Archive for 2011

Peter Wehrwein

Medications most likely to put older Americans in the hospital

Some medications are well known for being risky, especially for older people. Certain antihistamines, barbiturates, muscle relaxants—take too much of them, or take them with certain other medications, and you can wind up in serious trouble (and possibly in the back of ambulance). But researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) […]

Peter Wehrwein

Yoga may help feet, ease migraine

If exercise is good medicine, then yoga is, too. Research published recently suggests that yoga can be a useful therapy for lower back pain. An article in the November 2011 Harvard Health Letter indicates that yoga may also be a good way to keep feet strong and flexible, and so prevent falls. It can also help people who suffer from migraines. In The Migraine Solution, which will be published in January by Harvard Health Publications and St. Martin’s Press, coauthor Paul B. Rizzoli, M.D., says that yoga can be a useful treatment for migraine because it is widely available, affordable, and very likely has benefits beyond migraine.

Patrick J. Skerrett

Avastin loses FDA approval for breast cancer

The FDA today revoked its 2008 approval of the drug Avastin to treat breast cancer, concluding that the drug does little to help women with breast cancer while putting them at risk for potentially life-threatening side effects. Avastin will remain on the market (and so be potentially available to women with breast cancer) because it has also been approved to treat other types of cancer.

Howard LeWine, M.D.

Whole-body vibration doesn’t slow bone loss

Good vibrations may work for dancing on the beach or for romance, but they don’t seem to do much to strengthen bones. Results of a clinical trial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that older women who stood on a vibrating platform for 20 minutes a day experienced just as much bone loss over the course of the year-long trial as women who didn’t use the platform.

Carolyn Schatz

The dangers of hospital delirium in older people

Many older people develop delirium when they are hospitalized. Delirium is a sudden change in mental status characterized by confusion, disorientation, altered states of consciousness (from hyperalert to unrousable), an inability to focus, and sometimes hallucinations. Hospital delirium is especially common among older people who’ve had surgeries such as hip replacement or heart surgery, or those who are in intensive care. Inflammation, infection, and medications can trigger hospital delirium as can potentially disorienting changes common to hospital stays, including sleep interruptions, unfamiliar surroundings, disruption of usual routines, separation from family and pets, and being without eyeglasses or dentures. Although delirium often recedes, it may have long-lasting aftereffects, including premature death and poorer outcomes, such as dementia and institutionalization.

Anthony Komaroff, M.D.

Three reports to help with holiday health and emotional challenges

With Veterans Day and Halloween behind us, we are moving full steam ahead to the holidays, the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day (or Super Bowl Sunday, depending on your perspective). The holidays can be a wonderful time, full of friends, family, and fun. But they can also generate pressures and situations that undermine health. To help you enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season, Harvard Health Publications is offering three Special Health Reports that focus on common holiday challenges: depression, overuse of alcohol, and healthy eating.

Patrick J. Skerrett

Diabetic neuropathy—the agony of da feet

More than half of people who live with diabetes eventually develop diabetic neuropathy, or damage to nerves. It can range from merely aggravating to disabling or even life threatening. The first nerves to be affected tend to those in the toes and feet. Diabetic neuropathy can be felt as a tingling in the toes and feet, a constant burning feeling in the feet, sharp pain that may be worse at night, or extreme sensitivity to touch. In some people, it robs the feet of their ability to sense pain. So far, there isn’t a cure for diabetic neuropathy. Controlling blood sugar is the most important step to preventing or managing it. Controlling blood pressure, not smoking, and staying active also help. People with diabetes should have a doctor examine their feet at least once a year, and should check their feet every day or so.

Patrick J. Skerrett

Honor a veteran; understand PTSD

One of the challenges faced by many servicemen and servicewomen returning from war is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This a lasting and exaggerated reaction to a terrifying or life-threatening event. It makes a person feel like he or she is living through the event over and over again. PTSD shows itself in three main ways: re-experiencing, avoidance, and arousal. Traumatic events can create memories that are stronger, more vivid, and more easily recalled than normal events. These haunting memories activate brain circuits that are responsible for instantly responding to potentially life-threatening situations. Good treatments are available for PTSD. A type of talk therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy appears to be the most effective. Antidepressants and other medications can also help.

Peter Wehrwein

Propofol: the drug that killed Michael Jackson

The manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, focused a lot of attention on a powerful anesthetic agent called propofol. Propofol is sometimes called the “milk of anesthesia” because it comes in a white, oily solution. Propofol is used as an induction agent—the drug that causes loss of consciousness— for general anesthesia in major surgery. Propofol is also a very good anesthetic for milder sedation used for outpatient surgery because it puts people in a semi-conscious, drowsy state. It starts acting quickly, but also wears off quickly. Like many sedating anesthetics, propofol lowers blood pressure and suppresses breathing, so the heart function and breathing of patients need to be constantly monitored. With a lot of propofol around, opportunities exist for abuse, with possibly fatal consequences.

Kay Cahill Allison

Managing fluids is one step toward better bladder control

As many as 32 million American women and men have some degree of incontinence—the unintended loss of urine or feces that is significant enough to make it difficult to do ordinary activities without frequent trips to the restroom. The most common causes of incontinence are childbirth and aging in women; prostate disorders and their treatment in men. Treatments include exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, fluid management, medications, and surgery. For people with urinary incontinence, fluid management is an easy place to start, explains Better Bladder and Bowel Control, a new Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. This involves drinking only when you are thirsty, limiting your fluid intake from all sources to six to eight 8-ounce cups of fluid per day from all sources, and minimizing caffeinated and carbonated drinks, as well as alcohol.