August 2006 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.

You can quit smokingwith motivation, advice, support

If you are serious about quitting smoking, consult with your physician about a smoking cessation program that will work for you, advises UT Southwestern Medical Center oncologist Dr. Yvonne Coyle.

Tobacco use is the largest cause of preventable disease and deaths in the United States, with 440,000 people dying every year from lung and other cancers and cardiovascular disease caused by smoking or chewing tobacco products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 50 percent of lung-cancer patients in the United States are former smokers, and another 35 percent are current smokers.

"Although most tobacco smokers would like to quit, they may not be able to quit on their own," says Dr. Coyle, a specialist in early detection and prevention of cancer. "The No. 1 factor for success is a strong motivation, but some physician support is important for anybody, and the practical advice from the physician can be enhanced by group support from fellow quitters in community-based programs at worksites, churches or health care settings."

The benefits of smoking cessation are immense, Dr. Coyle says: People who quit smoking before the age of 50 have a 50 percent reduction for all health-related causes of death in the subsequent 16 years. When they reach 64 years of age, their risk of death is similar to that of people the same age who have never smoked.

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UT Southwestern’s clinical services in cancer.

Media Contact: Toni Heinzl

Driving with Alzheimer's is an accident waiting to happen

Early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can creep up on patients as their driving skills deteriorate. Families must remain aware of any ongoing issues when loved ones are behind the wheel of a vehicle.

"Taking away the keys is the most difficult decision for family members, but it's a vital part of caring for someone with dementia," says Dr. Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, a neurologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

He advises family members to watch for these cues:

  • Driving too fast or too slow 
  • Irritability while driving 
  • Confusion in previously familiar areas
  • Confusing the gas and brake pedals
  • Getting into accidents or getting tickets
  • Having trouble signaling or turning

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Media Contact: Aline McKenzie

Got 30 seconds? Then you can help fight infections

A 30-second habit could mean the difference between getting sick and staying healthy, say doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"We have known for over a hundred years that infections can be drastically reduced by proper hand washing," said Dr. Raymond Fowler, an emergency medicine specialist.

Because germs are very often carried or transmitted on the hands, keeping the hands clean can prevent many simple infections.

Dr. Fowler suggests using warm water and soap, and rubbing hands together for 30 seconds, especially after using the restroom or working in the kitchen.

If soap and clean water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol to clean hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce germs on skin and are fast acting.

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Media Contact: Connie Piloto

Out-of-control blood sugar can hurt a pregnant woman, baby

Most pregnant women know they shouldn't drink alcohol or smoke during pregnancy, but it's just as important for diabetic moms-to-be to control their blood sugar, says Dr. Philip Raskin, a diabetes specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Babies exposed to high levels of blood sugar in the womb run higher risks of birth defects, growing too large for safe delivery through the birth canal or being born prematurely.

Their mothers are at higher risk for health problems, too, Dr. Raskin says.

"Without proper blood-sugar control, she might acquire some common diabetes problems, or her existing diabetes problems could worsen," he says. "Out-of-control blood sugar also could cause her blood pressure to spike. That could lead to premature birth of the baby, or it could cause seizures or a stroke in the woman during labor and delivery."

Dr. Raskin recommends that pregnant, diabetic women closely control their blood sugar levels, treat low blood sugar quickly, take medications on time, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that pregnant women monitor their blood sugar often, perhaps six to eight times a day, and visit their doctor regularly.

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Media Contact: Cliff Despres

Ozone dangers rise along with summer temperatures

As summer temperatures heat up, ozone dangers also rise, say doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Most ozone alerts are color coded, ranging from green (good) to purple (worst) throughout the summer when conditions are ripe for creating potentially harmful ozone levels.

"Predictors of high ozone pollution are how hot it's going to be, how sunny and how much traffic there is going to be," said Dr. Carlos Girod, a lung disease specialist. "People think of ozone as the layer that protects us from UV light, so they hear an ozone alert and think it means there's a lot of sunlight and that you should wear sunscreen. Actually, on days of high alert, we should be concerned about the polluted air we're breathing."

First to feel the effects will be those with pre-existing breathing troubles: asthma, allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The orange level alert signals days when ozone levels may affect these groups. When levels hit red or purple, it's generally considered unhealthy for everyone.

What can be done about it? As the saying goes, there's not much you can do about the weather, but you can take various precautions:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible, and avoid leaving windows open. Ozone is highly unstable and rapidly inactivated, so indoor air has very low ozone levels.
  • Limit outdoor exercise or playtimes for small children to before 11 a.m. or after 8 p.m., when ozone concentrations are lower.
  • If outside, try to limit physical exertion that may cause you to breathe deeply and inhale more ozone.
  • Those with asthma should monitor breathing and keep medications handy. There are also things you can do to help reduce emissions.
  • Drive less. Take public transportation or try carpooling. Also, avoid using gas-powered lawn equipment during the morning and afternoon hours.
  • Consolidate errands or put them off to another day when ozone levels aren't as high.
  • Fill gas tanks after dark. Some fumes escape and react with sunlight, producing ozone.

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Media Contact: Russell Rian



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