Medical News Today: Cancer: Could a ‘universal’ blood test make detection easier?

Researchers developed a generic test for cancer and partnered with a tech company to bring it to market. They believe that this test could be the first screening tool to detect cancer.
scientist analyzing blood sample
Researchers are working hard to develop an effective ‘universal’ blood test that would improve cancer detection.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, there were about 18 million cancer cases diagnosed around the world in 2018.

The number of new cancer cases per year is expected to reach more than 23 million by 2030. The most common cancers globally are lung cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.

Lung and breast cancers contributed to 12.3 percent of the 18 million cases diagnosed in 2018, with more than 2 million cases, respectively. Colorectal cancer is in third place with almost 2 million new cases diagnosed in 2018.

Doctors can diagnose cancers in a variety of ways. The most common methods include laboratory tests (blood, urine, and others), biopsy, endoscopy, genetic tests, and imaging tests, such as X-ray, MRI, and ultrasound.

Cancer data are alarming, and it is imperative to find new methods to detect cancer in the early stages.

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Developing a ‘universal’ blood test

In the past years, researchers at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, have focused on a new “universal” blood test for earlier diagnosis of cancer.

They believe that this new test could help detect cancer in people who doctors think may have the disease. The research team partnered with a tech company to bring this revolutionary blood test to market.

This test is different from other universal cancer tests being developed because it is not looking for a specific biomarker or mutation. This is a generic test for cancer in an individual, regardless of the underlying mechanism that’s causing their cancer.”

Lead researcher, Prof. Diana Anderson

The test measures the damage to the DNA of white blood cells after exposure to ultraviolet light. This process reveals the cells’ susceptibility to damage and the presence of cancer.

The damage takes the form of a “comet tail” of DNA pieces. If the tail is long, it means that cancer may be present. In other words, the DNA of people who have cancer is more easily damaged by ultraviolet light.

In 2014, the Bradford team showed that they were able to identify samples from patients with three different types of cancer and they were successful in the identification of 93 percent of the cases.

The researchers published their results in the FASEB BioAdvances journal.

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Overcoming complex obstacles

The problem came later when they tested 700 blood samples from people with colorectal and prostate cancer. They were unable to separate the samples with cancer from healthy samples in 60 cases.

Professor Diana Anderson asked IMSTAR, a Paris-based tech company, to analyze the results to find out why the team had failed to detect cancer in these 60 cases.

The researchers discovered that the system used in the inconclusive study was responsible for the failure. The IMSTAR Pathfinder system successfully separated all the samples with cancer from the healthy control group.

“I’m now convinced that if we used the powerful IMSTAR system to look at thousands of cells on all the slide samples in the trials, we would see a significant increase in the overall predictability beyond the 93 percent of the original 2014 study,” declares Prof. Anderson.

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The future of cancer detection

With the help of the IMSTAR advanced Pathfinder cell reader-analyzer, the Bradford team aims to create TumorScan, a powerful and highly effective test to detect cancer.

The researchers are optimistic, and they believe that this test could change the future of cancer detection.

“We feel that we’ve taken it as far as we can in proving that the test works with high predictability for cancer outcome, and IMSTAR are the right partners to improve it still further,” says co-first author Dr. Mojgan Najafzadeh.

The IMSTAR team is excited to participate in the creation of this revolutionary method to diagnose cancer.

IMSTAR’s vice-president for medical applications Dr. Michel Soussaline confirmed that the company is working alongside the Bradford team, and they are planning to “automate the full test workflow further” to launch the product on the market.

“To bring a universal ‘liquid biopsy’ blood test for cancer to market, it must achieve a number of criteria, including high sensitivity and specificity and be fully automated with high throughput for a medical routine use. In addition, test results must be available in 24 hours and at an affordable cost,” says IMSTAR’s president, Dr. Françoise Soussaline.

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Medical News Today: What are stem cells, and what do they do?

Cells in the body have specific purposes, but stem cells are cells that do not yet have a specific role and can become almost any cell that is required.

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can turn into specific cells, as the body needs them.

Scientists and doctors are interested in stem cells as they help to explain how some functions of the body work, and how they sometimes go wrong.

Stem cells also show promise for treating some diseases that currently have no cure.

Sources of stem cells

Stem cells originate from two main sources: adult body tissues and embryos. Scientists are also working on ways to develop stem cells from other cells, using genetic “reprogramming” techniques.

Adult stem cells

Stem cells
Stem cells can turn into any type of cell before they become differentiated.

A person’s body contains stem cells throughout their life. The body can use these stem cells whenever it needs them.

Also called tissue-specific or somatic stem cells, adult stem cells exist throughout the body from the time an embryo develops.

The cells are in a non-specific state, but they are more specialized than embryonic stem cells. They remain in this state until the body needs them for a specific purpose, say, as skin or muscle cells.

Day-to-day living means the body is constantly renewing its tissues. In some parts of the body, such as the gut and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to produce new body tissues for maintenance and repair.

Stem cells are present inside different types of tissue. Scientists have found stem cells in tissues, including:

  • the brain
  • bone marrow
  • blood and blood vessels
  • skeletal muscles
  • skin
  • the liver

However, stem cells can be difficult to find. They can stay non-dividing and non-specific for years until the body summons them to repair or grow new tissue.

Adult stem cells can divide or self-renew indefinitely. This means they can generate various cell types from the originating organ or even regenerate the original organ, entirely.

This division and regeneration are how a skin wound heals, or how an organ such as the liver, for example, can repair itself after damage.

In the past, scientists believed adult stem cells could only differentiate based on their tissue of origin. However, some evidence now suggests that they can differentiate to become other cell types, as well.

Embryonic stem cells

From the very earliest stage of pregnancy, after the sperm fertilizes the egg, an embryo forms.

Around 3–5 days after a sperm fertilizes an egg, the embryo takes the form of a blastocyst or ball of cells.

The blastocyst contains stem cells and will later implant in the womb. Embryonic stem cells come from a blastocyst that is 4–5 days old.

When scientists take stem cells from embryos, these are usually extra embryos that result from in vitro fertilization (IVF).

In IVF clinics, the doctors fertilize several eggs in a test tube, to ensure that at least one survives. They will then implant a limited number of eggs to start a pregnancy.

When a sperm fertilizes an egg, these cells combine to form a single cell called a zygote.

This single-celled zygote then starts to divide, forming 2, 4, 8, 16 cells, and so on. Now it is an embryo.

Soon, and before the embryo implants in the uterus, this mass of around 150–200 cells is the blastocyst. The blastocyst consists of two parts:

  • an outer cell mass that becomes part of the placenta
  • an inner cell mass that will develop into the human body

The inner cell mass is where embryonic stem cells are found. Scientists call these totipotent cells. The term totipotent refer to the fact that they have total potential to develop into any cell in the body.

With the right stimulation, the cells can become blood cells, skin cells, and all the other cell types that a body needs.

In early pregnancy, the blastocyst stage continues for about 5 days before the embryo implants in the uterus, or womb. At this stage, stem cells begin to differentiate.

Embryonic stem cells can differentiate into more cell types than adult stem cells.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)

MSCs come from the connective tissue or stroma that surrounds the body’s organs and other tissues.

Scientists have used MSCs to create new body tissues, such as bone, cartilage, and fat cells. They may one day play a role in solving a wide range of health problems.

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS)

Scientists create these in a lab, using skin cells and other tissue-specific cells. These cells behave in a similar way to embryonic stem cells, so they could be useful for developing a range of therapies.

However, more research and development is necessary.

To grow stem cells, scientists first extract samples from adult tissue or an embryo. They then place these cells in a controlled culture where they will divide and reproduce but not specialize further.

Stem cells that are dividing and reproducing in a controlled culture are called a stem-cell line.

Researchers manage and share stem-cell lines for different purposes. They can stimulate the stem cells to specialize in a particular way. This process is known as directed differentiation.

Until now, it has been easier to grow large numbers of embryonic stem cells than adult stem cells. However, scientists are making progress with both cell types.


Types of stem cells

Researchers categorize stem cells, according to their potential to differentiate into other types of cells.

Embryonic stem cells are the most potent, as their job is to become every type of cell in the body.

The full classification includes:

Totipotent: These stem cells can differentiate into all possible cell types. The first few cells that appear as the zygote starts to divide are totipotent.

Pluripotent: These cells can turn into almost any cell. Cells from the early embryo are pluripotent.

Multipotent: These cells can differentiate into a closely related family of cells. Adult hematopoietic stem cells, for example, can become red and white blood cells or platelets.

Oligopotent: These can differentiate into a few different cell types. Adult lymphoid or myeloid stem cells can do this.

Unipotent: These can only produce cells of one kind, which is their own type. However, they are still stem cells because they can renew themselves. Examples include adult muscle stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are considered pluripotent instead of totipotent because they cannot become part of the extra-embryonic membranes or the placenta.


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Uses

Transplant with stem cells
Transplants with stem cells are already helping people with diseases such as lymphoma.

Stem cells themselves do not serve any single purpose but are important for several reasons.

First, with the right stimulation, many stem cells can take on the role of any type of cell, and they can regenerate damaged tissue, under the right conditions.

This potential could save lives or repair wounds and tissue damage in people after an illness or injury. Scientists see many possible uses for stem cells.

Tissue regeneration

Tissue regeneration is probably the most important use of stem cells.

Until now, a person who needed a new kidney, for example, had to wait for a donor and then undergo a transplant.

There is a shortage of donor organs but, by instructing stem cells to differentiate in a certain way, scientists could use them to grow a specific tissue type or organ.

As an example, doctors have already used stem cells from just beneath the skin’s surface to make new skin tissue. They can then repair a severe burn or another injury by grafting this tissue onto the damaged skin, and new skin will grow back.

Cardiovascular disease treatment

In 2013, a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital reported in PNAS Early Edition that they had created blood vessels in laboratory mice, using human stem cells.

Within 2 weeks of implanting the stem cells, networks of blood-perfused vessels had formed. The quality of these new blood vessels was as good as the nearby natural ones.

The authors hoped that this type of technique could eventually help to treat people with cardiovascular and vascular diseases.

Brain disease treatment

Doctors may one day be able to use replacement cells and tissues to treat brain diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

In Parkinson’s, for example, damage to brain cells leads to uncontrolled muscle movements. Scientists could use stem cells to replenish the damaged brain tissue. This could bring back the specialized brain cells that stop the uncontrolled muscle movements.

Researchers have already tried differentiating embryonic stem cells into these types of cells, so treatments are promising.

Cell deficiency therapy

Scientists hope one day to be able to develop healthy heart cells in a laboratory that they can transplant into people with heart disease.

These new cells could repair heart damage by repopulating the heart with healthy tissue.

Similarly, people with type I diabetes could receive pancreatic cells to replace the insulin-producing cells that their own immune systems have lost or destroyed.

The only current therapy is a pancreatic transplant, and very few pancreases are available for transplant.

Blood disease treatments

Doctors now routinely use adult hematopoietic stem cells to treat diseases, such as leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and other immunodeficiency problems.

Hematopoietic stem cells occur in blood and bone marrow and can produce all blood cell types, including red blood cells that carry oxygen and white blood cells that fight disease.


Donating or harvesting stem cells

People can donate stem cells to help a loved one, or possibly for their own use in the future.

Donations can come from the following sources:

Bone marrow: These cells are taken under a general anesthetic, usually from the hip or pelvic bone. Technicians then isolate the stem cells from the bone marrow for storage or donation.

Peripheral stem cells: A person receives several injections that cause their bone marrow to release stem cells into the blood. Next, blood is removed from the body, a machine separates out the stem cells, and doctors return the blood to the body.

Umbilical cord blood: Stem cells can be harvested from the umbilical cord after delivery, with no harm to the baby. Some people donate the cord blood, and others store it.

This harvesting of stem cells can be expensive, but the advantages for future needs include:

  • the stem cells are easily accessible
  • less chance of transplanted tissue being rejected if it comes from the recipient’s own body

Research and scientific discovery

Stem cell research
Through stem-cell research, scientists hope to discover cures for diseases that are currently incurable.

Stem cells are useful not only as potential therapies but also for research purposes.

For example, scientists have found that switching a particular gene on or off can cause it to differentiate. Knowing this is helping them to investigate which genes and mutations cause which effects.

Armed with this knowledge, they may be able to discover what causes a wide range of illnesses and conditions, some of which do not yet have a cure.

Abnormal cell division and differentiation are responsible for conditions that include cancer and congenital disabilities that stem from birth. Knowing what causes the cells to divide in the wrong way could lead to a cure.

Stem cells can also help in the development of new drugs. Instead of testing drugs on human volunteers, scientists can assess how a drug affects normal, healthy tissue by testing it on tissue grown from stem cells.

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Video: What are stem cells?

Watch the video to find out more about stem cells.

Controversy

There has been some controversy about stem cell research. This mainly relates to work on embryonic stem cells.

Use of embryos for stem cells

The argument against using embryonic stem cells is that it destroys a human blastocyst, and the fertilized egg cannot develop into a person.

Nowadays, researchers are looking for ways to create or use stem cells that do not involve embryos.

Mixing humans and animals

Stem cell research often involves inserting human cells into animals, such as mice or rats. Some people argue that this could create an organism that is part human.

In some countries, it is illegal to produce embryonic stem cell lines. In the United States, scientists can create or work with embryonic stem cell lines, but it is illegal to use federal funds to research stem cell lines that were created after August 2001.

Stem cell therapy and FDA regulation

Some people are already offering “stem-cells therapies” for a range of purposes, such as anti-aging treatments.

However, most of these uses do not have approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some of them may be illegal, and some can be dangerous.

Anyone who is considering stem-cell treatment should check with the provider or with the FDA that the product has approval, and that it was made in a way that meets with FDA standards for safety and effectiveness.

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Medical News Today: What are 10 risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis?

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Medical News Today: What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term, progressive, and disabling autoimmune disease. It causes inflammation, swelling, and pain in and around the joints and other body organs.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually affects the hands and feet first, but it can occur in any joint. It usually involves the same joints on both sides of the body.

Common symptoms include stiff joints, especially upon getting up in the mornings or after sitting down for a while. Some people often experience fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell.

The Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network estimate that RA affects up to 1 percent of the world’s population and over 1.3 million people in America.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis knee
Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, redness, and swelling in the joints and a feeling of generally being unwell.

RA is an autoimmune disease. It is also a systemic disease, which means it affects the whole body.

It occurs when a person’s immune system mistakes the body’s healthy tissues for foreign invaders.

As the immune system responds, inflammation occurs in the target tissue or organ.

In the case of RA, this can be the joints, lungs, eyes, and heart.

Symptoms

Symptoms of RA include:

  • pain, swelling, and stiffness in more than one joint
  • symmetrical joint involvement
  • joint deformity
  • unsteadiness when walking
  • a general feeling of being unwell
  • fever
  • loss of function and mobility
  • weight loss
  • weakness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms usually affect the same joints on both sides of the body

Symptoms tend to come and go. During a remission, they can disappear, or they can be mild. However, during a flare, they can be severe.


Causes

Nobody knows what causes the immune system to malfunction.

Some people appear to have genetic factors that make it more likely. One theory is that bacteria or a virus triggers RA in people who have this genetic feature.

In RA, the immune system’s antibodies attack the synovium, which is the smooth lining of a joint. When this happens, pain and inflammation result.

Inflammation causes the synovium to thicken. Eventually, if left untreated, it can invade and destroy cartilage — the connective tissue that cushions the ends of the bones.

The tendons and ligaments that hold the joint together can also weaken and stretch. The joint eventually loses its shape and configuration. The damage can be severe.


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Risk factors

The CDC note that people with a higher risk of developing RA may include those who:

  • are aged 60 years or above
  • are female
  • have specific genetic traits
  • have never given birth
  • have obesity
  • smoke tobacco or whose parents smoked when they were children

Complications

People with RA have a higher risk of some other conditions, including:

People who have obesity with RA also have a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.

The joint damage that occurs with RA can make it difficult to perform daily activities. RA can also be unpredictable. Often, a person does not know when a flare will happen.

This uncertainty can lead to:

There is also a higher risk of developing the following conditions:

Carpal tunnel syndrome: This is a type of nerve damage that stems from compression and irritation of a nerve in the wrist. Symptoms include aching, numbness, and tingling in the fingers, thumb, and part of the hand.

Inflammation: This can affect the lungs, heart, blood vessels, eyes and other parts of the body.

Tendon rupture: Inflammation in the tendons can lead to rupture, especially on the backs of the fingers.

Cervical myelopathy: Dislocation of the joints in the neck or cervical spine can add pressure to the spinal cord. This can result in decreased mobility and pain on movement. As RA progresses, the risk of cervical myelopathy increases.

Vasculitis: Inflammation of the blood vessels can cause them to weaken, thicken, narrow and scar. This can affect blood flow to tissues and organ function may be affected.

Susceptibility to infections: There is a higher risk of developing colds, flu, pneumonia, and other diseases, especially if the person is taking immunosuppressant medications to manage RA. People with RA should ensure their vaccinations, such as flu jabs, are up-to-date.


Diagnosis

In its early stages, it may be difficult for a doctor to diagnose RA as it can resemble other conditions. However, early diagnosis and treatment are essential to slow the progression of the disease.

The CDC recommend diagnosis and an effective treatment strategy to begin within 6 months of the onset of symptoms.

A doctor will look at the person’s clinical signs of inflammation and ask how long they have been there and how severe the symptoms are. They will also carry out a physical examination to check for any swelling, or functional limitations, or deformity.

They may recommend some tests.

Blood tests

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate): This test assesses levels of inflammation in the body. It measures how fast red blood cells in a test tube separate from blood serum over a set period. If the red blood cells settle quickly as sediment, inflammation levels are high. This test is not specific for RA and is a useful test for other inflammatory conditions or infections.

C-reactive protein (CRP): The liver produces CRP. A higher CRP level suggests that there is inflammation in the body. This test is not specific for RA and CRP can occur in other inflammatory conditions or infection.

Anemia: Many people with RA also have anemia. Anemia happens when there are too few red blood cells in the blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues and organs of the body.

Rheumatoid factor: If an antibody known as rheumatoid factor is present in the blood, it can indicate that RA is present. However, not everyone with RA tests positive for this factor.

Imaging scans and X-rays

An X-ray or MRI of a joint can help a doctor identify what type of arthritis is present and monitor the progress of RA over time.

Diagnostic criteria

In 2010, the American College of Rheumatology recommended the following criteria for diagnosing RA:

  • swelling is present in at least one joint, and it does not have another cause
  • results from at least one blood test indicate the presence of RA
  • symptoms have been present for at least 6 weeks

Conditions with similar symptoms

The doctor will need to distinguish RA from other conditions with similar symptoms, such as:

  • gout
  • osteoarthritis
  • lupus
  • psoriatic arthritis

Treatment

Pain relief medication
Pain relief and other types of medication can reduce symptoms.

If a person receives a diagnosis of RA, the doctor may refer them to a specialist known as a rheumatologist, who will advise on treatment options.

There is currently no cure for RA, but treatment can help to:

  • reduce inflammation to the joints
  • relieve pain
  • minimize any loss of function caused by pain, joint damage, or deformity
  • slow down or prevent damage to the joints

Options include medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, and surgery.

Medications

Some drugs can help to relieve symptoms and slow disease progression.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These are available over-the-counter from pharmacies. Examples include Advil, Motrin, and Aleve. Long-term use and high doses can lead to side effects, such as bruising, gastric ulcers, high blood pressure, and kidney and liver problems.

Corticosteroids: These medications reduce pain and inflammation and may play a role in slowing down joint damage, but they cannot cure RA. If NSAIDs do not work, a doctor may inject a steroid into the joint. Relief is usually rapid, but the effect is variable. It can last a few weeks or months, depending on the severity of symptoms.

Corticosteroids can help with acute symptoms or short-term flare-ups. Long-term use of corticosteroids can have serious side effects. These include cataracts, osteoporosis, glaucoma, diabetes mellitus, and obesity.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs can slow the progression of the RA and prevent permanent damage to the joints and other tissues by interfering with the overactive immune system. A person usually takes a DMARD for life.

It is most effective if a person uses it in the early stages, but it can take from 4 to 6 months to fully experience the benefits.

Some people may have to try different types of DMARD before finding the most suitable one.

Examples include leflunomide (Arava), methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall), sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), minocycline (Dynacin, Minocin), and hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil).

Side effects can include liver damage and immune-related problems, such as bone marrow suppression, and a higher risk of severe lung infections.

Other types of immunosuppressants include cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune, Gengraf), azathioprine (Imuran, Azasan), and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan).

Tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors (TNF-alpha inhibitors)

The human body produces tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), an inflammatory substance.

TNF-alpha inhibitors prevent inflammation. They can reduce pain, morning stiffness, and swollen or tender joints. People usually notice an improvement 2 weeks after starting treatment.

Examples include (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade) and adalimumab (Humira).

Possible side effects include:

  • a higher risk of infection
  • blood disorders
  • congestive heart failure
  • demyelinating diseases, involving an erosion of the myelin sheath that normally protects nerve fibers
  • lymphoma

Occupational therapy

An occupational therapist can help the individual learn new and effective ways of carrying out daily tasks. This can minimize stress to painful joints.

For example, a person with painful fingers might learn to use a specially devised gripping and grabbing tool.

Surgery

If medication and physical therapy do not help, a doctor may recommend surgery to:

  • repair damaged joints
  • correct deformities
  • reduce pain

The following procedures are possible:

  • Arthroplasty: In a total joint replacement, the surgeon removes the damaged parts and inserts a metal and plastic prosthesis, or artificial joint.
  • Tendon repair: If tendons have loosened or ruptured around the joint, surgery may help restore them.
  • Synovectomy: This procedure involves removal of the synovium if it is inflamed and causing pain.
  • Arthrodesis: The surgeon will fuse a bone or joint to decrease pain and realign or stabilize the joint.


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Home remedies

A number of strategies can help a person to manage RA.

Rest

When a flare-up occurs, the person should rest as much as possible. Over-exerting swollen and painful joints can make the symptoms worse.

Exercise

During times of remission, when symptoms are mild, the individual should exercise regularly to boost their general health and mobility and to strengthen the muscles around the joint.

The best exercises are those that do not strain the joints, such as swimming.

Diet

Following a varied diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetable can help a person to feel better and maintain a healthy weight.

Applying heat or cold

Tense and painful muscles may benefit from the application of heat.

Try:

  • taking a 15-minute hot bath or shower
  • applying a hot pack or an electric heating pad, set at the lowest setting

Cold treatment can dull pain and reduce muscle spasms, but people with poor circulation or numbness should not use cold remedies.

Examples include:

  • cold packs or ice in a cloth, but never put ice directly on the skin
  • soaking the affected joint in cold water

Some might prefer to do both:

  1. Place the joints in warm water for a few minutes, then dip them in cold water for 1 minute.
  2. Repeat for about half an hour.
  3. Finish up with a warm soak.

Relaxation

Finding ways to relieve mental stress may help control pain. Examples include meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation.


Complementary therapies

Massage to relieve the pain of RA
Massage may be one way to relieve the pain of RA.

Some people with RA use the following, but there is little scientific evidence to confirm that they work:

Prevention

It may not be possible to prevent RA, but the CDC suggest the following:

Takeaway

RA is a painful and chronic condition that can cause joint damage and make it difficult for a person to carry out their daily tasks.

Anyone who experiences pain and swelling in two or more joints should see a doctor, as early treatment can reduce the risk of long-term problems.

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Medical News Today: What is health insurance?

Health insurance is a type of insurance coverage that covers the cost of an insured individual’s medical and surgical expenses.

Insurers use the term “provider” to describe a clinic, hospital, doctor, laboratory, healthcare practitioner, or pharmacy that treats an individual. The “insured” is the owner of the health insurance policy or the person with the health insurance coverage.

Depending on the type of health insurance coverage, either the insured pays costs out of pocket and receives reimbursement, or the insurer makes payments directly to the provider.

In countries without universal healthcare coverage, such as the United States, health insurance is commonly included in employer benefit packages.

In the U.S., the number of people with insurance decreased from 44 million in 2013 to fewer than 28 million in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The researchers put this down to recent changes in legislation.

A Commonwealth Fund 2011 report informed that one-fourth of all U.S. citizens of working age experienced a gap in health insurance coverage. Many people in the survey lost their health insurance when they either became unemployed or changed jobs.

The level of treatment in emergency departments varies significantly depending on what type of health insurance a person has.


Types

health insurance puzzle
Insurance can seem puzzling, but choosing the right product can be vital for your family’s health in the United States.

There are two main types of health insurance:

Private health insurance: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the U.S. healthcare system relies heavily on private health insurance. In the National Health Interview Survey, researchers found that 65.4 percent of people under the age of 65 years in the U.S. have a type of private health insurance coverage.

Public or government health insurance: In this type of insurance, the state subsidizes healthcare in exchange for a premium. Medicare, Medicaid, the Veteran’s Health Administration, and the Indian Health Service are examples of public health insurance in the U.S.

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Other types

People also define an insurer by the way they administer their plans and connect with healthcare providers.

Managed care plans: In this type of plan, the insurer will have contracts with a network of healthcare providers to give lower-cost medical care to their policyholders. There will be penalties and additional costs added to out-of-network hospitals and clinics, but they will provide some treatment.

The more expensive the policy, the more flexible it is likely to be with the network of hospitals.

Indemnity, or fee-for-service plans: A fee-for-service plan covers treatment equally among all healthcare providers, allowing the insured to choose their preferred place of treatment. The insurer will typically pay for at least 80 percent of costs on an indemnity plan, while the patient pays the remaining costs as a co-insurance.

Health maintenance organizations (HMOs): These are organizations that provide medical care directly to the insured. The policy will usually have a dedicated primary care physician that will coordinate all necessary care.

HMOs will normally only fund treatment that is referred by this GP and will have negotiated fees for each medical service to minimize costs. This is usually the cheapest type of plan.

Preferred provider organizations (PPOs): A PPO is similar to an indemnity plan, in that they allow the insured to visit any doctor they prefer.

The PPO also has a network of approved providers with which they have negotiated costs.

The insurer will pay less for treatment with out-of-network providers. However, people on a PPO plan can self-refer to specialists without having to visit a primary care physician.

Point-of-service (POS) plans: A POS plan functions as a mix of an HMO and PPO. The insured can choose between coordinating all treatment through a primary care physician, receiving treatment within the insurer’s provider network, or using non-network providers. The type of plan will dictate the progress of treatment.

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Why is the type of insurance plan important?

The type of plan dictates how an individual will approach getting the treatment they need and how much money they will need to pay on the day.

In 2003, the U.S. Congress introduced a new option, the Health Savings Account (HSA). It is a combination of an HMO, PPO, indemnity plan, and savings account with tax benefits. However, a policyholder must pair this type with an existing health plan that has a deductible of over $1,100 for individuals and $2,200 for families.

HSAs can top up coverage, extending existing plans to cover a wider range of treatments. If an HSA is paid for by an employer on behalf of their employees, the payments are tax-free. An individual can build up funds in the HSA while they are healthy and save for instances of poor health later in life.

However, people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, might not be able to save a large amount in their HSA as they regularly have to pay high medical costs for the management of their health concern.

These plans often carry a very high deductible, meaning that although premiums can be lower, people often end up paying the full expenses of any required medical treatment.

There is more overlap as plan types evolve. The distinctions between types of policy are becoming more and more blurred.

The majority of indemnity plans use managed care techniques to control costs and ensure that there are enough resources to pay for appropriate care. Similarly, many managed care plans have adopted some characteristics of fee-for-service plans.


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Legislation

health insurance app
Make sure you research the insurance legislation in your state.

In the U.S., having some degree of insurance is currently legally necessary as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) 2010. A person without health insurance has to pay a fine.

However, the Individual Mandate in the ACA has been removed from the legislation, meaning that insurance will no longer be a legal requirement in the U.S. as of 2019.

If the policy also covers the children in the family, a person is allowed to be on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26 years, even if they are:

  • married
  • living away from home
  • not financially dependent on their parents
  • eligible to be included on their employer’s cover

Insurance is regulated at a state level, meaning that buying a policy in one state is different from doing so in another.

While state legislation can affect the price of a policy, the important decisions about a person’s cover and reimbursements rest with the insurer. People should be sure to have their broker or customer services representative discuss the impact of any changing legislation on their particular policy.

Source Article from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323367.php

Medical News Today: Seafood rich in omega-3 may promote healthy aging

In our increasingly aging society, it is worth asking: what can we do to ensure that we don’t just live longer lives, but also healthier ones? New research suggests one possible answer — eat more seafood!
seafood
Seafood contains fatty acids that may help people age healthily.

A new study, led by Heidi Lai from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, MA, investigates the link between high consumption of omega-3-rich seafood and healthy aging.

Lai and colleagues define “healthy aging” as “meaningful lifespan without chronic diseases and with intact physical and mental function.”

As the researchers explain in their paper, the problem of healthy aging is increasingly important. Populations are aging rapidly across the globe and the rates of chronic disease along with them.

So, more and more research is looking into what constitutes healthy aging and what we can do to achieve it. In this regard, the studies on the link between omega-3 fatty acids and age-related chronic disease have been somewhat inconsistent.

For instance, some studies referenced by Lai and colleagues have found an inverse relation between omega-3 consumption and cardiovascular disease. However, others have found that omega-3 intake correlates with a higher incidence of prostate cancer.

Other studies have yielded “mixed or inconclusive” results when it comes to omega-3s and “cancer, diabetes, lung disease, severe chronic kidney disease, and cognitive and physical dysfunction.”

So, the researchers set out to clarify this potentially significant role that dietary omega-3 fatty acids play in the aging process. The scientists published their findings in the journal The BMJ.

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Studying omega-3s and healthy aging

The team examined the circulating blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids of 2,622 adults who were enrolled in the United States Cardiovascular Health Study.

At the beginning of this study in 1992, the participants were 74 years old, on average. Their blood levels of omega-3s were measured then, 6 years later, and 13 years later.

The types of omega-3s considered in the study were eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

The primary food source for the first three types of omega-3s is fish — such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines — and other seafood, while nuts, seeds, and plant oils contain ALA.

Lai and colleagues divided the participants into fifths, or quintiles, based on their blood levels of omega-3s.

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Risk of unhealthy aging 24 percent lower

Overall, by the end of the study period in 2015, 89 percent of the participants had experienced age-related chronic diseases or mental or physical dysfunction, whereas 11 percent aged healthily.

The analysis revealed that people in the highest seafood-derived DPA consumption quintile were 24 percent less likely to age unhealthily than those who consumed the least.

Moreover, participants in the top three DPA-consuming quintiles were 18-21 percent less likely to experience unhealthy aging.

Finally, seafood-derived DHA and ALA obtained from plants did not correlate with healthy aging. Lai and colleagues point out that the study is observational and cannot explain the mechanisms responsible for these associations.

However, they believe that omega-3s may help keep blood pressure and heart rate in check, as well as reduce inflammation. Lai and colleagues conclude:

These findings encourage the need for further investigations into plausible biological mechanisms and interventions related to [omega-3 fatty acids] for maintenance of healthy aging, and support guidelines for increased dietary consumption of fish among older adults.”

In an editorial that accompanies the article, professor Yeyi Zhu of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research in Oakland, CA, and her colleagues say that the new research makes “a valuable contribution” in the study of omega-3 fatty acids and aging.

However, they warn, “Epidemiologic associations cannot infer causality.” Therefore, write Prof. Zhu and her colleagues, “we caution against using these findings to inform public health policy or nutritional guidelines.”

Source Article from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323375.php

Medical News Today: Can a vitamin combo prolong your life?

Vitamins are nutrients that when synthesized or assimilated in the right quantities support our health and well-being. A new review suggests that a set of known and newly categorized vitamins can help prolong a person’s lifespan, and promote health well into old age.
wooden spoon with supplements
A series of crucial nutrients may be ‘longevity vitamins’ that help fend off disease and prolong our lives.

The review, recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by Dr. Bruce Ames, Senior scientist at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) in Oakland, CA.

This work analyzes the results of numerous studies conducted in Dr. Ames’s CHORI laboratory, as well as those carried out by researchers from other institutions.

In the published paper, Dr. Ames identifies a set of vitamins, which he calls “longevity vitamins.” He contextualizes the importance of these nutrients by suggesting that people can classify the proteins (or enzymes) that they need to stay healthy as either “survival proteins” or “longevity proteins.”

While all these nutrients are essential for well-being, they play different roles. The scientist explains that “survival proteins” support our basic processes for survival and reproduction, whereas “longevity proteins” play an additional role in protecting against further damage to the human body.

When nutrients are deficient, Dr. Ames says, the body tends to favor the production of “survival proteins,” which can lead to a decrease in “longevity proteins,” and thus to a heightened risk of disease.

“Longevity vitamins,” according to the researchers, are the nutrients which support the function of “longevity proteins,” and allow the human body to remain healthy, and live for an extended period.

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Over 30 vitamins sustain longevity

Dr. Ames explains that these key nutrients — which include vitamin K, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and selenium — contribute to the processes that keep the cells in our bodies healthy.

These nutrients play many roles in the body, including repairing DNA, maintaining cardiovascular health, and preventing cellular damage due to oxidative stress, the scientist argues.

“The prevention of the degenerative diseases of aging is a different science than curing disease: it will involve expertise in metabolism, nutrition, biochemistry, and genetic regulatory elements and polymorphisms,” he writes.

“This approach is critical for lowering medical costs. It has been estimated that the [European Union] would save 4 billion euros [$4.6 billion] from osteoporosis alone by utilizing vitamin D and calcium supplementation,” the researcher further notes.

In the current review, Dr. Ames argues that 30 known vitamins and essential minerals, taken at adequate doses, can help extend a person’s lifespan and ensure healthy aging.

To these, he adds 11 compounds, which, although not currently categorized as “vitamins,” Dr. Ames thinks fit in with the concept of “longevity vitamins” as described in his review.

These substances include taurine, ergothioneine, pyrroloquinoline quinone, queuine, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and astaxanthin.

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‘Diet is very important’

Previous studies conducted by Dr. Ames and his team found that individuals with chronic, low-level deficiencies of vitamin K, which is a constituent of 16 different enzymes, and the mineral selenium, which is a key component of 25 enzymes, have a higher risk of experiencing health problems, particularly cardiovascular issues.

Vitamin K is crucial to blood coagulation. When levels of this vitamin are low, the body is unable to produce enough of the enzymes that help keep the arteries clear, allowing blood to flow smoothly.

Considering these observations and the findings of the review, Dr. Ames urges people to be more mindful about following a balanced, healthful diet.

Diet is very important for our long-term health, and this theoretical framework just reinforces that you should try to do what your mother told you: eat your veggies, eat your fruit, give up sugary soft drinks and empty carbohydrates.”

Dr. Bruce Ames

In the future, the researchers believe that specialists might identify even more “longevity vitamins.” However, discovering these nutrients requires long periods of observation because their absence from the system does not necessarily cause immediate, visible effects.

Instead, the impact of “longevity vitamin” deficiencies causes disruptions in a person’s system over time.

For now, as Dr. Ames notes: “[The current review] may be a theoretical paper, but I hope it can add a few years to everyone’s lives.”

Source Article from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323373.php

Medical News Today: Everything you need to know about thyroid gland removal

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits in the lower part of the front of the neck. Thyroid gland removal is a surgical procedure that involves removing part or all of the thyroid.

The thyroid plays an important part in the body’s functions. It produces hormones that circulate throughout the body, regulating a person’s temperature and metabolism.

It also supports the heart and digestive system and helps maintain muscle control and bone health.

A doctor may recommend thyroid gland removal for many reasons. In this article, learn about these reasons and what to expect from the procedure.

Uses

Surgeons performing thyroid removal surgery in operating theatre
A thyroid nodule may require surgical removal.

A person is most likely to undergo thyroid removal surgery if:

  • A nodule on the gland is cancerous or may become cancerous. Thyroid nodules are usually benign, but a doctor will take a biopsy to check.
  • A thyroid nodule or the whole gland is enlarged and causing dangerous or bothersome symptoms, such as trouble swallowing, difficulty breathing, or changes to the voice.
  • A person has an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) that does not respond to other treatments. Graves’ disease or toxicity in one or more nodules can cause hyperthyroidism.


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Types

There are a few types of thyroid removal surgery. A doctor will recommend a certain type, after considering a range of factors, including the condition of the thyroid and a person’s overall health.

Types of thyroid removal surgery include:

  • Hemithyroidectomy, or lobectomy. This involves removing one lobe (or half) of the thyroid. A doctor may recommend this surgery if a nodule or low-risk thyroid cancer is limited to one side of the thyroid.
  • Isthmusectomy. This surgery removes the isthmus, a piece of tissue that connects the two lobes of the thyroid. Small tumors on the isthmus may only require an isthmusectomy.
  • Total thyroidectomy. This involves removing the entire thyroid gland. Some cases of thyroid cancer, bilateral thyroid nodules, and Graves’ disease require a total thyroidectomy.

Procedure

A doctor will give a person instructions about how to prepare for thyroid removal surgery. This usually involves not eating or drinking for a set period before the procedure.

Thyroid removal surgeries take place under general anesthesia, so a person will be asleep and will not feel any pain.

Most of the time, the surgeon will begin by making a small incision in the neck, taking care to avoid the vocal cords and windpipe. The surgery will last about 2 hours.

Afterward, the person will wake up from the anesthesia and recover in the hospital. Hospital staff will monitor them closely for any breathing difficulties or bleeding.

A person can often go home on the same day as the surgery. Otherwise, the doctor may ask them to stay overnight for monitoring.


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Risks and side effects

A doctor may prescribe hormone replacement medication.
A doctor may prescribe hormone replacement medication after thyroid removal surgery.

When an experienced surgeon performs thyroid removal surgery, the risk of serious complications is low. However, all surgeries involve some risks.

Risks of thyroid removal include:

  • infection
  • bleeding, which occurs in the first few hours after surgery
  • injury to the nerves that control the voice box
  • injury to a parathyroid gland

The four parathyroid glands help control the amount of calcium in the blood.

After total thyroidectomy, a doctor will monitor parathyroid hormone and calcium levels to detect any need for calcium or vitamin D supplementation. Symptoms of low blood calcium include numbness and tingling sensations or muscle cramps.

Another potential complication is that a person will need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication.

If the surgeon removes the entire thyroid, a person will need lifelong hormone replacement. This involves taking levothyroxine (Synthroid), a synthetic version of the thyroid hormone. The doctor will calculate the dosage based on the person’s weight.

If the surgeon removes only part of the thyroid, there is an 80 percent chance that the remainder of the gland will start producing enough hormone, and a person will not need replacement medication.

However, if the thyroid gland was underactive (hypothyroidism), and a person was already taking thyroid hormone replacement, they will likely need to continue taking it after surgery.

Recovery

Most people can return to their regular activities the day after thyroid removal surgery. Limit participation in physical activities or sports for a few days or weeks, or until a doctor says it is safe to start again.

A person will likely have a sore throat for a few days. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can usually reduce the pain. If the pain is severe, a doctor might prescribe a stronger pain reliever.

After surgery, the doctor may monitor a person’s thyroid hormone and calcium levels to check for hypothyroidism or hypoparathyroidism.

A person should notify their doctor if they experience hoarseness in their voice or difficulty breathing.


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Outlook

Thyroid removal surgery can treat a range of problems. A person may undergo the procedure if they have nodules or goiters on their thyroid, toxic nodules, Graves’ disease, or thyroid cancer.

The risk of complications is low, but a person may need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication for the rest of their life.

A doctor will provide detailed instructions on how to prepare for the surgery and support a smooth recovery.

Source Article from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323369.php

Medical News Today: How to use cromolyn sodium to treat allergies

Cromolyn sodium is an over-the-counter medication for treating nasal allergies. It comes as a nasal solution and works best when a person uses it before they come into contact with the substance that triggers their allergy.

Allergic reactions occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly responds to harmless substances known as allergens.

Allergies that affect the nose and nasal passages are known as allergic rhinitis. Allergens that can trigger these allergies include pollen, dust, mold, and pet dander. Symptoms can include sneezing, blocked or runny nose, and itching.

In this article, we explain how cromolyn sodium works and how to use it. We also look at the possible side effects of cromolyn sodium and alternative options for treating nasal allergies.

How does cromolyn sodium treat allergies?

Cromolyn sodium nasal spray being held up by pharmacist in front of shelf of medication
Cromolyn sodium can treat the symptoms of certain allergies.

The immune system protects the body from harmful germs, such as bacteria and viruses. But the immune system sometimes mistakenly attacks a harmless substance, or allergen. This response is known as an allergic reaction.

Allergies are common, affecting more than 50 million people in the United States.

Symptoms of allergic reaction often relate to the immune system producing an antibody called immunoglobulin, or IgE. The allergic reaction happens when IgE causes white blood cells known as mast cells to release inflammatory chemicals.

One of these chemicals is histamine, which causes the body’s airways and blood vessels to contract and stimulates the production of excess mucus.

Cromolyn sodium is a standard treatment for managing allergy symptoms and is known as a mast cell stabilizer.

As a mast cell stabilizer, cromolyn sodium reduces the amount of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals that the mast cells produce. This reduction in histamines helps to control allergy symptoms.

Cromolyn sodium is different from antihistamine medications, which reduce the action of histamines once the mast cells have produced them.

Cromolyn sodium is typically available as an over-the-counter (OTC) nasal solution, under the brand name Nasalcrom.

A person can use this medication for treating allergies that affect the nose, such as hay fever and dust or pet allergies. It relieves symptoms, such as sneezing, itching, and blocked or runny nose.


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How to use cromolyn sodium

Before using cromolyn sodium, people should speak to a doctor or pharmacist to check that its use is appropriate.

A person should always inform a healthcare professional of any other treatments they are taking, to prevent any harmful drug interactions.

Cromolyn sodium comes as a solution in a bottle with a special nasal applicator. As with any medication, it is essential to read the instructions on the packaging, carefully, before use.

To use cromolyn sodium:

  1. Clear the nose as much as possible
  2. Place the applicator directly into the nostril
  3. Squeeze the bottle once while inhaling through the nose
  4. Repeat this process for the other nostril

While cromolyn sodium can help treat allergic reactions, it works best when a person uses it before coming into contact with a potential allergen. For example, a person with hay fever should begin using it just before the start of pollen season.

An individual should use cromolyn sodium three to six times a day to prevent their allergy symptoms. For best results, use the inhaler consistently, throughout the day.


Side effects

Man looking at label of nasal spray
People should consult a doctor if they need advice on the benefits and risks of cromolyn sodium.

Cromolyn sodium is a safe and effective medication, but it can produce side effects in some people. These may include:

  • nasal irritation
  • sneezing
  • headache
  • cough
  • muscle aches
  • stomach pain

Speak to a doctor or pharmacist for severe or persistent side effects.

Consult a doctor immediately for any breathing difficulties, such as wheezing, that occur after use of cromolyn sodium.

A doctor or other healthcare professional can advise on adjusting the dosage or alternative medications.


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Alternative medications

A range of other medications can help treat symptoms of allergies, including:

Antihistamines

While cromolyn sodium limits the release of histamines in the body, antihistamines block the effect of the histamines the body may have already produced.

Antihistamines are highly effective and safe treatment options for allergies. They are available as both tablets and nasal sprays. Antihistamines are available for purchase online.

Steroid nasal sprays

Steroid nasal sprays can help relieve allergy symptoms by reducing inflammation and swelling in the nasal pathways. They are slower than antihistamines to take action, but their effects last longer.

Steroid nasal sprays are available for purchase over the counter or online.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment option for people with certain allergies, such as hay fever or eye allergies. It works by decreasing a person’s sensitivity to an allergen, such as pollen.

Over several months, a therapist injects the person with a gradually increasing amount of the allergen. If the immunotherapy successfully reduces their symptoms, maintenance treatment may continue for up to 3 to 5 years.


Takeaway

Cromolyn sodium is a standard treatment for managing allergies that cause nasal symptoms, such as hay fever and pet and dust allergies. This medication works by reducing the histamines the body produces.

Cromolyn sodium is widely available over the counter in pharmacies or online and comes as a nasal solution. It is most effective when a person uses it before exposure to an allergen.

Although cromolyn sodium is safe, it can cause side effects in some people. Other allergy medications available to try include antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, and immunotherapy.

Source Article from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323372.php

Medical News Today: Alzheimer’s: These psychiatric symptoms may be an early sign

By the time that the symptoms of dementia emerge in Alzheimer’s disease, tissue damage is well underway in the brain. Now, scientists propose that specific psychiatric symptoms – such as depression, anxiety, sleep disruption, and loss of appetite – may serve as markers of very early brain changes in Alzheimer’s.
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Depression and anxiety may be signs of early-stage Alzheimer’s.

Working with the Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, investigators at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) studied results of postmortem brain tissue tests and compared them with psychiatric symptoms obtained from detailed interviews conducted with people who knew the deceased well, such as relatives and carers.

They suggest that their study — a paper on which now features in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease — reveals that psychiatric symptoms are not the cause of Alzheimer’s, but more likely early indicators of the disease.

Such markers could help doctors to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease much earlier and thus increase opportunities for slowing its progress, they note.

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Better understanding of Alzheimer’s

The authors also propose that the findings could alter our understanding of how the biology of Alzheimer’s leads to psychiatric symptoms in people who develop the disease.

“The discovery,” says senior study author Dr. Lea T. Grinberg, who is a principal investigator and associate professor in neurology at UCSF, “that the biological basis for these symptoms is the early Alzheimer’s pathology itself was quite surprising.”

“It suggests these people with neuropsychiatric symptoms are not at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease — they already have it,” she explains.

There are around 5.7 million people with Alzheimer’s disease living in the United States. This figure is likely to reach almost 14 million by 2050.

If doctors could diagnose the disease more accurately, and earlier, it could save the nation trillions of dollars in care and medical costs.

Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia and has some specific biological features. The main hallmarks are two types of abnormal proteins found inside and around the brain cells in people who have died with the disease.

The abnormal proteins found inside the brain cells are known as tau tangles and the ones found between the cells are called beta-amyloid plaques.

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Brain samples from a large cohort

For their study, Dr. Grinberg and colleagues used brain tissue samples from the BBAS. The BBAS is a large and unique bank that stores the brain tissue that scientists retrieve during postmortems in São Paulo, where an autopsy follows every death.

This allowed them to study autopsied brain tissue from 1,092 adults aged over 50 who died between 2004 and 2014 and who were representative of São Paulo’s general population.

In addition, the BBAS records included data from “postmortem interviews with reliable informants” on the psychiatric symptoms and mental capacity of the deceased.

The team excluded 637 brain samples that showed abnormalities that were not related to Alzheimer’s disease. This left 455 samples from people who either had signs of Alzheimer’s disease, such as beta-amyloid plaques and tau tangles, or no signs of neurodegeneration.

To assess the amount of Alzheimer-related neurodegeneration, researchers evaluated each sample using a method called “Braak staging” to measure tau tangle burden, and a “CERAD neuropathology score,” to measure beta-amyloid burden.

The investigators evaluated psychiatric symptoms using a “12-item neuropsychiatric inventory” and cognitive status using a tool called the “CDR-SOB score.”

They then analyzed the psychiatric and cognitive evaluations against the measures of Alzheimer-related neurodegeneration for all of the 455 brains.

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Improved diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

The results showed significant links between psychiatric and cognitive measures and patterns of tau tangle burden, but no links to beta-amyloid burden.

Symptoms of anxiety, agitation, depression, sleep disruption, and appetite changes, for example, had links to early-stage Alzheimer’s in which tau tangles appear in the brain stem. The link was present even though the individuals concerned had shown no noticeable changes in memory capacity before they died.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, tau tangles start to build up in the outer cortex of the brain. Samples from individuals in which there were signs that this process had begun had links to a higher risk of agitation.

Also, samples from individuals in which tau tangles had already progressed to the outer cortex, were linked to dementia symptoms that are typical of Alzheimer’s disease, such as a decline in memory and thinking ability and delusions.

The team suggests that the findings could impact trials for drugs that target early Alzheimer’s disease in which there is a need for measurable outcomes in addition to cognitive decline.

The results could also be added to screening — alongside brain scans and blood tests — for improving the diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s.

If we could use this new knowledge to find a way to reduce the burden of these conditions in aging adults, it would be absolutely huge.”

Dr. Lea T. Grinberg

Source Article from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323366.php