Flu – The “Hulk” Version of a Cold

The seasons are changing – warm summer days at the pool will turn into cool fall days. As a pediatrician, I can tell the seasons have changed as my appointments go from nearly all school physicals to sick visits. This also means flu season is almost here.

The flu, or influenza, is “the Hulk” version of a cold – it is longer lasting and more intense than your typical illness. If you get the flu, you can expect to be sick with fevers, body aches, coughing, runny nose or congestion, a stomach ache and possible vomiting. These symptoms with typical colds last for 7-10 days. With the flu, you tend to have more intense symptoms for longer – 14 days is more typical.

Influenza does not discriminate – it infects the young, middle aged and old, male and female, those who eat healthy and those who don’t. It is spread by respiratory secretions: sneezing, boogers and coughing basically! It tends to cause the worst illness in the very young (newborns, infants, toddlers) and the elderly.

While for most, the flu will be a miserable few weeks of illness, those who are less lucky may have complications. These complications can require hospitalization and range from ear infections, pneumonia, meningitis, and most terribly, death. Last season, hundreds of thousands of people were hospitalized and deaths reached record numbers: nearly 200 children were among those who died after contracting the flu.

I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture, I know. So what can you do about this for you and your family? While I can’t offer much to prevent the common cold that will start to frequent our communities soon (other than hand washing and staying away from sick people), influenza is something I can offer some protection from: with the flu shot! Everyone with a working immune system (i.e. not fighting cancer for example) from ages 6 months and upward can and should get a flu shot yearly.

I know, I know…no one likes shots. And the flu shot gets a really bad reputation – I hear all sorts of reasons people don’t want to get the flu shot. People tell me it made them sick, it didn’t work, they are afraid of the side effects of the shot, or they haven’t gotten sick after skipping the shot in the past so don’t see the need for the shot of prevention. So let’s talk about the vaccine a little bit…

The flu shot is a killed vaccine – it cannot give you the illness. Most viruses, though, hide in our body for 3-5 days before producing any symptoms. So many people who get sick after getting the flu shot were already harboring their illness before they got their shot. In other words, it wasn’t the shot that got them sick.

Vaccines don’t work immediately either – to build full protection from the flu vaccine, you need to give your body 2 weeks to respond – this is why we recommend vaccination by November at the latest to protect yourself well before flu is heavily circulating. In kids 8 years old and younger, the first year getting the vaccine will require 2 shots separated by 1 month. Every year after that is only one booster.

Now I’m going to be honest with you: the flu shot isn’t perfect. There are multiple strains that circulate and the virus is smart and can morph mid-season. These facts make it hard to make a perfect vaccine. It also means the vaccine is only moderately good at fully preventing the flu.

Even so, if you come down with the flu after receiving your flu shot, your illness should be milder since your body has some awareness of the virus already.

Additionally, while full prevention may only be modest, prevention of severe illness and complications is excellent in those who receive the flu shot. In those who died of flu, more than 80% were NOT vaccinated. That’s a powerful statistic.

Beyond this, comparing risks versus benefits of getting the flu over getting the flu shot, the benefits of the vaccine WAY outweigh the risks. Risks of the flu shot may include allergic reaction (which is so rare that even people with allergies to components of the shot are recommended to still get the vaccine), redness, welt, soreness at the site. Other more scary reactions are so rare that they are hard to even quantify. On the other hand, risks of influenza are easily measured (remember all the complications I mentioned above), and occur to thousands of people across the globe annually.

Here’s the thing. You probably won’t get the flu every year – some estimates are that people contract the flu every 5-10 years. So sure, you could try to get lucky and not get your flu shot. But, you getting your flu shot not only gives you a chance at prevention, it also helps stop the spread of flu in the community. You getting your shot helps keep the newborn next door, your grandma, your friend with cancer and the rest of your family from getting the flu too. The more people that get protection, the less the flu will take hold of our community.

On a final note, I choose to have my family vaccinated every year from the flu. This is my choice. I would never recommend anything to my patients that I wouldn’t do for my family. We all got our family flu shots this year together! I’m pregnant as well which means my baby will have some protection via the womb after birth. Yes – pregnant women should also get the flu shot to protect themselves and their growing babies.

So here’s the message: get your flu shot and get it now. For yourself, your family, your pregnant friend, those with compromised immune systems (everybody knows someone with cancer, right?), the newborns and the elderly. Encourage others to get protected as well. Not only will the vaccine help you stay well, it will help keep others well too! As always, if you have questions, talk to your doctor about your specific health situation.

Kidney Stones: This too shall pass

More than half a million people go to emergency rooms for kidney stone problems each year and one in 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives. Learn more about how to identify the symptoms and treat this common health problem.

 

 

Weird Things the Body Does – and Why!

The human body is a wonder in its design, a complex machine capable of everything from rational thought to fending off disease. It’s also capable of some pretty strange things – some of them forewarning disease, while others are just plain involuntary oddities with no conceivable purpose (except to leave us scratching our heads). Rush Copley Medical Group physicians explain a few of them.

Hiccups
Hiccups are common and usually temporary. Very rarely are they so persistent and intractable that they lead to health issues. By definition, a hiccup is an involuntary and intermittent spasmodic contraction of the diaphragm and rib muscles, which leads to the sudden intake of air and abrupt closure of the glottis. Hiccup bouts can occur due to gastric distension from overeating, carbonated beverages, chewing gum (swallowing too much air), smoking, endoscopy due to air insufflation, sudden change in gastrointestinal temperature or excess alcohol intake. It is the more persistent and intractable hiccups, which generally occur due to a serious underlying disease, that needs further examination. Some of these issues include vascular diseases, central nervous system diseases, intracranial neoplasms, GERD, duodenal ulcer and malignancy. Treating bouts of hiccups involves first trying physical maneuvers, including holding ones breath, gargling, sipping cold water, swallowing dry sugar (to stimulate the uvula), pressing the eyes (to increase vagal stimulation), pulling knees to the chest or leaning forward (to contract the irritated diaphragm). If none of these tactics work, medications can then be prescribed.
– Neha Sahni, MD, Gastroenterology

Brain Freeze
There’s nothing worse than having a refreshing cool snack to quench your hunger and having it be followed by brain freeze. Brain freeze is that intensely painful but usually brief head pain that happens after you eat or drink something cold – ice cold drinks, ice cream, and popsicles are common culprits. While we aren’t completely sure what happens, we’re pretty sure it has to do with a cold snack hitting the roof of the mouth and causing blood vessels to constrict and expand rapidly. These blood vessels trigger pain receptors in the roof of the mouth to send a signal to the nearby brain and cause that discomfort. It is usually after consuming a cold food item particularly quickly and having it hit the roof of your mouth before it can get warmed by the tongue.

To help stop or prevent the pain you can try a couple things:

  • Allow cold food and drink to warm briefly on your tongue before they hit the roof of your mouth
  • Consume cold foods/drinks slowly in small bites/sips
  • Place your warm tongue on the roof of your mouth to help the pain
  • Tilt your head backwards for 10 to 15 seconds once the pain starts
  • Consume something warmer than the cold item after the pain begins (to warm the area)

For the most part, brain freeze is painful and annoying, but, it isn’t harmful and won’t leave any lasting effects. People who get migraines might find them more bothersome as they may trigger headaches to come on. If you have a brain freezes that last longer than 5 to 10 minutes or is associated with other headache symptoms, making an appointment with your doctor might be wise.
– Nicole Keller, DO, Pediatrics

Snoring
People with healthy sleep patterns spend about a third of their lives sleeping. However, those of us who suffer from common sleep disorders might spend significantly less – or more – time sleeping. In other cases, your sleep could be disrupted by your partner’s sleep disorder.

Over 90 million people in the U.S. are impacted by snoring, an ailment that prevents a proper night’s rest and, in many cases, causes friction with loved ones. Snoring occurs as a result of a narrowing or obstruction of the airway during sleep. When we sleep, the muscles of the airway – including the mouth, nose and throat—relax, and the passages may become smaller. Breath moving through these narrowed passages causes the soft tissues of the airway to vibrate, which creates the sounds of snoring.

Of all sleep disorders, snoring is likely the most common. The underlying causes of snoring range from benign issues such as sleep position to more serious problems such as obesity. Allergens can also induce snoring by causing irritation and swelling in your throat and nose. Statistics indicate that about 20 to 30 percent of women snore, compared to about 40 to 50 percent of men. If you’re not sure whether you snore or not, ask your partner, as they are likely aware. The most important step to stopping snoring is to identify its cause. The resulting sleep disruption doesn’t just affect you – it can keep your family awake, as well. If your family is complaining about your snoring, or if you experience unexplained fatigue and sleepiness, it’s possible your body isn’t getting the kind of deep sleep it truly needs. If simple fixes such as changing sleep position or cutting down on alcohol don’t help, you may need to visit a sleep specialist.
– Sujay Bangarulingam, MD, Pulmonology

Fingers Prune
It is a hot summer day in Chicago and you have decided to plop yourself in the local community swimming pool. Everything looks perfect; the summer hat you’re wearing, the new swimsuit you picked up on sale at Marshalls, and the new manicure you spent $30 on and was worth every penny. You lift your hand to admire the new OPI color on your nails (perfectly titled- A Good Man-darin is Hard to Find) when you notice your beautiful manicured hands are ruined by the shriveled up, prune like appearance of your fingers! Why, why why?

There might actually be a purpose for why the skin of our fingers and toes tend to wrinkle when submerged in water for a period of time. One theory is that this increases our grip on objects that are wet. A study published in Biology Letters showed that participants were faster at picking up wet objects when they had submerged their hands in water for 30 minutes, compared to when their hands were dry. Unfortunately we still don’t completely understand the mechanism of how this occurs but a theory that is becoming more popular is something called “digital vasoconstriction.”  This means our blood vessels in our fingers and toes narrow when submerged in water causing the upper layer of our skin to wrinkle.  All of this is thought to be triggered by an involuntary nervous system reaction. That manicure doesn’t look all that bad now, does it?
– Sarah Ahmed, MD, Family Medicine

 

 

Mental Health – We’re Only Human

May is mental health awareness month. Given that spring is upon us which is a season of change, it is a good time for self-evaluation. With the chaotic world we live in it is necessary to take a step back, take a deep breath, and realize that we are all connected by being innately human. Human by Merriam Websters dictionary: of or characteristic of people as opposed to God, animal or machines, especially being susceptible to weakness. We can be flawed and it is okay; no one is perfect. Having a mental illness does not make any individual “less than,” it makes us human!

There are a myriad of mental illnesses (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and schizophrenia just to name a few ) that we humans suffer from that go undiagnosed and untreated because of the stigma associated with mental illness, but it does not have to be and should not be this way. More than 43 million adults in the U.S. experiences mental illnesses in a given year according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. There are multiple ways mental illnesses can be managed, no one should suffer in silence alone.

Treatment options include, but are not limited to:

  • Therapy (by psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical therapist)
  • Medications
  • Bio-feedback training
  • Yoga
  • Accupuncture
  • Meditation
  • Support groups

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. with 44,000 Americans dying by suicide each year (AFSP.org).

If you or a loved one are contemplaing hurting yourself or others please contact the suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255.

Please reach out for help, you are worth it!

Exercise to Prevent Heart Failure

Every January millions of Americans make a New Year’s resolution to exercise. The scientific evidence of the health benefits of exercise has been clear. Heart disease, diabetes and even cancer risk decreasing significantly with increasing exercise. Add one more disease to the list of those improved with exercise: Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart is not able to pump enough blood to meet the demands of the body. Symptoms of shortness of breath, fatigue and leg swelling occur. The causes are many including coronary artery disease, heart attack, hypertension, valvular heart disease and even stiffening of the heart that occurs with aging.

A recent publication in the prestigious journal Circulation confirmed the benefits of exercise to prevent the most common form of congestive heart failure, termed “heart failure with preserved ejection fraction” which is caused by stiffening of the heart muscle making it difficult for it to relax over time. The overall strength of the heart  (ejection fraction) remains strong in this situation, however the heart has a hard time filling with blood reducing the overall ability of the heart to pump enough blood with each heartbeat leading overall to a lower pumping output and eventually symptoms of congestive heart failure (CHF).

This study took middle aged individuals (average age 53) that were sedentary at baseline and randomized them to two years of exercise training versus no change in physical activity. Complex parameters of heart function were measured to detect changes in heart stiffness and overall function.

The group of study participants in the exercise arm had quite significant improvements in heart stiffness and overall “stroke volume”, the amount of blood pumped out with each heartbeat. Thus, researchers concluded that in previously sedentary middle aged adults, exercise training may prevent against the development of congestive heart failure.

Congestive heart failure remains the #1 reason in America for hospitalization, thus any intervention that can prevent CHF from developing in the first place would be very important. With dramatically increasing healthcare costs in the US, more cost efficient and effective interventions are desperately needed. The typical heart disease, coronary artery disease, is at least 80% preventable according to the World Health Organization and many say nearly 99% with strict diet and lifestyle interventions. Simple interventions like exercise can have a dramatic impact improving the health of America.

What better way is there to improve a person’s quality of life while decreasing healthcare costs besides preventing diseases from occurring in the first place? Take control of your health and focus on exercise and healthy eating changes to prevent the chronic diseases that are crippling America, now including congestive heart failure.