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Diseases & Conditions

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Please feel free to read the information we have collected. Some of this information includes risks, tips, explanations, and prevention tips for patients and caregivers.

Alzheimers

Overview and Facts
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — the loss of intellectual and social abilities severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. In Alzheimer’s disease, healthy brain tissue degenerates, causing a steady decline in memory and mental abilities.

Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal aging, but the risk of the disorder increases with age. About 5 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have Alzheimer’s disease, while nearly half the people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s.

Although there’s no cure, treatments may improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Those with Alzheimer’s — as well as those who care for them — need support and affection from friends and family to cope.


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Overview and Facts
What is ALS?
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often called “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” is a progressive and invariably fatal neurodegenerative disease. ALS attacks the nerve cells (neurons) that control voluntary muscles causing the neurons to die. When the motor neurons die, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers that normally result in muscle movement and the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively depleted, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/ALS/ Lou Gehrig’s disease belongs to a group of disorders known as motor neuron diseases, which are characterized by the gradual degeneration and death of motor neurons.

Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, and swallowing or breathing. Limbs begin to look “thinner” as muscle tissue atrophies.

Why is ALS called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”? Lou Gehrig was a hall-of-fame baseball player for the New York Yankees who was diagnosed with ALS in the 1930s. That term is often used by Americans, but ALS has different names in different countries. The French refer to it as Maladie de Charcot, after the man who discovered it. People in England and Australia call it Motor Neurone Disease (MND). Whatever it’s called, the disease and its results are the same.

Facts about ALS:

  • ALS is not contagious
  • ALS can strike anyone and has no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries
  • Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year
  • As many as 30,000 Americans may have ALS at any given time
  • The life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years
  • More than half of all patients live more than three years after diagnosis, but many people live with quality for five years and more

Arthritis

Overview and Facts
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints, which results in pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited movement. There are over 100 different types of arthritis.


Asthma

Overview and Facts
Asthma occurs when the airways in your lungs (bronchial tubes) become inflamed and constricted. The muscles of the bronchial walls tighten, and your airways produce extra mucus that blocks your airways. Signs and symptoms of asthma range from minor wheezing to life-threatening asthma attacks.

Asthma can’t be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled. Management includes avoiding asthma triggers and tracking your symptoms. You may need to regularly take long-term control medications to prevent flare-ups and short-term “rescue” medications to control symptoms once they start. Asthma that isn’t under control can cause missed school and work or reduced productivity due to symptoms. Because in most people asthma changes over time, you’ll need to work closely with your doctor to track your signs and symptoms and adjust your treatment as needed.

Asthma is common, affecting millions of adults and children. A growing number of people are diagnosed with the condition each year, but it isn’t clear why. A number of factors are thought to increase the chances of developing asthma. These include:

  • A family history of asthma
  • Frequent respiratory infections as a child
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Living in an urban area, especially if there’s a lot of air pollution
  • Exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing
  • Low birth weight
  • Being overweight

Breast Cancer

Overview and Facts
Breast cancer is a cancer that starts in the tissues of the breast.
There are two main types of breast cancer:

  1. Ductal carcinoma starts in the tubes (ducts) that move milk from the breast to the nipple. Most breast cancers are of this type.
  2. Lobular carcinoma starts the lobules, the parts of the breast that produce milk.

In rare cases, breast cancer can start in other areas of the breasts.


Congestive Heart Failure

Overview and Facts
Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure (CHF), means your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Over time, conditions such as narrowed arteries in your heart (coronary artery disease) or high blood pressure gradually leave your heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently.

You can’t reverse many conditions that lead to heart failure, but heart failure can often be treated with good results. Medications can improve the signs and symptoms of heart failure. Lifestyle changes, such as exercising, reducing the salt in your diet, managing stress, treating depression, and especially losing excess weight, can improve your quality of life.

The best way to prevent heart failure is to control risk factors and conditions that cause heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or obesity.


COPD

Overview and Facts
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it increasingly difficult for you to breathe.

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two main conditions that make up COPD, but COPD can also refer to damage caused by chronic asthmatic bronchitis. In all cases, damage to your airways eventually interferes with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your lungs.

COPD is a leading cause of death and illness worldwide. Most COPD is caused by long-term smoking and can be prevented by not smoking or quitting soon after you start. Damage to your lungs can’t be reversed, so treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and minimizing further damage.


Cystic Fibrosis

Overview and Facts
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract. It is one of the most common type of chronic lung disease in children and young adults, and may result in early death.


Diabetes

Overview and Facts
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.

There are 23.6 million children and adults in the United States, or 7.8% of the population, who have diabetes. While an estimated 17.9 million have been diagnosed with diabetes, unfortunately, 5.7 million people (or nearly one quarter) are unaware that they have the disease.

In order to determine whether or not a patient has pre-diabetes or diabetes, health care providers conduct a Fasting Plasma Glucose Test (FPG) or an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT). Either test can be used to diagnose pre-diabetes or diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends the FPG because it is easier, faster, and less expensive to perform.

With the FPG test, a fasting blood glucose level between 100 and 125 mg/dl signals pre-diabetes. A person with a fasting blood glucose level of 126 mg/dl or higher has diabetes.

In the OGTT test, a person’s blood glucose level is measured after a fast and two hours after drinking a glucose-rich beverage. If the two-hour blood glucose level is between 140 and 199 mg/dl, the person tested has pre-diabetes. If the two-hour blood glucose level is at 200 mg/dl or higher, the person tested has diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy. When you eat food, the body breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause two problems:

  • Right away, your cells may be starved for energy.
  • Over time, high blood glucose levels may hurt your eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart.

Finding out you have diabetes is scary. But don’t panic. Type 2 diabetes is serious, but people with diabetes can live long, healthy, happy lives.

While diabetes occurs in people of all ages and races, some groups have a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than others. Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, as well as the aged population


Epilepsy

Overview and Facts
Epilepsy is a disorder that results from the generation of electrical signals inside the brain, causing recurring seizures. Seizure symptoms vary. Some people with epilepsy simply stare blankly for a few seconds during a seizure, while others have full-fledged convulsions.

About one in 100 people in the United States will experience an unprovoked seizure in their lifetime. However, a solitary seizure doesn’t mean you have epilepsy. At least two unprovoked seizures are required for an epilepsy diagnosis.

Even mild seizures may require treatment, because they can be dangerous during activities like driving or swimming. Treatment — which generally includes medications and sometimes surgery — usually eliminates or reduces the frequency and intensity of seizures. Many children with epilepsy even outgrow the condition with age


Glaucoma

Overview and Facts
Glaucoma refers to a group of disorders that lead to damage to the optic nerve, the nerve that carries visual information from the eye to the brain.

Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness in the United States. There are four major types of glaucoma:

  1. Angle-closure (acute) glaucoma
  2. Congenital glaucoma
  3. Open-angle (chronic) glaucoma * the most common type of glaucoma
  4. Secondary glaucoma

Hepatitis C

Overview and Facts
Hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and leads to inflammation. Most people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) have no symptoms. In fact, most people don’t know they have the hepatitis C infection until liver damage shows up, decades later, during routine medical tests.

Hepatitis C is one of several hepatitis viruses and is generally considered to be among the most serious of these viruses. Hepatitis C is passed through contact with contaminated blood — most commonly through needles shared during illegal drug use.


Hypertension

Overview and Facts
Hypertension is the term used to describe high blood pressure. Blood pressure measurements are the result of the force of the blood produced by the heart and the size and condition of the arteries.

Blood pressure readings are measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and usually given as two numbers. For example, 120 over 80 (written as 120/80 mmHg).

  • The top number is your systolic pressure, the pressure created when your heart beats. It is considered high if it is consistently over 140.
  • The bottom number is your diastolic pressure, the pressure inside blood vessels when the heart is at rest. It is considered high if it is consistently over 90.

Either or both of these numbers may be too high.

What causes hypertension?
Blood pressure measurements are the result of the force of the blood produced by the heart and the size and condition of the arteries.

There are two types of high blood pressure:

  1. Primary (essential) hypertension
    In 90 to 95 percent of high blood pressure cases in adults, there’s no identifiable cause. This type of high blood pressure, called essential hypertension or primary hypertension, tends to develop gradually over many years.
  2. Secondary hypertension
    The other 5 to 10 percent of high blood pressure cases are caused by an underlying condition. This type of high blood pressure, called secondary hypertension, tends to appear suddenly and cause higher blood pressure than does primary hypertension. Various conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension.

Many factors can affect blood pressure, including:

  • How much water and salt you have in your body
  • The condition of your kidneys, nervous system, or blood vessels
  • The levels of different body hormones

High blood pressure can affect all types of people. You have a higher risk of high blood pressure if you have a family history of the disease. High blood pressure is more common in African Americans than Caucasians. Smoking, obesity, and diabetes are all risk factors for hypertension.

Most of the time, no cause is identified. This is called essential hypertension.

High blood pressure that results from a specific condition, habit, or medication is called secondary hypertension. Too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure. Secondary hypertension may also be due to:

  • Adrenal gland tumor
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Arteriosclerosis
  • Birth control pills
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Cocaine use
  • Cushing syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease, including:
    • Glomerulonephritis (inflammation of kidneys)
    • Kidney failure
    • Renal artery stenosis
    • Renal vascular obstruction or narrowing
  • Medications
    • Appetite suppressants
    • Certain cold medications
    • Corticosteroids
    • Migraine medications
  • Hemolytic-uremic syndrome
  • Henoch-Schonlein purpura
  • Obesity
  • Pain
  • Periarteritis nodosa
  • Pheochromocytoma
  • Pregnancy (called gestational hypertension)
  • Primary hyperaldosteronism
  • Renal artery stenosis
  • Retroperitoneal fibrosis
  • Wilms’ tumor

Lymphedema

Overview and Facts
Lymphedema means swelling of the lymph passages. Lymphedema, also called Lymphatic obstruction, is a chronic disease involving blockage of the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes vessels drain fluid from tissues throughout the body and allow immune cells to travel where they are needed.

Lymphedema is characterized by persistent and often chronic swelling, usually of a person’s arm or leg.

Lymphedema is a chronic disease that usually requires lifelong management. In some cases, lymphedema improves with time. However, some swelling is usually permanent.


Mesothelioma

Overview and Facts
Definition – What is Mesothelioma?
Malignant mesothelioma (me-zoe-thee-lee-O-muh) is a rare but aggressive cancer affecting the thin layer of tissue that covers the majority of your internal organs (mesothelium) especially the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen.

Malignant mesothelioma is the most serious of all asbestos-related diseases. Exposure to asbestos is the primary cause and risk factor for mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos, though cases have been documented in children or other individuals with no asbestos history.

What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a microscopic and naturally-occurring mineral that lodges in the pleural lining of the lungs and the peritoneal lining of the abdominal cavity. In most cases, several years and even decades may pass before mesothelioma develops in those who have been exposed to asbestos.

The Primary Risk factor for Mesothelioma is Asbestos Exposure:
Asbestos is a mineral that’s found naturally in the environment that had a wide variety of useful applications, including insulation, brakes, shingles, flooring and many other products as the asbestos fibers are strong and resistant to heat.

Asbestos dust may be created when asbestos is broken up during the mining process or when removing asbestos insulation. If the dust is inhaled or swallowed, the asbestos fibers will settle in the lungs or in the stomach. These fibers can cause irritation that may lead to mesothelioma. It can take 30 to 40 years or more for mesothelioma to develop after asbestos exposure. Not all people exposed to asbestos develop mesothelioma while others with very brief exposure develop the disease.

There are Several Possible Mesothelioma Risk Factors
Factors that may increase the risk of mesothelioma include:

  • Personal history of asbestos exposure.
  • Being exposed to asbestos fibers at work or at home, including living with someone who works with asbestos.
  • People who are exposed to asbestos may carry the fibers home on their skin and clothing, exposing the people around them.

Some research indicates a link between mesothelioma and monkey virus used in polio vaccines. The simian virus 40 (SV40), is a virus originally found in monkeys. Between 1955 and 1964, millions of people may have been exposed to SV40 when receiving polio vaccinations because the vaccine was developed using monkey cells. The virus was removed from the polio vaccine once it was discovered that SV40 was linked to certain cancers. The link is still a point of debate, and more research is needed.

Making a correct mesothelioma diagnosis is particularly difficult for doctors because the disease often presents with symptoms that mimic other common ailments.

The Three Major Types of Mesothelioma
Doctors divide mesothelioma into different types based on what part of the mesothelium is affected. Three major types of mesothelioma exist and they are differentiated by the organs primarily affected.

  1. Pleural malignant mesothelioma: Affects the lung’s protective lining in the chest cavity. Pleural malignant mesothelioma represents about three-quarters of all mesothelioma incidence.
  2. Peritoneal mesothelioma: Affects the tissue in abdominal cavity, heart and around the testicles.
  3. Pericardial mesothelioma: Affects the cardiac cavity.

Mesothelioma does not include a form of noncancerous (benign) tumor that occurs in the chest and is sometimes called benign mesothelioma or solitary fibrous tumor.

The mesothelium of the chest, abdomen, and cardiac cavity are called the pleura, the peritoneum, and the pericardium, respectively. Each of these groupings of mesothelial cells is extremely critical to the functions of the body structures which they encompass.

The mesothelium is particularly important to organs that are commonly in motion, such as expansion or contraction of the lungs, stomach, or heart. Lubrication from the mesothelial cells allows free range of motion within the body.

Malignancies (cancerous tumors) occurring within the mesothelial membranes are known as malignant mesothelioma, or simply mesothelioma. Benign tumors of the mesothelium are known to occur, but are much more rare than malignant mesothelial tumors.
While tumors of the mesothelium were first recognized in the late 18th century, it was not until the middle of the 20th century that this particular cancer was studied and examined with more detail. It was at this time when suspicions of the cancer’s causal relationship with asbestos exposure became more substantiated. A joint research venture through the Department of Thoracic Surgery at the University of the Witswatersrand and Johannesburg General Hospital in South Africa provided the most compelling evidence of the nexus between asbestos exposure and the development of pleural mesothelioma.


Multiple Sclerosis

Overview and Facts
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially debilitating disease in which your body’s immune system eats away at the protective sheath that covers your nerves. This interferes with the communication between your brain and the rest of your body. Ultimately, this may result in deterioration of the nerves themselves, a process that’s not reversible.

MS is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this nerve covering is damaged, nerve impulses are slowed down or stopped.

MS is a progressive disease, meaning the nerve damage (neurodegeneration) gets worse over time. How quickly MS gets worse varies from person to person.

The nerve damage is caused by inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system. Repeated episodes of inflammation can occur along any area of the brain and spinal cord. Researchers are not sure what triggers the inflammation. The most common theories point to a virus or genetic defect, or a combination of both.


Muscular Dystrophy

Overview and Facts
Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a group of inherited muscle diseases in which muscle fibers are unusually susceptible to damage. Muscles, primarily voluntary muscles, become progressively weaker. In the late stages of muscular dystrophy, fat and connective tissue often replace muscle fibers. Some types of muscular dystrophy affect heart muscles, other involuntary muscles and other organs.

The most common types of muscular dystrophy appear to be due to a genetic deficiency of the muscle protein dystrophin.
There’s no cure for muscular dystrophy, but medications and therapy can slow the course of the disease.


Osteoporosis

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What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the density and quality of bone are reduced, leading to weakness of the skeleton and increased risk of fracture, particularly of the spine, wrist, hip, pelvis and upper arm. Osteoporosis and associated fractures are an important cause of mortality and morbidity.

In many affected people, bone loss is gradual and without warning signs until the disease is advanced. Osteoporosis is also known as “the silent crippler” because a person usually doesn’t know they have it until it’s too late. Unfortunately, in many cases, the first real “symptom” is a broken bone. Loss of height – with gradual curvature of the back (caused by vertebral compression fractures) –may be the only physical sign of osteoporosis.

In the United States, osteoporosis causes more than 1.5 million fractures every year — most of them in the spine, hip or wrist. And although it’s often thought of as a women’s disease, osteoporosis affects many men as well. About 8 million American women and 2 million American men have osteoporosis, and nearly 18 million more Americans may have low bone density. Even children aren’t immune.


Parkinson’s Disease

Overview and Facts
Parkinson’s disease develops gradually, often starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. But while tremor may be the most well-known sign of Parkinson’s disease, the disorder also commonly causes a slowing or freezing of movement.

Friends and family may notice that your face shows little or no expression and your arms don’t swing when you walk. Speech often becomes soft and mumbling. Parkinson’s symptoms tend to worsen as the disease progresses.

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, many different types of medicines can treat its symptoms. In some cases, your doctor may suggest surgery.


Sleep Apnea

Overview and Facts
Sleep apnea, a disruption of breathing while asleep, is a deceiving sleep disorder – 90% of people who have sleep apnea don’t know that they have it! Although episodes of choking or gasping for air might occur hundreds of times throughout the night, you may not have any recollection of struggling for breath.

Usually it is the bed partner who first notices that the person is struggling to breathe. If left untreated, this common disorder can be life-threatening.

What happens when you have an episode of sleep apnea?
When you stop breathing during sleep due to sleep apnea, the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood is upset. This imbalance stimulates the brain to restart the breathing process. The brain signals you to wake up so that the muscles of the tongue and throat can increase the size of the airway. Then, carbon dioxide can escape, and oxygen can enter the airway. These waking episodes are necessary to restart breathing (and to save your life), and you may not remember them, but they do disrupt your sleep and cause daytime exhaustion.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea. It is caused by a breathing obstruction, which stops the air flow in the nose and mouth. The rest of this article discusses the causes, symptoms and treatments for OSA.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)
Central sleep apnea (CSA), less common than OSA, is a central nervous system disorder that occurs when the brain signal telling the body to breathe is delayed. CSA can be caused by disease or injury involving the brainstem, such as a stroke, a brain tumor, a viral brain infection, or a chronic respiratory disease. People with CSA seldom snore. However, while the causes of apnea are different in CSA and OSA, the symptoms and results are much the same – a deprivation of oxygen and poor sleep. The treatments for CSA include medications that stimulate the need to breathe and administration of oxygen.


Spina Bifida

Overview and Facts
Spina Bifida is broader term for a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth. Spina bifida includes any birth defect involving insufficient closure of the spine.

Spina bifida occulta is a condition in which the bones of the spine do not close but the spinal cord and meninges remain in place and skin usually covers the defect.

Meningoceles is a condition where the tissue covering the spinal cord sticks out of the spinal defect but the spinal cord remains in place.

A myelomeningocele is a congenital (present at birth) deformity and the most serious form of spina bifida. It can occur anywhere along the spinal cord. With myelomeningocele, the spinal canal is open.


Spinal Cord Injury

What is Spinal Cord Injury?
A spinal cord injury usually begins with a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that fractures or dislocates vertebrae. The damage begins at the moment of injury when displaced bone fragments, disc material, or ligaments bruise or tear into spinal cord tissue. Most injuries to the spinal cord don’t completely sever it. Instead, an injury is more likely to cause fractures and compression of the vertebrae, which then crush and destroy axons – extensions of nerve cells that carry signals up and down the spinal cord between the brain and the rest of the body. An injury to the spinal cord can damage a few, many, or almost all of these axons. Some injuries will allow almost complete recovery. Others will result in complete paralysis.


Traumatic Brain Injury

Overview and Facts
Traumatic brain injury (TBI), a form of acquired brain injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. A person with a mild TBI may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Other symptoms of mild TBI include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes, and trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking.

A person with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms, but may also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation.