Zzzzz on snoring

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Do you snore or know somebody who does?

Snoring is usually a benign process caused by vibration of tissue in the back of the throat. While it can be associated with serious problems like obstructive sleep apnea that require medical or surgical intervention, most of the time the causes are more straightforward.

Chances are if you snore, you might not even be aware of it unless you have a bed partner, roommate or grandchild that you are keeping up and who can tell you.

I did see a recent app for those who live alone that can record your snoring patterns and help identify if you have a problem. If you have a lot of daytime drowsiness and don’t seem to get restful sleep, it might be worth checking out.

I saw a TV commercial for a removable mouth device that reduces snoring. In this ad, a hapless guy is kicked out of bed by his wife who is suffering from lack of sleep due to his loud snoring. He is sad faced and gets to sleep on the couch until he gets the mouthpiece. Ouch! After that, of course all is well again. This kind of mouthpiece sometimes works and has the benefit of being inexpensive and safe. Continue reading

The cough that won’t go away

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Still coughing? A few days ago I was swapping home remedies with a lively Italian grandmother on how coughs were treated in our families. Her favorite was a mix of honey, lemon juice and a splash of bourbon.

During a recent hospitalization for a bronchial infection, her cough was unremitting so she asked the nurses for her favorite cough syrup. Our professional and patient-centered nurses agreed to bring the honey and the lemon juice. The rest of the recipe would be fine if someone brought it in and they just didn’t know about it. Wink, wink!

Well, she was in the office a couple weeks later and though a powerful opiate laced cough syrup helped, she still was up at night and fatigued from a persistent cough.

I recommended the lemon-honey-whiskey mixture at bedtime along with an expectorant and an inhaler. We got along well, I think, and I expect she and her cough will improve. Continue reading

Beat deafness extremely rare, but actually exists

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Have you ever noticed when someone in the audience can’t clap along with a beat at a concert? Well, it turns out that beat deafness actually exists. The first case was documented nearly five years ago, identified in a 26-year-old man who could not follow the beat at all when listening to music. Chances are, you don’t have it, though. Beat deafness is a form of a musical brain disorder that is extremely rare. Sometimes audience members get so off beat that performers stop in an effort to get back on track. That in part inspired a group of neuroscientists in Montreal to look for people who felt they had no sense of the beat. After screening dozens of people, only one, Mathieu, was found to have true beat deafness.

Mathieu loves music, studies guitar and once had a job as an amusement park mascot that involved dancing, which by his own admission did not go so well. “I just can’t figure out what’s rhythm, in fact,” Mathieu said. “I just can’t hear it, or I just can’t feel it.” However, he can follow the beat if he watches someone else. He could also follow the beat of a metronome, indicating that he did not have a movement disorder. In one test, Mathieu was asked to bounce or bend his knees to the beat of different kinds of music while holding a Wii controller that logged his movements. His results were compared to normal people who could identify the beat. After being tested with merengue, pop, rock, belly dancing and techno music, he was only able to follow the distinct and obvious beats of techno music. Continue reading

The spirit of Christmas giving all year long

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

“Find a need and fill it” is a wise saying by a minister I have long admired.

This is definitely the guiding light of the Luke Society that has been filing needs in Galveston for over 30 years for the underserved, homeless, and social outcasts, many with mental health disorders.

Since 1995, they have, under the leadership of internist Dr. Fritz Zaunbrecher, held a street medical ministry to serve those who have little or no other option for health care.

Dispensing supplies of blood pressure medications, antibiotics, asthma inhalers and more to over a hundred people weekly is a major effort and expense. The Moody Methodist Foundation generously supports some of their expenses for medications and supplies. Even local high school students interested in health care contribute time and efforts.

These potentially lifesaving medications have no doubt kept many of the street people out of the emergency room with strokes, heart problems, asthma attacks, systemic infections and more. This is not only a wonderful ministry of health for those served but reduces the unreimbursed costs of care to UTMB and other county emergency facilities for conditions that might have been dealt with earlier, in a less acute stage. Continue reading

Rainforest is a reservoir for new medicines

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

On a recent trip to Brazil, I immersed myself in an exploration of the richly diverse Amazonian rain forest. I was awed to learn that so many of the plants that filled this paradise have been used throughout human history to make medicines, poisons, hallucinogens, rubber, building materials and so much more.

While it makes sense that native people use the plants to support their lives, it is astonishing to learn that approximately 70 percent of the new drugs introduced in our country in the past 25 years are derived from nature. Despite the expanding sophistication of bioengineering, Mother Nature retains the crown as the world’s greatest drug engineer.

The indigenous healers in the Northwest Amazon have used more than1,300 species of plants for medicinal purposes. Today, pharmacologists and ethnobotanists work with native shamans to identify potential drugs for further development. Continue reading

Always tired? Here are 5 things to check

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

“Doc, I just feel tired all the time.”

This is the kind of vague complaint, along with dizziness, that challenges every physician. Such patients often show up on a Friday afternoon or mention the fatigue at the end of a visit for other matters. The issue is so common, yet complex, that up to 40 percent of those suffering from chronic fatigue may never receive a specific diagnosis.

Our medical students are trained to make sure a fatigue complaint isn’t caused by anemia or low thyroid. While these certainly can be a factor, it is rare to find the answer to chronic fatigue with a simple blood test.

Many medical conditions can cause fatigue. Loss of organ reserve in vital organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, adrenal glands, and kidney can all lead to fatigue. Chronic infections, cancer, chronic pain, poorly controlled diabetes, obesity, and sleep apnea make up a partial list of well over a hundred identifiable medical causes for fatigue. Continue reading

Five tips for handling those holiday blues

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

This is the time of year when everyone is acting cheerful and happy, so why do I feel blue?

Just know you are not alone. The holiday blues are a common phenomenon and may seem paradoxical in just the time of the year when we are in the midst of planning to enjoy friends, family, feasts and fun.

In fact, this is not always such a cheerful time for some. Those who have lost family members, those who are financially stretched, or those who already feel their life activities are too stressful may not look forward to the holidays.

Holding unrealistic expectations that everything will go perfectly is another source of inner stress. Such thoughts, beliefs and feelings may even be internalized as physical symptoms: chest pain may show up from emotional heartache, headache could represent repressed anger, or backache concerns about lack in financial according to some metaphysical interpretations. Continue reading

The inside story on natural gas

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A topic rarely discussed in polite company is the production, distribution and dissemination of natural gas. This is the kind of gas produced by the fermentation and digestion of food in the human intestinal tract. In medical terms, it is referred to as flatus. Our gut bacteria and microbiome processes along with swallowed air results in about 1-2 liters of gas daily. This is largely odorless nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The gas is aroma-fied by sulfides, methane and tiny amounts of cadaverine, putrescine and butyric acid. This is the stinky stuff. Men and women both produce about equal amounts, though women tend to be more, shall we say, polite and secretive about expelling it. In my medical practice, “excess gas” is a common complaint. This is often attributable to benign factors such improper mix of gut bacteria, gas producing foods such as beans and legumes, foods from the cabbage family, and common offenders such as cucumbers, celery, apples, carrots, onions and garlic.

While healthy, a high fiber diet can initially cause increased gas.Medical conditions such a gall bladder disease, anxiety from swallowing too much air during panic attacks, and small bowel bacterial overgrowth, and medications can be contributing factors. Continue reading

It’s not just Venus and Mars anymore

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

While the gender gaps are closing, sometimes the differences between men and women seem as great as the differences between Venus and Mars. For example, men and women tolerate medications very differently. Due to this, the Food and Drug Administration has recently changed the recommended dosage of the sleep aid Lunesta from 2 milligrams to 1 milligram because of its prolonged effects on women.

Women reported feeling drowsy in the morning hours after waking, raising concerns about the hazards of driving and working. While men and women are often prescribed the same dosages of medications, this case shows how men and women are not the same organism and drug dosing might need to take that into consideration.

For basic studies in the biomedical laboratory, many cells lines that are used experimentally are derived from tissues obtained from males, either human or animal. Even in the very early steps of identifying a drug and determining how it works, efforts are already focused on those of us with a Y chromosome. Continue reading

Research sheds new light on autism

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Based on statistics, you probably know someone with a form of autism. Autism rates in America grew by 30 percent from 2008-2010 and have doubled since 2000. Now, one in 68 8-year-olds are diagnosed with autism. On average, one child in each grade of every elementary school has autism. What is responsible for the remarkable rise of this disease?

Perhaps we have gotten better at diagnosing it. Now, researchers are working to establish how autism occurs, even before birth, and how to diagnose it sooner.Autism is actually not a single disease but a spectrum of disorders. It is clearly related to infant development and is caused by differences in the brain. There are multiple causes of autism, but most are not yet known. One possible connection is that people tend to conceive later. The age at which women give birth has been increasing for many years and is linked to higher chances of autism.

Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders relies on observing differences in a person’s communication, social skills and typical behavior. Roughly one-third of those with autism are also diagnosed with intellectual deficits, but the remaining two-thirds have normal or above average intelligence. Most are diagnosed at 4 years old but some are identified by age 2. This is critical because research has repeatedly shown that the earlier therapy starts, the more likely it will result in substantial improvement. Continue reading