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February 27th, 2009
04:30 PM ET

Dr. Gupta lends a hand in India

Dr. Gupta is on assignment in India and helped a little girl who suffered a head injury on the streets of Sonepat, about 70 kilometers outside of Delhi.  

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Programming Note: Watch Dr. Gupta’s full report from India on “Vital Signs”  March 26th on CNNI.

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.


February 26th, 2009
11:39 AM ET

Did I wait too long to get pregnant?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Molly, Washington

"I am 35 years old and have spent much of my adult life focusing on my career, which I love! But it recently dawned on me that I may have missed my window of opportunity to have a baby naturally. Is that true? How concerned should I be?"

Answer:

Thanks Molly for the question. There are many women in the same position you are. They want to have a family, just not quite yet. And that’s not a bad thing! It's great to hear that you have a career you love and are so passionate about.

Let me first say, that no–you haven't missed your "window of opportunity" to have a baby. Many women in their late 30s, and early 40s get pregnant naturally. It may just take a little longer to conceive compared with women in their 20s. According to the March of Dimes, one in five women have children after age 35.

Of course, waiting doesn't come without risk. As you age the quality of your eggs and your ovaries’ ability to release them declines. As a result, the miscarriage rate for women age 35 to 39 increases to 20 percent. After age 40, it rises to 50 percent. Women over 35 are also at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes, and having a baby with a genetic disorder, such as Down syndrome.

You should begin evaluating your health patterns now, even years before conceiving, and make any necessary lifestyle changes. The basic rules apply: Don't smoke, limit stress, and stay physically active. But it’s also a good idea to meet with your OB-GYN and get a full preconception checkup. He or she will be able to offer tips specific to your body to help you down the road. Also, you may consider taking a daily prenatal vitamin. Even if you don't get pregnant for years, it provides great nutrients including calcium, iron, protein and folic acid. These nutrients are not only good for your body, but help prepare and strengthen the womb for conception. Be sure to choose a prenatal vitamin with at least 1 milligram of folic acid. It is an essential nutrient in the neurological development of a baby.

Molly, best wishes for a healthy life and pregnancy in the years to come.


February 25th, 2009
06:11 PM ET

Gupta team hits snags in Delhi

Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his team hit some technical snags while on assignment in Delhi, India. Watch producers try and get an elephant to stay put for Sanjay's next shoot.

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Programming Note: Watch Dr. Gupta’s full report from India on “Vital Signs”  March 26th on CNNI.

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.


February 25th, 2009
03:29 PM ET

Dr. Gupta in the spice market

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces you to healthy spices in one of the world's largest spice markets while on assignment in Delhi, India.

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Programming Note: Watch Dr. Gupta's full report from India on "Vital Signs"  March 26th on CNNI.

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.


February 23rd, 2009
01:59 PM ET

Promoting good health with transparency

By David S. Martin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

It’s hard to turn on the television, pick up the newspaper or go online without reading about massive layoffs at a U.S. company: GM, Caterpillar, Bank of America. That has a lot of workers wondering if they’re next, and that’s stressful.

Lincoln Industries in Lincoln, Nebraska, is trying to keep that anxiety down with something that sounds simple - openness. The reasoning: uncertainty breeds stress. We’ve reported previously on the company’s ambitious wellness program. The company gives workers quarterly checkups, monitoring their blood pressure, body weight and flexibility; offers discounts at local gyms, rewarding workers when they reach fitness goals; and lets employees take paid time away from work to enroll in smoking cessation classes. Now, the company is tackling anxiety during the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, trying to calm employees’ fears before they build.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” says Marc LeBaron, Chairman and CEO of the privately-held company, which polishes and plates chrome parts for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and does other metal fabricating and finishing. “Uncertainty always creates more anxiety.” LeBaron says the company’s management communicates information about the business to employees through newsletters, company-wide e-mails, roundtable meetings and an open-door policy. And when he walks across the plant, LeBaron says he’s often quizzed about how the economic news of the day will affect Lincoln Industries.

“We’re very transparent,” LeBaron said. “If there’s bad news, let’s get it out there on the table.” When Harley Davidson cut back on its orders recently, a company-wide e-mail informed employees right away.

Openness is the right corporate prescription for holding down worker stress in uncertain times, says Dr. David Ballard, who manages the Psychologically Healthy Workplace program at the American Psychological Association. “Transparency is really the key," he says. Allowing employee stress and anxiety to rise can hurt a company’s morale and productivity, he adds.

In addition to a corporate culture promoting communication up and down the chain of command, Ballard says companies should also offer wellness programs that help employees identify and manage stress more effectively, and health plans that include mental health services.

With the economic downturn, Lincoln Industries has allowed its workforce to decrease through attrition and eliminated most temporary workers, shrinking its workforce from 560 to 480. The 56-year-old company has never laid off a worker.

What, if anything, has your company done to reduce (or increase) your stress and anxiety in this economic slump?

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.


February 20th, 2009
03:27 PM ET

Should I keep my child home from school?

By Jennifer Pifer-Bixler
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Last week my in-laws came over to watch my 5-year-old stepdaughter while my husband ran an errand. After a few minutes of visiting with Grandma and Grandpa, Arden announced that she wanted to take a nap. Nap? This is NOT a child who volunteers to nap. When she woke up, my husband put his hand on her forehead. Arden was hot. He then took her temperature. His suspicions were confirmed. She had a 102-degree fever. Arden slurped down some grape-flavored medicine and headed off to bed. For the next few days, our typically active 5-year-old was a couch potato. Apple juice, a fuzzy blanket and "Hannah Montana" were her constant companions.

I don't know about you, but sometimes as a parent, I’m not sure how “bad” it has to be to keep my child home from school. Some parents send their kids to school coughing and sneezing, while other parents let their kids take "mental health" days. For some parents who work outside the home, the issue can be complicated by financial concerns: If they don't work, they don't get paid. So when should you keep your kid home from school? Here are some guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Does she have a fever?

Generally, a fever over 101 degrees or a fever at the beginning of an illness should be a sign that your child should stay home.

Does he feel well enough to participate in class?

Every kid and every illness is different. Some sick kids feel good enough to concentrate and get something out of going to school. Other kids are so out of it, they are better off staying at home.

Is she contagious?

If so, keep her at home. As any teacher will tell you, classrooms can be like petri dishes. Kids can infect one another over and over. It's not fair to other children if your child brings germs to school. If you are not sure whether you should keep your child at home, talk with your pediatrician.

I want to know what you think: Have you ever sent your child to school sick? What's your rule of thumb? Also, for those of you with older kids, do you ever let them take “mental health” days? The parents I know are really divided over that. I am curious what 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.


February 19th, 2009
11:43 AM ET

Hiding from nuts on planes

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

“We’ve come up with a compromise,” the flight attendant told me.

I was on a flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta in October. I had almost made it back to America in perfect health after two weeks in Moscow. But now hundreds of people on this 747 were about to release toasted almond particles into the air at once, and unfortunately, I’m among the 3 million Americans who are allergic to peanuts and/or tree nuts. Some people may experience symptoms just from breathing the offending food, but there’s no way to predict how strongly any particular individual will react.

Maybe I’m paranoid but, given that I have endured near-fatal reactions from eating these foods, and a strong smell alone seems to prime my body for sickness, it’s hard to justify taking a chance. It’s especially worrisome on a long flight over the Atlantic Ocean.

Sure, I knew what I was getting into – I had thoroughly researched the airline’s peanut policy, but I hadn’t counted on other forms of nuts as the main snack. Still, when I flew out to Amsterdam, the cabin crew not only refrained from serving the nuts at my request, but also made an announcement that there was a passenger on board who has peanut and nut allergies, and could everyone please refrain from eating these products. I felt safe for the entire flight.

Coming back to America, on the other hand, the flight attendant in charge of my section questioned why I would be flying at all if I had such a problem. Even after I explained my previous experience, the person in charge made the decision that nuts would be served, no matter what.

The compromise was that I would spend a little over an hour in quarantine, sitting in a small curtained-off area at the very back of the cabin with the food and drink carts. I sat on a folding chair and played with my laptop, moving every few minutes so the flight attendants could squeeze by.

Making things even more confusing, some airlines’ policies seem to change every few years, and sometimes snacks vary according to the route. There are a few airlines, though, that seem to be consistently peanut-free these days, and they’re the ones that I use every time I travel within the U.S. Note that I’ve never been in a situation in the U.S. where people around me brought their own peanuts or even any other strong-smelling nut product to eat on a plane and, anecdotally, I question whether airplane passengers like eating peanuts that much.

So when I heard about Northwest reintroducing peanuts on board this month, I sighed – another airline to cross off my list. Would it really be so hard to just serve pretzels?

Do you have food allergies? What have you experienced when flying?

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.


February 19th, 2009
09:00 AM ET

Why do I awaken with shortness of breath?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Lucinda, Manhattan, Kansas

"I wake up several times a night with shortness of breath. This happens almost every hour during the night. I don't sleep on my back. What could this be?"

Answer:

First of all, without knowing your full health history, I can’t make a diagnosis. But, Lucinda, let me say right off the bat that you should probably make an appointment with your doctor right away. And, let me tell you why.  From what you’ve described, it appears you may be experiencing something known as paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, or PND for short.

When a person suffers PND, he or she begins to experience shortness of breath several hours after going to bed. It then strikes suddenly and frequently during sleep, causing a person to wake up. Others experience shortness of breath only when they lie down on their back. This is known as orthopnea.

Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea is an abnormal condition that warrants some investigation. It can be a frequent symptom of a serious cardiovascular and respiratory problem. Again, you should make an appointment with your health-care provider as soon as possible to be evaluated, and if anybody is reading this with similar symptoms here are a few things to look for.

Before your appointment, begin writing down how often your are waking up experiencing shortness of breath, how long the attacks last, whether you have associated swelling in your feet and legs and the positions you are sleeping when it occurs. Also track what provides relief, if anything, for example, sleeping slightly propped up with pillows.

Bottom line, Lucinda, is these symptoms are your body’s way of alerting you something may be wrong. Being evaluated by your doctor is your best bet.


February 18th, 2009
10:35 AM ET

Here’s why you should be scared of superbugs

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Imagine getting what you think is a simple urinary tract infection. You are young, healthy and antibiotics have worked just fine in the past. Unfortunately, in this case, the infection starts to spread. You have flank pain and the doctor starts to look a little concerned. “The infection is in the kidneys,” he says. Your friends and family watch in horror as the infection spreads further and starts to overwhelm your immune system. Doctors call it sepsis, and you lapse into first a stupor and then unconsciousness. While you are in a coma, surgeons approach your family and inform them that gangrene has set in to your hands and feet: The only treatment is amputation. In the end, none of it works and your body gives in. That was the story of Mariana Bridi and her fight against a superbug, known as a gram negative bacteria.  (Watch Dr. Gupta's report on superbugs)

Most people think of MRSA, methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, when they hear superbug, but there is something out there poised to be just as big a problem. These gram negative bacteria have long names like "acinetobacter baumanii," and "klebsiella pneumoniae." No doubt, gram negative bacteria can be tough to treat. If you look at one under a microscope (look here), these bacteria are encased in a double protective membrane. They also release enzymes when attacked that chew up many antibiotics. As things stand now, there are very few antibiotics that work, and patients aren’t left with many options.

For the time being, most of these gram negative superbugs are relegated to hospitals, but there are a couple of things that are concerning. One is that patients move back and forth so much between hospitals, rehab centers and home, the bacteria can hitch a ride and soon find their way around the community. Another issue was pointed out by Dr. Helen Boucher, the lead author of this study.  Because antibiotics are not lifelong drugs like those used to treat diabetes or hypertension, there is not as much interest from pharmaceutical companies in developing them and it is harder to get patients into clinical trials. Bottom line, there aren’t a lot of options in the pipeline.

Certainly, the basics still apply. If you are in a hospital, you need to make sure to exercise especially good infection control. You don’t want one of these superbugs taking a leap from a contaminated hospital floor onto your skin. This is also a good time to remind people to use antibiotics judiciously in the community. No, most colds simply don’t require antibiotics, as they are caused by viruses.

Have you ever had an infection with a superbug or known someone who has had one? As these bacteria become increasingly resistant to treatment, any suggestions on how you think we can get things under control?

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.


February 16th, 2009
12:51 PM ET

MRSA on the beach?

By Elizabeth Landau
Writer/Producer
CNN.com Health

Next time you go to the beach, you might want to shower - before you get in the ocean as well as after, says Dr. Lisa Plano, associate professor of clinical pediatrics and microbiology and immunology at the University of Miami.

A study she collaborated on shows that a person’s risk of exposure to staph is about 37 percent – but note that the bacteria could have come from you or from someone else. Your chance of getting MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a form of antibiotic resistant staph, is about 1 percent.

Plano presented her research, conducted in subtropical marine waters, at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, Illinois, over the weekend. The study, which is the first large epidemiological study of its kind, looked at 1,300 people.

Preliminary data suggest that the number of people in the water increases number of bacteria in the water, she said.

The MRSA found in the study “looked like they were likely to cause aggressive infections, in the family of community-associated MRSA,” she said. The other staph, on the other hand, looked benign and unlikely to cause infections.

“We have to conclude that the beach could be a source for community-acquired staph infections,” Plano said.

MRSA has been around in hospital settings since the 1970s, but community-associated MRSA didn’t emerge until the late 1990s. Now, it is a recognized problem in situations where people come into close contact with one another's skin, such as in professional sports, as I reported in October. (read article)

But the researchers in this study could not make a link between the exposure to staph in the water and any illness in the participants, she said. While some people did have complaints, the data were not strong enough to draw a connection.

Still, while not wanting to scare anyone, Plano recommends that people shower before entering the water so they won’t spread their own bacteria, and afterwards so that they reduce the number of organisms they picked up.

What about acquiring staph from fish? Plano said she is unaware of a fish source that could transmit staph to humans, as these are largely human-specific bacteria. Note, however, that, cats and dogs can have staph too.

Is getting a staph infection something you think about at the gym or the beach?

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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