Sunday, November 27, 2011

Scientists and Tattoos

Prof Datta's  Love Tattoo
A surprising number of scientists have tattoos hidden under their lab coats and these tattoos are examples of their cool geekiness.   Prof Sandeep Robert Datta has a tattoo of a twisting ladder of DNA.  The DNA message spells out the initials of his wife, Eliza Emond Edelsberg.  True love manifested through amino acids that are the building blocks of protein!!!  
Science journalist, Carl Zimmer, posted a blog at Discover Magazine and asked scientists if a tattoo like this was a trend.  Without trying, he became the curator of tattoos and a scholar of science ink.  He found out that many scientist sport tattoos of carbon atoms, DNA, ancient fish, embryos...just about anything that interests them and is meaningful.  He has published a book called Science Ink.

Body ink has been around for thousands of years.  Two hikers climbing the Austrian Alps discovered the freeze-dried body of a 5,300-year-old hunter whose skin was preserved in the ice.  He had tattoos made from fireplace ash rubbed into incisions on his skin.  Ancient Greeks used tattoos as a method of secret identification and communication between spies.  In ancient Asia, tattoos were used to signify rankings in life and tattooing has been among the Polynesian culture for over a thousand years.

Most people who get tattoos find designs that are meaningful or mark a certain passage in life.  I often hear of mothers and daughters getting tattoos together and I find that really charming.  I guess it is no surprise that scientists would use tattoos to signify their work and what is important to them also.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Idea

Happy Thanksgiving to EverythingHealth readers.

Thanks to KM for this way to appreciate Thanksgiving.  I did it and it only took about 7 minutes.  Here's the concept:

Get a piece of paper or a word doc on your computer.  Write one thing you are grateful for for each year of your age.  If you are older, you have lots of reasons to give thanks.  Don't over think it or try to put it in order of "importance".  No-one has to see it,  but the act of giving thanks for your life is an exercise that will improve your entire being.

Have a great day and Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Smoking is still a Huge Problem in the U.S.

I live on the West Coast and where is rare to see a smoker.  Because it is not socially accepted,  smokers are not out in the open.  They lurk behind buildings to take a smoke break at work and I don't even own an ashtray for friends because none of my friends smoke.  But San Francisco isn't the rest of America.   In 2010 there were 45.5 million Americans who smoke, with men smoking more than women.  Tobacco remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.  Each year approximately 433,000 people die of smoking-related illness.

Here are some more stats on American adult smokers.  The highest prevalence is American Indians/Alaska Natives (31.4%) followed by whites (21%).  Smoking incidence decreases with increasing education and improved economics.  By region, the Midwest has the most smokers in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia (22-27%).  That is huge.

California and Utah have the lowest percentage of adult smokers at 9-12%.

During 2005-2010 the overall proportion of U.S. adult smokers declined, but not nearly as much as it should have.  Also, the decline (about 3million people) was not uniform across the population.  The study of smokers was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and likely underestimates the number of current smokers.  The fact that more than 1/5 Americans still smoke is a huge problem for our health care system.  Here is a list of diseases that are associated with smoking:

  • Lung cancer
  • Cancer of the mouth
  • Cancer of the throat
  • Cancer of the larynx
  • Cancer of the oesophagus
  • Stomach cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Cancer of the bladder
  • Cancer of the pancreas
  • Liver cancer
  • Cancer of the penis
  • Cancer of the anus
  • Cervical cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Heart attack
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Ischaemic heart disease
  • Angina
  • Leukaemia
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Cataracts
  • Gum disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Crohn's disease
  • Premature aging of the skin
  • Loss of smell and taste
  • Osteoporosis (women)
  • Gangrene
  • Impotence
  • Reduced fertility

I think most people know the risks of smoking.  Nicotine smoke, like inhaled cocaine, moves into the bloodstream and up to the smoker's brain within 7-10 seconds.  It is not a "bad habit", it is an addiction.  But with more than 4000 toxic chemicals in nicotine, it is far worse on the body than other addictions.

Stopping smoking is one of the most healthful things a person can do for themselves.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Amazing Spider Animation

This is one of the most accurate and beautiful pieces of animation I've ever seen. And I love the title: "Loom" (Warning: if you are arachnophobic you may wish to avoid but if you want to see nature at her best, the detail is amazing.)

Hat tip to Micro Voyage and the creators at Polynoid

Monday, November 14, 2011

Yoga for Back Pain

Low back pain is one of the most common conditions to affect humans.  More than 80% of Americans experience low back pain at some time in their lives and "chronic" pain is on the rise as people live longer and get heavier.  Numerous studies have shown that doctors and patients underutilized exercise as a treatment for chronic back and neck pain even though it has been shown to be effective.  A new study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that showed yoga to be an effective treatment for chronic low back pain.

The study authors took two groups of patients and compared yoga to usual care for chronic or recurrent low back pain. All patients received a back pain education booklet, but the study group also received a gradually progressing yoga program delivered by 12 teachers over 3 months.  The teachers were from 2 yoga associations - The British Wheel of Yoga and Iyengar Yoga and the sessions they taught were the same.  They focused on foundational elements of yoga that were adapted for low back pain.  The poses targeted stiff, weak and uneducated areas of the whole body with the intention of improving mobility, strength and posture, while reducing pain.

The yoga group participants continued to have better back function at 3, 6 and 12 months than the patients in the usual care group. The benefits of yoga did diminish after 12 months when only 60% of the participants continued with home yoga.  But 60% is a pretty high rate for continuing a practice!

Despite the fact that the most benefit was observed during the group Yoga and within 3 months afterward, even at 12 months the benefits persisted, especially in those patients who continued the practice.  Yoga was safe and effective for treatment of low back pain.

Here is my favorite low back yoga position:

I recommend a book called Yoga as Medicine by Timothy McCall, MD

Friday, November 11, 2011

Answer to Medical Challenge-Yellow Nail Syndrome

Yesterday's Medical Challenge answer was clear to some readers and a mystery to others.  The answer was:
#4  Yellow Nail Syndrome.  Although nails can become discolored from nail polish, the medical Yellow Nail Syndrome is a sign of a serious disorder and not well understood.  It is believed to be associated with  restrictive lung disease or  (rarely) problems with lymphatic drainage channels. (good memory, Grady Doc!)

nail fungus-onchomycosis
Because these nails stop growing and become thicker, they are susceptible to fungal infections too.  Those who guessed Onchomycosis were not far off.   Onchomycosis is very common and the fungus infection causes lifting of the nail from the nail bed.

Psoriatic nail
Psoriasis of the nail can also cause changes that can be confused with Yellow Nail Syndrome.   Ninety-five% of these patients have cutaneous psoriasis also.

Thanks for your diagnosis in this challenging case!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Medical Challenge

This weeks medical challenge from the New England Journal of Medicine is a hard one.  Patients come all the time with nail problems and most are easy to diagnose.  Full disclosure to my readers...I missed this one.   A couple of hints...all of the nails are obviously affected.  Click on the image to enlarge and make your diagnosis in the comments section.   I will post the answer tomorrow so be sure to check back and see how you did.

1. Melanoma
2. Onychomycosis (fungus)
3. Psoriasis
4. Yellow-nail syndrome
5.  Zinc deficiency

Good luck!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ode to Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney, the broadcaster with a wry look at life, has died at age 92.  He worked up to the end after delivering his 1,097th commentary on life.  Andy Rooney had a knack of picking a topic that no-one had thought about, comment on it and listeners would say "Oh yea, that is so true".  He touched a nerve in modern American society.  Here are my Andy Rooneyisms:
  • Why do we have foods like "Go-Gurt"?  Is it so hard to eat yogurt that we need to make it faster?  Does squeezing it into your mouth from a tube save time?  Have you ever been late to something because you were "eating yogurt"?
  •  When did we end up with 700 TV channels?  How did that happen? And why, when I'm watching the news, do I have to see a streaming commentary about different news across the bottom of the screen?  Aren't the 700 channels enough?  Do we need to be seeing several things at one time on each channel?
  •  What happened to elevator operator jobs?  There was a time when someone actually pushed the button for you on the elevator and that was a real, full-time job.  I don't think they were exported to foreign countries.  Somehow someone just figured out we could push the button ourselves and save the labor cost.
  •  Do you know the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut?  About a week.
  • Why do commercials for mascara, both on TV and in print, use models with false eyelashes?  Isn't the mascara good enough for our real eyelashes?  Anyone can have lush eyelashes if they are false.
  • Why don't people use turn signals anymore?  I think it is still the law and it helps when you are following someone to know what they are going to do.  How hard is it to flip up the little lever?
  • Who invented "call waiting?"  It should be called "caller preference".  When I'm talking to someone and they say "just a minute" to answer another call, it is a bit of an insult. Isn't that why we have voice-mail?  The caller can just leave a message and you can call them back as soon as we hang up.  I really hate call waiting.
  •  Attention dog owners!  The purpose of the plastic bag that picks up your dog's pooh is to dispose of it in the trash.  Leaving the baggy on the side of the road is ridiculous.  Pooh is biodegradable and your plastic is not.  Come-on people!
Andy Rooney was one of a kind.  He loved what he did and it showed.  That is a legacy we can all emulate.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Follow Up on 1991 Gulf War Veterans

Remember the 1991 Gulf War between the United States and Iraq (aka: "Operation Desert Storm")?  A new study has been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that assessed the health status of 5,469 deployed Gulf War veterans compared to 3,353 non deployed veterans.  At 10 year follow up, the deployed veterans were more likely to report persistent poor health.  The measures were functional impairment, limitation of activities, repeated clinic visits, recurrent hospitalization, perception of health as fair or poor, chronic fatigue syndrome illness and post-traumatic stress disorder.

From 1995 to 2005, the health of these veterans worsened in comparison to the veterans who did not deploy to the Persian Gulf.  A study done in the United Kingdom that compared Gulf War veterans to UN peacekeepers who served in Bosnia and other non-deployed Gulf War soldiers found the same thing.  The deployed veterans had significantly worse health in all realms. 

This was a longitudinal study and the veterans self reported their health status.  Over time the deployed veterans reported new conditions that persisted or worsened with time. 

The authors note that the health problems cannot be proven to be due to the effects of the military service in the Gulf War.  But previous studies also found a higher prevalence of PTSD and other mental disorders among deployed Gulf War soldiers.  This study also showed high rates of PSTD (14.4% compared to non-deployed, 4%). 

There are numerous animal experiments that show exposure to repeated stress disrupts the blood-brain barrier and increases neurotoxicity induced by chemicals in many cerebral areas.  Gulf War soldiers were exposed to organosphosphate chemical warfare agents.  Even low level exposure to nerve agents can have a negative effect on brain structure years later.   In another study of Gulf War veterans, they found the soldiers with fatigue, mood or cognitive complaints demonstrated impaired immune function.

There is no doubt that our war veterans return home with significant health risks, even if they are not visibly wounded in battle.  These young men and women deserve not only our respect and praise, but the best mental and physical health care that we can provide.

When to Use Urgent Care

We all know that Emergency Departments are over-crowded with long waits and exorbitant fees.  Free standing Urgent Care is a great solu...