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Pancreatic Cancer

As many as 5,000 Canadians (and 50,000 Americans) are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year.

Pancreatic cancer is considered to be one of the most deadly forms of cancer to be diagnosed with, as symptoms of pancreatic cancer typically do not present themselves until the cancer is already in a late stage and has spread to other parts of the body by the time it is diagnosed. In 25% of pancreatic cancer cases, it has not yet spread, but remains inoperable. As an inoperable cancer, it cannot be treated but can be controlled with cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation.

While the mortality rates of pancreatic cancer have certainly decreased over the years, it’s still considered to be a predominantly incurable cancer, with as many as 70% of pancreatic cancer cases still leading to death.

Given the location of the pancreas, which sits in front of the spine and deep in the abdomen, it can be a very difficult cancer to treat. Once pancreatic cancer has metastasized, symptoms one may experience include severe abdominal pain (that often radiates into the back), skin discolouration (also known as jaundice), fatigue, lack of appetite, and unintended weight loss. Individuals with pancreatic cancer may also develop an onset of other health issues including blood clots, diabetes, and depression.

To accurately diagnose pancreatic cancer, Dr. Ali Ghahary will send patients for a series of tests – including blood tests and medical imaging tests such as a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound. If certain proteins are elevated in your blood, this may be an indicator of pancreatic cancer. You may also be required to have a biopsy so that cells and tissues can be tested. If pancreatic cancer is confirmed, Dr. Ali Ghahary will refer patients to a specialist known as an oncologist. Oncologists are responsible for continuing the care of cancer patients as well as coming up with treatment plans.

In order to avoid pancreatic cancer, there are certain measures you can take. If you are a smoker, you should be aware that this is one of the leading causes of pancreatic cancer. By quitting smoking you not only reduce the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, but also improve your overall health. Dr. Ali Ghahary shares tips on how to quit smoking as well as how to break other bad habits here. While cancer can affect anyone, individuals who are obese have a higher risk of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, so it is important that you maintain a healthy weight. If you are struggling with your weight and/or looking to improve your diet, you can always talk to Dr. Ali Ghahary for advice. He practices at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, and is available to see patients on a walk-in basis. You can find his full walk-in schedule and clinic hours here. Lastly, avoid alcohol. Excessive alcohol can lead to cirrhosis, which is a degenerative disease of the liver, and can also lead to pancreatic cancer.

For more information on this and other cancers, visit the BC Cancer Agency website at www.bccancer.bc.ca

How to Break Those Unhealthy Habits

We’re all guilty of having a few bad habits every now and then – it’s inevitable – but what happens when those bad habits become detrimental to your health?

In this article, Dr. Ali Ghahary outlines some of the most common bad habits, how they can impact your health, and what you can do to break them once and for all.

Nail Biting
We all know someone who is a nail biter or have been guilty of it ourselves. Not only is it one of the most common bad habits – it’s an unhealthy one, at that. For example, biting your nails can lead to paronychia – an infection that occurs around the finger nails and causes pain, redness and swelling. Being a nail biter also increases your risk of catching a cold or the flu – especially if you don’t wash your hands frequently.

There are many factors that contribute to nail biting. Stress and anxiety, for example, is a common cause, and can lead to compulsive nail biting. In order to stop nail biting, it’s important that you determine what the underlying issue is and treat it. If mental health is a contributing factor, then cognitive behavioural therapy may be beneficial. If you are struggling with a serious mental illness, such as depression, you may need to be prescribed medications.

Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is considered to be a highly addictive substance. When you inhale cigarette smoke, it travels to the brain and provides you with a temporary feeling of stress relief and relaxation, and that is a feeling you will often want more of, which is how it ultimately turns into a habit – and it can be a difficult one to break.

While some of today’s younger generation might think smoking looks cool and sophisticated, it’s anything but. Tobacco use can have a severe impact on your health. Not only does it smell bad, but it can age your appearance, and can lead to other health problems such as COPD and even cancer.

Readers can find some helpful tips on how to quit smoking in Dr. Ali Ghahary’s article on smoking cessation at Medium.com.

Eating Fast Food
After a long day at work or a grueling day at school full of lectures and quizzes, the last thing most of us want to do is go home to cook dinner. Instead, we’ll head to the nearest drive-through and order a juicy burger and some greasy French fries. While it’s not recommended, you can still indulge in a burger and fries once in a blue moon. That being said, eating fast food can quickly become habit-forming due to how easy it is to get.

If you eat fast food on a regular basis, you’re at risk of gaining weight, which can lead to obesity, as well as cardiovascular problems. So while you may not want to cook, your health will be better off for it.

For ideas on how to eat healthy including tips on meal-prepping, click here.

The bad habits mentioned above are just a few from a much longer list, including lack of exercise, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, emotional shopping, and trichotillomania (pulling out your hair.) Remember, many of these bad habits often occur as a result of an underlying problem, so it’s important to speak with your family physician about anything that might be bothering you. Sometimes getting to the root of the problem can be simple, and you can even notice some immediate (positive) results once you start to break those bad habits.

What is Angina?

Angina occurs as a result of the heart not getting enough blood, which manifests in symptoms such as chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness. Some patients with angina may also experience belching, as well as anxiety.

There are two different classifications of angina: Stable angina and unstable angina. Stable angina is often brought on by physical activity, such as exercise or climbing a flight of stairs, and even stress. Even something as simple as a bout of laughter can trigger an angina attack. With stable angina, symptoms tend to last for a few minutes but will ease once the patient rests and the heart rate begins to slow. With unstable angina, there are no specific triggers. Despite rest, symptoms can persist and may last as long as 30 minutes in duration. Unstable angina can also lead to a heart attack and is considered a medical emergency.

To diagnose angina, Dr. Ali Ghahary asks in-depth questions about a patient’s medical history, including whether or not there is a family history of angina or any other heart-related disease. Things such as high cholesterol as well as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption also put you at risk of developing angina – so you may need to make certain lifestyle and habit changes to reduce that risk. As anemia can also be a risk factor for angina, Dr. Ali Ghahary may send patients for blood tests. You may also be referred for an electrocardiogram, echocardiography, and an exercise tolerance test to further assess cardiac function and the electrical activity of your heart. These tests are painless and do not take long to perform. A more invasive test, known as a coronary angiography, is done by inserting a tiny catheter into a vein or artery. A dye is then injected into the catheter to provide better views of the coronary arteries and show any blockages. As this test is considered a surgical procedure, you may be required to stay in hospital for a day. As angina can mimic other medical conditions such as acid reflux, muscle pain, pleuritis and gallstones, it is important for physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary to be able to rule those out as well.

To reduce your risk of angina, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends avoiding any known triggers. Making lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight can also be beneficial to your health in many ways. For more tips on how angina can be prevented, visit the Heart and Stroke Fdn. Of Canada website at heartandstroke.ca.

Controlling Your Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is found in the blood and is separated into two different categories: LDL, also known as low-density lipoprotein, and HDL, also known as high-density lipoprotein. Having too much LDL cholesterol is unhealthy – it can form plaque on the walls of your arteries and stop blood flow to the heart and brain, therefore it is considered the “bad” type of cholesterol, while HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol as it is protective and removes excess cholesterol from the body.

Dr. Ali Ghahary suggests getting your cholesterol tested if you are a male over the age of 40, a man over the age of 50, have high blood pressure, diabetes, are a smoker, or have a family history of heart disease or stroke.

In order to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends making some necessary lifestyle changes. First and foremost, eat healthy. Foods such as fatty meats, full-fat milk, butter, hydrogenated margarine, eggs, baked goods, cookies, packaged crackers and deep-fried foods all contain saturated fats and trans-fats, which are increase cholesterol levels. Instead, choose lean meat, low-fat dairy products, and monosaturated fats (i.e. olive oil and canola oil). You should also increase your intake of soluble fibres, which includes fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, oats and oat bran. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are also great for increasing the “good” cholesterol in your system, in addition to having other health benefits such as reducing blood pressure. A few examples of foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids include nuts (almonds and walnuts), flax seeds, mackerel and salmon.

Along with healthy eating, Dr. Ali Ghahary also encourages patients to stay fit, as getting regular exercise can also improve your cholesterol. While some people think that you need to have long, strenuous workouts in order to stay healthy, that’s just a myth. As little as 30 minutes of exercise each day can have major benefits for your health. It can be something as simple as going for a short walk, riding your bicycle to work (instead of driving!), playing sports, or swimming. There are also fun exercise classes that you can join, which are offered at many community centres throughout Vancouver. You can find some of these by visiting Dr. Ali Ghahary’s Community page. It may also be helpful to find a friend to stay fit with, as this can often help individuals to stay motivated.

In some cases, diet and exercise may not always be enough to keep your cholesterol levels where they should be, and your doctor may need to prescribe you with a cholesterol-lowering medication.

Signs of an Eating Disorder

Nutrition is an important aspect of your overall health. Without good nutrition, you put yourself at risk of developing a series of health problems. When it comes to nutrition and mental health, eating disorders can also occur – for example, bulimia and anorexia – which often co-occur together with mental illness’ such as anxiety, depression and OCD.

Individuals who suffer from these and other types of eating disorders often have negative thoughts about body image. Some of this, as mentioned, is due to mental illness, while things we see in the media – i.e. entertainment magazines, award shows, etc. – can also distort how we think and feel about body image and what the “perfect” body should look like. The way body image is portrayed in the media can often have a negative effect on individuals – especially young women; although men can develop eating disorders, too.

If weight is someone’s primary focus in life, this is an indicator that they may be struggling with an eating disorder or at risk of developing an eating disorder. They will often be preoccupied with what they eat, how much they eat, how many calories they consume, how much they exercise, and what they weigh. Someone with an eating disorder may also be secretive and/or lie about what they eat or feel guilty when they do eat.

The most common eating disorder is anorexia – which occurs as a result of food avoidance. Individuals with anorexia will often appear thin and gaunt. As a result of long-term anorexia, the body goes into starvation mode, which can lead to things like low blood pressure, decreased body temperature, and irregular menstrual cycles. Anorexia can also be fatal. On the contrary, bulimia is another type of eating disorder; though unlike anorexia individuals with bulimia will generally have a repeat pattern of binge eating, followed by vigorous exercise, binge eating, more exercise, and so forth. Because of this pattern, bulimia is often easier to hide from others in comparison to anorexia. However, there are some signs to watch for which include acid reflux, sore throat, dental problems, and dehydration due to vomiting – as individuals with bulimia will also purge their food. Bulimia can cause complications such as gastric ruptures and cardiac problems, which can also be fatal.

As mentioned, eating disorders are generally a sign that there is some type of a underlying issue going on with the patient – such as a psychological disturbance. A psychological disturbance could be anything from depression and anxiety, to trauma. In order to treat the eating disorder, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician from Vancouver, says it’s crucial to treat the underlying problem. In some cases individuals may need to be prescribed medication, be referred to outpatient counselling, as well as be referred to a dietitian or nutritionist to help them regain healthy eating habits.

Pink Eye

Not only are the eyes some of the most important structures of the body, as they can help us visualize things…but they are also some of the most sensitive, says Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician from Vancouver.

To keep debris and other foreign objects from entering into the eyes, we have eyelashes. The eyes are similar to the whiskers of a cat in the sense that they are sensitive to touch. However, along with being sore due to foreign objects entering into the eye, there are a number of other problems that can affect the eye, including a condition known as pink eye or conjunctivitis. Pink eye occurs when the membrane that lines the eye becomes irritated and inflamed, and it is usually due to bacteria, allergies, blocked tear ducts, or viruses. In fact, the same virus that causes the common cold is also to blame for causing pink eye.

Now, you might be wondering how you get pink eye and whether or not you can catch it from someone already with pink eye – and the simple answer to that is yes. Pink eye is highly contagious and can be spread through person-to-person contact for as long as 10 to 14 days after your initial symptoms. Along with eye pain, pink eye also comes with other symptoms, including but not limited to eye redness, itchy eyes, eye discharge, and even symptoms of the common cold, like a cough, an earache, or a runny nose.

To reduce the risk of developing pink eye and to prevent in from spreading if you do have pink eye, there are many precautions that Dr. Ali Ghahary says patients can take. First and foremost – and it should go without saying – avoid itching or rubbing your eyes, as this can actually spread the infection from one eye to the other. Dr. Ali Ghahary also urges patients to take good care of their hygiene – this means washing your hands regularly with soap and water. You should also make sure you wash your hands before applying any drops to your eyes, too. If you are not near a sink, you can carry around pocket-sized hand sanitizer to use throughout the day, but it should contain at least 60% alcohol. If you happen to wear contact lenses, switch to glasses for the time being, but also make sure you keep your glasses cleaned regularly and do not wipe them with anything (towels, for example) that might be contaminated. You should also wash pillows, sheets, and not share any personal items like makeup brushes.

In most cases, pink eye will generally clear up on its own in 1 to 2 weeks and you may not even require treatment. However, it is not uncommon for doctors to prescribe patients with antibiotic eye drops or ointments if their pink eye is the result of a bacterial infection. Treatment all depends on the severity of the pink eye, how long you have had it, and what type of infection it is (viral or bacterial.)

Dealing with Diabetes During the Holidays

Preparing for the upcoming holidays can be difficult, especially if you’re trying to watch your waistline. The holiday season can also be difficult for individuals who suffer from certain health conditions – for example, diabetes. If you happen to have your diabetes under control, then indulging in some holiday food shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you do not have your diabetes well managed and your blood sugar levels tend to be all over the map with large spikes or low drops, you will want to take extra precautions.

While the holidays are usually a time for people to stay home and relax as much as possible, it’s important for individuals with diabetes to stick to a routine. Family physician from Vancouver, Dr. Ali Ghahary, recommends getting up at the same time each morning, getting regular exercise, eating three well-balanced meals per day, and taking your medications at the same time.

It’s also important to check your blood sugar frequently. Given how easy it is to indulge in sweets and other foods we shouldn’t necessarily eat over the holidays, your blood sugar may not be at levels you’re used to, and if not careful it’s easy for blood sugar levels to get dangerously high. On the contrary, blood sugar levels can also decrease. This can happen as a result of taking certain mediations, skipping meals or eating less frequently, as well as getting too much exercise/overexertion. Depending on whether you have type I or type II diabetes, you may need to check your blood sugar levels as much as four to eight times per day. While it might seem like a nuisance to have to check your blood sugar levels so often, it can be a matter of life or death.

Drinking alcohol can also have a negative impact on your blood sugar levels. For those with diabetes, it is recommended that you avoid alcohol. However, if you do happen to want to indulge in an alcoholic beverage over the holiday season, Dr. Ali Ghahary suggests having no more than 1 or 2 drinks.

If you’ll be dining out this holiday season, many restaurants offer a wide range of healthy meal options – not only for those who are allergen-sensitive or prefer gluten-free choices, but for diabetics as well. Simply ask your server. You can also substitute many food items. For example, rather than greasy French fries, you can ask for a baked potato instead; and rather than mashed potatoes, ask for steamed vegetables.

Hopefully these tips will help you have a healthy holiday season. For more info on healthy eating, including a list of resources available in your community, click here.

The What, Why and How of Obesity

With an increasingly steady percentage of Canadians struggling with obesity, it is important to raise awareness and learn about all of the positive ways to ensure you are leading a healthy lifestyle. Obesity, a result of excess body fat being accumulated, can have a severe and sometimes life-threatening impact on one’s health. In this article we will look at what obesity means, why people become obese, the health risks associated with obesity, and obesity treatment options.

As of today there are at least 6 million Canadians struggling with their weight, with 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children diagnosed as being chronically obese. One of the top reasons why we are seeing more and more individuals’ becoming obese is due in part to increased food consumption and overly processed foods. The expenditure of fast food has also tripled over the years. In addition to dietary causes, sedentary lifestyles also lead to obesity. This can include watching too much television, spending too much time in front of a computer, or playing video games. By burning less calories and avoiding physical activity, your obesity risk increases significantly. By staying fit you will not only lose weight, but physical activity also helps to decrease other health risks such as high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and even helps to stabilize insulin levels.

In addition to lack of physical activity, research has also shown that insomnia plays a factor in weight problems with increased appetite being a direct result of sleep deprivation, which then doubles your risk of becoming obese. If you are not getting enough sleep, your body produces something called Ghrelin, a hormone that works as an appetite stimulant, and less Leptin, a hormone that works as an appetite suppressant. If you do suffer from insomnia, there are several natural remedies that can help such as acupuncture, taking more vitamins and minerals, and making modifications to your diet by avoiding stimulating foods such as caffeine, sugars, and carbohydrates. In fact, Dr. Ali Ghahary is a strong advocate of low-carb diets, which are safe and easy to follow for all individuals. A faulty obesity gene called FTO, albeit rare, is found in 1 in every 6 people, which causes overeating. Individuals who carry this particular gene tend to gravitate towards fatty foods and take longer to feel full. If you experience significant weight gain in a short amount of time, this may be indicative of other health problems, and should be checked out by your physician. Certain medications may also cause rapid weight gain, and alternative treatment methods should be considered whenever possible.

People who struggle with obesity often find themselves feeling discouraged if they do not lose weight immediately or don’t notice any immediate benefits. However while the benefits may not always be noticeable to the naked eye, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight (12 to 25 lbs. in an individual weighing approximately 250 lbs.) can have a significant improvement on your health. With reduced calorie intake and increased physical activity, it will be easy to achieve a healthy weight and maintain it in the long run.

The Role of a Family Physician

Family physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary are essential to the health of the general public, providing comprehensive care to individuals within their communities and building positive relationships with those they treat.

The role of a family physician is to be an advocate for public health and provide quality, integrated care to individuals and their families; specializing in everything from general health care/routine check-ups, immunizations, ophthalmology, obstetrics, family planning, mental/behavioural health, and even minor surgical procedures. Physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary make a commitment to their patients’ well-being by providing continuing care and establishing an exemplary rapport with individuals under their care, as well as with fellow health care providers.

As of January 2016, the number of active physicians in Canada was an estimated 80,544, with 52% being family physicians and 40% being specialists.

When dealing with illness, it is important for a family physician to exhibit a compassionate, sensitive and empathetic attitude towards the patients’ feelings and the impact that feeling or being ill may have on their everyday lives. A family physician will work with a patient to reach common ground in finding an appropriate treatment plan by using their own knowledge of family medicine in addition to utilizing the best scientific evidence available, as well as providing patients with continued health care management moving forward.

The main objective of a family physician is to help individuals remain healthy by providing patients with health care and treatment plans that are individualized to each unique person. This is done, in part, by asking a patient questions about their current lifestyle (including any drug use, alcohol use, and physical activity), questions about their previous health history, as well as finding out about any history of family illness such as certain diseases or cancer. By physicians finding out this extensive but relevant information, they are able to provide the general public with better overall outcomes of their health as well as significantly reduce disease and death rates. A family physician will always respect the privacy of their patient, utilizing the promise of doctor-patient confidentiality.

To stay up-to-date on current health care and medicine, family physicians will partake in continuing medical education by attending conferences and seminars regularly.

Flu Season

As flu season is now in full swing, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, British Columbia, will see an increased number of patients wanting to receive a flu vaccination.

Flu season typically runs from November through April (however, outbreaks can happen as early as October and last as late as May) and results in the hospitalization of as many as 12,000 Canadians every year. While most individuals will recover from the flu without needing to seek any kind of urgent medical attention, there are certain individuals who are at risk of developing serious flu-related complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus and ear infections. High-risk individuals include seniors over the age of 65, those under the age of 65 with a previously diagnosed chronic condition, those with weakened immune systems, children under the age of 5, pregnant women, and healthcare providers such as nurses and doctors.

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness that affects the lungs, throat and nose, and can easily be passed from person to person. Those suffering from the flu can experience a wide range of symptoms including a sudden onset of cough or fever, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a decreased appetite, and overall body aches. All of these symptoms can be severe, whereas symptoms of the common cold are usually mild in comparison.

Flu strains also change from year to year; thus, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends anyone over the age of 6 months be vaccinated against the flu each year. The flu vaccine works by creating antibodies that provide protection against and subdue strains of influenza. It is important to note that it typically takes up to 2 weeks for the antibodies to form and the flu shot to take full effect, therefore if you are exposed to the flu within that time frame you may still be at risk of developing the flu. If you have an egg allergy or are allergic to any of the ingredients found in the flu vaccination such as gelatin, you should avoid getting a flu vaccine and take alternative preventative measures against the flu. Garlic works well to boost the immune system and is known for its antibacterial properties, in addition to other nutrient-dense foods such as carrots, squash, broccoli, and kale, and proteins such as skinless chicken, turkey and beef. Regular exercise (2.5 hours each week) is also beneficial in playing a key role against developing illness.