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Harvard Health Letter: November 2013

Articles in this issue:

Caution: These are the most addictive pain meds

Most users of opioids for pain don't have a problem with them. However, using opioids longer than 30 days brings the risk of dependence. People at risk of becoming addicted to opioids are those who are likely to become addicted to another substance. Read More »

Is that rash shingles?

Shingles occurs in nerves, and the blisters arise near the affected nerves, making the skin especially sensitive. To combat pain, doctors may prescribe a medicine to kill the virus, as well as painkillers.

Getting out in front of mild cognitive impairment

Simple steps can help limit the impact of mild cognitive impairment. It’s important to stay consistent with routines and habits, such as placing car keys on a hook by the door. Another helpful strategy is to simplify choices and keep the most useful items in the home readily accessible. It’s also a good idea to use a GPS in the car, and maintain social connections by regularly scheduling activities with loved ones. Conversing with others, even when there’s momentary word loss, is vital to keeping language skills sharp.

Ask the doctor: Should I consider gene testing?

Alzheimer's runs in my family. Will it help to get gene testing for this disease? Read More »

Ask the doctor: What's the benefit of taking magnesium supplements?

A friend told me she takes magnesium pills every day. Does this improve your health?

Heart failure diagnosis: Tools for positive outcomes

The words “heart failure” can be frightening. The condition isn’t actually a failure of the heart, but a compromised ability to pump enough oxygenated blood throughout the body. It can be deadly if untreated. Take proactive steps to improve the quality of life and overall health of a person with heart failure. These include taking medicines as directed; getting regular exercise; watching sodium and fluid intake; eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins; tracking weight and any new symptoms daily; and not fixating on ejection fraction.

Boosting circulation with compression stockings

Compression stockings can help move blood up the legs to improve flow and prevent clotting and swelling. The stockings come in varying pressures—from strong to light—and in varying lengths—from knee-high to hip-high. The strongest stockings must be custom-fit and require a prescription. Lower-strength over-the-counter support and compression hose are available in pharmacies. The stockings may be used to reduce leg swelling if a person’s blood level is low, to reduce swelling from a blood clot deep in the leg veins, to prevent new clots from forming, and to treat chronic venous insufficiency.

Review your home with this anti-falling checklist

Falls are a leading cause of injury death among older Americans. Reducing the amount of trip hazards in the home can help prevent falls. Search each room in the home and eliminate or fix floor clutter, loose throw rugs and carpeting, broken floorboards, burned-out or missing light bulbs and lamps, and loose wires and cables. It’s also important to add grab bars and anti-slip mats in bathrooms, and rearrange furniture if it blocks any pathways.

A word about balance

Imbalance is a leading cause of falls. It occurs when the system that provides balance information to your brain breaks down. Input comes from five balance organs in each ear (three that detect rotational movements and two that detect linear movement), vision, muscles, and joints. Obesity, vision problems, peripheral neuropathy in people with diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, medications, multiple joint replacement, and inner ear problems can all cause imbalance. Addressing those issues, exercising, and getting physical therapy can help improve balance.

Quick fixes for your aching feet

Colder weather often brings foot problems to light because people again wear closed shoes instead of sandals. Common problems include fallen arches, pain in the back of the heel known as Achilles tendinitis, pinched nerves in the foot, ingrown toenails, and pain underneath the heel known as plantar fasciitis. When these conditions occur, it is best to get to a doctor as soon as possible, to keep it from getting worse. In many cases, there are quick fixes for each problem.

Must-haves from the produce aisle

Cooler weather outside may make people yearn for heartier fare at mealtime, but it’s important not to skimp on fruits and vegetables. Use produce that’s available in the autumn months. The top five choices recommended by one dietitian are apples, cranberries, carrots, cabbage, and butternut squash. They are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. These fruits and vegetables can be enjoyed on their own, or they can be added as a complement to a main dish.

News briefs: Get acclimated before activity in higher altitudes

It appears that older men can lower their risk of sudden fatal heart attack in high altitudes by sleeping the night before at an elevation similar to the one where they're going to get vigorous exercise.

News briefs: Don't look to insoles to solve your knee pain

Wedge insoles are placed in the shoe to prop up the outside of your foot. They are meant to reduce the load on the inner knee joint. However, there is evidence the insoles do little to relieve knee arthritis pain.

News briefs: How good are you at putting names and faces together?

Researchers may be able to screen for early dementia by asking people to put names to the faces of iconic celebrities and historical figures.

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You can get instant online access to all of the articles from the November 2013 issue of Harvard Health Letter for only $5.00.


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