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DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My husband was diagnosed with cancer six months ago and just completed chemotherapy treatments. He’s not feeling great right now, and he may need more cancer treatments at some point. But we’ve been told his long-term outlook is good. At a recent appointment, though, his oncologist suggested he consider palliative care. Why would he need that? Isn’t it similar to hospice care? ANSWER: Palliative care and hospice care are different. Hospice is both an insurance benefit and a philosophy that focuses on enhancing quality of life for patients who likely have less than six months to live. The goal of hospice is to help people live as well as they can for as long as they can. Palliative care, on the other hand, is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness, whatever the diagnosis or outlook.
DEAR MAYO CLINIC: How does having sleep apnea affect my health? Are there treatments that I can try for sleep apnea other than a CPAP machine? ANSWER: People who have sleep apnea repeatedly stop and start breathing when they sleep. There are two main types of sleep apnea. The more common form is obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA. It happens when muscles in the back of the throat relax, narrowing the airway and making it hard to take in enough air. Central sleep apnea is less common. It happens when the brain doesn’t send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. OSA can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. People with this sleep disorder often do not feel refreshed in the morning. They may wake up with a headache and suffer from fatigue and sleepiness throughout the day. Lack of sleep can affect a person’s mood and the ability to think clearly and concentrate. Other problems can arise as a result of OSA, too. It may lead to an increase in blood pressure. It can raise your risk for stroke and many types of heart disease. Untreated OSA makes recovery from surgery more difficult. If you have OSA, your risk of being in a motor vehicle accident is higher. Severe cases of OSA may lead to premature death.
Dear Mayo Clinic: Is it true that heart attacks are more common around the holidays? If so, why is that? What can people do to lower their risk? Answer: Heart attacks, along with heart problems in general, are more common around the holidays. Various factors can play into this, including stress, travel, changes in diet and disrupted schedules. Fortunately, many self-care steps can help keep your heart healthy. One of the biggest challenges this time of year is healthy eating. For people with heart problems, choosing a heart-healthy diet amid an abundance of holiday foods can be daunting. But not straying too far from your normal diet is important. Keep portion sizes reasonable and limit fatty foods. Eating too much can lead to chest pain or shortness of breath in some people with heart problems. Drink small amounts of alcohol, if any, as alcohol can raise your risk for heart rhythm problems and heart attack. Men should not drink more than two alcoholic beverages a day. Women should not have more than one.
DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I recently received a call from a local blood donation center asking if I’d be willing to donate. I’d like to help, but I’ve never donated before and I’m nervous about it. I’m not a fan of needles, and I’m afraid I might faint. Also, is there really that big of a need for donated blood on a regular basis? ANSWER: Donating blood makes a real difference in people’s lives. Hospitals are always in need of new blood donors. Being nervous about blood donation at first is common. But blood donation center staff members are skilled at making the experience as smooth and anxiety-free as possible. Currently, as few as 3 percent of Americans who are eligible to donate blood actually become donors. That’s a concern because many people in the U.S. need blood every day. Some may need blood during surgery. Others may require blood transfusions after an accident. Still others rely on donated blood because they have a disease that makes it necessary for them to receive red blood cells or other blood components. In some cases, receiving donated blood may be the difference between life and death for these individuals.
DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I’m trying to lose weight, and a friend recently told me that cutting white bread and potatoes out of my diet completely will help. Is that true? If it is, what makes these foods so bad? ANSWER: Your friend is right. Taking white bread and white potatoes, as well as white rice and white pasta, out of your diet can be helpful for weight loss. Because of the way your body processes these four foods, they can lead to cravings for carbohydrates, also called sugars. By eliminating them, you decrease food cravings, making it easier to eat less and lose weight. The grains in white bread, white pasta and white rice are refined through a milling process that strips off the bran layer to give them a finer texture. After that process, these foods are little more than carbohydrates that your body digests quickly and easily. The main problem with white rice, bread, pasta and potatoes is that they trigger a cycle of food craving. After you eat them, they release a sudden spike of sugar in your bloodstream. Your body responds to that extra sugar by releasing insulin. Insulin is a hormone your pancreas makes that allows sugar to enter your cells, lowering the amount of sugar in your blood.