Your Brain on Sugar: How Sugar Affects the Brain and How to Kick the Addiction

While sugar is necessary for brain function, it can have harmful effects when overeaten. Some researchers call sugar craving an addiction, while other scientists have determined that sugar can affect far more than the waistline. Here’s science’s take on how sugar affects the brain.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported that the average American ingests approximately 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup annually, or more than 20 teaspoons of sugar per day. In addition to being apparent in cake, cookies, and other sweet foods, it hides in many processed foods, such as tomato sauce, milk, and energy drinks. High-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener, is used in soft drinks, condiments, applesauce, and baby food.

While sugar is necessary for brain function, it can have harmful effects when overeaten. Some researchers call sugar craving an addiction, while other scientists have determined that sugar can affect far more than the waistline. Here’s science’s take on how sugar affects the brain.

How Sugar Affects the Brain

One form of sugar—glucose—fuels every cell in the human body as its primary energy source. The brain utilizes about half the sugar energy in the body. Glucose levels determine the efficiency of brain functions such as thinking, memory, and learning. According to Harvard researcher Vera Novak, MD, PhD, “The brain is dependent on sugar as its main fuel. It cannot be without it.”

While the brain requires glucose, too much of this sugar can be detrimental and lead to serious negative effects. Excess sugar consumption can cause cells to age prematurely and people to suffer from memory and cognitive function problems. Sugar’s negative impact on the brain is especially problematic in diabetes, according to Novak. High blood glucose levels can cause connectivity problems between different regions of the brain, brain shrinkage, and restricted blood flow, which can lead to functional decline.

The effects of too much sugar can also involve depression. A University College London study showed that in middle-aged participants, a dietary pattern of sugar-laden processed food is a risk factor for depression 5 years later.

Sugar Addiction

Scientists know that drugs can be addictive. Now they think that may be true of foods. Researchers at the National Center for Biotechnology Information have come up with “evidence for sugar addiction” by analyzing bingeing, withdrawal, craving, and cross-sensitization and their relationship to neurochemical changes in the brain—such as changes in dopamine and opioid receptor binding, enkephalin mRNA expression and dopamine and acetylcholine release in the nucleus accumbens—that also occur with addictive drugs.

The researchers believe that some people develop “an unhealthy dependence on palatable food that interferes with well-being.” Their evidence from animal studies suggests that sporadic access to sugar can trigger behavioral and neurochemical changes that look like the effects of substance abuse. They conclude that sugar is addictive.

Your Brain on Sugar

A recent British study at the University of Waterloo has linked diabetes with the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). They defined “an early glycation profile of human brain,” identified “early glycation and oxidation of macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) in AD brain,” and determined that “glucose modified and oxidized MIF could be a molecular link between hyperglycemia and the dysregulation of the innate immune system in AD.” In other words, the inability of the body to process sugar (a characteristic of diabetes) leads to the progressive degeneration of neurons that cause severe cognitive decline. The study provided a molecular link between the two diseases using fluorescent phenylboronate gel electrophoresis.

The researchers pointed out critical differences in the glycation and migration profile of MIF between AD brain samples and controls. These differences seem to involve early carbohydrate modifications. MIF, which modulates insulin secretion, affects glucose homeostasis, and factors in diabetes could have “implications for the innate immune response to any nascent pathological AD lesions.”

According to Dr. Omar Kassaar, one of the researchers, “Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets.” Another researcher, Dr. Tara Spires-Jones, added that the study “does not suggest that sugar directly causes Alzheimer’s… a better understanding of this type of risk will help scientists develop strategies to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease in the future.”

A UCLA animal study published in the Journal of Physiology in 2012 confirmed an association between sugar and brain health. It demonstrated that a diet consistently heavy in fructose decelerates the brain and disrupts memory and learning, and that omega-3 fatty acids can help mitigate this effect.

According to Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center and a professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, “Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think. Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage. We’re less concerned about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants. We’re more concerned about the fructose in high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.”

Researchers fed two groups of rats a fructose solution for 6 weeks. The experimental group was also given omega-3 fatty acids to protect the synapses from damage. Synapses are the circuitry between brain cells that facilitate learning and memory. Before being put on the experimental diet, the rats trained on a maze 2 times a day for 5 days. Researchers tested how well the rats recalled the route and escaped the maze after 6 weeks on the diet.

According to Gomez-Pinilla, “The second group of rats navigated the maze much faster than the rats that did not receive omega-3 fatty acids. The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity. Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they’d learned 6 weeks earlier. The rats that didn’t receive the omega-3s also exhibited symptoms of insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar and synaptic transmission in the brain. When researchers examine the rats’ brains they discovered that insulin was not able to as effectively impact brain cells. Because insulin can penetrate the blood–brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss.”

While sugar is necessary for brain function, it can have harmful effects when overeaten. Some researchers call sugar craving an addiction, while other scientists have determined that sugar can affect far more than the waistline. Here’s science’s take on how sugar affects the brain.

Sugar and Memory

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic also believe that diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are connected. Many people with diabetes have brain changes that are hallmarks of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Each condition may exacerbate the harm caused by the other. The connection may happen because of the complex ways that type 2 diabetes affects the ability of the brain and other body tissues to use sugar (glucose) and respond to insulin.

Mayo Clinic researchers suggest that diabetes might add to the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, a condition that entails more cognitive and memory problems than are typically a factor of normal aging. Such mild cognitive impairment could be the prologue to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Another study on the effects of too much sugar established a connection between a diet high in fructose and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease through the same pathway that causes type 2 diabetes. Some experts have said that Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders can be attributed to the constant burning of glucose for fuel by the human brain.

Sugar and Mental Health

The Whitehall II study investigated associations between sweet food/beverage intake and common mental disorders and depression, and examined the role of reverse causation (influence of mood on intake) as a possible explanation for the associations. In other words, the researchers were examining the influence of sugar on mood and the influence of mood on sugar consumption.

The study offered evidence that excessive sugar consumption increases the chance of incident mood disorders in men and limited evidence about recurrent mood disorders in both sexes. With a high prevalence of mood disorders, and sugar intake commonly 2 to 3 times the level recommended, the study suggested that promoting the reduction of sugar intake could lead to possible prevention of depression.

Does the Brain Need Sugar?

Sugar provides a way to cope with stress, according to research by Melanie Greenberg Ph.D. She explained that neuroscientists have demonstrated that sugar causes dopamine release in a primary component of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens, a brain region associated with motivation, novelty, and reward, as well as one that responds to cocaine and heroin. Sugar can change dopamine receptors, making them crave more of a substance to produce an effect. People can depend on sugar for pleasure and reward.

Consuming sugar can cause the release of endogenous opioids in the brain in the same way as taking drugs. Addiction to one substance may cause people to become dependent on other addictive substances that use similar brain chemistry. Eating too much sugar can trigger cravings, withdrawal, tolerance, and preoccupation with finding a sugary food or beverage, Greenberg said.

Breaking the Sugar Addiction

It’s time to give up that high-sugar diet. Consuming sugar in moderation by minimizing processed foods containing fructose and added sugar, as well as refined carbohydrates in foods such as cereals and waffles is a good start. Eat healthy fats, such as omega-3, saturated, and monounsaturated fats, as well as fermented foods. Drink water instead of soda.

Writing in Psychology Today Susan Biali M.D. provided a list of ways in which to break a sugar addiction:

  1. Find rewards that really work.
  2. Don’t switch in one addictive behavior for another.
  3. If you want a sweet treat, go for something low glycemic and healthy that won’t trigger you.
  4. Be aware of the “just one drink” phenomenon.
  5. Don’t have it in the house.

She concluded, “Don’t estimate the power of sugar. Seriously.” We’ll take her word for it.

How Stress Can Harm Your Health: The Effects on Your Body and Behavior

When stress becomes chronic and has you feeling exhausted, worn-out, and sick, it can become a real problem for your physical and emotional well-being. Let’s dig deeper into how stress can harm your health.

Let’s be honest. Not all stress is bad. Stress can be an enthusiastic motivator, like a hard-hitting coach pushing you to step up and challenge yourself. Stress can help you perform at your best and jump into action when a fight-or-flight situation arises. But when stress becomes severe or chronic and has you feeling exhausted, worn out, and just plain sick, it can become a real problem for your physical and emotional well-being. With that in mind, let’s dig deeper into how stress can harm your health.

Types of Stress

Stress refers to the strain caused by the demands placed on us in our daily lives. Stressful events can pop up at home or work, while running errands, or while stuck in traffic during your commute.

It’s not possible to avoid stress all the time, and in small doses, it’s not even all that bad. It may even be a good thing. But when it becomes a chronic presence in our lives, stress begins to mess with our physical and mental health.

Beyond stress as a broad concept, there are also several subtypes we may experience, and it’s helpful to familiarize ourselves with each.

Acute Stress

This type of stress is short-lived and can be motivating or irritating. You may experience acute stress on a daily basis due to unfortunate conditions like being stuck in traffic or late for a meeting or making it home past curfew. Acute stress does not usually cause any long-term negative effects.

Episodic Acute Stress

When acute stress becomes more frequent—affecting more days in your week than not, for example—it becomes known as episodic acute stress. If you’re constantly running late or saying yes to too many obligations, stress becomes bothersome. Being under this kind of episodic stress can begin to affect how you interact with people at home or work.

Chronic Stress

When short-term stress becomes more or less constant and intense and sticks around for an extended period of time, it turns into chronic stress. When your body is constantly reacting to incoming stress—ready to fight or flee—it can begin to negatively affect your health and lead to other problems.

Eustress

Eustress is positive, beneficial stress—the kind you feel before riding a roller coaster, going on a first date, or swimming in the ocean for the first time. Eustress makes you feel confident, capable, and ready for anything.

Symptoms of Stress

Like other animals, we humans have a built-in fight-or-flight response that helps us sense danger, determine if it’s a threat, and decide how to react. When we perceive something in our environment as stressful, our bodies release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that cause respiratory and heart rates to increase, digestive function to slow, and muscles to tense. In other words, we become ready to fight or flee.

While the threats we face today are usually much different than those faced by our ancestors, our bodies still react the same way. These responses to stress are extremely helpful in certain situations, but when they never turn off and stress hormones are constantly surging, our bodies can wear down very quickly.

In fact, long-term stress takes a toll on nearly every organ system in the body and can lead to even more serious problems down the road. Thankfully, though, our bodies do let us know when they’re suffering, so we can take immediate action—if we’re paying attention. Some of these signals include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hair loss
  • Racing thoughts
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Changes in appetite
  • Nervousness
  • Frequent infections

When stress becomes chronic and has you feeling exhausted, worn-out, and sick, it can become a real problem for your physical and emotional well-being. Severe or chronic stress can harm your health and have negative effects on your body and behavior.

How Stress Can Harm Your Health

Stress begins to impact your health when it becomes a constant player in your day-to-day life. In fact, a 2015 study found that chronic stress can actually change pathways in your brain and throw your immune system so out of whack that it’s unable to function effectively.

Chronic stress can affect your body in the same manner as an infection, increasing inflammation within tissues, muscles, and organs. When this heightened stress and chronic inflammation go on for long enough, certain conditions can begin to develop. These include:

Plus, when we’re under constant stress, we tend not to follow the healthiest of lifestyles. For instance, we may begin to eat poorly, stop exercising, sleep less, smoke, and drink alcohol, all of which can actually exacerbate the stress we’re under and make its effects worse.

Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems

When you’re under stress, you may have noticed that your heart begins to pound and you start to breathe quicker. This is because the fight-or-flight hormones released in your body during a stressful event cause your heart and respiratory rates to increase so that more blood and oxygen are available to your muscles.

Your blood pressure also goes up and your blood vessels constrict, both of which help provide your muscles the extra oxygen they need to fight or flee. When you’re under constant stress, the persistently elevated stress hormones put you at increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Central Nervous and Endocrine Systems

Heading up your fight-or-flight response is your central nervous system (CNS), by which your brain, via the hypothalamus, tells your adrenal glands when to release cortisol and adrenaline. When the threat passes or stress subsides, the hypothalamus then gives the “all clear,” and your body returns to a normal state. When stress is constant, however, your CNS never turns off the flow of hormones, and your body can’t return to a relaxed state.

Digestive System

When you’re under severe stress or feeling extremely nervous, you may also experience stomach and digestive issues. This is because the surge of stress hormones, boost in heart rate, and increased breathing can cause issues with your digestive system.

While some sources say the stress response leads to an increase in stomach acid that in turn can lead to ulcers, acid reflux, and heartburn, others point to the fact that digestion slows down during an acute stress response, which means the production of stomach acid actually decreases.

Therefore, some scientists are now theorizing that instead of causing an increase in stomach acid production, stress actually causes your body to become more sensitive to smaller amounts of acid. Why would this be?

Researchers have hypothesized that stress may alter the way the brain communicates with pain receptors, making them more sensitive to acid levels. Stress can also cause levels of prostaglandins—which normally protect the stomach lining from the effects of acid—to drop.

Stress may also cause you to experience frequent stomachaches or bouts of constipation and diarrhea (irritable bowel syndrome). And high levels of stress may even lead to nausea and vomiting.

In addition, researchers have found a link between high stress levels in men and an increased chance of developing diabetes.

Immune System

In the short-term, physiological stress, such as that due to an injury or illness, can cause your immune system to kick in and help your body recuperate. But if stress is constant, your immune system never has time to recover, and this can reduce its ability to fight off illness and infection.

Stress may even cause your immune system to start attacking healthy tissue, resulting in autoimmune disease. And if you do get sick or injured, stress may even prolong the time it takes for you to recover.

Muscular System

As mentioned earlier, when stress hormones are released, your body sends blood and oxygen to your muscles, preparing them to help you fight or run. Once the stressor is gone, your body then relaxes and your muscles soften. But if you’re under constant stress, your muscles are never allowed to relax, and this can lead to muscle aches and pains and tension headaches.

Reproductive System and Sexuality

High levels of stress can lead to changes in sex drive and the reproductive system in both men and women.

In men, prolonged stress can cause erectile dysfunction and result in a decrease in testosterone levels. Researchers have also discovered that stress can affect a man’s chance of developing prostate cancer. In addition, studies have shown that increased stress is associated with the occurrence of prostatitis.

Multiple studies have indicated a link between stress levels and infertility as well. For example, one study found that stress lowers both sperm counts and semen quality. Another study showed that women with elevated levels of an enzyme called alpha-amylase, which is associated with stress, were less likely to become pregnant than women with lower levels of the enzyme.

In women, chronic stress is also well known for its ability to alter the menstrual cycle, making periods heavier and more painful and irregular. Studies have also found a link between stress levels and the occurrence and severity of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Stress is noted to affect the transition through menopause as well, amplifying symptoms such as hot flashes and irritability. Several studies have also indicated a link between early menopause (occurring before the age of 40) and stress.

Mental and Emotional Health

Perhaps most alarming is the effect chronic stress can have on the brain. It’s widely known that traumatic events, such as exposure to war and childhood abuse, can trigger changes in brain structure.

In fact, research suggests that chronic stress can intensify anxiety and depression and increase the risk of developing mental health issues, including personality disorders, anger problems, bipolar disorder, and other cognitive and personality conditions.

A study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, also demonstrated that chronic stress can actually result in fewer neurons (nerve cells) in the brain, which may explain why stress affects learning and memory.

Healthy Stress Management

While avoiding stress completely is certainly not realistic, lowering your stress levels and managing them effectively can not only improve your current quality of life but can also enhance your long-term physical and mental health.

Here are several strategies for managing your stress and reducing your risk of health problems.

Recognize the Signs

The sooner you identify your stress triggers and your body’s red flags, the sooner you can decrease the chance stress will stick around and lead to health-related issues. Look out for these potential warning signs:

Try a Relaxing Activity

Finding methods to lower your stress can help you combat long-term health issues. Stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, and deep breathing and visualization exercises have been proven to help decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Going for a walk, writing in a journal, doing a puzzle, or reading an uplifting book can also take your mind off stressful situations and help you get back to a calmer, more balanced state.

Get Regular Exercise

Exercising just 30 minutes a day can help boost endorphin levels and reduce stress. So whatever physical activity you enjoy, get your heart pumping and let your worries and frustrations melt away.

Stay Connected

Healthy, supportive relationships are essential to keeping stress in check. Friends and family can provide reassurance when you’re weighed down with worries or offer a good distraction when you need to escape your problems and put things in perspective.

Plan Ahead

Procrastination and rushing around can amplify stress levels. Instead, decide what must be done and what can wait and learn to say no to new obligations that only lead to feelings of overwhelm and heightened stress.

Also try mapping out the week or month in advance to identify key projects that need to get done and break larger projects down into smaller, more manageable tasks when possible.

Eat a Healthy Diet

What you put in your body directly affects how you feel physically and emotionally, and a healthy diet can help you be more resilient to the effects of stress. So when stress starts to rear its ugly head, skip the chips and go for stress-busting foods instead.

Green leafy vegetables, salmon, blueberries, pistachios, and avocados are among some of the best choices to aid in combating stress. Certain supplements can also help temper your body’s response to stress.

Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, combined with amino acids, can improve brain function and help you deal with stress more effectively. Amino acid supplements can also help balance the neurotransmitters in your brain so feelings of worry, anxiety, and tension are kept in check.

Talk to Your Health Care Provider

If you find yourself experiencing levels of stress beyond your ability to manage, or your personal or professional life begins to suffer, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Mental health professionals are trained to deal with crisis situations and can help you find the method of stress management that works best for you.

Once you begin to pinpoint how you personally experience stress and what triggers it—whether it’s your loved ones, finances, job, a past traumatic event, or a combination of these—you’ll be able to find the tools you need to cope with what’s stressing you out and get back to enjoying life again.

When stress becomes chronic and has you feeling exhausted, worn-out, and sick, it can become a real problem for your physical and emotional well-being. Severe or chronic stress can harm your health and have negative effects on your body and behavior.

What Is Bacterial Vaginosis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Bacterial vaginosis, caused by the overgrowth of certain bacteria, is the most common cause of vaginal discharge in women. Complications can affect pregnancy and the potential for STDs.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal complaint in women of childbearing age, between 15 and 44 years old. While women in their reproductive years are most likely to get BV, it can affect women of any age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approximately 29% of women in the United States have BV.

Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection that occurs when an overgrowth of bacteria upsets the delicate balance of bacteria in the vagina and triggers vaginal inflammation. About a quarter of pregnant women and more than half of women with an STD will at some point in time battle bacterial vaginosis.

What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Although it is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or a yeast infection, the symptoms of BV can mimic those found in vaginal yeast infections and sexually transmitted infections such as trichomoniasis. While the condition is usually not dangerous, Mayo Clinic physicians recommend seeking the consult of a gynecologist or nurse practitioner if you are experiencing atypical vaginal discharge to rule out serious infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.

BV Causes

Certain activities, such as unprotected sex or frequent douching (which pushes bacteria farther into the genital tract), are thought to increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis infection. BV rarely occurs in people who have not had sexual intercourse, and can commonly occur after having sex with a new partner or when having multiple sex partners, although the role of sexual activity in the development of the condition is not fully understood.

Other risk factors include:

  • Using water or a medicated solution to clean the vagina
  • Bathing with antiseptic products
  • Using scented personal hygiene products
  • Smoking
  • Using IUDs (intrauterine devices) for birth control
  • Taking antibiotics recently
  • Cleaning underwear with powerful detergents

Bacterial vaginosis, caused by the overgrowth of certain bacteria, is the most common cause of vaginal discharge in women. Complications can affect pregnancy and the potential for STDs. Antibiotics are the primary treatment, and some researchers have made the case for adding probiotics to the treatment regimen.

The Bacteria in Bacterial Vaginosis

The vagina contains different types of bacteria, or vaginal flora. Lactobacilli bacteria produce lactic acid, rendering the vagina somewhat acidic and keeping other bacteria from growing there. Reduced lactobacilli levels lower the vagina’s acidity, giving harmful bacteria the opportunity to multiply.

BV is not a true bacterial infection. Instead, it occurs when there are a disproportionate number of the usual vaginal bacteria. It is not considered a true infection in which there are foreign bacteria, as is the case with numerous sexually transmitted diseases.

Often referred to as nonspecific vaginitis, BV was formerly called Gardnerella vaginitis. It was named for the bacteria suspected of being responsible for the condition, Gardnerella vaginalis. Bacterial vaginosis, the current moniker, reflects the concept that more than one kind of bacteria can be present in the vagina and can overproduce.

Bacterial vaginosis entails a variety of bacteria besides Gardnerella that fuse together—Bacteroides, Eubacterium, Lactobacillus, Fusobacterium, and Peptostreptococcus, to name a few. For unknown reasons, these bacteria join forces to create an imbalance in the vagina. Although the number of lactobacilli that produce hydrogen peroxide may be lowered, there may be a higher intensity of anaerobic bacteria that grow when oxygen is lacking, as well as other kinds of bacteria. Because so many possible combinations exist, it is difficult to diagnose and treat BV.

BV Symptoms

Between half and three-quarters of women with BV do not have symptoms. Vaginal discharge with the following symptoms may be caused by BV or a variety of other complications, such as a yeast infection, STD, and menopause.

  • Thin, green, white, or gray discharge from the vagina
  • Peculiar consistency of vaginal fluid
  • Odorous fishy smell emanating from the vagina
  • Itching in the vaginal area
  • Burning sensation when urinating

Symptoms of BV in women can present at anytime during the menstrual cycle. Normal amounts of discharge vary from woman to woman, and what is considered abnormal for one, may not be for another, which is why regular attention to your vaginal health and an annual visit to a gynecologist is recommended.

Bacterial vaginosis, caused by the overgrowth of certain bacteria, is the most common cause of vaginal discharge in women. Complications can affect pregnancy and the potential for STDs. Antibiotics are the primary treatment, and some researchers have made the case for adding probiotics to the treatment regimen.

BV Complications

While BV is not considered an STI, it increases the risk of developing an STI.

Complications linked to BV entail a higher risk of:

  • HIV infection (because BV makes people more susceptible to the virus)
  • STIs (including human papilloma, herpes simplex, gonorrhea, and chlamydia)
  • Infection that develops after a procedure such as an abortion or a hysterectomy
  • Potential complications of BV during pregnancy are:
    • Preterm delivery
    • Termination of pregnancy
    • Early opening of the amniotic sac
    • Postpartum endometritis
    • Tubal factor infertility

BV during pregnancy can also put you at risk for chorioamnionitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the fetus that increases the chance of early delivery. A newborn who survives this kind of delivery has a higher than normal risk of cerebral palsy.

Pregnant women are also more likely to have preterm births or babies with low birth weight. BV can also decrease the success rate of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection of the fallopian tubes, uterus, and ovaries that can cause infertility.

About 30% of women successfully treated for BV will have a recurrence within three months, and 50% will have a recurrence within six months. If symptoms of BV persist or recur, or you are pregnant it’s imperative to visit your health care provider for further testing. If symptoms disappear after finishing a course of antibiotics, it’s not necessary to test for BV again.

When to See a Doctor

The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor when new vaginal discharge accompanies a fever or unusual smell, the color and texture of the discharge appears different from that of previous infections, there is more than one sexual partner or a new one, or symptoms persist after using a non-prescription treatment for a yeast infection. While BV can resolve without treatment, it’s best to seek medical advice to avoid complications. Seeing a doctor quickly can rule out other infections, such as gonorrhea or trich.

BV Diagnosis

When a woman becomes aware of an unusual vaginal discharge and tells her doctor about it, the doctor will ask questions that help to determine whether she has BV or more serious conditions, perform a pelvic exam, do a visual inspection, and test for chlamydia or gonorrhea.

Diagnostic tests use a swab or small plastic loop to collect sample cells from the vaginal wall and measure the pH balance of the vagina to determine acidity levels. BV in women can be determined by a low lactobacilli bacterial count and a vaginal pH greater than 4.5.

A look under the microscope can reveal clue cells, which are bacteria-covered vaginal cells that indicate a bacterial vaginosis infection is present. Your doctor will often perform a “whiff test” using potassium hydroxide (KOH) liquid to determine if you are indeed besieged by the fishy odor associated with BV.

BV Treatment

About one-third of BV cases are said to resolve on their own, but medical treatment is recommended to avoid complications. BV is normally treated with antibiotics, which work in as many as 90% of cases, but BV can recur within a month.

The most frequent antibiotic prescribed is Metronidazole. It is available as tablets taken orally, twice a day for 7 days; as a single tablet taken orally as a one-time dose; or as gel applied to the vagina once daily for 5 days. Metronidazole, which reacts with alcohol, can make the patient feel very ill if alcohol is consumed within 48 hours.

Clindamycin, another antibiotic, may be prescribed if metronidazole is not working or if the BV comes back. Pregnancy prevention aids, such as latex condoms, diaphragms, and caps, may not work well when you are on Clindamycin.

Another antibiotic, Tinidazole, is administered if metronidazole fails to work or if BV recurs. This medication is taken orally as a single dose, and it requires the avoidance of alcohol.

When symptoms recur, they may be addressed with a 7-day dosage of vaginal or oral antibiotics. If the first treatment was oral, bacterial vaginosis treatment could be more effective on the second attempt, and vice versa. If there are more than three occurrences within 12 months, the physician may give the patient a course of vaginal metronidazole gel to use vaginally 2 times a week for up to 6 months. Serious BV complications of bacterial vaginosis can happen during pregnancy, with recurrence possible even after successful treatment. Over half of the people who are treated for BV have the symptoms again in less than a year.

While there is no approved over-the-counter medication for BV, some researchers believe that probiotics can help to treat it without adverse effects.

One study compared the results of 1 week of oral metronidazole (500 milligrams) twice daily along with 30 days of oral probiotics versus the same dose and duration of metronidazole plus 30 days of placebo. After 1 month the recurrence rate was 12% in the antibiotic/probiotic group vs. 60% in the antibiotic/placebo group. This study demonstrates the efficacy of vaginal probiotic capsules to treat BV. Because the study was sponsored by the makers of the capsule, additional research is needed to determine whether other probiotic formulations, administered orally or at the site of the infection, are effective.

Preventing BV

A common women’s health concern, BV is difficult to prevent but there are steps you can take to limit its occurrence. Steer clear of vaginal douches, keep the number of sex partners at a minimum or practice monogamy, and use BV medications as prescribed. If you suspect BV, visit your gynecologist or primary care physician to avoid complications and rebalance your vaginal flora.

What Is Meniere’s Disease? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

A disorder of the inner ear, Meniere’s disease causes severe dizziness (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss and a feeling of fullness or congestion in the ear. While it can affect people of all ages, Meniere’s disease is most likely to occur in people in their 40s and 50s.

Meniere’s disease was first described in 1861 by the French physician Prosper Meniere. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) figures that about 615,000 people in the United States have Meniere’s disease. The disorder affects the inner ear, which is responsible for hearing and balance.

Approximately 45,500 people are diagnosed with Meniere’s disease every year. While it can affect people of all ages, Meniere’s disease is most likely to occur in people in their 40s and 50s. It usually affects only one ear.

What Is Meniere’s Disease?

Meniere’s disease causes vertigo, the sensation of spinning. Additionally, it can trigger hearing problems and a ringing sound in the ear. Meniere’s disease, also known as idiopathic endolymphatic hydrops, is one of the most common causes of dizziness originating in the inner ear. While Meniere’s disease is chronic, treatments and lifestyle changes can reduce its effects. Many people who have Meniere’s disease go into spontaneous remission within a few years.

Meniere’s disease entails sudden attacks of dizziness. Sometimes, they happen following a brief siege of tinnitus or muted hearing. Some Meniere’s disease sufferers have a single dizziness attack very infrequently, while others suffer numerous attacks consistently over a short period of time. The condition can trigger such an extreme case of vertigo that they have “drop attacks” in which they cannot maintain their balance and end up dropping to the ground.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, hearing loss is usually intermittent, happening primarily at the time of the vertigo attacks. Loud sounds, which can appear to be distorted, may cause discomfort. Often, the hearing deficiency primarily includes the lower pitches, but over time this may include tones of all pitches. Sometimes, the hearing loss becomes permanent. Tinnitus and fullness of the ear may occur with changes in hearing ability, happen at the time of or just prior to attacks, or be constant.

Meniere’s Disease Causes

While the cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown, researchers believe it is prompted by fluid changes in the inner ear tubes, autoimmune disease, allergies, and genetics. Specific attention has been devoted to the labyrinth of the inner ear.

According to NIDCD, this section of the inner ear is composed of the semicircular canals, the otolithic organs (i.e., utricle and saccule), and the cochlea. Inside the walls of these compartments (bony labyrinth) are thin, pliable tubes and sacs (membranous labyrinth) filled with endolymph. Symptoms of Meniere’s disease arise when fluid accumulates in the labyrinth. The labyrinth is made up of the semicircular canals and otolithic organs (referred to as the organs of balance) and the cochlea (the organ of hearing). Because the fluid buildup impairs both balance and hearing signals that go from the brain to the inner ear, someone with Meniere’s disease suffers from vertigo and other symptoms.

Some researchers believe that constrictions in blood vessels, much the same as those associated with migraines, are responsible for Meniere’s disease. Others believe the disease may be the result of allergies, viral infections, or autoimmune reactions. Meniere’s disease may also be caused by genetic variations leading to aberrations in the quantity or control of endolymph fluid.

A disorder of the inner ear, Meniere’s disease causes severe dizziness (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss and a feeling of fullness or congestion in the ear. While it can affect people of all ages, Meniere’s disease is most likely to occur in people in their 40s and 50s.

Meniere’s Disease Symptoms

Meniere’s disease symptoms present themselves as “episodes” or “attacks.” These symptoms include:

  • Vertigo, with attacks lasting anywhere from a few minutes to 24 hours
  • Loss of hearing in the affected ear
  • Tinnitus, a ringing sensation, in the affected ear
  • Aural fullness, or the feeling that the ear is full, plugged, or congested
  • Loss of balance
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, vomiting, and sweating caused by severe vertigo

Someone with Meniere’s disease will experience at least two to three of the following symptoms at one time:

  • Vertigo
  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus
  • Aural fullness

Usually, people with Meniere’s disease do not experience symptoms between episodes. Many of these symptoms can be caused by other ear problems. Meniere’s disease can be mistaken for other inner ear disorders, such as labyrinthitis.

Meniere’s Disease Diagnosis

Doctors, typically an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT), will order a variety of tests to examine balance and hearing and to rule out other conditions with symptoms similar to Meniere’s disease. A hearing test, or audiometry, entails putting on headphones and listening for noises of numerous pitches and volumes. The testing is designed to determine whether someone can tell the difference between similar sounds and whether there is a hearing problem in one or both ears.

Hearing loss can be caused by a problem in the inner ear or with the nerve in the ear. An electrocochleography (ECog) measures electrical activity in the inner ear. An auditory brainstem response (ABR) test determines the function of the hearing nerves and the hearing center in the brain. By performing these tests, doctors can discover if the problem is with the inner ear or with the ear nerve.

Balance tests assess the function of the inner ear. People with Meniere’s disease have a reduced balance response in one ear. The usual balance test for Meniere’s disease is electronystagmography (ENG); electrodes are placed around the eyes to determine eye movement, which causes the balance response in the inner ear. Hot and cold water pushed into the ear causes the balance function to work. Tracking involuntary eye movements yields abnormalities that indicate a problem with the inner ear, but the test can be misleading if there is ear damage or wax blocking an ear canal.

Rotary chair testing shows the doctor whether the problem is caused by a malfunction in the ear or the brain. Eye movements are recorded while the chair moves.

Vestibular evoked myogenic potential (VEMP) testing assesses the sound sensitivity of the inner ear vestibule. Posturography testing tells the doctor which part of the balance system is malfunctioning by the response to balance challenges while wearing a safety harness and standing barefoot.

Other tests may be used to rule out issues with the brain, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or brain tumors. Doctors may also order a head magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a cranial computed tomography (CT) scan to determine possible problems with the brain.

The auditory brainstem response (ABR), a computerized test of the hearing nerves and brain pathways, CT, or MRI may be used to rule out a tumor on the hearing and balance nerve. While such tumors are rare, they can cause symptoms like those of Meniere’s disease.

Meniere’s Disease Treatment

During an attack, doctors recommend that a person with Meniere’s disease lie flat and still and focus on an unmoving object. People who have the disease sometimes fall asleep while lying down and feel better when they wake up.

Changing one’s diet may help to reduce the amount of fluid in the inner ear and ease symptoms. Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water per day and taking diuretics (water pills) can keep fluid from building up. Foods and substances to avoid are:

  • Salt
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Lifestyle changes that may be helpful are:  

  • Resting during vertigo attacks
  • Eating regularly to regulate fluids
  • Managing stress and anxiety through psychotherapy or medication
  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding allergens

Cognitive therapy, a form of talk therapy, can help people with Meniere’s disease cope with symptom attacks that can catch them unaware, thereby reducing anxiety so they are better prepared for future flare-ups. Prescription drugs including meclizine, diazepam, glycopyrrolate, and lorazepam can help relieve dizziness and shorten an attack. A diuretic can reduce fluid in the body to lower the amount of fluid in the inner ear.

Injecting gentamicin, an antibiotic, into the middle ear helps control vertigo but comes with the serious risk of hearing loss. The drug may damage the microscopic hair cells in the inner ear that help us hear. Another injection therapy using a corticosteroid, can reduce dizziness without the risk of hearing loss.

Vestibular rehabilitation that trains the brain to account for the difference in balance between the ears can be administered by a physical therapist. An audiologist might treat hearing loss by prescribing a hearing aid.

A new device for Meniere’s disease goes into the outer ear and sends intermittent air pressure pulses to the middle ear. The air pressure pulses have an effect on endolymphatic fluid to help keep dizziness at bay. This mechanical pump is applied to the ear canal for five minutes three times a day after a ventilating tube has been inserted through the eardrum to enable the pressure from the air pressure pulse generator to be transmitted across the round window membrane and change the pressure in the inner ear.

Surgical procedures to the ear may be used to decompress the endolymphatic sac. An operation called an endolymphatic sac procedure can decrease the production of fluid and achieve fluid drainage in the inner ear. Another procedure is used to cut the vestibular nerve. Vestibular neurectomy cuts the balance nerve as it exits the inner ear and goes to the brain. It may cure vertigo attacks permanently. Labryrinthectomy and eighth nerve section, used when the balance and hearing mechanism in the inner ear are destroyed on one side, usually offer the highest rates for control of vertigo attacks.

Understanding the causes of Meniere’s disease is the first step toward finding effective treatment and prevention methods. The NIDCD is supporting scientific research across the country to determine the most effective dose of gentamicin without causing hearing loss, to develop a tiny in-ear device using a programmable microfluid pump that will treat the inner ear with vertigo-relieving drugs, and to develop strategies to alleviate the dizziness that comes with Meniere’s disease. We’ll keep you abreast of developments as they emerge!

MRSA (Staph) Infection: What You Need to Know

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to several antibiotics and can cause skin infections, lung infections such as pneumonia, and other health issues. Here’s what you need to know.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to several antibiotics and can cause skin infections, lung infections such as pneumonia, and other health issues. If not treated, MRSA infections can enter critical territory as sepsis, an often fatal reaction to severe infection. In hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings, MRSA bacteria can trigger serious health problems, such as bloodstream infections, respiratory illnesses, and wound infections.

What Is MRSA

MRSA, a contagious bacterial infection, resists the common antibiotics methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin, and oxacillin, which makes it difficult to combat. It’s such a resistant bacteria, it’s been labeled a superbug.

MRSA infection often starts out as a seemingly harmless skin sore, pimple, or boil. A staph infection can be mild, but if not treated properly can also be accompanied by serious complications such as:

  • Blood poisoning (septicemia)
  • Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
  • Lung infection (pneumonia)
  • Heart valve infection (endocarditis)
  • Septic bursitis (tiny fluid-filled sacs under the skin)
  • Urinary tract infection

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, more than 119,000 Americans contracted a Staphylococcus aureus (staph) infection in 2017 and close to 20,000 died.

The majority (an estimated 86%) of invasive MRSA infections are acquired in health care settings. This can be explained by the fact that three-quarters of staph infections in hospital ICUs are resistant to the antibiotic methicillin. While hospital-acquired MRSA, or HA-MRSA, is the most common type of MRSA, community-acquired MRSA, or CA-MRSA, cases are on the rise. Germ-killing soaps, hand sanitizers, and ointments have been found to considerably reduce MRSA cases in health care facilities.

The same CDC report shows that HA-MRSA rates decreased 17.1% each year from 2005-2012, but those drops tapered off between 2013 and 2016. CA-MRSA only went down 6.9% each year from 2005-2016 and rates have increased 3.9% from 2012-2017.

MRSA Infection

According to the CDC, anyone can contract MRSA on the body from contact with an infected wound or personal items that have come into contact with infected skin. The risk of MRSA infection is greater when among crowds, with skin-to-skin contact, and when sharing equipment or supplies. People who recently received inpatient medical care, as well as athletes, daycare attendees, school students, and military personnel living in barracks are at higher risk of MSRA than other individuals.

MRSA Causes

Strains of bacterium that have, due to antibiotic overuse, learned to withstand antibiotics, become resistant to these weapons of choice. Highly contagious, MRSA is spread through skin-to-skin contact and from person to object to person. The bacteria can survive for quite a while on many different surfaces and objects, like door handles, floors, sinks, taps, cleaning equipment, and fabric.

Researchers investigated how long resistant staph could survive on five materials used frequently in a hospital setting: 100% smooth cotton (clothing); 100% cotton terry (towels and washcloths); 60% cotton, 40% polyester blend (scrub suits, lab coats, and clothing); 100% polyester (drapes and clothing); and 100% polypropylene plastic (splash aprons).

They injected fabric swatches with 10,000 to 100,000 colony-forming units (CFU) of the MRSA microorganism and examined MRSA survival daily. Results showed that S. aureus survived on:

  • Cotton for 4 to 21 days
  • Terry for 2 to 14 days
  • Polyester blend for 1 to 3 days
  • Polyester for 1 to 40 days
  • Polypropylene for 40 to greater than 51 days

Findings show that extensive contact control and painstaking disinfection protocols are necessary to keep MRSA from spreading.

MRSA Symptoms

MRSA skin infections may be mistaken for spider bites or other forms of skin irritation. Most staph-related skin infections, including MRSA, look like a red bump or infected patch of skin that appears swollen, painful, warm, and full of pus or drainage. The infection might also instigate a fever.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to numerous antibiotics, can cause skin infections, lung infections, and other health issues. If not treated, MRSA infections can become severe and result in sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to severe infection.

MRSA Treatment

If you notice any signs of MRSA, such as a skin sore or boil, cover the area with a bandage until a health care provider visit can be arranged. Be sure to have everyone around you wash their hands, and contact your doctor. The latter is especially critical if indications of an MRSA skin infection are accompanied by a fever. Catching infections early on and getting care quickly can reduce the severity. People who suspect that they have an infection should not try to treat it themselves.

Once MRSA is diagnosed, treatment will vary depending on the kind of infection, the location of the infection, the severity of the symptoms, and the kind of antibiotics to which the particular strain of MRSA responds. To manage MRSA infections, clinicians may perform pus drainage from the lesion, culture and susceptibility testing of the drained material, wound care and hygiene, and antimicrobial therapy (for cases of possible cellulitis without abscess). Possible medications for MRSA skin and soft tissue infections may include clindamycin; tetracycline drugs, such as doxycycline and minocycline; trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole; rifampin; and linezolid.

Preventing the Spread of MRSA

You can take various steps to minimize your risk of MRSA infection:

  • Maintain good hand and body hygiene by washing hands frequently and your body regularly, especially after exercise.
  • Clean and cover cuts, scrapes, and wounds until healed.
  • Discourage sharing of personal items, including towels and razors.
  • Seek advice and care as soon as possible if there is a suspected infection.

Patients should cover their wounds and keep them covered with sterile, dry bandages until they are healed. Health care professionals will offer instructions on caring for surgical wounds properly. The pus from infected wounds can act as a carrier of MRSA, so it is important to keep the wound covered so that the infection does not spread to others. Discard all used bandages and tape in the trash.

People affected by MRSA, as well as family, friends, associates, colleagues, and others in close contact, should wash their hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub. This is especially critical if someone changes the bandage or touches the infected wound.

It is also important not to share personal items, such as towels, washcloths, razors, or clothing. Wash and dry infected sheets, towels, and clothes, and be sure to wash your hands after touching contaminated fabrics.

To explore the prevention of MRSA infections in institutional settings, the Department of Health and Human Services funded a study called the REDUCE MRSA trial to test three MRSA prevention methods:

  • Giving germicidal ointment and soap to all patients in the intensive care unit
  • Giving these items just to MRSA patients
  • Providing basic care

The study determined that germ-killing soap and ointment helped protect ICU patients more effectively than the other strategies. This methodology can be employed with all patients in intensive care units to cut the number of infections in the bloodstream by as much as 44%. In addition, it can contribute to the decrease of MRSA in intensive care units.

As Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), explained, “Patients in the ICU are already very sick, and the last thing they need to deal with is a preventable infection. This research has the potential to influence clinical practice significantly and create a safer environment where patients can heal without harm.”

 

10 Ways to Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

More than 5.7 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease. Although we don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s, experts have researched ways to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Here are 10 of the most popular health-enhancing activities people can do to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s.

While more than 5.8 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease now, that number is likely to increase to 14 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association 2019 Facts and Figures Report. The report cites a $290 billion national cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s, relates that two-thirds of American seniors with Alzheimer’s are female, and says that the frequency of occurrence in this country will rise from every 65 seconds today to every 33 seconds by the middle of the century. More than statistics, the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s on both the individuals suffering from the disease as well as family and friends makes it imperative to do everything possible to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s.

Experts have weighed in on ways to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s, which may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. This chronic neurodegenerative disease often begins with short-term memory loss and progresses to problems with language, disorientation, mood swings, loss of motivation, social withdrawal, behavioral problems, and hygiene issues. Eventually, people lose control of bodily functions and die.

Let’s first cover the risk factors for Alzheimers, and then offer up 10 ways to protect your brain.

Who’s Got the Greatest Dementia Risk?

According to the American Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is likely the consequence of a variety of environmental, genetic, and lifestyle factors. Risk factors out of our control include:

  • Age: Alzheimer’s is by no means a normal part of the aging process, but it does strike people aged 65 and older, and risk doubles after 65 every 5 years.
  • Family history: If a family member has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, your risk for the condition increases.
  • Heredity: Genetics can play a role in Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Alzheimer’s genes have been discovered in both risk genes and deterministic genes, with the latter being responsible for just 1% of all Alzheimer’s diagnoses.

Then there are the lifestyle factors that we do have a certain degree of control over, such as:

  • Heart healthAlzheimer’s research has shown a definitive link between heart and brain health. Your brain is, after all, dependent on the heart for nourishment. The cognitive decline that’s a defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease is linked to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Heart-healthy lifestyle choices, aerobic exercise, and nutrition can help keep your heart and brain functioning on all cylinders.
  • Head injury: There is evidence that sustaining a head injury may put you at higher risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Always wear a seat belt when driving, a helmet when participating in sports or cycling, and be sure to fall-proof your home.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s

Here are 10 of the most popular health-enhancing activities people can do to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s.

More than 5.7 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's disease. Although we don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer's, experts have researched ways to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Here are 10 of the most popular health-enhancing activities people can do to reduce risk of Alzheimer's.

1. Stimulate the Brain

Keeping the brain challenged is critical to staving off Alzheimer’s, say many experts. According to Jean Carper, author of 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss, continuing education, vigorous mental activity, and stimulating language give the brain what Dr. David Bennett of Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center describes as “cognitive reserve.” Carper adds that Gary Small of UCLA advocates browsing the Internet for 1 hour a day to “stimulate your aging brain even more than reading a book.”

Inspire your brain with pursuits you naturally enjoy. Engage in brain-stimulating activities such as cards, games, puzzles, sudoku, and museum visits. Research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2014 links these types of activities to increased brain volume. According to the study, people who spend time playing mentally stimulating games are apt to perform better in learning, memory, and information processing tests.

For some people, involvement in cognitively stimulating activities could be a useful approach for preserving vulnerable brain structures and cognitive functions, according to researchers from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

2. Exercise

Exercise is associated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s. Exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. It appears that regular physical activity “increases the endurance of cells and tissues to oxidative stress, vascularization, energy metabolism, and neurotrophin synthesis, all important in neurogenesis, memory improvement, and brain plasticity.” Researchers concluded: “physical exercise is beneficial in the prevention of AD and other age-associated neurodegenerative disorders.”

3. Meditate Regularly

A study at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found that an aging brain developing Alzheimer’s can benefit from meditation and stress reduction to combat cognitive deterioration. Rebecca Erwin Wells, who researched stress reduction techniques at Harvard Medical School, explains: “Approximately 50 percent of people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment may develop dementia within five years. As people age, there’s a high correlation between perceived stress and Alzheimer’s disease, so we wanted to know if stress reduction through meditation might improve cognitive reserve.”

Her team engaged people over the age of 55 who were having problems with memory and intellectual abilities in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which consists of meditation and yoga, while the control group underwent normal care. A functional MRI (fMRI) of their brains showed positive changes in brain structures and brain activities of those doing the meditation.

4. Maintain a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet with no or moderate alcohol intake is a commonsense way to minimize a variety of health problems. But did you know that coffee may actually be a preventative Alzheimer’s aid?

A study from Finnish researchers published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that middle-aged adults who drank 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day enjoyed a 65% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Gary Arendash, PhD, University of South Florida Research Professor at the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, states that caffeine “reduces dementia-causing amyloid in animal brains.”

Apple juice is another beverage that may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease by accelerating the production of acetylcholine, an organic chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter, sending signals to the brain. According to Thomas B. Shea, PhD, Director, Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neurodegenerative Research, University of Massachusetts Lowell, of the University of Massachusetts, two or three apples (or 16 ounces of apple juice) may work on the same principle as the Alzheimer’s drug Aricept.

A 2015 study showed that patients with type 2 diabetes had greater protection against dementia when blood sugar levels were kept stable. “The positive association between [average blood sugar levels] and risk of dementia in fairly young patients with type 2 diabetes indicates a potential for prevention of dementia with improved blood sugar control,” study author Dr. Aidin Rawshani, from the National Diabetes Register and Institute of Medicine in Gothenburg, Sweden, and colleagues write. The Mediterranean Diet, made up of healthy fats such as olive oil and fiber-rich whole grains, can help to keep blood sugar levels low.

5. Stop Smoking

Another commonsense way to protect overall health is to avoid smoking. In 2014 the World Health Organization (WHO) and Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) issued a report saying that smokers have a 45% greater risk of developing dementia than non-smokers do and that 14% of the world’s Alzheimer’s disease cases may be attributed to smoking. The study also said that “the more a person smokes, the higher the risk.”

6. Avoid Head Injury

As previously mentioned, trauma to the head appears to be linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. According to researchers at the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Departments of Pathology, and Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland,“Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is associated with a high risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of dementia with distinctive clinical and pathologic features. The recent recognition that CTE is common in retired professional football and hockey players has rekindled interest in this condition, as has the recognition that military personnel also experience high rates of mild TBIs and may have a similar syndrome.”

7. Control Infections

Research links Alzheimer’s to infections such as cold sores, gastric ulcers, Lyme disease, pneumonia, the flu, and gum disease. Dr. Ruth Itzhaki of the University of Manchester in England estimates the cold-sore herpes simplex virus is responsible for 60% of Alzheimer’s cases. Infections stimulate excessive beta amyloid material that destroy brain cells. The findings were reported in the Journal of Pathology.

8. Take Vitamins

Many researchers cite the importance of vitamins for Alzheimer’s prevention. A University of Exeter (England) study determined a “severe deficiency” of vitamin D can raise your risk of brain impairment by as much as 394%. While the vitamin is found in fish, egg yolks, milk, juices, breakfast cereals, and other vitamin D-fortified foods, you can also take supplements to shore up any deficiencies, especially if the sun likes to hide where you live. Sun rays are the best source of vitamin D.

A study in the journal Neurology suggests that low levels of vitamin D can trigger Alzheimer’s in older people, with 53% more likely to develop the disease. Of people severely deficient, the risk jumped by 125%.

Two recent studies demonstrate the positive effects of vitamin E against “mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and age-related memory problems.” One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that vitamin E slowed the progression of functional decline by 19% every year, which is the equivalent of 6.2 months’ benefit over the placebo. The researchers concluded that vitamin E “can be recommended as standard clinical practice.” Another study published in JAMA confirmed that vitamin E helped delay function decline and decreased caregiver burden.

9. Avoid Cynicism

A Finnish study published in the journal Neurology suggests that highly cynical people have a greater chance of developing dementia. The study queried 1,449 people about their trust levels. After 8 years, people who were determined to be cynical were “three times more likely to develop dementia than those low on that measure.”

10. Get Sleep

A study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore linked lack of sleep or sleeping poorly with an increase in beta-amyloid, a toxic protein that builds up and forms plaques in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. In studying 70 older adults, average age 76, who were part of the ongoing Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, the researchers found through brain scans that people who got less than 5 hours of sleep per night or who slept fitfully had higher levels of beta-amyloid in the brain than did those who slept more than 7 hours a night.

We may not see a cure for Alzheimer’s disease in our lifetimes, and it may be difficult to overcome genetic predisposition to the condition. Still, eating healthy and implementing wellness habits can help keep our brain cells—and memories—growing.

What Is Tuberculosis: Cause, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

The CDC revealed that 10.4 million people were diagnosed with TB in 2016, and 1.7 million died from the disease. Understanding tuberculosis causes and what you can do to prevent the illness is the best way to stop TB from spreading.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one fourth of the world’s population carry the bacteria that cause tuberculosis. Of these, 10.4 million will become sick with the disease each year, and 1.8 million will die. This makes tuberculosis the most deadly infectious disease on the planet.

In this article, we’re going to uncover what causes tuberculosis as well as its symptoms, treatment, and ways you can help protect yourself and others from contracting this potentially life-threatening illness.

What Causes Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis, or TB, is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The disease is transmitted from person to person when an infected individual coughs, speaks, sings, sneezes, laughs, or spits. All of these activities release microscopic droplets into the air that can be inhaled by another person. However, tuberculosis is difficult to catch, and most people contract it from someone they’re in close contact with, such as a housemate or coworker. In addition, people who’ve been on TB medication for at least 2 weeks are no longer able to transmit the disease.

Types of Tuberculosis

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, approximately two billion people are infected with the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, but the vast majority never show any signs of infection. This is because most people’s immune systems are able to prevent the bacteria from causing sickness. For this reason, tuberculosis can be categorized as either latent or active.

In the case of a latent tuberculosis infection, a person is infected with the bacteria, but the bacteria remain inactive and cause no symptoms. This type of TB also isn’t contagious. But latent TB can become active, so treatment is important to protect the individual and to help prevent the infection from spreading to others.

By contrast, active tuberculosis is just as it sounds—active. However, unlike most types of infection, active TB disease may strike a few weeks to years after an individual becomes infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Risk Factors for Tuberculosis

While anyone can get tuberculosis, some groups have a higher risk of contracting the disease than others. Factors that increase your risk of developing TB include:

  • Weakened immune system: Conditions such as human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), diabetes, certain cancers, and malnutrition; medications like chemotherapy and immunosuppressants; and extreme youth or age increase your risk of developing TB.
  • Travel history: People who travel to or emigrate from parts of the world with higher rates of TB or drug-resistant TB, including Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Russia, have a greater risk of developing TB.
  • Substance abuse: People who smoke tobacco or use intravenous drugs or excessive alcohol have a higher risk of TB.
  • Work history: People who work in homeless shelters, correctional facilities, or nursing homes or other health care facilities have a greater risk of developing TB.
  • Home situation: People who live with someone who’s infected with TB have a higher chance of developing TB themselves.

While tuberculosis is less common in the United States—with a total of only 9,105 TB cases reported in 2017—according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of tuberculosis infections has been rising in many countries since the 1980s due in part to the emergence of HIV. This is because HIV suppresses the immune system, which causes the body to become less able to fight off the TB infection.

In fact, tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people with HIV, and those with HIV are 26 times more likely to develop active TB disease than those without HIV.

Symptoms of Tuberculosis

Although the bacteria that cause tuberculosis generally grow in the lungs and lead to pulmonary tuberculosis when active, they can spread to other parts of the body as well, including the kidneys, spine, and even brain. Therefore, symptoms may vary; however, symptoms of active TB generally include:

  • Cough lasting 3 weeks or more
  • Coughing up blood or sputum
  • Chest pain
  • Pain with breathing or coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Chills

Diagnosing Tuberculosis

If you’re experiencing worrisome symptoms or think you or a loved one may have been exposed to tuberculosis, it’s important to undergo TB testing as soon as possible. Your health care provider will speak with you about your medical history, examine your lungs while you breathe, and check your lymph nodes for signs of swelling.

If your health care provider suspects tuberculosis, they may then choose to perform either a skin test or blood test. The TB skin test, also known as the Mantoux or purified protein derivative (PPD) tuberculin skin test, involves injecting a small amount of tuberculin PPD just beneath the skin of the inner forearm.

Within 48 to 72 hours, a health care worker trained in evaluating the results of the TB skin test will check your arm for swelling at the injection site. If a hard, raised area is present, it will be measured to determine whether TB infection is likely. Depending on various additional factors, TB is considered likely if the raised area measures between 5 and 15 millimeters.

Because the TB skin test sometimes returns with false results, especially in people who have conditions such as AIDS or have received the bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine—which is rarely used in the United States—your health care provider may decide to perform a blood test to confirm the results of the skin test or rule out latent or active tuberculosis.

In addition, people with positive skin tests will likely receive a chest X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan to evaluate the lungs for signs of TB. If imaging shows signs of infection, a sputum sample may also be taken to look for evidence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis Treatment and Prevention

In contrast to most infections, treatment of tuberculosis is extensive. In fact, active TB infections can take 6 to 9 months to successfully treat, and drug-resistant strains of the disease may take 20 to 30 months. The exact length of TB treatment and medications administered will depend on your age, overall health, infection location, and whether the tuberculosis is resistant to certain medications.

Moreover, people with active forms of TB will require treatment with several medications, while people with latent TB infections may need only one or two different drugs. The most common TB drugs used are:

  • Isoniazid
  • Rifampin
  • Ethambutol
  • Pyrazinamide

Unfortunately, drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis have been on the rise since the first TB medications were created, and this has helped keep TB a worldwide threat.

Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is resistant to both isoniazid (INH) and rifampin, and a form of tuberculosis known as extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB)—which is a rare type of MDR-TB—is resistant to INH, rifampin, fluoroquinolones, and at least one of the three medications used as second-line treatment (amikacin, kanamycin, capreomycin).

As stated earlier, after approximately two weeks of treatment, people with tuberculosis are no longer capable of infecting others. However, it’s crucial that anyone being treated for TB complete their course of therapy as directed. Otherwise, the TB bacteria may begin to mutate into more resistant and dangerous strains.

While treating tuberculosis is a lengthy and somewhat complicated process, your health care provider can help you find the tools and support services you need to get through it, so be sure to speak with them about any questions or concerns you may have. And if you experience any side effects from the medications used to treat your TB—including nausea, loss of appetite, jaundice, dark urine, or fever without any obvious cause—you should speak with your doctor as soon as possible to address potential liver toxicity.

Tuberculosis is a contagious disease with potentially serious symptoms

Everything You Need to Know About Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that develops when the body does not have enough iron. Iron deficiency can be mild and go unnoticed for a while, but symptoms may intensify as the body becomes more deficient and lead to health problems.

Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia that occurs when the body doesn’t have enough iron, the mineral essential for the production of hemoglobin. Without sufficient levels of hemoglobin, red blood cells become less able to carry oxygen throughout the body. While the effects of iron deficiency anemia may initially seem subtle, if iron levels fall far enough, symptoms will begin to intensify, and the condition may eventually lead to health problems.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia can be so mild at first that they go unnoticed. However, as the body’s iron stores become further depleted, symptoms will become more apparent and may include:

Fatigue Cold hands and feet
Weakness Shortness of breath
Headache Tongue soreness
Pale skin Fast heartbeat
Hair loss Whooshing sound in the ears

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that develops when the body does not have enough iron, which produces hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen. Iron deficiency can be mild and go unnoticed for a while, but symptoms may intensify as the body becomes more deficient.

What Causes Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by a number of factors. Some of the most common include:

  • Heavy periods
  • Pregnancy
  • Blood loss
  • Iron-deficient diet
  • Inability to absorb iron

Heavy Periods

One of the most common causes of low iron levels in women is heavy menstrual periods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), typical menstrual bleeding lasts for 4 to 5 days. However, women with excessive menstrual bleeding tend to bleed for more than 7 days and lose twice as much blood.

Heavy menstrual bleeding can be caused by a number of conditions, including hormone imbalances and uterine polyps or fibroids.

Pregnancy

Pregnant women have a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia because they require extra iron stores to support both themselves and their growing fetus.

Blood Loss

Certain factors can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and lead to iron deficiency anemia. Some of these include:

People who donate blood regularly may also be at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia.

Iron-Deficient Diet

People whose diets are deficient in iron, especially vegetarians and vegans, are at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia.

Inability to Absorb Iron

Certain disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, such as celiac disease, affect the intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients from food and can cause iron deficiency anemia. Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease also cause impaired iron absorption due to inflammation of the digestive tract.

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that develops when the body does not have enough iron, which produces hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen. Iron deficiency can be mild and go unnoticed for a while, but symptoms may intensify as the body becomes more deficient.

Groups Most at Risk of Iron Deficiency Anemia

As already alluded to, certain groups are more at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia than others. These groups include:

  • Women who are menstruating, pregnant, or breastfeeding
  • Vegetarians and vegans
  • Premature or low birth weight infants who don’t get enough iron from breast milk or formula
  • Children who drink more than 16 to 24 ounces of cow’s milk a day
  • People who’ve recently experienced major surgery or trauma
  • People who’ve had gastric bypass
  • People with celiac disease
  • People with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease

Diagnosing Iron Deficiency Anemia

The first step in diagnosing iron deficiency anemia is performing blood tests, including a complete blood count, or CBC. A CBC is a test that measures the number and certain physical characteristics of three types of cells that circulate in the blood:

  • White blood cells (WBCs)
  • Red blood cells (RBCs)
  • Platelets

Additional blood tests that measure serum ferritin, iron, total iron-binding capacity (TIBC), and transferrin may also be ordered. The normal ranges of each will vary depending on the laboratory performing the test. In general, though, people with iron deficiency anemia will tend to show the following results.

  • Low hemoglobin and hematocrit: Normal hemoglobin (the protein in RBCs that carries oxygen) levels should be between 12.0 and 15.5 grams per deciliter in women and 13.5 and 17.5 grams per deciliter in men. Normal hematocrit (the proportion of RBCs to blood plasma) levels should be between 35.5% and 44.9% in women and 38.3% and 48.6% in men.
  • Low mean cellular volume (MCV): Normal MCV (the average volume of an RBC) levels should be between 82 and 98 femtoliters in both women and men.
  • Low ferritin: Normal ferritin (the blood cell protein that stores iron) levels should be between 10 and 120 nanograms per milliliter in women 18 to 39 years of age and 12 and 263 nanograms per milliliter in women 40 and older. In men, the levels should be between 20 and 250 nanograms per milliliter.
  • Low serum iron: Normal serum iron (the level of iron in the blood) levels should be between 50 and 170 micrograms per deciliter in women and 65 and 176 micrograms per deciliter in men.
  • High TIBC or transferrin: Normal TIBC (the blood’s capacity to bind iron with transferrin) levels should be between 240 and 450 micrograms per deciliter in both women and men. Normal transferrin (the main protein that transports iron throughout the body) levels should be between 170 and 370 milligrams per deciliter in both women and men.

If your health care provider feels your iron deficiency anemia may be due to blood loss, additional tests and procedures may be performed as well. These include:

  • Fecal occult blood
  • Endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Pelvic ultrasound

Treating (and Preventing) Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that develops when the body does not have enough iron, which produces hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen. Iron deficiency can be mild and go unnoticed for a while, but symptoms may intensify as the body becomes more deficient.

Once iron deficiency anemia has been confirmed, treatment may consist of iron supplements, correction of underlying blood loss, dietary changes, or a combination of all three.

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that develops when the body does not have enough iron, which produces hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen. Iron deficiency can be mild and go unnoticed for a while, but symptoms may intensify as the body becomes more deficient.

Iron Supplements

Over-the-counter iron supplements can help replenish iron stores in the body. However, it’s possible to get too much iron, so your health care provider will determine the amount right for you. Interestingly, though, some forms of iron are more toxic than others.

For example, while the toxic potential of ferrous sulfate—the most commonly used form of iron—is well known, iron that’s been chelated, or bonded, to amino acids has been shown in studies to be safe at even extremely high doses. In fact, the process of chelation not only leads to improved absorption of iron and fewer gastrointestinal side effects but also allows your body to absorb only what it needs.

Correction of Underlying Blood Loss

If your iron deficiency anemia is found to be the result of underlying blood loss, iron supplementation alone most likely won’t be enough. Depending on the cause, additional treatment may involve oral contraceptives to lighten heavy menstrual flow, medications to treat peptic ulcer disease, or surgery to remove a bleeding polyp, tumor, or fibroid. If iron deficiency is severe, blood transfusions or intravenous iron may also be needed.

Iron-Rich Foods

Regardless of the treatment recommended for iron deficiency anemia, one of the best ways to both support your iron stores and prevent recurrence of anemia is to eat a diet that includes plenty of iron-rich foods.

It should also be noted that the body absorbs iron from meat better than it does iron from plant sources, so vegetarians and vegans may need to increase their intake of iron-rich, plant-based foods to get the same amount of iron as meat eaters. Some of the best plant-based sources of iron are:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Fortified cereals, breads, and pasta
  • Dark chocolate
  • Dried fruits
  • Legumes

Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron, so drinking juices high in vitamin C can further aid in increasing iron stores. Citrus juices such as grapefruit and orange juice are certainly great sources of vitamin C, but many foods you might not otherwise suspect are rich sources as well. These include:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Strawberries
  • Melons
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes

Left untreated, severe iron deficiency anemia may lead to complications, including irregular heartbeat, heart failure, premature births, and delayed growth and development in children. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency and to take steps to prevent its progression.

Can Adults Get Scarlet Fever? Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

A bacterial illness, scarlet fever develops in certain patients who have contracted strep throat and results in a red rash, sore throat, and high fever. Although it most commonly occurs in children between 5 and 15, anyone can develop the condition.

Scarlet fever might sound like an illness from a 19th-century novel. However, the truth is that this condition still affects patients today and can cause serious damage to the heart, kidneys, and other parts of the body if left untreated.

A bacterial infection, scarlet fever develops in certain patients who have contracted strep throat. Also known as scarlatina, scarlet fever results in a red rash, sore throat, and high fever. Although it most commonly occurs in children between 5 and 15, adults can also develop the condition.

Seeking immediate antibiotic treatment for scarlet fever is the best way to avoid potentially harmful side effects and prevent the illness from spreading to others.

Identifying Scarlet Fever Causes

Developing from the same bacteria that causes a strep infection (Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A streptococcus), scarlet fever occurs when the bacteria releases a toxin into the body. The result is a bright red rash that covers the body and a red, swollen tongue referred to as strawberry tongue.

Patients contract scarlet fever from being in close contact with other people who have the disease. The infection is transmitted when a person with the condition sneezes or coughs, expelling droplets into the air. An individual can contract scarlet fever by touching something that an infected person has been in contact with. The Streptococcus bacteria can also cause skin infections known as cellulitis that transmits the bacteria to others. The incubation period for scarlet fever is between 2 and 4 days.

While anyone can develop scarlet fever, children between 5 and 15 years of age are at a higher risk. The illness spreads easily in crowded environments, such as schools and daycare centers.

Scarlet Fever Symptoms to Watch For

Wondering if your child could be suffering from scarlet fever? The following are scarlet fever symptoms and signs.

A bacterial illness, scarlet fever develops in certain patients who have contracted strep throat and results in a red rash, sore throat, and high fever. Although it most commonly occurs in children between 5 and 15, can adults get scarlet fever? Yes! Anyone can develop the condition.

  • A skin rash that is red and rough to the touch and spreads from the face to the neck, torso, and limbs
  • Red lines around the groin, armpits, elbows, knees, and neck
  • Facial flushing
  • A strawberry tongue, which appears red and bumpy with a white coating in the early stages
  • Fever of 101 or above
  • Chills
  • Red, sore throat with white patches
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes (neck glands) that hurt when touched
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache

While most patients recover quickly from scarlet fever, seeing a disappearance of symptoms within two weeks, the condition can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Long-term effects of the illness include:

A serious condition, acute rheumatic fever can affect the heart, causing long-term damage. In fact, scarlet fever was a leading cause of heart disease in adults prior to the discovery of antibiotics.

Seeking treatment immediately is the best way to keep scarlet fever from developing into more serious health problems and to prevent the illness from spreading.

Scarlet Fever Treatments

Once upon a time, scarlet fever was a serious and potentially fatal condition for many patients. These days, most cases of scarlet fever can be treated quickly and effectively with antibiotics. It’s important to take the whole course of antibiotics, even if you are no longer experiencing symptoms. If you’ve been diagnosed with scarlet fever, you should also avoid returning to school or work until you have been on medication for at least 24 hours and no longer have a fever.

It’s not uncommon to experience pain or discomfort as a result of scarlet fever. After checking for strep bacteria with a throat swab to the back of the throat, your doctor may recommend the following treatments and remedies to ease your distress:

  • Gargling with warm, salt water
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Using a cool mist humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home
  • Taking OTC painkillers like Tylenol or Advil
  • Using an anti-itch medicine such as calamine lotion for the rash

Be sure to check with your doctor before administering any new medications to young children.

Can Adults Get Scarlet Fever?

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just children who can contract scarlet fever. While the illness is more common in young people, especially those between 2 and 8 years old, reports suggest that the condition is seen in adults on occasion. Typically, adults who contract Streptococcus bacteria don’t experience the rash that is common in younger patients.

According to a CNN article, scarlet fever cases are on the rise for reasons that baffle researchers. In 2016, British doctors reported 20,000 occurrences of scarlet fever—the largest increase in 50 years. Scarlet fever cases are also climbing in a number of East Asian countries, including Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong, and China.

If you have any of the symptoms of scarlet fever or strep throat, you should seek immediate medical attention to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Preventing Scarlet Fever

Best practices for preventing bacterial infections apply to scarlet fever prevention.

  • Handwashing: Make handwashing with warm, soapy water a standard practice.
  • Eating utensils: Don’t share beverage or eating utensils, and make a point of washing dining ware well.
  • Illness manners: Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to keep others from catching strep throat or scarlet fever.

The Rising Rates of Asthma: Theories Behind Asthma’s Growing Numbers

Asthma is a common chronic lung disease that affects millions of people across the globe. Asthma rates continue to climb, and while no one can pinpoint the exact cause for the rising rates of asthma, several theories have come to light.

Asthma is a common chronic lung disease that affects millions of people across the globe. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, more than 26 million people in the United States have asthma, and asthma prevalence has been steadily increasing in all ages, ethnicities, and genders since the early 1980s. It’s unknown what exactly causes it, but scientists believe that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of the disease. Asthma rates continue to climb, and while no one can pinpoint the exact cause for the rising rates of asthma, several theories have come to light.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that causes inflammation of the bronchial airways. These passageways become swollen and narrow. The inflamed airways restrict the amount of air passing through. A large amount of mucus buildup can further restrict breathing.

Certain triggers may worsen asthma and cause a greater amount of inflammation and tightening of the muscles surrounding the airways. As breathing becomes more difficult and the lungs work harder to get enough air, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath can occur.

Asthma does tend to run in families, so if you have family members who suffer from it, there is a higher chance you do too. It is called allergic asthma if environmental triggers or allergies lead to an asthmatic episode. Other types of asthma include:

  • Childhood asthma, which develops early in young children, typically before the fifth birthday.
  • Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), or exercise-induced asthma (EIA), which occurs in individuals who only experience asthma during exercise or sports.
  • Occupational asthma, which manifests when people have jobs that expose them to dust, gas, smoke, and other fumes.

Asthma Symptoms

Asthma attacks or flare-ups are asthmatic episodes that occur after being exposed to allergens or other triggers. Wheezing and difficulty breathing are the most common signs you have asthma. Other symptoms include:

  • A chronic cough
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing or wheezing that disrupts sleep

These asthma symptoms can develop in people of all ages, including children.

Asthma is a common chronic lung disease that affects millions of people across the globe. Asthma rates continue to climb, and while no one can pinpoint the exact cause for the rising rates of asthma, several theories have come to light.

Rising Rates of Asthma

The number of people diagnosed with asthma continues to grow. Asthma affects 7.6% of all Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the majority of asthma sufferers are children from birth to 18 years of age. Asthma rates started to dip in the 1970s, but increased 75% between 1980 and 1995, and continue to rise over two decades later. While researchers are investigating the reasons why, several theories attempt to explain the prevalence of this disease.

Genetics

Asthma trends indicate a genetic link, with children of asthmatic parents having a higher asthma risk. As more and more parents with asthma have children, the genes linked to asthma continue to be passed on. In the past 10 years, the role of genes in the development of asthma is becoming better understood, and certain genes have been pinpointed. Many experts believe the rate of asthma is rising due to a combination of factors, including genes and environmental.

Upping Our Cleanliness

The “hygiene hypothesis” is based on the premise that our modern way of life has made us too clean and we lack exposure to germs that help build up and train our immune systems. Our effort to keep our environments ultra-clean with the use of antimicrobial products is actually interfering with the natural course of our immune system development by removing the infectious agents that help test and strengthen it. Prior research has shown that children who grow up on farms have lower allergy and asthma rates, possibly due to their regular exposure to bacteria and microbes.

Poor Diet and Obesity

Many experts believe that lifestyle changes associated with diet and a decrease in activity are leading to the rising rates of certain conditions, like asthma and food allergies. With obesity rates climbing, many people are becoming more sedentary and practice poor health and lifestyle habits. Diets low in essential nutrients and vitamins, particularly vitamin D,  may also be tied to the rise of asthma cases, particularly when a pregnant mother does not follow a healthy diet. Including more probiotics, antioxidants, and healthy sources of fat in your diet can help prevent asthma from developing.

Increased Use of Antibiotics

An increase in certain medications and the overprescribing of antibiotics could be contributing to the rise in asthma sufferers. Studies have shown that the increase in asthma and allergies coincides with a spike in antibiotic use. The overuse of antibiotics destroys healthy gut flora, lowering immune function and potentially making us more susceptible to diseases like asthma.

Air Pollution

Children living in close proximity to high traffic areas are more likely to develop asthma or have more frequent flare-ups, particularly if allergies or asthma runs in the family. As population rates expand throughout the world and more cars are on the road, air pollution becomes a growing concern and will likely lead to more asthma cases and breathing disorders.

Increased C-Section Rates

It has been found that there is a higher risk of asthma in children when delivered via Cesarean section. A C-section changes the gut flora in the early stages of a baby’s life, causing an imbalance and making him or her more susceptible to infection and disease, including asthma. On the other hand, breastfeeding for at least 3 months helps protect the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Common Asthma Triggers

Numerous triggers can cause asthma attacks. Your allergist can help identify what you are allergic to, what aggravates your condition, and recommend ways to avoid exposure. Common risk factors include:

  • Allergens, such as pollen, mold, pet dander, and dust mites, that can lead to an asthma flare-up and worsen symptoms.
  • Exercise can narrow airways and increase breathing, aggravating the lungs of a person with asthma. As bronchial airways constrict, symptoms can worsen shortly after exercise has begun and last for 30 minutes or more unless treatment like an inhaler is used.
  • Tobacco smoke can be very irritating to someone with asthma and lead to an attack. Studies have shown that children exposed to cigarette smoke, or those with a mother who smoked while they were in the womb, had a 20% higher risk of developing asthma and wheezing. Fumes, strong odors, and pollutants can also be a trigger.
  • Medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can worsen asthma and lead to a flare-up of symptoms.
  • Stress and anxiety may exacerbate asthma symptoms and cause an attack. A well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep can help lessen the frequency of asthma attacks.
  • Respiratory infections are often responsible for triggering asthma issues, most often in children. Bronchitis, a cold, or sinus infection can cause asthma symptoms to be more intense.
  • Weather changes may lead to asthma, including cold air in the winter or AC used in warmer months. Wind and blowing dust can also trigger an attack.
  • Food additives may lead to an allergic reaction that progresses into an asthma attack. Preservatives like aspartame, parabens, MSG, nitrates, nitrites, and BHA are among some of the more common culprits.

Managing Asthma and Treatments

A cure for asthma does not exist, but once it is properly diagnosed and an asthma action plan is in place, it is easier to manage your condition and improve your quality of life. Asthma is a chronic disease, and working with your doctor is a part of your long-term treatment plan. Certain medications can help prevent asthma attacks and minimize symptoms to keep airways open and ease your breathing.

If you suspect you have asthma, an allergist can help investigate your medical history and see how your lungs work by conducting various breathing tests. For instance, spirometry can determine the air speed coming in and out of your lungs and how much air your lungs can hold when you blow into a sensory device. This is performed early on in diagnosis and throughout treatment to evaluate if your plan is helping to reduce your symptoms.

You may also deal with allergies if you are asthmatic, so allergy testing can be very useful for identifying the exact allergens that cause an asthmatic reaction. Knowing which triggers to avoid or getting treatment for these allergens may help reduce your asthma symptoms.

Asthma Medications

After your doctor determines what type of asthma you have, he or she will prescribe medication that will help prevent asthma attacks or stop one if it begins. Quick-relief options are used for people who need a temporary fix, as in before exercise begins. Bronchodilators, including inhalers, fall in this category and open inflamed airways so you can breathe easier.

Controller medications are prescribed for more long-term management of symptoms and are used every day to keep airways open and attacks at bay. If you have frequent asthma issues, these medications will most likely be part of your treatment plan.

Asthma sufferers are also more susceptible to respiratory illnesses, both viral or bacterial, so it is essential to keep up with annual flu and pneumonia vaccinations to help reduce the likelihood of becoming sick.

Asthma Management

With proper treatment and a plan to manage your asthma, you can help minimize your symptoms and enjoy an active, healthy life. Work with your allergist to understand your asthma, what triggers it, and what you can do to reduce attacks. Most plans include:

  • Quick relief and long-term medications
  • Identifying ways to minimize triggers
  • Knowing how to identify an attack and what to do when one strikes
  • Working with your allergist, your family, and other doctors to keep them informed of your condition

To reduce the rising national and global rates of asthma, we likely need to confront larger public health issues such as air quality, obesity rates, and the potential overuse of antibiotics. Better understanding of the disease can hopefully reverse the current trend as well as prevent more people from receiving an asthma diagnosis. If you live with asthma, several symptoms can be improved by diet and exercise, breathing exercises, and finding a management plan that works for you.