Could Your Headache Be From Something Life-Threatening?

Headaches are a common complaint. The cause is usually minor, such as tension in the muscles, lack of sleep, allergies, or hunger.

Many people experience incapacitating migraine headaches, yet even those aren’t considered life threatening.

So when is a headache more than just a headache, but a sign of something more serious like a stroke?

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Any headache that is different than what you are used to, occurs in the very young or old, is accompanied by a stiff, painful neck, is preceded by a bump to the head, wakes you up from sleep, or comes on like a thunder clap, needs immediate medical attention.

when in doubt

Consider meningitis, an inflammation of the brain that causes sudden onset of headache, fever, and a stiff neck. Would you recognize it if you had it?

Any new headache is potentially worrisome. Add on other symptoms and there is no question there is a need for prompt, further investigation.  If your headache seems in anyway unusual for you, or is accompanied by any change in neurological function, an emergency consultation is necessary. If need be, call 911.

Let’s Talk About Weight

Unless you live in a cave as deep as Krubera, you already know there’s an obesity epidemic and odds are you are part of it. I am.

The United States leads the world with the most obese individuals, 67% of adults are either overweight or obese, with nearly 30% of our kids as well.

If you happen to be in the minority with a BMI of 24.9 or less, props to you! Keep up the good work and tell me in the comments what has helped you keep your weight ideal.

Besides those who are super successful at weight watchers, no one likes to talk about their weight. But we need to do it. I’m overweight. I wasn’t always that way, my nickname growing up was skinny-minny with the meatball eyes.

I know, it was goofy but I loved it! It was wonderful being able to eat whatever I wanted and stay toothpick thin. Fast forward to present and I am much older, and 50 pounds heavier. Diets haven’t worked for me. Jogging and rigorous exercise just left me sore and discouraged.

What am I to do? I can’t keep denying the truth. My weight has negatively impacted my health and this problem is not going away on its own. We all need accountability, education, and encouragement if we are ever going to make serious progress in becoming a healthier nation.

Our bodies weren’t meant to carry so much weight.  You would never drive your car with 95 extra gallons of gas in your trunk just in case.  That would be dangerous and stupid. All that stored fuel is a fire hazard, will rob you of good gas mileage, and contribute to extra vehicular wear and tear.

The same applies to our bodies. We are the vehicle. The excess fat is stored fuel (energy). When we eat more (mainly refined carbohydrate) calories than we burn our body stores it for future use. Consider it the same as the extra gallons of gas. Carrying too much weight is a major risk for heart disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, joint problems, and a host of other negative consequences.

Don’t keep your head in the sand. You don’t have to feel guilty, get angry, or make excuses. Why not acknowledge the problem and choose to do something about it?

My weight, your weight didn’t get to where it is suddenly.  It has accumulated gradually over the years. And it is going to take a lot of time to get rid of it. It takes mindfulness, planning, commitment, and patience. It’s easy to gain, harder to lose, but this is your life, my life we’re talking about. Our breath, well-being, psychological, spiritual, and physical health.

19th-century American humorist Josh Billings once said,

Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it.

Don’t let your health get bankrupt. Wherever you are, whether you are suffering from the effects of too much weight or not, do something now.

Where do we start? Our eating habits are ingrained in us, and so much of who we are and how we enjoy life is centered around food. The holidays, birthdays, celebrations, fellowship, food surrounds us and is full of sugar. We bargain with ourselves, It’s a special occasion. I deserve a treat. I can’t let all this good food go to waste. I’ll eat better tomorrow.

No you won’t. Unless you make the decision to right the wrong choices today.

Eat whole foods. Say no to empty calories and processed foods. Stop drinking soda, diet or regular; instead drink water. Eliminate snacks. Don’t eat after your evening meal. Move more. Repeat. It is not the way we’ve been taught using the food pyramid, but grains and cereals as the foundation of the American diet has brought us to this terrible obesity epidemic.

Talk to your health care provider and get the help you need to make positive changes in this area of your life. If you haven’t already, get some baseline blood work – lipid panel, thyroid, glucose level. I know it is hard dealing with this, I am right there with you! But consider the alternatives – diabetes, heart disease, low self-esteem, fatigue, maybe even depression? Will you join me in making and keeping  healthy lifestyle changes? I guarantee it’s a step in the right direction, and we won’t regret it.

To insure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life  ~William Londen

Update: I’ve changed my way of eating and lost 15 pounds in less than 3 months.  Here’s how I did it.

Summer Cold or Allergies? The Number One Tell-tale Sign

A sudden onset sore throat.  Fine one minute, and just like that, your next swallow feels weird.  You think maybe you imagined it so you swallow a few more times and confirm, it definitely hurts. A little while later you notice your nose is getting stuffy, your ears feel plugged, and come to think of it – you are feeling run down. Crap – a summer cold! Or is it?

Your average cold (viral rhinitis) and seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis/hay fever), have similar symptoms:

  • sore throat
  • congestion
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • post nasal drip
  • ticklish cough

Except for one tell tale sign…

the itch factor

Generally the key in distinguishing whether your crappy symptoms are a cold verses allergies is that itchy feeling of the throat, nose or eyes.  That itch is a tingling or irritation of the skin or mucosal lining that compels you to scratch, rub, or make annoying rumbling hisses and growly sounds that drives your mates and coworkers batcrap crazy.

itchy=allergies

That nasty itch is caused by a protein in pollen produced by grasses, plants, and trees. Other culprits include cat and dog saliva, dander, mold, and dust mites.

The allergic reaction is actually an inflammatory response by your mast cells and basophils. When triggered, these cells produce histamine, which causes the uncomfortable symptoms.  Over several hours, the histamine activates other inflammatory cells and this cycle repeats until the allergen is removed or the histamine release is blocked.

Allergies can make you feel miserable. The good news it they are highly treatable, depending on how severe your reaction is, you can do several things,

  • Avoid trigger allergens: If you know what you are allergic to, do your best to avoid exposure. Pollen counts high? Wear a mask.  So what if you look like a doofus –  it beats sneezing and feeling miserable. Other things that might help: shower before bed and use air-conditioning.
  • Antihistamines: Most are now available over-the-counter. Talk to your friendly neighborhood pharmacist if you need help deciding which one to try.  Side effects are possible (sedation with some), and if you take prescription meds you need to talk to your primary care provider before adding on another med due to potential drug-drug interactions.
  • Prescription nasal sprays: If your allergies last a season or all year round, prescription sprays such as fluticasone or mometasone are a great treatment option.  They control symptoms and are less likely to cause serious side effects.
  • Allergy Shots: Certainly the underdog, allergy shots are something to be considered. If you want to get to the root of your allergy problem and have the patience to do allergy testing and immunotherapy, treat your allergies using this route.

Allergies are not just kid’s stuff.  Some allergies take years of exposure before they finally develop, which explains why adults surprisingly become allergic when they never were before.

If that “cold” seems to be lingering, you are overly tired, and you can’t stand that itchy throat or nose, your problem just might be allergies.

As always, your healthcare provider is your best source of medical information for questions and concerns related to your health.

Can You Really Get the Flu From the Flu Shot?

Nope.

THE FLU SHOT DOES NOT, CANNOT, WILL NOT, DARE NOT GIVE YOU THE FLU.

Flu shots are made either with viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are not infectious, or with no viruses at all.

why the hey

Most likely because you were already exposed to the flu and the shot didn’t have enough time to work.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection.

It is possible to get minor side effects (low grade fever, aches, and a sore arm at the injection site).

If you are anti-vaccine, that’s your choice, but I hope you don’t spread your agenda to the point where some one who really needs a vaccine doesn’t get it because you told them not to. That’s shameful, and deadly.

What you should do is encourage others to discuss their concerns with their own health care providers.

In regards to the myths, Gizmodo has an excellent post  that addresses all that crazy talk like the flu shot contains antifreeze, causes Alzheimer’s, and weakens your immune system.

All flu-vaccine naysayers allow me to remind you of a time,

14th century Europe,

when germs were copious.

No immunizations, no anti-viral medications,  filthy oozing with death environments, and an average life expectancy of less than 30 years old.

And then there was the Spanish flu pandemic... of 1918.

Our lives are far better, and longer because of vaccines and other advances in medicine.

The flu vaccine is not perfect, but it beats taking your chances and potentially succumbing to an illness that could have been prevented.

And besides, the worst thing you’ll get is a sore arm because you really can’t get the flu from the flu shot.

Can Panic Attacks Be Life-Threatening?

Panic is a sense of overwhelming fear, triggering physical and mental reactions so severe that a person might believe he is dying. Symptoms include palpitations, pounding fast heart beat, shaking, sweating, choking, dizziness, rapid breathing, and tight chest.

The cause of the panic can be real, or imaginary.

We all have felt panic before – before a speech or performance, when pulled over by police, stuck on an elevator, or forgetting your anniversary.

In those circumstances, your panic is normal, it is not pathological and you will quickly return to a non panic state once the stressor passes or the situation is dealt with. On the other hand, if you experience recurrent episodes of panic, often for no apparent reason, you may have a panic disorder.  Some common symptoms are

shaking, shortness of breath, chest pain, blurred vision, tunnel vision, out of body feeling, pounding heart, trembling legs, spinning sensation, dry mouth, suffocating or smothering sensation, and a feeling that death is imminent

In his book, The Loss of SadnessDr Kenneth Kendler writes:

If an individual experiences a full-blown panic attack when he looses his grip and falls 40 feet before his rope catches him, no psychiatrist I know would consider this to be a psychopathological phenomenon. A panic attack is not—in and of itself—psychopathological. It only becomes pathology when it occurs in certain contexts—at times and in places when it should not.

One panic attack, not a problem. A couple more here and there, still can be dealt with.  If your panic is often, or is starting to interfere with your lifestyle or work, you need to see a clinician.  There are medical conditions that can mimic a panic disorder, and you should have those ruled out.  Also, it is safer to err on the side of caution.  If you feel you are having a heart attack, call 911. Chest pain or tightness should always be taken seriously!

The good news: you don’t have to be a victim of panic.

Don’t be ashamed or afraid to seek help, panic disorder is way more common than you think, and is very treatable.

Super Simple Tips for a Healthy, Happy Life!

Nearly everyone has heard of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. He taught that disease had a natural cause (as opposed to a supernatural), and that clinical observation was an essential aspect of “do no harm” medical care.

Hippocrates teachings were revolutionary at the time (400 BC), and while he may be the father of modern medicine, he has legions of sons/brothers/daughters/cousins and such who continue to build on his ideas.

One Roman fellow, Aulus Cornelius Celsus was a huge fan of Hippo and translated Hippocrates and other Greek writings to Latin. Celsus wasn’t a physician – yet he had a major influence on medical thinking and is known as having coined,

accurate diagnosis must precede treatment

Aulus was a wise man – see below for a link to his most famous work, the De Medicina.  I like his simple tips for staying healthy and happy. You won’t need to buy organic ancient seeds drenched in glacier mineral water, no special supplements or aloe vera cranberry infused gluten free goat milk smoothies, just no fuss stuff. Sounds like exactly what I tell my patients!

Super Simple Tips For A Happy, Healthy Life

  • Make your home bright and cheery, keep it clean and free of clutter. 
  • Get regular and varied exercise – include long, brisk walks.
  • Do not overeat! (George Burns followed this rule: he attributed his longevity to his practice of eating only half of whatever was on his plate).
  • Start your meals with greens. Eat apples, dates, or other fresh fruit for dessert.

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  • Drink wine only in moderation. If you are indulging nightly, take a break.
  • Get massages whenever you can.
  • Get plenty of fresh air all year round. 
  • Treat your digestive tract kindly: don’t overdue it with fatty, fried, processed, or junk food in general. Stay hydrated! 
  • Make sleep a priority. 
  • Surrounded yourself with friends, loved ones, and never forgo a yearly vacation.

 

Celsus (ca 25 BC—ca 50) was considered to be way ahead of his time in regards to his teachings on maintaining good health. Ironic he died so young. His suggestions are common sense and accepted practices. I will overlook his blood-letting instructions and vomit obsessions. After all, none of us are perfect.

If you want to know what Celsus had to say about such things as treating gangrenous mouth lesions, agglutinating wounds, or helping women who collapse speechless, consult his expansive De Medicina.

Cheers to good health!

Why We Do What We Do

Have you ever tried to give up smoking, lose weight, exercise, or get up earlier when things seem to go well for awhile, and then

BAM!

You start messing up and soon you are back where you started.

Do you give up and give in to your doubts?

I can’t change, it’s too hard, I’m too old. I’m under too much stress,

I can’t deal with another failure. I’m too far gone.

NO!

Don’t listen to the doubts. Stop making excuses.  The only right thing to do when you fail at something is again.

In medicine, especially treating addictions, I have seen unbelievable transformations.

Without a doubt I believe change is possible, and there is absolutely hope for you.

You can be successful.  You can quit smoking, lose weight, stop doing drugs, or whatever it is you want.

You can, even if you’ve failed multiple times before.

If you want to change something in your life, start small. Just change one thing.

Right now, write it down. 

Then do what you need to do to get where you want to be.

For example, drink water instead of a soda. Brush your teeth when you want to smoke. Install a filter on your computer. Recite Shakespeare when you feel angry. Take a cold shower. Run around the block. Count to ten. Count to 500. Eat on a smaller plate. Do jumping jacks. Make exercise an appointment on your calendar. Write fifteen minutes a day.  Surround yourself with positive influences. Change little things in your environment. Stop and think. Redirect.

Read, research, hire a coach, or a counselor, ask a friend to come along side.

One thing you can’t do is just hope for the best.  You can’t “name it claim it blab it grab it”.

I’m all for having a vision of who you want to be and changing your thoughts.

Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit.

But bad habits and faulty thinking are deeply embedded in your brain like a well trodden path. You have got to forge a new trail. There is no try, there is only do.

The secret to successfully breaking a bad habit is replacing the bad with a new, good one, and coaxing it along step by step.

R. Buckminster Fuller said,

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Are you the person you really want to be?  If not, do something about it. You can break that bad habit.  You can change.  Replace bad with good.

Yeah, I know its hard, it takes work, it gets frustrating, it takes forever.

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So what do you want? What do YOU want, and what are you going to do about it? You have to start somewhere.

What better time than right now? Let me tell you something,

You can change, it’s not too hard, you’re not too old, stress will always be there, and failure is a part of change.

You can do it, and you will. I know you can.

You got this.

More on change here.

Book suggestion—>The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

power of habit

Antibiotic Apocolypse: The Rise of The Superbug

In 2013 the Center for Disease Control released a landmark report: Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013 (PDF).

The report gives a bleak picture of our current antibiotic problems.

If folks don’t stop demanding and clinicians don’t stop prescribing antibiotics for every cold, earache, cough, or other illness that is likely viral, we won’t have any effective antibiotics left!

antibiotics

The consequences of this is catastrophic.

Imagine our world run amuck with superbugs that cannot be killed. These bugs become armed militants capable of mutating and altering their defenses against anything thrown at them, making them more virulent, more deadly. This is not science fiction. Antibiotic resistance is not a potential problem of the future, it is here and now, present day.

virus

The CDC conservatively estimates that in the US alone, two million people a year get sick with antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 die from their infection.

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I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.
I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Are we too late?  Has the overuse of antibiotics by prescribers and patients caused irreversible repercussions? Yeah, probably.

But with education and action by every one of us, we can help our situation from getting even worse.

What can we do?

CDC’s Dr. Frieden proposes a four-part solution:

  • Preventing infections from occurring and spreading:
    through immunization, hand washing, proper food preparation
  • Tracking resistant bacteria (CDC’s role)
  • Improve antibiotic prescribing/stewardship. This commitment to always use antibiotics appropriately and safely—only when they are needed and to choose the right ones and administer/take in the right way in every case—is known as antibiotic stewardship.
  • Promote development of new antibiotics and tests for diagnosing resistant bacteria.

Important take-aways:

-The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance.

50% of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective.

Simply using antibiotics creates resistance.

As antibiotic resistance grows, the antibiotics used to treat infections do not work as well or at all.

When someone takes an antibiotic that they do not need, they are needlessly exposed to the side effects of the drug and do not get any benefit from it.

Every time someone takes an antibiotic they don’t need,
they increase their risk of developing a resistant infection in the future.

When a person takes antibiotics, good bacteria that protect against infection are destroyed for several months.

Stopping even some of the inappropriate and unnecessary use of antibiotics in people and animals would help greatly in slowing down the spread of resistant bacteria

Remember, most illnesses resolve on their own, and very few truly require antibiotic treatment.

Let’s fight this war together and agree to be good antibiotic stewards. Otherwise, we risk being destroyed by mercenaries who are capable of assembling their army on a single grain of salt.

drug resistant bacteria 1

Do You Really Want to Know What Your Doctor Thinks of You?

Did you know you have a right to see your medical record? And if you find a mistake you can request it to be corrected, or if you disagree with something your provider noted, you also have a right to write your own note stating that.

So why do we feel like we are snooping when we steal a glance at our “chart”? It’s our record, our right. Or are we afraid of what we might find out?

Health Information Privacy rules of protection has been around since 1996.  Along with the right to view your chart, you have the right to:

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I hope you want to know what your doctor thinks of you – your relationship with your provider should be one that is based on mutual respect and trust.  If you find out otherwise, it’s time to find a new health care partner.

Beat the Winter Blues with These 10 Proven Ways

Frigid temps, overcast skies with no hint of sun for days in a row can make even the hardiest person feel gloomy.  Don’t become a victim of the winter blues! I have already field tested these 10 interventions and stand behind my word: try one, or kick it up a notch and do them all! You’ll be surprised at how quickly your mood will brighten. 

#Exercise: bundle up and take a walk. The hardest part is finding the oomph to get outside, but once you’re out it’s quite pleasant. 

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#Let there be light, and lots of it.  Turn up the lamps, and splurge on a Light Box. I’ve got mine on as I type. It’s called “Happy Light”. And yes, it makes me happy.

happy me

#Have a tropical theme party.  Guests come dressed in loud hawaiian shirts.  Do the limbo, play some calypso, and have a white elephant gift exchange.

lua

#Spruce up a dingy room.  Add some new color and a few funky pieces of furniture to liven the area.  Go to second hand shops for good deals.

 

 

 

 

#Change your diet.  Add as many super-foods as your wallet allows for a natural body boost.

 

 

 

 

#Host a book discussion group.  Why not turn it into a pot-luck dinner? Try immersing yourself in the book through role playing. Stay in character through the dinner.  We did this with the Crucible. Kept it clean- nobody got hung for being a witch.

#Embrace the winter.  Take the kids (or borrow the neighbor’s) and go sledding or skiing.  Bring the camera.  Hot cocoa, s’mores and a roaring fire once you are home.

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#Vacation. Overnite at a B&B, ski resort, or if you can afford it, go where the weather is hot and escape for a week. Sign up for price alerts on Kayak, you just might find a deal that can’t be beat.

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#Write.  An e-book, a novel, poetry, music.  The world needs to hear what you have to say.

#Square Dance wif callers. Went t’one be4 an’ ah had so much fun, as enny fool kin plainly see.  Ev’ryone fum th’ old folks t’th’ li’l kids had a whoopin’ an’ hollerin’ time of fun an’ fellership wif friends, kin’t wait t’do it agin. fine fo’ th’ heart an’ is sho’nuff sumpin yo’ will nevah fo’git. YEEHAW!

Author’s note: I originally posted this list on January 24, 2013. I freshened it up with some new pics.  For me, winter in Western NY gets the toughest in mid February.  2015 shall go down in my weather memory banks as the most cruel, bone-chilling, treacherously gnarlsome and poorly plowed roads I have endured.  But remember this: we are all in this together and regular exposure to mild cold may provide a healthy and sustainable alternative strategy for increasing energy expenditure. That means more chocolate.