October 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.

Detective work pays off when it comes to breast cancer

Breast cancer is expected to kill more than 40,000 American women in 2005, while another 211,000 will be diagnosed with the disease this year. With early detection, however, breast cancer has one of the highest five-year survival rates of all cancers - 95 percent.

October, designated National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, provides an opportunity to remind women that the key to early detection is getting annual mammograms combined with regular self-exams of the breasts, says Dr. Phil Evans, director of the Southwestern Center for Breast Care at the UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"We recommend regular annual mammograms beginning at age 40," Dr Evans says. "For high-risk groups, including women who have a first-degree relative with breast cancer or women who had chest X-rays for Hodgkin disease when they were younger, we recommend they consult with their doctor to determine if they need to start earlier."

Women whose mothers had breast cancer by the time they were 40 years old should start with regular mammograms at age 30, Dr. Evans says.

For information on how to obtain discounted or free mammography screenings, contact the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Contact information for the more than 100 local affiliates in the United States can be found on the foundation's Web site at www.komen.org.

Media Contact: Toni Heinzl

Don't grow long in the sweet tooth during Halloween outings

Although kids relish the sheer tonnage of candy they can collect in a single Halloween night, parents should set limits on the sugar intake, both for their children and themselves, says Lona Sandon, a nutritionist at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"A good rule of thumb would be no more than three bite-size candies or one fun-size candy bar," she says. "And keep the treats to just a few times per week. Also, set some rules on when the candy can be eaten such as only as a dessert, after lunch or dinner, not before meals."

Ms. Sandon adds that parents should set the example by limiting their candy intake.

"Parents should start by only buying the amount of candy needed for the trick-or-treaters," she says. "Avoid grabbing an extra bag and avoid those 50 percent off candy sales after the holidays."
Media Contact: Katherine Morales

For the sleepless, melatonin should be taken with care

Having trouble sleeping?

Many people reach for melatonin, an over-the-counter supplement that's been associated with sleep but shouldn't be used as a long-term sedative, says sleep expert Dr. John Herman.

"Melatonin is not a sleeping pill," says Dr. Herman, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center and director of the Sleep Disorder Clinic at Children's Medical Center Dallas. "However, it can have sedative effects for a short time for some people."

A hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, melatonin helps the body know when it's time to sleep and time to wake up. It is the second most powerful stimulus for resetting our biological clocks, with bright light being the most effective tool, says Dr. Herman.

Melatonin can be used to help treat sleeping disorders like delayed sleep phase syndrome (falling asleep and awakening too late) and advanced sleep phase syndrome (falling asleep and awakening too early). It also may help prevent jet lag.

Media Contact: Donna Hansard

Day care centers foster growing kids, and growing allergens

Hay-fever season is raging outdoors, but a recent study supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences shows day care facilities to be a major source of indoor allergens.

Children of parents with allergies are likely to have allergies too, and there are things parents and day care workers can do to help, says Dr. Rebecca S. Gruchalla, associate professor of internal medicine and director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"While you want day care centers to be warm and inviting, the more sterile the environment, the better," she says. "You want an environment that does not foster the growth of various allergens."

Other tips include:

  • Have the child wash his or her face and hands after being outside, where pollen allergens are present and not amenable to control.
  • Place Hepa air filters in the room to help reduce the amount of allergens that remain airborne for long periods.
  • Use saline solutions for washing out allergens from the eyes if eye itching is a prominent symptom.
  • Use mattress encasements if there are assigned beds to decrease dust mite exposure.

Parents can watch for other things as well. Water from leaks, for example, can foster mold and can increase dust mites and cockroaches, while carpeting attracts more allergens than tile flooring.

Children with existing asthma often are sensitive to cockroach allergens, so check to make sure cockroaches aren't a problem and check to see that cracks are sealed to prevent bugs from entering.

Outdoors, playing on St. Augustine grass may help, because it does not pollinate while many other types of grasses, such as Bermuda, do pollinate. However, since grass pollen can be carried for long distances, people may still be affected by grass pollen.

Media Contact: Russell Rian

When unlocking good health, make sure numbers add up

Some of the most important keys to your health are simply knowing your numbers.

Dr. Shawna Nesbitt, hypertension specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says that knowing such basic health numbers as your blood sugar, blood pressure, LDL and HDL cholesterol and your body mass index, can help guide your health decisions and help you take control of your lifestyle.

"You cannot make a plan to go in the right direction if you don't know where you are starting from," Dr. Nesbitt says. "Patients should feel empowered by knowing their numbers."

  • Blood sugar (glucose): should be less than 100 after fasting for eight hours.
  • Blood pressure: Normal is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury. If you have hypertension and are on medications, your blood pressure should be controlled to at least less than 140/90, and less than 130/80 if diabetic.
  • LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol): Should be less than 130, if you have heart disease it should be less than 100
  • HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol): Should be more than 40 for men, and more than 50 for women
  • Body mass index: Your doctor should be able to help you figure out this percentage, but normal in below 25, overweight is between 26 and 29, and obese is 30 or higher.

Media Contact: Katherine Morales


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