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

Urgent need for blood donation
January 3, 2022

Blood donations typically drop off around the holidays, making National Blood Donor Month in January and important time to share the message about saving lives by giving blood. The COVID-19 pandemic also has affected blood donations.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has really had an adverse effect on us recruiting and collecting blood donors in general," says Dr. Justin Juskewitch, associate medical director of Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Services

Millions of people need blood transfusions each year. Some may need blood during surgery. Others depend on it after an accident or because they have a disease that requires blood components. Blood donation makes this possible. 

"The inventory of today was the donations of yesterday," explains Dr. Juskewitch. "So paying it forward is also a really great way of helping take care of others. And then those others will be there for you when you meet your time of need. It's a great way to start the new year."

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Juskewitch discusses how to become a blood donor.

a group of Mayo Clinic staff, women, standing around a table wearing masks, goggles and working with COVID-19 vaccines

Covering COVID-19 in 2021
December 29, 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast looks back at the impact of COVID-19 over the past year. 

"I think the thing that I look back on is the amazing speed with which science moved," says Dr. Gregory Poland, head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group. "When this all began in 2020, COVID-19 was absolutely blank slate. Now we have three vaccines in the U.S., and antiviral and monoclonal antibody treatments. That's really incredible."

Despite the rapid scientific advancements, the U.S. still reached a grim milestone of 800,000 deaths from COVID-19 and more people died of the disease in 2021 than in 2020. 

COVID-19 has affected all aspects of life including the way people live, work, and go to school.

"It has been a profound wake-up call. I think we've developed an awareness of how fragile life and human health is. I think good things will come out of this," reflects Dr. Poland. 

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Poland joins host Dr. Halena Gazelka, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist, for a COVID-19 pandemic year in review.

a young couple sitting on a couch or bed with a blanket, comforting each other, perhaps after the woman has had chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

Sexual health after cancer treatment
December 27, 2021

Treatment for certain cancers can affect sexuality, causing a range of signs and symptoms that can make sex more difficult. 

Sexual side effects from cancer treatment are common for men and women. Cancer in their pelvic area, including bladder, prostate, rectal, cervical, vaginal or vulvar cancer, can make it difficult to resume sex after treatment. 

"A surgical procedure, especially to the pelvis, can really impact the nerve endings and pelvic muscles that are directly involved in our sexual response," explains Dr. Jennifer Vencill, a Mayo Clinic psychologist and sex therapist. 

Chemotherapy and radiation also can have direct effects on sexual function. Other cancer treatment effects on sexuality may be less direct.

"We see these as a cascade effect of treatment," says Dr. Vencill. "This commonly comes up with loss of libido or decreased desire for sexual activity that could be indirectly related to anything from fatigue to nausea because of chemotherapy to body image concerns. Loss of libido could also be related to pain that has come from a surgery. We see these indirect effects often with our patients."

Having cancer also affects emotions. For instance, people with cancer may feel anxious and worn out about their diagnosis, treatment or prognosis. These emotions also can affect their attitude toward sex and intimacy with a partner.

Dr. Vencill explains that feelings of stress, anxiety and depression are common for cancer patients and their families. 

"In general, psychological and emotional stresses are barriers to sexual health. Of course, cancer and cancer treatment are a major life stressor," says Dr. Vencill.

Dr. Vencill suggests that patience, exploration and support are key to sexual health after cancer.

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Vencill discusses how cancer and cancer treatment can affect sexuality and why it is important to be your own advocate.

a young Black woman wearing a face mask and a work apron as a waitress in a restaurant

COVID-19 pandemic highlights health disparities
December 22, 2021

Racial equity in health care has been a topic of discussion in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many inequities in the health care system. 

Racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionally affected by COVID-19, due to a long list of factors.

"Race is a particularly important aspect of COVID-19 in terms of diagnosis and treatment, mainly because people of color and people of ethnic minorities are often in jobs that make it harder for them to access health care," says Dr. Abinash Virk, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases physician. "They may also have difficulty accessing testing. Therefore, there's a delay diagnosis."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines social determinants of health as the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, play and worship that affect their health risks and outcomes.

Dr. Virk explains that community engagement is an important step to developing trust and improving equity in health care.

"As healthcare providers, it's important for us to listen to people's individual concerns and to continue to educate people with scientific, nonbiased information so they can believe in us," says Dr. Virk. "What we've found through the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly through the vaccination program that we've had over the last year, is that community engagement has been really important in terms of getting people to understand how COVID-19 affects them and how they can mitigate their risk." 

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Virk discusses racial and gender equity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using AI to improve brain stimulation devices that treat disease
December 20, 2021

For people with epilepsy and movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, electrical stimulation of the brain can be part of their treatment. 

"Many of the diseases that we think about as neurological diseases are diseases of circuitry in the brain," says Dr. Kai Miller, a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon. "And one way we can interact with those circuits in order to have patients have improvement in their symptoms is to use electrical stimulation." 

Brain stimulation treatment also may help people with psychiatric illness and direct brain injuries, such as stroke. But understanding how brain networks interact with each other is complicated. To improve and expand treatment options, Mayo Clinic and Google Research are using artificial intelligence (AI) to develop a new algorithm to improve brain stimulation devices.

"Artificial intelligence is a set of mathematical and statistical tools that we can use to distinguish different types of brain measurements," explains Dr. Dora Hermes, a Mayo Clinic biomedical engineer and researcher on the project. "There is a lot we can do with artificial intelligence or machine learning tools. And in this case, we used it to distinguish different types of inputs to a particular brain area in an automated fashion." 

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Drs. Miller and Dr. Hermes, first author and senior author on the AI algorithm study, respectively, discuss the use of artificial intelligence to improve brain stimulation treatments.

Read more about the work of Mayo Clinic and Google Research on AI and brain stimulation devices.

Ask the Mayo Mom: RSV and bronchiolitis – what to expect this season
December 17, 2022

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. It's so common that most children have been infected with the virus by age 2.

RSV can cause severe infection in some people, especially premature infants, older adults, people with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a weak immune system.

In severe cases, RSV infection can spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia or bronchiolitis — inflammation of the small airway passages entering the lungs. Signs and symptoms may include: 

  • Congested or runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Headache

Treatment for RSV generally involves self-care measures, but hospital care may be needed if severe symptoms occur.

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Ask the Mayo Mom host Dr. Angela Mattke, Mayo Clinic pediatrician, is joined by Dr. Jay Homme, a Mayo Clinic pediatrician, and Dr. Jim Homme, a Mayo Clinic pediatric emergency medicine physician, to discuss what parents and caregivers should expect for RSV and bronchiolitis this season.

Experts urge COVID-19 boosters to fight omicron surge
December 15, 2021

More Americans are now eligible for COVID-19 booster doses as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer vaccine booster for 16- and 17-year-olds late last week. Previously, only those 18 and older were eligible.

Early research suggests that a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine improves protection against severe disease caused by the omicron variant, according to Pfizer.

Mayo Clinic experts say, regardless of the variant, prevention of infection works. Getting a booster offers the highest protection possible against COVID-19.

"Omicron infection rates are picking up rapidly," says Dr. Gregory Poland, head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group. "If we do not take the proper precaution over the holiday, we are going to see a January omicron surge."

Dr. Poland explains that there are two threats — delta and omicron COVID-19 variants — but there is a solution. "Masking and boosting — those are key to protecting yourself and your family."

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Poland discusses the latest on COVID-19 variants and shares advice on how to stay safe this holiday season.

a person with eczema scratching the itchy skin

Got itchy, red skin?
December 13, 2021

When it comes to itchy, red skin, it’s possible that psoriasis or atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, could be the cause. 

"Psoriasis and eczema are both skin reactions to the inflammation or immune system coming to the skin and causing a reaction," says Dr. Dawn Davis, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist.

Psoriasis is thought to be an immune system problem that causes the skin to regenerate at faster-than-normal rates. This rapid turnover of cells results in scales and red patches.

Eczema results from irritants or allergens. It's common in children, but can occur at any age. And people with eczema often have other sensitivities, including asthma, hay fever or food allergies.

Both are long-term chronic conditions that don’t have a cure but can be treated. It is important for people with psoriasis or eczema to seek care to control flares-ups and improve their quality of life.

"Anticipate a lifelong relationship with your dermatologist or primary care provider so that we can take care of your skin over time and keep track of the treatment and management of your condition," explains Dr. Davis.

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Davis helps explain the similarities, differences and treatments for psoriasis and eczema.

a chef in the kitchen with pots, pans and healthy vegetables

Find direction to disease prevention by using a compass of habits
December 10, 2021

While we know that health affects longevity and quality of life, it can be difficult to change bad habits. People often try to make sweeping New Year's resolutions, only to fail.

Dr. Stephen Kopecky, a Mayo Clinic preventive cardiologist, says a better approach is to focus on small steps that add up over time.

"The answer, I think, is to make small sustainable steps that you can live with," says Dr. Kopecky "And when I say small steps, like for diet, I tell patients one bite, one bite of something healthy. Take some processed meat or foods off your plate, and put on something like a legume or a bean. After a couple of years, that one-bite difference will lower your risk of having a heart attack."

In his new book, "Live Younger Longer: 6 Steps to Prevent Heart Disease, Cancer, Alzheimer's and More,"  Dr. Kopecky shares strategies for making changes, including thinking of a compass of habits:

  • N — Nutrition
  • E — Exercise
  • W — Weight
  • S — Sleep, stress, smoking and spirits (alcohol)

Making positive changes in these areas can help improve health and longevity.

"We cannot prevent aging.  We can slow aging," says Dr. Kopecky. "But we can prevent disease, it's certainly possible to do. And if you adopt a certain healthy lifestyle, you can affect that."

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Kopecky discusses developing healthy habits one small step at a time.

Post COVID-19 syndrome can be a long haul
December 8, 2021

Most people who have COVID-19 recover completely within a few weeks. But some people — even those who had mild versions of the disease — continue to experience symptoms after their initial recovery. 

Sometimes called “long haulers” or “long COVID," these patients can have fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog and other symptoms long after the time of their infection.

Post-COVID-19 syndrome conditions are generally considered to be effects of COVID-19 that persist for more than four weeks after you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 infection.

A recent Mayo Clinic study on post-COVID-19 symptoms found that more women than men suffer long-term effects. Women predominantly showed symptoms of fatigue, followed by muscle pain and low blood pressure, while men primarily experienced shortness of breath.

Research is also underway to better understand what may be causing post-COVID-19 syndrome.

"We do have some research now that shows that some of the cells that are used to create immunity after an infection, they may be malfunctioning in this condition in patients with long-haul COVID," says  Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn, director of Mayo Clinic’s COVID Activity Rehabilitation Program. "We also now have some research that shows that patients with this condition can have antibodies against themselves, otherwise known as an auto-antibody. And this may be associated with the long-haul COVID state, so immune dysfunction and auto immunity, they may be at play here."

The COVID Activity Rehabilitation Program at Mayo Clinic helps people experiencing post-COVID-19 syndrome by working with patients to decrease symptoms and improve overall functioning and quality of life. 

On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Vanichkachorn discusses how treatment can help patients who suffer from post-COVID-19 syndrome.