Men's Health: High Blood Pressure? Lifestyle Changes to Lower the Rise

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 3:26 PM comments (0)

mensbloodpressureFact: Most women will live longer than their male counterparts. Why? There are several reasons but one of the biggest is the way many men approach their own healthcare. Men are less likely to maintain a regular schedule of health checks and more likely to wait before seeking medical attention when symptoms arise. 

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects one in every three people in the United States; it causes or worsens severe health concerns like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and diabetes; and it’s nearly symptomless until the damage to arteries and the body is done. That’s a big problem for everyone, but especially for men who aren’t proactive about their own healthcare.  

What’s normal? What’s high? And what do the numbers mean? Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, with 120 representing the systolic pressure, or the pressure of your blood against the walls of your arteries when your heart beats, and 80 representing diastolic pressure, or pressure between heart beats. Anything over 120/80 is considered prehypertensive and hypertension begins at 140/90. Medications are prescribed and recommended for blood pressures starting at 139/89.

If you’ve heard the words “high blood pressure” in your doctor’s office, the time to make important lifestyle changes has come. If you’re prehypertensive, these lifestyle changes can help reverse the rise. Philip Krause, MD, Cardiologist and Director of the Section of Cardiology at NorthShore’s Skokie Hospital, shares his recommendations for simple changes to make now:

  • Drop a few. If you have high blood pressure already, losing weight can lower it. Maintaining a healthy weight—a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9—can significantly reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure altogether. Keep an eye on your waistline particularly. Carrying the majority of your extra pounds around your waist puts you at an increased risk for hypertension. 
  • Put down the salt shaker. Reducing your sodium intake even a little can make a big difference. On average, most people eat far more than recommended. Daily intake of sodium should not exceed 2,300 milligrams per day or 1,500 milligrams if you are 50 or older. Start reading food labels closely as there’s often sodium hiding where you’d least expect it.
  • Get moving. Regular exercise—from 30 to 60 minutes five days a week—will help lower blood pressure levels. It doesn’t take long for exercise to take effect either. If you haven’t been active for  a while, increasing your physical activity level can begin to lower your blood pressure after only a couple of weeks. If exercise is new to you, talk to your physician before starting and he or she will help you get back into the game safely. 
  • Calm down. We’ve all been stressed out by work or life on occasion but if stress is a regular thing, it could start to impact your blood pressure levels. Think about what might be adding stress to your life and see what you can do to eliminate those stressors. If eliminating them completely isn’t an option, find ways to cope, like meditation, massage or talking to a counselor or therapist.  Also consider spending more time enjoying your hobbies; it can be stress relieving as well.
  • Change your diet. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to diminish overall cardiac risk and improve cholesterol profiles. The diet consists of nutritional foods like fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and legumes. A diet rich in poultry, fish and lean meats and low in carbohydrates can aid weight loss as well. This weight loss can help lower blood pressure, too.  

Do you worry about your blood pressure levels? How do you keep it in check? 

Summer Bug Safety: Tips to Stay Bite-Free

Friday, June 07, 2013 10:48 AM comments (0)

insect safetyThe warmer temperatures of late spring and summer mean more outdoor family time, from BBQs to pool parties, but it’s important to make sure that time is safe for you and your kids. Most of us know to practice vigilant sun safety during the hottest months of the year, when the sun’s rays are at their most intense, but sometimes we forget it’s also very important to protect against dangerous insect bites. Warm temperatures are just as appealing to insects as they are to Chicagoans ready to leave a long winter behind.

Most mosquito bites are irritating but otherwise harmless; however, some mosquitoes can transmit encephalitis and West Nile virus, which can cause severe illness with symptoms like headache, high fever and bodily weakness. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, which can be treated if recognized early, so look for flu-like symptoms and possible rashes. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause joint and muscle pain, fatigue, heart problems and neurological issues. 

Felissa Kreindler, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, shares her tips for preventing insect bites and protecting against the illnesses they can cause all summer long:

  • Don’t apply perfumes and avoid the use of scented soaps. The sweet scents of soaps and perfumes attract some insects. 
  • Stay away from stagnant water and heavily wooded areas. Insects, especially mosquitoes, congregate around pools of water. Deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease, are more likely to be in areas with lots of trees and brush. 
  • Avoid wearing bright clothing. Bright flowery prints also attract insects, including honey bees and hornets.
  • Do not use combination sunscreen/insect repellents. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied often but insect repellent should not.
  • Check DEET concentrations on insect repellents before use. Higher concentrations of DEET protect for longer lengths of time. Choose a concentration based on how long you need to protect yourself. Repellents containing DEET should not be used on children younger than six months old. 
  • Protect your pets, too. Your four-legged family members can also get diseases from insects. Make sure to bring and use your pet’s flea and tick repellants.

How do you protect your family from summer insect bites?

Tips for a Happy, Healthy Pregnancy After Age 35

Wednesday, June 05, 2013 12:42 PM comments (0)

pregnancyIncreasingly more women are waiting until later in life to start families. And while there are many benefits to postponing motherhood, there are some health risks that increase as a woman ages. 

What are the risks? Starting in their mid-30s, women face an increased risk for miscarriage, fetal chromosomal abnormalities, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, placental abruption, preeclampsia, early labor and are more likely to require a cesarean. 

It’s important to remember that these are risks all women, no matter their age, face during pregnancy. While every woman’s pregnancy is unique, older moms-to-be often face some unique challenges. Knowing what challenges might arise and how to reduce your risk increases the likelihood you’ll enjoy a happy and healthy pregnancy.

Scott MacGregor, DO, Maternal-Fetal Medicine at NorthShore, shares his tips for staying healthy throughout your pregnancy: 

  • Talk to you doctor or midwife before getting pregnant. If you are older than 35 and thinking of starting a family, talk to your doctor or midwife about the current state of your health.  He or she can assess your personal risks and recommend certain lifestyle changes or evaluations to ensure you are at optimal health prior to getting pregnant. 
  • See your doctor or midwife early and regularly. As soon as you think you might be pregnant, see your doctor or midwife. The early stages are very important for any woman. Your doctor or midwife can assess your pregnancy and medical status in the early months and provide you with information to help guide you through the process.  Your doctor or midwife can also discuss your management plan and options during the pregnancy.
  • Take your vitamins. Again, this is important for any pregnant woman. Prenatal vitamins should contain at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. If you are not yet pregnant but are considering starting a family, start prenatal vitamins or folic acid now. Getting the recommended amount of folic acid before pregnancy and during the first trimester helps prevent birth defects. 
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Pregnancy is an excellent time to embark upon smart lifestyle choices. Moderate exercise—walking, swimming, yoga, stationary bike—for 30-45 minutes daily is encouraged. Make sure to maintain adequate hydration and avoid overexertion.  Cigarettes, alcohol and illicit drugs should be avoided.  Over-the-counter medications and herbal medicines should be avoided. 

Are you waiting until later to start your family? When did you have your first child?

Act FAST: Stroke Is a Medical Emergency

Thursday, May 30, 2013 11:00 AM comments (0)

There are two types of stroke: ischemic, which occur as the result of a blockage inside a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain, and hemorrhagic, which occur when a blood vessel ruptures and causes bleeding in the brain. When the brain does not receive a continuous supply of blood, brain cells die. Time is of the utmost importance in the treatment of stroke, and yet many do not call 911 when stroke symptoms arise. Deborah Lynch, Advance Practice Nurse and Stroke Coordinator at NorthShore, answered our questions on stroke, including signs, risk factors, recovery and more, to raise awareness that stroke is a brain attack and a medical emergency. Don’t ignore the signs.

strokeWhat are the signs of a stroke? Are there early signs that might go unnoticed or ignored?
We teach the public to be F.A.S.T., which stands for facial droop, arm and/or leg weakness/numbness, speech/language difficulty and the T is for timing, which means getting medical attention as soon as possible. More subtle signs of stroke would be similar to the ones listed above but possibly not as pronounced. For instance, if a person notices sudden weakness of his arm and leg on the same side, though he is able to use them, that is still a sign of stroke and it warrants emergent medical attention. The real problem with stroke and public awareness is there usually is no pain associated with stroke so people wait and see if the symptoms will go away. Time is of essence!

Why is it so important to get medical attention fast?
Brain cells (neurons) die within seconds of not receiving oxygenated blood. The faster a person with stroke symptoms gets to the hospital the better. A person may be candidate for our only FDA-approved treatment for acute stroke: tPA (alteplase). But, this can only be administered if symptom onset is less than 3-4.5 hours from time of drug administration. Stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911.

What happens after the hospital phase of stroke recovery?
Once the patient is medically stable, they will often go to either a sub-acute rehabilitation facility or an in-patient rehabilitation facility as the next level of care. Both include physical, occupational and speech therapy but in-patient requires that a patient can tolerate at least three hours of therapy in a given day. Often, patients who have a lot of deficits are unable to withstand this level of therapy at the beginning. In those cases, sub-acute rehab is the next best place. Patients will be able to get upwards of two hours of therapy a day but it is much more dependent on patient’s endurance. Typical length of stay times are variable and depend on how well or poorly a patient is doing.

After a stroke, how long can patients continue to improve?
Improvement can continue a year from the stroke but improvement is not as dramatic as during the first 3-12 months. That said, people who have language difficulties from stroke have been known to improve for years afterward.

Is a younger stroke patient likely to have a better recovery than someone who is older?
Stroke can happen at any age and when it comes to stroke age is relative. Someone can have a more severe stroke as a younger person than an older person. Usually the younger patients have fewer chronic health issues though. If you are in poor health before a stroke, it’s more difficult to recover primarily because there is less reserve. That said, I have seen quite large strokes in an elderly population with good outcomes. The brain is a very complex organ and everyone really recovers differently. On the whole, after a stroke, people improve. Where one can functionally get to remains unknown.

If there is a family history of stroke and high blood pressure, what can you to do prevent stroke.
Regular aerobic exercise and healthy eating are terrific approaches to what we refer to as "primary stroke prevention." Hypertension, or high blood pressure (typically greater than 130/85), is the number one risk factor for stroke. If you do have high blood pressure, make sure to treat it. Do not delay. Hypertension is a "silent killer.” People usually don't feel any different with high blood pressure.

What’s a “mini stroke”? Can it lead to a more severe stroke?
Mini stroke is a term we in the stroke field would like to do away with. It has been used in the past to refer to TIA (transient ischemic attack). This is an event with stroke-like symptoms that usually resolves itself within minutes. The problem with this term is that it sounds almost cute and harmless. In actuality, it carries the same risk of future stroke as an actual stroke. TIAs are definitely warning signs of stroke. We take these events very seriously with the hope of identifying a person's stroke risk factors and reduce them as much as possible to hopefully prevent a stroke in the future. These preventative measures include lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.

In addition to healthy eating and exercise, is an aspirin regimen recommended after a TIA?
We recommend at least aspirin 81mg (baby aspirin) or plavix 75mg after a person has had a TIA, especially if there is a history of diabetes, unless there is known contraindication.

The Importance of Sleep to a Healthier You

Friday, May 24, 2013 10:48 AM comments (0)

sleepThe importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated and not getting enough can lead to more than simply waking up on the wrong side of the bed.  Prolonged sleep deprivation can raise your risk for serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Sleep isn’t a waste of time; it’s an investment in your health.

The benefits of sleep are many. According to Thomas Freedom, MD, Neurologist and Program Director of Sleep Medicine at NorthShore, a good night’s rest can improve:

  • Your smarts. Sleep is essential to critical thinking and learning. Losing out a night’s rest impairs these processes, affecting attention span, problem-solving skills and alertness. Prolonged sleep deprivation takes a toll on long-term memory, too. It’s during your deepest sleep that the brain does its housekeeping, storing and consolidating learned information and long-term memories.
  • Your happiness. One sleepless night is depressing but multiple sleepless nights might be a symptom of depression. Insomnia and sleep disorders are strongly linked to depression and prolonged sleep deprivation can aggravate already existing symptoms of depression. Studies have shown that people diagnosed with depression were far more likely to sleep less than six hours a night.
  • Your looks. It turns out the fountain of youth isn’t a fountain at all. The key to healthy, youthful skin is plenty of rest. When you don’t get enough sleep, the body releases increased amounts of the stress hormone cortisol and excess cortisol can break down skin collagen— the protein responsible for supple, line-free skin. 
  • Your health. Chronic sleep deprivation is a contributing factor in a number of serious health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Those who regularly fail to get enough sleep are at a higher risk for heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Lack of sleep can also add to your waistline. Sleep loss is linked in an increase in appetite and cravings for high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods.
  • Your sex life. If the mood never strikes, your sleep schedule could be to blame. Sleep-deprived men and women often report less interest in sex. Lack of sleep leads to lower energy levels, higher stress levels and fatigue, which all have a negative effect on libido. To spend more time in the sack, spend more time in bed.

Remember that the amount of sleep required varies with each individual, but most adults need approximately 7-8 hours a night. 

Do you think you get enough sleep each night? Do you make sleep a priority?


Could It Be Skin Cancer? What to Look for During Your Self-Exam

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 3:08 PM comments (0)

skincancerSkin cancer is the most common kind of cancer, accounting for nearly half of all cancers in the U.S. And despite increased awareness of causes, risk factors and methods of prevention, the rates of skin cancer, including the three major types—basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma—continue to climb. Due in part to the use of tanning beds, rates of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, are especially high in young women in their 20s and 30s.

While prevention should be the priority—limiting exposure to sunlight, using sunscreen and avoiding the use of tanning beds—early detection is the next best thing. If detected early, skin cancer is almost always curable.

Britt Hanson, DO, medical oncology at NorthShore, shares some of her tips for identifying skin cancer, including what you should keep an eye out for during regular self-checks.

  • Have a full-body exam done by a physician. Your physician can ensure that your existing moles, spots or freckles are normal or recommend the precautionary removal of any suspicious ones. 
  • Perform monthly self-exams. After a skin examination by a physician, get in the habit of doing monthly self-exams. Use a full-length mirror to examine your moles and freckles, looking for any changes to existing moles or the development of new ones.
  • Remember your ABCDEs. If any of the moles on your body show signs of the ABCDEs, see a physician immediately.
  1. Asymmetry: One half does not mirror the other
  2. Border: Edges are jagged, blurred or irregular
  3. Color: Changes in color or if a mole is various shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white or red
  4. Diameter: If the diameter is larger than the eraser of a pencil
  5. Evolving: Any changes in size, color or shape 


What precautions do you take to reduce your risk of skin cancer?


The BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutation: A Patient Faces Her Cancer Risk Head On [Video]

Thursday, May 16, 2013 3:44 PM comments (0)

A mutation found in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes puts women at an increased risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer. After learning that both her aunt and mother had the BRCA1 mutation, Sivan Schondorf was tested for the mutation at 24 years old and discovered that she was also positive. She began frequent surveillance for breast and ovarian cancer immediately. At 28, when she felt that surveillance was no longer enough, she opted to take control of her risk and undergo a preventative, nipple-sparing mastectomy with reconstruction at NorthShore.


With BRCA1 and BRCA2 in the news, she shares her story so that other women know how to find the correct information about their risks and options. 

What were your initial thoughts when you learned you tested positive for the BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutation?

I was sad and worried to learn I had a BRCA 1 mutation, but I was able to push a lot of that fear aside because I was still years away from the recommended surgery time. I was 24 years old at the time.

What prompted you to get tested for this mutation? And then why did you decide to undergo a risk-reducing, nipple-sparing mastectomy with reconstruction.
My maternal aunt had what is now known as a triple negative BRCA1 breast cancer that metastasized and resulted in her passing before she was 50 years old. Our family OBGYN, Dr. Lapata, had good instincts and recommended that she test for the BRCA mutation. The red flags being that she had a cancer that was premenopausal and aggressive, and that she was of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. 

This was in 2000, so it wasn't something any of us had heard of. Once my aunt tested positive for the mutation, my mother found out she had the mutation as well. I was subsequently tested in 2005 and with a positive result, I opted for surveillance. At 24, I thought I was years away from any possible surgical interventions; however, after only after three years of surveillance, I felt the threat of cancer looming. I realized that surveillance wasn't protecting me; it was only enabling me to discover it at an early stage. The only way to significantly lower my risk was mastectomy, so I scheduled my surgery for the next year, which was around my 28th birthday.

The nipple-sparing one-step was the best option for me because it required less surgery than having expansion over time. I was also comfortable keeping my nipples because, aside from the more natural, aesthetic result, research shows that keeping one's nipples is safe as long as the surgery is done preventatively rather than when cancer is present.

How has this decision impacted your life?
In the very short-term, I felt different from my friends because I was thinking about things that women my age don’t normally have to think about. My thoughts were often on my situation. Five years later, as a working mother and wife, I hardly ever think about it, except at my yearly clinical exam. It's something from my past that I faced head on.

I’m so much more comfortable now that my risk for breast cancer is so much lower. I do still monitor my ovaries at least twice a year. I have not yet pursued surgical intervention because I’m not done having children and do no feel the cost-benefit of beginning menopause at 31 is worthwhile. I’m looking at having an oopherectomy by age 40.

It’s been a few years since you had this surgery. How are you doing?
I'm great! Having a baby (and now expecting my second) has done far more to change my body than the mastectomy did. I don't regret it for a second. I would do anything to improve my chances of being around to see my children grow. I want to be there for them as long as I possibly can. Clearly, Angelina Jolie felt the same way, and I’m proud to have been one of her trail blazers!

What advice would give to women who are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer?
Every woman comes to a decision and place of acceptance differently. We all have different perceptions of our bodies and what we can and can't live without. Some have lost mothers due to this mutation and some find out about BRCA unexpectedly, without even knowing about the elevated risk of cancer in their families.

Each woman must decide what level of risk she can live with. After watching my Aunt Linda die so quickly from this insidious disease, and also having my mother as a role model for me when she had her surgery, I decided that surgery at an early age was right for me. It doesn't mean its right for everyone. 

The most important thing is for women to have the most accurate information, which they can get from genetic counselors and doctors. They should also seek support from the local BRCA community so they can make informed decisions and have the emotional support that a community can provide. FORCE (Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered) has provided my family with that support, and we try to give back to our community as much as possible.

Is there any other information you’d like to share?
I filmed my surgery process at NorthShore’s Evanston Hospital and at home in order to help empower other women and to make the experience more meaningful for myself. Because I'm not a filmmaker, I have not yet been able to edit the hours of footage. Seeing Angelina Jolie come out to the public has reignited my passion to finish this short film, which I hope will help other women.

Stress Management for Caregivers

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 11:05 AM comments (0)

palliativecareThere are many rewards but also many responsibilities that come with palliative caregiving. And while many caregivers say that those rewards make the effort worth it, there is no denying that the responsibilities caregivers shoulder on a daily basis can be stressful. Studies show that between 40-70% of caregivers suffer significant levels of stress and about half of significantly stressed caregivers meet the criteria for major depression. 

Recognizing and celebrating those rewards and learning to acknowledge when stress levels are too high are essential for the physical and mental well-being of all caregivers, both familial and professional. 

Michael Marschke, MD, palliative care physician at NorthShore, shares his recommendations on how caregivers can best cope with and manage stress:

  • Pay attention to your own health needs. A healthy, balanced diet, plenty of sleep and regular checkups are just as important for the person providing care as they are for the person receiving it. A well-rested, healthy caregiver is a happier caregiver.
  • Exercise! There’s no better natural stress-reliever than regular exercise. Physical activity loosens tight muscles, and fills the body and brain with endorphins, helping to produce a feeling of well-being.
  • Live your own life. Don’t put your life on hold while caring for another. Maintain your ties to friends and family and don’t abandon your own daily routines. Protect this time for yourself outside your caregiver role. If Friday night was always set aside for happy hour with friends, keep that on your calendar.
  • Create your own space. For caregivers taking care of family members at home, it might be difficult to do but try. This space should be separate from your caregiver role. Make it into a retreat where you can do things you enjoy or a place that makes you feel calm. 
  • Ask for help. You can’t do everything on your own and you shouldn’t be ashamed to admit it. When someone offers to help, don’t say no. Many hands make light work. Delegate tasks like laundry and grocery shopping to those willing to help.
  • Don’t ignore your own mental health. Have someone you can talk to about any stresses or fears—a physician or a friend. Also consider joining a support group. They can be a safe and supportive setting where you can freely and without judgment share your fears and frustrations with others who are dealing with many of the same issues.

Remember that in order to provide quality care to a family member or a client you have to care for yourself too. Once you do, the rewards of caregiving will be that much richer.

Have you ever cared for an elderly or disabled family member? Are you currently employed as a palliative caregiver? If so, how did you cope with stress?


Gearing up for Motherhood: Pregnancy Checklist from Beginning to Baby [Infographic]

Thursday, May 09, 2013 9:23 AM comments (0)

Mother's Day might have passed but every day can be a celebration of moms, moms-to-be and the many adventures of motherhood. For expectant mothers, the experts at NorthShore University HealthSystem have created a checklist for the stages of pregnancy, week by week. Every mommy-to-be can learn how to take care of herself during each and every stage of pregnancy and track her baby’s developments along the way.

Click on the infographic to learn more about the stages of pregnancy and how a mommy-to-be can prepare for baby.


Skin Care: Is Natural Better?

Friday, May 03, 2013 12:08 PM comments (0)

natural skin care

They are everywhere, from drugstores to dedicated brands. It’s impossible to miss all the makeup, moisturizers, anti-aging serums and cleansers with the words “natural” and “chemical-free” written in bold on their packaging. But are these “natural” options any better for your skin than more conventional skincare products? The only way to find out is to ask your skin.

When it comes to skincare, it’s what your skin wants and how it reacts to what you put on it that should matter most. Certain skin types are just as likely to react to natural ingredients as they are to non-natural ingredients. Natural also doesn’t necessarily mean the product is safer for your skin or that it will produce more impressive results.

Give any product a month or more to determine its effectiveness. If you like what you see, you might have found a good match. If you react poorly, discontinue use and try all over again with something new.

If using natural products is important to you, Sarah Kasprowicz, MD, dermatologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem, shares some tips how to find the best product for your skin and what to look out for before buying:

1. Read the ingredients. Make sure to read the ingredient label on all skincare products like you would a food label. It will help you get to know the ingredients you are putting on your skin. The word “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean the product contains only “all natural” ingredients. In fact, it might contain some of the same ingredients as its non-natural counterparts.

2. Keep an eye out for these natural ingredients:

  • Green Tea Extract – Green tea contains antioxidants that help prevent and treat UV damage to the skin.
  • Soy – In studies, soy has been shown to be a good natural alternative to prescription creams aimed at correcting darkening and discoloration of the skin.
  • Oats – Studies show that oats can help maintain and protect the skin barrier in conditions like eczema.
  • Feverfew – This flower extract has been shown to effectively counteract the redness from conditions like rosacea. 
  • Vitamin C – It’s a powerful topical antioxidant that can help regulate oil production for people prone to acne.

3. Use sunscreen. Always include a sunscreen in your skincare routine. Look for a sunscreen that is labeled as “broad spectrum,” which means the product has been tested and proven to protect against deeply penetrating UVA rays and shorter-waved UVB rays. Zinc oxide, a physical blocker, is considered more “natural” than many of the other ingredients found in sunscreen.

Have you gone natural with your skincare regimen? Why or why not? What’s worked for you?

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