Harvard Health Blog

Read posts from experts at Harvard Health Publishing covering a variety of health topics and perspectives on medical news.


Sudden death in young athletes—can it be prevented?

In a seven-day span, three high-school athletes died while pursuing their sports. An epidemic? No. Approximately 100 youth, high school, and college athletes die each year, many from a cardiovascular problem. The deaths renewed a hot debate among parents, coaches, and physicians: should the pre-sports checkup for competitive athletes include an electrocardiogram (ECG)?

Potassium iodide pills and prevention of thyroid cancer from Japanese nuclear power plant

Japanese officials are preparing to distribute potassium iodide pills to people living near the nuclear power plants crippled by last week’s earthquake. Harvard Health Letter editor Peter Wehrwein explains what these pills do and who needs them.

Thyroid cancer a hazard from radioactive iodine emitted by Japan’s failing nuclear power plants

The steam emitted by Japan’s failing nuclear reactors contains radioactive iodine-131. People living near the reactors can get substantial doses of iodine-131 by breathing the vapor from the reactors or ingesting iodine-131 from food or water. It accumulates in the thyroid gland, and significantly increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer.

How to do CPR when the heart suddenly stops: Press hard, press fast, don’t stop

When a fellow shopper suddenly collapsed in the grocery store, Harvard Health editor Ann MacDonald couldn’t exactly remember how to do CPR, even though she took a class some years ago. She knows now how to help when someone is having a sudden cardiac arrest. Her post offers basic instruction and resources for getting prepared.

Bridge the intention-behavior gap to lose weight and keep it off

The hardest part of trying to lose weight is the “intention-behavior gap.” That’s the disconnect between knowing what you need to do and actually doing it. A behavior chain can help you bridge the gap. This tool can help you recognize how a series of seemingly minor events can lead to an unfavorable outcome, such as overeating, and how to break the links.

Sugary soda and juice can boost blood pressure, weight

A large new study links drinking sugar-sweetened sodas and juices with higher blood pressure and extra pounds. The results are in line with earlier studies, and with some clinical trials, showing that daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages isn’t so good for the body.

Teens who smoke pot at risk for later schizophrenia, psychosis

Teenagers and young adults who use marijuana may be messing with their heads in ways they don’t intend. Ongoing research shows a possible link between early use of marijuana and later development of psychosis or schizophrenia.

Living with chronic headache: A personal migraine story

Headaches that appear every day can take over your life. A former editor at Harvard Health Publishing, who preferred to go by CJ for this post, tells what it’s like to live with migraine every day and offers tips for coping with the worst.

If pulmonary embolism can strike Serena Williams, it can ace anyone

If someone who stays fit for a living, like tennis star Serena Williams, can develop a blood clot in her lungs, anyone can. Called pulmonary embolism, this potentially deadly condition affects up to 600,000 Americans each year. Knowing the warning signs can help you get treatment right away.

Shingles can strike twice. Will the shingles vaccine help?

Getting the viral infection known as shingles doesn’t give everyone life-long immunity from it. Shingles can strike twice, or rarely, even a third time. A shingles vaccine can reduce the chances of a recurrence.

Oscar or not, The King’s Speech teaches about stuttering

The King’s Speech has won almost universal praise for its portrayal of reluctant monarch George VI’s stuttering. Harvard Health Letter editor Peter Wehrwein takes you behind the scenes with Alex Johnson, an expert in speech and stuttering at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston; Caroline Bowen, an Australian speech-language therapist; and a few other scattered sources.

When it comes to fiber, cereal fiber may be your best choice

Cereal fiber–from whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, barley and other whole grains–seems to offer more protection against heart disease and other chronic conditions than fiber from fruits and vegetables. The benefit isn’t necessarily from the fiber alone, but the natural package of nutrients that comes with the fiber. Processed foods, which are often stripped of their fiber and nutrients and then “fortified” in the manufacturing process, don’t measure up.

Cell phone use stimulates brain activity

An elegant new study showing that a cell phone can stimulate brain activity is certain to heat up the debate about whether or not cell phone use is linked to cancer. It’s an important signal that it’s high time scientists take a harder look at how the energy radiated by a cell phone, a mobile phone, or any other energy-emitting device we hold next to our heads affects the brain.

Zinc for the common cold? Not for me

The latest hubbub about taking zinc to shorten a cold is media hype at its finest. The review that sparked the media storm on zinc and colds says there’s a lot more to be done before recommending taking zinc for the common cold. The negative side effects of zinc are also worth considering.

Deep brain stimulation: Experts raise alarms about aggressive marketing

Deep brain stimulation, an experimental treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), is being misused, say prominent neuroscientists and ethicists in a hard-hitting paper in the journal Health Affairs. Their concerns echo cautions reported last year in the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

What to do when health problems or medical treatments thwart your love life

Health problems, or treatments for them, sometimes thwart sexual desire and sexual function. There may not be a quick fix for health-related sexual problems, but there are things you can do to enjoy your love life while taking care of the rest of your health.

Heart disease forecast: Gloomy, with boom time ahead

The American Heart Association is predicting a big increase in cardiovascular disease over the next 20 years, fueled largely by the aging of baby boomers. Greater attention to heart-healthy living among boomers, their children, and grandchildren, could prove the AHA wrong.

Football and concussions: Old school, new school, and a conversation with Jerry Kramer

Tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m., tens of millions of television sets will be turned on as Americans sit down and participate in that unofficial national holiday called “watching the Super Bowl.” For many, it’s an excuse to see funny ads and the half-time show and to eat (how many of those spanking new Dietary Guidelines will be broken?), drink, and socialize. But […]

Use your brain to avoid weight gain—by fighting portion inflation

The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend portion control as a way to maintain or lose weight. The inflation of portion sizes makes that difficult. But you can use your brain to help you control portions and eat less.

New dietary guidelines offer little new guidance

The latest iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans focuses on weight and lowers the recommended salt intake for African Americans, people with diabetes, and others. Beyond that, the guidelines don’t offer much that is new. And what’s in there is often spoiled by vague language.

Feeling S.A.D.? Lighten up if it’s seasonal affective disorder

This picture shows the view from my office window in Boston: dull, dreary, and depressing — at least on overcast days like today. Lack of light is one of the reasons that people feel mentally foggy. One of the bloggers I follow, Rachel Zimmerman of WBUR’s CommonHealth blog, recently wrote that she’s been drinking three […]

End-of-life planning makes it easier to say goodbye

Saying goodbye as the end of life approaches can be difficult, even for someone like writer Joyce Carol Oates. Her recent essay in The New Yorker about the impending death of her husband highlights the need for each of us to think about death and dying — and discuss them with loved ones — long before they become a likelihood.

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