Home Blog Page 4

What is Lupus?

Lupus, also commonly known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (or SLE), is a chronic condition that occurs when the immune system cannot tell the difference between intruders and good tissues – then targeting the healthy tissues and organs in the body – i.e. the muscles, joints, lungs, heart, blood vessels, kidneys and skin – which results in inflammation and pain. Currently, an estimated 1 in every 1,000 Canadians between the ages of 15 and 45 suffer from lupus, with more individuals being diagnosed with Lupus each day. Though lupus affects both genders, it is found to be more predominant in women than men.

The list of early signs and symptoms of Lupus is lengthy. Some of the signs and symptoms include: Chronic fatigue, painful muscles and joints, arthritis, a low-grade fever, skin rash, light sensitivity, hair loss, mouth ulcers, loss of appetite, dry eyes, as well as abnormalities of the blood such as having a low platelet count or being anemic. Individuals with lupus are also at an increased risk of developing other health problems such as kidney, lung and heart disease, as well as the development of blood clots. It is important to remember, however, that the symptoms of lupus will vary from person to person.

Lupus can occur as three types of cycles:

1. Acute
Where symptoms happen abruptly and are severe, requiring medical attention – but are usually only short in duration.
2. Chronic
Where symptoms may persist but are not as severe as an acute flare-up.

3. Remission
Where symptoms will disappear for an extended period.

While there are no definitive answers as to what, exactly, causes lupus, research into the condition has discovered that there may be hormonal, environmental and genetic elements to it.

Since there is no specific cause of lupus, family physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary in Vancouver will instead treat the symptoms that are associated with it. Commonly prescribed medications to treat the symptoms of lupus include anti-malarial medications as well as anti-inflammatories such as NSAIDs (Naproxen, Advil, etc.) Immunosuppressant medications may also be prescribed to control severe flare-ups, but it is not recommended that they be taken on a long-term basis as they can come with side effects as well as increase your risk of infection and other health problems down the road.

If you would like more information on lupus, including self-help resources and details on Government-supported programs that are offered to those with lupus, please the Lupus Canada website at lupuscanada.org.

Balance Problems

Balance is something we learn early on as infants and children. First, we learn by sitting. Then, we learn by standing. Following that, we often learn with bicycles, roller-skates, and rollerblades. However, as we age, balance is something that can also decrease – especially in those who are elderly. When it comes to balance, it isn’t just a matter of learning how to stand on your own two feet. In order to be able to balance properly, many parts of our bodies also need to be functioning properly – including our bones, muscles, joints, eyes, nerves, heart, and even ears. If we’re not fully functioning, it’s not uncommon to start to experience balance problems.

Lack of balance can be caused by a variety of conditions. Vertigo, for example, is a condition that causes a sense of spinning/motion (also known as dizziness) even though nothing around you is actually moving. As a result, you lose your balance and can stumble. Vertigo is associated with many different medical conditions, including Meniere’s disease, migraines, vestibular neuritis, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, motion sickness, and even head injuries such as concussions. In addition, lack of balance can also be caused by other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as certain medications, and even psychiatric disorders such as depression, stress and anxiety.

If you are someone who frequently experiences balance problems, I recommend booking an appointment with your family physician for a thorough examination. Depending on the symptoms their severity, your physician may refer you for a series of tests including bloodwork, hearing tests, in addition to medical imaging. An in-office neurological exam is also sometimes done to check a patient’s reflexes and ensure that there is no abnormal brain activity or involuntary functions that could be contributing to the patient’s balance problems. If all of the tests conducted determine that there are no significant problems with your health, it may simply be a matter of learning balance restraining exercises, which can be taught to you by a physiotherapist. In order to prevent falls, you may also require the use of a cane or walker. If severe vomiting or dizziness also occurs along with your balance problems, you may need to be prescribed medication to help control those symptoms.

Because those who are elderly are much more susceptible to falls, especially if living on their own, it is important to reiterate that they should not be walking around in the dark, or doing any kind of climbing (i.e. up/down stairs, or on/off ladders) that could increase their risk of losing their balance or having a fall. Falls can be detrimental to seniors, as they are more likely to suffer from fractures, sprains and breaks.

For more information on fall prevention, visit the Canadian Balance and Dizziness Disorders society website at balanceanddizziness.org.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (also known as IBS), you’re not alone. An estimated 5 million Canadians suffer from IBS, while an estimated 120,000 Canadians are diagnosed with IBS each year, making it one of the more common disorders of the digestive system. In fact, Canada is said to have one of the highest diagnosis rates of IBS in the world.

Most individuals diagnosed with IBS are under the age of 50, though it can affect older adults as well. IBS also affects everyone differently. It can be a mild inconvenience for some, while for others it can be severely debilitating and have a negative impact on many aspects of their life – from emotional wellbeing, to the ability to socialize, as well as one’s professional life (i.e. work or school.) This is because symptoms of IBS can be unpredictable. One can develop diarrhea, while another may have constipation. These two symptoms may also often alternate. One of the most common symptoms that may be indicative of IBS is abdominal pain…particularly if that pain is relieved after a bowel movement. Symptoms of IBS are generally easily recognizable, so it is not a difficult condition to diagnose. In addition to the symptoms of IBS, it’s also not uncommon for individuals with IBS to also suffer from other chronic health conditions such as fibromyalgia, headaches, dyspepsia, urinary or other gynecological symptoms, insomnia, anxiety and depression.

What causes IBS is unknown, though it’s suspected that it is a result of a disturbance in which the way the gut, brain, and nervous system interact with one another.

Along with paying attention to the symptoms in which the patient is experiencing, physicians may also refer patients for other diagnostic testing. These may include blood testing, stool tests, a colonoscopy, or barium enema. These tests are typically performed to rule out any other gastrointestinal related problems aside from IBS.

Once a patient has received a firm diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, it’s all about managing the symptoms. Because IBS is a chronic condition, it’s not something that can just go away. There are, however, things you can to do relieve the discomfort and improve your quality of life. As abdominal pain is a common symptom associated with IBS, taking an antispasmodic or probiotic prior to meals may provide short-term relief of pain, especially after eating meals. If you suffer from constipation, taking a soluble fibre supplement may help – though in some cases you may also need to take a laxative. Alternatively, if you suffer from diarrhea, a medication known as loperamide will be beneficial. It’s also a good idea to talk with your physician about changing your diet, as this can also help with gas and bloating, both of which are also common in patients with IBS.

Common Skin Conditions

There are millions of Canadians living with skin problems. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, there are approximately 1 million Canadians living with psoriasis, 2 million with rosacea, and another 20% of Canadians have acne. While these are some of the most common skin conditions that affect individuals in Canada and that physicians will see quite frequently, there are also many other dermatological conditions that can cause the skin to feel irritated, sore, appear flaky, or exhibit other symptoms.

Eczema (also commonly referred to as Dermatitis) is another extremely common skin condition. With eczema, the skin becomes inflamed, red, itchy, and can also sometimes result in sores that either ooze or become crust-like. There are two types of eczema: Atopic Dermatitis and Contact Dermatitis. Atomic Dermatitis is often hereditary and currently affects almost 20% of Canadians. It commonly affects young children, but can affect individuals of all ages. Contact Dermatitis usually occurs as a result of contact with an allergen or irritant, resulting in inflammation. It is important to identify the allergen/irritant causing triggering the inflammation. Cleaning products, harsh soaps and/or laundry detergents are often the culprit and should be avoided.

Hyperhidrosis, while less common (as it currently affects just 3% of the Canadian population), is a skin disorder that occurs in individuals resulting in excessive and/or abnormal sweating. Hyperhidrosis can occur as a result of an underlying medical condition (such as nerve damage, obesity and menopause), or it can have an unknown cause. It is usually localized to the underarms, hands, feet or face. Hyperhidrosis can be treated topically, with Botulinum toxin type A (also known as Botox), or in some cases, surgery.

With temperatures rising in British Columbia over the next few months, Photoaging is something individuals should also protect themselves against. Photoaging, the premature maturing of skin, occurs as a result of repeated overexposure to UV rays — either from the sun or tanning beds. Signs include wrinkles and frown lines, pigmented spots, spider veins, a leathery appearance, and loss of skin tone…just to name a few. In addition to photoaging, over exposure to ultraviolet rays can also lead to the development of skin cancer, so it is important to take the steps to protect yourself — this includes wearing sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats.

For a complete list of skin conditions as well as information on how to prevent and properly treat them, visit the Canadian Dermatology Association’s website at dermatology.ca.

Rosacea: Types, Symptoms and Treatment

Does your face always look flushed? Do you have pimple-like bumps? If so, you could have a chronic inflammatory skin condition known as rosacea.

Currently, rosacea affects as many as 3 million Canadians and is one of the most common disorders seen by dermatologists. Anyone can be impacted by rosacea, although it typically affects more women than men, and generally develops in adults between the ages of 30 and 50. It can also affect individuals with any skin type, though those who are fair skinned (such as those who are of Northern or Eastern European descent) are much more at risk. The exact cause of rosacea is not known, but researchers believe it is caused by both genetic and environmental factors.

There are four different types of rosacea that one can be diagnosed with:

  • Erythemato-telangiectatic rosacea
  • Papulo-pustular rosacea
  • Phymatous rosacea
  • Ocular rosacea

Erythemato-telangiectatic rosacea includes symptoms such as facial flushing and redness, as well as swelling, stining and burning of the affected areas. Papulo-pustular rosacea is marked by persisting redness and pimple-like bumps, and is sometimes easily mistaken for acne. Phymatous rosacea, which generally affects the nose, affects the oil glands which can cause the skin tissue to become thick and bumpy. Ocular rosacea not only causes redness, burning and stinging of the skin, but it may also affect the eyes, causing them to sting and feel dry (or watery), appear bloodshot, and you may also have sensitivity to light as well as blurred vision.

Certain lifestyle factors can contribute to the flare-up of rosacea symptoms – from what you eat, to exercise. Some of the most common food and beverage triggers include caffeine (coffee/tea), hot chocolate, alcohol, and spicy foods and seasonings. Extreme heat can also contribute to rosacea – for example, hot showers/baths, saunas, as well as exposure to the sun. If you are going to be outdoors, it’s recommended that you use an SPF with a value of at least 30 (or higher), and wear a wide-brimmed hat. Vigorous exercise is another factor to consider, as this can cause the body to overheat, which can trigger facial flushing. Stress is another very common trigger. If your mental health is affected in any way, it’s always important to reach out to your family physician so that they can provide you with the help you need – whether it’s prescribing medications to help reduce anxiety or referring you to outpatient therapy (i.e. a psychiatrist or psychologist.) Certain cosmetic products can also aggravate the symptoms of rosacea as they tend to contain irritating ingredients as well as fragrance, so choose products that are mild and dermatologist-recommended.

For some, depending in the severity of the condition, living with rosacea can be detrimental to their ability to carry out everyday activities. In fact, as many as three quarters of those diagnosed with rosacea have said they suffer from poor self-esteem. There are also many myths and misconceptions about rosacea – for example, some think it is a form of acne or due to poor hygiene; neither of which are true.

Treating rosacea can not only improve the visual symptoms, but can also improve the mood. If you suffer from rosacea, the key to caring for your skin is to treat it gently. For example, always choose products that are free of alcohol and non-drying. When using cleanser, make sure it is mild, and avoid rubbing or scrubbing the skin. You should also moisturize your skin daily, especially when the air is dry or cooler. Unfortunately taking care of your skin isn’t enough to combat rosacea, as it’s not a condition that can go away on its own. You will also need additional treatment. Topical agents are also commonly used, one of the most common being Metronidazole. It contains both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, is available in cream, gel or lotion form, and can be used long-term. In more moderate to severe forms of rosacea, oral medications (such as tetracycline) may also be prescribed.

For more information, visit the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada website at www.rosaceahelp.ca.

Maintaining Your Oral Health

Did you know that your oral health can also have a significant impact on all other aspects of your health? For example, oral diseases don’t just stop at the mouth. There has been a growing body of evidence that has linked oral health problems to several types of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke – while in pregnant women, poor oral health has also been linked to premature births and low birth weights of newborns.

Among the most common oral diseases linked to other health problems include:

• Periodontal (gum) disease
• Dental caries (cavities)
• Cleft lip/palate
• Oral/facial pain
• Oral and pharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancers

Periodontal (gum) disease can cause damage to the soft tissue of the mouth; and, without proper treatment, can also destroy the bone that supports your teeth, causing teeth to loosen – or you may even lose some teeth all together. Periodontal disease is common but preventable.

Dental caries (cavities) are decayed areas of the teeth. Cavities are commonly caused by bacteria being present in the mouth, consuming sugar, and by not ensuring your teeth are cleaned well.

Cleft lip/palate is thought to be caused by a combination of different factors, including genes and environmental factors, as well as certain medications a pregnant women uses during pregnancy. You can learn more about cleft lip/palate by clicking here.

Oral/facial pain can be complex. While it can be the result of jaw and dental problems (including infections), it may also be the result of nerve conditions. This type of pain can be felt in one specific area, or it may radiate elsewhere.

Oral and pharyngeal (mouth and throat cancers) most commonly occur in people over the age of 40, and can be caused from things such as tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, as well as a sexually transmitted virus known as human papillomavirus (HPV).

One of the best things that you can do to prevent the aforementioned oral diseases and protect your overall health is to ensure that you are maintaining your oral health. This means brushing and flossing your teeth regularly (at least twice per day to help remove any plaque build-up), as well as seeing your dentist and oral hygienist for regular exams and cleanings. You should also limit or avoid alcoholic beverages, and avoid tobacco products. Certain medications are also known to cause dry mouth. If you are taking a medication and suspect it is causing you to have a dry mouth, things like chewing sugarless gum and drinking plenty of water can be helpful. If you’re still finding dry mouth to be a side-effect of any of your medications, you should also consider talking to your physician.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease, famously named after James Parker who published an essay on the neurodegenerative disease in 1918, is a condition that affects the body’s ability to move. Parkinson’s Disease occurs when cells that produce a chemical known as dopamine die, resulting in symptoms such as body tremors, stiffness, slowness and muscle rigidity. Parkinson’s Disease currently affects over 100,000 Canadians, with approximately 6,000 new cases of the disease being diagnosed in Canada every year.

Most diagnoses of Parkinson’s Disease are in individuals over the age of 60. However, although rare, individuals under the age of 50 (sometimes as young as 40) can also develop the disease. This is known as young-onset Parkinson’s. While there are no known causes of Parkinson’s Disease, genetics and exposure to certain toxins have been thought to play a part, in addition to viral infections. Individuals who have a parent or sibling with Parkinson’s Disease are also twice as likely to develop it themselves in the future.

Parkinson’s Disease is separated by two stages. Early stage, where symptoms appear and affect one’s everyday routines such as dressing themselves, hygiene, and even walking; and Advanced stage, when motor complications begin to occur.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease usually only affect one side of the body. The most common symptom of Parkinson’s Disease is tremors – uncontrollable shaking that usually starts with the hands. Muscles can also become stiff or tense, causing pain, and you may also notice loss or slowness of movement, which is scientifically known as Brandykinesia. In advanced stages of Parkinson’s, patients may also experience lack of coordination and balance, which can lead to falling. Tiredness, sleep problems, cognitive impairment, depression, and difficulty eating or swallowing are all also symptoms of the disease.

Given that there is no known cause of Parkinson’s or tests that can help diagnose the disease, treatment is based solely on the symptoms presented by the patient. A physician will not only pay attention to the manifestations of Parkinson’s, but will also usually go over a patient’s complete medical history to help determine appropriate treatment. One of the most commonly prescribed and effective medications used to help treat Parkinson’s Disease is a medication called Carbidopa-Levodopa, which releases a natural chemical into the brain that converts to dopamine. MAO-B Inhibitors may also be used to help prevent dopamine from breaking down, as well as Anticholinergics to control tremors associated with Parkinson’s. Side-effects to these medications can include light-headedness, nausea, insomnia, constipation, dry mouth, confusion and hallucinations, so it is important to discuss the risks and benefits of these medications with your physician.

In addition to patients receiving continued care from their physicians, there are also various support groups in Canada for individuals living with Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson Canada, the national voice for Canadians living with Parkinson’s, has been operating since 1965 and provides a broad range of resources for people and families of those living with Parkinson’s Disease, as well as have educational workshops, seminars and other support services. Similarly, the Parkinson Society of British Columbia, which is located in Vancouver, also helps to support individuals with Parkinson’s in addition to working on research in effort to find a cure.

Repetitive Strain Injuries

A Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), affecting over 2 million Canadians, is trauma to the nervous and musculoskeletal systems that is usually caused by tasks that are repetitive or forceful in nature, and by continuous or strenuous positions. RSI is an umbrella term that is used to describe various conditions such as tendinosis/tendinitis, edema, golfer’s elbow, and focal dystonia. One of the most common RSI’s affecting Canadians today is CTS, commonly known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs as a result of the nerve running from the forearm to the palm becoming compressed, thus causing pain – usually in the hands and/or fingers. Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are often described as a burning sensation, pulsing or aching pain, tingling, and weakness. Symptoms of CTS are initially intermittent in nature; however, these symptoms will usually begin to occur at a more frequent rate as time goes by. While the direct cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is unknown, genetics have been thought to play a role. Other health conditions have also been linked to CTS including inflammatory diseases and previous injuries, and even obesity – which affects one-third of patients in Canada. A surge in the use of computers and typewriters over the years have also been linked to playing a part in the increase of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other RSI’s.

When it comes to treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other RSI’s, is always dependent on the symptoms presented by the patient. Common NSAID pain-relievers such as Advil and Aleve, which are available without a prescription, can be helpful, but they are not always conducive in the relief of symptoms. When NSAID’s or other pain-relief medication proves to be ineffective, your physician may turn to the use of corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are often given via injection into the site of pain, or they can also be taken orally in pill form. In addition to medicinal treatment, physical therapy is also beneficial for CTS sufferers. With various physical therapists available to see in Burnaby and surrounding areas, as well as throughout Canada, attending regular physical therapy treatments should be easy and will help to strengthen the muscles in the hand and wrist as well as improve the dexterity. As with any surgery, there are risks (such as nerve damage) – and while those risks are low, surgery is still not a popular choice of treatment for Canada healthcare professionals and their patients given the length of time it can take for one to recover and regain the full use of their hands (up to 3 months.)

To avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and any long-term, irreversible nerve damage, it is recommended that you avoid any type of activity that may worsen the symptoms or cause further strain. For example, if you are going to be typing on your computer or writing for a prolonged period of time, it is important that you take 10 to 20 minute breaks in order to relax the muscles.

Common Causes of Dry Mouth

Everyone experiences a dry mouth from time to time. You can develop a dry mouth due to a number of reasons – with two of the most common causes being stress and dehydration. Dry mouth happens when the salivary glands fail to make enough saliva. If you’re a smoker, abuse drugs and/or alcohol, or are undergoing cancer treatment (such as radiation and/or chemotherapy), it is not uncommon to develop dry mouth.

Certain autoimmune disorders, like Sjogren’s syndrome, can also cause a dry mouth, as can certain medications. In fact, there are over 500 medications known to cause dry mouth, including but not limited to antihistamines, antidepressants, antiemetics, medications used to control blood pressure, as well as sedatives. If you do develop a dry mouth and suspect it may be a result of a medication that you are taking, it is important for patients to know that they should not abruptly stop medications before checking with their family doctor or pharmacist. If medication is a suspected cause of dry mouth, your physician may be able to alter its dosage to see if that makes any difference, or might even recommend a different medication all together.

There are also certain things that doctors, dentists and pharmacists also suggest patients try themselves for relief of dry mouth. For example, chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candy can often help to stimulate the salivary glands, drinking plenty of water during the day, as well as using a humidifier in your home – especially at night. Using an alcohol-free mouth rinse can also help.

If these home remedies are not helpful and you find that you are still suffering from a dry mouth, your doctor and/or dentist may need to prescribe you with a medication to help the function of the salivary glands, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions – like Sjogren’s syndrome – as mentioned above, in addition to lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Treating whatever the underlying cause is will often help alleviate other symptoms.

Springtime Allergies

While spring doesn’t arrive until March 20th, many people are already experiencing allergy symptoms; and while spring-related allergies are usually only a temporary thing, that’s not to say that they aren’t at all problematic, or, sometimes, downright disruptive, as these particular types of allergies can get in the way of doing something as simple as being able to enjoy spending time outdoors.

The good news is that, as mentioned, springtime allergies don’t have to last forever – and there are certain things that you can do to either prevent or help decrease the severity of the symptoms you might experience.

1. Limit how much time you spend outside. While this might not seem ideal, if you suffer from severe springtime allergies then you should consider reducing the amount of time that you spend outdoors. If you are going to go outside, it’s important to note that pollen counts tend to be at their highest around noon – particularly on days that are hot, dry, or windy – so if you are going to be spending quite a bit of time outdoors then it’s suggested you limit your time outside between – or, spend your time outside in the early morning or late evening instead. That being said, pollen count will never be at zero, so still be cautious about being outdoors no matter what time of day it is.

2. Protect yourself with a large-brimmed hat and sunglasses. While this tip might sound like something you only need to do if you’re going to be exposed to sunlight, wearing a large-brimmed hat and sunglasses can also protect your hair and eyes from exposure to pollen. For example, without sunglasses, pollen can get into the eyes much more easily; while without a hat, pollen can stick to the hair which can rub off on your pillow at night – and can still cause irritation and an allergic response to you that way.

3. Change clothing. After being outside, and if you know you suffer from allergies, then you may want to consider changing your clothes and putting what you wore outside into a laundry hamper. Just like pollen can stick to your hair, it can also stick to your clothes, and this will then cause it to spread throughout your home, making your symptoms persist.

4. Reduce your activity level. Staying fit and exercising regularly is something we all need to do in order to stay as healthy as possible. However, on days where the pollen or and/or pollution levels are particularly high, it’s recommended that you decrease the intensity of your outdoor workouts. This is because the more intense your workout is, the faster you breathe – and the faster you breathe, more allergens you will ultimately inhale. Examples of some allergy-friendly, lower-intensity workouts include things like weight training or yoga. It is also suggested that you exercise indoors, as opposed to outdoors, on days where pollen levels are high.

5. Try medication. As much as we may not necessarily like the idea of taking medications, there are instances where we need it and won’t have a choice; and if you’ve tried all of the aforementioned tips mentioned above with now real decrease or difference in the severity of your allergies, then this is one of those times. Nowadays, you can find many different (and affordable) products designed to help you with allergic-related symptoms, such as nasal sprays, as well as oral medications. If, after trying these OTC products and you’re still noticing no change in your symptoms, then your doctor may be able to prescribe you something stronger. In some cases, your physician may also refer you to an allergist, as they can test for specific things you might be allergic to and also offer you other methods of treatment.