Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fast Food Wars: The Prelude

There are a few basic things I believe about fast food. First, it usually tastes great. Second, it’s very convenient. Those two aspects are precisely what make fast food so appealing in our busy lives despite the constant messages we receive about how unhealthy much of it is. The appeal of the taste and convenience often outweighs the guilty feeling that many people feel have after eating fast food. However, that guilt is reduced and sometimes absent altogether when people do not realize exactly how much fat, sodium, cholesterol, etc., that they are consuming. Don’t get me wrong…I love a fast food bacon cheeseburger with French fries, a few slices of pepperoni pizza, or a vanilla milkshake once in a while. So I’m not about to tell people never to eat fast food. However, based on personal experience, I believe that people would eat less of it or at least make better selections if they had the nutritional information handy.

Well the nutritional information is handy, you say. Technically, that’s true. You can go to the company’s website and view the nutritional chart but how many people are really going to do that when they make an impulse decision to pull through a drive thru on the way home from work? Not many. You can look in the restaurant for the nutritional information but it is not always displayed prominently and is not a viable option for someone going through a drive thru. In addition, even if you do look at the nutritional chart, there is usually so much information crammed into it that it is difficult to make sense out of it all when you have people breathing down your neck or tailgating you to make a selection because everyone is starving.

What we really needed is some type of guide that people can use and have readily available to make quick snap decisions about fast food selection at various restaurants. If you search the internet or flip thru magazines at the grocery store, you will find many articles entitled “Top 10 Worst Fast Foods” or some such thing. The articles usually list 10 fast foods to avoid and provide an option about something else to eat instead. I usually have a few problems with these articles. The first is that they all seem to come to different conclusions on which fast foods to avoid and do not tell the reader exactly how the foods were selected and ranked. Second, I can’t tell which restaurants were or were not included in the analyses. This is where MedFriendly enters the picture.

Being a scientist at heart, I thought it would be interesting to create a quick and easy formula and reference for people searching for ways to make better fast food selections. I wanted the public to know how I developed the formula so it can be reproduced by anyone and to let everyone know which restaurants were subjected to analysis. In creating the formula, I decided to take the six most common nutritional concerns that people have (total calories, saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and carbohydrates), add them together and divide by six. This yields an average score that I have termed the “UnHealthy Index” or the UHI. Higher UHI scores reflect unhealthier foods.

I did not use total fat in the equation because not all fat is bad for you. For example, cashews are high in fat but mostly in monosaturated fats, which is good for the body. Thus, I decided to stick with the two types of fat that are the worst for you: saturated fat and trans fat.
In deciding where to start with these analyses, I decided to start with my favorite food of all: pizza. Pizza does not tend to be analyzed in the articles I have previously reviewed. Although I tend to buy from local mom and pop pizza vendors, sometimes I will call or visit the occasional pizza chain. As best as I can ascertain, there are really four mega pizza chains: Pizza Hut, Domino’s Pizza, Papa Johns Pizza, and my favorite (Little Caesars). Then, there is Sbarro’s Italian Eatery, where it always feels like I’m spending one hundred dollars for a slice of pizza at the mall. So I decided to look at Sbarro's too but unfortunately their website and stores do not provide nutritional information at the time this article was written. In fact, they've been telling me for a year now that they would have the nutritional information up soon and it is still not there. Read into that what you will. And lastly there is Pizzeria Uno. Although they don’t deliver, it’s a popular pizza destination and worthy of analysis.

Each pizza restaurant will be subjected to objective nutritional analysis and a handy reference with the results will be provided for you. When all restaurants have been analyzed, a final comparison between all of the above restaurants will ensue. It is this that I have deemed the Great Pizza Battle and it is the opening salvo to the Fast Food Wars, only on Come back Sunday  for the first analysis....Domino's Pizza.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

MedFriendly Unveils New Useful Medical Links Section

As part of the massive MedFriendly redesign project, one of the sections that received a complete overhaul from top to bottom was the Useful Medical Links section. Each and every link was checked, inactive links were removed and updated, and new links added as well. Link descriptions were refined and a brand new design makes the pages much easier to navigate. If you have seen the Useful Medical Links section in the past, I invite you to check out the new version. If you have not seen it before, please check it out, and if you like it, please pass it on.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Debut of the New MedFriendly Home Page

It is with great pleasure that I reveal the NEW MedFriendly Homepage. Now, you will see a fresh, crisp, and professional looking web design that will greatly enhance readability, page loading speed, and your overall use of the site. All linked areas from the new page will bring you to pages that also have the same new design. Links that used to be on those pages to other terms have been disabled and will gradually be replaced with active links once the entries for those links have been reformatted with the new design. Each day, older terms will be replaced with the new format. New terms will continue to be added as well.

Some things to note on the new homepage: Now, there is no longer a separate page for the top 10 list as they are listed on the bottom right of the page. To bring more people to this blog, the top right of the home page will have a link to the most recent blog entry. This will allow for better integration between and the MedFriendly Blog and will provide the home page with dynamic content. The most commonly used links are listed on the top left of the page and other links are located in the "Other MedFriendly Features" section. Nice new buttons for the MedFriendly Facebook and Twitter account are included.

Special thanks to those of you who provided feedback on the new site design, especially my wife who provided critical input that helped shape the look of the site.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from

Just a quick note to wish all of the MedFriendly Blog and readers a very happy, healthy,  and joyous holiday season. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

New MedFriendly Measurements Section Is Up

Another phase of the MedFriendly Redesign project is complete. If you have used the MedFriendly Measurements section in the past, check out the new crisp design for the pages and embedded tables. Here you will find handy tables useful for converting Celsius to Fahrenheit for body temperatures. There is also a greatly expanded Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion table and a Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion table. Psychologists will enjoy the updated standard score to percentile conversion chart. If there are other tables you would like to see, let me know. Very shortly, the new MedFriendly homepage will debut. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why New York State Needs to Ammend the Concussion Management and Awareness Act

In September 2011, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Concussion Management and Awareness Act (sponsored by Senator Hannon and Assemblywoman Nolan), mandating that students can only return to play following a concussion after they are symptom-free for 24 hours and cleared by a physician. The intention of the law was to improve patient safety. However, the exclusion of one the most qualified types of health care providers (clinical neuropsychologists) from performing such evaluations can lead to patient harm by returning students too early (resulting in further neurological harm) or keeping them out of sports much longer than necessary (resulting in psychological harm). 

Neuropsychologists specialize in objectively assessing the relationship between brain functioning, thinking, emotions, and behavior – all of which can be affected in the early phase of concussion recovery. This is done through a series of specialized tests, records review, interview, behavioral observations, and application of statistical knowledge. Neuropsychologists also have much more time to spend with their patients than physicians due to the nature of the evaluation.

Neuropsycholgists have been instrumental in developing published return to play safety protocols and have routinely made return to play decisions prior to the passage of this legislation. Neuropsychologists developed the most popular computerized cognitive assessment programs that are used to make return to play decisions, have played a leading role in researching concussion for the past 25 years, and have published textbooks on the topic. A neuropsychologist from New York (Dr. Thomas Kay) was the senior contributor of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine’s operational definition of concussion. Nearly all major college and professional sports organizations include neuropsychologists in their concussion management program and most states that have passed similar legislation allow neuropsychologists make return to play decisions.

Concerns were expressed to the sponsors of this bill and the Governor’s office about the exclusion of neuropsychologists before its passage. Neuropsychologists were assured that neuropsychologists would still be able to play a role in these assessments that would be used by physicians. However, some school districts are only allowing return to play decision to be made from a specific list of physicians (e.g., pulmonologists, orthopedists, pediatricians) who do the entire assessment without any input from a neuropsychologist. If the child’s own pediatrician is not on the official list of providers, he/she may not be allowed to provide clearance to return to play.

Due to this potential safety issue and the new restriction upon a psychologist’s scope of practice, we urge parents and concerned citizens to contact Senator Hannon, Assemblywoman Nolan, Governor Cuomo, and their local representatives to tell them that you strongly support allowing psychologists to be included in a bill that allows them to make return to play decisions following concussion. as an update to this article, please see How New York Fumbled the Ball on Concussion Management.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New MedFriendly Redesign Sneak Peak Is Up

As previously noted, MedFriendly is currently undergoing a major site redesign. The difference is like night and day. The site will have a much more professional look to it, pages will load faster, will be indexed even higher in search engine results, and the overall user experience will be greatly enhanced. For a sneak preview, you can click on the new Advertising page. If you click the white text links on the top left of the page, you will be see some of the other new pages as well, all with the same new design (except for the Blog and Message Board of course).

All newly created pages will have this new design. The main MedFriendly home page is still being redesigned and will hopefully be up within a week. Please feel free to let me know how you like the new look if you have not done so already.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Guest Blog Entry: A Comparison Of The US And UK Head And Brain Injury Compensation Law

The following provides an overview of the US and UK legal systems regarding head and brain injuries compensation, when said injuries are sustained through road traffic accidents. The aim is to provide an interesting comparison, as well as an insight into what you can expect to encounter when seeking compensation.

Both legal systems work on a fault based principle. In the US there are federal laws to abide by, and state laws, which differ from state to state. This is where cases can become more complicated, as motor insurance is not compulsory in all states. For this reason some claimants will have a harder time acquiring justice and compensation. Also dependent on state laws, is the recovery of level of damages. Awards, which are compensation for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, are determined by a jury, in contrast to the UK, where awards are made by a judge. In the US awards are distributed using a top down system. They can be distributed as a lump sum or structured settlement, thereby creating an annual income. In the UK a bottom up system is in place, meaning the annual income is established by determining the claimants financial need based on injuries, past and present medical costs, and rehabilitation costs, and then meeting this need. 

The countries’ systems also vary when handling legal costs. In America, the legal costs are commonly dealt with under a contingency fee. There are no initial costs for the claimant and their family, as the attorney can take a percentage of the compensation, once the case is concluded. This percentage is agreed upon by attorney and claimant at the beginning of the case, and is dependent on the risk involved in said case. 

In comparison the general idea behind the UK’s compensation system of all personal injuries, including head injury, and following traumatic brain injury, is to provide the claimant with enough compensation so that they are in the same position they were prior to the road traffic accident. To note, when referring to the UK law in this article, what is meant is the law in England and Wales, since Scotland and Northern Ireland have different compensation laws. The process works as follows: Expert evidence is acquired from experts within medical and non- medical fields. The award is again based on pain, suffering and loss of amenity, by assessed through referencing guidelines, previous, similar cases, which are concluded, and the personal circumstances of the claimant. When discussing financial losses, these are defined as past and future loss of earnings, medical expenses, treatment, equipment need, and accommodation. For a brain injured claimant, the largest section of an award is the cost of their future care, be it at home or in a different setting, i.e. a rehabilitation unit. Rehabilitation has a strong focus within the UK’s compensation process, and is based on encouraging both claimant and defendant to work together and asses the injured individual’s rehabilitation needs. 

Another difference to some states of US, are laws on motor insurance. In the UK motor insurance is compulsory, and there is also the Motor Insurers Bureau, which compensates victims of uninsured or untraced drivers. 

As in the US awards are given as sums of money, or periodical payments providing guaranteed for life annual payments based on the individual’s needs and covering both care and case management costs. In general, legal costs are fully recoverable from the defendant, and a brain injured individual will receive 100% of their compensation, if their claim is successful. 

Neither of the presented legal systems are perfect, and neither are wrong. We can learn from each other’s laws. It is also good to be aware of different countries’ laws, in case of sustaining head and brain injuries through a road traffic accident, when abroad. Here, it is equally vital to find an attorney with knowhow of jurisdictional and applicable law rules. You will require specialist advice to ascertain if you can bring your claim in the country of your choice and if there is a choice of jurisdiction which is the most appropriate venue for your claim. It may be that attorneys from both companies are required to work together to ensure the best outcome for you.

When seeking compensation for head and brain injury in either country, it is important to find an attorney with experience and expertise within head and brain injury cases. It’s best to research attorneys and to meet the one you are considering, to be sure you both get on with each other and can imagine working together as a team.   

Today's guest blog entry was written by Pannone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where the Republican Candidates Stand on Health Care

As I was watching the Republican Presidential Debate last night, I thought I would take a closer look at the candidate's websites to find more details about where they stood on healthcare. No matter what your view is on the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act is (also known as Obamacare), the United States Supreme Court will be hearing Constitutional challenges to it, probably in March 2012. Thus, it is going to be a very important issue throughout the election. Of the six candidates, what I found interesting is that two of them have no information about what they would do to fix the healthcare system. A person by person breakdown is listed below, along with links to the sections of their websites discussing healthcare or their stands on various issues. The list is provided in alphabetical order.

1. NEWT GINGRICH: Gingrich lists 13 main ways he would improve healthcare, which include various specifics. This includes use of tax credits, purchase of insurance across state lines (to improve competition), expanding choices in Medicare, customizing state Medicaid systems, establishing a high risk people to cover the sickest uninsured citizens, preventing insurers from cancelling insurance on people who are very sick or giving them discriminatory rates, extending health savings accounts, rewarding the best healthcare provided at the lowest cost, taking steps to reduce healthcare fraud (e.g., electronic medical records), medical tort reform, reforming the FDA,  helping people find information on price and quality of healthcare, and investing in medical research.

2. MITT ROMNEY: Romney lists six main ways he would improve healthcare, which alos contain various specifics. He states that would begin his Presidency by granting an executive order to states to opt out of Obamacare, ask Congress to repeal Obamacare, and emphasizing reforms at the state level. The second area Romney cites involves focusing on the states by block granting funds for Medicaid patients and the uninsured. He also promotes a tax deduction to allow people to purchase their own health insurance. His fourth main idea is reforming federal regulations such as allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines. His fifth idea is medical tort reform. Lastly, he promotes the use of health savings accounts.

3. RON PAUL: He pledges to repeal Obamacare (although you need Congressional support for that), allow purchase of insurance across sate lines, provide tax credits and deductions for all medical expenses, exempt terminally ill patients from the employee portion of the payroll tax, provide payroll deductions for close family members of terminally ill patients, medical tort reform, preventing Medicare & Medicaid funds for being used for other purposes, allow all Americans to open health savings accounts, promoting alternative medicines and supplements, and preventing a national database of personal health information.

4. MICHELE BACHMANN: She states that she will repeal Obamacare, stabilizing Medicare for future generations,promoting medical innovation and personal choice, promoting competition in the healthcare market, and empowering health care providers to make decisions about the shape and form of your health insurance.

5. JOHN HUNTSMAN: While his website contains sections on jobs and the economy, national security, foreign policy, energy security, and financial regulatory reform, there is no section on healthcare.

6. RICK SANTORUM: While his website contains information on defending the taxpayer, American exceptionalism, faith and family, Iran, and other topics, there is no section on healthcare.

Interestingly, the two candidates with no clear distinct section on healthcare on their websites are generally running lowest in the polls.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

All Brain Injuries are Not the Same: Part 2

Today’s blog entry is part 2 of yesterday’s blog entry about the reasons why it is important to distinguish mild traumatic brain injuries from moderate to severe traumatic brain injury as opposed to lumping them all together under the term “brain injury”. Further explanations as to how this distinction is important includes:

4. NEUROIMAGING: In moderate to severe TBI, the results of neuroimaging are critical to deciding how to manage the patient. For example, if a bleed is large enough, this might require neurosurgery to remove pressure on the brain. This sometimes requires repeat brain scans in the acute injury phase to monitor the size and effects of an intracranial lesion (e.g., a brain bleed). In MTBI cases, initial neuroimaging results in the ER do not show abnormalities between 90 to 95% of the cases. Thus, after an initial negative brain CT scan, clinical management of the MTBI patient is often based on subjective symptoms (e.g., headache) rather than objective findings.

5. COURSE: In moderate to severe TBI, the recovery course is well-defined and empirical, with the most drastic improvement occurring in the first six months, additional recovery over the next six months, and slower recovery up to 18 to 24 months. In mild TBI, the course of recovery is clear for the vast majority of people which would suggest that most recover within a week to a few months. However, the course of recovery for those who experience persisting symptoms (more than three months) is less clearly understood.

6. OUTCOME: As noted above, outcome is strongly related to acute injury characteristics in moderate to severe TBI cases and it is generally an exception when psychological factors confound outcome (although this certainly can occur). Conversely, in mild traumatic brain injury, outcome is poorly related to acute injury characteristics. Rather, non-injury related factors tend to be the most predictive of outcome. Examples of non-injury factors include litigation/compensation-seeking, psychological distress, pre-injury psychiatric history, post-injury stressors, substance abuse, and various other psychosocial issues.

7. DISABILIY: In moderate to severe TBI, disability (a form of outcome) is more clearly attributed to injury severity, the functional neuroanatomy of the injury, and resulting impairments. In mild TBI, there is a less clear association between the clinical presentation of the patient and the degree to which neurological and psychological factors play a role.

These examples show that one cannot speak of traumatic brain injury as if it has the same meaning across the severity spectrum. The media and health care providers are strongly encouraged to clearly distinguish between mild and moderate to severe brain injuries when discussing this topic with patients and the public.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

All Brain Injuries are Not the Same: Part 1

One of the most popular myths in the media and among some health care providers is that traumatic brain injury (TB) can be discussed as a unitary concept. In other words, the topic is discussed as if it is not necessary to make a distinction between a mild and moderate to severe TBI. In fact, it is quite necessary to make the distinction rather than broadly discussing the effects of “brain injury.”

Unfortunately, what often happens is that findings from patients with moderate to severe TBIs are misapplied to those with injuries on the mild end of the spectrum. As Dr. Michael McCrea (2008) writes in his evidence based text, moderate to severe TBI is a completely different animal than mild TBI (also known as concussion). There are many examples, which are nicely summarized in McCrae’s text and the interested reader should read that book for specific references supporting the statements below. Some of these examples are presented and expanded upon below to help better inform the public.

1. USEFULNESS OF SEVERITY GRADING TOOLS: In moderate to severe TBI, there are measures available that are useful for grading the severity of the injury whereas the scales on the mild end of the spectrum are not as helpful. The most commonly used severity index is the score on the Glasgow Coma Scale (Teasdale & Jennett, 1974) which assesses level of consciousness. The scale ranges from 3 to 15 points and provides a way to rate patients on their eye movements, motor responses, and verbal responses. The TBI classification scheme based on the GCS is as follows: 13-15 (mild), 9-12 (moderate), and 3-8 (severe). While a significant injury and/or alteration in consciousness is required to obtain a GCS score between 3 and 12, the same cannot be said for the mild end of the TBI severity range. For example, consider a person who merely bumps his head into a wall with a minimal degree of force that was not significant enough to cause a brain injury. Assume, however, that the person develops a headache and is concerned that he has a brain injury, causing him/her to go to the ER. When the person goes to the ER, he/she is physically examined and a GCS score of 15 is assigned because there were no abnormalities with eye movements, motor responses, or verbal responses. According to the criteria above, a GCS score of 15 is equated with a mild TBI. Clearly, however, this example shows a GCS score of 15 does not always equate to brain injury.

2. ACUTE INJURY CHARACTERISTICS: In moderate to severe TBIs, the acute injury characteristics are the strongest predictors of outcome. In mild TBIs, there is only a limited correlation between acute injury characteristics and outcome. For example, in mild TBI, a brief and transient loss of consciousness is not strongly predictive of outcome. Conversely, loss of consciousness in a severe TBI patient, which could last for weeks and beyond, is strongly correlated with outcome. One of the problems is that acute injury characteristics are not as clearly documented in MTBI cases because of a lack of witnesses and the transient nature of the event. For example, a mild TBI patient may lose consciousness for a few minutes but if no one was present to witness this, it cannot be confirmed. Conversely, in a moderate to severe TBI case, LOC usually lasts long enough such that paramedics or some other observer would be able to confirm its presence.

3. CRITERIA FOR DIAGNOSIS: The criteria for diagnosing moderate to severe TBI tends to be more consistent throughout the literature compared to mild TBI. The criteria used to diagnose MTBI are largely based on self-reported subjective symptoms (e.g., altered mental status) without collaborating and/or objective data (e.g., witnesses, neuroimaging findings). In moderate to severe TBI, objective data are often sufficient enough (e.g., diffuse bleeds throughout the brain) such that self-report is not required to make the diagnosis.

Come back tomorrow for part 2, in which more distinctions will be provided.


McCrea, M. (2008). Mild traumatic brain injury and postconcussion syndrome. The new evidence base for diagnosis and treatment. New York: Oxford University Press.

Teasdale, G, Jennett, B. (1974). Assessment of coma and impaired consciousness. A practical scale. Lancet, 2:81–84.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why Physicians Need to Pay Attention to Malingering And Exaggeration

Malingering is the intentional production of false or grossly exaggerated physical or psychological symptoms motivated by external incentives such as avoiding military duty, avoiding work, obtaining financial compensation, evading criminal prosecution, or obtaining drugs (APA,1994).

The word “malingering” comes from the French word “malinger” meaning “poor or weakly” as these are the characteristics feigned or exaggerated by the malingerer. Malingering has been documented as far back as in the Bible when David feigned insanity to escape a king he was afraid of. There have many books written about malingering and thousands of research articles written about it.

Malingering and/or exaggeration for external gain are both common in society. For example, last week, 18 people were arrested in New York State for workers compensation fraud. At a minimum, when one adds up how much money the state of New York paid out on fraudulent claims in these cases it comes to at least $243,000. To have pulled this off, it required physicians and other health care professionals to have signed off disability claims forms. While malingering can manifest by verbally feigning or grossly exaggerating symptoms, some people go through much greater lengths to malinger. For example, last week a California psychologist was accused of faking her own rape by splitting her own lip with a pin, scraping her knuckles with sandpaper, having her friend punch her in the face, and wetting her pants to give the appearance she had been knocked unconscious. The motive? To convince her husband to move from the neighborhood.

On 12/11/12, a Virginian woman was charged with fraudulently claiming that she had cancer to raise money from sympathetic supporters for personal reasons. She’s not the first to have done so. Earlier this year, a man was arrested for fraudulently obtaining almost a million dollars in sympathy donations by claiming he had cancer.  

Physicians and other health care professionals should be very concerned about exaggeration and malingering because they are enabling the process if they are not taking reasonable steps to detect it and address it. Many health care providers do not address this topic in their exams or clinical notes for several reasons, included but not limited to, a) not wanting to deal with the “hassle” of identifying the problem, such as confronting someone (which can be uncomfortable) and/or dealing with complaints, b) extreme patient advocacy, c) not wanting to believe that some patients distort their presentations for external reasons due to an overly trusting worldview, and d) concerns that identification of this problem will harm the patient in some way (e.g., loss of benefits).

While false positive identification of malingering and exaggeration is a legitimate concern (of which there are many ways to address this in the scientific literature), not identifying it can harm other patients and society in two main ways. First, malingering and exaggerated presentations rise insurance costs for all citizens because the insurance company has to spent thousands of dollars on services/treatments that need not be provided or at least not to the extent that they were provided. Most importantly, however, patients with more genuine needs have delayed access to health care services because appointments are taken by people who are trying to game the system and/or who do actually need that particular service.

While a public forum is clearly not the appropriate place to discuss malingering and exaggeration detection strategies, healthcare providers need to go to greater lengths to consider and assess response bias in their evaluations or at least refer to someone who will. There are many texts, research articles, conference workshops, and invited speakers that can be used as sources to provide healthcare providers with more information on the topic. A recent article written by myself and some colleagues discusses how to provide feedback about malingering and exaggeration to the patient. An upcoming edited book entitled Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Symptom Validity Assessment and Malingering (Publisher: Springer) by myself and Dr. Shane Bush will address this topic and many others (including techniques that general healthcare providers can use).

Ultimately, you cannot effectively treat patients who do not want to get better and who do not actually have the problem you believe you are treating (or have it but to a much lower extent than they are claiming). This does not mean every patient is treated like a malingerer, but rather, that objective data (which can be obtained via a neuropsychological evaluation) combined with clinical experience and research knowledge should be used to guide clinical decision making as opposed to purely relying on subjective reporting, subjective impressions, and a desire to help. All of this can be done in a respectful, caring, and patient centered way.

Also see: Why Sports Leagues Need to Pay Attention to Malingering.

Reference: American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV, 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 1994.

Monday, December 12, 2011

MedFriendly in 2012: The Redesign is Coming

When I first created MedFriendly in 2001, I had no knowledge whatsoever as to how to make a website. I picked up some books to learn how to write in HTML (hypertext markup language) and also read some online tutorials. HTML is the computer language behind the scenes that tells your browser (e.g, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome) how a webpage should look. Back is 2001, it was acceptable to create websites this way.

Things were much simpler back then. But, as always happens, technology improved and more advanced website design features began getting implemented into websites. These design features became impossible to render without more advanced computer knowledge. Lacking such knowledge (my only computer class was in the 3rd grade on massive cathode ray tube monitors) I kept finding creative ways around this problem and managed to keep the site looking fresher as the years went by.

Over the past few years, I integrated a centralized database system which serves all of the advertisements you see on MedFriendly (except the blog). This way, if an advertiser changed their ad code throughout the site, I did not need to go to every page and fix it. All I had to do was change the ad code in the database. To use a database, I needed to change all of MedFriendly page extensions (except the home page) from .html to .php5. It was a great deal of work and when it was finally done, although I solved one problem, I had inadvertently created another. Pages loaded slower and Google did not rank .php5 pages as highly as .html pages. This means less visitors to the site.

Converting all of the pages back to .html files the way I had them was unthinkable. Not without a new approach. Fortunately, technology has advanced to the degree that there are many good options out there today and I am now working with what is known as a content management system. This will allow me to create the highest quality web pages with a very professional look and will allow me to easily control all aspects of the site from a single master location. Pages will load much faster, the site will be more secure, and I will be able to add so many new features to the site that the sky is the limit. I have begun working on this project today and will update readers here on the progress. Since this project is so massive, there may be days where a blog entry can’t get done, but it is all for the greater good. MedFriendly simply has to modernize to stay relevant and I am dedicated to doing that. I appreciate your readership and support and would greatly appreciate hearing ways you believe the site can be better such as new features you would like to see. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Suicide by Piranha

According to U.S statistics, the most common cause of suicide is use of firearms (55%). Second is hanging or suffocation (20.2%). Third is poisoning (e.g., drug overdose, cardon monoxide poisoning) (17%). Fourth is falls (e.g., jumping off a building) (2.1%). Fifth is cutting/piercing (e.g., wrist slicing) (1.5%). Sixth is drowning (1.1%). Seventh is fire ( 0.5%). 

RECOMMENDED BOOK: When Darkness Comes: Saying "No" to Suicide

What’s not on the list? Jumping into a lake of piranhas. That’s what a teenage fisherman in Bolivia chose to do when he jumped off a canoe in an intoxicated state. The piranha converged on him and he bled to death by suffering dozens of bites from the razor sharp teeth on his throat and face. All that was needed was one bite sized chunk to be removed from his jugular vein and it would spell the end. The teenager was drunk at the time so one can question whether he was thinking clearly about what he was doing but the local police chief is on record saying that this person knew the area very well and knew that there were scores of piranha in the lake that time for year. 

Piranha are ferocious fish. They are rumored to be able to strip the flesh off of a large animal in minutes when attacking in packs.One of the most interesting things I learned about piranha’s was from Jeremy Wade on one of my favorite shows, River Monsters. On one of the shows, he jumped in a lake of piranhas but remained very still. No bites. As soon as he threw a pole in the water (once safely in a boat) and began thrashing the line, near-instant bites. Piranhas, it seems, are attracted to the thrashing of an animals because it signals helplessness. Just remember that if anyone ever throws you in a lake of piranhas.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite!

Don’t let the bedbugs bite. What used to be a funny phrase uttered to children before tucking them into bed has now become a serious concern for people sleeping in hotels, college dorms, hospitals, shelters, and in their own homes. This pandemic has made many consider staying home from a vacation or enrolling in online classes for college. But what are bedbugs anyway, what do the bites look like, and what can you do to get rid of them? Below is a pictoral guide that gives you some of these answers.

First, here is a picture of a bedbug (also known as Cimex lectularius) under the microscope. The purple looking structure is a needle-sharp body part known as a proboscis, which is inserteded into the host’s skin (human or animal) and allows it to feed on blood for about three to five minute. The bedbug injects saliva into the wound that contains anesthetic (pain reliever) to prevent the host from awakening and anticoagulant to keep the blood from clotting.

Here is what a bedbug looks like when magnified without distorting the color although this picture is also magnified:

Bedbugs are actually very small (less than or equal to a half a centimeter) but you can see them without a microscope if you are a keen observer. As you can see from the picture they are flat-shaped and do not have wings. They can be brown or whitish but after drinking blood turn a rusty red color as a result, like this:

Bedbugs are attracted to carbon dioxide and body heat so they like to be where people are. They are called bedbugs because they like to hide in mattresses and bedding. They hide in small crevices and can be in luggage, boxes, trash, furniture, and clothes. Humans are dinner sources for them and their favorite time to feed is just before the sun rises. When finished with their meal, they swell up like a tick. Unlike ticks, they then fall off the host, crawl into their hiding place, and digest their meal. They sometimes leave blood stains along the seams of mattresses but can also leave dark droppings behind as well.

The first sign that a bedbug has bitten you are red itchy bites that look like this usually on the arms or shoulders, sometimes in straight rows:

The bites don’t usually need to be treated but they can get infected, especially when scratched. In this case, or when the skin reaction is more severe, seeing your doctor can result in treatment. This can be treated with antiseptic lotions and/or creams. Creams with corticosteroids may be used to decrease inflammation. Creams with antihistamines may be used to decrease the itching. These creams can also be used if there seems to be an allergic reaction or if the skin reactions get bigger like this:

Although most common in developing countries, they have been present in North America more due to increased international travel. They can live for 10 months and can go weeks without food. The good news is that bedbugs do not appear to carry or spread human disease.

How to get rid of them? Get rid of mattresses and box springs infested with bedbugs. You can also cover the bed with a plastic mattress bag to trap the bugs. Infested clothes and bedding should be washed in hot water and dried on high heat. Any furniture of cracks (e.g., in wood floors or doors) should be cleaned and vacuumed as should suitcases. Calling an exterminator is another option. If you use your own insecticide (e.g., in cracks of floors or bedframes) this should not be applied to areas that result in direct skin contact.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

SHOCKING Psoriasis Pictures from 1899

There is nothing quite like going through old medical textbooks to see how the authors used to present medical conditions in pictures. These days, authors go to great lengths to protect confidentiality by not showing the patient’s face or by placing black bars over the patient’s eyes. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, patients were shown with various ailments, with the face and eyes for all to see. The pictures of the conditions also differed back then in being quite startling, whereas today’s medical texts are sometimes less dramatic in terms of the pictoral presentations.

MedFriendly will be featuring some entries from time to time highlighting what some classic medical texts showed about various medical conditions in the late 1800s to early 1900s. The first entry is about the skin condition, psoriasis. Psoriasis is a common condition that many people have which causes redness and irritation. It usually causes thick red skin with flaky silver-white patches. It is a lifelong condition that can go away for a long time but later return. It often occurs on the elbow but can occur anywhere. It can be a rather unsightly condition. What many people do not know is that it can actually be disfiguring.

Below are some pictures of psoriasis from an 1899 text called Atlas of diseases of the skin by Dr. Franz Mracek. Here is a leg:



Monday, December 05, 2011

What's Causing My Headache?!

Headache is one of the most common symptoms we all experience. Sometimes, the cause is serious and other times it is not. Below is a list of indicators that may suggest the particular causes of a headache. Please keep in mind that these are possibilities and that you should consult your doctor for more information. You should also consult your doctor if your symptoms do not match the patterns described on the following list:

FEVER: Headache with a temperature over 100 degrees.

EPIDURAL HEMORRHAGE: An epidural hemorrhage is bleeding outside of the outermost layer that covers the brain. Symptoms include a headache with a head injury in the past few days, in addition to feeling unusually drowsy, and/or vomiting, or feeling nauseous (sick to one's stomach). No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). If this applies to you, it is an emergency, and you should get medical help immediately.

HEAD INJURY: Headache with a head injury within the past few days, without feeling unusually drowsy and/or vomiting, or feeling nauseous. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). A continuous headache is common following a head injury.

RAISED PRESSURE IN THE EYE: Severe pain in and around one eye, blurry vision in that eye, and nausea or vomiting. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. If this applies to you, it is an emergency and you should get medical help immediately.

SUBARACHNOID HEMORRHAGE: A subarachnoid hemorrhage is bleeding between the first two layers that cover the brain. Symptoms are headache, nausea and vomiting, as well as two or more of the following symptoms: dislike of bright light, drowsiness or confusion, and pain when you touch your chin to your chest. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No severe pain in and around one eye. If this applies to you, it is an emergency and you should get medical help immediately.

INFLAMMATION OF ARTERIES IN THE HEAD: Nausea and vomiting as well as a sudden throbbing pain in the side or sides of the head. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No severe pain in and around one eye. No dislike of bright light, drowsiness or confusion, or pain when you touch your chin to your chest. If this applies to you, it is an emergency and you should get medical help immediately.

MIGRAINE HEADACHES (see section above on different types of headaches for description): Nausea as well as disturbed vision that occurs with vomiting, followed by pain on one side of the head. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No severe pain in and around one eye. No dislike of bright light, drowsiness or confusion, or pain when you touch your chin to your chest. No sudden throbbing pain in the side or sides of the head.

DRINKING TOO MUCH ALCOHOL: Experience of a similar headache while waking up the past several days or more out of the past week. The headache occurs only when drinking a lot of alcohol the night before. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No nausea or vomiting.

TENSION, BRAIN TUMOR, OR HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: Experience of a similar headache while waking up the past several days or more out of the past week. The headaches do not occur only when drinking a lot of alcohol the night before. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. If the pain is in the back of the head, tension or high blood pressure is a more likely cause than a brain tumor. If nausea and vomiting is present and the headache reoccurs and is experienced while waking up, this indicates a brain tumor. If the group of symptoms mentioned in this paragraph applies to you, it is an emergency and you should get medical help immediately.

SINUSITIS: Sinusitis is inflammation of air-filled openings (known as facial sinuses) in the bones surrounding the nose. Symptoms are a current or recent stuffy nose and a dull pain and pain to the touch around the eyes and cheekbones that worsens when bending forward. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No nausea or vomiting. No similar headaches while waking up the past several days or more out of the past week.

COMMON COLD: Headache and a current or recent stuffy nose. No dull pain or pain to the touch around the eyes and cheekbones that worsens when bending forward. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No nausea or vomiting. No similar headaches while waking up the past several days or more out of the past week.

NERVOUSNESS, TENION HEADACHES: Headache and feeling tense or under stress and/or having poor sleep. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No nausea or vomiting. No similar headaches while waking up the past several days or more out of the past week. No current or recent stuffy nose.

STRAIN ON NECK MUSCLES: Headache that occur after reading or doing work that requires you to be close to something, such as sewing. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No nausea or vomiting. No similar headaches while waking up the past several days or more out of the past week. No feeling tense or under stress and/or having poor sleep.

COMMON CAUSES SUCH AS: Hunger, drinking more alcohol than usual, being in a stuff, noisy, smoky area, exposure to strong sunlight. Headache, with the common causes just mentioned, occurring in the 12 hours before the headaches began. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No nausea or vomiting. No similar headaches while waking up the past several days or more out of the past week. No feeling tense or under stress and/or having poor sleep. Headache does not occur after reading or doing work that requires you to be close to something, such as sewing.

MEDICATION SIDE EFFECT: Headache in addition to taking medication and/or taking birth-control pills. No temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F). No head injury within the past few days. No nausea or vomiting. No similar headaches while waking up the past several days or more out of the past week. No feeling tense or under stress and/or having poor sleep. Headache does not occur after reading or doing work that requires you to be close to something, such as sewing. The common causes mentioned in the last section have not occurred within 12 hours before the headache began. You should talk to your doctor if you think a medication side effect is causing your headache.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Dentist Threatens to Sue Patient for Negative Review

There are many websites where you can find reviews of doctors by patients. While some helpful information can be gained by perusing such sites, one has to be careful before drawing too many conclusions from the reviews. The reason is because it is human nature to take the time and energy to complain when upset as opposed to writing something positive when you are happy. Therefore, patients are more likely to post negative experiences on such websites, leaving a skewed set of results. Many doctors, particularly those in private practice, do not like these types of websites because one or more negative reviews can turn away business.

As a result, some doctors have resorted to having patients sign contracts to prevent them from publishing any commentary or writing anything disparaging about their experience with the doctor. One New York City dentist (Dr. Stacy Makhnevich) did just that recently and then threatened to sue a patient (Robert Lee) who wrote a negative review on a website about her. The patient stated that the dentist billed him $4766 after sending the necessary paperwork to the wrong insurance company and refusing to hand the forms over so he could submit them himself, instead referring him to a third party who charges 5% of the total bill for the service. For each day the negative review remained online line, $100 was allegedly charged to the patient from the dentist.

Now the patient is suing the dentist for forcing him to sign an agreement that violated free speech. Lee apparently felt forced because he reported severe pain that day and that he could not receive treatment unless the contract was signed. You can read more about the case here.

The case reminded me of a situation that happened to me once, which is why I never sign any contracts anymore that say I cannot complain about the service I received, no matter how complaining is defined. To make a long story short, I was moving from Oklahoma to Buffalo (a 24 hour trip) in 2003 and decided to ship one of my cars.  Almost every car carrier charged $1000.00 for the service. One company charged only $600.00. You just had to send in a non-refundable $200 deposit and sign a contract that you agree not to harass them with complaints. No problem, I figured, and so I sent in the check. Problem is that the person running this supposed car shipping company never picked up the cars and would make up a million excuses as to why. Customers would call and complain and after a few calls he would cancel the contract due to what he called “harassment.” He would pocket the $200.00 on everyone he did this to and make a significant amount of money. Eventually, he pulled this scam on an FBI agent and was caught, prosecuted by the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office, convicted, and sent to jail.

The moral of the story is not to sign contracts like this and to do some research on who you are spending your money with if a deal looks too good to be true. If all I would have done was a simple Google search, I would have found a national news story describing what he did to the FBI agent and never would have signed the contract and sent in the money. It was a life changing experience for me in terms of lessons learned and I share it here so some people don’t need to learn it the hard way.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Guest Blog Entry: Medical Advancements Come Out of Current Wars

Today's guest blog entry was written by Nick Jameson.

Since the earliest days of human civilization, war has been a regular and repeated phenomenon that destroys lives and tears societies apart. In its earliest days, a war required the mobilization of every member of a given state, and its ultimate victory or defeat promised to forever alter the fabric of that civilization. Then, for several centuries during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution, war reverted to a more small-scale affair among professional armies. Countries won, and lost, and gained territories, but life for the average person continued unchanged.

The past century has seen a return to total war – one that involves every member of society. World War I and World War II were momentous and bloody events that defined a generation for anyone living in an affected country. Together, the two wars killed millions upon millions of people and completely altered the course of modernity.

But the World Wars also ushered in tremendous advancements, many of which would not have occurred – or, at least, would not have occurred as quickly – without having war as a stimulus. On a technological level, advancements were made in nearly all aspects of military engagement: planes and naval ships were improved, the atomic bomb was developed, and communication lines were strengthened. Furthermore, on a medical level, the war ushered in the widespread use of penicillin, various immunizations, and gas masks in response to chemical attacks.

The medical advancements seen in World War II come as little surprise, considering that millions of injured and sick soldiers were being treated by some of the smartest doctors and scientists out there. Consequently, such advancements realized in the face of a major war can be seen as a silver lining amidst all the death and bloodshed. While companies such as Huntingdon Life Sciences are always pursuing the latest medical breakthroughs, it is during a time of war when the full resources of society and of the federal government get behind this endeavor.

So what, then, are the medical advancements coming out of our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? While neither engagement can be described as a total war, both conflicts have been among the costliest in history, and they have both made use of countless technological advancements. With Iraq coming to an end and Afghanistan winding down, it is a good time to start considering the medical improvements that these wars may leave as their legacies.

The two main medical advancements of our current wars come in the areas of mental health and prosthetic limbs. For years, veterans suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon arriving home from combat were brushed aside, their problems not fully understood. These days, veterans with PTSD are usually diagnosed and provided treatment. But the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought that treatment to a new level: thanks to medical advancements in the realm of diagnosis and drug treatments, the U.S. military is better equipped to identify those veterans with PTSD and work to help them readjust to society.

Advancements in prosthetic limbs have been equally beneficial to a different type of injured soldier returning home. Although casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan have been far surpassed by other American wars, the injury rate is high and veterans are arriving home with limbs that have been amputated or blown off by a bomb. In past wars, these veterans would have had little recourse but to learn how to live without that limb. This is no longer the case. As a result of advancements in biomedical engineering, veterans can be retrofitted with prosthetics that act – and even look – just like a natural limb.

These advancements will continue to benefit civilian society long after the wars are over and the soldiers have arrived home. While the life lost during a military engagement is almost always senseless and unnecessary, we can take heart in the fact that generations of people will benefit from the medical advancements that come out of it.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

And the Top 5 MedFriendly Blog Entries in November Were...

Below are the top 5 most popular blog entries for the month of November. This is a monthly feature of the MedFriendly Blog and gives readers a chance to catch up on the most popular blog entries they may have missed. Overall, another terrific month for the MedFriendly Blog. Please post a comment if you have blog entry suggestions. Here is the Top 5 list:

1. The SHOCKING Ingredients In A McRib Sandwich: This popular entry had 253 views. A must read if you are even thinking of ordering the McRib.

2. 10 Easy ways to Improve Your Mood and Outlook on Life: Check out this entry to put a smile on your face and add a little pep to your step. 102 page views this month.

3.  Does Your Kids Cereal Contain BHT or BHA – An Ingredient on Jet Fuels? Mine Did: My cereal cabinet looks a lot different since I wrote this. 99 page views this month.

4. Woman Injects Cement& Tire Sealant Into Woman’s Backside: The pictures tell the story. 92 page views this month.

5. Why Neuropsychological Testing is Helpful in Dementia Evaluations: As a neuropsychologist, this makes me happy that 91 page views were recorded and it cracked the Top 5.