Great Smokies Medical Center of Asheville

Archive for October, 2005

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

While a rhinovirus (a cold) is a minor respiratory illness that usually just inconveniences us, true influenza (the flu) is a serious respiratory illness.
Flu symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. In adults, the flu is contagious for one day before symptoms occur and for three to seven days (as many as ten days in children) after the first symptoms appear.
Unlike a common cold, influenza causes high fevers, and severe headaches and body aches. The cough of influenza is hacking and severe compared to the cough associated with colds. People with colds commonly experience sore throats, sneezing, and stuffy noses, while people with influenza usually experience fatigue, weakness and exhaustion.
Complications of common colds include sinus infections and earaches, while complications of influenza are bronchitis and life-threatening pneumonia.

Natural Prevention & Treatment of Colds & Flu

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

Implementing the basics of prevention and treatment of colds and flu is simple and inexpensive. While there is no cure for viral infections, preventive measures can be effective and viruses’ adverse effects can be minimized by treatment. Following some simple recommendations can help you stay healthy this cold and flu season.
First and foremost, to help prevent getting the flu, wash your hands as needed throughout the day with a mild soap that doesn’t irritate your skin. Keep your hands away from your face (hand-to-face contact can result in transmission of disease to mucus membranes of your eyes, nose, or mouth). Avoid putting objects such as pens and pencils in your mouth. Viral illnesses are spread more easily in confined indoor environments such as airplanes, buses, malls, and elevators.
Reduce your susceptibility to or hasten your recovery from the flu by doing the following: If you feel you are getting sick, change your plans and stay home and rest. Drink plenty of water, eat a light diet (to spare your energy for healing and to aid detoxification), eliminate sugar intake, and do light activity around the house as tolerated. Making a pot of organic chicken soup (by stewing whole chickens with bones) and freezing it for use during winter illnesses may be wise.
Have a plan should you or a loved one come down with a cold or flu this winter. Early intervention may help shorten the course of your illness and help prevent complications. Do not give aspirin to a child or teenager with the flu to avoid a known adverse effect, Reye’s syndrome. Seek medical attention (especially for children under 5 years of age, the elderly, and immune compromised individuals) if fever, sweats, or weakness persist.

The Lymphatic System

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

If there is such a thing as the "Rodney Dangerfield" of body systems, it has to be the lymphatic system. The role of the lymphatic system in health is glossed over in medical school curriculums, passing the lips of most practicing physicians only when discussing disease (lymphedema, lymphadenitis, lymphoma), rarely receiving mention for its vital, health-promoting functions.
The lymphatic system consists of lymph fluid, vessels, valves, more than 400 nodes, two tonsils, the thymus gland and the spleen. About 10 percent of the fluid that passes through the tiniest blood vessels called capillaries becomes trapped in our tissues. This daily accumulation of about one-and-a-half liters of trapped fluid would be our demise if the lymphatic system did not collect it and return it to the circulatory system through lymphatic vessels. Most lymph is clear, with the exception of that absorbed from the small intestinal area. It is called chyme and is milky in color because of the fat molecules it contains.
Unlike the circulatory system that has a pump (the heart), lymph flows as a result of filtration pressure, breathing, gentle movement, and pulsation of neighboring blood vessels. Once mobilized, lymphatic fluid reenters the circulatory system by eventually draining into major veins located in the upper chest region. The largest lymphatic vessel in the body is the thoracic duct. It is located in the left chest/abdominal area, and most of the body’s lymph is funneled into it. The spleen is the largest lymph node or gland.
The lymphatic system is where front line immune activity occurs. Its circulating cells, notably white blood cells or lymphocytes, gather and flow in the lymphatic vessels. It is here that surveillance and destruction of foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses occurs through antibody production and activity. Toxins are also removed from the body through lymphatic fluid. Though there are some rare genetic diseases of the lymphatic system, most people become aware of this body system through the experience of having a superficial swollen lymph node in their neck, armpit, or groin that accompanies an infection. This swelling is called lymphadenitis, a medical term for inflammation of a lymph node, and is usually a sign that the immune system is doing its job of recognizing and combating infection. A swelling of a limb called lymphedema results when the flow of lymph is impeded either through a birth defect or more often as a side effect of surgery, radiation or trauma. As many as 30 percent of women having a mastectomy will, for example, have lymphedema of the affected arm. Restricted lymph flow and accumulation of toxins in the breast can result from bras that are too tight.
Lymphoma is a malignant overproduction of white blood cells that may become apparent by the appearance of swelling in superficial lymph nodes in the neck or groin or an enlarged spleen. Not all cancers in lymph nodes are lymphomas. Cancer cells can migrate through the lymphatic system, resulting in non-primary lymph node cancers such as breast or colon cancer spreading to local or regional lymph nodes.
Because immunity and surveillance of cancer cells have their origins in the lymphatic system, further research in understanding the lymphatic system’s important functions may hold clues to more effective treatment of all cancers, autoimmune diseases, and overall immune function.
Tactics to facilitate good lymphatic flow and function include deep breathing from the diaphragm, gentle bouncing on a rebounder (small trampoline), stretching, dry brushing of the skin with a soft brush (always brushing toward the heart), exercise, and avoiding obesity. Don’t wear restrictive undergarments, clothing, or belts. Certified lymphatic massage therapists can gently assist the flow of stagnant lymphatic fluid. Check with your medical healthcare provider before starting any new treatment.

Viruses R Us

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

What we thought were answers have turned into questions when it comes to the topic of viruses. Any perceived borders between human DNA and viral DNA have become blurred, making it unclear if we "have a virus" or if viruses actually "have" us.
More than 3,500 viruses have been classified. Viruses are so tiny (about a thousand times smaller than bacteria) that they can only be seen with a special electron microscope. They vary in form from spherical or rod-shaped to structures resembling lunar landing modules.
Viruses are responsible for relatively harmless ailments such as the common cold, warts, and chicken pox, as well as more serious illnesses such as mono, measles, gastroenteritis, herpes, shingles, viral hepatitis, influenza, polio, West Nile, Hantavirus, SARS, Ebola, and HIV/AIDS. Viruses cause 10 percent of all cancers. The health of our animal friends is affected by viruses that result in diseases including feline leukemia, Parvo, rabies, and bird flu. Use good hygiene and preventive practices to avoid contracting disease from insects or other animals.
Scientists debate amongst themselves whether viruses are living or not. Most scientists agree that viruses exist in a gray area between life and inanimate matter. To be considered as "living," the simplest functioning unit of an organism (a cell) needs the capability to reproduce, eat, and die. Bacteria, human and plant cells, for example, meet this criteria as they all contain a nucleus with DNA that enables them to reproduce, they eat, and they die. Not so with viruses. They are simply genetic material (DNA or RNA) wearing a protein coat and don’t even have a nucleus. They don’t eat and can lie dormant, hovering between life and death for long periods of time. Living organisms must come to the assistance of these cleverly dependent viruses.
Without so much as a "howdy," viruses enter living cells and hijack their host’s cellular activity by inserting their own DNA into the host cell’s DNA, for the purpose of using host cells as their own private virus nursery. The host cell may die during "viral childbirth" or it may live to slowly produce more viruses for years. Viruses can lie dormant in their host’s cells for decades, patiently waiting for some triggering event that instructs them to start reproducing viral genetic material. Using a kind of "primitive intelligence" to cleverly alter the host cell’s genetic code, viruses can avoid being detected by their host’s immune system.
Viruses are simple-minded: all they want to do is reproduce. To accomplish this, they can gain entry into the human body through vectors including birds, pets, mosquitoes, rodents, bats, ticks, and can even hitch a ride inside bacteria. They can also enter the body through mucus membranes or a break or cut in our first line of defense against infection (the skin), through contact with contaminated surfaces such as drinking glasses, doorknobs, or when we inhale viral matter that is shed from another person’s sneeze. Viruses can invade a variety of body tissues including respiratory cells (influenza), nerve tissue (shingles), or circulating immune cells (HIV/AIDS). Body fluids including saliva, blood, semen, nasal secretions, vaginal secretions, and sputum can shed viruses.
The encroachment of humans into all previously remote areas of our planet through international travel increases the risks of exposure to and transmission of viruses. Ecological imbalances from overpopulation and chemical poisoning of our global environment decrease our immunity and encourage viral mutations. Viruses are highly adaptable and are continually reinventing themselves, making it difficult for epidemiologists (scientists who study all matters of public health) to track them and to accurately predict their impact on public health.
Through sequencing of genetic code made it possible by the Genome Project, it is indisputable that viral DNA has been part and parcel of human DNA throughout the history of mankind. Genetically speaking, Viruses R Us.

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