Mayo Clinic Q&A

From complex or serious conditions like cancer and heart disease to the latest news on research and wellness, host Dr. Halena Gazelka asks the questions and gets easy-to-understand answers from Mayo Clinic experts

Most Recent Episodes

COVID-19 testing scenarios — what test and when?
January 26, 2022

Testing for COVID-19 is a part of the strategy to end the pandemic. But understanding testing — different types of tests and how and when to use them — can be confusing. Lab-run polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests and at-home antigen tests each have a role.

"PCR tests are really sensitive, meaning we can detect really low levels of the virus in a sample," explains Dr. Matthew Binnicker, director of Clinical Virology at Mayo Clinic. "They're very specific, meaning we shouldn't get many false positive results with PCR tests."

At-home antigen tests use a nasal swab and can produce results in 15 minutes, but they also have an increased chance of false-negative results, depending on when you test. 

"At-home rapid antigen tests look for a viral protein in the patient sample," says Dr. Binnicker. "So they're quick and easy, but they also have some important limitations."

So if you're worried you might have COVID-19, what test should you take and when? 

On the Q&A podcast, Dr. Binnicker walks through various scenarios and makes testing recommendations for what to do if:

  • You think you’ve been exposed but I don’t have symptoms.
  • You have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You had COVID-19 and want to know if you're “in the clear” to return to work, school or activities.

Outpatient joint replacement benefits patients
January 24, 2022

Nationwide, there is a trend in orthopedic surgery to move total joint arthroplasty, commonly known as joint replacement, from inpatient to outpatient surgery. Patients benefit from the shorter hospital stay, and they are more satisfied recovering in the comfort of their own home.

At Mayo Clinic, physicians from orthopedics and anesthesiology have been working together on this initiative as part of the OASIS project. Oasis stands for Orthopedic Surgery and Anesthesiology Surgical Improvements.

"This is a team approach to practice optimization," explains Dr. Hugh M. Smith, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist. "One of our first targets was to try to bring down that length of stay." 

A decade ago, a patient who had a knee replacement or hip replacement would likely stay in the hospital for a week, says Dr. Smith. Even four years ago, the average hospital stay was around four days. Now some patients are able to go home the same day.

"It's a patient satisfier," says Dr. Matthew Abdel, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon. "You recuperate with your family. You recuperate in your own home environment. You don't feel like you're institutionalized. You feel like you're a part of a well model of care, not a sick model."

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Drs. Abdel and Smith discuss the OASIS project and outpatient arthroplasty.

a medical illustration of pectus excavatum

Chest wall deformities in children
January 21, 2022

Chest wall deformities are structural abnormalities in the chest. While present since birth, chest wall deformities might not become noticeable until children hit their adolescent growth spurt. 

The most common chest wall deformity, pectus excavatum, is a sunken breastbone that can be repaired with surgery. Another deformity, pectus carinatum, causes the breastbone to protrude out. It is typically treated with bracing. A third, difficult-to-diagnose condition, is slipped rib syndrome. This occurs when cartilage grows abnormally and the ribs rub together, causing nerve pain. Medical and surgical options can be used to treat slipped rib syndrome.

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, a special edition of "Ask the Mayo Mom" focuses on chest wall deformities in children. Dr. Angela Mattke a Mayo Clinic pediatrician and host of "Ask the Mayo Mom" is joined by Dr. Denise Klinkner, a pediatric surgeon and practice chair of the Division of Pediatric Surgery at Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Stephanie Polites, who is also a pediatric surgeon at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center.

Why getting infected with COVID-19 is still a bad idea
January 19, 2022

With the highly transmissible omicron variant spread across the U.S., it may seem inevitable that most people will get infected with COVID-19. But Mayo Clinic experts explain why it is important to continue to be vigilant and take measures to avoid COVID-19 infection. 

"One of the many negatives about saying, 'Well, I'll just go ahead and get infected and get it over with' is you can spread the virus to highly vulnerable people," says Dr. Gregory Poland, head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group. "Parents, grandparents, people too young to be immunized, and people whose immune systems might not be working well are all at risk of more severe disease. While your case may be mild, theirs may not." 

Dr. Poland cautions that the sheer number of infections is stressing the health care system, and treatments for omicronare more limited than they were for the delta variant.

"The role of testing and of getting boosted is critical to our response to this, and remember, even though you might have mild disease, every time this virus infects somebody, it is the opportunity for further mutation." says Dr. Poland. 

Vaccination, boosting and masking are all necessary to prevent the spread of omicron.

"Your best chance of protecting yourself is to be fully vaccinated, wear a proper mask properly when in public, and to avoid crowded indoor settings," says Dr. Poland.

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Poland discusses the omicron surge and answers listener questions.

a white or perhaps Latino medical staff person sitting on the side of a hospital bed holding a white patients hand offering comfort

Advocacy groups can help patients, physicians connect
January 17, 2021

Patient advocacy and support organizations play an important role for patients suffering with diseases or conditions. The goal of these groups is to connect members with others who may be in similar situations and locate resources to manage or treat their condition. But patients aren't the only ones who benefit from these connections. Physicians and researchers also can benefit from getting involved. 

"Taking care of patients is my passion," says Dr. A. Noelle Larson, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon. "So it really comes naturally to be interested and involved in my patients' lives."

Dr. Larson's clinical and research focus is scoliosis. She has become involved with Curvy Girls Scoliosis, a global support group. Two years ago, she attended their national meeting. Spending time with families and children affected by scoliosis gave Dr. Larson a new perspective.

"So often, our encounter in clinic is quite short, and you don't get a sense of the impact of what our treatment has on that child's overall life and well-being," explains Dr. Larson. "These patients know more about living with their condition than the physician does at some level."

Beyond the connections patients and physicians make, the medical community benefits in other ways, as well. Support groups can help organize and inform patients about clinical trials that can lead to innovation.

Dr. Larson has seen this in her own practice. Feedback from patients led to a Mayo Clinic study on vertebral body tether implant as a surgical alternative to fusing the spine.

"That partnership between the families, the patients, and the researchers and doctors, all working together is really critical," says Dr. Larson.  "If we really want to make new drugs, new devices, and new treatments, we all have to work together. Because at the end of the day, we all want to get to the same place, which is better care for patients." 

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Larson discusses the role of advocacy groups and the patient-physician connection.

Health coaches guide journey to well-being
January 14, 2022

Whether a chronic condition affects your quality of life, or you have bad habits you'd like to change, a health and wellness coach could help. At Mayo Clinic, wellness coaches are board-certified professionals trained to help patients develop skills and tools to improve their well-being. 

"When we're focusing on well-being, intention, accountability and commitment are all important concepts," says Dr. Moain Abu Dabrh, a Mayo Clinic integrative medicine physician and board-certified health and wellness coach. "What is our motivation to make this change? What is the outcome we desire? And then, an important step is to create accountability to making that change."

Health and wellness coaches partner with patients, using evidenced-based strategies to help them identify their vision to live their best life. 

"Health coaching is still a relatively new process, and it has been integrated into our practice because we believe that a patient's life is still a person's life," says Dr. Abu Dabrh. "We don't just focus on illness care. We need to look at the 360-degree view, including illness and wellness care."

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Abu Dabrh discusses how health coaching can help patients reach their goals.

Finding credible COVID-19 information online
January 12, 2022

Information about COVID-19 changes rapidly. While the internet can be a great source of information, the spread of COVID-19 misinformation has made it difficult for consumers to decipher fact from fiction. How do you know if the information you find online is accurate? 

"People often get their news from social media," says Dr. Melanie Swift, a Mayo Clinic preventive medicine physician. "And that's probably the worst way to get your news, because you get a mix of valid information, opinion and, frankly, propaganda."

When evaluating information online, the surgeon general recommends a quick health misinformation checklist: 

  • Did you check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the local public health department to see whether any information is available about the claim being made?
  • Did you ask a credible health care professional, such as your health care professional, if they have any additional information?
  • Did you type the claim into a search engine to see if it has been verified by a credible source?
  • Did you look at the About Us page on the website you're referencing to see if you can trust the source?
  • If you’re not sure, don’t share.

Dr. Swift urges people seek to out reliable sources for scientific information. " The CDC, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (a branch of the National Institutes of Health), and Mayo Clinic and other academic medical centers, maintain websites that can be trusted sources for COVID-19 information," says Dr. Swift.

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Swift offers tips for finding credible health information online.

a middle aged Black or perhaps Latina woman, wearing a head scarf because of chemotherapy

The link between racial disparities and cervical cancer
January 10, 2022

While the rate of cervical cancer has been declining for decades in the U.S., health disparities persist. Hispanic women have the highest incidence rate of cervical cancer, followed by non-Hispanic Black women, according to the American Cancer Society. And Black women are more likely to die from the disease than women of any other race or ethnicity. 

"Race is a social construct. There really isn't a genetic difference that is causing Black women to, unfortunately, die at higher rates of cervical cancer," explains Dr. Olivia Cardenas-Trowers, a Mayo Clinic urogynecologic surgeon and women's health provider. "It really has to do more with the historical background of racism and systemic racism. These disparities have infiltrated the health care system and have affected these women's access to resources, and therefore some of the health care that they need. And this trickles down into poor outcomes, essentially."

Disparities that affect a women's access to health care can include transportation, health literacy and trust in their health care provider. 

Dr. Cardenas-Trowers says addressing barriers to health care is key, so that all women, including Black women, receive regular routine screening. Screening helps identify cancer early, which leads to better outcomes. 

"It's important to address the factors that lead to poor outcomes for Black women — making sure that they have support and access to screening, access to the results, and resources if any follow up or intervention is needed," says Dr. Cardenas-Trowers.

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Cardenas-Trowers discusses why disparities exist and what Black women can do to reduce their risk of cervical cancer.

Treating hernias in children
January 7, 2022

A hernia occurs when a part of the intestine pushes through a weak spot in the stomach muscles. A hernia creates a soft lump or bulge under the skin.

In children, hernias usually occur in one of two places: 

Inguinal hernias in newborns and children result from a weakness in the abdominal wall that's present at birth. Sometimes the hernia will be visible only when an infant is crying, coughing or straining during a bowel movement. 

An inguinal hernia isn't necessarily dangerous, but surgery may be recommended to fix an inguinal hernia that's painful or enlarging. Inguinal hernia repair is a common surgical procedure and can be performed as an open or minimally invasive procedure. 

Umbilical hernias are most common in infants, but they can affect adults as well. In an infant, an umbilical hernia may be especially evident when the infant cries, causing the bellybutton to protrude. This is a classic sign of an umbilical hernia.

Children's umbilical hernias often close on their own in the first two years of life, though some remain open into the fifth year or longer. Umbilical hernias that appear during adulthood are more likely to need surgical repair.

On this edition of the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Angela Mattke, a Mayo Clinic pediatrician and host of "Ask the Mayo Mom," discusses treating hernias in children with Dr. Stephanie Polites, a pediatric surgeon in the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center.

January bringing an omicron surge
January 5, 2022

The rapid spread of COVID-19 due to the omicron variant continues, and experts expect a January surge across the U.S. 

"This is spreading unlike anything we've seen in the U.S.," says Dr. Gregory Poland, head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group.  "Over the last seven days, we're now averaging about 400,000 or so new cases a day."

While people who are fully vaccinated can get breakthrough infections and spread the virus to others, COVID-19 vaccines effectively prevent severe illness. Mayo Clinic experts urge people to protect themselves by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask. Being fully vaccinated, including getting a booster when eligible, offers the highest protection possible against COVID-19. 

"The good news is, for those who are immunized and boosted, we are winning the battle," says Dr. Poland. "Getting immunized is basically a weapon against this virus."

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Poland discusses the omicron surge and the importance of vaccines and boosters for COVID-19.