Medical News Today: What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are used as a substitute for sugar in certain foods, particularly those that are labeled “sugar-free” or “no added sugar.” Aside from adding sweetness, sugar alcohols can also impact the size, texture, taste, browning, and moisture content of foods they are used in. They are also known as polyols.

Read on to learn more about the types, potential benefits, and risks of sugar alcohols.

Types and sources

A sugar alcohol, sorbitol in a bowl
Sorbitol is typically manufactured from dextrose, and is naturally found in apples and pears.

A variety of sugar alcohol types exist in nature. Sugar alcohols can also be manufactured for use in food and pharmaceutical products.

Below is a list of commonly used sugar alcohols, their sources, and their sweetness in comparison to regular sugar.


Sorbitol is found naturally in some fruits. When used to make food products, it is typically manufactured from dextrose that is derived from cornstarch.

Sorbitol tastes approximately 60 percent as sweet as regular sugar.


Mannitol is naturally found in a variety of plants, including strawberries, mushrooms, and onions. It can be made using fructose from cornstarch.

Mannitol is also approximately 60 percent as sweet as regular sugar.


Maltitol is made using maltose from cornstarch.

It tastes around 75 percent as sweet as regular sugar.

Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates

Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates are made from starch, with cornstarch being used most often.

Their sweetness depends on their makeup, but the range is about 20 to 50 percent that of regular sugar.


Erythritol is also produced from cornstarch, but it is unique because the manufacturing process involves fermentation.

It tastes about 70 percent as sweet as regular sugar.


Xylitol can be made from a few different materials, including birch wood, corncobs, and leftover sugar cane stalks.

It is just about as sweet as regular sugar, and also has a cooling, minty taste.


Isomalt is made from sugar but only tastes around 55 percent as sweet.


Lactitol is made from whey and tastes about 35 percent as sweet as regular sugar.

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Possible health benefits

the sugar alcohol, xylitol, in a glass bowl
Sugar alcohols, such as xylitol, may provide fewer calories than sugar.

In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that added sugar provided around 14.1 percent of calories consumed by children and adults in the United States from 2003 to 2010.

There are possible connections between the consumption of added sugar and certain health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. As a result, many people are searching for ways to decrease the amount of added sugar they consume. Choosing foods sweetened with sugar alcohols may help.

Sugar alcohols also provide fewer calories than sugar, so they may be beneficial for people trying to lose weight by reducing their calorie intake.

Another possible benefit of sugar alcohols is related to how the body processes them. They are not fully absorbed and digested by the body, so they result in less of an increase in blood sugar. Foods sweetened with sugar alcohols may allow people with diabetes to maintain better blood sugar control while still enjoying sweet treats in moderation.

Sugar alcohols also offer potential benefits for oral health. Bacteria that live in the mouth do not feed on sugar alcohols, so they do not cause tooth decay like regular sugar.

Possible health risks and considerations

Consuming large amounts of sugar alcohols could result in gas, diarrhea, or other digestive issues. As mentioned above, sugar alcohols are not fully absorbed by the body.

For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), sugar alcohols are one type of short-chain carbohydrate that may provoke symptoms.

Polyols — another name for sugar alcohols — are included in the FODMAPs acronym, which stands for fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. A low-FODMAP diet may help control gastrointestinal symptoms in some people with IBS.

Foods labeled “sugar-free” or “no added sugar” can be confusing to some consumers, who may believe that these foods will not impact their blood sugar. Many foods labeled “sugar-free” or “no added sugar” still provide calories, fat, and carbohydrates.

All consumers should read food labels so that they are aware of the nutritional information.

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Nutritional information

Sucrose or other sugars contain about 4 calories per gram (g). The table below outlines the number of calories in sugar alcohols, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation.

Sugar alcohols can be found in a variety of products, including some of the following:

  • baked goods
  • candies
  • chewable vitamins
  • chocolates
  • cough drops
  • cough syrups
  • drinks
  • frostings
  • gums
  • ice cream
  • jellies
  • mouthwashes
  • puddings
  • toothpastes

How do they differ from regular sugar?

Sugar alcohols differ from regular sugar in many ways. They are not fully absorbed and digested in the body, so they have less of an impact on blood sugar.

The hormone insulin is only needed in small amounts or not at all to metabolize sugar alcohols. They also provide fewer calories per gram than regular sugar.

Additionally, differences in chemical structure exist between sugar alcohols and regular sugar.

Another difference between sugar alcohols and regular sugar is taste. Many sugar alcohols, except for maltitol and xylitol, taste considerably less sweet than regular sugar. Some also have a minty or cool taste in the mouth.

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In summary, sugar alcohols have many diverse uses in the food and pharmaceutical industries. They can affect multiple aspects of products. They provide fewer calories per gram than regular sugar but still deliver a sweet taste.

They may be beneficial for weight management, blood sugar control, and oral health.

Consuming sugar alcohols in excess can result in gastrointestinal discomfort, so it is important that people read labels and be mindful of the amount of sugar they consume.

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Medical News Today: Cancer: Targeting protein may stop tumors from spreading

New research published in the journal Oncogene uncovered a protein that helps tumors to spread by enabling them to grow blood vessels. Blocking the protein stopped tumors from metastasizing efficiently in laboratory experiments.
cancer cells dividing
Blocking a protein called LTBP3 may stop cancer cells (shown here) from entering the blood vessels.

The new study was led by James P. Quigley, a professor from the Department of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, CA, and Daniel Rifkin, a professor of medicine working at New York University’s School of Medicine in New York City. Elena Deryugina, an assistant professor at TSRI, is the first author of the paper.

Deryugina and her colleagues started out from the observation that lower levels of a protein called latent TGF-beta binding protein 3 (LTBP3) correlates with better survival outcomes in people with certain forms of cancer.

In order to promote metastasis, LTBP3 binds to another substance known as TGF-beta, which is a “transforming” growth factor that plays a dual role in cancer, as it can either help tumors to spread or stop them from doing so.

As with growth factors in general, our bodies require TGF-beta to function properly. Research has shown that in normal cells and early cancers TGF-beta suppresses tumors, but in more advanced cancers it transforms and promotes the growth of tumors.

The challenge for researchers so far has been to mitigate the harmful effects of TGF-beta without altering its key role for normal cell functioning.

In the new research, Deryugina and colleagues investigated more closely the interplay between LTBP3 and TGF-beta.

From previous research that they conducted together, the scientists knew the many ways in which LTBP3 helps to regulate TGF-beta by attaching itself to it. However, they didn’t know whether the protein controlled even more processes or had a stand-alone role in driving cancer metastasis.

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LTBP3 helps tumors to grow blood vessels

To investigate this, the researchers knocked out the LTBP3 gene in rodents and chick embryo cancer models, as well as in human tumor cell lines.

The human cell lines were from carcinoma, head and neck carcinoma, and fibrosarcoma. The rodents were also used to model metastasis of head and neck cancer.

Across all models, the researchers found that primary tumors could not metastasize properly without LTBP3. As Prof. Quigley explains, “Our experimental findings showed that LTBP3 is active in the very early steps of metastatic spread.”

“Specifically,” says Deryugina, “LTBP3 appears to help tumors grow new blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis, which is critical for tumor cell intravasation. That is when cancer cells enter into blood vessels of defined size and permeability.”

These results, the authors say, corroborate with previous research that showed that low levels of LTBP3 predict a better outlook for people with head and neck cancer.

“Collectively,” the scientists conclude, “these findings demonstrate that LTBP3 represents a novel oncotarget” — one that could potentially prevent early stage tumors from progressing without interfering with the normal roles of TGF-beta.

In the future, the team plans to examine more closely the complex dynamic between LTBP3 and TGF-beta in driving angiogenesis deep inside a tumor.

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Medical News Today: The 10 best apps for rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can have a considerable impact on daily life. Depending on your symptoms and their severity, you may need long-term treatment to reduce joint damage. We have located the best apps to help individuals with rheumatoid arthritis to navigate through day-to-day challenges.
older person holding phone
Smartphone apps can help to manage the pain that is associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects around 1.3 million adults in the United States.

In the condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, which causes inflammation and swelling. Eventually, irreversible joint deformity may occur.

Women tend to be two to three times as likely as men to be affected by rheumatoid arthritis, and 20–70 percent of those working at onset may be disabled between 7 and 10 years later.

Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs can help with remission of symptoms in some people. Other medications, therapies including physical and occupational therapy, and surgery may also minimize joint damage.

Smartphone apps can also help you to implement lifestyle changes and self-care measures to manage your signs and symptoms.

Medical News Today have collated the top 10 apps to support people with rheumatoid arthritis.


Android: Free

iPhone: Free

MyRA logo

MyRA is an app developed for people living with rheumatoid arthritis. With MyRA, you can track your condition, create snapshots of your data, and communicate about your rheumatoid arthritis.

Generate a complete picture of your rheumatoid arthritis activity each day by recording how you’re feeling. Add custom notes, voice memos, and photos, and get a visual overview of how your disease state alters over time.

The app produces a summary report to jog your memory when you visit your physician. With this report, you can give an accurate account of how things have stayed the same or changed since your last doctor’s appointment.


Android: Free

iPhone: Free

PainScale logo

PainScale is a pain diary and coach that can help you to manage your chronic pain through condition tracking, education, information from top medical sources, and personalized reports.

The app’s communities share insights of their treatment so that you can discover potential options that might work for you. A searchable library of information, articles, and videos may help you find a form of pain relief that you’ve not yet tried.

Track pain triggers and intensity, symptoms, medications, mood, activity, and sleep, and receive a summarized report to improve communication with your doctor.

My Pain Diary

Android: $4.99

iPhone: $4.99

My Pain Diary logo

Join more than 80,000 individuals who have chosen to manage their chronic pain and symptoms with My Pain Diary. The app was first developed by a chronic pain patient to track, report, and better manage pain.

Track unlimited symptoms and triggers at multiple times per day. Your entries can be edited at any time and past entries can also be added. Document inflammation, swelling, and visible changes to joints with photos.

My Pain Diary’s color-coded calendar and interactive graphs make it simpler to get an outline of your pain progress. Detailed reports can be generated for you to email or print and discuss with your doctor.

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Pain Relief Hypnosis

Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Pain Relief Hypnosis logo

Pain Relief Hypnosis offers a program that helps you learn how to relax and reduce pain in just 1 to 3 weeks by listening to its 30-minute audio once per day. The app relieves pain by retraining your body to enable comfort through subconscious thoughts.

The app’s developers say that it’s normal for the body to use pain to signal when something is out of kilter. However, if the pain lasts too long — as with the chronic pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis — the body keeps sounding the internal pain alarm. Hypnosis aims to reset this behavior to train your body into having a relaxed response to chronic pain.

A certified hypnotherapist provides the hypnosis audio, and the track features nature sounds and peaceful music to enhance relaxation.


Android: Free

iPhone: Free

CareZone logo

CareZone is an app that makes it easier for you and your family to keep tabs on your medication. Managing multiple medications, dosages, and when to take them can be a hassle, but CareZone simplifies medication management.

Quickly create a list of medications by photographing prescriptions, supplements, or drug containers. The app will automatically add the names, dosages, and other information without you having to type each one into the database.

Receive reminders to take your medicine and record when the dose has been taken. Reminders to refill a prescription can also be set. CareZone can keep you organized with a journal to track your symptoms, a calendar to schedule appointments, and a to-do list to complete tasks or perhaps assign them to others.


Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Reachout logo

Reachout is a support network for people dealing with chronic pain and their caregivers. Gain self-confidence, receive support, build coping skills, and reduce loneliness.

Build up your profile, read other people’s stories, make friends, and gain lasting connections with people who know what you are going through.

Reachout is a safe, compassionate place to express yourself without the fear of being judged or social stigma. Find support for your pain in the chronic pain support groups and exchange details on tried and tested therapies and coping strategies.


Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Sworkit logo

Physical activity helps to alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and improves day-to-day function, and yet research tells us that 2 in 5 adults with rheumatoid arthritis are inactive.

When you have chronic pain and feel fatigued, the last thing you’ll want is to do a workout. However, getting moving may reduce your pain and improve your flexibility. Maintaining a healthy weight with exercise and a healthful diet also increases your chances of achieving sustained remission.

Start exercising with Sworkit, the workout program for everyone regardless of your age, condition, or injuries. Choose an exercise plan and filter by difficulty, category, stance, and impact level.

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Daily Yoga

Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Daily Yoga logo

Research has demonstrated that yoga is a safe and effective activity for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. It improves physical function, pain, energy levels, and mood by up to 20 percent.

Daily Yoga has more than 200 yoga, meditation, and Pilates classes, 500 asanas, and 50 workout plans, all available from beginner to advanced.

Step-by-step instructions guide you through the practices, and calories and workout time can be tracked. The Daily Yoga community helps you to stay motivated with weekly activities, ideas, and inspiration.

3 Minute Mindfulness

iPhone: Free

3 Minute Mindfulness logo

Mindfulness helps with depression and anxiety and improves the pain and stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

With 3 Minute Mindfulness, you can reduce stress, relax, and feel more at peace in just a few minutes — perfect if you only have a short amount of time to yourself.

Quick meditations and breathing exercises help you to keep stress and anxiety at bay and can even promote improved sleep. A 7-day course is available that provides seven short mindfulness lessons over the course of a week.

Sleep Better

Android: Free

iPhone: Free

Sleep Better logo

Poor sleep quality is linked to greater pain severity, more symptoms of depression, increased fatigue, and more significant disability in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Promoting better sleep quality might help to reduce these symptoms.

Sleep Better is a sleep tracker focused on helping you to improve your sleep habits to wake up feeling refreshed. Its Smart Alarm can wake you up within a personalized wake-up window.

Track your sleep efficiency, cycles, and duration as well as your daily habits, including stress levels, exercise, caffeine consumption, and alcohol intake, to see if any of these variables affect your sleep.

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Medical News Today: How weight loss makes us hungrier

A Norwegian study of individuals with severe obesity has found that although hormones that control both fullness and hunger increase after weight loss, it seems that hunger wins.
woman looking into fridge
Why do we feel more hungry after weight loss?

The implication, the researchers conclude, is that overweight individuals who lose weight may have to learn to live with feeling hungry.

They suggest that their recent findings, which have now been published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, support the idea that obesity should be treated as a long-term illness.

Type 2 diabetes is treated in a similar way, and individuals with the condition are monitored closely to help them hold onto their gains.

“We have to stop treating [obesity] as a short-term illness,” explains lead study author Catia Martins, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, “by giving patients some support and help, and then just letting them fend for themselves.”

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‘Gold standard in obesity treatment’

In the United States, obesity is common and affects 36.5 percent of the adult population. It costs more than $147 billion per year to treat.

Obesity is linked to a number of serious health problems that are leading causes of death both in the U.S. and worldwide, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers.

Prof. Martins and colleagues studied morbidly obese adults who took part in a 2-year weight loss program during which they attended five 3-week residential sessions.

Morbidly obese is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) that is greater than 40.

At each residential session, the participants received advice and therapy and learned about weight loss and how to achieve it through diet and exercise.

“We gave 34 patients with morbid obesity the gold standard in obesity treatment over a period of 2 years,” Prof. Martins notes.

Between the residential sessions, the participants were all urged to continue with what they had learned about maintaining a healthful diet and getting some exercise every day.

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Hunger ‘seems to override’ satiety

All of the participants gave blood samples and completed questionnaires about their feelings of hunger and fullness 4 weeks, 1 year, and 2 years after the start of the program. From the blood samples, the team was able to assess levels of hormones that control hunger and fullness, or satiety.

The participants did not report a change in their feelings of fullness at the 4-week assessment but did report a reduction after 1 and 2 years of sustained weight loss. In contrast, they reported a significant increase in hunger at the 1- and 2-year assessments.

The blood tests showed higher levels of both satiety and hunger hormones after 1 and 2 years of sustained weight loss.

The study’s authors suggest that the increase in the hunger hormone ghrelin “seems to have overridden” the rise in satiety hormones.

“This means,” they write, “that patients with severe obesity who have lost significant amounts of weight with lifestyle interventions, combining diet and exercise, will have to deal with increased hunger in the long-term.”

Overall, the participants lost an average of 11 kilograms (around 24 pounds) over the 2 years, with around half of that being shed in the first 3 weeks.

After the program, only 20 percent of the participants sustained their weight loss. Prof. Martins says that this is roughly in line with established research: most people with obesity can achieve weight loss — even by themselves — but 80 percent of them put it back on again later.

Obesity is a daily struggle for the rest of one’s life.”

Prof. Catia Martins

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Medical News Today: What is a strangulated hernia?

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    Berger, D. (2016, March). Evidence-based hernia treatment in adults. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International113(9), 150–158. Retrieved from

    Hermann, J., Kościński, T., Malinger, S., Szmeja, J., Monkiewicz, M., & Drews, M. (2012, December). Strangulation of the stomach and the transverse colon following laparoscopic esophageal hiatal hernia repair. Videosurgery and Other Miniinvasive Techniques7(4), 311–314. Retrieved from

    Köckerling, F., Koch, A., Lorenz, R., Schug-Pass, C., Stechemesser, B., & Reinpold, W. (2015, June 16). How long do we need to follow-up our hernia patients to find the real recurrence rate? Frontiers in Surgery2, 24. Retrieved from

    Prakash, P., Bansal, V. K., Misra, M. C., Babu, D., Sagar, R., Krishna, A., … Subramaniam, R. (2016, April-June). A prospective randomised controlled trial comparing chronic groin pain and quality of life in lightweight versus heavyweight polypropylene mesh in laparoscopic inguinal hernia repair. Journal of Minimal Access Surgery12(2), 154–161. Retrieved from

    Romain, B., Chemaly, R., Meyer, N., Brigand, C., Steinmetz, J. P., & Rohr, S. (2012, August). Prognostic factors of postoperative morbidity and mortality in strangulated groin hernia [Abstract]. Hernia16(4), 405–410. Retrieved from

    Sanders, D. L., & Kingsnorth, A. N. (2012, May 12). The modern management of incisional hernias. British Medical Journal344, e2843. Retrieved from

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Medical News Today: What is a bifid uvula?

A bifid uvula is an abnormal split or division in the uvula, or tissue that hangs down at the end of the soft palate in the roof of the mouth. A bifid uvula is usually identified at birth when a doctor looks at the inside of a baby’s mouth to check the uvula.

In some cases, it is discovered before birth on an ultrasound. At other times, it can take a little longer or be an incidental finding not associated with any health problems.

However, sometimes a bifid uvula is an indication of a submucous cleft palate. This is when there is a cleft or split in the palate under the thin membrane of tissue that covers the roof of the mouth.

Because it is covered by the mucosal layer, it can be difficult to see the cleft. Also, it may involve just the soft palate or extend to the hard palate.

A submucous cleft palate can occur without a bifid uvula. This form has less muscular tissue than the palate of someone who does not have the condition. It can also lead to some medical problems.

What are the causes?

Bifid uvula. Image credit: Solepole, (2008, July 7th.)
A bifid uvula is when the uvula is split.
Image credit: Solepole, (2008, July 7th.)

Genetic, environmental, and toxic factors may be possible causes for a child being born with a bifid uvula. However, the definitive cause is unknown.

If it is genetic, then the likelihood of a child having it will depend upon the number of people affected in a family, and how closely they are related to the child.

Bifid uvula occurs between the 7th and 12th week of pregnancy because of an error in the fusion of the uvula.

For environmental and toxic causes, some risk factors have been identified as increasing the chance of having a baby with a cleft palate.

The following examples might contribute to the likelihood, though this is unclear:

  • smoking during pregnancy
  • diabetes
  • substance abuse
  • certain medications, such as those for epilepsy
  • poor prenatal healthcare
  • other health problems

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Pediatrician in office talking to mother and child patient.
Usually any complications will arise in childhood, and be addressed before they can progress.

There are no medical complications with a bifid uvula if it is an isolated condition.

However, it is important to eliminate the association with a submucous cleft, as that can have clinical repercussions.

To further diagnose this, a doctor may conduct nasopharyngoscopy. This procedure is when a small tube is placed in the nose to look at the palate.

Speech problems

A submucous cleft can lead to speech problems with a child often having abnormal nasal speech. In these cases, a submucous cleft palate may not be diagnosed until the child starts talking.

Swallowing difficulties

Another complication of submucous cleft palate is problems with swallowing. Again, this is caused by the lack of muscular tissue, and the baby may have trouble feeding or regularly regurgitate.

It may be apparent shortly after birth that a child has a submucous cleft if they have a weak suck, are taking a long time to feed, or milk comes out of their nose as they feed.

Usually, there are no problems with breathing caused by a bifid uvula, and, in many cases, the infant can show no obvious complications.

Treatment options

Speech therapy being conducted by doctor sitting with young girl, who is holding a mirror.
Speech therapy may be recommended as a treatment, if bifid uvula is causing abnormal speech.

A bifid uvula is benign, and therefore its mere presence does not necessitate treatment.

However, it is essential that a child born with a bifid uvula is examined for a possible submucous cleft palate. If present, the cleft palate is monitored closely and any treatment needed is coordinated in future years.

Submucous cleft palate may or may not require surgery, depending on the degree of symptoms.


The most common reason for treatment is due to abnormal speech. For those with speech problems, it will often cause a nasal sound as air escapes through the nose.

Treatment can range from monitoring speech development and intervening if there are any delays or errors, to speech therapy, or surgery.

A person may also have a condition known as velopharyngeal insufficiency or VPI if they have a submucous cleft palate.

VPI is when the soft palate does not reach the back of the throat to produce normal-sounding speech.

In this scenario, surgery is needed to repair the palate and close the cleft. Even after this, 20 percent of children still experience problems with VPI.

In some cases, as an alternative to surgery, a dentist can make a special appliance that fits into the mouth and attaches to the teeth to help with speech problems.

Other problems

If an infant is having trouble with feeding and swallowing, then this can sometimes be solved through techniques shown to the parent by a feeding consultant.

Those with a submucous cleft palate can also often experience problems with fluid in the ears and related infections, which can reduce their hearing ability.

Ear problems will need to be treated by a doctor or ear, nose, and throat specialist. Treatment can include antibiotics or the insertion of ventilating tubes into the eardrum.

This needs to be done quickly as left untreated it can cause permanent hearing loss, which, in turn, can also affect speech.

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For most people, having a bifid uvula causes no complications, and they can lead a normal and healthful life.

For others who have a submucous cleft, it can cause problems ranging from speaking and eating to being able to hear.

The important thing is that it is diagnosed and assessed as early as possible to avoid permanent problems and so that appropriate treatment can start.

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Medical News Today: Are there any home remedies for pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an inflammatory disorder of the lungs caused by an infection of the airways. It is a serious condition, and home remedies cannot be used to treat it. However, they can help ease the symptoms.

Pneumonia infections can be critical and may even be life-threatening in some cases. It is essential to visit a doctor for a diagnosis, as well as to monitor symptoms and avoid any complications.

Using a blend of medical treatments and home remedies may help many people manage their symptoms more easily.

Causes and symptoms

Man with fever and chills caused by pneumonia drinking herbal remedy tea.
Common symptoms of pneumonia include fever, chills, fatigue, and achiness.

People often contract pneumonia from someone else or through a lingering infection, such as that caused by the flu virus.

Most of the time, the body fights off these infections. But if there are enough of the germs around, they can take over and cause a worse illness.

The most common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • fever
  • chills
  • fatigue and muscle aches

Sometimes, additional symptoms can occur, such as a persistent cough that causes a headache.

At-home care to ease pneumonia symptoms

Every pneumonia treatment plan will involve some antiviral, antibiotic, or antifungal medication to treat the infection. Also, there are two rules to remember when recovering from pneumonia:

  1. Proper rest: A sick body needs plenty of downtime to heal. Refraining from physical activity and getting enough bed rest allows the body to focus on repairing itself, rather than using energy to power the muscles.
  2. Proper diet: Eating a varied diet rich in whole-food choices may help the body heal, and adequate liquid intake is essential. Water, herbal teas, soups, and broths are all easy ways to increase the liquid intake while recovering from pneumonia.

Also, there are some home treatments that may help clear up the annoying symptoms of pneumonia.


A cough may develop early on in the lifespan of pneumonia when the body is trying to expel fluid from the lungs to get rid of the infection. So, using a cough suppressant is not the best idea.

But it is still possible to reduce the severity of a cough, and there are a few simple ways to do this.

1. Peppermint, eucalyptus, and fenugreek tea

Many warm herbal teas may help soothe a scratchy throat, but herbs, such as peppermint or eucalyptus, may be more beneficial.

A study posted to Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that herbs, including peppermint and eucalyptus, had a soothing effect on the throat of people with upper respiratory tract infections. These herbs may help break up mucus and ease the pain and inflammation caused by pneumonia.

A separate review posted to the Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences noted that fenugreek seeds might help break down mucus. A tea made from ground fenugreek seeds may ease a persistent cough.

2. Saltwater gargle

Mucus sitting in the throat and chest can lead to more coughing and irritation. A warm saltwater gargle may help eliminate mucus or germs in the throat, which may provide some relief.

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Shortness of breath

Having shortness of breath is a symptom of respiratory infections, as in the case of pneumonia.

3. Caffeine

Drinking a small amount of caffeine, such as a cup of coffee or black or green tea, may help with certain pneumonia symptoms. Caffeine may work to open up the airways in the lungs, which could help a person feel better satisfied by their breathing.

4. Warm, damp air

Inhaling warm, damp air may also help each breath feel less restrictive and keep the throat from tightening. Breathing the steam from a shower or breathing over a warm cup of tea may help in these cases.

5. Rest

Rest is vital for cellular repair in the body, but it may be especially beneficial for shortness of breath. Physical exertion should be kept to an absolute minimum with pneumonia.

Chest pain

Again, chest discomfort usually occurs when a person has pneumonia.

6. Ginger or turmeric tea

Turmeric and ginger roots on wooden board with herbal tea in mug.
Turmeric or ginger tea may help to ease chest pain caused by pneumonia.

Chest pain may be caused when someone has a persistent cough. Dealing with a cough itself may help, but drinking a warm tea made with fresh ginger or turmeric root may also reduce this pain.

The roots of both of these plants can have a natural anti-inflammatory effect in the body.

Chopping up a thumb-sized piece of either root and boiling it in a few cups of water may provide enough tea to last throughout the day.


A high fever is another risk in people with pneumonia, and keeping a fever down is vital to avoiding complications.

7. Hydration

When a person has a fever, keeping the body full of liquids and electrolytes is essential to prevent dehydration. Drinking iced beverages or eating homemade ice popsicles may help hydrate the body and cool it down.

8. Fenugreek tea

As the study posted to the Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences notes, making tea from fenugreek seeds may encourage a person to sweat, which could reduce their temperature.

9. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers

Some OTC drugs like ibuprofen (Advil) may help reduce symptoms, including fever and pain. It is important to take the medications with food and not exceed the recommended dosage.

10. Lukewarm bath or compress

Soaking the body in lukewarm water may help to cool it down. If taking a bath is not possible, towels or washcloths dunked in lukewarm water and rung out can be applied to the body to help it cool. Once the towels warm up, they can be dipped in the water and reapplied.


Chills are often a secondary symptom caused by a fever. When the fever breaks or ends, the chills may subside on their own.

11. Warm liquids

Drinking warm liquids may help warm the body up and prevent chills. This includes warm water, herbal teas, or a bowl of soup for added electrolytes and nutrients.

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General symptoms

Additional natural compounds may help the body deal with the overall effects of pneumonia.

12. Additional natural compounds

These at-home products contain compounds that help fight off bacteria, viruses, or fungi and can include the following:

  • garlic
  • raw honey
  • cayenne pepper
  • tea tree oil
  • echinacea

When to see a doctor

Woman getting medication prescription from pharmacist.
Following a full course of treatment is essential.

Anyone who suspects they have pneumonia should see their doctor for a diagnosis and treatment. Once a doctor prescribes a treatment plan, it is essential to stick to it and finish the course of medication to give pneumonia the best chance of healing.

Also, taking all of the medication is essential to help keep the infection away for good.

Anyone who does not see an improvement in their symptoms after 3 or 4 days of treatment should visit their doctor again.

People who experience pneumonia once may be more likely to contract it again. It is advisable to talk to a doctor once treatment is complete to find ways to minimize the chance of pneumonia recurring.

Preventing pneumonia naturally

These should not be seen as a guaranteed prevention method, but more as giving the body the tools it needs to fight off invaders.

As a study posted to Gut Microbes points out, gut health is tied to immune health in humans. Taking good care of the gut by feeding it a varied diet and avoiding inflammatory foods may help keep the immune system strong and avoid infections.

Exercising, managing stress levels, and getting enough rest are also necessary for a person to stay healthy, and may give the body the best chance to avoid infections, including pneumonia.


Pneumonia can be serious, and should not be taken lightly. Most people notice their symptoms improve within the first few days of treatment, but it can take months to recover fully from the respiratory condition.

Giving the body plenty of rest, fluids and a healthy diet that is rich in nutrients is crucial to allow it to heal. Natural home treatments for pneumonia may help alleviate symptoms as well.

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Medical News Today: What happens in the brain when habits form?

There are a million things that we do every day without thinking. Brushing our teeth, drying our hair after a shower, and unlocking our phone screen so we can check our messages are all part of our routine. But what takes place in the brain as we learn a new habit?
old habits new habits sign
What happens in the brain when habits take shape?

What’s something you’ve learned to do without thinking? It might be locking the door behind you as you leave, which could lead to some panic later as you wonder if you actually remembered to do it.

It might be driving to work. Have you ever had that uncanny experience of finding yourself at your destination without fully remembering how you got there? I certainly have, and it’s all thanks to the brain’s trusty autopilot mode.

Habits drive our lives — so much so that sometimes we might want to break the habit, as the saying goes, and experience something new.

But habits are a useful tool; when we do something enough times, we become effortlessly good at it, which is perhaps why Aristotle reportedly believed that “excellence […] is not an act but a habit.”

So, what does habit formation look like in the brain? How do our neural networks behave as we learn something and consolidate it into an effortless behavior through repetition?

These are the questions that Ann Graybiel and her colleagues — from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Chestnut Hill — set out to answer in a recent study, the findings of which are published in the journal Current Biology.

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‘Bookending’ neural signals

Although a habitual action seems so simple and effortless, it actually typically involves a string of small necessary movements — such as unlocking the car, getting into it, adjusting the mirrors, securing the seatbelt, and so on.

This complex set of movements that amount to one routine action that we perform unconsciously is called “chunking,” and although we know that it exists, exactly how “chunks” form and stabilize has remained mysterious so far.

The new study now suggests that some brain cells are tasked with “bookending” the chunks that correspond to habitual actions.

In another study, Graybiel and her former team found that the striatum, a region of the brain previously associated with decision-making, also plays an important role in acquiring habits.

Working with mice, the team noted that the patterns of signals transmitted between neurons in the striatum shifted as the animals were taught a new sequence of actions — turning in one direction at a sound signal while navigating a maze — which then evolved into a habit.

At the beginning of the learning process, the neurons in the mice’s striata emitted a continuous string of signals, the scientists saw, but as the mice’s actions started to consolidate into habitual movements, the neurons fired their distinctive signals only at the beginning and at the end of the task performed.

When a signaling pattern takes root, explain Graybiel and colleagues, a habit has taken shape and breaking it becomes a difficult endeavor.

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Brain patterns that indicate habits

Although edifying, Graybiel’s previous efforts did not establish for certain that the signaling patterns observed in the brain were related to habit formation. They could simply have been motor commands that regulated the mice’s running behavior.

In order to confirm the idea that the patterns corresponded to the chunking associated with habit formation, Graybiel and her current team devised a different set of experiments. In the new study, they set out to teach rats to press two levers repeatedly in a specific order.

The researchers used reward conditioning to motivate the animals. If they pressed the levers in the correct sequence they were offered chocolate milk.

To ensure that there would be no doubt regarding the solidity of the experiment’s results — and that they would be able to identify brain activity patterns related to habit formation rather than anything else — the scientists taught the rats different sequences.

Sure enough, once the animals had learned to press the levers in the sequence established by their trainers, the team noticed the same “bookending” pattern in the striatum: sets of neurons would fire signals at the beginning and end of a task, thus delimitating a “chunk.”

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“I think,” explains Graybiel, “this more or less proves that the development of bracketing patterns serves to package up a behavior that the brain — and the animals — consider valuable and worth keeping in their repertoire.”

It really is a high-level signal that helps to release that habit, and we think the end signal says the routine has been done.”

Ann Graybiel

Finally, the team also noted the formation of another — complementary — pattern of activity in a group of inhibitory brain cells called “interneurons” in the striatum.

“The interneurons,” explains lead study author Nuné Martiros, of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, “were activated during the time when the rats were in the middle of performing the learned sequence.”

She adds that the interneurons “could possibly be preventing the principal neurons from initiating another routine until the current one was finished.”

“The discovery of this opposite activity by the interneurons,” Martiros concludes, “also gets us one step closer to understanding how brain circuits can actually produce this pattern of activity.”

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Medical News Today: What is penis shrinkage and why does it happen?

Penis shrinkage is a decrease in penis size. Sometimes, the shrinkage is permanent, and other times, it is the result of a treatable condition or due to lifestyle habits.

Penis size varies amongst men, and in some cases, considerably. A study shows that neither race nor ethnicity has anything to do with penis size.

While many men may think they have above average size penises, most fall into the range experts consider normal size.

Research on average penis size

depressed looking man sitting on bed
Penis shrinkage is often caused by lifestyle or a treatable condition.

Research from BJU International finds average penis size falls within the following ranges:

  • Average length of a flaccid penis: 9.16 centimeters (about 3.6 inches)
  • Average length of a flaccid stretched penis: 13.24 cm (about 5.3 inches)
  • Average length of an erect penis: 13.12 cm (about 5.2 inches)
  • Average circumference of a flaccid penis: 9.31cm (about 3.7 inches)
  • Average circumference of an erect penis: 11.66 cm (about 4.6 inches)

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What are the causes of penis shrinkage?

Penis shrinkage is widespread as men age, but there are many other reasons why a penis may shrink:


As men age, fatty deposits build up in the arteries causing reduced blood flow to the penis. This results in the muscle cells in the erectile tubes inside the penis becoming weaker. The erectile tubes produce erections when they are engorged with blood, so less blood flow means smaller or fewer firm erections.

Another possible reason for penis shrinkage is a buildup of scar tissue caused by years of small injuries from sex and sports. This accumulation of scar tissue affects the spongy erectile tissues of the penis, causes penis shrinkage, and limits erection size.

Weight Gain

The impact of weight gain, particularly around their stomachs, is a genuine concern for many men as they age.

Although a man’s penis may appear smaller with weight gain, it has not shrunk. The reason it looks smaller is that the penis is attached to the abdominal wall, and when belly expands, it pulls the penis inward. If a man loses weight, his penis will regain its usual shape and size.

Prostate surgery

Research shows men who have had cancerous prostate gland removal surgery (radical prostatectomy) may experience some penis shrinkage. One report in the International Journal of Impotence Research found that 71 percent of men who underwent a radical prostatectomy experienced some penis shrinkage.

But researchers do not quite know why shrinkage occurs after a radical prostatectomy. Some researchers think it might be related to the urethral tube, which connects to the urinary bladder, shortening during the prostatectomy.

Peyronie’s disease

In Peyronie’s disease, fibrous scar tissue develops inside the penis causing it to become curved during erection. Most of the time, a curved erection is not a reason for concern, but for some men, the bend might be significant or painful.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Peyronie’s affects up to 23 percent of men ages 40 to 70. It is possible that more men have this condition but have not reported it to their doctors due to embarrassment. While Peyronie’s develops with age, it has been seen in men as young as 30, according to NIDDK.

Peyronie’s can cause a reduction in length and circumference of a man’s penis. Sometimes, Peyronie’s goes away on its own; most of the time, however, it will either stay the same or get worse. Doctors will only consider treatment if the bend is painful or prevents sexual intercourse. Surgery can be done to remove scar tissue causing the shrinkage, bending, or pain.


Some medications can cause penis shrinkage. These medicines include Adderall, prescribed for attention deficit or hyperactivity, some antidepressants and antipsychotics, and some drugs prescribed to treat an enlarged prostate.

One 2012 study reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some of the male study subjects taking finasteride to treat enlarged prostate reported smaller penis size and reduced sensation.

One 2014 study reported in the journal Urology found that 41 percent of men taking dutasteride for the treatment of enlarged prostate experienced some form of sexual dysfunction.


Chemicals from cigarette smoking can injure the blood vessels in the penis, preventing the penis from filling with blood and stretching. Regardless of the stimuli and the effect on the brain, if the blood vessels are damaged, the penis will not achieve an erection.

A study carried out in 1998 by the Boston University of Medicine examined the erect penises of 200 men. According to one report, the results of the study found smokers had shorter erect penises compared to men who did not smoke. Researchers believe this is because smoking inhibits blood flow, preventing the penis from stretching, which might reduce penis length.

Smoking is also associated with erectile dysfunction (ED), this according to a 2017 study reported in the BJU International. ED affects a man’s ability to maintain an erection, and smoking may prevent erections.

What are the treatment options?

middle aged man smoking
Smoking may cause penis shrinkage due to chemicals affecting the blood vessels in the penis.

Most causes of penis shrinkage, such as smoking and weight gain, can be addressed by making lifestyle changes. If medications are causing the penis to shrink, an adjustment in medication can reverse the shrinkage.

For some men who experience penis shrinkage after prostate removal, the condition may improve on its own within a few months to a year. Penile rehabilitation (a form of physical therapy) after surgery can help men regain erectile function, and medications, such as Viagra and Cialis, can boost blood flow to the penis.

Treatment for Peyronie’s disease focuses on removing scar tissue from inside the penis, either with medication, surgery, or ultrasound technology. Penis shrinkage is irreversible but repairing the curvature can help improve sexual function and reduce pain.

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When to see a doctor

Most of the time, penis shrinkage is related to age, medication, or lifestyle habits, such as smoking or weight gain, and rarely requires treatment. Adopting more healthful lifestyle habits or changing medication can often reverse shrinkage and reduce other sexual problems.

Any man who is experiencing penis shrinkage, pain, or other sexual problems, or has concerns about cancer, should talk to their doctor. A doctor, or urologist, can answer questions, reassure male patients, and offer testing and treatment if necessary.

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Medical News Today: Could sciatica be causing the pain in your buttocks?

A pain in a person’s buttocks can be worrying and uncomfortable. If someone has this kind of discomfort, it is advisable to find the cause and the right medical treatment.

Though most causes of buttock pain do not lead to serious complications and may go away on their own, in some instances, there may be an underlying reason that needs treatment to relieve symptoms.

While many causes of buttock pain are not concerning, there are instances when an underlying condition may mean medical attention and treatment is advisable.

Sciatica and buttock pain

Sciatica is a common cause of pain in the buttocks. Sciatica is not a condition in itself, but rather a symptom of various conditions.

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Common causes of sciatica

Sciatica causing pain in buttocks, side view person holding their lower back.
Sciatica is a common cause of buttock pain.

Sciatica can occur due to a condition that is known as piriformis syndrome.

The piriformis is a muscle that starts in a person’s lower back and runs down to their thigh.

When a person injures or overworks the piriformis muscle, it can press on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs down from the lower spine through to the buttocks and the back of the thigh.

The pressure of the muscle on the sciatic nerve causes the pain known as sciatica.

Sciatic pain may be accompanied by numbness or tingling and may worsen if someone runs, sits, or goes upstairs.

A herniated disc can also cause sciatica. Similarly, sciatica occurs when parts of the spine narrow and begin to press on the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica happens more often in people in their 40s and 50s, as aging makes conditions such as piriformis syndrome more likely.

Other common causes of buttock pain

The most common causes of pain in someone’s buttocks are:


Bruising can occur if someone suffers an injury that causes the blood vessels to become damaged and blood to pool underneath the skin. This is why a bruise appears as a black or blue mark.

Injuries to the buttocks may occur, for example, if a person falls when engaged in sports, or if they slip while walking.

Initially, there may be a lump, swelling, and tenderness that should subside. Eventually, the area will heal, and the bruise will fade.

Muscle strain

Muscle strain is another common cause of buttock pain. The muscles in the buttocks are known as gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. If a person overstretches or pulls these muscle groups, pain may occur.

As well as pain, signs of a muscle strain can include:

  • tenderness
  • stiffness
  • swelling
  • difficulty moving the muscle

A strain can occur if a person partakes in exercise without warming up first, or due to a sudden movement, which can pull the muscle.


Between the bones, a person has bursae. These fluid-filled sacs help to protect and cushion the bones. However, the bursae can become inflamed, leading to a condition known as bursitis.

The areas most frequently affected by bursitis are the knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows. Even so, bursitis can also occur in the buttocks when it is called ischial bursitis.

Symptoms of ischial bursitis may be:

  • pain when sitting or lying down
  • pain in the back of the thigh
  • swelling and redness in the area

Sometimes bursitis in the ischial bursae incurs if a person sits on a hard surface for an extended period. An injury to the buttocks can also lead to this condition.

Herniated disc

X-ray of spine showing herniated disc.
A herniated disc may lead to pain in the buttocks, particularly if it affects the lower back.

Discs in a person’s spine can become herniated if the outer layer of the disc tears, allowing some of the inner material to slip out.

When this happens, the disc presses on spinal nerves, which can be painful and also cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in the area.

Should a herniated disc occur in the lumbar spine or lower back, the pain can radiate to the buttocks and down the legs. Herniated discs are more likely to affect older people as the discs in the spine become weaker with age.

Pulling or lifting heavy objects and being obese are also risk factors.

Degenerative disc disease

In older people, the discs in the back can become weaker and worn down. As this happens, the cushioning that the discs provide becomes less effective, and spinal bones can begin to rub against one another.

This can cause pain in the buttocks and thighs, as well as numbness and tingling in the legs. Symptoms may worsen upon sitting, bending, or lifting.

Pilonidal cyst

A pilonidal cyst can be found in the cleft between a person’s buttocks. These cysts differ from other cysts, as they contain tiny bits of hair and skin.

Sometimes these cysts appear because of an ingrown hair that has grown into the skin.

A pilonidal cyst will appear as a lump and can be quite painful.

Other symptoms may include redness, swelling, blood, and pus seeping from the cyst, or a foul smell.

Pilonidal cysts often occur when a person sits for long periods or when there is lots of friction in the area, for example, on long bike rides.

Perirectal abscess

A perirectal abscess, also known as a perianal abscess, is a cavity that forms in a gland near the anus. It is caused by a bacterial infection and is filled with pus.

Perirectal abscesses are more common in babies, though if an adult has diarrhea, constipation, or issues with bowel movements, then a perirectal abscess can occur.

It is also possible for an abscess to form when there is an abnormal connection between the inside of the anus and the skin, known as a fistula. Because of this opening, bacteria can become trapped, and so the abscess occurs.

Doctors may recommend surgery for people with this condition to remove the fistula.

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

The sacroiliac joint can be found connecting the triangular bone known as the sacrum to the pelvic bone.

If the sacroiliac joint becomes inflamed, a person may experience pain in the lower back, buttocks, and upper legs.

Walking, running, and going upstairs can make the pain worse, and a doctor may recommend physical therapy to help keep the joint flexible and improve its strength.


Arthritis is a common disease that can affect the joints all over a person’s body. It is thought that more than 54 million Americans have a type of arthritis. Arthritis can occur due to the joints becoming worn down, as a person gets older.

Some types of arthritis occur because the immune system begins to attack the joints.

Arthritis causes joints to stiffen and can be very painful. If this occurs in the hip joints, pain can radiate to the buttocks, though keeping the joint moving, physical therapy, and medication can all help and improve the flexibility of the joint.

Vascular disease

A person with vascular disease may experience pain in the buttocks due to blood vessels becoming blocked and not enough blood reaching the legs. The pain usually occurs when walking and stops if the person stops moving.

A person may also experience hair loss and weakness in the lower legs when they have vascular disease.

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Is buttock pain a reason to be worried?

Doctor at desk explaining something to patient listening.
Pain with no obvious cause, or pain that is ongoing or worsening, should be discussed with a doctor.

Making an appointment with a doctor can be helpful if there is no obvious cause for the pain, and it does not subside, intensifies, or there are other symptoms.

Additional symptoms can include:

  • numbness or weakness in the legs
  • sharp stabbing or shooting pain
  • a sore that does not heal
  • a temperature of 104°F (40°C) or above
  • difficulty controlling the bowels or bladder
  • pain that limits movement and only occurs when moving

Diagnosis and treatment

Though not concerning normally, people should still monitor the pain, and if it does not go away or additional symptoms occur, it is a good idea to make an appointment to see a doctor.

Doctors are the best people to prescribe treatment after investigating the cause of the pain. They may refer the individual to a rheumatologist, orthopedic specialist, or physical therapist.

Other treatment can include:

  • corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation
  • draining the cyst or abscess that is causing pain
  • surgical repair of a damaged disc or replacement of a worn joint

It may be that rest and over-the-counter pain medication are enough to help a person manage their buttock pain.

Other home remedies include applying ice or heat to the area and gently stretching the legs, buttocks, and hips.

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