Staying healthy in the airportRecord numbers of Americans will travel to visit family and friends this holiday season.  AAA predicts that more than 54 million of us will travel more than 50 miles from home this Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  Another 100 million people are predicted to travel over the Christmas to New Year’s period.  Travel can be stressful on our bodies, upsetting our normal routines and exposing us to illnesses.  Here are some tips for staying healthy so that you can enjoy the holiday festivities away from home.

Air Travel

Traveling by air exposes us to large crowds and lots of germs.  Use hand sanitizer and carry disinfectant wipes to clean tray tables, arm rests, and seat belt buckles.  Avoid bathrooms on planes, if possible.  Many airport restrooms have less germs because they are cleaned more frequently.  Studies have shown that TSA security bins are loaded with germs, so wash hands thoroughly after clearing security.

Get Enough Rest

Lack of sleep can leave our bodies vulnerable to viruses.  Try to maintain your regular sleep schedule while traveling.  If you do get sick, rest will help in your recovery.

Stay Hydrated

Low humidity levels in planes and heated rooms dry out mucous membranes, making it easier to pick up germs.  Drink plenty of water.  Remember that caffeinated beverages and alcohol actually dehydrate the body and are not good substitutes for water.

Eat Healthy        

Maintain healthy eating habits to keep your immune system strong.  Avoid the temptation to overeat at holiday gatherings.  Choose healthy snacks and eat holiday treats in moderation to avoid putting on extra pounds.  Fast food is often convenient when traveling but opt for a salad rather than a burger and fries.  Limit alcoholic beverages, as they add extra calories.

Stay Active

Try to stay physically active even if you are not able to maintain your regular workout routine.  Take a brisk walk or utilize the hotel fitness center.  Exercise gives us more energy and burns those extra holiday calories we’ve consumed.

Early Detection of Breast Cancer is Key

breast cancer awareness monthBreast cancer is one of the most significant women’s health concerns.  After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women.  The odds of getting breast cancer are 1 in 8.  A small percentage of women have a family history of the disease.  This means a first degree relative- mother, sister, daughter- has had breast cancer, so there is a genetic risk factor.  But many women have no history of breast cancer in their family.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer.  However, women can minimize their risk through certain lifestyle choices.  Being overweight, alcohol consumption, and not being physically active can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.  Using some birth control methods with hormones and post-menopausal hormone therapy with estrogen may also increase a woman’s risk.  Other risk factors are not as easily controlled.  White women have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer as compared to African American women.  No pregnancies or a late pregnancy adds to the risk.  Previous radiation treatments to the chest to treat other cancers and having dense, fibrous breast tissue are additional risk factors.

Early detection and treatment are key in fighting the disease.  Women should recognize any changes in their breasts including a lump that can be felt, nipple discharge, nipple turning inward, dimpling or puckering of breast skin, and redness or scaliness of the skin.  All of these symptoms should be checked by a physician.

Clinical breast exams and breast self-exams are not substitutes for a mammogram, which can detect cancer before it can be felt.  Current mammogram guidelines from the American Cancer Society are that women at average risk for breast cancer should have yearly mammograms by age 45.  Women may choose to begin mammograms as early as age 40.  At age 55, women who have had normal mammograms can change to every other year or continue yearly, if desired.  Women at higher risk should discuss these options with their doctor.

Women and Thyroid Disease

female thyroid patientAccording to the US Department of Health and Human Services, women are more likely to develop thyroid disease than men.  The risk for women increases right after a pregnancy and following menopause.  One in eight women will be diagnosed with thyroid problems during their lifetime.

The thyroid is part of the endocrine system.  It’s a butterfly shaped gland located in front of the neck.  The thyroid produces a hormone that controls the body’s metabolism rate.  The thyroid can affect a woman’s weight, heart rate, cholesterol levels, and menstrual cycles.

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, is one type of thyroid disease.  If the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones, the metabolism slows down.  Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, tiredness, joint or muscle pain, dry skin and hair, depression, and slow heart rate.  Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.  Treatment includes taking manufactured forms of thyroid hormone.

Hyperthyroidism is another type of thyroid disease.  The thyroid becomes overactive, producing too much thyroid hormone.  Symptoms can include weight loss, irregular heartbeat, trouble sleeping, lighter menstrual periods, increased sweating, and trembling in the fingers and hands.  Treatments may include medications, radioiodine, or surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.  Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.

A thyroid nodule is a swelling or growth that can develop on the thyroid gland.  There may be one or more nodules that can be solid or filled with fluid.  Ultrasound tests can be used to evaluate nodules.  Most nodules are not cancerous, so the doctor may just decide to watch and wait.  If the nodule is large or cancerous, it may be surgically removed.  Women are three times more likely than men to develop thyroid cancer.

September is thyroid cancer awareness month.  When found early, thyroid cancer is usually treatable.  A physician can perform a simple check of the thyroid gland during a routine physical examination.

Boost Your Immune System for Better Health

Health and WellnessThe immune system is the body’s defense against infection and disease.  It’s made up of special cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body and keep it healthy.  When the immune system isn’t working as it should, the body is left vulnerable.  As we age, our immune system response becomes reduced, leading to increased infections and less ability to fight them.  It is important to do what we can to strengthen our immune system so that it can do its job effectively.  Here are ways to boost your immune system for better health.

Develop Smart Eating Habits

Eat more fruits and vegetables to give the body needed nutrients.  Blueberries, blackberries, and broccoli contain antioxidants that can improve immune health.  Foods rich in vitamin C, including citrus and bell peppers, and those high in vitamin A, such as sweet potatoes and kale, are especially helpful to the immune system.  Yogurt contains probiotics that can keep the gut and intestinal tract healthy.  Salmon and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation in the body.

Get Enough Sleep

The body responds better to fighting infection when it is well rested.  According to the CDC, adults generally need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep, and school age children require 9-12 hours of shut eye.  To improve sleep habits, keep a consistent schedule for going to bed and getting up.  Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.  Exercising during the day can help us sleep better.  Turning off electronic devices (computer, phone, TV) at bedtime is also a good practice.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, helps control weight, and helps alleviate stress.  All these factors can help boost the immune system.  Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous.  Even a 30-minute daily walk can be helpful.  In addition, exercise during the day often leads to better sleep at night.

Reduce Stress

Many people find themselves overcommitted and stressed.  Slow down, relax, and connect with family or friends.  Listen to music.  Meditation or yoga is helpful for some people.  Take a walk or do some stretching exercises.  Reduce your caffeine intake.  Stop smoking.

Avoid Food Poisoning at Summer Picnics

avoid picnic food poisoningSummer is the time of year when many families enjoy an outdoor picnic.  They pack up the cooler and the picnic basket and head off for an afternoon at the park or the lake.  But nothing ruins a fun time and good memories like a bad case of food poisoning.

E. coli, salmonella, and listeria are bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses in humans. Symptoms of food poisoning can include abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Undercooked foods and foods not stored at proper temperatures are a breeding ground for these bacteria.  These types of infections can be particularly serious for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems.  Remember that food spoilage is not always immediately evident by appearance or smell.

When transporting perishable foods to a picnic, they should be stored in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or freezer packs.  Perishable foods include meats like hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken.  In addition, keep deviled eggs and salads containing mayonnaise, such as potato or macaroni salad, in the cooler.  During the drive, the cooler should be kept in the air conditioned part of the car rather than the trunk.  Food should be kept in the cooler until ready to be used.  Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight.  Do not let food sit outside the cooler for more than one hour in summer heat.  Take a separate cooler for drinks, so the food cooler is not opened so frequently.

Wash hands thoroughly before handling food.  If running water is not available, use wet wipes or hand sanitizer.  When grilling meat, be sure to cook thoroughly.  Undercooked ground beef can contain E. coli.  Use a meat thermometer to ensure the cooked beef has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.  Color does not always indicate doneness.  Meat juices should be clear, not red or pink.  To avoid contamination, never place cooked meat on the same plate that held the raw meat.  Use clean utensils for serving.  Although hot dogs are fully cooked, it’s best to reheat them before serving.

Leftover foods should be returned to the cooler.  Refrigerate them immediately after returning home.  Discard food that has become warm.  Bacteria in food can double every twenty minutes.  Better to be safe than sorry.

There are some healthy foods that are safer choices for picnics.  They include tossed salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, pickled vegetables, salsa, pasta salad without mayonnaise, whole grain crackers, and nuts or nut butters.

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