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July 30th, 2008
11:05 AM ET

AIDS in the US

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

I have logged hundreds of thousands of miles, looking at the burden of AIDS around the world. I have been with the Partners in Health teams in Rwanda and the Clinton Foundation in Kenya. I have seen the work being done in Haiti, to name a few. Today, I would like to draw some comparison with what is happening right here at home.

Yesterday the Black AIDS Institute reported that if African-Americans with HIV/AIDS were their own country, they would make up more HIV/AIDS cases than seven of the countries currently receiving emergency funding for… AIDS. Think about that. There are almost 600,000 African-Americans living with HIV, and there are still 30,000 newly infected cases every year. As things stand now, AIDS remains the leading cause of death among African-American women between the ages of 25 and 34, and the second-leading cause of death among African-American men between 35 and 44 years of age.

As Jesse Milan, board chair of the institute, said, "When the world wasn't looking, the AIDS epidemic refused to go away."  AIDS has always been a disparate African-American problem. Even at the beginning of this epidemic in the United States, when there were only a few thousand cases, more than a quarter of them were among African-Americans.

Today, 47% of the HIV cases in the United States are in African Americans, even though African Americans make up only 13% of the population. If you peer deeper into certain cities, you find of all the HIV cases in Washington DC, 80 percent are among African Americans. In Jackson, Mississippi – 84%.

Add to all of this: In New York City, African Americans living with HIV are 2 and half times more likely to die as compared to HIV infected Caucasians. So, African Americans living in the United States are more likely to have HIV and more likely to die from it. Staggering.

And, here is another thing - AIDS rates in this nation's Latino community are increasing with little notice. Though Hispanics make up about 14 percent of the U.S. population, they represented 22 percent of new HIV and AIDS diagnoses tallied by federal officials in 2006.

No doubt, if you live in a resource rich country like Denmark or the United States, you have a better chance at living a longer life with HIV as compared to many other places around the world. But still, the stats you are reading this morning are worse in some ways than a few of the Sub Saharan countries we typically associate with the worst of the AIDS burden.

So, what to do? I think most would agree that global funding for AIDS needs to be a continued priority. Today the President will authorize 48 billion more dollars toward those efforts. But, how do you think we should better address the AIDS/HIV problems at home?

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.


July 29th, 2008
09:51 AM ET

Doctor's prescription for losing weight

Today, you will most likely read headlines telling you about newly proposed exercise guidelines. If you are like me, all these recommendations are probably driving you crazy. While 30 minutes a day, five to seven days a week is still good for those who want to maintain their current weight (unfortunately, a small percentage of us), 275 minutes a week is what is necessary to lose weight and keep it off. That’s 55 minutes a day. A lot. Too much, if you are busy.

Here’s the thing though: Something else must be happening in your body beyond the obvious. Even with that much moderate exercise, you are still burning around 1,800 calories. Doing the math, that translates to about half a pound. Not enough to explain the weight loss of 30 to 40 pounds that the women who successfully lost 10 percent of their initial body weight experienced on average within six months with the exercise program in the report. So, what gives?

Well, it could be that people who exercise tend to eat less because the exercise acts as some sort of appetite suppressant. I find that to be true, personally speaking. It could also be they want to engage in healthier behavior so as to not lose the benefit of the hard work they have been doing.

And, there is something else that has emerged as the characteristics of people who tend to have the most successful weight loss:

1. They tend to eat breakfast every day.
2. They eat often – every four to five hours
3. They eat consistently on weekdays and weekends. They don’t starve themselves on the weekdays and then splurge on weekends.
4. They do weigh themselves often – at least two to three times a week if not every day.
5. They exercise, exercise, exercise.

As far as exercise goes, don’t feel like you have to do it all at the same time. Maybe 30 min in the gym followed by a brisk 25-minute walk with your kids and dog in the evening. It beats being parked on the couch for sure.

People in the gym locker room are always giving me their own thoughts on how they lose weight. I am wondering if you have any of your own. What has worked for you and what should people stay away from?

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.


July 28th, 2008
10:33 AM ET

Sun safety staves off sagging skin

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

I love the beach.  But the sun and surf don't like my skin.  I cover myself with SPF 40 and limit my time outdoors but still I come out with blotchy skin, redness and peeling.  It hasn't always been this way.  When I was younger, I would get a great tan – with freckles.  But as I got older, the great tan went away. Little did I know I may have been damaging my skin.  

Dermatologists believe that how we treat our skin in our 20s will have a huge impact on how our skin ages. Dr. Thomas Nigra, a dermatologist with Washington Hospital Center, says, "What you do in your teens and 20s shows up in your 30s. So what you do in your 30s doesn't really mean a total protection because you've already done a lot of damage that results in your skin sagging in your late 30s."

Small lines and wrinkles begin to show on the face. More sun exposure means more wrinkles.  The reason?  Too many UV rays from the sun.  "The light penetrates deeply into the dermis.  It then causes the collagen and the elastin to get lax and the skin sags," Nigra says.

Some sunscreen can protect you from further damage. But not all sunscreens are the same. According to a recent survey by the Environmental Working Group, many sunscreens don't adequately do the job.  The consumer advocacy group says look for ones that protect against UVA and UVB rays. If all those letters are confusing, think of UVB as the burning spectrum – "B" for burning and the A spectrum as "A" for aging.  And then look for protection against both in a sunscreen.

Also products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide do a good job with an SPF of 30 or higher if you're sunbathing and an SPF 15 on a daily basis.  If you are around water, make sure your sunscreen is waterproof, not water resistant. To keep skin from drying, use a moisturizer at night, especially after a day in the sun.

As we get into our 40s and 50s, we start to get age spots.  Doctors recommend retinoids, which are a chemical form of Vitamin A.  They help clear up some of those spots and rejuvenate the skin.

Also watch for skin cancer.  Although skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and melanoma can happen at any time, more cases are reported in this age group.  Also keep an eye on moles and dark spots.  They could be signs of developing cancer lesions.  

Do you love the beach or being out in the sun?  How do you protect yourself from aging and harmful rays?   Let us know.

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.


July 25th, 2008
12:21 PM ET

I care about health care. Do you?

By Melanie Diaz
Medical News Intern

As a 20-year-old college student, I admittedly don't know a lot about health care. I do know that even though I don't have a full-time job with benefits, I'm covered, at least for now, by my parents' insurance plan.

Young people often think we're unbreakable. Some of us don't think twice about our health, so why would we think about our health care? The reality is, just because we're young doesn't mean we don't get sick. There are still health risks out there, and we're all vulnerable to them. Just look at these realities:

– Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau has testicular cancer. He's 24.  Although this type of cancer is rare, it's the most common form of cancer in men ages 15 to 34, according to the National Cancer Institute.

– The American Cancer Society tells us that since 1998, the incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has increased 3.7 percent in women ages 15 to 34.

– The American Academy of Dermatology says melanoma has become the most common cancer in young adults ages 25 to 29 and the second most common cancer in adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.

So when the Commonwealth Fund reports that 13.7 million young adults lack health care in 2006 (click here for more information), making the 19-29 age group one of the largest and fastest growing segments of the population without health insurance, this young adult starts to care about health care.

And now, since I'm old enough to vote, I've started to think about the upcoming election. I'm considering an issue I've never even thought about before - health care. I'm seeing just how relevant it is to both my present AND my future.

What do you think? How old are you? How much do you know and care about health care?

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.


July 24th, 2008
01:26 PM ET

Taking the fight to the Senate floor

By Jen Pifer
CNN Medical Senior Producer

It is amazing to me how children "speak truth" where adults often fail.  Granted, it usually happens at the worst time possible.  Take for instance a recent situation with my favorite 4-year-old, Arden.  We were on vacation.  A lady walked by.  Arden, with typical preschool honesty said in a very loud voice, "Miss Jen, that lady is FAT."  I wanted to melt into the floor.  I am sure the lady heard what Arden said, but she just kept walking.  Mortified, I felt terrible.  I quickly gave Arden the "words can sometimes hurt" talk.  But you know something? Arden was right.  The lady was not just heavy, she was obese.

In Washington, D.C., some senators are "speaking truth" to a reality many of us would like to ignore: Obesity is an epidemic in the United States.  On Wednesday, a group of senators introduced the Federal Obesity Prevention Act of 2008.  If the bill becomes law, it will create "a federal interagency taskforce responsible for creating a national strategy for combating obesity across America." (See press release)  Obesity isn't a made-up health crisis my friends; according to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 66 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese.  An estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are overweight (More Info).  Being overweight is not just uncomfortable; it can lead to some serious diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

I have been thinking about this bill.  On one hand, I am pleased to see Congress trying to do something about our growing obesity problem.  Yet, I also wonder if it really will get people to change their eating and exercise habits.  Also, does the government have a right to tell us how much we can weigh?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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.


July 22nd, 2008
01:13 PM ET

Can a bad economy benefit your health?

By Jennifer Pifer
CNN Medical Senior Producer

My fiancé, Mark, is becoming a walk-a-holic.  Every day, he walks at least two miles.  Is it to get in shape?  Not necessarily.  It's because gas prices are getting too freaking high. 

Mark now takes MARTA, the public transportation system in Atlanta, to work every day.  We are not eating out as much as we use to. Since we’re eating in more often, we look for healthier bargains – like fruit that’s in season.   It seems I am becoming my grandma: clipping coupons, buying only things on sale and limiting my driving.  We also have two homes on the market (any one want to buy a condo?) and are planning a wedding.  The "perfect storm" of stress and anxiety is brewing and threatens to waterlog our lives.

Yet, strangely, we are both feeling healthier than we have in a long time.  We’re doing more things that don’t cost money, which often involves being more active. 

The other day, I stepped on the scale and was surprised to find I had actually lost 5 pounds.  I haven't been dieting. I've just downsized. Simple things now bring me more pleasure.  I had no idea a group of African immigrants meet every week to play traditional music and dance in our local public gymnasium.  What a wonderful treat to see as I walked to our town square recently to run an errand.  I left feeling happy and less stressed.

There seems to be a little science behind what I have observed.  In 2003, a North Carolina researcher found "smoking, height-adjusted weight, and leisure-time physical inactivity decline when economic conditions worsen." (read study

So is possible that the bad economy is actually good for your health?  What do you think?

 
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.


July 18th, 2008
11:38 AM ET

Remembering a medical legend, with gratitude

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent
If you mention Michael DeBakey’s name to just about any surgeon in the country, you are likely
to get a colorful story. Called a “rock star,” and the greatest surgeon of the 20th century, Dr.
DeBakey no doubt had a profound influence on the world of medicine. He saved tens of
thousands of lives, created the modern MASH unit, and helped found the National Library of
Medicine. On a personal note, it was Michael DeBakey who pioneered the coronary artery
bypass procedure to prevent heart attacks, which is the reason my own father is with me
today and doing so well.

More recently, Debakey in his 90s developed a ventricular assist device. It is an incredible
machine that is used to give patients with heart failure a little boost while they are waiting for
a transplant. If you ask him where he got so much life inspiration, he will tell you he read a new
book at least once a week, and in his case it was the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He read it
cover to cover. While he was a professor and a “maestro,” it turns out he was also an eternal
student.

Dr. Michael DeBakey

Dr. Michael DeBakey

DeBakey died last week, just two months shy of his 100th birthday. Today he goes to his final
resting place, Arlington National Cemetery. If he were still alive, he probably would’ve told
you that as the son of Lebanese immigrants, he learned the value of hard work from his
parents and the value of sewing from his mother. It seems the man never stopped working
and embodied JFK’s famous quote, that we do things “not because they are easy, but
because they are hard.”

A couple years ago, he felt a searing pain rip through his chest. At 97, he was at first sure he
was having a life-ending heart attack, and he didn’t even bother calling 911. A few minutes
later when his heart was still beating, he realized in fact his diagnosis was a thoracic aortic
dissection, which is a tearing of a major blood vessel in the chest. It was, of course, DeBakey
who had first figured out how to repair such damage to the body and it was DeBakey who in
a way supervised his own operation. It was amazing.

I met the man once. I was a medical student and he was the greatest living surgeon. Quite a
contrast. We were in the operating room and I was standing in a corner on a stand so that I
could see. For a baseball fan, it was like going to the World Series – bottom of the ninth, score
tied and bases loaded. It was what I had dreamed of for most of my young life. In the world of
surgery, so full of colorful personalities and enormous ego, everyone agreed DeBakey was the
best. Simply.

I heard about DeBakey’s death with the rest of you last week, and I immediately called my
dad. I shared some of these same stories with him that I am now sharing with you. My dad
said, “Wow.” And, I say thank you Dr. DeBakey, please get some rest finally.

So, how do you find the best surgeon or doctor and what qualities do you look for?

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.


July 16th, 2008
11:46 AM ET

Slowing down motion sickness

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

It's a curse. It is something I have dealt with as far back as I can remember. And, now I even see it in my 16-month-old daughter. In fact, I was the first to diagnose the reason she absolutely hates riding in her car seat for long rides. Like me, she has what doctors will call a mismatch of her sensory system. Others know it as motion sickness. Awful motion sickness. My first clue was that the video player we thought might help, really made things worse. Have her look out the window and even suck on a little ginger, and she is a new baby. 

You may know the feeling. Your heart starts to race, you feel queasy and you start to sweat. It is one of the worst things, and it is often hard to get any relief. The problem is that there is a mismatch between your eyes and your inner ear. If you are in a car, your ear knows you are moving, but unless your eyes are being given constant inputs that confirm that movement, the process of feeling "out of sorts" starts to occur. If you happen to be looking down and reading a book or turning around and looking into the back seat to soothe an upset baby, it gets even worse. For my daughter, looking at a stationary movie picture while her ears are telling us we are barreling down the freeway at 70 miles an hour proves to be just too much.  (Watch Video)

The treatments are fairly simple. Always look outside and into the distance preferably. Use antihistamines to prevent and treat nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Ginger and soda can both help settle things down. Simply opening up the window and getting fresh air can help as well. Always sit in the front seat if you can. Even better, drive the car. That will be your best shot at eliminating a mismatch altogether.

ALT TEXT

Dr. Sanjay Gupta flying with the Blue Angels

For my job as a reporter, this curse of mine often proves to be one of the biggest obstacles. Whether it is a taxi ride in rush hour, a jeep ride through a jungle in Congo or a boat ride along the Carterets islands in the south pacific, what you hardly ever see on camera is what goes on behind the scenes – and for me, it is not always pleasant. I even took a ride on a Blue Angel Fighter jet for a story about flight physiology (click here to see my mismatch at work). For me, that was almost worse than being in a war zone.

I am curious if you have motion sickness? More importantly, what works for you or your children?

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.


July 15th, 2008
11:07 AM ET

An unimaginable decision

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Chief Medical Correspondent

 

Over the past few days, many people have asked me about swimmer Eric Shanteau. As you may know by now, he secured a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. He told us he has in one way or another been training his entire life, so when he qualified, you can imagine the overwhelming emotion.  It was the highest point of his life, but it was darkened by the lowest. Cancer. Just as he was booking his tickets to the Olympic trials, he learned he had testicular cancer. For Shanteau, it was decision time: the Olympics or immediate treatment.

 

He chose the Olympics, a decision that has been controversial and surprised many people. As we investigated and spoke to doctors who specialize in this type of cancer, we learned that most of them were comfortable with his decision to wait. Make no mistake; there are some cancers that require immediate treatment. With early stage testicular cancer, however, you can afford to wait a few weeks or even a couple of months. In the case of Shanteau, he will get a blood test every week and a CT scan every two weeks. He tells us, if there is a blip on his tests, the Olympics go to the back burner and his cancer treatment starts.

 

Perhaps the most famous cancer survivor in the world, Lance Armstrong, learned of his illness when it was late stage. In Lance’s case, the cancer had spread to his lungs and his brain. It was after his treatment that Lance went on to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times. Lance told me he will be rooting for Eric and applauds his decision to compete and his bravery in sharing his story. Armstrong also said something that really struck me: “Eric will swim like a man possessed, because he’s been reminded of how fragile his life – and our life –is.”

 

So, do you agree with Shanteau’s decision? Would you wait or not take any chances? Would that change if you were counseling a loved one or were Eric’s 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.

 


July 14th, 2008
11:34 AM ET

Losing my wisdom (teeth)

By Saundra Young

CNN Medical Senior Producer

 

I was expecting pain.  I had heard the stories - as friends, family and colleagues began weighing in, it seemed everybody had one and couldn't wait to share it with me!  The thing is, theirs were all stories of young teenagers and twenty-somethings, and mine, was, well, let's just say mine was a tale of a much, much older woman who was having her wisdom teeth extracted!

 

My new dentist was surprised to learn I still had my third molars at my age.  They had to come out he insisted. There was decay, and some bone and tissue damage.

 

And then came the stories  - of faces swollen beyond recognition, and unbelievable pain.  I was warned: "Hey, this is oral surgery. This is serious business." 

 

I was warned about a horribly painful phenomenon called "dry socket," the most common complication after surgery.  This occurs when the blood clot in the socket where the tooth has been pulled comes out  - theoretically if you do something like sip or suck on a straw - exposing bone and nerves.   I was told I needed to avoid dry socket at all costs.

 

So I did what any serious journalist in search of detailed information does: I popped online and got a crash course on wisdom tooth extractions.  (I even watched a video of an extraction on YouTube.)

 

It seems I really was something of a freak! In most people, wisdom teeth come in between the ages of 15 and 25. Often they’re taken out almost immediately.  Most oral health specialists recommend early removal in order to eliminate problems down the line such as an impacted tooth, trapped within the gum, which can damage or destroy the second molar, as mine apparently did. 

 

According to the American Academy of General Dentistry, an impacted wisdom tooth is the most common developmental ailment.  That's because they're the teeth most likely to decay because they're so difficult to reach and clean.

 

I found out there are some pretty serious problems tied to impacted third molars, including  bacteria and plaque build-up, cysts or tumors, infection, and jaw and gum disease.  And I was well on my way to some of these problems.  My surgeon and I couldn't understand why none of my former dentists suggested taking them out!

 

Maybe it’s because I never had any major symptoms.  Perhaps I'm now making up for lost time.  The surgery went well, but I'm in pain.  Of  course the painkillers help.  There's been swelling and I've been icing my jaw for days now.  I'm on antibiotics to ward off infection.    So I've spent the last three days popping pills, taking it easy and eating soft foods like mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs.  Eating hurts! 

 

All in all, it wasn't as bad as I thought.  I'm feeling pretty good although  today - Day 3 - is the day the major swelling is supposed to kick in, according to my dentist.  And here's something else to look forward to: Because he did only one side (top and bottom), more surgery is in my future.  I think I'm too old for this!  Or am I?

 

Am I truly that much of an anomaly, or are there plenty of you out there whose wisdom teeth were removed much later in life, successfully and without much fanfare?

 

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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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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