Healthclips Featured

9:44am EDT July 22, 2002
Depressed about the flu

Experiencing an illness, such as the flu, causes psychological stress that can make people feel mildly depressed. It can also trigger depression in those who are prone to it.

“If someone is already depressed, that person is less likely to take care of themselves, such as getting a flu vaccine,” said Dr. Toby Goldsmith, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida. “Like any stress, the stress associated with being ill, such as missing work, may trigger depression in someone who is prone to depression.”

Goldsmith said a study shows those who are chronically stressed do not respond to the flu vaccine as well as others, and may be more vulnerable to the flu.

Warning signs can indicate if you are heading down a slippery slope toward being overstressed and include not sleeping well, fatigue and avoiding your usual day-to-day activities, such as watching television and eating.

If you are not back to your normal routine one month after having the flu, Goldsmith recommends talking with your physician to make sure something else might not be causing your symptoms. Source:

Stress kills

A recent study by Canadian scientists showed that highly stressed heart patients did not respond as well as others to medication for angina and chest pain. The American Heart Association says patients with heart failure should take steps to reduce and manage stress to reduce strain on their hearts.

Of stress management in general, though, the American Heart Association (AHA) says that “the available data do not yet support specific recommendations for its use as a proven [prevention or treatment] for heart disease.”

How you cope with stressful situations may make a difference, especially if you habitually react to stress in ways that feed physically harmful emotions such as chronic hostility. Stress management is not about avoiding stress but, rather, learning to manage its recurring effects.

Everyone who drives gets cut off in traffic now and then and gets a burst of adrenaline produced by fear or anger. Some people can quickly relax and return to a normal physical state. Others stew about the incident, and make things worse by discussing it with others who share their hostility and feed it with stories of their own.

In heart failure, the heart muscle is weakened and the patient needs to take care not to make it work harder than necessary. It’s important to reduce physical symptoms of stress — a pounding heart and heavy breathing — as much as possible. Though avoiding all stress may be impossible, you may be able to adjust your activities to avoid stress triggers such as rush-hour traffic or long hours at work. Source:

Smokers die

While cigarette smoking has been well established as a major cause of heart disease and stroke, some studies have suggested that its harmful effects are muted in smokers with low cholesterol levels.

Now, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that cigarette smoking significantly increases the risk of these diseases — even in low-cholesterol populations.

Look in the bottom drawer

Don’t skip meals. Eat a variety of foods every four or five hours. Keep snacks such as power bars, trail mix or dried fruits handy to fill in when time doesn’t permit a real meal.

Breathing uneasy

For some people, asthma is a minor annoyance — just a cough or two after they run. For others, it’s a life-threatening condition they live with every day. The number of cases is on the rise — more than 17 million people in the U.S. have the disease, an increase of more than 75 percent since 1980. As the number of patients has risen, so have the larger consequences of the disease.

Today, asthma is one of the top reasons for hospitalization of children, causing kids to miss more than 10 million school days a year and adults to miss 3 million days at work. It is responsible for more than 10 million doctor visits a year and will be responsible for more than 5,600 deaths this year, more than twice as many as 20 years ago.

Smoke is not a nutrient

Secondhand smoke, also called passive smoking, can have terrible effects on kids. Children who are exposed to smoke have more ear infections, asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and a respiratory virus called RSV than children of nonsmokers. Children exposed to smoke have lower lung capacity and slower lung development than unexposed children, says Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

Over the long term, these kids are at increased risk of developing lung cancer and other conditions associated with smoking and stand a much greater chance of becoming smokers themselves.

Many parents may be unwilling or unable to quit smoking. But if they understand the dangers to their child, they may at least be willing to stop smoking around their children and inside the home.

The piercing truth

The American Dental Association doesn’t sugarcoat its opposition to oral piercing, which it deems a public health hazard. In fact, oral piercing would be obsolete if the decision rested solely in the hands of the ADA, according to Dr. Gary C. Armitage, a dentist and chairman of the ADA’s Council on Scientific Affairs.

That the topic had a place on the agenda of the group’s 139th annual session, held recently in pierce-happy San Francisco, says a mouthful about the widespread popularity of the practice, even among folks who floss every day. Oral piercing can result in a number of adverse oral and systemic conditions, according to the ADA.

Common symptoms after piercing include pain, swelling, infection, increased salivary flow and gum injury. In addition to the risk of infection, which is especially high due to the vast amounts of bacteria in the mouth, problems include airway obstruction after swallowing jewelry, prolonged bleeding, chipped or cracked teeth after biting jewelry, scar tissue, speech impediment and interference with X-rays.

The ADA joins other venerable medical institutions and organizations that have seen fit to address a wide range of concerns about puncturing body parts, including — but by no means limited to — ears, eyes, mouths and noses, as well as necks, nipples, navels and sundry genitalia.

The American Academy of Dermatology has taken a position against all forms of body piercing with one exception: the ear lobe. Skin specialists cited nickel allergies, cyst formations, chronic local infections and granulation tissue (fleshy bumps that form during the healing process of some wounds) as reasons not to pierce.

The ear lobe has been singled out because it's made of fibro-fatty tissue and has a good blood supply, which is crucial in case infection sets in, says Dr. Ronald Wheeland, a Santa Fe dermatologist. The piercing sites deemed especially problematic by the academy involve cartilage which, once infected, can whither and shrink because of a paltry blood supply, and complex tissue structures such as the nipples, which are more than simple skin and fatty layers.

The uncomplicated navel, although it has no ducts like the nipple or cartilage like the nose, has not received the same tacit approval from the academy as the ear lobe. However, individual doctors seem not to be as concerned about piercing the umbilicus as they are about other body parts.

As a precaution against the transmission of blood-borne diseases, the U.S. and Canadian Red Cross won’t accept blood donations from anyone who has had a body piercing or tattoo within a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have deemed nonsterile piercing a serious health risk.

Although HIV transmission is a theoretical possibility — the virus that causes AIDS dies at room temperature — hepatitis is the real worry. Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted in as little as 0.00004 milliliter of blood and can survive on blood-contaminated surfaces, such as instruments and doorknobs.

Cancer or clueless?

An estimated 4 to 6 percent of a doctor’s patients are considered hypochondriacs, says Dr. Brian Fallon, an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York and co-author of “Phantom Illness: Shattering the Myths of Hypochondria.”

For them, a headache is not caused by stress, but a brain tumor. Fatigue is not attributable to a poor night’s sleep, but AIDS. In a desperate quest to reassure themselves, they may visit doctor after doctor. Even after tests rule out a particular disease, they feel little relief.

The new wonder drug.

A recent study suggests that vitamin C may actually help people with hypertension, or high blood pressure.

A report in a recent issue of the Lancet, an international medical journal published in Britain, presents the results of a small trial of vitamin C as a treatment for high blood pressure. Researchers from the Boston University Medical School and Oregon State University studied the effect of daily 500-milligram doses of vitamin C on the blood pressure of 39 people with high blood pressure.

The study subjects included 20 women and 19 men who were approximately 48 years old. At the beginning of treatment, their systolic blood pressure, measured when the heart contracts to pump blood, averaged 155 millimeters of mercury. Their diastolic pressure, measured between heart contractions, was about 87 millimeters of mercury. A person is considered hypertensive if his or her systolic pressure is greater than 140 millimeters and diastolic pressure is greater than 90 millimeters.

Patients were randomly assigned to receive either the daily dose of vitamin C or a placebo. Neither the researchers nor the subjects knew which pills were given to which patient.

Subjects took the pills for one month, after which their blood pressure and vitamin C blood levels were measured. As expected, vitamin C supplementation significantly increased the vitamin’s blood levels. In addition, there was a significant decrease of 13 millimeters of mercury in the systolic pressure of subjects taking vitamin C. Those who received vitamin C also had a small decrease in their diastolic blood pressure, but this decrease was not statistically significant. The greater the change in the blood level of vitamin C, the greater the decrease in blood pressure.

How about a friendly wager?

The following signs and symptoms indicate compulsive gambling:

  • increasing the frequency and the amount of money gambled;

  • spending the majority of free time thinking about gambling;

  • spending an excessive amount of time gambling at the expense of personal or family time;

  • being preoccupied with gambling or with obtaining money with which to gamble;

  • feeling a sense of euphoria, an aroused sense of action or a high from gambling;

  • continuing to gamble despite negative consequences such as large losses, or work or family problems;

  • gambling as a means to cope with uncomfortable feelings;

  • “chasing,” or the urgent need to keep gambling, often with larger bets or greater risks to make up for losses;

  • borrowing money to gamble, taking out secret loans or maximizing credit cards;

  • bragging about wins but not talking about losses;

  • frequent mood swings — higher when winning, lower when losing;

  • gambling for longer periods of time with more money than originally planned;

  • lying or secretive behavior to cover up extent of gambling. Source: