Category Archives: Family and health

Why ‘good’ sleep is so important

UnknownIn today’s society we are expected to fit more and more into our lives. Yet this work-life balance struggle is causing many of us to trade in precious sleeping time to ensure we complete all the jobs expected of us. Sadly this is a ticking timebomb for our health.

Scientists now believe that if we sleep less than six hours a night and have disturbed sleep we stand a 48% greater chance of dying from heart disease and a 15 per cent greater chance of developing or dying from a stroke. So our ‘work hard, play hard’ society encourages us to sacrifice sleep to the detriment of our health.

More than 3.5million of us suffer from excessive sleepiness usually caused by poor sleep. Everyone has experienced the occasional night without sleep. It makes us feel tired and irritable the next day but won’t harm our health. After several sleepless nights however, the mental effects become more serious.

Brain fog, difficulty concentrating and inability to make decisions follow. Some people drop off during the day causing injuries at home, work and on the road. Long term lack of sleep affects our overall health. A recent Sleep Alliance Report showed how excessive sleepiness is damaging the health and economy of the nation. Sleep disorders are a major contributing factor to fatal road accidents, heart disease, strokes, lost productivity and the breakdown of marriages.

A recent Dutch study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology showed that good quality sleep can reduce 57% of heart related deaths each year. It looked at the risk of chronic disease in 14,000 people over a 12 year period and showed that poor sleep is as important a risk factor for Cardiovascular Disease as other lifestyle factors such as being overweight or smoking.

Over 3.5 million people in the UK suffer from excessive sleepiness but what’s the answer. If you have trouble sleeping your first port of call should be your GP who will be able to advise you about what you can do at home to help you sleep. This is known as good sleep hygiene and includes:

  • establishing fixed times for going to bed and waking up (try to avoid sleeping in after a poor night’s sleep)
  • trying to relax before going to bed
  • maintaining a comfortable sleeping environment (not too hot, cold, noisy or bright)
  • avoiding napping during the day
  • avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late at night
  • avoiding exercise within four hours of bedtime (although exercise in the middle of the day is beneficial)
  • avoiding eating a heavy meal late at night
  • avoiding watching or checking the clock throughout the night
  • only using the bedroom for sleeping and sex

Disturbed sleep may be caused by snoring with more than 3.5 million of us being regular snorers. Snoring occurs because of the vibration generated as air rushes past the tissues of the mouth, nose and throat. When most people think of snorers they picture an overweight, beer drinking bloke. Yet snoring is not confined to men. Older women and children also snore. In fact after the menopause women catch up with their male counterparts.

Snoring can be caused by a number of factors. Being overweight often means you have extra fat around the throat which can stop air flowing smoothly. Sleeping on the back causes the tongue to fall back into the throat narrowing the airway. Colds and allergies can also trigger snoring as sufferers end up breathing through the mouth. Drinking too much alcohol or taking sleeping tablets at night can cause the throat muscles to relax.

‘People with respiratory disorders such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) are also more prone to snoring’ says Dr Matthew Hind who runs the Sleep Clinic at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight can sometimes improve the problem. There are also a range of anti-snoring devices such as mouth guards and nasal strips which can help prevent snoring.

The health consequences of snoring can be serious. Around 6-7 per cent of men and 3-4 per cent of women have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) where they repeatedly, stop breathing at night (see above). As well as daytime sleepiness and concentration problems, the condition is linked to a raised risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

‘We have to stop treating snoring as a bit of a joke. Snoring can affect all aspects of life if left untreated. It can cause excessive tiredness, poor concentration and relationship problems’ explains Dr Hind.

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Goodbye Asthma!

stock-photo-a-conceptual-look-at-asthma-and-the-problems-it-brings-145677698OK. It’s time I let everyone into a big secret. I have cured my asthma! Yes that word cure is a funny one isn’t it? Doctors don’t like it at all. When I told my GP I no longer wish to be registered as asthmatic and she could stop prescribing me inhalers she was genuinely shocked.

How had I done it she asked. Buteyko Breathing I replied. The look on her face was a picture. Clearly she had never heard about this alternative treatment for asthma (and incidentally, a whole raft of other health problems).

So who was Buteyko? Konstantin Buteyko was a Russian doctor who, in 1952, was the first scientist to discover the major cause of a number of diseases of the respiratory, hormonal, cardiovascular and nervous systems which were incurable by modern medicine.

Scientific trials of the method in the treatment of asthma in Russia during the 1960s and in Australia in the 1990s showed amazing results.  The secret of the method is correct breathing.

Sounds too good to be true but it is based on good science. Most of us breathe too deeply so we don’t take in enough carbon dioxide to enable our systems to absorb the oxygen we need. The Buteyko exercises aim to reprogramme our breathing and get rid of asthma forever.

In the only clinical trial carried out outside Russia, on 40 people in Australia in 1994, asthma sufferers who tried the Buteyko method reported a 90% reduction in their dependence upon medication. The results however were deemed controversial and the trial considered too small to be conclusive.

Well now I can report that it has worked for me. I have been doing the exercises for more than two years and can honestly say I have not used my inhaler in all that time. The exercises are tricky and need real persistence but once you get the hang of them, any time you feel that familiar wheezing start, simply find somewhere quiet, sit down and do the exercises and the wheezing will pass.

It can be frightening to begin with as it is not the quick fix an inhaler gives. But if you persevere it is a fantastic feeling to know that your own body has the ability to sort the problem out. As time goes on the attacks have grown fewer and fewer until now I very rarely have one and am confident I could deal with one if it did occur.

So how can you find out how this amazing breathing method works? One of the best known Buteyko therapists is Patrick McKeown who has a website at: There you will find everything you need to know about the method including YouTube clips of how to breathe correctly. It has been the best thing I have done in a long time and wanted to share this with my faithful SurgeryCat followers!

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How to be dementia friendly!

I am now officially a dementia friend.  Dementia Friends is a joint initiative between Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK to try and raise awareness of what exactly Dementia is. I duly registered online and turned up at the local library where Josette Simon (a very beautiful and talented actor) was ready to tell us all about how we could help.

I was a little bit nervous I would be asked to befriend someone with dementia. Both my parents lived with the condition and it was a very difficult time for all the family. However Josette had a lively way of describing why ‘there is more to a person than the dementia’.

She explained the five things we should all know about dementia. Firstly it is NOT a natural part of ageing. It is caused by diseases of the brain, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s. Dementia is more than just losing memory, it can affect thinking, communication and undertaking everyday tasks.

However, it is possible to live well with dementia-especially if everyone in society plays their part in being more understanding of those who have it and trying to make people with dementia feel included in their communities.

Josette, being a brilliant actor, had a fabulous way with words. She explained how dementia affects two main parts of the brain-the Hippocampus which is where we store our memories and the Amygdala which is really ‘who we are’.

She compared the Hippocampus to a rather shoddily built bookcase which when dementia strikes rocks back and forth displacing all the books. The books on the top shelves represent the most recent memories and the bottom bookshelf represents childhood memories.

She then compared the Amygdala to an extremely well built and solid oak bookcase which represents the ‘who we are’ bit. That does not change when dementia strikes. She then told a poignant story about someone whose mother was living with Alzheimer’s. Often she would wonder if it was worth visiting because her mother would soon forget her visit.

But once she understood about the ‘bookcase’ she realised that although her mum may have forgotten her visit she she still knew her daughter and what she meant to her. So although her memory might have been going she never forgot her family and the warm feelings they all evoked.

If I took away one thing from that meeting it was that dementia is not the frightening thing I once thought but that with a little help and understanding we can all be ‘imagesdementia friends’.

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Rubella as bad as measles

UnknownThe number of cases in the Swansea measles epidemic has reached 620, with health officials warning there is no sign of the outbreak coming to an end. The figure released this week is up 32 on last week, with up to 20 new cases being confirmed every day.
However, one grandmother is also warning young mums to immunise their babies with the MMR vaccine to prevent a new outbreak of rubella which caused her own son to be born blind, deaf and dumb.

Sufffolk based Liz Royle’s son Bruce is now in his forties but has the mental age of a small child and Liz has to provide 24 hour care for him because of his disability. ‘I caught rubella very early on in the pregnancy and was told it was too early to affect my unborn baby’ Liz explains.

When Bruce was born however it he spent the first three months of his life in hospital with cataracts and a heart condition. ‘In those days there was no vaccination against rubella-these days young mums have a choice and I do urge them to get their children vaccinated’ says Liz.

Experts are worried that just like measles, rubella could also re-emerge in the community. Takeup of the MMR vaccination currently stands at around 81% which is not enough to give what is known as ‘herd immunity’. ‘The effects of rubella on the unborn child include impairment to eyes, ears, heart, brain and nervous system’ says Royle.

SENSE-the charity which supports people who have disabilities caused by rubella-also warns of the risks. ‘Immunisation is the only way to protect against rubella. Avoiding people with rubella is not an effective way of protecting yourself from the disease and passing it on to your unborn child. The more children vaccinated the less chance rubella has of circulating’ a spokesperson said today.

Since the MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988 the numbers of children affected by rubella have fallen dramatically. However, the disease is still common in countries which do not have effective immunisation programmes. According to SENSE outbreaks can still occur especially if uptake levels of the MMR jab drop too low. ‘To prevent an outbreak it is essential most of the population are immune. The maths is easy-if the numbers of children who are immunised start to fall then rubella will reappear in the community’ says the charity.

One young mum left in no doubt about her decision to immunise both her children is Liz Royle’s daughter Sarah Speers. Sarah was pregnant with her own daughter when the MMR story first broke in the media and found it difficult to get the information she needed to make an informed decision. ‘The choice for me was never whether to vaccinate but whether single jabs were better for my baby’ she says.

Box copy/What is Rubella?

Rubella-also known as German measles-is a mild disease caused by a virus. Symptoms include swollen glands, sore throat and a slightly raised temperature-there may be a rash or discomfort in the joints.

The danger is catching it when you are pregnant because it is passed on to the unborn child. The disease then affects the ears, eyes, heart, brain and nervous system. Many children have hearing loss in one or both ears. Some babies are born with cataracts in one or both eyes.

Box copy/The Rubella controversy

A study published in 1998 suggesting there may be a link between MMR and autism was put forward by Dr Andrew Wakefield who was later drummed out of the NHS by the General Medical Council. However the repercussions of his research have been far reaching with many parents refusing to have their children immunised with the MMR vaccine for fear of them contracting autism or bowel disease.

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Healthy gums mean healthy arteries

Discussions about the link between oral health and heart disease has been rumbling on for many years. A study of over 11,000 people in Scotland in 2010 showed that poor oral hygiene was associated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease.

And now, new research shows there may be a connection between serious gum disease (periodontal disease) and the build up of fatty deposits on the lining of artery walls which can lead to blood clots causing atheroscelerotic disease (ASVD).

There have been more than 50 studies looking into whether periodontal disease puts people at greater risk of ASVD. In a recent assessment of all the literature the American Heart Association stated that the relationship between periodontal disease and ASVD is potentially a massive pubic health issue of because of the growing prevalence of gum disease in the general population.

Dr Brian Clapp from Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital London says the gum disease/heart disease link is interesting and complex. ‘Some argue that it is a direct effect of bacteria being involved in both processes. Most people including myself think that this is an epiphenomenon or a secondary symptom which may be unrelated to the original disease or disorder’ he says.

‘Nevertheless, there is no doubt that poor dental health correlates with an increased inflammatory state within the body (probably by a causal relationship) and this increased level of inflammation which can be measured by the increased levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, leads to increased atherosclerosis’ says Dr Clapp.

New research from Bristol University has recently shown that dental plaque may actually trigger blood clots in other parts of the body. Researchers found that streptococcus gordonii which normally inhabits the mouth can cause problems when it enters the bloodstream via bleeding gums. The theory is that the bacteria mimics the clotting factor, fibrinogen which in turn activates platelets causing them to clump together inside the blood vessels.

Signs of gum disease include:

Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth

  • Blood in your saliva
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Bad breath
  • Wobbly or loose teeth
  • Abscessed teeth
  • Tooth loss

The good news is that brushing your teeth properly and looking after your gums can prevent and treat gum disease, improve your overall health and help reduce your risk of health problems, such as heart disease. It’s important to have a routine of brushing your teeth for a full two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, plus cleaning between your teeth with floss or interdental brushes.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, says: ‘The link between oral health and overall body health is well documented and backed by robust scientific evidence. Despite this, only one in six people realises that gum disease may place them at an increased risk of stroke or diabetes. And only one in three is aware of the heart disease link.’

Dr Carter recommends visiting your dentist and dental hygienist regularly for cleaning and check-ups. It’s especially important to look after your teeth and gums if you’re pregnant. NHS dental care is free for pregnant women and during the 12 months after you’ve given birth.

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