Medical News Today: Dyslipidemia: Everything you need to know

Dyslipidemia is defined as having blood lipid levels that are too high or low. Blood lipids are fatty substances, such as triglycerides and cholesterol.

Many people achieve healthy levels by eating a balanced diet and through other aspects of their lifestyle. However, some require medication to prevent additional health problems.

What is dyslipidemia?

Blood cells and lipid particles in artery to represent dyslipidemia.
Dyslipidemia is characterized by abnormal levels of lipids in the blood.

Dyslipidemia occurs when someone has abnormal levels of lipids in their blood. While the term describes a wide range of conditions, the most common forms of dyslipidemia involve:

  • high levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or bad cholesterol
  • low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or good cholesterol
  • high levels of triglycerides
  • high cholesterol, which refers to high LDL and triglyceride levels

Lipids, or fats, are building blocks of life and provide energy to cells. Lipids include:

  • LDL cholesterol, which is considered bad because it can cause plaques to form in the blood vessels.
  • HDL cholesterol, which is regarded as good because it can help to remove LDL from the blood.
  • Triglycerides, which develop when calories are not burned right away and are stored in fat cells.

Healthy blood lipid levels naturally vary from person to person. However, people with high levels of LDL and triglycerides or very low HDL levels tend to have a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis develops when hard, fatty deposits called plaques accumulate in blood vessels, making it difficult for blood to flow.

Over time, these plaques can build up and cause major circulation problems, such as heart attacks and strokes.

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Unless it is severe, most people with dyslipidemia are unaware that they have it. A doctor will usually diagnose dyslipidemia during a routine blood test or a test for another condition.

Severe or untreated dyslipidemia can lead to other conditions, including coronary artery disease (CAD) and peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Both CAD and PAD can cause serious health complications, including heart attacks and strokes. Common symptoms of these conditions include:

  • leg pain, especially when walking or standing
  • chest pain
  • tightness or pressure in the chest and shortness of breath
  • pain, tightness, and pressure in the neck, jaw, shoulders, and back
  • indigestion and heartburn
  • sleep problems and daytime exhaustion
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • cold sweats
  • vomiting and nausea
  • swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, stomach, and veins of the neck
  • fainting

These symptoms may get worse with activity or stress and get better when a person rests.

Talk with a doctor about chest pain, especially any of the above symptoms accompany it.

Anyone who experiences severe chest pain, dizziness, and fainting, or problems breathing should seek emergency care.

Types and causes

Dyslipidemia can be categorized into two types, based on the cause:

Primary dyslipidemia

Blood sample being tested by lab technician.
Dyslipidemia can be diagnosed with a blood test.

Genetic factors cause primary dyslipidemia, and it is inherited. Common causes of primary dyslipidemia include:

  • Familial combined hyperlipidemia, which develops in teenagers and young adults and can lead to high cholesterol.
  • Familial hyperapobetalipoproteinemia, a mutation in a group of LDL lipoproteins called apolipoproteins.
  • Familial hypertriglyceridemia, which leads to high triglyceride levels.
  • Homozygous familial or polygenic hypercholesterolemia, a mutation in LDL receptors.

Secondary dyslipidemia

Secondary dyslipidemia is caused by lifestyle factors or medical conditions that interfere with blood lipid levels over time.

Common causes of secondary dyslipidemia include:

  • obesity, especially excess weight around the waist
  • diabetes
  • hypothyroidism
  • alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism
  • polycystic ovary syndrome
  • metabolic syndrome
  • excessive consumption of fats, especially saturated and trans fats
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • inflammatory bowel disease, commonly known as IBS
  • severe infections, such as HIV
  • an abdominal aortic aneurysm

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Risk factors

Several factors are known to increase the chances of developing dyslipidemia and related conditions. These risk factors include:

  • obesity
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • a lack of regular physical exercise
  • alcohol use
  • tobacco use
  • use of illegal or illicit drugs
  • sexually transmitted infections
  • type 2 diabetes
  • hypothyroidism
  • chronic kidney or liver conditions
  • digestive conditions
  • older age
  • a diet rich in saturated and trans fats
  • a parent or grandparent with dyslipidemia
  • female sex, as women tend to experience higher LDL levels after menopause


Man receieving prescription medication from doctor.
Treatment for dyslipidemia will usually involve taking medication.

A doctor will usually focus on lowering a person’s levels of triglycerides and LDL. However, treatment can vary, depending on the underlying cause of dyslipidemia and how severe it is.

Doctors may prescribe one or more lipid-modifying medications for people with very high total cholesterol levels of at least 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood.

High cholesterol is usually treated with statins, which interfere with the production of cholesterol in the liver.

If statins fail to lower LDL and triglyceride levels, a doctor may recommend additional medications, including:

  • ezetimibe
  • niacin
  • fibrates
  • bile acid sequestrants
  • evolocumab and alirocumab
  • lomitapide and mipomersen

Some lifestyle changes and supplements can help to encourage healthy blood lipid levels.

Natural treatments include:

  • reducing the consumption of unhealthy fats, such as those found in red meats, full-fat dairy products, refined carbohydrates, chocolate, chips, and fried foods
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining a healthy body weight, by losing weight if necessary
  • reducing or avoiding alcohol consumption
  • quitting smoking and other use of tobacco products
  • avoiding sitting for long periods of time
  • increasing consumption of healthy polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, whole grains, and olive oil
  • taking omega-3 oil, either as a liquid or in capsules
  • eating plenty of dietary fiber from whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • getting at least 6– 8 hours of sleep a night
  • drinking plenty of water

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People with minor dyslipidemia usually have no symptoms. They can often manage or resolve the condition by making lifestyle adjustments.

People with dyslipidemia should contact a doctor if they experience symptoms relating to the heart or circulation, including:

  • chest pains or tightness
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • exhaustion
  • swelling of the ankles and feet
  • trouble breathing
  • cold sweats
  • nausea and heartburn

People who have severe dyslipidemia, especially those with other medical conditions, may need to manage their blood lipid levels with medication, in addition to making lifestyle changes.

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Medical News Today: Can stomach problems cause lower back pain?

Back pain and bloating can be a miserable and frightening experience when they occur together. However, the most common causes of back pain and bloating are usually due to relatively harmless, underlying conditions.

Although back pain and bloating are fairly common symptoms, it is a good idea to see a doctor if they last more than a few days.

Although the most common causes of back pain and bloating are relatively harmless, some of the less common reasons can be life-threatening.

Common causes of back pain and bloating

Back pain and bloating in woman holding lower back
Back pain and bloating may occur together but may not always be related.

It is worth mentioning that these common causes are by far the most likely reasons that a person will develop back pain and bloating. Causes include:

  • hormonal shifts
  • pregnancy
  • back injuries
  • gas and gastrointestinal problems
  • stress
  • urinary tract infection (UTI)

A doctor will check for these conditions before looking for anything more serious.

Hormonal shifts

Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers. As hormone levels swing, they can affect the way the body behaves. Both sexes are vulnerable to hormone shifts.

Many women experience back pain or cramping with bloating during or immediately before their period. If the symptoms follow a predictable pattern and do not cause severe problems, they are generally nothing to worry about.

People undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may also experience bloating and pain. They should discuss these symptoms with a doctor.


Sometimes, pregnancy causes bloating, constipation, and gas. This is particularly true late in pregnancy when the uterus begins compressing the organs.

The additional weight at the front of the body can also put a strain on the back and hips. Anyone who is pregnant should tell their doctor or midwife about any symptoms they experience, since any conditions or problems that the pregnant woman experiences can affect the baby.

Most causes of bloating and back pain in pregnancy are harmless and typically clear up after delivery.

Back injuries

A wide range of back injuries, ranging from minor muscle sprains and strains to more serious injuries such as herniated discs, can cause back pain.

Sometimes the pain from a herniated disc radiates to other areas of the body, including the abdomen, and can create unusual sensations, such as bloating.

Gas and gastrointestinal (GI) problems

Most of the time, gas is no more than a minor annoyance.

However, gas occasionally produces intense pain that makes the entire abdomen feel full and tender. This pain can radiate to the back, causing back pain and bloating. Minor gastrointestinal problems, such as stomach viruses, may also cause intense gas pain.

Sometimes, GI issues can cause muscle pain. This can happen after straining to have a bowel movement or repeatedly vomiting.


Stress changes the body, not just the mind. Intense stress or anxiety can trigger both back pain and stomach discomfort, including bloating.

Back pain often occurs because some people who are experiencing stress tense their muscles unconsciously. Stomach pain and bloating are more common in people who have stress as well as an underlying condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


A UTI can cause back pain when it spreads to the kidneys. UTIs also trigger a frequent need to use the bathroom. Some people find that they feel like they need to use the bathroom again immediately after using it.

This sensation may feel like abdominal bloating, pain, or pressure. Severe kidney infections can also cause vomiting that leads to bloating.

Less common causes of back pain and bloating

The following issues may also cause back pain and bloating, but are much less common:

  • spinal injuries and disorders
  • pancreatic cancer
  • liver disorders
  • abdominal aortic aneurysms
  • serious gastrointestinal disorders, such as peritonitis and bowel obstruction

Although rare, these causes and conditions require prompt treatment. Anyone experiencing severe pain or who thinks they are at risk for a rare cause should see a doctor immediately.

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When to see a doctor

If pain is severe, or lasts for several days, consult a doctor.
A person should consult a doctor if their pain is severe or lasts several days.

Abdominal bloating and back pain are often just minor annoyances that go away on their own. In many cases, the two symptoms are unrelated.

For example, people with chronic pain in their lower back may periodically experience gas that makes their abdomen hurt and their back pain worse.

See a doctor if the pain does not go away on its own after a few days.

Someone should go to the emergency room if:

  • the pain is unbearable and comes on suddenly
  • the pain is accompanied by bleeding from the rectum
  • they have a severe medical condition, such as liver failure
  • they have recently suffered a serious injury, such as a spinal cord injury

See a doctor within a day if:

  • there is a fever along with the pain
  • the pain is getting worse
  • the pain is different from previous episodes of back or stomach pain

Treatment options

Treatment depends on the cause but may involve the following:

Treating infections and other causes

Bacterial infections, such as UTIs and kidney infections, require antibiotics. Appendicitis and some other causes of swelling in the abdominal cavity may need surgery. If an ectopic pregnancy is the cause of the symptoms, the pregnancy must be removed.

Treating an underlying condition

It is essential to treat any underlying conditions. People with liver failure may need a liver transplant, while those with diabetes may require insulin or diabetes medications.

What if the cause is unknown?

Before a doctor can treat the pain, they must determine the cause. To do this, the doctor may take a complete medical history, press on the abdomen or back to identify pain levels and position, perform blood work, or do imaging scans of the back or stomach.

Home remedies

Drinking plenty of water may help to treat bloating
Drinking plenty of water may help to treat bloating.

There are some home remedies that a person can try to ease back pain and bloating. However, if symptoms are due to a serious condition, such as liver failure, it is essential to talk to a doctor before trying any home remedies. Some treatments may be unsafe for people in organ failure or with other conditions.

If the problem is a minor one, such as gas or a stomach virus, it is usually safe to manage symptoms at home.

Strategies that might help include:

  • taking anti-gas medication
  • applying a heating pad to the back or stomach
  • drinking plenty of water
  • resting
  • deep breathing
  • over-the-counter pain relievers

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Most cases of bloating and back pain disappear on their own. Some, such as those due to kidney infections or appendicitis, require treatment but can easily be cured with medical care. Managing symptoms will require an ongoing approach in some cases.

Cancer, liver failure, and other serious disorders are more difficult to treat. Early intervention and prompt medical care improve the outlook in all cases.


Abdominal bloating and back pain are widespread complaints, with many possible causes. Unless the pain is intense or accompanied by other worrisome symptoms, it is usually safe to see if symptoms disappear on their own.

However, do not self-diagnose. Only a medical provider can determine the cause of the pain. With prompt treatment, even serious and life-threatening conditions can improve.

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Medical News Today: Sleep-wake disruption strongly linked to mood disorders

After analyzing day and night patterns of activity and rest in more than 90,000 United Kingdom residents, researchers have found a strong link between disrupted sleep-wake cycles and higher risk of mood disorders, such as bipolar and depression, and poorer well-being.
young woman lying awake
Scientists find a link between a disrupted sleep-wake cycle and several mood disorders.

The study, which is now published in The Lancet Psychiatry, is the first of its kind to use objective measures of activity in a group that is large enough to produce statistically meaningful results.

“Our findings indicate an association,” notes first study author Dr. Laura M. Lyall, who’s a research associate in the Institute of Health & Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, U.K., “between altered daily circadian rhythms and mood disorders and well-being.”

However, Dr. Lyall also points out that while the findings reveal a strong link, theirs was an observational study, and so they cannot say whether disrupted circadian rhythm increases our susceptibility to mood disorders or whether having mood disorders disrupts our circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythms and body clocks

Circadian rhythms are the biological and behavioral patterns of living things that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle.

Much of their timing and control lies in the hands of biological clocks, which consist of groups of proteins that reside inside cells.

The genes that tell cells how to make and operate the biological clocks are largely similar in many living species — from fungi to fruit flies and humans.

Changes in the environment are also able to influence an organism’s circadian rhythms. A prime example is daylight, which can switch biological clock genes on and off.

There is also a master clock in the brain that keeps all of our biological clocks in sync. It occupies a part of the brain that is directly linked to the eyes.

Our sleep-wake cycle is a major circadian rhythm that responds to light and dark, or day and night. It is also the subject of the new study.

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‘Relative amplitude’ of activity

Disruption of the sleep-wake cycle is a well-known “core feature of mood disorders,” as the study authors note, adding that it may also be linked to a higher risk of developing such disorders.

However, previous research has mainly relied on data collected from participants’ own reports of their day and night patterns of rest and activity.

It has also tended not to study large groups or take into account sufficient factors that might influence the results.

For their study, Dr. Lyall and her colleagues used data collected by the U.K. Biobank, which is a nationwide research project currently tracking the “health and well-being” of half a million volunteers residing in the U.K.

The data came from 91,105 Biobank subjects aged between 37 and 73 who wore accelerometers for a week during 2013–2015. The devices recorded objective measures of rest and activity 24 hours per day over the 7 days.

From the accelerometer data, the team produced a measure of activity for each person called a “relative amplitude.”

A lower relative amplitude is an indicator of disrupted circadian rhythm. For example, someone with reduced activity during the day because of an episode of depression, or increased activity at night because of disrupted sleep, has a lower relative amplitude compared with someone who is active during the day and sleeps soundly at night.

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Lower relative amplitude and mood disorders

The scientists then compared the relative amplitude patterns with “mood disorder, well-being, and cognitive variables” that came from mental health questionnaires that had been filled in by the participants.

The findings revealed that participants with lower relative amplitudes of circadian rhythm were the ones most likely to report having a history of bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder.

The team also found reliable links between lower relative amplitudes and:

  • more unstable moods
  • lower levels of happiness
  • higher scores on neuroticism
  • greater perceived loneliness
  • less satisfaction with health
  • “slower reaction times,” which they used as a measure of cognitive function

These links were not affected by factors that might influence the results, such as sex, ethnicity, smoking, alcohol, education, body mass index (BMI), childhood trauma, and the time of year in which the activity data were recorded.

The authors recognize that their study was not representative of adolescence, which is typically when most mood disorders begin.

“[M]ore longitudinal studies in younger populations might improve our understanding of causal mechanisms, and help find new ways to predict mood disorders and fine-tune treatments,” the authors conclude.

Dr. Aiden Doherty, of the University of Oxford in the U.K., picks up this point in a linked comment article.

As he notes, “Although the U.K. Biobank is one of the most important medical resources worldwide, the study population (median age at baseline of 62 years, IQR [interquartile range] 54–68 years) is not ideal to examine the causes of mental health, given that 75 percent of disorders start before the age of 24 years.”

Dr. Doherty suggests, nevertheless, that the Biobank offers a “template” for researching younger populations such as “adolescents and younger adults to help transform our understanding of the causes and consequences, prevention, and treatment of mental health disorders.”

While our findings can’t tell us about the direction of causality, they reinforce the idea that mood disorders are associated with disturbed circadian rhythms, and we provide evidence that altered rest-activity rhythms are also linked to worse subjective well-being and cognitive ability.”

Dr. Laura M. Lyall

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Medical News Today: Vampires and rabies: What’s the link?

At first, there appears to be little to link a mythical blood-sucking beast and a serious medical condition. However, as we shall see, the two could be very much entwined.
Vampire in a dark room
Where did the vampire myth begin?

Vampires are so entrenched in our psyche that there’s probably not one adult in the whole of the Western world that doesn’t know who Dracula is.

There is something about these nocturnal blood-crazed characters that captivates our imaginations. But where did the legend come from?

According to some researchers, the origin of the vampire myth could be rooted in a very real menace: rabies.

Rabies is a deadly virus that is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected animal. Globally, it kills an estimated 59,000 people each year — that equates to almost one death every 9 minutes. Initial symptoms are only flu-like, but once they appear, rabies is almost always fatal.

Creatures that carry the virus include skunks, dogs, coyotes, foxes, and, you’ve guessed it, vampire bats — but that’s not the connection with mythical vampires that we are discussing today.

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The birth of vampirism?

In the 1700s, vampires were not just legends; as far as normal folk were concerned, vampires were a genuine worry. As Voltaire said, “Vampires were the sole matter of conversation between 1730 and 1735.”

And, it just so happens that there was a rabies epidemic in Hungary in the 1720s — the very time and place where the vampire legend appears to have taken root. But the similarities run deeper still.

The following links were made by Dr. J. Gómez-Alonso, a Spanish neurologist, who published his intriguing theory in the journal Neurology in 1998. Below, we outline some of his major observations.

A male affliction. Vampires are almost always depicted as male, and rabies affects men seven times more often than women.

Biting. Individuals with rabies become particularly aggressive and sometimes bite, or attempt to bite, other people. Also, once a vampire bites you, you become one of them, as is the case with rabies — it is by being bitten that the virus is most commonly spread. However, it is very rarely transmitted by a human-to-human bite.

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Aversions. Rabies might cause people to become averse to strong or surprising stimuli, including odors (such as garlic), light, and mirrors. In fact, according to Gómez-Alonso’s paper, “A man was not considered rabid if he was able to stand the sight of his own image in a mirror.”

When someone with rabies comes into contact with such stimuli, their face can become contorted as the facial muscles spasm; their lips curl back to display their teeth, and their vocal cords may contract, producing hoarse sounds. They might also froth or bleed from the mouth.

Insomnia and wandering. Rabies sometimes makes it difficult for the afflicted to sleep, and they therefore become prone to night wandering.

Hypersexual. Vampires have a reputation for being rather lascivious. Similarly, people with rabies can be easily aroused. This is thought to be because the virus influences the limbic system, which controls emotions and behavior.

In some cases, men with rabies can experience priapism, which is a painful erection that lasts, sometimes, for days.

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Transformation. Vampires are often depicted turning into other animals — the bat being the most common. Animals with rabies behave in much the same way as humans with rabies.

It is not too much of a leap of the imagination to think that somebody living in the 18th century who saw a human and an animal acting similarly might make some kind of link; they might assume that animal and beast were morphing into each other.

After death. When someone dies from rabies, it is commonly due to asphyxia or cardiorespiratory arrest. In these cases, blood can remain liquid for some time after.

Because of the vampire-based concerns of the day, bodies were often dug up to check that they weren’t vampires. Seeing liquid blood oozing might raise concerns.

Also, as tissue breaks down, parts of the body and internal organs can become swollen as gases are produced. This distension can force blood out of the mouth. If a corpse were to be exhumed, the sight of what appeared to be fresh blood in the mouth may be taken as confirmation that the undead had been feasting on humans during the night.

These could all be coincidences, but the parallels are striking.

The connection with rabies is the most comprehensive explanation, especially given the coincidence in time and the striking similarities between the two conditions.”

Dr. J. Gómez-Alonso

He adds, “This research shows us that sometimes things that are apparently bizarre and senseless can have a logical explanation.”

“It also reminds us that the limbic system,” says Dr. Gómez-Alonso, “or the ‘brutish, animal part of our brain,’ plays an important role in our behavior, and violence or unusual sexual behavior can easily be misinterpreted and be the result of a limbic system disorder.”

We cannot say that the vampire-rabies connection is solid fact, but it does fit rather neatly. More research will be needed, but it is unlikely to receive much funding.

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Medical News Today: What are the best foods for heart health?

Heart disease is still the number one killer in the United States. In this Spotlight, we outline 16 foods that, when consumed as part of a well-rounded diet, might help to keep your heart healthy.
Heart-shaped fruits
How can you improve your heart health with food?

There are many things you can do to help keep your heart healthy and disease-free.

You can schedule an annual checkup, exercise daily, quit smoking, or take steps to reduce the level of stress in your life.

All of these things can have a positive effect on heart health. But, one of the simplest lifestyle changes that will benefit your heart is watching what you eat.

Nearly 6 million people are currently living with heart failure, and around half of these will die within 5 years of being diagnosed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that eating foods high in fat, cholesterol, or sodium can be very bad for the heart. So, when taking steps to minimize the risk of heart disease, diet is a good place to start.

In this article, we examine some of the best foods for ensuring that you keep a robust and healthy heart.

1. Asparagus

Asparagus is a natural source of folate, which helps to prevent an amino acid called homocysteine from building up in the body. High homocysteine levels have been linked with an increased risk of heart-related conditions, such as coronary artery disease and stroke.

2. Beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils

Beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils — otherwise known as pulses or legumes — can all significantly reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad cholesterol.” They are also packed with fiber, protein, and antioxidant polyphenols, all of which have beneficial effects on the heart and general health.

3. Berries

Berries are also full of antioxidant polyphenols, which help to reduce heart disease risk. Berries are a great source of fiber, folate, iron, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and they are low in fat.

4. Broccoli

Some studies suggest that regularly eating steamed broccoli can lower cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease.

5. Chia seeds and flaxseeds

These seeds are a rich plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid. Omega-3s have many beneficial effects, such as helping to lower levels of triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol. They also reduce blood pressure and minimize the buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries.

Omega-3s decrease the risk of disorders that can lead to heart attack, such as thrombosis and arrhythmias.

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6. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate is a rare example of a food that tastes amazing and is good for you (in moderation).

Heart health dark chocolate
Dark chocolate: delicious and heart-healthy.

Scientists now believe that dark chocolate has protective benefits against atherosclerosis, which is when plaque builds up inside the arteries, increasing risk of heart attack and stroke.

Dark chocolate seems to prevent two of the mechanisms implicated in atherosclerosis: stiffness of the arteries and white blood cell adhesion, which is when white blood cells stick to the walls of blood vessels.

What is more, studies have found that increasing dark chocolate’s flavanol content — which is the compound that makes it tasty and moreish — does not diminish these protective benefits.

7. Coffee

Also in the “almost too good to be true” camp is coffee. One recent study found that regularly drinking coffee was linked with a decreased risk of developing heart failure and stroke.

However, it is important to bear in mind that this study — which used machine learning to assess data from the Framingham Heart Study — can only observe an association between factors, and cannot conclusively identify cause and effect.

8. Fish high in omega-3s

Fish is a strong source of heart-helping omega-3 fatty acids and protein but it is low in saturated fat. People who have heart disease, or are at risk of developing it, are often recommended to increase their intake of omega-3s by eating fish; this is because they lower the risk of abnormal heartbeats and slow the growth of plaque in the arteries.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), we should eat a 3.5-ounce serving of fatty fish — such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, or albacore tuna — at least twice per week.

9. Green tea

A 2011 systematic review found that drinking green tea is associated with a small reduction in cholesterol, which, as we know, is a main contributor to heart disease and stroke. But the review could not pinpoint how much green tea someone would have to drink to receive any health benefits.

In 2014, another review studied the effects of drinking green tea on people with high blood pressure. The report concluded that green tea was associated with a reduction in blood pressure. But, the authors were unable to determine if this modest reduction could help to prevent heart disease.

10. Nuts

Almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts are all heart-healthy nut options. These nuts are full of protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Like fish and flaxseeds, walnuts are also ripe with omega-3 fatty acids, making them a heart-healthy snack to have on the go.

11. Liver

Of all the organ meats, liver is the most nutrient-dense. In particular, liver is bulging with folic acid, iron, chromium, copper, and zinc, which increase the blood’s hemoglobin level and help to keep our heart healthy.

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12. Oatmeal

Because oatmeal is rich in soluble fiber, it may help to reduce the risk of heart disease. A 2008 review of the evidence concluded that oat-based products significantly reduce LDL and total cholesterol without any adverse effects.

13. Red wine (sort of)

Many studies have noted the potential health benefits of the antioxidants in red wine. However, it is unlikely that the benefits of the antioxidants outweigh the dangers of alcohol.

Red wine and heart
Red wine contains beneficial antioxidants, but bear in mind that it should only be consumed in moderation.

Recently, however, a new study proposed that these same antioxidants could form the basis of a new stent for use during angioplasty — the process where narrow or obstructed veins are widened to treat atherosclerosis.

The researchers behind that study are currently developing a new kind of stent that releases red wine-like antioxidants into the blood to promote healing, prevent blood clotting, and reduce inflammation during angioplasty.

It is worth noting that drinking alcohol, in general, is not healthy for your heart. In fact, it is vitally important for cardiovascular health to drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.

14. Spinach

You can help to maintain a healthy heart rhythm by regularly consuming good sources of magnesium. Spinach is one of the best sources of dietary magnesium, and consumption of Popeye’s favorite food is associated with a raft of health benefits.

15. Tomatoes

Tomatoes have lots of nutrients that might help keep our hearts healthy. The little red fruits are chock-full of fiber, potassium, vitamin C, folate, and choline, which are all good for the heart.

As well as helping to keep heart disease at bay, potassium benefits muscles and bones, and helps prevent kidney stones from forming.

Scientists have argued that increasing potassium intake while decreasing sodium intake is the most important dietary change when attempting to reduce the risk of heart disease.

16. Vegetables

The AHA advise that we eat eight or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Vegetables are low in fat and calories but rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. A healthful amount of veggies in the diet can help to moderate weight and blood pressure.

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Medical News Today: Why is my tongue bleeding?

A number of conditions could result in a bleeding tongue. Some of these conditions are serious while others pose no long-term health risk.

The most common causes of a bleeding tongue include:

  • sudden harsh biting of the tongue
  • mouth sores
  • injuries from dentures or braces
  • eating sharp or hard foods
  • radiation treatment for cancer

This article provides a brief overview of the possible reasons for a bleeding tongue, how to diagnose and treat the condition, and when it is advisable to see a doctor.


Man having bleeding tongue and throat inspected by doctor using tongue depressor.
Various conditions may cause a bleeding tongue, including oral infections.

There are many reasons why a tongue might start bleeding. Some of these will be obvious, for example biting it too hard or injuring it with a sharp piece of food.

Other causes may be less clear though. These include various infections and sores that can affect the tongue.

Some less obvious causes of tongue bleeding include:

Mouth ulcers or blisters

Ulcers or blisters that develop in the mouth, including on the tongue, are also known as canker sores. These can develop as a result of hormonal changes or genetics or can be triggered by certain health conditions, such as vitamin B-12 deficiency or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

They are rarely a cause for concern and tend to heal on their own. However, irritants such as sharp food or a harsh toothbrush may injure these sores and result in a tongue bleed.


A doctor or dentist is likely to make a diagnosis by examining the mouth. If they suspect an underlying infection or another medical condition, they will ask for a mouth swab or other tests.


There is no quick fix for mouth ulcers and blisters, but they usually clear up within 1 to 2 weeks.

Some treatment options that may reduce symptoms and prevent infection include:

  • antimicrobial mouthwashes, gels, and sprays
  • lozenges containing corticosteroids

If the problem persists for more than 3 weeks, it could be a sign of an infection and should be checked by a doctor.

Oral infections

Fungal or yeast infections in the mouth are fairly common, but if they are left untreated then they can progress to cause tongue bleeds.

Infections such as oral thrush (candidiasis) may result in hard mouth sores that cause pain while eating, drinking, and swallowing.

Many healthy people have yeast in their mouth, but only some go on to develop an infection. Those with a higher risk of getting these infections include:


As with mouth ulcers, doctors tend to diagnose oral infections by visual examination.

A doctor may recommend taking a mouth swab to work out which germ is responsible for the infection. Knowing this will help the doctor decide how best to target it with a specific treatment.


Depending on the type and extent of the infection, people can use both creams and oral medicines to treat an oral infection.

Oral herpes

Oral herpes on top lip
Oral herpes has no cure, but it is treatable.

Oral herpes is a contagious condition caused by the herpes simplex virus. This virus can survive in the human body for years without causing any problems. However, certain triggers, such as stress or hormonal changes, may activate the virus to cause an infection.

Oral herpes initially appears as cold sores in the mouth. If present on the tongue, these sores are prone to bleeding on sudden injury or contact with certain trigger foods.


Oral herpes is not easy to diagnose as it tends to cause either symptoms that are similar to those of other medical conditions or no symptoms at all.

Common signs include:

  • pain
  • itching
  • redness
  • blisters that burn

The best way to diagnose oral herpes is by taking a tissue sample from the affected area, which a doctor can test to check for the presence of the virus. A blood test can also be used to detect the virus.


There is no cure for a herpes infection, but medications are available to treat its symptoms. The most common treatment option for oral herpes is antiviral medication, which can be in the form of pills or an injection.

Other treatments that help manage symptoms include antiviral ointments, topical anesthetics, and over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory agents.

Blood vessel abnormalities

Sometimes a collection of excess blood vessels known as a hemangioma develops on the face, head, mouth, or neck. This will generally be present at birth or develop in early childhood.

Tongue hemangiomas, though rare, can cause bleeding, pain, and difficulty eating. They are more common in women than in men.


Doctors diagnose a tongue hemangioma through a physical examination and by studying a person’s medical case history.


Various treatment options are now available to treat tongue hemangiomas. Depending on the individual’s age and physical condition, a doctor may use the following methods to treat these blood vessel defects:

  • surgery
  • corticosteroids
  • radiation treatment
  • cryosurgery, where extreme cold is used to destroy cells
  • laser treatment
  • radiofrequency, a technique that uses heat to trigger a healing response

In many cases, tongue hemangiomas go away on their own over time.

Tongue cancer

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCCA) is the most common type of tongue cancer. It gets its name from the type of cells that are affected, which make up the lining of the mouth, nose, voice box, thyroid, and throat.

Symptoms of tongue cancer include:

  • unexplained bleeding of the tongue
  • persistent pain when swallowing
  • a sore spot or lump on the tongue
  • a feeling of numbness in the mouth

Other medical conditions can cause these symptoms, but it is worth visiting a doctor if they appear.


Early detection of tongue cancer is important to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body.

A biopsy is the best way to confirm the presence of tongue cancer. It involves examining a small sample of tissue under a microscope.


As with most cancers, the stage and extent of the tongue cancer will determine how it is treated. For example, a different approach may be needed if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy are all used to treat this type of cancer.

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Dental hygiene products including toothbrush, floss, and mouthwash.
Maintaining good oral hygiene may prevent a bleeding tongue.

People can help prevent a bleeding tongue by being aware of the risk factors.

While it is not possible to prevent many of the health conditions that can cause a bleeding tongue, people can change certain habits or lifestyle factors to reduce their risk.

Risk factors for tongue bleeding include:

  • poor oral hygiene
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • excessive smoking
  • poor use of dentures, floss, and other dental apparatus

Taking care while eating will also make mouth injuries less likely.

Home remedies

Some easy home remedies can provide relief and may temporarily stop the bleeding. These include:

  • Placing ice cubes on the affected area of the tongue, either directly or in a clean napkin or gauze. Repeat two or three times a day if this provides relief.
  • Gargling several times a day with an antiseptic mouthwash or warm water.
  • Stirring a teaspoon of salt or baking soda into a cup of warm water and rinsing the mouth three to five times a day.
  • Avoiding foods or liquids that could trigger or worsen a mouth sore or ulcer. These include spicy foods and foods that are sharp in texture.
  • Taking an OTC painkiller to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Allowing the tongue to heal. Avoid chewing on the affected side of the tongue and do not poke it.

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When to see a doctor

If a person continues to experience tongue pain, tingling, or bleeding for longer than 2 weeks, or has mouth sores that persist for more than 3 weeks, it would be wise to see a doctor.

It is a good idea to make a note of any signs and symptoms ahead of the appointment in order to communicate these clearly with the doctor. This information will help them make a more accurate diagnosis.


A bleeding tongue could be the result of many conditions, and may sometimes heal on its own.

If the symptoms persist, a doctor will be able to recommend a specific course of treatment.

Written by Gillian D’Souza

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Medical News Today: What to know about bladder cysts

Cysts can form in, on, or around the urinary bladder. Bladder cysts are common only when a person has experienced other issues related to the urinary system.

There are several types of bladder cyst, most of which are not cancerous.

Bladder cysts tend to cause no symptoms. A person may experience painful or frequent urination, and the condition may be mistaken for cystitis.

In this article, we describe the types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of bladder cysts.

What are bladder cysts?

Man holding groin due to bladder cysts
Symptoms of bladder cysts may include an urgent need to urinate, excessive urination at night, and pain when urinating.

Cysts are pockets of tissue filled with air, pus, or other types of fluid. They may appear anywhere on the body, internally or externally. Bladder cysts tend to form in the lining of the bladder.

They are relatively rare in people who have a normally functioning urinary tract. These cysts tend to form as small, benign growths that can go unnoticed. A doctor often finds them only when diagnosing other pelvic issues.

In the bladder, cysts can cause similar symptoms to polyps, which are abnormal cell growths. Unlike cysts, polyps are not filled with any other material. They may be benign or cancerous.

Are bladder cysts cancerous?

Bladder cysts are almost always benign, which means that they are noncancerous.

A doctor should determine whether any newly formed lump is a cyst or a tumor, as tumors are more likely to become cancerous.

If a lump starts to grow abnormally or otherwise indicates cancer, a doctor will explore further testing and treatment options.

According to the American Cancer Society, chronic bladder infections or irritations can increase a person’s risk of bladder cancer. If this is a concern, discuss it with a doctor, who will describe risk factors and monitor symptoms closely.


Most bladder cysts are tiny and cause no symptoms. A person tends to only experience symptoms when the cysts have grown large or when they have burst and become infected. Underlying conditions can lead to additional symptoms.

If symptoms appear, they can include:

  • pain when urinating
  • blood or off-colored streaks in the urine
  • a painful need to urinate
  • a continuous, urgent need to urinate
  • inability to control the bladder, which is known as incontinence
  • excessive urination at night
  • pain in the lower back or pelvic region
  • foul- or sour-smelling urine

Similar symptoms may arise from other bladder problems, such as kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Symptoms like these can also point to interstitial cystitis, a chronic bladder disease with no known cause. It often leads to severe pain during urination and very frequent urination, which can occur every ten minutes.

People with interstitial cystitis may experience worse pain when the bladder is full and feel relief when they urinate. Many also experience pain during sexual intercourse, which is not as common in people with bladder cysts.

A thorough diagnosis is essential and can prevent complications.

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patient having a ct scan for conversion disorder
A CT scan can be used to diagnose a bladder cyst.

A doctor may begin by asking questions about recent symptoms and a person’s individual and familial medical history. They may also test the urine for infection.

Receiving a correct diagnosis is key. It can ensure that a person receives the right treatment and avoids complications.

Doctors often discover bladder cysts when performing imaging tests of the pelvic area for other reasons. A general practitioner who suspects a bladder cyst or a similar condition may refer a person to a urologist for further testing.

Bladder cysts can be diagnosed using the following methods:

Imaging tests

These allow a doctor to see the inside of the bladder and identify any cysts:

  • X-rays and CT scans use radiation to make images.
  • An ultrasound produces images using sound waves.
  • An MRI scan uses radio frequency and a magnetic field to create highly detailed images.

The type of imaging test selected may depend on the suspected condition and the available equipment.


This allows a doctor or urologist to look inside the bladder and inspect cysts. It involves inserting a tube with a tiny camera through the urethra and into the bladder.

A cystoscopy may be performed under local, regional, or general anesthesia.


A bladder biopsy involves taking a piece of tissue from the cyst and sending it to a lab, where it is analyzed for malignancies.

A tube containing a camera and needle reaches the cyst by passing through the urethra. The process usually takes less than an hour.


There may be a few possible causes or no known cause of a bladder cyst. A doctor may be certain of the cause or believe that a range of issues may be responsible.

The following factors can increase a person’s risk of developing bladder cysts:

  • catheter use
  • a history of surgery near the bladder
  • a history of kidney stones or bladder stones
  • frequent UTIs

Bladder cysts can be caused by a rare condition called cystitis cystica. It is associated with persistent inflammation in the urinary tract, possibly due to irritation or bacteria in the bladder.


surgeons working in dark operating theatre
Larger cysts may be removed through surgery.

Most cysts are small and asymptomatic. These will not always require treatment.

When bladder cysts cause symptoms and need to be removed, there are several options. A doctor may recommend draining smaller cysts, in a less invasive procedure.

For larger cysts or those that have become ruptured or infected, a doctor may recommend surgical removal.

Treatment may also involve addressing any related complication, such as a UTI.

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Bladder cysts usually resolve without complications. However, the following can occur:

  • Complete blockage. A cyst may grow over the opening in the bladder, completely cutting off the flow of urine. This can be serious if left untreated, and surgery is often necessary.
  • Rupture. A cyst may burst and release its fluid into the bladder. This can lead to additional symptoms and infection.
  • Infection. This can be serious and may affect several areas of the urinary tract. Infections need to be dealt with immediately.


Bladder cysts are typically benign, and many people never notice them. They can cause complications, and a doctor will check them periodically and test for abnormal cells.

When a person has symptoms of bladder cysts or frequently experiences UTIs, they should seek an evaluation. Receiving a diagnosis and treatment early can prevent complications and put the mind at ease.

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Medical News Today: What is a mucous cyst?

Mucous cysts are small, fluid-filled sacs that tend to develop in the mouth or on the fingers and toes. They are not harmful, but they can be uncomfortable. There are several options for removing them.

This article looks at the different types of mucous cyst, their causes, and how they can be treated.

Types of mucous cyst

There are two main types of mucous cysts that this article looks at:

Oral mucous cysts

Oral mucous cysts develop in the mouth. They appear near salivary gland openings, often on the lips or the floor of the mouth.

A cyst on the floor of the mouth is known as a ranula. A cyst on the gums is called an epulis. They can also develop around a piercing.

Oral mucous cysts are more common in people who are under 30 years of age.

Digital mucous cysts

Mucous cysts can also develop in other areas of the body besides the mouth.

Digital cysts appear as firm sacs near the joints of the fingers or toes. This type of cyst forms as an extension of the joint. It is also possible for them to develop away from the joint, such as near the base of a fingernail or toenail.

Digital mucous cysts are more common in older adults, typically in people who are more than 70 years of age.

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Oral mucous cysts are often the result of injury or damage to the lips or inner mouth. Common causes of this include:

  • lip biting
  • sucking the inner cheek
  • lip sucking
  • piercings
  • abnormal teeth growth

Oral mucous cysts that develop on the floor of the mouth are thought to be caused by a blocked salivary gland beneath the tongue.

It is unclear exactly what causes a digital mucous cyst to occur. Fluid in finger or toe joints can escape through small holes. This can cause the skin to swell and create a cyst. These small holes may develop as the result of aging.


Mucous cysts are thin sacs that contain clear fluid. They are usually smooth or shiny in appearance and bluish-pink in color. The cysts can vary in size but are typically around 5–8 millimeters wide.

Mucous cysts are generally not associated with any symptoms other than the presence of the cyst itself. They can be uncomfortable, but, usually, they do not cause any pain.

Large, oral cysts may interfere with chewing or talking. It is also possible for a cyst to burst. This will cause the fluid to leak out, and it can become an infection risk.

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Doctor patient desk notepad.
Usually, a visual and physical examination of the cyst is enough for a diagnosis. However, in some cases, a biopsy may be required.

Mucous cysts are straightforward to diagnose. A doctor will typically diagnose a cyst through a brief physical examination of the affected area.

In some cases, a biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis. This procedure involves taking a small skin sample and examining it under a microscope. The analysis of this sample will help to determine whether a more serious condition is present, such as cancer or another type of growth.

Other possible tests include an ultrasound or a CT scan.


Treating a mucous cyst is often not necessary. In most cases, the cyst will heal on its own over time.

It is important not to pick at or pop the cyst. This can result in an open wound, which may become infected or cause permanent scarring. Over time, the cyst will burst itself as a part of the healing process.

Occasionally cleaning the cyst with salt water can help to prevent infection.

With oral mucous cysts, people should try to avoid biting or sucking on the lips or cheeks, as doing so can make them worse.

A person should see a doctor or a dentist if the cyst is causing discomfort or persists for longer than a couple of weeks. A doctor or dentist may use a sterile needle to burst the cyst manually.

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It is also possible to remove the cyst by using:

  • Laser treatment. The cyst can be cut from the skin using a laser.
  • Cryotherapy. By freezing the cyst, it can be easily removed
  • Surgery. In more serious cases, the cyst can be surgically removed. The gland that caused the cyst is often taken out also.

Surgery is more common for cysts that have reoccurred several times.

Removing a mucous cyst is usually a safe procedure. In rare cases, the surrounding area can be injured during the process.


Mucous cysts are usually harmless and can be left alone. Often, they clear up within a couple of weeks. Picking at or popping cysts can slow down the healing process and increase the risk of infection.

It is advisable to see a doctor if a cyst is causing pain or discomfort, or it persists longer than normal. There are several options available for removing mucous cysts.

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Medical News Today: What causes a bump on the bottom of the foot?

A bump on the bottom of the foot may cause a person discomfort or pain when walking. There are a variety of conditions that may cause bumps on the feet, some of which require medical treatment.

This article explores the various causes of a bump on the bottom of the foot and how a person can treat each cause.


A bump on the bottom of the foot may be caused by:

1. Uneven weight distribution

bump on the bottom of the foot person holding their foot squeezing pain in sole of foot while seated.
If certain bones in the foot are misaligned, it may cause uneven weight distribution.

Sometimes, the long bones behind the toes (metatarsals) become misaligned. This affects the way weight is distributed across the ball of the foot as a person walks.

Uneven weight distribution in the foot means some areas absorb more pressure than others. These may cause calluses to form on the ball of the foot.

Bumps caused by uneven weight distribution tend to occur in people with diabetes.

If a person with diabetes develops lumps or calluses on their feet, they should monitor them carefully and speak to a doctor. If left untreated, these lumps can cause ulcers.

Foot ulceration is the most common lower-extremity complication for people with diabetes.

2. Limited movement of the big toe joint

If a person’s big toe joint does not move correctly when they walk, an excessive force is applied to the bottom of their big toe.

A callus may develop under their big toe and the bone may become enlarged.

3. Plantar fibromas

Plantar fibromas are nodular masses that can form in the arch of a person’s foot.

These non-cancerous tumors form in the plantar fascia, which is the ligament in the arch of the foot.

Researchers are unsure why some people get plantar fibromas, but risk factors include tendon damage, a medication called Dilantin, and genetics.

4. Dyshidrotic eczema

Dyshidrotic eczema may cause bumps on the bottom of the foot that are itchy and filled with fluid.

Doctors do not know what causes this type of eczema, but it has been linked to allergies and stress. Dyshidrotic eczema can also cause skin that is:

  • flakey
  • cracked
  • painful to touch

5. Plantar warts

Plantar warts may form on the bottom of a person’s foot if they have human papillomavirus (HPV). These small, fleshy bumps may be tender to walk on. They usually heal without treatment.

6. Bursitis

Bursitis is an inflammation of the natural cushions between bones and soft tissue. Caused by excess friction or injury, bursitis may cause a bump on the bottom of the foot.

7. Cysts

Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form with no accompanying symptoms. Cysts are normally benign (harmless). Cysts can develop anywhere on the body, including on the bottom of a person’s foot.

8. Synovial sarcoma

A synovial sarcoma is a type of soft-tissue sarcoma (cancer) that appears as lump or swelling. It may affect the bottom of the foot and can also cause pain or numbness.

Sarcomas are harmful and may spread to other areas of the body if left untreated.

The American Cancer Society estimate that 13,040 Americans will receive a diagnosis of soft-tissue sarcoma in 2018.

9. Haglund’s deformity

Haglund’s deformity is a bump on the back of the foot or heel that forms under the Achilles tendon. It is often confused with Achilles tendonitis.

When the bump rubs against a person’s shoes, it may cause pain and irritation.

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If a person has a bump on the bottom of their foot that does not go away after a few days or is causing pain or discomfort, they should speak to their doctor.

The doctor can examine the feet and ask questions about a person’s medical history to determine the cause.

Once the doctor has diagnosed the cause, the doctor can recommend the best course of treatment.


Doctor feeling skin on bottom of patient's foot.
Treatment will be recommended based on the cause diagnosed.

Treatment for a bump on the bottom of the foot varies depending on the cause.

Treatments for each cause are explored below:

Limited movement of the big toe joint

A doctor may recommend functional foot orthosis for someone with limited movement of their big toe joint.

This treatment helps to restore normal movement in the joint. Once the joint can move properly, it relieves the pressure under the big toe, and a person can treat the callus.

Uneven weight distribution

A molded insole or orthotic can help treat bumps caused by uneven weight distribution. This helps to remove the pressure from the balls of the feet.

Plantar fibromas

Foot orthotics may relieve pressure from the arch of the foot (plantar fascia) and help reduce the size of the nodules.

It is also possible to remove the mass surgically. However, to ensure the plantar fibromas do not come back, it may be necessary to remove most of the plantar fascia.

A person may need to wear orthotics after surgery.

Dyshidrotic eczema

A doctor may prescribe corticosteroids or antihistamines for dyshidrotic eczema. Reducing stress may also help treat dyshidrotic eczema.

Plantar warts

Plantar warts do not usually need treatment. However, if they bleed, change color, or cause noticeable discomfort, a person should speak to their doctor. The doctor can determine whether they should be removed.

There are many ways to remove warts. A 2006 study notes that cryotherapy, which involves using liquid nitrogen to remove the wart, has the highest quality of clinical evidence to support its effectiveness.


People can treat bursitis with:

  • rest
  • anti-inflammatory medications
  • ice

If the condition does not improve, a doctor may recommend corticosteroids and physical therapy. Surgery may be needed in severe cases.


A doctor can drain cysts using a sterile needle. For more significant cysts, surgery may be needed. Unlike blisters, it is not a good idea to try to drain a cyst at home.

Synovial sarcoma

A synovial sarcoma is malignant and always requires medical treatment. A surgeon can also remove it using surgery. A person may also need chemotherapy or radiotherapy to help recovery.

Haglund’s deformity

A person can often treat Haglund’s deformity with home remedies, such as:

  • wearing open back shoes
  • taking anti-inflammatory medications
  • icing the area to reduce inflammation

If home remedies are not effective, the following treatments are available:

  • ultrasound treatment
  • soft tissue massage
  • orthotics
  • heel pads
  • immobilizing boots

Surgery is also an option if other treatments are not effective.

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There are several different causes of a bump on the bottom of the foot. Understanding these helps a person determine why they have one and take the best course of action.

It is always a good idea to speak to a doctor to get a proper diagnosis. A doctor can recommend an appropriate treatment and steps a person can take to prevent bumps from occurring in the future.

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Medical News Today: Colorectal cancer: Some cells are ‘born to be bad’

The results of a small study could lead to better identification of polyps that are likely to develop into invasive colorectal cancer.
colon cancer cells
Researchers investigate cancer’s ‘founding cells.’

This may prevent the unnecessary treatment of patients with harmless growths, say scientists from Duke University in Durham, NC, and the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, who report their results in the journal PNAS.

There are around 1.3 million people living with colorectal cancer in the United States, where around 4 percent of people will develop the disease during their lifetime.

The cancer usually starts as a small growth or polyp in the lining of the colon or rectum. Screening methods that look for and remove these growths from the gut can prevent cancer.

“Thanks to improved screening technologies,” explains senior study author Darryl Shibata, who is a professor of pathology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, “we diagnose more and more small tumors.”

There is a drawback, however, in that better screening “also leads to overdiagnosis” — especially as currently there is no certain way to differentiate between benign and malignant tumors at such an early stage.

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‘Cell movement’ signature

So, using mathematical models and genome sequencing, the researchers decided to look for cell features that might drive polyps toward malignancy.

Their search revealed that malignant — but not benign — tumors have a genetic signature of “cell movement” capability, even at the early stage of growth.

This is significant, as cells that express these features are capable of “invasion and metastasis,” which is the leading cause of death in cancer.

Metastatic cells “penetrate the surrounding tissues,” then travel through the lymph system or the bloodstream and set up secondary tumors in other parts of the body.

“By testing screen-detected, small tumors,” says first study author Dr. Marc D. Ryser, who is a researcher in the Departments of Surgery and Mathematics at Duke University, “for early cell movement as a sign of malignancy, it might be possible to identify which patients are likely to benefit from aggressive treatment.”

The study follows earlier work that showed that the final tumors of some cancers carry genetic signatures that are already detectable in the “founding cell.”

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Drivers are present in the ‘founding cell’

This led the researchers to wonder whether growths that become invasive tumors “are born bad” — that is, the traits that give them this ability are there from the beginning and not acquired as they grow.

In the new study, Prof. Shibata and his colleagues analyzed “19 human colorectal tumors.” They found genetic signatures of “early abnormal cell movement” in 9 of the 15 tumors that were malignant and in none of the four that were benign.

“The early growth of the final tumor,” note the authors, “largely depends on the drivers present in the founding cell.”

Although the findings suggest that it might be possible to distinguish between deadly and harmless growths in their very early stages, the authors caution that their study was only small, and there is now a need to replicate the findings with much larger samples.

Because treating a patient aggressively can cause them harm and side effects, it is important to understand which of the small screen-detected tumors are relatively benign and slowly growing, and which ones are born to be bad.”

Prof. Darryl Shibata

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