April 2004 Health News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.

Psychological reasons could determine when you file your taxes

Why do some people file their taxes right away while others procrastinate?

According to Dr. Steven Krebaum, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, economics sometimes takes a back seat to psychology when it comes to tax season. Expectations often impact the process.

"Based on the literature, when a person files taxes is largely based on variables such as the individual's current cash position and expectations regarding either a payment or a refund," he says. "Those with higher incomes tend to file later, particularly if they anticipate large tax payments, while those who expect refunds file earlier, especially if they think they will be getting large refunds."

However, these trends are not always consistent. "Interestingly, a number of psychological issues may cause even those who expect refunds to delay filing," Dr. Krebaum says.

Those reasons may include:

  • being upset because stocks have taken a dip and you don't want to face facts
  • not wanting to be realistic in regard to personal finances, which filing taxes forces you to do
  • anger toward Washington, D.C., bureaucracy, with resulting delay in filing because you don't want to "pay the government"
  • not wanting to be reminded of distressing personal issues, such as a recent divorce

"Generally, it may be that psychology plays a larger role than economics in decisions of when to file," Dr. Krebaum says.

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

The chickenpox vaccine: It's not just for kids

Many adults remember their childhood infection with chickenpox as little more than an itchy inconvenience. But varicella disease - nicknamed chickenpox because the blisters resemble chickpeas - is usually far more severe in adults. The infection can lead to encephalitis or pneumonia, and can even be fatal, says Dr. James Luby, professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Since the varicella vaccine became available in the United States in 1995, the number of diagnosed cases per year has significantly dropped, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But deaths from chickenpox in healthy, unvaccinated children and adults have continued, and most adults who have died of the virus since the vaccine was introduced contracted the disease from their unvaccinated children, according to the CDC.

"If you have not had natural chicken pox and you're an adult, you can be tested for immunity," Dr. Luby says. "If you're not immune, you should get the vaccine."

Pregnant women should not receive the vaccine, which is 85 percent effective in preventing disease, according to the CDC. Adults who work in health care or around children are especially at risk. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov.

Media Contact: Rachel Horton



Parents can be proactive in keeping children from falling out windows, off balconies

Accidental falls, already one of the most common pediatric trauma admissions at hospitals, become even more prevalent during the spring months when many people welcome warmer weather by opening windows and using balconies again.

"The child's natural curiosity and lack of experience make open windows and balconies with wide rails a dangerous combination," said Dr. R. Todd Maxson, assistant professor of surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and trauma program director at Children's Medical Center Dallas. "The real issue here is vigilance, supervision and being pro-active about the children's safety."

Dr. Maxson recommends the following tips to avoid falls from windows and balconies:

  • Keep chairs, cribs, beds and other furniture away from windows, and never let children play unsupervised on high porches, balconies or stairwells.
  • Never open floor-level windows or rely on window screens to prevent falls - the weight of even a small child can push out a screen.
  • Measure balcony and stairwell balusters - they should be less than eight inches apart.

Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem

Shortness of breath, coughing could be signs of obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the only leading cause of death that is increasing, but many patients are not treated until this disease has reached an irreversible state.

"The burden of COPD is often underestimated because it is not usually recognized and diagnosed until it's clinically apparent and advanced," says Dr. Yolanda Mageto, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Characterized by the presence of airflow obstruction including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, COPD affects 21.7 million Americans and is the fourth-leading cause of death. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, and other breathing-related problems.

Smoking cessation is the single most effective intervention to reduce the risk of developing COPD and stopping its progression, Dr. Mageto says. Other preventatives include reduction of total exposure to tobacco smoke, occupation dusts and chemicals, and indoor, outdoor air pollutants.

Media Contact: Amy Shields

With a bit of effort and common sense, you can avoid many back injuries

Back injury - it seems everyone suffers one at one time or another. But it doesn't have to be that way, says Dr. Noor Gajraj, assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain management at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"Use of seat belts and airbags can reduce spine injuries during motor vehicle accidents," he says. "Weight control, good posture and a regular exercise routine, including stretching, can go a long way toward preventing back injuries. Develop the abdominal muscles. Also try to avoid lifting heavy objects and minimize bending and lifting. If you do have to pick up a heavy object, be sure to bend your legs, which puts stress on the legs' strong quad muscles, lessening the load on your back."

Media Contact: Stephen O'Brien


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