7 things Madiba taught us about healthy thinking

July is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is also the month when we commemorate Nelson Mandela Day and give 67 minutes of our time. This article highlights the benefits of maintaining a positive outlook in the face of adversity, as we learned from Madiba himself.

Could you imagine being locked up in the prime of your life, when you are just 43 years old, knowing that you will spend the rest of your life in prison? Could you imagine, by some miracle, that you are released when you are 71, when the best years of your life are over, and you have missed out on so much?

Nelson Mandela had a hard life – and yet he is widely regarded as one of the greatest statesmen in the world, because he turned all that negative energy into good deeds in his life, for South Africa, and for the world.

Here are 7 things we can learn from Madiba for our own healthy thinking this Mandela Day on 18 July, despite the difficulties we may personally face.

1. Look for the blessing in the crisis

There is sufficient research to show that stress shortens the gene caps (called telomeres) that protect our genes and help us live longer lives. When you go to your doctor for a check-up, they will remind you of this. Looking for the silver lining in the clouds of doubt and fear is what Madiba did for many years. He lived until he was 94 – very good innings!

2. Helping others is good for our health

Studies done in the 1950s and 1990s show that people who help others live as much as a decade or more longer than those who don’t. It’s like Einstein said: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

3. Focus on your passion

Nelson Mandela loved helping people. Like Mahatma Gandhi, it’s one of the reasons he became a lawyer.

What do you love doing? What is your unique and important contribution to the world? Food? Soccer? Animals? Dance? Music? Business? Being a great mom? Even Oprah says, find something that you love, and see how you can use it to serve other people.

4. Find a cause greater than yourself

Madiba had every reason to come out of prison bitter and angry, seeking revenge. But he didn’t. Why? Because he focused on the bigger picture: Liberating South Africa and all its people from the oppression of apartheid. Research has shown that when we focus on our greatest dreams, the amygdala, or animal brain, is disengaged, and the executive centre, for higher brain functioning, is activated instead. This gives our lives meaning.

5. When you give, you get back

Being kind and giving of yourself to others has been shown to help slow down the ageing process, reduce headaches, and alleviate depression. Many recovery programs advise that being of service to others actually helps you just as much.

6. Smile with gratitude

Did you ever see Madiba with a frown on his face? He was grateful for his life. Being grateful releases both dopamine and endorphins, which are some of the body’s natural chemicals involved in creating what is known as the “helper’s high” – great feelings associated with doing something good.

7. Never give up

Madiba never gave up on his dream to see a free South Africa. Living your dream will make you happier, so make sure you get the help you need today.


Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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5 of the most challenging mental illnesses and how to manage them

Mental illness affects 1 in 3 South Africans and can be debilitating for a family. Sadly, 75% of these sufferers will not receive adequate treatment.

If you think someone close to you is suffering from a mental illness, it is important to take it seriously. Show them your support by suggesting they get the help of a mental health professional. If you think you may be suffering from a mental disorder, seek help as soon as you can.

Here are 5 of the most challenging mental illnesses, and how to help someone who suffers from them:

1. Anxiety disorder

When runaway emotions start to affect daily functioning, then it may be time to address an anxiety disorder. Reasons for this illness include a history of family mental health problems, environmental factors such as a very traumatic event, an imbalance of hormones or impaired brain functioning, or some other physiological reason including withdrawal symptoms from an addiction.

Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling jumpy or irritable
  • An irrational fear or response to an everyday event
  • Excessive negativity
  • An inability to cope with life in general
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Stomach cramps and nausea
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Hot flashes or chills

Techniques to overcome anxiety disorder include practising stress management, exercise, counselling and support groups, and relaxation techniques including yoga, Pilates and aromatherapy.

2. Bipolar disorder

This mental illness is aptly described: it is a binary state where the person is either elated and ecstatically happy and thus manic, or completely depressed and down in the dumps. The alternating states of manic-depressive can come on quickly or slowly over long periods of time and may even result in suicide.

Symptoms may include:

  1. Intense emotional states of either euphoric fantasies or terror nightmares
  2. Self-injuring behaviour such as cutting or scratching
  3. Impulsive behaviours such as overspending or sexual addiction
  4. Intense self-hatred or skewed self-image

The best way to assist someone is to seek professional help. Medication is usually prescribed for the bipolar sufferer. Hospitalisation and psychotherapy may also be needed.

3. Depression

Depression is the state in which you just cannot seem to shake off an ongoing sadness. Everyone has disappointments and regrets, but when these feelings begin to overwhelm us to the point where we cannot seem to recover, this may indicate depression. There is evidence that depression is linked to self-anger that has turned inward.

Symptoms may include:

  • An ongoing sadness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • A sense of lethargy or fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness

Triggers such as the loss of a loved one and other forms of grief (like losing a baby or not being able to fall pregnant) can often be part of the root cause. Ongoing anxiety can also lead to depression.

Time and understanding are two key ingredients in helping someone. Medication may also be necessary to enhance and elevate mood. Helping a person to get back on track with their lives, and encouraging them to follow their interests and passions are good ways to break the cycle of depression. Seek professional help if possible.

4. ADHD

The first thing that often comes to mind when looking at a sufferer of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a wilful and naughty child on Ritalin running around breaking things. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ailment affects mostly young people, with some 9% of young children being diagnosed. However, as many as 4% of adults also have the illness.

Symptoms may include:

  1. Jumping around and becoming easily distracted
  2. Being excessively loud
  3. Becoming bored
  4. An inability to complete tasks
  5. Fidgeting and playing with objects
  6. Being impatient and impulsive

The causes of ADHD may be genetic, while strong evidence suggests that the children of mothers who smoked or abused alcohol while pregnant are more prone to the illness.

Treatments include medications to help calm the mind, as well as psychological interventions where linking is done between the person’s value systems and the tasks that they have to complete.

5. Addiction

When we think of addiction, we often think of alcohol or drugs. However, there is growing evidence that sugar and technology are both highly addictive, as is smoking. While it may seem a bit harsh labelling these addictions “mental illness,” oftentimes there are strong psychological reasons and psychosomatic neuroses attached to overuse of any single thing. Being co-dependent on another human being can also be unhealthy.

For those who smoke, research shows that nicotine addicts get cravings that last as long as 20 minutes, which is why cigarettes are so hard to give up, and why many who stop smoking return to it in later life.

Seek professional help to determine the underlying emotional issues that promote addictive behaviours.

For more information please contact:
Dr MJ Ndhlovu Clinical & Consulting Psychologist
PhD (Cons Psy) UNISA, Msoc. Sc (Clin Psy) (UNW)
+27 (0) 11 923 7785
Info@lenmed.co.za or mjndhlovu@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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7 tips for a healthy work life

Do you feel stressed at work all the time? Assuming you work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for an average of 22 days per month, between the ages of 20 and 65, and with 20 days’ leave per year, you will, in a normal lifespan, spend about 90,000 hours working – that’s 10 solid years at work (24/7/365), which excludes time getting to and from your job.

How does one have a successful career without sacrificing personal time and family? The concept of a work-life balance is defined as proper prioritising between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development).

The first step in obtaining the optimal work-life balance is by achieving good health because if we are healthy, we feel better about ourselves and have more energy to manage our lives. Since most of our time is spent at work it’s a good place to maintain good health.

Here are 7 tips to keep healthy during your working day:

1. Start with a good breakfast

Even for manual labour, your brain is probably the organ you will most use on the job. It burns about 300 calories, or 20%, of your total intake per day – and it gets that energy from glucose. So, if you skip breakfast you’re headed for a binge of biscuits and tea by 10 am, which will spike your blood sugar and you will eventually gain weight. If you’re pressed for time, most bosses will have no problem if you eat some fruit and yoghurt at your desk at 8 am whilst you check emails.

2. Follow that up with a good lunch

The law mandates break times during working hours, so don’t be a martyr and work through your break. Everyone needs a time out. Have a salad or a healthy sandwich, and if you can, get some fresh air on your face.

3. Drink lots of water

Our bodies are made up of 70% water, so there’s a reason we need it. Tea and coffee are stimulants, so make sure to offset heavy beverage drinking with lots of water.

4. Use the stairs

It may be challenging if you’re on the 49th floor of the Carlton, or if you work in a single-storey office park, but the point is this: get some exercise. It’s a great stress reliever from work pressures. Park the car far from the entrance and take the back exit when you leave. If your company offers gym facilities, grab them, or start a running club with your work friends.

5. Get the work done

Nothing stresses you out – and annoys the boss – more than not sticking to your deadlines and meeting your outputs for the tasks you have been set. Politely tell chatty co-workers that you need to knuckle down and do your job. When you’ve cleared it off your plate, the psychological release is enormous, and the boss will be impressed if it’s good work delivered on time.

6. De-clutter your desk and your computer

Having too many windows open on your PC and scratching around for your pen under a mountain of paperwork, slows you down and clouds the mind, and this just leads to more stress. For clarity and efficient use of your mind space, keep your desk neat. When it dissolves into chaos again, take five minutes and re-organise it. Make this a habit.

7. Get some sleep

It may be that your best mate has their birthday party one night during the week, or you had to pull an all-nighter for your job. Life happens. Make sure that you get enough sleep the next night then, and don’t make all-night partying, TV, phone surfing or work a habit. Adults should be getting at least 6 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night in order to recharge properly for the next day.

If you’re battling with work balance, seek the help of a medical professional as soon as you can, and try not to let stress and unhealthy living get the better of you.

For more information please contact:
Lana Pitt Occupational Therapist
BSC OT (Wits)
Daxina Private Hospital
+27 87 087 0644
Info@lenmed.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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The Truth about Vitiligo

On June 25th we celebrate World Vitiligo Day to raise awareness about this skin disorder, its causes and treatment.

Vitiligo is a disorder which presents as light patches on the skin. They appear when melanocytes within the skin begin to die off, which means the skin essentially loses its colour. Melanocytes are the cells which produce the skin pigment (colour) called melanin. In vitiligo, there are not enough working melanocytes to give colour. Unfortunately, it is not clear why this occurs.

These patches can remain small or can grow quite large in size. They can affect any part of the body, including the mouth, hair and eyes. And, while it may be more noticeable in people with darker skin, vitiligo can affect people of any age, gender, or ethnic group.

Because the skin disorder is relatively unknown there are many false claims about it. In this article, we dispel rumours and shed more light on the truths about vitiligo.

  1. Vitiligo can be cured with special creams. This is FALSE. While there are treatments that may improve the appearance of the skin and even slow down the growth of the light patches on the skin, there is no real cure for vitiligo. Some treatment options can include exposure to UVA or UVB light and depigmentation of the skin in severe cases.
  2. You can catch vitiligo from someone who has the condition when you touch them. This is FALSE. Vitiligo is not contagious at all. In fact, it is important that we show acceptance and understanding of the person suffering from the condition because they may be struggling with it on a psychological level.
  3. Vitiligo can cause white patches anywhere on your body. Yes, this is TRUE. It can affect different areas including your face, neck, armpits, elbows, hands, knees and even hair and inside the mouth. The patches are usually symmetrical and spread over your entire body.
  4. Vitiligo can be painful. This is FALSE. Vitiligo is quite painless. However, if the skin disorder spreads across the body and causes patches in more visible areas like the face, it can cause some emotional and psychological scarring which can lead to depression. In this case, it may be a good idea to seek therapy to deal with the stress of the condition.
  5. You can get vitiligo from eating certain foods. This is FALSE. Actually, the exact cause of vitiligo is unknown, although doctors believe it may be an autoimmune condition where the body’s immunity accidentally attacks and destroys certain cells in the body. Patients suffering from it can eat and drink anything they like unless their doctor has told them otherwise.
  6. Vitiligo is genetic. Yes, this is TRUE. The skin disorder may very well have a genetic component because it does show signs of running in families. Most people who have vitiligo will get it between the ages of 20 and 40. Vitiligo is sometimes associated with other medical conditions, including thyroid dysfunction.
  7. The condition responds to light. Yes, TRUE, vitiligo is photosensitive which means the affected areas react to sunlight. The doctor will advise you on how to look after your skin when you are outside.
  8. Vitiligo sometimes won’t spread. Yes, this is TRUE to a point. It is hard to predict whether the patches will spread and how far they will spread. It can take just weeks, or the patches may remain the same for months or even years.
  9. Vitiligo starts on your face. Yes, this is mostly TRUE. However, it can also start in your neck, hands and in the creases of your skin.
  10. The only way you can tell you have vitiligo is when you develop a white patch on your skin. This is FALSE. Other symptoms are:
  • Premature whitening or greying of the hair closer to your scalp, as well as lightening of eyelashes, eyebrows or facial hair.
  • Loss of colour or a change of colour to the retina (inner layer of the eyeball).
  • Loss of colour around the mouth and nose.

If you or a loved one are exhibiting any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor who can help you come to terms with the skin condition and find ways to treat it.

For more information please contact:
Dr D Motsepe (Dermatologist)
MMed, MBChB, BSc
Bokamoso Private Hospital
+267 369 4803
info@lenmed.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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Youth Day – time to be young, care-free and drug-free

Filled with hormones and the typical anxieties that come with being pubescent, young people are more susceptible to drugs. They can be well into their 20s, with even pre-teens being affected by the scourge of poisons from tik and nyaope to cocaine and heroin. Even marijuana, though now somewhat legalised by the Constitutional Court, can lead youngsters into trouble.

Here are some practical tips for helping future generations to avoid being caught up with drugs, what to do with drug addictions, and where to seek help.

1. Practice open communication in the family

There comes a time, just like chats about the birds and the bees, when you need to start having grown-up conversations with your children about drugs. Even though kids become self-aware well before they become teenagers, they lack the emotional capacity and mature decision-making skills to make informed choices. We see this manifest itself today with the increase in teenage pregnancies, despite the fact that most schools teach some form of sex education, and many girls know about contraception.

However emotionally unsettling it may be for either you and/or your child, you need to have the drug talk. Begin by broaching the subject more indirectly and ask the child if the topic has come up in school. Without ever being intrusive, try to probe and see if there have already been any exposure to drugs. This should also include a chat about alcohol.

Although there are no hard and fast guidelines on exactly what you should say, honesty is the best policy. Chances are they will never view you as their ‘friend’, but children and young adults should know that they can come to you with anything and that you will always be willing to listen and understand their situation.

2. Drugs are linked to emotions

As with all addictions, from food to sugar and alcohol, drug abuse is linked to emotions, which is why the youth are particularly easy targets.

Life is complex, and circumstances may make it more so. Add to that a volatile cocktail of increased hormone levels, the initial difficulty of experiencing menstruation for the first time, peer pressure, bullying, cyberbullying, and addiction to social media, plus academic pressure to get good marks, and it’s no wonder the youth are emotionally charged.

Again, of utmost importance is to keep open lines of communication. As the adult, you need to manage your emotions better than your child does, in order to be a beacon of strength and a friendly ear. Always ask how things are going, be sensitive yet firm about setting boundaries, and look for behavioural changes, mood swings, weight loss or gain, erratic sleeping patterns, and concern expressed by teachers and/or other parents (outside of the gossip mill).

Help your child learn valuable coping skills. These include support systems like church youth groups, a focus on extra-mural activities that they enjoy and are good at, being involved socially and interacting with others, chores around the house to teach both discipline and responsibility, and seeking professional help if need be, from a therapist.

3. How – and where – to get help

Helping your child to get the attention they require need not be expensive. The most important elements are showing children that they are loved, valuable and worthwhile, which doesn’t cost money. Connecting to the things that they most enjoy will help to bridge lines of communication with them. The “just say no” method can also be used – if children understand that there are both positive and negative consequences attached to behaviour in a cause-and-effect relationship, then they will be less inclined to engage in self-destructive drug abuse.

Organisations such as AA, Al-Anon, Narc Anon and Lifeline are all starting points. A list has been provided at the end of this article for you. Take time to educate yourself further on what the best practices are for drug-proofing your children by reading up on the subject. Even better, turn it into a project and get your kids to research the harmful effects of abuse with you. That way as they face the critical moment when being offered drugs, they know what the consequences are.

Contrary to popular belief that teenagers are difficult and don’t understand parents, the youth are at the beginning stages of what all humans want: love, understanding, acceptance, shelter, security, food, and the opportunity to become their very best. Nurture these needs and cultivate an environment where they can grow, and your youngster may soon see that a life of emptiness either taking drugs or pushing them will lead nowhere.

Schools can also offer some counselling and advice. A word of caution: It is not wise for a parent to use school as a dumping ground to take care of children while they get on with their lives. Children are smart, and they will lose faith in a parent who they think does not care.

4. What to do if things don’t change

As we’ve mentioned before, setting boundaries is paramount. The youth in your care, whether they are over the legal age limit or not, should know your stance on drug-related issues. Of course, you need to lead by example. How can you expect your teenager to not smoke if you do? The same when it comes to abusing alcohol. Children learn by example.

Your sterling leadership aside, what happens if a youthful soul does fall off the wagon? There are no easy answers, unfortunately. One school of thought is the “Tough Love” stance – your child needs to know that destroying themselves is not something you will tolerate or abide by because you love them too much. Linked to this, 12-step programmes suggest that until the addict reaches “rock bottom”, and the drawbacks they perceive from taking drugs outweigh the benefits, the young offender will continue to offend.

Practising tough love and putting your foot down assertively but gently is a method that has proven successful. Here’s an example: “Son, I love you very much, but there will be no drug use while you are living under my roof. Either you enter a programme and get help, or you will have to go and live elsewhere.”

If you are worried that your child may be taking drugs, contact your doctor who can guide you on what to do. Or, make contact with one of the listed organisations below.

Here is a list of resources for you to get more help:

Alcoholics Anonymous
Narcotics Anonymous
Al-Anon (for the families of substance abusers)
South African National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence
Lifeline
Recovery Direct

For more information please contact:
South African Depression and Anxiety Group
Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Line 24hr helpline
http://www.sadag.org
+27 (0) 800 12 13 14

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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Dealing with Malaria in 2019

Malaria is a life-threatening sickness caused by parasites. They are transmitted to people when bitten and infected by a female Anopheles mosquito. Fortunately, the disease can be prevented and is curable.

In this article, we will look at ways to prevent being bitten and contracting malaria. We will also look at the symptoms of the disease and how it can be treated.

Did you know?

According to the World Malaria Report, there were an estimated 219-million cases of malaria in 90 countries in 2017 with a total number of 435 000 people dying from malaria in the same year. The African continent makes up the largest percentage of these numbers with 92% of malaria cases and 93% of malaria deaths.

High-Risk Areas

In South Africa, Malaria is a seasonal disease. Low transmission periods are between May and September. Through good control efforts, malaria is now restricted to certain districts in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal, parts of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Malaria occurs mainly in low altitude areas but is occasionally found in high altitude areas in these provinces. On rare occasions, malaria is contracted near the Molopo river in the North-West Province and Orange River in the Northern Cape Province (Department of Health, 2009).

In some of South Africa’s neighbouring countries (Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and the Lowveld areas in Swaziland) the risk of malaria is present throughout the year. In the northern parts of Namibia and Botswana, the risk period is November-June. And in Zimbabwe, there is risk throughout the year in the Zambezi Valley, from November-June in areas below 1200m, and neglible risk in Bulawayo and Harare.

How do we take preventative measures?

currently, there is no malaria vaccine available on the market. There are however a number of vaccine constructs currently being tested in clinical trials. The good news is there are ways to prevent getting malaria. By simply taking the following precautions you should be safe from malaria:

Take antimalarial drugs - When travelling to a high-risk malaria area it is vital to take antimalarial drugs. They will reduce the risk of you getting malaria by up to 90%. Visit your doctor at least a week before leaving on your trip because you must start taking the tablets at least two days before you depart. You will continue taking them every day while away and for 4 weeks after you return.

Use mosquito repellents – Apply a repellent to the exposed areas of your skin whether you are inside or outside both during the day and, even more importantly, at night time.

Wear clothing to protect – Be sure to wear shirts with long sleeves and long pants that cover your ankles. Do this especially at sunrise and sunset when mosquitoes become extremely active.

Put protective screens on doors and windows – Use wire or gauze with a very fine meshing so that the mosquitoes cannot get in. Make sure to repair any tears or holes that may appear in the screens over time.

Use insecticide sprays inside homes and buildings – Make sure the spray you use is long-lasting. Remember insecticide sprays are toxic and should, therefore, be used with caution – spray away from people and animals.

Keep a fan running when you sleep – Mosquitoes seem to steer clear of the wind current caused by a fan. Put the fan on a rotate setting allowing it to move the air around the room. Run the fan throughout the night.

Install a mosquito net over your bed – Make sure the net fits properly over your bed and keep an eye out for holes and tears where mosquitoes can find their way in. For complete safety soak the netting in an insecticide but find out first which ones are safe to use.

Indoors is safer at night – Spend your evenings inside rather than outside. This way you stand a lesser chance of being bitten. If you do need to go out at night, just limit the time you spend outdoors as much as you can.

The symptoms of malaria

If you happen to get malaria, you can be treated for it if it’s caught in time and you are prescribed the right drugs by a health practitioner.

If you suffer from the following symptoms, you should make an appointment to see your doctor immediately:

  • Chills that make you shake
  • A high fever
  • Sweating abnormally
  • A persistent headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bloody stools
  • Anaemia
  • Muscular pain
  • Convulsions

Also, do make an appointment with your doctor if you are planning to travel where there is a high concentration of mosquitoes or where malaria is suspected.

For more information please contact:
Dr S Mashamaite, General Practitioner
MBChB (Natal), MPH (Unisa), Dip HIV Man (CMSA)
Zamokuhle Private Hospital
+27 (0) 11 923 7785/6
info@lenmed.co.za.

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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TB Truths and Myths

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease which is mostly known to affect the lungs. However, it can also take its toll on other parts of the body such as the spine, brain or kidneys. Not everyone who is infected gets sick – this is called latent TB - but you should make an appointment with your doctor immediately if you begin to show the following symptoms:

  • A bad and persistent cough lasting longer than 2 weeks
  • Pain in the chest
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Extremely tired and weak
  • A loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Chills and/or fever
  • Night sweats

We are often misinformed about TB which is why there are so many myths out there about what causes TB and how it is spread. This article dispels some of the more popular ones.

Myth - TB is extremely contagious

Truth – TB bacteria are spread through the air and are infectious. However, the germs do not spread easily and you only stand a chance of contracting the illness if you spend a lot of time with someone who has TB. Did you know that most people who breathe in the TB bacteria are able to fight it and stop it from growing? What happens then is the bacteria lies dormant and is called a latent TB infection. The problem is it’s still alive in your body and if your immune system is weakened in any way, the bacteria can start growing and become active TB disease.

Myth – You can get TB from the food and water consumed by an infected person

Truth – You cannot get TB through food and water, nor by kissing someone or holding their hand. You cannot even get it by sharing a toilet seat or a toothbrush with someone who has the disease. TB can only be spread when a person with active TB disease releases germs into the air by coughing, sneezing, talking, singing, or laughing. Active TB means the person has a pulmonary infection and displays symptoms of the sickness.

Myth – TB cannot be cured

Truth – The good news is it can be cured, even in people who have HIV. TB is treated with a long course of antibiotics. You may even need to take various types of antibiotics for as long as 31 weeks before the TB bacteria have completely cleared out of your system. And, in order for you to get a clean bill of health, you must take all the prescribed medication or not all of the TB bacteria will be destroyed. Some people start feeling better and decide they don’t need to finish their course of antibiotics. This is a big mistake and the bacteria can start growing again.

Myth – Only people with HIV can get TB

Truth – Anyone can get TB but people who are most susceptible to the disease are usually vulnerable in one way or another, such as those:

  • With underdeveloped immune systems, such as babies and young children
  • Suffering from chronic illnesses like diabetes and kidney disease
  • Who have undergone surgery to receive organ transplants
  • Who are being treated with chemotherapy for cancer
  • Who are receiving treatments for deficient immune systems

Myth – TB is a South African disease

Truth – While South Africa may have one of the highest incidents of TB, the illness has infected approximately 33% of the world’s population. This means nearly 2,5 billion people are infected with TB on a global level.

There are 5 ways a medical practitioner can check to see if you have contracted the bacteria:

  1. Blood test – Blood will be taken from your arm using a syringe and then sent to the laboratory for testing.
  2. TB skin test – You will be injected into the skin of your forearm. Your skin is checked after to 3 days for signs of TB.
  3. Sputum sample – Mucus from your lungs is collected in a cup when you have your first morning cough. It will then be tested for the TB bacteria and can be helpful in assisting healthcare providers when choosing the best treatment for you.
  4. Chest x-ray – Your chest area will be x-rayed using a special machine which can help healthcare professionals see whether you have TB and can show signs of swelling, infection, or lung collapse.
  5. CT scan – This is quite similar to a chest x-ray in that the results can show lung damage, infection and indicate TB.

To prevent the spread of TB you should:

  1. Listen to doctor’s orders and continue taking your medicine until it is finished. Contact your healthcare provider immediately you forget to take a dose.
  2. Make sure you wash your hands using soap and water after going to the toilet, changing a baby's diapers, or coughing and sneezing into your hands. Also wash your hands just before preparing or eating food.
  3. Always cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Preferably try cough and sneeze into a tissue, which can be flushed down the toilet afterwards.
  4. Avoid close contact with vulnerable people who are at an increased risk of getting TB, such as babies, the elderly and sickly people.
  5. Be open and honest about your TB with family, friends, and coworkers. They may have latent TB and need to take medicine to prevent it from becoming active.

If you are worried you may have TB, you should make an appointment at your local hospital to be tested. If the results show you do have the disease, you can receive treatment and make a full recovery.

For more information contact info@lenmed.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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7 Factors men should know that will affect their health

Men often neglect their health because they are “too busy” or “strong and healthy enough”. They also sacrifice their own health to ensure their spouses and children are cared for.

Remember, however, that your wife and children will be far worse off if you are no longer here to take care of them.

This month is Men’s Health Month. So, let’s take a look at 7 factors men should always be aware of when it comes to their health.

1. The Big C – Cancer

Men sometimes erroneously believe that cancer affects more women than men. Not so. In fact, indiscriminate of gender, cancer kills more South Africans than HIV/AIDS, TB (tuberculosis) and malaria combined.

Speaking at the YPO conference held in Cape Town earlier this year, Adrian Gore, MD of Discovery Health, noted that the average South African male is far more likely to die from cancer than a botched hijacking.

The four most common types of cancer are breast, prostate, lung and colon. Lung cancer, for example, which is dramatically increased by smoking, kills almost 150,000 Americans every year, while there are 250,000 new cases of breast cancer in the US annually. Prostrate and testicular cancer are the types that men need to be especially aware of.

Research is varied as to what exactly triggers cancer, but genes, poor diet, high levels of stress and environmental factors can play a role. Cancer is a difficult disease, but it can be beaten. Listen to your body, nourish yourself with good food, lots of water and enough sleep, and visit your doctor for regular check-ups.

2. Erectile dysfunction

This is a very touchy subject, but it’s more common than what most men believe, and it’s one of the reasons why a little blue pill called Viagra is still popular. As men age, so the blood flow can be restricted and it can be harder to reach erection, which can put untold strain on a relationship and may induce feelings of inadequacy.

It is important to know, however, that the problem may be linked to other diseases, so it should never be left unchecked. Blood pressure tablets, for example, which are designed to lower the pressure of blood being pumped through the body, may be a significant contributing factor.

3. High blood pressure (hypertension)

High blood pressure is age-related and is when an increase in blood pressure is usually brought about by hardening and narrowing of the artery walls which restricts the flow of blood in the blood vessels. The heart has to work harder to pump the blood through the body, which increases the pressure in these vessels.

It may seem like nothing, but elevated blood pressure levels above 120/80 carry with them quite a list of health problems, from heart attack and stroke to kidney disease and eye disease. Factors that cause this problem include being overweight, smoking and drinking too much.

Blood pressure testing is inexpensive and pain-free, so get yours tested regularly (especially if you’re over 40), and seek medical help immediately if elevated.

4. Stroke

While we’ve mentioned this above, stroke needs its own point. Known together with high blood pressure throughout the world as The Silent Killer, most men are blissfully unaware of the danger of having one until it’s too late.

A stroke occurs when the blood vessels in the brain have become so constricted that there is either a blockage that cannot pass through the vessels, or they burst. The blood flow to the brain is affected and causes brain tissue to die from lack of oxygen, which leads to mental and/or physical disability (like loss of speech or permanent paralysis).

High blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol are leading contributing factors of a stroke. Medication and lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and regular exercise are the best preventative measures.

5. Diabetes

As delicious as those sugary drinks and chocolate bars are, there is more and more evidence to suggest that we are becoming less and less tolerant to the enormous amounts of sugar that we consume – one of the main reasons the government introduced the sugar tax. Diabetes is the inability of the pancreas to adequately process sugar using insulin.

Again, as with blood pressure, diabetes is now lumped with a whole slew of diseases collectively known as metabolic syndrome, and Type II has been strongly linked to several lifestyle factors such as being overweight and consuming excessive sugar. Again, the best cure is a lifestyle change, especially as we age.

6.  Stress

Stress can be defined as the inability to cope with feelings of pressure brought about by several factors such as work or home environment, the death or illness of a loved one, and even crime.

When men stress, the usual emotional coping mechanisms include an increase in drinking and smoking, eating comfort food, junk food and excessive take-aways, and in some cases, promiscuity, all of which can damage health.

As un-manly as they sound, Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi have been found to lower stress levels, while good old-fashioned exercise or even something as simple as taking a walk outside in the garden can also be of benefit.

If you find that you’re not coping, then always remember that a problem shared is a problem halved. Take it up with a really close friend or see a psychologist if need be.

7. Depression

The rigours of modern living, from constantly living on a smart device to facing the traffic, together with unfulfilled desires and dreams, can all lead to unhappy states that cause depression. Some research even suggests that not following your dreams can create such negativity that the body manifests as disease.

It is important to have emotional and creative outlets, to equilibrate the pace of modern living. Singing in the shower, painting, keeping a journal, cooking, going on holiday with family, parties, visiting friends, hiking in beautiful spaces, exposure to lots of green (both to see and eat), and pursuing meaningful careers and hobbies are all antidotes to depression.

If the problem becomes acute, it is important to see a health professional about the possibility of taking medication, or about redressing psychological imbalances that are making you unhappy.

Life is short, and you have so much living to do. This Men’s Health Month and beyond, make the changes you need to care for yourself.

For more information please contact:
Dr. AT Kongolo (General Practitioner)
MBChB H. Dip Surg
Kathu Private Hospital
+27 (0) 53 723 1848
Info@lenmed.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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Blood saves lives!

Did you know? Every human has almost 5 litres of blood coursing through their bodies. It forms 7% of a human’s weight.

Almost all our vital organs can be kept going with special machines, except for our blood. There is no machine in the world that can make blood and this makes it extremely valuable. It is why the drive to get people to donate blood is so very important. Without blood donors, doctors often cannot save the lives of people needing blood.

To understand the importance of blood we need to understand the functions only blood can carry out in your body. Here are the 6 most important.

  1. Without blood, your body’s tissues asphyxiate. They would literally die from lack of oxygen. The haemoglobin in the blood carries oxygen from the heart and lungs to your tissues. Once it’s delivered its oxygen payload it then collects the CO2 exhaled by the lungs and carries to the heart to be turned into oxygen.
  2. Without blood, your body’s cells would starve. Your gut breaks down all the food you eat. The capillaries inside the gut absorb all the nutrients out of the food and send it through the portal vein to the liver. The liver then puts all those nutrients into the blood and sends it to all of the cells in your body.
  3. Without blood, your body wouldn’t survive a paper cut. Your blood is made up of plasma, platelets, red and white blood cells. And all 4 are vital. It’s the plasma that stops you from bleeding to death from a paper cut. There are factors in the plasma that cause it to clot, plugging small tears, keeping the pressure in the blood to remain constant. Obviously, if the wound is too large, the clotting can’t cope. A human shouldn’t lose more than 15 to 30% of their blood. After that it becomes life-threatening.
  4. Without blood, your body wouldn’t be able to combat infections. Your white blood cells contain the infection and your plasma defeats them with antibodies. When your system is overwhelmed antibiotics are needed to lend a helping hand.
  5. Without blood, your organs wouldn’t function properly. Your blood delivers the right hormones and signalling molecules to your organs. If you don’t have the hormones in your organs you end up with no energy and your organs start to malfunction.
  6. Without blood, your internal thermometer won’t function. Blood helps to regulate your body’s temperature, helping your gut to digest food and your skin to sweat.

Why donating blood is a civic duty

In South Africa, 3000 plus pints of blood are needed every day to ensure a baseline limit of safe and sufficient bloodstock. The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) separates each pint of blood donated into plasma, platelets and red blood cells. This means your pint could save up to 3 lives.

Everyone knows that donating blood is a good idea, but very few think about it until they need it themselves. It’s time to change that way of thinking. If everyone who was able donated blood every 2 to 3 months there would never be a shortage. And a shortage of blood is never a good idea.

By creating a habit of donating blood you will be playing a vital role in ensuring there is always quality blood available in cases of emergency. You will be participating in saving lives!

For more information please contact:
South African Blood Services
SANBS Toll Free Number +27 (0) 800 119 031
www.sanbs.org.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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Dealing With Burn Wounds: What Every Parent Should Know

Tragically, burns are one of the leading causes of death and injury to urban children under the age of 14 years in Southern Africa, according to statistics gathered by the World Health Organisation. The Medical Research Council reports that more than 3 in every hundred people suffer from burn injury each year, with children and infants being the most vulnerable of this group.

Children, especially at toddler age, are most susceptible to burns when they are confined to small spaces. Also, their skin is much thinner than adults’ so is less resistant to harsher burns, which can result in life-long scarring or disability.

Most burn injuries happen in the home. If we don’t take precautions and educate our children correctly from an early age about burn prevention, and the dangers of fire and heat, the risk of being burned increases.

The most common ways people get burnt in the home are by:

  • Cooking with hot oil or boiling water - This is the most common cause of burn injuries in babies and young children. Usually, this occurs when the child reaches for the saucepan or frying pan containing hot oil or water on the stovetop.
  • Hot drinks - Babies are often burned when they are breastfeeding and the mother accidentally spills hot tea or coffee. Curious toddlers get burned when they pull themselves up using the table where the hot drinks have been placed.
  • Too-hot bath water - Sometimes children will climb into the bathtub not realising the parent has only run the hot water and still needs to add the cold.
  • Using paraffin - This is the most common cause of burns to adults and children. Paraffin is highly flammable and burns easily. If the liquid is spilt the fire will spread quickly and cause severe and extensive damage.
  • Heaters or fires in winter and braais in summer - This is a common way for flammable materials to catch fire. When people leave candles or fires burning and heaters on throughout the night, during the cold winter months, accidents happen.
  • Faulty electrics - People get burnt from electrical faults in plugs, light switches and exposed cables.

How to prevent burn accidents from happening

  • Don’t leave children unattended in the home and make sure the caregiver is a responsible adult who is trained in First Aid.
  • Keep handles facing in when cooking on the stove - try to cook only on the back rings. Buy cordless kettles.
  • Don’t hold a hot drink when attending to an infant.
  • Put hot drinks near the centre of the table when there are small children around and stop using tablecloths at all.
  • Never leave a young child unattended near a heat source - not even to go for a few seconds to the next room.
  • Lower the temperature of your geyser.
  • When running a bath for your child run cold water first and then the hot water after.
  • Don’t leave children unattended around a braai and stop them from playing close to the braai area.
  • Check for faulty electrics and fix them immediately.
  • Keep a burn kit with your First Aid box in your home.

How to prevent fire accidents in your home

  1. Try to have smoke alarms installed in all bedrooms or and just outside those sleeping areas.
  2. Buy a fire extinguisher for your home and budget to get it serviced annually.
  3. Never leave a lighter or matches where a child can reach them.
  4. Make sure the paraffin stove is out of reach of children and placed on a stable and safe work area.
  5. Never go to bed without putting fires and candles out and switch off all heaters.
  6. Switch off all heaters, kettles and stoves when there is a power cut.
  7. Have a home fire escape plan - at least two different routes out of each room.
  8. Exits from your home must be clear to move through quickly and easily - don’t place furniture or other obstructions across doorways.
  9. Create a meeting point outside your home and share the information with your family, explaining why it would be needed.

What does burned skin look like?

A first-degree burn will appear red, painful and dry but there will be no blisters. A second-degree burn will blister and the skin may thicken. A third-degree burn will cause the skin to look thickened with a white, leathery appearance or look blackened and charred.

How to treat a burn

  1. Remove the person from the heat source without endangering yourself. If possible put out the fire or switch the electricity off at the mains.
  2. If appropriate, do Stop Drop Roll with or without a blanket, to extinguish the flames. Douse burning clothing with clean water if electricity is not involved but usually leave it to the paramedics or hospital to remove any fire-damaged clothing.
  3. Remove all jewellery and watches as burns swell quickly.
  4. If you have a burn kit, use it accordingly.
  5. For a first-degree burn, which means the top layer of skin is burned, run cool tap water over the injury, or use a cool compress if there is no access to running water or a Burnshield dressing.
  6. For a second-degree burn, which means the person has been burnt through two layers of skin, run cool water over the injury 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. Loosely cover the burn with a clean cloth or sterile bandage from the first aid kit.
  8. Do NOT use any ointments, like Vaseline, or food products, such as butter, on the burn.
  9. Do not break the blisters because this may cause additional pain and infection.

When to seek medical help

  1. For a first-degree burn or second-degree burn, it is only necessary to see a doctor if the burn site gets worse or the pain doesn’t subside after a few hours.
  2. You should also see your doctor if the burn area is blistered or larger than the palm of your hand.
  3. For a third-degree burn, the victim must immediately be brought to the hospital but cool the burn first.

If you are concerned about the healing of a burn wound, historic burns or you want to learn more about the prevention of burn accidents, contact Children of Fire at www.firechildren.org

For more information please contact:
Children of Fire
+27 (0) 11 726 6529
firechildren@icon.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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The risks of smoking and how to quit

Did you know? Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than seven million deaths per year, and on average, non-smokers live at least 10 years longer than smokers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) deemed 31 May every year World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from consuming tobacco in any form around the world. Every year there is a theme to promote awareness around the damages tobacco causes to our health. In 2019 the WNTD theme is Tobacco and lung health.

While the South African population as a whole has become less tolerant of smoking because of stringent laws dictating where smokers are allowed to smoke and where not, the statistics regarding tobacco-related deaths are still quite frightening. According to the Tobacco Atlas, more than 42,100 South Africans are killed by tobacco-related disease every year.

So why don’t smokers simply give up? Well, it isn’t that easy because tobacco is laced with the chemical called nicotine which is highly addictive. Consuming nicotine by smoking cigarettes or vaping releases the “feel good” chemical dopamine in our brains. Unfortunately, it also teaches the brain to crave the nicotine over and over again, thereby causing an addiction to cigarettes.

The problem is that tobacco smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals including at least 70 which can cause cancer and are referred to as carcinogens. The most common diseases caused by tobacco use are:

  • Lung cancer
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Asthma
  • Reproductive issues
  • Diabetes
  • Blindness by cataracts
  • Various cancers, including Colon, Cervix, Liver, Stomach and Pancreatic Cancer

These alone should be motivation to give up smoking. Plus, the benefits of quitting are endless.

First and foremost, find a good programme that will work for you. When you are doing your research, make sure the programme addresses both the short-term challenge of stopping smoking and the long-term challenge of preventing a relapse.

Before quitting, it might be a good idea to speak to your doctor about the various programmes and what type of support you require. If you have concerns about gaining weight or having withdrawal symptoms, your doctor will be able to give you good advice and remind you that it is better to gain a little weight which you can easily lose than to continue smoking and risk getting heart disease or cancer.

As a matter of fact, the benefits of giving up are almost instant. As soon as a smoker quits smoking this is how the body starts to recover:

1 hour later - The heart rate drops and returns to normal. Circulation improves and blood pressure is reduced.

12 hours later - Carbon monoxide levels return to normal and oxygen levels increase. This means blood pressure drops further and decreases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

1 week later - Smell and taste returns as nerve endings begin to heal.

1 month later - Lung function improves and exercising becomes much easier to do. If you have developed a smoker’s cough, it may disappear.

9 months later - The lungs significantly heal themselves. You will stop getting lung infections such as bronchitis.

1 year later - The risk of getting coronary heart disease decreases by half. This risk will continue to drop after one year without smoking.

5 years later - The arteries and blood vessels to begin to widen again which means the blood is much less likely to clot and cause a stroke.

10 years later - The chance of getting lung cancer is roughly decreased by half compared with someone who carries on smoking. Also, the risk of developing mouth, throat or pancreatic cancer significantly decreases.

15 years later - The chance of getting coronary heart disease or pancreatic cancer is the same as that of a non-smoker.

20 years - The risk of death from smoking-related causes, including lung disease and cancer, decreases to that of a person who has never smoked before.

No matter how you choose to give up smoking, it’s important to be good to yourself and your body. Don’t eat unhealthy comfort foods to replace the oral gratification and deal with the stress of giving up. Try these 5 simple tricks to help support you while you’re on a good quitting programme:

  1. Take walks - As soon as you feel the urge, go for a brisk walk to clear your head and release dopamine in a healthy way.
  2. Drink lots of water - Smoking dehydrates the body and water rehydrates it; plus drinking water gives your mouth something to do instead of smoking a cigarette.
  3. Have healthy snacks on the ready - When you quit smoking you will need to replace the oral gratification from cigarettes. Don’t fixate orally on bad foods by ensuring that healthy foods are available to you at all times.
  4. Eat a variety of healthy meals - Make it interesting for your brain to register various tastes and textures of food. This way you will replace feelings of boredom after quitting, for feelings of excitement about eating good food.
  5. Pamper yourself - Give yourself a pat on the back for giving up smoking and treat yourself using the cash you have saved from expensive cigarettes.

Quit the bad habit of smoking before it’s too late and enjoy the benefits from day one.

For more information please contact:
Dr AJ Mahmood (Surgeon)
FCS (SA), H Dip Surg (SA), MB BS Chittagon,
Daxina Private Hospital,
+27 (0) 87 087 0644
info@lenmed.co.za or mahmoodaj@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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The importance of a medical check-up

It doesn’t matter what state your health is in, as an adult you should be going for routine medical check-ups.

The reason why you should be getting checked by your doctor even when you are feeling healthy is that the medical exams can help detect health problems early on. Sometimes they can be detected before they have even started.

Once the problem has been detected the doctor can help you with treatment and even a cure which ultimately gives you a better chance at a happy, healthy and longer life.

Of course, your age, health, family history and lifestyle choices will affect how often you need to receive a check-up at your health practitioner.

Do not wait until you are sick before you pay a visit to the doctor for what should be a routine examination. Rather make it a habit to take care of yourself and your health by making regular appointments with your doctor throughout your life.

Regular health checks and screening tests are vital for 3 reasons:

  1. Health problems can be detected at an early stage before they develop into something much more serious.
  2. A screening test can detect and prevent a serious illness like cancer.
  3. Preventing health problems from becoming chronic can save you money.

If you have a family history of a certain disease or other risk factors, regular health checks are even more important.

Here are the recommended health tests you should have at least every one to two years - more frequently if you are in the high-risk category:

  • Blood pressure - This is tested using a simple pressure cuff and will tell whether your blood pressure is too low, too high or normal.
  • Cholesterol - This will be checked to see if your LDL (bad cholesterol) level is high which can increase your risk of getting heart disease. A simple prick of the finger to test your blood will show your overall cholesterol levels.
  • Blood glucose - A blood test or simple finger prick will determine whether your glucose or blood sugar levels are normal or not. If the blood sugar tests high, it means your body is struggling to produce insulin and you may have diabetes.
  • Skin cancer screening - The doctor will carefully check for irregular marks on your skin and decide whether any look suspicious. These will be removed and tested for cancer.

Recommended health checks for women:

  • Mammogram - This is an x-ray of your breast to check for developing breast cancer.
  • Pap smear - Your doctor (or gynaecologist) will use a special stick to take cells from your cervix, which is then sent to a laboratory where it is examined for cancerous cells.
  • Bone density test - A special scan is used to determine how weak or strong your bone density is. Weak bones can mean you are at risk of getting osteoporosis.
  • Colonoscopy from age of 50 years

Recommended health checks for men:

  • Prostate exam - The doctor will test for prostate cancer by doing a digital rectal exam and possibly even a prostate-specific antigen blood test.
  • Testicular cancer test - This exam should be done at every routine physical.
  • Colonoscopy from age of 50 years

All these tests may seem quite overwhelming but by simply talking to your doctor about your health history at the first check-up will help you better plan for them. You may find that the doctor recommends you have some of the checkups more regularly because you are at a higher risk and others much less frequently because you are at a lower risk, or some not at all. At the end of the first one, you will not only have a better idea of your medical check-up schedule but peace of mind, too.

For more information please contact:
Dr E Kabuzi (Specialist Physician)
MBChB (MUK) DTM & H (WITS) Dip.Hiv.MAN (SA) Dip.Diabetes.MAN (UK)
Randfontein Private Hospital
+27 (0) 87 087 2731
info@lenmed.co.za or Thato.Sello@Lenmed.co.za 

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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4 Things You Need to Know About Hypertension

Hypertension or high blood pressure is when the blood pressure in the arteries is higher than it should be. It forces the heart to work harder to circulate the blood through the vessels.

Hypertension is a very common medical condition which can become chronic. In old age, most of us are at risk of getting it. If left untreated the condition can lead to other chronic, even life-threatening, health issues like heart disease and stroke.

The good news is that high blood pressure can be easily detected at a routine doctor’s appointment. And, once you know you have it you can work with your doctor to treat it and get it back under control.

But, in order to deal with hypertension, we first need to understand the truth about the condition. Here are 4 common myths that we need to dispell:

MYTH 1: If high blood pressure runs in the family you will get it

You are at a bigger risk of getting high blood pressure if it runs in your family but, armed with this information, you can do certain things to lower this risk. The most important of all is to live a healthy lifestyle by focusing on the following 5 areas:

  • Eat healthy foods and maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t over-use salt - no more than 1,500 milligrams a day
  • Don’t smoke tobacco and limit your intake of alcohol
  • Avoid stress as much as possible
  • Exercise regularly

MYTH 2: Only one of the blood pressure numbers has to be normal

If you have had your blood pressure tested at the doctor, you will have noticed that the result shows one number over another number.

The top number is called your systolic blood pressure and normal reading is 119 or below, 120-129 is elevated, and 130 or more is high blood pressure. The systolic number represents the force of blood through your blood vessels during your heartbeat.

The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure and represents the force of blood through your blood vessels in between heartbeats. Seventy-nine or below is considered a normal diastolic blood pressure while 80 or more is high.

Most people believe the top systolic number is the only one to watch but this isn’t altogether true because the heart can actually better manage a higher systolic number than a high diastolic number. The only problem is when we age our systolic blood pressure tends to rise considerably more than the diastolic blood pressure, which may even decrease as we get older.

Ultimately, it is best to keep an eye on both numbers to make sure they are always sitting at a normal reading. If they are both consistently elevated you should discuss with your doctor how to decrease the numbers before you end up with hypertension and other chronic diseases relating to the condition.

MYTH 3: Once the blood pressure is high there is no real treatment to get it back to normal

Actually, if you work with your doctor to develop a comprehensive program for managing your high blood pressure, you can get it back to normal. However, this means sticking to the plan and changing your lifestyle to do this. The following are steps you will most likely need to take as part of your treatment:

  • Regular blood pressure checks - your doctor will tell you how often.
  • Keep on your treatment plan no matter what. And communicate with your doctor the moment you have issues sticking to the plan.
  • Go to all your doctor’s appointments. If you have to miss one, immediately make another one to replace it.
  • Change to a healthy lifestyle and stick to it.
  • Radically reduce your salt intake
  • Read about high blood pressure and learn everything there is to know about decreasing the systolic and diastolic numbers.

MYTH 4: One can always tell or feel it in the body if blood pressure is high

This isn’t necessarily true. High blood pressure can build up over many years without you knowing it because most people won’t show any symptoms.

This is why it is so important to live a healthy lifestyle and keep a check on your health especially if you are at a higher risk of getting hypertension. If this is the case, you should get regular check-ups at your doctor.

Even though there are often no real symptoms, if you start suffering from headaches, shortness of breath and nosebleeds, you may have high blood pressure. Then do go get it checked with a very simple, pain-free and accurate test at your doctor.

When your blood pressure has reached a dangerously high reading you may present with any of the following symptoms. At this stage, you should immediately see your doctor.

  • Sudden severe headache
  • Confusion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Sudden issues with vision
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing, a feeling of a tight chest
  • Heartbeat feels strange and irregular
  • Blood in the urine
  • Persistent throbbing sensation in the neck, ears or chest
  • Swelling of feet

When are you most at risk?

Get your blood pressure read every two years from as early as 18 years of age. Once you turn 40 you should get a reading once a year. Your risk of hypertension increases with age. By the time you are in your mid-60s, you should be getting your blood pressure checked at least two or three times a year.

Other reasons you may be at higher risk are:

  • If you are of African heritage
  • If it runs in the family
  • If you live a very stressed lifestyle
  • If you are obese
  • If you eat badly and particularly if you eat too much salt
  • If you live an inactive lifestyle
  • If you have diabetes, snoring at night or kidney disease
  • If you smoke and drink too much

The simple answer to living a long life is to be healthy and to lower your risk of getting hypertension by having your blood pressure read at your routine doctor’s visits.

For more information please contact:
Dr E Kabuzi (Specialist Physician)
MBChB (MUK) DTM & H (WITS) Dip. HIV Man (SA) Dip. Diabetes Man (UK)
Randfontein Private Hospital
+27 (0) 87 087 2746
info@lenmed.co.za or thato.sello@lenmed.co.za

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How to Cope with an Allergy to Bee Stings

South Africans love being outside and who can blame them with all the great outdoor spaces and lovely sunny weather conditions. However, the outdoors also has an abundant bee population. Bees are beneficial to the environment, and if left alone will generally mind their own business, but they can also sting us if we threaten them, whether accidentally or not.

To most, being stung by a bee is slightly annoying and a little painful but can quite easily be treated at home. But for people who are allergic to bee stings, getting stung can trigger a strong reaction serious enough to warrant emergency treatment. This usually means a trip to the hospital casualty department.

How do you know you are allergic?

Bee stings can bring out a mild reaction, usually in the form of temporary pain and a slight localised swelling where the sting penetrated the skin. It is less common to have a severe allergic reaction. But did you know that having one type of reaction doesn’t necessarily mean it will stay this way? You can have a different reaction every time you are stung by a bee. This means that you need to be cautious around bees whether you react mildly or not.

A mild reaction presents with:

  • An immediate and sharp burning sensation at the site of the bee sting
  • Redness around the area of the bee sting
  • Slight swelling

Usually, this will clear up within a 12-hour period.

A moderate reaction presents with:

  • More irritation over and above the immediate pain
  • More redness
  • More swelling - can start as small and grow bigger throughout the day

Usually, the swelling lasts longer than a day and can take as long as 10 days to clear up completely. Having a moderate reaction doesn’t mean you will have a severe allergic reaction if you get stung again. However, if the reaction gets slightly worse every time you are stung, it is recommended that you see your doctor to discuss treatment and prevention.

A severe allergic reaction presents with:

  • Hives on the skin (not necessarily localised around the sting area) or the skin can become flushed or very pale
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue which will cause difficulty breathing
  • A weak and rapid pulse
  • Dizziness and even fainting
  • Nausea
  • Loss of consciousness

This type of reaction is called anaphylaxis and can be fatal if not treated as an emergency. If someone shows the above symptoms call for an ambulance immediately. People who are severely allergic can have these reactions very quickly, and about 30 to 60% of people who have severe reactions can become anaphylactic the next time they are stung.

When are you more at risk?

If you have had a bad reaction to a bee sting before, you stand a bigger chance of having a severe allergic reaction if stung again.

Adults are more at risk of having a severe reaction than children and it can be more life-threatening for them.

If you are frequently outdoors or live close to a beehive you should be very cautious and take preventative measures.

Prevention

By following some precautionary measures you will put yourself and your loved ones at a lower risk of being stung by bees:

  • When outdoors, make sure you keep sweet drinks and all food covered.
  • At home, clean away garbage and over-ripe fruit.
  • During bee season - spring and summer - don’t go barefoot when you are outside.
  • Be aware of beehives when you are mowing the grass as loud, vibrating noises can disturb the bees and, when threatened, the swarm may attack you.
  • Do not wear bright clothing and sweetly scented perfumes and body lotions if you are going outdoors in bee season.
  • If there are bees flying around where you are, do not panic and swat at them as this will make them feel threatened. Remain calm and slowly move away from them to another area.
  • If you can hear or see a swarm of bees approaching, calmly but quickly leave the area and get inside the closest building. Close all windows and doors behind you until the swarm has passed by.

The good news

Most people only ever experience mild reactions to bee stings. According to the Journal of Asthma and Allergy, around 5% of people will experience a severe allergic reaction to insect stings in their lifetimes.

If you have a moderate or severe reaction to bee stings, you should make an appointment to see your doctor who can help you with preventative measures in the event of you being stung again.

Finally, if you are not sure about the seriousness of a sting you can call an emergency number and ask for advice or call for an ambulance.

For more information please contact:
Jurgen Kotze, Emergency Care Practioner (ECP) REG (ECP 0001031)
Advanced Life Support
www.emer-g-med.co.za
Emergency number: 0861 007 911
+27 (0) 53 045 0350 (Royal Hospital and Heart Centre)
+27 (0) 53 723 3231 (Kathu Private Hospital)

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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Heads Up on Head Injury in Children

If you are a parent of young children, it is likely that you are hugely fearful of your child suffering a severe blow to the head. This is understandable, as children are highly susceptible to falls and bumps, especially when they are under the age of 14.

Furthermore, studies have shown that up to 4% of children who have had a seemingly mild head injury will develop complications (Continuing Medical Education, Vol. 31, no.3). It’s a really minor percentage, especially when you consider that only 5% of people in South Africa (adults and children) sustain serious head injuries. Nevertheless, even the smallest chance of this happening to your child is very scary.

From babies who accidentally fall off a changing table, to children who fall off a skateboard or bicycle, or boys who bash heads in a rugby scrum, parents need to take a blow to the head seriously and seek medical help if there are any grounds for concern.
Head injuries can take several forms. A mild injury may be a bruise, an egg-shaped swelling or a shallow cut on the head. More serious injuries include concussion, a deep head wound or even a fractured skull bone. A severe injury is likely to involve internal bleeding or damage to the brain.

When to see your doctor:

If your child has sustained a blow to the head, how will you know that he or she should see a doctor?
Fortunately, most bumps will cause, at worst, a bruise with some swelling – which can be remedied with a kiss and cuddle and some physical rest, or an icepack on the bruise. Within hours, or even minutes, the child will back at play again.
However, a more serious blow will cause symptoms that parents should be aware of. These are the warning signs to watch out for:

Signs that the child should be monitored:

● Headache, sensitive to light and noise, irritable
● Confused or dizzy, balance is poor, struggling to concentrate
● Feeling nauseous
● Feeling tired
● Blurred vision or eyes feel tired

Watch the child carefully and see a doctor if there is no improvement within 24 hours. Trust your instincts. If you aren't comfortable with your child's appearance, call your doctor.

Signs that your child should see a doctor:

● “Seeing stars" and feeling dazed, dizzy, or lightheaded
● Trouble remembering what happened right before and after the injury
● Nausea and vomiting
● Headache won’t go away
● Neck stiffness or pain
● Blurred vision and sensitivity to light
● Slurred speech or saying things that don't make sense
● Problems concentrating, thinking or making decisions
● Difficulty with coordination or balance (such as being unable to catch a ball or other easy tasks)
● Feeling anxious or irritable for no apparent reason

These symptoms usually indicate a concussion. A concussion is a temporary loss of normal brain function and in most cases is mild and won’t cause long-term damage. Children with a mild concussion will need to take a break from physical activity for a week or two and give the head a chance to rest.

When to take your child to the emergency room:

● The child is unconscious
● The child is experiencing seizures or convulsions
● Blood or clear fluid is draining from the ears or nose
● The pupil in one eye looks larger than the other
● There is a deep wound or laceration in the scalp
● Pale and sweating
● Slurred speech and behaviour changes
● Struggling to walk or weak on one side of the body

Besides the obvious distress the child may be experiencing, these symptoms also suggest that the child will need an expert assessment of the extent of the injury.

Treatment and recovery:

In most cases, applying an ice pack or Arnica to a bump on the head is sufficient.

● Rest is also important. Avoid rough play or sports for a couple of days or until the doctor says it’s OK.
● Getting plenty of sleep while the brain is healing is vital.
● For recovery from concussion, mental rest is also important, which means restricting both homework and video games! Get your doctor’s advice on this.
● Severe injury will need medical supervision. The child may need stitches in the head, a period of hospitalisation, moderate sedation, and assistance with breathing, or even surgery.

Precautions and prevention:

It's impossible to completely prevent an injury, but you can do a lot to protect your child from severe head blows. These simple precautions will go a long way towards protecting your child:

● Childproof your home and ensure a safe playing environment to prevent household accidents. For instance, soften the corners or surfaces that your child may bump into and put heavy objects that could fall easily out of harm’s way. Provide a cushioned surface under play equipment. A garden lawn is still the cheapest and most effective option, but specialised artificial surfaces or playground sand also work very well.
● When driving, always use a child safety seat or seat belt.
● Ensure that children wear helmets when they’re on anything with wheels, such as a tricycle, bicycle, roller skates or skateboard.
● Ensure that children wear safety headgear when playing contact sports like rugby or boxing, or when playing cricket or baseball. Even hockey sticks can be hazardous.

For more information or in the case of a medical emergency, please contact:
IPSS Medical Rescue on emergency number +27 (0) 823 911 911

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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7 Ways to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy

Our kidneys belong to what we call our 'major' organs, as they perform work in our body that keeps us alive. We can live without a gall bladder, but we cannot survive without a liver, heart, lungs or kidneys. This is why it's so vitally important that we look after our kidneys, not only to prevent kidney disease but also to make sure they are always in good working order. So, let's have a look at what our kidneys do for us, what happens when they can't do these things anymore, and how to look after them.

What do our kidneys do for us?

The main job of our kidneys is to work together with our liver to process and remove toxins from our blood. In this case, 'toxins' aren't necessarily poisons. The term means anything that would be harmful to us if they stayed in our systems. So, it includes everything from certain ingredients in our food (like small traces of mercury in fish) to animal fat and alcohol. As blood flows through our kidneys, they remove these materials from the blood, thus ensuring that these don't enter any further into our bodies.

The kidneys also do a lot more for us. They help to control our blood pressure by regulating the amount of salt in our bloodstream and removing any harmful extra salts and minerals and help produce red blood cells. This is very important for overall body health, and particularly to keep your bones healthy. Our kidneys turn all these materials into a waste product that we eliminate, which we call urine.

Because they play all these roles, our kidneys have to be very strong. Problems develop when they aren't healthy enough to successfully process harmful materials. When this happens, our entire bodies begin to break down which could be fatal. This is why people who have severe kidney disease have to have regular 'dialysis', where their blood is routed through a machine that 'cleans' it in the same way that their kidneys would before it is pumped back into their bodies.

Where are your kidneys?

You'll find your kidneys, one on either side of your body, just below your rib cage towards the back of your abdomen. They are deep inside your body, to protect them from external damage because they are so important in keeping you alive. Each is about the size of an adult's fist.

What happens with kidney disease?

Kidneys can take such a battering if we don't look after them that they can no longer work as well as they should, and they can become diseased. In extreme cases, they can stop functioning completely, which we call a kidney (or renal) failure. Happily, we only need one kidney to survive, which means that we can afford to lose one if it becomes unhealthy.

So, what can happen to our kidneys? The main condition that we need to be careful of is known as Chronic Kidney Disease. Recent research has found that a major cause of this is obesity, which makes sense, because our kidneys are especially vulnerable to the things we eat, given their jobs in our bodies. In fact, our diets are so important to healthy kidneys that we are seeing an increase in kidney disease as a result of eating too much unhealthy fast food. It is estimated that15% of South Africans suffer from some kind of kidney disorder

The main culprits here are Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. They both have very serious effects on our kidneys, weakening them and breaking down their ability to function.

7 Ways to Keep Your Kidneys Healthy

Unless there is a kidney condition in the family that is passed down – and this is quite rare – kidney diseases are completely preventable. Here are 7 things that you can do every day to help make sure your kidneys are healthy and happy.

1. Live an active lifestyle and keep fit

When we're fit our blood pressure is lower, which means far less strain on our kidneys. It doesn't really matter what kind of exercise we do, but the best exercises for kidney health are cardiovascular ones, like cycling and running.

2. Control your blood sugar

Diabetes is closely linked to kidney damage, so it's very important to follow the guidelines that protect you against diabetes. This means not eating too much sugar, in any form whatsoever. Remember, there is a LOT of sugar in a takeaway hamburger, for example, so do some research to find out about better low sugar options.

3. Look after your blood pressure

High blood pressure damages the kidneys, so make sure you have yours checked regularly. Maintain good blood pressure by eating properly and exercising regularly.

4. Drink lots of healthy fluids

Water is critical for the kidneys to function properly. It makes sense if you think about it for a moment. Imagine a cup of water with a little bit of salt in it, and another cup full of salt with just enough water to make it moist. It's far easier to pour from the first cup than the second, because the more water you have, the more the salt is diluted. Our kidneys work in the same way.

5. Don't smoke

Smoking not only puts toxins into our blood that the kidneys need to then cleanse, but it also narrows the blood vessels, which interferes with blood flow through the kidneys. This means that it is more difficult to remove the toxins from the bloodstream.

6. Don't drink too much alcohol

As we said above, the kidneys are used to remove alcohol from the blood. If we drink too much, we damage our kidneys over the long term, because having to process too much alcohol places a serious amount of strain on our kidneys and liver.

7. Be careful of over-the-counter pills

All medication (particularly pills and capsules) need to be processed by the kidneys, and some of these medications can have a serious effect if you take them for too long. So, make sure you tell your doctor about all medications you're taking, and how much of them you're using.

For more information please contact:
Dr MM Mahlangu (Specialist Physician / Nephrologist)
MBBCh(Wits) Mmed Internal Medicine (UL) Cert of Nephrology (CMSA)
Zamokuhle Private Hospital
+27 (0) 11 923 7750
info@lenmed.co.za or info@sd-nephrologist.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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Six Essential Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

When you discover you are pregnant you will feel joyful and your natural instinct will be to protect your unborn child. If this is your first pregnancy, you may even get a lot of warranted and unwarranted advice from friends and family, which may overwhelm you. They mean well but whom do you listen to and how do you know what advice to follow? Especially when you hear stories about the things you should or should not do that can affect the health of your baby.

This article will help empower you to make the right decisions about your health during your pregnancy and therefore the health of your unborn child. All of the decisions you make about what you eat, how active you are and your lifestyle will ultimately determine how your baby grows inside you and how this precious little being will be born into life.

Here are the 6 most essential tips to a healthy pregnancy:

1. Don’t drink

Did you know that the experts are still not sure how much alcohol consumed will harm your unborn child? The safest bet is to avoid alcohol altogether throughout your pregnancy. What the experts do know is when you drink alcohol it passes from your bloodstream into the placenta and straight into your baby. The liver is one of the very last organs to develop in the foetus which means your baby is unable to process alcohol the same way as a fully formed adult. Too much alcohol going through your system can seriously harm your baby’s development.

2. Quit smoking

Cigarettes contain toxins which are harmful to the human body. When these toxins enter your bloodstream they deplete the only source of oxygen and nutrients your unborn baby needs to grow. No amount of cigarettes is safe for your baby because every puff you take is less oxygen for both of you. When you plan to fall pregnant, you should already try to quit smoking then so that by the time you conceive you are no longer a smoker.

3. Eat healthily

We have all heard of the saying that when you are pregnant you should eat for two. This simply isn’t true. During pregnancy you are only required to eat about 300 calories more a day than normal. This amounts to about as much as a small plate of healthy food. It is important to eat a healthy diet while you are trying to fall pregnant as well as during your pregnancy and while you are breastfeeding. Poor nutrition during pregnancy can result in poor foetal development and gaining too much weight can lead to gestational (pregnancy) diabetes, chronic backache and high blood pressure. During pregnancy a woman’s macronutrient (energy) and micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) needs increase so it is vital for you to be eating food which is nutritionally dense and contains all the right nutrients. Your doctor can guide you with regards to the food you should be eating.

4. Get active

Whoever tells you not exercise because you will harm the baby is wrong. Unless it is your doctor who is telling you not to exercise for good reason. If you are pregnant, you should be exercising around three times a week for 20 minutes. Research has shown that doing exercises during pregnancy results in a shorter labour and helps with symptoms of pregnancy like nausea and stiffness. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight plus you will feel stronger and fitter after giving birth. Don’t throw yourself into a vigorous exercise routine. Take it easy and consult with your doctor before you begin.

5. Rest up

You will feel exhausted during two of the three trimesters of your pregnancy. In the first trimester (1-3 months) hormonal changes can make you feel tired, as your placenta grows to accommodate the healthy development of your baby. During the second trimester (4-6 months) you will regain your energy. Then, in the third and last trimester (7-9 months) your fatigue will return and you will feel more tired than ever. To help you through the tired stages you should get a lot of rest and try to sleep more than usual. It is also important to eat small, nutritious meals more often during the day. Rest is also important during your pregnancy because once you have given birth you will be getting very little sleep for at least the first 3 to 6 months of parenthood.

6. Get regular checkups

Your antenatal care is vital for both you and your baby during your pregnancy. This means you must commit to regularly seeing your medical practitioner. This could be your doctor, a gynaecologist, or the maternity clinic at your nearest hospital. They know exactly what milestones to be aware of. They will also detect any problems early on and therefore help prevent any unnecessary traumas.

You should trust your doctor and listen to his or her sensible advice. Your doctor will guide you throughout your pregnancy and let you know what to expect along the way.

Your pregnancy should be something you enjoy because becoming a mother is one of the most important milestones in your life. By following the six tips we have discussed in this article you should be well on your way to a very healthy and problem-free pregnancy. This will in turn provide you with a strong, healthy and contented little bundle of joy at the end of your nine-month journey.

If you are planning to fall pregnant or think you are pregnant, contact your doctor today and make an appointment to discuss the next steps.

For more information please contact:
Dr N Maligavhada (Paediatrician/Pulmologist)
BSc (Univen) MBChB (Natal) DCH (SA) FCPaed (SA) Cert. Paed Pulmonology (SA)
Randfontein Private Hospital
+27 (11) 411 3089
info@lenmed.co.za or riatshikhetha@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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Seven Lifestyle Factors That Will Benefit Your Health

It’s a fact, you cannot do much about your genetics but you can make some healthy lifestyle choices which will influence the longevity of your life and reduce your risk of getting sick. There are seven important lifestyle factors which will have a positive impact on your health and therefore increase your chances of living to a ripe old age.

The seven lifestyle factors are:

1. A healthy balanced diet

When you eat healthily and make sure your body is getting the right nutrition, you are providing it with a sustaining energy. You are also lowering your risk of getting serious lifestyle diseases, like heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and cancers. A healthy and balanced diet will prevent you from becoming overweight and putting you at risk of getting any one of the above lifestyle diseases.

However, while you don’t want to gain too much unhealthy weight, you also shouldn’t follow fad diets. Three balanced meals a day with a healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack will ensure you remain energised while providing your body with good nutrition.

2. Drinking lots of water

Did you know we can survive around 3 weeks without food yet we cannot go without water for more than 7 days? What this is telling us is that water is vital. We should be drinking eight glasses of pure water a day in order to keep hydrated and maintain good health. (Juices, cooldrinks and other beverages do not count as water.) Water aids healthy digestion, it keeps our cells hydrated and functioning properly, and it flushes toxins out of our bodies. It is thanks to water that our bodies are able to absorb vital nutrients from food.

3. Exercising regularly

All it takes is about 20 to 30 minutes of regular exercise on a daily basis to keep us fit and healthy. Finding something physical to do and committing to it will help reduce your heart rate and therefore decrease the risk of

cardiovascular disease. Exercising also strengthens muscles and therefore increases bone density, reducing the risk of you getting osteoporosis in your old age. It improves lung capacity and aids proper breathing. A big plus to doing regular exercise is it improves your mental health, reduces stress, helps you sleep better and improves your mood.

4. Plenty of sleep

A full night’s sleep is vital as it gives your body some time to regenerate and recharge. You should be getting no less than seven hours of sleep per night because your body needs this amount of time to take care of its metabolic functions, like repairing damaged cells, recharging tired old cells and getting rid of toxins. Consistent lack of sleep can have quite a serious effect on your physical and mental health and wellbeing.

5. Not smoking

If you want to increase your lifespan and decrease your risk of getting serious illnesses, you should never start smoking and, if you are a smoker, you should quit now. Constant exposure to the nicotine in tobacco can cause coronary artery disease, peptic ulcer disease, esophageal reflux, hypertension, fetal illnesses, delayed wound healing, and cancers, and can significantly shorten your lifespan.

6. Reducing alcohol consumption

If you are consuming a moderate amount of alcohol - about one drink a day - you have nothing to worry about. However, drinking more than this can lead to health issues, such as a higher risk of heart disease, some cancers (liver cancer in particular), high blood pressure and stroke. Alcohol can be addictive and if you have a drinking problem you are at a higher risk of having accidents, being violent and even having suicidal thoughts.

7. Keep a check on mental and physical health

As a rule of thumb, you should see your doctor for checkups at least every two to three years if you are under 50, and once a year if you are 50 or over. It is a good idea to have an open and honest relationship with your doctor as he or she will help you navigate your health journey through life. Remember that most diseases can be cured if they are detected at an early stage. This applies to your mental health, too.

Lenmed offers highly qualified doctors who are fully equipped to give you a full health assessment. Find a doctor in your area easily on our website.

For more information please contact:
John Nderitu, Clinical Dietician/Diabetes Educator
BSc Food Nutrition & Dietetics (Egert-Ke), MA Medical Sociology (UoN-Ke), PG Diploma in Diabetes (USW-UK)
Bokamoso Private Hospital
+26 (7) 369 4784
Info@Lenmed.co.za or John.Nderitu@bokamosohospital.org or john.nderit@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

 

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The Truth about Postpartum Depression

After the birth of a baby, many mothers experience the ‘baby blues’, a short period of feeling sad or tearful, which can be triggered by hormonal changes after giving birth. Sleep deprivation and anxiety, especially in first time mothers, may add to these feelings. It is a conflicting time; joy, excitement, anxiety and fear. Add to that the baby blues and mothers can feel overwhelmed.

While the baby blues include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping and begin two to three days after the birth, they only last about two weeks.

When the feeling of sadness is more severe and lasts longer it is known as postpartum depression. There is also an extreme mood disorder which may develop after childbirth – postpartum psychosis.

Postpartum depression is not a character flaw

The most important thing to remember is that postpartum depression is not a character flaw or a weakness. There could be genetic factors, or physical or emotional causes. Factors such as sleep deprivation, personality disorder, complications during birth or pregnancy, a young maternal age, high sensitivity to hormonal change, or psychiatric illness can play a role.

Giving birth is not the only major change you have gone through. Having a baby to take care of is a huge emotional upheaval. It can be overwhelming and as many babies need almost constant attention, sleep may be hard to come by. As a result, you may be struggling to handle even minor problems. Added to that, you may be concerned about how to take care of a baby. Your body doesn’t recover immediately and so you may not feel as attractive as before you were pregnant. You have may feel you have lost control of your life, even of your own identity.

The difference between baby blues, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis

1. Baby Blues

The baby blues usually occur for a few days after birth to a week or two. Mothers may suffer from mood swings, anxiety, irritability, reduced concentration, trouble sleeping, tearfulness, lack of appetite, and sadness or feeling overwhelmed.

Treatment:

Fortunately the baby blues usually fade on their own within a few days to one to two weeks. Mothers are advised to get as much rest as they can, accept help from family and friends, connect with other new moms, create time to take care of themselves and avoid alcohol and recreational drugs, which can make mood swings worse.

2. Postpartum Depression

Symptoms may emerge either during pregnancy or the first few weeks after birth to as long as a year after birth. Red flags to watch out for are excessive feelings of fatigue, irritability, anger, sadness, guilt, worthlessness or inadequacy. You may struggle to concentrate, think clearly or make decisions; you may lose interest in former pleasures and activities, or want to withdraw from family and friends. Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide are serious warning signals. Sleep disorders, eating disorders and excessive weeping are also common symptoms.

Treatment:

The good news is that with appropriate treatment, most mothers recover from postpartum depression. It is often treated with psychotherapy or medication, or both.

It may help to talk through your concerns with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional. Through therapy, you can find better ways to cope with your feelings, solve problems, set realistic goals and respond to situations in a positive way. Sometimes family or relationship therapy also helps.

Your doctor may recommend an antidepressant that can be used during breast-feeding with little risk of side effects for your baby. But be sure to work with your doctor to understand the potential risks and benefits of specific medications.

In some cases, postpartum depression can continue, becoming chronic depression. It's therefore very important to continue treatment after you begin to feel better as stopping treatment too soon may lead to a relapse.

3. Postpartum Psychosis

This condition can develop within the first week after delivery and can become an ongoing problem, with some patients developing bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Symptoms can include paranoia, excessive energy and agitation, confusion and disorientation, sleep disturbances, attempts to harm yourself or your baby, difficulty bonding with your baby, poor concentration, obsessive thoughts about your baby, or hallucinations and delusions.

Treatment:

Postpartum psychosis could lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviours and needs immediate treatment. Patients with postpartum psychosis will need long term specialist medical care.

Treatment may include hospital admission and require a combination of medications to control the symptoms. Other interventions, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), can also be successful in reducing the symptoms.

A mother who experiences this condition will need to work with her doctor to deal with the challenges of breastfeeding and possible separation from her baby.

You do not have to struggle alone

If you think you may have postpartum depression, make an appointment with your doctor immediately. With prompt treatment you will be able to manage your symptoms.

If you feel you, or someone you know, may be suffering from the baby blues, postpartum depression and especially if you suspect postpartum psychosis, please make an appointment with your doctor immediately.

For more information, contact:
Dr Mathabethe Sebei (Psychiatrist)
MBChB Medunsa (2001), FC Psych (2011)
Randfontein Private Hospital
+27 (11) 411 3024
info@lenmed.co.za or sebeij@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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What is Cancer and Why Do We Get It?

Cancer seems to be such a dreaded disease that we don't even like to hear the word. So we usually don't think about it and hope it doesn't happen to us. Like anything, though, the more we understand about cancer, the less scary it becomes – and the more we realise how much we can actually do to lower the risk and possibly even cure it. So let's take a simple look at what cancer is, what we think can cause it, and the easy things we can do in our lives to avoid getting it.

What is cancer?

Cancer is really just a change in the normal healthy cells in our bodies that makes them grow differently, or out of control or in the wrong place. Of course there are many different types of cancer, but this is basically what happens. It might be a mole that changes colour, or a strange lump that appears – this is simply the result of something having gone wrong with our usually healthy tissue.

This can happen anywhere in our bodies, and it can happen to any of us, whether we are male or female, young or old, rich or poor. That's partly why cancer is so frightening – it seems to strike randomly. However, as you'll see when you read on, the occurrence is not as random as we think and we can do many things to reduce our risk of getting it. Medical scientists are also constantly making breakthroughs in the ways that we treat cancer, and more people are recovering from it than ever before.

How does cancer start?

Our body is constantly refreshing itself. Old cells die and we grow new ones to replace them. That's why our skin stays healthy – old skin cells fall off revealing a freshly grown layer. Unfortunately, sometimes, for reasons we still don't fully understand, changes (mutations) take place in the DNA of cells. In other words, something goes wrong with the 'instructions' that our cells use to replace themselves, and abnormal cells are produced. A cell that should have been healthy emerges with a built-in fault: it might grow too fast, be the wrong type of cell for that part of the body, or grow somewhere else where it isn't supposed to appear. These are what we call cancerous cells.

How do cancer tumours grow?

This problem gets worse when these cells move to other parts of the body. This is why cancer spreads. The medical term for this is "metastasis", but all it really means is that the cancer cells travel through our bloodstream or lymph system, and then form new abnormal growths elsewhere. This is how breast cancer can spread to our lungs or other organs, and create tumours in other areas of our body.

When cancerous cells multiply they can form clusters of cells which form tumours. Some tumours eventually become malignant which means they can seriously damage your health. If not successfully treated, malignant tumours are likely to cause death.

Doctors divide cancer growth into different stages, depending on how serious it is and how much it has spread or not. Stages 1 and 2 usually mean that the cancer has been found quite early, and hasn't started to spread. Stages 3 and 4 mean that the cancer has started to spread and has now appeared in other places too.

What causes cancer?

While doctors don't yet fully understand what causes cancer in our bodies, the good news is that they are learning more every day, and have already identified things that can make a difference in whether we get it or not. These are known as 'risk factors'.

Naturally, one of the 'causes' of cancer is our genes. The potential to develop cancer can be passed on from one generation to another, as you can inherit certain genes from your parents - which is why you are more likely to get breast cancer if your mother had it.

By now we also know about some of the big threats that we should avoid to help us reduce our risk of getting cancer, like smoking, alcohol consumption, going out in harsh sunlight without sunscreen, and being exposed to cancer causing (carcinogenic) chemicals. There are also lots of less obvious things that can cause cancer.

Luckily we can all learn the right changes we can make to our lives to minimise our risk of getting cancer in the future. Also, fortunately, cancer is not infectious and cannot be passed on from one person to another. In other words, you can’t ‘catch’ cancer from someone else who already has it. (Although, as mentioned earlier, you can inherit genes from your parents that may make you more susceptible to the disease.)

How can we lower our cancer risk?

While cancer has now become a preventable disease in many ways, we still don't have control over the genetic aspect (only about 5-10% of cancers are genetic), so to a certain extent we are at the mercy of our genes. Cancer can appear no matter how healthily we live, unfortunately. That said, there are many things we can do to reduce our risk from other cancer risks, and this may even stop cancer genes from becoming active.

1. Don't smoke or use tobacco products

Smoke damages our cells and can turn healthy ones cancerous. Regular smoking of cigarettes, cigars or pipes places us at high risk. You should also avoid other tobacco products, like hookah pipes and snuff, as the tobacco itself contains chemicals that can cause cancer. Even smoked and processed meats contain contaminants that could cause cancer at some time in the future, if consumed excessively.

2. Be very careful of the sun

Skin cancers can be caused by exposure to sunlight. As our climate has changed due to global warming, the ozone layer in the atmosphere that protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun has become too thin. This means that if we expose ourselves too much to direct sunlight it’s much easier to get skin cancer than in the past. We should always protect exposed areas of our bodies with a sunscreen that has an SPF value of at least 20 UV protection factor whenever we go out into direct sunlight. Making this a part of our daily lives can substantially lower the risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen must be applied at least 20 minutes prior to going out into the sun. It also needs to be re-applied at least every 2 hours and more often when perspiring or swimming.

3. Live a healthy lifestyle

Cancer is also linked to unhealthy ways of living that weaken our defences against it, or directly cause it. We should try to avoid being overweight and eating too much sugar, and we should avoid drinking alcohol (there is no safe level of alcohol consumption). Keeping ourselves physically fit through regular exercise is also very beneficial.

4. Look after you mind

These days we understand that our minds have a significant effect on our bodies and our health, and can cause all kinds of illnesses. For example, too much stress can lead to immune system failure, which makes us sick. So it’s very important to do some sort of activity that keeps the mind calm and healthy, like yoga or meditation or some other sort of spiritual activity.

5. Eat sensibly

Our modern lifestyles have made us quite dependent on what we call 'fast food'. This food can be very unhealthy, because of its ingredients and the way it is prepared. It usually has far too much sugar, is highly processed, and contains chemicals that we would prefer to not have in our food. Instead of eating a takeaway, follow a sensible diet of basic fresh food, including plenty of fruit and vegetables. Try to avoid too much sugar and artificial ingredients.

So remember: You can reduce your risk of cancer

As you can now see, although cancer is one of the scariest diseases, we can do a lot to reduce our risk and ensure that we live long, healthy lives. As long as we follow these really simple guidelines for living, we have a good chance of being cancer-free, and enjoying happier, healthier lives at the same time.  

With grateful thanks to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) for sharing their cancer research with the Lenmed Health Group. Visit CANSA to learn how each of us has the power to take action for a cancer-free world. www.cansa.org.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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