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!

Use Your Brain to Protect Your Heart

When we get tense, angry or stressed, we often complain about our blood pressure rising. For some it may simply be a euphemism for frustration…but for many people, it’s a life-threatening reality. As many as 73 million Americans have high blood pressure. And of the one in every four adults with high blood pressure, 31.6 percent are not aware they have it.

Doctors have long called high blood pressure “the silent killer” because a person can have high blood pressure and never have any symptoms. Many of the same unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (including poor diet and lack of physical exercise) that contribute to high blood pressure also have been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to life-threatening medical problems such as stroke, heart attack or kidney failure.

High blood pressure is one of the most common causes of stroke because it puts unnecessary stress on blood vessel walls, causing them to thicken and deteriorate, which can eventually lead to a stroke. It can also speed up several common forms of heart disease. When blood vessel walls thicken with increased blood pressure, cholesterol or other fat-like substances may break off of artery walls and block a brain artery. In other instances, the increased stress can weaken blood vessel walls, leading to a vessel breakage and a brain hemorrhage.

When you strive to keep your heart healthy you help keep your brain healthy, too. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle may lower your blood pressure, which reduces your chances of having heart disease or a stroke, and it can also make a big difference in your mental abilities as you age.

It’s not a coincidence that we recognize National Stroke and Blood Pressure Awareness Month in May, which also is National Mental Health Month. The link between stress and increased blood pressure is well documented. When we’re frustrated, depressed, or under tremendous pressure at work or at home, we tend to eat poorly, not exercise and otherwise tax our bodies. Links have been established between stress and our body’s production of excess cholesterol. Stress also interferes with our normal sleep, which causes fatigue and makes us irritable and more susceptible to illness.

Managing our blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are critical elements we can influence. Our bodies and minds are complicated mechanisms, and all systems are intertwined. We should always be aware of our blood pressure through regular checkups, know the warning signs, and make conscious decisions to take better care of ourselves.

Here are some tips for controlling blood pressure through a healthier lifestyle:

  • Exercise regularly. This includes getting outdoors or to the gym, setting reasonable goals for physical activity, and walking every day, if possible.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Limit intake of red meat and fried foods, sugar and fat, and adapt to a healthier diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and fish.
  • Limit your sodium intake by cutting down on processed foods, soda, and other products with a high salt content.
  • Try to reduce or quit smoking, and limit or eliminate the use of other tobacco products.
  • If you drink alcohol or coffee/caffeine products, practice moderation.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s high, or if you have a family history of hypertension or heart disease, your physician may recommend medications created to help lower or control blood pressure and related conditions.
  • Be aware of situations and behaviors that cause you stress, and try to address or limit them.

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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!

Preventing Kidney Disease is in Our Blood

Early symptoms and hints about kidney health often get overlooked, even though more than 26 million Americans have chronic kidney disease. Kidney damage typically occurs slowly over many years, often due to diabetes or high blood pressure and advancing age. Secondary risks include obesity, autoimmune diseases, urinary tract infections, and systemic infections. Like with most health issues and chronic diseases, awareness and early intervention are critical.

Our kidneys filter extra water and wastes out of our blood, and make urine. Kidneys also help control blood pressure, make red blood cells, help bone health, and create hormones that bodies need to stay healthy. Kidney disease means that the kidneys are damaged and can’t filter blood like they should. This damage can cause wastes to build up in the body and also cause other problems that can harm our health.

When it occurs slowly, damage to the kidneys is called chronic kidney disease. When someone has a sudden change in kidney function — because of illness, or injury, or because they have taken certain medications that may have harmed them — this is called acute kidney injury. It can occur in a person with normal kidneys or in someone who already has kidney problems.

Anyone can develop kidney disease, regardless of age or race. The main risk factors for developing kidney disease are:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease
  • A family history of kidney problems

Early detection is very important, especially since you may not feel any different until your kidney disease is very advanced. Blood and urine tests are the only way to know if you have kidney disease. A blood test checks your glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which tells how well your kidneys are filtering. A urine test checks for protein in your urine. Both are simple tests your doctor can conduct or coordinate.

The sooner you know you have kidney disease, the sooner you can get treatment to help delay or prevent kidney failure. Treatment may include taking medicines called ACE inhibitors or ARBs to manage high blood pressure and keep your kidneys healthier longer. Treating kidney disease may also help prevent heart disease, since people with kidney disease are more likely to have a stroke or heart attack.

Kidney disease usually does not go away. Instead, it may get worse over time and can lead to kidney failure. If the kidneys fail, treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant is necessary.

Here are 10 ways to help keep your kidneys healthy.

  • Exercise regularly or remain physically active as much as possible
  • Don’t overuse over-the-counter painkillers (NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin)
  • Cut back on salt;  read labels carefully and aim for less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day
  • Get an annual physical
  • Control your weight by following a healthful diet, and choose foods that are heart healthy, including fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products
  • Know your family’s medical history
  • Monitor blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol levels
  • Learn about kidney disease
  • Don’t smoke tobacco products or abuse alcohol — both can make kidney damage worse
  • Talk to your doctor about getting tested if you’re at risk for kidney disease

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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!

Taking good health to heart

How appropriate that during the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day — an annual tradition related to sweeter matters of the heart — that we also acknowledge heart disease, a nefarious killer that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans as silently as Cupid’s arrow.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. February is American Heart Month, and it’s still early in the new year so there’s plenty of time in 2013 to adjust your lifestyle and make smarter choices that will prolong both the longevity and quality of your life.

The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which often appears as a heart attack. Each year, an estimated 785,000 Americans have a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, with women accounting for nearly half of heart disease deaths.

There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and secondhand smoke. While some of these problems are due to heredity, there’s much we can do to improve our odds of remaining heart healthy and to control problems that we may have inherited.

Stay fit and active

While there are elements of our health we can’t control, there’s much we can do, and remaining active is a huge step toward improved wellness. If winter hiking and outdoor sports and activities don’t thrill you, consider all the interesting ways to stay fit indoors. Beyond exercising in a gym, fitness center or at home, you can play tennis, racquetball, basketball, volleyball or other team sports, skate or pursue highly beneficial personal activities like swimming, spinning, yoga, martial arts and forms like Tai Chi. These strengthen mind and body, help you establish a healthy routine, and are great stress reducers, as well.

Many people in today’s electronic age also turn to gaming systems that offer interactive “aerobic,” exercise and sports programs. While clearly a step above normal couch potato activities, don’t be lulled into believing that tennis, boxing, golf or bowling on your Wii or X-Box is going to keep you fit. Sports and exercise programs on these systems may help improve your balance, coordination and agility, but we need more vigorous aerobic activities and to remain active for far greater portions of the day.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy these programs. Game maker Nintendo, for example, never claimed that its popular Wii Fit program will help people lose weight — or even become healthier. The company says it merely hoped to create a game that combines entertainment and the ability to track progress with a healthy activity. Anything that encourages us to be more physically active is positive. For those who are already engaging in physical activity, it’s not a substitute, but can be a nice complement to a regular exercise program.

Overall, a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons we have to fight heart disease. It is the overall pattern of the choices we make that count. Eating smart, exercise, sleeping well, and stress and weight reduction all play important roles.

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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!

Breathe more easily as winter approaches

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 found 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 and nonsmokers, especially when driven indoors where windows in houses and offices are closed up.

November is COPD Awareness Month

The primary cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the inhalation of cigarette smoke. Other causes include exposure to occupational dust particles and chemicals, as well as a rare genetic mutation called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. Up to 24 million Americans show impaired lung function, which is common among those with COPD, the third-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a staggering number; more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, while an estimated 12 million more have it, but have not been diagnosed.

COPD, also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it very difficult to breathe. COPD is not curable; however it is preventable, and can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early. People at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers with COPD symptoms, should consult their physicians about a simple and painless spirometry test in order to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment.

Here is a short list of signs you should watch for if you think you or someone you know may be suffering from COPD:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called “smoker’s cough”
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
  • Producing a lot of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus)
  • Feeling like you can’t breathe or take a deep breath
  • Wheezing

If you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are several steps you can take to improve your health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately. Based on your doctor’s recommendations, you should take medications as prescribed and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath. It’s also important to educate yourself. The American Lung Association has a wealth of information and resources to help you better understand how your lungs work, and about COPD. You can reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www. lung.org.

November 15th is the Great American Smokeout

Additionally, The American Cancer Society is marking the 37th Great American Smokeout on November 15 by encouraging smokers to use the date to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By doing so, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life —  one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. However, more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year. There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes.

Quitting is hard, but you can increase your chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society can tell you about the steps you can take to quit smoking and provide the resources and support that can increase your chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Help employees help themselves improve their health and wellness

If you read CBIA Healthy Connections or any other wellness-related information regularly, you know that every month brings a variety of wellness, disease awareness, and health-related special events, activities and recognition. These represent some of the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” in your efforts to encourage and reward employee wellness for your workforce.

The benefits of staff wellness are many, including improved morale, productivity, and quality. Sick days are reduced, illness can be avoided or better managed, and the efforts can be rewarding both for enhanced quality of life and healthcare cost reductions. And if you time your internal outreach to the national tides of wellness material being communicated through the media, you’ll find the resources and educational information robust and easily available.

In November, for example, we recognize National COPD Awareness Month and the annual Great American Smokeout. Both offer you the opportunity for staff outreach, for setting goals, and for partnering in helping your employees achieve improved wellness. We’re also closing in on cold and flu season, so reminders about proper hand hygiene and encouraging employees to get flu shots are simple and offer a significant return on your investment. And as the holidays approach, reminders about proper eating, goal setting, and general fitness are a great gift!

Consider COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it very difficult to breathe. The primary cause of COPD is the inhalation of cigarette smoke. COPD is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. More than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, while an estimated 12 million more have it, but have not been diagnosed. While COPD is not curable, it is preventable, and can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early.

There are a variety of simple, accessible resources for helping employers communicate the risks of consuming tobacco products, and you have the opportunity to limit or ban them in your workplace, or to direct your staff to smoking cessation programs as an example of your commitment to the health of smokers and non-smokers.

The following are proven tips and resources from the American Lung Association that have helped thousands of people give up smoking for good. You can review this yourself, and make this information available to your staff, if you choose. Another simple idea is to link it to The Great American Smokeout, which is November 15th.

Tips to Help You Stop Smoking

  1. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the various types of treatments and different over-the-counter and prescription medications that are available to help you quit smoking.
  2. Look into the different options available to help smokers quit. Visit www.lung.org/stopsmoking or call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) for suggestions.
  3. Take time to plan. Pick your quit date a few weeks ahead of time and mark it on the calendar. If you can, pick a day when life’s extra stresses are not at their peak, such as after the holidays. Mark a day on the calendar and stick to it. As your quit day approaches, gather the medications and tools you need and map out how you are going to handle the situations that make you want to smoke.
  4. Get some exercise every day. Walking is a great way to reduce the stress of quitting. Exercise is proven to not only combat weight gain but also to improve mood and energy levels.
  5. Eat a balanced diet, drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep.
  6. Ask family, friends and co-workers for their help and support. Having someone to take a walk with or just listen can give a needed boost.
  7. You don’t have to quit alone. Help is available online and in your community. Consider joining a stop-smoking program like Freedom From Smoking® (www.ffsonline.org) from the American Lung Association.

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To enjoy 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!

Stick a Cork in It! Living with Sleep Apnea

“But I don’t snore.” How many times have you heard that denial?! We joke about it, and we can be sensitive to a point, but the truth is that excessive snoring can be a symptom of a dangerous sleep disorder. Fortunately, there are simple, non-invasive tests to help determine why people snore and solutions to help them breathe more clearly and to assist them – and their families, partners, or neighbors – sleep well.

Chronic snoring is often the result of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where the breathing pathways are partially blocked by cartilage and tissue. The sufferer experiences lapses in breathing and fails to receive oxygen for brief moments during the sleep cycle.

Obstructive sleep apnea can be very serious. It contributes to daytime sleepiness, which can lead to reduced productivity, irritability, decreased ability to fight infection and illness, and possibly accidents in vehicles and at work due to fatigue. Other health problems have been tied to sleep apnea including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed through a comprehensive exam and often requires participating in a sleep study. This takes place in a laboratory designed to look like a typical bedroom. The patient spends the night hooked up to electrodes and is monitored by cameras which record movement, breathing patterns, oxygen content, and other evaluative criteria. This information is then reviewed by experts, who can recommend an effective treatment plan designed to improve your quality of life by improving your breathing and sleeping.

One of the most effective treatments of obstructive sleep apnea is a breathing system called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). CPAP uses a machine and breathing mask to help the person breathe more easily during sleep. The CPAP machine increases air pressure in your throat so that your airway does not collapse when you breathe in.

Often, people who have sleep apnea don’t know they have it. They’re not aware that their breathing stops and starts many times while they’re sleeping. Family members or bed partners usually are the first to notice signs of sleep apnea and can suggest medical intervention.

Family members can do many things to help a loved one who has sleep apnea, such as:

  • Let the person know if he or she snores loudly during sleep or has breathing stops and starts.
  • Encourage the person to get medical help.
  • Help the person follow the doctor’s treatment plan, including CPAP treatment.
  • Provide emotional support.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Act now to protect your brain and your heart

When you strive to keep your heart healthy you help keep your brain healthy, too. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle may lower your blood pressure, which reduces your chances of having heart disease or a stroke, and it can also make a big difference in your mental abilities as you age.

May is National Blood Pressure Awareness Month and also National Mental Health Month.

High blood pressure often has no visible symptoms, which is why it’s dubbed “the silent killer.” It can be controlled with lifestyle changes that focus on diet and exercise, and special prescription medications. Many of the same unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (including poor diet and lack of physical exercise) that contribute to high blood pressure also have been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. It is thought that narrow blood vessels caused by high cholesterol reduce blood flow to the brain which can cause memory loss and general mental deterioration.

Stress also is a contributor to mental high blood pressure. When we’re frustrated, depressed, or under tremendous pressure at work or at home, we tend to eat poorly, not exercise and otherwise tax our bodies. Links have been established between stress and our body’s production of excess cholesterol. Stress also interferes with our normal sleep, which causes fatigue and makes us irritable and more susceptible to illness. When unchecked, stress interferes with our general quality of life, and can affect our relationships, productivity, customer service, safety and quality.

Tips for controlling blood pressure through a healthier lifestyle:

  • Exercise regularly. This includes getting outdoors or to the gym, setting reasonable goals for physical activity, and walking every day, if possible.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Limit intake of red meat and fried foods, sugar and fat, and adapt to a healthier diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and fish.
  • Limit your sodium intake by cutting down on processed foods, soda, and other products with a high salt content.
  • Try to reduce or quit smoking, and limit or eliminate the use of other tobacco products.
  • If you drink alcohol or coffee/caffeine products, practice moderation.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s high, or if you have a family history of hypertension or heart disease, your physician may recommend medications created to help lower or control blood pressure and related conditions.
  • Be aware of situations and behaviors that cause you stress, and try to address or limit them.

Managing your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are all critical elements you can influence. Our bodies and minds are complicated mechanisms, and all systems are intertwined. Be aware of your blood pressure through regular checkups, know the warning signs, and make conscious decisions to take better care of yourself.

It’s also important to discuss any cognitive problems you’re having with your healthcare provider. We all have a little trouble when we age, like forgetting where we put our keys, but if your memory problems seem greater than usual, you may need to be evaluated by a neurologist, or someone who specializes in cognitive issues.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Love what you eat, even if you can’t eat what you love

We all love to eat and meals are typically pleasurable experiences. But for many of us meals can also cause discomfort. Our digestive system is an intensely elaborate and complicated system and when it works perfectly, we don’t give it a second thought. But when it doesn’t, life is far less pleasant.

Unless you have a chronic condition, food allergy, or gastro-intestinal (GI) problem, there are a variety of steps we can take to help improve the odds that our digestive systems won’t be talking back to us on a regular basis. Reasonable portions and balanced diets high in fruits, vegetables, and natural fibers will keep things flowing along more smoothly. Drinking plenty of water will keep us hydrated and help our bodies process solids. Too much greasy, spicy, or fried foods are harder to digest, and may cause discomfort, bloating or gas. Also, certain foods, like corn and nuts, are harder for some people to process, and others lack the enzymes to break down dairy products, or can’t stomach the glutens found in wheat.

Many people also suffer from a series of GI-related ailments that fall into the general category called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a disorder that leads to abdominal pain and cramping, changes in bowel movements, and other symptoms. IBS is not the same as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Unlike those diseases, the structure of the bowel for is normal for those with IBS.

IBS can occur at any age, but it often begins in the teen years or early adulthood. It is twice as common in women as in men. About one in six Americans have symptoms of IBS. It is the most common intestinal problem that causes patients to be referred to a bowel specialist (gastroenterologist).

IBS symptoms

IBS symptoms range from mild to severe, and are different from person to person. The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, fullness, gas and bloating that have been present for at least three days a month for the last three months.

People with IBS may switch between constipation and diarrhea, or mostly have one or the other. For some people, the symptoms may get worse for a few weeks or a month, and then decrease for a while. For other people, symptoms are present most of the time. People with IBS may lose their appetite, as well.

Eating a lactose-free diet for two weeks may help the doctor check for a possible lactase deficiency, which represents your body’s inability to break down dairy products.

There is no test to diagnose IBS. Blood and stool culture tests may be done to rule out problems such as anemia and gluten intolerance. Some patients will be given a colonoscopy to rule out other serious problems such as colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. You may need this test if you have:

  • Symptoms that began later in life (over age 50)
  • Symptoms such as weight loss or bloody stools
  • Abnormal blood tests (such as a low blood count)
  • A family history of GI problems or colon cancer

Treatment can relieve symptoms

Lifestyle changes can help in some cases of IBS. For example, regular exercise and improved sleep habits may reduce anxiety and help relieve bowel symptoms. Dietary changes can be helpful, too. However, no specific diet can be recommended for IBS, because the condition differs for each person. The following changes may help:

  • Avoid foods and drinks that stimulate the intestines (such as caffeine, tea, or colas)
  • Avoid large meals
  • Increase fiber in the diet (this may improve constipation but make bloating worse)

Irritable bowel syndrome may be a lifelong condition. For some people, symptoms are disabling and reduce the ability to work, travel, and attend social events. Symptoms can often be improved or relieved through treatment, but you should talk with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications. Fortunately, IBS does not cause permanent harm to the intestines, and it does not lead to a serious disease.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

It’s always the right time to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle

Everybody knows someone who has heart disease, whether they or the person with the disease realize it or not. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. February is American Heart Month, and it’s still early in the new year, so there’s plenty of time in 2012 to adjust your lifestyle and make smarter choices that will prolong both the longevity and quality of your life.

The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which often appears as a heart attack. Each year, an estimated 785,000 Americans have a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, with women accounting for nearly half of heart disease deaths.

There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and secondhand smoke. While some of these problems are hereditary, there’s much we can do to improve our odds of remaining heart healthy and for controlling problems like high blood pressure that we may have inherited.

Overall, a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons we have to fight heart disease. It is the overall pattern of the choices we make that count.  Eating smart, exercise, sleeping well, and stress and weight reduction all play important roles.

When it comes to eating in a healthful way, read nutrition labels and base eating patterns on these recommendations:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat
  • Select fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars
  • Select and purchase foods lower in salt/sodium.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes.

So, take a proactive role in protecting your heart through healthy pursuits in everything you eat and do. You’re well worth the investment!

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!