Saturday, September 30, 2006

Medications: A Hard Pill to Swallow?

resources to rely on

"Will That be

Pills or Pie Today?"

Mom was right. "Take your medicine" might be the best advice you've received and, if followed, may pave the way to a long and healthy life. Now, if only mom were here to pick up the tab...

Patients stop taking prescribed medication for many reasons, including unwanted side effects, inconvenience, depression and misunderstanding. Whatever the reason, the risk is significant. A recent study indicates 12.5% of heart attack patients quit taking their medications within one month of leaving the hospital. These patients were three times more likely to die within the following year than were patients remaining on their medications.

Oh, yes - and cost. Medication costs continue to soar and many, unable to bear the burden, quickly face the proverbial food or medicine dilemma. A study, in Archives of Internal Medicine, reports 29% of disabled patients had skipped medications due to cost. 13% of the elderly made similar choices. Numbers are even higher for patients with multiple illnesses and having limited or no drug coverage.

There's hope.

Over 2.5 million patients have been helped by Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA). The mission of PPA is to connect patients with pharmaceutical companies and other health care providers offering direct financial aid with prescription costs. Qualifying patients often receive their medications at little or no cost.

PPA provides a single point of access to more than 475 patient assistance programs. Over 150 pharmaceutical companies participate in the project, as well as a number of national partners, including the Academy of Family Physicians, the Lupus Foundation of America, the NAACP and the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. Patients may apply for assistance online or by calling 1-888-477-2669. The PPA website includes a step-by-step application wizard to match the patient with the most appropriate program.

Now you know. The next time you're faced with the choice of pills or pie, relax. Sit back, put your feet up and say, "I'll take both!"

For more on patient issues, see the CNN article Deadly Choices

For assistance, see: Partnership for Prescription Assistance

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Need a Trip to the ER? How to Decide.

resources to rely on
I'm Pretty Sure

I Don't Have

A Clue...

It's late and it's serious - maybe. Do you jump in the car, bed-head be damned, and make a mad dash to the emergency room? Or, do you trust the stay-at-home instincts of your husband, who gives you his most empathetic nod and whispers earnestly, "I'll get my tackle box"?

Don't despair. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) feels your pain. Their recently published "When Should I Go to the Emergency Department?" provides guidelines to assist in making the right choice. Among the conditions that warrant a trip to the emergency room:

* You have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

* You have chest, or upper abdominal, pain or pressure

* You experience fainting, sudden dizziness or weakness

* You have uncontrolled bleeding

* You have suicidal feelings

* You experience difficulty speaking

Other tips to assure you receive the best care when you visit to the ER? Three stand out. First, bring a list of your medications and know your allergies. This is an invaluable help to the treating physician and is a vital step of self-protection against serious medication errors. Second, know your immunization history. Finally, stay calm. Certainly easier said then done - this is the EMERGENCY room, after all - but, staying calm gives you the best shot at clearly communicating your condition to the ER staff.

See the link below to find the complete list of the conditions for which ACEP recommends a trip to the emergency department. You may want to print a copy for future reference. Come to think of it, you may want to print two - your husband will need one for his tackle box.

See the complete list at: When Should I Go to the Emergency Department?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pesky Mosquitoes? Try Offering Them Dessert.

tidbits that tantalize

Time To

Bite Back?

Mosquitoes apparently love their treats as much as we humans. An ingenious study at Jerusalem's Hebrew University indicates we may be able to turn the table on the tiny troublemakers by being ever-so-sweet. Sweet as sugar.

Two scientists sprayed a pesticide-laced sugar solution on flowers to which mosquitoes are naturally attracted. The nectars of flowers and leaves provide a rich energy source for the naturally hyperactive pests. The ploy worked so well that virtually the entire mosquito population was wiped out within the study area. Sweet!

So, next time you're being bothered by a bastion of buzzing biters, resist the urge to bite back. Take a deep breath, stay focused. Then, in a calm and quiet voice, ask, "Care for dessert?"

For mosquito tips, see the EPA's Mosquito Control.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Long Hours Add up to High Blood Pressure

tidbits that tantalize

Feeling a

Bit Stressed?

It all adds up. Need a new car? Overtime. Braces for that precious smile that melts your heart and shrinks your wallet? Maybe a second job will do the trick. After all, when the going gets tough...

A study conducted at the University of California Irvine, and reported online in Hypertension, concludes working long hours may get you more than your coveted stuff. It may also get you high blood pressure or, in the most extreme cases, what is known in Japan as Karoshi: sudden death from overwork. Ah… suddenly skipping out early to pursue public humiliation at the Karaoke bar seems almost sensible.

It's a modern day cautionary tale. Those who log more than 51 hours per week are 29% more likely to suffer from hypertension than those who merely dabble at their trade, working 39 hours per week or less. To top it off, the United States is virtually alone among developed countries in having no legislation limiting weekly work hours.

What's to be done?

First, simplify. While you can't pull out the pliers, pry off the hardware and head to the orthodontist for a refund, you can take inventory. Do you really need three tiers of premium cable channels? Would it be uncivil to shun the local eatery, pull out the quick start guide to your range for a refresher and eat in tonight? Could you possibly live without the extra...

You get the idea.

Strive for a little balance in life.

To learn more, see this at The American Heart Association.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Walking For Health: Take Four

news you may not know

Come on -

Let's Go!!

How much time do you have for the keep-yourself-healthy-even-if-it-kills-you craze? Forty minutes per day? Perfect! But... How do you best invest your limited time? Do you jump in, fleet feet flying, and take a forty-minute cruise around the park? Or, do you pace yourself, timid toes tapping, and take four quick ten minute jaunts to the corner and back? Let's find out.

A recent study, reported in the Journal of Hypertension, gives the nod to the short and frequent crowd. Researchers found the short walks reduced blood pressure for between ten and eleven hours, as compared to a reduction of seven hours following a single long walk. They theorize the shorter walks, with a break in between, do a better job restoring balance to the nerves that control blood pressure.

What's your pleasure? Whether you're the one-and-done dancer, or the pay-as-you-go pacer, the numbers show walking puts you on the right side of the high blood pressure curve. So, do yourself a favor when it comes to walking - take one.

For more, see this article in Reuters.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Epilepsy: Is Miracle Implant The Future?

tidbits that tantalize




Imagine a device that monitors your brainwaves. Imagine it predicts you're about to have a seizure. Imagine it stops the seizure before it begins. Imagine...

If you could have imagined such a device 10 years ago your name may have been Robert Fischell. A physicist and prolific inventor, Fischell's revolutionary firsts include the implantable insulin pump and the rechargeable pacemaker. In a 2005 article in Fortune magazine, he had this to say about the typical path of his inventive genius: "Stage one - everyone says it's impossible. Stage two - they say the solution was obvious all along."

In 1997 Fischell pursued the "obvious" next step in epilepsy treatment and founded NeuroPace, the maker of the Responsive Neurostimulator (RNS). The RNS is a device implanted in a patient's skull that stops seizures by delivering small electrical charges to the brain through thin wires known as electrodes. What makes the RNS so special?

The name says it all - Responsive...

The RNS is the first device to respond - in real time. The RNS assesses the brain's activity, determines when pre-seizure brainwaves occur and delivers therapy to stop the impending seizure. It's remarkable technology, on the cutting edge of what scientists call "closed-loop stimulation," a treatment mechanism that relies on individualized feedback derived from implanted sensors.

Here's how it works:

The matchbook-size RNS (roughly 1.6 by 2.4 inches) is the "brains" of the operation - monitoring, assessing, and treating. Each implanted electrode contains four contact points used to deliver small electrical charges. Neurologists establish a baseline of "normal" brainwave patterns based on data collected by the RNS. When the brainwaves spike beyond the normal range, the RNS shows its stuff - within less than a second it analyzes the feedback, predicts a seizure is about to occur and sends a series of tiny electrical charges that disrupt the seizure and calm the brain - without the patient feeling even the slightest tingle.

This evolving technology is especially important for people whose epilepsy is resistant to medications or for whom surgery is too risky. It takes a page from the Dreamer's Handbook, refines it in the still of neurological wizardry, swirls in just a touch of medical mystery and holds forth the promise of a normal life. Normal... sounds like just what the doctor ordered

To learn more about the RNS, visit the NeuroPace Website. If you want to learn more about the Phase III clinical trial involving the RNS, visit

Monday, September 18, 2006

Spinach Warning Expanded

news you may not know

Say It

Ain't So...

In a blow to Popeye emulators nationwide, the FDA expanded its warning to include all fresh spinach and spinach-containing products. The previous advisory had targeted only pre-packaged, or bagged, spinach. Consumers are further advised to avoid loose spinach offered in supermarkets and restaurants, and spring mix salads that contain fresh spinach. The contaminated spinach has been linked to over 100 cases of illness, and one death, in nineteen states.

Popeye lamented the news, but vowed to continue setting the standard of healthy eating for which he is famous. Of his temporary conversion to a strict diet of sweet potatoes, he declared with a sigh, "I yam what I yam."

...My apologies.

For additional details see the FDA Advisory.

Countdown to Flu Season

news you may not know

Are You...


Invite friends over - check. Marinate the steaks - check. Fire up the grill - check. Schedule a flu shot - "Honey, did you just say???"

Seem a little early to be thinking about the ravages of flu? Not if you work at the Centers for Disease Control. Caught shorthanded in years past, the CDC is determined to avoid the public health risk of a vaccine shortage. Not to mention the embarrassment.

100 million. Apparently the CDC likes round numbers as much as the rest of us, and the 100 million doses to be shipped this year exceed the 2003 record by almost 17 million. Shipments have already begun and by the end of October providers should have close to 75 million doses on hand.

How about you? CDC recommends 200 million Americans get an annual flu shot. Less than 100 million, however, actually lend an arm to the cause. Seems a lot like voting, doesn't it?

To learn more, see the CDC's Key Facts About Influenza.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

How to Stay in Touch When Illness Strikes

resources to rely on

Web Technology

At Its Best

The ring of the phone jolts you awake, sending shivers up your spine. Wishing you had the strength to talk to those you love, you instead find yourself wanting to scream, “Leave me alone – I’m sick!” Then, in a familiar routine, you watch from the hospital bed as your exhausted husband (wife, son, mother) repeats the details of your day for the seventeenth time. “If only there were a better way to stay in touch,” you silently muse. Indeed – if only there were a better way…

A number of providers are currently paving just such a better way through cyberspace. In association with their bricks and mortar health care partners, several companies are building interactive Web pages that allow patients to provide an overview of their condition, post daily updates, upload photos and make special requests known – all with the click of a mouse. Friends can access the site twenty-four-seven to stay abreast of progress, sign a virtual guestbook and post their messages of encouragement in a special guest section.

Not surprisingly, many of the Web sites’ founders built their initial site strictly for personal use. Then, as happens when good idea meets common need, the phones began to ring and the email inboxes overflowed. The rest, as they say… To read the stories behind their founding, and to explore the online services they offer, visit, CarePages and CaringBridge.

The Web sites are free to both patients and visitors and are typically funded through donations and grants, or by the hospitals themselves. Providers go out of their way to assure privacy and the sites may easily be password protected, thus allowing access only to those provided with a security code.

In times when technology often intrudes and overwhelms it’s refreshing to find it also holds the capacity to ease burdens. You’ll sleep better knowing your friends are up to date on the latest news and they are close at hand – in cyberspace.

For more, see: Support for Patients, Just a Mouse Click Away.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

SpongeBob… Spinach?

news you may not know

What's on

Your Plate?

Cue music – bring up lights – begin voice over, “Coming soon to a produce section in your neighborhood…”

It appears Disney and the other major players in the animation industry are returning to their roots. Organic roots, that is. The cartoon industry has come under increasing pressure over their ties to all-foods-tasty-but-fattening: burgers and fries, candy, sodas and sugar-laden cereals. Now they’re fighting back. The same frolicking figures that currently scream for your children’s attention in the junk food aisle will be hopping a cart and heading to VeggieTown.

Disney, with unparalleled name recognition and deep pockets working to its advantage, plans to have 100 branded items in the produce section by January 2007. Kids will soon be begging moms for Goofy peaches, Mickey Mouse grapes and Winnie the Pooh organic apples. Not to be left out of the revolutionary shift from production to produce, Nickelodeon is introducing Dora the Explorer oranges and, vying for the academy award as Leading Vegetable in a Healthy Role, is odds-on-favorite SpongeBob SquarePants spinach.

Is this Hollywood trend good news? The Centers for Disease Control reports that over 18% of children ages 6 to 11 were overweight in 2004. Yes – this is excellent news!

Not only will Hollywood’s foray into freshness change the dynamic at the grocer, it will have a profound impact on the conversations that echo about the dinner table. Soon all across America, kids will hear the all too common refrain, “No dessert until you finish your SpongeBob SquarePants!”

Bag more details at: SpongeBob comes to your veggie aisle

Monday, September 11, 2006

Medical Care – When Only The Best Will Do

resources to rely on

How Does Your

Hospital Rate?

You sprain your thumb while attempting to wrestle the lid from the kosher dills on Sunday. By Wednesday even the bottle of squeezable mayonnaise is mocking your feeble attempts at self-feeding. What do you do? Hustle yourself on down to the local clinic, sheepishly confess you were bench pressing fifty pounds too much when your thumb gave way, and head home with a fashionable splint that gets you back in the food game. But…

What if you need treatment for a rare cancer, an unusual kidney disease or a neurosurgical procedure that is both delicate and dangerous? Where do you turn when the decisions you make about your treatment may impact your life as significantly as the illness itself? When the medical need is complex the local clinic simply will not suffice.

Resources to research medical providers are abundant. So abundant, in fact, it quickly becomes almost impossible to decipher – how do we choose among the thousands of options available at the click of a mouse? As with many tasks in life, it’s not about the homework assignment but about who has the best set of CliffsNotes. In this case, that very well may be U.S. News and World Report.

Each year U.S. News and World Report publishes a list of the best hospitals in the country. This is no fluff piece of journalism. Of the more than 5,000 facilities evaluated last year only 176 qualified for their Honor Roll. They also provide disease specific ratings, identifying the top hospitals in each of sixteen subspecialty areas including Cancer, Neurology, Heart Surgery, Endocrinology and Orthopedics.

You’ll find the report both detailed and digestible. The Honor Roll provides an overall ranking of hospitals and is a great jumping off point to determine which highly ranked providers are located in your region. The sub-specialty sections rank the top fifty hospitals by both overall score and a subset of criteria such as Reputation, Mortality and Nursing Index.

The online report can be found at: Best Hospital 2006 Report.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Coma Victim Plays Tennis With Eyes Closed?

news you may not know


Is it all just

a Mind Game?

A 23-year-old coma victim with a sweet tennis serve? Well… Cambridge researchers say the woman’s brain, though in a vegetative state following an auto accident, responds to commands much like everyone else.

Utilizing sophisticated imaging techniques, the researchers mapped the woman’s brain activity when told to imagine herself playing tennis, walking through her home or considering the distinctions between homonyms, such as “creek” and “creak.” They found the areas of her brain activated by each task were identical to those of healthy control subjects. Said one neurologist, “I was absolutely stunned.”

What does it all mean? Hmm… There is no definitive conclusion yet to be drawn, and little agreement within the medical community concerning the significance and scope of this specific case. Further studies are most certainly in the offing.

In the mean time, should a comatose woman invite you over for a set or two, be cautious. She’s all but invincible on her home-court.

For more, see this excellent article in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


tidbits that tantalize

When You Feel

Like Dancing...

Ambling quietly through the mall beside mom, a child suddenly dashes ahead, hands outspread and head thrown back as she twirls and whirls in a dizzying display of youthful exuberance. “Ah,” say pleased passersby, “She’s so cute!” Then, in a stunning reversal of roles, mom joins in the giddy gadabout of twirls, swirls and curls. Pleased no longer, the onlookers manage only a whispered mutter of, “What’s with that?”

So, what IS with that? Was mom simply overcome by her daughter’s joy? Or, was she captivated by the Middle Ages malady known as TARANTISM? Named for the southern Italian town of Taranto, sufferers of Tarantism were overcome with an uncontrollable urge to dance. Prominent during the 15th – 17th centuries, the affliction was attributed to the poison of the large wolf spider, or Tarantula, that was common in the fields about Taranto. It’s unclear whether Tarantism was a true clinical condition, or simply a clever ploy to circumvent religious prohibitions against dancing.

Imagine - you’re walking down a quiet, tree-lined street, a hint of fall in the air, and “The Urge” overtakes you. What do you do? Give in! Twirl and swirl, glide and slide, gleeful as a grasshopper bounding about without a care. And, if you’re greeted with scowls or howls, never mind… Dance on down the street, shouting back to those earthbound onlookers, “I can’t help myself!”

To read more about Tarantism visit Wikipedia at:

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Real Rain Man

people who are extra-ordinary

Kim Peek -

Mega Savant

A brief look at
"Peek's Peak"
...the height of genius

Kim and Fran Peek

Tell Kim Peek any address in the United States and he’ll recite the local highways and byways, area and zip codes, television stations and interesting historical events – oh, he’ll also tell you where you can go to pay your telephone bill. Ask Kim to button his shirt and he’ll return nothing more than a blank stare. Such is the genius, and disability, of the Real Rain Man.

Kim was diagnosed as severely mentally retarded at the age of nine months and the doctor, in a hurry to make a tee time, recommended Kim be institutionalized – and forgotten. Undeterred, Kim’s parents took him home and have spent the following five decades as eyewitnesses to a sometimes wonderful, and always curious, medical mystery.

Consider the frustration of Kim’s mother when he did not walk until age four. Consider her amazement when he completed memorizing the first eight volumes of the encyclopedia a scant six months later. Consider that at the age of fifty-four he is incapable of dressing himself. Consider that he can instantly recall the exact content of more than 12,000 books. Consider…

Kim reads both pages of a book simultaneously, one with the left eye and one with the right, devoting a mere ten seconds to each standard page of text. Unbowed by brevity, Kim recalls the details of his furious forays at a 98.7% accuracy rate. Consider…

Give Kim your birth date and he will tell you on which day of the week you were born, on which day your birthday will fall this year and, in anticipation of the proverbial gold-watch-moment, on which day of the week your sixty-fifth birthday will fall. Consider...

Unlike most savants, who exhibit a single area of extreme expertise, Kim is a "Mega Savant," exhibiting genius in more than a dozen areas, including History, Geography, World Leaders, Space, Sports, Math, Movies, Shakespeare and the Bible. Consider...

Kim is a complex tangle of “skills and ills” – a truly dichotomous representation of the genius to which we all aspire and the childlike simplicity from which we each evolve.

Virtually unknown prior to Dustin Hoffman's portrayal, Kim has since delighted over a million seminar attendees who have come, clutching arcane facts in eager hands, in vain attempts to take the master to task. He lives in Salt Lake City with his octogenarian father, Fran, who to this day tends to those everyday dilemmas of undone shoelaces and unbuttoned shirts that exist beyond the realm of Kim’s genius.

Says Kim of his relationship with his constant companion, caregiver and friend, “Dad and I share the same shadow.”

The Wisconsin Medical Society provides an excellent overview of Savant Syndrome, and a detailed look at Kim, at this link: