Medical News Today: Prolonged sitting: Short bouts of activity reduce health risks

A newly published meta-analysis has discovered that even short breaks from prolonged sitting can reduce some of the adverse metabolic effects associated with it. Short stints of low-level activity can make a real difference.
Smart man watching TV
Sitting for long periods is unhealthful, but a small change in behavior might help.

In Western society, sitting down for long periods of time is now the norm; at the office, watching television, playing video games, our lives are easily filled with physical inactivity.

The negative health consequences of sedentary living are also growing clearer.

As Dr. Meredith Peddie, co-author of the new study, explains, “Most of us spend about 75 percent of our day sitting or being sedentary, and this behavior has been linked to increased rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and overall mortality.”

The exact reasons why prolonged sitting is so unhealthful are not fully known, but certain metabolic factors are thought to play a part.

For instance, long periods with little exertion reduce insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, while increasing levels of triglycerides — the main constituent of body fat — in the blood.

Reducing the impact of sitting

Dr. Peddie led a group of researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand; they were joined in their efforts by scientists from the University of Prince Edward Island and the University of Guelph, both in Canada.

They set out to explore whether small changes in behavior may be effective at minimizing some of the negative acute metabolic and vascular effects of long periods of sedentary behavior.

To investigate, the team assessed 44 existing studies that focused on interrupting prolonged sitting with various amounts and types of movement. Their findings were published recently in the journal Sports Medicine.

More specifically, they were interested in the effect of up to 24 hours of prolonged sitting following a meal. They measured its influence on various factors, including glucose, insulin, and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and vascular function.

They compared these effects with individuals whose sitting was interrupted with light to moderate activity.

They found that even light-intensity activity every 30 minutes had significant effects.

Physical activity of any intensity was shown to reduce concentrations of glucose and insulin in the blood up to 9 hours after the meal. Similarly, levels of fat in the blood were also reduced, but this only occurred 12–16 hours after activity began.

A robust and positive effect

Dr. Peddie and colleagues were particularly surprised that the beneficial changes they saw were not affected by the intensity of the activity or the age or weight of each participant. Similarly, the type of meal eaten before the prolonged sitting did not influence the results, either.

We should all be finding ways to avoid sitting for long periods, and to increase the amount of movement we do throughout the entire day.”

Dr. Meredith Peddie

Much more research still needs to be done to understand how to mitigate the impact of prolonged sitting.

Next, the researchers hope to uncover more information about how the timing of breaks impacts the results. They would also like to know which activities are the most effective, and how long active sessions need to be.

However, the studies that the scientists analyzed did not record enough data on blood pressure and vascular measures. They hope that future studies might include more information about cardiovascular effects of sitting with or without short active breaks.

The take-home message, however, is simple: we all need to make an effort to move more.

Medical News Today: How marital hostility can harm your gut

New research finds that hostile marital relationships, particularly when coupled with a history of depression, can seriously harm gut health, raising the risk of leaky gut syndrome.
couple not talking
Hostility may silently harm the health of your gut.

The membrane lining the inside of our intestines forms a barrier that simultaneously prevents bacteria and toxins from reaching the inside our intestines and from getting out and into the bloodstream.

When it doesn’t function properly, however, this lining may have cracks or holes in it, allowing pathogens and food waste to get into the bloodstream and new pathogens to get into the gut.

This problem — referred to as leaky gut syndrome — may, in turn, cause gastrointestinal problems, inflammation, and changes to the overall composition of the gut microbiota.

Alterations in the gut’s flora have been linked to a range of conditions, from obesity and cancer to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Now, a first-of-its-kind study examines the impact of marital hostility on the risk of developing leaky gut syndrome. The new research was led by psychiatry professor Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

Prof. Kiecolt-Glaser and team published their findings in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Studying marital hostility and gut health

The researchers examined 43 married couples aged 24–61. The study participants were all healthy overall and had been married for at least 3 years.

The scientists asked the couples about the topics that were most likely to cause a disagreement in the relationship.

Once they established that money and in-laws were the most sensitive topics, the researchers left the spouses to have 20-minute discussions on these topics. They videotaped the interactions and then assessed the arguing style.

The couples’ fighting style was characterized as hostile if it included gestures such as eye rolling and verbal criticism of one’s spouse.

Participants also gave the researchers blood samples both before and after the interactions, and the scientists tested the samples for a marker of leaky gut syndrome called LPS-binding protein (LBP).

Marital hostility and depression harm the gut

The study revealed that people who engaged in more hostile marital interactions had higher LBP levels in their blood.

The team also looked at the associations between LBP and another marker for inflammation: C-reactive protein.

People with the highest levels of LBP also had almost 80 percent higher levels of C-reactive protein, compared with those who had the lowest levels of LBP.

These participants had also been part of another study conducted by Ohio State researchers, which looked at how the convergence of marital hostility and depression can cause obesity.

So, in this study, the scientists were also able to look at the participants’ history of depression. They found that those who had experienced a depressive episode or another mood disorder were most vulnerable to the gut-harming effects of marital hostility.

Prof. Kiecolt-Glaser comments on their findings, saying, “We think that this everyday marital distress — at least for some people — is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and, potentially, illness.”

“Hostility is a hallmark of bad marriages — the kind that lead to adverse physiological changes,” she adds.

“Marital stress is a particularly potent stress, because your partner is typically your primary support and in a troubled marriage your partner becomes your major source of stress,” Prof. Kiecolt-Glaser explains.

Depression and a poor marriage — that really made things worse […] This may reflect persistent psychological and physiological vulnerabilities among people who have suffered from depression and other mood disorders.”

Prof. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser

Medical News Today: Why does bass make you want to dance?

A recent study concludes that low frequencies in music help our brains synchronize with the rhythm of the song. In short, it’s all about the bass.
Dancing in the club
New research investigates bass and the brain.

Music is almost universal. Every society on earth has music blended into its culture, and music, inevitably, brings dance.

But why are we so driven to move our limbs, heads, and bodies to rhythmic sounds?

A facet of music that often goes hand in hand with dancing is the heavy use of bass.

Be it the beat of a drum or the pulsing sound from a subwoofer, the bass is often a driving factor in our desire to move in time with the music.

A new study set out to investigate music and the brain, and although it does not fully answer the questions above, it does give new insight into music and the human experience.

The results were published this week in the journal PNAS.

The tone of the rhythm

The scientists — from Western Sydney University’s MARCS Institute in Australia — were particularly interested in the way that our brains process low-frequency sounds.

These sounds are thought to be important in the urge to dance because, as the authors explain, “bass instruments are conventionally used as a rhythmic foundation, whereas high-pitched instruments carry the melodic content.”

The scientists played each participant rhythmic patterns, in either a high- or low-pitched tone, and recorded the electrical activity of the person’s brain using electroencephalography (EEG). They found that brain activity became synchronized with the frequency of the beat.

There is mounting evidence supporting the hypothesis that selective synchronization of large pools of neurons of the brain to the beat frequency may support perception and movement to the musical beat.”

Study co-author Dr. Sylvie Nozaradan

In the current study, however, they found that bass-heavy music was more successful at locking the brain into the rhythm. The lower frequencies, it seems, strong-arm the brain into synchronizing.

This helps explain why a bass-heavy sound might make people more inclined to move along: the lower frequencies, as the authors write, boost “selective neural locking to the beat.”

The scientists repeated their experiment using different volumes to make sure that the bass effect was not due to perceived loudness. They also confirmed that the increased synchronization was not because of increased activity in the cochlea, the part of the inner ear that receives sound information in the form of vibrations.

How does bass influence the brain?

The authors theorize that the synchronizing effect that bass has on the brain could be due to “a greater recruitment of brain structures involved in movement planning and control,” such as the cerebellum and basal ganglia.

These findings provide a sliver of insight into music and the human need to dance along, but there are also potential medical applications. Using the brain’s natural ability to lock on to a rhythm may help treat a range of conditions. Study co-author Dr. Peter Keller explains.

“Music,” he says, “is increasingly being used in clinical rehabilitation of cognitive and motor disorders caused by brain damage and these findings, and a better understanding of the relationship between music and movement could help develop such treatments.”

There is still much to learn about the ability of the brain to sync up with music. For instance, as Dr. Nozaradan explains, “Future research is needed to clarify what networks of brain areas are responsible for this synchronization to the beat and how it develops from early in infancy.”

It is pleasing to know that when the bass kicks in and you find yourself furiously tapping your foot, it might be because the low frequencies have encouraged your brain activity to sync up with the music. If nothing else, that is a fascinating thought.

Medical News Today: Prediabetes: Being a ‘night owl’ may lead to weight gain

New research has revealed that having a preference for evening activities, going to bed late, and not getting enough sleep may lead to weight gain among people with prediabetes.
person working at night<!--mce:protected %0A-->
A preference for late-night activities may cause people to gain weight.

Prediabetes affects around 84 million people in the United States.

That is, 1 in 3 U.S. individuals are living with the condition, and 90 percent of them are not aware that they have it.

In prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than what is considered normal, but not high enough to warrant a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes is a serious condition in its own right, putting people at risk of not only type 2 diabetes, but also stroke and heart disease.

Insufficient sleep or a disrupted sleep pattern are also known risk factors for obesity and diabetes. Previous research has suggested that being a “night owl,” or having a preference for activities in the evening and going to bed late, raises the risk of being overweight, as well as having type 2 diabetes and dying prematurely.

So, researchers led by Dr. Sirimon Reutrakul, an associate professor of endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, set out to examine whether being a night owl influenced body mass index (BMI) among people with prediabetes.

BMI is a measure of body fat in relation to a person’s height and weight.

Thunyarat Anothaisintawee is the first author of the paper, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology.

Sleep patterns, BMI, and prediabetes

Dr. Reutrakul and colleagues examined 2,133 people with prediabetes who were 64 years old, on average.

Using a questionnaire, the scientists assessed the participants’ “eveningness” and “morningness” — that is, their preference for going to bed late and waking up early, respectively.

The scientists also assessed social jetlag, or the difference in sleep timing and duration between weekdays and weekends, in the participants.

Higher levels of social jetlag were found to correlate with a higher BMI. In people older than 60, eveningness was associated with a higher BMI as well. However, this effect was due to not having enough sleep, not to social jet lag.

“In patients with prediabetes,” explain the study authors, “more evening preference was directly associated with higher BMI and indirectly through insufficient sleep duration.”

“These data could inform further interventional studies to reduce BMI in this high-risk group,” add Anothaisintawee and colleagues. Dr. Reutrakul also comments on the significance of the findings.

“Diabetes is such a widespread disease with such an impact on quality of life,” she says, “that identifying new lifestyle factors that might play into its development can help us advise patients with an early stage of the disease on things they can do to turn it around and prevent prediabetes from becoming full-blown diabetes.”

Timing and duration of sleep are potentially modifiable […] People can have more regular bedtimes and aim to have more sleep, which may help reduce BMI and the potential development of diabetes in this high-risk group.”

Dr. Sirimon Reutrakul

Medical News Today: What causes rosy cheeks?

Many people associate rosy cheeks with good health, and cosmetic and fashion trends often encourage the use of makeup and other techniques to achieve this appearance. However, rosy cheeks are not necessarily a sign of health or vitality.

Rosy cheeks occur as a result of blood vessels widening near the surface of the skin. In many cases, the body will react like this for benign reasons, such as trying to warm the skin up in cold conditions.

However, rosy cheeks can sometimes signify a more severe condition. It is important for a person to know the potential causes of rosy cheeks and the other symptoms that may occur alongside them.

In this article, we take a look at nine possible causes of rosy cheeks. Most are benign, but some may benefit from a doctor’s attention.

Acne

Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. Acne is the result of pores in the skin becoming clogged, and it can cause redness in the areas that it affects, which may include the cheeks.

When the body sheds dead skin cells, these cells typically rise to the surface of the skin and fall away naturally.

Sebum, an oil that keeps the skin hydrated, can interrupt this process in some people. The dead skin cells and sebum can bind together and get stuck in the pores.

Acne can appear when the clogged pores also trap bacteria and an infection begins under the surface of the skin. The bacteria can multiply quickly and cause the skin to look red and swollen.

Management tips

People can often treat acne at home with over-the-counter (OTC) and homemade or natural remedies. Some recommendations from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) include:

  • washing twice a day with warm water
  • washing after sweating
  • using shampoo regularly, especially on oily hair
  • being gentle with the skin and avoiding scrubbing and harsh skin products
  • keeping hands away from the face
  • staying out of the sun when possible and avoiding tanning
  • allowing the skin to heal naturally when affected
  • avoiding popping pimples

Rosacea

Rosacea is a common and often unrecognized disorder. The National Rosacea Society estimate that over 16 million people in the U.S. have rosacea, with many being unaware.

Rosacea typically causes blushing reactions on a person’s face and small, red bumps that resemble acne. People may often mistake it for other conditions.

People with rosacea often report that the condition causes them embarrassment and a desire to avoid social occasions. According to National Rosacea Society surveys, over 90 percent of people with rosacea report having lower self-esteem and self-confidence due to the condition.

What to do

Rosacea has no known cure and will continue to get worse without treatment. However, people with rosacea can manage the condition.

A person who suspects that they have rosacea should contact a doctor or dermatologist to discuss the warning signs and start treatment as soon as possible.


Reactions to food

Spicy or hot foods can cause the facial skin to become red.

Compounds in these foods can trigger the central nervous system, which causes blood vessels in the skin to dilate as they would in the heat. The same reaction can also cause sweat to form.

Management tips

The best way to prevent flushing from spicy foods is to avoid eating the foods that cause a reaction. Hot chili peppers and foods at high temperatures, such as soup, can trigger the response.

Limiting the amount of spice in food and letting food cool down before eating can reduce the risk of flushing.


Medication

person taking painkillers held in palm of hand while holding a glass of water in the other
A person may experience a facial flush after taking medication.

Specific medications can trigger facial flushing. This symptom is often due to histamine, a chemical that the immune system releases in reaction to the drug.

Several medications could cause flushing to occur. Some examples include:

  • opioids, such as morphine
  • niacin
  • nitroglycerin
  • amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite
  • calcium-channel blockers
  • sildenafil citrate, known as Viagra
  • oral triamcinolone
  • rifampin

Management tips

As histamine often causes the reaction, a person could counteract the effects with an antihistamine or allergy medication.

In other cases, a person may prefer not to take the medication that causes the flushing response. Talking to a doctor before stopping any medications is essential. The doctor will be able to provide advice on the individual’s options for dealing with the reactions.

Hot flashes

Hot flashes often occur when people transition to menopause. A hot flash is a sensation of intense heat that can last from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. During a hot flash, the face may become flushed or red.

Doctors are still unsure exactly what causes hot flashes. However, they believe that estrogen plays a part in affecting the body’s heat regulation. The brain senses that the body is too hot, which triggers a sweat reaction and flushing. A person’s levels of estrogen decline during menopause.

Management tips

To help prevent hot flashes, people can avoid known triggers. Some things that may trigger hot flashes can include:

  • smoking
  • hot showers or baths
  • hot weather
  • alcohol
  • spicy or hot foods
  • caffeine

Eating a diet rich in plant-based foods and making lifestyle changes to incorporate more relaxation and exercise could also be beneficial.

If these steps do not help, a person should ask their doctor about other treatment options.


Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that affects many of the body’s systems and organs, including the skin.

One of the disease’s early signs can be a butterfly-shaped reddish-brown rash across the cheeks and the bridge of the nose. When the disease flares up, the rash may look like sunburn on the face.

The technical term for this rash is malar rash.

What to do

Lupus is a condition that requires a doctor to diagnose and treat it. Although it is not possible to cure this disease, treatments can help minimize flare-ups and complications.

Learn more about malar rash.

Eczema

Eczema is the name for a number of rashes that may cause the skin to be red, itchy, and swollen. The condition often appears for the first time in young children under the age of 5 but can remain as a child gets older. Conversely, some adults develop eczema as they age.

Management tips

There is no cure for eczema. However, there are many creams and medications that people with eczema can use to reduce and relieve their symptoms.

Learn more about eczema.


Sunburn

Overexposure to the sun can result in sunburned skin. Many people will experience sunburn at some point in their lives, especially on areas of the body that often get exposure to the sun, such as the face.

Management tips

man with sunburn and rosy cheeks
A person can experience rosy cheeks due to sunburn.

Wearing sunscreen and avoiding the sun during peak hours can help prevent sunburn.

If sunburn occurs, the following steps can aid healing and reduce discomfort:

  • taking a cool bath or shower
  • applying a moisturizer, but not one that contains petroleum
  • allowing any blisters to heal and not popping them
  • drinking extra water to prevent dehydration

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can also help minimize the redness, swelling, and pain of sunburn.

Petroleum-free moisturizers are available to buy online.


Alcohol

Although it is a less common cause, consuming alcohol can make the face turn red. When the body processes alcohol, it produces a compound called acetaldehyde. Some people are unable to process this compound, so it builds up in the blood, resulting in facial flushing.

Statistics have shown that facial flushing after drinking alcohol is more common among East Asian populations than Western populations.

Some studies have linked raised levels of acetaldehyde in the body with an increased risk of certain cancers. At present, however, research is inconclusive.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, people do not need to seek medical attention at the first sign of rosy cheeks. It is often possible to monitor and treat the condition at home.

However, people should seek medical attention if they experience any of the following:

  • redness that lasts for more than a week
  • persistent acne
  • redness that leads to problems with self-esteem or self-confidence
  • redness in the shape of a butterfly on the face

It is also vital to be aware of potential signs of imminent danger. If a red face occurs alongside some of the following symptoms, it is important to seek immediate medical attention:

  • wheezing
  • hives
  • trouble breathing
  • swelling in the mouth or throat
  • dizziness or lightheadedness

Takeaway

Some people can feel embarrassed by having rosy cheeks, but they are not often a cause for immediate concern.

A person with rosy cheeks should seek medical advice or attention if this condition causes anxiety, is accompanied by more severe symptoms, or does not go away after treatment.

Can a person get pregnant while taking the pill?

Birth control pills are a popular and effective method of contraception. However, some factors, such as missing pill days, vomiting, and taking certain medications, can reduce the effectiveness of the pill and may result in unintended pregnancies.

In this article, we look at how effective the birth control pill is, and five reasons why the pill might fail. We also give tips on how to prevent pill failure and describe some early signs of pregnancy.

How effective is the pill?

young woman holding pack of pills
Certain circumstances can reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills.

The combined pill contains hormones that prevent ovulation, which is when the ovaries release an egg for fertilization. Another type of pill, known as the minipill, causes a person’s cervical mucus to thicken and the uterine lining to thin, which reduces the likelihood of sperm reaching an egg.

The birth control pill is very effective if a person takes it correctly and does not miss any pill days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the pill is 99.7 percent effective with perfect use. This means that less than 1 out of 100 women who take the pill would become pregnant in 1 year.

However, with typical use, the effectiveness of the pill is 91 percent. This means that around 9 out of 100 women would become pregnant in a year of taking the pill.


Five reasons for pill failure

Although the birth control pill is generally very effective, some situations can reduce its effectiveness and may sometimes result in unintended pregnancies. These include:

Missing a day

Manufacturers intend for people to take the pill daily for it to be most effective. If a person misses a day, their hormone levels may not remain at consistent enough levels to prevent pregnancy.

If a person finds it difficult to take the pill on a daily basis, other birth control methods may better suit their needs. A doctor or gynecologist can advise on the range of alternative contraceptives.

Vomiting

Sometimes a person may be ill when they take the pill. When a person vomits, the pill can come back up, or they may not fully absorb it into their body.

Anyone who experiences vomiting shortly after taking the pill should take another pill as soon as possible and then take their next pill as usual.

Not taking the pills at the same time each day.

In addition to taking birth control pills daily, a person should also take the pills at around the same time each day. This can maintain their hormone levels more consistently.

A person should always take the minipill within the same 3-hour time window every day. Someone who misses their window should use a backup birth control method for the next 2 days or avoid having sex.

Many people set a daily alarm reminding them to take their pill at the correct time each day.

Not starting a new pack right away

st johns wort flower and tablets
Some medications and supplements can interact with the pill and decrease its effectiveness.

It is essential to start a new pack of pills the day after finishing the previous one. However, sometimes a person may not have their new package yet. Missing a few days between packs can make the pill less effective at preventing pregnancy.

According to the CDC, anyone who misses two or more pills in a row should use a backup contraceptive method or avoid sexual intercourse until they have taken the birth control pill for 7 consecutive days.

Medications that interfere with the pill

Some medications can make the pill less effective. Medications include certain antibiotics, such as rifampicin, and anti-fungal drugs, such as griseofulvin.

A person should use backup contraception while taking these medications and for 48 hours after finishing the course.

Other more long-term medications and supplements may also affect how well birth control pills work. These can include:

  • epilepsy drugs, such as phenobarbital, phenytoin, and carbamazepine
  • anti-viral medications used to treat HIV
  • St. John’s Wort, which is a herbal remedy

Tips for preventing pill failure

Birth control pills are very effective if a person takes them correctly and does not miss any pill days. The following tips can help prevent unintended pregnancies while taking the pill:

  • reading the packaging and following the instructions carefully
  • taking the pill at the same time every day
  • using an app that tracks periods and provides pills reminders, such as one of the apps from our review article
  • always getting a new pill pack at least 1 week before the last pill pack is due to run out
  • always taking missed pills as soon as possible
  • using a backup method of contraception, such as a condom, if a person misses taking two or more pills in a row

If a person is concerned about not being able to take their pills consistently, they should speak to their doctor or gynecologist about other birth control methods. There are several options available that do not require taking a pill daily, such as an intrauterine device, or IUD.


Early signs of pregnancy

sleepy young woman sitting on armchair
Unexplained tiredness can be an early sign of pregnancy.

If a person is concerned about contraceptive failure and the possibility of being pregnant, they should speak to their doctor. However, there are also some early signs that can indicate pregnancy:

  • Bloating. While bloating is often a symptom of premenstrual syndrome, it can sometimes also be a sign of early pregnancy.
  • Breast tenderness. Raised levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone can cause breast tenderness early in pregnancy. Some women may also experience symptoms, such as tingling, heaviness, or feelings of breast fullness.
  • Light spotting. A small amount of bleeding or spotting can occur when an egg attaches to the uterine lining. If spotting occurs outside of an expected menstrual cycle, it may be an early symptom of pregnancy.
  • Unexplained fatigue. Hormonal changes that occur in the body during pregnancy can make a person feel tired, even during the early stages.
  • Urinating more often. Hormonal changes can increase a woman’s need to urinate during early pregnancy.

Anyone who thinks they could be pregnant may wish to take an at-home pregnancy test. These tests have become more sensitive to a person’s hormone levels and better at detecting pregnancy in its earliest stages.

However, at-home pregnancy tests still may not reliable if an individual takes it too early or does not follow the instructions correctly. According to the United States Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), for most reliable results, a person should take the test 1–2 weeks after their first missed period.

Outlook

While birth control pills are generally very effective, they can sometimes fail to prevent pregnancies if a person does not use them correctly and consistently.

Anyone who is concerned about the effectiveness or convenience of their method of contraception should speak to a doctor.

If a person misses taking more than one pill, they should use a backup contraceptive method for at least 7 consecutive days of retaking the pill.

Medical News Today: How can people speed up dilation?

There are ways to induce labor medically, but a person can often encourage dilation by keeping the body relaxed and loose. This can help ease the delivery.

Dilation is a term that describes the widening of the cervical opening. Dilation of the cervix is one sign that a pregnant woman is going into labor.

During the final stages of pregnancy, doctors perform cervical exams to track the progress of the pregnancy and the extent of dilation of the cervix.

In the first stage of labor, the cervix will dilate to 10 centimeters (cm) in width.

Dilation is typically gradual, but the cervix can widen rapidly over 1 or 2 days. A few different factors can influence how quickly dilation occurs.

In this article, learn how to dilate more quickly before and during labor.

How to dilate faster at home

The following natural methods can help:

Move around

How to dilate faster exercise ball
Using an exercise ball may help to speed up dilation.

Getting up and moving around may help speed dilation by increasing blood flow.

Walking around the room, doing simple movements in bed or chair, or even changing positions may encourage dilation.

This is because the weight of the baby applies pressure to the cervix.

People may also find swaying or dancing to calming music effective.

Use an exercise ball

A large inflatable exercise ball, called a birthing ball in this case, may also help.

Sitting on the ball and rocking back and forth or moving in circles can help keep the muscles in the pelvis loose and relaxed for delivery.

Relax

It is easy to become tense during the last stages of pregnancy, but learning to relax can have a range of benefits.

Stress and muscle tension and can delay labor by making it harder for the cervix to dilate. These issues can also keep the baby from descending.

Many women benefit from practicing breathing exercises or meditation before and during labor. Even dimming the lights can help.

Laugh

Laughing can keep stress and fear at bay. Even momentary relief can relax the body and aid dilation.

Joking around, or watching funny movies or stand-up comedy may help to keep spirits up before and during labor.

Have sex

Sexual stimulation can relax the body.

Also, a hormone called prostaglandin in semen can promote dilation.


Tips for quicker dilation during labor

How to dilate faster
Medical intervention may be necessary during labor.

While labor is a natural process, there are times when a doctor needs to intervene.

Medical intervention may be necessary if:

  • a woman has an infection in the uterus
  • the baby is more than 2 weeks overdue, and active labor has not begun
  • the water has broken, but there are no contractions
  • underlying medical conditions will complicate delivery for the mother or baby

A doctor may apply a medication that contains prostaglandin to soften the cervix and promote dilation.

A process called membrane stripping may help. It involves a doctor or midwife rubbing their fingers against the membranes of the amniotic sac to release prostaglandin into the uterus and help the cervix dilate.

Women interested in natural birth may avoid medical intervention until it is necessary.

The stages of labor

There are three distinct stages:

Stage one

How to dilate faster newborn
There are three distinct stages of labor.

This stage has three phases.

In the first phase, the cervix dilates to 3 cm. The baby drops lower into the pelvis, and this increases the levels of prostaglandin in the body, which stimulates dilation.

The mucus plug that has sealed the opening of the uterus during pregnancy will fall away.

Capillaries in the cervix can rupture during this stage and cause bloody discharge known as the bloody show. This is normal.

The next phase is active labor, when the cervix will dilate further. Some doctors mark the end of this phase when the width of the cervix reaches 7 cm. Others use contractions as a guideline.

The final step in this stage, called the transition phase, lasts until the cervix dilates to 10 cm.

Stage two

The second stage of labor begins when the cervix dilates to 10 cm and ends with delivery. The length of time can vary from woman to woman, and a variety of factors influence it.

Stage three

In this stage, the doctor will deliver the placenta and cut the umbilical cord.


Takeaway

In some situations, a doctor may use medical methods to encourage dilation.

However, there are a number of natural ways to promote dilation before and during labor. It is often a good idea to find ways to relax.

Medical News Today: Multiple sclerosis: Healthful diet tied to lower risk

Eating a healthful diet that is rich in vegetables, fish, legumes, eggs, and poultry is tied to a lower risk of multiple sclerosis, a long-term disease that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve in the eyes.
healthy diet spread
How can a healthful diet lower your risk of MS?

This was the conclusion that researchers from Australia came to after studying links between diet and central nervous system (CNS) demyelination, which is often the first stage of multiple sclerosis (MS).

The condition occurs when there is loss of, or damage to, the fatty insulation surrounding nerve fibers that carry signals to and from brain cells.

The researchers analyzed data on nearly 700 people across Australia. They report their findings in a paper now published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

“There are a number of known environmental risk factors for MS,” explains lead study author Dr. Lucinda J. Black, from the School of Public Health at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

She gives examples such as low levels of vitamin D, having had glandular fever, insufficient exposure to sunlight, and smoking.

However, as she and her colleagues note, the evidence on links between diet and MS was “inconclusive.”

MS and demyelination

MS is a long-term and unpredictable disease. Its symptoms might persist and gradually worsen, or they may come and go. There are four types of MS, depending on the pattern of symptoms and how they progress.

Many researchers believe that in MS, the immune system attacks healthy myelin in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve as if it were a threat. Eventually, the damage also affects the fibers and cells and disrupts signals from the senses and for controlling movement.

Symptoms vary widely, depending on the location and severity of the myelin damage. They include but are not limited to: vision problems, loss of coordination and balance, speech difficulties, numbness, tremors, memory and concentration problems, acute fatigue, and paralysis.

According to the National MS Society, there are more than 2.3 million people worldwide living with MS.

An accurate official figure for the number of people diagnosed with MS in the United States is not available, but a study that released preliminary findings in 2017 suggests it is around 1 million.

While MS can develop at any age, most cases are diagnosed in people aged 20–50. Women are three times more likely to develop MS as men.

Dietary patterns

Dr. Black and her colleagues investigated links “between dietary patterns and risk of a first clinical diagnosis” of CNS demyelination.

They analyzed data from the 2003–2006 Ausimmune Study, which took place in several centers across Australia.

The data included answers to detailed questionnaires about the types of food that people ate and how often they ate them. By analyzing the main food components, the researchers identified two main eating patterns.

One “dietary pattern” was a healthful diet that was high in fish, eggs, poultry meats, legumes, and vegetables.

The other was a “Western-style” diet that was high in full-fat dairy foods and red meats and low in nuts, fresh fruits, wholegrains, and low-fat dairy foods.

The researchers note that the two diets accounted for 9.3 and 7.5 percent of the variability in the eating patterns, respectively.

A 50 percent reduction in MS risk

Of the 698 people whose data the team analyzed, 252 were diagnosed with CNS demyelination and 446 were “healthy” controls.

The results showed that a higher consumption of healthful foods was linked to a lower risk of a first diagnosis of CNS demyelination.

Compared with the individuals who consumed the least, the reduction in risk in those people who consumed the highest amounts of healthful foods was around 50 percent, says Dr. Black.

“This finding is especially relevant to those who currently consume low amounts of these foods,” she adds.

The scientists suggest that there is a need to improve education about how to follow a healthful diet for those who are at high risk for MS.

As MS is a condition that currently cannot be cured, it is important to provide accurate advice to people who are at a higher risk of getting the condition, as this could help to improve their lifestyle and diet.”

Dr. Lucinda J. Black

Medical News Today: Can you drink coffee while breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding can be exhausting, particularly in the early days period when a baby may sleep irregularly and wake up numerous times each night.

A morning cup of coffee might help a person manage sleep deprivation, but many people worry about the effects of caffeine on their babies. However, caffeine is safe in moderation for people who are breastfeeding.

In this article, learn about drinking coffee while breastfeeding, including the risks, benefits, and other sources of caffeine.

Coffee and breastfeeding

Woman breast-feeding in front of coffee mug in cafe
Caffeine consumption before breastfeeding is unlikely to cause any adverse effects.

Many people are told to limit or even eliminate caffeine during pregnancy due to the risk of caffeine crossing the placenta and affecting the developing fetus. However, caffeine is much less likely to affect a breastfeeding infant.

The body metabolizes most of the caffeine in coffee is before it reaches breast milk or has a chance to affect the baby.

According to Dr. Thomas Hale in Medications and Mothers Milk, caffeine is a low-risk drug in moderation. Only about 1 percent of the caffeine a woman consumes gets into her breast milk, and this minuscule amount is not enough to harm most babies.

Breastfeeding parents who want to take the safest approach should consider limiting caffeine intake to about 300 milligrams (mg) a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This amount of caffeine is equivalent to 2–3 cups of coffee.

Even caffeine consumption of more than 300 mg is unlikely to harm a baby. However, the CDC note that extreme caffeine consumption of more than 10 cups a day may cause symptoms in the baby, such as fussiness and jitteriness.

Caffeine levels in breast milk peak 1–2 hours after drinking coffee. A person who has recently breastfed may choose to watch their baby during this time to see whether they experience any effects from the caffeine.


Risks and benefits

While the potential risks of drinking coffee during pregnancy sound scary, the risks of caffeine in breastfeeding infants are mild.

Some experts express concern that caffeine might affect a baby’s sleep, but a 2012 study carried out on 885 babies in Brazil disagrees. The study found no statistically significant impact on the sleep quality of babies aged 3 months when breastfed by someone who consumes caffeine.

A Korean study also found no serious risks of drinking coffee caffeine while breastfeeding, especially with moderate consumption of a few cups a day.

Some people believe that the acids in coffee may lower the iron content of breast milk, though there is no recent scientific evidence to confirm this. Breast milk is naturally low in iron, but babies need iron to develop normally, so people who drink coffee should discuss iron supplementation with a doctor.

People should do what feels comfortable for them, as there is no medical reason to avoid drinking coffee while breastfeeding.

There is also no evidence that caffeine directly benefits the baby.

What about decaf coffee?

Decaf coffee has a small amount of caffeine in it. It is just as safe or even safer than caffeinated coffee. Decaf coffee is still highly acidic, so may affect the amount of iron in breast milk.


Other sources of caffeine

Green tea
Green tea is an alternative source of caffeine.

Coffee is not the only source of caffeine. People concerned about their caffeine consumption or those who notice that caffeine seems to adversely affect the baby should be mindful of other caffeine-rich foods.

Some common sources of caffeine include:

  • energy drinks
  • black, green, and white tea
  • cola drinks
  • chocolate and cocoa products


Takeaway

No scientific evidence says that someone should give up caffeine while breastfeeding, though it is wise to enjoy it in moderation.

Some ways to manage caffeine intake include:

  • Monitoring the baby. Some babies are sensitive to caffeine and may become fussy or restless when the breast milk contains too much caffeine.
  • Considering how other dietary choices, not just caffeine, affect the baby. For instance, a high-sugar drink might affect the baby just as much as caffeine.
  • Knowing that the adult’s well-being matters, too. People who need caffeine to help them maintain energy and deal with frequent nighttime wake-ups and early mornings should not feel guilty about moderate consumption.
  • Drinking caffeine right after a nursing or pumping session. Depending on how frequently a baby nurses, this may allow enough time for the caffeine content in milk to drop before the next nursing session.
  • Making exceptions for a premature baby. If the baby was premature or has a particular medical condition, such as a history of food intolerances, it is best to talk to a doctor or lactation consultant about caffeine.
  • Cutting back. People who consume more than 2–3 cups of coffee a day, could try reducing the amount of caffeine slowly by making “half-caf” cups, which are a mix of regular and decaf coffee.

For more advice about balancing the risks and benefits of caffeine, people who are breastfeeding can talk to a doctor or lactation consultant.

Medical News Today: What to know about brain hypoxia

Brain hypoxia is a form of hypoxia or oxygen deficiency affecting the brain. It occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen even though blood is still flowing. When oxygen supply is totally cut off, it is called brain anoxia.

Brain hypoxia is a medical emergency because the brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function properly.

There are several causes of brain hypoxia. They include drowning, suffocating, cardiac arrest, and stroke. Mild symptoms include memory loss and problems with motor function, such as movement. Severe cases can result in seizures and brain death.

Read on to learn more about brain hypoxia, also known as cerebral hypoxia.

Symptoms

Person in a hospital bed due to brain hypoxia
Brain hypoxia is a medical emergency and severe symptoms can include seizure and coma.

The symptoms of a lack of oxygen to the brain, or brain hypoxia, may be mild or severe and depend on the level and duration of oxygen deprivation.

Mild symptoms of brain hypoxia include:

  • temporary loss of memory
  • problems moving parts of the body
  • inattentiveness
  • poor judgment

Brain cells can begin to die after just 5 minutes of oxygen loss. Symptoms become more dangerous the longer oxygen flow to the brain is cut off.

Severe symptoms of brain hypoxia include:

  • coma
  • seizure
  • brain death

In cases of brain death, there is no brain activity. The pupils of the eyes do not respond to light and people cannot breathe without assistance from a life-support machine. However, the heart continues to pump blood around the body.


Causes of brain hypoxia

There are many reasons why someone may experience brain hypoxia.

Some medical conditions and situations that reduce oxygen supply to the brain include:

  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other diseases that paralyze the breathing muscles
  • brain injury
  • carbon monoxide poisoning
  • cardiac arrest
  • choking
  • complications arising from anesthesia
  • drowning
  • drug overdose
  • high altitudes
  • irregular heartbeat
  • lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD
  • lung infections, including pneumonia
  • respiratory arrest
  • severe asthma attack
  • smoke inhalation, for example, in a house fire
  • strangulation
  • stroke
  • suffocation
  • trauma to the windpipe or lungs
  • trauma that causes blood loss
  • very low blood pressure, also called hypotension


Risk factors

Brain hypoxia can affect anyone who experiences a shortage or lack of oxygen to the brain, but some people are at higher risk than others.

Risk factors for brain hypoxia include:

Playing specific sports

Two males boxing
Certain sports, including boxing, can be a risk factor for brain hypoxia.

Sports enthusiasts may be at higher risk if they engage in activities that have a higher risk than others of resulting in a head injury or trauma to the windpipe.

Those who must hold their breath for long periods or travel to high altitudes are also at increased risk.

Examples of risky activities include:

  • boxing
  • diving
  • football
  • mountain climbing
  • swimming

Having certain medical conditions

Many medical conditions have the potential to affect the oxygen flow to the brain. Examples of such conditions include:

  • ALS
  • asthma
  • heart problems
  • hypotension
  • lung diseases
  • muscle diseases

Working in some professions

People experiencing exposure to intense smoke or carbon monoxide through their job, such as firefighters, may be at increased risk of brain hypoxia.


Diagnosis

A doctor will usually diagnose brain hypoxia based on a person’s medical history, a physical examination, and other tests.

During the medical history and physical examination, the doctor will ask about someone’s current symptoms and recent activities.

The doctor may request tests to confirm hypoxia and find out its cause. These tests include:

  • angiogram of the brain
  • blood tests to check for blood oxygen levels
  • CT scan of the head
  • chest X-ray to see the lungs
  • echocardiogram, to see the heart
  • electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the electrical activity of the heart
  • electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure the brain’s electrical activity and understand the cause of seizures
  • MRI imaging scan of the head

Treatment

Brain hypoxia is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. It is vital that normal oxygen supply to the brain resumes quickly to prevent complications or brain death.

Treatment will vary, depending on the cause and severity of the hypoxia. Basic life support systems are often necessary. People with severe hypoxia may need a machine known as a ventilator to breathe for them.

Other treatments include:

  • blood, fluids, and medications to restore blood pressure and heart rate
  • medications for seizure control

In some cases, a doctor may cool the person down to slow their brain activity and reduce its need for oxygen. However, it is unclear how beneficial this treatment is.


Recovery and outlook

Patient being rushed through a hospital
The duration of a coma and other factors can influence the outcome of brain hypoxia.

How long a person has experienced oxygen deprivation will determine their outlook and recovery from brain hypoxia.

It is difficult to predict how quickly a person will recover, but some factors can help foresee the outcome.

Having low brain oxygen levels for several hours can suggest a poorer recovery. Also, research suggests that a person’s functional status on admission to hospital strongly indicates their recovery prospects.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, in cases of hypoxic or anoxic brain injury, other factors that predict outcome include:

  • Length of coma. The longer a person remains in a coma, the poorer the outcome. They may have a reduced risk of damage if the coma lasts less than 12 hours. However, every case is different.
  • Eye movement. If both eyes have fixed or dilated pupils, it suggests damage to the brain stem, which indicates a worse outlook.
  • Age. People under 25 years of age may recover better than older adults.
  • Results of diagnostic tests. These often give a good indication of recovery. For example, EEG tests that show brain activity may suggest a better outlook.

During recovery from brain hypoxia, people may experience several challenges. These typically resolve over time. They include:

  • amnesia
  • hallucinations
  • insomnia
  • memory loss
  • mood changes
  • muscle spasms and twitches
  • personality changes
  • seizures
  • vision problems

Complications include a prolonged vegetative state, where a person has basic functions but is not awake or alert. These people may develop conditions such as:

Eventually, brain hypoxia can be fatal.

Prevention

It can be challenging to avoid all cases of brain hypoxia. For example, it is difficult to prevent a brain injury received during an unexpected car collision.

To have the best chance of preventing hypoxia, people should monitor health conditions and avoid high altitudes. People should wear proper protective equipment, such as helmets when playing sports with high risks of head injury.

If a person receives cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after a fire or head injury, they may be less likely to experience brain hypoxia, or for it to be less severe. CPR can save lives, especially if carried out immediately.


Takeaway

Brain hypoxia is a medical emergency. If someone displays the symptoms of brain hypoxia or if they are losing consciousness, call the emergency services without delay.

People have their best chance of recovery if they receive medical treatment right away. Prompt medical attention reduces the amount of time that oxygen flow to the brain is limited.

Medical News Today: How your mouth bacteria can harm your lungs

New research now published in the journal mSphere examines the effects of poor dental hygiene on the respiratory health of elderly Japanese people. The recent results shed light on the importance of the tongue microbiota for our respiratory health.
senior lady showing her teeth
Good oral hygiene is particularly important for seniors’ respiratory health, suggests a new study.

The new study was carried out by a team of Japanese-based scientists affiliated with the Kyushu University in Fukuoka.

Dr. Yoshihisa Yamashita, from the Division of Oral Health, Growth, and Development in the Faculty of Dental Science at Kyushu, is the corresponding author of the study.

As Dr. Yamashita and his colleagues explain in their paper, the oral microbiota is important for overall health because the bacteria we ingest affect every aspect of our health.

Medical News Today have reported on a number of studies highlighting the link between the gut microbiota and cancer, obesity, heart conditions, depression, anxiety, and other conditions.

Also, explain the authors of the new research, not only do the bacteria in our tongue microbiota reach our guts, but seniors are also particularly likely to inhale some of these microorganisms.

Problems such as difficulty swallowing and cough reflux may cause the elderly to accidentally inhale bacteria that could lead to pulmonary infections such as pneumonia.

The link between oral health and pneumonia

In order to investigate the effect of dental hygiene on seniors, Dr. Yamashita and team examined the tongue microbiota composition of 506 community-dwelling seniors aged 70–80 years.

The seniors were residents of Hisayama, Japan, and they had received a dental examination in 2016.

Using an advanced technique of genomic sequencing called 16S rRNA genetic sequencing, the researchers determined the composition and density of the seniors’ microbiota.

The main bacteria identified were Prevotella histicola, Veillonella atypica, Streptococcus salivarius, and Streptococcus parasanguinis.

Previous studies, say the researchers, have linked these microorganisms with a higher risk of death from pneumonia.

These bacteria were found predominantly in seniors with more plaque, more cavities, and fewer teeth. Additionally, the study found more fungi in these seniors’ microbiotas, as well as among those who wore dentures.

“These results,” conclude the authors, “suggest that elderly adults with poorer oral health swallow a more dysbiotic microbiota formed on the tongue.”

Dysbiosis describes microbial imbalance either in the gut or tongue. Microbial imbalance in the gut, for example, has been associated with several diseases that involve the immune system, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

In elderly people, such an imbalance in the tongue microbiota was also linked with a higher risk of pneumonia-related death in previous studies.

Dr. Yamashita summarizes these findings, saying, “Fewer teeth, poorer dental hygiene, and more dental caries (cavities) experience are closely related to dysbiotic shift in the tongue microbiota composition, which might be harmful to the respiratory health of elderly adults with swallowing problems.”

The study highlights the importance of dental health. “Careful attention should be given to the tongue microbiota status in elderly adults with poorer dental conditions,” says Dr. Yamashita.

In the United States, over 540,000 seniors were hospitalized and diagnosed with pneumonia in 2015. Almost 52,000 people died as a result.

Medical News Today: Synesthesia: Hearing colors and tasting sounds

Can you taste sounds or visualize symphonies of color whenever you hear a song? If your answer to these is “yes,” you may have a wonderful condition known as synesthesia, which you share with many great artists, writers, and musicians.
concept image of face surrounded by color
In this Spotlight, we look at how synesthesia can affect perception.

Writer Vladimir Nabokov had it, and he called it “color hearing.”

By his own account, Nabokov saw each letter in different colors, despite the fact that text was printed all-black on white paper.

Interestingly, both his wife and his son shared this fascinating ability, though they each saw different palettes of color for the alphabet.

“My wife has this gift of seeing letters in color, too, but her colors are completely different,” declared the writer in an interview.

[W]e discovered one day that my son […] sees letters in colors, too. Then we asked him to list his colors and we discovered that in one case, one letter which he sees as purple, or perhaps mauve, is pink to me and blue to my wife. This is the letter M. So the combination of pink and blue makes lilac in his case. Which is as if genes were painting in aquarelle.”

Vladimir Nabokov in an interview for the BBC in 1962

Many other cultural personalities besides Nabokov have reported having a form of synesthesia, including painter Wassily Kandinsky, inventor Nikola Tesla, and composer Franz Liszt.

What is synesthesia?

The word “synesthesia” is derived from Latin and literally means “concomitant sensations.” People with this condition — often referred to as “synesthetes” — experience a unique blending of two senses or perceptions.

This may be sounds automatically coupled with tastes, sounds with colors, or written letters with colors.

There are actually various different types of synesthesia, and people who have one type might often also experience another. But how many different types of synesthesia are there?

Researchers explain that this is difficult to deduce. Since there are five traditionally accepted senses — sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell — and synesthesia is characterized by the crossover of two senses or perceptions, there could be numerous possible combinations.

The most commonly reported types of synesthesia, however, are color-graphemic, in which letters, numbers, or geometric shapes are linked to colors or patterns, and color-auditory synesthesia, in which various sounds immediately recall specific colors, shapes, or textures.

‘Like iridescent white cubes moving around in clusters’

One synesthete who spoke to Medical News Today gave us a highly impressive description of her experience of color-auditory synesthesia.

“As far back as I can remember,” she told MNT, “I would experience music on the radio as a colorful landscape of moving shapes in my head, whereas speech would invoke mental images of a single moving line of color — a bit like a floating stroke of spray paint, hanging in the air.”

[The sound produced by] each [musical] instrument has its own color… Flutes are sky-blue whereas an oboe is more indigo… The sound of a piano seems to me like iridescent white cubes moving around in clusters as though they’re floating in water.”

Like a number of other synesthetes, however, she also has another form of synesthesia: the color-graphemic kind, which causes her to experience numbers and letters in particular colors. In her case, however, it comes with some unique twists.

“For instance,” she said, “there are no purple numbers…and yet both 7 and 8 are blue…(Although 7 is sky-blue and 8 is indigo),” adding that, for her, “Words are usually the color of their first letter.”

“This isn’t always the case though,” she notes. “Friday for instance is brown, when F is green and Thursday is maroon, when T is indigo…I see the days of the week as though they’re on a ladder, with Saturday and Sunday as the top two steps — I’ve heard that some others see this as well!”

How common is synesthesia?

It is difficult to say how many people actually experience synesthesia, mainly because there is very little research that has aimed to address this question. Moreover, some people may not know that what they experience is unusual, and so they may not speak about it.

people at a festival
Many synesthetes may not realize for a long time that their condition is unique.

The synesthete that MNT interviewed explained to us that she did not, in fact, realize for a long time that her condition was unique, having assumed that most people experience something similar.

“I always knew that my specific coloring of letters and numbers was personal to me, but presumed everyone else had a similar code of their own,” she told us.

“And then at primary school, I realized not everyone saw colors and imagery in this way…but,” she went on, “it was only in university that I realized that it was a real minority of us who had synesthesia.”

Researchers at Boston University in Massachusetts have suggested that around “1 in every 100,000 people to 1 in every 5,000 people” have one or more forms of synesthesia.

A study that was conducted in 2006 by several researchers based at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom indicated that color-graphemic synesthesia may be experienced by just over 1 percent of individuals.

The study authors also concluded that this kind of perception may nevertheless be more common than we would have thought, saying that “the prevalence of synesthesia [seemed to be] 88 times higher than previously assumed.”

Mechanisms and causes

From a specialist point of view, synesthesia is defined as a neurological condition, as it changes a person’s perception of, and interaction with, certain aspects of the surrounding world.

As some specialists will explain, the main characteristic of this condition — the association of two complementary sensations or perceptions — “arise[s] spontaneously during [early] development.”

These associations are also constant for synesthetes. That is, if the letter “A” recalls the color blue, for example, this perception will never change.

Some people with color-graphemic synesthesia report that a letter or number may evoke a color whose name it sounds like. So, “A” may trigger a vision of gray, and the number “5” may evoke “white.”

In fact, Nabokov — who was fluent in several languages — reported experiencing the same letters in different colors and textures, depending on the language that he was using at any one time.

“The long ‘A’ of the English alphabet has for me the tint of weathered wood, but a French ‘A’ evokes polished ebony,” he explained in his interview for the BBC.

Is it down to genetics or to early learning?

So, what causes these intriguing perception cross-overs? Researchers do not always agree, and in fact, synesthesia may quite possibly arise via different mechanisms in different people.

Some studies have suggested that the condition is genetically inherited, which may explain why Nabokov’s son had color-graphemic synesthesia, like both of his parents.

However, research conducted in identical twins in which one sibling of the pair has synesthesia while the other does not suggests that other factors may also be at play.

A paper that was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports in 2014 by researchers from the University of Brighton in the U.K. proposes that early learning may be key in the development and continuity of synesthetic experiences.

“[Color-graphemic synesthesia],” the authors write, “appears to emerge in early school years, where first major pressures to use graphemes [symbols and codes such as letters and numbers] are encountered, and then becomes cemented in later years.”

“In fact,” they say, “for certain abstract inducers, such as graphemes, it is implausible that humans are born with synesthetic associations to these stimuli. Hence, learning must be involved in the development of at least some forms of synesthesia.”

How does it affect a person’s life?

Synesthesia — through the unexpected associations that it produces in a person’s brain — can be a great source of inspiration, and perhaps this is part of the reason why so much art, and so many inventions, have come from synesthetes.

people shaking hands in an office
Synesthesia can come in handy during day-to-day situations, such as in helping people recall forgotten names.

The one who spoke to MNT confirmed that her synesthetic experiences have contributed to shaping her work and interests.

One of her synesthesia forms is characterized by perceiving music in colors — and this has inspired her to make her own music.

“I like to write music,” she told us, “and because I see the notes visually, I think that helps create a nice aural balance as well — it’s like another mental display that’s available when trying to mix [sounds].”

Synesthesia can also be pragmatically helpful, as the associations it triggers can easily be used as mnemonic devices, allowing synesthetes to recall certain types of information more easily.

Our interviewee said that this happens to her, as well. “I think the colors help me remember people’s names,” she explained, “because if I’ve forgotten [the name of a person] called Mark for instance, I’ll still have a sense that they’re a ‘red person,’ which means I’ll know that their name must start with the red letter, which is M.”

I can also beat anyone at word searches, because although I’d say the letters do look visually black, the mental imposition of color is significant enough to make certain letters stand out.”

The associations formed in the minds of synesthetes are also valuable to researchers investigating how our brains code and process certain types of information, such as language.

One study, for instance, worked with a cohort of color-graphemic synesthetes to look into natural language processing.

In the future, some researchers argue, studying the mechanisms of synesthesia in more detail could provide crucial input for cognitive science research and allow us all to gain a better understanding of how our brains guide us and help us navigate the world.

Medical News Today: What’s the difference between bipolar I and bipolar II?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes abnormally high and in some cases, low moods. It affects a person’s energy levels and their ability to function in everyday life.

There are several types of bipolar disorder, the most widespread being bipolar I and bipolar II.

In this article, learn about the similarities and differences between bipolar I and bipolar II. We also consider their causes, symptoms, and the available treatment options.

Types of bipolar disorder

Man looking thoughtful.
A person with bipolar disorder may experience extreme changes in mood.

People with bipolar disorder experience abnormal highs or lows in mood. During a “high,” also known as a manic episode, people feel intense energy or excitement.

During a “low,” or depressive episode, they experience symptoms of depression, such as sadness and hopelessness.

There are four distinct types of bipolar disorder:

  • bipolar I disorder
  • bipolar II disorder
  • cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia
  • other specified and unspecified bipolar disorder

A doctor can diagnose a person with one of the above types based on the duration and intensity of their symptoms.

Bipolar I and bipolar II are the most widespread forms of bipolar disorder. They are also the more severe of the bipolar disorders.

Bipolar I vs. bipolar II

Bipolar I and II have similar symptoms and patterns in which symptoms occur. However, people who have bipolar II will experience less severe manic episodes than people with bipolar I. This type of mania is known as hypomania.

To receive a diagnosis of bipolar II, a person must also experience a major depressive episode , which does not apply in a diagnosis of bipolar I.

A doctor can diagnose bipolar I based on the presence of a manic episode alone. People with bipolar I disorder have at least one manic episode that persists for a week or longer or severe mania that requires hospitalization.

Those with bipolar II disorder do not generally require hospitalization during hypomanic periods. Doctors sometimes misdiagnose bipolar II as depression because the hypomanic symptoms can be very subtle.

In between these episodes of mania and depression, people who have either of these types of bipolar may experience periods of stable mood. It is also possible to have symptoms of depression and mania at the same time. This is known as bipolar with “mixed features.”


Symptoms

The main symptoms of bipolar I and bipolar II are mania, hypomania, and depression.

Mania

Close up of condensation on glass of alcohol with ice.
During a manic episode, a person may have an increased desire to drink alcohol.

During a manic episode, people can experience:

  • intense enthusiasm, happiness, or excitement
  • anger, restlessness, or irritability
  • increased energy, characterized by being over-talkative or overactive
  • less need for sleep and difficulty sleeping
  • racing thoughts
  • difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • reckless behavior
  • pleasure-seeking behaviors, such as increased interest in sex, alcohol, and drugs
  • high self-esteem

Periods of mania can interfere with a person’s daily activities and their relationships with others.

Some people may be unable to achieve a calm state or to have rational thoughts during a manic episode.

Hypomania

In a state of hypomania, people experience symptoms similar to those in mania, except less severe.

Hypomania can still interfere with a person’s quality of life, and family and friends may notice that the person is experiencing mood changes.

Depression

People with bipolar disorder may experience depressive symptoms that are the same as those experienced in cases of clinical depression. These include:

  • sadness
  • hopelessness
  • low energy and fatigue
  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • changes in appetite
  • poor concentration
  • loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities
  • low self-esteem
  • aches and pains that have no apparent physical cause
  • thoughts of suicide or death
  • suicidal behavior

Doctors consider these symptoms to be a depressive episode if they persist for 2 weeks or more.

Prevalence

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 2.8 percent of adults in the United States experience bipolar disorder in a given year. An estimated 4.4 percent of people experience bipolar at some point in their lives.

The condition affects men and women almost equally. Onset occurs at an average age of 25, but it can happen to people of any age.


Diagnosis

Woman in counseling or therapy session
A psychiatrist can assess an individual to give a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

To receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, individuals will need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. They will review the person’s medical history and symptoms.

This psychiatric assessment will focus on a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Some people might find it helpful to have a loved one present to provide the doctor with information about other symptoms, especially during manic periods.

The psychiatrist or psychologist may also ask a person to keep a mood diary to track their moods, sleep patterns, and other symptoms. This diary can help with a diagnosis.

The psychiatrist or psychologist will compare the person’s symptoms to the criteria for bipolar disorders outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The psychiatrist or psychologist may carry out blood tests, a physical examination, or brain imaging tests to rule out other causes of the symptoms.

Treatment

Treatment for bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder typically consists of medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes.

As bipolar disorder is a long-term condition, treatment will be long-lasting. Some people may have a treatment team that includes a psychologist, therapist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Medications

Doctors usually prescribe mood stabilizers, such as lithium, for bipolar disorder. They may also prescribe antipsychotic drugs for manic episodes and antidepressants for depression.

As antidepressant medications may “trigger” manic episodes in some people, doctors might recommend a combination of antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs to reduce depression while stabilizing mood.

For people who have anxiety or sleep problems, anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, may help. However, this strategy may come with a risk of dependence to benzodiazepines.

People can begin taking medications right away, even if they are not currently experiencing a manic or depressive episode.

It is vital to continue taking medications even during periods of stable mood to avoid relapse.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is an essential part of treatment for bipolar I and II disorders. Therapy may take place on a one-to-one basis, as part of a group, or in a family setting.

Several different types of therapy can help, including:

  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), which focuses on establishing a structured routine to help people cope with symptoms.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
  • Family-focused therapy, to enhance communication with family members and to foster family support.

Lifestyle changes

Many people can make lifestyle changes to manage their symptoms and help stabilize their moods. Examples of helpful changes include:

  • avoiding alcohol and drugs
  • exercising regularly
  • eating a balanced diet
  • establishing a sleep routine
  • attending a support group for people with mood-related disorders
  • practicing mindfulness and meditation
  • reducing stress where possible
  • learning more about their condition

Some people also find it helpful to keep a daily mood diary. Keeping a journal can allow people to see patterns in their thoughts, moods, and behaviors.

A mood diary also helps identify triggers for manic or depressive episodes. This may help a person take appropriate action before a slight mood change worsens.


Outlook

Although bipolar I and II are long-term conditions, most people can manage their symptoms with medications, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Maintaining regular contact with mental health professionals and seeking support from friends and family can make it easier to cope with challenging symptoms.

Anyone who thinks they may be experiencing symptoms of bipolar I or II should speak to a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Medical News Today: Do you perceive smells that aren’t there?

Do you smell things that aren’t there? If so, you are not alone. A recently published study finds that so-called phantom odor perception is much more common than you might think.
Bad smell man
Detecting odors that aren’t there is more common than once believed.

Phantom odor perception (POP) describes the experience of smelling something — perhaps burning hair or an ashtray — that is not there.

This experience is well documented, but very little specific research has been carried out.

Scientists of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) recently conducted a study into POP, asking why it might occur in certain people but not others.

Kathleen Bainbridge, Ph.D., led the study. Its findings are now published in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery.

Researcher Judith A. Cooper, Ph.D., the acting director of the NIDCD, explains why this topic is important.

“Problems with the sense of smell are often overlooked,” she says, “despite their importance. They can have a big impact on appetite, food preferences, and the ability to smell danger signals such as fire, gas leaks, and spoiled food.”

The statistics behind POP

The researchers took data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They used data from more than 7,000 people over 40 years old, taken in 2011–2014.

Within the questionnaire was the question, “Do you sometimes smell an unpleasant, bad, or burning odor when nothing is there?”

They discovered that, overall, 6.5 percent of people over the age of 40 experienced POP, which equates to around 1 in 15 people.

Sense of smell tends to decline with age, but the opposite seemed to be the case for POP. Around 5 percent of over 60s experienced the phenomenon, but the figure was much higher in the 40–60 age range.

The study also revealed that POP affected women almost twice as often as it did men, and this sex difference was more pronounced in the 40–60 age group.

When the scientists looked for potential risk factors, they found that risk was increased for people with poor overall health or a lower socioeconomic status.

This latter risk factor, they hypothesized, could be because people with a lower socioeconomic status might be exposed to higher levels of environmental pollutants and toxins. They are also more likely to have other health conditions and medications that could produce POP.

Head injury, smoking, and alcohol

Those with dry mouth had three times the risk of those who did not. Head injuries increased risk, too; 1 in 10 people who had experienced a loss of consciousness due to a head injury reported POP. However, injury to the face, nose, or skull without a loss of consciousness did not affect people’s risk.

Furthermore, individuals who smoked cigarettes regularly were more likely to report POP. Overall alcohol consumption was not related to POP, but those who drank alcohol on more than 3 days each week had a lower risk.

The causes of phantom odor perception are not understood. The condition could be related to overactive odor-sensing cells in the nasal cavity or perhaps a malfunction in the part of the brain that understands odor signals.”

Kathleen Bainbridge, Ph.D.

She continues, “A good first step in understanding any medical condition is a clear description of the phenomenon. From there, other researchers may form ideas about where to look further for possible causes and ultimately for ways to prevent or treat the condition.”

This is the first time that POP has been quantified in the United States population and adds to our understanding. The condition has proved difficult to quantify in the past because people do not necessarily mention it to their clinician. In this sample, for instance, only 11.1 percent of those experiencing POP had discussed it with a medical professional.

Hopefully, a greater awareness of the condition might help provide clearer answers in the near future.

Medical News Today: Psychedelic compound triggers near-death experiences

A new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, suggests that a psychedelic compound found in ayahuasca replicates near-death experiences in the brain.
ayahuasca brew
The plant-based ayahuasca brew (shown here) may mimic the effects of a near-death experience.

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew made from different plants.

A main ingredient is dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is a “non-selective serotonin receptor agonist” — that is, a compound that boosts serotonin, or the “happiness hormone.”

DMT has to be taken with other complementary substances for its psychoactive properties to become active.

Once DMT has been absorbed, it activates the same receptors as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and “magic mushrooms.”

The experiences, visions, and feelings triggered by ayahuasca and DMT have been described as “mystical” and “healing.” Recent research suggests that ayahuasca may even cure severe depression.

New research now suggests that DMT has another “hidden power.” It can “recreate” near-death experiences in the brain.

The new study that proposes this was carried out by scientists at Imperial College London (ICL) in the United Kingdom. They were supervised by Robin Carhart-Harris, the head of psychedelic research at ICL’s Division of Brain Sciences, Faculty of Medicine.

Studying DMT and near-death experiences

Carhart-Harris and his colleagues gave DMT or a placebo to 13 healthy study participants, aged 34, on average. The participants had volunteered, and they were medically supervised throughout the process. The volunteers took part in two sessions and received a total of four doses of DMT.

The researchers also asked the volunteers to answer a standard questionnaire that had been filled by people who reported near-death experiences in the past.

The questionnaire had 16 items and included questions such as, “Did scenes from your past come back to you?” and, “Did you see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant light?” The participants filled in the questionnaire after each session.

As the researchers explain in their study, there is no universal definition of near-death experiences, but people who say that they have had such an experience report visions of a bright light, feelings of “another realm,” or traveling through a “void” that most people perceive as a tunnel.

The questionnaire included a score for each question across four parameters: cognitive, affective, transcendental, and paranormal. An overall score of 7 or higher was considered to indicate a near-death experience.

Carhart-Harris and colleagues compared the participants’ replies with those of 67 people who said that they had had near-death experiences in the past.

DMT induces near-death experiences

The study revealed that all participants scored 7 or above, indicating that DMT had induced a near-death-like experience.

First study author Chris Timmermann says, “Our findings show a striking similarity between the types of experiences people are having when they take DMT and people who have reported a near-death experience.”

Study co-author David Nutt, who is a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at ICL, also weighs in, saying, “These data suggest that the well-recognized life-changing effects of both DMT and [near-death experiences] might have the same neuroscientific basis.”

Carhart-Harris suggests that the results reinforce the idea that near-death experiences have more to do with what goes on in our brains rather than another world or “divine” realm.

These findings are important as they remind us that [near-death experiences] occur because of significant changes in the way the brain is working, not because of something beyond the brain.”

Robin Carhart-Harris

“DMT is a remarkable tool that can enable us to study and thus better understand the psychology and biology of dying,” he adds.

Timmermann highlights the importance of further research. “We hope to conduct further studies to measure the changes in brain activity that occur when people have taken the compound,” he says.

“This, together with other work,” concludes Timmermann, “will help us to explore not only the effects on the brain, but whether they might possibly be of medicinal benefit in future.”

Medical News Today: Panic attack vs. heart attack: How to tell the difference

The symptoms of a panic attack and a heart attack can be very similar, making it difficult to tell the difference.

Also, having a heart attack can cause someone to panic, which may make the situation more confusing. If someone thinks they may be having a heart attack, they should seek emergency medical attention.

Every year, about 2 to 3 percent of people in the United States experience panic disorder. Symptoms of a panic attack can include:

  • sharp pain in the chest
  • tingling in the hands
  • shortness of breath
  • racing heart
  • sweating
  • shaking

Every year, about 735,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweating

While the symptoms of these two conditions overlap, knowing how to tell the difference can be lifesaving.

How to tell the difference

Knowing the difference between a panic attack vs. heart attack can be difficult, especially if a person has never experienced the symptoms of either before.

Distinguishing between the two conditions can be made easier by several factors, including:

Characteristics of the pain

Woman having heart attack or panic attack
A squeezing sensation may characterize a heart attack.

Although chest pain is common to both a panic attack and a heart attack, the characteristics of the pain often differ.

During a panic attack, chest pain is usually sharp or stabbing and localized to the middle of the chest.

Chest pain from a heart attack may resemble pressure or a squeezing sensation.

Chest pain that occurs due to a heart attack may also start in the center of the chest, but can then radiate from the chest to the arm, jaw, or shoulder blades.

Onset

The onset of symptoms may also help a person know if they are having a panic attack or heart attack.

Although both conditions can develop suddenly and without warning, there may still be some differences.

Sometimes heart attacks come on due to physical exertion, such as climbing the stairs.

Duration

The duration of symptoms might also help distinguish between a heart attack and panic attack.

Although it can vary, most panic attacks are over in 20 to 30 minutes.

During a heart attack, symptoms tend to last longer and get worse over time. For example, chest pain may be mild at the onset of a heart attack but become severe after several minutes.


Can a panic attack cause a heart attack?

A panic attack will not cause a heart attack. A blockage in one or more of the blood vessels to the heart, which leads to an interruption of vital blood flow, causes a heart attack.

Although a panic attack will not cause a heart attack, stress and anxiety might play a role in the development of coronary artery disease.

Panic attacks can occur as isolated events or as part of an anxiety disorder.

Some research indicates that people with anxiety disorders may have an increased risk of developing heart disease due to low heart rate variability (HRV).

HRV is the time between each heartbeat. The autonomic nervous system controls the heart rate. The heart rate is meant to vary throughout the day, depending on a person’s activities and emotions.

A high HRV indicates that a person’s heart rate shifts efficiently throughout the day, based on what they are doing. It is also a sign that their autonomic nervous system is working well.

A low HRV means a person’s heart does not switch gears as efficiently. Some studies associate a low HRV with an increased risk of heart disease.

In the researchers’ analysis of studies looking at HRV in people who were diagnosed with various types of anxiety disorder, including panic disorder, the results indicated the participants had a lower HRV than those without an anxiety disorder.

It is crucial to understand that having a panic attack or panic disorder does not mean someone will have a heart attack. Additional research is needed to say if having panic disorder increases the risk of developing heart disease, definitively.


When to see a doctor

A doctor at a desk showing tablet to patient
A doctor may use a cardiogram to accurately diagnose heart disease.

As the symptoms of panic attacks and heart attacks are similar, it is always best to seek immediate medical attention when in doubt.

It is vital to seek emergency medical treatment if any of the following symptoms develop:

  • sudden severe chest pain
  • pressure in the chest, lasting more than 2 or 3 minutes
  • chest pain, radiating down the arm or into the jaw

According to the Woman’s Heart Foundation, doctors may mistake heart disease for panic attacks in women. Medical tests, such as an electrocardiogram and blood tests, can help a doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

A person’s outlook and recovery can improve when they receive prompt treatment for a heart attack. Even if symptoms are not due to a heart attack, a person can also receive medical treatment for a panic attack.


Outlook

The outlook will vary, depending on whether a person has experienced a heart attack or a panic attack.

Although a panic attack may feel very uncomfortable, it is not life-threatening. Panic attacks can interfere with a person’s quality of life, so they should seek appropriate treatment.

A doctor can help treat anxiety and panic attacks with various techniques, including lifestyle modifications, medication, and counseling.

In some cases, a heart attack can be life-threatening. With prompt treatment, many people survive a heart attack. Following a heart attack, a person will also need to take steps to manage the underlying heart disease.

Q:

Is there a way to rule out a heart attack at home, or should a person always seek emergency medical attention?

A:

People should always seek emergency medical attention when having chest pain or discomfort, chest pain that radiates to other parts of the body, or shortness of breath. Some other symptoms that might accompany a heart attack include nausea, sweating, and lightheadedness.

Gerhard Whitworth, RN Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Medical News Today: Is it safe to mix aspirin and ibuprofen?

Taking aspirin and ibuprofen at the same time can cause side effects. The safety of mixing these drugs depends on the reasons why people are taking them.

Aspirin and ibuprofen are both pain relievers from the same family of medicines known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs.

Because they are from the same family of drugs, aspirin and ibuprofen have the same potential side effects. Taking them together may increase the risk of these side effects.

This article will look at what people use aspirin and ibuprofen for, if they can ever take them together, and what the alternatives are.

Overview

Aspirin ibuprofen tablets
Taking aspirin and ibuprofen together may increase the risk of side effects.

The pain relievers aspirin and ibuprofen are both classed as NSAIDs and so have similar side effects.

They can be purchased over the counter and used separately to treat mild pain. Over-the-counter uses of aspirin and ibuprofen include the relief of:

Both drugs are also used to treat long-term medical issues, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Doctors often prescribe aspirin to people who have had a heart attack or suffer from a heart condition called angina. It is also used to prevent heart attacks in people who have risk factors for heart disease and to prevent strokes.


Can I take aspirin and ibuprofen together?

Aspirin ibuprofen can cause stomach issues
Stomach problems are a common side effect of NSAIDs.

If a person is already taking aspirin for aches and pains in an analgesic dose, then also taking ibuprofen does not make sense. Taking ibuprofen as well could increase their chances of side effects.

If someone is taking aspirin in low doses to prevent heart attacks, they may be able to take ibuprofen periodically for aches and pains, such as headaches and muscle aches.

Common side effects of NSAIDs include:

If a doctor has prescribed aspirin to someone to help prevent a heart attack, then taking ibuprofen at the same time for pain relief can interfere with the benefits of aspirin for the heart.

But the periodic or occasional use of ibuprofen should not prevent the beneficial effects of aspirin.

Some people should avoid NSAIDs altogether, including those who:

  • are allergic to aspirin or ibuprofen
  • have asthma
  • have uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • have severe liver or kidney disease
  • have a bleeding disorder
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding

Aspirin is also not suitable for children and young people under 16 years of age.

How long after taking aspirin can I take ibuprofen or vice versa?

Many people may choose not to mix aspirin and ibuprofen because of the increased chance of side effects, while others will do so despite the risk.

For people who take aspirin to protect the heart or to prevent a stroke, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend that ibuprofen for pain relief should be taken 8 hours before immediate-release aspirin or 30 minutes afterward.

However, the FDA also recommend that people who want to take both should contact their doctor for more information on the timings of when to take these two medicines so that both remain effective.


What if I take aspirin and ibuprofen together by accident?

Aspirin ibuprofen swollen feet
A person should see a doctor if they experience swollen hands or feet.

If a person has taken aspirin and ibuprofen together by accident, they may experience side effects. Making a note of side effects is important.

Most of the time, people can manage any side effects at home in the following ways:

  • Indigestion: An antacid can ease discomfort caused by indigestion.
  • Nausea: Sticking to simple meals and avoiding rich or spicy foods can help.
  • Vomiting: Small, frequent sips of water can help ward off dehydration.
  • Wind: Smaller meals than usual that do not contain foods, such as pulses, lentils, beans, and onions, can help reduce flatulence.

If a person has any of the following serious side effects, they should report them to a doctor straight away:

  • red, blistered, and peeling skin
  • coughing up blood, or blood in the urine, stool, or vomit
  • yellow skin or eyes, as this can be a sign of liver problems
  • painful joints in the hands and feet, as this can be a sign of high levels of uric acid in the blood
  • swollen hands or feet

A severe allergic reaction is an emergency that needs immediate medical attention. The signs are:

  • itchy, red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin
  • wheezing
  • tightness in the chest or throat
  • trouble breathing or talking
  • swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat

What can I take instead of aspirin and ibuprofen?

The best medication to take for pain depends on the type of pain a person is experiencing.

Acetaminophen is often a good choice for mild to moderate pain or fever. If people need stronger pain relief than this, they can talk to their doctor or pharmacist about other options.

People can take acetaminophen safely alongside NSAIDs.

A doctor or pharmacist may provide a prescription for pain relief and sometimes a further evaluation and consultation.


Takeaway

Doctors advise that people avoid using ibuprofen and aspirin together, as it increases the likelihood of side effects. This is because both drugs are from the same family of medicines known as NSAIDs.

For people who take regular aspirin to look after their heart, it is essential for them to know that ibuprofen can interfere with this function of the medicine. Even so, occasionally taking ibuprofen will be ok. If people need to do this, they may want to consult a doctor first to ensure there is no conflict.

Taking acetaminophen alongside NSAIDs to provide pain relief is safe.

Medical News Today: What are the natural ways to prevent prostate cancer?

There is no single best way to prevent prostate cancer, but several natural methods can help. These include maintaining a healthful weight, exercising, and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the type most common among American men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For the majority, prostate cancer is not fatal.

The American Cancer Society estimate that males with prostate cancer have a 5-year survival rate of 99 percent.

Prostate cancer can still carry serious consequences for quality of life and may be life-threatening.

In this article, we describe several natural steps a person can take to reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer.

Can you prevent prostate cancer?

Tofu in a bowl which may help to reduce prostate cancer risk
Adding soy products to the diet may reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer.

It is not possible to prevent prostate cancer, but it is possible to reduce a person’s risk.

Most natural methods of reducing this risk are safe if a person follows a doctor’s instructions and has no allergic response.

Incorporate these methods into a broader care plan, and speak with a doctor beforehand.

The best ways to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer are to make positive changes involving diet and exercise, according to the American Cancer Society.

If a person tries to reduce their risk in other ways, these are less likely to be effective without a healthful diet and exercise program.


Natural ways to lower risk

Researchers continue to investigate the potential for medications and natural remedies to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

The following drugs may be effective:

  • finasteride (Proscar)
  • dutasteride (Avodart)
  • aspirin

However, no study to date definitively demonstrates that any drugs can eliminate the risk.

In recent years, rigorous biomedical research has tested the effectiveness of natural remedies. For example, results of laboratory studies have suggested that saw palmetto has beneficial properties. However, it is not an effective treatment for prostate cancer.

Below are some natural remedies that are commonly used to lower the risk of prostate cancer.

Soy products

Isoflavones are a chemical compound with anti-inflammatory properties. The foods with the highest concentrations of isoflavones are soybean products, including:

  • tofu
  • soy milk
  • miso

Other foods that contain isoflavones include:

  • chickpeas
  • beans
  • alfalfa

A 2016 study concluded that isoflavones could benefit health in several ways, including helping to protect against prostate cancer.

The medical community currently holds that, while isoflavones cannot treat or prevent the disease, they can play a protective role.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are present in fish and other types of seafood. Additional sources include:

  • walnuts
  • flax seeds
  • soybeans

There is some evidence that omega-3s fatty acids may reduce prostate cancer risk.

However, many experts no longer believe that the acids have significant cancer-fighting properties.

Tomatoes

variety of tomatoes on a board
Studies suggest that tomato consumption may lead to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

Processed tomatoes, including all cooked and canned varieties, contain a compound called lycopene.

Some studies suggest that this compound may reduce the risk of cancers, especially those of the prostate, lung, and stomach.

A review from 2016 found that increased tomato consumption resulted in a reduced risk of prostate cancer, though the authors note that more research is needed.

Grapefruit, watermelon, and apricots also contain lycopene.

Coffee

In 2016, researchers published a review of 105 studies that considered the effects of coffee on cancer risk.

They concluded that coffee and its antioxidant capabilities may reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer and some other types of the disease.

What to avoid

Some compounds in foods may increase a person’s risk of developing prostate cancer.

Consider avoiding the following:

Selenium and vitamin E

The medical community once considered selenium and vitamin E to be opponents of cancer.

However, more recent research suggests that these compounds, when taken together or in isolation, can increase the risk of prostate cancer in some people.

Anyone concerned about prostate cancer should avoid supplements containing vitamin E or selenium.

Vegetable oils

A diet excessively high in fat can increase the risk of many types of cancer, and the omega-6 fatty acids in vegetable oils may promote the growth of prostate cancer cells.

Oils derived from corn, sunflowers, safflowers, cottonseed, and soybeans, for example, can contain substantial amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.

Grilled or fried meats

The National Cancer Institute in the United States advises against eating meats cooked at high temperatures, typically by grilling or frying.

When a person cooks muscle meat, including beef, pork, and poultry, at high temperatures, the meat may form chemicals that cause changes in DNA, resulting in an increased risk of cancer.

Sugar and carbohydrates

The glycemic load and glycemic index measurements show how quickly carbohydrates and sugars affect a person’s blood sugar and insulin.

Some studies have suggested that a diet with a high glycemic load may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report that, while the relationship between sugar and cancer remains complex, sugar may have the highest impact on the risk of prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancers.


Risk factors

gp listening to depressed senior male patient and taking notes
People aged 65 years of age or older account for many cases of prostate cancer.

Risk factors for prostate cancer include:

  • Age. Approximately 60 percent of all prostate cancer diagnoses occur in males aged 65 or older.
  • Genetics. The highest rates of prostate cancer in the U.S. occur in African-American men, followed by men who are Caucasian, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander, respectively.
  • Diet. A diet rich in fat and low in fruits and vegetables increases the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Environment. Exposure to some industrial chemicals also increases this risk.
  • Family history. If a father or brother has had prostate cancer, a person has more than twice the risk of developing it.

Get regular testing

A lifestyle that includes exercise and a healthful diet can help to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

However, attending regular checkups and screenings is still the best way to handle this risk.

Speak with a doctor before trying natural or alternative ways to prevent cancer.


Takeaway

While it is not possible to prevent prostate cancer, some lifestyle changes and natural compounds may reduce a person’s risk.

Anyone concerned about their prostate cancer risk should attend regular checkups and screenings.

Medical News Today: ‘Junk DNA’ has role in cancer spread, say scientists

Bits of DNA that were once considered useless actually contain instructions for making molecules that help cancer spread, say scientists.
glassy DNA
What scientists thought was ‘junk DNA’ actually helps cancer spread.

The molecules in question are called enhancer RNAs (eRNAs), and a new study conducted by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) revealed that they keep cancer-promoting genes switched on.

In earlier work, the scientists had unearthed thousands of eRNAs that colon cancer cells vigorously produce when they receive persistent signals from the immune system.

Now, in a new paper that features in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, they explain how eRNAs interact with a “cancer disseminator” protein called BRD4.

The study adds to growing evidence that so-called junk DNA harbors elements that are active in health and disease.

Junk DNA and noncoding RNA

DNA is the biological blueprint for making an organism that passes from adults to their offspring when they reproduce. It contains codes that instruct cells how to make proteins, which are the working molecules that carry out cell functions.

However, said blueprint does not act on its own. Another molecule called RNA copies the DNA code and translates it into protein-making instructions for the cell.

It was once thought that the role of RNA molecules was only to transcribe DNA code into proteins.

Increasing evidence, however, is revealing that in addition to these coding RNAs, there are noncoding RNAs that do many other jobs.

In addition, some of the revelations concern the 98 percent or so of DNA that does not contain codes for making proteins, which was once called junk DNA for this reason.

Noncoding RNAs can make and break molecules and fine-tune the production of proteins. Some even block harmful sequences of genetic code that entered our DNA from virus infections in our ancestors.

‘Key regulators of cancer’

The noncoding RNAs at the center of this study belong to a class that scientists have only recently identified. It was not clear, until now, whether these eRNAs were involved in any cell functions.

“Our findings,” states senior study author Shannon M. Lauberth, who is an assistant professor in the Section of Molecular Biology at UCSD, “reveal that eRNAs are key regulators of cancer by acting to reinforce BRD4 binding and keep it anchored on DNA, which keeps the tumor-promoting genes turned on at high levels.”

She notes with interest that when they depleted several of the molecules, there was a significant reduction in “expression of the tumor-promoting genes that the eRNAs and BRD4 are co-regulating.”

BRD4 has gained attention as a potential target for cancer treatment and “several small molecules” that block it are already under investigation.

The UCSD team intends to carry on exploring the production of eRNAs and their influence on gene expression. The aim is to find ways to target eRNAs and stop their ability to promote cancer.

Taken together, our findings are consistent with the emerging notion that eRNAs are functional molecules, rather than merely reflections of enhancer activation or simply transcriptional noise.”

Shannon M. Lauberth

“[T]his,” she concludes, “is going to transform the way that we think about ‘junk RNA’ and the regulation of gene expression in the context of the human cell.”

Medical News Today: Signs of concussion in children and toddlers

Concussion is an injury to the brain caused by either a blow to the head or body. A child’s developing brain is more at risk than an adult’s, so parents and caregivers may want to know the signs of concussion in children.

A survey published in 2017, looking at more than 13,000 adolescents in the United States, found that almost one-fifth reported having had a concussion at least once.

In this article, we will look at the warning signs and how to spot concussion in a child, plus what to do if you think a child has concussion.

What is concussion?

Concussion is a type of brain injury that happens when a blow to the head or body causes the brain to move in its surrounding fluid.

The brain can twist or knock against the skull, temporarily affecting how a child thinks and acts.

Concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury or TBI.


Signs and symptoms of concussion in children

little girl with headache
A child with concussion may have a headache and feel dizzy.

It may not be a hard hit that causes a concussion. In most cases, the child does not lose consciousness.

Signs of concussion may not be obvious. They can be physical such as a headache, but may also show in the way the child acts or feels.

People should look for the following warning signs of concussion in children:

  • headache
  • sleepiness
  • feeling like they are in a fog
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • sensitivity to noise or light
  • seeming irritable
  • sleeping more or less than usual
  • feeling depressed or sad
  • feeling dizzy or having problems with balance
  • unable to think properly or concentrate

The signs of concussion do not necessarily develop right after impact. Some can take hours or even days to appear. Parents and caregivers must, therefore, keep a watchful eye on the child for some time after they hit their head.

The child or teen may not always be aware of their symptoms, and so adults need to watch for signs that the child may not report.

When checking for signs of concussion, people can ask questions, such as, does the child:

  • seem confused or dazed
  • struggle to answer questions
  • have no memory of what happened before or after the knock
  • move clumsily
  • remember the score or the game if injured during sport

Concussion in babies and toddlers

Babies and very young children may not be able to tell you what is wrong. As well as all of the signs above, people should also watch for a young child who is:

  • unable or unwilling to nurse or eat
  • crying and will not be comforted
  • losing interest in toys
  • losing new skills, such as toilet training


What to do if you think your child has concussion

If the child is playing in a sport and someone or something hits their head, immediately stop them from playing any more and observe them. Many states in the U.S. have laws to make sure this happens, and all states have some concussion law.

If a person is unsure whether a child has got a concussion, the CDC recommend they should avoid returning to the game, including the slogan “When in doubt, sit them out” in their advice.

People must call a doctor if the child reports or shows any of the above symptoms or signs. These can happen at the time of the injury or several hours or days later.


When to go to the emergency room

In rare cases, a head injury can cause a hematoma in a child’s brain.

A hematoma is a collection of blood that forms in the brain and squeezes it against the skull. Doctors view a hematoma as a medical emergency.

People should either go to the emergency room or call an ambulance if a child has:

  • lost consciousness when hit
  • loss of memory for more than 24 hours
  • seizures, which could mean shaking or twitching
  • one pupil larger than the other
  • slurred speech
  • been unable to wake up
  • vomited repeatedly
  • symptoms that suddenly get worse

Treatment

The primary treatment for concussion is rest. Rest helps the brain to heal.

The American Academy of Neurology, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Neurology Foundation, as well as other experts, all recommend rest for children who have had a concussion.

What can you do at home?

young boy sleeping holding teddy bear
A child with concussion may sleep more than usual.

What people do at home to help a child recover from concussion is vital. Steps to take include:

  • make sure the child has physical rest and avoids sports or physical activity.
  • allow the child to rest mentally, too. They should not do anything that needs a lot of concentration, such as school work. Limit their screen time, such as video games and television.

Many children experience disturbed sleep after a concussion. They may sleep more than usual or find it hard to fall asleep or to sleep through the night. Caregivers can help by:

  • removing distractions from the bedroom
  • encouraging regular sleep routines, with no sleepovers or late nights

Headaches are the most common problem after a concussion. Simple analgesics can help, but people should check with their doctor.

How can a child’s school help?

The child’s school can help by:

  • providing rest breaks during or between classes
  • allowing a shorter school day
  • giving more time for homework and assignments
  • postponing tests
  • providing a quiet area if a child is sensitive to noise

After a few days of rest, the child can gradually return to their usual activities. Typically, they should not return to sports or vigorous physical activity until they have no symptoms at rest.


How long will my child take to recover?

According to the CDC, most children will feel better within a couple of weeks. But for some children, symptoms can last for months or even longer.

A 2014 study found that nearly a quarter of children still complained of a headache one month after injury. About a fifth suffered from tiredness, and almost 20 percent said that they still took longer to think than they did before their injury.

People should talk to their doctor if the child’s symptoms get worse or do not go away. If a child is involved in sports, their doctor should be consulted to help develop a plan for safe return to play.

Some children may get post-concussive syndrome, causing their symptoms to linger. This is especially likely in children who have had more than one concussion.

Who is at risk of concussion?

young boys playing American football
Playing football may put a child at an increased risk of concussion.

Any child or adult can have a concussion, though some groups are more likely to experience concussion than others, and for various reasons.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the most likely cause of TBI diagnosed in the emergency room in infants aged 4 years and under.

Children aged 5–14 years old are prone to TBI from both falling and being struck by something or against something.

Young athletes seem to face an exceptionally high risk of concussion, especially those playing certain sports, including women’s soccer, football, basketball, and ice hockey.


Dangers of another concussion

Many states have concussion laws preventing people from returning to sports until doctors have given them medical clearance.

Children are at greater risk of receiving another injury to the brain during the period after a concussion.

The brain is particularly vulnerable during childhood and adolescence. A second concussion during this period is much more dangerous than the first. Chemical changes in the brain make it more sensitive to stress or another injury while it is recovering.

Outlook

Most children will recover fully from a concussion. But for some, the effects can be serious and long-lasting.

The risk of severe complications is why people should always take a concussion in a child or teenager seriously, and the more adults who are aware of the signs, the better.