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April 30th, 2008
10:21 AM ET

Insomnia and depression

By Yvonne Lee
CNN Medical Producer

The first time I began to associate sleeplessness with depression was after my aunt died. I was 8 years old and living in Los Angeles. My grandmother came to stay with us while the funeral preparations were made. I remember walking into my room and seeing her staring at the wall, eyes red and swollen. My sister and I slept on the floor next to her bed to keep her company. Several times during those few weeks, I woke up in the middle of the night and I'd see my grandmother wide awake, staring at nothing but the wall again. She barely spoke and stayed in bed, even during the day.

At least 80 percent of depressed people experience some form of insomnia, according to David N. Neubauer, M.D, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center – whether it's difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. The link between the two has been well established. Recently, a study published in the journal SLEEP suggests that insomnia is more than just a symptom of depression; it actually increases your risk of getting it. People with insomnia that lasted more than two weeks were one and a half to two times more likely to develop depression.

I experienced insomnia right after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. I was based at CNN's Washington bureau and for months, I couldn't sleep.

I would drive to work absolutely exhausted and numb. Because I lived in Arlington, Virginia, I had to drive past the Pentagon on my way to work. It was an ugly reminder of what how many lives were lost that day.

I worked at the Pentagon on weekends to produce live shots with our reporter. Whenever I walked in, it smelled as if something had been burnt, like you had just put out a campfire.

I didn't realize I was depressed until I saw my doctor and he told me to see a counselor. He prescribed anti-depressants – which did help me get some sleep – until I could get past what happened. Eventually, I felt better and went off the drug and was able to fall and stay asleep.

Have you ever experienced insomnia and later developed depression?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


April 28th, 2008
09:43 PM ET

Could the potato hold the key?

Could the potato hold the key?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, while on assignment in Peru toured a local market to witness the effects of a looming food crisis.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


April 25th, 2008
04:50 PM ET

Preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Peru

AIDS prevention in Peru

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, on assignment in Lima, Peru had the chance to stop by an AIDS prevention clinic.  Watch a behind-the-scenes look at what he found, and the tactics Peruvian doctors are using to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mothers to their newborns.

Do you think these efforts will have a major impact on the spread of this tragic disease?

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


April 25th, 2008
01:02 PM ET

Looming food crisis in Peru

Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Peru

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is on assignment in Lima, Peru.  Watch his behind-the-scenes look at how the country is dealing with a looming food crisis.

How has the rising cost of food affected you?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


April 23rd, 2008
12:19 PM ET

To save or not to save?

By Caleb Hellerman
Senior Medical Producer

Having a baby is stressful. Even the third time around, there's a room to prepare and clothes to pull from storage ("My God, those are tiny!"); there's the actual birth (my wife does the heavy lifting) and there are siblings to reassure: "Why does the baby get to sleep in your bed?"  This month, my wife and I wrestled with another tough question: Should we sign up for cord blood banking?

Unless you're a relatively new parent, this begs explanation.  The blood from a baby's umbilical cord is rich in stem cells, the versatile cells that could eventually play a role in treating countless diseases.  Already they can be used to treat childhood leukemia, sickle cell anemia and a few other devastating conditions.  Stem cells from cord blood are considered especially useful, for their versatility in treatment and because they're untainted by the outside environment.

Your doctor may be able to get stem cells through a public bank – but the odds of finding a genetic match are much better with cells from a family member, or, better yet, yourself. The stem cells from our newborn's cord would be a perfect match for him, and could probably help his brother or sister, too.

So why not give it a shot? For one thing, as the glossy brochure points out, it costs almost $2,000, not to mention another $125 a year for storage.  We're fortunate in that we can even consider writing a check that big, and it doesn't come with a guarantee – at this point many promised stem cell therapies are still just theoretical.

With my first son and daughter, we donated the cord blood to a public bank.  But this time, in the end, we bit the bullet and signed up. The kit for the hospital is sitting on the counter by the phone, next to my wife’s toothbrush.

Is banking your baby's cord blood a good idea? What's the toughest medical decision you ever made as a parent? 

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


April 21st, 2008
11:11 AM ET

Seeing the cost of health care firsthand

By Ben Leach
Medical Production Assistant

While studying to become a medical reporter, one of the ways I learned about health care was by working as a pharmacy technician. Under the watchful eyes of the pharmacists, I filled prescriptions and learned about hundreds of prescription drugs and the conditions they treat.  I wasn't expecting to learn so much about prescription insurance plans. 

I recently worked on a series about the cost of health care and I couldn't help but remember how much people spent on their prescription drugs. People needed these drugs to stay healthy, but even with prescription coverage, they were still shelling out a lot of money. In the back of my mind, though, I knew that they didn't have to spend all that cash to get their prescriptions.

Take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), a class of drugs used to treat acid reflux. Brand-name PPIs such as Nexium and Prevacid can be very expensive. These drugs are slightly different chemically, but they work the same way and treat the same conditions. The problem is that prescription drug plans would usually cover one but not the other. For example, on one plan, Prevacid might have a $25 co-pay, but Nexium might cost  $50 on the same plan.

One cool thing I noticed was that doctors managed to find ways around this problem. One doctor wrote a prescription with six different PPIs on it, and for the patient's sake, we had to fill only whichever one was cheapest under the patient's plan. I saw another solution at my doctor's office. The office made a chart with all the drugs and the most widely used prescription plans in the area, and it clearly marked which of these drugs were covered by which plans. If every patient taking a PPI had this chart in his or her pocket, it would have helped save money at the pharmacy counter.

If you're shelling out a ton of money at the pharmacy for medications, you should be sure to investigate ways to save money with your doctor and your insurance plan.  If you know of a successful money saving strategy, please share it here.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


April 18th, 2008
01:01 PM ET

Science and a man's brain

By Val Willingham
Medical Producer

I have often wondered why my husband can remember how many touchdowns the Miami Dolphins scored in 1972, but will forget to bring home bread after work, even though I reminded him that very morning. Or why my father can recall the names of all his buddies during the campaign of Okinawa during World War II, but still doesn't know my mother likes daffodils and not carnations for her birthday. Scientists say it's all in the brain and men just can't help it, because gender plays a big part on what we recall and what we don't.

Studies over the years have found men and women don't think the same (no surprise there). Men's and women's brains process things differently. In a large study conducted a few years ago, published in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, investigators found that males are more likely to remember stats, numbers and non-emotional stuff, whereas females recall things from their childhood, their first kiss, colors, seasons of the year. Men are good at directions and women are better at working on grocery lists. That certainly explains the bread issue.

And as we age, men are more likely to have problems with memory and thinking skills. New research out of this week's American Academy of Neurology annual meeting showed men tend to have mild cognitive impairment earlier in life then women. That means they begin to forget sooner and dementia starts to set in. The study which looked at 2,000 older men, found males were 1 1/2 times more likely to have memory problems than women, regardless of their education or marital status. And doctors say that's odd because data show that when it comes to the number of cases of dementia in this country; men and women are pretty equal. So physicians think although men forget sooner, they forget for a longer period of time, while the female memory has a faster decline.

Do you agree that men and women differ on what they remember? We'd like to hear from you!

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation. 


April 16th, 2008
10:41 AM ET

Tiger Woods in surgery

by Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

Tiger Woods had arthroscopic knee surgery yesterday. You may be surprised to know that it was his third operation on his left knee. The first was done in 1994 for a benign tumor and the second was done in 2002, to remove a cyst and drain fluid from around one of his ligaments. Yesterday's surgery was to correct cartilage damage. Now Tiger will undergo a few weeks of rehabilitation and stay off the golf course for 4 – 6 weeks, according to his website.

Couple of things I learned that I wanted to share. First, watch this video of Tiger's swing.  (Watch Video)  Tiger Woods is a right handed golfer and as a result, he places a lot of pressure on his left knee. He has a particularly aggressive move through the swing and the left knee absorbs a lot of that strain. So, even at the young age of 32, Woods has already had significant wear and tear on his knees.

The second thing I saw was a study from the New England Journal of Medicine.  I have attached it here if you want to read it (See Study), but let me summarize. They had three groups of patients under the age of 75, who all had knee pain and osteoarthritis. One group received arthroscopic removal of cartilage, another group had arthroscopic surgery where the knee joint was flushed with an irrigation fluid and the third group simply had incisions on their knee with no actual operation. Here is the amazing thing: the groups who had surgery did no better or worse than those who did not.

I was wondering what you thought of this study. Is this a "placebo" effect or do you think the operations were just not as effective as once thought?..

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation. 


April 15th, 2008
12:10 PM ET

Herschel Walker's alter personalities

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

When I first heard that former football great Herschel Walker had multiple personality disorder, I was pretty stunned. Even though, I am a doctor, I had to admit that I knew very little about this particular psychiatric disorder. For starters, it is called DID, or dissociative identity disorder, instead of multiple personality disorder. Most people think of Sally Field's character Sybil, but another thing I learned is neither Sybil nor Walker actually has multiple personalities, but rather the lack of one cohesive personality. In Walker's case, he has 12 – yes 12 – alter personalities, which are all better described as fragments of one. (Here is an article I thought was very informative: http://www.dana.org/news/cerebrum/detail.aspx?id=11122)

Herschel Walker

Herschel Walker

Sitting down with Walker, I met an extremely charismatic and likeable man who certainly didn't overtly flip from one alter to the next. It became clear, though, throughout our conversation that these alters were just under the surface. From stories of playing Russian roulette while still an extremely successful football star to rapidly switching from one alter to the next with absolutely no recollection, it was mind boggling, confusing, and a little bizarre. Again, unlike uncontrolled rage or depression, Walker really could not remember from one alter to the next. He even had names for his alters. The one that showed up on the football field was the General, and he was a competitive killer.

Because of the lack of memory of these various alters, we found it important to speak with people who witnessed this firsthand.  So, we flew to Dallas and met with his former wife, Cindy.  She described many incidents, including a chilling one of waking up with a straight razor to her neck and Herschel threatening to slit her throat - and then having Herschel quickly flipping and asking her if she was OK.  She saw that flipping back and forth and it scared her – eventually leading to their divorce.

Medically, I was fascinated to learn that DID is much more common than people realize – about 1 percent of the population has the disorder. It is often associated with psychological and physical abuse as a child; in fact it is a childhood disorder that is often diagnosed as an adult. The child starts to separate his or her personality into fragments in order to deal with different aspects of life.  By adulthood, these fragments become full-fledged alters. Herschel himself admitted he was bullied a lot as a child, because he was overweight and stuttered.

In Walker's case, sometimes the alter personalities worked for him as the General did on the football field, but most of the times they were destructive. He is getting help nowadays, but there is no specific medication that can be prescribed. Instead, he goes through counseling to sort of teach his alters to know one another and become one cohesive personality. While he seemed to have things in control as we talked for a long time and even threw the football around, the alters are still very much there.

As I said, I found the story of Herschel Walker to be absolutely fascinating.  And I wondered how many more stories like his are out there.  Have you ever seen or heard anything like this?

Programming note: Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's interview with Herschel Walker and report on dissociative identity disorder on Anderson Cooper 360 tonight at 10 ET.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation. 


April 14th, 2008
10:28 AM ET

Health care in New Orleans

By Danielle Dellorto
CNN

Nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the city continues to push forward toward rebuilding.

One area that's still struggling is the city's health-care system.  Many hospitals have closed, leaving the remaining institutions to pick up the overflow of patients.

Now, the CEOs of five of the largest health-care institutions in New Orleans are joining forces -pleading to Congress for financial aid.  Pre-Katrina the hospitals profited $12 million a year; today they tell CNN they're in the red-projecting an annual loss of more than $135 million.

So what does this mean for the people of New Orleans?  Patients are subject to long ER wait times, hospital beds are nearly maxed out and a shortage of doctors and nurses is limiting patient access to specialists.

CNN has been in New Orleans investigating this story. We visited one inner-city hospital whose ER beds were nearly full by 8 a.m.  We talked to a 71-year-old man who had been sitting in the waiting room for more than 14 hours.  And according to hospital executives, his situation is more the norm than the exception.

New Orleans residents are concerned. A 2007 survey (See study) reveals that nearly 9 in 10 feel there are not enough hospitals or medical centers to take care of them.

Now we want to hear from you. Do you think access to health care in New Orleans is worse than in your hometown?

Programming note: Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's investigation of the state of health care in New Orleans on Anderson Cooper 360 on April 29.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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