Is it hard to decide about total knee replacement? Totally!

Robert Shmerling, M.D.
Robert Shmerling, M.D., Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

If arthritis in your knee means you can’t do everything you want, whether that’s walking the dog or playing a game of tennis, you may be considering a knee replacement. But are the benefits “as advertised”? A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that they may be, but it’s more important to weigh the risks and benefits with your personal preferences in mind.

New mammography guidelines call for starting later and screening less often

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

The age at which women should start having screening mammograms, and how often, has been controversial for some time. Reputable national organizations have differed in their recommendations. Accumulating data suggest that for women under 45, screening mammograms may bring more harm than good. As a result, the American Cancer Society has radically shifted its screening guidelines for women in their early 40s at an average risk for breast cancer.

Experts say no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many women think an occasional drink during pregnancy poses no harm, but a recent report suggests that no amount of alcohol is safe for the developing fetus. Alcohol affects the development of many organs, most notably the brain. While fetal alcohol syndrome, the most severe form of alcohol-induced damage, is unlikely to result from an occasional drink, researchers are finding that smaller amounts of alcohol can still have a negative effect. For that reason, no alcohol at all is safest when you’re pregnant or plan to conceive. If you’d like help cutting back on alcohol, don’t be embarrassed to talk with your doctor about it—she or he can help.

Stress-busting mind-body medicine reduces need for health care

Daniel Pendick
Daniel Pendick, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Anyone can develop better emotional and psychological resilience through practices such as rhythmic breathing, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, or prayer. These practices not only improve mental health but have real physiological benefits. A recent study found that people who completed a program designed to help bolster resilience actually used fewer health care services compared with those who didn’t take the program, although more studies are needed to know whether such programs could help ease the burdens on the health care system.

Heads up, parents: New study with important information about the online life of teens

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

If you’re the parent of a teenager, how much do you know about the online life of your child? Probably not as much as you think you do. A recent study examined the social media lives of eighth graders from across the country. Results revealed unexpected habits, for example, kids spent more time watching and reading what others did online rather than engaging in social media. What’s more, many parents underestimate the negative emotions and problematic behavior teenagers experience as a result of social media and life online.

Harmful effects of supplements can send you to the emergency department

Susan Farrell, MD
Susan Farrell, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people take vitamins, supplements, and complementary nutritional products in an attempt to optimize health or help prevent disease. Like prescription drugs, these products can have adverse effects, some of which prompt people to seek emergency care. It is important to be a wise consumer if you choose to use these products. An important part of that is making sure your doctors knows exactly what vitamins, supplements, and nutritional products you take.

Can depression worsen RA symptoms or make treatment less effective?

Bonnie Bermas, MD
Bonnie Bermas, MD, Contributing Editor

Depression is fairly common among people suffering with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Recent research suggests that depression may worsen RA symptoms and even make medications less effective. To date, the studies that indicate a connection between the severity of RA symptoms and depression have not been conclusive, so more research is needed. In the meantime, if you have RA and notice signs of depression, be sure to talk with your doctor.

First, do no harm

Robert Shmerling, M.D.
Robert Shmerling, M.D., Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

It’s a common belief that all physicians swear to uphold the Hippocratic Oath and its critical dictum, “first, do no harm.” In fact, the Hippocratic Oath doesn’t include this promise — and many fledgling doctors do not take this oath (or any oath). What’s more, “do no harm” isn’t always a realistic goal in the day-to-day practice of medicine. However, it is an important reminder that we need to learn more about the risks and benefits of any treatment, and to use this information wisely.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: When it’s more than just PMS

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) share physical symptoms, but the psychological and emotional symptoms of PMDD are much more severe. No woman should struggle with debilitating symptoms associated with her menstrual cycle. Carefully tracking symptoms and having a discussion with your doctor, as well as trying one of several medications available to treat these conditions, can pave the way to relief.

Kids and flu shots: Two common myths

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

“Last time I got the flu shot, it actually made me sick!” “My kids are perfectly healthy. They’ll be fine.” You’ve probably heard a version of these two before. These flu shot myths are so persistent that they prevent countless numbers of people from getting vaccinated each year. We’ve debunked these claims here to help you make your flu shot decision based on facts — not myths.