Saturday, June 16, 2007

Don't let Lyme Disease keep you inside

Lyme disease isn’t something we seem to pay much attention to here in Canada. But, according to an article in the Edmonton Sun, we should be. According to the article, there have been 19 cases of Lyme disease confirmed in Alberta since 1992.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has information about Lyme disease. It’s hard to tell how many cases of Lyme disease there actually have been in Canada because it’s not a reportable disease. The information on this site says that the highest risk of exposure to the ticks that cause Lyme disease is in southern and eastern Ontario, south-eastern Manitoba and Nova Scotia, and southern British Columbia, although there is still risk elsewhere.

Another thing to think about is if you are travelling in places in the United States that have Lyme disease. Find out before you travel if there is a higher incidence of Lyme disease where you are going to travel.

Symptoms of Lyme disease can include:
· rash at the site of the bit and elsewhere on the body
· rash that appears circular
· headache
· seizures
· fatigue
· chills and fevers
· muscle and joint pain
· swollen lymph glands

If Lyme disease isn’t diagnosed and progresses, more symptoms can occur, such as:
· migraines
· weakness and extreme fatigue
· stiff joints
· multiple rashes
· irregular heart beat

You can protect yourself from Lyme disease. Since it is caused by ticks transmitting it, preventing tick bites will prevent the transmission of the disease.

If you are going to be in a wooded area or in an area where there is a lot of tall grass, wear light coloured clothing, tuck your shirt into your pants and your pant legs into your socks. Don’t wear sandals, but rather closed shoes. You can spray your clothes with insect repellent but be sure that it contains DEET, the chemical that will keep ticks away.

When you have returned home, be sure to inspect yourself closely. The light-coloured clothing makes it easier for you to see the ticks. Be sure to check all parts of your body that weren’t covered, such as the back of your neck that was covered with hair.

Finding a tick doesn’t mean that you have caught Lyme disease, but it is important to remove the tick properly to prevent any exchange from the tick.

Do not crush or twist the tick. Using a pair of tweezers, pull the tick straight up off your skin. Clean the area well with soap and water.

There will always be something that can cause illness, but as long as we’re careful and know how to reduce the risk, there’s no reason why we can’t go outside and still have fun. Especially in most of Canada where our summers are so short. We need to be able to take advantage of the absolutely gorgeous weather we can be blessed with. So, be careful but don’t give up on being outside.

Added note: check the news story about the mumps. The numbers of infected people is adding up.

Today's news:
Mumps outbreak in N.S. still steadily rising
Breast cancer drug offers hope for ovarian cancer
Tuberculosis-Infected Flier to Undergo Lung Surgery

Friday, June 15, 2007

Writing Health Tips = Fun

Another entry on writing – health and writing, writing and health, forever the two shall be intertwined – at least in my life.

Where ever we look, there’s information written for us and often it’s in little bits and pieces, sound bytes some would say. We see them in the newspapers, in magazines, on websites, and even on products we buy. Well, someone has to write those because they don’t appear out of nowhere. Do they?

I’d never given much thought about who would write these things until one day when I was asked if I could write 100 short, snappy, attention-getting health tips, to be published daily on a US national news site. Hmmm, I could do that, I thought. And I did.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it might be because of the parameters, but it was a fun exercise and I’m glad I did it. I had to put my mind into someone who is glancing at a web page and just quickly reading what is on the screen. It had to be short enough that it could be read quickly, but long enough that it had good information in it. And now, the results are up.

If you visit My Fox Los Angeles, for example, and you scroll down a bit, you'll see a “Daily Tip” tab. I enjoyed doing it and ended up writing 125 of them. I’m sure some are better than others, but I’m pleased that I am able to do this type of work.

Chalk up another hit for freelancing.

News for today:
Walkability helps older adults stay healthy, studies say
Teens who sleep in on weekends risk Monday "jetlag"
Childhood growth tied to adulthood blood pressure

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cancers below the waist

There was a fundraising walk in Montreal recently, for “cancers below the waist.” It was billed as the cancer walk for cancers that we don’t talk about: prostate cancer, colon cancer, penile cancer, all those types. And one of those below the waist cancers is in the news again: ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is one of the scariest for women because it is so hard to detect it before it has progressed quite far. Unlike breast or testicular cancer, where you may feel a lump, or colon cancer where you may start having bloody stools or pain, or it’s detected by routine colonoscopy, you can’t tell you have ovarian cancer easily. That’s why it’s often called the silent killer.

According to the most recent statistics from the National Cancer Institute of Canada (2004), there are 2,300 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed in 2004. There were 1,950 deaths in Canada that year because of ovarian cancer.

Many of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are physical discomforts that most women put up with, especially during their menstrual cycle. What woman hasn’t felt boated? Had the urge to void frequently? Been nauseous? Had difficulty eating or feeling full quickly? The problem is, when these symptoms go on for more than a short period, or they all happen together, they can be a sign of ovarian cancer.

According to the latest news, released by the American Cancer Society and some other groups, if a woman have any of those symptoms daily for at least three weeks, she should see her doctor as soon as possible.

Of course, having just those signs doesn’t mean that a woman has ovarian cancer. Those symptoms could mean irritable bowel syndrome, for example. So then we also need to take into account other facts, like family history. According to the Canadian Cancer Society , you have a higher chance of having ovarian cancer if you:

- Are older than 50 years old
- Have a family history of ovarian cancer
- Are taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

- Some experts feel that an increased risk may also be present if you:
- Have used fertility drugs
- Started menstruating late and/or went through menopause early.

The society also offers a more comprehensive list of symptoms of ovarian cancer, in addition to the bloating, abdominal pain, frequent urination, decreased appetite and feeling full too early:

- Abdominal swelling
- Indigestion
- Upset stomach
- Gas
- Change in bowel habits
- Fatigue
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Menstrual disorders
- Pain during intercourse

Women have beaten ovarian cancer but the trick is to make sure it’s found early enough. Don’t be worried or embarrassed about getting checked. If it’s not ovarian cancer, that’s wonderful! There’s no need to feel that you shouldn’t have been checked. It’s much better to be checked and know that there is nothing wrong, than to neglect it and to die because of it.

News for today:
Lack of sleep harms heart response: study
Symptoms Found for Early Check on Ovary Cancer
Study: Bullies prone to sleep problems

Musings on a neighbour's move

A little bit of a departure today – musings on a neighbour’s move.

We live on a quiet little crescent; there are only 14 houses here. When I first moved here eight years ago, I imagined a nice cozy neighbourhood where we all knew one another. Well, that hasn’t happened. Some of the people in the crescent are good friends. In fact, one daughter from one family across the grass married a son from the family two houses down from me. Some of the families will nod and say hi when we pass, others act as if we don’t know each other.

However, there is a lovely family that lives three houses down from us – or should I say “lived.” Two years ago, the father lost his job and found one several provinces away. The mother didn’t want to leave the two kids behind who were now in university and living at home. She wanted to see them settled first and she did. They have now graduated and are pursuing their dreams. And today, the moving truck arrives to take the house’s contents to deliver them to her new home quite far away.

I watched this story unfold over the past couple of years. Usually, it’s the children who leave home, who leave the nest. In this case, it’s the parents. Her reluctance to leave was, to me, both understandable, but not at the same time. I know it wore on her precisely because it was her leaving, not the kids. When a child leaves home, they can return home to visit if their parents stay in their childhood home. But this is a parent leaving and it does seem kind of backwards. There’s no turning back.

It won’t be an easy day for her. Already it’s 9 a.m. and the movers, she told me, were to be here at 8:30 but they haven’t arrived yet. Moving is always a bit tough, it’s a big job cleaning out the house, sorting through what to keep and what to toss. I hope the move goes smoothly for her and that she is happy in her new home.

We’ll miss the family and here’s to hoping the new one is as happy in the home as the old one was.

News for today:
Consult doctors before boosting vitamin D intake, advises Cancer Society
Autism is no laughing matter

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ear infections, antibiotics, kids and asthma

Checking the health news today, I see that there are a few things making the top stories. One story caught my eye; it’s about antibiotics given to young children may lead to higher incidences of asthma. My three children, especially the oldest and the youngest, had many, many ear infections. The newest thinking is that not all such infections need to be treated with antibiotics. However, when you’re up at 3 in the morning with an infant who is screaming because he is in so much pain from a double ear infection, and you can’t get his fever down with the appropriate medications, I personally find it hard to believe that antibiotics aren’t the answer.

Of my three, my middle one had the fewest ear infections – and she’s the one with medication-controlled asthma. Luckily, she’s in a period where the asthma is not active, but when it is, she is on long-term asthma treatment. The two boys, the ones with multiple, treated, ear infections are relatively asthma-free. The youngest does have a cold-induced asthma attack occasionally.

Of course, my story is anecdotal. My asthma isn’t antibiotic related, but I did grow up in a home with smoking parents. I remember being in the car with the windows closed and my father smoking a pipe even. It’s not hard to see the connection there, in my opinion.

I’m not saying that we aren’t over using antibiotics, I do believe we are. Many people insist on getting antibiotics for viral infections even though antibiotics will do absolutely nothing for them. I remember patients even insisting on them for colds. I would hope that the doctors wouldn’t give in to the pressure of handing out antibiotics like that, but some do, unfortunately.

Asthma is a scary illness – I know that from the point of view as a parent of a child with it, from the point of view as a patient, and also from the point of view of a nurse who has cared for patients in status asthmaticus, the emergency situation of severe asthma. I guess we all must be a little more careful about what we do and how we do it, even in terms of getting our kids antibiotics for their ear infections. Would I do the same thing again if I could do it all over? I don’t know but I have to admit, probably. Ear pain is horrendous and untreated ear infections can cause serious problems. When my son was screaming in pain from his sore ears, I find it hard to think that I’d be able to look down the road and think about how treating him now may affect him in the future. I just wanted my little guy to feel better.

Today's News:

Antibiotic use before age one linked to asthma
Worriers show higher risk for age-related memory loss: study
Please shake my hand, patients tell doctors

Monday, June 11, 2007

Finding Good Health News

A few people have asked me where are the best sources for reliable health news. While my first glib response would be “my blog, of course,” I do realize that I don’t have what one would call comprehensive news coverage.

What I do, when I’m writing my blog for the day, is I find some stories that I find particularly interesting that I think may interest other people as well. I find a lot of things interesting that I’m pretty sure many of you would not, so I try to contain my excitement over certain newsbits.

I like Health Behavior News Service, which I have to admit I write for. But they have a great daily news email that covers interesting topics. The site itself has studies written by its contributing writers, but the daily email is a list of popular news that has come out recently. Today’s, for example, had links to a story on lifestyle changes for obese women with breast cancer, women’s midlife weight and its connection to diabetes later on in life, and drugs for people with Alzheimers.

I also go to, a Canadian television network, and, the Canadian broadcasting company. If I feel like looking further, I’ll go to Eurekalert or PR Newswire, and sometimes to my old work place of The Doctor’s Guide to the Internet. When I worked for them, one of my tasks was to scour the newswires for interesting news, so that was a fun part of the job.

Even sites like Yahoo or MSN can have good news pieces, just check to see where the links are originally from. Google is a good source too, I just click on the news section.

Other than HBNS, I don’t get any daily news emails. I find that I don’t read them most of the time and that I prefer to go out searching for them.

News for today:
New tests predict Alzheimer's victims

Health group says more hand washing in hospitals will save thousands of lives

CDC Updates Tools to Help Physicians Recognize and Manage Concussions Early

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Vitamin D Buzz

Vitamin D is all over the news. A new study has found that increased doses of daily vitamin D could decrease the chances of developing certain cancers, such as colorectal and breast cancers. In fact, they found a 60% of cancer incidence.

This led the Canadian Cancer Society to recommend that all Canadian adults take 1000 international units (UI) of vitamin D during the darker winter months. There has been a rush on vitamin D at the stores. The Montreal Gazette reported today that several city pharmacies were wiped out of their vitamin D supply. I don’t know, last time I checked, it’s June and sunny a good part of the day. A good *free* way to get vitamin D is to get it from the sun.

I take a regular multivitamin and there are 400 IU of vitamin D in the brand I take. I try to get out in the sun, walking the dog, gardening or sitting and reading the morning paper, and eat foods that have vitamin D in them. In the winter, I try to make a point of getting out on sunny days and expose my face to the sun for a bit, just for the sheer joy of feeling sunshine because I’m one of those people who has a hard time when the days are too grey.

Sunscreen has its place and I’m against the sun tanning that lots of people still do. I have blonde hair, very fair skin and green/yellow eyes. In other words, when I was a kid, I burned and burned and burned so many times, I couldn’t keep track. But, I also was never for the constant slathering of the highest SPF sunscreen available. We need the sun. For example, Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world. Northern countries have much higher rates than countries in the south, which don’t have the short grey days we have. Is it connected to the sun? No fool-proof connection has been made yet, but it sure sounds suspicious to me. The sun is vital and, like almost everything, we went way too far the other way, from worshipping the sun to being terrified of it. While skin cancer is frightening, we can prevent it without totally eliminating the sun from our lives. With my pale, easily burned skin, I still spent 45 minutes this morning outside in the sun gardening, without sunscreen. I made sure I was in and out of the shade and I never stayed in the sun for more than 5 minutes straight. If I go outside in the sun again today, I will put on sunscreen because my skin was exposed to enough sun today. But tomorrow, I’ll likely try to spend at least a half hour enjoying the sun.

And, in the winter, I’ll increase my dose of vitamin D to 1000 IU until the summer sun rolls around again.