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September Spike

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Sep 14th, 2016


Kids are back to school and cold and flu season is upon us. It’s the perfect storm for children with asthma. In fact, every year around the third week of September a recurring phenomenon occurs called the “September Spike.” This spike refers to an increase in emergency room visits, hospital and ICU admissions and unscheduled doctor visits all for the treatment of asthma.

Dr. Mary Noseworthy, the Director of the Asthma Clinic at the Alberta Children’s Hospital explains the common cold virus is one of the biggest triggers for asthma in kids and allergies can also prompt an asthma attack. So, Dr. Noseworthy encourages all families of children with asthma to have their asthma action plan ready, to make sure all medications are up to date and filled up, to ensure their children wash their hands regularly and get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available. Dr. Noseworthy wants to remind everyone that asthma can be very serious, even fatal, if it’s not controlled or prevented.

Lori-Anne Kochuk, an Asthma Coordinator with the Asthma Clinic at the ACH, says children can show symptoms of asthma for the first time during the September Spike. She says parents should watch for night-time coughing, coughing when the child wakes in the morning, shortness of breath, a child that’s easily fatigued and increased muscle use as the child struggles to breathe…. a pulling in of their ribs and bellybutton or a drawing in of the skin at the base of the neck under the chin. If the child has any of these symptoms parents should seek medical care right away.

Kochuk says HealthLink at 811 is a good option for children not having an attack and if the child is visibly struggling to breathe a trip to the ER is required.

Kochuk also encourages all parents of children with asthma to make sure to let their child’s teacher know their child has asthma and to make sure the teacher has the best contact information for the parent and the appropriate medications ready. Teachers are usually quite familiar with asthma…. one in 5 children in school has asthma.

For more information on asthma and how to control it visit this website. For more information on the September Spike go here.

Back to School Eye Health

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Aug 30th, 2016


Along with all those backpacks and hair cuts, children need to get their eyes checked before they head back to school. Optometrist Dr. Diana Monea explains 80 percent of learning is visual, so if children can’t see they can’t learn properly. In Alberta, 25 percent of children start grade 1 with an undiagnosed vision or eye health problem.  Also, children can be misdiagnosed with ADHD or a learning disability when in fact, they just need a pair of glasses. In fact, research shows 60 percent of children that have a learning disability have a visual problem. So, Dr. Monea encourages parents to get their children in for an eye exam as soon as possible.

Dr. Monea likes to see children as early as 6 months, then again around the 3 year mark, and then right before they start school and annually after that. Dr. Monea says optometrists are looking not only to check their vision, but they can see blood flow in the body and assess the risk of diabetes and brain tumours.

Furthermore, there’s an ability to intervene in children’s eyes between the ages of 2 and 8 and prevent further degradation to their vision, that’s not available as they get older when visual cells stop developing.

And the best part is all children’s eye exams in Alberta are free, covered by Alberta Health. And if your child who is going into kindergarten requires a pair of glasses they can get those free as well through the Eye See I Learn program.

Dr. Monea believes each child should have every advantage to achieve in their life and that includes seeing properly.

For more information on free eye exams go here, and for free glasses for kindergarten go here.

ICU Study

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Aug 11th, 2016


Our population is aging and that means more and more critically ill patients in hospital intensive care units. But how best to care for these increasingly elderly and frail patients? A new study that involves the University of Calgary hopes to answer that very question.

A group of researchers has received 2 million dollars, 1.4 million  from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, for a four year study . One of the researchers involved, ICU physician and University of Calgary investigator Dr. Tom Stelfox, says the hope is to come to up with a strategy that will balance the wishes of patients and their family members with the advancing technologies available to care teams to treat and save the lives of these patients.

Dr. Stelfox says for example, picture the little old lady who’s frail and nearing the end of her life. Is it appropriate to use invasive and often uncomfortable procedures to prolong life and what will that quality of life look like? Every family and patient will likely have a different answer. Dr. Stelfox says it’s a fine balance.

But there’s a real lack of medical evidence in this area because previous research has only been done on younger patients in the ICU. This study wants to better understand the needs and wishes of older patients in the ICU. Researchers plan to talk to patients and their family members directly to get the information required to come up with a new strategy.

Dr. Stelfox says the goal is with a clear strategy there will be reduced costs to the medical system and better patient care for all of us.

For more information on this research visit this website. 

Neighbourhood Walkability

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Jun 29th, 2016


Most of us are not getting enough exercise and most of us know this is bad for our health. University of Calgary Associate Professor of Medicine Gavin McCormack says 20 percent of adults are not getting the recommended level of physical activity necessary to achieve optimal health.

This lack of exercise, says Professor McCormack is increasing our risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity, depression and even some cancers. But new research, says Professor McCormack suggests the type of neighbourhood you live in can make a big difference. The idea is people need to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives. For example, if you’re walking the kids to school, walking to the transit stop, cycling to work or strolling to the neighbourhood coffee shop, physical activity is built into your day. Research also shows people struggle to maintain and sustain planned physical activities like exercise classes and trips to the gym. Professor McCormack says physical activity needs to be part of every day life.

Even if your neighbourhood is currently not that walkable, Professor McCormack says improvements can be made. He suggests making walking areas more aesthetically pleasing, adding parks and more 4 way intersections to slow down traffic, making sure there are sidewalks on both sides of the street and increasing access to transit stops.

If neighbourhoods are more walkable, the people living in these communities will be healthier in the long run and this healthier lifestyle will affect generations to come.

Migraine Research

Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Jun 22nd, 2016


June is Migraine Awareness Month. Migraine is very common. It affects 12 percent of the population, 18 percent of women. It’s recognized as a major source of disability because migraines are debilitating headaches that can last a few hours up to a few days and are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraine specialist Dr. Werner Becker from the University of Calgary says there are three ways to tackle migraine. First, sufferers need to manage lifestyle factors like their stress, sleep and fatigue. Secondly, there’s treating the acute migraine with painkillers or triptans specifically designed for migraine headaches. Thirdly, there is prevention. Dr. Becker says there are a few ways they’re working to prevent migraines like injecting Botox into the heads of individuals who get chronic migraine or using certain heart medicines to reduce the frequency of migraines. But Dr. Becker says they’re not exactly sure how these strategies work.

But researchers are very excited about a whole new class of medications that are being investigated right now. They’re called CGRP antagonists. They’re drugs that target a specific molecule involved in the transmission of pain. Dr. Becker says because they’re so specific, they don’t involve other bodily systems which makes them have fewer side effects. They also seem to work very well to prevent migraine. So well, in fact, that in a small subgroup of patients these medicines stopped migraines from happening entirely.

That said, Dr. Becker says there will likely never be any one medication that works to prevent all migraines because these headaches are very complex and everyone experiences them differently. However, he says this new class of medication is extremely promising and he suspects they’ll be on the market in the next two to three years.

For more information on migraine headaches, visit this website. 

Stroke Drug Antidote

Leah Sarich | posted Monday, Jun 13th, 2016


June is stroke month. I’ve already blogged about the symptoms of stroke so people can get the care they need as quickly as possible. Today, we’re looking at a new medication that can help one group of patients at risk of stroke. People with atrial fibrillation or an irregular heart beat are at increased risk for stroke. The Department Head of Emergency Medicine at the University of Calgary, Dr. Eddy Lang, says there are about 350 thousand Canadians living with atrial fibrillation which makes them 3 to  5 times more likely to have a stroke.

Dr. Lang explains when the heart is not pumping properly a blood clot can form and that clot can travel to the brain causing a stroke. For this reason, many of these patients are on a blood thinning medication to reduce the risk of that stroke occurring. But these blood thinners leave patients at risk in an emergency situation. Dr. Lang says for example, if a patient has a stomach ulcer that starts to bleed or is in an accident that requires surgery, it make be too risky for the patient to undergo surgery for fear of bleeding out. Dr. Lang says the blood thinner is a double edged sword. It does reduce a patient’s risk of stroke, but it also leaves them at risk of bleeding in an emergency. Until now.

Dr. Lang says Health Canada has just approved an antidote to one of these blood thinners. The antidote, made from human antibodies, effectively and safely neutralizes the effects of the blood thinner allowing patients to get the care they need. Dr. Lang says it turns patients into someone who had never been on a blood thinner within a matter of hours, allowing that patient to perhaps have surgery if required or avoid the OR altogether. Then, once a patient is stabilized, they can return to taking their blood thinner to reduce their risk of stroke. Dr. Lang says this antidote is in widespread use in the US and should be available in Calgary in the next couple of weeks.

Dr. Lang encourages anyone on a blood thinner to prevent stroke to talk to their family doctor about their options so they’re prepared in an emergency situation.

Stroke Signs and Rehab

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Jun 9th, 2016


Fifty thousand Canadians suffer a stroke each year, over four thousand here in Alberta. June is Stroke Month and a great time to remind everyone what those stroke symptoms are so they can get the help they need as soon as possible. And if you’re going to have a stroke, you want to have it in Calgary. Our city has one of the leading stroke teams in the world based out of Foothills Hospital. And if someone recognizes they’re having a stroke and gets to the hospital in a timely manner, they have a better chance of survival because of this team.

I spoke with Dr. Stephen McNeil from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences who’s part of the stroke team. He says the most common sign of a stroke is sudden weakness, often on one side, though it can be just in the face or almost anywhere in the body. Other symptoms include sudden changes in speech or vision, balance problems and dizziness. Dr. McNeil says if a person is having these symptoms they need to get to the Emergency room right away so they can be assessed by the stroke team. Most strokes occur because  a blood vessel to the brain is blocked. So when a patient presents at the ER doctors are trying to work quickly to remove that blockage to reduce the amount of damage to the brain.

There are half a million Canadians living with post stroke deficits. But the stroke team at Foothills is prepared to help these patients return to the best quality of life possible. It’s a multidisciplinary approach to stroke rehabilitation. Depending on where the damage occurred in the brain, the stroke survivor will have certain deficits. Dr. McNeil says the most common deficits are weakness, pain, muscle stiffness, sensory loss, speech problems and changes in mood and behaviour. Dr. McNeil says there are many ways to help stroke survivors including various therapies, medications and injections. This rehabilitation can be done on an inpatient and outpatient basis and the therapies are most effective within three to six months of the stroke. However, Dr. McNeil says there can be improvements in speech and cognition years after a stroke.

Dr. McNeil encourages anyone who’s had a stroke to stay in touch with the stroke team because new therapies and treatments become available all the time that may not have been an option when the patient first went through rehab. He says it’s also possible for some stroke survivors to regress and they may require “tune-up therapy.”

For more information on stroke visit this website, for an outline of stroke signs and symptoms go here. 


Sun Safety

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Jun 7th, 2016


It’s a hot one today in Calgary and it will be all week long. It’s also Sun Awareness Week, the perfect time to talk about staying safe in the sun.

Dermatologist Dr. John Arlette says 95 percent of all skin cancers are directly related to sun exposure. There are three types of skin cancer. The most common kind of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, then there’s squamous cell carcinoma and then finally the most deadly form which is called melanoma.

The good news is while skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer, it’s also the most preventable. It’s also curable in many cases as long as it’s caught early. But for Sun Awareness Week the focus is always on prevention. Dr. Arlette says the best way to protect yourself from the sun is with appropriate barriers, things like a big hat, sun shirts and sun suits for the kidlets and be mindful of the time of day, between 11am and 4pm leaves you at highest risk. In addition, Dr. Arlette suggests using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and then he says it must be reapplied within a couple of hours. Dr. Arlette says it’s also helpful to seek out some shade periodically or bring your own. Dr. Arlette says sun tents and umbrellas are great options when shade is hard to come by.

And here’s a tidbit for the parents: Dr. Arlette says if parents can prevent their child from getting a sunburn before the age of 14 they are dramatically reducing the risk of their child ever getting skin cancer.

And for extra motivation, sun exposure can also lead to premature aging of the skin creating all those little wrinkles around the eyes and colour changes on the skin.

Dr. Arlette also recommends regular mole checks particularly if you have a lot of moles, if you have a family history of skin cancer or if you have fair hair and light eyes and have had repeated sun burns in your youth. Skin cancer is all about cumulative sun damage so preventing that damage in the first place is your best defence.

For more information about being sun safe visit this website.

For the sunscreens recommended by the Canadian Dermatology Association visit this website. 


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