Women’s Health: The Benefits of Kegels

Friday, September 25, 2015 8:11 AM comments (0)

There are many things that women can do to stay healthy – whether it’s getting sufficient calcium to getting regular mammograms and pelvic exams as women age. But what is one of the most common exercises that women tend to forget? 

Kegel exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor – a series of muscles and tissue between the hips – supports a woman’s womb, bladder and bowels. The pelvic floor can be weakened in women from pregnancy, childbirth, aging and weight gain. If the pelvic floor muscles are weakened, it can cause many symptoms including urinary incontinence and discomfort. Mary Conte, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology at NorthShore, recommends that women regularly do Kegel exercises. 

So what are Kegel exercises? Think of the muscles used to stop peeing; those are the muscles utilized while doing Kegels. Practice squeezing these muscles and holding them for 3 seconds and then relaxing. Try to do this a total of 10 times, 3 times a day. When you start, do the exercises lying down, then as you get stronger you can do them sitting or standing. 

Dr. Conte often recommends Kegel exercises for:

  • Pregnant and postpartum women. The pelvic floor can be stretched and weakened with pregnancy. Daily Kegels during pregnancy and after childbirth can help maintain pelvic floor support, treat incontinence and prevent hemorrhoids. Kegels should be done every day to maintain muscle strength.
  • Patients experiencing stress incontinence. Stress incontinence is when urine is leaked while laughing, coughing, sneezing, jumping, or lifting something heavy. Kegels can help prevent these leaks.
  • Young women. Regular Kegel exercises help keep the muscles toned and contribute to a most satisfying sexual experience. 

As with any exercise, remember to consult your doctor before you start. Don’t forget to be proactive! Exercising is better at preventing a problem than treating one. 



Alzheimer’s Disease – Knowing Your Risk

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 8:39 AM comments (0)


Alzheimer's DiseaseIt’s one thing for an elderly relative, friend or loved one to be forgetful from time to time, but if you begin to notice changes in memory, thinking and problem solving you may want to consider getting him or her screened for Alzheimer’s disease. While the progression of this condition may vary from person to person, there are tell-tale signs to help determine diagnosis.

Dr. Chad Yucus, Neurologist with NorthShore, recommends looking for the following warning signs for those who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD):

  • Repetitively asking the same questions during conversation
  • Getting lost or disoriented in familiar surroundings
  • Frequently forgetting common words
  • Having trouble managing your finances and/or checkbook when it never used to be a problem 
  • Forgetting important dates, such as family members’ birthdays and anniversaries

While it can be normal to have any of these problems occur once in a while, they become concerning if they begin to affect the person’s daily life. 

Along with warning signs, Dr. Yucus also outlines some of the most common risk factors for developing this condition, including:

  • Age and sex: Alzheimer’s is most common in those who are 65 years of age or older, and more frequently affects women.
  • Lifestyle: Those who are sedentary and socially isolated have a higher risk for having changes in memory and thinking.
  • Family history:  Those with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with Alzheimer’s disease have a modest increased risk of developing the condition themselves.
  • Genetics:  Inheriting certain genes, like the APO-e4 , can increase the chance that a person will develop AD—but having the gene does not make development of the condition inevitable.   More rarely, and usually associated with early onset of AD, there are inherited genes which do run in families and directly cause the condition.

Do you know someone with Alzheimer’s disease? What recommendations would you have to others who are just finding out someone they know has this disease?



A Passion for Care: Dr. Jorge Saucedo on Working in Cardiology

Monday, September 21, 2015 2:46 PM comments (0)

Dr. Jorge SaucedoJorge Saucedo, MD, has had a love for medicine since he was a student, which has led to his success as the Division Chief of Interventional Cardiology at NorthShore. He now shares his experience and some helpful tips on heart health, as well as some of his most interesting personal passions.

When did you know you wanted to go into medicine? Was there a particular moment of realization? Where did it all start?
For me, it was when I was finishing high school. Outside of the U.S., you begin medical school right after high school (there is no college, and medical school is longer).  For me at the age of 17-18, it was more like “I guess I will go into medicine”. I truly fell in love with medicine at the end of my second year of medical school. My love for the profession has increased with every year that goes by.

When did your attention turn to cardiology? What led you to this specialty?
The second hardest decision was to choose between surgery and internal medicine when finishing medical school. The decision was made the night before the interviews. In regards to cardiology, this was easy. As soon as I started my internal medicine training, I knew I wanted to become a cardiologist.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Spending quality time with patients. I also enjoy doing complex interventions, particularly in patients with heart attacks.

What do you find most challenging about cardiology? Treatment of patients?
Keeping up with how tremendously fast the field evolves.

What do you think is the most important thing everyone should know about their heart/the care of their heart?
Prevention is crucial. Watch your blood pressure, know your cholesterol levels, exercise and don't use tobacco products.

What can/should people do themselves to improve their heart health?
Maintain healthy eating and sleeping patterns, and do not abuse alcoholic drinks.

One of your other passions is opera and classical music? Where did this passion start?
When I was around 15 years old. Both, music and voce have been a fascination to me.

Is there any particular performer or performance that inspires you?
I have had the privilege of hearing the best opera singers on the best world stages. I love Mozart and Verdi operas. Obviously, Spanish tenors like Placido Domingo are on the top of my list. Hearing Joyce DiDonato was also truly inspirational.

If you could perform anywhere or for anyone, where or who would it be?
If I had any talent, I would love to perform at Teatro alla Scala in Milano or the Lyric in downtown Chicago. Maybe the roles of Manrico in Il Trovatore or Mario Cavaradossi in Tosca.


Fresh Recipe: Marinara Sauce

Thursday, September 17, 2015 10:15 AM comments (0)

marinara-recipeWith fall approaching fast, we’re looking forward to the cooler air, warmer clothes and comfort food. Our latest recipe lets you enjoy a hearty dish with a healthy twist that is great to add over pasta, chicken or roasts. 

Katrina Herrejon, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at NorthShore, shares her recipe for marinara sauce – a great source of potassium and antioxidants. 

Recipe makes 5 servings


2 lbs. plum tomatoes, stem and core removed 

1 sprig of oregano 

1 bay leaf

1 garlic clove, skin removed 

1 ½ tsp sugar

¾ tsp salt 

1 tbsp olive oil

¼ of a large onion, chopped (2oz)

½ zucchini, grated (1.5oz)

½ carrot, peeled and grated (1oz)

3-4 basil leaves, sliced into ribbons

Black pepper to taste


  • Quarter the tomatoes and place them in a food processor.  Blend until smooth.
  • Transfer the tomato puree to a large pot.
  • Add the oregano, bay leaf, garlic, sugar and salt to the puree.   Simmer for 30 minutes until reduced.
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet and sauté the onion, zucchini and carrot until the carrot is soft and the onion is golden brown. 
  • Add the sautéed vegetables to the tomato puree and cook the sauce an additional 15 minutes.  
  • Remove the oregano, garlic clove and bay leaf from the sauce and discard.  
  • Add the basil and black pepper.   Serve warm.

Nutrition Information (per ½ cup serving): 

  Calories   71

                Fat         3g

                Carb       10g

                Fiber     2g

                Protein 1g



Skipping a Beat: Signs and Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 11:05 AM comments (0)

afib-heart-healthAtrial fibrillation (AFib) is an irregular beating of the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) and occurs with increasing frequency as people age. The American Heart Association estimates that there are more than 2.5 million cases of AFib in the United States, many of them unrecognized.

While AFib is usually not life threatening, it is a medical condition that can be serious if untreated.  AFib often requires medication to minimize the chance that complications of the rhythm occur. AFib can lead to poor blood flow in the body, weakened heart muscle, and sometimes causes blood clots to develop that could lead to stroke. Unfortunately, the signs of symptoms of AFib can differ widely from patient to patient.

Dr. Wes Fisher, Cardiologist at NorthShore, lists the different symptoms of AFib to be aware of:

  • Heart palpitations: this feels like your heart is fluttering, racing or a flip-flopping sensation in your chest
  • Awareness of your hearting beating, especially in an irregular or rapid fashion
  • Chest pain, pressure or discomfort at rest or with exertion
  • New fatigue or weakness
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • New shortness of breath

While it is important to know the symptoms of AFib, not all people experience symptoms. Sometimes AFib is discovered through an annual physical exam or another diagnostic test. Dr. Fischer stresses the importance of your annual physical to monitor any changes over the years.

Atrial fibrillation is more common in adults and the risk of the arrhythmia increases for adults over the age of 65. There are three different types of atrial fibrillation varying in severity: 

  • Intermittent AFib is when the symptoms come and go but stop on their own. The symptoms may last for a few minutes or a few hours. 
  • Persistent AFib is when your heart rate does not go back to normal on its own and requires treatment from your doctor to go back to normal. 
  • Permanent AFib will often require medications, such as blood thinners, to help control your heart rate and avoid blood clots. 

When is the last time you had your annual physical?



A Caregiver's Love: Russ Bond Shares His and His Husband's Journey Through Prostate Cancer

Monday, September 14, 2015 9:19 AM comments (0)

russ bond

Patient Don Tabler was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, with some charts giving him only six years to live. His husband Russ Bond cared for him throughout his 12-year journey with prostate cancer.

Here, Russ discusses the important role of a caregiver as well as the care his husband received at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center, including the cutting edge treatments and clincial trials that helped Don's doctor, Daniel Shevrin, MD, Medical Oncology and Palliative Medicine, improve and maintain his quality of live and extend his survival far beyond what was intially projected.


Suicide Prevention: Identifying Risk Factors and Noticing the Warning Signs

Thursday, September 10, 2015 9:18 AM comments (0)

suicideAccording to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide was the 10th leading cause of the death in the U.S. in 2009. That year there were 37,000 suicides, with one million reported attempted suicides. In the same year, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Suicide is a major health issue but it’s also a potentially preventable one. While there are several risk factors for suicide, any person who expresses suicidal thoughts or the intent to commit suicide should be taken seriously.  Risk factors for suicide include:

  1. Prior suicide attempts
  2. History and family history of mental disorders
  3. History and family history of substance abuse
  4. History of physical violence and sexual abuse
  5. Chronic illness and/or chronic pain
  6. Exposure to the suicidal behavior of family and friends

Knowing and acting on the signs of suicide exhibited by others could save thousands of lives each year. If someone appears depressed and/or expresses suicidal thoughts, it's important to listen closely and take that person seriously. It's especially important to be concerned if someone exhibits any of these signs and has also attempted suicide in the past, as most successful suicides were preceded by one or more attempts. 

Benjamin Shain, MD, PhD, Psychiatry at NorthShore, shares some of the warning signs of suicide and discusses what you can do to help a person who might be contemplating suicide:

  • Risk-taking behavior. Those who are contemplating suicide might “tempt fate” by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving at dangerous speeds. 
  • Losing interest in previously important activities and friends. Unexplained loss of interest in things like sports, work and volunteer activities might also be combined with a withdrawal from interactions with friends and self-imposed isolation.
  • Researching methods of suicide. Searching suicide online or buying anything that could be used to commit suicide is an important sign to watch for.
  • Talking about death and hopelessness. Conversations and discussions might center on death and wanting to die or on feelings of hopelessness and lacking reasons to live. Potentially suicidal people might also talk about being a burden to family and friends or experiencing unendurable pain.
  • Extreme shifts in mood. Periods of deep depression could be punctuated by feelings of elation, happiness or rage.
  • Increased substance abuse. A history of substance abuse is a risk factor for suicide but increased use could be a warning sign of suicidal thoughts.
  • Noticeable changes in sleep patterns. This could either be exhibited as sleeping too much or suffering from insomnia. 
  • Giving away possessions. Suddenly giving away multiple items that seemed important to the person in the past.

What should you do if you notice these behaviors in a friend or family member?

First, discuss your observations or concerns with the person and/or other friends or family members. Make sure to listen to the person’s concerns and what might be stressful for them. It's essential to urge the person to speak to their primary care physician and/or a mental health professional. If you believe they are an immediate risk to themselves, call 911. 


Power Up: Exercises Every Athlete Should Know

Tuesday, September 08, 2015 12:30 PM comments (0)

Plank exerciseAthletes come in all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. Differences aside, all athletes should supplement their sports routine with additional training to build strength and prevent injury. Whether you are a dedicated yogi, marathon runner or recreational-league champion – the exercises below can help keep you strong, healthy and injury-free.

Valerie Damlos, PT, OCS, CMP, Clinic Manager of Outpatient Rehab Services at NorthShore, gives tips on some of the best exercises to add to your routine. Keep in mind that proper technique is very important, so be sure to familiarize yourself with each step. 

  • Squat. When preparing for a squat, stand so your feet are shoulder width apart, then turn your toes slightly outward. As you prepare to squat, push your butt back and lower yourself down as if you are going to sit in a chair. Remember to press your weight down through your heels and to keep your back straight. Make sure that your knees stay aligned with your feet and do not go inward. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
  • Bridge. Lie on your back and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor, hip width apart. Tighten your core and lift your hips in the air, keeping your back straight throughout the motion. To modify the exercise, tighten your gluteal (butt) muscles or only raise your hips as high as you can. To make the exercise more challenging, try lifting one leg off the ground, keeping your hips level. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
  • Plank. Facing the ground, place your hands directly under your shoulders with your feet on the ground. Push yourself up and hold the position so you are supporting your body weight in a straight line.  Keep your head aligned with your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Keep your core completely engaged and do not allow your back to arch or sag. To modify this exercise, drop your knees to the ground while keeping a straight line from your shoulders to your hips and knees. To make the exercise more challenging, support your plank from your forearms. Hold for 10-30 seconds and perform 5-10 repetitions. 
  • Push Up. Starting in the plank position, look straight down between your hands, keeping your head aligned with your shoulders. Lower your body, bringing your elbows to a 45-degree angle away from your sides. Push up to the starting position and repeat. Keep your core engaged throughout the movement and keep your back straight. Lower your chest first and not your head. Remember to keep your head pulled back as you lower. To modify your push up, drop your knees. To make it more challenging, push up with your feet on a step or chair. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. 

As with any exercise routine, it is important to not overexert yourself. If you are in pain or are just starting a workout regime, you should consult with your doctor.

What is your favorite exercise to do? How to you make your exercises more challenging?


Childhood Obesity – Forming Good Eating Habits

Thursday, September 03, 2015 10:21 AM comments (0)

Childhood-ObesityWho’s to blame for the dramatic increase in childhood obesity these days—it has more than tripled in the past 30 years according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)? While there may be many factors at fault—more junk food and sugary drink options, increased television and computer time, lack of physical activity (both at school and at home) and larger portion sizes—it is important to set a good example to help your children maintain a healthy weight.

The effects of childhood obesity have both short and long-term consequences, which is why addressing the issue before it is too late is imperative. Obese youth and teens are more likely to be obese as adults, and are thereby more susceptible to health problems commonly associated with being overweight (such as: high cholesterol, heart problems, hypertension, etc.)

Goutham Rao, MD, Primary Care Physician at NorthShore offers the following tips for parents to encourage healthy eating, an active lifestyle and a happy child:

  • Eliminate all sweet beverages from your child’s diet.
  • Allow your child to have fast food no more than once per week.
  • Permit no more than two hours total of screen time for your child per day.
  • Eat dinner as a family as often as possible.
  • Take a brisk evening walk with your entire family at least five times per week.

What changes have you made to encourage a healthy lifestyle for your children?


If you have more questions about childhood obesity, read Dr. Rao's childhood obesity chat. 


Prostate Cancer: Knowing Your Risks and Options

Tuesday, September 01, 2015 12:14 PM comments (0)

prostate cancerProstate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men. If detected and treated early, prostate cancer survival rates are high and associated with good functional outcomes. Brian Helfand, MD, PhD, Urologist at Northshore, answers questions about prostate cancer risk, PSA values, early signs and symptoms, recommended screening, as well as current treatment options for prostate cancer and recovery after treatment.  

What is a normal PSA?
I always tell my patients that you should compare your PSA to what is "normal" for your age group. Most men age 50 and younger have a PSA below 0.7ng/ml. For simplicity, you could use a cutoff of 1.0ng/ml. It’s important to point out that having a PSA value that is above your age group does not mean that you have prostate cancer. It does, however, mean that you are statistically at a slightly increased risk for being diagnosed with the disease. For that reason, you should continue to be screened with PSA on an annual basis at least. 

There are other factors that should go into the interpretation of PSA before deciding to perform a prostate biopsy and these include: PSA values that have been rising over time, family history of prostate cancer, African-American heritage and history of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Remember, PSA is not a perfect test but it has saved many lives and it’s still the best test for prostate cancer screening.

Guidelines for median PSA levels by age:

  • Age 40 to 49: 0.7 ng/mL median PSA
  • Age 50 to 59: 0.9 ng/mL median PSA
  • Age 60 to 69: 1.3 ng/mL median PSA
  • Age 70 to 79: 1.7 ng/mL median PSA

If there is a family history of the disease, does that increase your risk? When should someone with a family history of the disease begin screening?
Prostate cancer is one of the most inheritable of all cancers. As such, risk factors that are most associated with prostate cancer are first-degree family history (father, brother, uncle, etc.) and race (i.e. African-Americans). Based on statistics, a man with a first-degree connection to the disease is almost two times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than a man without a family history. Although there is some debate regarding the routine use of PSA screening, I’m a firm believer that if there is a family history, one should start undergoing annual PSA screening by the age of 40.

After treatment, how often should a patient return to their physician for further tests and screenings?
After surgery, patients should have an initial post-operative PSA in about four to six weeks and then every three to four months (based upon their urologist's preference). After two years of having an undetectable PSA, I suggest my patients get PSAs every six months.

Are there preventative measures that could potentially reduce one’s risk for developing the disease? 
It’s possible that a heart-healthy diet low in fats and simple sugars may help reduce one’s risk of developing prostate cancer. There is emerging evidence that obesity is a driving factor for benign growth of the prostate (referred to as BPH or benign prostatic hyperplasia) and that it could also contribute to one’s risk for prostate cancer. Extra weight may also make it harder to detect the disease until it is advanced. Obesity also is thought to contribute to prostate cancer recurrence. That’s why it’s important for men to realize that a heart-healthy diet can help keep their prostates healthy too!

How likely is a patient’s sexual function to be affected after treatment? What surgical options result in the best possible outcome as far as recovering sex life?
I tell my patients that your post-operative sexual function is significantly related to your age and pre-operative function. In general, treatment for prostate cancer (radiation or surgery) has never improved a man's erectile function. However, if a man is young, not diabetic or obese and had good erectile function prior to surgery, he has a very good chance of having normal erections post-op.

I believe that good, nerve-sparing surgery significantly helps with the recovery of erectile function. This can be done by a urologic surgeon who is trained in the technique and frequently performs the operation. In addition, I believe that all men should start (at minimum) a rehabilitation program before and immediately after surgery that helps to recover nerve function. This could involve taking drugs like Cialis before and after surgery.

If you do suffer from sexual dysfunction after prostate cancer treatment, what can you do to aid/improve recovery?
Unfortunately, there is no universal solution for every man but there are many different options that are available for treatment of sexual dysfunction after surgery. Prostate cancer patients should have an assessment of psychological function and desire for sexual activity following surgery. Many men get nervous about intimacy following surgery and an evaluation by a trained professional can help relieve a lot of this anxiety.  

If there are erectile issues after treatment, many men respond to simple medical therapies like Viagra and Cialis. This is often a starting point. If you fail to respond to these therapies, other interventions such as a vacuum erection device or injection therapies can be used to obtain an erection. As always, regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet help increases your chances of a successful recovery.

What are the differences between robotic laparoscopic surgery and conventional open prostatectomy in terms of recovery?
I think the answer is surgeon experience. There are many urologists who can perform open surgery with excellent outcomes (great cancer control, erectile function and continence). And there are many urologists who can perform robotic surgery with similar outcomes. It’s most important to be treated by an urologist who is comfortable and experienced with a radical prostatectomy. Having said that, robotic surgery has recently become the most commonly used surgical intervention for prostate cancer. When compared to open surgery, robotic surgery offers significantly less blood loss and a shorter hospital stay. Although not proven, it’s likely that the robotic surgery offers increased visualization of the area by the surgeon which provides an opportunity to spare more nerves and create a nice connection between the bladder and urethra. These are both associated with increased erectile function and increased continence.

What does active surveillance involve? Why would someone choose to do that instead of actively treat their cancer?
We have come to a "new era" of understanding prostate cancer and realized that many men have prostate tumors that may not harm them during their lifetime (benign-type prostate cancer). This is because many prostate tumors grow very slowly and other medical problems may ultimately harm a man before the prostate cancer spreads

Unfortunately, there is currently no diagnostic test that can tell whether one has a lethal prostate cancer or more benign-type tumor; therefore, we have developed a program of surveillance in which we avoid treating patients with prostate cancer until there is evidence that it has an aggressive component. This involves actively and regularly monitoring men through the use of PSA tests and prostate biopsies. While this does increase the number of times that a man is evaluated by an urologist, it avoids overtreatment, like unnecessary surgery or radiation that could cause erectile problems and/or incontinence. Currently, NorthShore University HealthSystem has the largest program in the Midwest.

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