Archive for August, 2013
The Harvard Health blog is taking an end-of-summer break. It will begin publishing again after Labor Day. Thanks to everyone who makes the blog possible, from our loyal readers and visitors from around the world to our contributors. See you in September!
When it comes to treating stroke, time is brain and every minute counts. That tenet was supported yet again by an international study showing that the sooner clot-busting treatment is begun—preferably within 90 minutes of the onset of stroke symptoms—the greater the chances of surviving a stroke without a disability. This finding makes it even more important to recognize the warning signs of stroke. Think FAST: Face (when the person smiles, does one side droop?), Arms (when the person lifts both arms, does one drift down?), Speech (is the person’s speech slurred or incomplete?), and Time (if one or more stroke signs are present, call 911 right away and get the person to the nearest hospital with an emergency department—better yet, to one with a stroke center).
Nearly a third of Americans will develop osteoarthritis of the knee before age 70. With no “cure” beside knee replacement on the horizon for this painful joint condition, relief often has to come from pain pills. Assistive devices such as wedge insoles are often prescribed as a less drastic, side effect-free treatment option. But do they really work? A review of research published today in JAMA indicates that these shoe inserts do little—if anything—to relieve arthritis pain. The findings echo new osteoarthritis treatment guidelines released by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) in May. Based on current research, the AAOS said it couldn’t recommend lateral wedge insoles for people with medial knee osteoarthritis.
The 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year are just the tip of the iceberg. According to a new CDC estimate, more than 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with the tick-borne disease each year. The new number was presented at the 2013 International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and Other Tick-Borne Diseases, being held in Boston. Although the disease has been diagnosed in almost every state, most cases reported to the CDC are in the Northeast and upper Midwest—96% of cases come from 13 states. The new estimate comes from a multi-pronged approach: gathering case reports from doctors, sifting through health insurance claims, analyzing data from clinical laboratories (which do the tests necessary to diagnose Lyme disease), and surveying the public for self-reported Lyme disease.
For some children, beginning kindergarten represents a scary transition. They wonder about making new friends and getting used to a new teacher—will they be able to find the bathroom, where will they eat snack, how will they fit in? There are several ways to help make the transition a smooth one. These include acknowledging the child’s fear as real and appropriate while offering reassurance, talking about the transition in a positive way, doing play therapy at home, visiting the school beforehand if possible, and reading to the child about starting kindergarten.
In many men diagnosed with prostate cancer, the cancer cells grow so slowly that they never break free of the gland, spread to distant sites, and pose a serious risk to health and longevity. Instead of embarking on immediate treatment, a growing number of men choose active surveillance, in which doctors monitor low-risk cancers closely and consider treatment only when the disease appears to make threatening moves toward growing and spreading. A new Harvard study shows that the aggressiveness of prostate cancer at diagnosis remains stable over time for most men. If confirmed, then prompt treatment can be reserved for the cancers most likely to pose a threat, while men with slow-growing, benign prostate cancer—which is unlikely to cause problems in a man’s lifetime—can reasonably choose active surveillance.
There are many reasons to keep your blood sugar under control: protecting your arteries and nerves are two of them. Here’s another biggie: preventing dementia, the loss of memory and thinking skills that afflicts millions of older Americans. A study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that even in people without diabetes, above normal blood sugar is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. The study does not prove that high blood sugar causes dementia, only that there is an association between the two. For that reason, don’t start trying to lower your blood sugar simply to preserve your thinking skills, cautions Dr. Nathan. There’s no evidence that strategy will work, although he says it should be studied. But it is still worth keeping an eye on your blood sugar. Excess blood sugar can lead to diabetes and a variety of other health problems, including heart, eye, kidney, and nerve disease.
As medical research and healthy living continues to extend life, the Pew Research Center asked more than 2,000 Americans if they would take advantage of medical treatments to slow the aging process and let them live to age 120. More than half (56%) said they would not, but 65% thought that other people would want it. The Pew survey did not ask why most adults would not want life extending treatment. Previous work has identified what people fear about getting too old. These include loss of independence, running out of money, not being able to live at home, pain, and more. But there are ways to minimize the problems that come with age. The strategies, like exercising and not smoking aren’t sexy, nor do they rely on medical breakthroughs. But they can maximize one’s “healthspan” as well as lifespan.
A new report suggests that skin cancer can sometimes hide in a tattoo. Writing in JAMA Dermatology, three German clinicians describe the case of a young man who wanted to remove large, multicolored tattoos on his arms and chest. During the removal process, his doctors discovered a suspicious mole inside the tattoo. It turned out to be cancerous—stage II melanoma. Tattoos may make it difficult to evaluate moles. Laser removal therapy is also problematic when moles are present. If you are considering getting a tattoo, either make sure it will be applied to skin that is free or moles or birthmarks, or have your doctor check any moles in the to-be-tattooed area beforehand. If you are planning to have a tattoo removed, check for moles within the tattoo. If you see any, ask your doctor or dermatologist to check them out before starting laser therapy.