Health

Scars and fears

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Media caption“I really struggled, it made me feel very alone and isolated”, Becky said.

A woman who was told she would need open heart surgery aged 20 is campaigning to raise awareness of heart disease in young people.

Frustrated by a lack of education and support surrounding the disease, Becky Morgans, from Colwyn Bay, Conwy county, has set up a social media campaign called Beating Hearts.

It comes as charity Welsh Hearts revealed it has screened more than 1,400 16-35 year olds over the last year, with one session at the Principality Stadium in May leading to 32 referrals to treatment.

Here, she tells her story:

I was 20. Walking up the stairs I would get so out of breath. I went to the doctor, thinking I had a chest infection.

She thought maybe I’d punctured a lung so she sent me to the local hospital and I had a chest X-ray. It was the doctor there before I got discharged, listening in his stethoscope, who heard a heart murmur.

I thought, “what’s a heart murmur?” I was so naive at 20 years old. I thought anything heart related was just a heart attack.

I always thought, because I’ve only ever lived in my body, that feeling my heart beat was normal, but it wasn’t. He explained that he thought my heart was leaking.

They diagnosed me and told me that I would have to have open heart surgery to fix it.

Image copyrightBecky Morgan
Image caption Becky spent time in intensive care

I had surgery in January 2014 – an aortic valve replacement [her damaged valve was replaced with a tissue valve from a pig’s heart].

It [her aorta] was twice the size and it could have ruptured. I could have died if it was left.

I was terrified before. I didn’t know what the process was going to be. It made me feel very alone and isolated.

I went on Google to try and find other people my age who had gone through it or were going through it because I wanted to talk to them.

I thought, “I can’t be the only 21-year-old who is about to have open heart surgery”. I set up Beating Hearts on social media and so many people reached out.

Image copyrightBecky Morgans
Image caption Becky said Beating Hearts was “like a community now” and she has met “so many people”

I didn’t want it to be a cry for help, I didn’t want sympathy. I wanted it to help other people.

I think there needs to be more help, more understanding. Maybe a nurse who gives you their number if you are confused, or want to know more about your condition, your surgery, your recovery. Or if you’re feeling like your head can’t take it.

In February I tried to get some support, to speak to a counsellor. I had to try three different websites, whereas back when I was 20 I would have just given up and thought there was no help.

Advertising needs to be relatable, to not just show children and then skip to retirement age – 18 to 35-year-olds who use social media need to know “I’m not the only one who’s going through that”.

Image copyrightBecky Morgans
Image caption “The scar for me was the biggest insecurity”

Beating Hearts really went big on 27 April 2016 because there was a “Scars are Beautiful” campaign. I did my first ever picture showing my scar because I was finally happy and confident with it.

I struggled having an eight-inch scar down my chest but it’s only a scar, it doesn’t make me who I am.

Rebecca Ferguson tweeted asking people why music is an inspiration to them, and I replied because music helped me. She messaged me asking if I would feature in her recent music video “Superwoman”.

Image copyrightBecky Morgans
Image caption X Factor singer Rebecca Ferguson set up hashtagsuperwoman.com for women of all ages to go online and chat

I had one girl message me who was 14 years old who gets bullied in school. She said my posts made her realise that her life wasn’t that bad, and it made her feel better about her bullies. It made me cry.

I met a lady called Kerry, who has had two open heart surgeries, who told me her daughter was doing a project on me in school. It makes me realise what I’m doing is worth it and I should continue doing it.

In my eyes, if I can help one person it would be worth it.

I find it so much easier speaking to people online who have been through that, because I know they will have been through the same, so I open up a lot more.

When I speak to family and friends I feel like I have to hold back on what I say about my feelings or how a certain situation made me feel mentally.

I did my first speaking event with Chris Roberts, co-founder of the North Wales Dragons football team.

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Media caption“We said it was like a counselling session”

Chris messaged me and said: “I didn’t realise you were from north Wales, I’ve been following you a while.”

He had a heart attack, he was following me because of my heart journey and he asked if we could meet up because he was only down the road.

I’d never met the guy but because he has had a heart operation it was so easy to talk to him. We said it was like a counselling session.

Image copyrightBecky Morgans
Image caption Chris Roberts and Becky Morgans now meet every two weeks

This year’s been quite tough, back in February my ECG results [a test which measures the electrical activity of your heart] showed increased gradient. I know I have to have another operation in the future.

I will have to have a mechanical valve. My aorta will need to be changed to a plastic tube. That’s always on your mind.

Every time you go to hospital changes could be happening, I could need the second operation already.

But it doesn’t control my life, it’s just part of my life.

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Margaret Wilson: Flying Nightingale, 95, seeks fellow nurse’s family

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Margaret WilsonImage copyrightMargaret Wilson
Image caption Former Flying Nightingale, Margaret Wilson, hopes to track down the family of a fellow nurse who died in the conflict

One of the last living air ambulance nurses to have served during World War Two is seeking help with tracking down a former colleague’s family.

Margaret Wilson, 95, was one of 95 nurses who risked their lives transporting nearly 100,000 wounded soldiers to British hospitals.

Known as the Flying Nightingales, the nurses went unrecognised until 2008.

Mrs Wilson says she hopes to contact the family of Margaret Walsh, one of two nurses who died in action.

Image copyrightAir Ambulance Nurses
Image caption Flying Nightingales were civilian volunteers who risked their lives

The nurses were sent into mainland Europe from three bases in England from 1944. Because their outbound planes were carrying ammunition supplies for the forces, they were unable to use the Red Cross emblem to protect them from attack.

Although the nurses were given parachutes, they were told they were not allowed to use them if the plane was shot down on its return from Europe.

Instead, they had to stay with the wounded soldiers and be on hand to provide medical support should anyone survive the crash.

In 2015, the BBC tracked down Lilian West who believed she was the last living Flying Nightingale.

But, following the article, London-born Mrs Wilson, who now lives in Perth, Australia, came forward.

She said had never been on an aircraft before she applied to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).

“The reaction I would have now would be, ‘Hey, no way. I’m not going up there’,” she said. “But it’s amazing the sort of things you do during a war.”

Mrs Wilson was stationed at Down Ampney, in Gloucestershire, and shared a hut with another nurse – Margaret Walsh, whose plane went down over the Channel in April 1945.

Miss Walsh, 33, from Hove, Sussex, was lost along with the crew.

It is believed she was the daughter of Major Patrick Walsh and Mary Margaret Walsh

“Margaret used to read cards and we used to take the mickey a little bit,” said Mrs Wilson.

Image copyrightAir Ambulance Nurses
Image caption The nurses were told they must go down with their planes in case they could treat any crash survivors

“One day I came back from my flight into the hut and I saw she was upset. She was due to go out and she had obviously seen something on the cards.

“I said, ‘If you are worried, I’ll take your place on the plane. No problem. I’m all dressed to go.’ But Margaret wouldn’t let me.

“I think the middle of the next day, we were told that the plane was lost over the Channel. Margaret’s body was never found.

“The incident still lives with me so clearly and it’s one of my big sorrows I was never able to contact her family and talk to them about her. I can still see her face – I can still remember her.”

Image copyrightAir Ambulance Nurses
Image caption Each plane had one nurse treating up to 20 wounded soldiers

Mrs Wilson made dozens of trips across the Channel between 1944 and 1945, transporting wounded soldiers and freed prisoners of war in RAF Dakota planes to British hospitals.

“Each plane had only one nurse to look after between 10 and 20 very badly wounded soldiers,” she said.

“Some had lost legs and arms, some were blind and had injuries. It was so sad. They were mostly young boys, about the same age as me, 20 or 21 years old.”

One of her last flights was on 8 May. “We were halfway home when the pilot called out, “Hey boys! The war is over!” Well, I have never been kissed by so many men in my life,” she said.

“We were all crying and laughing at the good news. That was the happiest flight of all.”

She left the air force in 1945 and got married. However, she never mentioned her nursing career to her friends or family.

“My own sons didn’t know until about 20 years ago,” she said.

“My Australian friends were fuming when they found out about the award – I had never told them about what I did.

“I suppose it’s a generational thing. Personally, I don’t think there was anything brave about it. We were just doing a job. We didn’t expect any recognition.”

The nurses’ bravery was largely forgotten until 2008 when they were finally honoured for their bravery.

Mrs Wilson, who emigrated in 1968, was presented with a statue of Florence Nightingale and a letter signed by the Duchess of Cornwall at a ceremony in Australia.

Image copyrightMargaret Wilson
Image caption Margaret Wilson, pictured during the time she served

She was also invited to a grand tea at a museum run by the Royal Australian Air Force where she was allowed to go inside an old Dakota.

“It brought back so many memories,” she said.

“I am ashamed to say I shed a few tears.”

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Turn Over a New Leaf This Fall — Start Exercising

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SATURDAY, Oct. 28, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Did you spend the hot, sweltering days of summer sitting in front of an air conditioner? Then fall is a probably a good time for you to get up and get moving, medical experts say.

Why is now a good time?

If you start now, you’ll be well into your exercise program, which will help counter the overeating that typically occurs during the holiday season, according to UPMC Pinnacle, a health care system at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

In most of the United States, the fall means cooler temperatures and fewer bugs, which means ideal conditions for walking in local parks or going for hikes in state parks.

Having a dog can help motivate you to get out for regular walks. If a dog isn’t an option, find a human walking partner to help keep you motivated.

And you don’t need to limit yourself to walking. Other options include cycling, jogging — even dancing.

While watching TV, use exercise bands or light weights for some seated strength training, or do standing exercise routines.

If you haven’t exercised in a long time or have health issues or concerns, you should talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

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10 things to know about sleep as the clocks go back

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woman lying in bedImage copyrightGetty Images

People across the UK will wake up having gained an hour’s sleep on Sunday morning, as the clocks go back heralding darker evenings and shorter days. But how much do we know about sleep and its impact on our lives, from our health and mood, to how long we’ll live?

1. We’re told to get our eight hours

We often hear that we should all be getting eight hours’ sleep a night. Organisations from the NHS to the US National Sleep Foundation recommend it. But where does this advice come from?

Studies carried out around the world, looking at how often diseases occur in different groups of people across a population, have come to the same conclusion: both short sleepers and long sleepers are more likely to have a range of diseases, and to live shorter lives.

But it’s hard to tell whether it is short sleep that is causing disease or whether it is a symptom of a less healthy lifestyle.

Short sleepers are generally defined as those who regularly get less than six hours’ sleep and long sleepers generally more than nine or 10 hours’ a night.

Pre-puberty, children are recommended to get as much as 11 hours’ sleep a night, however, and up to 18 hours a day for newborn babies. Teenagers should sleep for up to 10 hours a night.

Shane O’Mara, professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin, says that, while it’s difficult to tell whether poor sleep is a cause or a symptom of poor health, these relationships feed off each other.

For example, people who are less fit exercise less, which leads people to sleep badly, become exhausted and less likely to exercise, and so on.

We do know that chronic sleep deprivation – that is, under-sleeping by an hour or two a night over a period of time – has been linked time and again by scientists to poor health outcomes: you don’t have to go for days without sleep to suffer these negative effects.

2. What happens in your body when you don’t sleep enough?

Poor sleep has been linked to a whole range of disorders.

A review of 153 studies with a total of more than five million participants found short sleep was significantly associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and obesity.

Studies have shown that depriving people of enough sleep for only a few nights in a row can be enough to put healthy adults into a pre-diabetic state. These moderate levels of sleep deprivation damaged their bodies’ ability to control blood glucose levels.

Vaccines are less effective when we are sleep deprived, and sleep deprivation suppresses our immune system making us more prone to infection.

One study found participants who had fewer than seven hours of sleep were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept for seven hours or more.

People who don’t sleep enough also appear to produce too much of the hormone ghrelin, associated with feeling hungry, and not enough of the hormone leptin, associated with feeling full, which may contribute to their risk of obesity.

There are also links to brain function and even in the long term to dementia.

Prof O’Mara explains that toxic debris builds up in your brain during the course of the day and waste is drained from the body during sleep. If you don’t sleep enough, you end up in a mildly concussed state, he says.

The impact of sleeping too much is less understood, but we do know it is linked to poorer health including a higher risk of cognitive decline in older adults.

3. We need different types of sleep to repair ourselves

After we fall asleep we go through cycles of “sleep stages”, each cycle lasting between 60 and 100 minutes. Each stage plays a different role in the many processes that happen in our body during sleep.

The first stage in each cycle is a drowsy, relaxed state between being awake and sleeping – breathing slows, muscles relax, the heart rate drops.

The second stage is a slightly deeper sleep – you may feel awake and this means that, on many nights, you may be asleep and not know it.

Stage three is deep sleep. It is very hard to wake up during this period because it is when there is the lowest amount of activity in your body.

Stages two and three together are known as slow wave sleep which is usually dreamless.

After deep sleep we go back to stage two for a few minutes, and then enter dream sleep, also called REM (rapid eye movement). As the name suggests, this is when dreaming happens.

In a full sleep cycle a person goes through all the stages of sleep from one to three, then back down to two briefly, before entering REM sleep.

Later cycles have longer periods of REM, so cutting sleep short has a disproportionately large effect on REM.

4. Shift workers who have disturbed sleep get sick more often

Shift work has been associated with a host of health problems. Researchers have found shift workers who get too little sleep at the wrong time of day may be increasing their risk of diabetes and obesity.

Shift workers are significantly more likely to report “fair or bad” general health according to a 2013 NHS study, which also found people in this group were a lot more likely to have a “limiting longstanding illness” than those who don’t work shifts.

People who work shifts are significantly more likely to take time off sick, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

There is a far bigger gap for non-manual workers than manual workers – lack of sleep seems to have a bigger impact on those doing more sedentary jobs.

5. And many of us are feeling more sleep deprived than ever

To judge from media reports, you’d think we were in the grip of a sleeplessness epidemic. But are we really all more sleep deprived than before?

A big piece of research looking at data from 15 countries found a very mixed picture. Six showed decreased sleep duration, seven increased sleep duration and two countries had mixed results.

Lots of a evidence suggests the amount we sleep hasn’t changed that much in recent generations.

But if you ask people how sleep deprived they think they are, a different picture emerges.

So why do so many people report feeling tired?

It may be that this problem is concentrated in certain groups, making the trend harder to pick up on a population-wide level.

Sleep problems vary considerably by age and gender, according to one study of 2,000 British adults. It found women at almost every age have more difficulty getting enough sleep than men.

The sexes are more or less level at adolescence but women begin to feel significantly more sleep deprived than men during the years where they may have young children, while work may become more demanding. The gap then shrinks again later in life.

Caffeine and alcohol both affect sleep duration and quality.

And later nights and more social activities mean some of us are getting less rest, despite having the same number of hours of sleep, according to Prof Derk-Jan Dijk, of the University of Surrey’s sleep research centre.

Some people may also sleep too little during the week and catch up at the weekend, bringing the average up but leaving those people feeling sleep deprived.

For example, adolescents are particularly at risk of becoming sleep deprived, according to Prof Dijk.

6. But we didn’t necessarily always sleep this way

Aside from a few outliers – Margaret Thatcher could apparently get by on only four hours a night – people tend to go to bed in the late evening for around seven or eight hours.

But this wasn’t necessarily always the norm according to Roger Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Tech in the USA. He published a paper in 2001 drawn from 16 years of research.

His subsequent book, At Day’s Close, contained a wealth of historical evidence suggesting that hundreds of years ago, humans in many parts of the world slept in two distinct chunks.

Dr Ekirch uncovered more than 2,000 pieces of evidence in diaries, court records and literature which suggest people used to have a first sleep beginning shortly after dusk, followed by a waking period of a couple of hours, then a second sleep.

He thinks this means the body has a natural preference for segmented sleep.

Not all scientists agree. Other researchers have found hunter-gatherer communities in the modern world who sleep in one block despite not having electric lighting. This suggests sleeping in two blocks is not necessarily our default.

According to Dr Ekirch the shift from biphasal to monophasal sleep happened in the 19th Century because domestic lighting pushed bedtimes later with no corresponding change in rising time, improved lighting changed the human body clock, and the industrial revolution put a greater emphasis on productivity and efficiency.

7. Phones are keeping teenagers awake

Sleep experts say teenagers need up to 10 hours sleep a night, but almost half don’t get this much according to the NHS.

Bedrooms are supposed to be a place of rest but are increasingly filled with distractions like laptops and mobile phones, making it harder for young people to nod off.

We have more different types of entertainment on offer than ever, making the temptation to stay awake greater. The blue light emitted by electronic devices makes us feel less sleepy. And the activity itself – be it talking to friends or watching TV – stimulates our brain when it should be winding down.

Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference recommend a nightly “digital detox”, putting mobile devices away for 90 minutes before lights out.

Last year the two organisations commissioned a poll which found a high proportion of young people check their phones after going to bed.

8. Testing for sleep disorders is on the up

More people are turning up at their doctors complaining of problems sleeping.

Analysing data collected by NHS England, the BBC found in June that the number of sleeping disorder tests had increased every year over the past decade.

There are a number of factors, but the biggest is probably the rise in obesity, according to Dr Guy Leschziner, a consultant neurologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Centre.

The most common and fastest-growing complaint he sees is obstructive sleep apnoea – where the airway collapses and people stop breathing in their sleep – and this is strongly related to weight.

The media has also played a role because people are more likely to go to their GPs having read an article or searched for their symptoms online, he says.

The recommended treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy, and doctors are increasingly aware that they shouldn’t be prescribing sleeping pills. But many still do because it’s difficult to access non-drug based treatments, particularly outside big cities.

9. Are other countries doing it differently?

One study looked at sleep habits in 20 industrialised countries.

It found variations of up to an hour in the time people went to bed and woke up, but overall sleep duration was fairly constant across countries. Generally, if a population on average went to bed later, they woke up later too, although not in every case.

Researchers have concluded that social influences – hours worked, timing of school, leisure habits – play a far bigger role than the natural cycle of light and dark.

In Norway, where the period of lightness each day varies through the year from zero to 24 hours, sleep duration throughout the year only varies on average by about half an hour.

Both in countries like the UK, where dusk and dawn times vary considerably across the seasons, and in countries closer to the Equator where dusk and dawn times vary minimally, sleep duration remains constant through the year.

But what about the impact of artificial light?

A study of three communities who had no access to electricity, in Tanzania, Namibia and Bolivia, found the average sleep duration was 7.7 hours – in step with industrialised countries.

So sleep duration seems remarkably consistent throughout the world – it’s the time we all go to bed and wake up that varies slightly.

These pre-industrialised communities did not fall asleep as soon as it got dark, but around three hours after sunset and generally woke before sunrise.

Most studies in this area suggest that artificial light delays sleep time but does not necessarily decrease overall sleep duration.

10. Morning larks, night owls?

There have always been morning people and evening people. We even have genetic evidence that backs this up.

But the introduction of artificial light appears to have exacerbated this effect, particularly for people who prefer to stay up late.

If you are already inclined towards being a night owl, artificial light will make you stay up even later.

About 30% of us tend towards being morning people and 30% towards being evening people, with the other 40% of us somewhere in the middle – although marginally more people prefer early rising to late nights.

We do have some control over our body clocks, however. Those who are naturally late to bed and late to rise can try reducing their exposure to light in the evenings and making sure they get more light exposure in the daytime.

A team of researchers took a group of volunteers camping in Colorado, where they had no access to artificial light. Only 48 hours was enough to shift the campers’ body clocks forward by almost two hours.

Levels of melatonin, the hormone that tells our body to prepare for sleep, began rising earlier in the volunteers – their bodies were preparing for sleep much closer to sunset.

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Marriage may protect against dementia

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Marriage and having close friends may help protect against dementia, according to Loughborough University researchers.

The study, published in Journals of Gerontology, followed 6,677 adults for just under seven years.

The quality of a person’s social circle appeared more important than the overall size, the research team said.

The Alzheimer’s Society said it was essential to help patients to maintain “meaningful social connections”.

None of the participants had dementia at the start of the trial, but 220 were diagnosed during it.

The research group compared the traits of those who did and did not develop dementia to find clues as to how social lives affect risk.

One finding was that when it comes to friends, it’s quality, not quantity, that counts.

Prof Eef Hogervorst said: “You can be surrounded by people, but it is the number of close relationships that is associated with a reduced risk for dementia… it’s not about the quantity.”

She thinks having close friends acts as a “buffer” against stress, which is linked to poor health.


Nine factors that contribute to dementia risk

  • Mid-life hearing loss – responsible for 9% of the risk
  • Failing to complete secondary education – 8%
  • Smoking – 5%
  • Failing to seek early treatment for depression – 4%
  • Physical inactivity – 3%
  • Social isolation – 2%
  • High blood pressure – 2%
  • Obesity – 1%
  • Type 2 diabetes – 1%

These risk factors – which are described as potentially modifiable – add up to 35%. The other 65% of dementia risk is thought to be potentially non-modifiable.


The study also suggested that single people had twice the risk of developing dementia during the study than those who were married.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This amounts to about one extra diagnosis in each 100 unmarried people.”

As the study only follows people over time it cannot prove cause and effect.

Dementia is known to start in the brain decades before it is diagnosed and some of these early changes may affect people’s ability to socialise.

Either way, Dr Brown said loneliness was a real issue in dementia.

He said: “If people are not properly supported, dementia can be an incredibly isolating experience.

“It is essential people with dementia are supported to maintain meaningful social connections and continue living their life as they want.”

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Using Cocaine? Fingerprints Might Tell

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FRIDAY, Oct. 27, 2017 (HealthDay News) — An experimental fingerprint test could confirm within seconds if someone has used cocaine, according to a new study.

The screening might pave the way for fingerprint-detection of other dangerous drugs such as heroin and ecstasy, said scientists at the University of Surrey in England.

“This is a real breakthrough in our work to bring a real-time, noninvasive drug-testing method to the market that will provide a definitive result in a matter of minutes. We are already working on a 30-second method,” said study co-leader Melanie Bailey, a chemistry lecturer.

When people take cocaine, they excrete trace amounts of benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine. These chemicals can be detected in fingerprint residue even after hand-washing, the researchers explained.

For the study, 239 sets of fingerprints were taken from patients seeking treatment at drug rehab centers and from a larger control group of non-drug users.

The screening “is noninvasive, hygienic and can’t be faked,” Bailey said in a university news release. “By the nature of the test, the identity of the subject, and their drug use, is all captured within the sample itself.”

The British researchers developed the test in partnership with the Netherlands Forensic Institute in The Hague and Intelligent Fingerprinting of Cambridge, England. They used chromatography paper to collect fingerprint samples and relied on a technique known as paper spray mass spectrometry.

“Paper spray mass spectrometry is gaining increasing popularity in forensic circles because it is incredibly sensitive and is very easy to set up a testing system. The units will save laboratories time,” said study co-leader Catia Costa, a doctoral student in Bailey’s university lab.

“This is the first time it has ever been used to detect the presence of drugs in fingerprints, and our results show the technique was 99 percent effective in detecting cocaine use among the patients,” Costa said.

The researchers said the test could be ready within 10 years for use by law enforcement. They noted that traditional drug tests, which rely on bodily fluids, can pose biological hazards and may be more difficult to discard or store.

The study was published recently in the journal Clinical Chemistry.

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Spooky Halloween Contact Lenses Are No Treat, Docs Say

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FRIDAY, Oct. 27, 2017 (HealthDay News) — If you’re tempted to buy Halloween-styled contact lenses without a prescription — don’t do it, eye experts warn.

Doing so could lead to serious problems and potentially damage your eyesight, according to the American Optometric Association.

Some decorative lenses are sold illegally at flea markets, beauty salons, convenience stores, national retailers and over the internet.

Never buy contact lenses from these sources, the association says.

“If you can walk in off the street, or log on to a website and buy them without verification of your prescription, the lenses are not being sold legally,” said Dr. Glenda Secor, past chair of the association’s contact lens and cornea section.

“Even though these are non-corrective lenses, they still pose the same potential health and safety risks as other contact lenses,” said Secor.

“When purchased over the counter, decorative contact lenses can put people at risk for bacterial infections, allergic reactions, or even significant damage to the eye’s ability to function, with the potential for irreversible sight loss,” Secor said in a news release from the group. “Sadly, numerous cases of serious harm have been documented.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies contact lenses as medical devices. They require a prescription, whether they’re meant to correct your vision or to be worn on special occasions such as Halloween.

A 2015 association survey found that 16 percent of Americans have worn non-vision-correcting decorative contact lenses as part of a costume or for other non-medical purposes. More than one-quarter of them bought the lenses without a prescription from a source other than an eye doctor.

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Botox May Offer New Hope for Young Migraine Sufferers

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FRIDAY, Oct. 27, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Botox injections may help bring relief to children suffering from migraines, a small study suggests.

Botox (botulinum toxin) appears to reduce the frequency of migraines and shorten the length of episodes when they do occur, while also diminishing migraine pain.

At the moment, Botox is only approved as an adult migraine treatment. And the new findings are based on testing among just nine children, aged 8 to 17.

But the results raise hope that a new alternative therapy for pediatric migraines is on the horizon, given that only a single preventive migraine medication — topiramate — is currently approved for the treatment of adolescent patients.

“When children and teens have migraine pain, it can severely affect their lives and ability to function,” said study author Dr. Shalini Shah, chief of the division of pain medicine at the University of California, Irvine,

“They miss school, their grades suffer and they are left behind, often unable to reach their full potential,” she added explained in an American Society of Anesthesiologists’ news release. “Clearly, there is a need for an alternative treatment for those who haven’t found relief.

Shah said that after treatment with Botox, “we saw improvement in functional aspects in all of the children and teens. In fact, one patient was hospitalized monthly for her migraine pain prior to Botox treatment and was expected to be held back in school. After treatment, she only has one or two migraines a year, and is excelling in college.”

The study team said that prior to Botox injections, the participating patients experienced migraines between roughly eight and 30 times per month.

The kids and teens were given Botox shots to the front and back of the head and the neck every 12 weeks for five years. Once treated, the study volunteers had migraines between two and 10 times a month.

Migraine duration also fell from between a half hour and a full day, to 15 minutes to seven hours. Reported pain also fell significantly, the researchers said.

Though no severe side effects were reported, another study is already being launched.

Shah presented the findings this week at a meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in Boston. Findings presented at meetings are typically viewed as preliminary if they haven’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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Fentanyl Driving Surge in Fatal U.S. Opioid Overdoses

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FRIDAY, Oct. 27, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Extremely powerful synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl or carfentanil, were directly responsible for more than half of thousands of opioid overdose deaths across many states in 2016, a new report finds.

Most often, fentanyl and even more potent “fentanyl analog” drugs — such as carfentanil — were mixed into the heroin that addicts were using, often without their knowledge, say researchers at the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new report, based on data from 10 states, comes a day after President Donald Trump declared the opioid addiction epidemic a national public health emergency, potentially freeing up more funds to battle what he called a “scourge.”

The study, led by CDC researcher Julie O’Donnell, looked at toxicology reports from nearly 5,200 fatal opioid overdoses occurring between July and December of 2016 in 10 states: Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

O’Donnell’s team reported that “fentanyl was detected in at least half of opioid overdose deaths in seven of 10 states,” and other illicit drugs, such as heroin, were also involved in 57 percent of these fatalities.

In about 47 percent of ODs involving fentanyl, drugs were injected, although fatal overdoses also occurred when drugs were snorted or ingested, the research showed.

Fentanyl-linked fatal ODs occurred most frequently in the Northeast, where between 60 percent and 90 percent of fatalities were tied to fentanyl. Victims were most likely to be white (81 percent), male (71 percent) and between the ages of 25 and 44 (about 58 percent).

Often, drug abusers may not know that dealers have “cut” heroin with fentanyl or its analogs, and so “fentanyl mixed with heroin, with or without users’ knowledge, is driving many fentanyl overdoses,” the report said.

Both fentanyl and its analogs, such as carfentanil or furanylfentanyl, are extremely potent. According to O’Donnell’s team, fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, while carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent. Especially after injection, unconsciousness, and then death, can come quickly.

Dr. Robert Glatter works in the ER at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital. “As an emergency physician on the front lines, I am witness to the devastating effects of opiate overdose and addiction on a daily basis, and how it rips apart relationships and families,” he said.

“Carfentanil is one of the most potent analogs which is currently of major concern,” he added. “Minute amounts can be deadly.” In fact, he said, carfentanil is so powerful that even Narcan (naloxone), the “rescue” drug often used to reverse an opioid overdose, can prove ineffective.

The new CDC report found evidence that carfentanil and its deadly kin are making inroads in the United States. In the new study, “fentanyl analogs were present in more than 10 percent of opioid overdose deaths in four states,” O’Donnell’s group noted.

Carfentanil hit Ohio particularly hard, with 350 fatal overdoses there linked to the drug’s use, the study found.

“The stark reality is that this crisis has been playing out on a daily basis in our nation’s emergency departments and ICUs over the past several decades, affecting tens of millions of families,” Glatter said.

The executive order signed Thursday by Trump pledges more federal funding to fight opioid dependency. But that money first needs to be allocated by Congress. Should it arrive, the CDC team believes it should be earmarked for interventions that are known to work.

These include a wider availability to the OD-reversal drug Narcan, but especially “increased access to medication-assisted treatment” to help wean addicts off opioids, O’Donnell’s team said.

Glatter agreed, saying “approaches focusing on medication-assisted treatment along with counseling have shown recent promise.”

The new report was published Oct. 27 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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With Severe Flu Season Lurking, Shots a Must

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FRIDAY, Oct. 27, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Early signs suggest that the United States will see a severe flu season, so it’s especially important for Americans to get their shots, health experts say.

Australia had its worst flu season on record, and what happens in the southern hemisphere typically predicts what happens in the northern hemisphere, said Kevin Harrod. He is a professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s department of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine.

“These data tell us that we should see a worse-than-average flu season,” Harrod said.

This year’s vaccines are combating the H3N2 strain and B strains of influenza, according to Harrod. H3N2 viruses cause more severe disease in the elderly and young children, and they are associated with a high hospitalization rate, he noted.

The best protection against the flu is vaccination, Harrod said in a university news release.

“While getting the flu shot may not keep you from getting the flu, it will limit the severity and duration of the illness, and provide you with some protection against future infections in subsequent seasons,” Harrod said.

“Even in years when the flu vaccine is a ‘bad match,’ there is partial protection because one’s immune system can make antibodies that still recognize and bind to the influenza virus even when new strains emerge unexpectedly,” he added.

Dr. Leah Leisch, an assistant professor in the division of general internal medicine at UAB, noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months and older — including pregnant women — get a flu shot.

“It is especially important for people at high risk for flu-related complications. This includes, but is not limited to, pregnant women, children younger than 5, adults older than 65 and people with certain medical conditions,” Leisch said.

Harrod said the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices does not recommend the use of the nasal spray flu vaccine in the 2017-2018 influenza season.

Leisch had some tips on what to do if you think you’re coming down with the flu.

“During flu season, if you experience flu-like symptoms, it is wise to let your doctor know within 24 to 48 hours of when the symptoms began,” Leisch said. “However, your doctor may not prescribe any medications, as most — otherwise healthy — adults under age 65 do not require prescription medication for flu.”

For most people, the best therapy is to stay home and get plenty of rest and fluids, she said. Young children, adults older than 65, and adults with certain medical conditions may require anti-viral medications.

“These medications are good at preventing complications of flu and shortening the duration of flu by one or two days,” Leisch said. “However, they will not make the symptoms go away immediately.”

Potential complications of flu include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as heart failure, asthma or diabetes.

In 2014, about 970,000 Americans were hospitalized due to the flu and more than 40 million were affected by flu-related illnesses, according to the CDC.

While most flu-related hospitalizations and deaths occur among people 65 and older, healthy children and younger adults can also develop severe problems and even die. Each year, nearly 100 flu-related deaths among children are reported to the CDC.

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