What is coronary heart disease?
Your heart is a pump the size of a fist that sends oxygen-rich blood around your body. The blood travels to the organs of your body through blood vessels known as arteries, and returns to the heart through veins.
Your heart needs its own blood supply to keep working. Heart disease occurs when the arteries that carry this blood, known as coronary arteries, start to become blocked by a build-up of fatty deposits.
The inner lining of the coronary arteries gradually becomes furred with a thick, porridge-like sludge of substances, known as plaques, and formed from cholesterol. This clogging-up process is known as atherosclerosis.
The plaques narrow the arteries and reduce the space through which blood can flow. They can also block nutrients being delivered to the artery walls, which means the arteries lose their elasticity. In turn, this can lead to high blood pressure, which also increases the risk of heart disease. This same process goes on in the arteries throughout the body, and can lead to high blood pressure which puts further strain on the heart.
If your arteries are partially blocked you can experience angina – severe chest pains that can spread across your upper body – as your heart struggles to keep beating on a restricted supply of oxygen. You are also at greater risk of a heart attack.
Some people have a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis due to genetic factors – one clue to this is a family history of heart disease in middle-age. Lifestyle factors that increase the risk include an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, diabetes, high blood pressure and, most importantly, smoking.
However, in the past couple of decades deaths from coronary heart disease have nearly halved, thanks to better treatments.
What happens during a heart attack?
A heart attack happens when one of the coronary arteries becomes completely blocked. This usually happens when a plaque, which is already narrowing an artery, cracks or splits open. This triggers the formation of a blood clot around the plaque, and it is this blood clot that then completely blocks the artery.
With their supply of oxygen completely blocked, the heart muscle and tissue supplied by that artery start to die. Emergency medical intervention is needed to unblock the artery and restore blood flow. This may consist of treatment with drugs to dissolve the clot or thrombus, or a small operation done through the skin and blood vessels to open up the blocked artery.
The outcome of a heart attack hinges on the amount of the muscle that dies before it is corrected. The smaller the area affected, the greater the chance of survival and recovery.
While a heart attack will always cause some permanent damage, some areas may be able to recover if they are not deprived of blood for too long. The sooner a heart attack is diagnosed and treated, the greater the chance of recovery.
Source: American Heart Foundation
The activity of hundreds of genes was altered when people’s sleep was cut to less than six hours a day for a week.
Writing in the journal PNAS, the researchers said the results helped explain how poor sleep damaged health.
Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and poor brain function have all been linked to substandard sleep.
What missing hours in bed actually does to alter health, however, is unknown.
Researchers at the University of Surrey in the UK, analyzed the blood of 26 people after they had had plenty of sleep, up to 10 hours each night for a week, and compared the results with samples after a week of fewer than six hours a night.
More than 700 genes were altered by the shift. Each contains the instructions for building a protein, so those that became more active produced more proteins – changing the chemistry of the body.
Meanwhile the natural body clock was disturbed – some genes naturally wax and wane in activity through the day, but this effect was dulled by sleep deprivation.
Prof Colin Smith, from the University of Surrey noted: “There was quite a dramatic change in activity in many different kinds of genes.”
Areas such as the immune system and how the body responds to damage and stress were affected.
Prof Smith added: “Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state, all kinds of damage appear to occur – hinting at what may lead to ill health.
“If we can’t actually replenish and replace new cells, then that’s going to lead to degenerative diseases.”
He said many people may be even more sleep deprived in their daily lives than those in the study – suggesting these changes may be common.
Dr Akhilesh Reddy, a specialist in the body clock at the University of Cambridge, said the study was “interesting”.
He said the key findings were the effects on inflammation and the immune system as it was possible to see a link between those effects and health problems such as diabetes.
The findings also tie into research attempting to do away with sleep, such as by finding a drug that could eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation.
Dr Reddy said: “We don’t know what the switch is that causes all these changes, but theoretically if you could switch it on or off, you might be able to get away without sleep.
“But my feeling is that sleep is fundamentally important to regenerating all cells.”
Source: BBC Health News February, 2013
It has been known for more than 85 years that some brain cells could withstand being starved of oxygen.
Scientists, writing in the journal Nature Medicine, have shown how these cells switch into survival mode.
They hope to one-day find a drug which uses the same trick to protect the whole brain.
Treating a stroke is a race against time. Clots that block the blood supply prevent the flow of oxygen and sugar to brain cells, which then rapidly die.
But in 1926, it was noticed that some cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory, did not follow this rule.
“They’re staying alive when the prediction would say that they should die,” said Prof Alastair Buchan from Oxford University who has investigated how they survive.
I’m a survivor
Experiments on rats showed that these surviving-cells started producing a protein called hamartin – which forces cells to conserve energy. They stop producing new proteins and break down existing ones to access the raw materials.
When the researchers prevented the cells from producing hamartin, they died just like other cells.
Prof Buchan said: “We have shown for the first time that the brain has mechanisms that it can use to protect itself and keep brain cells alive.”
Their aim is to develop a drug that can produce the same effect, which could be given when an ambulance arrived. This would buy the brain time until clot-busting drugs could be given in hospital.
The researchers do not know why these cells have this defense, but other nearby cells in the hippocampus do not. There are differences in function. The cells that die are known as CA1 cells which are very plastic and are involved in laying down memories whereas the surviving, or CA3, cells are less adaptable.
Speaking to BBC News online, Prof Buchan said the focus of this research was on “ways to keep brain cells alive” which could have impacts beyond stroke – such as in Alzheimer’s disease and spinal cord injuries.
Commenting on the study, Dr Clare Walton from the Stroke Association said: “Previous research has shown that some brain cells are naturally more resilient than others, and this study has identified a particular protein in the cells that is responsible.
“In the future, researchers could try to turn on this protein in other, less resilient brain cells to reduce the brain damage caused by stroke.
“The findings of this research are exciting, but we are still a long way off from developing a new stroke treatment.”
Source: James Gallagher Health and Science reporter, BBC News
Doctors have known for some time that loneliness is bad for the mind. It leads to mental health problems like depression, stress, anxiety, and a lack of confidence.
But there’s growing evidence that social isolation is connected with an increased risk of physical ill health as well.
There are suggestions it can make some diseases both more likely to occur and more likely to be fatal.
In 2006, a study of 2,800 women who had breast cancer showed those who saw few friends or family were as much as five times more likely to die of their disease than women with many social contacts.
Researchers are trying to figure out what loneliness does to the body which can lead to illness and death.
Psychologists at University of Chicago and Ohio State University have shown that people who are socially isolated develop changes in their immune system, which leads to a condition called chronic inflammation.
Short term inflammation is necessary for us to heal after a cut or an infection, but if the inflammation persists in the long-term it can contribute towards cardiovascular disease and cancer.
At the University of Chicago, scientists found that lonely people find everyday activities more stressful than those who are not socially isolated.
They measured levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s produced when we are stressed, in a wide range of healthy people in the morning and evening.
Lonely people released more cortisol. The scientists suggest that too much of the hormone causes inflammation and disease.
The latest work from Ohio State University looked at levels of inflammation in response to stress in lonely people. Dr Lisa Jaremka compared women who have survived breast cancer with healthy volunteers.
She gave the participants a well-known stress test, called the Trier Social Stress Test, in which they had to give an impromptu speech explaining why they were the best candidate for a job, in front of a stony-faced panel.
They then had to perform a mental arithmetic task before the same panel.
Loneliness tests and blood samples showed that in both groups, the lonelier people had higher levels of inflammation.
Dr Jaremka said: “If you’re lonely you can have raised inflammation regardless of having a chronic medical condition.
“It was a struggle for a long time for physicians to recognize the importance of loneliness in health. We now know how important it is to understand patients’ social worlds.”
The number of people who are likely to be lonely is rising all over the world. Many of these are elderly, left by themselves after their partners have died or their families have moved away.
Half of over 75 year olds in the UK live alone, and one in 10 suffer intense loneliness.
Dr Jaremka said: “Being lonely means not feeling connected or cared for, it’s not about being physically alone.
“We need to find ways to help lonely people. Unfortunately we can’t tell anyone to go out and find someone to love you. We need to create support networks.”
By Deborah Cohen Health Check, BBC World Service
Moses Murandu, from Zimbabwe, grew up watching his father use granulated sugar to treat wounds.
Sugar is thought to draw water away from wounds and prevent bacteria from multiplying.
Early results from a trial on 35 hospital patients in England are encouraging, but more research is needed.
One of the patients who received sugar treatment on a wound was 62-year-old Alan Bayliss from Birmingham.
He had undergone an above-the knee amputation on his right leg at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and, as part of the surgery, a vein was removed from his left leg leaving a wound which would not heal properly.
Murandu, who is studying for a doctorate at Birmingham University, was contacted and asked to treat the wound with sugar.
Mr Bayliss said: “It has been revolutionary. The actual wound was very deep – it was almost as big as my finger.
“When Moses first did the dressing he almost used the whole pot of sugar, but two weeks later he only needed to use four or five teaspoons.
“I am very pleased indeed. I feel that it has sped up my recovery a lot, and it has been a positive step forward. I was a little skeptical at first but once I saw the sugar in operation and how much it was drawing the wound out, I was impressed.”
The randomized control trial at three West Midlands hospitals is only half way through. So far 35 patients have been treated with sugar treatment.
Murandu, a senior lecturer in adult nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, said he was very pleased by the results.
“I believe in the sugar and the nurses and doctors who see the effects are beginning to believe in it too.”
The treatment is thought to work because applying sugar to a wound draws the water away, thereby starving the bacteria of what it needs to grow. This prevents the bacteria from multiplying and they die.
Staff nurse Jonathan Janneman said the treatment had boosted the patient’s morale too.
“He could see the cavity in his leg as well as having been unwell and through operations. But the sugar has given him something to hold on to.
“It is amazing that something as simple as sugar has given him a morale boost.”
Source: BBC News February 14th, 2013
According to a recent article published in Britain’s Daily Mail, there is growing evidence showing that self-help reading can help people with certain mental health conditions get better. “GPs and mental health professionals will prescribe patients cognitive behavioral therapy through a visit to the library,” the article suggests.
The recommended list of reading consists of benign, universally uplifting fiction such as Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden and Cider with Rosie, written by Laurie Lee in 1959.
The evidence cites that reading can improve mental well-being and reduce stress by up to 67 per cent.
“It is hoped those with ‘mild to moderate’ mental health conditions will try out the idea before turning to prescription drugs – many of which can have unpleasant side effects,” according to the article.
Of course, this may not be the case among those who read Clive Barker or Dean Koontz.
Flu is a viral infection. It’s passed on when people breathe in liquid droplets containing the influenza virus that have been sneezed or coughed into the air, or when people touch objects contaminated with the virus.
A flu virus can cause infections all year round, but is most common in winter. There are many strains, some of which are worse than others, such as swine flu (H1N1 strain) which tends to have a more rapid onset, high fevers and gastrointestinal upset and has caused many fatalities, often in previously fit adults.
Flu vs Common Cold Symptoms
Symptoms for flu include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, upset stomach, diarrhea and muscle aches. They appear quickly, last for about seven days and generally leave you exhausted for weeks afterwards –one minute you’re fine, the next you’re too ill to do anything.
It’s different from the common cold, in which the symptoms tend to come on gradually, usually affecting only the nose, throat, sinuses and upper chest. When someone has a cold, they’re still able to get around and usually recover fully after about a week. Unlike the common cold, flu can cause serious complications, including pneumonia, and can even be fatal.
Who’s Affected by Flu?
Anyone can get the flu and the more a person is in close contact with people who have the virus, the more likely they are to get it. However, certain people are more vulnerable than others to the harm the virus can cause and are advised to have a flu vaccination. They include:
- Everyone over the age of 65.
- People of any age with lung diseases (such as asthma), heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes or lowered immunity.
- Anyone living in a residential or nursing home.
- Care-givers of those at risk of the complications of the flu.
The best way to avoid getting flu is to keep your immune system strong by eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, getting enough rest and relaxation, not smoking and limiting drinking alcohol.
Wash your hands regularly with soap and water (or use a sanitizer gel) and avoid people who are coughing and sneezing, especially if they’re not covering their mouth and nose.
Treatments for Flu
Antibiotics are of no use in treating flu. Anti-viral medication is available from your GP for some people in at-risk groups who develop some types of flu but it needs to be taken early on in the disease to stop the virus multiplying, and may only reduce the symptoms rather than treating the infection. Otherwise, these are the best ways to treat the symptoms of flu:
- Get plenty of rest. The body uses a lot of energy fighting infections, so resting for the first couple of days gets it off to a good start.
- Keep warm.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, and try hot water with lemon, ginger and honey to relieve symptoms such as sore throat.
*Always contact your doctor if you’re not getting better after a few days, if you’re unduly short of breath or if you’re coughing up blood or large amounts of yellow or green phlegm.
Cutting back on alcohol can help your general well-being. Once you start cutting back, you’ll probably notice the benefits quite quickly:
- Having more energy and feeling less tired during the day
- Your skin may start to look better, you’ll look younger
- Easier to maintain your ideal weight
- You’ll feel better in the mornings
- You’ll save money
Regular drinking can affect your immune system and heavy drinkers can have more problems with infectious diseases. Cutting down will help your system fight off bugs more easily and contribute to overall better health.
Feel better, look better:
As time goes on, you may also find you’re in a better mood more often. Heavy drinking is linked to depression, and hangovers can leave you feeling low.
If you’re feeling anxious, lonely or sad when you’re sober, drinking can amplify those feelings. Drinking less can mean that you’ll feel happier, more of the time.
When you drink less, you’ll not only save money but you’ll find you have more time to enjoy other things. Write a book, start a blog, join a gym, hike or go swimming.
Editors Note: The above is recommended only for those wishing to cut down on their alcohol consumption. Recommended reading for those with more serious alcohol addiction issues: Alcohol and Me: 10 Years Sober