Friday, December 21, 2007

175 posts!

Wow - quite a milestone I think. When I began this blog, I had no idea it would be going so well. I'm really pleased that so many people are getting good information from here. Thanks so much to all my visitors - the regular ones and the new ones.

Health news is slowing down for the holidays but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of work to do. I’m as busy as ever working on some projects and preparing proposals and queries for clients and potential clients.

A new project is my blog on pain, called Help My Hurt. I'll be posting frequently about anything pain related: how to avoid it, manage it, and live with it. It’s a site that I really want to encourage participation because it needs interaction to grow. I hope you’ll stop by and visit when you have a chance.

There was a great bit of news (I thought) in this article: Medical myths that even doctors believe. Very interesting information.

If I miss a few days here and there over the holidays, I’ll be back – just taking a bit of time for myself if I get a chance. You may notice a small change - I made it so my links open in a new window. It was a request from a reader. I didn't realize it was such an easy fix (adding a bit in the html tag) so I hope that this makes it easier for others as well.

Merry Christmas for those who celebrate it – I try to make it a special holiday for my family and friends. And for those who celebrate other holidays and those who don’t, I wish you a peaceful and relaxing time as the continent seems to be in a flurry of Christmas anticipation.

(photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert/Stock.xchng)

News for Today:

Spread by risky sex, syphilis surges back in Europe
Medical myths that even doctors believe
In-house hospital doctors shorten stays: study

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Taking your blood pressure at home

(hey! the date should read December 20th - don't believe everything you read. :-)

Are you at risk for high blood pressure? Do you have high blood pressure? If so, you may have considered buying an at-home blood pressure machine. Is it worth the cost? According to this study Measuring blood pressure at home lowers drug need, it’s possible.

Many people who want to buy a blood pressure machine worry about buying the right one. Of course, you want to buy a reliable machine, but what is more important than the type of machine is how you take it and that you take it consistently with the same machine. No matter how good your machine is, it’s not the same as the one in the pharmacy or in your doctor’s office, so it’s highly unlikely that you will get the same readings. As well, you are probably more relaxed at home than at the office, so that can give different readings as well.

So, what’s important then? The has a good write-up on how to do home blood pressure monitoring. They stress some important issues that may not be brought up when someone is shopping around. Think about it for a moment – should someone who weighs 250 pounds be using the same blood pressure cuff size as the person who weighs 105 pounds? Of course not. And, if you have trouble seeing well, then a machine with small, hard to read numbers isn’t going to be any good for you.

Your pharmacist is a good source of information for things like this. They are professionals that are trained, not only in dispensing medication, but in providing advice for health prevention and management. Use this resource – because it’s there for you to use.

News for Today:

Measuring blood pressure at home lowers drug need
Green tea may cut prostate cancer risk
If you don't want to fall ill this Christmas, then share a festive kiss but don't shake hands
Breath test can discriminate between a bacterial overgrowth and IBS
Sugar Injections Resolve Chronic Neck Pain

Psoriasis - what is it?

Yesterday, I included in my News for Today a story on psoriasis, Severe psoriasis linked to higher death risk. Many people don’t know what psoriasis is – yet, the National Institutes of Health in the United States says 7.5 million Americans have some form of psoriasis. So what is psoriasis?

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, there are five types of psoriasis, a noncontagious, lifelong skin disease. Some people go on to develop psoriatric arthritis. On their website, it says, “The most common form, plaque psoriasis, appears as raised, red patches or lesions covered with a silvery white buildup of dead skin cells, called scale.” If you click on their website, you can read about the differences between the five types.

The plaques develop because the skin is producing cells too quickly. In healthy skin, the cells mature and drop off – or shed - every 30 days or so. With psoriasis, something triggers a faster development of skin cells and they mature much faster, at a rate of about three to four days. Then, instead of shedding, they pile up and this is what causes the plaques that can be so painful and/or itchy.

At best, the disease is uncomfortable, at worst, it can affect how you live your life due to the discomfort – it all depends on how much of the body is affected and how badly it is affected. There are no cures yet for psoriasis, but there are treatments that can help. Unfortunately, the available treatments are not helpful for everyone and it can take quite a bit of trial and error before one is found that can help you.

To learn more about psoriasis, you can go to the site I mentioned above, or visit the, the FDA, or the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

News for Today:

Dangerous drugs continue to be prescribed to seniors: CBC report
People living in sunnier countries less likely to have lung cancer: study
Aging brains increase seniors' risk of dehydration: study
Early surgical treatment contributes to better outcomes in gallstone pancreatitis cases
No need for reduced alcohol consumption in later life

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What do these studies mean?

So many studies, so many findings – but can we tell if they mean anything to us?

The gold standard of clinical trials and studies is called the randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study. All aspects, the randomizing, blinding and the placebo are important parts to ensure that people aren’t influenced by any aspect of the study.

Randomizing is important because it ensures the study subjects are not subconsciously divided into specific groups by the recruiters. By randomizing the patients (such as saying that every other patient goes into Group A or the first 10 go into A, second group into B, third into C and then the cycle starts again), they are distributed without influence from anyone working on the study.

Double blinding means that all direct participants in the study don’t know who is getting what. If the study is for drug A, it’s not good enough if the patient doesn’t now that he is taking A, the people who are giving it and those who are assessing the outcomes can’t know it. If they do, their interpretations and findings could be affected.

The placebo is also key, although it isn’t always as simple as a test of drug A or a placebo. You can have more than one group. For example, if drug B is already known to treat a disease but drug A is promising, there may be three groups of patients in the test: those who are given drug A, those who are given drug B and those who are getting the placebo. Or, there may be groups who get different dosages of drug A or placebo. So, you can see, there are many combinations that can happen.

The standard randomized, double-blind placebo studies have drawbacks though. It means that there are some sorts of studies that can’t be done because of ethical reasons. For example, if you know that a procedure can save a life, you can’t offer the placebo. You can’t have a psychological therapy that may prevent suicide, for example, and have half the group getting the therapy and the other half not.

These types of studies are also difficult to do for less common diseases and illnesses. The groups of available patients may not be large enough to have a good sample for such a study.

Arranging these studies is complicated and time consuming but, ultimately life saving if the drugs or procedures prove their worth.

News for Today:
Blood pressure dropped when pill taken at night: study
Severe psoriasis linked to higher death risk
Study examines factors associated with survival in advanced laryngeal cancer
Massage may help ease pain and anxiety after surgery
Suicide: holidays' darkest myth
Decongestant May Work at the Doses Now Recommended, FDA Panel Says

Monday, December 17, 2007

Emergency room waiting times

What are waiting times like in your part of the world if you have to visit an emergency room? We hear such horror stories about waits that take hours, but then we hear stories about people who have no wait at all.

Here, in Canada, we have our issues with the socialized medical program, Medicare. The biggest argument I hear from Americans when they don’t want to have socialized medicine, is that we have horrendously long wait times. But, I have many American friends and acquaintances, and I’ve heard about incredibly long wait times for them and their friends as well. Is one system better than the other?

Personally, I’ve been very fortunate for serious issues – elective ones, nuisance ones, could take a while. I remember taking my children to the emergency room for what we perceived as urgent issues. When it was truly urgent, we were taken immediately – if it wasn’t urgent, the wait could be hours, but I do understand why, as frustrating as it can be.

But, I think that a lot of it goes to how the emergency rooms are used – and many times, they aren’t used properly. Is that always the patients’ fault though?

In Canada, it can be very difficult to find a family doctor; with the number of doctors retiring or cutting back on their work hours, the remaining doctors can’t take the full load. Without a family doctor, and if walk-in clinics are closed, many families don’t have a choice but to go to the ER. In the States, if someone isn’t covered with insurance, they may leave their problem unattended to until it becomes so serious that they have to go to an emergency room.

So, this adds to the number of people visiting – but why can it take so long to be seen by a doctor in the ER? There are only so many beds in the hospital. Many of the patients who present to the emergency room have to be admitted, but if all the beds are full, the emergency patients have to wait, taking up an ER bed. If the ER bed is taken, the ER staff can’t see another patient from the waiting room; they’re too busy caring for the patients who are waiting.

The solution may seem obvious, free up the hospital beds. But if you are in an area that has few long-term or chronic care beds, many patients who no longer need acute care but still need some sort of care have nowhere to go. They can’t go home; there’s no-one to care for them. So they stay in the acute care beds and wait.

There’s another issue that bears acknowledging: our nursing shortage in North America. People aren’t going in to nursing at high enough numbers. Nurses aren’t being paid enough and they’re not being treated and respected as the professionals they are. So, if there aren’t enough nurses, beds in the hospitals can’t stay open. Sometimes, whole units or floors are closed because there are no nurses to care for the patients. That means fewer beds for the patients down in emergency.

Health care prevention would play a big role in reducing the number of ER visits, more chronic care beds would help too. And finally, better accessibility to home care, to supporting people to stay at home as long as possible, would all play a role in helping speed up care for those who do need it.

News for today:
At-home sleep apnea tests sanctioned by U.S. sleep authority
New sterilization technique for women to be reviewed by FDA
Men may also carry breast cancer genes: study
Survey underscores importance of emotional/educational needs among women with advanced breast cancer
Survival Shortened When ER/PR Negative Breast Cancer Spreads to the Brain
Drug combination shrinks breast cancer metastases in brain
Health needs higher for kids of abused moms
Breathless babies: Preemies' lung function shows prolonged impairment