preventive medicine

Lifestyle Is the Best Medicine—A Call to Action

Women at the farmer's marketKnowing your numbers—blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and weight—is important. These risk factors and markers, however, only partially tell your story. They measure your risk of disease rather than indicate your well-being.

Well-being is more than the absence of disease. It is living life with joy, energy, fulfillment and health. Sadly, we are living at a time when there is a health care paradox: while medical costs continue to rise, our health and well-being are declining. Currently, seven out of 10 deaths in America each year are due to chronic diseases that are mostly preventable, such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. We are dying prematurely, and these diseases are compromising the quality of our years. Our children are projected to fare worse—for the first time in two centuries, they may backslide on the steady rise in life expectancy.

The reason that unsustainable spending on treatments and exponential increases in technology aren’t improving our collective health is that we aren’t treating the underlying cause of disease. Through our lifestyle—eating healthily, exercising, maintaining our weight, and avoiding tobacco—we can prevent up to 80 percent of chronic diseases.

Yes – the biggest killers in this country can be nearly eradicated. But it has to begin with you and with all of us making a different kind of investment in our health. We need to invest in our well-being before the onset of the disease. And it seems we have a long way to go. Less than 3 percent of Americans engage in the healthy behaviors that can prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. It’s time to change that.

By using lifestyle as medicine—through a whole food, plant-based diet, exercise, and emotional well-being—we can awaken our innate power to heal. We won’t only prevent disease, but experience a new level of physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” To change the course of your health, you have to be intentional about your daily habits and behaviors. An abundance of research studies indicates more of your health is in your control than you might think. With the right support and guidance, you can feel more energy, creativity and happiness. Here are some steps you can take:

Learn Self Care

It’s been said that knowledge is power. Despite seeming confusion and controversy, there is a convergence of expert opinion and scientific evidence demonstrating what our bodies need for health. Epidemiologic, ecologic, and interventional studies support that a diet of minimally processed food, mostly plants, routine movement, strong social support, and a sense of purpose are among the traits that add healthy years to life. It’s simple yet at the same time powerful. Your lifestyle alters inflammation, oxidative damage, your gut bacteria, and how your genes are expressed. These, in turn, are at the root of preventing and treating common diseases and improving your well-being.

In addition to knowledge, you need skills—such as culinary skills, skills to build emotional resilience, and skills to create and sustain good habits. These capabilities are accessible to all of us. We can each become more engaged, active participants in our own care.

Set Personal Health Goals

Putting what you know into daily practice can be challenging. Our modern world conspires against us—tilting us toward high-fat, sugary processed food, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, and inadequate sleep.

By setting personal goals, you can stay focused on long-term benefits rather than short-term rewards. The first step you should take is to examine your health behaviors and become mindful of what makes you get off track. As a primary care physician, I know first-hand how hard that can be. I have also seen countless success stories. I know it can be done. Trust that it can be life-changing.

Invest in Your Emotional Health

A healthy lifestyle is often equated to following a healthful diet and exercising. Whole health, however, involves nurturing emotional as well as physical health. Getting good at managing stress, investing in strong social relationships, and living with purpose can have a more significant benefit on your health than controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol. There is an inescapable connection between our mind and our body. And you need to nourish both to feel your best.

Emory Lifestyle Medicine & Wellness: Join a Community

As the poet John Donne famously penned, “No man is an island.” We thrive when we work collaboratively to tackle and overcome our greatest obstacles. We recently launched Emory Lifestyle Medicine and Wellness to build an interactive community focused on whole-person, self-care solutions. We combine science and well-proven strategies with immersive learning to get to the root cause of disease. We want to spread knowledge about the fundamentals of health—to fulfill our vision of people living happier, healthier lives. We invite you to learn more.

About Sharon H. Bergquist, MD

Sharon Bergquist, MD, received her degree from Harvard Medical School in 1997, and completed her residency in internal medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in 2000. Dr. Bergquist strongly believes in comprehensive health management, and incorporates prevention and wellness strategies into her practice along with managing chronic disease. Her expertise includes heart disease prevention and management, women’s health, diabetes, nutrition and obesity counseling, and the treatment of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Poisonous Plants: How to Avoid Them and Treat Rashes from Them

The sun is out, and spending time outside is a great way to enjoy the last stretch of the summer. However, it’s important to be careful when you are outside because there are a variety of poisonous plants that you may come into contact with – like poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. We’re going to give you some information so that you can better protect yourself and your loved ones from coming into contact with any of these poisonous plants, and know how to treat it if you ever do.

How You Get Rashes from Poisonous Plants

Ever wonder how you got a rash from touching such a small plant? Each of the poisonous plants above secretes urushiol oil onto its roots, stem, and leaves. Once in contact with the skin, this oil often causes anywhere between a mild to severe rash*, itching, and blisters. Each person has a different level of sensitivity to the urushiol oil, and touching it more than once can also increase the chances of dealing with a worse rash. Physical contact is not the only way to get this rash. Burning these plants could result in the oil spreading through the air by it coating the soot. This coating could come into contact with your skin, but also areas that aren’t typically touched by the sap (eyes, nostrils, throat, or even inhaled into the respiratory system).

*These rashes are not contagious and cannot be spread person to person. While the oil will stay on any surfaces it has come into contact with (unless washed with water or rubbing alcohol), simply touching someone else’s rash will not cause you to get a rash as well.

What Poisonous Plants Look Like

In the southeastern United States, poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac all grow in the area. The best way to avoid getting the rash and blisters is to not touch the plant.

Poison Ivy: Each leaf on poison ivy has three leaflets that appear glossy. The edges of these leaves can be either smooth or toothed. Furthermore, these leaves also can appear as different in color when in different seasons. During the spring, the leaves appear reddish in color, and during the summer the leaves are green. The leaves are even present during autumn, and can be yellow, red, or orange. Also, poison ivy can grow as a vine or shrub that appears to trail the ground or climb low plants, trees or poles.

Poison Oak: The leaves appear fuzzy and green and are in groups of three. These leaves are deeply toothed with rounded tips. Typically they grow as a low shrub; however, on the Pacific Coast they have been known to grow in tall clumps or long vines.

Poison Sumac: This poisonous plant grows as a small shrub in bogs or swamps. These leaves have clusters of 7-13 smooth-edged leaflets growing along the stem. Like poison ivy, these leaves can appear different in color depending on the season. During the spring, the leaves are orange, but during the summer they are green. These plants are also present in the fall and can be yellow, orange, or red at that point.

How to Treat Rashes from Poisonous Plants

After a few weeks, the effects of poison ivy will subside without any treatment. During that time, do not scratch the blisters as this could lead to infection. So how do you calm the itching without scratching? Applying wet compresses or submerging the afflicted area in cool water can help. You can also get prescription oral corticosteroids or over-the-counter topical corticosteroids to alleviate that itching feeling. You may want to see a health care professional if you observe any of the following symptoms:

  • You have a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • There is pus, soft yellow scabs, or tenderness on the rash.
  • The itching gets worse or keeps you awake at night.
  • The rash spreads to your eyes, mouth, genital area, or covers more than one-fourth of your skin area.
  • The rash is not improving within a few weeks.
  • The rash is widespread and severe.
  • You have difficulty breathing.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, we recommend either visiting your nearest Urgent Care location or MinuteClinic.

If you aren’t experiencing any severe pain, a MinuteClinic can be a good alternative to visit in order to help keep the rash down and prevent infection.

However, if you are in pain, going to a local Urgent Care can help reduce inflammation and provide access to a medical professional who can treat the infection.

The Emory Healthcare Network partners with MinuteClinic locations and Peachtree Immediate Care urgent care locations throughout metro Atlanta and surrounding communities. You can find one close to you here.

As always, if you feel you are in a life-threatening situation, go to the nearest Emergency Department or call 911. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to call your PCP or the Emory HealthConnection at 404-778-7777 and speak to an Emory nurse for assistance.

About Dr. Colovos

Nick Colovos, MD, received his degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1993, and completed his residency in emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio, in 1996. His work experiences in the academic, public and private sectors of medical care have allowed him to develop a unique perspective on the business of healthcare and its delivery to patients. He currently serves as medical director for the Emory Healthcare Urgent Care and MinuteClinic Strategy and assistant clinical professor of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

Drowning and Water Safety

Summer is finally here and it’s time to spend some time in the water cooling off whether it’s at the pool, lake, or beach. As we’re enjoying this weather near the water, injuries are not the first thing many people think of, but it should be. It is important to make sure that you, your family, and friends are staying safe in the water and not increasing your risk of drowning.

You may be thinking, “This won’t happen to me,” or “I know how to swim, I’ll be fine.” While you or others may be excellent swimmers, it only takes a few seconds for an individual to drown. It is important to confirm that everyone in the group has basic swimming skills and to have a designated supervisor while at any body of water, especially if there is not a lifeguard on duty.

Who is at risk for drowning?

There are many factors that may increase a person’s risk of drowning. Here are the five most common risk factors as outlined by the CDC.

  • Swimming Ability: There are many adults and adolescents who lack swimming ability but still enjoy being near the water. Not being able to swim makes drowning an unfortunate, but more likely, reality.
  • Barriers: Without fencing, or other barriers to bodies of water, children may wander into a pool area and could fall into the water.
  • Supervision: Drowning may take place quickly and quietly anywhere that there is water. It’s important to pay attention constantly to people around any body of water.
  • Location: Depending on the age of the individual, the likelihood of drowning may change with the location. For example, children under four have a higher likelihood to drown at in home swimming pools, while those fifteen and older tend to drown in natural water settings.
  • Alcohol: The use of alcoholic substances is involved in nearly 25% of an Emergency Department visit due to drowning, and 70% of deaths due to recreational use of water.

What are some tips to keep drowning from happening?

  • Learn CPR: Mere seconds can be the difference between greatly improving and influencing the outcome of a drowning incident.
  • Always swim with a buddy!
  • “Water wings” and other toys designed for water are no substitute for a life-jacket. Wearing one greatly reduces the risk of drowning.
  • If you are going to the beach, know what each of the different colored flags indicates (these may vary by beach) and obey all warnings.

What to do if someone is Drowning

  • Use anything around you to try and bring the drowning victim in from the water without putting yourself at risk.
  • Call others for help.
  • Lie the victim on their back, and move their head and chin backwards to try and clear their airway.
  • Pinch their nose as their head is tilted backwards and breathe into their mouth with yours to function as a rescue breath.
  • After five rescue breaths, begin performing CPR.
  • After performing CPR for at least one minute, and if no one around you has already called 911, do so.
  • Continue performing CPR until the ambulance arrives.

What is dry drowning?

“Dry drowning” or “secondary drowning” is when a serious amount of deterioration take place after nearly drowning and also after a period of appearing relatively fine. This is when an individual essentially inhales water through the nose and/or mouth. The water provokes a spasm that impacts breathing, by slowly closing the airway (this is different from drinking a lot of water, as the process the body absorbs it is different).

Symptoms of Dry Drowning

Although symptoms of dry drowning typically occur after a water incident, symptoms can also appear up to 24 hours after a near drowning experience. It is important to watch for these signs:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Cold or bluish skin
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Vomiting

Know Where to Go

If an individual is coughing profusely, sputtering and showing other signs of respiratory distress as listed above, it is best to contact your healthcare professional, call 911 or go to an emergency department immediately.

About Nick Colovos, MD

Nick Colovos, MD, received his degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1993, and completed his residency in emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Toledo Ohio in 1996. His work experiences in the academic, public and private sectors of medical care have allowed him to develop a very unique perspective on the business of healthcare and its delivery to patients. He currently serves as Medical Director for the Emory Healthcare Urgent Care and CVS MinuteClinic Strategy. Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta Georgia.

 

Or call HealthConnection at 404-778-7777.

Surviving the Spring Pollen

Spring is in full swing! Before we get excited and bolt out the doors for warmer weather, it is important to remember that pollen production is high during this season. Spring allergies can be complex. So, where does pollen come from? How do you prevent the allergies? Here are some things to know.

Common Questions About Allergies

Allergies and asthma have an interesting relationship that can affect everyone in some way. See our “Surviving Allergies and Asthma” blog to learn more about the connection between the two.

Where Does Pollen Come From?

Pollen comes from trees, shrubs, and grass. Every spring, summer, and fall, pollen is released from these plants for fertilization. These tiny grains are carried in the wind and can trigger the common symptoms we know of – runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes. To keep the allergies down to a minimum, try avoiding these plant species:

Trees

  • Ash trees are commonly found in North America and produce large amounts of pollen.
  • Birch trees are found in almost every state. This species produces pollen when they flower.
  • Oak trees are found worldwide. There are more than 80 species of oak trees in North America.

Shrubs

  • Forsythia shrubs begin to bloom at the end of winter. The peak pollen production is during spring.
  • Holly shrubs bloom during spring. In the Southeast, the tree version is common and can grow up to 40 feet tall.

Grass

  • Zoysia grass is the worst pollen offenders. Growing season for this grass is from early spring to late fall. To keep Zoyia from producing high amounts of pollen, keep the grass short.

Tips to Surviving Spring Pollen

  • Allergy testing is one of the best ways to determine which species can trigger your allergies.
  • Consider removing any of the plant species above or strategically plant them further away from the house/bedroom windows.
  • If you have outdoor plans, take allergy medication before leaving the house. Don’t wait for the symptoms to occur.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • Adjust outdoor activities around high pollen counts. Pollen counts are the highest during midday.
  • For additional tips, visit http://emry.link/allergy10.

Know Where to Go

If over the counter medication is not aiding your allergies, consider visiting your primary care physician. Primary care physicians can help connect you with an allergen specialist. Both will work together to help keep your allergen episodes to a minimum.

If you are unable to get renewed prescriptions or unable to get in contact with your primary care physician, urgent care centers and MinuteClinics can provide help with allergies.

 

Back-to-School Bugs & Beyond: Know Where to Go

Back to school bugsBack-to-school bugs mean your kids may soon be coming home sniffing, sneezing or showing other signs of battling a “bug”?

Your kid’s classroom can be just the kind of enclosed space that makes a great breeding ground for viruses and bacteria to multiply and spread. According to the CDC, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) elementary school children catch eight to 12 colds or cases of flu each school year.

Back-to-School Bugs

Back-2-school brings kids back in touch with lots of other kids. It can be a stressful time even for kids who have the healthiest immune systems. Children returning to school may be exposed to:

  • Colds, cold sores, coughs
  • Pink eye
  • Stomach bugs

You can prepare your kids for battling any back to school bugs by strengthening their immune systems. Here’s how:

  • Get your kids back on a good sleep schedule
  • Boost diets with Vitamin C rich fruits & veggies
  • Make sure they stay hydrated

Healthy Habits

  • Hand washing: The best way for your child to stay healthy at school is to practice good hand washing. Teach your child to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. That’s how you know they’ll be washing for at least twenty seconds. And, your child should use soap. It’s more effective than hand sanitizers.
  • Clean water: Arm your child with a water bottle and teach him this is one thing that should never be shared. Hydration is important but drinking fountains can be hot zones for germs. They aren’t cleaned and disinfected as often as school bathrooms are. If your child does use the water fountain, they should let the water run before drinking and keep their mouths from touching the fountain.
  • Healthy Manners: Teach your child to always cough or sneeze into an elbow.

Fall Allergy Alert

Here in Atlanta, ragweed pollen blooms in August and is at its peak in September. In addition to ragweed, tree pollens can also be blamed for fall allergies.

If your child suffers from allergies, prepare for back to school by pretreating with allergy medication before the peak of pollen season.

Symptoms of fall allergies include:

  • Asthma attacks
  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy eyes, nose, and scratchy throat
  • Post-nasal drip, runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sneezing

Learn more about allergies here.

Know Where to Go When It’s Not Life Threatening

Primary care physician, family doctor, or pediatrician: If your child does come down with a bug or an infection, start out by seeing your pediatrician, family doctor or PCP. They are already familiar with your child and know their health history best.

If you can’t get an appointment at a time that works for you, or your doctor’s schedule is all booked up, don’t stress. You have options.

MinuteClinics and Urgent Care centers are good alternatives if you need to see a health care provider sooner than you can see your PCP, or if you need care outside of your PCPs normal office hours. MinuteClinics can treat many minor illnesses and injuries and prescribe medications. Urgent care centers can treat serious, but not life-threatening illnesses or injuries.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

Unfortunately, playground accidents and back to school injuries can happen. In addition to bumps and bruises, your child might show signs of an urgent condition. Go to the ER for urgent conditions including:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain
  • Fainting, dizziness, weakness or lack mobility
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Broken bones that break through skin
  • Severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Poisoning
  • Head or neck injury
  • Suspected concussion

If you take your child to the ER, have key information ready for the nurse or doctor. Keep track of when symptoms started, how they progressed, how long a fever or rash has lasted, how often your child has gone to the bathroom, any medications, who they’ve been in contact with and any other health concerns. Bring water, snacks and a toy for your child.

Contact Us

If you’re not sure if a trip to the ER is needed, call your family doctor or the Emory HealthConnection nurses at 404-778-7777*

*Business hours: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., EST. Monday–Friday

 

About Dr. Colovos

Nick Colovos, MD, received his degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1993 and completed his residency in emergency medicine at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Toledo Ohio in 1996. His work experiences in the academic, public and private sectors of medical care have allowed him to develop a unique perspective on the business of healthcare and its delivery to patients. He currently serves as Medical Director for the Emory Healthcare Urgent Care and MinuteClinic Strategy and Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Related resources

Kid’s Health: Common back-to-school illnesses and injuries

Kid's Health Going back to school can tax your kid’s health. Catching up with old friends and make new ones can be an exciting time, but one that puts them back in close contact with one another — with a result no one looks forward to: illnesses and injuries.

In the first few months of a new school year, there are lots of germs going around. They’re on desks, keyboards, in the classroom and on the playground where accidents also happen.

Over time, your child will become immune to many infectious diseases. In the meantime, teach him to wash his hands well —and often. If your child does come down with a bug, keep him home from school until he’s fever-free for 24 hours without medicine.

Common kid’s health back-to-school illnesses and injuries include:

  • “Backpack-itis”: Overstuffed backpacks can cause head, neck and shoulder pain as well as lead to bad posture. Use your bathroom scale to figure out what your kid weighs with and without his backpack. Make sure that his locked and loaded backpack doesn’t weigh more than 10% of his weight. Also, make sure your child wears both straps. A lightweight pack with wide straps and a padded back is a good choice.
  • Colds and flu: Colds are very contagious. If your child doesn’t have a fever, it’s probably okay to go to school. It’s important not to spread germs — so teach your kid to cough or sneeze into a tissue—or an elbow—and to wash his hands. When it comes to flu, prevention is important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a flu shot for everyone six months old and up.
  • Impetigo: This skin infection is very contagious. Symptoms include sores and blisters on the face, neck, and hands. Keep any cuts clean and teach your child, not to scratch rashes and bug bites. Thorough hand washing helps prevent the spread of impetigo and also strep throat, which is related.
  • Lice: These tiny bugs live on the scalp, feed on blood and cause itching. Kids usually get lice by being in close contact with someone who has them. To keep your family lice-free, teach your child to avoid head-to-head contact and not to share hats, helmets, hair accessories, towels, or other personal things. Make sure students don’t share cubbies or lockers.
  • Pinkeye: This eye infection, also called conjunctivitis, is easily spread from one kid to the next in school. Signs include bloodshot eyes, itchy and burning eyes, and a yellow or green eye discharge from the eyes. If your child has pinkeye, a prescription for antibiotic eye drops is needed to treat it. Like other contagious diseases, the best prevention is good hand washing.
  • Playground injuries:  Common injuries are fractures, cuts, bruises, and sprains. But dislocations, broken bones and concussions can also happen. Most injuries happen on playground bars or climbers. Make sure the playground is supervised and that your child follows the rules.
  • Strep throat: Strep throat can spread through the student body pretty fast. In addition to a sore throat, symptoms may include a runny nose, high fever, and headache. If untreated, a strep throat could lead to rheumatic fever. It’s important to get a strep test and treat this disease with antibiotics. Teach your child to steer clear of anyone with a sore throat and to wash hands often. Your child should know not to share drinks, spoons, forks, knives or toothbrushes.
  • Stomach flu: This bug isn’t really the flu—but it is a virus and it’s highly contagious. It causes stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea. Stomach bugs can lead to dehydration. Teach your child to always wash hands after using the bathroom and before eating. Your child should not share drinks, forks, knives, spoons, or toothbrushes.

Know where to go for kid’s health issues

Your pediatrician or family doctor knows your kid’s health the best, but if your doctor isn’t available and you need health care right away or outside of your doctor’s office hours, minute clinics, and urgent Care centers are good choices.

Minute Clinics can treat minor illnesses. Urgent care centers also treat minor illnesses and can perform X-rays and more advanced treatment for kid’s health issues that aren’t life threatening.

Learn more about Emory Healthcare’s MinuteClinic and urgent care partners – Peachtree Immediate Care and SmartCare® Urgent Care. Combined, these partners provide nearly 60 locations throughout metro Atlanta and surrounding counties — putting the care you need now where you need it, 7 days a week for most of the year.

When to go to the emergency room

Go to the ER for urgent conditions including:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain
  • Fainting, dizziness, weakness or lack mobility
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Broken bones that break through skin
  • Severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Poisoning
  • Head or neck injury
  • Suspected concussion

If you take your child to the ER, have key information ready for the nurse or doctor. Keep track of when symptoms started, how they progressed, how long a fever or rash has lasted, how often your child has gone to the bathroom, any medications, who they’ve been in contact with and any other health concerns. Bring water, snacks and a toy for your child.

If you still aren’t sure, contact your family doctor or call Emory HealthConnection to speak to an Emory nurse at 404-778-7777.