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Cracking the cough code

Updated October 13, 2020

Recognize cough symptoms so you know when to seek treatment.


 Image: © Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images

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.

Wet 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

Updated February 15, 2021

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

Updated September 1, 2018

On call


 Image: © Juanmonino/Getty Images

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?

Updated August 1, 2018

Ask the doctor


 Image: © metamorworks/Getty Images

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

Updated July 1, 2018

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.

What is a leaky gut?

Updated June 13, 2018
In recent years, scientists have discovered that the inner lining of the intestine can become leaky, and allow toxins from microbes (and, sometimes, the microbes themselves) to get into the bloodstream. This can cause inflammation.

How can I treat stubborn hiccups?

Updated June 1, 2018

Ask the doctor


 Image: © colorcocktail/Getty Images

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?

Updated March 30, 2021

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

Updated February 15, 2021

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?

Updated October 13, 2020

Ask the doctor


 Image: © didecs/Getty Images

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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