Enjoy reading the articles below on women health and other general health issues:
- Mistakes You’re Making During Your Period
- Tips to Help Lower Your Cholesterol
- Holiday Eating Without Regrets
- 9 Reasons you have Uneven Breasts
- 10 Easy Ways to Banish Bloat
- 9 Common Misconceptions about Psoriasis
- What you need to know about age-related blindness
- Mosquito-Borne Illnesses: What They Are and How to Prevent Them
- How to Keep your own Health Records
- Should you visit a Sleep Clinic?
- Signs you need Glasses
- 14 Easy Changes that will Jump-start your Health
- 5 Reasons you might be Depressed
Mistakes You’re Making During Your Period
from HealthyWomen’s Healthy Living area
By Stacey Feintuch
You know the drill. Aches. Pains. Moodiness. Ugh. You have your period and you can’t do anything about it.
No one wants to make that time of the month even worse. So why are you engaging in poor menstrual cycle habits that are doing you no good? Here are some mistakes that you should break free of during your period.
You don’t wash your hands at the right times.
If you’re like most people, you wash your hands after inserting your tampon or changing your sanitary pad. But why aren’t you cleaning those hands before you do those actions? It’s important to keep hands clean to protect your vagina from all the bacteria that you encounter throughout the day. So, if you’ll be doing anything down there, wash your hands before doing so.
You don’t change your tampons or pads enough.
To prevent leakages, change your sanitary protection every few hours. Depending on your flow, check pads every two to four hours. Using the lowest-absorbency tampon, switch your tampon at least every four to eight hours. Doing so will help reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome, a rare but life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections. It’s often associated with the use of superabsorbent tampons. (The incidence of toxic shock syndrome has declined since manufacturers have taken certain types of tampons off the market.)
You use scented products.
Artificially scented and fragrant powders, soaps, wipes, gels and other products are full of chemicals that can irritate everything down there. So, cut yourself some slack if you have a little odor when you’re on your period. It’s just your vagina’s way of keeping itself clean. When bathing, cleanse your internal parts with water. And you can wash outer areas with all-natural soaps that don’t have words like “fragrant” or “perfume” on the label.
You don’t proactively take pain relievers.
If you wait until you’re doubled over with cramps to take your meds, those pain relievers will be less effective than if you take them before the cramps hit you. Pain is easier to prevent when it’s mild or before it starts as opposed to when it’s debilitating. So, if your cycles are predictable and regular, take an anti-inflammatory drug one to two days before you expect your period to help prevent cramping. If they’re irregular, take a pain reliever as soon as you experience any bleeding or cramping.
You don’t get enough iron.
Do you yearn for a hamburger during that time of the month? That’s because your body is craving iron. It’s common to be low on iron during your period, because you’re losing iron-rich blood. Iron helps carry oxygen through your body, which gives your body the energy it needs. So, replenish those iron levels by consuming beans, red meats, dried apricots, oysters or spinach, or take supplements. If these tricks don’t help, speak with your health care provider. You may need to be tested for anemia, a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells.
You snack too much.
You’re PMS-ing so you head right to your snack cabinet. Want to be even more bloated? Then munch on high-sodium snacks like potato chips. The more salt you eat, the more water you’ll retain. So, minimize consumption of salty foods during your period so you don’t have another thing making you bloated.
You skip your workouts.
Exercising may be the last thing on your mind when your friend Flo is in town. But research has shown that elevating your heart rate helps manage the psychological and physical symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome. It can help boost your mood and decrease bloating. Engage in any activity where you break a sweat to help you feel better.
You don’t track your period.
Charting your cycle isn’t just for women who are trying to conceive. By tracking your period and the heaviness of your flow and your pain level, you can talk with your health care provider about what’s going on. And you’ll have a better sense of what to expect physically and emotionally from week to week. Many apps are available to make the process easier for you.
You don’t get enough rest.
When you have your period, your body is working overtime. And it needs a break in the form of sleep. Otherwise, you’ll be more anxious, crankier and prone to eating junk. So, don’t be a hero and push through the pain. Instead, practice good sleep habits to help with your overall productivity and health.
You don’t look at the color of your blood.
The color and texture of your menstrual blood are important. You want blood that is bright red, with occasional clotting being normal. Dark colors are normal too, because that’s older blood that took longer to come out. But, contact your health care provider if you see blood with an orange tint or orange with red streaks. These colors mean fluids from the cervix are mixed in there, and you may be battling an infection. And reach out if you have heavy clots more often than not.
For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org area below.
Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living
Tips to Help Lower Your Cholesterol
from HealthyWomen’s Heart Health area
By Stacey Feintuch
Did you just find out you have high cholesterol? If you were caught off guard and don’t know what to do next, you’re not alone. High cholesterol has no symptoms, and many people are unaware they have it. A blood test is the only way to detect its presence.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body and many foods. Your body needs it to work normally. But, too much can build in your arteries. These deposits can eventually narrow your arteries, which puts you at risk for heart disease.
Nearly one-third of US adults has high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol and only a third of them has the condition under control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And nearly 31 million Americans have high total cholesterol, with a cholesterol level greater than 240 mg/dL. High total cholesterol puts you at twice the risk for heart disease as people with ideal levels.
Although some major heart organizations no longer base heart risk strictly on high cholesterol numbers, they still consider it when determining overall cardiovascular disease risk, along with other factors like your age and personal health history.
If your health care provider has told you your cholesterol is high and could put you at increased risk for heart disease, it’s time to make some lifestyle changes to help lower your cholesterol.
Don’t be afraid; it’s not an all-or-nothing approach. Making small adjustments can help get your cholesterol in check.
Note: Lifestyle changes aren’t always enough to lower your cholesterol. You may need to speak with your health care provider about taking cholesterol medications (if you don’t already) to help manage your levels.
You’ve heard it once and you’ll hear it again. Stop smoking (and lower your exposure to secondhand smoke) and you’ll lower your cholesterol levels within minutes. Here are a few facts to think about: Your blood pressure and heart rate decrease within 20 minutes of quitting. Your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker within one year. And your risk of heart disease is similar to someone who never smoked within 15 years.
Watch how much you drink.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Healthy women (of any age) can have up to one drink a day and same for men older than age 65. Men age 65 or younger can have up to two drinks a day. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk for other health problems like heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke.
Consuming heart-healthy foods can help better your heart’s health. To do so, reduce your saturated fats by choosing low-fat dairy products and leaner, skinless cuts of meat. Add more soluble fiber to your diet to help lower your LDL cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber is in fruits, beans, vegetables, oats and oat bran. You also want to eliminate trans fats, which may be found in fried foods and some processed foods like cookies and crackers. Read more about what heart-healthy foods you should be eating.
Break a sweat.
Get more activity into your life. Join a gym or train for a marathon. Too ambitious? Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a bit farther from the mall entrance. Bike to work. Walk during lunchtime. Adding even 10-minute intervals of physical activity a day can help. Stay motivated and accountable with an exercise buddy or group.
Taking off even five to 10 pounds can lower your cholesterol levels and improve your overall health. That of course can be accomplished by eating better and exercising more, both outlined above.
Compelling evidence exists that your stress levels can indirectly cause an increase in your bad cholesterol. Do whatever works for you to keep your tension in check. Meet up with a friend for coffee, take a yoga class or meditate. And read about what to eat to destress.
For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org area below.
Heart Health: www.healthywomen.org/category/tags/heart-health
Holiday Eating Without Regrets
from HealthyWomen’s Healthy Holidays area
From rich, golden eggnog to densely moist sweet potato pie, tempting food treats seem to be everywhere during the holiday season. No wonder many of us believe that, at this time of year, loading on lots of extra weight is inevitable.
Yet the average person gains only about one pound from November to January (those who are overweight gain more). The real problem: weight you add during the holidays tends to remain with you months later, accounting for more than half of annual gain.
The solution isn’t to diet your way through the festive season. “It’s important not to feel like you’ve deprived yourself. But there’s a fine line between enjoying and overdoing,” says Bethany Thayer, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and a dietitian for Health Alliance Plan, the medical insurance arm of Henry Ford Health System, in Detroit.
Make your strategy simply to hold your weight steady. You can achieve that goal with help from your senses of taste, feel and smell.
Fooling your senses
Our senses often work against healthy eating by attracting us to sugary and fat-rich foods. Yet they also can be “fooled” into finding similar pleasure in sugar or fat alternatives that mimic the tastes we like so much, according to Lalita Kaul, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., a dietitian and professor of community health and family practice, Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.
When you heighten the sensory appeal of foods you prepare, serve and eat, your senses help you sail through the holiday season. You’ll be able to reduce fat and sugar but still enjoy dishes that are as satisfying as traditional calorie-loaded favorites.
Focus on flavor
Is your downfall sweet or salty foods? Or both? “We naturally gravitate toward sweet because we have more sweet taste buds. And salt enhances the flavor of whatever you’re consuming,” says Thayer.
What’s more, we build up an adaptation to both sweet and salty taste, she says, requiring greater amounts to attain satisfaction. Indeed, worldwide, the use of high calorie sweeteners has increased.
You can wean your taste buds gradually from wanting more sweetness or saltiness, but that takes time. To navigate the holiday eating ahead, these tips will help you cut sugar and salt, but still keep flavor appeal high:
- Vanilla and peppermint extracts bring out sweetness.
- Use spices such as ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and mint, instead of added sugar, in vegetable dishes, sauces, and baked goods.
- Savory spices, such as oregano, basil, cilantro, rosemary, garlic and onion, are powerful flavor boosters that lessen the need for adding salt. Use on meats, fish, stuffings, sauces, soups and vegetables.
- Many stores sell bottled mixtures of spices and herbs for easy flavor enhancement.
- In order to get the strongest flavor from fresh herbs, the American Dietetic Association recommends adding them at the end of cooking and using more than you would with dried herbs.
- Highlight the natural taste of sweet potatoes with cinnamon and vanilla. Avoid canned ones that are packed in syrup. There’s no reason to add extra sugar to this favorite holiday dish. If you must have marshmallows on top, use the mini-type, space them apart, and let them bake just briefly before serving (they melt faster than big marshmallows).
Feels like fat—but isn’t
That tempting brownie on the holiday goodie tray has the right texture and taste—moist, rich and chocolatey. Yet the appealing “mouth feel” it has, usually due to calorie- and cholesterol-loaded fats, such as butter or shortening, might come from an unexpected source: beans.
Research shows that puréed cannellini beans (white beans) can be used to replace as much as 50 percent of the fat in brownies and dropped cookies while producing a treat that tastes very similar to the original—plus has added fiber and vitamins.
Fats give many foods the sensory qualities that make us want to eat them. We need some fat in our diet, but all are dense with calories. Saturated fats and trans fats also raise blood cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. The Institute of Medicine recommends consuming as little saturated fats (found in meat and dairy products) and trans fats (in packaged baked goods) as possible.
You can fool your senses with healthier fat replacements that provide similar eating pleasure:
- Re-create family recipes with low-fat or nonfat dairy ingredients. Dr. Kaul suggests choosing low-fat yogurt, fat free half-and-half, and evaporated skim milk, instead of whole milk or cream versions of those products.
- Use healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil, canola oil and corn oil, for cooking, baking and eating.
- Puréed fruits such as pumpkin, applesauce, or bananas, are excellent fat substitutes in baking. One fat-replacement product sold in groceries is simply puréed prunes, Thayer notes. She uses a can of pumpkin in a box of cake mix, with no added egg or oil, to make mini-muffins. “They’re very moist,” she says, “and you get the beta-carotene from the pumpkin.”
- Taking fat out of Christmas cookies is a bit tricky, but possible. Fat helps retain moisture, so low-fat cookies should be eaten quickly or they’ll dry out.
- To make an easy creamed soup without adding heavy cream or butter, purée an assortment of vegetables, then just add a little broth.
Three other great tips to keep from adding holiday weight:
- If you drink alcohol, set a one drink limit. When possible, dilute wine or liquor with water or seltzer. Beer, wine, liquor, and alcoholic mixed drinks (punches, coffee drinks, and such) are often packed with calories.
- Start with soup. Not only are most soups healthful, but having soup before a meal makes you feel less hungry and more satisfied. As a result, you avoid overeating, take in fewer calories for the whole day, and don’t feel deprived.
- Buy low-fat or fat free eggnog. Most people won’t notice any taste difference.
For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org area below.
Healthy Holidays: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/healthy-holidays
9 Reasons You Have Uneven Breasts
from HealthyWomen’s Breast Health Center
by Stacey Feintuch
You may have noticed that you or your daughter or someone you know has one breast that’s larger than the other. Uneven breasts are a common concern among women.
It’s completely normal for breasts to differ slightly from each other. When you have breast asymmetry, you have a difference in form, position or volume of the breast. More than half of all women are affected by this condition. In fact, one study of 100 women who wanted breast augmentation with implants found that 88 percent had natural asymmetries.
The symmetry of your breasts can be measured with a mammogram. You also might be able to get a SCAN-3D, a special type of three-dimensional laser scanning. (Note that it’s not typically offered at most breast imaging centers.)
No one really knows why breasts develop differently from one another. But here are a few possible reasons why you or your daughter might be experiencing breast asymmetry:
- Normal growth variations. Most of our body parts, such as our eyebrows or our legs, aren’t fully symmetrical. So, your uneven breasts may be attributed to normal anatomic variations.
- Hormonal changes. When hormones are changing during puberty, one breast can start to grow before the other, even if they stop growing at the same time.
- Traumatic injuries. One report described two cases of breast asymmetry that developed as the result of injuries girls received to their “breast bud” area (when breasts begin to develop starting with just a little swelling under the nipple when a girl begins puberty) during gymnastics when they were ages 10 and 11.
- Menstrual cycle. Your breast tissue changes throughout your menstrual cycle. For example, breasts may get bigger due to water retention and additional blood flow. They may feel fuller and more sensitive when you’re ovulating. They shrink during menstruation. One study found that breasts have the least amount of asymmetry on the first day of ovulation.
- An underlying medical or skeletal condition. A rare condition called juvenile or virginal hypertrophy of the breast is where one breast grows significantly larger than the other. It often leads to physical and psychological problems and is typically treated with surgery.
- Fibroids or cysts. You may have a fibrous breast lump, which is a tissue growth that develops within your breast, or a cyst, which is a fluid-filled sac. While tissue lumps can be cancerous, most are noncancerous tumors, called fibroids. Lumps can also be caused by fibrocystic breasts, where your breasts feel lumpy or rope-like, or by fibroadenomas, which are noncancerous breast tissues that vary in size and shape. Any sudden or recent differences in breast sizes due to lumps or underlying breast masses should be evaluated by your health care professional, who may refer you to a specialist.
- Scoliosis (curvature of the spine). When you have scoliosis, it can widen one side of the rib cage and create uneven breasts. Uneven breasts in developing girls is a common symptom of scoliosis.
- Deformities in the chest wall. Chest wall deformities are structural issues that impact the chest and in turn, the breast size, shape and projection. For example, if you have Poland Syndrome, it can cause underdevelopment of breast tissue and areola (the ring of pigmented skin surrounding a nipple) and rib abnormalities. Funnel chest can cause a depression in the breast bone. And pigeon breastcan push the breastbone outward and can cause scoliosis.
- Breast cancer marker. Some research suggests that breast asymmetry may be a marker for women who have an increased risk of breast cancer. Typically, breast cancer is only a concern if you’ve always had even breasts but they’ve become suddenly become uneven as an adult. Speak to your health care provider if you have sudden changes in the shape, size or appearance of your breasts.
If you or your daughter is bothered by the difference in your breasts, talk to your health care provider. If surgery is recommended, you may want to ask about a breast reduction rather than implants. Studies have shown that women with asymmetry who undergo breast reduction are generally more satisfied than those with implants.
Also, know that most doctors will recommend that a girl wait until her breasts have finished growing before considering plastic surgery.
Breast Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/breast-health
Family Health & Wellness Guide: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/family-health-and-wellness-guide/your-health
10 Easy Ways to Banish Bloat
from HealthyWomen’s Digestive Disorders Health Center
authored by Sheryl Kraft
We’ve all been there.
It might have been in years past, when you were premenstrual. (Remember? Water retention taken to a new level.)
Or now, when you eat too much.
Or drink too much.
Or maybe when you don’t eat enough.
Or sleep enough.
Or, in other words, just about any time.
Bloating happens for so many reasons, and those reasons vary from person to person.
According to the University of Utah, about 50 percent of the gas in your digestive system is swallowed air; the remainder produced during the digestive process.
And that swallowed air, if not “passed” via burping or flatulence, hangs around, usually in the abdominal region, making its presence known while making your middle area feel uncomfortably larger than life.
Sometimes you feel bloated after an especially big meal. But it doesn’t take just eating a lot to feel that—although overeating is usually the most common cause of bloating.
(That’s why it’s usually better to eat smaller portions, which can keep bloating at bay.)
Other ways to beat the bloat:
- Slow down.Eat too fast, and your risk of bloating increases. Remember, it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to send the “full” signal to your brain. And since overeating is a bloating risk, slowing down will help lower that likelihood.
- Limit fats.Because fat takes longer to digest than protein or carbs, too much rich and fatty food can contribute to bloating, since these keep your stomach full for a longer period of time.
- Avoid swallowing air.When your abdomenis filled with gas, bloat follows. There are a few things you can limit to help reduce this likelihood, like:
- Drinking through a straw
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- Chewing gum
- Sucking on hard candy
- Limit stress. Granted, this is good advice for just about anything and anybody; but it applies to bloat, too. That’s because there’s a tendency, when you’re stressed or anxious, to take shorter breaths and as a result, swallow more air.
Remember to breathe.
- Get moving. Exercise, says the University of Utah, can help keep your digestive system running efficiently, hence reducing the likelihood of gas buildup. A Swedish study found that moderate exercise (like biking for 30 minutes) helped reduce bloating in people with irritable bowelsyndrome.
- Toss the butts. Another reason to quit: Smoking causes bloating—and heartburn and other digestive issues, too.
- Avoid (or limit) artificial sweeteners. Many of these, like sorbitol, are tough to digest and cause gas or bloating. And fructose, although a natural sugar, when added to many processed foods can be difficult for some people to digest.
- Beware of dairy. For some who are lactose intolerant and have trouble digesting lactose (a milk sugar), dairy products can cause intestinal upset and bloating.
- Watch your whole grains. Yes, they’re healthy, but they’re high in fiber, which can be problematic for some, resulting in gas, bloating and even constipation. The best thing to do is go slowly: Add them to your diet a little at a time, and make sure you drink plenty of water with high-fiber foods, which helps to keep them moving through your digestive system.
- Consider a probiotic. Sometimes bloating is due to an imbalance of bacteriain your intestines, and probiotics can help balance it all out. A review from Northwestern University found that the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium infantis is the only strain of probiotic to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating.
Learn tips on how to Beat Belly Fat from fitness expert Joan Pagano’s new video here.
Digestive Disorders Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/digestive-disorders
Midlife Matters Blog: www.healthywomen.org/womentalk/blog/midlife-matters
9 Common Misconceptions About Psoriasis
from HealthyWomen’s Skin Health Center
authored by Elizabeth Battaglino, RN, CEO of HealthyWomen
Psoriasis is a persistent, chronic inflammatory skin condition caused by an inherited genetic defect that affects about 7.5 million people in the United States, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
The study of the genetic connection to psoriasis is fairly new: it wasn’t until the early 1970s that research began. With recent improvements in technology and increases in funding, studies are beginning to rapidly expand.
Yet, many people—even those afflicted with this condition—aren’t fully aware of the facts associated with this condition, and there are some pretty serious consequences and complications associated with psoriasis.
Here are some facts you may want to know:
- People with psoriasis are 3.8 to 7.5 times more likely than the general population to develop Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Psoriasis also puts you at higher risk for lymphoma, obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
- Psoriasis, like any other chronic disease, can be stressful and increase the risk and rate of depression, suicide, smoking and alcohol consumption.
While many people don’t know the facts about psoriasis, there are many commonly held misconceptions. Now is a good time to set the record straight, separating facts from myths:
- Myth: Psoriasis only affects adults.
Fact: While it is primarily seen in adults, it can occur in all age groups. It usually strikes between the ages of 15 and 30. Although most people who will get it will have it by age 40, it can begin as late as your 50s.
- Myth: Psoriasis only affects your skin.
Fact: Psoriasis causes the skin to grow faster than it can shed, resulting in sore, reddish, itchy skin with flaky, silvery white scales. Though symptoms vary from person to person, most people will suffer irritation on their scalp, knees, elbows, hands and feet. But it can also affect the eyelids, ears, fingernails, toenails, inside the mouth and soft tissues of the genitals. Additionally, about 40 percent of people with the disease experience joint inflammation that produces arthritis-like symptoms, a condition known as psoriatic arthritis.
- Myth: Psoriasis is contagious.
Fact: You cannot “catch” psoriasis: It is a genetic condition triggered when there is a glitch in your immune system. Having one family member increases your risk, while having two parents with the disease increases it even more. But although it’s genetic, you can have a relative with it and not get it at all.
- Myth: There is no effective treatment for psoriasis.
Fact: Topical treatments, like anthralin, coal tar, emollients, salicylic acid, tazarotene, topical corticosteroids and some forms of vitamin D, can help with mild to moderate psoriasis. These treatments tend not to be effective for more serious cases. For those, treatment with UV light therapy and other medications might be more helpful.
There are systemic treatments available (prescription drugs that work throughout the body), like cyclosporine, methotrexate, retinoids, biologic response modifiers and acitretin.
- Myth: If someone in your family has psoriasis, you will get it, too.
Fact: Although it is an inherited disease, you can have the gene and never develop psoriasis. In fact, just 2 percent to 3 percent of people with the gene will actually go on to develop the disease.
- Myth: People with psoriasis should stay out of the sun.
Fact: The condition usually improves in the summer. Sun exposure can slow the growth of the affected cells.
- Myth: If you have psoriasis, you should avoid baths and wash your hair infrequently.
Fact: Baths containing oils or bath salts may help soothe the skin for many people with psoriasis, but it’s important that the water is not too hot. Hot water can be irritating and drying. Also, limit the bath to about 10 minutes. Swimming is OK, but a shower should follow, because chlorine left on the skin can be irritating and drying. Daily hair washing is fine. A medicated shampoo can help with the symptoms, and washing will help eliminate extra scales and dry patches on your scalp.
- Myth: Food can trigger a psoriasis flare-up.
Fact: That’s unlikely. Although symptoms wax and wane, there are definite things that commonly do contribute to a flare-up, like stress; cold, dry weather; strep throat; or even a skin injury like a cut, scratch or bad sunburn. There is a spice that can actually help with psoriasis: turmeric, that neon yellow-orange spice used to make curry, can ease symptoms by lowering the inflammation that fuels psoriasis, especially during a flare.
- Myth: People with psoriatic arthritis should avoid exercise.
Fact: Moderate exercise can improve joint pain and stiffness in some people. It can help increase flexibility and improve endurance.
Find out more about psoriasis at:
National Psoriasis Foundation
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Skin Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/skin-health
Midlife Matters Blog: www.healthywomen.org/womentalk/blog/midlife-matters
What You Need to Know About Age-Related Blindness
from HealthyWomen’s Midlife & Beyond area by Vera Sizensky
Reviewed by Jeff Anshel, OD, FAAO, E Street Eyes, Encinitas, CA
Just because you see the world clearly now doesn’t mean it won’t start to blur as you age. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of legal blindness for people over 60 years old in the United States. More than 15 million Americans are affected by some form of macular degeneration, a progressive disease which can lead to severe vision loss in the most advanced form, end-stage age related macular degeneration.
If you’ve never heard of macular degeneration, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey from CentraSight, 74 percent of Americans do not know that macular degeneration is the leading cause of legal blindness in the developed world. It does not cause complete blindness but destroys central vision, the straight-ahead, detailed vision needed for everyday activities such as self-care, recognizing faces, preparing food, driving, and reading, to name a few.
In an effort to improve awareness of this disease, here is some important information you need to know about macular degeneration.
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a progressive eye condition and the leading cause of vision loss and legal blindness among people age 60 and older. It causes damage to the macula, a small area near the center of the retina and the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision, which lets us see objects that are straight ahead. Peripheral vision may still allow some sight “out of the corner of your eye,” but this vision is often not sharp enough for many normal activities. The National Institutes of Health defines two types of macular degeneration:
- Wet age-related macular degeneration: Caused by abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid or blood into the region of the macula.
- Dry age-related macular degeneration: More common and marked by deterioration and/or scarring of the macula.
What are the symptoms of macular degeneration?
Symptoms usually develop gradually and without pain. They may include:
- Visual distortions, such as straight lines seeming bent
- Reduced central vision in one or both eyes
- The need for brighter light when reading or doing close work
- Increased difficulty adapting to low light levels, such as when entering a dimly lit restaurant
- Increased blurriness of printed words
- Decreased intensity or brightness of colors
- Difficulty recognizing faces
Some of these symptoms may also indicate other vision problems or may be part of normal aging, so talk to your eye care professional if you experience symptoms.
What type of help do people with macular degeneration require?
As macular degeneration worsens and vision diminishes, the need for caregiving increases. Notably, a recent survey found that more than one in three Americans (35 percent) who know someone with macular degeneration assist them frequently. This supports studies finding that people living with advanced macular degeneration may need assistance nearly four hours a day, five days a week. Spouses or adult children provide 72 percent of that care. Care includes help with preparing meals, driving, reading and writing.Macular degeneration can be devastating for patients and their families. A 2016 study in Clinical Ophthalmology found that people with macular degeneration are at higher risk for depression and anxiety.
For tips on how to care for a loved one with macular degeneration click here.
Is there a cure for macular degeneration?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for this disease. To manage macular degeneration, depending on the severity, an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) may recommend treatments that include external vision assistive devices as well as vitamins, drug (intraocular injections) or laser therapies. These treatments may slow or stabilize progression of macular degeneration.
People aged 65 and older who progress to the most advanced form of the disease and are no longer candidates for any other treatments mentioned above might want to ask their ophthalmologist about whether they are a candidate for a new surgical treatment option—a tiny telescope implant. The size of a pea, this FDA-approved device is surgically implanted in an outpatient procedure and has been shown to restore vision and improve quality of life, following rehabilitation, in select patients. Interested people can take a short quiz to find out if they might be candidates for the telescope implant here.
Not all treatments are appropriate for everyone. It’s important to see an eye care professional regularly to design an individualized treatment plan.
If you suspect you or a loved one may have macular degeneration, schedule an appointment with an eye care professional and bring the following questions:
- Do I have dry or wet macular degeneration?
- Is it safe for me to drive?
- How fast will my vision loss progress?
- Can my condition be treated?
- Will taking a vitamin or mineral supplement help prevent further vision loss?
- What’s the best way to monitor my vision for changes?
- What changes in my symptoms warrant calling you?
- What low vision aids might be helpful to me?
- What lifestyle changes can I make to protect my vision?
To find out if you or a loved one could be a candidate for the telescope implant procedure, please visit www.CentraSight.com.
Midlife & Beyond: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/midlife-and-beyond/aging-well
Macular Degeneration: www.healthywomen.org/condition/macular-degeneration
Eye Health: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/eye-health
Mosquito-Borne Illnesses: What They Are and How to Prevent Them
from HealthyWomen’s Summer Safety area
Mosquitoes are one of summer’s biggest annoyances. Their impact can be much worse than itchy bites, because these pests sometimes carry serious illnesses. This summer brings extra concerns because of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
And the Zika virus disease is just one common mosquito-borne illness in the United States. Here are the basics on Zika, …
Zika Virus Disease
The Zika virus disease is primarily spread by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. They are found throughout much of the Americas, including parts of the United States. These mosquitoes, which also spread the dengue and chikungunya viruses, lay eggs in and near standing water in places like buckets, bowls, flower pots and animal dishes. They like to bite people and are aggressive even during the day. They prefer to live indoors or outdoors near people.
While Zika infections are not common in this country and have occurred only as a result of travel, they may increase with the arrival of hot weather and mosquito season. So far, the Zika virus disease has been reported primarily in Brazil and other areas of South America, as well as some cases in Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, the Pacific Islands and Cape Verde.
A recent study published in PLOS Currents: Outbreaks indicates that certain areas of the United States may be at high risk for Zika outbreaks, particularly cities in southern Florida and southern Texas. As the weather warms, the risk will increase in other southeastern cities and possibly in some other eastern and western cities.
Zika disease is usually mild, and many people have no symptoms and rarely require hospitalization. When symptoms occur, they include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eye), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, a Zika infection during pregnancy can have serious consequences. It can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other severe brain defects. If you are pregnant and you or your partner has recently traveled to an area with Zika, talk to your health care provider, even if there are no symptoms of infection. You will likely undergo testing for Zika.
There is evidence the virus can be sexually transmitted, so use condoms or avoid having sex for three weeks after your partner returns from travel to an area with ongoing Zika transmissions.
EEE is one of the more serious illnesses a person can get from a mosquito bite, but it’s rare in the United States. Most cases occur in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states. Roughly one-third of people who become infected either suffer significant brain damage or do not survive, according to the CDC.
Usually, its symptoms appear three to 10 days after a bite, and signs include sudden fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, light sensitivity, weakness, confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness.
La Crosse encephalitis occurs most often in the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and southeastern states. Though many people report no problems, symptoms can include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. If not treated, the infection can become serious, sometimes resulting in nervous system dysfunction. Severe cases most often occur in children under age 16. In rare cases, it can cause long-term disability or death, as reported by the CDC.
St. Louis encephalitis occurs mainly in eastern and central U.S. states but has been reported throughout most of the country. Upon infection, many people show no symptoms. Mild cases usually include a headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and tiredness. Severe infections are more common in older adults and can cause inflammation of the brain. In rare cases, infection can cause long-term disability or even death, the CDC reports.
West Nile Virus
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, an outbreak of the West Nile virus had people reaching for the mosquito repellant in droves. The brief epidemic peaked in 2002 with a total of 284 fatalities reported that year, according to the CDC. From 1999 through 2014, a total of 1,765 fatalities were reported throughout the United States.
As with many mosquito-borne infections, most people infected with West Nile virus have no symptoms. About one in five people will get a fever and symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash. Fatigue and weakness may linger for months after the illness.
Less than 1 percent of infected people will develop a serious neurologic illness, such as encephalitis or meningitis, the CDC says. Symptoms of serious illness may include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis. Older people and those with certain other conditions like cancer, diabetes or a compromised immune system are more likely to get seriously ill. In some cases, severe infections may be fatal.
Preventing Mosquito-Borne Illnesses
There are currently no vaccines or antiviral treatments for these mosquito-borne illnesses, so prevention is crucial. It probably seems intuitive that keeping pesky mosquitoes away will help prevent the viruses that these insects carry, and your intuition would be correct.
Here are some ways to avoid mosquito bites:
Use insect repellants when you go out. Repellants that contain the chemicals DEET or picaridin can do a lot to keep mosquitoes at bay. If you’re concerned about exposing your family to these chemicals, keep in mind that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed them safe for kids of all ages when used properly. That means you’ll need to read the label and follow instructions carefully; don’t let children handle the repellants. If you prefer an option with fewer chemicals, use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus, a plant-based repellant that has been shown to be as effective as products with low concentrations of DEET but should not be used for children under age 3. There are also herbal substitutes that contain bug-fighting citronella, but these may not be as long-lasting.
Cover up. Weather permitting, wear long sleeves, pants and socks when in mosquito-dense areas. Double your protection by spraying repellant on your clothing (not under it). Products containing permethrin may be applied to clothing, shoes or camping gear to keep mosquitoes and other insects away. It should not be applied directly to your skin.
Avoid prime time. Although some mosquitoes, like the ones that carry the Zika virus, may bite at any time of day, others are most active at dawn and dusk. Stay inside during those times, if you can.
Stay clear of breeding grounds. Avoid pools of stagnant water because they’re breeding grounds for mosquitoes. If you have containers in your yard that can collect standing water, be sure to empty them after it rains.
Use physical barriers. Close doors and windows if you’re in a mosquito-prone area or make sure screens are in good repair. Sleep under a mosquito net if you’re in an area where infections are common and you can’t protect yourself in other ways.
Backyard protection. Some people use barrier spray treatments, yard foggers or mosquito traps to try to control mosquitoes. Most traps haven’t been proven effective, and some health and safety experts warn against use of barrier sprays and foggers because of potential harm to humans or pets and because they can kill helpful bugs as well as pests. If you want to use a barrier spray, find out what the active ingredient is. You may prefer one containing a natural repellant like garlic juice, rather than a broad-spectrum pesticide. Better still, try more environmentally friendly options like using LED or yellow light bulbs outside, running a fan on the deck or burning citronella oil in tiki torches or candles.
Parents may also ask their health care providers about vaccinations against mosquito-borne conditions, as well as obtain tips on what to do when a serious virus is suspected. When in doubt, seek medical care.
How to Keep Your Own Health Records
from HealthyWomen.org’s Your Health area by Elizabeth Battaglino, Co-Founder, Women’s Health Expert, RN
Although many doctors and other health care providers keep complete health records for you, it’s also important to create and maintain your own records, in case you’re in a situation where that information is needed quickly.
Electronic health records (EHR) are taking the place of paper charts, because they allow for a more streamlined and efficient practice and can be easily shared with other clinicians. These records include comprehensive and important information about things like immunization dates, administrative and billing data, allergies, medications, surgeries, illnesses and conditions you’ve had or currently have, and reports on imaging, lab results and other tests.
But what if you have an emergency or are unconscious and your EHR can’t be accessed? That’s when it become vital that you have your own personal health record (PHR), especially if you are in the care of several doctors or have several health conditions.
A PHR also allows you to track information that your doctor may not have, like over-the-counter medications you take or your exercise habits and sleep schedule. And, unlike electronic health records, your personal records are not connected to an employer, health system or insurer.
You may choose to write down all your pertinent information on paper. If you do so, make sure to let someone close to you know where to find it. A better option—since that sheet of paper can get lost or misplaced—is to store the information digitally. This way, you can update it easily when necessary and print out multiple copies.
Some suggestions for where to store copies: in your handbag, in your car’s glove compartment and in a first aid or medical emergency kit. You could try making one small enough to fit on an index card to keep in your wallet. Consider putting a copy on your refrigerator or inside a kitchen cupboard as well.
Information to include
- Your name, address, sex and birthdate
- A current copy (front and back) of your insurance card
- All medication names, doses and schedules
- Herbs or supplements you take, including vitamins
- Medical devices you use (such as hearing aids, portable oxygen, a walker, etc.)
- Chronic medical conditions (such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, etc.)
- Past surgeries or artificial joints
- Prior cancers or blood transfusions
- Use of tobacco and alcohol
- Phone numbers for your health care providers and emergency contacts (like a family member or friend)
- Medical consent form, advance directive or living will
Other useful information to include could be a copy of your daily care plan (if applicable), your family medical history and your health screening history (including cholesterol readings, colonoscopies, mammograms and prostate exams).
There are also web-based record-keeping programs available for free or for a small subscription fee. These can be stored on your computer or mobile devices. Some even allow for personal engagement, so you can learn new behaviors and possibly improve your health outcomes. Some examples include:
WebMD Personal Health Manager
Always remember that it is your federally guaranteed right to both view and obtain a copy of your medical records from health care providers, hospitals, pharmacies and even your health plan. Click here for one way to get your health records electronically.
© 2016 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.
Should You Visit a Sleep Clinic?
from HealthyWomen’s Healthy Living area by Elizabeth Battaglino, Co-Founder, Women’s Health Expert, RN
When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep?
Although you may sleep the seven to nine recommended hours each night, that doesn’t necessarily equate to feeling refreshed: 35 percent of Americans report that they’re getting only “poor” or “fair” sleep quality, and another 20 percent don’t wake up refreshed after a full night’s sleep.
And the statistics from the National Institutes of Health are even more alarming: they report that 50 million to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems. Hardly a sunny scenario for sleep.
Does this all mean we need more sleep? Maybe not.
Or should we blame poor sleep on our health, stress, noise, a snoring partner or drinking too much coffee too late in the day? Maybe not (again).
Chronic sleep deprivation is far-reaching. It is linked to poor health, a weakened immune system and impaired moods, judgment, safety and productivity. If you can’t find a reason for your sleep troubles and are looking for an answer to the poor quality or quantity of it, then it may be time to consider a visit to a sleep clinic.
Sleep specialists can help you determine what is getting in the way of a good night’s sleep, because they’re specially trained in sleep medicine and sleep disorders. Although your primary care physician can begin to evaluate you for some disorders, a sleep specialist is equipped to handle a more extensive assessment and subsequent treatment.
Do you need to see one? The National Sleep Foundation says that if you answer “yes” to any of these questions, a visit to a sleep clinic might be in order:
- Do you frequently have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep?
- Do you have a problem with snoring, or has anyone ever told you that you have pauses in breathing or that you gasp for breath when you sleep?
- Are your legs “active” at night? Do you experience tingling, creeping, itching, pulling, aching or other strange feelings in your legs while sitting or lying down that gives you the urge to move, walk or kick your legs for relief?
- Are you so tired when you wake up in the morning that you struggle to function normally during the day?
- Do sleepiness and fatigue last for more than two to three weeks?
Sleep studies usually take place overnight, in a hospital or an independent facility. Ideally, you want the facility to be accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. To find a list, click here.
What to expect: The overnight sleep study (also known as a polysomnography) is painless and noninvasive. It will record your brain waves, the oxygen levels in your blood, your heart rate, breathing and eye and leg movements. You’ll sleep in a dark, quiet and private room, similar to a hotel room, with its own bathroom. It’s private in that you won’t share it with anyone, other than a video camera: This is placed there so that the technologists can observe your movements while you sleep. There’s also an audio system so you can communicate with one another.
You’ll be able to sleep in your own PJs (no hospital gowns required) and bring any items you normally use for your bedtime routine. Once you’re ready to lie down, you’ll be wired with sensors on various parts of your body like your scalp, temples, chest and legs, and your finger or ear will sport a small clip, which monitors oxygen levels in your blood. Sometimes, if sleep apnea is suspected, you’ll be asked to try a positive airway pressure, or PAP, machine during the night to test out its effectiveness.
Following the visit, the physician should be able to diagnose your condition and suggest treatment so that you no longer suffer from sleep problems. Treatments may include medications, medical devices such as PAPs or dental appliances to help with snoring. Treatment may also include nonmedical approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy.
And remember, there are so many other things you can do to help sleep better. Lifestyle improvements like improving your diet, adjusting bedtime rituals, reducing your alcohol intake, increasing physical exercise and more can all contribute to getting a better night’s sleep.
Sleep Disorders: www.healthywomen.org/condition/sleep-disorders
Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living
Signs You Need Glasses
from HealthyWomen’s Eye Health Center by Stacey Feintuch
Doesn’t it seem like every other person wears glasses? But even more people actually should be wearing them. That’s because many people don’t even know they have a vision problem. Maybe they’ve gone years without glasses and haven’t noticed the gradual change in their vision. Or maybe they just haven’t bothered to get their eyes examined.
Our vision does change over time, so it’s important to maintain your eyesight. We need good vision for daily activities like reading or looking at a computer.
Schedule regular appointments with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Even if you aren’t due for a visit, make an appointment if you’re experiencing any problems. You may find there’s nothing wrong with your vision or you could discover a problem that can be treated or corrected with glasses. It doesn’t hurt to visit your eye care professional and find out why you’re experiencing these vision changes.
Here are some common signs that you may need glasses.
When you squint, you’re doing so because you want to reduce the extra light entering the eye and reduce the size of the blurred image. Yes, it can be a temporary fix. But it can be a sign that you’re trying to compensate for poor vision. It can signal that you’re farsighted (seeing poorly close-up) or nearsighted (seeing poorly far away). If your child is squinting, it could be lazy eye, which is decreased vision that results from abnormal vision development in infancy and early childhood, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Eye fatigue or strain
Eye strain or pain can be affected by various factors such as not getting enough sleep, flu, cold or allergies. But if your eye pain goes on for more than a few days, you have eye pain with eye movements or if your eyes seem to get tired from regular activities like watching TV or reading, get it checked out. You want to make sure you don’t have an eye infection, undiagnosed health condition or vision changes.
- Frequent headaches
Getting frequent headaches may mean you have a vision problem. Headaches may be attributed to farsightedness or astigmatism, which can cause both close and distant objects to appear blurry, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). As your eyes strain to focus better, than can lead to headaches.
- Blurred vision
Blurred vision can signal farsightedness or nearsightedness. Adults may notice it when they read, drive or sit at the computer. Kids may notice it while they’re reading, doing homework or at school.
- Seeing halos around light
Light can become scattered or blurry when your eyes can’t focus light correctly. That’s why you may see circles around light bulbs, car headlights and lights of varying sizes and shapes. Sometimes the problem may be fixed with glasses, though halos also are a symptom of cataracts, says the AAO.
- Sitting close to the TV
You may be nearsighted if you sit close to the television. You’re compensating for being unable to see from far away by moving closer to the object (in this case the television images).
- Eye rubbing
If you’re rubbing your eyes, you may have eye fatigue or eye strain. Glasses can help. Your eye rubbing may be due to a medical condition such as allergic conjunctivitis, which is pink eye caused by an infection or allergies, so be sure and get it checked out with an eye care professional.
- Reading with a book near your face or at arm’s length
How you hold a book or a menu can reveal if you have vision problems. You may put it near your face if you’re nearsighted. Or you might hold it at arm’s length if you’re farsighted. Most people experience some farsightedness, or presbyopia, as they age, usually starting in their 40s. Reading glasses can help.
- Losing your place or finger pointing while reading
If you lose your spot or skip lines when you read, you may have a vision problem. It could be strabismus—where the eyes aren’t aligned correctly and point in different directions—or another eye muscle issue. Or you may have astigmatism. Watch for finger pointing while reading. Children learning to read often point at words with their fingers to improve their skills. But pointing can be the sign of a vision problem like lazy eye.
- Closing or covering one eye to watch TV or read
You may be closing or covering the “bad” eye so it doesn’t get in the way of your vision. That can signal that you have lazy eye or astigmatism. Or it can mean you have a cataract or double vision caused by strabismus.
- Difficulty seeing at night
Various factors may trigger your troubles seeing in the dark such as cataracts or taking certain medications that cause night vision issues. Glasses can help if the problem is nearsightedness.
Eye Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/eye-health
14 Easy Changes That Will Jump-start Your Health
from HealthyWomen’s Healthy Living area by Jayne Jang Belz
Embarking on a new weight loss or fitness plan can be daunting. It seems like you’ll have to make huge, disruptive changes to your lifestyle. But that’s not necessarily true.
Here are some small changes you can make today that can all add up to big health gains.
1. Freeze fruit. When you want a sweet, cold treat, don’t reach for ice cream. Reach for some frozen grapes. Or blend a frozen banana with some milk for a healthier treat.
2. Take your coffee black. Reduce your sugar intake and total calories by switching to black coffee. If you need flavor, try brewing flavored beans.
3. Drink sparkling water instead of soda. If you like to drink something bubbly with your meals, opt for sparkling water instead of calorie- and sugar-filled sodas.
4. Use smaller plates. Most of us have a misunderstanding of correct portion sizes. Instead of stressing out and measuring everything out, try plating your dinner on a smaller dish.
5. Use the stairs. Try this for a day and you’ll start to feel the burn in your glutes and thighs! Then you’ll be hooked on skipping the elevator and working your lower body.
6. Park farther away. Sure, getting a spot closer to the store always seems like a victory. But you can add in some serious extra steps if you park at the farthest spot you can find.
7. Get to know spices and herbs. Experiment with all the flavors available in the spice aisle that will make your vegetables and whole grains taste better. It makes mealtime more fun.
8. Buy a spiralizer and try zucchini “pasta.” If you’re trying to reduce your carb consumption, make zucchini “pasta” using a spiralizer. Another win: you’ll be eating more veggies!
9. Meet the versatile avocado. Avocados can make smoothies incredibly smooth and creamy. They also work great as a mayo substitute.
10. Turn the TV off and put the phone away. Giving your eyes a break from the screen will help you ease into sleep mode. Getting enough—and better sleep—is important for regulating hormones and weight.
11. Stop weighing yourself daily. Weight loss doesn’t happen overnight so avoid weighing yourself and getting discouraged. Also, if you are on a fitness plan and building muscle, remember that muscle weighs more than fat.
12. Reduce alcohol consumption. If you like to have a glass of wine every night, try reducing your consumption because that one glass can really add extra calories. Also, moderate drinking might not offer the health benefits previously thought.
13. Swap white grains for whole grains. Whole grains are more filling and have more fiber, which is important for regulating your digestive system and appetite. Did you know there is a whole world of whole grains out there beyond whole-wheat bread?
14. Tell a friend about your fitness or weight-loss goals. If you tell someone about your goals, you will be more likely to stick to your plan. Also, you’ll have a friend who can check in on you and support you.
Healthy Living area: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/diet-and-nutrition
© 2016 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.
5 Reasons You Might Be Depressed
from HealthyWomen’s Mental Health Center by Elizabeth Battaglino, Co-Founder, Women’s Health Expert, RN
The sun’s out, summer is upon us, the weather is finally warming up. Many people—especially those living where winters get cold—are emerging from the “winter doldrums,” finally opening up the windows, feeling more energetic and hopeful and spending more time outdoors. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects about 4 percent to 6 percent of people, and another 10 percent to 20 percent suffer from a mild form of this seasonal depression.
But weather and seasons aren’t the only reasons people get depressed. Depression—with feelings that range from discouragement to hopelessness—is a serious mood disorder that can cause severe symptoms, and not just seasonally. It affects approximately 19 million Americans in a given year.
Most of us get depressed or “down” every once in a while, but major depression is different: it’s felt most of the day, for nearly every day of the week for at least two weeks and it interferes with your daily life. Severity, duration and the presence of other symptoms distinguish depression from ordinary sadness.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States and is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Due to its myriad causes, there are many treatments and combinations of treatments including medication and non-drug approaches such as psychotherapy and other types of therapies including electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), as well as alternative approaches like herbs, supplements, hypnosis and meditation.
Depression is complicated, and so are the reasons for it. Sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious to search for and identify what is causing your depression. Once you find it, you may be closer to knowing how to treat it. Here are some possible causes:
- Summer weather. If you thought SAD only struck in the wintertime, you’re wrong. It can also happen in the summer. There can be many reasons: a disruption in your normal routine, increasing heat and humidity, or body image issues.
- Underactive thyroid. Having a thyroid that is underactive, or sluggish, has been linked to depression. In hypothyroidism, which affects almost 10 million Americans, the thyroid not does produce enough thyroid-stimulating hormone, which can create a wide range of symptoms, including depression, mood impairment or trouble with concentration. Blood tests to measure your thyroid function can confirm this condition, which is treatable with medication.
- Inadequate sleep. There’s a powerful link between sleep and depression, and it works both ways. Depressed people may have more trouble sleeping, but lack of adequate sleep can also lead to depression. Being exhausted can make you feel tense and irritable and be much less likely to get proper exercise, which can also prevent you from feeling your best. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress and help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Internet addiction.This might be an example of “some is good but more is not.” British researchers who studied the Internet’s role in depression found that “Internet addicts” had a higher incidence of moderate to severe depression. Could be that depressed people are more drawn to the Internet, or it could be that the Internet is causing depression by socially isolating people or causing them to feel bad about themselves when they see social media accounts of everyone else’s glorious vacation, reunion, party or other celebration. The study’s lead author is quoted as saying, “The Internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side.”
- Urban dwelling.Where you live can affect your mood. One reason could be stress. A 2011 study in the journal Nature found that mood and anxiety disorders were more commonly found in city dwellers than in those who lived in rural regions. City dwellers showed more activity in the part of the brain that regulates stress than those who lived in quieter, more peaceful environments. In fact, the risk of mood disorders has been found to be up to 39 percent higher among urban dwellers. Just being out in nature helps fight depression and can improve your mental health and well-being, according to a recent study from the University of Essex. Researchers don’t know exactly what causes depression, and there may be many factors. It may be related to hormones or to an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain or to low levels of folate. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to depression or other aspects of their medical history that put them at risk. If you think you may have depression, talk to your health care provider immediately. Don’t wait another day.
Mental Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/mental-health