May 2005 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.

Your PDA a pain in the thumb? Take a break

Hand-held devices, such as the personal digital assistant BlackBerry, are convenient and fun to use, but could cause damage to your fingers if used excessively.

"It's still early but we think we may start seeing people with thumb tendonitis complaints," says Dr. Kimberly Mezera, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and chief of hand and upper extremity service at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "Thumbs aren't made for constantly moving up and down on the scroll on a BlackBerry. It's a small movement but it could lead to bigger problems."

Excessive use may cause aching and some stiffness of the thumb base, which could travel into the palm and possibly into the wrist. Dr. Mezera recommends resting to alleviate the pain. "If your thumbs start to hurt, take a break," she suggests.  "If the pain persists, consider trying ibuprofen. If that doesn't work, consult your doctor."

Media Contact: Kara Lenocker

Mental illness in the family?  Don't feel guilty - talk freely about it

Mental illness is not a matter of choice or of making "bad" decisions, says Dr. Eric Nestler, chairman of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Illnesses such as depression, bipolar disease and schizophrenia are biological and genetic diseases just as powerful and devastating as heart disease, diabetes, cancer or any other major medical condition. Yet they still carry a stigma in the way society views them.

If someone in your family has been diagnosed with a mental illness, Dr. Nestler offers the following advice, in addition to seeking professional help:

Face the problem head-on - talk freely about it, and don't feel guilty, as if it's something you could have prevented, or accusatory, as if the person brought it on herself or himself. Tell friends and family that your loved one has a mental illness, rather than trying to hide it. Seek out other families in similar situations, realizing you're not alone, and research organizations that offer information, advice and treatment options.

"Mental illness is a potentially fatal disease, with high mortality rates, and should be treated just like any other major medical disease," says Dr. Nestler.

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

Inability to wear tampons may be sign of uterine prolapse or vaginal stretching 
Tampons not properly fitting may be a warning sign of a problem found in women who have recently given birth.  

This could be due to one of two things, says Dr. Mikio Nihira, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Either the walls of the vagina stretch, affecting the fit of the tampon, or the uterus has prolapsed, or dropped out of place. Prolapse occurs when the muscles and ligaments of the pelvis weaken due to events like childbirth. The uterus and/or the vaginal walls force the tampon out.

"Either circumstance, it's a potentially fixable situation," says Dr. Nihira.

Therapy for this condition includes pelvic floor muscle exercises, use of a pessary (a diaphragm-like device) or corrective surgery.  

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

Keep as cool as possible while exercising in summer heat

With the summer approaching, experts advise people to use caution and common sense when exercising outside. Evaporation of sweat is critical regulating the body temperature, say researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"Exercising in high humidity particularly on hot overcast days can be more dangerous because the sweat doesn't evaporate as quickly and doesn't do as good a job of cooling you," says Dr. Peter Snell, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern.

Exercises that produce a high airflow and therefore increase the evaporation of sweat, such as roller blades or cycling, are good alternatives to running or walking when it's hot outside, he says.

"One of the key dangers of exercising in the heat is becoming dehydrated. Always carry a water bottle and because the sensation of thirst lags behind dehydration, drink before you become thirsty," Dr. Snell says. "It's best to wear sunscreen and a fabric that can breath, so you can protect yourself from the sun and still be able to cool off."

He added that in particularly brutal heat, early-morning exercising is the best bet for avoiding dehydration and injury. Those who exercise for long periods should know to not drink inordinate amounts of water, as that can lead to hyponatremia.

Media Contact: Katherine Morales

Be careful when you reach for those painkillers, the relief may cause other problems

Preventing a stomach ulcer is not worth the added risk of having a heart attack, warns Dr. Byron Cryer, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

He is referring to the use of COX-2 inhibitors, drugs marketed as Celebrex, Vioxx and Bextra, medications that were approved in the late 1990s for treating severe arthritis pain. Now, in certain cases, they have been associated with gastrointestinal ulcer complications.

While Celebrex has been approved to remain in the U.S. market, Vioxx and Bextra have been removed. They were hugely popular until last fall, when Vioxx was voluntarily pulled after clinical studies found long-term use significantly increased the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. 

"While the COX-2 inhibitors are associated with a reduced rate of serious complications such as bleeding in the stomach and intestines, their gastrointestinal benefit is offset by side effects in other systems, specifically an increase in cardiovascular complications such as heart attacks and stroke," says Dr. Cryer. He says alternatives include combining an older nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) with medications that reduce acid secretion in the stomach, such as Aciphex, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec or Protonix.

The anti-inflammatory drugs etodolac (Lodine) and meloxicam (Mobic) are similar in gastrointestinal safety to COX-2 inhibitors and do not appear to have the same cardiovascular risks. Another option is acetaminophen (Tylenol) or narcotics-type pain medications. He suggests you consult your physician before changing your medication regimen.

Media Contact: Scott Maier


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