Childhood Autism – Know the Signs

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 8:36 AM comments (0)

AutismMore and more children are being diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders —a range of neurobiological disorders that are best managed when they are diagnosed early. It is estimated that one in 110 children is affected by autism and that boys are four times more likely than girls to have the condition.

Some signs of autism can be detected in very early childhood. It is important for parents and other caretakers to be aware of concerning signs and behavioral patterns so that children can be evaluated as soon as possible.

Sara Wiemer, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, identifies some of the signs of autistic spectrum disorders in children:

  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Lack of normal nonverbal skills like making eye contact with others, using facial expressions and gestures like pointing
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings and expressing their own feelings
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Strict adherence to routines - getting very upset about minor changes
  • Having obsessive interests
  • Unusual body movements, such as flapping hands, rocking or spinning
  • Lack of make-believe play or imitating other people when playing
  • Inability to form relationships with peers

Have you noticed any of these signs of autism in your child? Don’t hesitate to bring your concerns to your child’s pediatrician.

Snack Time – Giving your Kids a Healthy, Energy-packed snack

Thursday, April 12, 2012 8:32 AM comments (0)

Healthy Snacks

Walk down the snack food aisle at a grocery store and you’ll find the aisle packed full of chips, cookies, crackers and candies. With all the snack options available, it’s often too easy to overlook nutritional facts and the healthiest choice. Despite this, it’s important to know what foods will best restore energy without spoiling appetite and off-setting a diet.

Michael Rakotz, MD, gives some quick, healthy snack alternatives for kids (and adults too!)

  • Skinny Pop Popcorn. At 35 calories per cup, you can’t beat this delicious snack for kids.
  • Sliced vegetables. Use either a pureed vegetable (such as peas or carrots) for a dip. You can also use a yogurt dressing, as they often have half the fat and calories of other brands.
  • Hummus is packed with protein and makes for a great snack. Serve it with veggies instead of bread or crackers.
  • Mixed nuts are high in protein and require no preparation. When eaten in moderation, they contain the fat that is good for a balanced diet.
  • Sweet potatoes are very nutrition dense, making for a great alternative to white potatoes.

 What are some of your favorite snack choices? What is your go-to healthy snack?

Alcohol Abuse – When is Too Much, Too Much?

Monday, April 09, 2012 8:41 AM comments (0)

Alcohol AbuseAt times it may seem that drinking alcohol is embedded into our daily lives. We clink glasses to celebrate milestones and happy times, while watching sporting events and at social gatherings.

Although a moderate consumption of alcohol — according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans this means no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men—may not directly impact your health, when do you know if you or someone you know has a problem?

Laura Parise, MD, Psychiatrist at NorthShore, lists some of the common signs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse:

  • Need to drink alcohol to have a good time, relax or feel better.
  • Forget on a frequent basis what you were doing when drinking, which may include blacking out.
  • Encounter relationship problems with partners, family members, friends and coworkers. These problems are often fueled by drinking.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, past times and your personal life.
  • Family history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse.
  • Think about consuming alcohol throughout the day. This may include drinking before lunch, on the job or while driving.
  • Feel guilty or ashamed about drinking habits. This commonly includes hiding bottles, drinking alone, lying about your consumption or sneaking drinks away from others.
  • Increased tolerance for alcohol consumption. More drinks need to be consumed in order for you to feel the effects of alcohol.
  • Become irritable when alcohol isn’t available or your daily drinking schedule is interrupted.

If you or someone you know relates to the above statement, it is recommended you seek assistance from your physician.

What other information would be of interest to you about this topic?

Maximize Fresh Air Fitness and Reduce Your Odds for Injury

Thursday, April 05, 2012 8:42 AM comments (0)

Sports InjuriesDust off those running shoes and find that soccer, football and/or basketball equipment in the garage or basement because warmer weather is here. And, with spring officially in the air, many of us who had limited exposure to exercise and outdoor activities during the winter begin our regimen.

Not only is spring a busy time for high school and college athletes, but it’s also a time for weekend warriors—those who do much of their physical activity during the weekend—to engage in recreational sports.

Adam Bennett, MD, team physician for U.S. Soccer and the Chicago Bears, offers practical advice to weekend warriors, and high school and college athletes, to reduce injury risk while enjoying outdoor activities:

  • Weekend warriors and recreational athletes should try to include some sort of training and exercise during the week to strengthen muscles. This is especially important for the muscle groups that you will be using in your dominant sport. Implementing this into your weekly routine one to two times can greatly decrease your chances for injury.
  • Teenagers actively involved in sports are encouraged to take a few days off. Not only will this positively impact performance, but it also can help prevent injuries.
  • Teenagers should also be sure to eat well and properly fuel their bodies both before and between practices. Vegetables and lean proteins are a great source of necessary nutrition. Staying well hydrated is also essential.
  • Regardless of how frequently you partake in sports, be sure that if you suffered an injury you have fully recovered and healed before you return to the sport or activity.

What sports do you play? What do you do to reduce your risk for injuries?

Guest Post: Arif Dalvi, MD, MBA - A Pacemaker for the Brain: DBS and Parkinson’s Disease

Tuesday, April 03, 2012 8:57 AM comments (0)

In Parkinson’s disease (PD) low levels of dopamine in the brain lead to the symptoms of tremor, slowness, stiffness and difficulty walking. There is an easy way to replace dopamine with Sinemet tablets. The levodopa in these tablets is converted to dopamine in the brain and helps relieve the symptoms. Why then should we consider a surgical treatment for PD?DBS and Parkinson's Disease

Over time, patients on PD show a fluctuating response to medications. A dose that would last four to six hours now lasts for two or three hours. In between doses, the symptoms return with a vengeance. In addition there may be involuntary movements called dyskinesias or a severe tremor not controlled despite increasing doses of medications.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery is a way out of this predicament. While not a cure, it can set the clock back on the severity of the disease. Some patients can reduce medication doses thereby reducing the side effects. Tremor, dyskinesias and muscle rigidity are symptoms that improve the most. Patients show a longer duration of action of medications following surgery.

The surgery is a three-part process that involves placing an electrode in the brain connected to a pacemaker device placed under the skin in the chest. The first part maps the brain using MRI techniques. To further improve the accuracy of the electrode placement, the NorthShore DBS team uses a sophisticated brain mapping technique called microelectrode recording. The third part involves placing the pacemaker and connecting it to the brain electrode. Patients typically return home in 2-3 days after surgery.

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The NorthShore DBS team has over 15 years of experience with DBS surgery. Dr. Dalvi has been involved with training neurologists nationally on managing the DBS pacemaker settings following surgery. When medications for PD fail it is time to consider DBS surgery.

Get Serious about Laughing: Giggling is Good for You!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 9:28 AM comments (0)

Laughter-YogaRemember the last time you had a good laugh? How about that feeling of amusement you get when you anticipate witnessing something funny? Mirth—otherwise known as merriment and glee—has been the recent subject of research. While still in its infancy, some of the studies’ early results might surprise you.

John Chamness, a licensed massage therapist at NorthShore’s Integrative Medicine program lists some of the recent findings behind mirth.  After watching funny movies, participants experienced the following health benefits:

  • Significantly lowered risk of a second heart attack in men who combined watching 30 minutes a day with standard cardio rehab
  • Increased beneficial blood vessel relaxation
  • Influenced the expression of genes, including turning on genes related to immune function
  • Reduced water loss from skin in elderly men with atopic dermatitis (dry skin)
  • Short-term improvement of erectile dysfunction

Are these the effects of the state of mirth, or the laughter that is often a result? Regardless, you don't have to wait for something funny to enjoy a laugh; laughter can be prolonged as a deliberate behavior.

In Laughter Yoga—a social movement that began in India and is catching on here—participants alternate 45 – 60 seconds of deliberate, sustained laughter with deep breathing and brief stretching for a total of 30 minutes. After seven sessions over three weeks, Laughter Yoga participants had significantly lowered their blood pressure.

During sustained laughter (through Laughter Yoga or not), the diaphragm increases from working an average of 12 times per minute during regular breathing to 300 forceful times per minute. Over 20 minutes of sustained laughter accounts for 6,000 contractions. That’s quite a workout!

So, what’s the key take away? Be serious in your pursuit of health, but don't always pursue health with seriousness.

What makes you laugh? Have you ever participated in a Laughter Yoga session?

Epilepsy – Know the Facts, Not the Fiction

Monday, March 26, 2012 9:10 AM comments (0)

EpilepsyNearly one in 100 people are affected by epilepsy, and yet there are many common misunderstandings about this condition. Epilepsy by definition is characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. A single seizure episode does not constitute epilepsy.

In recognition of Purple Day—a day dedicated to increase awareness about epilepsy—Lawrence Bernstein, MD, Neurologist at NorthShore, identifies some of the common misconceptions about epilepsy:

  • People with epilepsy cannot drive.
    True and False. A person suffering from a seizure when driving may put themselves and others at risk. Whether or not someone can drive will depend on state and local laws, as well as physician recommendations. In many cases, once someone has stabilized their condition (either through medication or another method) they may be allowed to resume driving. The decision to drive or not is often a personal decision made by the individual, family and healthcare professional.
  • People with epilepsy should not have children.
    False. While it is important for epileptic women to plan in advance and have a discussion with a neurologist, there is no reason why women cannot have children. In fact, the majority of pregnancies in epileptic women are uneventful.
  • Children with epilepsy never outgrow it.
    False. Epilepsy is not a lifelong condition. Many children who are on medications for epilepsy and remain seizure-free for two to four years can be tapered off their medication. While medications will not eliminate the existence of epilepsy for everyone, it’s advisable to coordinate best treatment options with your pediatric neurologist.
  • All epilepsy is inherited.
    False. While a family history of epilepsy may increase the risk for developing the condition, it is not the only factor and the risk is often very low.
  • Epilepsy is contagious.
    False. This condition cannot be spread or passed on to others. More than 70 percent of epilepsy cases are not linked to a specific cause. Frequent risk factors for developing epilepsy include: age, previous injury to the brain, stroke, and infections such as meningitis or encephalitis.
  • If medications do not work there is no useful treatment.
    False. Medication is one treatment option for epilepsy. Other useful treatments include: surgery, nerve and brain stimulation, and diet.

What other misconceptions do you have about epilepsy? Are there other questions you have about this condition?

What’s in your medicine cabinet?

Friday, March 23, 2012 1:06 PM comments (0)

Medicine CabinetThe contents of your medicine cabinet—if not used properly—could be potentially dangerous or even deadly. Common items such as vitamins, antacids and aspirin can all be misused and cause harm. However, the most commonly misused drugs are opiods, prescribed for pain relief; central nervous system depressants used for anxiety or sleep regulation; and stimulants most commonly prescribed for ADD or ADHD.

The Doreen E. Chapman Center at NorthShore reports that the two groups that are most vulnerable to misuse or abuse these drugs are teenagers and the elderly. The Center offers the following tips to help avoid misuse:

  • Talk to your teenagers and ‘senior’ parents about the dangers of medications. Explain to them the side effects that are possible. Tell your elderly parents that they should speak with their health care provider about all of their prescription information to avoid adverse side effects.
  • Remind your teenagers that prescriptions drugs have the same potential for abuse and dependence as street drugs. Pills should not be taken simply to ease ailments.
  • Inform the “over 65” group that drugs should not be combined with other medications (unless previous conversations with their physician have been made and approved) or alcohol.

What items do you have in your medicine cabinet? What do you do to ensure that these items are not being misused or abused?

Childhood Obesity – Forming Good Eating Habits

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 9:16 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?

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Have questions about childhood obesity? Join Dr. Rao for a live medical chat on Tuesday, March 27 at 1:30p.m. He’ll answer your questions about how to institute incremental behavioral changes into your child’s every day routine to help with weight loss. Save the date and submit your early questions today.

Poison Prevention Can Be as Easy as Following Directions

Monday, March 19, 2012 11:13 AM comments (0)

Poison-PreventionThe vast majority of poison exposures occur in the household. In fact, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, nearly 90 percent of all exposures are home exposures. These typically involve ingestion of household products (cosmetics, cleaning supplies and personal care items), as well as drug interactions, food poisoning, and acute overdoses of prescription and non-prescription drugs.

Jerry Leikin, MD, a Medical Toxicologist at NorthShore recommends the following steps for helping to reduce your and your family’s risk of poison exposure:

  • Carefully read product labels and directions. Be sure that you are aware of any adverse effects or cautionary recommendations.
  • Be aware of tampered products when doing your shopping. Avoid buying products that have a broken seal, torn label or noticeable packaging defects.
  • Be mindful of your household product inventory. Be certain that products are stored correctly, are properly discarded and do not interact with other products you may be using.
  • Be conscientious of your surroundings – both indoors and outdoors. As best as you can, limit your exposure to poisons (cleaning supplies, cosmetics, chemicals, poisonous plants, etc.).
  • Install working, UL-approved smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

What precautionary methods do you employ at your house to reduce your risk to poisons? Do you frequently make changes to your home environment to safeguard your home?

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