Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Don't Let the Frostbite BITE"

Who doesn't love FROZEN? Our family can't stop singing the award-winning songs from Disney's latest musical hit, so I couldn't resist borrowing a line for my blog title today...However, frostbite is no laughing matter, and with the record low temperatures we have had this year, I thought I should say a few words about this cold weather danger.

What is frostbite?
Frostbite occurs when ice crystals literally form within the tissue in our fingers and toes and noses, damaging and often completely destroying the cells in the skin. Frostbite shows up when it the thermometer reads in the negative in Celcius or below minus 17 in Fahrenheit. Remember, though, that wind chill can push the "real" temperature below the numbers you see on your favorite weather app!

Risk factors besides the extremely low temperatures include alcohol use, smoking, diabetes, previous cold injury, low calorie intake, lean body mass and history of Raynaud's phenomenon (where the blood supply to the hands gets restricted and your hands turn red/purple and ache terribly.)

What are the signs and symptoms?
Frostbite manifests as very painful, severely cold, and initial white and numb areas that progress to blotchy, swollen redness in the tip of your nose or the ends of your fingers and toes. While the affected areas hurt, they are also typically numbed (you can't feel someone touching the end of your finger/toe, but you have pain in that area). With second and third degree frostbite, blisters and "blood blisters" appear, and in fourth degree frostbite there is actual gangrene (rotten, dead tissue).

Dress your core in LAYERS, cover all exposed areas, avoid alcohol (or any drugs that can alter mental status), and stay inside if the temperature is below negative 10*. HOWEVER, be aware that if you try to layer socks or gloves, you may end up with excessively tight, constrictive layers that can actually make you MORE likely to get frostbite. Also, remember to remove rings (fingers and toes) before skiing or other cold weather activities.

What is the Treatment? 
Remove any jewelry if present. Immerse the affected areas in warm water and take NSAIDS (ibuprofen) and quickly SEEK MEDICAL CARE. Do NOT rub affected areas, as this may actually increase tissue damage.

BOTTOM LINE: Watch the temperatures, especially if you are traveling to an area that is much colder than you are used to experiencing, and make sure you have gloves, socks, and face gear that is made for sub-zero weather challenges if you plan to be outdoors in below zero weather!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What's Hookah?

What's Hookah?? In the past few years, instead of asking my patients "Do you smoke?" I have learned to ask  "Do you smoke? (pregnant pause)...ANYTHING?" I found that asking in that manner greatly increases my yield. Couple that with Colorado's legalization of marijuana, and more people are freely sharing the full extent of their substance use with their doctors. Which left me asking the question, "what's hookah?" (I could add here that I was also asking "what's shisha" and "what's snus"?)

Hookahs are water pipes used to smoke flavored tobacco. The flavors are often sweet- chocolate, cherry, licorice or fruit flavored. The heat source is charcoal, and the vapor/smoke goes through a water basin before being inhaled. A common misperception is that this "purifies" the tobacco, so that the smoke is no longer harmful. Hookahs can have multiple tubes allowing several people to inhale at one time, or users can pass around the mouthpiece and take turns inhaling (obviously sharing germs as well as the hookah vapor).  Hookah bars seem to be multiplying across the United States, especially in college towns. Austin, Texas, is no exception. A 2013 study of 7 large universities showed that 1 in 10 college students used hookah.

Although hookahs has been around for centuries, we certainly do not have a plethora of double-blind, placebo-controlled meta-analysis studies to clarify exactly the specific health risks of long term use of hookah. What do we know?

  • Hookah smoke is "at least as toxic as cigarette smoke" (CDC, 2013)
  • Hookah tobacco and vapor contain the same poisons that cause mouth, lung and bladder cancer
  • Hookah sessions are usually much longer than cigarette breaks- often up to an hour, increasing the toxin exposure up to ten times higher than traditional smoking
  • The nicotine in hookah tobacco and vapor is very addictive (just as in cigarettes)
  • Smoke from the heat source, charcoal, can cause carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Gum disease is 5 times more common in hookah users than cigarette smokers
BOTTOM LINE: Hookah (water pipe) smoking is NOT a "safe" alternative to cigarette smoking- don't take up this habit! 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

CVS Quits Smoking!

Congrats to CVS pharmacy for taking a stand for HEALTH and announcing that they will completely quit selling tobacco products by October 1st of this year! While, yes, consumers can choose to walk across the street and head into another store to purchase their cigarettes, I am hopeful that other major pharmacies and grocery stores will consider this same step. As people have heard me say repeatedly, there is NO amount of tobacco that we believe to be actually GOOD for your health.

Every single day in the United States, there are over 1300 deaths attributed to smoking. How can you picture what that means in terms of human tragedy? Imagine two enormous jumbo jets colliding- which would mean approximately 1200 people dying...and think about how many times we would see that ghastly image on our computers and televisions. I want young people starting to smoke to have THAT image printed on their brains, rather than associating smoking with fun, alcohol and parties.  Did you know that the vast majority of long-term smokers began the habit before the age of 21? I cannot tell you how many soccer moms my age, as well as professionals of all sorts, are still closet smokers- hating their addiction and wanting to quit. Many picked up "social smoking" in college fraternities and sororities, thinking it was no big deal...and that they would stop that habit after they graduated. Now it is ten or twenty years later, and they are hiding this addiction from their peers and especially their children. I believe it may be easier for people who smoke openly to quit, because at least they can enlist the support of their friends and family!

If you are still smoking, please talk to your family doctor about all the medical options to help you quit, and think about setting a quit date in 2014. Your habit didn't form over night, and the average serious smoker takes 7 tries to quit for good. Nicotine replacement medications (gum, patch, nasal sprays, inhalers and lozenges)  have been shown to increase your chance of successful smoking cessation by 50-70%. Other medications such as Chantix & Zyban double or triple the success rate as well.

BOTTOM LINE: Smoking doesn't "just" cause lung cancer (and many other cancers), it causes heart attacks, strokes, and really crummy quality of life with chronic bronchitis and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). If you still smoke, please make an appointment to talk to your family doctor about quitting. You CAN do it!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sugar for Your Sweet Heart??

As Valentine's Day approaches, our thoughts turn to HEARTs, right? And maybe chocolate? Perhaps...but we also need to think about the heart muscle keeping us alive right now, and we have yet another medical study that shows the EXCESS SUGAR in our diets is taking a toll on our heart health.

The recently published Journal of the American Medical Association report, "Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality Among US Adults"  confirmed that American adults consume too much added sugar (such as the sugar we directly add to coffee and foods, as well as the "added sugar" in sodas, fruit juices, pastries, and chocolate) with 10% of us getting over one fourth of our daily calories from this category! In addition, people whose diets have over 21 % of their calories from added sugar have a significantly increased risk of heart attacks and strokes- DOUBLE the risk of those who limit these sugars to less than 10% of their diet. If you bump up the daily percentage of added sugar to over 25% of the daily calories, that risk almost TRIPLES.

Now this may seem fairly obvious, because we know obesity is linked to cardiovascular disease, but the interesting part to me is that this increased risk held true even when factoring in our known risk factors such as  obesity, low physical activity, and high cholesterol. 

Additionally, this study noted that those of us drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage every day (more than 7/week) also have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those who do not. Keep in mind, a soft drink at a restaurant is usually TWO servings, not one, so even one of those every other day would count. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that drinking one regular (not diet) soda per day will add on 15 pounds per there is definitely some benefit to changing this habit! Sodas are not the only culprit, of course, please note that fruit juice is on the list (yes it has some vitamins in it, but you are better off eating the whole fruit) and the daily coffee addiction can add tremendous numbers on the scale if you are not a "black coffee" kind of person. But I digress...

BOTTOM LINE: Let's become conscious of the "added sugar" in our diet, and make it less of a habit and more of a treat...and our HEARTS will thank us!