Internal Medicine Blog
- 18 August 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
By: Lauren O’Brien, MD
With the heat of summer still upon us, I know that it is hard to believe that fall- and the dreaded flu season- will soon be here. Flu vaccines are set to arrive soon, so this is the perfect time to review some common misconceptions about this illness and vaccine.
Influenza is more than the “common cold”. It is a respiratory illness caused by the Influenza viruses, which can be very severe. Common symptoms include: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches and fatigue. Occasionally individuals will have vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children. Most people who get the flu will recover in 5-14 days, but complications (such as pneumonia) can occur that can lead to serious illness or even death.
These complications and the control of the spread of the influenza virus are some of the main reasons why we recommend that all of our patients without contraindications get the flu vaccine. Here are a few common misconceptions to think about as you prepare to come in to the office for your yearly vaccine.
“I am healthy and I have never had the flu, so I don’t need to get the vaccine.”
It is great that an individual has escaped contracting the flu in the past and a healthy immune system is important, but it does not mean that you are naturally immune to the virus and will not come down with the flu in the future. The annual flu vaccine will help to protect you against getting the flu or at the very least give you a much milder case of symptoms. This leads to less missed days of work and less disruption in your daily life. In addition, the more healthy individuals we vaccinate the less likely the flu is to spread to those who are immunocompromised and those who cannot get the flu vaccine themselves.
“I got the flu from the vaccine in the past!”
This is a very common misconception. The flu vaccines that we give in the office are made from ‘inactivated” flu viruses and are therefore not infectious. The most common side effects include: local reactions at the sight of injection (redness, tenderness, or swelling). In some patients, a low grade fever, headache and body aches are possible, but these are not as severe as the flu and are of a much shorter duration.
In studies where some patients were given an injection of the flu vaccine versus an injection of a salt water solution, the only difference in side effects was a slight increase in arm soreness with the flu vaccine. There was no difference in fever, body aches or headaches.
“I got the flu vaccine last year, so I don’t need one this year”
The Influenza vaccine is an annual vaccine for good reason. The circulating strains of flu viruses can change from year to year. Because of this, scientists study the trends in circulation and make a very educated guess as to which strains will be present in the up coming flu season. Production of this year’s flu vaccine then ensues. Sometimes the scientists get it right on and the vaccine is highly effective. Sometimes they miss the mark (as with last season) and the effectiveness is low. Even in these cases, the vaccine can still provide enough protection so that an individual’s illness is much less severe. Therefore, since the viruses and vaccines change each year, an annual flu vaccine is essential.
“It’s too early to get the flu vaccine!”
We anticipate that the supply of this year’s flu vaccine will be arriving in September. This is a great time to get your vaccine. The flu season generally peaks in December thru February, but illness can be seen from October thru May. Getting your flu vaccine early allows you to mount the appropriate immune response early and gives you the best protection for the entire flu season. On the flip side, if you do not get in to the office in September or October, it’s not too late to get the flu vaccine. Vaccinating after December can still be effective for the remainder of the season.
“I am pregnant, so I can’t get the vaccine”
If you happen to be pregnant during the flu season it is even more important that you get the vaccine this year. Pregnancy increases an individual’s risk of complications from the flu so vaccination is highly recommended.
If you have further concerns about Influenza or the flu vaccine, please come in to see your doctor to discuss things further. If you are not coming in for your routine care this fall, please schedule a visit with one of our nurses to get your flu vaccine as soon as they become available.
- 31 July 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
At the end of last year the new version of Gardasil (Gardasil 9) was approved. This is very significant, because it has coverage for 5 additional HPV strains that account for 20% of cervical cancers diagnosed. So previously the vaccine was up to 75%, now it is up to 90% effective! The added news is it is just as safe.
The shot is approved for use in females ages 9 through 26. (In males ages 9 through 15.) Obviously the sooner you get the vaccine, the more effective it will be for you. HPV screening is not recommend before starting, therefore, even if you have tested positive for HPV, there are still strains it can protect you against. As long as you start your first dose by age 26 and follow through with the recommended immunization schedule, it will be covered by your insurance. It is administered on the initial dose, 2 months later and 6 months after the initial dose.
There are also a few more added benefits, but you do not hear about as frequently such as: protection against vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers. This is great news when I consider how frequently I see positive HPV results. Keep a look out for the arrival of the new Gardasil 9 to our office!
- 30 July 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
By: Jillan Rowbotham, D.O.
With summer now in full swing sunburns are, unfortunately, an all too common occurrence. More than 30 percent of adults and 70 percent of children and adolescents report at least one sunburn during the course of a year. The best approach for sunburn is prevention through sun avoidance or diligent use and reapplication of a sunscreen. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we end up lobster red after a sunny day.
Sunburn is a self-limiting condition that usually resolves in a few days. There is nothing you can do to reverse the skin damage or speed up the healing time but there are some things you can do, and things you shouldn’t do, to reduce pain and further damage.
Do get out of the sun as soon as possible if you think you are starting to get burned.
Don’t just apply sunscreen over burned areas in an attempt to stay outside longer.
Don’t think that a “base tan” is healthy and that it will protect you from getting sunburned. Tanned skin provides an SPF of less than four. Any change in skin color is a sign of damage and increases your risk of premature skin aging and skin cancer.
Don’t underestimate the relief you can get from an over the counter anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). These medications are especially helpful if you take them as soon as you notice pain, don’t wait until the pain gets really bad.
Do be aware that NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen will make your skin more sensitive to the sun while you are taking them so take appropriate precautions to avoid getting burned again.
Do use cool water to soothe sunburned skin. A cool bath, shower, or compress (a towel soaked in cool water) can give you some relief. If your shower water pressure is high it is best to opt for a bath or cool compress to avoid pressure on your burn.
Do drink plenty of water. Sun exposure and heat can cause fluid loss through your skin.
Do feel free to use aloe on intact sunburned skin. Keep commercially-prepared aloe lotion or gel in the refrigerator to make it extra soothing. You can also apply aloe gel directly from the plant. I keep an aloe plant on hand for such occasions and have found that it makes a great houseplant and is surprisingly easy to keep alive.
Don’t use petroleum jelly, butter, egg whites, or other home remedies on your sunburn.
Don’t be tempted to pop a blister if one develops. Popping a blister will increase you risk of infection. If a blister does rupture on its own then apply a bit of antibacterial ointment and keep it clean and covered with a bandage. Don’t remove the top layer of skin, it helps protect the tender underlying skin and will eventually come off on its own. If left alone blisters will generally heal without scarring in 7-10 days.
Do treat peeling skin gently. Keep the peeling area moisturized and don’t try to speed up the peeling with harsh exfoliants or scrubbing with a loofah.
Do come into the office if your sunburn is severe, blistering, and covers a large part of your body; if you have developed a skin infection from scratching sunburned skin, or you have a severe sunburn that does not begin to improve within a few days.
If you have a severe sunburn and also have fever, headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting, blurry vision, or fainting you may also have heat exhaustion or heat stroke. If you have any of these problems, you should go to the emergency department immediately.
- 25 June 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
Many of our patients use the summer months to catch up on routine health screenings--gyn exams, dental cleanings, physicals--which is great. Despite this motivation to get healthy, however, I have noticed that when it comes to vaccinations, many patients are unaware, or uninterested, in taking care of this very important--and effective--step in preventing disease. The development of vaccines has been one of the most important and cost-effective public health initiatives of the past century, saving untold numbers of lives worldwide from now-preventable disease. Ironically, this success has caused some vaccine apathy in our population, as many once-deadly diseases are simply off our radar and do not seem to pose an immediate threat.
The American Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) releases new vaccine updates annually, and occasionally more frequently. CDC researchers recently analyzed data from the 2013 National Health Interview Survey and found that for at least six vaccines recommended for adults by the ACIP, the rates of coverage were far below the goals of the Healthy People 2020 targets (this is a national collaborative effort to reduce disease and promote health in America).
So, what vaccines should you be getting? Here is a general list of vaccines recommended for a healthy adult:
1. First of all, all adults should get a tetanus shot every 10 years, and a Tdap (Tetanus and Pertussis, or whooping cough) shot at least once. In addition, pregnant women should be getting the Tdap shot in the third trimester of EVERY pregnancy, regardless of previous immunization status--this will protect you and your newborn from whooping cough, which can be deadly (it is usually recommended that any close contacts of your newborn also be up to date on this immunization).
2. Flu shots are now universally recommended for everyone, healthy or not (this not only protects you, but contributes to "herd immunity", reducing the likelihood of spreading disease through a community).
3. Shingles vaccination is recommended for all adults over age 60, even if you have had the shingles, even if you think you have never had the chicken pox.
4. Two pneumonia vaccines are recommended for all adults over age 65. One or two pneumonia shots are also recommended for younger people who are smokers or have chronic lung diseases (including asthma) or certain other chronic diseases (including Diabetes, liver disease, congestive heart failure).
5. MMR/Varicella (Chickenpox)--vaccination is recommended is you were born after 1957 and have not been previously vaccinated. Some OBs recommend getting screened for titers for these diseases prior to conception, so women planning to conceive can get vaccinated safely ahead of time, reducing the risk of contracting these diseases while pregnant.
6. Gardasil (HPV) vaccination with the 2-, 4-, or new 9-valent vaccine is recommended for all girls/women from age 9-26 to prevent cervical cancer (those who were previously vaccinated with the 2- or 4-valent vaccines do not have to repeat the series with the 9-valent version, because all of the vaccines protect against the highest-risk HPV strains, 16 and 18). Cervical cancer is still a significant cause of death worldwide; the development of this vaccine is a remarkable modern vaccine success story.
7. Hepatitis B may be considered for those who are sexually active, and is recommended for healthcare workers, as this liver disease can be spread through exposure to contaminated blood and body fluids.
This is by no means a comprehensive list; certain other vaccines like Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Polio are recommended for travel to certain countries, or under other circumstances. And there are some people with health conditions or allergies that are contraindications to some/all of the above vaccines, so it is best to have a conversation with your provider about what YOU need. The takeaway point is that vaccines have changed the face of disease in our world, and they continue to be a valuable component of your efforts to maintain good health. Be sure to round up your immunization records ahead of your next physical, so you and your physician can make sure you are up to date.
- 28 May 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
Even though vitamin D is a hot topic in Women’s Health, the current recommendations start with newborns. The new recommendations for Vitamin D intake start within a few days of birth-400 International units in exclusively breast-fed infants. Starting at age one, the recommendation jumps to 600 I.U. (previously the recommendations was 200 I.U.) in part because it was found that the risk of rickets decreases substantially at the increased recommendations. Vitamin D supplementation recommendations actually start even earlier. Currently, pregnant females should be getting at least 600 I.U daily since vitamin d crossed the placental barrier and builds fetal stores. In darker skinned individual and individuals whose cultural and religious practices include complete skin cover, the recommendations are set at 1,000 I.U.
Having said that, sun exposure during most months, mid-day, for 10-15 minutes without sunscreen is sufficient for vitamin D synthesis in light skinned individuals. Dark skinned pigmentation, winter season, or northern latitudes can markedly reduce skin synthesis and increase dietary intake.
Besides living in northern latitudes and being darker skinned, other common causes of decreased vitamin D deficiency include decreased synthesis, decreased nutritional intake, maternal vitamin D deficiency, prematurity, exclusive breast feeding and obesity due to the increased sequestration of vitamin D in fat , malabsorption and medication interference with absorption. Most countries have milk and orange juice fortified supplementation to help with this. Other common foods that contain vitamin D are fatty fish, canned tuna fish, egg yolks, fortified cereals, beef liver, cod liver oil and calcium rich foods because your body needs calcium to absorb vitamin D.
In turn, vitamin D helps your muscles absorb calcium. Decreased calcium causes your muscles to cramp, hurt or feel weak. Included in your body muscles is the most important muscle of all, your heart muscle. Foods high in calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy greens, seafood, legumes and fruit. Also important to note is that there is no evidence to support calcium intake and increased risk of developing kidney stones.
With the increased daylight, now is the time to try and increase your vitamin D production and intake if you have not already done so. And when stopping in for your annual checkup, you can see how well you are doing with your vitamin D status.
- 01 May 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
By: Lauren O'Brien, M.D.
Spring has sprung. and soon those long, hot days of summer will be upon us. We are all ready to enjoy the warmer, days the sun has in store for us, so this is the perfect time to reflect on the potential hazards that can come with all of that UV exposure.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so let's review some important skin cancer stats.
As a group, skin cancers are the most common cancers of humans. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer. The overall lifetime risk of melanoma is 1:50, but it represents the most common cancer in women aged 25-29 and the second most common cancer in women 30-34.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Melanoma can affect ANYONE, but there are certain people who are at greater risk.
1) Caucasians have a higher risk than other races
2) If you have >50 moles, or large/atypical moles, you are at higher risk.
3) Caucasians with light skin, freckles, red or blond hair, and those with blue or green eyes are at higher risk.
4) Your risk is increased if you have had a previous melanoma, other skin cancers (basal cell, squamous cell) or other cancers such as breast or thyroid cancer.
5) You have an increased risk if you have a family history of melanoma.
6) Your risk is increased if you have a history of a sunburn, or if you visited a tanning bed prior age 30.
Now that we know more about skin cancer and melanoma, the best strategy is to prevent the skin damagebefore it occurs. Here are some ways we can prevent skin cancer:
1) Seek shade and avoid sunburns. It is most important to look for shade between l0am and 2pm when the suns rays are the strongest.
2) Avoid sun lamps and tanning beds- as we said before, this is linked to an increased risk of melanoma especially if used before age 30.
3) Wear hats with a 2-3 inch brim to protect your face, ears, and neck. Plain baseball caps leave your neck and ears exposed and straw hats offer less protection than those made with a tightly woven fabric. If possible, wear long sleeves and pants for added protection.
4) Don't forget the sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection to keep your eyes safe.
5) Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Use at least a palmful to cover arms, legs, face, and neck. Use a lip balm with sunscreen as well. Be sure to apply 30 minutes prior to going out in the sun and reapply every 2 hours. Remember, sunscreen acts as a filter and does not give 100% protection. If you stay out in the sun for many hours in a day you can still get burned.
6) Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun and can increase your chances of sunburn.
Many skin cancers can be cured if found early, so surveillance and early detection are key. If you are in one of the high-risk groups, seeing a dermatologist yearly for a full body skin check is a good idea. You can do your own surveillance at home in between visits by following these tips:
1) Look for any new growths or sores that do not heal.
2) Follow the "ABCDE 's of skin cancer when evaluating moles:
- Asymmetry- ½ of a mole does not match the other half
- Border- the edges of the mole are ragged, notched or blurred
- Color- the color of the mole is mottled or uneven
- Diameter- the size of the mole is unusually large, greater than the size of the tip of a pencil eraser (6mm)
- Evolving- a mole is changing in size, shape or color, or if a mole is new to you.
If you note any of these changes, make an appointment to see your doctor or dermatologist for further evaluation. With a little diligence, you can still enjoy the energizing summer sun and keep your skin safe at the same time!
- 27 April 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
Although there are different types of skin cancer, melanoma is by far the most dangerous type. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for adults ages 25-29 and, despite being highly curable if caught early, an estimated 1 American dies every 61 minutes because of this cancer.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of cancer that originates from the cells in your skin that hold pigment – melanocytes. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be pink, purple, red, white and blue! The primary cause of this type of cancer is intense exposure to ultraviolet light (typically resulting in sunburn)
ABCDEs of Melanoma
The biggest prevention tool for melanoma is knowing your skin and noticing any changes that occur. To help understand changes, you can use ‘the ABCDEs of Melanoma’:
Asymmetry – regular moles are more likely to be symmetrical
Borders – regular moles typically have smooth borders, whereas Melanoma can have rough, even scalloped borders
Color – regular moles tend to be uniform in color
Diameter – benign moles tend to be small – under ¼ inch
Evolution – regular moles do not change over time; any change in size, color, shape or unusual activity -such as bleeding, crusting or itching – is usually a sign of danger.
What can I do?
Other than monitoring your skin and having annual skin checks with a dermatologist, there are steps you can take to avoid the kind of exposure that causes melanoma:
· Stay in the shade, especially between the hours of 10am and 4 pm ‘peak sun hours’
· Avoid tanning, especially in UV tanning beds
· Use a broad spectrum sunscreen that covers both UVA and UVB with an SPF of 30-50. Sunscreens with an SPF of over 50 have been shown to have a limited benefit and can be more costly. Also – do not forget to reapply our sunscreen every 2 hours or after excessive sweating and/or swimming.
· Last but not least – make sure to keep your newborns shaded and out of the sun and make sure to use sunscreen once your baby has reached 6 months!
If you have any moles that you are concerned about, our physicians, Dr. Lauren O’Brien and Dr. Stephanie McKnight will be happy to see you and even remove the lesion if necessary! We can also refer you to a dermatologist if you do not see one regularly. So take care of your skin and have a safe and wonderful summer!
- 31 March 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
Alcohol Abuse is an often and seemingly socially acceptable behavior that affects millions of people in the United States. In fact, according to the CDC, 88000 deaths per year are linked to excessive alcohol use.
WHAT is alcohol abuse?
Alcohol Abuse or alcoholism is a chronic disease recognized by the following 4 symptoms:
• Cravings (the urge to drink)
• Loss of Control (Not being able to stop once drinking has begun)
• Tolerance (The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol for the desired psychological effect.)
• Physical Dependence (Withdrawal symptoms after stopping drinking: nausea, sweating, shakiness, anxiety).
But everyone drinks alcohol! Why should I be worried?
Other than the emotional and financial impact alcohol abuse can have on your life, it also ravages your body; excessive alcohol use affects ALL of you organ systems!
The most commonly known outcomes of alcohol abuse are:
• Liver diseases - hepatitis, cirrhosis
• Gastrointestinal complaints – gastritis, pancreatitis
• Neurological impairment – dementia, neuropathy
• Cardiovascular problems – hypertension, heart attacks
• Unintentional Injuries – motor vehicle accidents, drowning, falls
• Alcohol abuse can even lead to the development of diabetes!
What can I do?
Although there is treatment for alcohol abuse, there currently is no ultimate cure. Preventing the development of this condition is the best course of action for anyone. In order to play it safe, the U.S. Department of Health recommends that women do not imbibe more than one drink per day.
If you feel that you may have a problem with alcohol or are uncertain, discussion is the first step. Schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor as soon as you are able. Your physician can help determine whether your habits need correction and, if necessary can help you find an optimal treatment program which can include counseling and/or medications.
If you are not ready to talk to a doctor, please explore the following resources:
www.ncadd.org - National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
www.niaaa.nih.gov - National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
www.recovery.org - Connecting people and their families with the information and resources to help them recover from substance abuse and behavioral disorders.
Don’t allow your life and health to be washed away – talk to your Primary Care Provider today!
- 24 March 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
Spring is on its way! Along with budding trees and flowers comes pollen — a common trigger for allergies. Limiting the frequency and duration of your exposure to pollen can prevent or decrease symptoms and reduce your need for medications. For those who suffer from spring allergies here are a few tips to make the season more enjoyable.
- Limit outdoor activities when pollen counts are the highest, between 5am and 10am.
- Pay attention to pollen reports, available with the daily weather report and online, and stay indoors when counts are high. Dry, windy days are more likely to have large amounts of pollen in the air than damp, rainy days when most pollen is washed to the ground.
- Keep windows and doors closed to keep pollen from drifting into your house. Likewise, keep your car windows rolled up and sunroof closed when you drive and adjust your ventilation system to re-circulate inter-compartment air instead of drawing air from outside.
- Pollen can accumulate on your clothes and hair while you are outdoors. Remove your shoes at the door and change out of clothes you’ve worn outside. Shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair. Your pet’s fur presents a similar problem. Though it is certainly not practical to bathe your dog every night, try to keep pets off of the furniture and out of your bed so that you will limit your exposure.
- Wash bedding often and always machine dry. Pollen may collect on laundry if it is hung outside.
- Rinse out your nasal passages once you are inside for the day or before you go to bed. If you can’t get the hang of a neti pot, pick up a reusable nasal irrigation kit available at most pharmacies.
- 02 March 2015
- Internal Medicine Blog
As spring comes along, some of us are starting to think about our summer vacation plans. If you are one of those people who is considering traveling to an area that requires updating your vaccines or getting vaccines that are not required growing up in the United States, it is never too early to get started with your Travel Visit.
There are a few things to keep in mind before traveling:
· Schedule your travel appointment as soon as possible. We recommend 4-6 weeks in advance.
· Have a list of your medical problems, medications, allergies and your doctors name and phone numbers.
· If you have artificial devices in your body.
· Insurance companies may or may not pay for the travel visit, vaccines and medications.
· Some vaccines require more than one shot.
· We do not carry the Yellow Fever Vaccine. You are able to do a travel visit with one of our doctors and then they will give you a Rx to get the vaccine injected at a local pharmacy.
· Check with your insurance company if you require more medication for extended vacations.
How to prepare for your travel visit:
· Have your travel itinerary with you at the time of your visit.
· Have a copy of your previous vaccines.
Scheduling a travel visit will help to ensure that you make the best out of your trip!
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