Archive for November, 2009

I was very pleased to see the article “Consider quitting smoking for health” published by the Press-Banner last week (Page 18, Nov. 6). Allow me to add my own opinion on this subject — from a doctor’s point of view.

From my experience and based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I offer the following information:

Tobacco use causes a great increased risk of death. More deaths are caused by tobacco use — mostly in the form of cigarette smoking — than by HIV infection, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicide and murders combined.

Cigarette smoking causes 1-in-5 deaths in the U.S. each year, with about 400,000 deaths attributable to direct smoking and about 50,000 deaths to indirect smoking, or secondhand smoke. On average, adults who smoke die 14 years sooner than nonsmokers. Between the years 1960 and 1990, deaths from lung cancer in women increased more than 500 percent.

Smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body. Here are some of the more common health problems caused by tobacco products:

• Cancer of the lung (at a rate 23 times higher than among nonsmokers)

• Cancers of the bladder, mouth, throat, vocal cords, esophagus, cervix, kidneys, pancreas and stomach and certain forms of leukemia

• Coronary heart disease, which usually leads to heart attacks

• Doubles the risk of a stroke

• Blockage of blood flow to legs and feet, sometimes requiring amputation

• A 10-times higher likelihood of dying from emphysema, a condition in which lung tissue is slowly destroyed by smoke

• Reproductive problems, such as infertility, early birth, stillbirth and impotency

• Decreased bone density in old age, leading to increased chance of fractures

Who smokes the estimated 371 billion cigarettes consumed yearly in the U.S.? Millions of people smoke cigarettes — 20 percent of all adults and 20 percent of all teenagers. Every single day, about 1,000 teenagers become smokers.

In 2005, cigarette manufacturers spent more than $13 billion on advertising to lure people into smoking.

But what is the cost to our financially precarious health care system? It is estimated that cigarette smoking costs us $96 billion yearly in health care expenditures and nearly $100 billion more in lost productivity.

I personally find all of this data shocking. We must take a firmer stand against the use of all tobacco products. We need do a better job to prevent our youth from beginning to smoke and to get those, young and old, who are already addicted to tobacco to quit.

I cannot sit in judgment of those who smoke, as I smoked for a number of years during my youth. I know how seemingly impossible it is to quit — I tried many times — but as I became more knowledgeable about the effects of smoking during my medical school training, I knew I had to quit.

One night, while working in the emergency room during my internship, I saw a patient who had developed cancer of his throat from years of smoking. He previously had a tracheotomy — a metal tube surgically inserted into his neck through which he could breathe.

When I saw him light up a cigarette in the waiting room and hold it up to his breathing tube so he could smoke, I quit right then and there and never smoked again. That was almost 40 years ago.

Yes, quitting was still a very difficult thing to do, but it’s the best thing I ever did for myself — and for my family and friends who love and care about me.

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Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is caused by physical changes in the brain.

First described in the early 1900s by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, it is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder that causes severe memory loss and difficulty thinking and eventually robs a person of the ability to perform even the simplest of tasks.

More than 5 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s disease, and it is the seventh leading cause of death. It afflicts one in eight people age 65 and older and one in two people older than 85. Few families are untouched by this disease.

Our brains, like all organs in our bodies, change as we age. Slower thinking and some memory loss occur in all of us the longer we live. Serious memory loss, confusion and inability to perform simple tasks are not normal, but reflect a more severe deterioration of our brain cells, of which there are more than 100 billion in the average adult brain.

The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown, but it is thought to be associated with genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors.

Abnormal structures called plaques and tangles have been identified in and around brain cells in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. They are thought to block communication between cells and lead to their destruction. Unlike other cells in our body, brain cells regenerate very slowly, if at all, allowing the continued progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Various stages of Alzheimer’s disease have been identified and described as follows:

• Early: Increasing memory problems

• Mild: Increasing memory loss, with problems such as getting lost, trouble handling money and paying bills, repetition of questions and poor judgment

• Moderate: Difficulty recognizing family and friends, inability to learn new things, and trouble with tasks such as getting dressed

• Severe: Inability to communicate and complete dependence on others for care

Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, several drugs have been approved for the treatment of its symptoms. These drugs help maintain memory, thinking and some behavioral skills, but they don’t change the disease process and may help for only a few months to a few years.

Be proactive to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease:

• Keep your cholesterol level normal or below.

• Boost your vitamin D level by sun exposure, appropriate foods or vitamin supplements.

• Exercise your brain by playing cards or working crossword puzzles.

• Maintain social contact with friends or relatives.

• Keep physically active.

Those who are close to someone with Alzheimer’s disease understand the tremendous toll it takes emotionally, physically and financially. Caregivers can be helped by a support network of family and friends. Organized support groups, such as the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org), are also available and can offer much-needed advice for those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

Much research is being done throughout the scientific community to develop a successful treatment and, ultimately, a cure.

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