Harvard Health Blog

Join the discussion with experts from Harvard Health Publications and others like you on a variety of health topics, medical news and views.

When a nasty stomach virus strikes…

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

When one person in your household catches a stomach bug, it seems the rest of the household becomes sick almost instantly. This winter has been particularly difficult, which makes it all the more useful to know more: Why does this bug spread so quickly? And how do I prevent it?

When are self-help programs “helpful”?

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

There is an explosion of books, tapes, podcasts, programs, and apps that claim to provide self-help. If you are considering any sort of self-help program, making the effort to evaluate its merits (underlying research, if any; reputation and qualifications of its source; whether or not the program is a good match for your needs) will increase the odds you find something appropriate and effective.

Attention shoppers: Be wary of health claims on food packaging

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

The term “healthy” has evolved greatly in the quarter century it has been used in the food industry. Despite recent updates in food labeling, which aim to create more well-informed consumers, inaccuracies remain in packaged foods with “healthy” claims. A closer look at nutrition data on packages can help you ensure you’re getting what you pay for.

What parents need to know about baby monitoring apps

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

Smartphone apps claim to help parents monitor their babies, but there is no evidence that using any app will help keep babies safer. More importantly, it’s vital for new parents need to spend time observing their babies in person, in order to learn their range of behaviors. Technology can definitely help make life safer and better. But it’s important to be really thoughtful and careful in how we choose and use technology when it comes to the health and safety of our children.

Taking medications correctly requires clear communication

David Scales, MPhil, MD, PhD

Taking medications incorrectly means that patients don’t get the full benefit of the drugs and may experience unnecessary (or unnecessarily severe) side effects. The result can even cause a simple ailment to turn into a hospital stay. It’s essential that patients understand when to take their medications, and why they’re taking them in the first place. This understanding relies heavily on successful communication between patients and their doctors. Gaps, such as language barriers, can be bridged in a number of ways.

Personalized activity intelligence: A better way to track exercise?

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Small devices and smart phone apps that are designed to track fitness activities don’t necessarily provide the most accurate information. A recent Norwegian study, involving thousands of participants, has led researchers to develop a more precise method for measuring cardiovascular activity on electronic devices. Personalized Activity Intelligence, or PAI, is a formula that converts your heart rate to a number of points, based on your age, gender, resting heart rate, and maximum heart rate.

Does your doctor’s gender matter?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

A recent study involving over one million Medicare enrollees found that these older patients had more successful outcomes when under the care of a female physician verses a male physician. A thorough reading of the study seems to support that gender made the difference, but the takeaway is that it’s important to understand the differences between how women and men practice medicine and why these might be important. Most likely each gender has something to learn from the other.

What is prediabetes and why does it matter?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

Considering the range and severity of health problems caused by diabetes, the focus on treating prediabetes in order to prevent it from becoming diabetes is sensible, and a large study found that it is possible. A healthy diet and adequate physical activity can help most people side step this condition. For some, medication is also necessary.

Why medical experts say that teens should be allowed to make the abortion decision without telling their parents

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

The belief that teens should have the right to an abortion without parental knowledge or consent is supported by a group of medical associations, and is based primarily on concerns about safety and the medical consequences of requiring that parents be informed.

Let the sun shine: Mind your mental health this winter

Dominic Wu, MD
Dominic Wu, MD, Contributor

There are several ways to tackle the changes in mood and energy levels that can arise as the days get the shorter and the weather more dreary. A form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects many people during the winter months. It’s also important to take steps to mind your mental health during the winter months and to know when to seek the help of a medical professional.