May 16, 2013 at 11:51 am , by Amelia Harnish
When activist and author Letty Cottin Pogrebin was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, she was surprised at how not sick she felt—until word spread among her friends. Some loved ones avoided her completely. Others seemed tongue-tied or awkwardly danced around the issue in conversation. “Instead of, ‘Hey, how are you?’ everyone started asking ‘Oh, how are you?’ in that tone that says they’re painfully worried about you,” she says. She realized that many people have no idea how to act around someone who’s dealing with an illness. At the time of her diagnosis, Pogrebin was working on a novel but decided to shift gears and instead write her latest book, How To Be A Friend To A Friend Who’s Sick.
Based on her own experience as well as interviews with 80 other patients, the book covers what to say in response to bad news, how to help and even what to bring to the hospital when you visit. I had the pleasure of meeting Pogrebin and collecting a few dos and don’ts.
Do ask her what she wants. “Everybody wants different things. Some people want to be treated as though they’re not even sick. Some people want you to sit and listen,” Pogrebin explains. You may feel like you shouldn’t ask, you should just act. But it can be liberating, not to mention extremely helpful, to give the sick person the opportunity to tell you exactly what she needs.
Do keep your good fortune to yourself. You should be honest if she asks how things are going in your life, but she doesn’t need to hear every detail about your promotion or the great vacation you’re planning. Keep it vague, and start conversations about current events or other interests you share, like movies, sports or politics, Pogrebin suggests.
Don’t ask, “How are you?” at all. If you’re someone dealing with chronic pain or chemotherapy, that’s a very awkward question to answer, says Pogrebin. “It’s the most basic opening line in human conversation, and it’s the most problematic for a sick person.” Instead, ask her, what’s new? This way, the conversation doesn’t begin with her having to acknowledge she’s not doing so well, and it’s open-ended. She can say “Not much,” or she can tell you about her treatment if she wants, or she can tell you her mother called.
Don’t tell her about that miracle treatment you heard about. It’s natural for you to feel like you should offer advice, but fight the urge. “Part of why disease makes us so uncomfortable is that we feel powerless,” says Pogrebin. “But so much advice is dizzying. She has a doctor for that. She needs you to be her friend.”
April 10, 2013 at 4:04 pm , by Amelia Harnish
What does supermodel Christy Turlington Burns have in common with women in Malawi, Haiti and Guatemala? Nine years ago, Burns had a hemorrhage after the birth of her daughter. She recovered, but she learned that the same complication she survived kills thousands of women each year, mainly because they don’t have access to basic care.
“That shocked me,” said Burns, speaking last week about global maternal mortality at the Women in the World Summit. “Pregnancy is not a disease, yet 15 percent of all pregnancies result in a life-threatening complication.” (That’s her in the center, speaking with other panel members. You can get the full recap here.)
You may be thinking, as I was as I sat in the audience, that this is only a problem in far-off villages, not here in the United States where we have hospitals and prenatal care. But it turns out the rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. has doubled in the past 20 years, and we now have a higher rate of death in childbirth than Bosnia and Kuwait.
On top of that, the number of women who have complications but don’t die—what experts call “near misses”—are on the rise. “In the U.S. right now, about 52,000 pregnant women a year, or one every 10 minutes, will have a serious problem,” says ob-gyn Priya Agrawal, executive director of Merck for Mothers, Merck’s initiative to end maternal death in childbirth. Merck for Mothers sponsored the panel. The most common complications are hemorrhage, preeclampsia and blood clots, all of which can have lifelong health consequences. For example, preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy, can raise your risk for heart disease later on. “Ninety percent of these cases are preventable, but there is a huge lack of awareness, even in the United States,” says Dr. Agrawal.
Organizations like Merck for Mothers and Every Mother Counts (founded by Burns in 2010) are working to improve and standardize care in the United States and beyond so that all pregnancies and births can be joyous occasions. Meanwhile, there are simple ways you can help.
Watch Christy Turlington Burns’ Documentary No Woman, No Cry
The film follows four stories from Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala and the United States to show you everything you need to know about the issue. You can download it on iTunes, buy the DVD or get in touch with Every Woman Counts to arrange a screening in your area. Get all the info here.
Share Your Birth Story on the Merck for Mothers Facebook page
Did you have a complication? Like the Merck for Mothers page on Facebook to share your story, get the facts and help the organization spread awareness.
Photo by Marc Byron Brown
April 4, 2013 at 11:39 am , by Amelia Harnish
Why do you need to think about your muscles? Well, aside from making you look toned and fabulous, weight training also protects your joints, strengthens your bones and even revs your metabolism. As important as it is to get your heart rate up with walking, jogging or other aerobic activities, strength training is worth its weight in added health benefits. And with swimsuit season rapidly approaching, now is the perfect time to get started. Here are a few beginners’ tips from Deborah McConnell, a global master fitness trainer from the Life Fitness Academy.
Warm up first: “You want to wake up your joints and loosen up a bit beforehand to prevent injuries,” says McConnell. Power walking, jogging or a little time on a treadmill or elliptical are all good options. Do it for at least five to 10 minutes.
Find the right routine: You’ll need to do a bit of homework to find a training program that’s right for you. “In general, I recommend beginners start with a full body routine. Do eight to 10 exercises that hit all the major muscle groups, and start with eight to 12 reps each,” says McConnell. Try this basic routine from Jillian Michaels or check out the American Council on Exercise’s Kick-Start Challenge.
Practice good form: A strong core is essential for weight lifting, whether you’re using dumbbells, cable machines or your own body weight. Be sure to engage your core for every repetition, and don’t forget to breathe. “Every movement should be slow and controlled. You can get hurt rushing through it,” says McConnell. If you’re using weights, make sure it’s challenging, but light enough for you to get through each set with proper form.
Space out your sessions: Your muscles need time to rest and recover to get stronger. Shoot for two to three strength training workouts a week, with at least 24 hours between each one, says McConnell.
Don’t forget to stretch: Evidence is mounting that you shouldn’t stretch before exercise, but there is still good reason to stretch afterward. In fact, it’s a good idea to break between sets to stretch and relax the muscles you just worked on, says McConnell. When stretching, gently hold until the muscle relaxes. Sudden movements or bouncing can lead to injury.
Photo copyright Artem Furman, shutterstock.com
March 27, 2013 at 3:07 pm , by Amelia Harnish
We’ve seen quite a few stories this week offering tips for sticking with your diet during the spring holidays. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Easter and Passover are all about family time, fun and most importantly, food. Worrying about your waistline at Easter dinner or beating yourself up over indulging in a chocolate bunny can totally ruin it. “Food is intertwined in tradition and celebration, and that’s totally okay,” says Sally Kuzemchak, R.D., and frequent LHJ contributor. “It’s important to acknowledge these are special foods that mean something to us, and it’s good to enjoy them.”
Yes, exactly. We say forget the guilt and go for it (with some moderation, of course). Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your indulgences this week.
Savor your favorites. If you look forward to your sister-in-law’s famously rich macaroni and cheese on Easter every year, why change it? “I am not a fan of lightening up traditional foods or favorite family recipes,” Kuzemchak says. “Enjoy your favorites, but get back to your usual eating habits the next day.”
Save yourself for the right dessert. Eating too many Cadbury eggs or handfuls of jelly beans can make you feel gross and tired rather than satisfied. “Instead of pillaging the bowl of pastel M&M’s, save it for the homemade pie or allow yourself a good dark chocolate bar,” Kuzemchak says.
Drink to your health. ‘Tis the season for Manischewitz! If you indulged in the traditional four glasses at your family’s Seder, worry not. It’s just one day out of the year. “There are antioxidants in wine,” says Kuzemchak. “But moderate drinkers get the most benefits.”
Photo copyright Oksana2010, shutterstock.com
February 27, 2013 at 10:57 am , by Amelia Harnish
You probably keep ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen in your medicine cabinet at all times. Why not? Any one of these can work wonders for everyday aches and pains like headaches or menstrual cramps. You don’t need a prescription to get these drugs—and you’ve probably used them hundreds of times—so it may seem like they’re harmless. But new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that overuse of OTC pain medications may lead to hearing loss.
Yup, you heard that right. The study scanned the pain-pill habits of more than 62,000 women over a 14-year period and found that those who used ibuprofen or acetaminophen two or more days a week increased their risk of hearing loss by up to 24 percent, depending on how much they took.
No one’s sure exactly why this is, says lead author Sharon Curhan, M.D., but it may be that these drugs inhibit blood flow to crucial parts of the inner ear, or destroy antioxidants that protect the ear’s delicate structures from damage. “Hearing loss is increasingly common and often disabling. Our findings suggest that frequent analgesic use may be an important but preventable contributor,” she says. (You may be taking even more analgesics than you think, she adds, since certain cold meds contain them too.)
That’s not the only harm OTC painkillers could cause. “While bad side effects are fortunately pretty rare, there are some other possible ones,” says Gary Dorshimer, M.D., section chief of general internal medicine at Pennsylvania Hospital, in Philadelphia. “Among them, OTC pain meds could cause hormone changes that reduce your kidneys’ ability to process certain minerals, or dampen the effectiveness of ACE inhibitors, a type of drug used to control high blood pressure.” An even bigger risk, he adds, “is when you ignore a warning on the label that says, ‘Don’t take this drug for more than X days before speaking with your doctor.’ You could have a problem that needs medical attention.” Masking the pain won’t make it go away and could give it a chance to get more serious.
In fact, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you find yourself relying on OTC pain pills on a regular basis for a recurring problem of any kind, like headaches or backaches. “Talk over the risks and benefits of using over-the-counter painkillers for your problem. Try to determine the exact cause of your pain, and explore whether there are other alternatives to using medication,” says Dr. Curhan. There may be lots of other things to try, from physical therapy to massage or even acupuncture.
Check out our guide to the risks and benefits of different painkillers here.
Photo by Dick Ercken
Categories: Health, Ladies' Lounge | Tags: acetaminophen, analgesics, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Gary Dorshimer M.D., hearing loss, ibuprofen, naproxen, OTC medications, OTC pain medications, pain, painkiller, Sharon Curhan M.D., side effects | 2 Comments
February 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm , by Amelia Harnish
When you’re not feeling so well, the first thing to do is call the doctor… right? Maybe in a perfect world, but we all know that getting an appointment with a physician can be time-consuming and a lot more difficult than it should be. Enter HealthTap, a web site and mobile app that lets you pose questions to real doctors and get answers fast.
“In our research, we found that 25 percent of doctor visits in this country are just question and answer,” says Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap. “But on average, it takes 20 days to get an appointment. We saw a huge opportunity there to help people save time and money.”
The service first launched almost two years ago as a resource for new moms (who famously have endless questions for their pediatricians). Now HealthTap boasts a network of 32,000 doctors in 128 different specialties. All you have to do is go to HealthTap.com and register or download the app on your iPhone or Android smartphone. Then you can search by topic or ask a question, which will be matched to an appropriate physician. You will get an e-mail or notification on your phone when a doctor has answered.
When we first heard about HealthTap, we were intrigued but thought for sure there must be a catch. But after meeting Gutman, I’m sold. The physicians are all screened for credentials via each state’s licensing boards. In addition to the Q&A feature, you can access a directory of doctors in your area, all ranked by quality based on other users’ experiences, and schedule in-person appointments right through the app. Another cool feature is “TipTaps,” which are short, doctor-written tips in areas like beauty, diet, exercise or parenting that are delivered by text message or e-mail. All these tools are free to use, but you can also pay for premium services, which include virtual, private consultations and the ability to ask longer questions. (There’s a 150-character limit for the free service, which I guess counts as a catch, albeit a small one in the age of Twitter.)
So while it’s no replacement for an in-person visit with a doctor who knows your medical history, HealthTap is great for when you just need quick, reliable medical information or advice. I used it recently to sleuth out whether the annoying itchiness I was experiencing in my left eye was pinkeye or just allergies. I got my answer within 24 hours (who knew one eye can be more allergic than the other) and bought some OTC eye drops, which saved me a trip to my doctor.
February 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm , by Amelia Harnish
We’ve been blogging and tweeting nonstop this month to get the message across: Way too many women are dying of heart disease. One of the things you can do to keep your heart healthy is cut back on salt to prevent high blood pressure. That’s why we tapped our friend Jessica Goldman Foung, also known as Sodium Girl, to share some delicious recipes from her new book Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook.
By Jessica Goldman Foung
Why not do something for your heart this Valentine’s Day? Not just your figurative heart—the one that beats for your special someone—but your actual heart that beats to keep you going. Back in 2004, when an aggressive attack of the autoimmune disease lupus caused my kidneys to fail, my eating habits had to change a lot. When you have excess sodium in your diet (and trust me, if you’re not paying attention, you probably do), the extra salt spills into your bloodstream, which makes you retain fluid and raises your blood pressure. Your kidneys normally regulate your sodium level, so for me, losing the salt was a must.
It took a life-threatening event to get me to ditch salt, so I know it’s hard. But what I learned is that nearly everyone can—and should—cut back. The average American consumes almost 3,500 mg of sodium every day, which is double the recommended amount.
Without salt, I became more daring and playful in the kitchen. I started eating vegetables that used to scare me like bok choy, leeks and Brussels sprouts, and I experimented with cuisines I’d never tried, including Moroccan, Indian and Korean. I was determined to make over salty meals that I’d always loved, which led to discovering many replacements for high-sodium ingredients, like soy sauce. Yes, even soy sauce! So I know anyone can do it.
I had to figure it all out on my own, so I’m happy to share a recipe to get you started. Read more for one of my favorite low-so recipes: Tamarind “Teriyaki” Skewers (pictured above). Read more
Categories: Health, Ladies' Lounge | Tags: American Heart Month, chicken, heart health, heart healthy recipes, Jessica Goldman Fuong, low-sodum, Sodium Girl, Sodium Girl's Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook, Tamarind "Teriyaki Chicken Skewers | No Comments