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.

Anti-depressants for teens: A second look

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

Many parents of teens with depression worry that antidepressants could cause an increase in suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Previous research had suggested antidepressants are safe for teens. But recently, researchers have re-examined the original data and found antidepressants may not be as safe for teens as once thought. As always, whether to start an antidepressant depends heavily on your teen’s personal situation.

How is the Affordable Care Act doing?

Updates in Slow Medicine
Updates in Slow Medicine, Contributing Editors

A recent summary paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine outlines where the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has succeeded and where it has fallen short. Although health care is now more accessible and affordable than before, many still lack coverage, and the available plans have some drawbacks. Rather than expanding insurance coverage, it will take a culture shift in how we provide care to truly improve the health of our nation.

Taking new aim at cancer

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Last year, only months after announcing that he had an aggressive form of melanoma, former President Carter declared that he was cancer free — thanks at least in part to a recently approved immunotherapy drug. Immunotherapy is a type of targeted therapy that helps boost the body’s own immune response to cancer. It does so while sparing healthy cells, thus minimizing side effects.

Teens and medicines that cause birth defects: Do doctors drop the ball?

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

Doctors may prescribe medicines for teenage girls — for example for acne, depression, or migraines — that are known to cause birth defects. While most parents and doctors hope that these young women avoid pregnancy for many reasons, adults need to help adolescent girls understand the risks of the medications they take and have frank conversations about sex and birth control.

Retail health clinics: The pros and cons

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Retail health clinics are popping up everywhere, from drugstores and supermarkets to large retailers like Target and Walmart. Staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants, retail health clinics can be a great option, particularly if you’re younger and in generally good health. These clinics list their prices up-front and tend to be cheaper than a doctor’s visit. They’re convenient too: usually open extended hours, with no need for an appointment.

Where is best for birth: Hospital or home?

Jeffrey Ecker, MD
Jeffrey Ecker, MD, Contributing Editor

By the mid-20th century, most births took place in the hospital. But increasingly, some women are choosing to have their babies at home in an effort to avoid seemingly unnecessary interventions and find an alternative to hospital environments. We don’t have the best data to assess the safety of home birth. But a recent analysis offers insights that can help women make choices based on what they value the most.

Guns and your health

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people choose to own guns for sport or protection. But from a physician’s standpoint, guns create as many — or more — problems than they solve. Several studies have found that guns injure or kill far more people, often unintentionally, than they’re intended to protect.

Why your wheezing baby may need TLC, not medication

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

If your baby is sick with fever, cough, and wheezing, it’s natural to think he or she needs medication. But if the culprit is bronchiolitis — a bad cold that has settled into the lungs — the best treatment is usually no treatment at all. That’s because treatments like antibiotics don’t work against bronchiolitis, and can cause unwanted side effects. Of course, you should always check in with your doctor if you think your baby has bronchiolitis.

What happens when you faint?

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

About 1 in 3 people report at least one episode of fainting during their lifetime, so it’s surprising that we don’t see people fainting more often. Fainting is usually harmless, the body’s response to emotional or physical stress. But in some cases, fainting can indicate an underlying problem such as heart abnormalities or seizures. And even when the cause of fainting is not that serious, fainting that leads to a fall can cause injury.

C-section rates: Consider this when deciding where to have your baby

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

For years, there has been concern about the high rate of cesarean births — but just how many cesareans are too many? A recent study suggests that a cesarean rate of 19% is about right. The reasons for high cesarean rates may be related more to each hospital’s circumstances and processes than to other, more commonly cited reasons. If you’re concerned, find out the C-section rate at the hospital where you plan to deliver your baby.