According to Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester in New York, acupuncture has been a medical treatment for 4,000 years in some parts of the world. However, people remain skeptical.
Acupuncture works by stimulating a natural painkiller, called adenosine, in the body that swells arteries and allows more blood to flow through. Because adenosine is released during acupuncture, it is the reason for the method’s reduction of pain. During and after an acupuncture treatment, the adenosine level in tissues near the needles is 24 times greater than before.
Adenosine also helps regulate sleep and keep the heart healthy. It becomes active in the skin after an injury to stimulate nerve signals and relieve pain.
Scientists have experimented with the procedure using mice. While performing acupuncture, they also added a leukemia medication. They found that works almost three times as long if they added a drug to slow down the removal of adenosine.
Scientists have also performed acupuncture on mice that had discomfort in one paw. The hurt mice were given a thirty minute procedure near the knee, which involved very fine needles rotated gently every five minutes, as is done in standard treatments on people. The mice with normal adenosine levels experienced reduced discomfort by two-thirds, while those unable to produce adenosine had no effect.
Countering assumptions that cholesterol levels are solely controlled by what one eats, a study at the University of Cincinnati found that instead, cholesterol levels are regulated by signals transmitted by the brain to the liver.
The study, using mice, found that the hunger hormone ghrelin acted as the “remote control” for cholesterol travelling through the body, and caused the mice to develop higher blood levels of cholesterol. The study also revealed blood levels rise because signals from the brain cause the liver to store less cholesterol.
Much more research is needed to understand the mechanisms and develop cholesterol treatment for humans. However, this study is impacting the research of new forms of treatment to control cholesterol levels, improving the outlook particularly for patients with heart and circulation problems due to increased cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol levels are dangerous because of the involved high risk of heart disease. In order to keep cholesterol at a normal level, doctors advise people to eat a heart healthy diet, particularly reducing their saturated fat intake and take part in regular physical activity.
Huntington’s disease is a rare, progressive disorder that causes the nerve cells of the brain to degenerate and waste away. As a result, the patient experiences uncontrolled actions, emotional instability and mental weakening.
Huntington’s disease is inherited. A parent with the disease has a 50% chance of passing it on to their children. Children with the disease usually experience more severe cases and their symptoms progress more quickly. The signs and symptoms of Huntington’s disease include personality changes, such as irritability, anger, depression or a loss of interest, decreased cognitive abilities, such as difficulty making decisions, learning new information, answering questions and remembering important information, mild balance problems, clumsiness and involuntary facial movements, such as grimacing. Signs of the disease usually develop during middle age; however they could also develop during childhood.
Later symptoms of Huntington’s disease include sudden jerky, involuntary movements (chorea) throughout your body, severe problems with balance and coordination, jerky, rapid eye movements, hesitant, halting or slurred speech, swallowing problems, and dementia (memory loss). It is important to see a doctor when you experience changes in movement, emotional control or mental ability, as these could be signs of many other conditions as well. If you have a family history of Huntington’s disease, talk to your doctor about genetic testing.
The diagnosis for Huntington’s disease includes a physical exam, an evaluation of your medical history and you family history and an evaluation of any emotional or intellectual changes. If Huntington’s disease is suspected, you will most likely undergo a physical evaluation, have a blood test, computerized tomography (CT) scan, and/or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
Treatment includes speech, physical and occupational therapy and medication.
William’s syndrome is a rare condition that is caused by missing certain genes. The disorder occurs randomly, without any known causes or family history of the condition. However, a person suffering from William’s syndrome as a 50% chance of passing the disorder to each of their children. The syndrome occurs in about 1 out of 8,000 births.
William’s syndrome is characterized by an extremely social personality, infatuation with faces, and a small brain size. Symptoms include delayed speech that may later turn into a strong speaking ability and strong learning by hearing, developmental delay, attention deficit disorder (ADD), feeding problems, inward bend of the small finger, mild to moderate mental retardation, being very friendly and easily trusting strangers, sunken chest, and an unusual appearance of the face including a flattened nasal bridge, long ridges in the skin from the nose to the upper lip, prominent lips, skin that covers the inner corner of the eye and partially missing teeth. Most of these symptoms begin at birth and are thus easily seen early on.
Because many people who have William’s syndrome also experience cardiovascular problems, it is extremely important to consultant a doctor at the onset of symptoms. Other signs of the syndrome include farsightedness, high blood pressure and high blood calcium levels.
Diagnosis for the syndrome includes a blood pressure check, blood test form missing chromosomes (FISH test), echocardiography, a Doppler ultrasound and possibly a kidney ultrasound.
Currently there is no known cure for William’s syndrome. Medications can treat high levels of blood calcium and high blood pressure. Physical therapy is helpful to patients with joint stiffness. Developmental and speech therapy are also very beneficial to patients. There are also many support groups and organizations to help patients and their families cope.
Sleep paralysis is a sleep disorder in which a person awakes feeling fully conscious but unable to move. The paralysis occurs when the brain awakes from a REM (rapid eye movement) state, but the body continues to be in paralysis. Sleep paralysis may can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
Sleep paralysis may be accompanied by hallucinations, panic symptoms, and an acute sense of danger. The hallucinations make sleep paralysis particularly frightening because completely dream-like and fantasy objects may appear in the room alongside the individual.
The condition is often connected to narcolepsy, a neurological disorder in which the patient experiences uncontrollable naps. However, there are also many people who experience sleep paralysis without any signs of narcolepsy.
There is no explanation of why people experience sleep paralysis. It is not harmful; however people become very scared because they do not know what is happening to them. But within minutes, the person is gradually or abruptly able to move again. The episode is often ended by a sound or a touch on the body.
In severe cases of sleep paralysis, which are classified by occurring at least once a week for 6 months, medication may be used to help treat the condition. Otherwise, sleep paralysis episodes may be minimized by getting enough sleep, reducing stress, regular exercise and a regular sleep schedule.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Canavan disease is one of the most common cerebral degenerative diseases of infancy. It is a neurological disorder in which the white matter of the brain degenerates into spongy tissue containing microscopic fluid-filled spaces.
Symptoms of Canavan disease usually develop within the first year of life. They include abnormal posture with flexed arms and straight legs, backflow of food material into the nose (nasal regurgitation), feeding problems, increasing head size (macrocephaly), irritability, lack of head control when baby is pulled from a lying to a sitting position (head lag), poor muscle tone, especially of the neck muscles, poor visual tracking or blindness, reflux with vomiting, seizures, severe mental retardation and swallowing difficulties.
The primary cause of Canavan disease is a mutated gene linked to the disorder. Both parents must carry the defective gene in order to have an affected child. When both parents carry the gene mutation, there is a 25% chance with each pregnancy that the child will be affected with the disease
The diagnosis procedure for Canavan disease includes a variety of tests, including blood chemistry and genetic testing. Head CT and MRI scans are also performed. Currently there is no full treatment for Canavan disease. The only treatment available only aims to ease symptoms.
The prognosis for Canavan disease is very poor. The disease causes many patients to become disabled and/or blind. Due to the breakdown of the central nervous system, death usually occurs before 18 months of age. However, some patients live until they are teenagers or young adults.
Behçet’s syndrome is a chronic neurological disorder which is characterized by the swelling and inflammation of many systems of the body, including the eyes, the joints, the blood vessels, the central nervous system, the digestive system and the genitals.
There are a variety of symptoms associated with Behçet’s syndrome. They include painful ulcers in the mouth, which usually resemble canker sores, ulcers on the genitals, eye diseases which lead to pain, sensitivity to light, hazy vision and if untreated, blindness, skin swelling or sores, redness and tenderness of the skin due to minor injuries, mild arthritis, inflamed veins which usually lead to blood clots, central nervous system disorders such as chronic swelling of the brain and membranes, disorders of the stomach such as Crohn’s disease, and general swelling and pain in blood vessels anywhere in the body.
Although the direct cause of Behçet’s syndrome is not yet known, possible causes may be viruses or genetic factors. People who are at highest risk for the disease are men aged 30 and over. Also, people whose families once lived along the silk route in the Mediterranean and some Asian countries, especially Japan, have a higher risk of developing the disorder.
Because the symptoms of Behçet’s syndrome can be very serious, treatment usually focuses on eliminating them. Drugs are taken to relieve ulcers and corticosteroids in the mouth or eye may relieve other symptoms.
According to researchers at Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine, up to ten percent of the whole Mexican population may have a tapeworm infection, known as neurocysticercosis. Tapeworm infections are increasing in the southwestern area of the United States, especially the states which border Mexico.
Neurocysticercosis is caused by a tapeworm called Taenia solium, which is found in pigs. A person may get infected by eating undercooked pork, drinking contaminated water or putting contaminated fingers in the mouth. An infected person will then excrete tapeworm eggs, and contamination will spread through food, water or contaminated surfaces.
This infection is a serious health concern, especially in poor areas where pigs are allowed to roam freely and eat human feces.
Many people with tapeworm infections do not show any symptoms. However, the signs and symptoms include nausea, weakness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea and weight loss. When an infection becomes invasive, as in it migrates out of the intestines and forms cysts in other parts of the body, symptoms become more severe. Symptoms of an invasive infection include seizures, fever, cystic masses or lumps, allergic reactions (to larvae), and other bacterial infections.
Medications for an intestinal tapeworm include oral medications. However, these drugs only target the tapeworm, not its eggs. Therefore it is extremely important to keep good hygiene habits, especially washing hands after using the toilet and before eating. Treatment differs for infections that become invasive. Although treatment depends on the location and severity of the infection, invasive infection treatments typically include anthelmintic drugs, anti-inflammatories, anti-epileptic therapy, shunt placement and surgery.
Encephalitis is a disorder that refers to brain inflammation resulting from a viral infection. In rare cases, this disease is severe and life-threatening. Scientists believe that the actual incidence of encephalitis is probably much higher, but because most people have such mild signs or symptoms, many cases go unrecognized.
A coma is a medical emergency. Defined by a state of prolonged unconsciousness and caused by a variety of problems, a coma requires swift action. A coma may last from a few hours to months or even years. People who are in a coma that lasts longer than a few weeks are classified as being in a persistent vegetative state. Those in a vegetative state for more than a year are extremely unlikely to awaken.
The signs of a coma are closed eyes, no responses of limbs except for reflex movements and no response to painful stimuli, except for reflex movements. Many health problems can cause a coma. The first is traumatic brain injuries. Brain injuries that result from traffic collisions or acts of violence are the most common cause of comas. Next is stroke. Acute loss of blood flow to the brain followed by swelling or no blood flow to a major part of the brainstem can result in a coma. In people with diabetes, sugar levels that get too high (hyperglycemia) and stay too high or get too low (hypoglycemia) and stay too low can cause comas. People experiencing a lack of oxygen, such as those who escaped drowning or been resuscitated after a heart attack may not awaken due to lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Infections, such as encephalitis and meningitis, which cause inflammation of the brain, spinal cord or the tissues that surround the brain meningitis, can result in a coma. Exposure to toxins, such as carbon monoxide or drug overdoses, can cause brain damage and coma.
Doctors must rely on physical clues and information provided by families and friends to identify proper treatment for a coma patient. Questions may include: Did the coma start abruptly or gradually? Were there problems with vision, dizziness or numbness beforehand? Any history of diabetes, seizures or strokes? What prescription or nonprescription drugs were used? Then, they may choose to run laboratory tests to check for a complete blood count, electrolytes and glucose and liver function, carbon monoxide poisoning or drug overdose. Brain scans, such as a CT and/or MRI may be needed. The doctor may also need to run an electroencephalography (EEG), a test to measure electrical activity inside the brain and determine if the patient is having coma-causing seizures.
Treatment for a coma patient varies depending on the cause of the coma. Sometimes surgery is needed to relieve the pressure due to brain swelling. Other treatments may focus on an underlying disease, such as diabetes, kidney failure or liver disease.
Sometimes a coma can be completely reversed, and the person will regain normal function. But if the brain damage is severe, the person may sustain permanent disabilities or may never regain consciousness.
For more information on support groups for coma patients and their families, visit NorthShore University HealthSystem.