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.

Is it ADHD—or Autism?

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

Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism can resemble each other. In fact, it can be difficult to tell the two conditions apart, which can lead to delays in the correct diagnosis — and therefore missed opportunities for treatment. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, ask your pediatrician about testing for autism as well. The earlier a child with autism receives treatment, the better the outcome he or she will have.

The problem with prescription painkillers

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Opioids are effective pain relievers. But sometimes people can develop a tolerance to these drugs, requiring increasingly higher doses of medication to achieve the same pain relief. And physical dependence — withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped — is also common. The increased availability of these drugs has put many people at risk for addiction, overdose, and even death.

A checkup for the checkup: Do you really need a yearly physical?

Amy Ship, MD
Amy Ship, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people believe the annual physical is the cornerstone of preventive care and crucial to staying healthy. While it can be comforting to have your doctor check you over once a year, research suggests that a yearly checkup doesn’t actually help people stay healthier or live longer. But a shift away from regular exams doesn’t have to weaken your relationship with your doctor or leave gaps in preventive care. A shift in how primary care doctors take care of patients, and in how patients interact with their physicians, can keep the benefits of the annual checkup intact in other ways.

Why many generic drugs are becoming so expensive

Ameet Sarpatwari, JD, PhD
Ameet Sarpatwari, JD, PhD, Contributing Editor

Generic drugs used to be a reliable lower-cost alternative to many brand-name drugs. But thanks to a combination of market forces, the cost of many generics is rising quickly — and steeply. This trend will increase the burden of health care costs for insurers, governments, and individuals. Find out why this is happening, as well as what you can do to help sidestep these costs and advocate for policies that can stem this tide.

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.