Friday, June 22, 2007

Someone pull the knife out of my eye please??

Woke up this morning with another migraine. Unless you’ve ever had a real migraine, you probably can’t appreciate how painful they really are. Migraines aren’t just severe headaches, they’re agony. In my case, it's as if someone is twisting a knife into the back of my eye.

Several years ago, when I worked for a website called, I interviewed a migraine expert and I read in-depth about migraines. After everything I learned, I realized that I had migraines all my life. I used to have unexplained, undiagnosed severe abdominal pain from time to time. I learned that there’s such a thing as abdominal migraines, most often in kids, but they can happen in adults. And, children who have abdominal migraines often grow into adults who have regular migraines.

Migraines are very common. According to Migraine Canada, 3 million Canadians experience migraines and three times more women then men get them. Some people get auras, or warnings that the migraine is coming. The aura can be visual (lines in front of the eyes, flashing lights, etc) or perhaps a tingling in an arm or leg, for example.

The pain from migraine varies from person to person; my particular migraine feels like there’s a knife twisting in my left eye, but very rarely the right. The Mayo Clinic gives this list for migraine signs and symptoms:
· Moderate to severe pain, which may be confined to one side of the head or may affect both sides
· Head pain with a pulsating or throbbing quality
· Pain that worsens with physical activity
· Pain that interferes with your regular activities
· Nausea with or without vomiting
· Sensitivity to light and sound
Migraines can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

No-one knows for sure what causes migraines but many people do have triggers. For some people, it’s certain foods, most commonly red wine, cheese, and foods that have MSG. Other people have theirs triggered by weather changes, stress, or hormones – such as the migraines that accompany a menstrual cycle. Migraines also do tend to run in families.

Some people with migraines, and I include myself in this category, worry that if they get so many painful headaches, how will they know if there is ever something really wrong, since there’s often pain anyway. The trick, again according to the Mayo Clinic, is if there are any changes to what you’re used to having. They give this list:

- An abrupt, severe headache like a thunderclap
- Headache with fever, stiff neck, rash, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking
- Headache after a head injury, especially if the headache gets worse
- A chronic headache that is worse after coughing, exertion, straining or a sudden movement
- New headache pain if you're older than 50

Whether a migraine can be treated successfully varies as much as the type of migraines there are. Some people respond well to preventative medications that they take every day. Others respond well to the new anti-migraine medications that are now on the market.

I’m considering trying acupuncture. I’m very lucky in that my migraines have decreased tremendously. I used to have several every month. Now, I’m down to about one or two a month, and some months I don’t have one. But it sure would be nice not to get them at all!

Today's news:
Estrogen therapy linked to less arterial plaque
ATVs now top cause of recreation injuries in Edmonton

Thursday, June 21, 2007

New HPV vaccine still making waves

There’s still a lot of controversy over the new HPV vaccine being offered to girls and young women in the hope of preventing the development of cervical cancer.

There are many types of human papilloma virus (HPV) but there are four types that cause up to 70% of cervical cancer cases and up to 90% of genital warts.(1) The vaccine prevents these types of HPV virus from being transmitted from one person to another.

While most of us are familiar with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like gonnorhea and HIV, HPV is also an STD. In fact, it is the most common STD in the world. Up to 75% of Canadian women have been infected with HPV.(2)

It seems that much of the controversy centers around the ages of the girls who are targeted for the vaccine. The manufacturer of Gardasil® (Merck) is targeting girls before they become sexually active, as young as 9 years old. This makes sense because sexual activity is rarely planned and some girls are, unfortunately, not the ones who choose when their first encounter may be if they are assaulted.

According to recent Canadian studies, six out of 10 people (both male and female), aged 15 to 24 years are sexually active. One-third of them had more than one partner.(3)

HPV can be contracted from the very first sexual encounter and it doesn’t have to be sexual intercourse. Condoms are not a fool-proof way of preventing the spread because the virus can live outside the area that is covered by the condom.

Here are some sobering stats:

· Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women aged 20 to 44 years old.
· Every year, an estimated 1,400 women in Canada are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer.
· With an average of 400 deaths per year in Canada from cervical cancer, that equals more than one death per day.
· Every year, vulvar and vaginal cancers are newly diagnosed in 436 Canadian women.
· Every year, approximately 128 women in Canada die from vulvar or vaginal cancer.(4)

I’m pro-vaccination. Cervical cancer can be prevented in so many women. I do realize that we don’t know the long-term effects of the vaccine and that is a risk we take, but dying of cervical cancer just shouldn’t happen.

For those parents who are against it because they feel that they can teach their daughters to abstain or be careful – again, I remind you. A woman doesn’t always choose when her first sexual encounter will be. Don’t let this become a reason not to protect your daughter. Her life may very well depend on it.

1- Frazer IH et al. Advances in prevention of cervical cancer and other human papillomavirus-related diseases. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2006;25:S65-S81.
2- Main C. Introduction to human papillomavirus in Canada. Canadian Journal of Diagnosis 2006;11:1-4.
3- Merck Frosst. How could human papillomavirus (HPV) affect your patients’ future?
4- Merck Frosst. How could human papillomavirus (HPV) affect your patients’ future?

News for today:
HPV Vaccine Push In Canada And U.K.
Moms nursing longer due to extended mat leaves
Money can make you sick, researchers say

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Speaking out about illness that no-one talks about

There are many health and medical issues in the news; which ones are important enough to talk and write about? It’s easy to say “all of them,” but I’m a strong believer in trying to make the most noise about the very topics people don’t want to hear about.

How many men perform self-examination for testicular cancer? How many people have had screening colonoscopies? How many people openly discuss their battles with mental health disorders? These are just a few examples. Years ago, we didn’t talk about breast cancer. Now it’s all over the news and women are reminded often about the importance of breast health. That’s what exposure can do.

There are so many things that are taboo in our society – still. We like to think that in the western world, we’re open to talk about whatever we want, but that’s not always true. At one time, no-one even whispered the term “sexual abuse.” But now that it can be talked about, children and adults who are and were hurt, can start to seek the help they need. Schizophrenia, bipolar disease, and all the other mental health disorders are only now being talked about. Before, they were not issues that people wanted to deal with. You can’t see mental health, you can’t measure it in terms of lab tests or x-rays, you can’t verify it in how someone appears physically, so it’s truly the unknown. The problem is though, mental health is just as important, if not more important sometimes, than physical health. How many times have we read or heard that your mental status plays a huge role on recovery from physical illness?

We need to speak out about any illness or disorder that seems to be hidden because of shame. The more we talk about it, the more we make noise about it, the more people will sit up and take notice – the squeaky wheel and all that.

Todays news:

Whole grains may cut risk of inflammatory diseases
Radiation under the knife can speed recovery
Relief for 'bad pain' is possible, researchers say

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Depression, more than feeling blue

With the constant media attention on antidepressants these days, could it be that the actual disorder is getting left behind? With the arguments going back and forth over whether antidepressants are needed or if people who are depressed just need to pull up their bootstraps, I think that those who do have true depression feel like they have to keep it to themselves once again.

Depression isn’t just a matter of feeling blue; it’s not feeling like things just aren’t going right. True depression goes much, much deeper than that. True depression makes someone feel totally worthless, as if there is no meaning in life. True depression can make someone want to hide from the world, hoping that this will keep the painful things away.

Unfortunately, hiding from the world doesn’t work. Since the cause of depression isn’t external, hiding can’t and won’t work. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. If someone is sick, if they have an infection, they take antibiotics. If they have seizures, they take anticonvulsants. So, if someone has a chemical imbalance in their brain that causes depression, doesn’t it make sense to treat it with available medications?

It’s true that not all antidepressants work for all those who need them. Like all other medications, some will help some people while they won’t help others. And, for someone who is depressed, it can be hard to have to try different medications before finding the one that works for him or her. But it’s so important to do that. Medication doesn’t cure depression, but it sure makes life easier to live.

Some people only need to take antidepressants so that they can start feeling well enough to start seeking other kinds of help, such as seeing a psychologist or a counsellor. Often, once they’ve begun to deal with other aspects of their lives, they may be able to stop taking the antidepressant medications. However, not everyone can stop or should stop taking them. And there should be no shame in it.

Taking an antidepressant is not the equivalent of taking a Happy Pill – not even close. Most people won’t even feel the effects of their antidepressants right away because it can take weeks for the chemicals in the brain to right themselves. Slowly, but surely, things don’t seem quite so bad. The anxiety that may have beset them from time to time might not be as frequent. The feeling of impending doom may have stopped hanging over them, but it’s so gradual that it seems as if one day, they just realized that they’re feeling better.

After taking these medications for a while, many people want to try going off them. They want to see if they can make in on their own. While that might work for some people, others find that they need to continue taking them. Sometimes, this makes them feel like failures. They feel they should be able to manage without medication. They shouldn’t feel that way though because if they need medication, then they need it.

How do I know so much about how someone feels when they take these medications? Because I take Celexa. I’ve been taking it for almost two years now but I fought taking antidepressants for years. I tried them half-heartedly, forgot to take them more often than not and that was my proof that I didn’t need them or they didn’t work for me. With the help of a (very!) patient psychologist, I learned that I did need to take these medications. Within months of taking it, I stopped having my regular panic attacks. In fact, I can count on one hand how many panic attacks I’ve had in the past 18 months. These attacks were disabling me at one point, and now they’re as rare as can be. I still have moments of anxiety, but not to the point that I used to.

Celexa didn’t solve all my problems; there was a lot of work to get through. But I finally got it through my head that I need to take this medication. It’s not a choice to be made, it’s not a weakness or a failure. Now, I’m living my life as I should. I’m a better mother to my children, a better wife to my husband, and a better friend to my friends.

Depression is a disorder that needs to be taken seriously. If you suffer from depression, or you know someone who does, there is a way out of it. There really is a light at the end of the tunnel. I just wish I hadn’t waited so long to find it.

Today’s news:

Depression raises risk of death from many causes
Most asthma patients have uncontrolled disease
Clot-Busting Drug May Help Treat Frostbite

Monday, June 18, 2007

Irritable bowel disease, still taboo?

Irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) affect many people in North America and yet, few people want to talk about it.

According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, there are approximately 10,000 new cases of IBD diagnosed in Canada every year. Since IBD is a disease that usually hits people between the ages of 15 and 50 years, this disease is striking people when they are just starting out on their careers and adult life, and often in the prime of their life. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada says that there are an estimated 170,000 Canadian men and women who have IBD.

Stats Canada says that 8,320 people in Canada were admitted to a hospital because of IBD in 2000/01, but since some people are admitted more than once, they made up a total of 12,248 hospital admissions during that time period.

If you have IBD or IBS, it’s more than just having some problems with diarrhea or constipation. It can affect your whole life. If you have severe cramping and don’t know when and if it will hit; if you always have to be sure you are near a bathroom in case you have to make a run for it; if you can’t go visit people because you’re afraid that you’ll have to use their one bathroom for too long a period of time, then you have an illness that affects more than just how you feel physically.

People often confuse IBS and IBD. While IBS does cause many of the same symptoms as IBD, those who have IBD also deal with inflammation in the intestines and other physical problems as a result of the IBD. IBS, generally, causes abdominal pain, bloating and irregular bowel movements.

People who have IBD are usually followed by gastroenterologists, doctors who specialize in the gut. There is a lot of research going on regarding IBD and IBS because it does affect people so much. Also, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can cause serious complications and has caused death in some people.

This is one of the diseases and disorders that we need to talk about. Teen-agers who are newly diagnosed are often very embarrassed and self-conscious about their new reality. By making it less of a taboo, we may be able to find ways to accommodate and to reassure those who find themselves living with IBD or IBS.

News for today:
Men urged to put machismo aside in cancer fight
Potentially addictive sleep aids recalled
Gum Disease in Postmenopausal Women Linked to Oral Bone Loss