Category Archives: Women’s Health


Allergic to Penicillin? You’re Probably Not

PenicillinMost people who think they are allergic to penicillin in fact are not, researchers said Friday. It’s something doctors have suspected for a long time, but the researchers say they were surprised by just how many people weren’t allergic to the antibiotic: it was 94 percent of them.

Dr. Thanai Pongdee, an allergist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida and colleagues tested 384 people who said they were allergic to penicillin. Tests showed 94 percent of them were in fact, not allergic.

“These patients were scheduled to undergo orthopedic, general surgery, neurosurgery–any type of surgery you can think of,” Pongdee told NBC News. “We probably expected a little over half of people would not be allergic based on the time frame when they were initially determined to be allergic, but it ended up being a much higher proportion than that.”

It’s good news for the patients, who can get cheaper, more generic penicillin-based drugs such as amoxicillin or related drugs called cephalosporins. These antibiotics generally cause fewer side-effects than other antibiotics, and they allow doctors to save the other drugs for penicillin-resistant infections.

“There are two issues: these patients are put on other antibiotics which be less effective and potentially have more side-effects,” said Dr. James Sublett, a family allergist in Louisville, Kentucky who is incoming president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).

“The other is cost. A very commonly used substitute, for example Levaquin, is seven to eight times more expensive for a 10-day course than a similar course of generic Augmentin, a penicillin drug.”

People usually believe they are allergic based on a reaction in early childhood that they cannot even remember, says Sublett, but that they were told about.

“A patient will say, ‘My mom told me when I was 3 years old (that) I had a reaction to penicillin. And they’re going 30 years without being retested,” he said.

“We knew that the majority of people who list penicillin as an allergy actually aren’t allergic when they are reevaluated, so if you can determine they are not, you can avoid using more toxic and more expensive antibiotics,” Pongdee said.

It’s an important issue. The more widely an antibiotic is used, the more likely resistant “superbugs” are to develop – and that’s bad for everyone. While allergies are a serious matter, it’s a relief to know they are not as common as feared. “One of the first questions a patient is usually asked is ‘Are you allergic to any medications?’” Pongdee said.

The research, being presented at the annual meeting of the ACAAI, showed that it didn’t matter how severe a person’s first reaction to penicillin was. They usually outgrew it.

“It doesn’t happen very often that a health care provider challenges the presumption that the patient is still allergic. Many don’t realize that this is something a person may lose over time,” Pongdee said.

“Some don’t realize there is really good allergy testing for penicillin,” he added. “It’s a skin test. It takes about 30 minutes to do.”



brown fat

Health experts say ‘brown fat’ can help people manage their weight

brown-fat-is-a-beneficial-type-of-fat-that-burns-glucose-to-make-heatWe all have it and we all want less of it: body fat. But health experts say there is one type of body fat that is good for your health.

“When you think of obesity or excess body weight or body fatness, that’s the additional storage of white fat,” said Dr. Daniel Smith, assistant professor in UAB’s department of nutrition sciences.

But brown fat is an entirely different animal.

“Instead of a storage capacity it has a capacity to burn lipid,” said Smith.

However, whether it’s enough to actually burn white fat and reduce your waist line is still up for debate.

“I think that’s the million dollar question people need to answer,” said Smith.

Smith believes part of the problem is that the people that need to burn the most calories are also typically the ones with the least amount of brown fat.

Thinner people typically have more of the tissue around their shoulders and neck. However in heavier set people, brown fat is not as prevalent.

“So trying to target a tissue that maybe doesn’t exist as much, is a little bit of a hard thing to do,” he said.

So how do you make more brown fat? It might be as simple as standing out in the cold.

Since the tissue helps to generate the body’s heat, a person can produce more of it by exposing themselves to colder temperatures for an extended period of time.

“Its kind of like if you have a house and it’s getting cold. Well you’re going to turn on the thermostat to keep things warm,” said Smith.

As for whether the activation of brown fat will lead to serious weight loss or simple weight control, Smith says that’s something scientists continue to look at it.

“Question is can you turn it back on in those people and actually get a metabolic benefit,” he said. “Twenty years from now will we actually have a package way to use brown adipose tissue to help control our body weight and our metabolism.”




Choosing the right flu vaccine for your family

26659299_BG1With flu season around the corner, Consumer Reports says it’s best to be vaccinated as early as possible.

You can walk into any pharmacy these days and get a flu shot. It’s worth it, says Dr. Sheila Nolan, to avoid the agony of the flu.

“You’re really on your back flat. You have high fever, body aches, muscles aches, severe headaches,” Dr. Shelia Nolan.

How effective is the vaccine?

“The vaccine prevents illness about 80 percent of the time for those under 60 and about half the time for those over 65. But even if you do get sick after the vaccine, your symptoms are usually milder,” Nolan said.

For the broadest protection, Consumer Reports says consider the new quadrivalent vaccine over the standard trivalent type.

“The trivalent vaccine protects against three strains of the flu virus, and the quadrivalent vaccine protects against four. But if that one isn’t covered under your insurance policy, you’ll have to pay about $38 out of pocket,” Dr. Orly Avitzur.

For children ages 2 to 8, the FluMist spray is better protection than a shot. They may need a second dose a month later.

“The nasal spray is made of a weakened but still active live virus. So it shouldn’t be given to people with a poor immune system or their caregivers, pregnant women, or anyone over 50,” Avitzur said.

If you do feel the flu coming on, ask your doctor within the first day or two about prescribing anti-viral drugs. Consumer Reports says if taken early, drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza can ease flu symptoms and reduce complications like pneumonia.



Alabama health officials prepared if Ebola spreads in the U.S.

26683203_BG1Health officials are working to protect you from the deadly Ebola virus.

A Liberian national visiting family in Dallas, Texas was diagnosed with the disease. Federal health workers are there tracking people who may have been exposed to the man who has it.

“Ebola is real. It’s here,” said Albert White with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

White said it’s possible more cities in the U.S. will see Ebola cases and he says Alabama is ready.

“Hospitals, especially large hospitals like UAB, Huntsville and DCH in Tuscaloosa, we all have had meetings will all the people involved who may be treating or taking care of someone with Ebola,” said White.

“There’s not expected to be an outbreak in the U.S.,”  said Dr. Stephen Russell, Associate Professor of Internal medicine at UAB.

Dr. Russell says to keep the disease from spreading, people who might have been exposed need to see a doctor.

He also says patients must be asked an important question.

“The main thing we’re doing differently is to ask that travel history question,” said Dr. Russell.  “Have they been to West Africa? And if someone has a fever and that travel history, it’s very important they get immediate care.”

Dr. Russell said Alabama health officials have a preparedness plan in place to screen patients who may be exposed, treat them and prevent infections from spreading.

He stressed that at this point, the public should not be worried about Ebola.

“But they should be all the more vigilant, all the more aware that infectious diseases of any  type can easily  spread,” said Dr. Russell. “If we don’t wash our hands, protect ourselves if we are sick and beware of those around us who are also sick.”

Dr. Russell wants people to know it’s very hard to contract the Ebola virus.

He’s said it’s not spread through the air.  You have to come in contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids to get it.


Fewer U.S. teens using sunscreen

Acute pain in a neck at the young womenThe number of U.S. teens using sunscreen dropped nearly 12 percent in the last decade, a new report shows.

During that same time period, the number of teens using indoor tanning beds barely decreased. Both indoor tanning and failure to use sunscreen increase the risk of skin cancers, including deadly melanomas, the researchers noted.

“Unfortunately, we found a decrease in the overall percentage of teens who reported wearing sunscreen, from 67.7 percent in 2001 to 56.1 percent in 2011,” said lead researcher Corey Basch, an associate professor in the department of public health at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.

“Using sun-protective behaviors like applying sunscreen and avoiding intentional exposure to tanning devices will be key [to lowering cancer risk],” she added.

Use of indoor tanning devices by white girls decreased only slightly, from 37 percent in 2009 to 29 percent in 2011, she said.

The reasons for the decreased use of sunscreen among teens aren’t clear, Basch said, but she thinks future research should focus on finding out why.

“High school years are important years that can impact the future,” Basch said. “High school students are starting to make decisions for themselves. This research and other research suggest that adolescents continue to put themselves at risk.”

The report was published in the August issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Jeanine Daly, a dermatologist at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, N.Y., said she was surprised at the drop in sunscreen use despite all the warnings about UV exposure leading to skin cancer.

“It’s still in vogue to have that suntanned color,” she said.

Daly thinks that the message that sun exposure can lead to skin cancer is still not getting through, especially to young girls. “No matter how hard we’ve been trying to get that message out, we need to keep at it and work harder,” she said. “The bottom line is that skin cancer is largely preventable.”

The best sunscreens are those that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. “Both are involved in skin cancer,” she said.

An effective sunscreen should contain a physical sunscreen such as zinc or titanium dioxide and a chemical sunscreen, she said. “The best sunscreen is one that contains zinc, because it covers both UVA and UVB rays,” Daly said.

“The most important thing to remember about sunscreen is that it doesn’t last very long,” she added. Sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours, Daly said.

In addition, it takes a lot of sunscreen to be fully protected, Daly explained. “The average tube of sunscreen is usually only four to six ounces — that should last maybe a day at the beach, but for a lot of people it lasts the entire season. We are just not using enough,” she said.

For the study, researchers used the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System to collect data on the use of sunscreen and tanning devices from a sample of U.S. high school students.





Ban indoor use of e-cigarettes, U.N. health agency says

EcigJoining a number of other health agencies, the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday recommended that countries regulate electronic cigarettes and ban their use indoors until studies prove that “vaping” is harmless to bystanders.

WHO also urged its 194 member states to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and also ban or minimize advertising and promotion of the devices, the Associated Press reported.

According to the U.N. agency, e-cigarette sales have already grown into a $3 billion market worldwide. And regulation “is a necessary precondition for establishing a scientific basis on which to judge the effects of their use, and for ensuring that adequate research is conducted and the public health is protected and people made aware of the potential risks and benefits.”

The announcement comes a day after the release of similar recommendations by the American Heart Association (AHA). The cardiologists’ group urged that e-cigarettes be subject to the same laws that apply to tobacco products, and they recommended that the U.S. government ban the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to young people.

The AHA also called for thorough and continuous research on e-cigarette use, marketing and long-term health effects.

“Over the last 50 years, 20 million Americans died because of tobacco. We are fiercely committed to preventing the tobacco industry from addicting another generation of smokers,” Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, said in an association news release.

“Recent studies raise concerns that e-cigarettes may be a gateway to traditional tobacco products for the nation’s youth, and could renormalize smoking in our society,” Brown said. “These disturbing developments have helped convince the association that e-cigarettes need to be strongly regulated, thoroughly researched and closely monitored.”

The recommendations were published Aug. 25 in the AHA journal Circulation.

“E-cigarettes have caused a major shift in the tobacco-control landscape,” statement author Aruni Bhatnagar, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Louisville, said in the news release.

“It’s critical that we rigorously examine the long-term impact of this new technology on public health, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and pay careful attention to the effect of e-cigarettes on adolescents,” he urged.

The AHA noted that a recent study found that youth exposure to e-cigarette advertising rose 250 percent from 2011 to 2013, and now reaches roughly 24 million young people.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs to immediately implement promised measures to regulate the marketing and sales of e-cigarettes, the AHA said.

“In the years since the FDA first announced it would assert its authority over e-cigarettes, the market for these products has grown dramatically,” Brown said. “We fear that any additional delay of these new regulations will have real, continuing public health consequences. Hence, we urge the agency to release the tobacco deeming rule by the end of this year.”

The AHA also wants states to include e-cigarettes in smoke-free laws, but only if changes to include the devices won’t weaken existing laws.

While some research suggests that the use of e-cigarettes to help smokers quit may be as or more effective than nicotine patches, there is no evidence to show that e-cigarettes are an effective first-line smoking cessation treatment, the statement said.

Proven methods of helping smokers quit should be tried first. But if they fail, doctors should not discourage the use of e-cigarettes by patients who want to use the devices to try to quit smoking, the AHA said.

“Nicotine is a dangerous and highly addictive chemical no matter what form it takes — conventional cigarettes or some other tobacco product,” AHA President Dr. Elliott Antman said in the news release.

“Every life that has been lost to tobacco addiction could have been prevented,” Antman said. “We must protect future generations from any potential smokescreens in the tobacco product landscape that will cause us to lose precious ground in the fight to make our nation 100 percent tobacco-free.”




Plastic Chemicals During Pregnancy Linked to 70% Increased Asthma Risk

pregnancyYou won’t easily find the word “phthalate” on a label, but the group of sticky chemicals that help make plastic flexible (and help make fragrances “stick” to your hair, face, or skin) may have unintended health consequences, finds a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

A research team from Columbia University followed a group of 300 moms and children in New York’s inner city for several years. Researchers compared the urine tests of the mothers’ during pregnancy—testing for concentrations of phthalates—to whether their children had asthma at ages 5-11.

“Virtually everyone in the U.S. is exposed to phthalates,” says study author Robin Whyatt, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. So in the absence of a true control, the researchers had to compare women with the lowest levels of exposure to women with the highest.

Children of women with higher levels of two types of phthalates—butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP) and di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP)—in their urine while pregnant had a 72% and 78% increase in the risk of asthma. And every single woman in the cohort had metabolites of both kinds of phthalates in their urine.

Phthalates are everywhere, from school supplies and nail polish to designer denim. They lurk in plastic and home materials, and since they hold scent, they’re extremely popular in all kinds of personal care products. In the study, researchers found a strong association between phthalate concentration and perfume, as well as vinyl flooring. “They’re volatile, so they get into the air,” Whyatt says. “Our data indicates that inhalation is a significant route of exposure.” Fetuses seems to be especially at risk; since their lungs develop so rapidly, they’re more susceptible to environmental exposures, she says. And phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they mess with the body’s natural hormone system, which Whyatt says are key to fetal development.

Studies have linked phthalates to early-onset eczema, hormonal imbalances and respiratory problems.

Eliminating your exposure altogether is impossible, and limiting it is difficult, Whyatt says. But she and her fellow researchers have adopted some phthalate-reducing recommendations, like storing food in glass containers instead of plastic, never microwaving food in plastic, avoiding air fresheners and all scented products (look for ‘fragrance” or “parfum” on the label), buying scent-free laundry detergent and dishwashing soap, and avoiding use of plastic with recycling codes #3 and #7 (you can tell by the number in the triangle).

“We feel we have a real burden, particularly to the women in our cohort,” Whyatt says, some of whom she’s been following for 16 years. But you can only cut down exposure so much. “Because they’re so widespread and in so many different products, addressing this is up to the regulators.”




Watching football on TV can be unhealthy if there’s too much stress, food and booze, says UAB nurse


Lots of Alabamians love to watch football – especially college football – and suffer through the ups and downs of their favorite squads.
In fact, fans in Birmingham watched more football on ESPN last season than ever before.

But a nurse at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) says that the excitement of football can be unhealthy.

“The body doesn’t distinguish between ‘bad’ stress from life or work and ‘good’ stress caused by game-day excitement,” said Jody Gilchrist, a nurse practitioner at the UAB Heart and Vascular Clinic at The Kirklin Clinic at Acton Road, in a UAB news release on Friday. “It impacts your health either way.”

Hard-fought games and tough defeats create heightened sensory inputs that trigger the release of adrenaline, which can reduce blood flow to the heart and other muscles and increase heart rate and blood pressure, according to the news release.

A lot of people also eat too much while watching football, according to Gilchrist. “Some people are stress eaters, and others tend to eat more when watching TV,” she said.

Many armchair quarterbacks may drink too much, as well, which can be a particular danger for heart patients, because alcohol can alter the way heart medications and other drugs work in the body, according to Gilchrist.

And regardless of drug interactions, doctors recommend that people limit their alcohol intake to two drinks per day, for both dietary and behavioral reasons.

“Binge drinking is bad because alcohol contains empty calories,” Gilchrist said. “Since alcohol decreases your inhibitions, you are more likely to overeat or eat things that you might normally avoid.”

Gilchrest suggests substituting light beers for regular beers or mixing a half glass of wine with seltzer to make it go further.

Here are nine other tips to help make football games a healthier experience:

• Minimize stress by watching the game with people you like and enjoy.

• Do out a few push-ups or sit-ups during the commercials.

• Chew gum or squeeze a stress ball to reduce anxiety.

• Take a walk at halftime.

• Manage your net dietary intake by planning ahead and making healthier choices at other times in anticipation of splurging during the game.

• If tailgating at the stadium, try to conserve calories earlier in the day.

• If tailgating at home, consider using vegetables in place of chips for dips, and substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream or cream cheese dips.

• Because sodium causes fluid retention — something especially bad for heart patients — avoid foods that have more than 1 mg of sodium per calorie. Natural foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables generally contain much less, so opt for them whenever possible.

• Avoid sodas, which are extremely high in sodium.