flu fighting tips

The best defense from the flu is a flu vaccine, and December is not too late to get one. The best defense from a cold is to wash your hands and avoid contact with airborne germs from coughs or sneezes of others. [© Racorn | Dreamstime.com]

If you’ll be home for the holidays, you’ll likely socialize with family and friends, travel on an airplane or be one of the crowd at the mall… and someone there inevitably will be sick. All it takes is one projectile sneeze, a handshake, a kiss at a party, or a taste of the dip after someone else double dipped and wham! You’re down with a cold or the flu.

Some people may think the flu isn’t all that serious; but you need to remember that it can be a very dangerous—even fatal—illness, especially for the very young, the very old and the immune-compromised. It descends upon our local communities every year, often causing serious illness and sometimes death. And after the holiday season, we begin seeing more cases.

The best defense from the flu is a flu vaccine – and December is not too late to get one. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it takes about two weeks after receiving the shot to develop antibodies to fight flu. The best defense from a cold is to wash your hands and avoid contact with airborne germs from the coughs or sneezes of others. Eating and sleeping well can also help boost your immunity. Here are some tips for safe socializing this holiday season:

      • wash your hands often
      • don’t share drinks or food
      • let your faithful friends gather near but not too near – try to stay away from people who are sick
      • stay home if you are sick, and
      • cover your cough with a tissue or cough into the inside of your elbow so your hands don’t transmit germs.

What should I do if I get the flu?
If your illness is mild, stay home and avoid contact with other people. Call your doctor’s office to see if a prescription antiviral drug is right for you. You should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. However, if you have symptoms and are in a high-risk group, contact your doctor for advice.

What is the difference between the common cold and the flu?
In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough are more common and intense. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations. Special tests done within the first few days of illness can determine if you have the flu.

If you practice good infection prevention, you may be able to avoid looking like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this season. Healthy Holidays!

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Flu Myths Dispelled

Mark Landrum, M.D., an infectious disease specialist on staff at Howard County General Hospital, dispels the following myths. (Get more facts about the flu and vaccine, or  find a location offering the flu vaccine.)


  • "I shouldn’t bother with this year’s flu shot, since last year’s shot wasn’t very effective." Actually, an annual flu vaccine is the best protection against this serious disease. Each year, vaccines contain the three most common or likely flu viruses, and some vaccines contain protection against an additional virus. [© Subbotina | Dreamstime.com]
  • “There is no treatment if I have the flu.” On the contrary, staying hydrated and getting rest will help you recover from the flu. A prescription drug given in the first two days of the flu can shorten the duration and severity. See your doctor as soon as you think you have the flu. [© Comzeal | Dreamstime.com]
  • "I could get the flu from the shot." This is a myth. The flu shot is not a live virus, so you cannot get an infection from the vaccine; instead it will boost your immune system. The nasal vaccine protects with a very weak strain of influenza that doesn’t cause significant symptoms.[© Atholpady | Dreamstime.com]
  • “At night or on weekends, I have no options except to go to the Emergency Room.” No, if you have flu-like symptoms and are otherwise in good health, most physicians suggest you stay home and treat symptoms with over-the-counter medications and fluids, or they may prescribe Tamiflu. Some doctors have an on-call answering service for after hours. Urgent care facilities are also a good option when your doctor’s office is closed. If you have difficulty breathing, a prolonged high fever, severe dehydration or relapse after getting better, seek emergency medical care. [© Ronfromyork | Dreamstime.com]

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thanksgiving diet tips

[© Dmitriy Shironosov | Dreamstime.com]

And Any Upcoming Holiday Meal!

Everyone loves the holidays – a time for family and friends gathering and sharing meals and memories. Between turkey and stuffing and pies, this is also a time that is easy to fall off the healthy eating wagon and gain unwanted pounds. However, Thanksgiving does not always have to sabotage your waistline.

Below are some tips to enjoy your Thanksgiving while staying healthy:

  • Don’t overeat: It is easy on Thanksgiving with so many options and food in front of us to overeat. Skip the seconds by waiting at least twenty minutes after your meal to let your body realize if it is full or not. Have the turkey be the only thing that is stuffed this year!
  • Exercise: Put in a little extra exercise around the holidays before treating yourself to your Thanksgiving feast. Increasing the length of your workout and exercising to burn off the calories before you consume them is a good trick. In addition to exercising before your Thanksgiving meal, take a walk after dinner and plan a workout date for the following day.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking water throughout the day will keep you hydrated and keep hunger pains, that may actually be thirst, to a minimum. Also, go easy on alcohol where calories can sneak up on you.
  • Eat breakfast: Many follow the myth of skipping breakfast to save their appetite for the Thanksgiving feast – but this could actually be detrimental. Not eating until later in the day can easily lead to binging.
  • Eat fewer appetizers: By staying away from appetizers that you can have any day of the year, you save your appetite for the main course.
  • Try healthier recipes: If you are cooking or bringing a dish to Thanksgiving, lighten up your dishes by using less sugar and fat. Typically, no one will notice the difference if you scale back and use lower calorie ingredients.

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IBD symptoms treatment

[© Lensonfocus | Dreamstime.com] Although no cure exists for IBD, dietary changes and medication may help. If left untreated, IBD complications can arise, affecting your quality of life and contributing to an added risk of cancer.

IBS and IBD…do these gastrointestinal disorder acronyms have you confused? Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) share some similar symptoms, but treatment varies significantly between the conditions, making it important to get an accurate diagnosis.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine,
: the overarching name of two chronic diseases which cause swelling of the intestines or the colon: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
IBS: a digestive disorder that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas or a combination of these.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic, inflammatory IBD affecting all or only a small part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This autoimmune condition can progress deep into affected tissue. Ulcerative colitis is an IBD where the inner lining of the large intestine and rectum become inflamed and ulcers can form.

The symptoms of IBD vary and are similar to other bowel conditions and include diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, fatigue, fistulas, incontinence, rectal bleeding and weight loss.

“IBD symptoms are not only found in the GI tract. Symptoms can be extra-intestinal (outside the intestine) to include arthritis and joint pain, rashes and eye redness,” says Grishma Joy, M.D., a gastroenterologist on staff at HCGH. “You should see a doctor if you have symptoms lasting more than a few weeks and/or have recurrent symptoms, persistent pain, unintentional weight loss and/or rectal bleeding.”

Diagnosing IBD
Initially, testing for IBD begins with blood work and a lab test to check for inflammatory markers in your stool. A colonoscopy, often combined with an upper endoscopy, to collect tissue samples and visualize the GI tract are important tools in diagnosing IBD.

What Causes IBD?
According to Dr. Joy, the exact cause of IBD remains unclear, but we know that genetics and environmental factors can trigger IBD. Potential risk factors include if you:

  • have had your appendix removed
  • used Accutane (a form of vitamin A used to treat severe acne)
  • have a relative with IBD
  • are of Jewish ancestry (although IBD can occur in all ethnic and racial groups)
  • if you have IBS or celiac disease, you can also have IBD.

There is no specific IBD diet, but Dr. Joy suggests the following tips that may decrease your symptoms:

  • include fewer foreign substances in your diet, such as processed foods
  • reduce fresh fruits/raw vegetables: the antigens found in these uncooked foods can trigger a chemical reaction that causes IBD symptoms; instead, cook fruits and vegetables before eating them to eliminate the antigens
  • avoid red meat – it is hard to digest. Animal fat, along with fat in general, causes inflammation. If you are already overweight, you have a higher level of inflammation in your body already, and you should concentrate on avoiding too much fat that will only further increase your inflammation levels.

Treating IBD
Although there is no cure for IBD, several medications are available to help. “Many of the side effects of IBD prescription medications can be concerning. However, it is important for those diagnosed with IBD to understand their importance. If IBD is untreated, your risk of cancer can be increased. Additionally, untreated IBD can result in complications as the disease progresses, including: perforation or tearing of the intestines as a result of deep ulcers; abscess or infection; a fistula attaching to other organs; or malnutrition,” says Dr. Joy. “IBD can really affect quality of life and, as such, those with IBD may suffer from depression. Recognizing and addressing this is a very important aspect of effective management of the disease.”

There are many studies that show over-the-counter probiotics can provide relief from IBD symptoms. However, probiotics do not heal the intestinal lining, so you will need to continue taking your prescription medications.

“There are many new FDA-approved medications showing promise for those with IBD, and much research is in the pipeline,” notes Dr. Joy. “Nevertheless, if you are not responding to medication currently available, surgery can be an effective treatment option that often brings significant relief.”


Grishma Joy, M.D., is a gastroenterologist with Digestive Disease Associates in Columbia.




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As summer turns to fall, I feel the seasons changeover with achy twinges in my joints. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), like myself, feel changes in the weather with their bodies. I can feel big storms, pressure changes, and shifts in humidity.

Frequently, the most challenging transition I encounter is when summer shifts to fall. I often feel my best during summertime. I experience less joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and have more energy overall. Unfortunately, as those warm summer days darken into chilly ones, my joints grow achier and harder to move.

Through the years, I’ve developed coping mechanisms to handle these seasonal changes. I don’t think I have a perfect routine, but I better understand what helps me to feel better and manage the changes in my physical condition.

      • Get more rest. Instead of getting angry at my body and denying the problem, I have to be gentler on myself and take time to get more rest. I try to go to sleep earlier, if possible, on week nights. And on weekends I may sleep in or take naps during the day. On especially bad days, I may scale back my schedule and replace activity with more resting.
      • Stay warm. When my joints become cold I have two problems. I feel worse, with more pain and stiffness. Plus, it takes a ridiculously long time for me to warm up and feel better. The best plan is to stay warm in the first place. I often dress warmer than most people—taking out the sweaters as early as September. And at night I have a heating blanket turned up on high. Taking proactive measures can help prevent bigger problems with my RA.
      • Keep up with gentle exercise. When my RA feels worse, it can be very difficult to motivate myself for exercise. It’s natural for my body to complain about moving when my joints ache and feel stiffer than molasses. But even on bad days if I do some gentle stretches and slow motions, then my bones loosen up and some of the pain dissipates. A little exercise can go a long way, which will hopefully help me feel better tomorrow as well.

Living with rheumatoid arthritis has its limitations, but I can still take care of myself with some gentleness. While I can’t necessarily fight the effects of winter, I can ease my body into it with a little self-care. Taking the time to observe how I feel and experiment with some techniques for combating the worst symptoms has helped me navigate the changing seasons.

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.

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rheumatoid arthritis

[© Hriana | Dreamstime.com] RA is chronic autoimmune inflammatory arthritis that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and limited mobility and function of many joints. If you or your primary care physician suspect RA, you should be evaluated by a rheumatologist to develop an appropriate management plan.

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis
Could you be one of the more than 1.5 million people in the United States who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?  RA is chronic autoimmune inflammatory arthritis that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and limited mobility and function of many joints. Typically, RA starts by affecting small joints in the hands and feet but can impact any joint. This systemic illness also can sometimes affect other organs, including the heart, lungs and eyes. Other symptoms may include low-grade fever, firm bumps, loss of energy and loss of appetite.

Approximately 75 percent of those with RA are women, and while the disease is most common between ages 40 to 60, you can be diagnosed at any age. Also, having a family member with RA can increase your likelihood of developing the disease, although you can still suffer from RA without having a family history of the disease.

No one knows what triggers rheumatoid arthritis, and since many diseases may behave like RA, if you or your primary care physician suspect RA, you should be evaluated by a rheumatologist to develop an appropriate management plan. This will help avoid unneeded tests for conditions that can mimic RA symptoms.

What can I do if I have RA?
Although there is not yet a cure for RA, there is a lot of research targeting a cure. Today, medication can dramatically improve or resolve symptoms of stiffness and swelling of joints, putting a patient in remission. In addition to medication, exercise, rest and joint protection are also forms of treatment.

The Arthritis Foundation suggests those with RA remember:
If left untreated, the inflammation caused by RA can result in permanent damage to joints or internal organ

  • The earlier you receive treatment, the better chance of preventing joint damage
  • Remission is possible
  • Your risk for heart disease is increased
  • Exercise helps: aim for at least 30 minutes of low- to no-impact aerobics five days a week and, if possible, include strengthening exercises
  • Stress management and rest are also helpful
  • Maintain open communication with your physician

The Howard County General Hospital Bolduc Family Outpatient Center offers physical therapy and exercise for those diagnosed with RA. For an appointment, call 443-718-3000.


Moe Zan, M.D., is a rheumatologist with Arthritis Care Specialists in Ellicott City. Make your appointment by calling 410-992-7440.

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