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Fibromyalgia: the invisible disease

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Fibromyalgia is a neurological disorder characterized by chronic, widespread pain. While it’s precise cause is unknown, some researchers believe it results from an anomaly in the way the central nervous system controls pain. An estimated two per cent of North Americans of all ages suffer from the disease.

While the classic sign of fibromyalgia is pain in the muscles and joints, there are many other symptoms such as:
• Fatigue
• Difficulty sleeping

• Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
• Headaches
• Anxiety or depression
• Memory and concentration problems
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Painful menstrual cramps

With such varied symptoms, it can be difficult to diagnose fibromyalgia; a situation that often proves to be very stressful for patients. Until recently, some doctors didn’t consider it to be a real disorder and even today, some medical professionals characterize it as psychosomatic.

Since fibromyalgia has no outward signs — the disease has been given the epithet “the invisible disease” — there’s no way to test for it. It doesn’t affect the major organs, can’t be revealed with X-rays or blood tests and isn’t life threatening. Therefore, in order to make a diagnosis, doctors use a set of clinical diagnostic criteria.

Currently, there’s no cure for fibromyalgia. However, treatments exist to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Health

Three helpful apps for boomers

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Thanks to apps, our smartphones are able to serve myriad practical functions quite unrelated to calling or texting. Why not take advantage? Here are three apps that many individuals find highly useful.

Pillboxie
This is an app that allows users to easily and conveniently keep track of their medications. Pillboxie permits you to schedule reminders by dragging and dropping pills (which you label beforehand and provide with a unique shape and color) into a virtual pillbox labeled by the time it should be ingested. It will then remind you whenever you need to take medication—even if your phone is asleep.

Magnifying Glass with Light

Many farsighted individuals keep a magnifying glass handy for reading small print. However, it’s not always practical to carry around this implement and you may sometimes forget it at home. When you’re out and about and you need to read the fine print on a grocery label or prescription bottle, you can use the Magnifying Glass with Light app. With this app, you can use your phone camera to zoom in on text you’re reading. It also comes with a flashlight feature, in case you’re in dim lighting.

Red Panic Button
This is an app that can quite literally save your life. Using this app, you can, with the press of a button, send a text containing a pre-set message and your exact location to your emergency contacts. This can prove indispensible in emergency situations when you don’t have the time or ability to make a phone call.

Find these apps and others in the App Store, if you have an iPhone, or in the Play Store, if you have a Samsung phone. (These digital stores are themselves apps and have been pre-installed on your device.)

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Health

The facts on gingivitis

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Gingivitis is one of the most common oral diseases. Here’s what you need to know to prevent, detect and treat it.

WHAT IS GINGIVITIS?
Gingivitis is a common and mild form of periodontal disease that exhibits the following symptoms:

• Redness, swelling and irritation in the gums

• Tender gums
• Receding gums
• Bleeding gums when brushing or flushing
• Bad breath

WHAT CAUSES IT?
Poor oral hygiene leading to plaque formation is the main cause of gingivitis. Plaque is a transparent, sticky film that forms on the teeth and is composed of bacteria. It’s the product of starches and sugars interacting with the bacteria naturally found in the mouth. If plaque remains on teeth, it hardens and turns to tartar. Both plaque and tartar irritate the gums, leading to gingivitis.

HOW IS IT PREVENTED?
Prevention involves good oral hygiene. Brush twice a day, floss daily and get your teeth professionally cleaned every six to 12 months. Healthy eating plays an important role too.

HOW IS IT TREATED?
As soon as tartar begins to form on the teeth, professional dental cleaning is required, as tartar can’t be removed with brushing alone. To prevent its reappearance, one needs to change oral cleaning, and perhaps dietary, habits. More advanced cases might require antibiotic medications or even surgery.

WHAT ARE THE COMPLICATIONS?
If left untreated, gingivitis can cause serious complications such as swollen lymph nodes and tooth loss. Prevent this disease: practice good oral hygiene and have your teeth professionally cleaned on a regular basis.

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Flu cases are still on the rise: No-cost flu shots available at all Lord Fairfax Health District Clinics

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Cases of influenza (“the flu”) are still increasing in Virginia, and the flu season has yet to peak. Flu season usually continues through May, so, if you have not gotten the shot, it is not too late, and you can now get it at no out-of-pocket cost.

The Lord Fairfax Health District advises everyone that getting a flu shot is not only the single best way to protect yourself from getting sick, it is also the best way to prevent the spread of flu to others.

“Flu season is really just getting going this year,” says Lord Fairfax Health District Director Colin Greene, MD, MPH. “Getting vaccinated against the flu greatly reduces your chance of suffering several days of flu-induced misery, in addition to potentially sharing that misery with others you infect. Worse, complications from flu can cause serious illness, hospitalization and even death in vulnerable populations.”

A flu shot cannot cause the flu. Influenza was connected to 70,000 deaths last winter in the United States. Those with the highest risk include:

  • Children younger than five, but especially younger than two years old
  • Adults 65 years of age or older
  • Women who are pregnant or just had a baby
  • People with chronic health conditions

Until supplies at the health district run out, flu shots will be offered at no cost to the patient at all health department clinics in the Lord Fairfax Health District (Shenandoah, Page, Warren, Clarke and Frederick counties and the city of Winchester). If the patient has insurance, the clinic will bill insurance. Walk-in flu shots area available most weekdays, (except holidays) from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and from 1 to 3 p.m. For locations and phone numbers, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lord-fairfax/district-offices/.

Flu shots are also available from your healthcare provider, and at most pharmacies and clinics in drug stores, grocery stores and big box retailers. Use the “Flu Vaccine Finder” at www.vaccinefinder.org to find providers in your ZIP code.

Additional information on flu is available from VDH at www.misstheflu.com.

The Lord Fairfax Health District serves residents in the city of Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties. For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lord-fairfax/.

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Tips for reducing the risk of falling

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Falls are a serious issue for people over the age of 65. Every year, about one in three seniors fall at least once and 56 percent of falls involving seniors lead to fractures.

A further statistic is worth considering: 30 to 50 percent of falls involving seniors are caused by environmental factors such as uneven surfaces, poor lighting or slippery floors. It follows that falls can often be prevented through taking proactive steps to reduce falling hazards in your immediate environment. Seniors can reduce their risk of falling at home by doing the following:

• Make sure all rooms have adequate lighting
• Install handrails in baths and showers

• Install a handrail on stairs that extends beyond the top and bottom steps
• Keep frequently used items in easy-to-reach places
• Avoid clutter
• Don’t keep electric cords where they can be tripped over

And, naturally, staying limber also plays a key role in reducing the risk of falling. In addition to eating well and staying active, seniors should consider making balance exercises part of their daily routine.

Finally, people who fall frequently should consider whether the effects of the medication they’re taking are contributing to this problem. This should be discussed with one’s doctor. Seniors might also want to discuss with their doctor what vitamins or supplements, such as calcium or Vitamin D, can reduce their risk of falling.

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What you need to know about age-related macular degeneration

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Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is a condition that affects over six million people globally and is the leading cause of blindness in North Americans over the age of 55.

What is AMD?
The eye condition involves the degeneration the macula, the innermost part of the retina, which is responsible for central, high-resolution vision. This type of vision is integral to such activities as reading, driving and recognizing faces. Essentially, macular degeneration causes the center of your vision to blur, while leaving the side or peripheral vision unaffected.

There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. The dry form accounts for 90 percent of all cases but the wet form results in the largest number of instances leading to blindness.

Symptoms
In its early stages, AMD doesn’t present symptoms. However, it can be detected during routine eye exams. The first symptom will likely be slightly blurred central vision that occurs while performing tasks for which seeing detail is necessary; glasses won’t correct it.

Treatment
Treatment for AMD may involve vitamins, anti-angiogenesis drugs (which have allowed patients to regain their vision in some cases) and laser therapy. There are also magnifying devices that people with AMD can use to maximize their remaining vision.

Early detection of AMD is important, as certain treatments can slow the disease or reduce its severity. Given the absence of symptoms in the initial stages, having eye exams regularly is advisable.

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How to teach children to take care of their teeth in five simple steps

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February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and the perfect time for parents to teach their children good oral health habits. Here are five areas to focus on when helping young kids learn how to take care of their teeth.

1. Brushing
Make sure your kids brush their teeth twice a day, for two minutes (timers are helpful). Form a routine by getting them to brush at the same time every day.

2. Flossing

Make sure your child flosses too. Note, however, that flossing the conventional way can be difficult and discouraging for kids. Try kid-friendly flossers, which are easier for kids to handle and come in different shapes, colors and flavors.

3. Gearing up
Make brushing fun by letting your kid choose their own toothbrush (just make sure it’s a suitable size and soft-bristled) as well as a favorite toothpaste flavor (so long as it’s a toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association).

4. Dental checkups
Bring your children to the dentist at least once every six months for cleanings and checkups. If your kids aren’t quite as happy about these dental visits as their teeth are, you might reward them with a fun activity afterward.

5. Games and activities
Get your kids excited about caring for their teeth by doing fun activities that promote good oral health habits. Visit the American Dental Association’s consumer website (mouthhealthy.org/toothteam) to find printable activity sheets for your child to enjoy.

By teaching your kids to practice good dental habits from an early age, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of happy, healthy and radiant smiles.

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