Tuesday, September 27, 2016

No BULL...Get Your FLU SHOT!

Yes, it's only September, but we've been seeing cases of the flu all month! Today the University of Texas kicked off our 2016 flu shot campaign, and happily, students were lined up and ready to go. Our staff does a wonderful job of efficiently providing vaccines for students, faculty and staff- Hook 'em! The vaccines are widely available now, in your doctor's office, pharmacies and even grocery stores.

WHO: EVERYONE that is 6 months old & up (*with rare exceptions*)

WHY: THOUSANDS of people die from flu every year, here in the United States- between 3000-49,000 deaths. Hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and many millions seek care with their own doctors, costing our healthcare system over $10 BILLION each year for direct flu-related costs. Closer to home- how many days can YOU (or your kids) afford to stay home sick or try to function with miserable flu symptoms?

The flu vaccine is not perfect, since new strains emerge each year and scientists are not yet clairvoyant. If you get the vaccine, you MIGHT still get the flu- but your illness should be much milder than if you were not vaccinated. Flu vaccines do NOT cause the flu- repeat- DO NOT CAUSE THE FLU. Note that influenza is not the same as the many viruses that cause "cold" symptoms, so the flu vaccine does not protect you against getting EVERY sore throat, runny nose, cough, sneeze and fever.

What's new for the 2016-2017 flu season?

  • ONLY INJECTABLE VACCINES this year (NO nasal spray)
    •  the nasal spray one with attenuated live virus will not be offered because last season's data has shown it to be significantly less effective than the injectable ones
  • RECOMMENDATIONS for the 1.3% of children and 0.2% of adults with EGG ALLERGIES
    • If your egg allergy means you get only hives after eating eggs, you may receive either type of vaccine available
    • If you have a more severe egg allergy beyond hives (lip swelling, trouble breathing, passing out or vomiting), you may still receive either vaccine but it should be done in a medical setting with providers trained and able to manage severe allergic reactions.

BOTTOM LINE: Flu season is here once again. I got my flu vaccine last week- have you had yours?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Can College Students Get Ulcers?

"Does STRESS cause stomach ulcers?"

In a college health center, this is a question I hear fairly often, especially around midterms or finals. Certainly most of us have experienced stomach discomfort when we are anxious- whether that is nausea, cramping, diarrhea or pain- but the vast majority of people with those symptoms do not have actual ulcers.

However, people who are stressed may have COPING HABITS that can irritate the stomach lining, causing a gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) which might facilitate the development of ulcers:
  • Drinking too much alcohol (more than one drink/day for women, or more than 2 drinks/day for men) 
  • Using too many NSAIDs (Non Steroid Anti Inflammatory Drugs) like ibuprofen (aka. Advil/Motrin/etc).
Of course, college football weekends with prolonged tailgating and subsequent hangovers (treated with ibuprofen) are the perfect set up before "stress" from midterms is even a factor.

Stomach ulcers, meaning an abrasion or "ulceration" in the inside lining of your stomach, are actually primarily caused by a bacteria called H. pylori, which lives in the GI tracts of approximately 30-40% of Americans. It may be present for decades before it causes any symptoms. This bacteria is identified within 70-95% of ulcers that are biopsied in the stomach and the first part of the small intestine, the duodenum.

What are symptoms of stomach ulcers?
The discomfort of ulcers starts off feeling like hunger to many people- a deep ache, located below your breastbone and above your belly button. The pains may come and go at first, and may also be associated with feeling nauseated or bloated after meals. Initially, taking an antacid such as TUMS will relieve this sensation. The timing of the pains tends to vary with the location of the ulcer, and the pains might come and go for weeks at a time.

How does a doctor check for ulcers?
For young people (under 55 years) who are otherwise healthy, the current standard of care is to test for the presence of H. pylori bacteria, and treat immediately if that is positive. There are blood tests, breath tests and stool tests available. For older patients or those with risk factors for stomach cancer, direct visualization with endoscopy is recommended to allow the doctor to biopsy any suspicious areas.

How are ulcers treated?
If your doctor finds H.pylori, you will be treated with not one, but several medications: one acid blocking medication called a proton pump inhibitor, and two antibiotics. There are different regimens, but all include at least these medications at different dosages and timing.

If it's not an ulcer, what else could it be?
Persistent, recurrent upper abdominal pain and nausea could multiple other medical issues, including (but not limited to) gall stones, pancreatitis, hernias, colon disease (including celiac or inflammatory diseases like Crohn's) or other systemic illness. The key point here is not to worry you, but to encourage you not to suffer in silence. Avoid the temptation to self-diagnose or to try every over-the-counter remedy before heading in to see your family physician.

BOTTOM LINE: If you are having recurrent pain in your upper abdomen, nausea, bloating or other discomfort, stop taking NSAIDS and drinking alcohol, and head in to see your doctor. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

6 Tips for Freshmen Insomnia

Freshmen college students have many challenges as they adjust to their new environments, and sleepless nights in dorm rooms can trigger a downward spiral of fatigue, trouble concentrating, and poor grades...which leads to anxiety and more difficulty sleeping. What can students do to try and stop this cycle? Certainly there are multiple causes for insomnia, from roommate noise to seasonal allergies, to homesickness or academic stressors, but here are six basic steps to try first:

  1. CONSISTENT SLEEP (& WAKE) TIMES- with MWF and T/Th schedules, often students have drastically different sleep and wake times each day, which doesn't jive with our body's internal clock. Getting up and going to bed at consistent times (within an hour's window) will help set your body on a schedule. Create a morning library study period for yourself on later start days that you treat as another class, or commit to an early exercise class.* (Daily aerobic exercise is a wonderful stress reducer, but because of the adrenaline it produces, make sure not to exercise within three hours of your normal bedtime.)
  2. SLEEPING MASK- this is a great way to physically block out light in a shared space. Spend the extra few bucks for one that fits right, is easily washable and comfortable (usually around $15-$20). Side note- keep the mask ON during the night...resist the temptation to check the time. If you can't cover your eyes, cover the CLOCK. Our brains are clever, and can consistently wake us up at the exact time every night if we allow ourselves to look at the clock. 
  3. BLOCK the NEW NOISE- like snoring roommates, hallway traffic or loud face-timing neighbors- with a combination of comfortable ear plugs or extra white noise from a portable fan (even if you have A/C). 
  4.  GUIDED MEDITATION APP: consider one from Healthline's "Best Meditation Apps of 2016"
  5. AVOID SCREENS at least the last hour or two before bed. Numerous studies have confirmed the detrimental affect of blue lights on sleep cycles. Students live on screens both socially and academically, so this is a tough one, but simple modifications include saving your actual book reading or off-screen math assignments for the end of your study evening, and taking your showers at night. And...not playing games or stalking social media as your "relaxation" time when you get in to bed. 
  6. GO TO TUTORING. If academic stress is the primary source of your anxiety and subsequent insomnia, do not suffer in silence or wait till you "have" to talk to your professor! Almost everyone is initially overwhelmed by the volume and intensity of college courses, especially if you got in to your "dream" school. Learning to utilize study partners or groups, attending tutoring sessions, and discovering new interactive memorization techniques will help dramatically. Locking yourself in a room "until I finish", skipping fun activities as you try to force-feed yourself the information will be minimally productive, if at all. Alternating study locations, prioritizing sleep, and taking practice tests will improve your grades. All-nighters do not. 
BOTTOM LINE: College life is tough on sleep cycles- try these steps to start improving your chances of restful sleep, so your brain has the energy and focus to succeed!