Your Guide to a Healthier Lifestyle

Your Guide to a Healthier Lifestyle

You will learn about:
  • Tips to help you mantain a healthy weight
  • The benefits of a good night's sleep
  • The different types of health insurance available in the U.S.

103 min – Estimated reading time

Your Guide to a Healthier Lifestyle

Your Guide to a Healthier Lifestyle

Achieving a Healthy Lifestyle

Achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can improve qualify of life and increase longevity. You can take steps to reduce the likelihood that you will develop certain conditions, even if you can’t prevent them all. By learning more about prevention methods, risk factors and treatment options, you can better monitor and improve upon your health, as well as gain a better understanding of any condition that you may already have.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight

More than a third of American adults are considered to be obese. To be considered obese, you must weigh at least 20 percent of what is considered the ideal weight for a person of your height. When measured using the Body Mass Index (BMI), a score of 30 or higher is considered to be obese. Obesity can increase a person’s risk of a number of health conditions. While not every person will experience health conditions due to their obesity, there is a real risk present, especially for those who also have a genetic related risk or tend to have most of their extra weight around their stomach. Some conditions that have developed due to excess weight can also improve or be eliminated altogether after weight loss.

The Effects of Weight on Health

  • Having extra weight increases your likelihood of developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These conditions can increase your likelihood of suffering a stroke or developing heart disease.
  • If you are overweight, you have a significant risk of developing gallbladder disease and gallstones. It is also important to avoid rapid weight loss, as it can significantly increase your risk of having gallstones.
  • Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that affects the back, hips or knees. The extra pressure from excessive weight causes the cartilage within the joints to become worn down, which can result in osteoarthritis. You can reduce your risk through weight loss and routine exercise. While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, you can relieve some of the pain you may feel from the stress on your joints by losing weight.
  • Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when there is too much uric acid within a person’s blood. Uric acid causes crystal deposits into the joints. The more you weigh, the more likely you are to be afflicted with gout.
  • Obesity can increase the risk for serious breathing conditions, including COPD, asthma and sleep apnea. Conditions like sleep apnea can also increase a person’s risk for other medical conditions, such as heart disease or stroke. Weight loss can often improve and potentially eliminate some of these breathing conditions, if already developed, as well as prevent conditions if one is not already present.

Effective Dieting Strategies for Weight Loss

Eating a well-balanced diet is the most effective way to achieve weight loss in a safe manner. Healthy eating habits help you lose weight and maintain weight loss. Experts suggest that you aim to lose between one and two pounds of weight per week. There are a number of popular diets today, but some of the most effective diets include:

  1. The Paleo Diet. The paleo diet focuses on eating whole foods, lean protein, fruits, nuts, vegetables and seeds. Dieters cut out processed foods, sugar, dairy and grain products as much as possible. There are a few variations that permit certain dairy products. Weight loss studies surrounding the paleo diet have shown that this diet can lead to significant weight loss, especially around a person’s waist. The paleo diet has also been linked to other potential health benefits, such as a reduction in blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.
  2. Vegan Diets. A vegan diet excludes meat, dairy, eggs and other animal-derived products, such as whey, casein, gelatin and honey. This diet can be an effective weight loss diet, and it has ethical and environmental benefits for many. The foods allowed are often low in fat and high in fiber, reducing the need to count calories. The vegan diet has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. However, the dieters may not receive several key nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, iodine, calcium, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Low-Carb Diets. Carbohydrate intake is restricted to between 20 and 150 grams per day. The body is forced to use fat stores for energy rather than carbohydrates. In addition to weight loss, low-carb diets often reduce the risk of high cholesterol, high blood sugar, high insulin levels and high blood pressure. However, some dieters report feeling miserable and nauseous when restricting carbohydrates. In very rare cases, lowcarb diets can also lead to a serious health condition called ketoacidosis, which can be fatal if left untreated. Ketoacidosis is more common among lactating women.
  4. Intermittent Fasting. Intermittent fasting means you can only eat during certain periods of the day on a consistent basis and you must fast during other periods of the day. 
    1. One method involves skipping breakfast and eating only within a set period of eight hours and fasting for the remaining 16 hours of the day. 
    2. Another method involves a 24 hour fast that is performed once or twice per week on non-consecutive days.
    3. Due to fasting, you generally consume fewer calories overall throughout your day and studies have shown that metabolic rates can be increased by 3.6 to 14 percent on a short-term basis, which can further boost weight loss. Studies have shown that a person may be able to lose between 3 and 8 percent of their weight over a period of 3 to 24 weeks. 
    4. Additional health benefits of intermittent fasting diets include a reduction of inflammation, cholesterol levels, blood triglycerides and blood sugar levels. However, this diet has been shown to be more effective and beneficial for men compared to women. You should not attempt an intermittent fasting diet if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, malnourished, nutrient deficient or a teenager or child.

Engaging in an Exercise Routine

While a balanced diet is the most effective way to lose weight, routine exercise can help promote and maintain weight loss. Exercise can be especially beneficial to older adults and senior citizens in preventing injuries and keeping both the body and mind active. If you want to lose weight, experts recommend that you engage in an aerobic (cardio) exercise routine for at least 200 minutes each week. Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, running, cycling and swimming. However, anything that makes your heart and lungs work harder, including dancing and mowing your lawn, can all count. 

Strength training exercises can help you reduce injuries while helping with muscle growth. For strength training, you can use weight, bands or your own body weight.

However, while strength training does offer numerous health benefits, it is not an effective weight loss measure. 

You should stretch your muscles at least twice a week after exercising. However, some experts recommend that you take the time to stretch both before and after each exercise in order to reduce the likelihood of an injury and improve your flexibility. 

Regardless of how you engage in exercise, it is important to alternate between moderate and high intensity exercises, either in the same workout or on alternative days. Experts also recommend that you alternate the type of exercise that you engage in. Doing so can further help you to prevent injury and prevent you from growing bored with your workout routine.

Surgical Options to Help with Weight Loss

For some, surgical options can be the best course of action to achieve weight loss. These options are only considered for those who are obese or morbidly obese, especially if obesity is causing additional medical conditions or putting the individual at great risk of developing one or more conditions. 

Restrictive surgeries are a very effective way to achieve weight loss as the surgery essentially shrinks the size of a person’s stomach and slows digestion. Prior to surgery, a person’s stomach can generally hold up to three pints of food. After surgery, that individual’s stomach will likely only as little as an ounce initially and up to two or three ounces later.

 A few types of restrictive surgeries take remove or bypass part of a person’s digestive 20 tract, which makes it harder for that person’s body to absorb calories. However, this type of surgery is rarely performed, due to the potential side effects of the surgery. There are a number of different options for restrictive surgeries that can bring about significant weight loss. These include: 

  1. Adjustable Gastric Banding. During surgery, the surgeon uses an inflatable band to squeeze the patient’s stomach into two sections. These sections remain connected by a very small channel, which allows food to slowly empty from the upper pouch. 
    1. It is considered simpler and safer in comparison to many of the other surgeries. The band can be removed in a second surgery, should the patient desire. The most common side effect of a gastric band is vomiting after eating either too much or too quickly, although the band can slip, become too loose, or leak.
  2. Sleeve Gastrectomy. This type of surgery is only available to those who are very obese, sick or where other weight loss surgeries may be too risky. During surgery, the surgeon removes about 75 percent of a patient’s stomach and shaped into a narrow tube or sleeve. 
    1. This surgery is irreversible, and the long-term benefits and risks of this procedure are still being evaluated. 
    2. The most prominent risks are typically infection, leaking of the sleeve and blood clots. The intestines are not affected by the procedure and is not likely to result in malabsorption conditions or a lack of nutrients.
  3. Gastric Bypass. The stomach is divided into two parts and seals the upper section from the lower section. The upper section of the patient’s stomach is connected directly to the lower section of the small intestine. Food will bypass a section of both the stomach and small intestines and reduce calorie absorption. 
    1. Dumping syndrome is a condition where food passes through the intestines too quickly, before it has been properly digested. This can cause bloating, pain, sweating, weakness, nausea and diarrhea.

Weight loss surgery generally causes rapid weight loss. While this can be beneficial, it is also worth noting that a common side effect of rapid weight loss is excess skin that is left behind. Excess skin can only be removed through surgical means, which may require several procedures depending on the severity. These surgeries are often considered cosmetic and not generally covered by health insurance. If you are considering weight loss surgery, it is important that you talk with your doctor about any additional risks that you may face, based upon any current medical conditions that you may have. 

Medical Conditions and Weight Loss

Certain medical conditions and prescription medications can cause weight gain or prevent you from losing weight, even when you are doing all of the right things. If this is the case, you will need to talk to a doctor to correct the problem before you can effectively work on losing weight. Conditions that could interfere with weight loss or even cause weight gain, include:

  • Chronic Stress. Chronic stress, anxiety or grief can cause your body to produce a chemical substance that will make your body more likely to store fat, especially around the waist. 
  • Cushing’s Syndrome. When your adrenal glands atop of your kidneys produce too much cortisol, you may experience fat buildup in the face, upper back and abdomen. 
  • Hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid can cause your body to produce less of the thyroid hormone, which essentially allows your body to effectively burn stored fat. An underactive thyroid can also result in a slowed metabolism, so you may store more fat than you can burn. 
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Affecting more than five million women in the United States, this condition is the result of a hormonal imbalance. Common symptoms of PSOS include: 
    • Irregular or severe menstrual bleeding, excessive facial hair, thinning hair, weight gain that is not caused by excessive eating, acne and difficulties getting pregnant. While there is currently no cure, there are medications that can help.
  • Syndrome X. Syndrome X is commonly referred to as insulin resistance or hyperinsulinemia. It is a cluster of health conditions that are thought to be rooted in insulin resistance. If your body is resistant to insulin, hormones that aid in the control of your metabolism will not work as they should, potentially leading to weight gain. 
  • Depression. Depression commonly turns the afflicted to eating to ease emotional distress. Additionally, some depression medications can cause weight gain. 

Experts suggest that there are a number of prescription medications that carry potential side effects for weight gain. These medications include, but are not limited to: 

  • Medications that treat Type 2 diabetes.
  • Antipsychotic medications, including medications to treat schizophrenia.
  • Beta-blockers that are prescribed for high blood pressure or specific heart conditions.
  • Antidepressants.
  • Hormone replacement therapy drugs.
  • Birth control pills and injections.
  • Corticosteroids that are used to treat conditions such as asthma and lupus.

Should you find yourself having significant trouble losing weight, it is important to speak with your doctor to rule out any cause related to prescription drugs that you may be taking or any medical conditions.

Skin Conditions

Many skin conditions affect millions of Americans each year. By learning more about these conditions, you can familiarize yourself with the prevention methods and the treatments available for common skin conditions. 

Acne

Acne affects nearly every person at some point in life. Acne occurs when greasy secretions from the skin’s oil glands plug the small openings for hair follicles. The acne may present in the form of a blackhead, which are small flat spots with dark centers, or the clogged pore may take the form of a whitehead, a small flesh-colored bump. In severe cases of acne, firm bumps will form beneath the skin’s surface. These bumps, also known as nodules, can become tender and, at times, infected. 

Acne is most common in adolescence, starting during puberty years and generally going away after five to 10 years. Statistically, teenage boys are more likely to develop severe acne in comparison to teenage girls. However, it is estimated that 20 percent of all acne cases occur in adults. In adulthood, women are more likely than men to have mild to moderate acne. 

There are a number of steps that you can take to reduce the likelihood of developing acne. You may be able to avoid acne by:

  • Wash your face at least twice a day to remove dead skin cells, extra oil from your skin’s surface and keep your face generally cleaner.
  • Use over-the-counter acne products that are designed to curb bacteria and reduce oily skin.
  • Use makeup sparingly and wash it off at the end of the day. When possible, use oil-free cosmetic products that do not contain added dyes and chemicals.
  • Avoid using gels, pomades, oils and fragrances in your hair. Avoid touching your face or using your hands to prop your cheek or chin up.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend in the sun or wear protective clothing.

If acne is not severe, over-the-counter cleaners and nonprescription drugs that contain benzoyl peroxide may help. A topical retinol gel, which can prevent pimples from growing as it affects the growth of cells and can assist in unblocking pores. However, this gel must generally be used consistently and it can take up to 12 weeks to begin to see results. If your acne is severe, meet with your doctor to discuss treatment options. 

There are many prescriptions for acne, many of which are topical. When treating acne, it is important to be aware of potential side effects and potential interactions. For example, topical retinoids and benzoyl peroxide can cause dry and reddened skin, as well as sunlight sensitivity. Oral antibiotics can cause nausea and sunlight sensitive as well as render women more susceptible to yeast infections if taken more than a few weeks. 

Eczema

Eczema is a group of conditions related to the inflammation of the skin:

  • Eczema causes itchy, red, dry and cracked skin during flare ups. Flare ups can affect a person’s skin on any part of the body.
  • For adults, eczema is often a chronic problem. However, the condition is most commonly found in infants, many of which will outgrow the condition before adulthood.
  • Eczema can be genetic, but those with sensitive skin or an overactive immune system carry a higher risk of developing eczema.

Flare ups can be triggered by a number of things, including stress, heat and sweat, contact with irritating substances and fabrics, cold and dry climates and dry skin. 

Flare ups can also occur when other conditions are present that have an effect on a person’s immune system, such as the common cold or a bacterial infection. 

Good skin care habits can reduce your risk for eczema and, in mild eczema, prevent flares in mild cases. You can: 

  • Only use mild soaps or a soap substitute that does not cause dry skin.
  • Use moisturizer applied right after a shower or bath and for a total of twice daily.
  • Take short, warm showers. Long or very hot showers or baths that can lead to dry skin and potential eczema flares.

Humidifiers have proven to be beneficial to those afflicted with eczema that suffer flares due to dry air, particularly in colder months. If you have severe eczema, you must speak with your doctor about the condition in order to determine the best solution for you. There are a number of medications that are used to treat eczema, including creams, oral medications and ultraviolet light therapy. 

Rosacea

Rosacea is a common skin disorder that causes redness and, in some cases, may cause blood vessels to become visible. This condition can also cause the development of solid red bumps and pus-filled pimples. This disorder mainly affects the skin on the face, including the nose, chin, cheeks and forehead. However, in rarer cases, rosacea can appear on the check, back or neck. 

Experts theorize that it may be caused by a disorder of the neurovascular system or the immune system. Statistically, it affects more people who have fair skin and women. However, men who are afflicted with the 35 condition tend to experience the more severe symptoms. 

In many cases, rosacea sufferers may go into remission by avoiding environmental and lifestyle factors that trigger their rosacea flare-ups. Common triggers include sun and wind exposure, stress, hot or cold weather, heavy exercise, spicy foods and alcohol consumption. 

There is currently no cure for rosacea, however, treatment is available to control or reverse some of the symptoms. Consult with your doctor about the best treatment options for the symptoms that may be present for you. Treatment options range from oral and topical medications, to surgical procedures in rare and severe cases.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder that causes a person’s skin cells to multiple up to 10 times faster than what is considered to be normal. Due to excess skin cells, a person afflicted with psoriasis may experience a buildup of bumpy, red patches that appear to be covered with white “scales”. Psoriasis can affect the skin anywhere on a person’s body, but is more common on the scalp, elbows, knees and lower back. 

While there are several theories, experts are not definitely sure of the cause of psoriasis. However, there are hypotheses that it could be caused by a faulty immune system, causing inflammation, which results in new skin cells forming too quickly.

Additionally, psoriasis is believed to have genetic causes as it tends to run in families, though it can skip a generation. Generally, this 37 condition usually appears in early adulthood. It is most common for only a few areas of the body to be affected, however, in severe cases, psoriasis can cover large portions of a person’s body. 

Psoriasis may come and go, depending on the severity of an individual’s condition. Outbreaks can be triggered by a number of things, including cuts, scrapes, surgery, stress, strep infections and some medications. 

You should talk to your doctor about psoriasis if you feel that you may have this condition. Generally, it is easy to diagnose psoriasis through a physical exam. In some cases, a simple biopsy may be necessary to rule out skin infections. 

While there is no definitive cure for psoriasis, a variety of treatments are available that can relieve discomfort and slow the growth 38 of new skin cells. Common treatments include steroid creams, moisturizers, coal tar, prescription creams and ointments and retinoid creams. For moderate to severe psoriasis, your doctor may recommend light therapy or certain oral medications.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer has become the most common cancer in the world today. It is estimated that half of all fair-skinned people who live to at least 65 will have at least one skin cancer within their lifetime. Risk factors include the following:

  • Fair skin. While it is possible for dark skinned people to develop skin cancer, it is rare and generally only develops on lighter areas of the body, such as underneath fingernails or on the soles of the feet.
  • Gender. Men are three times more likely to develop skin cancer than women. Age. Skin cancer tends to appear between the 45 and 54 years of age.
  • Genetics. Your risk for skin cancer will also rise if a close relative has skin cancer, you are red-headed, you have blond hair and blue eyes or you have a pigment disorder, such as albinism.
  • Location. Skin cancer develops more commonly in people that live in areas where there is intense sunshine, such as Arizona and Hawaii.
  • Hazardous environment. If you are regularly around certain chemicals, including coal tar, radium and insecticides that contain inorganic arsenic compounds, your likelihood of developing skin cancer will increase.

You will increase your risk factors of developing skin cancer if you: 

  1. Spend too much time in the sun.
  2. Use tanning booths or sunlamps.
  3. Get frequent X-rays. This risk factor has many components, including age, gender and type of X-ray.

Skin cancers always fall into one of two categories: melanoma or nonmelanoma. Skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the most common forms of skin cancer, are non melanomas and are rarely life threatening. These types of cancers grow slowly, are usually easily found, seldom spread beyond the skin and can usually be cured. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for nearly 75 percent of all skin cancers, but it has the slowest growth and is the least likely to spread beyond the skin. 41 If you are diagnosed with skin cancer quickly, you are more likely to be cured. 

Your treatment options will depend on the type of skin cancer you have, whether or not it has spread (and how far) as well as any other health conditions that you may be affected by. Treatment options may include surgery, cryotherapy, radiation, chemotherapy, laser therapy, biologic or immunotherapy and targeted therapy. 

Once you have had skin cancer, you are at a higher risk for getting skin cancer again within a few years. Get your skin checked regularly to catch any developments early. While nonmelanoma skin cancers have a number of treatments that are highly effective, melanoma is a far more serious type of cancer that is far more aggressive, inclined to spread and may not be curable in later stages.

Melanoma

Melanoma is a more aggressive type of skin cancer that can often be life threatening. This type of cancer generally begins in dark skin tissue, such as a birthmark or mole, but it can start in normally pigmented skin. For men, melanoma is most common on the head, neck and back. For women, can most commonly be found on the arms or legs. 

However, melanoma can appear in other locations, including the palm of the hands, soles of the feet, underneath a fingernail or toenail, in your eye and in mucus linings such as the vagina, anus or mouth. 

While melanoma can generally be cured if caught early, this type of skin cancer grows very fast and can spread to other parts of the body, including bones and the brain. Should this happen, the melanoma will become very difficult to treat and cannot be cured.

Melanoma treatment options include surgery, radiation treatment, chemotherapy, laser therapy, cryotherapy, biological or immunotherapy and targeted therapy. 

The Importance of Everyday Skin Care

A daily skin care routine can have significant benefits on your health as you will be less likely to be afflicted by skin related conditions. Experts recommend that you wash your face twice daily and follow up with a toner and moisturizer. Limit your time in the sun, especially during the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM, and always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that contains a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater whenever you will be exposed to sunlight.

 By doing so, you can significantly reduce your chances of skin cancers, freckles, growths, age spots, color changes and wrinkles. You should never use tanning beds or sunlamps, if possible, as you will significantly increase your chance of developing a number of skin conditions, including skin cancer. Finally, pay attention to your skin so that you notice any changes in patches of skin or moles that may indicate skin cancer. Skin cancer, if caught early, is generally treatable and curable.

Sleep Importance and Disorders

Sleep, and lack thereof, can have a significant impact on your health and increase your risk factors for a number of conditions. 

Insomnia

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders and one that prevents people from either falling or staying asleep. 

There are two types of insomnia; primary or secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia is not directly linked or caused to another medical condition while secondary insomnia is caused by another condition, such as pain, medication, heartburn, asthma or cancer. Insomnia can be present as acute, lasting up to three months and often linked to stress, or chronic, in which symptoms can last for years if left untreated. 

Insomnia is considered chronic when a person has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep for at least three nights a week for a full month or longer. A diagnosis can sometimes be made after a discussion about your health and sleep problems. In some cases, you may be asked to keep a sleep diary or you may be referred to a sleep center for additional testing. 

Treatment for insomnia varies based upon the cause and severity of the condition. In more mild cases, it can often be cured by forming better sleeping habits. However, in cases of moderate to severe insomnia, sleeping pills may be prescribed for a limited period of time. 

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder of the nervous system that can cause an urge for a person to move their legs and/or arms. 

The symptoms generally include uncomfortable sensations in a person’s legs or arms. This sensation has been described as “itchy” or “pins and needles”. Symptoms can appear during daytime hours but are generally at their worst during periods of rest, especially when lying or sitting down. 

The severity of RLS symptoms range from mild to intolerable. While there is no medical test that can diagnose restless leg syndrome, doctors utilize blood tests and other testing methods in order to rule out other conditions that present similar symptoms. 

There is no cure for RLS, but treatment can ease the symptoms. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, the establishment of more regular sleep patterns, the elimination of caffeine or the elimination of alcohol. There are a few medications that are used to treat the more severe cases of RLS. 

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is considered to be a serious sleep disorder that can dramatically impact a person’s sleep and overall health as sleep apnea raises a person’s risk for other medical conditions. 

Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. This process continues throughout the night, sometimes up to hundreds of times. As a result, a person not only does not get enough sleep, but they may not get enough oxygen.

The most common form of sleep apnea is referred to as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In cases of OSA, a person’s airway is blocked when the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses during sleep. 

The other type of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, occurs when the brain fails to signal a person’s muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center. Anyone can develop sleep apnea, but there are some factors that will put you at a higher risk for the condition. 

You will be at higher risk for sleep apnea if you: 

  • Are male.
  • Are overweight.
  • Are 40 years of age or older.
  • Have a family history of sleep apnea.
  • Have a larger neck size, tonsils or tongue.
  • Have nasal obstructions due to a 50 deviated septum, sinus problems or allergies.

If left untreated, you may be at a higher risk for conditions like high blood pressure, stroke and various heart conditions. 

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea include waking up with a very sore or dry throat, loud snoring, waking up gasping or choking, fatigue, morning headaches, forgetfulness and mood changes. 

If you think that you may have sleep apnea, it is important to talk to your doctor. In some cases, you may be able to complete a sleep apnea test at home. The sleep study test is done to record specific physical activities while you sleep. In some cases, further testing may be needed when sleep apnea is determined. 

In mild cases of sleep apnea, or depending on the cause of your sleep apnea, you may 51 be able to cure your symptoms by losing weight, avoiding alcohol, avoiding sleeping pills, altering your sleeping positions and by eliminating nicotine. 

In moderate to severe sleep apnea, devices such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) are commonly used. A CPAP device has a mask that is worn over the nose and mouth during sleep. This mask is hooked up to a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air into the nose to regulate breathing and oxygen access. 

In certain cases of sleep apnea, surgery may be required to correct the condition. Surgery is often required if your sleep apnea is caused by a deviated nasal septum, enlarged tonsils or a small lower jaw with an overbite. Surgery is done to correct these facial problems and throat obstructions in order to reduce or eliminate sleep apnea symptoms.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a type of neurological disorder that affects the mind’s control of sleep and wakefulness. Individuals who are afflicted with this disorder may not be able to operate a vehicle or heavy machinery due to excessive daytime sleepiness and intermittent, uncontrollable episodes resulting in sudden sleep during the day. Episodes can occur at any time of the day during any type of activity. 

In a normal sleep cycle, initial stages of sleep are followed by deeper sleep stages and finally rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM normally occurs after about 90 minutes, but for narcolepsy sufferers, REM occurs almost immediately in the sleep cycle as well as periodically during the waking hours. REM sleep is the type of sleep that may include dreams and muscle paralysis. 

Experts hypothesize that the disorder could 53 be genetic, due to brain abnormalities or due to a chemical deficiency in the brain. 

The most common symptoms of narcolepsy include excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of energy and concentration, extreme exhaustion, the sudden loss of muscle tone, hallucinations and sleep paralysis. If you believe that you may have narcolepsy, your healthcare provider can perform a physical exam or refer you to a sleep disorder clinic to have additional tests. 

There is currently no cure for narcolepsy. However, some of the most disabling symptoms of the disorder can be controlled using a variety of medications. The type of medications that are prescribed depend on the symptoms that are present in the afflicted individual.

Sleep Recommendations

The amount of sleep that is recommended to a person depends on his or her age. The current recommended sleep amounts are: 

  • Infants (0-3 months) – 14-17 hours of sleep per day.
  • Infants (4-11 months) – 12-15 hours of sleep per day.
  • Toddlers (1-2 years of age) – 11-14 hours of sleep per day.
  • Preschool Children (3-5 years) – 10-13 hours of sleep per day.
  • School-Age Children (6-13 years) – 9-11 hours of sleep per day.
  • School-Age Children (6-13 years) – 9-11 hours of sleep per day.
  • Teenagers (14-17) – 8-10 hours of sleep per day.
  • Adults (18-64) – Generally, adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day.
  • Seniors (65 years of age and older) – 7-8 hours of sleep per day.

In addition to age groups, pregnant women will need several more hours of sleep each day than usual during the first 3 months of pregnancy. 

Effects of Poor Sleep on Overall Health

Poor sleeping habits and failing to get enough sleep each night can have both short- and long-term effects on the body and mind. Without enough sleep over a short period of time, you may experience: A decrease in alertness and performance. 

Cognitive ability and memory 56 impairment. A greater risk to receive an occupational injury, especially if you work around potentially dangerous environments. Changes in mood, including moodiness, anxiety and depression. 

A significantly higher risk to be involved in an automobile accident. Failing to get enough sleep for a long period of time can result in an increased risk of serious medical conditions, including: 

  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart attack.
  • Heart failure.
  • Stroke.
  • Obesity.
  •  Depression and other mood related disorders.
  • Mental impairment.
  • Poor quality of life.

Studies have shown that individuals who have reported getting less than six or seven hours of sleep each night have an increased mortality risk. One of these notable studies showed that failing to get enough sleep for a long period of time held a greater mortality risk than smoking, heart disease and high blood pressure. 

Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

There are a number of precautions that you can take before going to bed that can help you fall asleep quickly and sleep through the night. You should still speak with your doctor and follow any recommendations that they may have to treat your sleep disorder. To get a better night’s rest, avoid: 

  • Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can stay in your system for 12 hours. Caffeine is found in many things, including coffee, soda, tea, chocolate and some over-the-counter medications. Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bedtime. Nicotine. Avoid it four hours prior to bedtime in order to prevent waking during the night.
  • Alcohol. Drinking alcohol before bed can cause nighttime awakenings and nightmares, interrupting your sleep cycles.
  • Heavy meals before bed. Before bed, avoid protein-based snacks and choose a carbohydrate-based snack instead. Studies show that small snacks that have 59 a large amount of carbs may improve sleep. Numerous studies have shown that a small portion of milk or dairy products before bed can help induce sleep.
  • Watching TV, listening to music, eating or reading in bed.

Minimize the light and noise in your bedroom and make sure the room is not too hot or too cold during sleep. Generally, a room that is above 75 degrees or below 54 degrees Fahrenheit can affect sleep. 

While you should wake up at the same time each day, it is important to only go to bed when sleepy. If you find yourself unable to fall asleep, get out of bed and do a different activity before trying again in 10 to 15 minutes. Do this as often as necessary. If you feel drowsy the next day, avoid napping if you can. If you do take a nap, do not nap for 60 longer than 20 minutes. 

If you have trouble falling asleep each night, try to allow yourself more time to unwind before bed. Experts recommend that you commit to relaxing activities up to one hour before bed. This period of time should not be about rushing nighttime activities, such as brushing your teeth, and it should not be a time where you plan events for the following days.

Back Pain

Back pain is a common affliction that can have a number of causes. Many of these causes may be preventable. Other forms of back pain can come about after an injury or due to a medical condition. 

Common Reasons for Back Pain

There are a number of common lifestyle triggers that can cause back pain, including: 

  • Poor posture.
  • Lifting heavy objects.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Smoking.
  • Failing to maintain an exercise routine.
  • Wearing high heels or ill-fitted shoes.

Additionally, studies have shown that stress can lead to muscle tension in back muscles. 

Back pain can commonly be associated with injuries and, in some cases, may require medical treatment to repair. Spine-related problems such as herniated, slipped or bulging discs can also cause persistent pain. 

There are a number of medical conditions that cause back pain, including arthritis, tumors and osteoarthritis. Other medical conditions that may cause back pain include kidney stones, kidney infections, fibromyalgia and endometriosis. 

Muscle and Ligament Strains

Beneath your skin, a series of muscles and ligaments hold the bones of your spine in place. These muscles and ligaments can be strained when they are stretched beyond their 63 means, causing small tears in muscle and ligament tissues. 

A strain can cause a general pain throughout your back or in a localized spot that is not necessarily where the strain is located, due to nerve pain. Muscle and ligament back pain symptoms can include pain and stiffness in the back, pain in the buttocks and legs (often the back of the thigh) and pain that worsens when stretching, coughing, sneezing and bending. 

If you have any symptoms of numbness, weakness in your legs, bowel or bladder problems, or persistent or severe back pain, you should consult with your doctor immediately. 

Several ligament and muscle strain symptoms are also symptoms for more serious conditions. If you are experiencing back pain that may be caused by a muscle or ligament strain, consider: 

  • Apply ice to your back after an initial injury for a period of 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat this process after three to four hours for two to three days.
  • Apply heat to your back after 2-3 days of icing or once the swelling has gone down.
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such Advil or Aleve.
  • Participate in physical therapy, if symptoms are severe or if recommended by your doctor.

You can reduce the likelihood of a muscle or ligament strain by utilizing preventative measures such as: 

  • If pain occurs during a physical activity, stop immediately.
  • Lose weight if you are currently overweight or obese.
  • Sleep on your back or side with a wedge or pillow under or beneath your legs and avoid sleeping on your stomach.
  • Strive for a better posture.

Bulging and Ruptured Discs

While it is estimated that 80 percent of Americans will experience some form of back pain at least once within their lifetime, back pain is usually short lived with a number of causes. In some cases, back pain is caused by a herniated disk. The vertebrae of your spine are cushioned by rubbery disks that can break down or tear the inner “jelly-like” material pressing out of the disk and compressing nerves in the process. 

This “slipped disk” is referred to as a herniated disk. Not only can slipped disks cause pain, but if pressed upon the sciatic nerve, pain can escalate and run from your lower back or buttocks all the way down your leg.

The level of pain can vary between patients and the severity of the injury. Approximately 80 to 85 percent of herniated disks will heal over time using various treatment options. 

Doctors commonly prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections and physical therapy to treat herniated disks. Rest is strongly encouraged to allow the body to heal and avoid further injury. 

Generally, a herniated disk can heal within six to 12 weeks. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary. Microdiscectomy involves the removal of the portion of the slipped disk that is pushing on a nerve. 

Traditionally, surgeons completed this procedure with inch-ling incisions that were more invasive. However, a more minimally invasive procedure requires smaller incisions and does not require muscles to be detached and reattached. Instead of cutting into a patient’s muscle, surgeons use a tool called a dilator in order to clear the affected nerve of herniated disk fragments. 

Microdiscectomies are generally an outpatient procedure and most patients go home the same day. While the procedure is considered to be of a lower risk, the procedure fails in about 10 percent of patients who will require an additional surgery. 

In some cases, physical therapy is required after the procedure. After surgery, a patient can generally walk within a few days, but most avoid any vigorous activity for four to six weeks.

Skeletal Irregularities

Skeletal irregularities, also referred to as congenital deformities, are defects of the spine that are generally identified at birth. However, some diagnoses may not be made until later in childhood. 

There is no definitive cause for skeletal irregularities. However, experts believe that the cause may be genetic and environmental. Many abnormalities are progressive and result in significant spinal deformity, which can lead to other serious health conditions. 

Congenital deformities include scoliosis, kyphosis, torticollis, lordosis and other vertebral defects. The symptoms of skeletal irregular diseases can vary by the disease. However, when severe, they are often visible in the form of a deformed or curved spine. Pain may be present, and these deformities can lead to problems with mobility. 

Treatment options are often limited and based upon the severity of the disease. In less severe cases, exercise, physical therapy and braces may help. However, in moderate to severe cases, surgery is often necessary and may not be able to correct a problem in its entirety. 

Spinal Osteoporosis

Spinal osteoporosis is a degenerative joint disease that gradually breaks down the protective cartilage that cushions the joints and discs in the neck and lower back. In some cases, spurs can develop and put pressure on the nerves leaving the spinal column, resulting in weakness and pain within the arms and/or legs. Spinal osteoarthritis is most commonly seen in women who are at least 45 years of age. 

Obesity and employment or activities that put repetitive stress on the joints in the neck and spine increase the risk of developing spinal osteoarthritis. However, the disease can develop in younger adults following an injury or trauma to a joint or due to a genetic defect. In cases such as these, men are more likely to develop the condition. 

Spinal osteoarthritis presents numerous symptoms, including chronic stiffness or pain in the neck or back. If a nerve is also compressed, the condition can cause weakness and even numbness in the legs or the arms. Generally, discomfort and pain are relieved when lying down. 

Spinal osteoarthritis can only be diagnosed by use of an X-ray. However, a physical exam is usually performed by a physician to determine whether or not to test for the condition. While blood tests cannot confirm this condition, blood tests can rule out other diseases that present similar symptoms. 

If you have been diagnosed with spinal osteoarthritis, treatment may be able to relieve your symptoms or increase your ability to function. However, there is no cure for spinal osteoarthritis. 

Depending on symptoms, your health and the severity, your doctor may recommend weight loss and regular exercise in order to strengthen muscles around your joints. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medication, anti-inflammatory drugs and other prescriptions. Surgery may be recommended in cases where bowel and bladder function are impaired, the nervous system is damaged or if you have great difficulty walking.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a lifetime disease that affects approximately 18.2 million Americans with an estimated 5.2 million Americans unaware that they have the condition. Diabetes occurs when one of the following conditions is present: 

  • When a person’s pancreas does not produce any (or very little) insulin.
  • When the body does not respond appropriately to insulin and develops insulin resistance. There are three types of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs after the insulin-producing cells within the pancreas are destroyed by a person’s immune system. In Type 1 cases, the afflicted person’s body produces no insulin and the person must use insulin injections in order to control blood sugar levels. 

Type 1 diabetes often has symptoms that can be severe and appear suddenly, including: 

  • Increased hunger.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Labored, heavy breathing.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, occurs when the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin or when the body has become resistant to insulin. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include the symptoms of type 1, but may also include symptoms such as: 

  1. Slow-healing sores or cuts.
  2. Itchiness.
  3. Yeast infections.
  4. Weight gain.
  5. Numbness or tingling of the hands and feet.

Finally, gestational diabetes is the only (usually) temporary form of diabetes that is triggered by pregnancy. A rare condition, those affected by this disorder have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Left untreated, a mother’s high blood sugar can affect the blood sugar levels of the unborn baby, which can lead to growth and development problems.

Who is most at risk for diabetes?

For Type 1 diabetes, you will have an increased risk of this condition if: 

  • You have a family history of Type 1 diabetes, particularly if you have a mother, father or sibling that is afflicted.
  • You are afflicted by certain diseases of the pancreas.
  • An infection or illness causes damage to your pancreas.

Type 1 diabetes generally begins in childhood with the majority of diagnoses made before adulthood. While Type 2 diabetes primarily begins in adulthood, it can begin at any time of a person’s life. Risk factors include: 

  1. Obesity or being overweight (the highest risk factor for this condition).
  2. Impaired glucose tolerance.
  3. Insulin resistance.
  4. Ethnic backgrounds such as Hispanic/ Latino Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Alaska Natives.
  5. A previous gestational diabetes diagnosis.
  6. Sedentary lifestyles.
  7. A family history of diabetes, particularly in a parent or sibling.
  8. A diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

Gestational diabetes is a rare condition that affects around four percent of all U.S. pregnancies. However, you may have a higher risk for gestational diabetes if you: 

  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Have a glucose intolerance.
  • Have a family history of gestational diabetes.

Additionally, the older that you are when you become pregnant, the higher the risk. 

Preventing Diabetes

If you are at risk of developing diabetes, it is important to take the necessary steps to prevent or delay the onset of this lifelong disease. Regardless of your risk factors, you may be able to significantly reduce your risk of diabetes by: 

  1. Managing your blood pressure.
  2. Keeping your weight within a healthy range for your height.
  3. Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days.
  4. Eating a balanced diet on a regular basis.

Diabetes Diagnosis and Treatment Options

In most cases, diabetes is diagnosed with a simple blood test. Multiple blood tests are available, including a fasting glucose test or an A1C test. 

Not only can a blood test determine whether or not a patient has diabetes, but doctors are able to determine the likelihood that a patient will develop Type 2 diabetes in the near future, a condition commonly referred to as pre-diabetes. Those diagnosed with prediabetes have a higher than normal blood sugar level, but one that is not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. 

There is currently no cure for diabetes, but diabetes can be managed and controlled. Treatment will require you to closely monitor your blood sugar levels as well as combine diet, exercise and medication. 

In some cases of Type 2 diabetes, the condition can be controlled through appropriate diet and exercise alone. Should medication be required, the type of diabetes medication that is prescribed will vary on a number of factors, including the severity of the condition. While gestational diabetes is treated in much the same way, blood sugar levels often return to normal within six weeks of childbirth. 

If you are diagnosed with any type of diabetes, follow your doctor’s recommendations for medication, diet and exercise. Uncontrolled diabetes can contribute to the development of a number of medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, blindness, food damage, hearing impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. 

In the case of gestational diabetes, not only 81 can uncontrolled diabetes lead to your own medical conditions, but also complications in your baby, including excess growth, low blood sugar, death and the development of Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a serious condition that causes progressive damage to the eye’s optic nerve, resulting in significant vision loss or blindness. Glaucoma occurs when the aqueous humor channel is blocked within the eye. 

Outside of rare cases where the damage is caused by a chemical or blunt injury to the eye, the cause of this blockage is unknown, though experts’ hypothesis that it may be genetic. Left untreated, glaucoma can cause total and permanent blindness within a few years. 

There are two types of glaucoma; open-angle and open-closure. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma as it occurs when the drain structure within the eye appears to be normal, but the fluid within does not flow out as it should. In cases such as angle-closure glaucoma, which is more commonly seen in Asia, the eye does not drain correctly due to the drain space between the iris and cornea becoming too narrow. 

Those afflicted with glaucoma may not show any initial symptoms. However, the first symptom that is experienced is generally a loss of peripheral vision. In some cases, the loss can be so small that it is unnoticeable until late in the disease. Additional glaucoma symptoms include: 

  • Seeing “halos” around lights.
  • General vision loss.
  • Redness of the eye.
  • Eyes that appear hazy.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • A lingering pain within the eye.
  • Narrowed vision.

Who Is Most at Risk for Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is most common in adults who are at least 40 years of age. While most common in middle-aged and older adults, the disease can affect young adults, children and infants. Other increased risk factors for glaucoma include: 

  • African American, Irish, Russian, Hispanic, Scandinavian, Japanese or Inuit ethnicities.
  • A family history of glaucoma.
  • Poor vision.
  • A diagnosis of diabetes, especially if diabetes is uncontrolled.
  • Taking certain steroid medications, including prednisone.
  • An event resulting in trauma to the eye or eyes.

Preventing Glaucoma

Unfortunately, there is currently no way to prevent glaucoma. However, catching the disease early allows it to be treatable and controlled. Therefore, experts recommend that you get a complete eye exam from an eye doctor every one to two years. If you have a higher risk for glaucoma, or if you have diabetes, you may need to have an eye exam more often. 

Glaucoma Diagnosis and Treatment Options

The only way to diagnose glaucoma is through an eye exam. The examiner uses drops that will dilate your pupils and allow an examination of your optic nerve. If glaucoma is suspected, a test call tonometry is generally completed in order to check your eye pressure. 

If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, treatment options may vary depending on how far the disease has progressed. Lost vision cannot be regained, however, treatment can halt the progression of the disease and further vision loss. 

The most non-invasive option available is the use of medical eye drops that can reduce the formation of fluid within the eyes or increase its outflow, resulting in a reduction of eye pressure. In many cases, laser surgery or microsurgery may be needed. Laser surgery is a procedure that can increase the flow of fluid from the eye or stock fluid blockage, depending on the type of glaucoma present. 

Laser surgery may  include procedures such as:

  • Trabeculoplasty, which further opens the drainage area.
  • Iridotomy, which involves tiny holes in the iris that allow the fluid within the eye to flow more freely.
  • Cyclophotocoagulation, which involves treating areas of the middle layer of the eye in order to reduce the production of fluid.

If microsurgery is recommended, a procedure called trabeculectomy will be performed. This procedure allows doctors to create a new channel to drain the fluid within the eye and ease pressure. In some cases, a tube may be implanted in order to help the fluid drain. With microsurgery, there is a risk of failure, temporary vision loss, permanent vision loss and infection.

Arthritis

Arthritis is an inflammation of one or more joints, causing joint pain and stiffness that typically worsen over time. The most common forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. 

Osteoarthritis affects the cartilage, a protective tissue that covers the ends of bones where joints are formed, to break down. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that targets the lining of joints. While these common types of arthritis affect the body differently, symptoms can be similar and include: 

  • Pain.
  • Stiffness.
  • Swelling of joints.
  • Redness around joint areas.
  • A decreased range of motion.

Osteoarthritis most commonly affects joints in the knees, hands, hips and spine. Rheumatoid arthritis will generally begin in smaller joint areas, such as in your fingers, hands, toes and feet. However, it can and often does progress and spread to other areas, such as the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. In most cases, rheumatoid arthritis simultaneously affects both sides of the body in the same joints (both knees, both wrists, etc.). 

Who is most at risk for arthritis?

Anyone can be afflicted by a form of arthritis, however, there are some who are at a considerably higher risk to develop the disease. Risk factors for arthritis include: A family history. Many types of arthritis can run in families and this type of risk 90 is considered highest when a parent or sibling has the disorder. Age. 

Risk begins to increase the older a person is as the disease primarily begins in middle to late adulthood. Gender. Women are far more likely than men to develop some types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis. Previous injuries to joints, such as an injury sustained in a sport. Obesity. Excess weight puts additional stress on joints, especially the spine, hips and knees. 

Preventing Arthritis

While there is no way that you can guarantee yourself against becoming afflicted with arthritis, you can reduce your risk factors by taking a few preventative measures. 

Studies have shown that adding more fish to a diet may lower risk for certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, due to the omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish. Omega-3s have several health benefits, most notably the reduction of inflammation within the body. 

As obesity and being overweight can cause significant risk to the development of arthritis, you can reduce your risk factors by reducing your weight and getting down to a healthier range for your height. 

Not only can a routine exercise assist in weight loss, but regular exercise can reduce your risk for arthritis by strengthening the muscles around your joints, thus protecting them from added wear and tear. Avoid injury and protect your joints whenever possible. Use property safety equipment when playing any type of sport and use the right techniques whenever sitting, lifting or working in order to protect your joints from strain related injuries. 

Arthritis Diagnosis & Treatment Options

Generally, a physical exam is the first step to a diagnosis as swelling, redness, warmth or limited motion may be present. Imaging tests, including x-rays and ultrasounds, are the most common and accurate way to diagnose arthritis. 

There is no cure for arthritis, but treatment can alleviate some of the symptoms or slow the progression of the disorder. In some cases, you may need to try more than one treatment or use a combination of treatments. 

A number of prescription medications are commonly used to treat arthritis. However, many sufferers can also benefit greatly from certain exercises and physical therapy. If non-invasive treatment options do not provide relief, you may benefit from surgery. There are several surgical procedures that can be performed for arthritis, including joint repair, joint replacement and joint fusion.

High Cholesterol

While cholesterol is needed to build healthy cells, having too high a level of cholesterol can increase your risk for a number of medical conditions, including heart disease. High cholesterol can cause the development of fatty deposits inside of your blood vessels, which can lead to a life threatening clot that causes a heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol does not present any type of symptoms and it can only be detected through a blood test. 

Who is most at risk for high cholesterol?

High cholesterol is fairly common where a family history is present, however, the majority of risk factors involve lifestyle choices, making high cholesterol preventable. 

Your risk factors for high cholesterol may be increased due to: 

  • Poor diet, especially in cases of a diet that has high saturated and trans fat or a diet that is high in salt. 
  • Obesity, especially in body max indexes (BMIs) of 30 or greater. 
  • Lack of exercise.
  • A diabetes diagnosis. 
  • Smoking. 
  • High levels of stress. 

Additionally, you are more likely to have high blood pressure the older that you are. This is due to the fact that your liver becomes less capable of removing bad cholesterol from your bloodstream.

Preventing High Cholesterol

High cholesterol is very preventable through a healthy, well-balanced diet and routine exercise, even if you may be dispositioned towards having high cholesterol due to a family history. 

To prevent high cholesterol, try: 

  • Eating a low-salt diet that includes an abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. 
  • Limit the amount of foods containing animal fats that you ingest. 
  • Get down to a healthy weight if you are currently overweight or obese. 
  • Quit smoking.
  •  Learn how to better manage and reduce your stress.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation. 
  • Strive to exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes each day. 

High Cholesterol Diagnosis and Treatment Options

High cholesterol is diagnosed through a blood test. In order to ensure that your blood test results are accurate, it is crucial that you avoid eating or drinking anything other than water for at least nine hours before your blood test. 

While high cholesterol is most common in older adults, it can develop at any age, including in children. For most children, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends cholesterol screening between the ages of 9 and 11 and between the ages of 17 and 21. 

If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, lifestyle changes can have a significant effect in reducing your cholesterol levels and reducing your risk for heart disease. Therefore, your doctor may recommend weight loss, exercise or a change to your diet. Additionally, prescription medications are usually used to treat high cholesterol levels, depending on a person’s risk factors, age and overall health.

Hypertension

High blood pressure is commonly referred to as hypertension, which can seriously impact your overall health and put you at great risk for other health conditions, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke and dementia. 

Your blood pressure is determined by the size of your arteries and the amount of blood that your heart pumps with each beat. The narrower your arties and the more blood that is pumped by your heart, the higher your blood pressure level.

 Hypertension generally develops over several years and does not always present symptoms. In fact, most of those afflicted with hypertension will never show a sign or symptom until blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels. However, some of the symptoms that may be present once Hypertension 100 blood pressure reaches those levels include: 

  • Frequent headaches.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nosebleeds.

Fortunately, high blood pressure is easily detected and routinely checked as part of regular doctor’s appointments. 

Who is most at risk for hypertension?

 There are two types of hypertension, each with different risk factors for the condition. The most common type of hypertension is primary hypertension. This type of high blood pressure develops gradually over several years and does not usually have an identifiable cause. 

However, 101 experts suggest that risk factors for primary hypertension include: 

  1. Age. The risk of high blood pressure increases the older that you get.
  2. Gender. High blood pressure is more common in men below 64 years of age and more common in women at ages 65 years of age and older.
  3. Race. Those of African heritage are more likely to develop hypertension, often develop it at younger ages and are more likely to suffer complications.
  4. Family history. Being overweight or obese, as excess weight requires the heart to pump more blood to supply tissues with oxygen and nutrients.
  5. A lack of physical activity.
  6. Use of tobacco.
  7. High sodium diets.
  8. Diets that lack potassium.
  9. Drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis.
  10. High levels of stress.
  11. Certain chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea.

Secondary hypertension is caused by an underlying medical condition. In cases of secondary hypertension, high blood pressure appears suddenly rather than gradually over several years. There are a number of medical conditions that can cause secondary hypertension, including: 

  • Obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Kidney problems.
  • Thyroid problems.
  • Adrenal gland tumors.
  • Congenital defects in blood vessels.
  • Illegal drugs, including amphetamines and cocaine.
  • Certain medications, including over-the-counter pain relievers, certain prescription drugs, birth control and decongestants.

Preventing Hypertension

Regardless of your risk factors, you can reduce your likelihood of developing hypertension by maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in routine exercise and eating a well balanced diet. 

To prevent hypertension, it is crucial that you appropriately manage any other health condition that you may have that can lead to hypertension. Additionally, it is important to have routine annual checkups with your primary care physician. If you are at risk for hypertension, your doctor may recommend more frequent blood pressure checks. 

In cases of primary hypertension, your doctor will more than likely be able to see the warning signs of high blood pressure. Should this happen, corrective measures, such as weight loss, exercise and a balanced diet can prevent elevated blood pressure from becoming hypertension. 

Hypertension Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Hypertension is easily diagnosed as blood pressure checks are a common and routine 105 check that is done with each visit to a doctor’s office. Blood pressure is measured using a blood pressure machine. The machine is able to measure your blood pressure through an inflatable cuff that is placed upon your arm. 

A blood pressure reading contains two numbers. The upper number measures the pressure in your arteries each time your heartbeats. The lower number measures the pressure within your arteries between beats. The resulting measurements will fall within one of the following categories: 

  1. Normal blood pressure – Below 120/80.
  2. Elevated blood pressure – an upper number between 120 to 129 and a lower number that is below 80.
  3. Stage 1 hypertension – An upper number of 130 to 139 with a lower number between 80 and 89. 106
  4. Stage 2 hypertension – An upper number of 140 or higher and a lower number of 90 or higher.

If your blood pressure test results in high blood pressure, your doctor will likely review your medical history with you and conduct a physical exam. Your blood pressure will most likely be checked more than once. Your doctor may also recommend further tests, including a urine, blood and cholesterol test before giving a diagnosis. 

Depending on the severity of your hypertension and your other health conditions, your doctor may recommend several different treatment options. In almost all cases, lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on controlling your high blood pressure. Important recommended lifestyle changes may include diet, regular exercise, weight loss and limiting alcohol. 

In addition to lifestyle changes, there are a number of types of prescription medications available that can help lower and control your high blood pressure. The type of medication that may be recommended will vary based upon a number of factors, including the cause of your high blood pressure, the severity of your hypertension and other medical conditions that you may have.

Depression

Depression is a common mood disorder that can cause a number of symptoms in the afflicted, including president feelings of sadness and a loss of interest. Symptoms vary in severity and severe cases of depression can drastically affect day-to-day activities and a person’s quality of life. 

There are a number of types of depression outside of the standard disorder. Each of these variations of major depression adds one or more specifiers, or specific features. Some of the most common types of depression include: 

  • Anxious distress, which is depression that also presents itself as unusual restlessness or worry.
  • Mixed features, which is a type of depression that alternates between depression, depression and mania, an elevated self esteem and increased energy.
  • Melancholic features, which is a severe depression that includes a lack of response to things that once brought pleasure. Melancholic features may also be accompanied by worsened mood in the morning, serious changes in appetite, guilt, agitation or sluggishness.
  • Atypical features, a type of depression that includes the ability to be temporarily happy during certain events. Atypical features of depression can also include an excessive need for sleep, sensitivity to rejection and a heavy feeling in the legs or arms.
  • Psychotic features, which is depression that is accompanied by delusions or hallucinations.
  • Seasonal pattern, a type of depression that is related to the changes in seasons and a reduction in exposure to sunlight.

Depression can be presented as a number of symptoms. Those who have depression will typically have multiple episodes throughout their lifetime while some have chronic depression that, left untreated, could last for years. 

Some of the most common symptoms of depression include: 

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness or tearfulness.
  • Angry outbursts, frequent frustration and irritability.
  • Sleep disturbances, including sleeping too much or insomnia.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Slowed thinking, body movements and speech.
  • Reduced or increased appetite, resulting in weight loss or gain.
  • Anxiety, restlessness and agitation.
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or selfblame.
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering things or making decisions.
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicide, or suicide attempts.

Depression symptoms can present in different ways for young children, teens and older adults. In young children and teens, refusing to go to school can also be a sign of depression. 

For teens, poor school performance, the use of recreational drugs or alcohol and avoidance of social interactions are also symptoms of depression. In older adults, depression may also present itself as personality changes, physical aches and pains, wanting to stay home and a reluctance to try new things. 

Who is most at risk for depression?

As with most mental disorders, there are many potential factors that could increase a person’s risk for depression. Experts do not know the exact cause of depression. Increased depression risk factors may include: 

  • Biological differences, specifically in the brain.
  • Brain chemistry changes in function and effect.
  • Hormonal changes or imbalances.
  • Genetics and family history.
  • Certain personality traits, including being too dependent or having a low self esteem.
  • Abuse of alcohol or recreational drugs.
  • Certain medications, including some sleep aids and high blood pressure medications.

Depression is most commonly seen in teens as well as in adults in their 20s and 30s, but depression can occur at any age. Statistically, more women have been diagnosed with depression then men. However, experts caution that this may be, in part, due to the fact that women are more likely to seek treatment and thus receive a diagnosis. 

Preventing Depression

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent depression, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing the disorder by: 

  • Taking steps to control stress.
  • Reaching out to family and friends in times of crisis.
  • Getting treatment right away when experiencing any potential symptoms of depression.
  • Considering getting long-term maintenance treatment to prevent a relapse of symptoms following an episode of depression.

Depression Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Depression can be diagnosed by reviewing symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns with a mental health professional. Your primary care provider may also complete a physical exam or order lab tests in order to rule out other conditions that may present depression symptoms, such as thyroid disorders. 

For most people with depression, medication, therapy or a combination of the two can be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of depression. In cases of severe depression or symptoms that include thoughts of suicide, a hospital stay may be warranted.

Heart Disease

Heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease, describes many heart conditions, including blood vessel disorders, heart defects and heart rhythm conditions. Many heart disease conditions can be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices and are treatable through a number of methods. Heart disease that affects your blood vessels is called atherosclerotic disease. 

The most common symptoms of atherosclerotic disease include: 

  • Chest pain, tightness, pressure or discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Pain, numbness, coldness or weakness in a limb.
  • Pain in the neck, throat, upper abdomen, back or jaw.
  • Nausea.
  • Extreme fatigue.

Like many forms of heart disease, atherosclerotic disease can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Abnormal heartbeats, known as heart arrhythmias, is another form of heart disease. This condition causes the heart to beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly. Symptoms can include: 

  • A fluttering feeling in your chest.
  • A racing or slowed heartbeat.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fainting.

Infants can be born with severe congenital heart defects. While usually evident shortly after birth, these defects are sometimes discovered in young children or later in life. Symptoms of a heart defect include: 

  • Pale gray or bluish skin color.
  • Swelling that occurs in the legs, abdomen or the area around the eyes.

In infants, symptoms can be presented as shortness of breath during feeding or poor weight gain. The defects that are not discovered shortly after birth are generally less serious and, while not immediately life-threatening, can lead to serious complications later in life. 

Symptoms of less serious congenital heart defects include: 

  • Shortness of breath that is brought on easily during activity or exercise.
  • Tiring easily during activity or exercise.
  • Swelling that occurs in the hands, ankles or feet.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a form of heart disease that is caused by weakened heart muscles. In the early stages of this disorder, an afflicted person may not experience any symptoms. However, as the condition worsens, symptoms may appear, including: 

  • Breathlessness either with exertion or when at rest.
  • Swelling that occurs in the legs, ankles and feet.
  • Persistent fatigue.
  • Irregular heartbeats that are fluttering, rapid or pounding.
  • Dizziness, fainting and lightheadedness.

Heart disease can be caused by an infection known as endocarditis, which affects the inner membrane that separates the various chambers and valves within the heart. Symptoms of a heart infection include: 

  • Fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Skin rashes or unusual spots.
  • Dry or persistent cough.
  • Changes in your heart rhythm.
  • Weakness or fatigue.
  • Swelling that occurs in the legs or abdomen.

Heart disease can also be caused by valvular heart disease, in which valves within the heart become damaged due to a number of conditions. The damage to the valves result in the narrowing, leaking or improper closing of the valves. 

Symptoms of valvular heart disease may vary based upon the valve that is not worked properly, however general symptoms include: 

  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fainting.
  • Chest pain.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Swelling that occurs in the feet or ankles.

Who is most at risk for heart disease?

Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of heart disease in America. While family history can play a role, as is the case with many forms of heart disease, those who are at a higher risk for atherosclerosis are those who have an unhealthy diet or lack of exercise.

Smoking or being overweight can also increase the risk of this condition considerably. There are a number of causes of heart arrhythmias, including heart defects that a person is born with, high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, stress, certain medications and valvular heart disease. 

Congenital heart defects generally develop while a baby is still in the womb. Defects can develop as early as one month after conception. While an exact cause of these defects are not known, it is believed that some medical conditions, genetics and medications can play a role in the development of congenital heart defects. 

Cardiomyopathy can develop for a number of reasons, depending on the type of cardiomyopathy that a person is afflicted with: 

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy causes are relatively unknown, however it may be caused by a reduced blood flow to the heart, infections, toxins, certain medications and damage following a heart attack. 
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is usually inherited. In some cases, it can also develop over time due to high blood pressure or aging. 
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy can occur for no known reason. It can also be caused by other conditions, such as connective tissue disorders, a buildup of abnormal proteins and by certain cancer treatments. 

A heart infection can occur when a bacterium, chemical, parasites or virus reaches your heart. Valvular heart disease is generally a condition that you are either born with or that develops due to damage caused by conditions such as rheumatic fever, infections or connective tissue disorders. 

In addition to the specific risk factors related to each of the specific types of heart disease, there are general risk factors that can apply to most forms of heart diseases, including: 

  • Age. There is an increased risk to heart disease the older you are.
  • Gender. Men are generally at a greater risk of heart disease by comparison to women.
  • A family history of heart disease, especially if a parent developed heart disease at an early age.
  • Smoking.
  • Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy for cancer treatment.
  • Poor diet, especially diets that are high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol.
  • High blood cholesterol levels.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Diabetes.
  • Obesity and excess weight.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Chronic stress.
  • Poor hygiene.

Preventing Heart Disease

 While certain forms of heart disease cannot be prevented, most forms of heart disease are more likely to occur due to certain lifestyle choices. You can improve your overall heart health by: 

  • Not smoking or quitting if you do.
  • Controlling other health conditions that you may have, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.
  • Eating a diet that is low in salt and saturated in fat.
  • Losing weight if overweight and maintaining a healthy weight for your height.
  • Reducing and managing stress.
  • Practicing good hygiene.

Heart Disease Diagnosis and Treatment Options

There are a number of tests for heart disease. However, before recommending a test, your primary care physician will likely perform a physical exam and go over your personal and family medical history. While blood tests and chest X-rays are common tests used to determine the presence of heart disease, other common tests include: 

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG monitors and records electrical signals in order to detect irregularities within a heart’s structure and rhythm. 
  • Holter monitoring. A Holter monitor works similarly to an ECG, but it is a portable device that is worn to record ECG readings for a period that is usually between 24 and 72 hours. 
  • Echocardiogram. An echocardiogram involves an ultrasound of the chest in order for a physician to see detailed imagery of a heart’s function and structure. 
  • Stress Test. A stress test I performed after raising the heart rate through medicine or exercise in order to determine how well the heart responds. 
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan. A common test used to check for heart disease, the patient lies on a table inside of a machine that produces a magnetic field, creating pictures of the heart that are evaluated. 

Heart disease treatments often vary widely depending on the condition a patient suffers from. In some cases, lifestyle changes may be necessary to control and treat heart disease. Sometimes, lifestyle changes are not enough to effectively treat heart disease. In these cases, medication may be prescribed to help control the heart disease condition. 

The type of medication prescribed will depend on the type of heart disease present. In rare cases, such as when medication is not enough or ineffective, surgery may be required.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is extremely common, especially as you age. One-third of people between 65 and 75 years of age experience hearing loss, while half of the population over 75 years of age has some degree of hearing loss. While this condition is more common in the older population, anyone can experience hearing loss at any age. 

Knowing what causes hearing problems can help you avoid risk factors and seek medical treatment early on. While some types of hearing problems cannot be reversed or cured, others can. Even non-reversible hearing loss can be managed with various treatments and devices, such as hearing aids. Hearing loss is caused by a number of factors. 

Some of these factors can be avoided, while others cannot. Knowing the reason behind hearing loss can help you take preventative measures whenever possible. Most types of hearing loss can be attributed to the following: 

  1. Aging
  2. Damage to the inner ear
  3. Buildup of earwax
  4. Infections and abnormal growths
  5. Ruptured ear drums

Depending on the cause of hearing loss, this condition may develop slowly over time or happen suddenly. For example, a ruptured eardrum can immediately affect your hearing. Ear wax buildup, on the other hand, usually causes a more gradual loss of hearing. 

Types of Hearing Loss

To understand the types of hearing loss, it helps to know how the ear is structured. Your ear is made up of three main parts: The outer ear includes the visible cartilage and opening of the ear canal. It picks up sound waves and funnels them to your inner ear. 

The middle ear is a cavity inside your ear that contains your eardrum, several tiny bones and other important structures that amplify and transmit sound waves. The inner ear is made up of tiny hairs and several chambers that receive vibrations from the middle ear, then convert that information into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain. 

Hearing loss can affect any part of the ear. The type of hearing loss a person experiences depends on the part of the ear that is affected. There are three main types of hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs when the outer or middle ear is damaged, infected or otherwise affected. 

This type of hearing loss can occur suddenly or gradually over time. In most cases, it is caused by a mechanical problem or an obstruction, such as earwax buildup. Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the tiny hairs or chambers of the inner ear become damaged. 

When these parts of the ear are damaged, it becomes difficult for the ear to transmit important information to the brain. As a result, the loudness, pitch or meaning of sounds may not be properly interpreted. 

This type of hearing loss is the most common. Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. It is possible to experience a certain degree of damage to each part of the ear all at once, which results in a more complex hearing problem. 

Risk Factors for Hearing Loss

There are many causes and risk factors for hearing loss. While some risks can be avoided, others cannot. The most common risks of hearing loss include: 

  • Reaching an older age, which causes the ear structures to degrade over time.
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noises from explosives, gunfire, carpentry or loud music.
  • Working in certain industries, including farming, factory work, construction work or being a musician.
  • Taking certain medications, such as Viagra, chemotherapy drugs or the antibiotic drug gentamicin. Large doses of pain relievers or anti-malarial drugs can temporarily affect hearing as well.
  • Having certain diseases or illnesses, such as a high fever, meningitis, some autoimmune diseases, mumps or Meniere’s disease.
  • Having a hereditary condition that makes you more susceptible to degeneration or damage as you age.

Most people are at risk for having hearing loss, as this condition has a high chance of developing in order age. However, some individuals are at a greater risk than others. In any case, it is important for everyone to be aware of their risk for developing a hearing condition. 

Preventing Hearing Loss

Knowing your risk for hearing loss can help you take preventative measures, such as avoiding loud activities when possible or protecting your ears. If you work in certain industries or frequently engage in activities that expose you to loud noises, it is even more crucial that you think about your ear health. 

You can help protect yourself from permanent ear damage by taking these preventative measures: 

  • Wear ear plugs when attending concerts or participating in other loud activities, such as racing events or going to a shooting range. 
  • Wear ear protection when using loud equipment such as snow blowers, lawn mowers, wood chippers, leaf blowers or weed whackers. 
  • Lower the volume when listening to music on headphones or speakers. 
  • Avoid exposure to loud noises around your home, such as nearby construction work. Wear ear protection or try to block the sound in your home if you cannot avoid these noises. 
  • Get your hearing checked on a regular basis, such as when you go to the doctor for a check-up. 

Tips for Avoiding Loud Noises

Sometimes, it is hard to know what noise level can cause hearing damage. In general, any noise that falls below 70 decibels is considered safe. If a sound is louder than 70 decibels, your risk of hearing damage increases the longer you are exposed to it and the higher the decibels are. 

For context, a normal conversation is about 60 decibels. A running refrigerator produces 40 decibels, while a dishwasher causes about 75 decibels. It does not take much to reach a dangerous sound level. Even something as common as heavy city traffic or a busy restaurant can produce more than 85 decibels. 

Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss may be gradual or sudden. It is oftentimes easier to identify the symptoms of sudden-onset hearing loss because you will immediately notice a difference in your hearing. In cases where hearing fades more slowly, you will want to pay attention to these symptoms: 

  • Asking people to repeat themselves.
  • Difficulty catching every word in a conversation.
  • Thinking that others are mumbling all the time.
  • Having to turn up the volume on the TV or radio.
  • Hearing ringing or hissing noises that cannot be explained.
  • Frequently misunderstanding what other people say.

On average, people experiencing gradual hearing loss wait seven years before finally talking to a doctor. However, seeking medical treatment early is your best option. It can be difficult to notice symptoms right away, or to take your symptoms seriously. Many people brush off hearing loss as just another sign of aging and do not realize that treatments are available. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Hearing Loss

If you are worried that you might be losing your hearing, it is important to talk to a doctor. Hearing loss is sometimes diagnosed with a physical exam, in which a doctor will look at your ears for signs of infection, inflammation or excess ear wax. 

Doctors may also conduct noise-based tests that evaluate what level of sound you can hear. For example, a very simple test can be performed by striking a tuning fork in order to detect which level you can hear. An audiometer test provides a more accurate assessment. With this type of test, you wear a pair of headphones while an audiologist plays various words, tones or sounds to detect the lowest decibel level you can hear. 

Treatments for hearing loss vary depending on the reason behind your condition. The most common treatments include: 

  • Removing blockages if you have excess ear wax.
  • Treating infections or growths.
  • Surgically correcting abnormalities or inserting tubes.
  • Using a hearing aid, which helps amplify sound.
  • Getting a cochlear implant, which bypasses damaged parts of your ear.

Getting Hearing Aids

Most types of hearing damage are irreversible. With the exception of earwax buildup or ear abnormalities, you cannot usually cure hearing loss. However, there are many ways to treat and manage permanent hearing loss. 

One of the best methods is using hearing aids. An audiologist will help you decide if this treatment option is a good idea for you. There are several types of hearing aids to choose from. A hearing aid is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the type of hearing aid you should use depends on your individual needs. 

Completely in the canal (CIC) hearing aids are designed to go entirely inside your ear canal for a comfortable fit. These are best for moderate hearing loss, and are the least visible type. However, their small size also means that they use tiny batteries with a shorter lifespan. Furthermore, this style does not usually have customizable controls. 

In the canal (ITC) hearing aids are best for mild to moderate hearing loss. They are small enough to fit mostly inside your ear canal, 143 which makes them less visible than some varieties. Their small size means that they do not include every feature of a larger hearing aid. However, they are more customizable than CIC varieties. 

In the ear (ITE) hearing aids usually have an external component that sits in your outer ear. They have a variety of features due to their slightly larger size. As a result, they also can hold a larger battery with a longer life. However, they are more visible than CIC and ITC options. Their positioning can also pick up more unwanted noises, such as wind noise. 

Behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids are an option for just about any type of hearing loss. These devices have a component that sits behind the ear, which is connected by a tube to another piece sitting in the ear canal. BTE devices are sometimes larger than other styles, but tend to have the most options. A similar type of design is the receiver in canal (RIC) hearing aid, which uses a wire rather than a tube to transmit sound to the ear canal. 

Open fit hearing aids are similar to BTE devices, but they do not connect to a piece that fills the ear canal. Instead, the tube or wire itself sits in the canal. This allows for other sounds to enter the ear canal naturally. 

Caring for Hearing Aids

Hearing aids require some care and maintenance in order to ensure they work properly. The way you take care of your device will depend on the type of hearing aids you have. However, you can make sure any type of hearing aid is working well by doing these things daily: 

  • Check the batteries.
  • Carry spare batteries just in case.
  • Remove dirt and earwax with a soft, dry cloth.
  • Keep your devices dry. Keep debris from the inner components to avoid getting feedback in the microphone.

Symptom Checker

If you are experiencing any type of symptoms that may be linked to a medical condition, it can be beneficial to utilize a symptom checker from a reputable source. 

Symptom checkers match the symptoms imputed as well as other factors, such as your age, gender, medications and other conditions, to medical conditions that fit your symptoms. 

While symptom checkers can be beneficial, these checkers do not override any recommendations, treatment options or diagnosis that your primary care physician may have. 

Sources of reliable and reputable symptom checkers include: 

Health Insurance

Medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in America. Without adequate health insurance, the cost of healthcare can quickly add up. 

Health insurance can significantly reduce the amount of money you would otherwise need to pay for healthcare. Typically, you are responsible for a certain amount of the costs of your health insurance and your insurance will pay for the remaining amount, so long as the medical service is covered under your insurance plan. 

Most insurers will also include a maximum amount that beneficiaries may be required to pay in each beneficiary period. After meeting a maximum amount, the insurer pays 100 percent of the cost for the remainder of the beneficiary period for any covered services. 

Common Health Insurance Terms

By familiarizing yourself with common health insurance terms, you will be better prepared for the cost of your medical bills and gain a better understanding of what your health insurance will and will not cover. 

Covered Costs – Covered cost refers to the medical services, treatment, supplies and prescription drugs that your health insurance plan will provide payment for. 

Premiums – Premiums refer to the amount that you pay to your health insurance company each month (or on a quarterly basis, depending on the insurer) to maintain your health insurance coverage. When reviewing plans that may be available to you, this cost is usually the first one that you see and have the opportunity to consider. 

Deductible – A deductible is a flat dollar 149 amount of money that you must pay for your covered medical services before your health insurance begins to pay for your healthcare. 

Copayment – A copayment is a flat dollar amount that you will be expected to pay to your healthcare provider for a service that is covered by your health insurance. This is usually a small amount, such as between $10 and $50, depending on your health insurance plan. 

Co-Insurance – Co-insurance refers to an amount that you must pay your health insurance company after your deductible has been met, up to your maximum out-of-pocket costs. This amount is generally a set percentage of the total charges that you are billing to your insurance for a covered service. 

Maximum out-of-pocket costs – Your maximum out-of-pocket cost is the maximum 150 amount of money that you must pay for covered medical services during a single benefit period (typically one year). This amount does not include your premium or any medical services that you paid that your insurance did not cover. 

Private Insurance and Employer Insurance

Private and employer health insurance plans are some of the most common types of health insurance in America. If your employer offers health insurance packages, you will likely be able to enroll after the minimum period of time has passed (90 days of employment is common). 

While employer-offered health care plans may be cheaper than obtaining private insurance, you do not generally have a lot of plans to choose from and you cannot select a different insurance provider. Therefore, it is important to review the offered health insurance, including costs and coverage options, before making a decision. 

Private health insurance plans can be purchased from https://www.medicaid.gov/about-us/contact-us/contact-state-page.html. Once you have completed an application, you will be provided with any health insurance options that are available within your area. The website allows for side-by-side comparisons of premium costs, coverage options, deductibles and more. Healthcare.gov will also inform you of any additional assistance that you or your family may be eligible for, such as Medicaid or CHIP, based upon your application information. 

CHIP

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) offers health insurance coverage to children with families with too high of an income to qualify for Medicaid, but not high enough income to be able to reasonably afford private health insurance. 

Like Medicaid, CHIP is administered by states, according to federal requirements. Therefore, covered services, costs and eligibility requirements have some variation between state programs. 

CHIP eligibility is primarily based upon age and income. In some cases, pregnant women may also be eligible for the program during a pregnancy. You can discover more about CHIP eligibility requirements by clicking here. 

Some CHIP coverage benefits are mandated by the federal government. Other types of care are considered optional and you will need to check with your state program in order to determine additional coverage options that may be available. You can learn more about mandated coverage here. 

You can learn more about the CHIP program that is available in your state, including eligibility requirements, benefits and costs by contacting your state. Your state may allow you to apply for CHIP in person, online, by mail or over the phone, depending on your state. Access your state information here: https://www.medicaid.gov/about-us/contact-us/contact-state-page.html

Medicare

Medicare is a federal health insurance program that provides health insurance benefits to senior citizens who are 65 years of age or older as well those younger than 65 who are afflicted with certain disabilities, permanent kidney failure or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. 

While the program does assist beneficiaries 154 with the cost of healthcare, it does not provide coverage for all medical expenses or for the cost of most long-term care. When enrolling in Medicare, applicants will be able to build their own Medicare health insurance plan by selecting the parts of Medicare that they wish to enroll into. 

Original Medicare is made up of Medicare Part A and Part B. Medicare Part A is primarily considered hospital insurance and is available to most beneficiaries without a premium. You can learn more about Medicare Part A coverage options in the following link: https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/what-part-a-covers

Medicare Part B offers a number of medically necessary services and supplies, including visits with a physician, mental health care and services and durable medical equipment (DME). You can learn more about Medicare Part B coverage options here: https://www.medicare.gov/what-medicare-covers/what-part-b-covers

Medicare Part C, also referred to as a Medicare Advantage Plan, offers a variety of cost and coverage options based upon the area that you live within. Coverage generally includes coverage options offered within Medicare Part A and Part B, but may also include additional services. You can learn more about Medicare Part C and review the plans available within your area by clicking here: https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/types-of-medicare-health-plans/medicare-advantage-plans.

Medicare Part D only provides prescription drug coverage, but it can be combined with a number of different health insurance plans, including Medicare Part A and Part B. You can learn how Medicare Part D works with other health insurance policies here. 

Depending on the Medicare plan that you enroll in, you may have a monthly premium to retain coverage as well as deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. You can learn more about 2021 Medicare costs here: https://www.medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs/medicare-costs-at-a-glance

You should apply for Medicare as soon as you become eligible for benefits in order to avoid monetary penalties when you do enroll. For senior citizens, the initial enrollment period for Medicare begins three months prior to your 65th birthday and ends three months following your birthday month. 

If you miss your initial enrollment period, you will not be able to enroll for coverage until the general enrollment period, unless you qualify for a special enrollment period. The Medicare general enrollment period takes place from January 1st to March 31st each year. Coverage begins on July 1st of the year that you enroll. 

You will be eligible for a special enrollment period if you currently have medical insurance coverage under a group health plan that is based upon either your or your spouse’s current employment. In cases such as these, you can enroll into Medicare without a penalty any month that you remain covered under the group health plan and your or your spouse’s current employment continues or within the eight month period that begins the month after your group health care plan coverage or employment that it is based upon ends, whichever comes first. 

You can apply for Medicare online at https://secure.ssa.gov/iClaim/rib, or by calling the toll-free number 1-800-MEDICARE (633-4227). 

Medicaid

Medicaid is a state and federal program that provides comprehensive health coverage to millions of Americans each year that meet eligibility requirements. Medicaid is administered by each state in accordance with federal requirements. Therefore, eligibility requirements and covered services can vary between states. 

To qualify for Medicaid, you must meet income related eligibility requirements. Income limits do vary for some covered groups, such as senior citizens (ages 65 and older) and individuals with certain disabilities. 

Not only must you live within the state that you are applying for benefits through, but you must also be either a U.S. citizen or hold a lawful, qualifying non-citizen status. Depending on the state that you live in, you may be required to meet additional nonfinancial based eligibility requirements. These requirements are generally categorical. For example, some states do not offer Medicaid coverage to residents who do not have children within the home, unless the applicant is disabled, pregnant or a qualifying senior citizen. You can learn more about Medicaid requirements here: https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/eligibility/index.html

The federal government mandates some of the covered services that must be included in each state’s Medicaid program. These services include hospital services, physician services, laboratory services and home health services. Certain coverage options, referred to as optional benefits, are determined by the state. You can learn more about mandatory and optional coverage benefits here: https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/benefits/list-of-benefits/index.html.

The cost of Medicaid is determined by a number of factors, including your income, categorical qualifications and the state that you live within. While states do have some say over Medicaid costs, these costs must fall within federal guidelines. Costs may include monthly premiums, copayments, coinsurance, deductibles and similar charges. You can learn more about cost sharing with Medicaid here:   https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/benefits/list-of-benefits/index.html.

To apply for Medicaid, you must contact your state Medicaid office. Find the information here: https://www.medicaid.gov/about-us/contact-us/contact-your-state-questions/index.html. Application methods vary by state. Depending on the state that you live within, you may be able to apply online, over the phone, by mail or in person. 

VA Health

VA health care offers comprehensive healthcare to current and retired active military, naval or air service members that do not receive a dishonorable discharge. Generally, minimum duty requirements apply, however, these requirements are waived for those who meet additional qualifications. You can learn more about VA health requirements by clicking here:  https://www.va.gov/health-care/eligibility/.

Once approved for VA health, veterans gain access to comprehensive medical benefits packages. However, not all packages are alike and covered services may vary. Generally, medical services included in benefits packages include services to treat illnesses and injuries and preventative care. Some beneficiaries can receive additional coverage options, including benefits such as dental care.

A number of veterans qualify for VA health at no cost, depending on income and whether or not the applicant has a service-connected disability. If cost-free health care services are not available, applicants can be expected to pay small copays and coinsurance costs. To learn more about VA health costs, click here: https://www.va.gov/health-care/about-va-health-benefits/cost-of-care/.

You can apply for VA health: 

Access the online VA application here: https://www.va.gov/health-care/apply/application/introduction. .

By phone
Call the VA line at (877) 222-8387 from Monday to Friday, between 8am and 8pm.

You can also apply in person. Simply take your filled-out application form to your state’s Department of Veterans Affairs office. You can find the office locations here: https://www.va.gov/about_va/state-dva-offices.asp. The Application for Health Benefits (VA Form 1010EZ) is available here: https://www.va.gov/vaforms/medical/pdf/10-10EZ-fillable.pdf 

You may need to provide specific documents in order for your application to be processed, such as your most recent tax return. 

TRICARE

TRICARE is a health insurance program that is available to U.S Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their dependents and spouses. The program features a number of different plans, each with varying costs and covered medical services in order to provide a wide range of options to qualifying applicants. You must meet eligibility requirements in order to enroll in TRICARE. Learn more about the requirements here: https://www.tricare.mil/Plans/Eligibility.

Requirements are categorical and not only determine whether or not you are eligible for benefits, but the TRICARE plans that are available to you.  Covered service benefits and the costs that you can expect for services can be reviewed by comparing TRICARE plans. Compare TRICARE plans here: https://www.tricare.mil/Plans/ComparePlan.

Plans may include premiums, deductibles, copayments, coinsurance and maximum out-of-pocket costs. Some TRICARE enrollees will not be expected to pay for covered services, based upon categorical qualifications. 

To apply for TRICARE benefits, you must select the plan that you wish to enroll in. You can begin your enrollment process here. 

Once you have selected the TRICARE plan that is right for you, you can submit an application for TRICARE in any of the following ways:

Online
Access the milConnect website here:
https://milconnect.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect/

By phone
East-Humana Military: 1-800-444-5445
West-Health Net: 1-844-866-9378

You can also apply by mail. Simply fill out the enrollment form and mail it to either the east or west contractor. The information is available in the forms.

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