Better Pulmonary Health is in the Air

Autumn and winter bring special breathing challenges for many Americans. Certain mold spores are more prevalent in the autumn, and many who are susceptible are exposed to them while outdoors walking, working, or raking leaves. Changes in temperature can exacerbate breathing problems for people with asthma or respiratory illness, as can dry heat indoors from central heating systems. Air becomes even drier when homeowners use wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. And the negative effects of smoking tobacco products aggravate health and breathing more intensely for smokers, especially when driven indoors where windows in houses are closed up.

November is National Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month. Pulmonary arteries carry blood from the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen. Pulmonary hypertension (PH) means there is increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries. As the pressure builds, the heart must work harder to pump blood through the arteries to the lungs, eventually causing the heart muscle to weaken and sometimes fail.

PH can be caused by changes in the arteries which include tightening or stiffening of the artery walls, and blood clots. General signs and symptoms of PH include:

  • Shortness of breath during everyday activity
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Tiredness
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Swelling in legs and ankles
  • Bluish color on lips and skin

Anyone can develop pulmonary hypertension. PH can occur at any age, but it usually develops between the ages of 20 and 60. People who are at increased risk for PH include:

  • People with a family history of the condition
  • People with heart and lung disease, liver disease, HIV, or blood clots in pulmonary arteries
  • People who use certain diet medicines or street drugs

Diagnosing and treating PH

PH can develop very slowly, so it is possible to go years without diagnosis because the disease has no early symptoms. Your healthcare provider will diagnose PH using medical and family histories, a physical exam and other tests to determine the pressure in your pulmonary arteries. These tests may include echocardiography (which creates a picture of your heart), a chest x-ray, an electro-cardiogram (or EKG, which shows how fast your heart is beating) or heart catheterization (which measures pressure in arteries). Exercise testing is used to find out how severe your PH is.

Pulmonary hypertension has no cure, but treatment with medicines to relax the blood vessels in the lungs, procedures such as lung transplants and blood vessel dilation, and various oxygen therapies may help relieve symptoms and slow the progress of the disease.

To manage PH, it is important to follow the treatment plan recommended by your health care provider and to contact your provider if you have new symptoms. Other suggestions include:

  • Check with your healthcare provider before using over-the-counter medicines.
  • Track your weight. If you notice rapid weight change, call your health care provider immediately.
  • Women should talk to their health care provider about using birth control. Pregnancy can be risky for women who have PH.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Participate in physical activity, but talk to your health care provider about types of activity that are safe for you.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Don’t Let Your Sweet Tooth — Or Genetics — Bite You

Sugar. It’s in just about everything we eat or drink, prevalent naturally and in synthetic disguises, and sneaks into foods in a variety of forms, even in seemingly healthy fruits and vegetables. It suits our cravings, creates our cravings, and makes certain foods and drinks more palatable. And in another of nature’s mystifying ironies, sugar is necessary for life and terrible for our health.

November is American Diabetes Month. The most serious form of diabetes, called Type 1, is genetically inherited. The more common Type 2 form of diabetes can be inherited, but often is the result of poor nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking and other man-made causes. Understanding the warning signs and how to prevent, or limit the onset of Type 2 diabetes is critical to your health, and to holding down exploding healthcare costs.

In the United States alone, 25.8 million children and adults — 8.3 percent of the population — have diabetes. Only 18.8 million have been diagnosed, meaning another 7 million are walking around sick, and medical researchers estimate that 79 million people are pre-diabetic, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older.

Beyond the physical and quality-of-life costs, the costs of diagnosed diabetes in the United States in 2012 were $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs. Complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

According to researchers, the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

Understanding diabetes causes and symptoms

Diabetes is a problem with your body that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal. This is also called hyperglycemia. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. If you have Type 2 diabetes your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels.

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have different causes. Yet two factors are important in both: We inherit a predisposition to the disease then something in our environment triggers it. One trigger might be related to cold weather. Type 1 diabetes develops more often in winter than summer and is more common in places with cold climates.

Another trigger might be viruses, and early diet may also play a role. Type 1 diabetes is less common in people who were breastfed and in those who first ate solid foods at later ages.

In many people, the development of Type 1 diabetes seems to take many years. In experiments that followed relatives of people with Type 1 diabetes, researchers found that most of those who later got diabetes had certain auto-antibodies in their blood for years before.

Type 2 diabetes has a stronger link to family history and lineage than Type 1, although it too depends on environmental factors. While genetics play a very strong role in the development of Type 2 diabetes, lifestyle also influences the development of Type 2 diabetes. Obesity tends to run in families, and families tend to have similar eating and exercise habits.

Early detection and treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of developing the complications of diabetes. The following symptoms of diabetes are typical. However, some people with Type 2 diabetes have symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed. 

Common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hunger – even though you are eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
  • Weight loss – even though you are eating more (Type 1)
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (Type 2)

Women with gestational diabetes often have no symptoms, which is why it’s important for at-risk women to be tested at the proper time during pregnancy.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom on the diabetes front. People with both types live long, active lives, and studies show that it is possible to delay or prevent Type 2 diabetes by exercising and losing weight. Through the use of medical insulin, physical activity and diet management, we can control the side effects of diabetes, prevent onset, or limit related illnesses and co-morbidities.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

How to Beat Those Cold and Flu Blues

If you’re not already a budding germophobe, spend a few hours shopping, in school, eating in a restaurant or doing your thing at work and note the sneezing, wheezing, sniffling and runny noses confirming that, indeed, cold and flu season is upon us again. You could wear a mask and gloves or only venture out when absolutely necessary. But that’s silly, especially since there are simple, proven steps you can take to greatly reduce your risk of getting sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands. As you touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. In turn, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth…and food.

Although it’s impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently helps limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. According to CDC research, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, ATM machines and desks. So wash before and after you use a restroom. Wash after you visit the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or use an ATM. When it isn’t easy to wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t use anyone else’s toothbrush, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates.

Everyone sneezes, but we can do a better job of keeping it to ourselves. Sneeze into your sleeve or in a tissue or hanky so you don’t infect innocent passersby or fellow employees. Airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections, and incubation time — the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly icky in your system — allows you to spread those germs to many other people before you even realize you’re infectious. Finally, when you know you’re sick, stay home!

What you need to know about the flu

Influenza — the flu– is not pretty. It’s far worse than a cold, includes body aches and fever, hangs around longer than a typical virus, is contagious, and can sideline you for a week or two.

Aside from the short-term misery and lost work or school days, flu can have more serious implications. Most people who get the seasonal flu recover just fine. But the seasonal flu also hospitalizes 200,000 people in the United States alone each year. It kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually, depending on the variety of flu and length of the season. That’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer each year, and more than twice the number of people killed by AIDS. And it’s particularly dangerous to children, seniors and adults with other chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders.

Beyond hand washing, the best prevention is to get a flu shot. Flu vaccines are very safe and can’t infect you with the flu. Injected flu vaccines only contain dead virus, and a dead virus can’t infect you. There is one type of live virus flu vaccine, the nasal vaccine, FluMist. But in this case, the virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. The standard flu vaccine can be dangerous if you’re allergic to eggs, so you should always talk with your doctor before taking the vaccine.

Note that antibiotics won’t help you fight the flu, which is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens your body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and inappropriate prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken your body and allow bacterial invaders to infect you. Secondary bacterial infections due to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia. The flu doesn’t peak until February or March, and it hits all across the country, so November is a good time to get your flu shot, while there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

There’s no guarantee you won’t get sick this winter, but you can improve your odds tremendously. Eat well, exercise, and dress for the weather. Avoid going places when you’re not feeling well, get your flu vaccination, and wash your hands regularly. Take charge of your health, and the flu and colds can bug someone else!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

The Great American Smokeout Turns 36

This month, we celebrate the 36th anniversary of The Great American Smokeout. The widespread recognition of this important event represents more than simply reducing or eliminating smoking from workplaces, schools, restaurants, and public spaces. It’s a testimonial to advocates’ ability to raise public awareness of health- and wellness-related actions that have far-reaching implications and consequences for those who participate, and even for those who choose to ignore science and warnings from the medical community.

The Great American Smokeout is held on the third Thursday in November and has helped dramatically change Americans’ attitudes about smoking. These changes have led to community programs and smoke-free laws that are now saving many lives. Annual Great American Smokeout events began in the 1970s, when smoking and secondhand smoke were commonplace.

Each year, the Great American Smokeout also draws attention to the deaths and chronic diseases caused by smoking. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, many state and local governments responded by banning smoking in workplaces and restaurants, raising taxes on cigarettes, limiting cigarette promotions, discouraging teen cigarette use, and taking further action to counter smoking. These efforts continue, and from 1965 to today, cigarette smoking among adults in the United States has decreased from more than 42 percent to around 20 percent. Strong smoke-free policies, media campaigns, and increases in the prices of tobacco products are at least partly credited for these decreases.

Smoking is responsible for nearly one in three cancer deaths, and one in five deaths from all causes. Another 8.6 million people live with serious illnesses caused by smoking. Still, about one in five U.S. adults (more than 43 million people) smoke cigarettes and about 15 million people smoke tobacco in cigars or pipes or use “smokeless” tobacco products. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women. About 87 percent of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking, which also causes cancers of the larynx, mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder. It has also been linked to the development of cancers of the pancreas, cervix, ovaries, colon/rectum, kidney, stomach, and some types of leukemia.

As if the human toll wasn’t incentive enough, smoking causes more than $193 billion in annual health-related costs in the United States, including smoking-attributable medical costs and productivity losses. That’s something every employer can’t ignore, as it affects our costs of doing business, directly and indirectly.

We can’t fix everything for everybody — nor should we — but we can tackle our own personal health, and promote wellness among our families and staff.  Eliminating smoking from our workplaces is an important step, as is encouraging improved nutrition, lower-sugar snacking, exercise/fitness, and overall stress-reduction techniques. Regardless of staff size, creating a safe, healthy workplace is an important component of employee wellness. It helps boost productivity, quality, teamwork, customer service, and retention. The Great American Smokeout occurs annually, but overall wellness can be practiced every day.

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!