Medical News Today: Why does my stomach feel tight?

A feeling of tightness in a person’s stomach is usually the result of digestive or hormonal issues. The sensation often goes away on its own, but it can also signal an underlying health issue.

This article will look at potential causes of a tight stomach, including:

It will also discuss symptoms, treatments, and ways to prevent a tight stomach.

What is a tight stomach?

lady holding her stomach suffering from a possible tight stomach
A tight stomach may have many different causes, including constipation, IBS, and food poisoning.

A tight stomach can feel different for everyone. It may feel as if the abdominal muscles are contracting and creating pressure in the stomach.

The feeling can come from the abdominal muscles, the stomach wall lining, or the organs surrounding the stomach.

The tight sensation is often a temporary discomfort caused by diet or hormones. However, it can also be a symptom of an underlying condition.

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Causes and treatments

In most cases, a tight stomach is caused by physical factors, such as digestive issues or hormonal changes.

The feeling can also be caused by chronic stress. Stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness, may be helpful in such cases.

Physical causes for a tight stomach include:


When the stool is not passed through the colon quickly enough, it can cause a tight feeling in the stomach. The normal range for bowel movements in adults is between 1 to 3 times per day and 2 to 3 times per week.

Other symptoms of constipation include:

  • fewer than 3 bowel movements a week
  • abdominal pain
  • abnormally firm, lumpy, or dry stools
  • difficulty emptying the bowels

Constipation is typically caused by a poor diet. It can be relieved by eating high-fiber foods and drinking plenty of fluids.


Indigestion occurs when stomach acid irritates the lining of the stomach or the food pipe.

Overeating, or eating too quickly, can lead to indigestion. Smoking, certain medications, stress, and alcohol can also trigger the condition.

Indigestion can cause a tight stomach, alongside:

  • heartburn
  • nausea
  • gas
  • abdominal bloating
  • a bad taste in the mouth

Indigestion often resolves without treatment, but home remedies can help, including:

  • avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • avoiding rich, fatty, or spicy foods
  • cutting down on smoking
  • losing weight
  • propping the head and shoulders up when lying down

Food poisoning

girl sat over the toilet who may have a tight stomach
A tight feeling in the stomach may be caused by food poisoning.

Food poisoning occurs after eating contaminated foods. It can cause a tight feeling in the stomach, alongside other symptoms, such as:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain or cramps
  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • muscle aches

In most cases, food poisoning can be managed at home by resting, eating dry, bland food, and staying hydrated. If food poisoning is severe, a person should consult a doctor.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition affecting the digestive system. Alongside a tight stomach, IBS symptoms can include:

  • abdominal pain
  • constipation
  • abdominal bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea

IBS is usually managed with medication and lifestyle changes, including dietary adjustments.

Hiatal hernia

A hiatal or hiatus hernia occurs when part of the stomach pushes into the chest. Tightness in the upper portion of the stomach can occur, along with other symptoms, including:

A hiatal hernia does not usually require treatment. It can be addressed with dietary changes and medications, such as antacids. In severe cases, surgery may be an option.


Gastritis is a common condition that occurs when there is an inflammation of the stomach lining. This can cause tightness in the upper region of the stomach.

Other symptoms of gastritis include:

  • indigestion
  • nausea and vomiting
  • feeling unusually full after food
  • abdominal pain

Gastritis is treated with medications, including antacids, histamine blockers, and proton-pump inhibitors.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Premenstrual syndrome often occurs within 2 weeks of a person’s menstrual period. PMS can cause a tight stomach and other symptoms, such as:

  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal bloating
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • muscle aches
  • painful breasts

Symptoms of PMS can be managed by:

  • eating small, regular meals to reduce bloating
  • avoiding salt to limit bloating
  • eating fruits, vegetables, and fiber-rich foods
  • exercising
  • taking painkillers


A person may feel tightness in their stomach in the early stages of pregnancy. This is caused by the womb or uterus stretching.

A woman should seek medical help if severe pain also occurs, particularly in the first 20 weeks, as this can be a sign of miscarriage.

In the second or third trimester, stomach tightening can be caused by labor contractions or Braxton-Hicks contractions. Both types of contractions are more common in the third trimester, however.

Braxton-Hicks contractions can cause discomfort, but they will pass. If contractions do not pass and are becoming more persistent, this may be a sign that labor is beginning.

Changing sitting or lying positions or doing gentle activities, such as stretching or walking, can relieve stomach tightness during pregnancy.


Man relaxing at work who is trying to minimize stress
Minimizing stress may be recommended to help reduce the chance of developing a tight stomach.

The best methods for preventing a tight stomach will vary depending on the cause.

In some cases, it may not be possible to prevent a tight stomach, such as during pregnancy or food poisoning.

In other cases, the chances of developing the symptoms of a tight stomach can be reduced through:

  • eating a healthful, balanced diet
  • staying hydrated
  • exercising regularly
  • minimizing stress

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When to see a doctor

In most cases, a tight stomach does not require medical attention. However, it can also be an early sign of a more serious condition.

If the feeling causes significant discomfort and persists for more than a few days, an individual should seek medical advice to determine the cause, and find out how to manage the feeling.

Immediate medical attention should be sought if the following symptoms occur alongside stomach tightness:

  • bloody stools
  • severe nausea and vomiting
  • weight loss
  • severe abdominal pain
  • difficulty breathing


There are many reasons why a person’s stomach might feel tight. It is usually related to digestive or hormonal factors. A tight stomach may be accompanied by other symptoms that can be mild or severe, depending on the cause.

In most cases, a tight stomach is not a cause for concern. However, if symptoms persist for longer than a few days, or are severe, then medical attention may be required.

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Medical News Today: What is anasarca?

Anasarca is general swelling of the whole body that can occur when the tissues of the body retain too much fluid. The condition is also known as extreme generalized edema.

Accumulation of fluid may occur due to any illnesses and conditions that change the proteins of the body, affect the balance of fluids, or create abnormalities in the blood vessels or lymphatic system.

Often, if anasarca is present, it is a sign of severe organ damage or illness.

Definition of anasarca

Doctor looking at medical clipboard to diagnose anasarca
Anasarca is a symptom of a condition, and may be diagnosed with a physical assessment.

It is helpful to understand that anasarca is not a disease itself. Instead, it is a symptom or result of a medical condition.

Anasarca is different than typical edema. Almost everyone experiences swelling at some time, which can be due to a variety of causes, such as an injury, dehydration, or a minor side effect of medication.

In many instances, swelling or edema may only affect a specific part of the body, such as the feet, hands, or legs.

But with anasarca, the swelling involves the whole body and is considered severe. For example, the swelling is often so severe it makes movement difficult.

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Treatment of anasarca

It is essential to find out what is causing anasarca to treat it accurately. For example, if kidney disease is causing anasarca, treatment is needed to assist kidney function.

Also, doctors often prescribe medications to treat the severe swelling.


Doctors often prescribe drugs called diuretics. Diuretics work by helping the kidneys release more salt into the urine, which causes the release of more fluid through urination.

The two main types of diuretics prescribed for anasarca include potassium-sparing and loop diuretics. Diuretics are either taken by mouth or given through an intravenous line (IV). The choice of diuretic, the dose, and the route of administration vary according to the severity of the swelling and the underlying condition that is causing anasarca.


Albumin is a protein made by the body that is necessary for a variety of important functions, including balancing fluid. In cases of poor nutrition and certain serious medical conditions, the level of albumin can become too low. When this occurs fluid from the bloodstream is pushed out into the tissues causing swelling. In some cases, replacing albumin can help correct this problem.


A doctor may recommend additional home treatments to speed recovery. Monitoring fluid and salt intake is important to prevent any swelling from getting worse. Salt can increase fluid retention, which is why people who have severe edema need to reduce their salt intake.

What are the causes?

intravenous fluids applied through drip attached to machinery equipment.
When intravenous fluids are administered excessively, it may increase the risk of anasarca.

Anasarca can develop due to a variety of causes. Some conditions that may lead to anasarca are widespread, while others are considered rare.

The most common causes of anasarca include:

  • Excess administration of intravenous fluids: Intravenous fluids are often administered in the hospital to treat several conditions, such as shock, dehydration, and infection. But if the body cannot adapt to the fluids given, it can lead to severe edema
  • Kidney disease: When kidney function is impaired, fluid is not removed from the body adequately, which can cause anasarca.
  • Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis can occur due to liver failure. Liver disease can cause changes in the hormones that affect fluid regulation in the body. When the liver does not work as efficiently as it should, it can cause fluid to leak into the tissues.
  • Malnutrition: Malnutrition, specifically protein deficiency in the diet, can cause fluid to accumulate in the tissues. In extreme cases, it can lead to anasarca.
  • Poor heart function: When the muscle of the heart does not work correctly, it affects how well the heart pumps blood throughout the body. If the heart is not pumping efficiently, it can cause fluid to build up in the tissues.
  • Allergic reaction: Swelling of the body can occur due to an allergic reaction. In severe reactions, anasarca can develop.

Less common causes include:

Capillary leak syndrome

Capillary leak syndrome occurs when protein and fluid leak out of the blood vessels into the tissues of the body. The cause is not well understood, but it is believed to be due to inflammation and blood vessel injury. It has been shown to occur in relation to some medications and toxins.

According to one case study, capillary leak syndrome can develop as a result of certain cancer medications, such as gemcitabine. Another case was reported following a snakebite.

A side effect of medication

Various medications can lead to anasarca. The most common types of medication that might cause swelling include steroids and blood pressure drugs, such as amlodipine. Discontinuing the medication will often resolve symptoms of anasarca as indicated in this case report.

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Anasarca symptoms

Anasarca in leg and foot causing swelling.
Anasarca causes obvious swelling of the body. In some cases, when the skin is pressed an indentation will remain after pressure is released.

The main symptom of anasarca is swelling of the body. The swelling is obvious, and the skin may look shiny and stretched. Sometimes, swelling is so extreme that a person has difficulty moving.

Swelling can become so severe that fluid will leak out directly from the skin. This is known as weeping edema.

Pitting edema may also develop. Pitting edema occurs when pressure is applied to the swollen skin, and a dimple or indentation remains after the pressure is released.

The swelling often causes additional symptoms including:

  • trouble walking if the legs are swollen
  • difficulty lifting arms
  • increased heart rate
  • aching joints
  • difficulty breathing

A life-threatening complication of anasarca can also develop if fluid accumulates in the lungs. Fluid in the lungs is called pulmonary edema, and it can quickly become an emergency. Signs of pulmonary edema include chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing.

How is anasarca diagnosed?

A doctor can usually make a diagnosis of anasarca after a physical exam; and if the edema is severe, a doctor can often recognize it instantly. However, determining the underlying cause of anasarca requires further tests.

A blood test is often the first step in making a diagnosis of anasarca. Blood is tested to check the function of organs including the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.

A doctor will also take a medical history to help determine whether any underlying medical conditions are causing the fluid retention. A doctor may also recommend other diagnostic tests, such as an echocardiogram, a chest X-ray, and a stress test to evaluate heart and lung function.

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Anasarca often occurs due to severe organ damage or illness. It may interfere with a person’s ability to perform everyday activities and can greatly decrease their quality of life. But with proper treatment, swelling can often be reduced. Although medication can help treat the condition, anasarca might return if the underlying cause cannot be corrected.

The outlook for people with anasarca often depends on identifying the cause. In many instances, by the time anasarca has developed, the underlying condition has progressed to a critical state.

Treating problems with the heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver early on is the best chance of preventing and controlling anasarca in many cases.

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Medical News Today: Going vegan could prevent type 2 diabetes

Excess weight is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Recent research, however, suggests one strategy that could help to prevent the condition in people who are overweight, and it involves giving up meat and dairy.
a quinoa and mango salad
Researchers say that a vegan diet could prevent diabetes in people who are overweight.

Researchers found that overweight people who switched to a vegan diet for 16 weeks showed improvements in insulin sensitivity plus the functioning of beta cells compared with a control group.

Beta cells reside in the pancreas and produce and release insulin.

The vegan diet also led to improvements in blood sugar levels, both during fasting and during meals.

Lead study author Dr. Hana Kahleova, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., says that the findings have “important implications for diabetes prevention.”

Dr. Kahleova and colleagues recently reported their results in the journal Nutrients.

Type 2 diabetes arises when the body is no longer able to respond to insulin effectively — which is a condition known as insulin resistance — or the pancreatic beta cells do not produce enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels.

As a result of this, blood sugar levels can become too high. This can lead to serious complications, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetic eye disease, and nerve damage.

It is estimated that more than 30 million people in the United States are living with diabetes, and type 2 diabetes accounts for around 90–95 percent of all cases.

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Studying the effects of a vegan diet

Being overweight is one of the leading risk factors for type 2 diabetes. In fact, around 80 percent of people who have type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.

Making lifestyle changes — such as adopting a healthful diet and increasing physical activity — can help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The new study from Dr. Kahleova and her team provides further evidence of this, after identifying a vegan diet as a possible candidate for the prevention of type 2 diabetes in people who are overweight.

To reach their findings, the researchers enrolled 75 men and women between the ages of 25 and 75 years. All participants had a body mass index (BMI) of between 28 and 40, making them overweight or obese, but they had no history of diabetes.

For a total of 16 weeks, subjects were randomized on a 1:1 ratio to two different groups. One group followed a low-fat vegan diet, which consisted of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. This diet had no calorie restriction. Participants in the other group (the controls) were asked to make no changes to their diet.

The team notes that neither group made any changes to their physical activity, nor did they change their use of medications.

Beta cell function, insulin sensitivity, blood glucose levels, and the BMI of each subject were assessed at study baseline and at the end of the 16 weeks.

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‘Food really is medicine’

The study results revealed that the participants who followed the low-fat vegan diet experienced a significant reduction in BMI, compared with the control group.

What is more, the vegan group experienced increases in insulin secretion after eating, as well as improvements in insulin sensitivity.

Subjects who adhered to the vegan diet also experienced reductions in blood sugar levels during meals and while fasting.

Based on these results, the team suggests that adopting a vegan diet could be an effective way to prevent type 2 diabetes.

“If nothing changes, our next generation — the first expected to live shorter lives than their parents — is in trouble. A third of young Americans are projected to develop diabetes in their lifetimes,” says Dr. Kahleova.

Fortunately, this study adds to the growing evidence that food really is medicine and that eating a healthful plant-based diet can go a long way in preventing diabetes.”

Dr. Hana Kahleova

The researchers note some important limitations to their study. For example, they point out that the study subjects were “generally health-conscious individuals” who were willing to make significant dietary changes.

“In this regard, they may not be representative of the general population,” say the authors, “but may be representative of a clinical population seeking help for weight problems.”

Still, the results certainly warrant further investigation.

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Medical News Today: Should all women get screened for ovarian cancer?

A recent report from the United States Preventive Services Task Force reveals the pros and cons of ovarian cancer screening for women at an average risk of developing the condition.
woman holding drawing of her ovaries
Most women should not get screened for ovarian cancer unless they are in a high-risk category, suggests a new review.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) examined a wide range of previous studies in an effort to establish if screening for ovarian cancer does reduce mortality risk for women who are not at hereditary risk of the condition.

The results of their efforts were published in the journal JAMA, and the first author of the new paper is Jillian T. Henderson, Ph.D., of the Center for Health Research at the Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, OR.

As Henderson and her team point out, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer mortality among U.S. women. In fact, a recent estimate projected a total of 14,080 deaths from ovarian cancer in 2017.

Over 60 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed after the cancer has spread, the authors write. However, screening trials did not prove to affect mortality rates in the past.

In fact, studies have attested to the harms of such screenings, including false-positive results that led to surgery and ensuing complications.

So, the USPSTF set out to “systematically review evidence on benefits and harms of ovarian cancer screening among average-risk women.” Their findings update their 2012 guidelines.

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Screening may do more harm than good

Henderson and her colleagues examined “a total of 1,381 titles and abstracts and 74 articles” from medical databases such as Medline and Cochrane.

The studies considered were published over a period of 14 years, between 2003 and 2017, and most of them were randomized clinical trials of screening versus no screening in asymptomatic women aged 45 and above. This category is seen as “average-risk.”

Among the outcomes measured were ovarian cancer-related mortality, false-positives, surgery and surgical complications, and psychological effects of screening and their results.

After carrying out their extensive analysis, the team concluded that “ovarian cancer mortality did not significantly differ between screened women and those with no screening or in usual care.”

However, “Screening harms included surgery (with major surgical complications) in women found to not have cancer,” the authors add.

Given these new findings, the USPSTF conclude with “moderate certainty” that there are more disadvantages and potential harms to ovarian cancer screening than there are benefits.

Therefore, they do not advise average-risk women to undergo such a procedure.

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Women should advocate for themselves

Dr. Stephanie V. Blank — a professor of gynecologic oncology in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, NY — comments on the significance of these recommendations.

She says, “I agree that women who are not at increased genetic risk for ovarian cancer should not be offered ovarian cancer screening because we do not have an effective screening test.”

“In the general population,” Dr. Blank continues, “ovarian [cancer] is a relatively rare disease and the specificity of our current tests is not acceptable — false positives in ovarian cancer screening can result in unindicated surgeries.”

But she warns, “A woman who believes she is at increased genetic risk for cancer should discuss this with her doctor and together they can decide whether genetic testing and/or screening is appropriate.”

“A woman,” Dr. Blank continues, “who really wants ovarian cancer screening and does not have […] any symptoms would have to convince her doctor to order the tests. […]”

[However, i]f a woman has symptoms of ovarian cancer (e.g., bloating, trouble eating, pelvic or abdominal pain, urinary frequency) she should demand this testing!”

Dr. Stephanie V. Blank

“Because screening for ovarian cancer is not effective it is extremely important that women be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and advocate for themselves,” she concludes.

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Medical News Today: What is Apert syndrome?

Apert syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that causes a fetus’ facial and skull bones to fuse together too early in its development.

Apert syndrome causes facial and skull abnormalities, which can lead to visual impairments and dental problems. Apert syndrome can also cause abnormalities in the fingers and toes.

This article will provide an overview of Apert syndrome, including the symptoms, treatments, and outlook for this condition.

What is Apert syndrome?

Apert syndrome causing syndactyly or fusing of the fingers in hand. Image credit: Gzzz, (2016, January 14.)
Apert syndrome may cause syndactyly, or fusing of the fingers or toes.
Image credit: Gzzz, (2016, January 14.)

Apert syndrome is a condition where the bones of the skull fuse together too early, which affects the shape of the head and face.

People born with Apert syndrome may experience problems with their vision and teeth because of the abnormal shape of the facial and skull bones.

In many cases, three or more fingers or toes also fuse together, which is called syndactyly.

Apert syndrome is a genetic disorder. It usually appears with no family history of the syndrome, but it can also be inherited from a parent.


Characteristic symptoms of Apert syndrome include:

  • a cone-shaped skull, known as turribrachycephaly
  • a face that is deep-set in the middle
  • eyes that are wide and bulge outwards
  • a beaked nose
  • an underdeveloped upper jaw, which can cause the teeth to become crowded

The facial and skull abnormalities can lead to some health and development problems. If not corrected, vision problems often occur as a result of shallow eye sockets. The upper jaw is usually smaller than average, which can lead to dental problems as the child’s teeth grow.

With Apert syndrome, the skull is smaller than usual, which can put pressure on the developing brain. People with Apert syndrome may have an average level of intellect, or a mild to moderate intellectual impairment.

Children born with Apert syndrome often have webbed fingers and toes. Most often, three fingers or toes are fused together, but sometimes a whole set of fingers or toes may be webbed. Less commonly, a child may have additional fingers or toes.

Additional signs and symptoms of Apert syndrome include:

  • hearing loss
  • severe acne
  • heavy sweating
  • fusion of spinal bones in the neck
  • oily skin
  • missing hair in the eyebrows
  • growth and development delays
  • recurrent ear infections
  • a cleft palate
  • mild to moderate intellectual disabilities

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DNA strand with genes.
Apert syndrome is a genetic condition caused by a mutation in a specific gene.

Apert syndrome is a birth abnormality caused by a mutation of the FGFR2 gene. This can occur in babies with no family history of the disorder, or they can inherit it from a parent.

The FGFR2 gene produces a protein called fibroblast growth factor receptor 2. This protein has many important roles in a fetus’ development, including a key role in signaling bone cell development.

When this gene mutation occurs, FGFR2 continues to signal for longer than usual, leading to early fusion of the skull, facial, feet, and hand bones.

Mutations to the FGFR2 gene can also cause several other related disorders, including:

  • Pfeiffer syndrome
  • Crouzon syndrome
  • Jackson-Weiss syndrome

Frequency and inheritance

Apert syndrome is an extremely rare condition. The number of people who have it is not known, and estimates vary between sources.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine estimate that it affects 1 in 65,000 to 88,000 newborns, and the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) estimate that the figure is closer to 1 in 165,000 to 200,000 births.

Most cases of Apert syndrome appear with no previous family history of the disorder. However, the NORD also report that when one parent has the disorder, the child will have a 50 percent chance of developing it. This statistic applies to each pregnancy.

This syndrome appears to affect males and females equally.


Apert syndrome can often be diagnosed at birth or at an early age.

To formally diagnose a person with Apert syndrome, a doctor will look for the characteristic bone abnormalities affecting the head, face, hands, and feet.

A doctor may perform a skull radiograph or CT scan of the head to determine the nature of the bone abnormalities. Molecular genetic testing may also be used to help with diagnosis.

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Surgeons looking at palmtop in operating theatre.
A treatment plan will be tailored to the individual, and may include surgery to relieve pressure on the brain, or reshape facial features.

Treatment of Apert syndrome will vary between individuals. A doctor will often work closely with the person and their family to develop a plan for treating their symptoms.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to reduce the pressure on the person’s brain.

Other surgical options are also possible, for instance, to reshape facial features, or to separate fused fingers or toes.

A child with Apert syndrome will require life-long observations and checkups. A doctor will check for additional complications caused by Apert syndrome and suggest appropriate treatments.

Common treatments for Apert syndrome-related complications include:

  • correcting vision issues
  • therapies to address developmental and growth delays
  • dental procedures to correct crowded teeth


Early diagnosis in babies will improve the chances of successfully treating some of the symptoms and complications of Apert syndrome.

Apert syndrome often does not affect a person’s life expectancy, although heart problems or other associated conditions can lead to complications.

The long-term outlook for people with Apert syndrome is improving along with advances in modern medicine.

Treatment can often improve the overall outlook for a person with Apert syndrome.

A child with Apert syndrome should receive ongoing clinical care. This may include therapy to help a child and their family to cope with the daily challenges of this syndrome.

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Medical News Today: Alcohol ‘more damaging to brain health than marijuana’

With marijuana legalization on the rise, an increasing number of studies are exploring the drug’s potential harms and benefits. However, a new study suggests that when it comes to brain health, alcohol is more damaging.
The human brain and a glass of whiskey
Researchers say that alcohol causes more damage to the brain than marijuana does.

Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder conducted a review of existing imaging data that looked at the effects of alcohol and marijuana, or cannabis, on the brain.

Their findings linked alcohol consumption with long-term changes to the structure of white matter and gray matter in the brain.

The use of marijuana, however, seemed to have no significant long-term effects on brain structure.

Study leader Rachel Thayer, of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, and colleagues recently reported their results in the journal Addiction.

It is estimated that around 22.2 million people in the United States have used marijuana in the past month, making it “the most commonly used illicit drug” in the country.

Across the U.S., however, it is increasingly becoming legalized for both medicinal and recreational purposes. As a result of this changing legislation, researchers have been trying to find out more about how marijuana may benefit health, as well as the damage that it could cause.

Last year, for example, Medical News Today reported on a study linking marijuana use to a greater risk of psychosis in teenagers, while another study claimed that the drug is “worse than cigarettes” for cardiovascular health.

On the other side of the coin, researchers have found that cannabinoids — which are the active compounds in marijuana — could help to prevent migraine, and a more recent study linked marijuana use to an increased sex drive.

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Marijuana vs. alcohol: Which is worse?

For this latest study, Thayer and colleagues sought to learn more about how marijuana use affects the brain.

Study co-author Kent Hutchison, also of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, notes that to date, studies that have investigated this association have produced mixed results.

“When you look at these studies going back years,” he explains, “you see that one study will report that marijuana use is related to a reduction in the volume of the hippocampus. The next study then comes around, and they say that marijuana use is related to changes in the cerebellum […].”

“The point is that there’s no consistency across all of these studies in terms of the actual brain structures.”

With the aim of closing the gap on this inconsistency, the researchers conducted a new analysis on existing brain imaging data. They looked at how marijuana use affects white matter and gray matter in the brain, and how its effects compare with another “drug” that we have become so accustomed to: alcohol.

Gray matter is the tissue on the brain’s surface that primarily consists of nerve cell bodies. White matter is the deeper brain tissue that contains myelinated nerve fibers, which are branches protruding from nerve cells that transmit electrical impulses to other cells and tissues.

The team notes that any reduction in the size of white or gray matter or a loss in their integrity can lead to impairments in brain functioning.

“With alcohol, we’ve known it’s bad for the brain for decades,” notes Hutchison. “But for cannabis, we know so little.”

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Marijuana use had no impact

The study included the brain images of 853 adults who were aged between 18 and 55 years and 439 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18. All participants varied in their use of alcohol and marijuana.

The researchers found that alcohol use — particularly in adults who had been drinking for many years — was associated with a reduction in gray matter volume, as well as a reduction in the integrity of white matter.

Marijuana use, however, appeared to have no impact on the structure of gray or white matter in either teenagers or adults.

Based on these findings, the researchers believe that drinking alcohol is likely to be much more harmful to brain health than using marijuana.

[…] while marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol.”

Kent Hutchison

When it comes to the possible benefits of marijuana use, however, Thayer and her team note that the jury is still out, and further research is needed to reach some conclusions.

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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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