Friday, August 10, 2007

Migraines and strokes

One of today’s news stories caught my attention: Women with aura-type migraines at risk of stroke: study. That’s me. I get visual auras – not all the time, but often enough. One half of each eye, usually the right half of the visual field, becomes fuzzy with lines zigzagging across. When this happens, I can’t read or drive, because it’s both eyes. And then the migraine hits. I suppose it’s better than when the migraine hits without warning, but if I could have a choice, I could do without both or either, thank you very much.

Migraines are very common. According to statistics, up to 17% of women and 6% of men have had at least one migraine. Some people have occasional migraines, but some experience chronic migraines. These, according to the, are migraines that occur 15 or more days per month. The National Headache Foundation reports that 80% of migraines are severe and up to 24% of people with migraines have had to go to the emergency room.

What causes migraines? We don’t really know but we do know that there are many triggers. The most well-known ones are migraines that occur with a woman’s menstrual cycle or the ones that occur when some people drink red wine or eat chocolate. Other triggers can be:

- Alcohol
- Allergies
- Bright lights
- Changes in weather patterns
- Lack of or too much sleep
- Loud noises
- Skipping meals
- Stress (physical or emotional)
- Strong odours

There are treatments for migraines. Some people do well with prophylactic, or preventative, treatments. These medications have to be taken regularly in order to prevent the migraine from happening and don’t do any good if the migraine has struck. These medications include antidepressants, heart/blood pressure medications called beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, and anticonvulsants. Some people do well with alternative treatments such as feverfew.

For those who can’t take preventative medications or for whom they are not effective, treatments for the migraine pain are available. Some are specific for migraine while others are pain relievers that work for them.

Medications aren’t the only way to go. Many people find relief from alternative treatments, including yoga, biofeedback, or going into a dark room and avoiding all painful stimuli. Others don’t get any relief and end up having to wait it out.

Don’t forget, children can also have migraines that don’t present as head pain. Abdominal migraines, severe, unexplainable abdominal pain can actually be migraines. If your child experiences these, unfortunately, that can be a sign that he or she will develop the traditional head pain once they hit puberty.

The article that I mentioned above does mention that the risks of stroke if you have visual migraine can be lowered if you follow the usual guidelines for stroke prevention. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, these include reducing or managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol, diabetes, and stress, quitting smoking, becoming more physically active, losing weight, decrease alcohol consumption, and managing stress. Added risk factors include having heart disease and being female. I guess there’s nothing much I can do about that last risk factor…

News for Today:
Health Canada investigates Losec, Nexium for heart risks
Nexium, Prilosec: No Heart Risks Seen
FDA Review Shows No Risk of Heart Attack, Heart Failure, or Heart-Related Sudden Death

Women with aura-type migraines at risk of stroke: study
Despite claims, not all probiotics can treat diarrhea say experts
Fear Of Pain Puts Backache Sufferers At Further Risk
Are Preventive Treatments Just Changing Cause Of Death In The Elderly, Rather Than Prolonging Life?

ANNOUNCEMENT: I've published a book! Oscar's Diaries, Life as a Retired Greyhound is now available on - see the note in the side bar, under my photo for information. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Greyhound Health and Wellness Program, run by Guillermo Couto, DVM, dip. ACVIM, at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Coffee, tea or....

Ok, over the past few days, there were two news stories about popular beverages and their effects on health – yet only one made the major news: the one about coffee and how it can improve the memory in older women. I believe that it’s important news; many people drink a few cups of coffee a day. And, it’s really nice to hear something *good* about something we consume rather than all the Chicken Little news we’ve been hearing lately. But, another news story slipped right past us and I didn’t know about it until I did my news search for this blog. Green tea could help treat inflammatory skin conditions. That’s also something nice to know.

Ok, so it’s still in the mouse study stage, and I always tell people to be wary of studies at that stage. And, the mice were bathed in the tea, they didn’t drink it. We’ll just ignore those two facts for the purpose of this blog. {grin} Of course, by the time it gets to the people stage – if it ever does, who knows what the findings will be then. But it really caught my eye because of the coffee story from the day before more than anything else. Could it be that maybe the pendulum is swinging the other way and we may find out that more things we like to consume may actually be good for us?

Do you remember the butter controversy? Don’t eat butter, it will kill you. Oops, we made a mistake, the margarine we told you to eat might kill you, so you’d better eat butter. Ok, so which one is it? First we’re told don’t drink wine, then we’re told it may have benefits. We’re supposed to stay away from salt, but wait a minute, don’t overdo it because our bodies still need some salt.

Except for the things that we know are really bad for us, I vote we stop taking these studies as gospel (do eat this, don’t eat that) and return to a life of moderation. If we eat a good diet, unless we have a disease or disorder that says otherwise, a little bit of even the bad foods aren’t going to hurt us. Moderation should be the new buzzword. Now, where did I put that cup of coffee??

News for Today:
Quebec likely to join HPV vaccination bandwagon: health official
Plastics chemical poses no hazard, U.S. review finds
New liver test catches tumours earlier
Kids without enough insurance skip vaccines
Doctors urged to curb reliance on beta-blockers
Refusal of medical and surgical interventions common among chronically ill elderly
Stress may leave your mouth a mess

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Have you donated blood recently?

I had a completely different blog posting written last night, all ready to go this morning, but when I double checked the news just now, I found this story, Number of Blood Donors Decreases as Safety Concerns Increase and it really concerned me.

When I worked in an ICU, I hung many units of blood on patients who were critically ill. When I worked on a medical unit, I gave many units to patients with cancer. They needed the blood to live. I’ve seen, first hand, the power of a unit of blood.

I have donated blood but not nearly as many as I should have by now. I’m at number 25 or 26. The Canadian system of blood donations changed drastically several years ago and sometimes the wait to give blood can be a couple of hours. I would justify not staying because I’m busy. Now that I think about it, how busy am I that I can’t sit and read or chat on the phone while I’m waiting to give my blood? And, to top it off, I’m O negative, the type of blood they really need.

If you are able, do you donate blood? Did you know that your one donation can help more than one person? After your blood donation is complete, the blood is tested for certain diseases that can be passed through blood. The blood is then separated because the blood isn’t used as is. It’s separated into red blood cells, platelets and plasma.

Red blood cells are given to people who may be anemic (too few red blood cells), losing blood or receiving cancer treatment (chemotherapy or radiation). Since the red blood cells are the ones that transport oxygen around the body, if you’re anemic, the oxygen isn’t getting around, resulting in fatigue or light-headedness.

People who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment can end up with very low in platelets, which are manufactured in the bone marrow, liver, and spleen. This means that they can bleed very easily and this could result in a hemorrhage. By receiving platelets from blood donations, their own blood will be able to clot more effectively. Unfortunately, the transfused platelets only last a couple of days, so repeat transfusions may be needed, which really increases the need for donated platelets.

Finally, plasma is given to people who are bleeding in order to increase the amount of blood-clotting factors in the blood. People who don’t have blood-clotting factors may also be given plasma.

So, you see, the blood isn’t just taken from one person and given to another.

There’s also a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. When you give blood, it has to be matched to the person who is getting it. Of course, we know about the compatibility of blood types, but some patients have many antibodies that cause reactions to blood donations. This means that every time they need blood, it can take a while to find a unit of blood that can be matched with theirs, without causing a reaction. I remember having one patient in the ICU who had so many antibodies in her blood that it was getting close to impossible to find a unit of blood that she could safely have.

What can happen if you get an incompatible unit of blood? If you receive blood, the procedure is usually that a nurse will take your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse just before giving the blood, and then again shortly after the transfusion has begun. This is because one of the first signs of a blood reaction is a fever. You could also experience chills, rash, pain in your lower back, light-headedness, and dizziness. If you experience any of these, the blood transfusion should be stopped immediately. While the problem may not be blood-related, it’s safest to stop the blood first and then to find out.

So, are you thinking of giving blood yet? Yes, there’s a needle involved – and it’s not small. But, experienced nurses can insert the needle with a minimum of discomfort to you. I think in the 25 times I’ve given blood, it’s hurt only a couple of times. Some people feel dizzy afterwards and even faint. That does happen, but not to many people. I was very shocked when it happened to me after giving about 10 donations or so. I have no idea why it did and I felt awful for a little bit. And I have to admit that I was very nervous the next few times I donated, but it never happened again.

Giving blood is really easy – honest! It’s a bit time consuming sometimes – and they ask a lot of questions. The blood donation programs are trying to do their best to keep the blood system as safe as is possible and that mean drawing out procedures and ruling out people who fall into certain groups. While I do have issues with that, I do understand why they are doing what they’re doing.

If you are able to give blood but haven’t, I ask you to consider it. It is inconvenient, and a bit uncomfortable sometimes, but if you think about what a unit of blood does, isn’t it worth it? If you or someone you love needs blood one day, won’t you feel grateful to the people who did take the time?

News for today:

Number of Blood Donors Decreases as Safety Concerns Increase
Parents' depression can weigh on children
Study: Heavy antacid use among older blacks leads to higher risk of dementia
Study suggests nonpharmaceutical interventions may be helpful in severe influenza outbreaks
Osteoporosis screening and treatment may be cost-effective for selected older men
Binge Drinkers Prefer Beer Because It's Easy to Buy
Study Suggests High-Dose Fish Oil May Significantly Improve Behavior in Children with ADHD
Sunblock and Sunscreen Are the Same, Right? Wrong, Says Harvard Medical School Report
Breast Cancer Survivors Carry Optimistic Outlook on Life, Yet Lack Critical Information about Reducing Recurrence
FDA Approves Novel Antiretroviral Drug
Marijuana-derived drug approved for cancer pain

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

My own personal health-related news release

This was one news release that I didn’t find, but I just might write up myself:

Greyhound gas causes migraines

Montreal, QC. August 7, 2007. Noxious gas fumes released from the back end of a greyhound (canine species) has been found to cause migraines in humans. In a study of 1, a human was exposed to noxious greyhound (canine-type) emissions over night and this resulted in the human subject being quite ill with a migraine. The pain appeared to begin within an hour or so after exposure. The subject quit the study after four hours, stating, "I can't freaking take this any more."

The researcher points out that said greyhound is sick (tummy trouble) and suffering from severe back pain, which is being treated with Rimadyl®, an anti-inflammatory. Whether the medication is the cause of the greyhound’s noxious emissions remains to be discovered, but the subject human is not only noted to have a migraine, but she is in a really, really bad mood.

The researcher suggests that follow-up studies be done but the human subject told the researcher to do something that appears to be physically impossible.


here is the culprit, Oscar:

Ok, in all seriousness – we know that our bodies react to odours, but who would have thought that my sick dog would make me sick? In this world of so many different substances, be they gases or the chemicals in our plastics (latest story on plastic and health ). In other words, we have no idea what we’re doing to ourselves sometimes.

At this point, I’m going to concentrate on helping Oscar feel better.

Monday, August 6, 2007

My search for info for vegetarians

My sister asked me if I knew of any good sites about vegetarian websites – I’m usually on the ball about what sites are trustworthy and which ones should be taken with a grain of salt. So, that’s today’s topic. I don’t know a lot about vegetarianism and even less about being vegan, so this is as much an education for me as for anyone else who isn’t too familiar with it.
The is one of the first places I look for information on health-related topics. Their information is very well written and easily understood by the average person who doesn’t have medical training. In this case, their section on vegetarian diets has information on diet planning and they provide this vegetarian diet pyramid . I wanted to put the image directly here but I wasn’t sure about copyright issues, so just go to the link – you’ll see it.

The Nemours Foundation is another place I frequent when getting ready to write information for the general public. Their site is well organized and written for teens and kids to understand. But, it doesn’t talk down to the kids, so sometimes it’s a good source for adults too. If I’m trying to find a good way to explain something and I’m stuck, this place usually gives me some good ideas. When I offer sites for kids or teens, I like to suggest to their parents that they read them too so that they know what information their children are getting. In this case, they have a couple of pages on vegetarian diets, this one is called Becoming a Vegetarian and it discusses the necessary nutrients for the body and how best to get them. The other section is in their nutrition section and it’s called Soy Foods and Health . We often have soy milk because my 18-year-old daughter eats cheeses and yogurt, as well as other dairy products, but she’s not a big milk drinker. It’s really satisfying to know that she prefers to drink soy milk over soft drinks! Soy milk also comes in flavours, such as vanilla and chocolate.

The University of Maine has a fact sheet for parents of teens who are or who want to be vegetarian. I think something like this would be helpful for both the teen and the parents to read together and then to discuss. If you’re looking for information on different health topics, many of the universities offer these fact sheets. They’re very helpful.

The Vegetarian Resource group offers this page entitled Protein in the Vegan Diet, It seems like a comprehensive overview of how you can meet your protein needs while following a vegan diet.

There still has to be caution in following vegetarian diets, it seems. Although a healthy, well-rounded vegetarian diet is nothing to worry about, there are some concerns about children and ensuring that they receive the proper nutrition. I found this interesting warning from the Academy of General Dentistry. It’s a warning about how children who follow vegetarian diets may not get all the nutrients they need and how this can show in their teeth.

And finally, many women who are vegetarian will get pregnant at some point. Here is an article from the Cleveland Clinic on how to eat a vegetarian diet and still maintain the extra nutrients you need during a pregnancy.

I have to admit, the idea of a vegetarian diet doesn’t appeal to me personally – I like my steaks!

News for Today
IUDs safe and effective in high-risk patients
New medical college study finds limited English proficiency, barrier to safe prescription use
Family learns B.C. twins can't be separated
FDA recalls Lakeside beans, cites botulism fears
Many Americans suffer 'whispering' strokes, study finds
Suck on this: zinc lozenges don't lessen cold symptoms