Friday, April 17, 2015

Health Care and Angioplasty

Millions of Americans suffer from various forms of heart disease—ischemic, rheumatic, hypertensive, inflammatory, congenital, and cerebrovascular. According to the World Heart Federation, there are multiple reasons for each of these medical diagnoses. The heart is a critical organ and is responsible for pumping life giving blood throughout your body from birth until death. Your heart is the size of your fist and the strongest muscle in your body.

Your heart started beating about three weeks after you were conceived. If you live to be 70 your heart will have beat 2.5 billion times. Each heartbeat pumps blood around the body, pushing it from the left heart chambers, through arteries of ever-decreasing size, finally reaching the capillaries in all parts of the body. Once your body has taken oxygen and nutrients from the blood, it is returned to the heart via the veins to the right chambers of the heart. On its way back, the blood passes through the liver and waste products are removed.

As marvelous as this system is, it is very vulnerable to damage from the things we do to it, like smoking, eating an unhealthy diet or putting it under stress. Or you may be born with a heart condition. When your heart’s functions become compromised, this is known as cardiovascular disease, a broad term that covers any disorder to the system that has the heart at its center. For much more detailed information about heart disease in general, visit this site: http://www.world-heart-federation.org/cardiovascular-health/heart-disease/ .

One way to help improve some types of heart disease, and to help prevent heart attacks, is through a medical procedure called angioplasty--a term describing a procedure used to widen vessels narrowed by stenoses or occlusions, according to the FreeDictionary.com. There are various types of these procedures and their names are associated with the type of vessel entry and equipment used.

For example, percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA) describes entry through the skin (percutaneous) and navigates to the area of the vessel of interest through the same vessel or one that communicates with it (transluminal). In the case of a procedure involving the coronary arteries, the point of entry could be the femoral artery in the groin and the catheter/guidewire system is passed through the aorta to the heart and the origin of the coronary arteries at the base of the aorta just outside the aortic valve. For more technical aspects of angioplasty, visit this website: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Angioplasty .

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you have angioplasty in a hospital. The doctor threads a thin tube through a blood vessel in the arm or groin up to the involved site in the artery. The tube has a tiny balloon on the end. When the tube is in place, the doctor inflates the balloon to push the plaque outward against the wall of the artery. This widens the artery and restores blood flow.

Doctors may use angioplasty to reduce chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart and to minimize damage to heart muscle from a heart attack. Many people go home the day after angioplasty, and are able to return to work within a week of coming home. More details are located at this website for your research: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/angioplasty.html .

Angioplasty with or without vascular stenting is commonly used to treat conditions that involve a narrowing or blockage of arteries or veins throughout the body. When undergoing this procedure, there are definitely benefits and risks to be considered for angioplasty. Angioplasty should be considered with your physician, cardiologist, or medical heart specialist. Not to be taken lightly, the procedure saves lives, but is not without risk. Consulting your health care team for this event is critical for your long term survival if you suffer from any heart disease. A significant amount of detailed information concerning angioplasty can be found at this website: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=angioplasty .

According to this website, http://www.ptca.org/heart_attack/, if cardiologists can reopen blocked blood vessels with an angioplasty balloon within a couple of hours after a heart attack begins, blood flow can be restored and heart damage prevented. Time from arriving at the hospital to receiving angioplasty is called “door-to-balloon time” and in the past few years many hospitals have made significant strides in shortening “D2B” time, often treating patients with angioplasty within an hour.

Angioplasty within 90 minutes of arriving at the emergency department is the gold standard of treatment for heart attack, recommended by all the major medical societies. If you or a member of your family is at risk for heart attack (have coronary artery disease, a family history of heart disease, or risk factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure), it makes sense to educate yourself ahead of time, and make a heart attack emergency plan as noted below from www.ptca.org :

1)    Learn the Symptoms: Listen to Your Body. Familiarize yourself with the range of heart attack symptoms. Heart attacks can involve slow and subtle warning signs; people rarely collapse to the floor clenching their chest as in the movies. Pay attention to your body and what it is telling you -- no one wants to be a hypochondriac, but when it comes to heart attack, it’s way better to be safe than sorry. Most heart attack victims wait hours before going to the hospital, greatly decreasing their chance to benefit from angioplasty. For angioplasty to be most effective, the quicker you get to the hospital to get checked out the better.

2)    Call an Ambulance: Know the number to call an ambulance and don’t be embarrassed to use it; don’t drive yourself or have a family member drive you unless it’s your only option. Ambulances are usually equipped to begin administering tests and emergency care en route, saving you precious time. And, you will be attended to more quickly when you get to the ER if you arrive by ambulance. Time is muscle; you don’t want to be delayed by traffic or bureaucracy. While you wait for the ambulance, take an aspirin, which can help thin your blood and discourage clotting.
 
3)  Plan Ahead to get the Best Care: Do some research ahead of time to determine which hospital in your area offers the best heart attack treatment. It’s good to know what your options are. In some parts of the country, sophisticated systems have been set up to transfer heart attack victims from community hospitals to regional centers that have cath labs. You want to go to the closest ER that has a catheterization lab, or if there are no cath labs in your area, go to a community hospital that has an effective system for quickly diagnosing and then transferring heart attack victims to a facility that offers angioplasty services.

Angioplasty when performed in a timely basis can save your life. Living with heart disease isn't simple. But it's something millions of people manage to do. Knowing your body, and your family heart history definitely helps with learning the warning signs and developing an action plan.

Until next time.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Health Care and Sickle Cell Anemia

One very unique  health care disorder that affects primarily people whose families come from Africa, South or Central America (especially Panama), Caribbean islands, Mediterranean countries (such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy), India, and Saudi Arabia, according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

In the United States, it's estimated that sickle cell anemia affects 70,000–100,000 people, mainly African Americans. The disease occurs in about 1 out of every 500 African American births. Sickle cell anemia also affects Hispanic Americans. The disease occurs in more than 1 out of every 36,000 Hispanic American births. More than 2 million Americans have sickle cell trait. The condition occurs in about 1 in 12 African Americans.

According to the NIH, it is the most common form of sickle cell disease (SCD). SCD is a serious disorder in which the body makes sickle-shaped red blood cells. “Sickle-shaped” means that the red blood cells are shaped like a crescent.

Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped and look like doughnuts without holes in the center. They move easily through your blood vessels. Red blood cells contain an iron-rich protein called hemoglobin. This protein carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Sickle cells contain abnormal hemoglobin called sickle hemoglobin or hemoglobin S. Sickle hemoglobin causes the cells to develop a sickle, or crescent, shape. Sickle cells are stiff and sticky. They tend to block blood flow in the blood vessels of the limbs and organs. Blocked blood flow can cause pain and organ damage which can also raise the risk for infection. Much more detailed information can be found at this website: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sca .

According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA), sickle cell conditions are inherited from parents in much the same way as blood type, hair color and texture, eye color and other physical traits. The types of hemoglobin a person makes in the red blood cells depend upon what hemoglobin genes the person inherits from his or her parents.

Examples:

--If one parent has Sickle Cell Anemia and the other is Normal, all of the children will have sickle cell trait.

--If one parent has Sickle Cell Anemia and the other has Sickle Cell Trait, there is a 50% chance (or 1 out of 2) of having a baby with either sickle cell disease or sickle cell trait with each pregnancy.

--When both parents have Sickle Cell Trait, they have a 25% chance (1 of 4) of having a baby with sickle cell disease with each pregnancy.

A simple blood test followed by a laboratory technique called Hemoglobin Electrophoresis will determine the type of hemoglobin you have. When you pass an electric charge through a solution of hemoglobin, distinct hemoglobins move different distances, depending on their composition.

The SCDAA reports that sickle cells are destroyed rapidly in the body of people with the disease causing anemia, jaundice and the formation of gallstones. The sickle cells also block the flow of blood through vessels resulting in lung tissue damage (acute chest syndrome), pain episodes (arms, legs, chest and abdomen), stroke and priapism (painful prolonged erection).
 
It also causes damage to most organs including the spleen, kidneys and liver. Damage to the spleen makes sickle cell disease patients, especially young children, easily overwhelmed by certain bacterial infections.

Health maintenance for patients with sickle cell disease starts with early diagnosis, preferably in the newborn period and includes penicillin prophylaxis, vaccination against pneumococcus bacteria and folic acid supplementation. Treatment of complications often includes antibiotics, pain management, intravenous fluids, blood transfusion and surgery all backed by psychosocial support. Like all patients with chronic disease patients are best managed in a comprehensive multi-disciplinary program of care.

Blood transfusions help benefit sickle cell disease patients by reducing recurrent pain crises, risk of stroke and other complications. Because red blood cells contain iron, and there is no natural way for the body to eliminate it, patients who receive repeated blood transfusions can accumulate iron in the body until it reaches toxic levels.

It is important to remove excess iron from the body, because it can gather in the heart, liver, and other organs and may lead to organ damage. Treatments are available to eliminate iron overload. Much more detailed material about this disease can be found at this website: http://www.sicklecelldisease.org/index.cfm?page=about-scd.

Scientists are constantly researching ways to help people with sickle cell anemia, according to this website:  http://kidshealth.org/teen/diseases_conditions/blood/sickle_cell_anemia.html.

Several new treatments, such as the drug hydroxyurea, have helped reduce painful crises and episodes of acute chest syndrome for adults and kids with sickle cell. Bone marrow transplant, a complex and risky procedure, is the only cure for sickle cell anemia. This disease is especially tough on children and adolescents.

Scientists are also studying gene therapy as a treatment for sickle cell anemia. One day, it's hoped that doctors may be able to stop the disease by changing or replacing the abnormal gene that causes it. With the right precautions, children and teens with sickle cell disease can do most of the stuff other kids do. To stay as healthy as possible, take these steps:

--Eat a balanced, healthy diet.

--Take medications, including folic acid supplements, as prescribed.

--Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

--Avoid extreme cold or heat.

--Exercise regularly, but in moderation. Exercise is important for staying healthy, but overdoing it can trigger a crisis in some people, particularly if they become dehydrated, overheated, or exhausted.

--Get plenty of rest.

--Avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking which can aggravate sickle cell disease and its symptoms. Some people with sickle cell disease are prone to lung problems, so smoking is particularly risky and must be avoided.

--Avoid places low in oxygen. (For example, it's not a good idea to go hiking at high altitudes or spend lots of time swimming under water.)

--Prevent serious infections by contacting your doctor as soon as illness symptoms start. Be sure to get any immunizations (such as pneumonia and flu vaccines) that the doctor recommends, and always call your doctor if you have a high fever (over 101°F, 38°C).

--Learn as much as you can about the disease and see your doctor regularly to help prevent complications.

For a tremendous human interest story about a family’s inspirational fight against sickle cell anemia, visit this website: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=boozers

Sickle cell anemia is a disease that can be deadly and debilitating. If you or someone you know are suffering from symptoms, see your doctor. Follow the guidance provided by specialists and support groups. Work hard at staying healthy. Know that the disease can be managed.

Until next time.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Health Care and Fear of Public Speaking

Phobias exist in the psyche of almost everyone. Those deep dark fears that make you cringe or break out into a sweat, or even into hysteria if severe, are often very difficult to overcome. Psychologists have studied these mental issues for many years, and have concluded that whatever phobia you have that creates extreme fear is legitimate in its perception.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), fear is the normal response to a genuine danger. With phobias, the fear is either irrational or excessive. It is an abnormally fearful response to a danger that is imagined or is irrationally exaggerated.

People can develop phobic reactions to animals (e.g., spiders), activities (e.g., flying), or social situations (e.g., eating in public or simply being in a public environment). Phobias affect people of all ages, from all walks of life, and in every part of the world. Much more detail about phobias can be found at this website: http://www.psychiatry.org/phobias .

Phobias are emotional and physical reactions to feared objects or situations according to the APA. Symptoms of a phobia include the following:

·         Feelings of panic, dread, horror, or terror.
·         Recognition that the fear goes beyond normal boundaries and the actual threat of danger.
·         Reactions that are automatic and uncontrollable, practically taking over the person’s thoughts.
·         Rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, and an overwhelming desire to flee the situation—all the physical reactions associated with extreme fear.
·         Extreme measures taken to avoid the feared object or situation.

One very common phobia is the fear of public speaking, which can disrupt careers and lead to countless sleepless nights. Glossophobia, or speech anxiety, is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general. The word glossophobia comes from the Greek word “glōssa”, meaning tongue, and “phobos”, fear or dread. Many people only have this fear, while others may also have social phobia or social anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of glossophobia can be grouped under three primary categories: physical, verbal, and non-verbal. Physical symptoms, the most overt one, include increased blood pressure and heart beats, increased sweating tendency, stiffening of neck and upper back muscles and dry mouth. Some organizations, such as Toastmasters International, and training courses in public speaking may help to reduce the fear to manageable levels. Self-help materials that address public speaking are among the best selling self-help topics. More information about glossophobia can be found  at this site: http://www.glossophobia.com/ .

Dr. David Carbonell, also known as the Anxiety Coach, says that you can solve the problem of public speaking anxiety. Fear of public speaking is the most common of all phobias. It's a form of performance anxiety in which a person becomes very concerned that he or she will look visibly anxious, maybe even have a panic attack while speaking.

Over time, people try to protect themselves by either avoiding public speaking or by struggling against speech anxiety. In this way, people get tricked into making the fear of public speaking more chronic and disruptive. Much more material about this subject can be found at this website: http://www.anxietycoach.com/fear-of-public-speaking.html .

Susan Adams, staff writer at Forbes Magazine, wrote that Jerry Seinfeld once joked that for most people, the fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of death: “This means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Additionally, she goes on to report that for Jane Praeger, a New York City media and presentation coach, helping people overcome those fears is a critical part of her coaching. Praeger coaches corporate, non-profit and academic clients to make presentations on camera and in front of groups. She teaches in Columbia University’s graduate program in strategic communications, runs group trainings; and she also does a lot of work one-on-one, with people who are paralyzed by their fear of public speaking.

Praeger also is the founder and president of Ovid, Inc., a 20-year old strategic communications firm that specializes in speech, presentation, and media training. More about her company and her services can be found at this site: http://www.ovidinc.com/ .

Jane Praeger stands by the standard advice: know your material and the audience, practice your speech, check out the room in advance, do relaxation exercises like deep breathing, don’t apologize for being nervous. However, Praeger says the most important lesson she’s learned as a coach is that most people have no idea where their public speaking phobia comes from. And, once she does some detective work with her clients, she can uncover the source, get her client to see it, and usually make the fear evaporate.

In almost every case, the fear has nothing to do with the speaker’s ability to talk clearly and fluidly or even to feel comfortable in front of a group. It’s usually connected to some other fear or past wound--a parent’s disapproval, worry that colleagues will think you aren’t polished enough, or concern that you don’t have encyclopedic knowledge about your topic.

Sometimes, according to Jane Praeger, the fear stems from the fact that you don’t like your job, but haven’t yet grappled with that issue. Much more information on this topic can be found online at this site: http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/03/07/why-public-speaking-scares-you-and-how-to-overcome-your-fears/ .

Now for the good news. Most people can reduce their anxiety of public speaking and increase their confidence by avoiding a few poor habits, while incorporating some helpful tips, according to Psychology Today. The following are five tips to reducing public speaking nervousness:

1.    Don’t Expect Perfection from Yourself
2.    Avoid Equating Public Speaking to Your Self-Worth
3.    Avoid Being Nervous About Your Nervousness
4.    Avoid Trying to Memorize Every Word
5.    Avoid Reading Word for Word

For more details on overcoming fear of public speaking, visit this website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201311/5-tips-reduce-the-fear-public-speaking .

Public speaking is definitely a way to generate fear, especially if you’re not prepared. However, by following a few simple techniques, you can learn to overcome it. If you are asked to make presentations in front of audiences, and you get the “heebie jeebies”, do what professionals do. And, remember, everyone, including professional speakers, get nervous. The difference is that they are able to control the nervousness, and the nervousness does not control them. Practice makes perfect.

Until next time.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Health Care and Measles Update 2015

I have been writing this health care blog since 2007, and have published over 465 articles in the last eight years—sort of a Health Care 101 on all types of health care issues. For the most part, not too many of those have been updated with a follow up report—until this one. In 2012, I wrote an article about measles. With the recent outbreak in the US of this disease, just about wiped out fifteen years ago with only a few cases reported per year, has merited that this health care issue be re-examined.

Late last year, new cases of this very infectious disease started showing up. Since then, the number of measles cases in the United States has reached 141 patients in 17 states and the District of Columbia, federal health officials from the CDC have reported. The outbreak began at two Disney theme parks in southern California in December, the CDC says, and it's believed that the source of the infection was likely a foreign visitor or a U.S. resident returning from abroad.

Measles is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of people who've gotten measles in the current outbreak were unvaccinated. This is not good. Despite the United States having declared measles eliminated in 2000, the virus has awoken anew, and with all the grace and predictability of a large bear coming out of sedation.

According to the UK Independent, Though best known for its telltale dappled rash, measles is a wildly infectious upper respiratory disease. Like the flu, it's airborne  –  and successful. It has a near-perfect infection rate: Put your baby in a room with a measles patient, and nine times out of 10, measles is coming home with you. In the space shared between you and a coughing, sneezing measles-ridden sap, the sweet oxygenated room air and unavoidable door handles are thought to remain infectious for up to two hours.

And measles delivers a double whammy because a person becomes infectious before they even know they have it. Four days prior to the rash is when most people become able to spread the love. Here's how the virus pulls it off.

Symptoms start out like standard-issue wintertime gunk: fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes. A few days of that misery and the decorative stage of the illness starts with a carpet of red lesions. Koplik's spots may appear before the rash  –  that's when the bright, beefy red of the inner cheeks become studded with lots of tiny, blue-white dots.

Complications from measles arise in almost one in three reported cases, and range from diarrhea (8 per cent) and pneumonia (6 per cent) to encephalitis (0.1 per cent) and death (0.2 per cent). It gets worse. For more details about how measles develops, visit this site: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/measles-makes-its-mark-all-over-again-one-of-humanitys-oldest-foes-is-back-on-the-increase-10054872.html#

According to the CDC it’s possible that measles could become endemic (constant presence of a disease in an area) in the United States again, especially if vaccine coverage levels drop. This can happen when people forget to get vaccinated on time, don’t know that they need a vaccine dose (this is most common among adults), or refuse vaccines for religious, philosophical or personal reasons. The measles vaccine is very effective. One dose of measles vaccine is about 93% effective at preventing measles if exposed to the virus, and two doses are about 97% effective.

Research shows that people who refuse vaccines tend to group together in communities. When measles gets into communities with pockets of unvaccinated people, outbreaks are more likely to occur. These communities make it difficult to control the spread of the disease and make us vulnerable to having the virus re-establish itself in the US. High sustained measles vaccine coverage and rapid public health response are critical for preventing and controlling measles cases and outbreaks.

People who received two doses of measles vaccine as children according to the U.S. vaccination schedule are considered protected for life and do not ever need a booster dose. Adults need at least one dose of measles vaccine, unless they have evidence of immunity.

Adults who are going to be in a setting that poses a high risk for measles transmission, including students at post-high school education institutions, healthcare personnel, and international travelers, should make sure they have had two doses separated by at least 28 days. If you’re not sure whether you were vaccinated, talk with your doctor. Significant amounts of material about measles is available at the this CDC site: http://www.cdc.gov/measles/ .

Children are especially susceptible to measles. According to this website: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/lung/measles.html, infants are generally protected from measles for 6 months after birth due to immunity passed on by their mothers. Measles vaccine usually is not given to infants younger than 12 months old. But if there's a measles outbreak, or a child will be traveling outside the United States, the vaccine may be given when a child is 6-11 months old, followed by the usual MMR immunization at 12-15 months and 4-6 years of age.

The measles vaccine sometimes causes side effects in kids who don't have underlying health problems. The most common reactions are fever 6-12 days after vaccination (in about 15% of kids vaccinated) and a measles-like rash, which isn't contagious and fades on its own (in about 5% of vaccinated kids). As with all immunization schedules, there are important exceptions and special circumstances. Your doctor will have the most current information about vaccine recommendations. The measles vaccine should not be given to these at-risk groups:

--Pregnant women
--Kids with untreated tuberculosis, leukemia, or other cancers
--People whose immune systems are weakened for any reason
--Kids who have a history of severe allergic reaction to gelatin or to the antibiotic neomycin, as they could have serious reactions to the vaccine

According to Forbes Magazine, it doesn’t take much for this disease to spread through a population that isn’t immune from previous exposure or through vaccination. Or, to put it another way, in an unvaccinated population, each person infected with the measles will transmit the disease to 12 to 18 other people. However, no vaccine can protect 100% of those who receive it; vaccines can fail.

The antibodies your body creates can wane, or your body may not have sufficiently responded to the vaccine in the first place. But those who are unvaccinated are at a greater risk by far. An unvaccinated person is 35 times more likely to catch measles than a vaccinated person.

Protection against measles is delivered within the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. The second dose of the vaccine brings its effectiveness up to 99%. It’s a live vaccine, which ramps up the fear factor for some people, but it’s a vaccine we’ve been using since 1971. There is almost five decades of data with hundreds of millions of vaccinated individuals, and the medical community knows precisely the possible side effects of the vaccine.

The most common ones are a fever in one of six people, a mild rash in one of 20 people, and swollen glands in the cheeks or neck in one of 75 people. In one of every 3,000 doses, a child can experience a seizure caused by high fever, but febrile seizures do not cause any long-lasting damage, and they can be caused by illness (including measles) as well. A condition of low platelets, called ITP, can also occur in one out of 30,000 doses but usually goes away on its own. Any other severe occurrences that have been reported after the vaccine are, according to the CDC, “so rare that it is hard to tell whether they are caused by the vaccine.”

Measles is not a harmless childhood disease. It can kill and leave others with lifelong disabilities. Even if a person has an uncomplicated course of the disease, it’s still just a really miserable way to spend your time – a high fever, cough, sore throat and rash covering your entire body.

The problem is, there’s not much anyone can do for you when you’re sick except to help keep you hydrated. Doses of Vitamin A can reduce the severity of the symptoms, but is not a cure. More detailed information about the effects of measles on the population is available at this site: http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarahaelle/2015/01/20/five-things-to-know-about-the-disneyland-measles-outbreak/ .

So, what is the answer? Initially, and very importantly, consult your doctor if you think you or your child have contracted the disease or may be symptomatic. Secondly, get vaccinated if you can at all possible. The benefits and effects of vaccination for measles far outweigh the risks. Third, stay away from anyone who has measles. Practice smart health. It’s simply best for you and your family.

Until next time.

 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Health Care and Herbal Tea

For thousands of years, tea and the art of drinking it has had special significance in cultures around the globe. Japan, China, England, and the US are all huge markets for tea. Drinking tea can help your heart, boost your brainpower, keep your metabolism humming, and more according to Fitness Magazine. Entire industries have been built around tea, and America’s revolution against Great Britain was ignited over the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

Studies suggest that one cup of tea may contain up to five times more antioxidants than any fruit or vegetable. These disease-fighting compounds may help prevent certain cancers, keep your heart healthy, burn fat and ward off weight gain, sharpen your mind, and help your body beat the effects of aging and stress, according to experts reporting in Fitness Magazine. Much more detail on this topic can be found at this website: http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/recipes/drink/tea-health-benefits/ 

Although tea in general is a great beverage and has many healthy attributes, herbal tea has been found to be very good way to achieve even more ways to help your mind and body. According to Reader’s Digest Best Health Magazine, from soothing a troubled tummy to easing insomnia and calming a troubled mind, herbs have all sorts of healing powers. Drinking herbal tea can also be a great source of vitamins and minerals.

Herbal tea isn’t really made from tea—which is a specific kind of plant. The French use the word tisane, which is a little more accurate, since herbal tea is really just an infusion of leaves, seeds, roots or bark, extracted in hot water. In drinking a well-steeped herbal tea, you get all the plant’s benefits in an easily digestible form.

When it comes to choosing a herbal tea, it’s important to look for a well-sourced product made from high-quality ingredients. If you’re drinking tea for the medicinal benefits, then definitely steer clear of products that add things like essential oils or flavors. And to really get the full benefits from drinking herbal tea, make sure you steep your loose tea or tea bags long enough—in some cases, as long as 10 to 15 minutes—to really bring out all the healthful properties. More detailed information about herbal tea can be found at this website: http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-eats/nutrition/7-herbal-teas-that-will-make-you-healthy#LV9ZqPRy1MCKcwhL.97 .

According to the Dallas Morning News, there are teas that claim to boost the immune system, relieve constipation or sleeplessness, promote healthy liver function, healthy digestion or healthy lactation, or to support the cardiovascular system or prostate health. But do they really work? For most, the benefits are modest at best, according to Michael Rotblatt, professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He says that “Most of the manufacturers are basing their information on folklore or on whatever studies they can find.”

The good news for tea lovers is that plenty of data suggests health benefits from green or black tea, but few medicinal teas contain either, according to the report. Instead, they’re made with herbals like chamomile, dandelion, sarsaparilla, licorice root, saw palmetto, fennel or stinging nettle. Evidence has shown the benefits of some, such as ginger, hibiscus and peppermint.

The evidence of healthy benefits is much more credible for green tea and black tea, according to Neva Cochran, a registered dietitian in Dallas who has written about tea’s healthy ingredients in Food & Nutrition Magazine, published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, the experts interviewed agreed on this: Tea is more healthful than soda. Unless you sweeten it with lots of sugar, tea will quench your thirst and help you hydrate without adding a lot of calories. All teas — black, green or herbal — contain phytochemicals, a key ingredient in the fruits and vegetables that we already know are part of a healthy diet.

The Dallas Morning News continues to report that more research is needed to back up the claims of most herbal teas, but nutritionists point to three exceptions that they say may offer modest benefits:

Ginger tea: Helps with nausea. Studies have shown that ginger may have a positive effect on digestion. Ginger helps with digestion by speeding up the movement of food from the stomach into the small intestine, according to one study.

Hibiscus tea: One study showed lowered blood pressure among people who drank this tea three times a day.

Peppermint tea: The oil in peppermint leaves may help with upset stomach by calming muscle spasms in the digestive tract.

Regardless of the science, the reason most people drink tea is because they like it. On any given day, 158 million Americans drink tea (including iced tea), and about three-quarters of them say they’re aware of the health benefits, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. More information can be found at this site: http://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/health-and-fitness/health/20140428-do-the-health-benefits-of-herbal-teas-live-up-to-the-hype.ece

Be careful, though, about any medical issues related to drinking various herbs, especially if you are pregnant, are on prescription medications, or have a reduced immune system. Herbal tea may taste good and help make you feel better or relax you. It may even provide a healthy stimulus to your day and provide the opportunity to enjoy the company of others who share the same desires and interests. However, if you are in one of the health watch categories mentioned here, talk with your family doctor or a health care provider to make sure you are approved to drink herbal tea.

Until next time.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Health Care and Diabetes

One of the fastest growing health issues worldwide is diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes today lose more than a decade of life to the chronic disease, despite improved treatment of both diabetes and its complications, a new Scottish study reports. Men with type 1 diabetes lose about 11 years of life expectancy compared to men without the disease. And, women with type 1 diabetes have their lives cut short by about 13 years, according to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

 Glucose (blood sugar) is vital to your health because it's an important source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's also your brain's main source of fuel. If you have diabetes, no matter what type, it means you have too much glucose in your blood, although the causes may differ. Too much glucose can lead to serious health problems.

Chronic diabetes conditions include type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Potentially reversible diabetes conditions include pre-diabetes — when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes — and gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy but may resolve after the baby is delivered. More info about this health topic is available at this website: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/basics/definition/con-20033091 .

According to the American Diabetes Association, type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy lives. Much more detailed information can be found at this website: http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-1/ .

However, type 1 diabetics younger than 50 are dying in large numbers from conditions caused by issues in management of the disease -- diabetic coma caused by critically low blood sugar, and ketoacidosis caused by a lack of insulin in the body. These conditions really reflect the day-to-day challenge that people with type 1 diabetes continue to face, how to get the right amount of insulin delivered at the right time to deal with your blood sugar levels, according to the study. 

A second study, also in JAMA, suggested that some of these early deaths might be avoided with intensive blood sugar management. Strict control of blood sugar appears to be key. Life expectancy lost for people under 50 is due to diabetes management-related complications like diabetic coma or ketoacidosis, a condition in which the body suffers from high levels of poisonous acids called ketones. These ketones are created when the body burns fat for energy, because low insulin levels are preventing the conversion of blood sugar into fuel. More details can be found at this site: http://media.jamanetwork.com/news-item/scottish-study-finds-substantially-shorter-life-expectancy-for-patients-with-type-1-diabetes/ .

Also,  people with diabetes are less likely to take their diabetes medications if they've been diagnosed with cancer, researchers report in Diabetologia. This study revealed that the medication adherence among users of [blood sugar-lowering drugs] was influenced by cancer diagnosis. Cancer patients with diabetes are also much more likely to die than those without diabetes, and part of that might be explained by the decline in medication adherence, according to the study. More information about this particular diabetes health issue is located at this website: http://www.diabetologia-journal.org/ .

Although it is a common practice to try pills before insulin if you are diabetic, you may start on insulin based on several factors. Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pancreas. Many people with diabetes are prescribed insulin, either because their bodies do not produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or do not use insulin properly (type 2 diabetes), according to the American Diabetes Association.

There are more than 20 types of insulin sold in the United States. These insulins differ in how they are made, how they work in the body, and how much they cost. Your doctor will help you find the right type of insulin for your health needs and your lifestyle. For more details on this medicine and how it should be administered, visit this website: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/medication/insulin/.

Type 2 diabetes can have a slow onset, and early symptoms can be confused with signs of stress, being overweight, or a poor diet. But the arsenal of tools to combat diabetes grows every year. Diabetes affects 24 million people in the U.S., but only 18 million know they have it. About 90% of those people have type 2 diabetes, according to Health.com. In diabetes, rising blood sugar acts like a poison.

Diabetes is often called the silent killer because of its easy-to-miss symptoms. The best way to pick up on it is to have a blood sugar test. But if you have these symptoms, see your doctor.
If Also, if you need to urinate frequently—particularly if you often have to get up at night to use the bathroom—it could be a symptom of diabetes.

The kidneys kick into high gear to get rid of all that extra glucose in the blood, hence the urge to relieve yourself, sometimes several times during the night. The excessive thirst means your body is trying to replenish those lost fluids. These two symptoms go hand in hand and are some of your body's ways of trying to manage high blood sugar.

Overly high blood sugar levels can also cause rapid weight loss, say 10 to 20 pounds over two or three months—but this is not a healthy weight loss. Because the insulin hormone isn't getting glucose into the cells, where it can be used as energy, the body thinks it's starving and starts breaking down protein from the muscles as an alternate source of fuel. The kidneys are also working overtime to eliminate the excess sugar, and this leads to a loss of calories (and can harm the kidneys). For more detailed info on more symptoms, visit this site: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20442821,00.html.

There can be complications in your health caused by diabetes, according to Medical News Today. Here are a few complications linked to badly controlled diabetes:

Eye complications - glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and a few others.

Foot complications - neuropathy, ulcers, and sometimes gangrene which may require amputation.

Skin complications - people with diabetes are more susceptible to skin infections and skin disorders.

Heart problems - such as ischemic heart disease, when the blood supply to the heart muscle is diminished.

Hypertension - common in people with diabetes, which can raise the risk of kidney disease, eye problems, heart attack and stroke.

Mental health - uncontrolled diabetes raises the risk of suffering from depression, anxiety and some other mental disorders.

Neuropathy - diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage which can lead to several different problems.

Stroke - if blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood glucose levels are not controlled, the risk of stroke significantly increases.

Erectile dysfunction - male impotence.

Infections - people with badly controlled diabetes are much more susceptible to infections

Many presumed "facts" are thrown about in the paper press, magazines and on the internet regarding diabetes; some of them are, in fact, myths. It is important that people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, their loved ones, employers and schools have an accurate picture of the disease. For a more exhaustive overview of information about diabetes, visit this website: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/diabetes/ .

Over 25 million men, women, and children currently suffer from diabetes in the country. It is the fastest growing health problem in the US. And, almost 80 million people are considered pre-diabetic. This disease is complicated and often takes time to diagnose, unless the complications are severe. Your doctor or health care provider should run tests to see if your symptoms are conclusive. If you or a loved one has diabetes, don’t ignore your lifestyle regimen. Diabetes can lead to severe medical problems or death when left untreated. Keep your diabetes under control, and you can lead a better life.

Until next time.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Health Care and Private Health Exchanges

The world is changing for healthcare in large part due to the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare as it is known in the common tongue. One of the key elements currently driving the market is the concepts of health exchanges, both public and private. The public exchanges are run by several of the states, and the federal government also has one that has been historically problematic. However, this material is dedicated to private exchanges in the commercial business market.

According to MCOL, private health insurance exchanges are gaining currency as a way for employers to cut health care costs, reduce their administrative burden and increase the benefit choices they offer to covered employees. Multiple studies now indicate that U.S. employers are increasingly looking at private exchange options for both active and retired employees. Brokers, consultants, payers and other intermediaries offer private exchanges, but a mix of vested interests is at play among these service providers.

The second annual study by the Private Exchange Evaluation Collaborative (PEEC) affirms a continuing interest in private exchanges among employers. The national survey, based on the responses of 446 employers, reports heightened interest on the part of employers in private exchanges as a strategy for full-time active and retirees, but the potential transition must address a number of critical considerations. The survey is also the first national assessment that specifically captures the experience of early adopters of both private exchanges for active employees as well as retirees.

Private exchanges are flexible and can be customized to address the needs of any employer group, unlike public exchanges, which are targeted to individuals and small groups, according to Booz & Company. For instance, private exchanges can design benefits tiers specific to employer segments with robust multichannel employee decision support. Another advantage is that private exchanges can offer a broader range of retail products, such as dental and life insurance and even non-insurance products, than public exchanges can. Two private exchange models are emerging:

Single-carrier exchanges: These exchanges are promoted by a single payor and target employers that wish to maintain some role in choosing both the insurance carrier and plan design. Depending on how involved employers want to be in benefits design and negotiation, products may be customized and priced for the employee group or individuals.

Multi-carrier exchanges: These exchanges, predominantly promoted by third-party intermediaries such as brokers or benefits consultants, will provide a broad range of payor and plan design options and encourage employers to take a more hands-off role. For payors, multi-carrier exchanges that list individual prod­ucts on a menu of offerings pose com­moditization risk that could squeeze payor margins.

According to Array Health, purchasing health insurance through a private exchange will become the new normal as more and more employers move to defined contribution plans and customers become much more comfortable taking more of an active role in selecting and personalizing their health coverage. However, insured's need to educate themselves and understand how the system really works. Hopefully this technology will help, but if insured's do not have "Skin in the Game" they will continue the life habits that cause high claims.

At the end of the day it’s still a matter of premium in vs claims paid out. Exchanges are good at lowering the premium side of the equation by offering less expensive plans for the low utilizers to take advantage of. However, the exchange really doesn't impact the cost impact of the heavy utilizers who really drive the overall cost of the employer’s plan. If premium goes down and claims stay the same the outcome is obvious. To cut costs, you have to cut claims - pure and simple.

According to Forbes Magazine, a recent report by the Kaiser Foundation underscores one such lesson – the growing take up of private exchanges has the potential to be a catalyst for some major revolutions in our health care system. In 2014, about 2.5 million people across companies of all sizes will be enrolled in health insurance through so-called private exchanges. These are analogous in some ways to ObamaCare’s state and federal-based health insurance exchanges but instead are run by private consultancies like Aon Hewitt or Mercer.

The Kaiser report also notes that consultancies Accenture and Oliver Wyman both predict somewhere around 40 million enrollment by 2018. If these projections bear out, that would make the private employer exchange market about 24 percent of the total employer market, based on CBO projections. Much more detail on this info can be found at this site: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2014/10/15/are-private-exchanges-the-future-of-health-insurance/ .

But not all employers are wild about the private exchange approach. The National Business Coalition on Health produced a survey the organization said “resoundingly” rejects private exchanges as a way to control rising health care costs, according to Forbes Magazine. Though the language in the coalition’s release was strong, its survey showed 5 percent of more than 330 employers already use a private exchange and “8 percent are considering such a move within the next three years.”

NBCH said 55 percent of respondents will “never” stop sponsoring health coverage in favor of giving employees money to buy through a private exchange. More material on this topic is available at this website: http://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2014/10/08/more-employers-shifting-health-to-private-exchanges/ .
 
According to Benefits Pro, Bruce Hentschel leads strategy development for the Specialty Benefits Division of the Principal Financial Group, and writes that private exchanges are here to stay; but for advisors and their small employer clients, questions still remain about their value. Is the opportunity they offer more myth than reality? Likely, the answer is a bit of both. If you are participating or plan to participate in one or more private exchanges, here are a few suggestions for you to consider:

·         Define your strategy first and then seek an exchange that provides the best fit. There are dozens of types of exchanges all designed to meet different types of objectives, at varying levels of sophistication, service and support. For example, some generate a quote for an employer; others don’t. Some offer ongoing benefit data management; some don’t. Some use defined contribution concepts exclusively; others don’t offer defined contribution at all.

·         Practice due diligence. Even some of the best and most successful exchanges lack the necessary infrastructure to allow for scale and administrative simplification.

·         Experiment, and don’t be afraid to switch exchanges if the one you’re working with isn’t meeting your needs. Yes, they can be time-consuming and potentially expensive to implement. But, it’s okay to “fail fast and fail cheap” versus dumping additional time, resources and/or money into an exchange that doesn’t really get the result you desire.

Private exchanges will go through tremendous change and in a relatively short period of time, and the options will eventually narrow down to a few winning models. For more details, visit this website: http://www.benefitspro.com/2015/01/29/private-exchanges-myth-vs-reality.

Employers must review material and the value proposition for any participation in the private exchange market. Granted, more transparency and education are needed. Brokers can play a big part with those opportunities. If you are considering transferring your health care business for you and your employees into a private health exchange, it pays to do your homework and listen to trusted experts in the field. Don’t go it alone, or you could find yourself with more issues than you imagined.

Until next time.