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.

Holiday travels: Keeping kids safe and healthy

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

At this time of year, travel brings the opportunity to enjoy the company of family and friends or perhaps splurge on a “destination holiday.” If you’re planning to travel with children, a little preparation can go a long way toward making your trip memorable for all the right reasons. We’ve included our favorite tips for planning a trip with your children.

The “right” goal when managing pain

Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D.
Robert R. Edwards, Ph.D., Contributing Editor

When it comes to pain management, focusing only on reducing the intensity of pain may lead to treatments that do as much harm as good. Ideally, pain-management plans should be tailored to each patient and include a range of therapies that not only reduce pain but also help improve pain-related quality-of-life problems.

Can computer-guided cognitive behavioral therapy improve depression treatment?

James Cartreine, PhD
James Cartreine, PhD, Contributing Editor

In a recent study, online cognitive behavioral therapy programs didn’t appear to improve depression any more than standard primary care for depression. But that study was conducted in the United Kingdom, where primary care for depression includes a much wider variety of resources than are typically available in America. Even though these online programs have proven to be helpful, simply making them available isn’t sufficient —they have to be engaging and rewarding enough that people will be motivated to stick with them.

Medicare Advantage: When insurance companies make house calls

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

Home visits from insurance companies reimbursed by Medicare are intended to help ensure that patients who are frail or have chronic health conditions can still get coverage. However, these visits may also contribute to higher health care costs. Before you welcome your health plan’s clinician into your home, here’s what you should know.

Are protein bars really just candy bars in disguise?

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

Eating on the go can be a challenge, so many of us turn to protein meal-replacement bars, or even to the ever-popular candy bar. While the protein bars may be a little better for you in terms of the nutrients they contain, they probably do not offer any significant health benefits, and the occasional candy bar won’t hurt provided you eat a balanced diet most of the time.

Only the overworked die young

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Multiple studies have found a link between working long hours and having a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. The reasons why aren’t entirely clear, but may be related to chronically elevated levels of stress hormones, as well as lifestyle factors such as little exercise, poor eating habits, and a greater use of alcohol and tobacco among those who work the longest. But you can take steps to reduce the effects of long work hours on your health.

Imaging tests: Using them wisely

Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH
Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans are among the many advanced imaging options available to doctors and patients today. Although these tests have revolutionized medical care, they also come at a cost. But not only are these tests expensive — many of them expose patients to radiation, and all of them can reveal potential problems that turn out to be harmless, but require follow-up tests to be sure. Rather than have insurance companies act as gatekeeper, it may be more effective to have clinicians consult with imaging experts when deciding on which, if any, tests are necessary.

Teens with upbeat friends may have better emotional health

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

Generations of parents have worried about their kids having friends who are a “bad influence.” But what about friends who are a good influence? Recent research suggests that teens whose friends are emotionally healthy are less likely to suffer from depression, and that such friends can help improve the mood of teens who show signs of depression. This study is one of several in an emerging area of research on the relationship between our social networks and our health and well-being.

Reversing the effects of the new anti-clotting drugs

Samuel Z. Goldhaber, MD
Samuel Z. Goldhaber, MD, Contibuting Editor

Anticoagulants — drugs that reduce the blood’s ability to clot — are used to treat clots in the lungs and legs and to prevent strokes in people with the heart rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation. The anticoagulant warfarin has been used for these purposes for many years. But it is difficult and time-consuming to find the optimal warfarin dose, and it carries a risk of difficult-to-control bleeding. Newer anticoagulants offer an easier and equally effective way to control the blood’s clotting ability, but until recently, there was no way to reverse the effects of these drugs if necessary. The approval of new antidotes to these newer anticoagulants will enable doctors to prescribe these drugs with increased confidence.

Exercise: You may need less than you think

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Getting regular physical activity is one of the most important things one can do to protect and promote health, yet many people say they don’t have time to exercise. A recent study has confirmed that even a little exercise — just 8 to 15 minutes a day — reduced the risk of death. When it comes to exercise, some is always better than none.