Category Archives: Health

Bacteria That Cause Disease Outbreaks Found in Arizona Flea

Fleas carrying the plague have been found in some parts of Arizona, according to health officials.

On Friday (Aug. 11), the Navajo County Health Department (NCHD) announced that fleas collected in the town of Taylor, Arizona, had tested positive for Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague.

The department “is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease,” officials said in a Facebook post.

Separately, officials in nearby Coconino County also warned of fleas carrying plague in that area. [10 Bizarre Diseases You Can Get Outdoors]

The plague is perhaps best known for killing millions of people in Europe in the 1300s in a pandemic called the Black Death. Today, the infection is relatively rare in the United States, but it still occurs, mainly in the Southwest — in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Earlier this year, New Mexico officials reported that three people in the state had been infected with plague.

Plague is carried by rodents and their fleas, and most often, the disease is transmitted to humans through fleabites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Arizona officials advised people to avoid rodent burrows and to keep dogs on leashes to avoid possible exposure to fleas with plague. In addition, people should avoid handling sick or dead animals, deflea their pets routinely and use insect repellent when visiting or working in areas where plague might be present, the NCHD said.

A sudden die-off of prairie dogs or other rodents also may be an indicator of plague, so people who notice a sudden die-off of rodents should contact the health department, the NCHD said.

Symptoms of the plague typically appear within two weeks of exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain and swollen lymph glands (called “buboes”), the NCHD said. The disease is curable with antibiotics if treated early.

Urinary Tract Infection Following Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is a bacterial infection of any part of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder, kidneys, ureters (tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder) and the urethra (the tube that allows the bladder to be emptied). Infections of the bladder or the urethra are the most common.

In the United States, about 8.1 million people visit the doctor due to a urinary tract infection each year,according to the American Urological Association.

Most often, a UTI occurs because bacteria enter the urethra and travel up to the bladder, where they multiply.

Bladder infections are typically caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which are common bacteria in the human gut, according to the Mayo Clinic. Infections of the urethra can be caused by E. coli, or by sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes or chlamydia.

Bacteria in the bladder can also move up to the kidneys and cause a kidney infection (known as pyelonephritis), which can cause permanent kidney damage. An untreated UTI in the bladder can lead to such an infection.

According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of a UTI include:

  • A strong and frequent urge to urinate often, even after you’ve just emptied your bladder
  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or back (pelvic pain for women, rectal pain for men)

Signs of a kidney infection may include:

  • Chills or night sweats
  • Fever
  • Pain in the side, back or groin area
  • Flushed or reddened skin
  • Nausea and vomiting

In older adults, mental changes or confusion are often the only signs of a UTI, according to the NIH. For this reason, UTIs in the elderly are often missed, said Dr. Ketul Shah, a urologist from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. If an elderly patient comes to the hospital because they are confused and not feeling well, it’s important that doctors rule out common problems (such as UTI) first, before they start treatment for other, less common problems, Shah said.

Women are more likely than men to get a UTI. One reason for this is that women have a shorter urethra than men do, and it is closer to the anus. Both of these reasons explain why bacteria can reach the bladder more easily in women. Sexual activity also increases a woman’s risk of UTI.

The drop in estrogen levels that women experience after menopause also can make the urinary tract more vulnerable to infection, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Blockages of the urinary tract, such as those caused by a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate, can block the flow of urine and increase the risk of UTI.

People with an impaired immune system, such as those with diabetes and other conditions, have a decreased ability to fight off infections, which can increase the risk of UTI.

People who have a urinary catheter are also at increased risk for UTI.

People who hold their urine for long periods of time may also be at risk for a urinary tract infection, Shah said. Urine has a high amount of glucose and proteins, which can allow bacteria to grow, Shah said. “The bacteria has more time to multiply” when people hold their urine, Shah said.

To diagnose a UTI, doctors collect a urine sample to look for bacteria or byproducts from bacteria, such as red and white blood cells, Shah said. Doctors can also perform a urine culture — in which the urine sample is cultured in a lab to see if it grows bacteria — which takes about 24 to 48 hours, Shah said. The latter test can help doctors determine which antibiotics are most suitable to treat the infection, Shah said.

Usually, a urinary tract infection is treated with antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading to the kidneys. Symptoms of a bladder infection usually go away within one to two days after starting antibiotics.

Patients who are prescribed antibiotics should take them exactly as it was recommended by your healthcare provider, and they should not stop taking the drug until your provider says it is safe to do so, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A recent opinion article published in The BMJ (British Medical Journal) hasquestioned the long-held advice of finishing a course of antibiotics even if a person is feeling better to prevent the relapse of an infection. The article suggests this advice might be contributing to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Women with recurrent UTIs — meaning having more than two or three UTIs in a year — may be told to take antibiotics after sexual activity to prevent infection. Longer courses of antibiotics, or stronger doses, also may be required for people with recurrent infections.

A more severe infection of the kidneys may require hospital treatment. Hospital treatment involves injecting fluids and antibiotics through a vein. Some people may need surgery if the infection is caused by a problem with the structure of the urinary tract, according to the NIH.

UTIs in children can be serious because the infection can sometimes affect the growth of the kidneys, Shah said. Children who have had a UTI may require further testing to make sure their urine is not traveling back up into the kidneys, Shah said.

Ways to help prevent UTIs include drinking plenty of water to dilute urine and flush out bacteria, and urinating after intercourse. Women who’ve gone through menopause may use estrogen cream around the vagina to reduce the risk of infections, the NIH says.

A 2012 review suggested that cranberries may help prevent UTIs, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Cranberries may interfere with the way bacteria attach to urinary tract cells.

The idea that cranberry juice can prevent UTIs is controversial, because although some studies show a benefit, other studies find little evidence of a benefit, or suggest that the benefit is a placebo effect, Shah said. Still, because cranberry juice is safe and not very expensive, Shah said he does recommend it as a way to help prevent UTI.

A Bodybuilder Died Because Most Drink Protein Shakes

A 25-year-old woman in Australia died after consuming too much protein, in the form of shakes, supplements and protein-packed foods, the New York Post reported yesterday.

The woman, a bodybuilder named Meegan Hefford, was found unconscious in her apartment and was taken to the hospital. Hefford was declared brain-dead by doctors and died two days later.

After Hefford’s death, the doctors discovered that she had a rare condition called a urea cycle disorder, which affects how the body breaks down protein, according to the New York Post. [7 Foods You Can Overdose On]

What is a urea cycle disorder, and how can too much protein lead to death?

When a person eats protein, the body breaks the macronutrient down into its building blocks, called amino acids. After using what it needs, the body converts the leftover amino acids into nitrogen, which is removed from the body, according to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. To remove the nitrogen, enzymes convert the chemical into a compound called urea, in a process called the urea cycle. This substance is then excreted from the body in a person’s urine.

But when a person has a urea cycle disorder, the body can’t convert nitrogen into urea, Cincinnati Children’s says. This causes nitrogen to build up in a person’s blood in the form of ammonia, a highly toxic substance, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD). Too much ammonia in the blood can lead to irreversible brain damage, coma or death, GARD says.

Urea cycle disorders stem from deficiencies in one of the six enzymes in the body responsible for converting nitrogen to urea, GARD says. The disorders are genetic, meaning that they are passed down from parent to child, according to Cincinnati Children’s.

The symptoms of urea cycle disorders depend on how severe the condition is. A severe urea cycle disorder, for example, means that a person has little to no activity in one of the necessary enzymes. In people with less severe disorders, enzyme activity levels may be lower than those of a healthy person.

For instance, if a baby is born with a severe urea cycle disorder, symptoms will appear about 24 hours after birth, according to theNational Urea Cycle Disorders Foundation (NUCDF). These babies can develop seizures and breathing problems, and may fall into comas, the NUCDF says.

Urea cycle disorders are rare; about 1 in 30,000 newborns is affected, Cincinnati Children’s says.

Symptoms of mild to moderate urea cycle disorder can show up in childhood, according to the NUCDF, and can initially include refusal to eat high-protein foods, failure to thrive and inconsolable crying. As the disease progresses, children can develop vomiting, lethargy and delirium. If untreated, the condition can lead to coma and death.

People with mild urea cycle disorders may go until adulthood before they are diagnosed, the NUCDF says. High-protein diets and excessive exercise can trigger symptoms, as can childbirth and certain viruses. In some adults and children, stress can also trigger symptoms, according to Cincinnati Children’s.

Although there is no cure for urea cycle disorders, the condition can be managed with a low-protein diet and certain medications that help remove ammonia from the body, Cincinnati Children’s says. Sometimes, a person may also need to take amino acid supplements to ensure that the body gets what it needs to function.

In severe cases of these disorders, a doctor may recommend a livertransplant, Cincinnati Children’s says. The liver produces the enzymes involved in the urea cycle.

Flu Shot Facts & Side Effects

The flu can be a very serious illness, especially in young children, adults ages 65 and over, those with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women.

The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and family from the flu, the CDC says.

Strains of the flu virus are constantly changing, so a new flu vaccine is made each year. Scientists make the vaccine before the flu season starts by predicting which flu strains are likely to be the most common during the upcoming season.

“Since the flu virus frequently drifts in its genetic composition, you have to reformulate the vaccine, and this is one of the reasons that people have to [get a flu shot] on an annual basis,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive medicine and infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Flu shots protect against three or four strains of flu virus. Trivalent flu vaccines protect against two influenza A strains — H1N1 and H3N2 — and one influenza B strain. Quadrivalent flu vaccines — offered for the first time in the 2013-2014 flu season — protect against the same strains as the trivalent vaccine, as well as an extra influenza B strain.

In addition to the standard-dose flu vaccine given through a needle, flu shots are available in several different forms, including a high-dose version for those ages 65 and older, a small-needle version (intradermal flu vaccine) for people ages 18 to 64, an egg-free version that’s grown in animal cells rather than hen’s eggs and is approved for people ages 4 and older, and a nasal spray, which is approved for healthy people ages 2 to 49.

There is also a needle-free flu shot, delivered by a so-called jet injector, which uses a high-pressure stream of fluid to inject the vaccine, the CDC says. It is approved for adults ages 18 to 64.

The composition of the 2017-2018 flu shot will be slightly different from last season’s flu shot. Specifically, there will be a different strain of the H1N1 virus in this season’s flu shot, compared with last season’s shot. According to the CDC, the 2017-2018 trivalent flu shot will contain the following strains of the flu virus:

  • A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus – This is the H1N1 component that is different from last year’s flu shot.
  • A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus – This is the H3N2 component that is the same as last year’s flu shot.
  • B/Brisbane/60/2008-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus – This is the influenza B strain component that is the same as last year’s shot.

The 2017-2018 quadrivalent vaccine will also contain a second influenza B strain called “B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus,” which was also included in last season’s quadrivalent vaccine.

Just like the last flu season, the flu nasal spray is not recommended for anyone during the 2017-2018 flu season. This is the second year in a row that the CDC has omitted the nasal spray from the list of recommended flu shot types. This decision was based on data showing that the nasal spray was not very effective at preventing flu from 2013 to 2016, the CDC says. In addition, omitting the nasal spray during the 2016-2017 flu season did not affect the overall percentage of Americans who recieved a flu shot that season, according to American Academy of Family Physicians. It’s not clear whether this recommendation will change in future seasons.
In addition, the CDC clarified that pregnant women may recieve any of the flu vaccines recommended for their age group, except the nasal spray (also called the live attenuated influenza vaccine, or LAIV.) This means pregnant women can receive either “inactivated” (killed) flu vaccine, or the “recombinant” flu vaccine, which is produced without the use of chicken eggs and can be given to people with egg allergies. Previously, the CDC had said pregnant women should recieve the “inactivated,” but did not mention use of recombinat vaccines.

Exactly when the flu season starts and ends is unpredictable, so health officials recommend that people get their flu shot in early fall, preferably by the end of October, the CDC says. Flu activity typically peaks in January or February.

“We’d like to get as many people protected against influenza before influenza becomes active in communities across the country,” Schaffner said.

Most flu vaccines are given before Thanksgiving, Schaffner said, but people can still get their shot throughout the winter months. Each season’s flu shot expires in June of that year, but Schaffner said that he would consider it “too late” to get a flu vaccine after March, unless a person is traveling to the Southern Hemisphere (where the flu season will be starting).

After vaccination, it takes a person about two weeks to build up immunity against the flu.

People can visit the CDC’s HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find flu shot locations, although they should call the location ahead of time to see if they have the vaccine in stock.

The effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccine depends upon several factors, including how well the flu strains in the vaccine match the strains in circulation. Some studies show that when strains in the vaccine are a good match with the ones that are circulating, vaccinated individuals are 60 percent less likely to catch the flu than people who aren’t vaccinated,according to the CDC.

Flu vaccine effectiveness can also vary depending on the person being vaccinated — the vaccine tends to work best in healthy adults and older children, and less well in older adults.

For instance, a 2013 study from the CDC found that the year’s flu vaccine was not very effective in adults ages 65 and over: Older people who got the vaccine were just as likely to visit the doctor for flu symptoms as those who did not get the vaccine.

But other studies suggest that individuals who do get sick develop less serve symptoms if they are vaccinated. A 2013 study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that people who got the flu shot were less likely to be hospitalized with the flu.

There are some studies that suggest the high-dose flu vaccine provides better protection for older adults. The high-dose flu vaccine contains four times the dose of the standard vaccine, Schaffner said. A 2014 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the high-dose vaccine provides 24 percent more protection against the flu than the standard dose, Schaffner said.

Yes. Studies show flu vaccines are safe for women in any stage of pregnancy, the CDC says.

There are several reasons why it’s important for pregnant women to get a flu shot, Schaffner said.

“Pregnant women, when they get influenza, have a tendency to get a more severe disease,” and are at increased risk for complications and hospitalization from the disease, Schaffner said.

In addition, flu vaccination in pregnancy helps to protect the baby against flu during the first six months of life, when the baby is too young to receive a flu shot, Schaffner said. The mother “passes that protection on to her newborn baby,” Schaffner said.

According to the CDC, mild side effects from the flu shot include soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever and aches. Only about 1 percent to 2 percent of people who get a flu shot will have fever as a side effect, Schaffner said.

Rare but serious side effects can occur, including allergic reactions. Symptoms of serious side effects include difficulty breathing, swelling around the eyes or lips, hives, racing heart, dizziness and high fever. If you experience serious side effects, you should seek medical care immediately, the CDC says.

For children, side effects from the flu nasal spray can include runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches and fever. For adults, side effects include runny nose, headache, sore throat and cough. These side effects last a short time compared to the actual flu illness, the CDC says.

“It’s a myth that you can get flu from the flu vaccine,” Schaffner said.

The viruses in the flu shot are killed, so people cannot get the flu from a flu vaccine. However, because it takes about two weeks for people to build up immunity after they get the flu vaccine, some people may catch the flu shortly after their vaccinated, if they are exposed to the flu during this time period.

Some people may also mistakenly attribute symptoms of a cold to the vaccine, Schaffner said.

The nasal spray vaccine contains a “live attenuated” flu virus, but the virus is weakened so that it cannot cause the flu. The viruses in the nasal spray can’t replicate in the warm temperatures of the lungs and other parts in the body. However, because temperatures in the nose are colder, the virus causes a small infection in the nose. This infection does not cause symptoms in most people, but in some people, it causes symptoms such as runny nose and sore throat, Schaffner said.

This local infection will prompt the body to make antibodies against the flu virus, Schaffner said. “That provides better protection against the real flu, which is of course, is a virus that can make you seriously ill,” Schaffner said.

Children younger than 6 months cannot get a flu shot. Those who’ve had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past should generally not be vaccinated, the CDC says.

You should not get the flu vaccine if you have a high fever. (You should wait until the fever is gone.)

However, if you have minor illness, like a mild cold or a headache, you can still get a flu shot, Schaffner said. “The vaccine does perfectly well in those folks.”

How to CT Scan from Olive Led to Man’s Crohn’s Disease Diagnosis

When a 24-year-old man in Belgium went to the hospital because he had belly pain, doctors found an olive stuck in his small intestine — and soon after, diagnosed him with Crohn’s disease.

The man had sudden and severe abdominal pain for two days before he went to the doctor, according to a report of the man’s case, published Aug. 9 in the journal BMJ Case Reports. The incident took place about six months ago.

The doctors performed a CT scan of the man’s abdomen to see if they could spot the reason for his pain. They found that a portion of the wall of the small intestine was thickened, and within that thickened tissue, they discovered an odd-looking spot that turned out to be a black olive. [Here’s a Giant List of the Strangest Medical Cases We’ve Covered]

Olives were one of the man’s favorite foods, and he had accidentally swallowed the olive whole, pit included, said lead author Dr. Halil Yildiz, an internal-medicine physician at University Hospital Saint-Luc in Belgium who treated the man.

To confirm that the spot on the scan was an olive, however, the doctors did something that had never been done: They performed another CT scan — a scan of a single fresh olive. “This is the first time that CT acquisition of a fresh olive has been compared with patient images,” the doctors wrote in the report.

The olive scan did its part: It confirmed that the small fruit really was lodged in the man’s bowels, Yildiz told Live Science.

No surgery was required to remove the olive; instead, the man was given steroids to reduce the inflammation in his gut, and eventually, the olive passed out of his body in his feces, Yildiz said.

In most cases when a person swallows a “foreign body” — in other words, something they shouldn’t have swallowed — it passes safely through the gastrointestinal tract and out the other end, according to the report. Occasionally, something may get stuck, but “this complication is very rare with olives,” the authors wrote.

Indeed, it turns out that there was another factor at play that made it much more likely for the olive to get stuck in the man’s gut, Yildiz said: He had a type of inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s disease.

But neither the man nor the doctors knew that the patient had Crohn’s disease until after the olive had passed out of his body and the patient returned for a follow-up colonoscopy, according to the report. It was during that exam that the doctors diagnosed the man with Crohn’s disease.

“If there was no bowel disease,” the olive wouldn’t have caused a problem, Yildiz said. “Crohn’s disease [made] the obstruction more likely.”

Why You Need Eclipse Glass, to Stare at it?

With the Aug. 21 solar eclipse just days away, you’ve likely heard the warnings to never look directly at the sun without proper eye protection. And for good reason: A recent case illustrates the real danger of doing so — A 12-year-old girl in Florida damaged her eyes by looking at the sun for 1 minute, according to a new report of the girl’s case.

One day after staring at the sun, the girl went to an ophthalmology emergency room because her vision had become blurry, according to the report, published today (Aug. 18) in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

The girl had a condition called “solar retinopathy,” which means her eyes were damaged from looking at the intense light of the sun, said Dr. Kara Cavuoto, an ophthalmologist at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Health System. Cavuoto and co-author Dr. Ta Chen Chang, also an ophthalmologist at the same institute, treated the patient. [2017 Total Solar Eclipse: Everything You Need to Know]

Solar retinopathy is thought to occur when extremely bright light creates molecules known as free radicals in a person’s eyes. These highly reactive molecules can kill cells in the retina, leading to blurry vision, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

The girl’s case didn’t take place during a solar eclipse, but “there’s no difference in risk between looking at the sun during a [solar] eclipse versus any other time,” Cavuoto told Live Science. “People often stare at the sun for prolonged periods of time during an eclipse and may underestimate the harm the sun is causing to their eyes.”

In solar retinopathy, the central part of the retina, called the macula, is damaged, Cavuoto said. In particular, the damage occurs in a central pit in the macula called the fovea, which is responsible for sharp vision. “This results in blurred vision or a blind spot in one or both eyes,” she said.

The condition isn’t painful, and the symptoms don’t start immediately after a person looks at the sun. Generally, a person starts to notice the effects a few hours after looking at the sun, Cavuoto said. In the girl’s case, she noticed that her vision was blurry several hours later, and by the following day, her vision had gotten worse.

The doctors noted in the report that the girl had glaucoma, a condition that causes increased pressure in the eye and can also damage vision. (The girl already had glaucoma before staring at the sun; the condition did not result from that incident.) It’s possible that because the girl’s vision was already decreased, she might have stared at the sun longer to see all of the details, Cavuoto said.

In some cases of solar retinopathy, people’s vision may improve within six months, but they rarely return to “normal” vision, Cavuoto said. The girl’s vision, however, did not improve, according to the report.

Despite the name solar retinopathy, staring at the sun isn’t the only cause of the condition. Activities such as welding, which emits a very bright light, and misusing a laser pointer can also cause solar retinopathy, Cavuoto said.

Why Dangerous Hair Condition After Nuclear Attack

Last week, when North Korea was threatening to send a ballistic missile toward the U.S. territory of Guam, the island’s inhabitants were warned that in the case of a nuclear attack, they should not condition their hair.

Wait, what?

Hair conditioning might seem like the last thing that would be on a person’s mind following a nuclear attack, but this hair care advice has scientific merit: Conditioner can “bind radioactive material to your hair,” according to guidelines posted by Guam’s Office of Civil Defense Friday (Aug. 11). [Doom and Gloom: Top 10 Post-Apocalyptic Worlds]

It appears that the people of Guam are safe for the moment, however. North Korea has since de-escalated its threat, saying it would “wait a little more” before moving forward with the missile launchings, according to The New York Times.

Even so, the conditioner recommendations stand. During a nuclear attack, a fireball would pulverize everything in its path, launching the resulting vaporized material upward and mixing it with radioactive byproducts from the bomb to create a radioactive dust, according to NPR. This dust is known as nuclear fallout, and it can contaminate everything it falls on, including human hair.

If people survive the blast, they should take off their outer layer of clothing, which can remove up to 90 percent of radioactive material, according to Ready.gov, a U.S. site on disaster preparedness. If water is available for bathing, survivors should also shower with soap and shampoo to wash off any radioactive dust.

But because hair is made of overlapping scales, it’s a bad idea to condition it in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

“[Hair] can come apart during the day like a pinecone,” Andrew Karam, a radiation safety expert who consults for government response teams, told NPR. “Radiation contamination particles can get between those scales.”

Unlike shampoo, conditioner has certain compounds — mainly cationic surfactants (such as cetrimonium chloride), silicone (like dimethicone) and cationic polymers (such as guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride) — that pull down these scales to smooth a person’s hair, Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist who hosts The Beauty Brains podcast,told Racked.

If nuclear fallout gets under these scales, when the scales are smoothed down, radioactive particles can be trapped underneath and remain there, Karam told NPR.

In addition, conditioner has sticky, oily compounds that stay in hair, even after it’s rinsed. These compounds could make it easier for nuclear fallout to stick to the hair, which could, in turn, increase a person’s risk of radioactive exposure, Romanowski told NPR.

In fact, people should avoid applying to their body any oily or sticky cosmetic product, such as skin lotion or color cosmetics, if they’re in a nuclear fallout zone, as these products would also amass radioactive dust, Romanowski said.

However, most injuries from a nuclear bomb are caused by pressure from the explosion, as well as fires, collapsed buildings, flying shrapnel and acute radiation poisoning (the kind that happens from the initial explosion rather than long-term exposure like that coming from your hair), Live Science reported previously.

Causes, Symptoms & Treatment, Kidney Stones

A kidney stone is a hard mass that forms in one or both kidneys from minerals in the urine, and if large enough, can cause severe pain. In the United States, kidney stones send more than 500,000 people to the emergency room each year, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Kidney stones form when there is not enough liquid in the urine to dilute out waste chemicals, such ascalcium, oxalate and phosphorous. These waste chemicals become concentrated, and crystals begin to form, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

The most common type of kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones.

Kidney stones can vary in size, with some as small as a grain of sand, and others as large as a pea or even a golf ball, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Small stones may pass down the urinary tract and be excreted without causing symptoms. Larger stones may get stuck in the urinary tract and block the flow of urine, which can cause severe pain or bleeding, the NIH says.

People with kidney stones often seek medical care because they have severe pain in their flank (the area between the mid-back and the ribs) on one side of the body, and this pain can extend to the lower abdomen, said Dr. Michael F. Michelis, director of the division of nephrology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Stone pain is very profound,” Michelis said.

Other symptoms of kidney stones can include pain while urinating, blood in the urine, and nausea and vomiting, according to the NIH. People who think they have a kidney stone, or who have serious symptoms such as extreme pain that won’t go away, fever, chills and vomiting, should see their doctor, the NIH says.

Men are more likely to develop kidney stones than women. People are also at increased risk for kidney stones if they’ve had a stone in the past, or a member of their family has had a stone.

Other risk factors include not drinking enough water, eating a diet high in protein, sodium and sugar, being obese, or undergoing gastric bypass surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The most common time to develop kidney stones is between ages 20 and 60, according to information from The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Kidney stones can be diagnosed from a patient’s symptoms and a CT scan (that combines X-rays to create a 3D image), which is usually performed in the emergency room, Michelis said.

Small kidney stones don’t usually need treatment, but an individual may need to take pain medication, according to the NIH. Patients with kidney stones should also drink lots of fluids, which can help the stone to pass. Most kidney stones do not require invasive treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Large kidney stones, or stones blocking the urinary tract, may need other treatments. One treatment is called shock wave lithotripsy, during which a doctor uses a machine that produces strong vibrations known as shock waves to break the stone into small pieces so it can pass through the urinary tract.

Another treatment, called ureteroscopy, uses a special tool called a ureteroscope to view the kidney stone in the ureter — the tube that connects the kidneys to the bladder. A doctor can then remove the stone or use laser energy to break it up.

Very large stones may need surgery to remove them, Michelis said.

Many issues of kidney stones “can be avoided by moderation of the diet and a high fluid intake,” Michelis said. The NIH recommends drinking about 2 to 3 liters, or 2 to 3 quarts, of fluid each day.

Determining the type of stone a person had — by catching the stone as it passes and having it analyzed by a lab — can help doctors understand what caused the stone, and make recommendations to prevent the condition. If a patient is not able to catch the kidney stone, doctors can still perform urine testing (by asking a patient to collect his or her urine for a 24-hour period), and take a diet history, to determine what might be causing the stone, Michelis said.

For people who’ve had stones made of calcium oxalate, doctors may recommend that they avoid foods high in oxalate, such as spinach, rhubarb, nuts and wheat bran, the NIH says.

To prevent stones made of uric acid, doctors may ask patients to reduce their protein intake, because protein is associated with the formation of uric acid in the body, Michelis said.

Reducing salt intake may also lower a person’s risk of several types of kidney stones, including calcium stones. Eating too much sodium can increase the amount of calcium in the urine, Michelis said. Patients should also eat the recommended daily amount of calcium, but not an excessive amount, Michelis said.

Some drugs can help prevent kidney stones, but these drugs are typically used only if a change in diet is not effective, Michelis said. These include diuretic drugs to prevent calcium stones and drugs to reduce the production of uric acid to prevent uric acid stones, Michelis said. Some drugs can also reduce the acidity of the urine, Michelis said, because too much acid in the urine is a risk factor for stones made of uric acid.

Death Overdose of Adult Drugs Rises 19%

Drug overdose deaths among U.S. teens edged upward in 2015, after declining for several years prior, according a new report.

The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at drug overdose deaths among Americans ages 15 to 19 over a 16-year period, from 1999 to 2015.

The report showed that from 1999 to the mid-2000s drug overdose deaths in this age group more than doubled, from 1.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 to 4.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2007. This increase coincided with a rise in drug overdose deaths among the U.S. population as a whole, an increase that’s been partly attributed to the opioid epidemic.

However, after 2007, drug overdose deaths among teens declined, reaching 3.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014, the report said. (This drop was driven by a decrease in drug overdose deaths among males in this age group.)

But in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, drug overdose deaths among teens increased again, to 3.7 deaths per 100,000 people, which is a 19 percent increase compared to 2014, the report said. In total, there were 772 drug overdose deaths in this age group in 2015. [America’s Opioid-Use Epidemic: 5 Startling Facts]

This recent rise “certainly is a red flag,” said Dr. Bradley Stein, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and senior physician policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, who was not involved in the report. However, Stein noted, because the overall number of drug overdose deaths among teens in this age group is relatively small, it’s possible that the recent rise is just statistical “noise” rather than a true increase. In other words, more data will be needed to determine if this marks a new upward trend.

Still, “any uptick at all [in drug overdose deaths] is certainly something that has to get our attention,” Stein said.

The majority of overdose deaths in this age group, 80 percent, were unintentional. However, the rate of suicides resulting from overdose was higher among females (22 percent) than males (13.5 percent), the study found.

The report analyzed the types of drugs involved in teen overdose deaths, finding that opioids had the highest death rate, followed by benzodiazepines (which are also known as “tranquilizers” and include drugs such as Valium and Xanax).

Stein noted that while people often focus on opioids as the biggest culprit in drug overdose deaths, it’s often a combination of drugs that leads to overdose, and the mixture of opioids with benzodiazepines can be particularly deadly.

The study also found that there has been a spike in teen overdose deaths involving heroin and synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) in recent years, while there has been a decrease in deaths involving semisynthetic opioids, which include prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. This mirrors a trend seen in adults and suggests that while efforts to reduce prescribing of opioid painkillers may be working, they are “not a silver bullet” for solving the opioid crisis, Stein said.

Stein said it’s unclear why teen drug overdose deaths decreased from 2007 to 2014 while overdose deaths increased in other age groups during this time. But Stein speculated that efforts to prevent opioid use or educate people about the risks of these drugs might have a bigger impact in teens and might prevent them from starting in the first place. More research is needed to understand which interventions work best for which demographic groups, he said.

Still, even with prevention efforts, teens may become addicted to opioids, and there is still a need to push for better opioid addiction treatments for this age group, Stein said.

Can the solar eclipse harm the eyes?

Many watchers of today’s solar eclipse may have glanced at the sun without proper eye protection, if only for a brief moment. This can be dangerous, as looking directly at the sun can cause eye damage. But how do you know if you’ve hurt your eyes?

The solar eclipse wowed viewers across the United States today (Aug. 21) as it passed from the West Coast to the East Coast. As millions tried to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon, many may have taken a peek without proper eye protection, either intentionally or by accident. Even President Donald Trump was photographed apparently looking sunward at the eclipse without eye protection.

Experts stress that you should not look directly at the sun without proper eye protection, which includes special eclipse glasses or solar viewers. That’s because looking directly at the sun, even for a short period, can cause damage to the eyes’ retina — a condition known assolar retinopathy. The damage occurs in the fovea, a spot in the retina that is responsible for sharp, central vision, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

There’s no amount of time that’s considered “safe” to look at the sun without proper eye protection, said Dr. Neil Bressler, a professor of ophthalmology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Even looking for a few seconds could cause damage, and the longer you stare, the higher your chances of experiencing damage, Bressler said. [Photos: 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse]

Symptoms of solar retinopathy can occur within hours of looking at the sun. According to a paper published in 2001 by The Royal College of Ophthalmologists in the United Kingdom, symptoms typically show up about 12 hours after the viewing event.

These symptoms can include the following:

  1. Blurry vision
  2. A central blind spot in one or both eyes
  3. Increased sensitivity to light
  4. Distorted vision
  5. Changes in the way you see color, known as “chromatopsia”

People who experience discomfort or vision problems after an eclipse should visit an eye doctor for an eye exam, according to the American Optometric Association.

Fortunately, many people with solar retinopathy recover from their symptoms, but some have lasting vision problems. For example, in a2002 study, 13 out of 15 patients in England with solar retinopathy resulting from viewing an eclipse in 1999 had normal vision in an eye exam eight to 12 months later. Still, even some patients with normal vision in an eye test had subtle eye symptoms, such as a small blind spot in their vision.