Why Does Everything Hurt?

As we age, it seems like every day we discover a new ache or a pain in our body that never bothered us before.  Many of us are plagued by chronic pain, and we do not know how to alleviate it. Part of the issue is that we are constantly doing things during the day which exacerbate our symptoms and we don’t even realize it. Additionally, as we get older, we often forget that our bodies are not quite as resilient; after a week of sedentary behavior, we will hit the gym or play sports full force on the weekend and wind up injuring ourselves.

One of the most common complaints is lower back pain. This often results from sitting for too long and from sitting incorrectly. Sometimes lower back pain can be a result of a disc injury or arthritis, but for most of us, it is just the result of not moving enough. First, position your desk so you are sitting with proper posture. It is also important to get up for frequent breaks and to stretch and to move around. Outside the office, lower back pain can be exacerbated while exercising. It is imperative to make sure you are not using your lower back during weight lifting or other exercises. Instead, focus on activating the hips and glutes to protect your lower back during your workouts. Additionally, strengthen your core muscles to stabilize your trunk, which will also decrease the load on your back.

Another common malady is neck pain and stiffness. This can result from sitting improperly, walking incorrectly, driving with your head jutting forward, or from sleeping with you neck turned.  Also, stress and tension play a significant role in neck pain and stiffness as well.  Neck pain can increase outside during exercise as well. Often, while performing exercises, we lead with our chin and put extra pressure and strain on our necks without realizing it. Proper form and activation is key to keep the neck pain free. Meditation, stretching and other stress relief techniques are also helpful for decreasing neck pain.

Other common ailments are knee pain, joint pains, muscle strains, and carpal tunnel syndrome. If symptoms are severe and you do not see improvement, you should visit a doctor to rule out a major injury. Assuming there is no disc issue or major tear, sprain or break, many of these problems are caused by our activities of daily living and improper form during therapeutic and strength exercises. The way we sit, walk, talk on the phone, sleep, and exercise all impact how our body moves and feels. Form during exercise is extremely important. Many clients don’t realize their positioning is off and might be affecting their mobility, flexibility, cardio endurance, and strength.

Most people will feel better by engaging in a routine that includes stretching to improve join mobility. It is helpful to use tools like a foam roller or baseball to alleviate knots and to help stretching. Secondly, weight loss often helps with daily aches and pains. Extra weight can put pressure on the joints and cause pain and discomfort. A healthy diet and cardiovascular exercise can help decrease weight and issues with pain. Lastly, strength training, especially core training, helps decrease muscle pain because the muscles stabilize the joints.

It seems like the answer to feeling better and decreasing pain is to engage in physical activity with proper form. As the New Year approaches, make your body a priority, and meet with a personal trainer to ensure you are performing exercises correctly, and to make sure you are utilizing exercises to help with your individual issues.

 

Happy Holidays!

Exercise

Exercise As You Age

As Corporate America gets older, the baby boomers are finding it harder to adhere to a healthy and active lifestyle. Anyone, from the receptionist answering phones to the CEO closing 7 figure deals, can have terrible eating habits, less time to exercise, and more stress than they are meant to endure. These environmental stresses speed up the aging process, thus contributing to the deterioration of the body. Throw in a crazy travel schedule and bad sleeping habits, and you have your average American. Because of these stressors, 1 in 3 Americans is considered obese and struggles with weight issues.  Our lack of activity is actually killing us, and the older we get the more important exercise becomes.

So why do people refuse to exercise even a little bit? There are too many reasons to list, but often I hear, “I don’t know where to start.”  In a sea of misinformation and in an unregulated fitness industry, it is almost impossible to know where to begin. The gym can be a dangerous place if you do not know how to use the equipment. As an expert witness, I have seen improper form and misuse of equipment that leaves me speechless. My advice to those confused about what to do is to start by finding a reputable professional, who has an accredited certification and who can list doctors as references.

As we age if you get hurt it takes longer to recover. For this reason err on the side of caution when starting a program. Regardless of age the most common injuries are low back and shoulder. Very often, these injuries are simply a result of poor exercise form or performing the wrong exercise in general. Starting out at a high intensity and doing complex exercises may seem like the best avenue for fast results, but more often than not, it results in injury. It is crucial to take a person’s daily activities and orthopedic issues into account before prescribing exercise. For example, if you sit all day and have low back pain or discomfort, sit ups and leg raises may actually make your condition worse. Planks, chops and deadbugs are safer and more effective alternatives for the core. In addition, some machines are not designed properly and can contribute to injury. For instance, some seated leg presses can stress the lower back and cause pain and/or injury. For the lower body, it is safer to start with a ball squat or step up instead of a machine, so as not to disrupt natural movement patterns.

As we age, we lose muscle mass and flexibility, and our balance degrades. Posture is a major problem, especially for corporate America, because they sit for so many hours, often without breaks.  It is important to create a solid foundation for an active lifestyle and focus on exercises that attain personal goals. Performing balance exercises, stretching and correcting postural distortions are critical to participation in daily activities. Without these exercises, the likelihood of daily pain and injury is markedly increased. Stretching and core strengthening will eliminate most of common everyday aches and pains.

Balance, mobility, postural training, and circuit training with weights at a 50-60% intensity are a great start for the older sedentary population. It might sound easy, but if you haven’t been exercising for a long time, it will be plenty challenging. It is important to remember that we are all individuals with different strength and weaknesses, so what may be easy for one person may be impossible for another person. Do not just copy exercises that surround you in the gym. Remember that you are a unique individual and your workout needs to be tailored to your specific needs. A majority of older clients who were not athletes or workout buffs in their youth have no interest in looking like a fitness model or a bulging Adonis on the beach. They just want to feel better and live longer. More than half the battle is the training consistency, not the training intensity. If a client does a low to moderate level workout and follows a fairly healthy diet, he/she will feel better and have health benefits, even if he/she is only exercising a couple of days per week. The bottom line is some exercise is better than no exercise.

I have worked with many older clients, and in fact, my oldest was 90 years old. In my experience, I found that exercise programs do not include enough flexibility training and intensity is usually too high. Many professionals believe you must train at a high intensity to get any substantial results. There is plenty of reputable research that shows higher levels of intensity can be a better use of time compared to low to moderate levels of exercise. The majority of these professionals will insist that regardless of your age, you need to build your workouts up to intensities beyond 80-90%. While there is truth to the science behind this theory, the experts fail to explain that working out at lower levels is still extremely beneficial. They don’t take into account that at higher intensities, injury risk is increased, and a majority of older individuals are not interested in exercising at that level and will never stick to that sort of program. Others cannot train at that level because of orthopedic injuries or some other health limitations. If a client’s goal is to eliminate back pain, to increase balance and to be able to play with their grandchildren, plyometrics and intense sprinting is probably unnecessary. They will get more benefit from full body circuit training with active rests and with sets that include therapeutic exercises and stretching. When we look long term consistency is king because the most consistent person regardless of intensity will reap the most rewards of exercise.

The fact is low to moderate intensity workouts will produce significant results and keep your client healthy and pain free. If a person is capable of more and wants to work up to a high intensity program, I am not against it and agree that it works for some people. I believe the average person does not have an athletic history and is frequently deconditioned. In my personal experience, it seems that the people who need low intensity exercise the most believe it is a waste of time to work out if they aren’t “dying” during a workout, and therefore they won’t engage in lower intensity training. The truth is most Americans just need to move and do low level exercises to remove stress and to keep them healthy.  For some people, exercise is a stress outlet, it helps them stay healthy, and it keeps their eating habits on track.  Lower intensity exercise is also important for those who need to recover from their active lifestyle. For example, clients playing 2 hrs. per day 4-5 times per week or those who are avid runners training 25 miles per week should focus their training on flexibility, recovery and exercising when they are in the gym. The goal should be to increase efficiency and to increase the longevity of participation in that activity.

My advice it to focus on the fundamentals and to get the client moving better and feeling good. Once you achieve this, then you and the client can decide what is next. Individualize the workouts and encourage them to meet their individual goals. Start with a solid foundation, and if high intensity is their goal, gradually build up to those type of workouts at a pace that works for the client physically and mentally.

 

By Charles DeFrancesco CPT

THE ARENA, 1133 Westchester Avenue, White Plains, NY 10604   www.thearenafitness.com

 

Contributing Author: Denise Groothuis RD CPT

 

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4619258/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2723667/

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20140401/too-much-running-tied-to-shorter-lifespan-studies-find
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S053155651730503X?via%3Dihub

https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/doc-calls-deconditioning-a-conditio-12-08-15/

https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/bonemass.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296958/?
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080228112008.htm

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/fitness/exercise/article/intense-aerobic-exercise-best

http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/specialtopic/physical-activity/exercise’s-effects-on-the-heart.html

https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter4.aspx

http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/specialtopic/physical-activity/print.html

https://blog.paleohacks.com/low-intensity-high-intensity-exercise/

https://www.stoptheclot.org/news/athletes-and-blood-clots.htm

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity

https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/11585920-000000000-00000

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/obesity-report-one-third-of-u-s-adults-are-beyond-overweight/

http://www.onyourmark.nyc/single-post/2016/02/24/Uncounted-Personal-Trainers-in-NYC-Lack-Certification-You-Get-ALL-The-Risk

https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/personal-trainers-2

 

Arthritis

Do I Have Arthritis?

This is the question everyone older than forty worries about and no one under 40 thinks they could possibly have. The problem with arthritis is that it is an irreversible disease process that often progresses and gets worse.

What is arthritis? Arthritis is simply the damage to cartilage in a joint. The cartilage is the smooth white end of the joints that protects the underlying bone and allows your joints move smoothly. The most common joints affected are the knees, the hips and the shoulders. It also occurs commonly in the hand at the base of the thumb. It can occur in all other joints of the body including ankles, wrists, elbows, fingers and toes.

The most common symptom of arthritis is pain; pain with moving and pain when sitting too long. The joint can also swell and be affected by changes in the weather. Many arthritis sufferers feel stiffness in the morning and it starts to loosen up with activity. People with arthritis often feel popping and crunching in their joints.

Preventing arthritis is much better than treating it. Get your weight where it should be because wear and tear from carrying extra weight will cause arthritis. Stretching and strengthening will prevent arthritis. This is especially important for your larger muscle groups like quadriceps and hamstrings. Avoid unnecessary trauma to joints such as from falls or car accidents, but running does not cause damage to joints. Again, studies have shown that running does not cause arthritis.

Treating arthritis is not complicated and orthopedic sports specialists deal with this problem frequently. Therapy can be very effective. A steroid shot is called “a miracle” by many patients. However, the most important aspect of treating arthritis is first confirming that you have the correct diagnosis.

Almost every day I see patients who were told by another doctor that they have arthritis and that they need surgery. However, most people can be improved or even cured without surgery. If you did not have an x-ray, then arthritis has not been confirmed. Popping and swelling is a symptom of arthritis but the only way to know for certain is get an x-ray and have an orthopedist review it with you.

I always recommend getting a second opinion before you go for major surgery such as total knee or total hip replacement. Some surgeons push patients to surgery too quickly. Find an orthopedic doctor you trust and ask questions. Surgery is almost never the first line of treatment.

Carbs

Why We Need Carbs

 

Nutrition advice and diet books are a dime a dozen. It seems like every season there is a new diet fad, a new supplement to try, or a new book that guarantees weight loss. Even the educated consumer can become confused by all the different choices, which may make it difficult to determine the best way to be healthy and to lose weight.

The low carb/no carb craze became very popular with the Atkins Diet. Different versions of this model are still widely accepted as the best way to lose weight. Many people swear by the no carb diet, but is this the most effective and healthiest way to shed pounds?

Even though many people have success on carbohydrate free diets, it is not ideal because our bodies absolutely need carbohydrates to survive. Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the body because they are easier to break down than fats and they spare protein for more important roles in the body. Additionally, the brain ONLY uses glucose (which comes from carbohydrates) to function. Therefore, if you do not consume enough carbohydrates, your body will break down protein in your muscles to use for fuel for the brain. This is the last thing that we want!

That does not mean we should binge on carbohydrate rich foods. You must choose wisely among starches, but you should not eliminate all carbohydrates from your diet.  Fruits, vegetables, and starches all have carbohydrates. Most of your daily carbohydrates should come from fruit and vegetable intake.  Fruits and vegetables contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, which are essential to human health and well- being. Phytonutrients contain antioxidants, which are compounds that reduce oxidative stress and inflammation which, in turn, affect metabolism. Eliminating fruits and vegetables from your diet may have a negative impact on weight loss and on your health.

Since different types of carbohydrates break down into sugar at different rates, it is important to select high fiber, nutrient dense starches rather than simple sugars to avoid weight gain.  This is because simple sugars enter the bloodstream and are absorbed quickly, causing blood sugar levels to increase rapidly. This spikes insulin levels and over time your body may become resistant to this insulin. The job of insulin is to get sugar into the cells of your body where it is converted into energy or stored as fat.  As the body develops insulin resistance, there can be increased hunger and weight gain. Your body may also stop responding to the hormone, which could result in diabetes.

Simple sugars and processed foods metabolize quickly into sugar (glucose) and are mostly empty calories. Additionally, most of these items are filled with chemicals and do not contain important nutrients. Conversely, fruits, vegetables, and beans are filled with fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, which enter your bloodstream slowly and stabilize your metabolism.

Healthy grains with high fiber can be incorporated into the diet, but they should not contain sugar or be processed. People tend to overeat grains and they may cause inflammation, so it is best to limit them or measure them out into a very small portion if you are trying to lose weight. If you do eat grains, it is also a good idea to eat gluten free to decrease inflammation to the gut while dieting.

The bottom line is that carbohydrates are not the enemy, but sugar certainly is. Eat a variety of fresh, organic foods and stay away from anything processed. Drink plenty of water and exercise regularly. This is the answer to weight loss.

Golf Help

Dynamic Golf Specific Stretches

Are you a golfer?

Is it a hassle to get loose before a round? Is it time consuming?

Hitting balls at the range and spending time at the putting green is important, however; stretching for 10 minutes pre-round can be saving you strokes too! So maybe it is in your best interest to stop your practice session 10 minutes early and follow these golf friendly warm-ups!

Static stretching is not what you want to do prior to a round of golf.  Instead, opt for dynamic stretches.  Dynamic stretching accomplishes many things.  It increases blood flow, increases range of motion, increases your awareness of joint position, and improves your athletic performance.

These golf specific stretches will not only loosen your body but will provide you with a strong/powerful foundation leaving you with a faster swing and leading to further shots.

Shoulder Blade Retraction

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms out perpendicular to the ground while holding a resistance band.  Pull the band apart while keeping arms perpendicular to the ground and posture still.

Overhead Squat

 Place a club over your head with your arms fully extended.  Have both hands on each end of the club.  Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and squat down until your thighs are close to parallel with the ground.

Golfers Lunge

 Drop down into a lunge, then try and touch your elbow to the back of your foot. For example, if your left leg is the lead leg use your left elbow to touch your left foot. This extra movement will further stretch the gluteus muscle.

Bent-Over T-Spine Extension

This is a great stretch to open your thoracic spine, which is your mid-back. Get into a golf stance and bend over a little further than normal. Place both arms below with your palms up. Reach around and behind you with one arm while watching that hand.

Hamstring Stretch

 To perform this stretch, sit on the ground with your right leg stretched out in front of you and your left knee bent with your foot facing your right knee. Keep your chest up and back straight. Bend forward at the hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.

 

By Scott Sessions CPT

Man in bed

Sleep for Testosterone Production

Man In Bed Woken By Alarm On Mobile Phone

When men think of testosterone production and function, they mostly think about exercise and vigor.  But one very important component that is commonly overlooked, is sleep.  In a study that was conducted with young men, getting less than five hours of sleep per night drastically reduced their testosterone levels as compared with a full night’s sleep.  The reduction in testosterone levels were mostly observed between the hours of 2pm and 10pm on the days when they had five hours of sleep or less.  Five hours of sleep showed a 10-15% decrease in testosterone levels.  This study also found that skimping on sleep can reduce a young man’s testosterone levels by the same amount as aging 10-15 years.

Poor and little sleep have been shown to be endocrine disrupters, which means that many of our hormones are not able to function optimally, including testosterone.  Testosterone is not just important for your libido, but also involved in regulating metabolism, building strength, and reproduction.  There is a natural reduction in testosterone levels as men age by about 1%-2% each year.  Low levels of testosterone are associated with a low sex drive, fatigue, a depressed mood, and difficulty concentrating.  Paying attention to sleep quality and duration is one major way that anyone can mitigate their decline in testosterone, along with regular exercise.  Remember, it’s not just about being physically active.  Recovery is an equally important component, and specifically, a good night’s sleep.

By Rima Sidhu

Article

The Art of Bouncing Back

During Super Bowl 2017, we witnessed the New England Patriots being down by 25 points.  As improbable as it was, they scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, including a couple of 2-point conversions, to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime.

In 1993, then world’s No. 1 tennis player, Monica Seles, was stabbed in the back, which led to a 2-year physical and emotional rehabilitation. In 1995, in her first tournament back, she wins the Canadian Open, followed by winning the Australian Open in 1996 and 19 single tournaments before retiring in 2008.

I am sure we all know many stories of remarkable individuals who, despite all odds, demonstrated ultimate achievements. They succeeded beyond people’s expectations, but not beyond their own expectations. But, what makes them apart from others? How were these individuals able to bounce back? And, what can we learn from their experiences?

  • Positive Mindset

Athletes do not approach their games wanting to fail or perform below their skills. However, they tend to underperform when their minds get distracted by negative thoughts or by circumstances that distract their minds. A positive mindset is like having control at the wheel. It allows them to take full charge of where they need to put their attention to while navigating around the obstacles that come along the way. Rather than being affected by distractions, athletes constantly shifts their attention into actions that will guide them to achieve their goals.

By no means their minds will not get distracted. On the contrary, they understand that distractions are bound to happen. Unfavorable referee calls, unexpected comeback from the opponent, and falling behind early in the game are situations that athletes have not control over. However, a positive mindset accepts these situations as part of the game by just focusing on controlling what is controllable.

Also, a positive mindset relieves athletes from carrying the additional pressure of needing to do well. All the preparation leading to the performance is behind. By fully trusting in a positive mindset, it allows athletes to face competition and all its challenges head on rather than carrying on their shoulders the unrealistic expectation of having to win or else. Instead, it allows athletes to trust in their skills, be more focused, and fully present.

  • Resilience

Resilience is seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. Athletes know that success is achieved by embracing all the experiences that take place along the way. Just like they fully enjoy celebrating winning performances, they also embrace failing. They understand the greatest source of knowledge comes from those experiences where they did not achieve their goals. Instead, they use those opportunities to analyze what happened in order to make necessary changes that will give them a greater opportunity to achieve success next time. Each opportunity is food for thought.

Success does not happen while navigating on a straight line. Instead, it is an up and down road that brings challenges along the way. Some of those challenges will test your mind, body, skills, stamina, commitment, and perseverance. Along the way, disappointments will be experienced. As disappointing as it is to achieve below expectations, top performers shift their focus to capitalize on strength and improve on their weaknesses. In so doing, they are true to themselves, which may lead to the realization that their mindset is not as positive as needed to be.

Resilience as an adaptation game. Each time a realistic goal is set, set your mind to achieve it. Put your full commitment and trust to achieve such a goal. If it is not achieved, rather than punishing yourself, take the time to understand you. Be honest with what you need to change and commit to making those changes next time. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.”

  • Commitment

Verbalizing what you want to achieve is only the beginning; however, commitment to pursue your dreams will ultimately lead you to achieve them. Commitment rests on having self-belief. It is the notion that the goal will be achieved no matter what challenges need to be faced. Many athletes dream big and fantasize having a glamorous life style, but failed to achieve their goals. Athletes that are fully committed to achieve perseverance and focus ultimately reach their dreams.

Commitment starts by identifying what one wants to achieve. The clearer, time-specific, and realistic expectation is identified, the more focused one will be to steer the attention towards those goals. As a consequence, the better the focus and commitment, the more likely improvement will be achieved.  On the other hand, not being fully committed or focused on your goals will most likely lead to fall short of your true potential.

Einstein said, “genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work.” Those who achieved superb goals truly committed themselves to taking one step at the time while envisioning what they wanted to achieve. They understand that failing, not failure, is part of the journey. They remained positive despite all odds and used their experiences, both good and bad, as a continuous learning tool.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela

Alex Diaz, PhD

Sports Mental Edge

Eating Junk Food

Are You on Fire?

If you suffer from any of the following: chronic pain, fatigue, depression, digestive issues, memory loss, or are over-weight, chances are you are inflamed.

We often hear about inflammation, inflammatory and anti-inflammatory diets. But what does it all mean?

Inflammation gets a bad rap but it is actually a healing response in which our immune system is stimulated and trying to fight something potentially harmful to the body.

There are different causes of inflammation including:

  • pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc.)
  • chemical irritants
  • acute injuries
  • foods

This article will address dietary causes of chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation increases risk of:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer
  • chronic pain
  • neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s
  • autoimmune disease
  • IBS
  • Diabetes

Here’s an extremely simplified version of what happens.

So many foods that are staples of our standard American diet are not good for us. Some of these foods and additives should not be consumed by any human beings. Some things may not necessarily be bad for everyone, but some people may have sensitivities to them.

These foods and additives can cause damage to the intestinal lining and create imbalance in the bacteria that lives in our gut. This bacteria, known as the intestinal flora, or microbiome, is an essential component in digestion and immune function.

Now that the bacterial balance has been disrupted, foods that are harmful will not be broken down and excreted properly. And foods that ARE good for us may not be broken down and properly absorbed either, which can lead to deficiencies of nutrients. There can also be overgrowth of bad bacteria, which is fed by the bad foods, creating more problems and stress in the system.

The damage to the intestinal lining can cause something called “leaky gut” in which particles of food that should not be absorbed into the bloodstream will now “sneak in” and be absorbed. Because these bad particles of food are absorbed, it triggers the immune system to ramp up and fight, creating inflammation.

Inflammation should not be consistent or long-term. It should resolve so the body can repair and move on. So when we consistently feed this inflammatory process, it wreaks havoc on the whole body. In some people it can lead to autoimmune disease in which the immune system will start to attack the body’s own tissues causing damage. Research is demonstrating that most neurological disease is in fact autoimmune in nature and therefore a result of inflammation. In some it can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc, etc.

I’m often asked what supplements or pills help with inflammation. Without getting rid of the cause, supplements or pills may help a little but won’t fix the problem. It’s like trying to control a fire that you’re continuously dousing with fuel.

What can we do?

Here are major causes of inflammation that can be controlled simply by lifestyle changes:

  • Standard American Diet (S.A.D.)
  • Diets high in sugar
  • Diets high in processed foods
  • Vegetable oils (except olive and coconut)
  • Diets low in fruits and vegetables
  • Smoking
  • Toxins in food, water, cleaning products, environment
  • Certain drugs (always consult with your physician about drugs)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Dehydration
  • Essential fatty acid deficiency
  • Lack of sleep

Eating a clean balanced diet, getting adequate movement and sleep and avoiding toxins will surely help to decrease inflammation. Avoid the known, common triggers.

If problems persist, seek the help of a professional who can help further evaluate your situation, figure out the cause and formulate a plan to properly address it.

By Robert Inesta, DC, L.Ac., CFMP, CCSP

Check Yourself to Protect Yourself

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Currently, 1 in 8 women in the US have breast cancer. It’s critical for women to do monthly exams and to go for regular screenings. Let’s discuss what breast cancer is and how early detection is key for survival.

Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow and multiply abnormally. This can happen if the genes in a cell that control cell growth no longer work properly. As a result, the cell divides uncontrollably and may form a tumor. These cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. Many breast lumps are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. That means they can’t spread and are not life-threatening. Malignant tumors are cancerous. If left untreated, the cancer can invade surrounding tissue and spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.

Breast cancers can start from different parts of the breast. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (ductal cancers). Some start in the glands that make breast milk (lobular cancers). There are also other types of breast cancer that are less common. A small number of cancers start in other tissues in the breast. These cancers are called sarcomas and lymphomas and are not really thought of as breast cancers. Although many types of breast cancer can cause a lump in the breast, not all do.  Many breast cancers are found on screening mammograms which can detect cancers at an earlier stage, often before they can be felt, and before symptoms develop.

You may notice symptoms on your own that could be suspicious. If you notice any of the following, consult your doctor immediately:

  • a lump or thickness in or near the breast or under the arm
  • unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast, particularly on one side only
  • dimpling or puckering of the breast
  • nipple discharge (fluid) other than breast milk that occurs without squeezing the nipple
  • breast skin changes, such as redness, flaking, thickening, or pitting that looks like the skin of an orange
  • a nipple that becomes sunken (inverted), red, thick, or scaly

Women with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop breast cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that a woman will definitely get breast cancer. Many women with risk factors never do. Your risk for breast cancer rises as you get older. About 80% of breast cancers are found in women over age 50 — many of whom have no other known risk factors for the disease. Although you’re two to three times more likely to get breast cancer if you have a strong family history of the disease, only 5-10% of breast cancers are inherited, meaning that they are linked to gene mutations passed down in families, such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Several other risk factors may slightly boost your chances of getting breast cancer. These include:

  • Gender: Breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men.
  • Personal Health History: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast in the future.
  • Menstrual and Reproductive History: Early menstruation (before age 12), late menopause (after 55), having your first child at an older age, or never having given birth can also increase your risk for breast cancer.
  • Certain Genome Changes: Mutations in certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase your risk for breast cancer. This is determined through a genetic test, which you may consider taking if you have a family history of breast cancer. Individuals with these gene mutations can pass the gene mutation onto their children.
  • Dense Breast Tissue: Having dense breast tissue can increase your risk for breast cancer and make lumps harder to detect. Be sure to ask your physician if you have dense breasts and what the implications of having dense breasts are.

If you have breast cancer, knowing the stage helps guide your treatment plan. Breast cancer is typically staged with Roman numerals ranging from 0 (the earliest stage) to IV (the most advanced stage). The stages of breast cancer are used to describe the extent of your cancer at the time of diagnosis. Your doctor will base the stage of your cancer on a physical exam and other diagnostic tests. This is known as clinical stage. The final, or pathologic, stage is determined after surgery when the size of the cancer is measured under a microscope and it is definitely known if there is cancer in the lymph nodes. Cancer stages are based on:

  • whether the cancer is invasive or noninvasive
  • the size of the tumor
  • whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to the lymph nodes, and if so, to how many of them
  • whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or liver

Your doctor will assign a stage to your cancer after your physical exam and the initial results from your mammogram or other diagnostic imaging test. The stage may be adjusted after lab reports from your breast biopsy or surgery. In determining the stage of your cancer, your doctor will take into account what is called the T-N-M scale: T meaning tumor size; N relating to the involvement of nearby lymph nodes; and M referring to whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) beyond the breast to other parts of your body.

In conclusion, early detection is key to beating this horrible disease. Millions of women each year celebrate survival. Self-exams should be performed along with regular check-ups with your doctor. Those with a family history or other risk factors, should be even more diligent. A little extra time out of your day can make all the difference in your tomorrow.

References:

American Cancer Society

Memorial Sloan Kettering

National Breast Cancer Foundation

BreastCancer.Org

By Gina Stallone

Bringing Awareness to an Invisible Illness

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, is a condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels. 1 out of 10 women have this illness. Despite this ratio, experts believe that more than half of women with PCOS don’t even realize they have it. September is PCOS Awareness Month, where we shed some light on this invisible illness.

Women with PCOS have slightly higher levels of testosterone and androgen in the body than normal for the average woman. Despite the name, you may not necessarily have ovarian cysts. Symptoms can sometimes present themselves at the onset of a girl’s period; however, many won’t notice anything until they’ve gained a significant amount of weight or have trouble getting pregnant. In some cases, women don’t find out they have PCOS until after they have their first child. The most common symptoms are irregular periods, heavy bleeding, excess hair growth, acne, weight gain, male-pattern baldness, darkening of the skin, fatigue, and headaches. PCOS is also linked with chronic inflammation, which can leave you feeling achy, fatigued, and it contributes to weight gain.

Along with the myriad of symptoms, one of the biggest issues with PCOS is how it affects your ability to become and/or stay pregnant. In fact, it is the leading cause of female infertility. Between 70 and 80 percent of women with PCOS have fertility problems. This condition can also increase the risk of complication during pregnancy. Women with PCOS are twice as likely as women without the condition to deliver their baby prematurely. They’re also at greater risk for miscarriage, high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes. However, hope is not lost. Having PCOS does not mean you will be incapable of becoming pregnant naturally; it just may take longer than others. Losing weight and lowering blood sugar levels can improve your odds of having a healthy pregnancy. Women with PCOS can also get pregnant using fertility treatments that improve ovulation.

There is no cure for PCOS; however, there are several medications and treatments your doctor may suggest. Medications such as birth control & metformin are often prescribed to reduce symptoms and/or regulate your period. Fertility medicines may also be recommended for those trying to become pregnant. Your doctor may require regular tests and follow up visits to be sure that the treatment/medication is working properly and to adjust if necessary. Some doctors may also recommend supplements, including berberine, folate, B12, vitamin D, and inositol. Regular exercise, healthy eating, and weight control are also key treatments for PCOS. Unfortunately, it can be more challenging to lose weight and to maintain weight loss with PCOS. Some recommended foods to avoid are foods that are high in refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and muffins, sugary snacks and drinks, and inflammatory foods, such as processed and red meats. Many women with PCOS often have higher than normal insulin levels. Doctors advise that just a slight weight reduction and increase of exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek help from your OB/GYN as soon as possible. The sooner you get help, the sooner you will be on the path to feeling better!

By: Gina Stallone