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Digestive Health Archive
Cracking the cough code
Recognize cough symptoms so you know when to seek treatment.
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Dry cough, wet cough, a cough that lingers on — they're all signs of one or more underlying conditions. What does each type of cough indicate, and how do doctors discern the difference? It depends on the type and duration of the cough.
A wet, productive cough produces sputum (phlegm or mucus from the lungs or sinuses). The cough sounds soupy and may come with a wheezing or rattling sound and tightness in your chest.
3 surprising risks of poor posture
Slouching promotes heartburn, incontinence, and more.
America, we have a posture problem. Whether it's the result of sitting at a desk all day, looking down at a smartphone, or lounging on a couch, poor posture is dogging people of all ages. And health experts are worried. "It's a common and important health problem among Americans, and it can lead to neck pain, back problems, and other aggravating conditions," says Meghan Markowski, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Other posture-related problems
While back and neck conditions top the list of potential posture woes, there are many others — such as poor balance, headaches, and breathing difficulties. "Researchers are also looking into whether posture affects mood, sleep, fatigue, and jaw alignment," Markowski says.
The best ways to manage heartburn
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Q. I have about three episodes of heartburn per month and it often lasts all day. What do you suggest?
A. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid moving up and out of the stomach and into the lower part of the esophagus. Reducing the overall acidity in the stomach protects the esophagus from irritation when the stomach contents back up (reflux).
Are gut bacteria linked to heart health?
Ask the doctor
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Q. I heard on TV that bacteria in a person's gut might cause heart disease. How could that possibly be true?
A. I can understand your skepticism, and I shared it until recently. We've known for nearly two centuries that every human being carries various microbes (bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms) on us and inside us. However, we've long thought they were just freeloaders, taking advantage of the warmth and nutrients our body provided them, not having any effect on our health.
Drinking alcohol may increase levels of harmful mouth bacteria
Research we're watching
There's a lot of buzz these days about how gut bacteria affect your health, but those might not be the only body microbes that matter. The population of bacteria in your mouth may also play a role in your risk of various diseases. And researchers recently found that alcohol consumption could influence your oral bacteria.
A study published online April 23 by Microbiome found that people who had one or more alcoholic drinks a day had more harmful bacteria in their mouths than nondrinkers. The researchers found types of bacteria that have been linked to gum disease, cancer, and heart disease.
How can I treat stubborn hiccups?
Ask the doctor
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Q. Home remedies aren't stopping my hiccups. Is there something my doctor can prescribe to help?
A. In the May 2018 issue, I answered a question about hiccups, saying they are common but typically short-lived, and that simple home remedies often can end them. However, I ran out of space to say something about treatments for the very unusual cases of hiccups that don't respond to simple treatments.
Healthy gut, healthy heart?
How the trillions of bacteria in your intestinal tract play a role in your cardiovascular health.
Image: © KarpenkovDenis/Getty Images
If you ask most medical experts about the hottest trends in health research, chances are they'll mention the microbiome. The term refers to the trillions of microbes living inside our bodies, known as the human microbiota. The vast majority of these bacteria, viruses, and fungi dwell deep within our intestines. These microbes help with digestion, make certain nutrients, and release substances that have wide-ranging health effects.
"There's a complex interplay between the microbes in our intestines and most of the systems in our bodies, including the vascular, nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. All of these relationships are highly relevant to cardiovascular health," says Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Herbal remedies for heartburn
Some people find herbs and other natural remedies to be helpful in treating heartburn symptoms. Here are some examples:
Chamomile. A cup of chamomile tea may have a soothing effect on the digestive tract. If you have a ragweed allergy, don't use chamomile.
What causes hiccups?
Ask the doctor
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Q. Why do I get hiccups, and what can I do about them? I know they're not serious, but they sure are aggravating.
A. Hiccups are one of those minor maladies of man that they don't teach you about in medical school. But they can affect a person's life — particularly when they start at the wrong time. The first time I realized this was when hiccups started just as I was in the middle of giving a lecture to medical students. You want your lectures to be memorable, and this one may have been — not for what I said, but for the way it came out of my mouth.
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