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  1. Overview Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects), among others. The term "heart disease" is often used interchangeably with the term "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart's muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease. Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices. Symptoms Heart disease symptoms depend on what type of heart disease you have. Symptoms of heart disease in your blood vessels (atherosclerotic disease) Cardiovascular disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain; women are more likely to have other symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue. Symptoms can include: Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina) Shortness of breath Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back You might not be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease until you have a heart attack, angina, stroke or heart failure. It's important to watch for cardiovascular symptoms and discuss concerns with your doctor. Cardiovascular disease can sometimes be found early with regular evaluations. Heart disease symptoms caused by abnormal heartbeats (heart arrhythmias) A heart arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat. Your heart may beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly. Heart arrhythmia symptoms can include: Fluttering in your chest Racing heartbeat (tachycardia) Slow heartbeat (bradycardia) Chest pain or discomfort Shortness of breath Lightheadedness Dizziness Fainting (syncope) or near fainting Heart disease symptoms caused by heart defects Serious congenital heart defects — defects you're born with — usually become evident soon after birth. Heart defect symptoms in children could include: Pale gray or blue skin color (cyanosis) Swelling in the legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes In an infant, shortness of breath during feedings, leading to poor weight gain Less serious congenital heart defects are often not diagnosed until later in childhood or during adulthood. Signs and symptoms of congenital heart defects that usually aren't immediately life-threatening include: Easily getting short of breath during exercise or activity Easily tiring during exercise or activity Swelling in the hands, ankles or feet Heart disease symptoms caused by weak heart muscle (dilated cardiomyopathy) In early stages of cardiomyopathy, you may have no symptoms. As the condition worsens, symptoms may include: Breathlessness with exertion or at rest Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet Fatigue Irregular heartbeats that feel rapid, pounding or fluttering Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting Heart disease symptoms caused by heart infections Endocarditis is an infection that affects the inner membrane that separates the chambers and valves of the heart (endocardium). Heart infection symptoms can include: Fever Shortness of breath Weakness or fatigue Swelling in your legs or abdomen Changes in your heart rhythm Dry or persistent cough Skin rashes or unusual spots Heart disease symptoms caused by valvular heart disease The heart has four valves — the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid valves — that open and close to direct blood flow through your heart. Valves may be damaged by a variety of conditions leading to narrowing (stenosis), leaking (regurgitation or insufficiency) or improper closing (prolapse). Depending on which valve isn't working properly, valvular heart disease symptoms generally include: Fatigue Shortness of breath Irregular heartbeat Swollen feet or ankles Chest pain Fainting (syncope)
  2. Pain can be part of having cancer, but you don’t have to take it. Just like doctor appointments and tests, managing pain is another way to take control of your treatment. When you're in pain, it can affect everything from your sleep and appetite to the simplest tasks in your daily routine. Pain can also affect your emotions. Speak up about your pain. Your doctors will want to know. It could be a sign that you have an infection, your cancer has spread, or there's a problem with your cancer treatment. You're the only one who knows how cancer pain feels in your body. You’ll want to understand it, know how to communicate about it, and get the relief you need to live your life. Causes Cancer pain has many sources. It sounds simple, but it's often caused by the cancer itself. When cancer grows and harms tissue nearby, it can cause pain in those areas. It releases chemicals that irritate the area around the tumor. As tumors grow, they may put stress on bones, nerves, and organs around them. Cancer-related tests, treatments, and surgery can cause aches and discomfort. You may also feel pain that has nothing to do with cancer, like normal headaches and tight muscles. Types Each person is different. How you experience cancer pain depends on the type you have, its stage, and whether you have a low or high tolerance for pain. Most people with feel it in one of these three ways: Acute pain: Imagine that you've been punched in the stomach. It hurts a lot at the beginning then eases off quickly. Acute pain tells your body you've been injured and heals as you do. Chronic pain: This kind of pain hangs around a long time. It can be a low throb or sharp and affect your life in many ways. Although it won’t completely disappear, you can manage it with pain medication. Breakthrough pain: If you treat chronic pain with medication, you may still feel a flash of pain every once in a while. This is called “breakthrough pain” because it breaks through the effects of your medication. It often happens quickly, lasts a short time and can feel very strong. Tell Your Doctor Your doctor may not always ask if you're feeling pain. It's up to you to say what hurts and ask for help. If you have religious or cultural reasons to be concerned about taking medicines, share that. Set aside any worries you may have about looking weak. It’s actually a sign of strength to say how you feel. And you deserve to feel as good as possible. Before your appointment, keep track of your pain so you can be as detailed as possible with your doctor. Use these questions as a guide: Where do you feel the pain? What does it feel like? Sharp or dull? Burning or throbbing? Shooting or steady? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest, how strong is the pain? How long does it last? A few minutes? Three hours? All day? What makes it feel better? When you lie down? Putting heat on it? Massaging the area? Does it change with treatment? Take your answers and all prescriptions, vitamins, and over-the-counter drugs with you to the appointment. How Your Doctor Can Help You've done your part. Now it's time for your doctor to do his. Removing the cancer with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation is the first option to explore. If those aren't possible -- or you're waiting to have a procedure -- prescription medication can control the pain. Medicines for pain fall into three categories: Over-the-counter and prescription. You'd take these for mild pain, fever, or swelling. Common forms include acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Weak opioid. One example -- codeine -- can be found in prescription-strength cough syrup. Strong opioid. As the name suggests, these are the most powerful. Examples include fentanyl, methadone, morphine, hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and oxycodone (Oxycontin). You can take many opioids by mouth, in pill or liquid form. Some can be put inside the cheek or under the tongue. If you can't take medications that way, you may be able to take them through an IV, suppository or skin patch. Any time your doctor gives you a new medication, make sure you know how much to take, how often to take it, and how long it takes to work. To make sure you get the most out of every dose, ask your doctor those questions and and a few more: What are the side effects? If the pain doesn't go away, should I call you before taking more than my normal dose? How long will this prescription last? Should I take it with food? What if I forget to take it? What other drugs can I take with this? What Else Works? If medicine doesn't help enough, doctors may try a treatment to stop pain messages from getting through. When pain doctors inject medication in the nerve or spin to relieve pain, it's called a nerve block. Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) involves a small power pack that uses a light current to offset pain. You can attach it to yourself or carry it with you. There are plenty of nonmedical treatments as well. Relaxing, distraction, and getting massages send positive messages to your body. You could also try acupuncture, hypnosis or biofeedback, which uses a machine that gives information to help you control your body. If your body is up for it, check out methods like yoga, tai chi and reiki. Meditation, prayer, and the company of loved ones may also help you get through, moment by moment.
  3. Amygdalin is a compound found in the pits or seeds of apricots, apples, peaches, plums, red cherries, and other fruits. It's also in bitter almonds. A partly man-made, purified form of amygdalin, known as Laetrile, was patented in the 1950s and became a popular alternative cancer treatment during the 1960s and '70s. It's now banned by the FDA and hasn't been available in the U.S. since 1980. Many websites tout the benefits of amygdalin (also called nitriloside, purasin, and vitamin B17) for cancer. Though these sites post stories of personal successes after using it, the scientific proof simply isn't there. How It Works The way your intestines break it down makes cyanide, which supposedly kills harmful cancer cells. Some people have also suggested that it teams up with enzymes in cancer cells to destroy them. Others say the cancer was caused because you didn't have enough "vitamin B17." But there's no proof that amygdalin acts like a vitamin in your body or that you even need it. Calling it a vitamin is a way to get around regulations for drugs. What the Research Says Animal and lab studies of amygdalin have mixed results. Several found no benefit, while others suggest the chemical has a slight effect on certain kinds of cancer cells. It might help relieve pain. To date, there haven't been any "controlled clinical trials" on amygdalin. This means scientists haven't compared people who receive the treatment to people who don't. Why It's Dangerous The most obvious reason is that amygdalin can cause cyanide poisoning. Your blood pressure could drop very low, you may damage your liver, or you might go into a coma. In the worst-case scenario, high doses -- 50-60 apricot kernels, or 50 grams of Laetrile -- can kill you. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include: Dizziness Being queasy and throwing up Headache Blue skin A droopy upper eyelid Trouble walking Confusion Fever These problems are usually worse when you swallow amygdalin rather than injecting it. You're more likely to have a bad reaction if you also take high doses of vitamin C or eat foods like: Raw almonds Crushed fruit pits Peaches Beans such as butter, lima, and mung Bean sprouts Carrots Celery Flaxseeds Because amygdalin isn't FDA-approved, it could have dangerous ingredients. Products from Mexico, the main supplier of amygdalin, have been reported with bacteria and other harmful substances in them. The Bottom Line Amygdalin is an unproven treatment that could hurt you. Talk to your doctor about any alternative or complementary therapy you think might help.
  4. If you've ever owned or spent time with a friendly dog, you probably know puppy love can calm anxiety and lift your mood. That's why you often see canines at cancer centers. Therapy dogs can bring comfort to people being treated for cancer, and they may help them get better, too. What are therapy dogs? They're specially trained animals who visit with adults and children in the hospital to help them feel better both emotionally and physically. Most of these dogs live at home with their owners and make routine visits to cancer facilities. The visits usually last less than 2 hours, and the animals typically stay with each person for about 15 or 20 minutes. Dogs can go to rooms, treatment areas like chemotherapy suites, and lounges or group areas. Sessions look a lot like play. A visit can involve hugging, petting, or talking to the dog. Some people read to the pup, play with it, or even walk it. Therapy dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and breeds, including golden retrievers, poodles, dachshunds, pugs, and German shepherds. But certain canines match up better with specific people. For example, an active child may do better with an active dog who likes to play and can fetch a ball. If you're not feeling well or are in pain, a calm dog who can lie on the bed with you may be a better choice. What are the benefits? Cancer diagnoses and treatments are stressful. Studies show that spending time with a therapy dog lowers blood pressure and levels of the "stress hormone" cortisol. At the same time, it boosts levels of feel-good hormones. Therapy dogs may help lessen pain, too. They might trigger the release of endorphins, which ease discomfort. They can help with physical therapy, too. When you pet a dog, that can help improve your sensory and fine motor skills. A canine may even help you with the all-important first step: getting out of bed. Walking with a dog on a leash and playing games with it can help your balance and coordination. What should I know? A therapy dog should be trained, insured, and registered by a formal animal-assisted therapy program. The dog must also: Be at least 1 year old Have lived in its owner's home for at least 6 months Be house trained Enjoy spending time with people, not just put up with it Have no history of biting or aggression Be able to walk on a leash (they're required to) Know basic commands such as "sit," "down," "stay," "come," and "leave it." Therapy dogs may also know "Go say hello" and "Paws up," which directs them to stand with their two front feet on a stool so you can reach them for petting if you're in bed. It's up to you if you’d like a visit. If you don't like dogs, are allergic to them, or have a higher risk of infection because of chemotherapy, you probably should skip it. If your immune system is suppressed, make sure you get an OK from your doctor before spending time with any animal. Are there risks? You can rest assured that any therapy dog will be gentle and friendly. In order to become one, a canine needs to have the right temperament. If they don't, they won't be certified. The dogs are screened regularly by a vet and kept current on all their shots, including rabies. It's possible for a dog to pass on diseases to people or injure them. But such things rarely, if ever, happen with trained, registered therapy dogs. Cleanliness is always top of mind. Handlers are required to carry (and use) an alcohol-based sanitizer at all times. Anyone who comes in contact with the dog should wash their hands before and afterward. The dogs are usually bathed the day before a therapy session and brushed right before seeing patients. The therapy vest many of the animals wear helps catch loose hair. Dogs that get on beds sit on a protective cover like a sheet. The animals shouldn't come in contact with wounds or equipment, and they aren't allowed to visit patients who are eating or drinking. How do I arrange a visit? Dozens of therapy dog organizations across America offer visits. Most service a local area, but some will bring a pup wherever you are. Some therapy dogs make regularly scheduled visits to facilities, say once or twice a week. If you're just not up for it when the dog comes, you can reschedule for next time. Check with your hospital liaison to get help setting one up.
  5. Holistic care treats the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. That typically means a combination of traditional and what your doctor might call complementary medicine. For instance, a holistic way to treat cancer could include chemotherapy and acupuncture. Medical treatments like chemo and radiation are proven to fight the disease, but their side effects can be hard to live with. A holistic treatment may help ease some of these problems and improve your well-being, too. However, holistic care has its limits. And it can harm you if you give up mainstream medicine for alternative treatments. What Can It Do For You? More than a third of adults use a treatment outside of mainstream medicine. These won’t cure cancer, but they might improve your quality of life. You might try some science-backed ways to relieve side effects. Acupuncture: A trained therapist inserts very fine needles into your skin at specific points. It may ease your pain and nausea. If you’re getting radiation for head or neck cancers, it could help with dry mouth. Mind-body techniques: Research shows your mental state can affect your health. Techniques like meditation, hypnosis, and guided imagery can help you relax and focus on something besides your pain. They may also ease medication side effects. Exercise: Gentle movement can help relieve extreme tiredness and stress, and help you sleep better. Studies suggest a regular exercise program may even help people with cancer live longer. Nutrition care: A registered dietitian can talk to you about the foods you need to prevent or treat nutrition problems, manage treatment side effects, help your body fight infection, and more. Are There Risks? Some people confuse holistic care with alternative care, using unproven remedies instead of standard treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Don’t go this route. Skipping standard treatments is risky. While they can cause unpleasant and even serious side effects, these are proven ways to treat cancer. When you avoid, delay, or interrupt mainstream medical treatments, you give the disease more time to grow. Your cancer might reach a stage where it can no longer be cured. There are other problems with holistic care: Some methods are simply bad for you, despite impressive health claims. Diets that claim to cure cancer are unproven, expensive, and potentially harmful. Certain supplements, like antioxidants and St. John’s wort, can stop your cancer treatment from working like it should. How to Choose Holistic Care If you’re considering a diet, treatment, or supplement that isn't mainstream, tell your doctor. He knows your condition and what medicines you take. This is the best way to make sure you stay safe. Just because something is labeled natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Keep these questions in mind as you research options: Does the treatment claim to cure cancer? (Steer clear of any that do.) Do doctors or cancer care experts recommend the treatment? Has it been proven in human studies? Is the method widely used? (If it works and it’s safe, it should be.) What are the potential side effects and drug interactions? How to Talk to Your Doctor You may not want to talk to your doctor about trying holistic methods. But it’s important that you do. After all, he needs to know what you’re putting into your body. He may even be able to recommend you to a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner who's trained to help people who have cancer. Follow these tips to get the conversation started: Bring a list of questions about holistic treatments you want to try. Ask your doctor to help you make healthy and safe choices. Bring information about a treatment you want to try. Make sure it’s from a respected source, like a medical journal or government-sponsored health website. Tell your doctor if you want to delay or skip your regular treatment, and ask about pros and cons. The choice is yours to make, but keep an open mind. If side effects are a problem, tell your doctor that improving them is a high priority for you. Ask if he knows about a nondrug therapy that can help. Ask him to tell you which products and practices are based on false or unproven claims.
  6. For many types of cancer, immunotherapy, sometimes called biologic therapy, has been a game changer. Why? It could improve your life and extend your years far longer than other treatments. What Is Immunotherapy? If you have bad allergies, you may have gotten allergy shots for the sniffles and red eyes. Each shot had a very small amount of the allergen -- the thing that caused your problems. The shots put your immune system on alert, but they didn’t make you sick. Over time, your doses got bigger. That helped you build a tolerance to the allergen. In other words, you became immune. Those allergy shots were a type of immunotherapy. So are vaccines for diseases like measles and mumps. How does that relate to cancer? The disease starts when one cell in your body goes rogue. Researchers hope immunotherapy treatment will harness the power of your body’s natural defenses to fight cancer cells, just like it would with a germ, virus, or allergy. One approach is to tell your system to stage a full-out assault on cancer cells. Another is to try to make your defenses stronger. What Are the Types of Cancer Immunotherapy? Researchers are exploring many ways to help your immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells. Adoptive T-Cell Immunotherapy This is designed to boost your key immune cells. Basically, researchers remove T cells (white blood cells in your immune system) from your tumor, then figure out which ones are fighting the growth the most. Once that’s known, scientists genetically engineer the genes in those cells to be stronger and return them to your system through an IV. This approach shows a lot of promise in the treatment of many different types of cancer. Car T-cell therapy: Car T-cell therapy is a type of adoptive T-cell immunotherapy. This treatment is sometimes used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children and young adults and certain types of B – cell lymphoma in adults that haven’t gotten better with other treatments. Cancer vaccines work like many others. They generally fall into two groups: Preventive vaccines have a lot in common with traditional types. Both work with a substance called an antigen, which gives your immune system a nudge. A preventive cancer vaccine is used against the human papillomavirus (HPV). That causes cervical, anal and other types of cancer. Treatment vaccines try to help your T cells pick out and destroy specific cancers. Shots can also be designed to increase the number of antibodies (cells that destroy invaders) in your system. For example, a treatment vaccine for advanced pancreatic cancer is being studied in clinical trials. Checkpoint Inhibitors Our immune system has a set of brakes -- or checkpoints -- that stop it from killing healthy cells. Sometimes, cancer cells take advantage of this and hide from your defense, almost disguising themselves as normal cells. That way, your system doesn’t see the cancer cell as an invader. These drugs help your immune system see the cancer as a problem, and fight it. Checkpoint inhibitors are in clinical trials for many different cancers. Some people with metastatic melanoma, lung, bladder, kidney, head and neck cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma are being treated with them. Monoclonal antibodies are molecules made in a laboratory. These antibodies are designed to recognize and attack cancer cells. Your immune system is good at spotting things that can cause harm, but it doesn’t always see cancer cells as bad news. Monoclonal antibodies help you mount an offense. They attach to cancer cells. Then, like a beacon, they make those cells more visible to your immune system, so it can fight them better. Some monoclonal antibodies can have chemotherapy drugs or radioactive substances attached to them and can help stop the growth of cancer cells. These molecules treat many different types of cancer. Researchers are studying their possibilities for treating many more. What’s the Future of Immunotherapy? Researchers are trying to find ways to help your immune system fight cancer, and to better understand your defenses and how they protect you. Science is also looking at how to combine immunotherapy with other treatments to make them work even better. Researchers are even looking into what happens when you pair two types of immunotherapy. One big question that still remains: Why does this -- like traditional treatments -- work for one patient, but not another? Study -- and with it, discovery -- goes on.
  7. What is chemotherapy? Also called “chemo,” it’s a way to treat cancer that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. How does chemotherapy work? It targets cells that grow and divide quickly, as cancer cells do. Unlike radiation or surgery, which target specific areas, chemo can work throughout your body. But it can also affect some fast-growing healthy cells, like those of the skin, hair, intestines, and bone marrow. That’s what causes some of the side effects from the treatment. What does chemotherapy do? It depends on the kind of cancer you have and how far along it is. Cure: In some cases, the treatment can destroy cancer cells to the point that your doctor can no longer detect them in your body. After that, the best outcome is that they never grow back again, but that doesn’t always happen. Control: In some cases, it may only be able to keep cancer from spreading to other parts of your body or slow the growth of cancer tumors. Ease symptoms: In some cases, chemotherapy can’t cure or control the spread of cancer and is simply used to shrink tumors that cause pain or pressure. These tumors often continue to grow back. How is chemotherapy used? Sometimes, it treats cancer by itself, but more often it’s used in combination with: Surgery: A doctor removes cancerous tumors or tissue, or organs contaminated with cancerous cells. Radiation therapy: A doctor uses invisible radioactive particles to kill cancer cells. It may be delivered by a special machine that bombards parts of your body from the outside, or by putting radioactive material on, near, and even inside your body. Biological therapy: Living material in the form of bacteria, vaccines, or antibodies are carefully introduced to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used to: Shrink a tumor before radiation therapy or surgery -- called neoadjuvant chemotherapy Destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery or radiation therapy -- called adjuvant chemotherapy Make other therapies (biological or radiation) more effective Destroy cancer cells that return or spread to other parts of your body How long does chemotherapy last? That depends on: The type of cancer you have How far along it is The goal of treatment: cure, control growth, or ease pain The type of chemotherapy The way your body responds to the treatment You may have chemotherapy in “cycles,” which means a period of treatment and then a period of rest. For example, a 4-week cycle may be 1 week of treatment and then 3 weeks of rest. The rest allows your body to make new healthy cells. Once a cycle has been planned out, it’s better not to skip a treatment, but your doctor may suggest it if side effects are serious. Then your medical team will likely plan a new cycle to help you get back on track. How is chemotherapy given? Injection: The drugs are delivered with a shot directly into muscle in your hip, thigh, or arm, or in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or stomach, just beneath the skin. Intra-arterial (IA): The drugs go directly into the artery that is feeding the cancer, through a needle, or soft, thin tube (catheter). Intraperitoneal (IP): The drugs are delivered to the peritoneal cavity, which contains organs such as your liver, intestines, stomach, and ovaries. It is done during surgery or through a tube with a special port that is put in by your doctor. Intravenous (IV): The chemotherapy goes directly into a vein. Topical: You rub the drugs in a cream form onto your skin. Oral: You swallow a pill or liquid that has the drugs. How does intravenous (IV) delivery work in chemotherapy? Needle: Drugs may be sent through a thin needle in a vein on your hand or lower arm. Your nurse inserts the needle and removes it when treatment is done. Tell your doctor right away if you feel pain or burning during treatment. Catheter: It’s a soft, thin tube. Your doctor puts one end into a large vein, often in your chest area. The other end stays outside your body and is used to deliver chemotherapy or other drugs, or to draw blood. It usually stays in place until all your treatment cycles are finished. Watch for signs of infection around your catheter. Port: It’s a small disc that a surgeon places under your skin. It’s linked to a tube (catheter) that connects to a large vein, usually in your chest. A nurse may insert a needle into your port to give you chemotherapy drugs or draw blood. The needle can be left in place for treatments that last more than a day. Tell your doctor if you notice any signs of infection around your port. Pump: Often attached to catheters or ports, it controls the amount of chemotherapy drugs, and how fast they get into your body. You may carry this pump with you, or a surgeon may place it under your skin. How will I feel during chemotherapy? There’s no way to know for sure. It depends on your overall health, the type of cancer you have, how far along it is, and the amount and type of chemotherapy drugs. Your genes may also play a part. It’s common to feel ill or very tired after chemotherapy. You can prepare for this by getting someone to drive you back and forth from treatment. You should also plan to rest on the day of and the day after treatment. During this time, it may help to get some help with meals and child care, if necessary. Your doctor may be able to help you manage some of the more severe side effects of chemotherapy. Can I work during chemotherapy? It depends on the work that you do and on how you feel. On days you don’t feel well, you may want to see if you can work fewer hours or work from home. In some cases, employers are required by law to adjust your schedule when you have cancer treatment. A social worker may be able to help you learn about what the law allows. How much does chemotherapy cost? It depends on the type of chemotherapy, how much you get, and how often you get it. It also depends on where you live, and whether you get treatment at home, in an office clinic, or during a hospital stay. Make sure to read your health insurance policy to find out exactly what it will and won’t pay for, and whether you can go to a doctor that you choose for your chemotherapy treatment.
  8. Radiation therapy treats cancer by using high-energy waves to kill tumor cells. The goal is to destroy or damage the cancer without hurting too many healthy cells. This treatment can cause side effects, but they’re different for everyone. The ones you have depend on the type of radiation you get, how much you get, the part of your body that gets treatment, and how healthy you are overall. There’s no way to predict how radiation will affect you. You may have few or only mild side effects from your treatment; someone else may have a lot of problems or very severe ones. When you get radiation therapy, you’ll work with a doctor who specializes in this type of medicine. It's important to talk with her about how the treatment might make you feel and what you can do to feel better. If the therapy makes you uncomfortable, speak up. If you keep your health team informed, they can help you get through treatment. How Soon Might I Have Side Effects From Radiation Therapy? There are two kinds of radiation side effects: early and late. Early side effects, such as nausea and fatigue, usually don’t last long. They may start during or right after treatment and last for several weeks after it ends, but then they get better. Late side effects, such as lung or heart problems, may take years to show up and are often permanent when they do. The most common early side effects are fatigue and skin problems. You might get others, such as hair loss and nausea, depending on where you get radiation. How Can I Handle Fatigue? The fatigue you feel from cancer and radiation therapy is different from other times you may have felt tired. It’s an exhaustion that doesn’t get better with rest and can keep you from doing the things you normally do, like going to work or spending time with family and friends. It also can seem different from day to day, which makes it hard to plan around it. It can even change how well you're able to follow your cancer treatment plan. Let your doctor know if you’re struggling with fatigue. She might be able to help. There are also things you can do to feel better: Take care of your health. Be sure you're taking your medications the way you're supposed to. Get plenty of rest, be as active as you can, and eat the right foods. Work with a counselor or take a class at your cancer treatment center to learn ways to conserve energy, reduce stress, and keep yourself from focusing on the fatigue. Save your energy for the activities that are most important to you. Tackle them first when you’re feeling up to it. Keep a balance between rest and activities. Too much bed rest can make you more tired. But don't over-schedule your days without giving yourself breaks. Ask for help from family and friends. If fatigue is interfering with your job, talk with your boss or HR department and ask about taking some time off from work or making adjustments in your schedule. Keep in mind that the fatigue from radiation therapy will probably go away within a few weeks after your treatment ends. What Kind of Skin Problems Can Radiation Therapy Cause? The way external radiation therapy affects your skin is similar to what happens when you spend time in the sun. It may look red, sunburned, or tanned. It may also get swollen or blistered. Your skin may also become dry, flaky, or itchy. Or it may start to peel. Be gentle with your skin: Don't wear tight clothing over the area that's being treated. Don't scrub or rub your skin. To clean it, use a mild soap and let lukewarm water run over it. Avoid putting anything hot or cold on the area unless the doctor tells you to. Ask your doctor before you use any type of ointment, oil, lotion, or powder on your skin. Ask about using corn starch to help relieve itching. Stay out of the sun as much as possible. Cover the area getting radiation with clothing or hats to protect it. Ask the doctor about using sunscreen if you must be outdoors. If you’re having radiation therapy for breast cancer, try not to wear a bra. If that isn't possible, wear a soft, cotton one without underwire. Don't use any tape, gauze, or bandages on your skin unless the doctor tells you to. Your skin should start to feel better a few weeks after therapy ends. But when it heals, it may be a darker color. And you’ll still need to protect yourself from the sun even after radiation therapy has ended. Will Radiation Therapy Cause My Hair to Fall Out? Only people who get radiation to the scalp or the brain may have hair loss. Others won't. If it does happen, it’s usually sudden and comes out in clumps. In most cases, your hair will grow back after therapy stops, but it may be thinner or have a different texture. Some people choose to cut their hair short before treatment begins to make less weight on the hair shaft. If you lose hair on top of your head, be sure to wear a hat or a scarf to protect your scalp from the sun when you go outside. If you decide to buy a wig, ask the doctor to write a prescription for one and check to see if it's covered by your insurance or is a tax-deductible expense. What Are Other Possible Early Side Effects From Radiation Therapy? Other early side effects you might have usually depend on where you get the radiation. Eating Problems Radiation therapy to the head, neck, or parts of the digestive system can make you lose your appetite. But it's important to keep eating a healthy diet while you’re having treatment to keep your body strong. Try eating five or six small meals spread out through the day instead of three large ones. Try new recipes or foods. Keep healthy snacks on hand. It will help you eat when you're hungry rather than waiting for mealtimes and maybe losing your appetite. Mouth Problems Before you start radiation to your head or neck, see your dentist for a thorough exam. Radiation can cause problems in your mouth that include: Mouth sores (little cuts or ulcers) Lack of saliva Thick saliva Trouble swallowing Jaw stiffness Tell your cancer team about any of these problems so they can help you feel better. To help manage these side effects: Avoid spicy and acidic foods. Don't smoke, chew tobacco, or drink alcohol. Brush your teeth often with fluoride toothpaste and a soft brush. Hearing Problems Radiation therapy to the head can sometimes cause hearing problems. One reason might be that it hardens the wax in your ears. Let your doctor know if you have trouble hearing. Nausea Radiation to the head, neck, and any part of the digestive tract can cause nausea and vomiting. Let your doctor know if that happens. She can give you medicine to control it. Also, you might be able to learn relaxation techniques and biofeedback to help control and reduce feelings of nausea. Diarrhea Radiation therapy to your belly can cause diarrhea, which typically starts a few weeks after therapy begins. The doctor will likely prescribe medications to help control it. She’ll also suggest changes in your diet, such as eating small meals more often, avoiding high-fiber foods, and getting enough potassium. Fertility and Sexual Issues Radiation therapy to your pelvis can affect your sex drive and whether you’ll be able to have a child. If you want to start a family or have more children, it’s important to talk to your doctor about how the treatment will affect your fertility before treatment begins. Women shouldn’t try to get pregnant during radiation therapy because it can hurt the baby. It also can stop periods and cause other symptoms of menopause. For men, radiation to the testes can affect sperm count and how well they work. This doesn't necessarily mean you can't father a child. But if you want to have kids later on, you should talk with your doctor to see if you should use a sperm bank before treatment begins. Treatment to the pelvis can make sex painful for some women and can also cause scarring that makes the vagina less able to stretch. In men, radiation can affect the nerves and blood vessels that control erections. Your doctor can help you understand what might happen and how you can handle it. It's natural to have less interest in sex when you’re having treatment for cancer. But your sex drive will usually come back after treatment stops. Talk openly with your partner about how you can stay close. Make sure you listen to their concerns, too. What Are the Late Side Effects From Radiation Therapy? Late side effects from radiation therapy take months and sometimes years to show up and usually don’t go away. But not everyone will have them. These problems happen when radiation damages your body. For example, scar tissue can affect the way your lungs or your heart works. Bladder, bowel, fertility, and sexual problems can start after radiation to your belly or pelvis. Another possible late effect is a second cancer. Doctors have known for a long time that radiation can cause cancer. And research has shown that radiation treatment for one cancer can raise the risk for developing a different cancer later. Factors that can affect that risk include the amount of radiation used and the area that was treated. Talk with your doctor about the potential risk and how it compares to the benefits you’ll get from radiation therapy.
  9. What Are the Treatments for Cancer? Depending on the type and stage of cancer, treatments to eradicate the tumor or slow its growth may include some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or immunotherapy. Cancer Support Supportive care from nurses and other professionals should accompany cancer treatment. The goal is to relieve pain and other symptoms, maintain general health, improve quality of life, and provide emotional, psychological, and logistical support to patients and their families. Similar supportive treatment is available to rehabilitate patients after curative treatment. Supportive therapy such as hospice care for cancer patients nearing the end of their lives provides relief from pain and other irreversible symptoms. Most mainstream care is geared toward providing supportive treatment through the broad resources of a cancer treatment center. Complementary cancer therapies, which are generally provided outside a hospital, can also provide supportive care. Exercise and Cancer Exercise can help control fatigue, muscle tension, and anxiety in those with cancer. Patients tend to feel better if they do exercises such as walking or swimming. Exercise has also been shown to improve the outcomes associated with cancer treatment. Mind/Body Medicine for Cancer Some mind/body therapies improve quality of life for cancer patients through behavior modification; others encourage expression of emotions. Behavior therapies such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, hypnotherapy, and biofeedback are used to alleviate pain, nausea, vomiting, and the anxiety that may occur in anticipation of, or after, cancer treatment. Individual or group counseling allows patients to confront problems and emotions caused by cancer and receive support from fellow patients in a group setting. Patients who pursue these types of therapies tend to feel less lonely, less anxious about the future, and more optimistic about recovery. Nutrition, Diet, and Cancer Scientific evidence suggests that nutrition may play a role in cancer prevention. Observational studies have shown that cancer is more common in some people with certain dietary habits -- such as colorectal cancer in people who have diets rich in meat products. So far, data has not supported the use of any vitamins or supplements to decrease the risk of cancer. In fact, studies show some supplements may increase cancer risk, such as lung cancer risk in smokers taking beta carotene and prostate cancer risk in men taking high doses of vitamin E. No diet has been shown to slow, reverse, or cure cancer. Also, experts don't recommend stopping standard treatment in place of complementary medicine, but many therapies can help people with cancer feel better. Acupuncture and Acupressure Acupuncture and acupressure are examples of "complementary" medicine for cancer. While neither claims to cure the disease, some evidence shows that they help reduce symptoms and side effects of the illness and its treatment. Herbs to Fight Cancer Numerous herbal remedies profess to fight cancer and its related symptoms; unfortunately, little solid evidence exists to prove their effectiveness. A few herbs may help with specific complaints: Ginger tea and peppermint tea or lozenges may ameliorate nausea, valerian root can help with anxiety and stress, capsicum cream might relieve muscle aches. The FDA does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market. Talk to your doctor or expert on herbal remedies and research carefully because some of these herbs may affect your other methods of treatment. Homeopathy and Cancer Homeopathic preparations may ease the nausea, fatigue, and anxiety associated with cancer and its treatment. Homeopathy can present a danger if its use delays or replaces conventional treatment. Social Support and Spirituality Having the support of friends and family can help you deal with the depression, fear, and anxiety that accompany cancer. In some cases, a strong support network can even affect the length of survival of cancer patients; studies have shown that men who experience limited social contact have a shorter survival time, while women with good social support survive longer from their cancers. Prayer can relieve stress, create a sense of meaning and purpose, and provide solace. Being an actively spiritual person may have even more benefits; cancer patients who consider themselves spiritual suffer less anxiety and depression, and even less pain, from their cancer. At-Home Care for Cancer Relieving side effects of cancer treatment: After radiation therapy for cancer, be gentle to your skin. Do not scrub it, expose it to sunlight, or wear tight clothing. Aloe vera ointment is gentle and soothing, along with non-irritating lotions or creams, such as vitamin E. Eat light snacks throughout the day rather than three heavy meals. Try eating food cold or at room temperature to avoid nausea. If your treatment involves lowering your white blood cell count, avoid people who are ill. Tell your doctor about any fever or unusual symptoms. Relieving pain: In addition to taking prescribed medication, try relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. Other tips: Join a cancer support group. Get plenty of rest, balanced with light exercise. Rather than feeling compelled to maintain a "positive attitude," express your emotions honestly. Don't worry if you sometimes feel depressed or afraid: These are normal feelings and legitimate reactions that will not affect your cancer.
  10. How Is Cancer Diagnosed? The earlier cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of its being cured. Some types of cancer -- such as those of the skin, breast, mouth, testicles, prostate, and rectum -- may be detected by routine self-exam or other screening measures before the symptoms become serious. Most cases of cancer are detected and diagnosed after a tumor can be felt or when other symptoms develop. In a few cases, cancer is diagnosed incidentally as a result of evaluating or treating other medical conditions. Cancer diagnosis begins with a thorough physical exam and a complete medical history. Laboratory studies of blood, urine, and stool can detect abnormalities that may indicate cancer. When a tumor is suspected, imaging tests such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and fiber-optic endoscopy examinations help doctors determine the cancer's location and size. To confirm the diagnosis of most cancers , a biopsy needs to be performed in which a tissue sample is removed from the suspected tumor and studied under a microscope to check for cancer cells. If the diagnosis is positive (cancer is present), other tests are performed to provide specific information about the cancer. This essential follow-up phase of diagnosis is called staging. The most important thing doctors need to know is whether cancer has spread from one area of the body to another. If the initial diagnosis is negative for cancer and symptoms persist, further tests may be needed. If the biopsy is positive for cancer, be sure to seek a confirming opinion by a doctor who specializes in cancer treatment before any treatment is started.
  11. What Is Cancer? Throughout our lives, healthy cells in our bodies divide and replace themselves in a controlled fashion. Cancer starts when a cell is somehow altered so that it multiplies out of control. A tumor is a mass composed of a cluster of such abnormal cells. Most cancers form tumors, but not all tumors are cancerous. Benign, or noncancerous, tumors do not spread to other parts of the body, and do not create new tumors. Malignant, or cancerous, tumors crowd out healthy cells, interfere with body functions, and draw nutrients from body tissues. Cancers continue to grow and spread by direct extension or through a process called metastasis, whereby the malignant cells travel through the lymphatic or blood vessels -- eventually forming new tumors in other parts of the body. The term "cancer" encompasses more than 100 diseases affecting nearly every part of the body, and all are potentially life-threatening. The major types of cancer are carcinoma, sarcoma, melanoma, lymphoma, and leukemia. Carcinomas -- the most commonly diagnosed cancers -- originate in the skin, lungs, breasts, pancreas, and other organs and glands. Lymphomas are cancers of lymphocytes. Leukemia is cancer of the blood. It does not usually form solid tumors. Sarcomas arise in bone, muscle, fat, bloodvessels, cartilage, or other soft or connective tissues of the body. They are relatively uncommon. Melanomas are cancers that arise in the cells that make the pigment in skin. Cancer has been recognized for thousands of years as a human ailment, yet only in the past century has medical science understood what cancer really is and how it progresses. Cancer specialists, called oncologists, have made remarkable advances in cancer diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. Today, more people diagnosed with cancer are living longer. However, some forms of the disease remain frustratingly difficult to treat. Modern treatment can significantly improve quality of life and may extend survival.
  12. Germs, or microbes, are found everywhere - in the air, soil, and water. There are also germs on your skin and in your body. Many of them are harmless, and some can even be helpful. But some of them can make you sick. Infectious diseases are diseases that are caused by germs. There are many different ways that you can get an infectious disease: Through direct contact with a person who is sick. This includes kissing, touching, sneezing, coughing, and sexual contact. Pregnant mothers can also pass some germs along to their babies. Through indirect contact, when you touch something that has germs on it. For example, you could get germs if someone who is sick touched a door handle, and then you touch it. Through insect or animal bites Through contaminated food, water, soil, or plants There are four main kinds of germs: Bacteria - one-celled germs that multiply quickly. They may give off toxins, which are harmful chemicals that can make you sick. Strep throat and urinary tract infections are common bacterial infections. Viruses - tiny capsules that contain genetic material. They invade your cells so that they can multiply. This can kill, damage, or change the cells and make you sick. Viral infections include HIV/AIDS and the common cold. Fungi - primitive plant-like organisms such as mushrooms, mold, mildew, and yeasts. Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection. Parasites - animals or plants that survive by living on or in other living things. Malaria is an infection caused by a parasite. Infectious diseases can cause many different symptoms. Some are so mild that you may not even notice any symptoms, while others can be life-threatening. There are treatments for some infectious diseases, but for others, such as some viruses, you can only treat your symptoms. You can take steps to prevent many infectious diseases: Get vaccinated Wash your hands often Pay attention to food safety Avoid contact with wild animals Practice safe sex Don't share items such as toothbrushes, combs, and straws
  13. Preparing for your appointment You'll probably first see your primary care doctor. Depending on the severity of your infection, as well as which of your organ systems is affected by the infection, your doctor may refer you to a specialist. For example, a dermatologist specializes in skin conditions, and a pulmonologist treats lung disorders. What you can do You may want to write a list that includes: Detailed descriptions of your symptoms Information about medical problems you've had Information about your parents' or siblings' medical problems All the medications and dietary supplements you take Questions you want to ask the doctor Preparing a list of questions for your doctor will help you make the most of your time together. For infectious diseases, some basic questions to ask your doctor include: What's the most likely cause of my symptoms? Are there other possible causes for my symptoms? What kinds of tests do I need? Is my condition likely temporary or long lasting? What treatment do you recommend? I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together? Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing? Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend? What to expect from your doctor Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including: When did your symptoms begin? Do your symptoms come and go, or do you have symptoms all the time? How severe are your symptoms? Have you recently come into contact with anyone who's sick? Have you been bitten or scratched by an animal or come into contact with animal feces? Do you have any insect bites? Have you eaten undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables? Have you been out of the country recently?
  14. Lifestyle and home remedies Many infectious diseases, such as colds, will resolve on their own. Drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. Alternative medicine A number of products have been purported to help fend off common illnesses, such as the cold or flu. While some of these substances have appeared promising in early trials, follow-up studies may have had negative or inconclusive results. More research needs to be done. Some of the substances that have been studied for preventing or shortening the duration of infection include: Cranberry Echinacea Garlic Ginseng Goldenseal Vitamin C Vitamin D Zinc Check with your doctor before trying any products that promise to boost your immune system or chase colds and other illnesses away. Some of these products may cause allergic reactions or interact adversely with other medications you may be taking.
  15. Treatment Knowing what type of germ is causing your illness makes it easier for your doctor to choose appropriate treatment. Antibiotics Antibiotics are grouped into "families" of similar types. Bacteria also are put together in groups of similar types, such as streptococcus or E. coli. Certain types of bacteria are especially susceptible to particular classes of antibiotics. Treatment can be targeted more precisely if your doctor knows what type of bacteria you're fighting. Antibiotics are usually reserved for bacterial infections, because these types of drugs have no effect on illnesses caused by viruses. But sometimes it's difficult to tell which type of germ is at work. For example, some types of pneumonia are caused by viruses while others are caused by bacteria. The overuse of antibiotics has resulted in several types of bacteria developing resistance to one or more varieties of antibiotics. This makes these bacteria much more difficult to treat. Antivirals Drugs have been developed to treat some, but not all, viruses. Examples include the viruses that cause: HIV/AIDS Herpes Hepatitis B Hepatitis C Influenza Antifungals Topical antifungal medications can be used to treat skin or nail infections caused by fungi. Some fungal infections, such as those affecting the lungs or the mucous membranes, can be treated with an oral antifungal. More severe internal organ fungal infections, especially in people with weakened immune systems, may require intravenous antifungal medications. Anti-parasitics Some diseases, including malaria, are caused by tiny parasites. While there are drugs to treat these diseases, some varieties of parasites have developed resistance to the drugs.
  16. Diagnosis Your doctor may order lab work or imaging scans to help determine what's causing your symptoms. Laboratory tests Many infectious diseases have similar signs and symptoms. Samples of your body fluids can sometimes reveal evidence of the particular microbe that's causing your illness. This helps your doctor tailor your treatment. Blood tests. A technician obtains a sample of your blood by inserting a needle into a vein, usually in your arm. Urine tests. This painless test requires you to urinate into a container. To avoid potential contamination of the sample, you may be instructed to cleanse your genital area with an antiseptic pad and to collect the urine midstream. Throat swabs. Samples from your throat, or other moist areas of your body, may be obtained with a sterile swab. Stool sample. You may be instructed to collect a stool sample so a lab can check the sample for parasites and other organisms. Spinal tap (lumbar puncture). This procedure obtains a sample of your cerebrospinal fluid through a needle carefully inserted between the bones of your lower spine. You'll usually be asked to lie on your side with your knees pulled up toward your chest. Imaging scans Imaging procedures — such as X-rays, computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging — can help pinpoint diagnoses and rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Biopsies During a biopsy, a tiny sample of tissue is taken from an internal organ for testing. For example, a biopsy of lung tissue can be checked for a variety of fungi that can cause a type of pneumonia.
  17. Prevention Infectious agents can enter your body through: Skin contact or injuries Inhalation of airborne germs Ingestion of contaminated food or water Tick or mosquito bites Sexual contact Follow these tips to decrease your risk of infecting yourself or others: Wash your hands. This is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating, and after using the toilet. And try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands, as that's a common way germs enter the body. Get vaccinated. Immunization can drastically reduce your chances of contracting many diseases. Make sure to keep up to date on your recommended vaccinations, as well as your children's. Stay home when ill. Don't go to work if you are vomiting, have diarrhea or have a fever. Don't send your child to school if he or she has these signs and symptoms, either. Prepare food safely. Keep counters and other kitchen surfaces clean when preparing meals. Cook foods to the proper temperature using a food thermometer to check for doneness. For ground meats, that means at least 160 F (71 C); for poultry, 165 F (74 C); and for most other meat, at least 145 F (63 C). In addition, promptly refrigerate leftovers — don't let cooked foods remain at room temperature for extended periods of time. Practice safe sex. Always use condoms if you or your partner has a history of sexually transmitted infections or high-risk behavior. Don't share personal items. Use your own toothbrush, comb and razor. Avoid sharing drinking glasses or dining utensils. Travel wisely. If you're traveling out of the country, talk to your doctor about any special vaccinations — such as yellow fever, cholera, hepatitis A or B, or typhoid fever — you may need.
  18. Risk factors While anyone can catch infectious diseases, you may be more likely to get sick if your immune system isn't working properly. This may occur if: You're taking steroids or other medications that suppress your immune system, such as anti-rejection drugs for a transplanted organ You have HIV or AIDS You have certain types of cancer or other disorders that affect your immune system In addition, certain other medical conditions may predispose you to infection, including implanted medical devices, malnutrition and extremes of age, among others. Complications Most infectious diseases have only minor complications. But some infections — such as pneumonia, AIDS and meningitis — can become life-threatening. A few types of infections have been linked to a long-term increased risk of cancer: Human papillomavirus is linked to cervical cancer Helicobacter pylori is linked to stomach cancer and peptic ulcers Hepatitis B and C have been linked to liver cancer In addition, some infectious diseases may become silent, only to appear again in the future — sometimes even decades later. For example, someone who's had a chickenpox infection may develop shingles much later in life.
  19. Direct contact An easy way to catch most infectious diseases is by coming in contact with a person or animal who has the infection. Three ways infectious diseases can be spread through direct contact are: Person to person. A common way for infectious diseases to spread is through the direct transfer of bacteria, viruses or other germs from one person to another. This can occur when an individual with the bacterium or virus touches, kisses, or coughs or sneezes on someone who isn't infected. These germs can also spread through the exchange of body fluids from sexual contact. The person who passes the germ may have no symptoms of the disease, but may simply be a carrier. Animal to person. Being bitten or scratched by an infected animal — even a pet — can make you sick and, in extreme circumstances, can be fatal. Handling animal waste can be hazardous, too. For example, you can acquire a toxoplasmosis infection by scooping your cat's litter box. Mother to unborn child. A pregnant woman may pass germs that cause infectious diseases to her unborn baby. Some germs can pass through the placenta. Germs in the vagina can be transmitted to the baby during birth. Indirect contact Disease-causing organisms also can be passed by indirect contact. Many germs can linger on an inanimate object, such as a tabletop, doorknob or faucet handle. When you touch a doorknob handled by someone ill with the flu or a cold, for example, you can pick up the germs he or she left behind. If you then touch your eyes, mouth or nose before washing your hands, you may become infected. Insect bites Some germs rely on insect carriers — such as mosquitoes, fleas, lice or ticks — to move from host to host. These carriers are known as vectors. Mosquitoes can carry the malaria parasite or West Nile virus, and deer ticks may carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Food contamination Another way disease-causing germs can infect you is through contaminated food and water. This mechanism of transmission allows germs to be spread to many people through a single source. E. coli, for example, is a bacterium present in or on certain foods — such as undercooked hamburger or unpasteurized fruit juice.
  20. Causes Infectious diseases can be caused by: Bacteria. These one-cell organisms are responsible for illnesses such as strep throat, urinary tract infections and tuberculosis. Viruses. Even smaller than bacteria, viruses cause a multitude of diseases — ranging from the common cold to AIDS. Fungi. Many skin diseases, such as ringworm and athlete's foot, are caused by fungi. Other types of fungi can infect your lungs or nervous system. Parasites. Malaria is caused by a tiny parasite that is transmitted by a mosquito bite. Other parasites may be transmitted to humans from animal feces.
  21. Overview Infectious diseases are disorders caused by organisms — such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Many organisms live in and on our bodies. They're normally harmless or even helpful, but under certain conditions, some organisms may cause disease. Some infectious diseases can be passed from person to person. Some are transmitted by bites from insects or animals. And others are acquired by ingesting contaminated food or water or being exposed to organisms in the environment. Signs and symptoms vary depending on the organism causing the infection, but often include fever and fatigue. Mild infections may respond to rest and home remedies, while some life-threatening infections may require hospitalization. Many infectious diseases, such as measles and chickenpox, can be prevented by vaccines. Frequent and thorough hand-washing also helps protect you from most infectious diseases. Symptoms Each infectious disease has its own specific signs and symptoms. General signs and symptoms common to a number of infectious diseases include: Fever Diarrhea Fatigue Muscle aches Coughing When to see a doctor Seek medical attention if you: Have been bitten by an animal Are having trouble breathing Have been coughing for more than a week Have severe headache with fever Experience a rash or swelling Have unexplained or prolonged fever Have sudden vision problems
  22. Q: What is hepatitis? A: Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis. There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These 5 types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer. Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids. Common modes of transmission for these viruses include receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment and for hepatitis B transmission from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child, and also by sexual contact. Acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms, or may include symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Q: What are the different hepatitis viruses? A: Scientists have identified 5 unique hepatitis viruses, identified by the letters A, B, C, D, and E. While all cause liver disease, they vary in important ways. Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is present in the faeces of infected persons and is most often transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. Certain sex practices can also spread HAV. Infections are in many cases mild, with most people making a full recovery and remaining immune from further HAV infections. However, HAV infections can also be severe and life threatening. Most people in areas of the world with poor sanitation have been infected with this virus. Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HAV. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted through exposure to infective blood, semen, and other body fluids. HBV can be transmitted from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth or from family member to infant in early childhood. Transmission may also occur through transfusions of HBV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. HBV also poses a risk to healthcare workers who sustain accidental needle stick injuries while caring for infected-HBV patients. Safe and effective vaccines are available to prevent HBV. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is mostly transmitted through exposure to infective blood. This may happen through transfusions of HCV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. Sexual transmission is also possible, but is much less common. There is no vaccine for HCV. Hepatitis D virus (HDV) infections occur only in those who are infected with HBV. The dual infection of HDV and HBV can result in a more serious disease and worse outcome. Hepatitis B vaccines provide protection from HDV infection. Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is mostly transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food. HEV is a common cause of hepatitis outbreaks in developing parts of the world and is increasingly recognized as an important cause of disease in developed countries. Safe and effective vaccines to prevent HEV infection have been developed but are not widely available.
  23. Hepatitis A is a common viral infection of the gut, which then moves to infect the liver cells, multiplying inside them. Hepatitis A infects the liver cells and multiplies inside them. As the body's immune system attempts to destroy the virus, the immune response causes liver cell damage and inflammation. Certain enzymes, usually active inside the liver cells, are released from damaged cells into the blood. Blood tests can detect them and thus confirm the presence of a hepatitis virus. The swelling of the liver causes blockage of the bile ducts, trapping bile that should flow into the gall bladder inside the liver. The yellow-green bile being absorbed into the bloodstream from the liver causes the yellow discoloration known as jaundice. A health care professional will often be able to detect during examination of the abdomen that the liver is enlarged and tender. Prevalence Hepatitis A virus is common in all undeveloped parts of the world where it is mostly acquired by young children. The true burden of disease in South Africa is unknown. In highly developed countries, exposure to hepatitis A is low, with only 10% of adults being infected (also see ‘Prevention through vaccination’).
  24. Researchers have found another good reason to go to the local espresso bar: several cups of coffee a day could halt the progression of liver disease, a study showed. Sufferers of chronic hepatitis C and advanced liver disease who drank three or more cups of coffee per day slashed their risk of the disease progressing by 53% compared to patients who drank no coffee, the study led by Neal Freedman of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) showed. Study For the study, 766 participants enrolled in the Hepatitis C Antiviral Long-Term Treatment against Cirrhosis (HALT-C) trial - all of whom had hepatitis C which had not responded to treatment with anti-viral drugs - were asked to report how many cups of coffee they drank every day. The patients were seen every three months during the 3.8-year study and liver biopsies were taken at 1.5 and 3.5 five years to determine the progression of liver disease. "We observed an inverse association between coffee intake and liver disease progression," meaning patients who drank three or more cups of java were less likely to see their liver disease worsen than non-drinkers, wrote the authors of the study, which will be published in the journal Hepatology. Protection The researchers put forward several ways in which coffee intake might protect against liver disease, including by reducing the risk of type two diabetes, which has been associated with liver illness; or by reducing inflammation, which is thought to cause fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver. Even caffeine, the chemical that gives a cup of coffee its oomph, came under the spotlight, having been found in previous studies to inhibit liver cancer in rats. But drinking black or green tea, which also contain caffeine, had little impact on the progression of liver disease, although there were few tea drinkers in the study. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) three to four million people contract hepatitis C each year. Seventy percent of cases become chronic and can cause cirrhosis or liver cancer. - (Sapa, October 2009)
  25. There is more to compromised liver health than pain and a yellow tinge to the skin. Here are some sneaky signs that your liver might not be functioning as it should. Here are seven bizarre, sneaky signs that your liver might be suffering: 1. Itchy skin You'll probably not take itchy skin seriously unless there is a rash. But itchy skin can occur when bile is present in the bloodstream due to liver damage. When your bile duct is blocked, the bile stagnates and flows back into the blood stream. This accumulates under the skin and causes itching. 2. Spider angiomas These are small, spider-like capillaries visible under the skin. They are caused by higher levels of oestrogen, which is an indication that the liver is not functioning properly and not metabolising your hormones. These unsightly veins often appear on the face and legs because of the enlargement of the arterioles, the branches that stem from your arteries to your capillaries. 3. Bruising and bleeding If you find that you bruise or bleed easily after being injured, this might be a sign that your liver is not healthy. The proteins you need to clot your blood are no longer being produced in sufficient amounts. 4. Bad breath Whiffy breath may indicate many health problems, such as sinusitis or gum disease, but it can also be a telltale sign of liver damage. Bad breath during liver failure is also known as foetor hepaticus. This is a fruity, musky smell in the breath that is caused by a high level of dimethyl sulphide, which occurs in your blood when you suffer from liver cirrhosis. 5. Blemishes and hyperpigmentation on face Unsightly brown pigmentation on the face can occur if the liver is sluggish and not working as it should. When the liver is not functioning properly, oestrogen in the system increases. This causes a substance named tyrosinase, an enzyme containing copper, to produce more melanin (skin pigmentation) and causes blemishes on the face or the entire body. 6. Red palms Red, burning itching hand palms, also known as palmar erythema, can be a sign of liver damage. This condition occurs as a result of abnormal hormone levels in the blood. 7. Lack of concentration Have you been struggling at work lately? Your lack of concentration might not be because of those funny cat videos on the Internet and procrastination, but could be an actual sign of an unhealthy liver. Two of the most significant functions of the liver are to detoxify and to energise the body. When the blood is overloaded with toxins, which results from a liver that is not functioning properly, your brain can be affected. Pair that with a sluggish metabolising of energy, this can result in fatigue, which affects mental clarity. This can manifest in subtle signs of forgetfulness or large problems such as slipping into a coma.
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