09 September 2007

Eczema - Atopic Dermatitis

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis (or inflammation of the skin), is a chronic skin condition commonly characterized by dry, red, swollen, patches of skin that itch relentlessly. For many individuals who have eczema, frequent scratching of the affected area only makes the condition more bothersome and uncomfortable. Repeated scratching also may cause the skin to become red or swollen, which can then cause the area to crack, ooze clear liquid and become crusty. Eczema occurs most often in the folds of the elbows or behind the knees, but it can appear anywhere on the surface of the body. In children, eczema often occurs on the scalp and face as well. An eczema outbreak can last from a few days to a few weeks or more. And whereas some individuals experience a single outbreak, many experience frequent flare-ups, usually as a result of exposure to one or more triggers or irritants.

The itching and scratching caused by eczema can lead to breaks or cracks in the skin. Often, bacteria can infect the open skin wounds and cause an infection. These skin infections, also called cellulitis, can cause the skin to appear red and swollen and may be warm to the touch. These skin infections can spread to other areas of the body, therefore, it is important to contact a doctor if cellulitis is suspected.

What causes it?

Medical researchers believe that eczema may be an abnormal response of the immune system to various environmental or emotional triggers. When the body comes into contact with one or more of these triggers, the immune system senses the trigger and reacts to dispel it. The immune system's reaction is thought to be the cause of the symptoms that are associated with eczema outbreaks.

Triggers for eczema can include skin irritants, such as chemicals; emotional stress; allergies, for example, to food and airborne allergens; and extreme changes in temperature. Paint thinners and pesticides, alcohol-containing products, astringents, and fragrances are chemicals that can trigger eczema in some individuals. Although paint thinners and pesticides can be avoided fairly easily, it is harder to avoid alcohol, astringents, and fragrances, which are ingredients in most cosmetics and household cleaners. If you believe any of these types of products contribute to your eczema, it is a good idea to check the ingredient list on the label before purchasing one of these products.

Heightened emotional states, for example, feelings of extreme anxiety, anger, or aggression, can also trigger eczema outbreaks. Understanding and trying to avoid situations that lead to these stresses may be beneficial in preventing eczema outbreaks. Approaches to avoiding stress include getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol or illegal drugs.

Certain foods, for example, milk, eggs, soy, or peanuts, trigger eczema outbreaks for some individuals. Reading the ingredient list before purchasing food products that you suspect may contain ingredients you are allergic to is a wise step to take.

Airborne allergens such as pollens, mould spores, and animal dander as well as extreme changes in temperature can also lead to an outbreak of eczema for some individuals. During the heat of summer, remaining indoors where air conditioning is available is a good preventive measure. In the winter months, using a humidifier to add moisture to the air inside your home may help prevent dry skin, thus preventing an eczema outbreak.


05 September 2007

Hormonal Contraception - Birth Control

Contraception (preventing pregnancy) has been attempted for thousands of years. Over the centuries, contraceptive methods have varied greatly from ways we would consider bizarre to methods quite similar to what we use today. For example, in ancient Egypt, crocodile dung and honey were put in the vagina to prevent conception. In some African countries, women used okra pods as vaginal pouches – similar to the female condoms now in use. From dung to seedpods, the effectiveness of traditional contraceptive methods is quite questionable. Although today's methods of birth control can be more complicated to use, they are undeniably more reliable and certainly more appealing.

Over the next 25 years, the world's population is estimated to exceed 8 billion individuals. At more than 40%, this increase represents the largest population growth ever seen over such a short time period. Governments as well as individuals are taking action to keep a huge growth in population from overwhelming resources. Without using some form of family planning, however, approximately 80% of women age 35 to 39 and 91% of women age 20 to 24 would become pregnant at least once during a 5-year period. Even more significant to overall population growth, one out of ten women age 15 to 19 will become pregnant each year, despite a consistent decline in the teen birth rate. Far more likely to live in poverty, babies born to teen-aged mothers are often low in birth weight, which contributes not only to higher infant death rates, but also to greater risk of lifelong health problems. Although estimates vary over a large range, as many as 60% of all pregnancies are believed to be unplanned. Worldwide, unplanned children are more likely to die before the age of one year.

Efforts to control population growth take many forms – from governmental limits on the number of children per family to individual decisions about contraceptive methods. Hormonal contraception is just one method of birth control now used to help keep population growth in check and minimize the number of unwanted pregnancies. By far, the most popular method of limiting family size in the United States is oral hormonal contraception taken by the female partner. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first “modern” contraceptive, Enovid 10, in 1960, major advances have been made in hormonal contraception. Available in several different dosage forms, today’s hormonal contraceptives are formulated to reduce side effects and increase convenience while maintaining effectiveness.

Important Note: Hormonal contraceptives, in any form, do not provide protection against the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as AIDS, gonorrhea, or syphilis (just to name a few).


01 September 2007

Hypertension - High Blood Pressure

What is High Blood Pressure?

In hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, blood is forced through the heart and vessels throughout the body with a greater force than is necessary. Over time, hypertension damages the heart and blood vessels. Eventually, untreated hypertension can lead to life-threatening health problems such as heart disease and strokes.

When your blood pressure is checked, two measurements--systolic and diastolic--are taken.

Systolic blood pressure represents the peak pumping pressure of your heart when it is fully contracted during a heartbeat.

Diastolic blood pressure represents the pressure in the heart when it is at rest between heartbeats. You may be diagnosed with hypertension if your systolic pressure is 140 or higher, and your diastolic is 90 or higher.

Normal blood pressure is defined as a systolic less than 120 and a diastolic less than 80 (or "less than 120 over 80"). "Pre-hypertension" is a new classification that impacts approximately 45 million American adults and is defined as a systolic of 120 to 139 and a diastolic of 80 to 89. Individuals who have pre-hypertension are on the brink of developing full blown hypertension.

Hypertension is defined as a systolic pressure of 140 or higher and/or a diastolic of 90 or higher. Hypertension is further classified by stages - stage 1 and stage 2 - depending on the systolic and diastolic pressure readings (see table below).

Hypertension is diagnosed when either the systolic or diastolic pressure is high or if both the systolic and diastolic pressures are high. To be diagnosed with hypertension, two or more properly measured blood pressure readings must be taken on each of two or more doctor's office visits and then the readings are averaged. This means it takes more than just one elevated blood pressure reading to be diagnosed with hypertension.

When the two blood pressure measurements fall into separate stages--for example a Stage 2 systolic reading, but a diastolic pressure in the normal range, the higher of the two is used for the classification. The higher part of the blood pressure measurement along with your personal risk for hypertension and other health conditions you may have, help your doctor determine the best treatment options for you. The table below lists the stages or classifications of hypertension.

Systolic Diastolic
Normal Less than 120 Less than 80
Pre-hypertension 120 to 139 80 to 89
Stage 1 140 to 159 90 to 99
Stage 2 160 or higher 100 or higher

The higher the blood pressure, the more likely you are to experience a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or kidney disease.