How to Prevent (and Survive!) The Flu This Year

It’s that time of year again. Time for the dreaded winter beast – the influenza virus. It’s also time for the great yay/nay debate – do I get a flu shot, or do I skip it?

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5 Surprising Facts About Rheumatoid Arthritis

Although osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) both involve stiff, painful joints, the two diseases are hardly the same. While OA generally damages just cartilage in your joints, RA can affect many body systems. Here are a few other facts about RA that might surprise you.

MOVEMENT HELPS

“Patients with RA tend to feel better when they stay active,” says Emily Keeler, DO, a rheumatologist with St. Luke’s Rheumatology Associates. That can include simple activities like walking or a light cardio routine. And, because warmth makes joints feel better, exercising in a warm-water pool can be beneficial. 

IT DISCRIMINATES

RA can strike anyone, at any age, but it’s most commonly found in women between the ages of 25 and 50. In fact, women with RA outnumber men by a ratio of three-to-one.

IT CAN AFFECT MORE THAN YOUR JOINTS

“Many people think rheumatoid arthritis is a joint disease, but it’s really systemic,” Dr. Keeler says. Because RA is an autoimmune disorder, it can cause inflammation throughout the body, affecting eyes, lungs, skin, and other organs.   

IT’S TREATABLE, BUT NOT CURABLE

“The goal is remission,” Dr. Keeler says, which is indicated by a substantial reduction of symptoms. “Fortunately, we have several medications that we can use, especially those that suppress the immune system. Because those drugs can take a while to become effective, we often use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ‘bridge’ that time-lapse.” An anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole, minimally processed foods may also help.

IT’S GOOD TO KICK BUTTS

RA can be triggered by viruses, bacteria, physical trauma, hormones, or even emotional stress, but you can reduce your likelihood of developing the disease simply by not smoking. A study published in Arthritis Research and Therapy noted that women more than double their risk of developing RA by puffing away every day.

If you’re diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Keeler offers some simple advice: “Treat it as early as you can. The sooner you start, the better your chances for remission.”

Healing at Home

When you face a health issue that needs professional attention but doesn’t require the ‘round-the-clock services offered by a hospital or nursing home stay, St. Luke’s Home Health and Hospice can provide a less costly alternative. 

St. Luke’s provides medically required services in a home-based setting and should not be confused with agencies that offer housekeeping, companionship, or custodial care.

“Our care is provided by trained and licensed medical professionals, including registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and home health aides,” says Lisa Giovanni, President of St. Luke’s Home Health and Hospice. “The biggest difference between in-home and hospital care is that home health nurses enable patients to take a more active role in their treatment plans, in the comfort of their own homes.” 

Home health, which is covered by most commercial insurance plans, is ordered by a physician, typically after discharge from a hospital or a skilled nursing/acute rehab facility. It’s intended for short-term situations, such as a course of IV medications, or providing wound care.

But there’s a strong education component as well. “Because our ultimate goal is to get our patients independent and in control of their own health care, we teach them or their families to administer their own treatments or to be alert to possible complications that might develop between visits,” Giovanni says.

Medically directed in-home care focuses on attaining individual goals, and that’s why the in-home team can include occupational or physical therapists, to improve strength and mobility; or social workers to help navigate insurance coverage and other concerns. And as a patient improves, home health aides may assist with regaining the ability to perform day-to-day chores, such as meal preparation or bathing. While scheduled visits are the norm, the team is available around the clock to deal with unforeseen events. “It really is a team approach,” Giovanni says. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT HOME HEALTH CARE, VISIT SLUHN.ORG/VNA/HOME-HEALTH 

Best Group Fitness Classes in the LV

Exercise is vital to a healthy life, but sometimes the colder weather isn’t exactly inviting—and that’s exactly why you should join a local indoor group fitness class. 

“Group exercise breeds motivation, excitement, and adherence to the program because people feel like they are part of something special,” says John Graham of St Luke’s Fitness & Sports Performance Centers. 

Fortunately, the Lehigh Valley has plenty of them to offer:

METCON CLASSES AT ST. LUKE’S

This metabolic conditioning program uses the MYZONE app to award points for working in the optimum heart rate range, says Graham. The class “is a combination of strength, core, and cardiovascular metabolic movements from your neck to your knees (jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers).”

St. Luke’s offers some of the best fitness classes in the Valley, including Aerobic Fusion, Body Sculpting, Cardio Kickbox, Lebarre, Max Fusion, Pilates, Power Yoga, Boot Camp, and Zumba, to name a few. For more information, check out getfit.sluhn.org

FORCE GYMNASTICS ADULT CLASSES

Thought gymnastics was just for kids? Nope! Give your body an exciting change of pace with classes open to those 18 and up, with or without prior gymnastics experience. For more information, visit forcegymnastics.com/gymnastics-classes.

RODALE AQUATIC CENTER CLASSES

It’s never too cold to get in the water! Adult aquatic fitness offerings include swimming, Lap and Learn, Aqua Pilates, Arthritis Shallow Water, Deep Water Running, Moms in Motion, and more. For information, visit cedarcrest.edu/rac

BARRE3

A mix of yoga, Pilates, and energetic (and constant) motion set to an upbeat soundtrack, barre3—with studios in Bethlehem and Allentown—gets your heart moving and wakes your legs up with the smallest isometric movements. For more information, visit barre3.com.

Your Guide to Medical Screenings

Annual auto inspections ensure our vehicles are safe to operate – but they perform another important function: They can uncover little problems before they turn into big ones.

Our bodies would benefit from the same kind of attention because many serious medical conditions can fly under the radar for years before they display obvious symptoms. Getting in front of them with regular medical screenings could lessen their impact, or even prevent them altogether. The following list includes some common tests to keep you on a healthy path:

SKIN CANCER

Start performing an annual total skin exam at the discretion of your doctor. Begin at age 18.

BREAST CANCER

Begin mammograms at age 40, and every year (up to age 74) afterward, unless your doctor specifies otherwise.

CERVICAL CANCER

Obtain a pap smear every three years, between the ages of 21 and 65.

TESTICULAR AND PROSTATE CANCER

Typically, begin screening at age 40 and repeat annually.

HIV

Screen routinely from age 18 on; those at increased risk should be checked annually.

BLOOD PRESSURE

If your reading is less than 120/80, screen for hypertension every other year; if over 120/80, screen annually.

CHOLESTEROL

Get checked regularly beginning at age 18; it’s particularly important for men over 35 and women over 45 who have an increased risk of heart disease.

COLORECTAL CANCER

Schedule a colonoscopy or similar exam beginning at age 50, and every 10 years thereafter.

4 Ways to Reduce Carpal Tunnel Pain

Carpal tunnel syndrome – that’s the thing you get when you type a lot, right? Not exactly. 

“The tendency to develop carpal tunnel syndrome is actually genetic in nature,” says Jon D. Hernandez, MD, a hand surgeon with St. Luke’s Orthopedic Care. “It can also result from trauma to the wrist, such as a fall.”

The carpal tunnel in your wrist contains the median nerve. If that passageway becomes narrowed – or the other tissues within it become inflamed – the median nerve is compressed, resulting in pain, numbness, and tingling in the thumb and first two fingers, and up to the elbow.

If you’re genetically predisposed, aspects of the workplace can aggravate it. “Overuse of any kind can trigger the symptoms,” he says. But there are simple ways to counter that.

TWEAK YOUR FORM

If you spend long hours typing, keep your wrists in a neutral or slightly extended position, adjusting the keyboard and your seat height as needed. “Listen to your body,” Dr. Hernandez adds. “You’ll know when you’ve been flexing or extending your wrists too much.”

WEAR A SPLINT

To avoid the onset of symptoms, wear an over-the-counter wrist splint overnight to keep the wrist joint in a relaxed position. “Many people sleep with their wrists curled and tucked,” he explains, “and this is the worst position. When you wake, the median nerve has already been stressed all night.” 

TAKE AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

Anti-inflammatory medications can help alleviate pain, and vitamin B-6 can promote the nerve’s own repair processes. Steroid injections may help as well. But if splints and other simple treatments don’t bring relief, then it may be time to consider surgery,” he says. 

CONSIDER SURGERY

“Fortunately, we can operate endoscopically, usually with minimal complications and simple recovery. “But if you can control symptoms on your own, stick with what you’re doing,” says Dr. Hernandez.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT SLUHN.ORG/ORTHOPEDICS/CONDITIONS-AND-SERVICES/HAND-WRIST-ELBOW

6 Little Ways to Practice Self-Care This Season

If the hustle and bustle of back-to-school didn’t seem busy enough, don’t worry—the holidays are on our heels and soon we’ll be wrapped in a swirl of unending to-do’s, blinded by a blur of shopping lists, gift tags, recipes, and reminders. 

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