Medical News Today: What are the best birth control pills for PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormone disorder that causes numerous symptoms, including infertility. Hormonal birth control that contains both estrogen and progestin can help rebalance the hormones, alleviating many of the symptoms.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. The endocrine system consists of glands that secrete and regulate hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen.

Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance that causes unusually high levels of male sex hormones. This imbalance changes the way the ovaries function and can cause them to develop many small cysts.

Women with PCOS may also not ovulate or do so infrequently. PCOS is a leading cause of infertility.

What are the symptoms?

various birth control pills
Hormonal birth control pills are safe but they may present some risks.

Some of the symptoms of PCOS include:

Symptoms vary and may be mild or so severe that they disrupt a woman’s life.

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How birth control can affect PCOS

With treatment, the symptoms can be managed and may disappear.

Hormonal birth control is considered to be combination birth control when it contains two hormones. These hormones are usually estrogen, and a synthetic form of progesterone called progestin.

These combination pills can also regulate some hormonal imbalances, by increasing a woman’s estrogen levels and decreasing the amount of testosterone her body produces.

Due to combination birth control pills containing two hormones that can adjust hormone issues, they are the preferred choice for many prescribing doctors.

However, not all women can safely take combination pills. Hormonal birth control pills are safe, but they do present some risks including:

  • A greater risk of diabetes: This is a consideration for women with PCOS who are already at risk for diabetes.
  • A risk of cardiovascular issues: Including dangerous blood clots in the legs. Women with PCOS who are obese may have an elevated risk. If they smoke, the risk rises.
  • Weight gain: Some evidence suggests that birth control pills can cause weight gain, but other studies disagree. Women who are already obese may be reluctant to take birth control pills. Weight gain can make the symptoms of PCOS worse.

For some women, a pill known as the minipill may be a better choice. Minipills contain just one hormone, progestin. They are less likely to cause side effects than combination pills. However, when they do cause side effects, these can be the same.

Best birth control pills for PCOS

Combination birth control pills all work the same way. They prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg and so prevent pregnancy. They also thicken the mucus of the cervix. If the ovaries were to release an egg, this thickened mucus could prevent pregnancy.

The same hormones that prevent ovulation can also keep male hormone levels low and raise female hormone levels. Combination pills for PCOS include:

Lady being handed birth control pills by a pharmacist
The hormones that prevent ovulation in combination birth control pills, may also raise female hormone levels.
  • Alesse
  • April
  • Aranelle
  • Aviane
  • Enpresse
  • Estrostep
  • Lessina
  • Levlen
  • Levlite
  • Levora
  • Loestrin
  • Mircette
  • Natazia
  • Nordette
  • Lo/Orval
  • Ortho-Novum
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • Yasmin
  • Yaz

Some pills, such as Loestrin, have lower estrogen levels. These low estrogen levels can reduce the severity of some side effects but may also be less effective against symptoms of PCOS.

Someone with PCOS should talk to a doctor about the right amount of estrogen based on their symptoms and other risk factors.

Pills for painful periods

Women who get some relief from combination pills but who continue to experience painful or heavy periods may wish to switch to a pill that causes them to be less frequent.

The following pills can make a woman have less frequent periods:

  • Lybrel
  • Seasonique
  • Seasonale


Women who develop unpleasant side effects from taking a combination pill may wish to switch to a minipill. In some cases, doctors recommend that women try a minipill first.

Women who smoke, who have a history of cardiovascular problems, who are very overweight, or who are diabetic may have fewer side effects with a progestin-only pill.

Combination and progestin-only pills are highly effective at preventing pregnancy. At typical usage rates, which are the imperfect way most women use these pills, they are about 91 percent effective.

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Non-pill options for PCOS

copper iud device used for birth control
A non-pill alternative to birth control may be an intrauterine device (IUD).

Birth control pills are not for everyone, as some women find it inconvenient to take a pill every day. Non-pill combination options that blend progestin with estrogen tend to be the most effective. Progestin-only options may pose fewer risks and side effects.

The non-pill alternatives to birth control for PCOS include:

  • Birth control injection: This injects the hormone progestin into a woman’s body every three months. At typical usage rates, it is 94 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
  • Birth control patch: This is applied to the skin and releases both estrogen and progestin into the bloodstream. With typical usage, it is about 91 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. In women over 98 pounds, it may be less effective.
  • Birth control ring: This is worn inside the vagina, where it releases progestin and estrogen. It is 91 percent effective with typical use.
  • Birth control implant: This is a small rod that a doctor inserts under the skin. It releases progestin only and can prevent pregnancy for three years or longer. At typical usage, it is more than 99 percent effective.
  • Intrauterine device (IUD): This device is inserted into the uterus by a doctor and releases the hormone progestin. It is more than 99 percent effective with typical use. Another IUD contains copper only and does not release hormones or help with symptoms of PCOS.

Non-hormonal birth control options, such as condoms, natural family planning, or diaphragms, will not help with symptoms of PCOS. Also, women who want to become pregnant must try another type of treatment.


Hormonal birth control can help with PCOS symptoms, but it is not the only option. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and exercising more, may help.

Some women also try supplements or special diets. Some other drugs, such as Metformin, may help when birth control does not work.

And for women trying to become pregnant, the medication Clomid can encourage the body to ovulate.

Women with PCOS should talk to their doctors about their symptoms, and their treatment aims to arrive at a comprehensive treatment strategy. A woman can ask a doctor to refer her to a specialist for further advice.

Birth control can be a part of a strategy for dealing with PCOS, but it does not have to be the only option.

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Medical News Today: ‘Good’ cholesterol not so good at preventing heart disease

cholesterol sign
The precise interplay between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ kinds of cholesterol, as well as their impact on heart disease, have yet to be unraveled.
It is a widely held belief that we should keep levels of the “bad” cholesterol in check, while “good” cholesterol should be high in order to protect against heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. But new research challenges this belief.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol “is ‘good’ cholesterol,” write the American Heart Association (AHA). “Think of it as the ‘healthy’ cholesterol, so higher levels are better,” they add.

In light of this widely accepted belief, an increasing number of studies have been trying out various therapeutic ways to increase HDL cholesterol levels.

The hope has also been that testing such different therapies may also shed some light on the mechanisms by which HDL seemingly prevents heart disease. Such mechanisms are still unclear, as most of the belief that HDL protects against heart disease rests on observational evidence.

One such therapeutic strategy has been to block the activity of a protein called cholesterol ester transfer protein (CETP).

But now a new study, published in the journal JAMA Cardiology, shows that raising levels of the so-called good cholesterol by blocking this protein does not do much to protect against heart disease.

The research was largely genetic — analyzing the genetic variants of more than 150,000 adults in China — and it was led by a team from University of Oxford in the United Kingdom in collaboration with scientists at the Peking University and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, both in Beijing, China.

The lead author of the paper is Dr. Iona Millwood, from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford.

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Studying the effect of blocking CETP

The CETP protein is tasked with transferring HDL cholesterol to certain lipoproteins in exchange for triglycerides, which are a type of fat found in the blood.

As Dr. Millwood and her colleagues explain, certain genetic variants can have the same effect on the CETP protein as a drug would.

Therefore, the team analyzed the CETP-altering genetic variants of 151,217 individuals in order to evaluate the potential benefits and risks of using a CETP-inhibiting treatment.

The participants were clinically followed for more than 10 years. By the end of this period, more than 5,700 of them had developed coronary heart disease, and more than 20,000 had had a stroke.

Dr. Millwood and colleagues found that a higher number of CETP genetic variants did increase levels of HDL cholesterol, but it did not lower the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

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Additionally, the research did not find any effect on the risk of atherosclerosis or other diseases, such as diabetes and kidney disease. The study’s lead author summarizes the findings.

Our research has helped clarify the role of different types of cholesterol, and suggests that raising levels of HDL [cholesterol] by blocking CETP activity, without also lowering LDL [cholesterol], does not confer any major benefits for cardiovascular disease.”

Dr. Iona Millwood

Study co-author Zhengming Chen, a professor at the University of Oxford, adds, “This study demonstrates the value of large prospective biobank studies with genetic data linked to health records, carried out in diverse global populations, to predict the potential benefits or harms of new drug treatments.”

The researchers are planning to use the same genetic approach to elucidate the potential effects of other drug targets.

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Medical News Today: Why do colds and flu strike in winter?

woman with a cold
Most of us get at least two colds per year, but why?
The cold and flu season is starting to rear its ugly head and we can’t seem to get away from the coughing and sneezing. But why are we prone to get the sniffles during winter?

Viral infections that cause the common cold or the flu are a nuisance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Common colds are the main reason that children miss school and adults miss work” each year.

While most colds tend to go away by themselves, every year, the flu kills an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people worldwide.

So, what do scientists know about how plummeting temperatures allow these viruses to spread like wildfire?

Common cold vs. flu

First, we need to distinguish between the common cold and the flu, because the viruses that cause these do not necessarily behave in the same way.

Most of the time, the common cold manifests with a trilogy of symptoms: sore throat, blocked nose, and cough. There are more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold, but rhinoviruses are by the far the most common culprits.

Interestingly, around a quarter of people infected with a common cold virus are lucky enough not to experience any symptoms at all.

The flu is caused by the influenza virus, of which there are three types: influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C. Common colds and flu share many symptoms, but an infection with influenza often also manifests with a high temperature, aching, and cold sweats or shivers — a good way to tell the two apart.

So, now that we know the difference between the common cold and the flu, let’s look at when we tend to fall prey to these viruses.

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Seasonal patterns

The CDC monitor flu activity closely. Influenza can occur at any time of year, but most cases follow a relatively predictable seasonal pattern.

The first signs of influenza activity usually start around October, according to the CDC, and often peak at the height of winter. But some years, flu outbreaks can stick around and last until May.

The peak month for flu activity in the seasons spanning 1982–1983 to 2015–2016 was February, followed by December, March, and January.

Other temperate locations across the globe see similar patterns, with cold temperatures and low humidity cited as the prime factors, a 2013 analysis showed. The same can’t be said for tropical areas, however.

There, you might see outbreaks during rainy, humid months, or relatively consistent levels of flu cases all year round.

If this seems counterintuitive to you, you are not alone. While influenza data do support such a link, scientists don’t fully understand how viruses are able to exert their maximum damage at both low and high temperature and humidity extremes.

There are several theories, however, ranging from the cold affecting how viruses behave and how well our immune system copes with infections, to more time spent in crowded places and less exposure to sunlight.

Cold air affects our first line of defense

Common cold and flu viruses try to gain entry into our bodies through our noses. Luckily, our nasal lining has sophisticated defense mechanisms against these microbial intruders.

Our noses constantly secret mucus. Viruses become trapped in the sticky snot, which is perpetually moved by tiny hairs called cilia that line our nasal passages. We swallow the whole lot and our stomach acids neutralize the microbes.

But cold air cools the nasal passage and slows down mucus clearance. Viruses can now stick around for longer, trying to dig through the snot to break into our body.

Once a virus has penetrated this defense mechanism, the immune system takes control of fighting off the intruder. Phagocytes, which are specialized immune cells, engulf and digest viruses. But cold air has also been linked to a decrease in this activity.

Rhinoviruses actually prefer colder temperatures, making it difficult not to succumb to the common cold once the thermometer plummets. At a normal body temperature, these viruses are more likely to commit cell suicide, or apoptosis, or to encounter enzymes that make short work of them, a 2016 study showed.

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Vitamin D and ‘spending time indoors’ myths

During winter, levels of ultaviolet radiation are much lower than in summer. This has a direct effect on how much vitamin D our bodies can make. Vitamin D has been shown to be involved in making an antimicrobial molecule, which has been shown to limit how well the influenza virus can replicate in laboratory studies.

Consequently, some believe that taking vitamin D supplements during the winter months can keep flu at bay. The findings of a clinical trial published in 2010 showed that school children who took vitamin D-3 daily had a reduced risk of developing influenza A flu infection.

However, the results of a further clinical trial — published earlier this year — found that high levels of vitamin D supplementation had no effect. So, the jury is still out on the effects of vitamin D.

Another reason commonly cited to contribute to cold and flu infections in the fall and winter months is that we spend more time indoors once the weather is less hospitable.

This is thought to have two effects: crowded spaces help viruses to spread from person to person and central heating causes a drop in air humidity, which — as we’ve already seen — is linked to influenza outbreaks.

However, many of us live our lives in crowded spaces all year round, and in isolation, this theory cannot explain flu rates. Instead, some scientists believe that temperature, humidity, travel, and crowding all contribute to the overall risk of virus transmission.

With many people scheduled to travel over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, we predict that the sniffles will be making the rounds in the aftermath of the festivities.

But is there anything that you can do to protect yourself?

How to stave off viruses and treat symptoms

Your chances of catching a cold this winter are very high. In fact, the CDC estimate that adults have two to three colds each year.

The best way to protect yourself is by washing your hands with soap and water frequently, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and staying away from people who are already infected.

These rules also apply to influenza. The CDC recommend a yearly flu shot as the best way of preventing infection.

However, should you fall prey to a winter virus, here are eight home remedies to consider to help ease your symptoms.

You should always contact your doctor if you have a high temperature that doesn’t go away, your symptoms persist, get worse, or are unusual, or if you have any chest pain.

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Medical News Today: Chronic or persistent A-fib: What you need to know

Atrial fibrillation is a condition in which the upper two chambers of the heart beat quickly and irregularly. Chronic atrial fibrillation is a term that has long been used to describe the condition in people who experience long-term symptoms.

However, according to newer guidelines, chronic atrial fibrillation (A-fib) may also be called long-standing, persistent A-fib.

Chronic A-fib is usually diagnosed once a person has had symptoms lasting for longer than 12 months. Episodes of A-fib symptoms may come and go over the course of this time.


People with chronic A-fib might not have any symptoms at all. Other people may experience some combination of the following symptoms:

model of heart with ecg graph
Chronic atrial fibrillation, which may also be called long-standing, persistent A-fib, lasts longer than 12 months.
  • fatigue
  • fluttering feeling in chest
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • palpitations
  • chest pain
  • anxiety
  • shortness of breath
  • general weakness
  • fainting

Anyone who experiences these symptoms for the first time should go immediately to the emergency room. These symptoms can be signs of another cardiac problem, including a heart attack.

Additionally, anyone diagnosed with chronic A-fib who notices a change in their symptoms should also seek immediate medical attention.

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Risk factors

Anyone can develop chronic A-fib, even people who are otherwise healthy. However, several factors may put some people at higher risk than others for developing chronic A-fib.

These risk factors include:

  • being over age 60
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • history of heart attack
  • lung disease
  • thyroid problems
  • previous open heart surgery
  • untreated atrial flutter
  • problems with the structure of the heart
  • excess alcohol consumption
  • coronary artery disease
  • inflammation around the heart
  • cardiomyopathy
  • sick sinus syndrome
  • a family history of atrial fibrillation
  • other serious illnesses or infections


A-Fib can be difficult to diagnose because many people do not experience any symptoms. For these people, A-fib is often diagnosed during a routine physical or a checkup for another problem.

However, some people with symptoms should see a doctor for a diagnosis. In either situation, a doctor will likely ask about the person’s medical history and order a series of tests, including:

man wearing a holter monitor
A Holter monitor may be used to record the heart’s electrical activity over a period of time.
  • electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • a Holter monitor
  • mobile cardiac monitoring
  • event monitor
  • echocardiogram
  • computed tomography (CT) scan
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

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Treatment of chronic A-fib aims to minimize the risk of blood clots and return the heart to a normal rhythm.

There are many treatment options for chronic A-fib, including:

  • lifestyle changes
  • medications
  • pacemakers or similar electronics
  • procedures to reset the heart’s rhythm
  • surgery
  • ablation

A person with chronic A-fib should make lifestyle changes to ensure that they are living a heart-healthy life. Individuals should follow a diet that is good for their heart and do the recommended amount of exercise.

People with chronic A-fib may have to reduce their alcohol and caffeine intake or quit smoking as well.

Doctors typically recommend medications along with lifestyle changes to help manage the risks and symptoms of chronic A-fib. Commonly prescribed medications for chronic A-fib include the following:

  • beta blockers or calcium channel blockers to slow an abnormally fast heart rate
  • antiarrhythmics to restore the heart rate to normal
  • blood thinners to reduce the risk of blood clots
  • medications to treat related conditions, such as high blood pressure or thyroid problems

It may take some trial and error to find the right combination of medications to manage chronic A-fib. Some drugs, such as antiarrhythmics, can have serious side effects and people should only begin taking these drugs under close supervision in a hospital.

For some people, medication may not improve their symptoms entirely, so they may need an electronic device to help manage the condition. These devices regulate the heart by delivering a controlled shock to the heart when the rhythm needs resetting.

These devices include pacemakers and implanted cardioverter defibrillators. Most often, a doctor will insert these devices into a person’s chest.

Occasionally, a doctor may recommend a procedure to reset the person’s heart rhythm using a cardioversion or a catheter ablation.

During a catheter ablation, a doctor will make a small incision in the groin or arm and slide a straw-sized tube through a blood vessel until it reaches the heart. They will then guide thin wires called electrode catheters through the tube into the heart.

The doctor will place the electrode where the abnormal cells are located and administer painless radiofrequency energy. This destroys the cells that were causing the irregular rhythm.

During a cardioversion, a brief electric shock resets the abnormal rhythm back to a normal rhythm.


In situations where A-fib is linked to another illness, treating the underlying condition should stop the A-fib.

It is not always possible to prevent A-fib, but there are steps a person can take to stay healthy and reduce the risk of developing the condition.

These steps include:

mans hand crushing cigarettes
Quitting smoking can help prevent A-fib.
  • exercising regularly
  • controlling blood sugar levels
  • eating a diet rich in omega3s, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables
  • avoiding trans and saturated fats
  • quitting smoking
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • managing stress and anxiety
  • controlling blood pressure
  • avoiding excess caffeine

People who want to start to make positive changes in their lifestyle may consider talking to a doctor or dietitian. Often, they can help create a general health plan help a person reach their goals safely.

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Medical News Today: Type 1 diabetes: Could modified blood stem cells lead to a cure?

finger prick with blood
Scientists may have devised a way to reverse type 1 diabetes.
Increasing levels of a certain protein in blood stem cells so that the immune system stops attacking insulin cells in the pancreas could be a way to halt type 1 diabetes, according to a new study reported in Science Translational Medicine.

Researchers led by those at Harvard Medical School’s Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts found that they could reverse hyperglycemia in diabetic mice by modifying their defective blood stem cells to increase production of a protein called PD-L1.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin. Without sufficient insulin, the body cannot convert blood sugar, or glucose, into energy for cells, with the result that it builds up in the bloodstream.

Over time, high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, leads to serious complications such as vision problems and damage to blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys.

Immune system attacks beta cells

Around 5 percent of the 23.1 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the United States have type 1 diabetes.

The body produces insulin in the pancreas, which is an organ that sits just behind the stomach. It contains insulin-producing beta cells that normally sense glucose levels in the blood and release just the right amount of insulin to keep sugar levels normal.

In type 1 diabetes, a fault in the immune system makes inflammatory T cells — which usually react to “foreign” material — attack beta cells in the pancreas. Nobody knows exactly how this comes about, but scientists suspect that a virus, or some other trigger in the environment, sets it off in people with certain inherited genes.

The “holy grail” of scientists seeking a cure for type 1 diabetes is to find a way to prevent or stop the immune attack on the beta cells.

Several approaches have been tried, including “cytostatic” drugs to halt cell activity, vaccines that try to alter the immune response, and treatments that use stem cells taken from umbilical cords.

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‘Defective blood stem cells’

One approach that has shown more promise is the “autologous bone-marrow transplant,” which tries to “reboot” a person’s immune system using their own blood-forming stem cells. However, even this method has not proven to be as effective as doctors had hoped it would be.

Now, in the new study, the researchers — who were led by senior investigator Paolo Fiorina, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School’s Boston Children’s Hospital — might have discovered why treatments that use the person’s own blood stem cells may not always work.

“We found that in diabetes,” explains Prof. Fiorina, “blood stem cells are defective, promoting inflammation and possibly leading to the onset of disease.”

The defect that they discovered is that the blood stem cells — that is, the progenitor cells that give rise to mature cells — do not produce enough of a protein called PD-L1 that reigns back attack by T cells.

They found this using gene expression profiling to discover which proteins blood stem cells make. They found that the genetic network of pathways that controls PD-L1 production is different in the blood stem cells of diabetic humans and mice. This difference is enough to stop PD-L1 being produced, even in the early stages of the disease.

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‘Reshaping the immune system’

PD-L1 is an “immune-checkpoint” molecule that helps to keep the immune system in balance. When it plugs into another protein called PD-1 that sits on the surface of T cells, it inactivates them.

The scientists ran a number of experiments wherein they treated the blood stem cells so that they made more PD-L1 and then tested them on human and mouse cells. They found that the modified blood stem cells reduced the inflammatory immune reaction in both human and mouse cells.

When they injected diabetic mice with the modified stem cells, they found that the cells traveled to the animals’ pancreases and reversed their hyperglycemia in the short-term. In the longer-term, a third of the mice maintained normal levels of blood sugar for the rest of their lives.

“There’s really a reshaping of the immune system when you inject these cells,” notes Prof. Fiorina.

The researchers experimented with two ways of getting the blood stem cells to make more PD-L1: one that inserted a healthy gene for PD-L1, and another that modified the cells’ protein machinery with a “cocktail” of three small molecules. Both methods had the same diabetes-reversing effect.

The beauty of this approach is the virtual lack of any adverse effects, since it would use the patients’ own cells.”

Prof. Paolo Fiorina

In the meantime, the researchers are working with a private company to improve the method that uses the cocktail of small molecules. They hope to launch a clinical trial of this approach as a treatment for type 1 diabetes.

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Medical News Today: Dementia breakthrough? Brain-training game ‘significantly reduces risk’

an older man using a laptop
Researchers say that speed-of-processing training can lower the risk of dementia.
A recent study has been hailed as a “breakthrough” in dementia prevention, after finding that a brain-training exercise can lower the risk of the condition by more than a quarter.

The study — which followed more than 2,800 older adults for a decade — reveals how the brain-training intervention known as “speed-of-processing training” reduced participants’ risk of dementia by 29 percent.

The intervention was developed by Dr. Karlene Ball, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Dr. Dan Roenker, of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, and the study results were recently published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.

Dementia is an umbrella term for a decline in cognitive functions — such as learning, memory, and reasoning — that impairs a person’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for around 60–80 percent of all cases.

It is estimated that dementia affects around 47 million people worldwide. By 2030, this number is projected to soar to 75 million.

A wealth of research has indicated that people may protect themselves against cognitive decline and dementia through brain training.

Scientists now know that the brain can adapt to change at any age, and that such adjustments can be either beneficial or harmful. This process is known as “neuroplasticity.” Brain training aims to strengthen neural connections in a way that maintains or increases cognitive functioning.

To investigate this association further, Drs. Ball, Roenker, and colleagues launched The Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) Study, which is the largest study of cognitive training to date.

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The ACTIVE Study

Part-funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the study included a total of 2,802 adults from the United States with an average age of 74.

Participants were randomized to one of three brain-training groups or to a control group, members of which did not receive cognitive training.

The first group was given instructions on strategies to help boost memory, the second received instructions on strategies to improve reasoning skills, and the third group received individual speed-of-processing training, which was developed by the researchers.

The speed-of-processing training is a task that aims to improve a user’s visual attention — that is, the speed and accuracy with which a person can identify and remember objects in front of them.

The speed-of-processing training involves a computer game called “Double Decision,” wherein the user is asked to spot an object, such as a car, in the center of their gaze, while also identifying an object in their peripheral vision, such as a road sign. As the game goes on, the user is given less time to spot each object, and distractors are added to the screen to make it more challenging.

During the first 6 weeks of the study, each brain-training group received 10 training sessions, each of which lasted for around 60–75 minutes. At 11 and 35 months, subsets of each brain-training group also received up to four “booster” training sessions.

All study groups underwent cognitive and functional assessments after the first 6 weeks, as well as at 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 years. The incidence of dementia among the subjects over the 10-year follow-up was also assessed.

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Dementia risk reduced by 29 percent

The researchers found that the incidence of dementia was highest among the control group, at 10.8 percent.

Among participants who completed at least 15 sessions of the memory and reasoning training, dementia incidence was 9.7 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively.

But subjects who completed the speed-of-processing training were found to have a significantly lower incidence of dementia, at 5.9 percent.

The team calculated that the speed-of-processing training resulted in a 29 percent reduced risk of dementia over 10 years, and that each additional training session was associated with a 10 percent lower dementia risk.

“When we examined the dose-response,” notes lead study author Jerri Edwards, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida in Tampa, “we found that those who trained more received more protective benefit.”

The researchers explain that speed-of-processing training has demonstrated significant benefits for cognitive function in 18 clinical trials to date. Combined with their latest results, the researchers are confident that this form of brain training can reduce the risk of dementia. The team says:

We have shown that a specific form of cognitive training, speed-of-processing, reduced the risk of dementia in initially well-functioning older adults followed up to 10 years. This is the first report of an intervention significantly reducing dementia risk.”

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That being said, the researchers stress that further studies are needed to determine why speed-of-processing training is effective for cognitive functioning, while other forms of brain training are not.

“We also need to investigate what is the appropriate amount of training to get the best results. The timing of intervention is also important,” adds Edwards.

“Existing data,” he adds, “indicate speed training is effective among older adults with and without mild cognitive impairment, but it is important to understand this is preventative to lower risk of dementia and is not a treatment for dementia.”

“Our ongoing research is examining this intervention among persons with Parkinson’s disease as well as other types of cognitive interventions,” Edwards concludes.

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Medical News Today: What is hypertrichosis?

Hypertrichosis is a rare and curious condition that causes excessive hair growth anywhere on a person’s body. Hypertrichosis is sometimes known as werewolf syndrome.

Hypertrichosis may be confused with hirsutism. Hirsutism is a more common condition that causes women to grow coarse hair in areas that men typically do, such as on their chin.


An image of Barbara Vanbeck, a lady with Hypertrichosis, by R. Gaywood, 1656.<!--mce:protected %0A--><br>Image credit: Wellcome Images, 2014</br>
An image of Barbara Vanbeck, a lady with Hypertrichosis, by R. Gaywood, 1656.

Image credit: Wellcome Images, 2014

There are many theories about the cause of hypertrichosis.

Congenital hypertrichosis may run in the family. It seems to be caused by genes that stimulate hair growth becoming abnormally active. In most people, the genes that caused extensive hair growth in humankind’s very early ancestors are now inactive because people do not need to be covered in hair to stay warm.

In people with congenital hypertrichosis, these genes get reactivated in the womb. There is still no known cause for this.

However, acquired hypertrichosis, which develops later in a person’s life, has a range of possible causes. Causes include:

  • malnutrition
  • poor diet or certain eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa
  • certain drugs and medications, such as hair growth drugs, certain immunosuppressants, and androgenic steroids
  • cancer and cell mutation
  • autoimmune and infectious diseases affecting the skin

Sometimes, having a condition called porphyria cutanea tarda, which causes the skin to be extremely sensitive to UV light, may trigger hypertrichosis.

If hypertrichosis occurs only on specific places of the body, it may be due to chronic skin conditions, such as lichen simplex, which is associated with repeated rashes, itching, and scratching on a particular patch of skin. Increased blood supply (vascularity) in one specific area of the body can also cause the condition. Sometimes, symptoms of hypertrichosis appear in the area where someone wore a plaster cast.

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The primary symptom of hypertrichosis is the presence of hair in greater amounts than is usual for a person’s age, race, and sex. Hair may also appear in unusual areas.

Not all hair produced by hypertrichosis is the same. Hypertrichosis can create three different types of hair:


Lanugo hair is long, thin, and very soft. It is similar to the hair on the body of a newborn baby. Lanugo hair will typically have no pigment and usually falls out a few weeks after birth. In people with hypertrichosis, this lanugo hair will remain until it is treated.


Vellus hair is usually short, soft, and faintly pigmented. These hairs may appear all over the body except in areas where there are no hair follicles, such as the mucous membranes, the soles of the feet, and the palms of the hands.


Terminal hairs are the darkest of the three types of hair. Terminal hair is usually thick, coarse, and long. It is often associated with hormones and is typically found on the face, armpits, and groin.

Women with hirsutism will often develop terminal hair on the face, back, arms, and chest.

The severity of hypertrichosis symptoms may increase or decrease with age.


There are many types of hypertrichosis, which are categorized according to how and when a person develops the condition.

Congenital hypertrichosis lanuginosa

The fine lanugo hairs appear in a fetus as usual but do not fade away after birth. Instead, the hairs continue to grow excessively in different areas of the body during the person’s life.

Congenital hypertrichosis terminalis

Instead of being born with lanugo or vellus hair, the baby may have terminal hair at birth that grows throughout their life. Affected individuals often have thick, fully pigmented hair that covers their body, including the face.

Acquired hypertrichosis

Acquired hypertrichosis develops later in life. It follows many of the same patterns of congenital hypertrichosis. Hair may be lanugo, vellus, or terminal hair, and it can appear in small patches or over the entire body.

Naevoid hypertrichosis

Excessive hair growth found on one or more patches of skin. A typical example is a very solid and bushy monobrow, also known as a unibrow.


Commonly mistaken for hypertrichosis, hirsutism affects up to 10 percent of women. Hirsutism is a term that relates to women who develop coarse terminal hairs in a typical male hair-growth distribution pattern, such as on the chin and chest. Women often develop hirsutism due to a hormone imbalance.

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dermatologist removes hair with laser
Electrolysis or laser treatment may be recommended for long-term treatment.

Some people might be able to reduce their risk of developing certain types of acquired hypertrichosis by avoiding:

  • certain immunosuppressants
  • androgenic steroids
  • hair-growth drugs

There is no known cure for congenital hypertrichosis. Treatment involves managing the symptoms by removing the hair from the affected area.

Short-term methods of hair removal include:

  • shaving
  • plucking
  • waxing
  • bleaching
  • chemical epilation

Temporary solutions such as these can minimize the appearance of hair in the area, but the condition will cause the hair to grow back. Using these methods can also irritate the skin and cause rashes or ingrown hairs. It is also difficult to use some of these techniques in some regions of the body.

Electrolysis or laser treatment

Some people may opt for long-term treatments, such as laser epilation or electrolysis.

Electrolysis destroys the individual hair follicles using electrical charges.

Laser epilation does the same using laser light and is typically less painful than electrolysis. For some people, the treatment will result in permanent hair loss, though it may take multiple sessions to achieve the desired result.


Depending on the type, hypertrichosis is often accompanied by other symptoms and may be linked to an underlying condition.

There may be a genetic component to some forms of hypertrichosis, so anyone with a family history of the condition may wish to speak to a doctor.

Managing the symptoms or treating the underlying cause is the only necessary and readily available treatment for hypertrichosis.

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Medical News Today: What can excessive drinking do to your looks? Study investigates

two martini glasses
Excessive drinking can predict visible signs of aging, a large study shows.
New research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health examines the link between heavy drinking and noticeable signs of aging. This is the first prospective study of its kind.

Danish-based researchers led by Dr. Janne S. Tolstrup — of the National Institute of Public Health at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense — set out to investigate the link between heavy drinking and smoking and visible signs of aging.

As the study authors explain, visible signs of aging are often a good indicator of an individual’s actual biological age. Noticeable signs of aging are likely to indicate poor health.

So, Dr. Tolstrup and her team focused on four such signs: male pattern baldness, earlobe creases, so-called arcus corneae, and a sign called xanthelasmata.

Arcus corneae, sometimes known as corneal arcus, is a white or gray ring that starts accumulating in the margins of one’s cornea. Unless a congenital problem present at birth, the condition is more common in older adults. It can sometimes be a marker of high cholesterol, or even predict coronary artery disease.

Xanthelasmata is the medical term for yellowish plaques that form over or around one’s eyelids. The fatty deposits can be a sign of high cholesterol, as well.

In fact, as the authors of the new research note, previous studies have linked all four signs of aging with a higher risk of poor cardiovascular health, premature death, or both.

The team studied these four signs in more than 11,600 adults whose health had been followed for 11.5 years, on average.

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Studying alcohol use and aging signs

Dr. Tolstrup and her colleagues examined the data that were available from the Copenhagen City Heart Study, which is a large-scale, prospective study that started in 1976.

The study examined a random population of young Danish adults who were over the age of 20 at the beginning of the study.

Participants were asked about their lifestyle and health habits, including how much alcohol they consumed and how much they smoked.

At the time of Dr. Tolstrup’s study, the average age of the participants was 51. Women consumed 2.6 drinks per week, on average, and men consumed 11.4.

Fifty-seven percent of the women and 67 percent of the men smoked.

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Heavy drinking predicts signs of aging

The study revealed that “[t]he risk of developing arcus corneae, earlobe crease, and xanthelasmata increased stepwise with increased smoking.”

“For alcohol consumption, a high intake was associated with the risk of developing arcus corneae and earlobe crease, but not xanthelasmata,” the authors add.

More specifically, a total of 28 or more drinks per week correlated with a 33 percent higher risk of arcus corneae in women. Men who had more than 35 drinks per week were 35 percent more likely to display the sign.

Smoking one pack of cigarettes every day for 15 to 30 years put women at a 41 percent higher risk of having the corneal condition, and men at a 12 percent higher risk.

A comparison between those who do not drink and those who drink lightly to moderately revealed no difference in terms of visible signs of aging.

Additionally, male pattern baldness did not seem to be influenced by drinking and smoking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “[U]p to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men” count as moderate drinking.

Dr. Tolstrup and colleagues conclude:

High alcohol consumption and smoking predict development of visible age-related signs. This is the first prospective study to show that heavy alcohol use and smoking are associated with generally looking older than one’s actual age.”

However, the authors also list some limitations to their study. They did not account for stress, for example, which can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and has been linked with smoking and heavy drinking.

Also, given the observational nature of the study, conclusions cannot be drawn as to a causal relationship between drinking, smoking, and signs of aging.

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Medical News Today: The 10 best blood pressure apps

person holding phone with blood pressure monitoring app
Blood pressure apps are designed to help you track, monitor, and manage your blood pressure.
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it can be a constant worry to try and bring down your numbers. We have chosen the best apps to track, monitor, and help you to keep blood pressure within a healthy range.

High blood pressure affects around 77.9 million, or 1 in 3, adults in the United States, and 18.5 percent of them are unaware that they have the condition. It is normal for blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day, but if it remains high for an extended period, it can cause heart problems and other health-related issues.

High blood pressure can put an excessive amount of pressure on artery walls, which can damage the body’s blood vessels and organs. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attack or stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, weakened blood vessels in the kidneys, vision loss, and reduced thinking ability.

Making lifestyle changes can go a long way toward helping to control your blood pressure. Your doctor may recommend regular exercise, following a healthful diet, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress, and quitting smoking. Sometimes, though, changing your lifestyle is not enough and your doctor may recommend medication.

Only half of all people with high blood pressure have it under control. But there are many apps that either specialize in blood pressure or help you to make lifestyle changes to lower your high blood pressure.

Here are Medical News Today‘s choices of the 10 best blood pressure apps to help keep your blood pressure in check.

Blood Pressure Companion

iPhone: Free

Blood Pressure Companion logo

Blood Pressure Companion tracks blood pressure, heart rate, and weight. The app has a clean interface that can be used to visually monitor your blood pressure through a log, chart, and histogram.

The app allows straightforward tracking of systolic and diastolic blood pressure in a chart. The mean arterial pressure of each reading can also be calculated. Blood Pressure Companion allows you to create reminders for measuring your blood pressure and even doctors appointments.

When your readings are abnormal, you can quickly and efficiently determine what may be causing your blood pressure to skyrocket and lower it accordingly. Using the app, your blood pressure measurements can also be shared with your doctor.

Heart Habit

iPhone: Free

Heart Health logo

The Heart Habit app is a smart, easy, and creative way to track and manage your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. If you have already had a heart attack or stroke, Heart Habit is the perfect companion to manage your future risk.

The app is developed in collaboration with physicians, dieticians, and pharmacists from Stanford University, the University of California, San Francisco, the University of California, Davis, and Kaiser Permanente.

Through educational content, recommendations, and personal insight and trends across activities and lifestyle choices, the Heart Habit app can pave the way for you to achieve perfect blood pressure and a healthy heart.


Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Pacer logo

Pacer is a pedometer and step tracker that feels like having a fitness coach and walking buddy all in one place. Their guided workouts and personalized fitness plans aim to help you achieve your fitness goals.

Physical activity can help to lower your blood pressure. Engaging in regular exercise such as walking for 30 minutes on most days of the week has been shown to reduce blood pressure by 4–9 millimeters of mercury.

Whether your phone is your hand, pocket, or purse, the Pacer app will track your steps all day long and record distance traveled, activity duration, and calories burned. It is also possible to create walking groups with your family and friends to stay motivated.

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My Diet Coach

Android: Free

iPhone: Free

My Diet Coach logo

My Diet Coach is the fun and easy way to lose weight. The app helps you to discover what keeps you motivated, how to stay on track and avoid food cravings, and how to make small and healthful lifestyle changes.

Being obese puts you at a much higher risk of developing high blood pressure. As your weight increases, so does your blood pressure. If you are overweight and have high blood pressure, one of the best things that you can do is decrease your body weight. Even losing 10 pounds can help to lower your blood pressure.

Set your weight loss goal with My Diet Coach and track your progress. The app has a pictorial weight tracker so that you can visually see your weight decreasing. My Diet Coach provides motivating tips and quotes and rewards you when you are successful.

Sleep Cycle

Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Sleep Cycle logo

Sleep Cycle is a smart alarm clock that analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you up in your lightest phase of sleep. Waking up in the lightest sleep phase will help you to wake up feeling well rested and relaxed.

Adults are recommended to have between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day. It is thought that sleeping for under the recommended hours is associated with an increase in blood pressure.

The deepest sleep stage functions to restore our physical and mental health. Disruption of deep sleep may have an adverse effect on blood pressure and contribute to high blood pressure. Using Sleep Cycle can help you to set aside those all-important 7 hours of sleep and wake you up without disrupting your deepest sleep phase.

Smoke Free

Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Smoke Free logo

Smoke Free is based on more than 20 evidence-based techniques to help you quit smoking. The app shows you how much money you have saved by not smoking, how many cigarettes you have not smoked, and the time you have been smoke-free. The app details how much of your life you have regained and shows how your health is improving.

You can identify trends in your cravings by using a map to see where they occur, notes to view patterns, and a graph to see them going down. The app also provides tips on how to deal with them.

While smoking is not a direct cause of high blood pressure, smoking increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Smoking and high blood pressure both narrow the arteries. Therefore, if you smoke and have high blood pressure, your arteries may narrow at a faster rate and significantly raise your risk for heart disease.


Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Calm logo

Calm is a meditation and mindfulness app with the goal of reducing anxiety, stress, and sleep problems through their guided meditation programs. The programs are perfect for both those who have never meditated before and those at an intermediate or advanced level.

The direct link between stress and blood pressure is still being studied, but what we do know is that stressful situations can lead to temporary elevations in blood pressure. Repeated spikes in blood pressure can build up and may eventually contribute to high blood pressure.

Using Calm can help you to manage your stress levels and lower your chances of experiencing repeated short-term blood pressure increases. Meditations come in a variety of durations so that you can find the perfect one to fit your schedule.

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Breathing Zone

iPhone: $3.99

Breathing Zone logo

Breathing Zone provides a mindful breathing exercise to slow down your breathing rate, calm you down, and make you feel relaxed. Breathing Zone aims to “change your life one breath at a time.”

Breathing exercises that feature in yoga and meditation have shown some success in helping to treat high blood pressure, and research has demonstrated that taking six deep breaths over a period of 30 seconds reduced systolic blood pressure when compared with sitting quietly.

Breathing Zone is an easy-to-use app that requires you to do nothing more strenuous than breathing in and out. There are no complicated settings or breathing patterns to master.


Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Qardio logo

Qardio is the ultimate heart health tracker. Its makers boast that the app can track more metrics than any other health app available right now.

Qardio can track your blood pressure, weight, and electrocardiogram. You can also keep tabs on heart rate, irregular heartbeat, body mass index (BMI), weight, body composition, calories, skin temperature, and steps.

The app is easy to set up and connects to any Qardio device. Both your heart health and weight management progress are viewable through charts, statistics, and trends. It is simple to instantly share your data with friends, family, and doctor.

HealthWatch 360

Android: Free

iPhone: Free

HealthWatch 360 logo

Among other factors, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, reducing salt intake, and drinking alcohol in moderation can help to prevent high blood pressure. HealthWatch 360 is a scientifically designed nutrition app that can help you to achieve those dietary goals.

Begin by selecting a health and wellness goal, such as blood pressure. The app’s algorithm will then generate a personalized nutritional plan and provide you with daily reports on your nutrition status.

The HealthWatch 360 app enables you to monitor more than 30 nutrients in a database of more than 500,000 foods and supplements. With the app, you can track your intake of calories while ensuring that you get all the nutrients you need to function at your best.

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Medical News Today: What is Capgras syndrome?

Sometimes known as imposter syndrome, Capgras syndrome is a psychological condition where a person believes someone they know has been replaced by an imposter.

The syndrome is not well understood and may be linked to a variety of underlying conditions. In this article, we look at the symptoms and complications, potential causes, and some examples of Capgras syndrome.

What is Capgras syndrome?

Lady suffering from Capgras syndrome
Capgras syndrome may affect anyone, but it is more common in women.

A person with Capgras syndrome irrationally believes that someone they know has been replaced by an imposter. In some cases, they may also believe pets or even inanimate objects are imposters.

Capgras syndrome is named after Joseph Capgras, a French psychiatrist who, with a colleague, first described the disorder in 1923. It is one of several conditions classified as delusional misidentification syndromes (DMSs).

Although this psychological condition can affect anyone, it is more common in women than men.

Capgras syndrome can be very disturbing for the person affected, as well as for their loved ones. So, it is important for people witnessing the syndrome to seek advice from a doctor.

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Symptoms of Capgras syndrome can be perplexing and frustrating for both the person affected and those around them.

Unlike other mental health conditions, which tend to impact many aspects of someone’s life, a person with Capgras syndrome acts normally except around the person or thing they believe is an imposter.

The most obvious symptom of Capgras syndrome is when someone starts to believe that a person close to them is either a double or has been replaced by someone else.

The person may acknowledge that the “imposter” looks exactly like the “original,” but they believe that they can see through the “disguise.” This can cause anxiety and changes in someone’s behavior.

In some cases, a person may be violent towards the “imposter,” although this is not always the case. It is more likely that the person will appear anxious or afraid.

The person affected by Capgras syndrome may become obsessed with the “imposter” or with finding the “real” person. This can lead to additional stress, anger, and arguments between the person affected and those around them.


an illustration of the human brain
While the exact cause of Capgras syndrome is unknown, it may result from an injury to the brain.

The exact causes of Capgras syndrome are not known, but there are theories about why its symptoms occur.

One theory is that Capgras syndrome results from a brain injury involving lesions on the brain. Traumatic lesions on the brain were present in more than one-third of all documented cases of Capgras syndrome looked at in one study.

Capgras syndrome could also be caused by a disconnect between the visual part of the brain and the area that processes facial familiarity. This disconnect could cause a person to misidentify someone they know.

Other theories suggest that underlying conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, may be the cause. These illnesses alter how a person perceives the world around them and remembers things.

Schizophrenia and epilepsy are also believed to be potential causes or co-occurring conditions. A 2015 study looked at a case of Capgras syndrome that was related to hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, so hormonal imbalances may also be a risk factor.

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The following are some examples of reported cases of Capgras syndrome:

In one case, a man could not recognize his parents when face-to-face with them. However, when speaking to them over the phone, he did recognize them, without issue.

In this case, it is possible that the disorder was caused by a disconnect between visualization and facial recognition. Other recognition methods, such as voice recognition, were not affected.

In another case, a mother believed that her daughter had been removed by Child Protective Services and replaced with an imposter. The mother was diagnosed with Capgras syndrome and prescribed medication but could not be convinced of her daughter’s identity.

While cases of Capgras syndrome usually involve a close family member, such as a spouse, parent, or sibling being replaced, cases involving children are rare. In the above case, the child was removed from her mother’s care, as there was a risk of violence towards “the imposter.”

In a final case, a 59-year-old man experienced a variety of symptoms over several years, including language deterioration, restlessness, and obsessiveness over personal hygiene. He began to see his wife as a double and would spend time looking for his “real” wife.

The man did not display any angry or aggressive behavior but maintained that his wife was a double and addressed her in a doubtful, inquisitive way. He recognized other people with little difficulty.


Psychologist discussing with a patient
Treating underlying conditions with therapy may help to reduce or cure the symptoms of Capgras syndrome.

Currently, there is no standard treatment for people affected by Capgras syndrome, and more research is needed to find the most effective way it can be treated.

In some cases, treating the underlying condition can reduce or cure someone’s symptoms. For example, controlling or treating Alzheimer’s disease may improve the symptoms of Capgras syndrome.

Treatments for underlying conditions vary widely, but may include:

  • antipsychotics
  • therapy
  • surgery
  • memory and recognition medications

In some cases, validation therapy may be useful. Validation therapy focuses on someone accepting the misidentification to help them relax and reduce anxiety.

In other cases, caregivers and facilities may actively attempt to ground the person in reality, as far as they can, by giving frequent reminders of the time and place.

Caregivers and family members can also assist by providing a safe and comfortable space free from external stressors, as much as possible.

Some general tips for caring for someone with Capgras syndrome include:

  • Being patient and sympathizing, as Capgras syndrome can cause real fear and anxiety.
  • Limiting exposure to the “imposter” when an episode is taking place.
  • Having the “imposter” speak before they are seen, as their voice may be recognized.
  • Acknowledging the feelings surrounding the identity confusion when they occur.
  • Not arguing with the person about the “imposter” they think they are seeing.

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Some people with Capgras syndrome may never achieve a full recovery. However, caregivers and family members can help reduce their loved one’s symptoms, including anxiety and fear.

Anyone experiencing or witnessing the symptoms of Capgras syndrome should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.

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