Archive for November, 2016

Parents: How smart are you about antibiotics?

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

Antibiotics are essential medications and can save lives. But they should only be used when absolutely needed. As with any drug, antibiotics have risks as well as benefits. Side effects range from diarrhea to allergic reactions. Also, using antibiotics when they are not necessary can result in bacteria that cause infections that cannot be treated easily or effectively.

Online symptom checkers: You’ll still want to call a doctor when something’s wrong with you

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

Researchers compared the diagnostic accuracy of human doctors with various symptom-checking services available online, but online diagnostics won’t be replacing humans anytime soon. While the doctors weren’t perfect, they consistently did better than the computer programs. The study investigators suggest that eventually such programs might be able to help physicians to improve their diagnostic accuracy.

Hot soup in a hurry

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Making your own soup is easier than you may think, and it’s certainly healthier than buying prepared soup from a restaurant or market. prepared soups often have too much fat and salt; by making it yourself, you can load it up with healthy vegetables. Add protein such as lentils or beans, fish, or extra-lean beef, turkey, or chicken for a complete meal.

Caring for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

James Cartreine, PhD
James Cartreine, PhD, Contributing Editor

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience challenging physical and emotional problems. Those caring for loved ones affected by PTSD need to balance self-care, limits, and realistic expectations. While the symptoms of PTSD may never completely go away, there are effective treatments that can reduce the effects and improve the lives of sufferers and the ones who care for them.

Heart disease and brain health: Looking at the links

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

To keep your brain in tip top shape as you age, work to lower your risk for heart disease. Steps that can help protect both your heart and cognitive abilities include getting regular physical activity, quitting smoking, managing blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Teens who use flavored e-cigarettes more likely to start smoking

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

E-cigarette smoking among teens is on the rise, and teens are more likely to transition from smoking e-cigarettes to smoking traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes are marketed towards young people, emphasizing the need for dialogue between teens and the adults in their lives on the health risks surrounding this trend.

When a cough just won’t go away

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

There are a number of conditions that can cause a cough to linger for weeks or months. Doctors treating patients with a chronic cough should consider both the more likely and less common possibilities. When a cough persists after those possibilities have been ruled out or treated, new research suggests that irritated nerve ending in the “cough centers” of the airways could be behind a chronic cough.

There’s no sugar-coating it: All calories are not created equal

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Assistant Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

The view that calories are calories regardless of their source has been shown to be outdated. Foods with a low glycemic index are better because they tend to raise blood sugar more slowly, and they are also more likely to be healthier foods overall. By choosing the low-glycemic foods and thus the minimally processed foods, people can lose more weight, feel fuller longer, and remain healthier.

Water, water everywhere

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

It may be tempting to carry a water bottle everywhere you go so you can “stay hydrated.” Doctors may advise those taking certain medications or with certain health conditions, to drink more, but most people can get all the water their bodies need from the food they eat and by drinking water when thirsty.

Low levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) appear connected to many health risks, not just heart disease

Deepak Bhatt, MD, MPH

Low LDL cholesterol and high HDL cholesterol lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. That is what the studies have always shown us. But a new study suggests that low HDL itself may not be the risk factor for heart disease we thought it was. It could merely be a sign of an unhealthy lifestyle, or other health risk factors, that also contribute to heart disease. Trying to find medications to raise HDL cholesterol may not be as effective as encouraging people to adopt healthier habits.