Posts made in February 2017

Raising Awareness of Rare Diseases

Raising Awareness of Rare Diseases

Seven thousand may not seem like such a big number. But 30 million definitely is. According to the National Institute of Health, about 7,000 rare diseases exist, but they affect about 30 million Americans. Looking closer at the numbers, that means about 1 in 10 Americans face such a diagnosis. Rare Disease Day, the last Day of February each year, seeks to raise awareness for these diseases to propel more research and treatment options for patients.

What is a Rare Disease?

A rare disease, also called an orphan disease, means there are less than 200,000 diagnoses annually in the United States. These diseases can consist of any kind of disorder, syndrome, condition, or cancer. For cancer cases alone, about 50% of patients are battling a rare cancer.

Unfortunately, treatments for these diseases are also seemingly rare. Only 5% have treatments currently, with less than 500 FDA-approved treatments available. But there is still hope. In the past few years, cancer research has seen a facelift with huge undertakings to accelerate the pace and bring us closer to potential cures.

The Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 Initiative, for example, is an unprecedented collaboration spearheaded by Former Vice President Joe Biden. This project’s goal is bringing together pharmaceutical companies, academics, oncology researchers, governmental agencies and more to rapidly accelerate cancer research and treatment efforts. Though this project is focused on cancer specifically, other research projects like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are working toward changing how we treat and manage all diseases; they’re working towards better prevention and treatment to hopefully eliminate such suffering. For rare diseases like mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that typically sees about 3,000 diagnoses each year, research like this provides so much hope. Many rare disease patients face poor prognoses or a lot of uncertainty with how to approach treatment, so research is crucial.

Steps You Can Take

Rare diseases are notably very difficult to diagnose, and many patients face misdiagnosis for months. Since 80% of rare diseases are genetic and about half of these diagnoses occur among children, newborn screenings are so important. Early detection can allow for life-saving intervention and treatment. If a family has a history of a disease, genetic counseling can also help evaluate and determine the potential risks of an inherited disease.

For the diseases that aren’t genetic, prevention is the best approach. Following some preventive tips, like simply adhering to a healthier diet, can greatly reduce our risk of developing certain cancers. Educating yourself and becoming more aware of preventable cancers and diseases can also be the most important step to reducing your risk. For example, mesothelioma’s only known cause is exposure to asbestos; educating yourself on asbestos and its dangers, as well as where to find it, could essentially eliminate your risk of developing those asbestos-caused diseases.

Get Involved

We can all help support patients and their families suffering from a rare disease by simply raising awareness. Being better educated can truly help save lives, and a simple tweet could inspire someone to take more preventive measures. You can also help by donating to some of the ongoing research projects mentioned above or to disease specific organizations. Funding is essential to research and making a cure a reality.

If you want to learn about other ways to get involved, be sure to check out these suggestions from the National Organization of Rare Diseases, and spread the word on Rare Disease Day and beyond!

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Article by Tonya Nelson, health advocate for the rare cancer, mesothelioma

6 Preventive Tips to Help Lower Cancer Risk

6 Preventive Tips to Help Lower Cancer Risk

Did you know that 96% of all Medicare spending is spent on chronic conditions that have lifestyle health risk factors?1 You have more control over your health than you realize! Here are a few tips to help lower your risk of most cancers and chronic conditions. Practice these habits to build lasting changes for your health and wellbeing journey.

1. Know Your Numbers

Excess body fat has been shown to increase the risk of the following cancers: colorectal, esophageal, kidney, breast (in postmenopausal women), uterine, stomach, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, ovarian thyroid, meningioma and multiple myeloma. Also, there have been suggested links to prostate cancer, breast cancer in men and non-Hodgkin lymphoma with excess weight.

Extra fat around your belly may increase health risks more so than having extra fat around your hips and thighs. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight can help lower health risks, including cancers.

A BMI (body mass index) of 18.5 to 24.9 and a waist circumference of less than 40” for men and less than 35” for women will help lower your health risks. Calculate your BMI on the CDC website.

2. Eat Healthy and Exercise

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight requires both physical activity and a healthy eating plan. Any extra physical activity and healthier food choices can make a difference in improving overall health! Always check with your physician first to confirm that a new exercise or activity will be safe for you.

Avoid packaged, processed and fast foods. If it comes in a package, look for whole food options. Examples include steel cut oats instead of packaged quick oats or homemade soup and salad for lunch. Eliminate the boxed macaroni and cheese and roast a variety of vegetables in the oven instead. For dessert try making a recipe from scratch rather than from a box or better yet choose fresh fruit instead of packaged treats.

3. Sleep Well

Insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and obesity. The light emitted from electronic devices tends to wake up the brain and decrease melatonin production. Our bodies have a great capacity to continually heal and repair cellular damage and most of this occurs at night while we are sleeping.

Turn off all electronics 15 minutes earlier each night. Try reading a book rather than watching TV. Practice meditation, prayer, deep breathing or gentle stretching or yoga to help reduce stress and increase relaxation. Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning, aiming for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night.

4. Cut Down or Reduce Alcohol

Alcohol affects every organ in the body. The risk of cancers, along with other health problems can increase with the amount of alcohol consumed. Along with disrupting sleep, alcohol can result in weight gain, elevate blood glucose and increase triglyceride levels in the body. For most women, no more than one drink per day and for most men, no more than two drinks per day is recommended.3

Rather than meeting a friend for a drink, skip the alcohol and go for a walk together. If you typically have two glasses of wine with dinner, have only one. If you decide to have more than one alcoholic beverage at a sitting, sip on a full glass of water in between. Instead of alcohol, choose unflavored sparkling/seltzer water, add fresh berries or fruit slices and serve it in your favorite crystal or stem ware. And if alcohol helps you to unwind before bed, try replacing it with gentle stretching or yoga, listen to relaxing music, and enjoy a soothing cup of decaf chai tea.

5. Avoid Tobacco

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and cigarette smoking causes almost all cases. “Compared to nonsmokers, current smokers are about 25 times more likely to die from lung cancer. Smoking causes about 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Smoking also causes cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voicebox (larynx), trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.”4 

Visit smokefree.gov to learn how you can quit smoking.

6. Eliminate or Reduce Chemicals

Pesticides, industrial pollutants, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and medications all contain chemical substances that can increase our risk of cancers and other health problems. The synthetic chemicals within these products can disrupt the normal functioning of our endocrine system resulting in reproductive and immune problems, obesity and increased inflammation throughout the body. Try to minimize or eliminate chemical products in your environment.

Use the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 produce lists when shopping for fruits and vegetables. 

  • Check the labels on your cosmetics, shampoos, and lotions for parabens, a chemical preservative commonly used in personal care products, that mimics the hormone estrogen and can result in a much stronger effect and more aggressive growth of some cancer cells.
  • Check out EWG’s Skin Deep website or download the app to find safer options for your favorite products.
  • Switch out plastic food storage containers for glass. And stop microwaving food in plastic. Pickle and spaghetti sauce jars work great for food storage, without any additional cost.
  • Break a sweat! Sweating through exercise or sitting in a dry sauna are great ways to remove toxins from the body. Always check with your physician first to confirm that a new exercise or activity is safe for you try.

References

1. Partnership for Solutions, Chronic Conditions: Making the Case for Ongoing Care (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2004).

2. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/867919?nlid=109048_2981&src=wnl_dne_160826_mscpedit&uac=259999BR&impID=1185765&faf=1

3. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/prevention.htm

4. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/prevention/other.htm

Journey to Better Stress Management

Journey to Better Stress Management

Stress! This one word may set your nerves on edge. Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Some people cope with stress more effectively than others. You have the power to prevent and effectively manage stress. By doing so, you can help lower your risk for serious conditions like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression.

What is stress?

Stress is the brain’s response to change. Stress is different for everyone. Many things can cause stress and may be recurring, short-term, long-term and for example, may include your commute to work, searching for a job, or moving to a new home. Some changes are more serious than others, and for example, can include serious illness, loss of a loved one, marriage, or divorce.

How does stress affect the body?

Not all stress is bad. “Stress can motivate people to prepare or perform, like when they need to take a test or interview for a new job. Stress can even be life-saving in some situations. In response to danger, your body prepares to face a threat or flee to safety. In these situations, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity—all functions aimed at survival.”1 

Different people may feel stress in different ways. Some people experience digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger or irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.

When under stress you may feel:2

  • Worried
  • Angry
  • Irritable
  • Depressed
  • Unable to focus

Physical signs of stress include: 

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Tense muscles
  • Frequent or more serious colds

What are the benefits of lower stress? 

Over time, chronic stress can lead to health problems and lead to chronic disease. Managing stress can help you:

  • Sleep better
  • Control your weight
  • Get sick less often and feel better faster when you are sick
  • Have less neck and back pain
  • Be in a better mood
  • Get along better with family and friends

How can I cope with stress?

The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to maintain your health and outlook can reduce or prevent these effects. The following are some tips that may help you to cope with stress.

  • Seek help from a qualified mental health care provider if you are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, have suicidal thoughts, or are using drugs or alcohol to cope.
  • Get proper health care for existing or new health problems.
  • Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations to reduce stress due to work burdens or family issues, such as caring for a loved one.
  • Recognize signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Set priorities—decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload.
  • Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Avoid dwelling on problems. If you can’t do this on your own, seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can guide you.
  • Exercise regularly—just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress. Schedule regular times for healthy and relaxing activities.
  • Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises.

If you or someone you know is overwhelmed by stress, ask for help from a health professional. If you or someone close to you is in crisis, call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.


References:

1.National Institute of Mental Health:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml#pub3

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

https://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/health-conditions-and-diseases/heart-health/manage-stress#the-basics_2

Cutting the Risk of Chronic Disease with Physical Activity

Cutting the Risk of Chronic Disease with Physical Activity

Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of these chronic diseases including high blood pressure, stroke, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and many more. As you age, it’s important to protect your bones, joints and muscles. Not only do they support your body and help you move, but keeping bones, joints and muscles healthy can help ensure that you’re able to do your daily activities and be physically active. Physical activity can help your thinking, learning and keep your judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression, help you sleep better and give you a longer, healthier life.

Physical Activity vs. Exercise 

  • Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles resulting in energy expenditure or simply put, moving!
  • Exercise is planned, structured, repetitive and intentional movement intended to improve or maintain physical fitness.

Measuring Physical Activity Intensity

The talk test is a simple way to measure relative intensity. In general, if you’re doing moderate-intensity activity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity.

If you’re doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Examples of Moderate-Intensity: 

  • Walking fast (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Bicycling on level ground or with few hills (slower than 10 miles an hour)
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Yoga
  • General gardening
  • Pushing a lawn mower

Examples of Vigorous-Intensity: 

  • Race walking, jogging or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Bicycling fast (10 miles per hour or faster)or on hills
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

Rule of thumb: 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity.

Exercise Helps Control Weight: Exercise helps prevent excess weight gain and helps maintain weight loss. Engaging in physical activity helps you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. If you can’t do an actual workout, get more active throughout the day by taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

Exercise Combats Health Conditions and Diseases: No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Regular physical activity helps prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and more.

Exercise Boosts Energy: Regular physical activity improves your muscle strength and boosts your endurance. Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently, which gives you more energy to go about your daily chores.

Exercise Improves Mood: Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

  • Children 6 to 17 years old: 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity each day.
  • Adults 18 years to 64 years old: 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Plus 2 or more days of muscle-strenghtening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
    • Or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week. Plus 2 or more days of muscle-strenthening activities that work all major muscle groups.
    • Or an equivalent mix of moderate – and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strenthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
  • Older Adults 65 years or older: 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Plus 2 or more days a week of muscle-strenthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.)
  • Healthy pregnant or postpartum women: 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread throughout the week.

Walking Is a Good Start, So, Where Do I Begin? 

The first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you have not been regularly active or have a chronic illness that may limit the amount of time you exercise. Once your doctor says it’s okay, put on a pair of well-fitting sneakers and start walking!

To receive the most benefit, you should take 10,000 steps a day, which can be measured by a pedometer or by adding an app on your phone. About half of your 10,000 steps can come from everyday physical activities like walking the dog, climbing stairs (instead of taking the elevator), gardening, housework (especially sweeping, mopping or vaccuum cleaning floors), and washing your car are just a few.

How To Get Started 

  • Initial goal: Walk at a comfortable pace for about 10 minutes, three times a day 5 to 7 days per week (for ex., to a neighbor’s house and back).
  • Step it up: Walk at a comfortable pace for 15 minutes twice a day (for ex., to the end of the street and back).
  • Add distance: Walk for 15 minutes twice a day to a distance of a street and a half. (This means you have to walk a little faster to cover the increase in distance).
  • Increase frequency: Walk the new distance three times (three laps) once a day in less than 30 minutes.

Being active is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Start improving the quality of your life today and increase your life span by starting a plan to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.


References

Keep Your Heart Healthy from Heart Disease

Keep Your Heart Healthy from Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. The good news? Heart disease can often be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions. Communities, health professionals, and families can work together to create opportunities for people to make healthier choices.

You can make healthy changes to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Controlling and preventing risk factors is also important for people who already have heart disease.

To lower your risk:

  • Monitor and control your weight.
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  • Get active and eat healthy.

 Am I at risk for heart disease? 

You are at higher risk for heart disease if:

  • You are a woman over age 55
  • You are a man over age 45
  • Your father or brother had heart disease before age 55
  • Your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65

As you get older, your risk for heart disease and heart attack increases. But the good news is that heart disease can be prevented.

 What is heart disease? 

When people talk about heart disease, they are usually talking about coronary heart disease (CHD). It’s also called coronary artery disease (CAD). This is the most common type of heart disease.

When someone has CHD, the coronary arteries (tubes) that take blood to the heart are narrow or blocked. This happens when cholesterol and fatty material, called plaque, build up inside the arteries.

Plaque is caused by: 

  • Fat and cholesterol in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Too much sugar in the blood (usually because of diabetes)

When plaque blocks an artery, it’s hard for blood to flow to the heart. A blocked artery can cause chest pain or a heart attack.

What is a heart attack? 

A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is suddenly blocked. Part of the heart may die if the person doesn’t get help quickly.

Common signs of a heart attack include: 

  • Chest pain (or feeling pressure, squeezing, or fullness in your chest)
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body – like the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach (above the belly button)
  • Trouble breathing (while resting or being active)
  • Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or unusually tired
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

Not everyone who has a heart attack will have all the signs. Don’t ignore changes in how you feel. Signs of a heart attack often come on suddenly. But sometimes, they develop slowly – hours, days, or even weeks before a heart attack happens.

Talk to your doctor if you feel tired for several days, or if other health problems (like pain or trouble breathing) bother you more than usual. Call 911 right away if you or someone else has signs of a heart attack. Don’t ignore any signs or feel embarrassed to call for help. Acting fast can save a life. Call 911 even if you are not sure it’s a heart attack.

 Keep Your Heart Healthy

Take steps today to lower your risk of heart disease and heart attack. Follow the tips below to help prevent heart disease.

  1. Eat healthy and get active.
  2. Monitor and control your weight.
  3. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  4. Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  5. If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  6. Talk with your doctor or nurse about steps you can take to prevent type 2 diabetes.
  7. Manage your stress.

When it comes to your heart, what you eat matters. Follow these tips for heart-healthy eating.

  1. Eat less saturated and trans fat. Stay away from fatty meats, fried foods, cakes, and cookies.
  2. Cut down on sodium (salt). Look for the low-sodium or “no salt added” types of canned soups, vegetables, snack foods, and lunch meats.
  3. Get more fiber. Fiber is in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. To save money, buy vegetables and fruits that are in season, frozen, or canned.
  4. Look for fat-free or low-fat milk products. Or choose soy products with added calcium.
  5. For breads, cereals and grains with more than one ingredient, make sure whole wheat or another whole grain is listed first.
  6. Choose lean cuts of meat and other foods with protein.

References

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: https://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/health-conditions-and-diseases/heart-health/heart-healthy-foods-shopping-list

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: http://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/health-conditions-and-diseases/heart-health/keep-your-heart-healthy

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