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August 29th, 2008
11:50 AM ET

Metal-head therapy aids brain aneurysms

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

If you've ever had a chance to look at my future mother-in-law's brain scan, which oddly enough I have, you can't help but notice a giant starburst in the middle. It's not radio receiver or an implanted cell phone. (That would be cool though). It's a titanium coil.

Janice's brain scan shows a starburst

Janice's brain scan shows a starburst-like image where the coil is placed

Why does Janice have a metal coil in her brain? It’s not to make her smarter. (If it were, I’d get one put in too!). The coil is the latest minimally invasive treatment for a ruptured aneurysm, and much like a cardiac stent, it is passed through veins in the groin, all the way up into the brain. Think of it like plugging a tire that has a blowout.

The truth is though, not many people have this coiling done, because not many people survive a rupture. According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, only 50 percent of people actually make it to the hospital alive after a rupture, and 50 percent of those who do won’t live through surgery.

Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden was lucky enough to identify two aneurysms and have them removed before they ruptured. (One had started to leak a bit). Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones was not so lucky. She passed away just last week after her aneurysm burst.

These are grim statistics for a condition that most people don’t even know they have until it’s too late. So what can you do to protect yourself?

First, know your family history. My fiancée, Amanda, is seriously considering having a scan to see if there are silent aneurysms growing in her head.

Second, get the right scan. An X-ray won’t show it, nor will a CAT scan nor an MRI. One of the only scans that can detect an aneurysm is what’s called an MRA, or Magnetic Resonance Angiography. It’s similar to an MRI, but looks at the blood vessels in the brain, rather than the anatomical structure. Most insurance companies won’t cover MRAs simply because of a family history of aneurysms, but in Amanda’s case, I think it would be worth the $1,000 to know she is safe.

Third, know the symptoms. There aren’t many, but if you can recognize them quickly, it can mean the difference between life and death. Sudden, severe headache is the most common one, along with light sensitivity, nausea and unexplained vomiting. Janice told me it felt as if someone had slammed her in the back of the head with a baseball bat.

September is Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, so make sure you pass this article along to your loved ones.

Today Janice looks at her starburst as a badge of honor, but I'm sure it's one she'd rather not have.
Do you know someone who’s had a ruptured aneurysm? What kind of symptoms did they have?

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.


August 27th, 2008
01:06 PM ET

Keeping my mid-year resolutions

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical News Producer

Last night, as I was driving by my local high school, I noticed a "Happy New Year" sign outside the
main door.  At first, I thought it might have been left over from last January, but then I realized it
meant the start of a new school year.  That made me smile, because ever since I was a kid, I've
looked at the first of September as a new beginning.  

When they call them the lazy days of summer, they aren’t kidding. The sun, vacations at the beach -
all sort of just slow me down.   I slack off going to the gym, indulge in fried foods and frozen custard,
lounge around reading juicy novels and forget about the importance of staying fit.   But once the
crisp air hits, and the back-to-school frenzy starts, I gear my body up for some changes.  I make a list of mid-year resolutions that help me stay healthy going into the holiday season.   Here are a few of them: 

No sugary drinks – I have a weakness for sweet ice tea.  But even sweet tea has calories, just like
the health drinks I guzzle on a hot day. According to a report in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition an extra sugary drink each day can pile on 15 pounds in a year. So now I'm back to tea
with no sugar, black coffee and water.

Get off the couch – I confess, I've let my routine slip, so it's back to the gym, at least four days a
week. Research shows that 20-30 minutes of interval training is more effective than 40 minutes of
slow cardio for weight loss. Combine that with 20-30 minutes of strength training, three times a week
and you can drop some pounds. 

Take a multivitamin every day – Plain and simple. The American Dietetic Association recommends
everyone take a multivitamin every day.

Eat breakfast – Researchers from the National Weight Control Registry, looked at 3,000 people who
had lost at least 60 pounds and kept it off for an average of six years. Eating breakfast every day
was a weight control strategy for 78 percent of the people they looked at.

Try to have a positive attitude -Step back, smell the flowers and breathe deeply. Many times it can
make the difference in your mental and physical health.

Do you have a routine for a particular time of year you'd like to share?   How do the seasons affect
your health?  We'd like to 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.


August 25th, 2008
01:40 PM ET

Brown recluse is well, pretty reclusive

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

I hate spiders. I have always hated spiders, and until last week, I thought I always would hate spiders. But then, in a building reminiscent of a 1970s government office building, I had an experience with spiders that I won't soon forget.

As I walked into her office at the University of Georgia, Dr. Nancy Hinkle, a veterinary entomologist, started to quiz me about the spiders she had sitting on the window ledge in petri dishes. "Which one is the brown recluse spider?" she asked. Being a novice, I picked the biggest, nastiest, hairiest-looking one and said "that's it!"

"You picked the same one as my grad student did,” Hinkle said. “So congratulations, but you're not correct."

Matt – 0, Spider Lady – 1.

Dr. Hinkle gave me a hint about the brown recluse, "They call it the fiddleback spider, because it has fiddle-shaped marking on its abdomen.”

She challenged me again. This time I picked out the wolf spider, which has a banjo-shaped marking on its back (remarkably similar to a fiddle, I might add, on a spider that small).

Matt – 0, Spider Lady – 2.

What I came to find out in that next hour was that the brown recluse was not much scarier looking than your common house spider. The brown recluse is the subject of urban folklore, and for good reason: Its venom, pound for pound, is one of the most toxic substances known to man. But, true to its name, the spider is reclusive. As Hinkle put it, "If you actually see a spider, chances are it’s not a brown recluse."

Very comforting.

In addition to the brown recluse spider being reclusive, it's only found in a few areas of the country, primarily in the midwest, spreading into parts of the southeast. Oh, and one other thing. The brown recluse takes months to make enough venom to kill its prey, so chances are, it won’t waste it on you – something way too big for it to kill – because it would go hungry for a few months.

Still worried that a recluse will come after you? Consider this - the chances of the "fiddleback" spider being in your home, coming out of hiding, biting you, and injecting venom into you are slim. Even if it did, experts say about 95 percent of brown recluse bites go away without complications. But, if you are one of the unfortunate few who do have a bad reaction, you should go to a doctor immediately. Brown recluse venom can cause major damage to tissue surrounding the bite, as well as tissue along the path the venom takes through your body. If it makes its way into your bloodstream, it can cause a condition called hemolysis, where red blood vessels actually burst. The condition can become life threatening.

All in all, I'm still afraid of spiders, but a little less so than before I met Hinkle. Have you had a run-in with a brown recluse?

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.


August 22nd, 2008
10:39 AM ET

Zapping your greens

By Caleb Hellerman
CNN Senior Medical Producer

There’s a controversial new weapon to help fight off food poisoning. Today, the FDA is putting into action a plan that allows iceberg lettuce and spinach to be zapped with radiation, to kill bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. Personally, I think it's a great idea. Since 1995, there have been at least 22 outbreaks of E. coli poisoning, just linked to fresh-cut lettuce or spinach. When we investigated a 2006 outbreak that sickened more than 200 people and killed three of them, I learned that even a soak in a chlorine bath won’t wipe out E. coli. Irradiation is the only thing that comes close. That and cooking, which doesn’t help your salad. Watch more from Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Irradiation is already used to sterilize beef, spices and food packaging containers. But when I asked some friends if they'd eat irradiated food, they scrunched up their noses. No surprise to Cathleen Enright, the vice president of federal government affairs at the Western Growers Association, which represents about three-quarters of the spinach and lettuce growers in this country. I asked Enright when we might see irradiated salad in the grocery store, and she said it could be quite a while. "It's going to be a business decision, and that factors in consumer acceptance.” She herself thinks irradiation is fine, but says “[it] does make some people nervous.”

The FDA says it's safe, but consumer groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest say that's based on old research. They say the jury is still out, and that we’d do better to focus on having more government safety inspections, and testing produce before it goes out to stores.

Are you more worried about dangerous bacteria or radiation on top of your salad? Yum!

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.


August 21st, 2008
01:40 PM ET

Tiger Woods: Will the swing return?

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Every year in the United States, there are around 200,000 ACL injuries a year. As you might guess, they are most common in soccer, football and basketball. So, when you heard about Tiger Woods golf injury, you may have been a little surprised. In fact, he has had four knee operations since 1994, with the most serious one being on June 24th of this year. As you watch this video, pay close attention to the left knee and the amount of torque that is placed on it. There is a pivot like motion that orthopedic surgeons seem to believe caused the problem.

The operation itself is a fairly straightforward one but now the name of Tiger’s game is rehab.

Woods tell us in his blog that he is more mobile than a month ago, and that he spends most of his rehab time riding a stationary bike. It sounds like he would look a lot different as well. He says he has lost 10 pounds of muscle and is mainly eating a raw and organic diet. The kicker is that he is not even planning on swinging a golf club until next year. That’s quite a change of lifestyle for someone who has played golf for almost his whole life.

When Tiger does come back, he may have a different swing than the one he has now. He may not be able to generate the same amount of force and may not have the same pivot that we are so accustomed to seeing. If you had to assign a number to it, between 82 -95% of athletes do make a recovery. (watch my report)

Have you ever had knee surgery, arthroscopic or a ligament repair? What was the most challenging part of rehabilitation? Did you ever get back to full function?

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.


August 18th, 2008
10:17 AM ET

When is it too early for potty time?

By Shahreen Abedin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

We have a new piece of furniture in our living room. It’s a potty chair.

It all started when I was browsing a parenting blog and came across a string on potty training. This mother was saying her kid started going in the potty at 9 months. And I thought, hey my baby’s almost 9 months - I should try this too! After all, I know when my baby is about to poop because he gets this unmistakable grimace. So I should be able to run him to the potty chair at the first sign. And besides, we know a couple who figured out that their 6-month-old daughter “goes” every day at 10:15 a.m., so that’s when they sit her on the toilet and so they never deal with poopie diapers – so cool, I thought!

I read all the product recommendation Web sites, figured out which one would best suit our little boy, and promptly went out and purchased a brand new potty chair. My mother-in-law happened to be visiting that week, so she was with me and in her very supportive, non-judgmental way, she went along with it all, waiting patiently for the sales associate to go pull out the non-gender specific colored model from the back. But later on I heard her on the phone with my aunt, and they both seemed to be chuckling. “Yes, he’s only 8 1/2 months, but she’s trying to potty train him,” she said.

When I talked to my own mom, she pointed out that my little one is a boy: “Boys take much longer to potty train, don’t you know?” No, I didn’t know. As a 33-year-old, I tend not to read too many books on how to do this whole parenting thing. I figure, I’ve absorbed enough along the way from other people’s kids to have the basic gist of it, and the rest can come from instinct or common sense.

When I tried putting the baby on the potty chair to get the feel for it, he seemed to be more interested in taking the pot part out and putting it on his head. That’s when I started to wonder if I was totally off the mark with starting this early, so I googled “potty training,” and found that a couple of the health authorities give some pretty solid tips on how to get your kid used to going in the potty, including the suggestion that you put the chair in the living room and let the baby sit on it, fully clothed, so he gets comfortable with it. We put ours right next to the Bumbo chair.

The sites also say that potty training usually doesn’t start until 18 months to two years. A whole more YEAR of this?? Please, folks – am I crazy to think our child might be advanced enough for his age to start going in the potty sooner? And am I really pushing it since he’s a boy – are boys really slower at this game?

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.


August 15th, 2008
02:25 PM ET

Shaken baby tragedy

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

A few years ago, a woman called me in the middle of the night to tell me her son-in-law had been taken to jail. This was a woman I knew pretty well, and I was stunned to hear the story she proceeded to tell me. Her grandchild (his daughter) had been found unconscious at the house and taken to the hospital. Doctors there quickly figured out the child had been shaken. Just a few months old, her little neck muscles had not been strong enough to stabilize her head, which in young children is relatively bigger with respect to their bodies. She developed a blood collection on her brain and shearing of small blood vessels deep inside. Ultimately, she never recovered; she died in her mother’s arms. The little girl’s dad had been the only one in the home and subsequently admitted to handling the child in a rough manner when she was persistently crying.

In a moment of anger, he had killed his child and essentially sentenced himself to imprisonment. As a dad, I can’t imagine the incredible grief he is still suffering today, so many years later. As a neurosurgeon, I have seen this story play out more times than I care to remember.

It is of little value to say that he didn’t mean it. He is a good man who made a terrible mistake. It did make me wonder, though, just how much are young parents equipped to be able to deal with babies and very young children. Most parents are shocked when I tell them the consequences of shaking a baby or handling the child in a rough manner. Add in a little immaturity, lack of necessary patience, and you literally have a prescription for disaster.

As you can read today (link to story), there are some relatively simple ways to prevent a fatal mistake. But, should we be doing more?

There are no instruction manuals when it comes to children, as there are with most other things in life.

Should there be a sort of “manual” and what sort of things should be in it? What would you put in a manual that goes home with new parents?

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.


August 13th, 2008
10:58 AM ET

Summer sting

By Judy Fortin
CNN Medical Correspondent

We heard news this week about a reported increase in brown recluse spider bites, but I have my own bug story to pass along.

 While I was taking a walk last Saturday morning I was stung by a large, unidentified flying insect.  The “UFI” was buzzing around my head.  After I swatted it away, my new adversary took revenge by sinking its hypodermic needle-like stinger into my lower thigh. 

I screamed so loudly a passing car stopped to see if I was okay.  I forced myself to keep breathing as I walked with a limp for a mile and a half back home. 

I watched my wound grow from a tiny bump on Saturday to a five inch in diameter dark red mass on Sunday night.  I used some over the counter anti-itch cream, but the ointment stuck to my pants.  By Tuesday my colleagues in the CNN Medical Unit were trying to diagnose my malady.  Was it an infection?  Maybe it was blood poisoning.

By now you’re wondering why I didn’t get it checked out by a doctor.  I finally did just that on Tuesday afternoon.  The doctor measured the rash, checked for swollen glands, asked about my breathing and declared that I had a localized reaction to an insect sting. 

Relieved, I left the office with another tube of prescription-strength anti-itch cream and a warning that the rash may stick around for a week or more.  

I would like to head back out on my walking path tomorrow morning, but a week after getting stung I plan to coat myself with bug spray and this time, I’ll be on the lookout for any “UFIs.”  

How do you protect yourself from attacks by summer insects?  

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. 


August 11th, 2008
11:01 AM ET

Exercising your inner vixen

By Judy Fortin
CNN Medical Correspondent

I’ve covered hundreds of stories during my 18 years with CNN, but one recent assignment left me blushing. Pole dancing is a growing exercise trend. My plan was to observe a class in Atlanta and interview some students.

I wasn’t quite prepared for what I witnessed. A few women were dressed in gym shorts and T-shirts, but the majority wore sexy teddies or camisoles and stiletto heels. I, on the other hand, must have looked like an overdressed prude in the corner. My photographer was the only man allowed in the building. Together we laughed our way through a fun and eye-opening evening.

We watched as mothers, teachers, claims adjusters, nurses and businesswomen in all shapes and sizes used exotic dance moves to get in a workout and tap their inner vixen.

I had no idea that pole dancing was such strenuous exercise. The women were lifting their body weight as they circled, straddled and shimmied their way through pole “tricks” – the specific moves.

The advanced students were very impressive, climbing up the 16-foot pole and hanging upside down while holding on with their inner thighs. If I had attempted this I would have torn a ligament or gotten a concussion.

It wasn’t just the derring-do that was impressive. These women seemed to be empowered as they strutted around the dance studio cheering one another on. It was like watching sorority sisters without the sweater sets and pearls.

When the class was ending, all 14 dancers turned toward my corner of the room and tried to coax me onto the dance floor.

I stood up, walked a couple of steps in my sensible one-inch heels and chickened out. This was one story where you wouldn’t see any reporter involvement.

Have you ever tried something unusual to stay fit? How did the experience make you feel?

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.


August 8th, 2008
12:10 PM ET

Clear conversation on cataracts

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

 

I come from a family of cataract sufferers.    My father had cataract surgery a few years ago. My mother has the beginning of cataracts.   So does my husband.  Even my dog has a cataract!

 

A cataract is the clouding of the eye's crystalline lens.  When we're born, the lens is clear.  As we age it begins to build up a film producing a cataract. Doctors say people who are developing cataracts begin to notice that they have glare and halos at night.  They don't want to drive in the evening.  They might have double vision from one eye.  They need more light to read or they can't read as long as they'd like. 

 

Everyone who ages will eventually get a cataract.  The good news, it takes time.  According to Dr. Marguerite McDonald, an ophthalmologist at NYU  "cataracts usually grow very slowly throughout life."  That's why I always thought cataracts affected older folks, usually over the age of 60. In the United States, about 50 percent of those between the ages 65 and 74, and 70 percent of those over age 75 have a cataract.

 

Women are affected more frequently than men. African Americans lose their vision from cataracts at twice the rate of Caucasian Americans, primarily due to lack of treatment.  But now eye doctors are saying younger people are becoming more susceptible to developing cataracts because of a number of factors.

 

Let's start with the sun.  Lots of young people need to watch their sun exposure.  Dr. McDonald says "the only effective thing you can do to retard the formation of cataracts is to wear UV-blocking sunglasses and to put a UV blocking clear coating on your regular glasses."   I'm lucky, because I always wear my sunglasses ... even indoors while shopping.   But if you don't like wearing sunglasses, wear a hat or anything with a  brim to keep the sun out out your eyes.

 

And, ophthalmologists say, check your family history.   Since both my parents have cataracts, I need to let my eye doctor know so he can keep an watch on any signs of early cataract growth.

 

Diabetes is also a factor.   The condition is one of the main causes for fast forming cataracts.   So physicians say watch what you eat; avoid fatty, sugary foods.  And get off the couch.   Keeping fit and eating a good diet can keep anyone from developing  Type 2 diabetes.

 

Smoking and alcohol can also increase the risk for cataracts.  People who smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day have twice the risk of nonsmoker of developing cataracts ... and long term abuse of alcohol can rob the body of certain vitamins ... that can lead to early cataract development.

 

And watch what  medications you are taking.  Certain meds can cause early cataracts, especially steroids.  But drugs for heart conditions, cholesterol and epilepsy can also produce premature cataracts.  So it's best to talk with your family doctors about the prescriptions you're taking.

 

Are you developing cataracts?  How much of a problem are they?   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.

 

 


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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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