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Health Observances - May 2007

National Celiac Disease Awareness Month

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder. It affects children and adults. People who have the disease cannot eat gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Eating gluten starts an 'autoimmune reaction' that causes inflammation of the upper portion of the small intestine. The body actually attacks itself, in other words, and causes damage to the small intestine.

 The inflammation prevents the intestine from absorbing nutrients as well as it should. Consequently, the symptoms of Celiac disease, especially in adults, often have more to do with nutritional deficiencies, because they cannot absorb iron, calcium and fat-soluble vitamins.

Sturge-Weber Syndrome Awareness Month

When a baby is born with a facial birthmark, often called a "port wine stain," there's a chance that this child has what's called Sturge-Weber Syndrome. The stain is caused by a large amount of capillaries under the surface of the skin.

Not all babies who have port wine birthmarks have Sturge-Weber Syndrome. In fact, only about 8 to 15 percent of them do. But having the syndrome means there are other symptoms as well. These include seizures, which most often begin during the first year of life, weakness on one side of the body and glaucoma (increased pressure within the eye).

Every case of Sturge-Weber is different, depending on the the child. If you'd like more information about this syndrome, talk with your doctor about ways to get connected with others who have a family member with Sturge-Weber. You may also want to visit the Web site of the Sturge-Weber Foundation .

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Awareness Week

In the last decade or so, there's been increased awareness about a condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, or MCS. People who have MCS suffer from reactions to chemicals and other irritants in the environment. Symptoms vary from person to person, and can include dizziness; irritations in the eyes, ears, nose and throat; stomach/digestive problems; joint and muscle pain; nosebleeds; skin problem; seizures; memory loss. Symptoms can be mild, severe, sometimes delayed, sometimes chronic.

Triggers can include cleaning products, perfumes, pesticides, solvents, latex, hairspray, fabric softeners, building materials and other things.

The symptoms are so wide-ranging that it can be difficult to determine whether a condition is actually MCS or something else. It's important to find a doctor who can work with you to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms and figure out how best to treat them. There's currently no cure for MCS. Treatment consists mainly of avoiding exposure to triggers.

National Employee Health and Fitness Day

You hear about companies that offer a few programs to help their employees get on the road to better health; aerobics classes on site, maybe, stress reduction programs, or similar efforts. But it's not often that you come across a company that offers such a comprehensive program as Catholic Healthcare Partners 'Creating Healthy People' campaign. Read about it here.

World No Tobacco Day

Quitting smoking is hard, so if you're trying to achieve this goal, visit the World No Tobacco Day Web site It offers information about quitting, about the effects of tobacco, information for parents and links to other helpful sites.

Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

Fibromyalgia is a complex, chronic condition. It causes muscular aching, pain, stiffness, tenderness and fatigue. The term 'fibromyalgia' comes from 'fibro' meaning fibrous tissues such as ligaments and tendons; 'my' meaning muscle; and 'algia' which means pain. The pain of fibromyalgia is typically located in the soft tissues around the joints, in the skin and in organs throughout the body.

Other symptoms can include difficulty sleeping, depression, migraine headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.

  • About 80 percent of people who suffer from fibromyalgia are women.
  • Fibromyalgia is the most common cause of general musculoskeletal pain in women between the ages of 20 and 55.
  • It does not appear to be related to ethnicity.
  • Nobody knows for sure what causes it, although some researchers, practitioners and patients believe that its onset follows a serious traumatic physical event (car accident, injury, infection) or serious emotional trauma.

National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month

One of the best ways to keep your bones strong is to get regular exercise. Weight-bearing activities; walking, jogging and weight training, can help build the density of your bones.

When your lifestyle is less active, you tend to lose bone mass and muscle mass as well. Regular exercise, on the other hand, helps maintain bones and muscles. Another benefit of regular exercise is that it decreases your risk of falling and inuring yourself.

Food Allergy Awareness Week

Do you ever wonder whether you might be allergic to a specific food? Symptoms of a food allergy include

  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Tingling sensation in the mouth
  • Swelling of the tongue and throat
  • Diarrhea

The best way to determine whether you have an allergy is to visit your doctor with the following information

  • A food diary of everything you’ve eaten for the past 1 or 2 weeks
  • What your symptoms are
  • How long after eating your symptoms occur

A physical exam, lab tests and the information you provide will help your doctor determine whether food is causing your symptoms.

Birth Defects Related to Alcohol
National Alcohol and Other Drugs Week

Drinking during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS. And FAS is the leading known cause of mental retardation. Children with FAS exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Problems with learning, paying attention and remembering
  • Problems with speech and hearing
  • Behavioral problems
  • Incoordination

Additionally, children with FAS are born with

  • A flattened mid-face
  • Small jaw
  • Thin upper lip

When you choose not to drink alcohol during pregnancy, you're choosing to give your child a chance at avoiding one of the known causes of mental retardation. You don't have to be an alcoholic to have a baby with FAS. Binge drinking even once (five or more drinks at a time) can result in serious damage to an unborn child. And drinking any amount of beer, wine or hard liquor when you're pregnant may cause your baby to have FAS or a less severe, but still serious condition, Fetal Alcohol Effect. Nobody knows for sure if there is any 'safe' amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy. So, the only safe amount is none!

Bike to Work Week

Did you know there's such a thing as a 'commuter' bike? They've been popular in Europe and Asia for a while, and now, as Americans are becoming more aware of the need to get regular exercise, the bikes are becoming more popular here.

If you've been thinking about riding a bike to work a few days per week, you may want to consider one of these commuter bikes. They usually have about 16 to 20 speeds, so you'll get a lot of help if your ride to work has hills.

If you're interested in finding our more about biking to work, go to the League of American Bicyclists Web page:

Tinnitus Awareness Week

If you have sounds inside your ears that nobody else can hear; ringing, whooshing or pulsing, for example, it's possible that you could have tinnitus. For some people, these sounds come rarely, maybe only once, and disappear. But other people experience the sounds 24 hours per day.

The American Tinnitus Association estimates that about 50 million Americans have the condition. Causes can include noise-induced hearing loss, wax build-up in the ear canal, ear infections, head and neck trauma, certain types of tumors.

There are many different treatment options for tinnitus, but only you and your doctor can determine which ones might be most successful for you. Treatments can include hearing aids, acupuncture, biofeedback, cochlear implants, counseling (which helps improve your response to tinnitus) and the use of techniques that enhance background sound.

Tuberous Sclerosis Awareness Month

Tuberous sclerosis is a rare, multi-system genetic disease that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain and on other vital organs such as the kidneys, heart, eyes, lungs, and skin. It commonly affects the central nervous system and results in a combination of symptoms including seizures, developmental delay, behavioral problems, skin abnormalities, and kidney disease.

The disorder affects as many as 25,000 to 40,000 individuals in the United States and about 1 to 2 million individuals worldwide, with an estimated prevalence of one in 6,000 newborns. TSC occurs in all races and ethnic groups, and in both genders.
To read more about this condition, visit the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Cornelia de Lange Syndrome Awareness Day

Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS) is a rare condition that is present from the time a child is born. Children with CdLS possess the following common characteristics:

  • Low birth weight (many times less than 5 pounds)
  • Slow rate of growth
  • Small stature
  • Small head size
  • Thin eyebrows that frequently meet at the midline
  • Long eyelashes
  • Short nose that turns up
  • Thin lips that turn down

People with CdLS also often have many health problems, such as reflux, heart defects, seizures and developmental delays. Mental retardation is common, and is generally moderate to severe.

The condition is named after a Dutch pediatrician, Cornelia de Lange, who identified the syndrome in 1933.

If your child has CdLS, be sure to reach out to others for all the support you can get. It's extremely beneficial to connect with other families who can share their experiences with you. One Web site that might be helpful is the CdLS Foundation

Women's Health Week
National Women's Check-up Day

Men and women; their health is equally important, but their health issues are often different. Some diseases affect women differently, especially heart disease. Menopause is a women's health issue that's always of high interest. And then there's the constant complaint of women; that their husbands won't go to the doctor!

Read more about women's and men's health, especially heart disease and women, menopause, and men's health issues. ( APRIL 2003 HEART E-MAGAZINE, 2004 HEART E-MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 2002 TOPIC OF THE MONTH, AND JUNE 2003 TOPIC OF THE MONTH.]

National Neurofibromatosis Month

Neurofibromatosis (NF), or von Recklinghausen disease, is a genetic disease in which patients develop multiple soft tumors (neurofibromas). These tumors occur under the skin and throughout the nervous system.

Read more about neurofibromatosis here

National Emergency Medical Services Week

May is trauma awareness month. Trauma is a leading cause of death in the U.S. For example, in 2000 there were:

  • 43,354 deaths from motor-vehicle crashes
  • 16,765 homicides
  • 13,322 deaths from falls
  • 3,377 deaths from fires

In many cases, human behavior is the cause of a trauma-related injury. The fact is that most traumatic injuries could have been prevented.

Ordinary people can play a tremendous role in the reduction of trauma in this country. Pay attention to public safety messages. Practice safe driving habits; every single time you get in the car. If you feel as if you're in an unsafe situation, trust your instincts and get away.

National Mental Health Counseling Week

Do you ever wonder what kind of training a mental health counselor is required to have? According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association, a licensed mental health counselor must meet or exceed the following requirements:

  • Master's degree in counseling or closely related mental health field
  • Completed a minimum of two years post master's clinical work under the supervision of a licensed or certified mental health professional
  • Passed a state-developed or national licensure or certification examination

National Anxiety Disorders Screening Day

Your mental health affects many aspects of your life. In so many cases, mental conditions are treatable. This includes depression, phobias, panic attacks, addiction and others. For more about these important issues, read these articles [MARCH 2003, FEBRUARY 2003.

Do you ever wonder whether you have an anxiety disorder?

Click here to find a location where you can receive free screening to find out.

Better Sleep Month

According to the National Sleep Foundation, about half of all Americans report problems with sleep at least half the time. Here are some things that can improve the quality of your sleep:

  • Avoid smoking. Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant. When you go to sleep, your body experiences nicotine withdrawal. Quitting smoking may make sleep difficult at first, but in the long run, it will help you to fall asleep more quickly and wake up more easily.
  • Keep your bedroom very dark when you sleep. Consider getting heavy window shades or curtains, or wearing an eye mask.
  • Get up at the same time each morning and go to bed at the same time each night. This can be hard on the weekends, but if you have trouble sleeping, give it a try.

Source: The National Sleep Foundation

Lyme Disease Awareness Month

Early treatment for Lyme disease is the key. If you notice a rash (sometimes it resembles a bull's eye, but not always) and flu-like symptoms, consider getting tested for the condition.
Since Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, oral antibiotics are the common treatment for it.

If the disease has progressed and symptoms become more involved; joint pain, heart problems, neurological problems; then it may be necessary to be treated with an antibiotic intravenously (directly into the vein).

Oral or intravenous treatment typically lasts 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the severity of the symptoms. There is currently no evidence that other types of medications or approaches to antibiotic treatment are more likely to cure the disease.

For more details about this condition, including prevention, detection and treatment, read our May 2004 topic of the month article

National Stuttering Awareness Week

Currently, there's no commonly recommended medication for stuttering.

The National Stuttering Foundation has the following recommendations for helping a child who stutters:

  • Try not to phrase your discussions using a lot of questions. It's harder for children who stutter to answer a question than it is for them to express their own ideas.
  • Try not to interrupt a child who stutters. This makes it harder for them to speak.
  • In general, try to create a relaxed atmosphere, letting the child know that you enjoy listening and talking together.
  • Try to be relaxed when you speak with the child. Your relaxation may help the child to relax and perhaps stutter less.

Skin Cancer Awareness Month; May 2 National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Day

Even though the spring days are still usually fairly cool, the sun's rays are strong and you're at risk of too much exposure to ultraviolet rays. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the best way to lower your risk of melanoma is to avoid too much exposure to the sun and other ultra violet light, such as tanning booths. Stay out of the sun as much as possible, especially during the middle of the day when the sun is strongest. But if you know you're going to be in the sun, the ACS recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 15.

For information about melanoma, read the April 2004 issue of our Cancer E-Magazine.

Clean Air Month

It turns out that the Environmental Protection Agency's current 'acceptable' level of ozone, which is 80 parts per billion, is still able to increase the risk of premature death.

Smog is primarily made up of ozone, which is a molecule that consists of three oxygen atoms bound together. When you inhale ozone, it can damage your lungs.

As the weather gets warmer and air pollution gets worse, what do you need to know about how air quality affects you when you exercise?

Heavy exercise such as running can increase your risk of respiratory problems and reduced lung function. You can decrease the effects of ozone by doing a less strenuous activity ;walking instead of running, for example. Or you can limit the amount of time you spend on the exercise. Exercising inside is another option.

Ozone levels are usually lowest in the early morning and in the evening, so adjusting your schedule is another way to go.

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

If you're looking for a new warm-weather activity, consider taking up kayaking. It's easy to learn, it's a cardiovascular exercise and you can do it on your own or with a group. Do an Internet search for kayaking clubs in your area. You can learn the activity after some basic lessons.

Someone who weighs 150 pounds would burn about 340 calories during an hour of kayaking. Often, people kayak for longer than an hour, so you're likely to burn even more calories.

National Bike Month

A bike is something that your child shouldn't have to grow into. It has to fit, for safety's sake. Here are some guidelines:

  • Your child should be able to sit on the seat with feet flat on the ground.
  • The handlebars should be no higher than the shoulders.
  • Children under age 7 should use only foot brakes. After that, foot and hand brakes are okay.

Helmets should sit level on your child's head, and no other type of hat should be worn under it, including baseball hats. The straps should be tight enough that no more than a finger's width can fit beneath.

Schizophrenia Awareness Week

What exactly is schizophrenia? It's a brain disease that causes people to have trouble thinking clearly and to have difficulty with relationships with other people. People who have this condition often find it hard to know what is real and what is imaginary.

There's no known cure for schizophrenia, but there are medications available that help control the symptoms. Many experts in the field of schizophrenia believe that it's most beneficial to start taking medication as soon as symptoms begin. Some of the common early warning signs of schizophrenia include

  • Hearing something, or seeing something, that isn't present
  • A feeling of being watched
  • Speaking or writing in ways that don't make sense
  • A change in hygiene habits or appearance
  • Personality changes
  • Inappropriate behavior

Schizophrenia is difficult for the people who have it and for their loved ones. There are so many challenging issues associated with this disease; medication management, side effects of medication, social isolation, etc. If you or someone you love has schizophrenia, be sure to get the support you need.

Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been an increase in the number of swimming-related illnesses in the past decade. These illnesses can cause

  • Ear infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Respiratory infections
  • Eye infections
  • Wound infections

You're especially susceptible to these illnesses if you spend time in decorative water fountains, hot tubs and lakes, rivers and oceans. Avoid swallowing the water in these types of locations. Additionally, after a rainfall, lakes, rivers and oceans are more likely to be dangerous.

To keep pool water safe for others, remember these basics:

  • Don't swim if you have diarrhea
  • Take a shower before you swim
  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom
  • If you have children in diapers, check and change those diapers often, and change the diapers in the bathroom, not by the pool
  • If you have young children who are recently potty trained, make sure they take frequent bathroom breaks

HIV Vaccine Awareness Day

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 950,000 Americans are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. And they believe that about one third of the people who are infected don't know it. More than half of new HIV infections occur in African Americans, although African Americans make up only 12 percent of the population. AIDS is the fifth leading cause of death for Americans aged 25 to 44, and it's the number one cause of death among African American men of any age.

There is currently no vaccine for HIV, although scientists have been searching for about two decades. Research is currently underway.

Source: American Cancer Society; The American Lyme Disease Association; American Mental Health Counselors Association; American Tinnitus Association; The CdLS Foundation; The Celiac Disease Foundation; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;; Ecological Health Organization, Inc.; Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2006; The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network; Freedom from Fear; The National Center for Injury Prevention; The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; The National Schizophrenia Foundation; The National Stuttering Foundation; Schizophrenics Anonymous

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