A drink to save my life?! Milk-shaking up the medical world

If you remember, the last post I did was all about sepsis. Well, this week, I happened to stumble upon a very interesting article about a ‘vitamin cocktail that can treat sepsis’! How strange, a simple vitamin cocktail to treat a deadly condition like sepsis, surely there must be more to it?

[1] At the Eastern Virginia Medical School, Paul Marik gave a mix of Vitamin C, Vitamin B1 and a steroid to 47 sepsis patients in 2017. Before using the treatment, 19 of those 47 sepsis patients dies, whereas out of the 47 who got the treatment, all but 4 survived! Unfortunately, this would not qualify as enough evidence to determine that the cocktail is successful.

However, now the time has come to put the cocktail up to bigger tests. The way in which researchers are aiming to do this is by randomly selecting between 500-2000 patients at multiple hospitals, and giving some of them the cocktails, while others are given a placebo for about a year and a half. The researchers will want to answer questions about what the vitamin mixture does to speed up recovery in sepsis patients on life support. If any improvements in mortality are seen, it is likely that the study may be extended.

The main hope with this vitamin cocktail is that it will minimise any injury caused to the vital organs due to sepsis. Therefore, the researchers will be evaluating how well it prevents organ damage as well as how well it reduces death rates. Furthermore, what is so good about the cocktail is the limited risk of side effects. There can be some side effects of having too much Vitamin C. It can throw off measurements of blood sugar, which would mostly be concerning for those in patients who are getting extra glucose in the hospital. Furthermore, people who take a lot of Vitamin C are more likely to develop kidney stones.

However, there are a lot of benefits of getting that extra vitamin C and B1. Vitamin C lowers oxidative stress and inflammation (oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants [2], which can trigger inflammation leading to many chronic diseases such as Cancer, Cardiovascular disease and other neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease[3]). Vitamin C also helps blood vessels from dilating (widening or expanding) which can help maintain blood pressure. People who suffer from sepsis are usually deficient in vitamins C and B1, so when combined with the steroid hydrocortisone, the effects seem to be boosted. Vitamin C can also improve blood flow to tissues, which is exactly what sepsis patients need so that their cells can be supplied with enough nutrients and oxygen to prevent organ failure.

A vitamin cocktail is not the only thing that seems to be showing some degree of promising results for treating diseases. There was a nutrient milkshake being sold online in the UK which claimed to be able to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s, however, experts said that there was not enough evidence to support these claims. [4]

The milkshake, called Souvenaid, comes in strawberry or vanilla flavour. It contains a combination of fatty acids, vitamins and other nutrients. The milkshake should be taken once daily and the boost of nutrients is supposed to slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s in people with the earliest signs of this type of dementia.

Unfortunately, clinical trials do not show the results to be positive. 311 patients with very early Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment were given a daily drink, but only half of them were given Souvenaid while the other half were given a placebo—a drink with no added nutrients. After two years, the patients were reassessed, but no advantage from the treatment was found. However, the patients who received Souvenaid did have slightly less brain shrinkage on brain scans, which offers some level of promise because it is brain shrinkage in the memory-controlling regions of the brain which is often seen with worsening dementia.

Whether the drinks are successful or not, the concepts have certainly milk-shaken up the medical world!

By Muskaan

Man-GO Do Your Exercise

Exercise should be an important part of our daily lives. Notice that I wrote ‘should be’ instead of ‘is’, for a lot of us do not include it in our daily lives. Exercise ensures that we stay fit and healthy, but it is something that many of us neglect. We make excuses like ‘I’m too tired’ or ‘I’m too busy’ (I have used these excuses too many times). Yet we seem to find the time and energy to scroll through Instagram or watch the new episode of our favourite show. So why can we not find the time to do something that will benefit our health?

Many of us do not exercise every day, let alone achieve our recommended daily exercise. For people in my age group, (5-18-year olds) it is recommended that we exercise for 60 minutes, every day. Many of us don’t even come close to accomplishing this. If you are reading this and are not included in this age range but would like to know your recommended daily exercise, it is available on the NHS website. (1)

We need to exercise. Starting from today. Stop putting it off for tomorrow, for tomorrow never comes. You, me – we all need to stop procrastinating and exercise (so we can eat those extra fries guilt-free).

There are numerous health benefits to exercising regularly. Exercise increases the strength and efficiency of your cardiovascular system, which transports oxygen and nutrients around your body. When your cardiovascular system works better, you will have more stamina and energy life will become easier for you. Muscle strength is also improved as muscles are kept strong by their constant use. Joint, tendons and ligaments are kept flexible which allows for easier movement. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. This is because the more you exercise, the more calories you burn. Brain function is improved as exercise increases blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain. Blood pressure and blood glucose levels are controlled by exercise, thus reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Physical activity causes you to be more tired, increasing the likelihood of an excellent quality of sleep. Stress and overall wellness are improved by a good quality of sleep. (1)(2)

People who do regular physical activity are found to be at a lower risk of many major illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. (1)

Exercise has also even been found to improve mental health, helping with stress, anxiety and depression. This may be due to changes in chemical levels in the brain such as serotonin, endorphins and stress hormones. It may even provide people with a distraction or a way to release stress. (3)

Exercise doesn’t have to be painful. If you don’t like to run, don’t run! It’s not the only form of exercise. Find something you enjoy. There are countless ways to exercise: playing football, biking, weightlifting, hiking, swimming, dancing – absolutely anything. Just do something. Even if you can only spare 20 minutes of your day to exercise, that’s fine. Doing something is better than nothing.

Image result for cute mango

Man-GO exercise

By Bernice Mangundu.

References:

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/
  2. https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/exercise.html
  3. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/physical-activity-its-important

 

‘Just before May 8 is Ovar-y…’

Imagine seeing a random post on Facebook, even this blog post right now, it’s about a certain illness, and you have matched up every symptom to your own. A simple repost of a repost that you find on your friend’s account. You immediately worry, and have countless question circling your mind: ‘what if I’m overreacting?’, ‘it might just be another disease; it’s probably not that serious’. Just to be sure, you contact your doctor and get tested. ‘You have clear cell carcinoma’. What does that mean? ‘You have a type of ovarian cancer’.

This is the story of Laura₁.

You see, one of worst things about ovarian cancer is how hard it is to diagnose. There is no screening for ovarian cancer. So as Laura stated: ‘it is vitally important women are aware of the symptoms’. Therefore, today, May 8th 2018, World Ovarian Cancer Day, I am writing to let all of you know about ovarian cancer.

Symptoms

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are crucial to know about as a woman, so if you are going to skim through this blog, a message from me to you is that this section is the most important section.

The main symptoms of ovarian cancer are the same as less serious conditions such PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and IBS (irritable bowel symptoms). This makes it very hard to recognize ovarian cancer, especially during its early stages₂. The four main symptoms of ovarian cancer include₃:

  • persistent stomach pain
  • persistent bloating
  • difficulty eating – loss of appetite
  • needing to urinate more frequently

Occasionally, there can be even more symptoms such as₂:

  • persistent indigestion or nausea
  • pain during sex
  • a change in your bowel habits
  • back pain
  • vaginal bleeding – particularly bleeding after the menopause (if this occurs, contact your GP)
  • feeling tired all the time
  • unintentional weight loss

Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have been through menopause and can also be caused by genetics, endometriosis and hormone replacement therapy. However, it can also affect younger women due to obesity, smoking or using talcum between your legs (which I do when wearing shorts to prevent thigh rash – I didn’t know it could cause this, learn something new every day!) ₂. The right time to go to a GP is you have been feeling the symptoms for three weeks, or if you notice a change that isn’t normal for you or if you have any of the possible signs and symptoms of cancer – it doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure because if you are having symptoms, it can also be linked to other things (such as IBS and PMS as mentioned earlier)₄.

Diagnosis

As mentioned earlier, there are no screenings for ovarian cancer, however, a series of tests can be carried out.

When visiting your GP, the GP may₅:

  • ask about your symptoms and general health
  • feel your abdominal region for any swelling or lumps
  • carry out an internal examination (where the doctor inserts one or two gloved fingers into your vagina simultaneously pressing down on your tummy (abdomen) with their other hand for any lumps₄)
  • ask if there’s a history of ovarian or breast cancer in your family
  • refer you to phlebotomy for a blood test – this will be sent to a laboratory and checked for a substance called CA125 – a substance produced by ovarian cancer cells.
  • refer you to a specialist for a CT scan or transvaginal screening (putting an ultrasound probe into the vagina in order to get a better picture of the ovaries than an ultrasound over the abdomen₄).

Whilst these tests exist, they can only suggest ovarian cancer but not be sure – for instance, CA125 is also produced during pregnancy and if you have endometriosis or fibroids₅, as well as this, the transvaginal probe can give a clearer picture but it is still hard to tell if there is a cancer on the ovary or a cyst (PCOS). At the moment, there is still research taking place for ovarian cancer screening by a large study called UKCTOCS₄.

Treatment

Treatment for ovarian cancer is usually a combination of both chemotherapy and surgery. The surgery can involve removing both the ovaries and fallopian tubes, a hysterectomy (removal of the womb), and the removal of the omentum (a layer of fatty tissue in the tummy). This can then be followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy to kill any of the remaining cancer cells, or even before surgery to shrink the cells for easier removal. IN worst case scenario, chemotherapy is used if the cancer returns after treatment.

Summary

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. If you have made it this far, you might now know more than what you did before about ovarian cancer, and understand why it is so important to know its symptoms. Laura said in her article that she was so grateful for the Facebook post,

‘Without that it could have been another two or three months before I got diagnosed. It might have been too late then. It can be so aggressive and it can spread so quickly that I think I was so lucky to catch it when I did.’

You never know, you could save a life today too. Simply by sharing this, or telling your friends about it, spread awareness about ovarian cancer!

By Antonia Marie Jayme

https://www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/stories/symptoms-younger-women-ovarian-cancer-awareness-month/lauras-story

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ovarian-cancer/symptoms/

http://ovarian.org.uk/ovarian-cancer/what-are-the-symptoms/

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/ovarian-cancer/getting-diagnosed

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ovarian-cancer/diagnosis/

The Little Girl Called Esme

I have recently obsessively begun watching the BBC Two Documentary, Hospital. In a recent episode, a 4-year-old little girl, Esme, was rushed to hospital with a case of sepsis. I watched her parents sit there, hand clasped tightly; nervous as their little child was put into an induced coma, her hands and feet turning a disconcerting purple/black colour. I could only imagine the fear that they would be going through.

The doctor in that episode, Dr Patrick Davies, explained to the camera what was happening to Esme:

“There is a level of sepsis called septic shock and that is when the body starts to divert blood to the most important organs, I mean brain hearts, lungs, kidney that kind of thing. The organs that a body cares about least are fingers and toes and that is why with some patients with extreme septic shock, they will shut down their blood supply to the hands and their feet. So it’s almost a bit of self-sacrifice when the body is in that much trouble.”1

I had heard of sepsis before watching the episode but was never quite sure what it actually was, so the purpose of my article today is to find out more about sepsis.

Sepsis, as defined by The UK Sepsis Trust, is the reaction to an infection in which the body attacks its own organs and tissues.2 It is sometimes confused with blood poisoning or septicaemia—which is what I thought it was—but there is a difference.

With blood poisoning and septicaemia, bacteria (the nasty ones) make their way into our bloodstream, wreaking havoc as they get transported throughout our bodies. However, sepsis is different, as the bacterial infection (as well as albeit less commonly, viral and fungal infections) can cause harm to multiple organs in our body even without entering the bloodstream via septicaemia or blood poisoning.

There is a helpful mnemonic on The UK sepsis trust website, which is used to remember the symptoms of sepsis:

Slurred speech or confusion

Extreme shivering or muscle pain

Passing no urine in a day

Severe breathlessness

It feels like you are going to die

Skin mottled or discoloured 2

Esme’s hands and feet had gone that purple/blackish colour because as Dr Patrick had said, the body had stopped supplying blood to her hands and feet, as it does not care about those organs as much as the vital others such as the brain, lungs, heart, kidney etc. On our symptoms list above, this would be an extreme version of the last S: Skin mottled r discoloured.

There were two main concerns with Esme:

  1. No one knew if her brain would be in a good enough condition. Whilst in the induced coma, there was obviously no way to judge whether she would wake up to be the same girl as before. Her brain could have been starved of oxygen, in which case her neurones would suffer, causing a substantial amount of brain damage.
  2. Some of her digits (fingers or toes) may have had to be amputated due to the lack of blood supply as the body was pushing the blood to her vital organs instead of the fingers and toes.

Later on in the episode, the medical team stabilises Esme and take her life out of danger, fortunately without the need to amputate any digits, but they still didn’t know the condition of her brain. There is not a brain test yet that would have been able to tell the medical team whether Esme would wake up the same girl as before, so the only way they could get a good idea of how her brain was doing, was by waking her up out of her induced coma.

I sat at the edge of my sofa as Dr Patrick gently woke Esme up from her sleep. ‘Oh God, please let her be okay’ I thought to myself, my feelings probably somewhat mirroring those of her parents. If Esme could communicate well, she would be fine. If not, then she would have to spend more time in hospital, 80 miles away from home, as she and her parents would be loaded with information and the emotional rollercoasters of what to do next.

Esme was brought out of her induced coma, and when Dr Patrick asks her

“How are you?”, she answers: quietly but sturdily:

“Good”. A flood of relief washes over Esme’s parents’ faces, and I relax back into the cushiony sofa.

“Are you tired?” the doctor asks, to which she feebly yet affirmatively nods.

“Are you hungry or thirsty?” he asks again

“Thirsty” she replies

“Would you like some food?

“No, thank you… I’m thirsty”

“What would you like to drink?”

“Blackcurrant juice”

The doctor leaves the family in peace, and the nurse comes in, gently lifting Esme and placing her in her mother’s arms, who cradles her like a new-born baby. The small family sit there, tears in their eyes; Esme resting peacefully with her eyes closed. I can only imagine what they might have been imagining. What they went through must have been a horrible experience.

But, it reminds me to be grateful for the wonderful organisation that is the NHS. In another episode of Hospital, a lady describes the NHS as ‘a privilege, not a right’, after her operation is cancelled for the second time, and that made me think: no matter how much we may scrutinise the NHS, they are absolutely incredible. We are lucky to have them.

Watching Hospital has allowed me the honour of witnessing the highs of being a doctor, but it has also shown me a glimpse of the stressful reality that lies ahead of me. To be completely honest, when I think that one day, I will have to make a decision which could change someone’s life (whilst running on sleep deprivation, lack of food and underfunding), it terrifies me, and I want to run in the opposite direction from medicine. But then I see that doctor getting a huge smile from their patient, or that child getting a huge hug from their parent, and I am reminded that yes, it will be tough, but it will all be worth it in the end.

After all, ‘diamonds are formed under pressure, but they are not formed overnight’.

By Muskaan Jonathan

References:

  1. https://www.nuh.nhs.uk/latest-news/four-year-old-esme-fights-sepsis-in-hospital-2637
  2. https://sepsistrust.org/what-is-sepsis/

Other sources:

  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/septic-shock/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sepsis/
  • You can find out more about the documentary via this link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09xt5yv

 

Stop Disrespecting Your Home

The Earth is our home. A home is meant to be looked after and protected. Yet the Earth is not. We pollute it with harmful gases. Waste is dumped into the sea, killing countless innocent organisms, who fall victim to our actions. Trees are cut down at an alarming rate, the very organisms providing us with oxygen to breath. It is our duty as humans to care and protect it the Earth. We need to protect it for not only ourselves but for future generations. If we continue to mistreat this planet, eventually there will be nothing left to call home.

Global warming and climate change are already having a significant and costly effect on our communities and health. These effects will only continue to intensify unless we all take immediate action and improve the way in which we treat the planet.

The impacts of climate change include rising seas, changes in precipitation, higher temperatures and increases in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events. When it comes to heat waves and coastal flooding, the scientific evidence is clear – these extreme weather events are being caused by human-caused scientific events. Other forms of severe weather are also closely linked to climate change, this includes rises in extreme precipitation events in some regions and increasingly severe droughts in others. [1] [2]

The weather we experience, the food we consume, the water we drink and the air in which we breathe, are all affected by climate change, threatening our health. [2]

Climate change is providing longer and hotter summers.This may seem like a great thing but extreme heat can lead to heat stroke and dehydration as well as cardiovascular and respiratory problems. In extreme cases, elevated temperatures can kill, as the body is pushed beyond its limits. [3]

Extreme rainfall and flooding continue to rise in regions with rain or snow, negatively impacting the conditions people are living in. Extreme weather events such as flooding and drought can create challenges for the growth of food. [4] This can leave people without a source of income and/or hungry.

Changes in temperature, precipitation, and extreme events increase the geographic range of diseases spread by vectors, such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. This can also lead to the occurrence of illnesses earlier in the year. [4]

Climate change increases the risk of water-related illness due to increases temperature, more frequent heavy rains and the effects of storms. Gastrointestinal illness like diarrhoea, effects on the body’s nervous and respiratory systems, or liver and kidney damage can occur due to the consumption of unsafe water. Climate impacts can affect exposure to waterborne pathogens. Flooding resulting from increases in extreme precipitation may contaminate bodies of water such as beaches, lakes and sources of drinking water. [4] 

The quality of the air in which we breathe is decreasing as it becomes more polluted. This can lead to asthma attacks and other respiratory and cardiovascular health effects. Wildfires, which are increasing in both intensity and frequency, also create harmful air pollutants, which further decreases the quality of air. [4]

The effects of climate change are slowly but surely destroying the planet. And as the planet deteriorates, so does our health. This is due to climate change affecting human health in two main ways: first, by changing the severity and frequency of health problems that are already affected by climate factors; and second, by creating unprecedented health problems or threats in places or times of the year where they have not previously occurred. [4]

Some populations are especially vulnerable to climate health risks due to sensitivities, high likelihood of exposure, low adaptive capacity, or combinations of these factors. People in society who are more likely to be at risk from the effects of climate change are the elderly children, pregnant women and people with disabilities. [4]

People living in developing countries are more vulnerable to climate change’s effects, compared to those living in wealthier countries. This is because they do not have the resources to properly prepare themselves for extreme weather conditions or rebuild their communities after the occurrence of extreme weather events such as hurricanes. This is highly unfair considering that most pollution is created by these wealthier countries but people in developing countries experience climate change’s effects more heavily.

It doesn’t take much for you to help the planet. Little things like recycling more, having quicker showers and switching off light switches when you leave a room can help. If we all do a little bit to save the planet, it will mean a lot. But if we do nothing and continue to disrespect our planet, our future on Earth is at risk.

By Bernice Mangundu.

[1] https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/impacts/extreme-weather-climate-change.html#.Wt96S4jwbIU

[2] http://www.climatehotmap.org/global-warming-effects/health.html

[3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/heat-wave-health/

[4] https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climate-impacts/climate-impacts-human-health_.html

 

“You’re Such a Retard”

‘Oh, you retard! What did you do that for?’

‘You’re such a retard’

‘How did you manage that, retard’

As a sixteen-year-old, these are phrases I hear so often, not directed at me, but I hear it being said as a joke between friends, or as simple ‘banter’. I hate to be ‘that person’ – you know the one that complains even though its ‘an inside joke’ or ‘friendly banter’ – but I feel that the word ‘retard’ should stop being used and passed around in the way it is. People say it without knowing what it means: without knowing what the word truly entails; the complications that come with the mental issue; and the way in which life is different for someone who is actually ‘retarded’. What makes it worse is that some people use the word knowing what it means – it has just become so normal in our society, when it shouldn’t be! If you think that it isn’t a big deal, it’s just banter after all – think about the people who have intellectual disabilities. It’s gotten so bad that if you google the definition of retard, the oxford dictionary defines, as well as the verb (delay or hold back in terms of progress or development), the noun form of the word is defined as ‘a person who has a mental disability (often used as a general term of abuse)’₁. Imagine having an intellectual disability like autism and therefore not doing well in class with an IQ of below 70 to 75 (whilst the average is 100) making you classify as a ‘retard’ and then people around you saying it like it’s a joke, and it doesn’t affect you, or saying it to other people as a ‘form of abuse’ when they have no clue what it’s like to actually be in your shoes.

Today, mental retardation is known as intellectual disability. The term ‘retard’ has been tainted over the years and this is normal. According to ‘Questia’₂, it began simply being an account of IQ, however as time went along, this was largely abandoned – it is based on the support one needs in different areas in their life such as educational needs, housing, or daily necessities like feeding and bathing. A common misconception is that the disability means they are unable to learn, however, the actual case is that it takes longer for one with the disability to grasp things. Healthline tells us that there are four levels of intellectual disorder: mild, moderate, severe and profound₃. Severe cases are diagnosed at birth but almost all cases are diagnosed before the child turns 18. It is thought that intellectual disability affects only 1% of the population₅.

Intellectual disability roots from before birth, during birth or in early childhood (as stated by the NHS) ₄. Brain development can be affected before birth for a variety of reasons: the child could be a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome if the mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy, they may develop certain genes (e.g. down syndrome), or even malnutrition₂. Brain development can be affected during childbirth for a variety of reasons: it may be that the baby is premature, underweight₂ or complications occurred during birth that stop enough oxygen from getting to the brain (the umbilical cord might wrap around the baby’s neck) ₄. Brain development can be affected during childhood for a variety of reasons: illnesses like meningitis (which Muskaan has written about previously on our blog), encephalitis, or injury during early childhood₂. The most common causes are fetal alcohol syndrome, fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome. Sometimes, the cause remains unknown₂.

In order for a doctor to measure a child’s adaptive behaviors (day to day life skills), they will observe the child’s skills and compare them to other children of the same age₅. Signs to look out for would include₃:

  • Inability to reach intellectual standards
  • Taking more time than other children to learn to talk or walk
  • Inability to understand consequences, right and wrong
  • Behavior inconsistent to the child’s age
  • Lack of curiosity
  • Learning difficulties
  • Difficulty to communicate, take care of themselves or interact with others.

In children with profound and multiple learning disability (PMLD), the child has more than one disability (the most significant being an intellectual disability). These can include seizures, mood disorders (anxiety, autism, etc.), and even problems with sight and hearing₅. Children or adults with PMLD need a carer or carers to help them with everyday life.

Diagnosing the child involves a three-part evaluation₃:

  • Interview with the parents
  • Observations of the child
  • Standard tests (e.g. blood tests, urine tests, imaging tests, EEG) ₅ – they may also go through an intelligence test

This may include visits to a psychologist, speech pathologist, social worker, pediatric neurologist etc.

Some doctors believe that the best way to prevent intellectual disorders are vaccinations. Ensuring a child does not undergo rubella, measles, meningitis etc. can help prevent intellectual disorder. For example, vaccination against Haemophilus influenzae b (Hib), a cause of childhood meningitis, is expected to prevent 6000 cases of mental retardation according to ‘Questia’₂.

In terms of treatment, support is key. NHS offers annual health checks in which a general physical examination takes place and as well as this, a checkup for epilepsy, checks on prescribed medicines, and a review on any other arrangements with physiotherapists or speech therapists (to see more see website 6 in the bibliography) ₆. Treatment cannot just get rid of the disability, but it helps them reach their full potential. Although some may think this is barely treatment, it is the only thing that can be done (other than genetic modification which is a whole new topic in itself). When the child is ready to attend school, it is wise to put in place an Individualised Education Program₃. Schools provide this for free. Some choose to bring their children to special schools, however others choose to do the practice of ‘mainstreaming’ in which the child can attend classes in a standard classroom to help them feel more included and also help the people around them understand their special needs and capabilities₂.

People with intellectual disabilities may be going through a lot – be it the struggles of autism, seizures or simply the struggles of school – yet we still use the word ‘retard’ as a ‘term of abuse’. I believe it is wrong. To think that someone who has an intellectual disability is able to cope with the struggle of learning to get through their everyday life, yet someone like me can complain about school and everything being too hard. To think that someone who has an intellectual disability not only has to go through the struggles of their disability, but also the struggles of being bullied to the point that the ex-medical-term ‘mental retardness’ has simply just become a term of abuse. To think there are people out there who have no idea what it means to call someone a ‘retard’. I believe that is wrong.

By Antonia Jayme

 

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/retard

https://www.questia.com/library/science-and-technology/health-and-medicine/diseases-and-disorders/mental-retardation

https://www.healthline.com/symptom/mental-retardation#modal-close

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/learning-disabilities/

https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/intellectual-disability-mental-retardation#1

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/learning-disabilities/annual-health-checks/

10 Questions: Someone with Alopecia Areata

Some time ago, my lovely (but annoying) 11-year-old sister, Khushbu, started rapidly losing hair from the top of her head. We were all pretty worried and went to the GP multiple times, but they just said every time that ‘it will grow back’—even though we were doubtful as the hair would not stop falling.

Anyway, it turns out that we finally found out that she has alopecia areata. After consulting Dr Google yet again, I found out that this is when ‘Hair is lost because it is affected by inflammation. The cause of this inflammation is unknown but it is thought that the immune system, the natural defence which normally protects the body from infections and other diseases, may attack the growing hair.’

Medical treatments and a multitude of home remedies given to us by friends in the UK failed to make any significant impact on the regrowth. When on holiday in India, we decided to try our luck by consulting our family GP, who also turns out to be a homoeopathic doctor, and she prescribed some homoeopathic tablets. These had some temporary effect in that the hair was re-growing, but it was falling out after a couple of weeks again.

Khushbu is now stuck in this frustrating cycle, where the hair re-grows, but then falls again at the same rate it is re-growing. Meanwhile, I am stuck in the frustrating position where I have to meticulously vacuum all the fallen hair which gets trapped in the carpet.

I thought it would be a nice idea if I could talk to Khushbu and find out how having alopecia truly makes her feel, so I interviewed her (while she was high on Lucozade so it seems). Here are 10 questions: someone with alopecia areata:

Q: What is alopecia?

A: I don’t know actually. Is it something in your immune system that affects your head? I’m not sure.

Q: How has having alopecia changed you?

A: I’m not sure really.  I guess It has made me feel more conscious about the way I look.

Q: How do you feel having alopecia?

A: I feel different to the others [at school] because I have shorter hair than others on the top of my head. It makes me feel worried when I see my hair falling out so much. I miss my old hair sometimes, but other times, I don’t bother about it. it frustrates me when my hair grows back then starts falling all out again.

Q: Have you ever been bullied for the way you look?

A: No, I haven’t. People in my school usually support me and are really supportive towards me. Sometimes though, I hear about people who have been talking about my hair behind my back, which makes me feel quite upset, but I have my friends who always make me feel better.

Q: What’s the best thing that’s happened to you because of your alopecia?

A: People want to talk to me more to find out more about alopecia or why my hair is like this. They are more interested in talking to me about it. Also, I am very grateful to my friend. She makes me feel happy about the way I look. She is also really funny, so we have a lot of fun with each other. My hairdresser is also really nice. She made me feel really happy—recommending more products and telling me that my hair is still beautiful.

Q: What’s the worst/most annoying thing that’s happened to you because of your alopecia?

A: People keep on thinking it’s a weird haircut and think that I wanted it to look like this on purpose.

Q: Do you miss the way you used to look?

A: I miss the way I used to look a lot, but not that much at the same time because I know my hair is going to grow back. If it doesn’t grow back, then I would change my whole hair [instead of only the top] to make me feel happier with the way I look. I really miss my old hair when I remember how silky it used to be and because it was all even out. Also, people never really bothered me that much i.e. they didn’t think that I was trying to do some strange styles with my hair.

Q: Do you feel that you receive enough help for your alopecia?

A: In the UK I got hair cream from the doctors and shampoo. When we went on holiday to India, I got a homoeopathic medicine from there.

Did any of them work? Not really.

Q: any friends give you advice?

A: Yeah. I received a lot of different home remedies from a lot of friends (and their parents). I found it very helpful and felt very supported, but none of them really worked. I appreciated it though.

Q: What’s something you would say to someone who is suffering from alopecia the way you are?

A: Think on the positive side. People that you didn’t really talk to would maybe be more supportive. Stay happy and comfortable with the way you are.

As you can see, Khushbu has been affected by alopecia in many ways, but she is very lucky to have quite minimal hair loss: only on the top of her hair. There are people out there who suffer from alopecia totalis, which is when there is a complete loss of hair on the scalp. Unfortunately, there is no cure as of yet, and if a lot of hair is lost initially, then even treatments that are available offer only a 1 in 10 chance of full recovery.

Khushbu’s story with alopecia areata has made me realise that even the seemingly smallest complications, like losing parts of your hair, can change one’s life in ways that we could never expect.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who spread positivity to people with alopecia—and any other body issues that cause low self-esteem. It is so important for us to remind each other that we are beautiful as we are!

By Muskaan Jonathan

Sources:

http://www.bad.org.uk/shared/get-file.ashx?id=68&itemtype=document

https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/613/alopecia-totalis

http://www.bad.org.uk/for-the-public/patient-information-leaflets/alopecia-areata/?showmore=1#.WspXXojwZP

‘Just One More Drink’

Alcoholic beverages are consumed every day by countless amounts of people. Ethanol is a psychoactive substance which is present as the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine and distilled spirits. It is one of the oldest and most commonly used recreational substances. In low doses, alcoholic drinks can reduce anxiety and increase sociability but in higher doses, it can cause intoxication and unconsciousness.

There are several reasons why people consume alcohol. People may drink to relieve the stresses of everyday life such as work, relationships or money. Some people, especially teenagers, may feel obligated to drink due to peer pressure, in order not to feel left out or ridiculed by others. The consumption of alcohol also tends to be fun for many people. Alcohol’s drunk effect makes people feel happy and drinking it with friends can be a fun experience. If a person is nervous in a social situation, drinking helps them to relax and have more fun. However, what happens when the use of alcohol is no longer beneficial?

This is Sophia’s story.

Alcohol had always been a part of my life. As I was growing up, my parents would occasionally drink a glass of wine. If they were feeling generous, they would let me have a sip or two. By high school, I was drinking with my friends at parties. I have a few embarrassing drunk stories from these parties, but then who doesn’t? As I got older I would still drink with my friends on a girl’s night out or night in. I would even drink a glass of wine on a stressful day.

But the glass of wine I would have in the evening of a stressful day was no longer enough. I would need a second glass to relax. Until it slowly became a third glass, leading to a fourth and eventually, the whole bottle. Soon every day became stressful. There were piles of paperwork all over my desk, bills to pay and rent to worry about. I was struggling to cope. So my solution was to drink a bottle of wine every evening.But the evening just couldn’t arrive quick enough, so I carried a small flask of vodka with me to work.  I needed a way to cope during the day.  Until I could no longer carry a small flask to work anymore because I’d been fired for being intoxicated one too many times.

The nice person my friends used to know was slowly replaced with someone distant, irritable and quick to anger. My friends voiced their concern about my drinking and tried to help, but I refused to believe I had a problem. I mean, it’s not like they didn’t drink either. It’s just that their ‘one more drink’ would always be just that, but mine never was. They eventually stopped inviting me to social situations. I guess it was in the fear that I would embarrass them in my drunken state. Soon my friends became strangers as they actively avoided me. So, strangers in the bars I would frequent became my friends. They didn’t judge me or my drinking. They didn’t judge me when I would say, ‘‘just one more drink’’ despite it never really being one more. Yet they were still just strangers. The only ‘friends’ I had left were the empty bottles of wine that littered my apartment. An apartment I could’ve lost due to an addiction. An addiction that cost me my job, friends even my health. Luckily it hadn’t cost me my home, but it could’ve if I had reached for help any later.

My use of alcohol started as a simple escape but slowly became my biggest problem.

There are many people with stories, like Sophia, of their battle with alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse can be a severe problem which can lead a person to lose their job, home and ruin relationships with friends and family. Regular heavy drinking may also lead to health problems such as fatigue, memory loss, liver diseases, heart problems, diabetes, mental illness and cancer.

In most parts of the world, alcohol is legal for adults to purchase and consume. As a result, alcoholic beverages are widely available. Since use is so common, it might seem hard to determine who is drinking alcohol in an appropriate manner and who is drinking in a manner that could lead to alcohol abuse or alcoholism, especially because alcoholics can be secretive about it. Alcohol abuse is one of the oldest problem’s in humanity, with alcoholism being the most severe form of alcohol abuse as it involves being unable to control drinking habits. When alcohol consumption becomes out of control it can be detrimental to a person’s life. If someone close to you is showing any of the following signs, it may be that they’re suffering from alcoholism:

  • A lack of interest in previously normal activities
  • Appearing intoxicated more regularly
  • Needing to drink more to achieve the same effects
  • Appearing tired, unwell or irritable
  • An inability to say no to alcohol
  • Anxiety, depression or other mental health problems
  • Becoming secretive or dishonest

If a person seems to be experiencing some of these symptoms, they may require help. The first step of treating alcoholism is acknowledging that there is a problem. As with many health problems the second step is to seek help from a healthcare professional, like a local GP who can refer you to a specialist. If this is not the route a person wants to take, other options are available such as trying the many alcohol support services accessible to them.

There needs to be less stigma around alcoholism because it’s a problem that affects many people, whether it is personally or someone they know. It is something that can happen to anyone at any time.

By Bernice Mangundu.

https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcoholism/

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/157163.php

https://sobernation.com/seven-common-reasons-why-people-drink-alcohol/

‘Lose Some Weight.’

‘She’s so fat! What’s wrong with her thighs? They jiggle like jelly! What’s wrong with her stomach? It’s bigger than her head! What’s wrong with her body? What did she do to get that big!’ she cried as she looked back at the girl staring at her in the mirror.
‘How did I get so big?’

But she wasn’t. She was completely fine. She was a healthy weight. I just wish she could see that. That was the state I was in during year 9. ‘Skinny’ was the only word I wanted to embody and thus began the journey of skipping meals, compulsive exercise and horribly low self-esteem: the journey of anorexia.

Of course, I’m okay now, I’m (definitely) no longer underweight nor skipping meals and have regular amounts of exercise! However, looking back and remembering the thoughts that played in my head and how the journey finally came to a halt, I know there’s a lot of things about anorexia people don’t understand, especially about how to help someone who is affected by it…

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. One who has it strives for the lowest possible weight and has body dysmorphia (they look at themselves in the mirror and see something that they’re not). In order to achieve their goal, the victim will miss meals, eat very little or nothing at all; take medications to reduce their appetite, or even weight loss pills; as well as this they may fall into purging (compulsive exercise, vomiting, fasting). Even once they reach their original goal, it will never be enough. Anorexia is often confused with a similar eating disorder: bulimia – this is an eating disorder in which, rather than limiting calorie intake, the affected will binge eat and then immediately purge in a constant cycle. One other thing to remember is that, whilst this article focuses on anorexia, eating disorders also include binge eating disorder – this leads to obesity rather than loss of weight.

There are many symptoms that come with anorexia. Emotional behaviours that come with anorexia include:

  • not eating properly
  • body dysmorphia
  • obsession with body image
  • loss of focus and interest in things
  • Irritability

However, anorexia nervosa also comes with horrible physical symptoms:

  • brittle hair – which can eventually lead to hair loss
  • lanugo may begin to grow – this is fine body hair that is often referred to as ‘peach fuzz’
  • body temperature drops
  • constipation
  • kidney damage
  • osteoporosis – brittle bones
  • slowed thyroid function – causes an imbalance in hormones – this is bad for both boys and girls as it can affect their fertility as it can cause girls to stop menstruating and boys to have erectile dysfunction

Anorexia nervosa is a mental health condition and it is important to speak to your GP for proper diagnosis.

What to do about someone who has it?

One of the biggest things when trying to help someone with an eating disorder is letting go of all the stereotypical beliefs and myths about anorexia. As someone who experienced it, one of the biggest barriers for improvement and healing were the people around me who made uninformed comments, even if they were trying to help, it simply lowered my self-esteem further.

Common Misconceptions: (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/helping-someone-with-an-eating-disorder.htm)

‘You can’t be anorexic – you’re not even skinny!
You don’t need to be skinny to be anorexic – usually people of an average weight or who are overweight or of an average weight become anorexic trying to become skinnier.
‘You’re mean to be a man – snap out of it!’
Just because someone is male, it doesn’t mean they can’t have anorexia – anorexia is a mental health issue – all of us have brains and therefore all of us are susceptible to mental health issues!

 

‘You’re so self-absorbed. Get over yourself!’

It isn’t often that vanity leads to eating disorders – the behaviours that come with the disorder tends to become a coping mechanism to deal with something happening in their lives. Even so, they could be so self-conscious due to events in life such as bullying or just simply needing attention and a cry for help that they have been driven to the eating disorder.

 

‘It’s not serious anyway.’

As you saw from all the symptoms I listed earlier, yes, it is very serious. In case you need a reminder: brittle bones, kidney disease, infertility, drop in body temperature and many more.

 

Now that you have that out of the way – communication is key. Find a time where you and the person you are concerned for are free from distractions and in an environment where they feel safe and secure. Once you’ve got the right setting and are comfortable – just speak to them. Explain why it is you feel the way you feel without putting them down. Don’t force them into something they don’t want to do as this can lead to secretive behaviour from the affected person as a way to escape the situation again. Don’t comment on their weight the way you would with other people – you’re speaking to someone who is already obsessed with body image! Telling them ‘you’re not even fat’ can do more damage than good as they may take it the wrong way and think it justifies them staying away from being fat – your being negative about the possibility of them being fat! Rather than doing this, try to ask ‘why are you afraid gaining weight?’. Don’t make them feel ashamed of themselves by putting all the blame on them: ‘why can’t you just eat something’ – tell them that you are worried for them; show them they aren’t alone and that there are people that care for them! If it were as easy as to ‘just eat’, the person wouldn’t be suffering.

Stay patient and supportive for the person you are worried about. What you need is for them to admit they have a problem, to understand that they need help. They need to make themselves to go through treatment (therapy), otherwise it can lead to worse things. They may refuse to listen to what you say, but you have to be there to continue to help and support them so that they can see past their morphed reflection in the mirror.

By Antonia Jayme

This website has a list of websites you can contact for help:

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/helping-someone-with-an-eating-disorder.htm

 

Links used:

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/helping-someone-with-an-eating-disorder.htm

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/anorexia/

https://www.everydayhealth.com/eating-disorders/can-an-eating-disorder-affect-your-fertility.aspx

https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/conditions/anorexia/

It was a Happy Birthday indeed!

Saturday 24th March was a very special day for me! Firstly, it was my birthday, and I am now officially 17. I can learn how to drive (although I probably shouldn’t be trusted with a car). However, that is not the point of this article.

What was really special about Saturday, was that I was given the opportunity to present at Medic Mentor’s national Insight into Medicine conference! It is the very place that I decided I wanted to do medicine, and I felt so privileged and honoured to be able to inspire some people!

I was really excited to give the presentation, until the actual day, as I realised the large scale of the conference! Having never spoken in front of 100+ people at one time, believe me when I say that my legs were jelly. I thought I would mess it up completely, but the very encouraging mentors and even some the parents and their children assured me that it was apparently a very good presentation.

I really enjoyed helping to co-ordinate the conference too. I saw things from ‘the other side’ I guess. I met up with some of my fellow school ambassadors, Chloe and Ellie, and we had a great time together! We sat through a lot of the talks, laughing with each other when the (wonderful) speakers went over time and completely ignored the time notices we were waving around in front of their faces.

But I was reminded of why I want to do medicine yet again. I left inspired and uplifted, yet again; excited for the future instead of fearful of the unknown. I would be satisfied to know if I inspired even 1 person to think about doing medicine as a career and will remain thankful to the wonderful organisation that is Medic Mentor, for allowing me to make use of such a humbling opportunity, and for just being all-round amazing, genuine people!

By Muskaan Jonathan

The Silent Beast that makes all the Noise

The 20th of March marks the international day of happiness. All around the world, many people work together to try and ‘make the world a happier place’. This year, the theme is sharing happiness with others.

In a recent RE lesson, we were watching a documentary about the Amish. A group of British teenagers had travelled to America to spend 4 weeks or so with different Amish families and see their way of life. In one episode, a British teenager asks the father of the Armish family: ‘How many bad days would you say you have?’. The Amish man replies ‘in a year, I’d say around 10 days’.

10 bad days in a year. Imagine that! How many bad days do you have? Perhaps you may have to think of an answer per week? The British teenager said that he had two bad days a week. If we calculate that, then he has roughly 104 bad days in a year—just over 10 times more than the Amish man.

According to this article in The Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-people-depression-west-mental-health-uk-oecd-europe-scandinavia-women-more-men-a7945321.html, British people rank amongst the most depressed in the Western World—and the statistics don’t include people below the age of 25, which I believe is a range of ages where emotion and stress levels can be running high enough to cause many other mental health issues. By no means am I confirming a common misconception that depression only means being sad all the time, but depression, the chemical imbalance in the brain, definitely affects peoples’ happiness.

I am fortunate enough to be one of the people who can say that I have never (yet) had depression, or any similar mental health problem which may affect my happiness—at least I don’t think so. I often wonder—why do we hear so much about depression so frequently? It seems like the term ‘mental health issues’ has blown up all of a sudden. Is it because of the technology we are surrounded with? Most of the more traditional Amish do not have mobile phones, but one family did leave the Amish church and their children were now allowed to have mobile phones. They said that it definitely sped up their lives. Maybe that’s what it is. Do you ever get that feeling that life is going too fast for you to keep up with? Or it could be the depressing stories we see on the news. Brexit, terrorist attacks, lack of funding, murders etc. etc. And of course, last but definitely not least everyone has their own personal issues. Whether it be bereavement, financial issues, all of these things may affect our happiness and even push us into the dark, endless abyss which is depression.

So, what is depression?

I found this question tough to answer. It is long periods of sadness, feeling down or fed up etc., but it is so much more than that. I guess only a person with depression would be able to give us a true perspective of what depression is. However, medically speaking, it is ‘An illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and that affects the way a person eats, sleeps, feels about himself or herself, and thinks about things’. It is easier to say what depression is not. It is not a trivial matter that you can just ‘get over’ or ‘snap out of’. Let me use the infamous ‘broken leg analogy’. If you had broken your leg, you wouldn’t be told to just ‘walk it off’. You would be given proper treatment; time to recover. Similarly, depression requires these things. Time, patience, and teams of dedicated healthcare professionals who work hard for the best of their patient. I imagine depression to be like a beast in our minds. On the surface it is silent; invisible. But beneath the surface it is causing a ruckus. Pulling our minds: pulling us deeper and deeper until all we can hear now is chaos, and nothing else—leaving behind a sort of empty shell. Over time, our ears become numb to all the silence, then to all the chaos.

No matter what the cause of one’s depression may be, we must learn to recognise when to get help—whether that help may be for ourselves or for others. It starts by talking. Talking to someone who you feel might understand, even a little bit. Whether you are depressed or not, I feel that the worst thing anyone could do for themselves is to keep their feelings bottled up inside. I must admit, even I am guilty of this, but for someone else who already may be depressed, I can only imagine doing so would eat away at them from inside.

GPs can help too of course. Often, patients are referred to other allied healthcare professionals such as psychologists, counsellors, therapists. Sometimes, patients may even be prescribed antidepressants.

There is a multitude of ways in which we can help ourselves, but it starts with us helping each other. Just for a minute, let us adopt the mindset of a public health doctor. They are concerned with populations and focus on health promotion and illness prevention.

We could start by educating ourselves. Have a read of the NHS symptoms section for clinical depression. If you recognise any of the signs in a person, put them in contact with someone who might help. Talk to them. Don’t let them be alone. Prevent their depression from escalating.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/symptoms/

Next, promotion! Promote happiness everywhere you can! In your children, in your school, on your social media, in your local community—the list is endless and the need is limitless! Sign up to be a part of the International Day of Happiness here to start spreading joy:

http://www.dayofhappiness.net/#join

We need to work together to defeat this beast and make it silent…truly silent.

By Muskaan Jonathan

Sources I used:

http://www.dayofhappiness.net/#join

https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=2947

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/

http://www.channel4.com/info/press/programme-information/living-with-the-amish