Tag Archives: Ailments

What are scientists doing to combat drug-resistant bacteria and superbugs?

A lot of the work that is done is preventing antibiotic resistance bacteria from spreading. They can become a huge problem in hospitals, for example. All it takes is one sick person to be admitted, and it’s possible for the bacteria in them to spread to other patients through a variety of routes. There are all sorts of new methods of sterilizing rooms and equipment, and routinely gathering samples from at-risk patients so you know early on if they’ve caught it.

There are lots of new antibiotics in development, but there are also other possible treatments being studied, such as bacteriophages. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria, but aren’t dangerous for us.

Research is also being done on how, exactly, bacteria can survive antibiotics. There are a lot of mechanisms, such as the bacteria having an enzyme that changes the structure of the antibiotic, being able to “spit” the antibiotic particles out of itself faster than they can get in, or mutating so that their molecules can no longer be recognized by the antibiotic. If we know these mechanisms, it’s possible to try to develop new treatments that specifically target them.

Why does gargling with salt water help with sore throat, but eating chips doesn’t?

There’s a phenomenon called ‘osmosis’ which plays its role here.

When two different liquids with different concentrations are separated by a semipermeable membrane (the one that allows one-way flow only), the liquids would flow in such a way that they attain a state of equilibrium, i.e. now the concentration of both the liquids is same.

The bacteria which cause the sore throat also have their skin similar to a semipermeable membrane. When you gargle with salty water, the inner ‘fluid’ of bacteria (which makes them live, in a literal sense) oozes out (in order to equalize the concentrations of these fluids-salt water and bacterial body fluid). This kills the bacteria and their ‘active fluid’ is washed away when you gulf-out the liquid. Thus they loose their dominance on the sore throat and you feel relaxed.

Salty food doesn’t help the way salt water does for several reasons.

For one, there isn’t enough of the right kind of salt in most salty foods to make your throat less bacteria-friendly.

Secondly, there are enough carbs and sugars in most salty foods to feed the bacteria making your throat sore. This is obviously counter-productive.

Thirdly, salty foods usually have a very rough texture which will scrape and irritate your throat, which is bad by itself but the super tiny scrapes also make great hiding places for the bacteria to grow.

So gargling salt water is a great idea and will help kill the bacteria making your throat sore. Eating salty food is a terrible idea because it basically builds a cozy place for all the bacteria to live and then gives them a bunch of free food.

What is seizure and what causes it?

A seizure occurs when there is out-of-control electrical activity in your brain. A seizure can take many forms, ranging anywhere from an involuntary muscle twitch, to “blanking out,” to losing consciousness and convulsing on ground uncontrollably (which most people think of when they hear the word “seizure”). Seizures can take many forms because they have many causes. They can be focal (i.e. propagating from one area of the brain, such as with a brain tumor or a brain bleed), or can be global (seizure activity everywhere in the brain at once, such as with metabolic disturbances).

If you suspect somebody has a seizure, the first diagnostic test to get is an EEG (electroencephalogram), which is essentially an EKG for the brain. It graphs the electrical activity of the brain. A trained neurologist can interpret normal brain wave activity and differentiate it from possible seizure activity. If you are certain that there is seizure activity, you get an MRI to look for any structural abnormalities that can cause seizures (trauma, tumors, AV malformations, etc).

Seizures are treated in many different ways. Ideally, you treat the underlying cause (get rid of the tumor, correct the metabolic abnormality, etc), but sometimes this isn’t possible. You can also treat them with medications called anti-epileptic drugs. There are many AED’s, with different mechanisms of action and different side effects (agitation, suicidal ideations, dizziness, risk of taking when pregnant). Choosing the right AED can be tricky, because you have to know what type of seizure you’re treating, and weigh the risk of side effects with the benefit of hopefully stopping the seizures.

Identifying triggers and avoiding them is a must (avoiding sleep deprivation, bright/flashing lights, etc). Ketogenic diets have also been found to be beneficial in reducing seizure activity in some patients. Also, patients with epilepsy must know how to avoid certain activities in case they have a seizure while doing them (driving, climbing ladders, cooking with gas, stepping into bath tubs).

If you see somebody that you suspect is actively seizing, the best thing to do is give them room, keep others back, and call 911. Do NOT try and hold them down, and do NOT stick anything in their mouth. It is a common misconception that people with seizures will swallow their tongue. This is physically impossible.

Epilepsy is a very common neurologic disorder. Fortunately, we live in a time where we have so many different ways to treat seizures. New medicines are being invented all the time. Vimpat, for example, was just approved by the FDA 8 years ago, and is now used in hospitals all around the United States. We still have a long ways to go, but we’re making great progress in treating epilepsy.

What is Multiple Sclerosis, also known as MS?

Around the nerves in the brain, there is a covering called myelin. This substance acts as a sheath in the same way wires have sheaths. It helps to keep each ‘wire’ isolated so signals don’t get crossed.

With MS, for some reason, the body’s immune system sees the myelin sheath as a foreign entity, so the immune system starts attacking it just as they would with a virus or bacteria.

The “sclerosis” portion of the MS name deals with scarring. Over time, as the mylein sheath surrounding the nerves is attacked and healed over time, over and over again, scarring in the sheath starts to form which can end up getting so thick that it slows or completely blocks signals trying to go through that particular nerve. Many people with MS over time end up losing the ability to feel certain parts of their body, or lose control of those parts of their body entirely.

There is no known cure, and scientists aren’t completely sure what causes it to begin with. There are of course medications available for people suffering from MS, but the focus is more on slowing the progression of the disease, not stopping it.

Why does looking at the horizon help motion sickness?

People can get motion sick on/in vehicles because they move with the vehicle.

Motion sickness is caused by your inner ear and eyes sending conflicting information to your brain. Your brain then thinks you’re hallucinating, which means you might have ingested poison, and you need to expel it. So you get nauseous.

Imagine you’re in a closed room on a ship in rough seas. Your inner ear perceives you going up and down on the waves, which could be huge movements, but you are barely moving at all in relation to your surroundings (the room). That confuses your brain. If you’re on the deck and staring at the horizon, the tiny movements of your eyes tracking it as you move will match up more closely to your inner ear’s signals, which can help you not become sick.

Closing your eyes can also help, as it removes the conflict in signals.

How exactly does cancer physically kill a person?

Cancer is basically just cells dividing uncontrollably. This happens when the normal feedback loops that control cell division don’t work for some reason. The immune system usually doesn’t attack these extra cells because as far as the immune system is concerned they have all the right surface proteins that identify them as part of the body and not a foreign invader.

At first (depending on the cancer) the few extra cells might still perform their intended function, but eventually there are way too many cells and they form a solid mass (tumor) that doesn’t perform whatever function the original cells were supposed to perform.

Eventually, the tumor gets big enough that it interferes with the normal functioning of the cells around it. If it gets big enough and is in a bad enough area (say the inside of a vital organ like the liver or pancreas) it can stop the organ from doing its job, and the patient dies.

Usually though, cancer patients die from a metastasis, which is when cancer cells break off from the main tumor into the blood and move to a new part of the body, where they start reproducing all over again and form a new tumor.

This is why catching cancer early (before it metastasizes) is the most important factor in defeating it. If there is only one tumor and it’s in a place that can be accessed by a surgeon, it can be removed. If there are lots of tumors, odds are some of them won’t be surgically removable.

There is still hope if your cancer does metastasize though, because there are many new drugs that focus on teaching the immune system to kill the cancer.

Remember the surface proteins up in the first paragraph? Some cancers express certain surface proteins that aren’t usually found in the body, and several clinical trials have successfully trained the immune system to recognize those proteins and attack the cancerous cells.

What actually happens when you “pull” a muscle?

A “muscle pull” refers to a strain.

This is damage to a tissue caused by stress/loading (too much at one time, not prepared for the stress, or repetitive use).  This stress can either be to the muscle itself (the red part in anatomical figures) or the tendons that attach muscle to bone (the white part in anatomical figures).

Depending on the extent of the damage, you could have actual tearing of muscle fibers. A mild strain (grade I) would be stretching of the tissue with possible small tears to fibers. There will be pain, but there will be minimal weakness. A more severe (grade II) strain would involved tearing of fibers. Weakness would accompany the pain. The most severe form (grade IIII) is where most or all of the fibers are damaged. There could be a complete rupture of the muscle. There will be a loss of muscular function.

Why does throwing up hurt?

Between your esophagus and stomach is a sphincter that usually keeps things in your stomach (acid, food, mucus) from coming up into your esophagus.

However, in infants, this sphincter is not totally developed, and thus doesn’t always keep things down. During the normal movements that an infant’s stomach makes, it might push some food up, through the weak sphincter, into the esophagus and out.

In older children and adults, throwing up is usually the result of some specific stimulus (responding to vertigo, disease, bacterial toxins in food, etc). In this case, your stomach is actually working to push its contents back through the esophagus and out your mouth. As such, the muscles in your stomach clench very hard and at the same time, which can be painful.

What are the causes of and remedies for pot belly?

It is not an attractive feature. That protruding belly antagonizes you and you want to get rid of it. Also known as beer belly, pot tummy or alcohol gut, it is just not a blot on your figure but carries a great risk to your health. The pot belly is associated with obesity, which is unhealthy accumulation of fat around the body. We may call it abdominal obesity. It is not just limited to generally obese people. Slim persons can also have a protruding belly which is no less risky.
The important point to be noted is that we need fat. It is a vital part of our immune system and defends our body against bacteria and viruses. It covers our inner organs, protecting them from infection and trauma.
Apart from Triglycerides, the form of fat in our bloodstream, there are two kinds of fat: subcutaneous and visceral. Also called intramuscular fat, subcutaneous fat is what we can see and pinch if we want to. It is located beneath our skin and accounts for about 20% our body weight. This is the form of fat in which energy is stored as for future use. The fat also has blood vessels and nerves and acts as a cushion around internal organs.
However, it is the visceral fat we need to be wary of. Also known as intra-abdominal fat or organ fat, it is accumulated deep inside the body, around and between organs such as kidney, liver spleen and intestines. Limited to only the abdomen, the visceral fat is in a semi fluid state and is a source of quick energy. It accounts for 10% of the total body fat and protects the abdominal organs from trauma. However, an excess amount of visceral fat is dangerous. It will cause the fat to wrap around the organs, preventing them from functioning efficiently. It is associated with various health hazards like type-2 Diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stroke etc.
Bad eating habits are the major reasons for pot belly. When we take in more calories than we can process, it naturally build up. Genetics also plays a significant role in developing pot belly. Alcohol consumption and stress also contribute to the situation. Another reason is the decline of sex hormones along with aging.
Exercises like crunches can strengthen the abs and other muscles, but can not shed the fat that has been stored under the belly. One thing about the visceral fat is that it is the easiest to break up. Cardio exercises like running, swimming and cycling can help to reduce the fat added with a controlled diet. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high fiber should be included in the diet.
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What are the causes and treatment for dark circles under eyes?

The appearance of dark circles around the eyes is a problem that often troubles many a person. It makes you look older and people often complain how it makes them look unattractive. In the modern world of competitiveness, it is sufficient to cause lack of confidence in someone.
For common people, tiredness, lack of sleep, fatigue etc. all are generally attributed to be the reasons for this condition. However, fatigue is not the only thing that can cause the periorbital circles, as they are known in a more formal language. The circles can appear because of various reasons, ranging from heredity to anemia.
The primary reason for dark circles is no symptom of any defect. It is simply the blood veins under our eyes. Haven’t you noticed how some veins appear blue? It is the same thing that happens here. The skin around our eyes is the thinnest part of our body skin. Its thickness measures only 0.5 mm compared to 2 mm in other parts. When the blood flows through the vessels close to skin, it produces a bluish tint which appears dark around the eyes. The lighter the skin tone, more apparent the rings will be. As we get older, our skin becomes thinner since it becomes incapable to produce new cells in the place of dying ones and the dark circles get more visible.
Another reason for the dark rings is hyper pigmentation. It is caused by the increased production of melanin under our eyes. Melanin is the pigment that gives color to our skin and hair. One of the reasons of increase in its production is exposure to sunlight. This is more visible in people with darker skin. Eczema, sleep deprivation, oversleeping and smoking can also cause dark circles to appear around your eyes. Lack of sleep renders your skin paler than usual and the darkness will be more apparent. In addition, liver problems and excess in salt consumption can also trigger periorbital circles.
The periorbital circles are generally harmless. Since there is no solution for the hereditary darkness, people often use make up. But if they appear suddenly without an apparent cause and don’t go away after a few days, it may be symptom of another disease and you might want to consult a doctor. The treatment for the dark circles is actually according to the cause. Skin lightening creams can be used if the cause is hyper pigmentation. Those who like home remedies can try application of syrup of tomato, potato and lemon. Honey can also produce good results. You need to avoid the exposure to sun and have adequate amount of sleep as well.

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