• Understanding

    Depression

    When you think of depression, you might think of being sad, or just down in the dumps. But in fact, it’s much more than that. It’s a clinical condition that can take control of your life and cause serious complications. According to the National Institute of Mental Health about 16 million people had at least one episode in the past year. To put that into perspective, that’s one out of every 10 people.

    depression graphic

    Symptoms of Depression and Treatment Options

    Depression symptoms may be different for everyone. One person may experience symptoms that seem to last for years, while others will only have moderate bouts and return to their normal life relatively quickly. However, depression can be treated, often with medication, psychological counseling or both. Other non-conventional treatments also may help. But before any type of treatment is initiated, the symptoms must be recognized. When people experience episodes of depression, they may suffer through:

    • Sadness, unhappiness, or an emptiness feeling
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Severe lack of energy where even the smallest tasks require extra effort
    • Loss of interest in hobbies or normal daily activities
    • Changes in appetite (some people may eat less and lose weight while some may overeat and gain weight)
    • Anxiety or restlessness
    • Fogginess, confusion, and slowed speaking or body movements
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide

    Causes of Depression

    Because depression is such a complex disease, the causes of it can greatly vary. One theory suggests that it may be caused from having too much or too little of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals communicate information throughout our brain and body. When the nerves that release these chemicals malfunction, too little or too much of these neurotransmitters may be released, which has been linked as a known cause of depression. Certain antidepressant medications work to control the release of these neurotransmitters.

    Yet, this information is not conclusive. Many researchers don’t agree that a simple increase or decrease of brain chemicals is the lone factor when determining that causes of depression. Rather, it’s a combination of factors, which may include:

    • Genetic vulnerability (depression may be more common in people whose relatives also suffer, or have suffered from depression)
    • Faulty mood regulation by the brain
    • Stressful life events (loss of a loved one, high stress, childhood trauma or recent trauma)
    • Medications or medical problems

    Depression Is Not Mental Weakness

    Often, people associate being depressed as a sign of weakness. In a recent study conducted by the National Mental Health Association, out of 1,022 adults interviewed by telephone, 43 percent said they believed depression is a personal weakness. However, this is far from the truth. Depression does not discriminate. It can affect anyone of any ethnicity. Whether, you’re rich or poor, or old or young, depression can affect you.

    If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, seek help. It’s never too late talk to someone about getting better. There are an array of hot lines and helpful information where you can seek the help of professionals 24 hours a day. There is also helpful information on suicide awareness and prevention.

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  • Dont Get Beat By

    The Heat

    The temperatures are rising and the weather is warm! As with every season, the summer months bring a whole new set of health risks due to the changing weather. In the midst of all the summer fun, you may be too caught up in the excitement to recognize when your body has been negatively affected by the heat. We sat down with Matthew Synan, MD, of Pulmonary Consultants–UPMC to discuss two particular health risks that people encounter during the summer: heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

    While they are two different conditions, many people often get confused because of their similarities. Both conditions are on the spectrum of temperature related illnesses, but differ in severity.

    Heat Exhaustion

    Heat exhaustion occurs when the body temperature is less than or equal to 104 F (40 C).

    Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

    • Dizziness
    • Mild confusion (which normalizes within 30 minutes of treatment)
    • A faster heart rate with normal blood pressure
    • Mild to moderate dehydration.

    Heat Stroke

    Heat stroke can be the more serious of the two conditions. It occurs when the body’s core temperature is greater than 104 F (40 C), and is characterized by:

    • Abnormal mental status (such as delirium, hallucinations, or slurred speech),
    • A faster heart rate coupled with low blood pressure
    • Moderate to severe dehydration

    There are two distinct types of heat stroke and heat exhaustion: classic and exertional. Classic heat stroke and exhaustion can occur without any activity or physical exertion and is more common in individuals age 70 or older, or those who have a chronic medical condition. Exertional heat stroke and exhaustion occurs as a result of physical activity and is most common in young individuals who engage in heavy exercise during high temperatures such as athletes and military recruits.

    Some medications, such as allergy, heart, or psychiatric prescriptions can put you at an increased risk because these medications may limit the body’s ability to sweat.

    In the event that you should develop any symptoms of heat exhaustion, take actions quickly to cool yourself down by:

    • Removing clothing
    • Spraying yourself with cool water or taking a cool bath
    • Using fans
    • Applying ice packs to the armpit, neck, and groin.

    If not taken care of quickly, both of these conditions may evolve and result in:

    • Kidney, respiratory, and liver failure
    • Muscle breakdown
    • Blood disorders
    • Death

    Some ways to prevent the onset of these conditions is to limit your physical activity outside when the temperatures are highest or perform them in the evening when it is coolest. Also, wear loose clothing and take frequent breaks. Dr. Synan stresses that by far the most important thing to do is to drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated!

    If you or someone you know has been hit with a heat-related illness, please follow these tips to help them recover. Do not hesitate to pay a visit to the Emergency Medicine at UPMC center for immediate treatment.

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  • What to Eat

    At the Ballpark

    Nothing says summer quite like watching baseball with a bucket of popcorn in one hand and a giant soda in the other. With delicious ball-park treats surrounding you, watching your calorie intake can be quite a challenge. Cheesy nachos, hamburgers, and ice cream may be tasty, but their calorie content can easily knock your diet off-track.

    So, how do you enjoy a baseball game without sacrificing your dietary discipline? Start by considering this infographic. It’s full of useful food information, so that the next time you line up at the concession stand, you’ll remember which foods are safe and which foods strike out.

    Ballpark Healthy Choices Infographic

    By following some of these simple tips, you’ll be able to keep your diet on base and strike out hunger, while enjoying a summer day at the ballpark.

    What are some of your favorite healthy sporting event snacks?

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  • Bloating Foods to Avoid Before

    Going to the Beach

    Summer is in full swing and you may be planning a trip to the beach. Whether you want to show off the beach body you worked hard to build, or just want to relax while catching some sun, no one likes that bloated, full feeling that can happen after we eat. There are a number of snacks you may want to avoid packing in your cooler that can cause “beach bloat” as you’re lounging on the sand. Here are some foods to avoid before going to the beach and some healthier alternatives that you can enjoy while soaking up some sun.

    Carbonated beverages

    Carbonated beverages can cause gas retention and stomach bulge.

    Substitute: Rather than reaching for the soda, try flat water or ginger tea. Ginger has a neutralizing effect on your gastrointestinal tract.

    Salt and sodium

    Curb salt and sodium intake. When you eat sodium-rich food, you retain more water which can leave you looking and feeling bloated. Foods like bananas, avocados, mangos, and papayas can help because they are high in potassium. Potassium acts as a natural diuretic, helping to flush the system of excess sodium.

    Substitute: Salt-free seasonings such as Mrs. Dash

    Cruciferous vegetables and legumes

    Foods like broccoli, kale, and cabbage are good for long term weight loss, but if you’re headed to the beach, you may want to avoid these. They contain a complex sugar called raffinose which has been known to cause bloating.

    Legumes like beans, peas, and lentils are packed with protein, but cause excess gas that leads to bloating.

    Substitute: Cooked vegetables over raw. Try mushrooms or squash instead.

    Apples

    Apples are packed with beneficial nutrients, but they are also high in fiber and carbohydrates which can cause excess gas.

    Substitute: Canned fruit in their natural juices or dried fruit like raisins or plums.

    Gum

    Chewing gum causes you to inhale excess amounts of air, causing your stomach to swell.

    Substitute: Roasted nuts, or raw, unsalted sunflower seeds.

    Alcohol

    When you drink too much alcohol, you can get dehydrated, which results in your body retaining fluid.

    Substitute: Homemade fruit smoothies.

    Dairy

    Lactose is the sugar found in dairy products. If you feel gassy after a bowl of cereal with milk or a few slices of cheese, you may be lactose intolerant. This can cause gas to form in the gastrointestinal tract, which may trigger bloating.

    Substitute: Non-dairy alternative or lactose free products like Lactaid.

    Summer is meant to be enjoyed to the fullest — and it’s difficult to enjoy summer fun when your stomach is at its fullest. With a little planning before you hit the beach, you can fill your cooler and beach bag with several healthy snacks that won’t leave you feeling sluggish in the sunshine.

    What are some of your favorite healthy summertime snacks? Please share them with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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  • Dr. Andrew-Jaja

    the Singing Doctor at Magee

    What better way to enter the world than with a song? Over the last several decades, Carey D. Andrew-Jaja, MD, FACOG of Magee-Womens Hospital, has welcomed each of the babies he’s delivered with a beautiful song. Dr. Andrew-Jaja has delivered thousands of babies.

    Dr. Carey Andrew-Jaja, Singing Doctor, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC

    Update: Watch Dr. Andrew-Jaja’s Reaction to His Video Profile Going Viral

    Dr. Andrew-Jaja inherited the tradition from his mentor, an older obstetrician and gynecologist on staff, and sings “Happy Birthday” and “It’s a Wonderful World” to each baby.

    “When I’m singing to those babies, I’m singing to a future important person,” says Andrew-Jaja. “It’s a beautiful world we live in. You forget about all the crisis going on everywhere for a moment when you see that miracle of life in front of you.”

    Dr. Andrew-Jaja delights in developing a unique bond with each and every baby he delivers. His mantra is “Confront every encounter with a smile on your face and a song in your heart,” something he practices every day. In this video interview below, watch as Dr. Andrew-Jaja sings to two beautiful newborns, one of which is the son of a former baby whom Dr. Andrew-Jaja delivered decades ago.

    For more information on Dr. Andrew-Jaja and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, visit our website or call us at 412-641-1000.

    Dr. Jaja’s story was recently featured in an article on Huffington Post.

    Watch Good Morning America’s segment on Dr. Jaja, the “Doc-Star.”

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Use Your Head to Stop a Stroke

by Heart and Vascular Institute by Neurosurgery

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The myths about strokes are numerous. Among the most popular — and perhaps one of the most dangerous — is that strokes are something that happens only to older adults.

In fact, a recent report by the American Stroke Association showed a sharp rise in hospitalizations among men and women ages 15 to 44, while rates declined by 25 percent among older adults.

Lowering your risk is the best way to avoid the life-changing impact strokes can have on you and your family. When strokes occur, fast action is critical to minimize damage. The window of opportunity for the most successful treatment is just three hours after onset.

Prevention: What You Can Do

“Heart disease increases your chances of having a stroke, so it’s important to control the risk factors,” says Lawrence Wechsler, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology at UPMC.

While you can’t do anything about your age, family history, or ethnicity (African-Americans have a higher incidence of stroke), you can control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking.

“You’re at risk any time your blood pressure or cholesterol are up. It’s far better to prevent strokes than to deal with the consequences,” Dr. Wechsler says.

Treatment: Time Lost is Brain Lost

Every minute after the start of a stroke means greater risk of permanent damage or death. One of the best treatments for ischemic strokes — where a clot blocks blood flow to the brain — is the quick administration of the clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA). While UPMC doctors have had success beyond three hours with a special procedure to retrieve the blockage or dissolve it with drugs administered directly into the clot, time is critical.

For patients experiencing hemorrhagic strokes caused by bleeding in the brain, fast action is needed to repair the leaking blood vessel.

Call 911

If you suspect someone has suffered a stroke, call for emergency medical help immediately so treatment can begin without delay.

Specialized stroke centers — such as UPMC’s Stroke Institute at UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Shadyside, UPMC St. Margaret, and UPMC Mercy — have experts available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to diagnose and treat patients. The UPMC Stroke Telemedicine Program also uses technology to provide fast treatment to patients at other UPMC hospitals throughout western Pennsylvania.

Think FAST

Use this simple acronym to help determine whether you’re witnessing a stroke:

F ace: Can the person smile (or does one side of the face droop)?

A rms: Can the person raise both arms (or does one side drift downward)?

S
peech: Can the person speak clearly or repeat a simple phrase?

T ime: Call 911 immediately if someone exhibits any of these warning signs!

Act FAST

Strokes require immediate medical attention, so knowing the warning signs is crucial, says William Kristan, MD, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UPMC Passavant. Stroke symptoms can include sudden onset of:

  • Paralysis or weakness in the face or limbs, especially on one side of the body
  • Problems with balance or walking
  • Vision problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Problems speaking or understanding
  • Severe headache

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About Heart and Vascular Institute

As a recognized leader in cardiovascular care — with a rich history in clinical research and innovation — the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers a full spectrum of personalized cardiovascular services. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the United States, UPMC has made significant contributions to the advancement of cardiovascular medicine.

About Neurosurgery

UPMC is ranked among the top hospitals in the nation for neurosurgical care by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, UPMC is one of the few medical centers in the U.S. – and throughout the world – with expertise in the full array of surgical options for brain and spine conditions. Our world-renowned experts are committed to finding the best treatment approach for each patient, maximizing the benefits of surgery while minimizing the risks.

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