Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Health Care and Vision

If you walk a lot, your legs get tired. If you lift a lot, your arms get tired. So it follows that if you stare at a computer screen all day, your eyes will get tired. Sore, dry eyes are symptoms of eyestrain, according to MyDailyMoments.com. But did you know eyestrain can also cause headaches? Throughout the day, make sure you close your eyes for a bit and look away from the screen. Above all, DON'T rub your already-parched eyes. If you need some soothing relief, choose eye drops with lubricating or anti-red properties.

According to Tifaq.org, visual problems, such as eyestrain and irritation, are among the most frequently reported complaints by people, especially by computer operators. These visual symptoms can result from improper lighting, glare from the screen, poor positioning of the screen itself, or copy material that is difficult to read. These problems usually can be corrected by adjusting the physical and environmental setting where the computer users work. For example, work stations and lighting can and should be arranged to avoid direct and reflected glare anywhere in the field of sight, from the display screen, or surrounding surfaces. You also can reduce eyestrain by taking vision breaks, which may include exercises to relax eye muscles after each hour or so of operating a computer. Changing focus is another way to give eye muscles a chance to relax. You only need to glance across the room, or out the window, from time to time and look at an object at least 20 feet away. Other eye exercises may include rolling or blinking the eyes, or closing them tightly for a few seconds. Inadequate vision can strain your posture as well as eyes -- have your eyes checked annually, you may need special glasses.

According to NaturalMedicine.com, wearing glasses in current society is just accepted as normal, although there are schools of thought that believe it is the problem and not the cure. TV, computer screens, and reading classroom chalkboards/displays, all contribute to weakened and stressed eyes. The muscles around the eyes get fixed in unhealthy patterns. The strain on the eye muscles makes it difficult for them to work properly, and eyesight suffers. The popular solution is wearing stronger glasses, which just weakens the eyes further. Compare it to using a wheelchair for the remainder of life because the leg muscles were overly exerted in running a race. It is obvious the wheelchair would just weaken the legs further, and the same goes for the eyes.

According to Tifaq.org, your vision is important, and eye strain in the work place can cause serious damage to your eyes. Here are a few tips to help your vision and to implement while focusing on your computer screen for long periods of time:
· Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break, and look away 20 feet to give your eyes a rest.
· Remember to blink. Contact wearers blink less often than people without contacts. Blinking is critical to help lubricate the eyes.
· Keep your computer screen clean. This will help reduce strain on the eyes and protect your vision.
· Glare from your computer screen can cause unnecessary strain on the eyes, so use a high quality glare reduction filter for your screen.
· Reduce glare by proper lighting, cover windows, and make sure lights are behind or to the side of the screen.
· Even though you may have good vision, set the size of your font 3 times larger than the normal size. So if you use 12pt, then enlarge the font to 36pt, to help reduce eye strain while reading the information on the screen.
· Try to keep the lighting in your office at an even level. Contrasting light increases eye strain.
· To help vision, the monitor should be 20-30 inches from you, about arm’s length.
· If you notice the computer is bothering your vision, have eye exams regularly.
Proper care of your vision is very important and implementing these tips can save you from unnecessary eye strain.

Mental strain is the main cause of eyesight problems and ailments according to Helena Sanson on EzineArticles.com. If strain can be eliminated from the eyes, eye sight will improve naturally. Teaching the eyes to relax is an important factor in getting rid of vision problems. Unfortunately, outside stressors and strain cannot always be controlled. The only thing we can control is our reaction to outside sources, but those outside factors can really do a number on our eyes. There are a number of things each day that can cause us stress. Some are within our power to chance, but most are not. Financial problems, heartache, family problems, death, illness, or weather are some of the stressful factors we face in our lives. We may be able to chance a financial situation, heartache, or a family issue, but it's hard to control the weather or a death.

One thing you always have control of is thought patterns as reported by EzineArticles.com. If negative thoughts are keeping your down, you are the only one who can change that pattern of thought. Dealing with your negative thoughts can actually solve many of the problems we once though were out of our control. Thinking more positive will cause less strain in the family and eliminate those problems. Positive outlook on life can make you feel better and leave you less susceptible to disease and illness. It is human nature to look for outside sources and reasons for our own negative behavior. Often, there is the tendency to blame other people or the weather or the traffic for our negative thoughts. Although, these outside sources can initially make us angry or frustrated, we are the ones who decide to stay in the negative mind set. Negativity causes stress and strain in our lives and causes excess strain on the eyes. Take charge of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Take time to figure out why you are feeling so negative. What is it that is it keeping you upset or frustrated? What steps can you take to fix those problems and emotions? Once you figure out what is causing the emotions, fix it. Don't wait for others to come and fix it for you, you will be waiting a long time. Strain and stress is the main cause of eye ailments. Concentrate on positive thinking to increase health and reduce eye strain.

According to Reader's Digest, they are two of your most precious possessions, but chances are, you take your eyes for granted. Most of us do. But think for a second what life would be like without being able to gaze on your grandchild or your flower garden or even navigate the kitchen without incident. Prevent Blindness America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to vision issues, estimates that 50,000 people lose their sight needlessly every year and that 80 million Americans are at risk of eye diseases that can lead to low vision and even blindness. The good news: The most common diseases -- age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), cataracts, glaucoma, and dry eye disease -- are all preventable to some extent. The first step, if you smoke, is to stop. Smoking increases your risk of cataracts, glaucoma, dry eyes, and age-related macular degeneration.

Think back to some of the most wonderful, sights of your life. Is it the first time you laid eyes on your child? The shimmer of the sun on the ocean during a summer evening? Perhaps the outline of your home town coming into view after a long time away. It’s memories such as these that should motivate you to look after your eyes, and to help you find simple, inexpensive ways in which you can protect this precious sense of yours, according to NaturalMedicine.com.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Health Care and Sunstroke

Summer time is hot, especially in the South and Southwest. And this time of the year can be unseasonably warm in many parts of the country, depending on climate conditions and other weather related issues.

According to Physicians' Desktop Reference (PDRHealth.com), Heatstroke occurs when your body's thermostat cannot keep your body cool. Your body relies on water evaporation to stay cool. As your temperature rises, your body reacts by sweating. When this sweat evaporates, it cools your body. The amount of moisture in the air (humidity) determines how readily sweat evaporates. In very dry air, sweat evaporates easily, quickly cooling your body; but in very humid air, sweat does not evaporate. It may collect on the skin or run off your body without affecting your body's climbing temperature.

Extremely warm and humid temperatures can quickly overwhelm your body's cooling system, according to PDRHealth.com—particularly when the air is not circulating. When sweating can no longer keep you cool, body temperature quickly rises, causing the symptoms of heat-related illness. Sunstroke is a type of heatstroke. Heatstroke is a condition that occurs after exposure to excessive heat. In sunstroke—also called heat illness, heat injury, hyperthermia, heat prostration, and heat collapse—the source of heat is the sun. Other types of heatstroke occur after exposure to heat from different sources. Heatstroke—including sunstroke—is considered to be the most severe of the heat-related illnesses. Heat can have punishing effects on your body. After excessive exercise or physical labor, your body can overheat, and you may suffer heat exhaustion. Heat cramps occur after excessive loss of water and salt; usually resulting from excessive sweating, or after strenuous exercise or labor. During heat exhaustion and heat cramps, the heat-controlling system is still intact, but can be overwhelmed. If this happens, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke, a life-threatening medical condition. In severe cases, heatstroke can even cause organ dysfunction, brain damage, and death.

According to About.com, heat stroke is a serious, potentially life-threatening form of heat illness. The body temperature rises to 105° Fahrenheit or higher and you develop neurological changes, such as mental confusion or unconsciousness. At these high temperatures, body proteins and the membranes around the cells in the body, especially in the brain, begin to be destroyed or malfunction. The extreme heat can affect internal organs, causing breakdown of the heart muscle cells and blood vessels, damage to internal organs, and death. There are two main causes of heat stroke:
1.) Exertional heat stroke occurs when someone is vigorously active in a hot environment, such as playing sports on a hot summer day or participating in military training activities. It typically strikes young, otherwise healthy people, those least likely to be concerned about the effects of heat on their health. Because of the lack of concern, early symptoms may be dismissed or ignored.
2.) Nonexertional heat stroke tends to occur in people who have a diminished ability to regulate body temperature, such as older people, very young children or people with chronic illnesses. High heat in the surrounding environment, without vigorous activity, can be enough to cause heat stroke in these people.

Anything that disrupts your body's thermostat can increase the likelihood of sunstroke, according to PDRHealth.com. These may include such factors as underlying medical conditions, medications, physical characteristics, or age. Dehydration contributes to sunstroke. Dehydration happens when your body excretes more water than it takes in. For example, increased water loss through excessive urination is a common side effect of caffeine, alcohol, and many prescription and over-the-counter medications. When the water supply in your body is low, cells begin to pull water from the bloodstream, forcing organs to work harder. Dehydration can also affect the skin's ability to cool the body efficiently. The heart must pump an adequate supply of blood to the skin in order for the skin to cool the body. When you are dehydrated, the blood's volume is reduced, so the cooling process becomes less effective. The taxing effect on the body escalates into the symptoms of heat-related illness.

Prolonged exposure to the sun contributes to sunstroke, as noted by PDRHealth.com. When body fluids are not adequately replenished, sun exposure can cause rapid dehydration. Even on mild or overcast days, the sun can have dangerous health effects. The heat index is a measure calculated by the National Weather Service. It indicates how hot it "feels" outside in the shade when both the air temperature and the relative humidity are considered. In the direct sun, the heat index rises even higher. The following heat indices are associated with these heat-related conditions:
---80°F-90°F: Fatigue possible after prolonged physical activity or sun exposure.
---90°F-105°F: Heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and sunstroke possible after prolonged physical activity or sun exposure.
---105°F-130°F: Heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and sunstroke likely after prolonged physical activity or sun exposure.
---130°F and higher: Sunstroke likely with sustained exposure to the sun.

According to About.com, factors that can contribute to heat stroke include:
--Dehydration from not drinking enough water.
--Wearing bulky or heavy clothing, such as firefighting gear, in the heat.
--Being overweight, which causes the body to generate more heat and reduces the body's ability to cool down.
--Sleep deprivation, which can decrease the rate of sweating.
--Being unaccustomed to the heat, such as moving from a cooler climate to a warmer climate.
--Some medications, most commonly antihistamines (taken for allergies), diuretics (taken for high blood pressure or leg swelling), laxatives (taken to relieve constipation), calcium channel blockers (one type of blood pressure or heart medicine), medicines for Parkinson's disease, some diarrhea treatments and tricyclic antidepressants.
--Being confined to a poorly ventilated or non-air-conditioned living space.
--Having had heat stroke in the past.
--Use of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and ecstasy (MDMA).

Heat stroke can come on suddenly, but warning symptoms often appear first, according to About.com. They include:
--Abdominal cramps
--Muscle cramps
--Heavy sweat or a lack of sweat
When heat stroke starts, neurological symptoms can include:
--Odd or bizarre behavior

Most cases of heat stroke can be prevented, according to About.com. When the temperature outside is especially high:
--Drink lots of water throughout the day.
--Stay indoors in an air-conditioned area whenever you feel too warm.
--Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing, preferably with a loose-weave material that lets air get to your skin.
--Avoid strenuous activity in the hottest part of the day (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). If you must participate, take frequent breaks, limit the time that you wear a helmet by taking it off between activities, and avoid wearing heavy uniforms or equipment.
--Drink less caffeine and alcohol, which can contribute to dehydration.
--If you begin to feel tired, dizzy or nauseated, or if you develop a headache, get out of the heat immediately. Seek out an air-conditioned building. Drink water. If possible, take a cool shower or bath or use a hose to soak yourself.

The first step in treating heat stroke is to reduce body temperature by cooling the body from the outside, according to About.com. This can be done by removing tight or unnecessary clothing, spraying the person with water, blowing cool air on the person, or wrapping the person loosely in wet sheets. And alternatively, ice packs can be placed at the neck, groin and armpits to accelerate cooling. If these methods do not lower body temperature enough, a doctor may try to lower temperature from the inside by flushing the stomach or rectum with cold water. Severe cases may require cardiopulmonary bypass, in which the person's blood is diverted from the heart and lungs into a collection machine, cooled, and then returned to the body. In some cases, anti-seizure or muscle-relaxing medications may be given to control convulsions and shivering. Aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol) do not help lower body temperature a person has heat stroke, and these medications should be avoided if heat stroke is suspected. People with heat stroke generally need to be hospitalized so they can be tested for complications that may appear after the first day. One common complication is muscle breakdown caused by the heat. In this condition, called rhabdomyolysis, byproducts of the muscle breakdown appear in the bloodstream and can damage the kidneys. Seek emergency help if you or someone else has been in the heat and experiences confusion, faintness, staggering, hallucinations (visions that are not real), unusual agitation or coma. Begin cooling the person immediately. If medical help is sought quickly, heat stroke almost always is treated successfully. Having had heat stroke in the past increases your risk of heat stroke in the future, so you will have to take extra precautions in hot weather. Delaying treatment can have serious consequences, including kidney or liver damage, congestive heart failure or heart arrhythmias, coma or death.

Sunstroke can be very damaging. Make sure that you seek help immediately if you feel like you may be suffering from symptoms. Seek medical attention right away. Follow common sense procedures. Call 911 if there is an emergency situation. Find out how to treat sunstroke before it happens. Watch out for the heat and other factors that cause sunstroke. Be aware of your personal body temperature, especially if you are working outdoors.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Health Care and Lyme Disease

Summertime is when many Americans go camping. It is a great time to be outdoors--enjoying wildlife, crisp, clean air, and the majestic scenery usually found in many campgrounds--especially in various state and national parks. However, it can also be a time when your guard should be up concerning Lyme Disease. Lyme disease is sometimes misdiagnosed, usually because people misidentify Lyme disease symptoms and because it can sometimes be difficult to confirm that a child has Lyme disease, according to About.com and pediatrician Dr. Vince Ianelli. Children can get Lyme disease after they get bitten by a tick, usually a deer tick, that is infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, especially if the tick isn't removed before 48 to 72 hours. This makes it important to do daily tick checks if your child has been in an area where he might be bitten by a tick, such as while camping.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks; laboratory testing is helpful in the later stages of disease. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, landscaping, and integrated pest management. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tick-borne diseases as well.

Within 1 to 2 weeks of being infected, according to the CDC, people may have a "bull's-eye" rash with fever, headache, and muscle or joint pain. Some people have Lyme disease and do not have any early symptoms. Other people have a fever and other "flu-like" symptoms without a rash. After several days or weeks, the bacteria may spread throughout the body of an infected person. These people can get symptoms such as rashes in other parts of the body, pain that seems to move from joint to joint, and signs of inflammation of the heart or nerves. If the disease is not treated, a few patients can get additional symptoms, such as swelling and pain in major joints or mental changes, months after getting infected.

According to About.com, this circular rash occurs at the site of the tick bite, about 7 to 14 days after the tick bite, although it may begin as early as 3 days or as late as 32 days after the tick bite. This erythema migrans rash is usually described as:
--Looking like a target or bull's eye, with a central red spot, an area of clear skin, and a red border.
--Being itchy, warm, and sometimes painful.
--Gradually expanding to a size of 7 to 14 inches.
--Lingering for about 2 weeks.

In addition to the rash, according to About.com, other Lyme disease symptoms that some children have resemble flu-like symptoms and can include fever, myalgia (muscle aches), chills, headache, fatigue, and joint pain (arthralgia). More serious symptoms can occur in those children who aren't treated and develop early-disseminated Lyme disease. These symptoms can include having multiple erythema migrans lesions, fever, myalgia (muscle aches), headaches, fatigue, pink eye (conjunctivitis), swollen lymph glands (lymphadenopathy), aseptic meningitis, facial nerve palsy (Bell's palsy), and more rarely, carditis (inflammation of the heart) with heart block. Symptoms of late Lyme disease, which may begin several months after the initial tick bite, include arthritis, that most often affects large joints, like a child's knees. These joints may stay swollen and tender for 1 to 2 weeks at a time. Some children rarely develop chronic neurological symptoms, including numbness and tingling in their hands and feet, shooting pains (radiculoneuritis), and concentration problems. Fortunately, the late symptoms of Lyme disease can usually be prevented with early treatment with antibiotics. Keep in mind that not all children have all of the classic Lyme disease symptoms, which makes it important to see your pediatrician if your child develops a rash or fever following a tick bite, especially if you live in an area where there are a lot of Lyme disease cases.

You're more likely to get Lyme disease if you live or spend time in the grassy and heavily wooded areas where ticks carrying the disease breed, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's important to take common-sense precautions in areas where Lyme disease is prevalent. If treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, you'll most likely recover completely. However, some people have recurring or lingering symptoms long after the infection has cleared. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause:
--Chronic joint inflammation (Lyme arthritis), particularly of the knee.
--Neurological symptoms, such as facial palsy and neuropathy.
--Cognitive defects, such as impaired memory.
--Heart rhythm irregularities.
--Memory loss.
--Difficulty concentrating.
--Changes in mood or sleep habits.

You may ask. "How can I protect myself from Lyme disease?" Here are tips from the CDC:
--Whenever possible, you should avoid entering areas that are likely to be infested with ticks, particularly in spring and summer when nymphal ticks feed.
--If you are in an area with ticks, you should wear light-colored clothing so that ticks can be spotted more easily and removed before becoming attached.
--If you are in an area with ticks, wear long-sleeved shirts, and tuck your pants into socks. You may also want to wear high rubber boots (since ticks are usually located close to the ground).
--Application of insect repellents containing DEET (n,n-diethyl-m-toluamide) to clothes and exposed skin, and permethrin (which kills ticks on contact) to clothes, should also help reduce the risk of tick attachment. DEET can be used safely on children and adults but should be applied according to Environmental Protection Agency guidelines to reduce the possibility of toxicity.
--Since transmission of B. burgdorferi from an infected tick is unlikely to occur before 36 hours of tick attachment, check for ticks daily and remove them promptly. Embedded ticks should be removed by using fine-tipped tweezers. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic.
--You can reduce the number of ticks around your home by removing leaf litter, and brush- and wood-piles around your house and at the edge of your yard. By clearing trees and brush in your yard, you can reduce the likelihood that deer, rodents, and ticks will live there.

About.com makes these facts about Lyme disease available:
--Even in hyperendemic areas, places where there are a lot of Lyme disease cases, the the risk of developing Lyme disease is usually estimated to only be about 1% to 3%. It is so low because not all deer ticks are even infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and most people remove ticks before they have been attached for 48 to 72 hour period, which doesn't give the bacteria time to infect them.
--In the United States, most cases of Lyme disease (hyperendemic areas) occur in southern New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the northern Pacific coast.
--Lyme disease is usually diagnosed based on the history of a tick bite and finding signs and symptoms that suggest that the child has Lyme disease. Laboratory testing is available, but is not always necessary. Testing ticks for the Lyme disease bacteria is not usually recommended.
--Most cases of Lyme disease occur during the summer.

You can decrease your risk of getting Lyme disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, with some simple precautions:
1.) Wear long pants and sleeves. When walking in wooded or grassy areas, wear shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat and gloves. Try to stick to trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass. Keep your dog on a leash.
2.) Use insect repellents. Apply an insect repellent with a 10% to 30% concentration of DEET to your skin and clothing. Choose the concentration based on the hours of protection you need — the higher the concentration of DEET, the longer you are protected. A 10% concentration protects you for about two hours. Keep in mind that chemical repellents can be toxic, and use only the amount needed for the time you'll be outdoors. Don't use DEET on the hands of young children or on infants younger than age 2 months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, oil of lemon eucalyptus, a more natural product, offers the same protection as DEET when used in similar concentrations. Don't use this product on children younger than 3 years.
3.) Do your best to tick-proof your yard. Clear brush and leaves where ticks live. Keep woodpiles in sunny areas.
4.) Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks. Be especially vigilant after spending time in wooded or grassy areas. Deer ticks are often no bigger than the head of a pin, so you may not discover them unless you search carefully. It's helpful to shower as soon as you come indoors. Ticks often remain on your skin for hours before attaching themselves. Showering and using a washcloth may be enough to remove any unattached ticks.
5.) Don't assume you're immune. Even if you've had Lyme disease before, you can get it again.
6.) Remove a tick with tweezers. Gently grasp the tick near its head or mouth. Don't squeeze or crush the tick, but pull carefully and steadily. Once you've removed the entire tick, dispose of it and apply antiseptic to the bite area.

Lyme disease can affect your health not only short term, but also with long term detrimental results. Use common sense when camping or visiting areas known to be high in possible deer tick population. Preventive measures can help decrease the risk of getting Lyme disease.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Health Care and Bankruptcy

Going broke is no fun, especially if you have to declare bankruptcy because you've been sick. Americans are increasingly at risk of financial ruin due to illness and medical expenses, according to a new study released in June by the American Journal of Medicine. The researchers, according to Consumer Reports, found that illness or medical bills contributed to nearly two thirds, or 62%, of all bankruptcies in 2007—before the major impact of the housing collapse and current economic downturn. That’s a 50% increase over a similar survey in 2001 by the same researchers. Most of the debtors are middle aged, middle class and have a college level education; unaffordable bills directly contributed to 92% of medical bankruptcies, and loss of income due to illness caused 40 percent. Many people lose their heath insurance after suffering an illness or injury. A quarter of businesses that offer health insurance cancel coverage immediately when an employee suffers a disabling illness, and 25% more cancel coverage within a year, according to the study.

It’s not just the uninsured at risk for medical bankruptcy, according to Suite101.com. The underinsured and fully insured are also vulnerable, and three-quarters of the medically bankrupt had health insurance. As a result of high premiums, deductibles, and co-pays - as well as uncovered services and policy loopholes - out-of-pocket expenses become insurmountable. Even families with superior coverage find themselves filing for bankruptcy.

According to Consumer Reports, at the moment, the best defense against medical debt is to know your coverage, and try to negotiate your bills if they are too high. (And check for billing errors.) Also, be aware that lenders have begun pushing risky credit plans for medical care. Try not to pay medical bills on your credit card—it can weaken your negotiating power with the provider, while potentially racking up tremendous interest and fees. Families are more at risk when the primary wage earner is injured or becomes ill. The family suffers not only because of the increased medical costs, but also because the wage earner might no longer be able to work. As a result, the family loses both income and health coverage, either immediately or soon after. In certain circumstances, individuals might qualify for COBRA coverage, but the premiums can be quite expensive, much too expensive for someone with no job and mounting medical bills.

The report seems to be a little flawed, though, according to ABC News. Also, suspect is the fact that data over 2 years old is being used to sustain an agenda in the forefront now for national health care paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Health care is not a right as some politicians and the mainstream news media would like you to believe. Fact-check.org has noted that even using Harvard’s numbers, it’s more like a bankruptcy every minute; indeed if you add up all bankrputcies in a year you barely get one every 30 seconds. Even using their own numbers, the accurate rate is really closer to 17%. But more to the point is that the Harvard data are clearly inflated, or at best, mischaracterized. A good part of the problem is definitional. The Harvard report claims to measure the extent to which medical costs are “the cause” of bankruptcies. In reality its survey asked if these costs were “a reason” – potentially one of many – for such bankruptcies. Beyond those who gave medical costs as “a reason,” the Harvard researchers chose to add in any bankruptcy filers who had at least $1,000 in unreimbursed medical expenses in the previous two years. Given deductibles and copays, that’s a lot of people. Moreover, Harvard’s definition of “medical” expenses includes situations that aren’t necessarily medical in common parlance, e.g., a gambling problem, or the death of a family member. If your main wage-earning spouse gets hit by a bus and dies, and you have to file, that’s included as a “medical bankruptcy.” A last problem was sampling: The Harvard researchers surveyed bankruptcy filers in five federal court districts accounting for 14 percent of bankruptcies nationally; projecting this to the other 86 percent is sketchy.

The case for national health care is a primary example of overspending and will lead to bankruptcy for the nation. Consider the latest numbers released for the looming national debt in the untold trillions of dollars. There are other options, including HSAs, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis. Health savings accounts (HSAs) are special purpose savings accounts where contributions are tax-deductible for the individual. The amount saved, plus interest earned, is useable for any qualified health care expense. This makes it an ideal alternative to insurance for the self-employed, freelancers, part-time job holders and others not provided with insurance as an employee benefit or who cannot get conventional health insurance. According to an extensive study conducted by Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, those with HSAs are more cost-conscious and proactively, responsibly engaged in their health decisions than those with traditional insurance. For example:
--72 percent of those with HSAs track their health expenses, compared to 42 percent covered by insurance.
--24 percent discuss health expenses with providers and may shop and negotiate, vs. 18 percent covered by insurance.
When it comes to preventive care, HSA account holders win too:
--69 percent have regular check-ups vs. 62 percent covered by insurance.
--25 percent of HSAers exercise regularly vs. 14 percent of those insured.
Those paying for health care with their own money are much more involved and responsible in taking care of themselves and controlling costs than those receiving insurance as an employee benefit or otherwise covered by insurance.

According to ABC News, worth keeping in mind is the fact that no one (apparently) disagrees about the pain medical expenses can cause to uninsured Americans. There is general agreement: Being uninsured and getting sick in the United States is really a bad thing. However, when the data is flawed and then used to support a socialist agenda for nationalized healthcare, there are greater, more important issues at stake than personal debt.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Health Care and Hospice

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hospice care is end-of-life care provided by health professionals and volunteers. They give medical, psychological and spiritual support. The goal of the care is to help people who are dying have peace, comfort and dignity. The caregivers try to control pain and other symptoms so a person can remain as alert and comfortable as possible. Hospice programs also provide services to support a patient's family.

Today, according to the Hospice Foundation of America, one out of three people in the United States die in the care of hospice. When faced with a life-limiting illness, patients and their families need to understand hospice care and the steps necessary to access this quality end-of-life option. Hospice care can continue longer than six months if needed but requires physician certification.

Usually, a hospice patient is expected to live 6 months or less according to the NIH. And, hospice care can take place:
--At home.
--At a hospice center.
--In a hospital.
--In a skilled nursing facility.

According to HospiceNet.org, the list of frequently asked questions about hospice care can answer many concerns you have:
1. When should a decision about entering a hospice program be made and who should make it?
At any time during a life-limiting illness, it’s appropriate to discuss all of a patient’s care options, including hospice. By law the decision belongs to the patient. Most hospices accept patients who have a life-expectancy of six months or less and who are referred by their personal physician.

2. Should I wait for our physician to raise the possibility of hospice, or should I raise it first?
The patient and family should feel free to discuss hospice care at any time with their physician, other health care professionals, clergy or friends.

3. Is all hospice care the same?
No. Many communities have more than one hospice. Medicare requires certified hospices provide a basic level of care but the quantity and quality of all services can vary significantly from one hospice to another. To find the best hospice for your needs, ask your doctor, healthcare professionals, clergy, social workers or friends who have received care for a family member. You may want to call or meet with the hospices and ask questions about their services.

4. Can a hospice patient who shows signs of recovery be returned to regular medical treatment?
Certainly. If the patient’s condition improves and the disease seems to be in remission, patients can be discharged from hospice and return to aggressive therapy or go on about their daily life. If the discharged patient should later need to return to hospice care, Medicare and most private insurance will allow additional coverage for this purpose.

5. What does the hospice admission process involve?
One of the first things the hospice program will do is contact the patient’s physician to make sure he or she agrees that hospice care is appropriate for this patient at this time. (Most hospices have medical staff available to help patients who have no physician.) The patient will be asked to sign consent and insurance forms. These are similar to the forms patients sign when they enter a hospital. The form Medicare patients sign also tells how electing the Medicare hospice benefit affects other Medicare coverage.

6. Is there any special equipment or changes I have to make in my home before hospice care begins?
Your hospice provider will assess your needs, recommend any equipment, and help make arrangements to obtain any necessary equipment. Often the need for equipment is minimal at first and increases as the disease progresses. In general, hospice will assist in any way it can to make home care as convenient, clean and safe as possible.

7. How many family members or friends does it take to care for a patient at home?
There’s no set number. One of the first things a hospice team will do is to prepare an individualized care plan that will, among other things, address the amount of caregiving needed by the patient. Hospice staff visit regularly and are always accessible to answer medical questions.

8. Must someone be with the patient at all times?
In the early weeks of care, it’s usually not necessary for someone to be with the patient all the time. Later, however, since one of the most common fears of patients is the fear of dying alone, hospice generally recommends someone be there continuously. While family and friends do deliver most of the care, hospices may have volunteers to assist with errands and to provide a break and time away for primary caregivers.

9. What specific assistance does hospice provide home-based patients?
Hospice patients are cared for by a team consisting of a physician, a nurse, social workers, counselors, home health aides, clergy, therapists, and volunteers. Each one provides assistance based on his or her own area of expertise. In addition, hospices provide medications, supplies, equipment, and other services related to the terminal illness.

10. Does hospice do anything to make death come sooner?
Hospice neither hastens nor postpones dying. Just as doctors and midwives lend support and expertise during the time of child birth, hospice provides its presence and specialized knowledge during the dying process.

11. Is caring for the patient at home the only place hospice care can be delivered?
No. Hospice patients receive care in their personal residences, nursing homes, hospital hospice units and inpatient hospice centers.

12. How does hospice “manage pain”?
Hospice believes that emotional and spiritual pain are just as real and in need of attention as physical pain, so it can address each. Hospice nurses and doctors are up to date on the latest medications and devices for pain and symptom relief. In addition, physical and occupational therapists can assist patients to be as mobile and self sufficient as they wish, and they are sometimes joined by specialists schooled in music therapy, art therapy, massage and diet counseling. Finally, various counselors, including clergy, are available to assist family members as well as patients.

13. What is hospice’s success rate in battling pain?
Very high. Using some combination of medications, counseling and therapies, most patients can attain a level of comfort they consider acceptable.

14. Will medications prevent the patient from being able to talk or know what’s happening?
Usually not. It is the goal of hospice to have the patient as pain free and alert as possible. By constantly consulting with the patient, hospices have been very successful in reaching this goal.

15. Is hospice affiliated with any religious organization?
No. While some churches and religious groups have started hospices (sometimes in connection with their hospitals), these hospices serve a broad community and do not require patients to adhere to any particular set of beliefs.

16. Is hospice care covered by insurance?
Hospice coverage is widely available. It is provided by Medicare nationwide, by Medicaid in 47 states, and by most private insurance providers. To be sure of coverage, families should, of course, check with their employer or health insurance provider.

17. If the patient is eligible for Medicare, will there be any additional expense to be paid?
The Medicare Hospice Benefit covers the full scope of medical and support services for a life-limiting illness. Hospice care also supports the family and loved ones of the person through a variety of services. This benefit covers almost all aspects of hospice care with little expense to the patient or family.

18. If the patient is not covered by Medicare or any other health insurance, will hospice still provide care?
The first thing hospice will do is assist families in finding out whether the patient is eligible for any coverage they may not be aware of. Barring this, some hospices will provide for anyone who cannot pay using money raised from the community or from memorial or foundation gifts.

19. Does hospice provide any help to the family after the patient dies?
Most hospices provide continuing contact and support for caregivers for at least a year following the death of a loved one. Many hospices also sponsor bereavement groups and support for anyone in the community who has experienced a death of a family member, a friend, or similar losses.

Hospice affirms life and does not hasten or postpone death, according to the American Cancer Society. Hospice care treats the person rather than the disease; it focuses on quality rather than length of life. Hospice care is family-centered care -- it involves the patient and the family in making decisions. Care is provided for the patient and family 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hospice care can be given in the patient's home, a hospital, nursing home, or private hospice facility. Most hospice care in the United States is given in the home, with a family member or members serving as the main hands-on caregiver. One of the problems with hospice is that it is often not started soon enough. Sometimes the doctor, patient, or family member will resist hospice because he or she thinks it means you're giving up, or that there's no hope. This is not true. The hope that hospice brings is the hope of a quality life, making the best of each day during the last stages of advanced illness.

When faced with terminal illness, difficult decisions about end of life treatment and care must be made. Often, those family members closest to the patient must make tough choices about how to care for their loved one. If no family is available, close friends may be called into service to help facilitate hospice. Sometimes, hospice is handled by charitable or governmental organizations that step in when no one else is available to help. End of life decisions cause very high stress, so counseling and other types of care are available to help manage grief and other major issues regarding treatment and critical financial issues. Hospice care should be embraced as a way to ease transition from life to death. Although never an easy topic for discussion, hospice provides a vital and dignified way for those who benefit from its service.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Health Care and Workin' up a Sweat

You are about to do something really big -- maybe ­a job interview, a presentation, a first date or your wedding -- and you notice that your palms and underarms are sweating. Perhaps, you've just completed an aerobic workout and your whole body is drenched in sweat. How can such different activities have the same effect on your body? What is sweat and why do we make it?
Perspiration, or sweat, is your body's way of cooling itself, whether that extra heat comes from hardworking muscles or from overstimulated nerves. In this article, we will examine your body's sweat glands, how sweat is made and what it does. You will learn that there is difference between the sweat on your palms and the sweat in your armpits and why your skin tastes salty after a workout!

Most people sweat when they exercise or exert themselves, are in a hot environment, or are nervous, anxious, or under stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of sweating is both natural and healthy. Sweating is usually only a minor nuisance. The odor is probably more troublesome. Although perspiration is practically odorless, perspiration can sometimes cause an unpleasant smell when it comes into contact with bacteria on your skin. Unusual changes in sweating — either excessive perspiration (hyperhidrosis) or little or no perspiration (anhidrosis) — can be cause for concern. Likewise, changes in body odor may be a sign of a medical problem. For normal sweating and body odor, however, lifestyle and home treatments can effectively manage your symptoms. In some cases, a prescription antiperspirant or deodorant may be needed.
According to HowStuffWorks.com, the average person has 2.6 million sweat glands in their skin! Sweat glands are distributed over the entire body -- except for the lips, nipples and external genital organs. The sweat gland is in the layer of skin called the dermis along with other "equipment," such as nerve endings, hair follicles and so on. Basically, the sweat gland is a long, coiled, hollow tube of cells. The coiled part in the dermis is where sweat is produced, and the long portion is a duct that connects the gland to the opening or pore on the skins's outer surface. And, nerve cells from the sympathetic nervous system connect to the sweat glands. There are two types of sweat glands:
--Eccrine - the most numerous type that are found all over the body, particularly on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and forehead.
--Apocrine - mostly confined to the armpits (axilla) and the anal-genital area. They typically end in hair follicles rather than pores.
The two glands differ in size, the age that they become active, and the composition of the sweat that they make. Compared to apocrine glands, eccrine glands are smaller are active from birth (Apocrine glands become active only at puberty) and produce a sweat that is free of proteins and fatty acids.
Healthy people sweat, but when, where and how much varies widely according to the Mayo Clinic. Factors that cause most people to sweat include:
--Exercise, especially strenuous exercise.
--Hot weather.
--Nervousness, anxiety or stress.
Perspiration that's triggered by emotion is most likely to occur on your face, in your armpits, on your palms and on the soles of your feet. But how much you sweat and even the way your sweat smells can be influenced by your mood, your diet, some drugs and medical conditions, and even your hormone levels. What's more — unfair as it seems — some people inherit a tendency to sweat heavily, especially on their soles and palms. Because it's almost impossible to define normal sweating and body odor, try to learn what's normal for you. That will help you pinpoint any unusual changes. Contact your medical provider if you experience any of the following:
--You suddenly begin to sweat much more or less than usual.
--Sweating disrupts your daily routine.
--You experience night sweats for no apparent reason.
--You notice a change in body odor.
--A change in body odor may be a sign of certain medical conditions, such as diabetic ketoacidosis, or kidney failure.
According to the Health Guide in the NY Times, The glands start to become fully active during puberty. Women actually have more sweat glands then men -- men's glands are just more active. Because sweating is the body's natural way of regulating temperature, people sweat more when it's hot outside. People also sweat more when they exercise, or in response to situations that make them nervous, angry, embarrassed, or afraid. If sweating is accompanied by fever, weight loss, chest pain, shortness of breath, or a rapid, pounding heartbeat, talk to a doctor. These symptoms may indicate an underlying problem, such as hyperthyroidism. Excessive sweating in women may also be a symptom of menopause. After sweating, you should:
--Wash the face and body.
--Change clothes and bed sheets.
--Drink plenty of water to replace lost body fluids.
--Slightly lower room temperature to prevent more sweating.
Sweating is one of the body's ways of cooling down and it is important that we do sweat, according to CYH.com. There is a very rare condition where people do not sweat, and they are at a very high risk of overheating.
--Hot drinks, drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine, and spicy foods can also make you sweat more than usual.
--Having a fever is part of the way that a body fights an infection. The temperature drops when the body is recovering from the infection. If you have a fever, your body cuts down the amount of sweat that you make (keeping your temperature high). When your body is ready for its temperature to drop you may sweat a lot (this is sometimes called 'breaking of the fever').
--If you are dehydrated - perhaps it is hot weather and you have not had enough to drink, or you have been ill with diarrhoea and vomiting - you will make less sweat than usual.
Sweat by itself does not have much of an odor, according to CYH.com. Most of the smell is caused by bacteria which live on the skin and in clothing. These bacteria use the sweat for growing. Some foods that we eat, such as garlic and spicy foods, can change the smell of sweat. We all have our own particular scent. This is why dogs can track a particular person by their scent. Have you noticed that perfumes and deodorants don't always smell the same on different people? That's because of our different scents. After puberty, it may be a good idea to start using underarm deodorants and antiperspirants.
--Underarm deodorants make the sweat acidic which stops bacteria from growing. We still make the same amount of sweat, but there are fewer bacteria to make the smell.
--Antiperspirants block the sweat ducts with aluminium salts, so that less sweat is produced.
--Less sweat equals fewer bacteria and less smell. They should only be used on underarms - you need to be able to sweat over the rest of your body to keep yourself healthy.
--There is no evidence that these products are linked to any health problems.
--Some deodorants are highly perfumed. Make sure that you are not replacing one smell with another one that other people will not enjoy either.
--Be aware that some people may be allergic to deodorant sprays and perfumes, so don't spray them around other people in change rooms.
Ever wonder why you can't handle hot days in the spring as well as you can in late summer? It seems that your sweat glands need time to acclimate, according to AZCentral.com. A person who hasn't been in a hot climate for a while can produce about one liter of sweat an hour. After about six weeks of hot weather, however, he or she will be able to produce two to three times that amount. (Anecdotal evidence suggests that people who sweat a lot while exercising year-round are automatically acclimated in the spring and thus able to handle the heat better.) About 3 percent of the population suffers from hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). It most commonly affects underarms, hands and feet and can mysteriously strike in the coldest of conditions. We are constantly sweating, even though we may not notice it. The humidity of the air around us affects the rate at which sweat evaporates. If humidity is high, the air cannot absorb any more moisture and our sweat won't evaporate and cool our bodies as efficiently as when the air is dry. Losing excessive amounts of sweat can quickly dehydrate you, leading to circulatory problems, kidney failure and heat stroke. Never wear a plastic sweatsuit or lots of warm clothing while working out on a hot day. You won't burn any more calories, but you will lose lots of water weight, which can precipitate heat stroke. Sweat is made from fluid in your blood, which means the more you sweat, the thicker your blood becomes and the harder your heart has to work to pump that blood. People who are more fit are better able to cope with low or even moderate degrees of dehydration than those who aren't fit. The Gatorade Sports Science Institute has found that in conditions of 85 degrees and 40 percent humidity, the average runner will lose two to four pounds of sweat an hour. An hour or two before exerting yourself outdoors in the heat, drink 16 ounces of water or sports drink, then take in between 5 and 12 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes while working or exercising, says Runner's World magazine. And, Americans spend more than $1 billion a year on antiperspirants and deodorants.
When you sweat, know that it can be a good thing. Too much is not good. Check it out with your doctor if your personal situation changes for any reason--either too little or too much.
Until next time. Let me know what you think.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Health Care and Red Meat

Americans love red meat. However, burger lovers beware: People who eat red meat every day have a higher risk of dying over a 10-year period -- mostly because of cardiovascular disease or cancer --than their peers who eat less red or processed meat, according to a new study of about half a million people published by the Archives of Internal Medicine and reported by CNNHealth.com. Over a 10-year period, people who ate the most red meat every day (about 62.5 grams per 1,000 calories per day, equivalent to a quarter-pound burger or small steak per day) had about a 30 percent greater risk of dying compared with those who consumed the least amount of red meat (a median of 9.8 grams per 1,000 calories per day). The excess mortality was mostly the result of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The red meat in the study included all types of beef and pork, including bacon, cold cuts, ham, hamburgers, hot dogs, and steak, as well as meat in pizza, chili, lasagna, and stew.

Exactly why red meat and processed meat are associated with increased risks of cancer, heart disease and other deaths isn't known for sure, according to WebMD. But the leading explanations include:
--The meats are a source of carcinogens formed during cooking.
--The iron in red meat may increase oxidative cell damage, leading to health problems.
--The saturated fat found in meat has been linked with breast and colorectal cancer.
To reduce cancer risk, the web site of the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends eating no more than 18 ounces of red meat (cooked weight) per week (or about 2.5 ounces a day.) It recommends avoiding processed meat, noting that research suggests that cancer risk starts to increase with any amount.

According to the New York Times, a question that arises from observational studies like this one is whether meat is in fact a hazard or whether other factors associated with meat-eating are the real culprits in raising death rates. The subjects in the study who ate the most red meat had other less-than-healthful habits. They were more likely to smoke, weigh more for their height, and consume more calories and more total fat and saturated fat. They also ate less fruits, vegetables and fiber; took fewer vitamin supplements; and were less physically active. But in analyzing mortality data in relation to meat consumption, the cancer institute researchers carefully controlled for all these and many other factors that could influence death rates. The study data have not yet been analyzed to determine what, if any, life-saving benefits might come from eating more protein from vegetable sources like beans or a completely vegetarian diet. The results mirror those of several other studies in recent years that have linked a high-meat diet to life-threatening health problems. The earliest studies highlighted the connection between the saturated fats in red meats to higher blood levels of artery-damaging cholesterol and subsequent heart disease, which prompted many people to eat leaner meats and more skinless poultry and fish. Along with other dietary changes, like consuming less dairy fat, this resulted in a nationwide drop in average serum cholesterol levels and contributed to a reduction in coronary death rates. Elevated blood pressure, another coronary risk factor, has also been shown to be associated with eating more red and processed meat. Choosing protein from sources other than meat has also been linked to lower rates of cancer. When meat is cooked, especially grilled or broiled at high temperatures, carcinogens can form on the surface of the meat. And processed meats like sausages, salami and bologna usually contain nitrosamines, although there are products now available that are free of these carcinogens.

Also, according to MSNBC.com, eating red meat may increase a person's risk of developing the most common type of kidney cancer, while eating vegetables may provide a protective effect, new research in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association shows. Both men and women who ate red meat five or more times a week were more than four times as likely to develop the disease compared to people who consumed red meat less than once a week. And, according to the Los Angeles Times, findings published in July, 2008, from a Harvard study of more than 39,000 young nurses suggested that the risk of getting breast cancer before menopause goes up for every extra daily serving of red meat a woman ate as a teenager, a time period that had not been studied before. Add the numerous studies linking red meat to other cancers, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and even Alzheimer's disease, and it sounds like the hamburger you had for lunch might as well have been laced with rat poison. In fact, there is a place for red meat in a healthful diet, scientists say, but they recommend choosing smaller portions of lean cuts and cooking them well but not at high temperatures. The question is which meat components are responsible for the observed health risks. Scientists have several theories, though none seems to tell the whole story. Red meat can contain a lot of saturated fats and cholesterol, known contributors to cardiovascular disease. Plus, dementia is strongly related to vascular disease, so it's likely a relationship exists there as well. Meat from commercially raised livestock also contains a high amount of omega-6 fats, which have been associated with poor cardiovascular health, but a low amount of omega-3 fats, which may be protective. Another potential culprit is the iron in meat. Iron is essential for health, but iron from meat comes in a different form than that from vegetables and legumes, one that is absorbed whether the body needs it or not. This type of iron can cause oxidative damage to all the components of the cell -- the protein, lipid, DNA, RNA.

According to eHow.com, here are some instructions for preparing red meat for consumption:
Step 1:
While many people realize that eating too much red meat is not healthy, fewer people understand why red meat consumption increases your risk of certain types of cancer. While the higher fat content and antibiotics found in non-organic meat is a factor, two of the most important reasons why red meat consumption increases cancer risk is because of the presence of two chemicals produced when red meat is cooked to high temperatures.
Step 2:
As you already know, red meat needs to be cooked to a temperature high enough to kill potential bacteria that cause food borne illness. Unfortunately, the high heat required to kill the bacteria in red meat causes a chemical reaction to occur which produces HCA's or heterocyclic amines. This reaction occurs when red meat and other muscle meats are cooked above a temperature of 150 degrees Centigrade. The higher the temperature the meat is allowed to reach, the more HCA's are produced. Unfortunately, HCA's have been associated with a variety of cancers including colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and breast cancer. Heterocyclic amines appear to form once the meat reaches a certain temperature regardless of whether it's fried, sautéed, grilled, or boiled.
Step 3:
The other potential cancer causing agent found in cooked red meat is also a product of temperature. These are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are formed primarily when meat is grilled. If you've observed those black, charred pieces on steaks after they come off of the grill, you've seen polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Grilling may give meat a smoky flavor but it doesn't do much for the health value since these hydrocarbons are believed by most experts to cause cancer. No wonder red meat consumption is considered to be so unhealthy.
Step 4:
If this isn't enough to encourage you to lower your red meat consumption, there are some steps you can take to reduce the levels of these chemicals in your meats. Consider preparing your meats by an alternative method other than grilling. You can also reduce the concentration of HCA's formed if you marinate the meat in an acid based marinade and microwave it for two minutes before cooking. If you must use a grill to prepare meat, choose low fat meat as they form fewer polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Trim off any black, charred areas before eating.
Step 5:
Keep in mind that HCA's are formed when any muscle meat is cooked to high temperatures, so it's a good idea to marinate chicken, pork, and fish in an acid marinade and microwave it before cooking. Even better, try to limit red meat consumption as well as other types of muscle meat. Instead, try some of the many meat substitutes that are now available. With a little barbecue sauce or ketchup, these can be tasty and healthy alternatives.

All things in moderation. Be careful to cook meat thoroughly before eating, and observe all the correct ways to prepare it. Use common sense when purchasing meat, and stay away from fatty portions, or meat that has been left out too long. Always clean up thoroughly after working with meat of any kind, and remember to wash your hands before continuing any activity. Although an over abundance of red meat in your diet is not the best way to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, remember that most people can eat good cuts of red meat in modest portions with no real major problems. Of course, if your current health condition mandates abstaining from eating red meat due to heart problems or other reasons, listen to your doctor. The bottom line is to be careful what you eat, how much, and how you prepare it. After all, gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins--even when it comes to juicy burgers or steaks.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.