Four Simple Ways to Make the Playground a Safer Place

Monday, June 30, 2014 10:48 AM comments (0)

playground safetyGetting outside and staying active during the summer is incredibly important for kids. Playgrounds are a great place for kids to combine making friends with some much needed exercise. Unfortunately, they are also one of the most common places for injury. Each year approximately 200,000 kids under the age of 14 will visit the emergency department because of an injury that occurred on a playground. And about 80% of these injuries will occur from a fall. 

However, the benefits of the playground far outweigh the drawbacks, especially if parents take a few extra precautions before heading to the park. David Roberts, MD, Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon at the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute, shares some easy ways to make the playground safer for kids this summer and all year round: 

Supervise, supervise! Go to the park as a family. While there, you can make sure everyone is being safe by supervising play and have a little fun too! Getting outside and staying active is just as important for parents.

Slides are for kids only. Well-meaning parents might think it’s safer to go down the slide with toddlers on your lap; unfortunately, this is a common source of fractures in young children. When little ones go down the slide alone, they only have their own body weight to contend with. If they go down the slide with a parent and catch their foot on the side, the full force of the parent’s weight is behind them now too. So one at a time down the slide! 

Dress appropriately. This doesn’t just mean dressing appropriately for the weather. Avoid drawstrings and loose clothing that could catch on playground equipment and cause falls or other injuries. And always make sure shoes laces are tied. 

Make sure playgrounds are safe and age-appropriate. Not all playgrounds are created equal. Many modern playgrounds are designed to have lower height equipment and softer surfaces beneath, like mulch or rubber padding, which absorb the impact of falls. Try to keep outdoor playtime to these safer spaces. Also look for playgrounds that have separate equipment for older and younger children.  

Does your family spend time at the playground in the summer?


Courageous Spirit: Poetry and Family Inspire Jameka Leonard to Keep Fighting a Rare Brain Tumor

Friday, June 27, 2014 10:36 AM comments (0)


When I write, it helps me express how I feel, and it’s a way of reaching out to people and letting them know my story,” said Jameka Leonard, a 27-year-old mother and poet who was first diagnosed with a rare brain stem glioma in 2009. After an initial consultation at the Mayo Clinic, Jameka was referred to Egon Doppenberg, MD, Neurosurgeon, and Nina Martinez, MD, Neuro-Oncologist, at NorthShore for expert, collaborative care closer to home.

After completing both surgery and radiation at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center, Jameka is now stable and on a maintenance routine supervised by Dr. Martinez. She channels her positive energy not only into her fight against cancer but also into her writing, recently publishing a book of poetry entitled Internal Combat: The Battle Within.

Watch the video for her full NorthShore Patient story and read an excerpt of her poetry here: 

“Dear Cancer, 

My name is Jameka. I don’t know if you remember me, but we were first introduced to one another in 2009 … Not to be rude or anything, but I am tired of you and I would like for us to part ways. You came into my life unwanted, and you have consistently been here … I am not trying to continue to be pulled into your negative elements any longer.” 


Migraine Headaches: Types, Triggers and Treatments

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 2:48 PM comments (0)

migraine blogHeadaches can be more than just a pain; they can make work and day-to-day activities feel impossible. Headaches and migraines are as different as the individuals who experience them and the key to treating them is proper diagnosis.

Steven Meyers, MD, Neurologist and Headache Specialist at NorthShore, discusses common headache and migraine triggers and some treatment options that might help take the pain away:

How do you determine the cause of a migraine?
Many patients search for "the cause" when in fact most of the time there is no single cause. We believe migraine is a genetic disorder, meaning the tendency to experience migraine is passed down in your genes. Everyone wants a simple fix. If they can find the one thing to avoid or eliminate, they can eliminate their headaches but that rarely happens.

Migraine is a chronic illness and like all other chronic illnesses, the severity can vary from person to person. Treatment must be individualized to the specific patient, taking into account their individual desires regarding treatment options. I recommend always starting with your primary care physician. Schedule an appointment to discuss your headaches specifically. Don't wait for a yearly physical or when seeing your doctor for something else. If you cannot get the information you need then ask for a referral to a headache specialist.

How can you figure out what type of headache you are experiencing?
Proper diagnosis is essential for treatment. Your doctor should be able to make an appropriate diagnosis. If uncertainty persists, then you should see a headache specialist. Migraine, tension and cluster are the three most common primary headache disorders. Primary means no underlying cause, such as a tumor, aneurysm or other disorder, can be pinpointed as the cause of the headache.  Doctors have specific features and there are well-established criteria for making specific diagnoses. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of making a specific headache diagnosis. If your doctor cannot tell you the type of headache you have, get a second opinion.

Is there any evidence that migraines are genetic?
Yes. As I briefly mentioned earlier, migraine is definitely a genetic disorder. Most persons with migraine have a positive family history. In rare cases, specific genetic abnormalities can be tested for, but in the vast majority of migraine sufferers we don’t yet know what the genetic abnormality is.

What are some common migraine triggers?
There are many possible triggers and no two patients are the same. Why one trigger brings on a migraine in one person but not another is not known. Common triggers can include certain foods, though this has become somewhat controversial, with some recent studies questioning food as a trigger.

Alcohol, particularly red wine and beer, are common triggers. Missing meals, alteration in normal sleep patterns (too much or too little), weather changes, stress, and hormonal changes in women during the menstrual cycle are all possible triggers.

It is also important to keep in mind that triggers are rarely all or none. This means that a trigger may not trigger a migraine every time the patient is exposed; it may only happen every other or every third time. This makes identifying these triggers even more difficult.

What can you do about triggers that aren’t controllable, like weather and hormones?
In general I divide triggers into those you can control and those you can’t, like weather. Hormonal changes are potentially treatable but this can be tricky and there are pros and cons of pursuing this approach. Avoiding those triggers that are preventable could be helpful. When that is not sufficient, it’s time to speak to your doctor. If migraines occur frequently enough, then there are medications that can help prevent them or at least reduce the frequency of attacks.

What can a migraine sufferer do to shorten the duration of a migraine?
There are many options to treat migraine attacks. We refer to this type of treatment as abortive therapy. There are migraine-specific medications that we prefer to use. When these medications can’t be used for a specific reason or if they don’t work for a specific patient, we may prescribe other types of pain medications and/or anti-nausea medication. Some patients find relaxation, massage, or the use of ice or heat beneficial as well. Sleep, when possible, can also shorten the duration of an attack.

Is this normal to experience headaches at certain times of day, particularly in the morning?
Some patients do get headaches at very specific times of the day; however, it’s important that the type of headache be correctly diagnosed in order to come up with an appropriate treatment plan. Treatment of migraines that wake someone from sleep depends in part on how often this happens and under what circumstances. Sometimes a preventative medication at bedtime might be appropriate. 

Are there any new medications for migraines with minimum side effects?
Truthfully there is not much new out there at present. There are some very exciting new medications that we hope to see on the market in the not-too- distant future but drug development and research can be frustratingly slow. All medications have side effects, which vary greatly from person to person. There is some evidence that migraine sufferers are particularly prone to drug side effects and many persons will need to try a variety of medications before finding what works for them.

Are feverfew and butterbur effective herbal treatments for migraine prevention?
Feverfew and butterbur are two plant-based supplements available without a prescription. They both have been used for decades, particularly in Europe, to prevent headaches. They both have been studied in good scientific research trials in the U.S. and both have been found to be effective, safe and with few potential side effects. Overall, they tend not to be as effective as prescription medications in my experience but can be beneficial in certain persons and do tend to have fewer side effects.

The main problem is finding out what dose to use, as every supplement may be different in terms of strength and purity. Additionally, there are potential interactions with other medications. I would definitely recommend speaking to your doctor before starting any treatment.

What are your thoughts on combining acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments with conventional treatments from a neurologist for migraines?
Both acupuncture and chiropractic treatments have been studied and found to be helpful in some individuals with migraine. I have many patients who use these therapies and find them helpful either alone or in combination with "conventional" treatments.

When suffering from a headache, does consuming a little caffeine help a headache or make it worse? Any other recommendations, suggestions or treatments do you have to help ease the pain of a migraine headache?
Caffeine is interesting. Consuming caffeine can be helpful.  Several common headache medications add caffeine to make them more effective. Many patients will drink some coffee or cola along with whatever medication they take when they get a headache. However, the frequent/regular use of caffeine can actually cause headache or make headaches worsen over time. 

If you use a medication that contains caffeine such as Excedrin, be careful to follow the directions very carefully. These medications should not be used more than 1-2 days per week. I usually recommend that frequent headache sufferers limit caffeine consumption to the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee per day. Short of medication, some patients use relaxation therapy, biofeedback, ice, heat or sleep to treat migraine attacks.


The Early Signs of Scoliosis

Thursday, June 19, 2014 3:45 PM comments (0)

scoliosisScoliosis is a condition characterized by curvature of the spine.  The most common form of scoliosis, called idiopathic scoliosis, occurs in otherwise healthy children.  Although some cases run in families and may have a genetic basis, most cases have no known cause.  

Idiopathic scoliosis starts in the early adolescent years, around ages 10-11.  Initially, most cases are mild, often undetectable, because changes in the appearance of the back develop gradually and cause no pain. However, some curves can get worse during the adolescent growth spurt and may lead to problems later on.  If a curve worsens, the spine begins to rotate, causing the body and ribs to protrude farther out on one side.  Without treatment, severe scoliosis visibly affects the body's appearance, and in some cases may cause pain or affect lung function by reducing available space in the chest for breathing.  

Once even a mild curve is detected, it is important to have a doctor monitor your child’s spine. Fortunately, the vast majority of scoliosis curves are mild and may never need treatment. Some curves may be treated temporarily with a thin plastic brace, which stabilizes the curve and prevents it from getting worse during periods of growth.  Rarely, severe curves may require surgery to correct the curvature and prevent future problems. Children with scoliosis should be seen by a pediatric orthopaedist about every four to six months during periods of growth. 

David Roberts, MD, is a Pediatric Orthopaedic  Surgeon at NorthShore who specializes in scoliosis.  He shares some the early signs of scoliosis that parents should look out for in their children:

  • Uneven shoulders or shoulder blades
  • Rib prominence, with one side more elevated than the other
  • Uneven waistline, with one side appearing higher than the other
  • Uneven hips

Some symptoms can be subtle, so see a physician if there is any question.  

Are your children screened for scoliosis in their schools? 


The 5 Seeds of a Healthy Diet

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 12:44 PM comments (0)

sunflower seedsSometimes the best gifts come in small packages and sometimes the best foods do too. They might not look like much but seeds can pack a hefty nutritional punch. Tiny titans of a healthy diet, seeds contain nutrients like protein, fiber, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Jennifer Panicko, Registered Dietitian at NorthShore, discusses the big benefits of adding any of these five seeds to your already healthy diet:

Chia seeds. Packed with fiber, chia seeds are filling and nutrient-rich, adding omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, potassium and iron to the mix too. Their pleasant nutty flavor means they can be consumed raw or added to yogurts, oatmeal and sprinkled on top of favorite whole grain snacks.
Recipe: Banana almond overnight oatmeal with chia seeds

Sunflower seeds. With lots of B vitamins, especially folate, sunflower seeds are a great snack for pregnant women and those looking to boost the strength of their immune systems. They also have lots of vitamin E, and, even better, are packed with protein and heart-healthy fats. Go natural and skip the salted variety.
Recipe: Shaved squash, sunflower seed and feta salad 

Flax seeds. Small but mighty, flax seeds are brimming with nutritional value. They contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, lignans—which are plant-based phytoestrogen that have been shown to lower one’s risk for some types of cancer—and both soluble and insoluble fiber. Make sure to grind the seeds before consuming to ensure you get their full benefits.
Recipe: Date and oat muffins with flax seeds 

Sesame seeds. The health benefits of sesame seeds go on and on. They are high in antioxidants, which help boost the immune system, and have been shown to lower hypertension and bad cholesterol, and reduce stress levels. With a delicate nutty flavor, they can be added to just about anything.
Recipe: Salmon with sesame and orange relish  

Pumpkin seeds.  A delicious source of B vitamins and iron, pumpkin seeds are also high in a particular amino acid that has been shown to reduce anxiety: tryptophan.  They’re also a fantastic source for omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower bad cholesterol levels. Serve them raw or roasted, either will make a healthy snack. 
Recipe: Corn and quinoa summer salad with toasted pumpkin seeds

What is your favorite seeded recipe?


Men's Health and Heart Disease [Infographic]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 2:00 PM comments (0)

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women, but, for men, on average, high blood pressure starts earlier and heart attacks occur earlier. Men, it’s time to be more proactive about your own health!  Whatever your age, it’s never too early to start taking better care of your heart.

The experts at NorthShore University HealthSystem have created an infographic that explores some surprising facts related to heart disease in men, including how their heart health compares to that of women. Click on the image below to view the full infographic and also learn how you can begin to improve the condition of your heart with simple men’s health tips.

men's health infographic


When Should You Consider Surgery for Back Pain?

Thursday, June 05, 2014 11:19 AM comments (0)

back painMaking the decision to undergo spinal surgery for back pain or any other spinal condition is not an easy one to make. Many will explore non-surgical options and find relief but others will pursue the same path to no relief. Every case and every patient is different. 

Don’t wait until the pain becomes too much to start asking questions. Dean Karahalios, MD, Neurosurgery at NorthShore, answers some common questions concerning back pain and surgery:

How bad does back pain/discomfort have to get to be considered a good candidate for surgery?
Everyone responds to pain in different ways. Only you can judge how bad pain is or how much you can cope with on a day-to-day basis. If you have tried all non-surgical treatments—physical therapy, injections—to no avail, it might be time to consider surgery. And I would say that if it starts to affect your day-to-day routine or prevents you from doing the things you like to do recreationally, surgical treatment might be a good option. There are minimally invasive options for many conditions. 

Is there a difference in treatment if surgery is done by a neurosurgeon or an orthopaedic surgeon?
All neurosurgeons are trained to do spine surgery. Some orthopaedic surgeons receive additional training in order to specialize in the spine. Both neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons who are fellowship trained have advanced skills in dealing with the more complicated spinal conditions.

How long does it take to recover from minimally invasive surgery compared to traditional back surgery?
While it depends on the condition and what is done, typically recovery times can be cut in half. 

If back pain runs in the family, is there anything you can do to prevent back pain before it starts?
If there is a long family history of back pain, there is probably some genetic component, which you, unfortunately, can't do anything about. However, maintaining a high standard of general health and lifestyle can be even more important. So, eat healthy meals, exercise regularly, keep your weight down and don't smoke. These healthy life choices will lead to benefits in other areas as well. When it comes to exercise though, do low impact exercises—swimming and biking—and avoid running on hard surfaces and heavy lifting.

How long do you continue to recover and improve after surgery? When can you expect to be at your "best" after having back surgery?
It depends on your condition, and what you've had done. For instance, a simple microdiscectomy (the removal of a small section of bone from a disc or from near a nerve to relieve neural impingement) can take a few days to a few weeks but a spinal fusion (the permanent joining of two or more bones in the spine) can take several weeks to months.

What are the best things a patient can do prior to surgery to increase the likelihood of a good outcome after surgery?If there is no medical reason that requires immediate surgery, then programs of weight loss, as well as increasing abdominal strength and overall strength prior to surgery could help increase the speed of recovery after surgery. And a big one: if you smoke, stop.

What does rehab after back surgery involve? How long does it take?
This depends on a patient’s condition and what was done surgically. In general, rehabilitation involves exercises that seek to restore flexibility and improve core strength. Typical recommended rehab after surgery is usually 2-3 sessions per week for 4-6 weeks.

Suffering from back pain? Hear from the experts!
The NorthShore Spine Center is hosting two free events this summer to discuss the latest nonsurgical and minimally invasive treatments for back pain.

  • Thursday, June 19th from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Highland Park Hospital, Highland Park, IL.
  • Wednesday, June 25th from 6;30 to 8:30 p.m. at Laschen Community Center, Vernon Hills, IL.

For more information and to RSVP click here


Coping with IBS: Can Mindfulness Help?

Thursday, May 29, 2014 3:55 PM comments (0)

stomachacheIrritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the large intestine that can cause symptoms ranging from cramping and bloating to constipation and diarrhea. And while IBS does not cause the permanent damage of more severe intestinal diseases like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, it can and often does negatively interfere with one’s day-to-day life.  

There are many ways to control the symptoms of IBS. Treatment often focuses on learning to avoid trigger foods and making healthy lifestyle changes, from the times that you eat to how much and how fast. That’s not all you can do though. Learning to control stress can also make a big impact for those suffering from IBS. 

Alison Reynard, PhD, Psychology at NorthShore, discusses how stress, depression and anxiety can aggravate the symptoms of IBS and how changing the way you think might be able to help:

My gastroenterologist referred me to a psychologist. Does this mean my symptoms are all in my head?
Absolutely not. There are many myths about IBS and this is one of the most common. While IBS is not a psychological disorder, there are factors like stress and unhelpful habits, like eating rushed/unplanned meals, eating rapidly and lack of exercise, which can exacerbate your IBS symptoms. IBS can also impact your mood and other aspects of your life. 

Is stress causing my IBS symptoms?
IBS is not caused by stress but stress can aggravate its symptoms. Keep in mind that many people do develop abdominal discomfort during times of stress; however, people with IBS tend to be more reactive to stress than others since they already have a hypersensitive gut. The research has also shown that IBS symptoms can get worse during episodes of stress. 

Is it true that my doctor won’t be able to identify the cause of my symptoms?
Research has established that there is a medical cause for your symptoms. IBS is a real disorder related to heightened gut motility (i.e., muscle contractions), sensations, or both. Triggers for symptoms can be widespread and may include factors like food, hormones and stress. 

Doesn’t severe pain mean this must be a medical cause?
We have learned that there are many factors that are responsible for our experience of pain. Pain can be worsened with anxiety, arousal and increased attention. If we become focused on our pain, it tends to make our pain worse. There are many behavioral techniques that can help manage pain including distraction and relaxation techniques. 

Can IBS cause depression and anxiety?
IBS may cause depression and anxiety because it can be difficult to manage a chronic and unpredictable disorder. A lot of people with IBS may begin to avoid social situations because they have anxiety about their symptoms “acting up” in public. This isolation can cause depression and may prevent symptoms of anxiety from improving. 

Can seeing a health psychologist help with my IBS? 
Taking care of our health involves paying attention to not only our physical health but also to our emotional well-being, including how our habits influence our health and well-being. We know that there are many factors that impact IBS (e.g., food, stress, hormones, activity, sleep, gut bacteria). Therefore, there is not one specific thing, including medication, which will eliminate symptoms. A health psychologist can help you identify how some of these factors are impacting you and how you can better manage them to improve your symptoms.

How can my thinking affect my IBS?
Sometimes we can think in ways that make it difficult for us to cope with IBS symptoms. One common thinking pattern we can get ourselves into is called emotional reasoning. This occurs when we assume that the way feel must be true. For example, if you tell yourself that you’d love to go to that new restaurant that just opened up down the street but that you could never go because your symptoms might act up, this is a problem-thinking pattern that might not be helping you.

Have you practice mindfulness to relieve gastrointestinal issues?


Get Moving! Work-Friendly Activities and Exercises [Infographic]

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 3:45 PM comments (0)

We weren’t made to sit around all day; yet, research shows that the average American spends roughly 13 hours sitting each day. For some, their desk job might deserve part of the blame. Don’t let your job impact your health. Prolonged sitting can increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more.  

The experts at NorthShore University HealthSystem have put together an infographic that is full of simple, fun ways to get up and move throughout the day, even while at work. Stop sitting and get moving! Click on the image below to view our full infographic and discover easy ways to get some extra exercise at work.

Get moving infographic


Fire up the Grill: Quick Tips for Grilling Safely

Thursday, May 22, 2014 4:31 PM comments (0)

Grilling SafetyIt's finally time to get that grill out of the garage and enjoy the sunshine and warmer temperatures with your friends and family. Enjoy it but it's also important you doing so with safety in mind. Jerry Leikin, MD, Medical Toxicologist at NorthShore, offers the following instructions for ensuring you are observing proper food preparation and grill safety:

  • Check the temperature. Most meats (including poultry, ground beef and pork) should be cooked to 160-165 degrees. Depending on how well done you like your steak, temperatures can vary. If it’s pink, chances are it might not be completely done.
  • Exercise proper food handling to avoid contamination. Keep all food and surfaces clean. Don’t reuse plates or utensils that have been in contact with raw meats or meat juices.
  • Dress the part. Don’t wear loose-fitting clothing around an open flame; it could catch fire and spread quickly. It's also a good idea to wear closed-toed shoes around hot coals and burning wood. If you’re worried about stains, then keep that grilling apron on.
  • Use your grill strictly outdoors. Grills should not be used indoors or in enclosed areas (including your garage), as they release carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases. Keeping your grill in the open air may also reduce the chances of unwanted fire.
  • Keep gas and other flammable materials away from the grill. These items should not be located near your grill at any time as they increase the risk of fire.
  • Watch your kids. Grills heat up fast and the last thing you want is for someone to get burned or hurt right before mealtime. Make sure you warn your kids about the dangers of a grill and don’t let them get too close.
  • Stay hydrated. When the grill and temperatures are hot, you want to be sure you are getting enough fluids to avoid any heat-related illnesses.

What are some of your favorite healthy foods to grill?

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