Medical News Today: Causes and remedies for cold feet

Experiencing cold feet is normal from time to time. Changes in temperature, as well as health and lifestyle choices, are some of the most common causes of cold feet, and adjusting these factors will usually help relieve symptoms.

In this article, we look at these and several medical causes of cold feet. We also list home remedies people can try to keep the feet warm and comfortable.

Causes of cold feet

There can be a variety of reasons for cold feet, from winter temperatures to circulation and nerve disorders. Causes of cold feet include:

Cold temperatures

imprint of cold feet in shoe soles in the snow
Cold feet is common in cold temperatures. However, experiencing cold feet in normal or warm temperatures may be a sign of an underlying health problem.

Cold feet are one of the body’s normal reactions to colder temperatures. When the body enters a colder area, blood vessels in the extremities, such as the hands and feet, will constrict. This reduces the blood flow to these areas, which also reduces the amount of heat the body loses.

The extremities are the parts of the body furthest from the vital organs, so reducing blood flow to the extremities also helps keep warmth and blood flow in the more important body parts.

Over time this reduced blood flow can cause decreased oxygen in the tissues, which may cause them to take on a bluish color. When temporary, these symptoms are not usually serious, and the body will return to normal as it warms up again.

Some people have Raynaud’s phenomenon, where exposure to cold temperatures or high stress causes them to experience limited blood circulation, resulting in cold or numb fingers and toes.

High stress or anxiety

Being in a state of high stress or anxiety may also cause cold feet. One of the body’s natural responses to stress or nervousness is to pump adrenaline into the bloodstream.

As it circulates, adrenaline causes the blood vessels at the periphery to constrict, which decreases the flow of blood to the outermost areas of the body. This response reserves energy and prepares for any bodily harm that may happen, as a result of the high-stress situation.

The modern world is full of stressors, but not many of them put the body at immediate risk, so this protective response may be more harmful than helpful if it is making the feet or hands cold regularly. Reducing stress and tension may help reduce symptoms in these cases.

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Circulation issues

Person with thick winter socks on cold feet, perched on top of radiator heater.
Feet and hands are prone to feeling cold, as blood flow is restricted to the extremeties in cold temperatures.

Circulation issues are a very common cause of cold feet. A person with poor circulation will often struggle to get enough warm blood to their extremities, and may complain of cold hands and cold feet frequently.

Poor circulation can have a variety of causes. Living a sedentary lifestyle or sitting at a desk all day may reduce circulation to the legs and cause cold feet.

Smoking tobacco products can also make it more difficult for the blood to reach every area of the body, so people who smoke may be more likely to complain of cold feet.

High cholesterol can lead to plaques forming inside the arteries that can reduce circulation to the legs and feet, leading to cold feet.

Some heart conditions can also cause cold feet, so a person should speak to their doctor about any existing heart problems or risk factors.


Anemia is a condition that occurs when a person has too few normal red blood cells in their body. This can be due to many factors, including deficiency in iron, vitamin B12, or folate, or chronic kidney disease.

Moderate to severe cases of anemia may cause cold feet. Anemia usually responds well to changes in diet and supplements.

It is best to have anemia diagnosed by a doctor and to follow their treatment recommendations.

Diabetes mellitus

People with diabetes may be at risk of circulation problems, such as cold feet or hands.

Frequent high blood sugar levels can lead to narrowing of the arteries and a reduced blood supply to the tissues, which may cause cold feet.

In some people, diabetes can lead to diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a form of nerve damage. Diabetic nerve damage typically happens in people who have an uncontrolled, high blood sugar level for long periods of time.

Other symptoms of diabetic nerve damage include tingling or prickling sensations, numbness, or burning pain in the feet and legs. Symptoms may be worse at night.

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Nerve disorders

Other nerve disorders may also be the cause of regular cold feet. Nerve damage may be caused by trauma or injury, such as severe frostbite, or may be due to an underlying medical condition.

Peripheral neuropathy may also be caused by liver or kidney disease, infection, or genetics. It usually causes additional symptoms, including numbness and tingling. Treating symptoms, such as cold feet, can help a person reduce their discomfort while waiting for a proper diagnosis.


Hypothyroidism is caused by an underactive thyroid gland, producing a low level of thyroid hormone, which has a negative impact on the body’s metabolism.

The body’s metabolism affects circulation, heartbeat, and body temperature, so anything that impacts on thyroid function and causes hypothyroidism can lead to cold feet.

People with hypothyroidism may be more sensitive to cold in general, and may experience other symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, and memory problems.

Home remedies

Working directly with a doctor to diagnose any underlying cause of cold feet is the best way to prevent the symptom, as much as possible.

However, many home remedies can help warm the feet and keep a person comfortable.


Person tying laces on sports shows in the snow.
Regular movement, such as getting up from a sitting position periodically, may help to treat cold feet.

As simple as it seems, getting up and moving may be one of the easiest ways to warm the body and help blood flow to and from the feet.

People who experience cold feet due to their desk job may benefit from getting up periodically and walking around the office.

Getting blood circulating using cardioactivities, such as jogging or even doing jumping jacks, may be enough to keep the feet warm throughout the day.

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Socks and slippers

Warm, well-insulated socks are important for people with cold feet. While indoors, it may also help to wear well-insulated slippers, especially if a person does not have carpeted or heated floors.

Keeping the feet bundled up is a great way to help them stay warm and prevent any additional heat loss.

Foot baths

One of the quickest ways to relieve cold feet is to soak them in a warm footbath.

Filling a bathtub or basin with warm water and soaking the feet for 10 to 15 minutes may be enough to keep fresh blood circulating to the feet throughout the day. This may be especially helpful just before bed, as it can also relieve tension and relax the muscles.

People with diabetic nerve damage should avoid using hot water to warm the feet, as they may not be able to tell if the water is too hot or not. This can lead to accidental burns.

Heating pads or hot water bottles

For people who have trouble sleeping due to cold feet, placing a heating pad or hot water bottle at the foot of the bed can keep the area surrounding the feet warm at bedtime.

Heating pads may also be helpful to help soothe sore muscles after a long day of standing.

When to see a doctor

Although having occasional cold feet is normal, there are some instances when a visit to the doctor may be necessary. Anyone who experiences cold feet frequently or for no obvious reason should speak to their doctor about possible causes.

A person should also speak to a doctor if cold feet are accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • fatigue
  • weight loss or gain
  • fever
  • significant joint pain
  • sores on the fingers or toes that take a long time to heal
  • skin changes, such as rashes, scales, or thick skin

If the feet feel cold internally, but the skin does not feel cold to the touch, a person should see a doctor, as this may be a sign of nerve damage or other neurological conditions.


Getting cold feet from time to time is perfectly normal. Persistent symptoms may be something to discuss with a doctor, but treating the underlying cause should help the feet return a better temperature.

In the meantime, taking immediate steps, such as wearing thick socks or using a hot footbath, can help warm the feet up quickly.

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Medical News Today: What to know about jugular vein distention (JVD)

Jugular vein distention occurs when the pressure inside the vena cava increases and appears as a bulge running down the right side of a person’s neck.

In this article, we look at the causes of jugular vein distention (JVD), additional symptoms, and how it is treated.

What is jugular vein distention?

Jugular vein distention. Image credit: Ferencga, (2003, one 25)
Jugular vein distention is when a vein on the side of the neck appears to bulge.
Image credit: Ferencga, (2003, June 25)

A person has jugular veins on both sides of their neck. They act as passageways for blood to move from a person’s head to the superior vena cava, which is the largest vein in the upper body. The superior vena cava then transports the blood to the heart and lungs.

The blood flow from the head to the heart is measured by central venous pressure or CVP.

Jugular vein distention or JVD is when the increased pressure of the superior vena cava causes the jugular vein to bulge, making it most visible on the right side of a person’s neck.

The appearance of the vein is similar to a rope or raised tube below the surface of the skin, and its height can be measured to indicate the CVP.

An increased volume of blood and high CVP are signs of heart failure. However, there are other reasons why JVD might occur, such as a blockage.

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There are several reasons why JVD may occur, including:

  • Right-sided heart failure. The right ventricle of the heart is responsible for pumping blood to the lungs to collect oxygen. The left ventricle is responsible for pumping the blood out to the rest of the body. People with right-sided heart failure have usually already experienced left-sided heart failure. The blood accumulation in the lungs caused by left ventricle failure means the right ventricle has to work harder and becomes weakened until it cannot pump effectively anymore. This failure causes the veins to bulge as blood accumulates.
  • Pulmonary hypertension. This condition occurs when the pressure in blood vessels becomes dangerously high, causing their walls to thicken and stiffen, meaning less blood can pass through. This can damage the right side of the heart and increase pressure in the superior vena cava.
  • Tricuspid valve stenosis. This is caused by a stiffening of the valve that separates the right atrium and the right ventricle of the heart. This results in blood backing up in the veins.
  • Superior vena cava obstruction. Superior vena cava obstruction can occur if a tumor growing in the chest or a clot in the superior vena cava restricts blood flow in the vein.
  • Constrictive pericarditis. If the pericardium or the fluid-filled sac around the heart becomes stiff, it can prevent the chambers of the hearts from filling up with blood properly. This situation can cause the blood to back up in the veins.
  • Cardiac tamponade. This is a condition that occurs when the sac around the heart fills up with fluid and no longer allows the heart to fill with blood properly. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including infection and bleeding. It causes heart failure as well as JVD.


person holding both hands over heart because of chest pains.
Symptoms of JVD may include chest pains, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath.

As well as the appearance of a bulging jugular vein, other symptoms may occur in a person with JVD. These additional symptoms can help determine the underlying cause of JVD.

Some symptoms that may occur alongside JVD are considered an emergency and require immediate medical attention. These symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • excessive sweating
  • blue lips or fingernails
  • decreased alertness
  • passing out or becoming unresponsive
  • chest pain, tightness, or pressure
  • heart palpitations
  • not being able to produce any urine
  • rapid heart rate or tachycardia
  • rapid weight gain
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • wheezing or choking

Other symptoms that may occur alongside JVD are:

  • confusion
  • memory loss
  • coughing
  • feeling fatigued
  • swelling, especially of the lower extremities
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • increased need to urinate at night, known as nocturia
  • a decrease in appetite
  • changes in weight
  • shortness of breath or rapid breathing, known as tachypnea
  • weakness

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Risk factors

JVD can be the sign of a severe condition, including heart failure, so it is vital that a person is seen by a medical professional as soon as possible.

While heart failure can happen to anyone, risk factors for heart failure include:

Complications, including with a person’s circulation, can occur alongside JVD and may result in fatigue. They can also cause cognitive or memory difficulties, as well as potential liver and kidney problems.


Woman having throat and neck inspected by doctor.
Usually a diagnosis is made simply by inspecting the bulging vein itself.

The appearance of a bulging vein in a person’s neck is enough to diagnose them with JVD. However, determining the underlying cause usually requires further testing.

To find out if there is any immediate cause for concern, a doctor can estimate a person’s CVP by measuring the height of the bulge.

This measurement will be taken when a person is lying down with their head elevated at an angle of 45–60 degrees.

If the CVP is higher than normal, it may indicate heart failure or that there is high pressure in the lungs that is affecting the right side of the heart.

A doctor will ask about other symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath to help make a diagnosis.

Additional tests may also be carried out to determine the underlying cause of JVD. Listening to the heart can help a doctor pick up signs, such as a heart murmur.

A blood test can also reveal problems with the kidney, liver, or thyroid, which may affect the heart and cardiovascular system, causing JVD.

A doctor may carry out other tests, including an electrocardiogram, which can reveal any problems with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat, or an echocardiogram, which can help diagnose heart failure and show signs of valve disease or a previous heart attack.

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In cases where heart failure is thought to be the underlying cause of JVD, a doctor will work closely with a person to help improve their health. Treatments include:

  • changes in lifestyle and diet
  • beta-blockers to decrease the activity of the heart and lower blood pressure
  • ACE inhibitors, which help to relax the blood vessels
  • diuretics, which help to lower blood pressure by flushing salt and fluid out of the body and relaxing blood vessels

In the most severe cases, a heart transplant may be necessary.


The most common underlying cause of JVD is heart failure. A person’s outlook depends on how early this is diagnosed, the extent of the damage, their overall health, and how well they respond to treatment.

Early diagnosis is more likely to have a more positive outlook. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of JVD should see a doctor as soon as possible.

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Medical News Today: What you should know about laser hair removal versus electrolysis

Although shaving, tweezing, or waxing can remove unwanted hair, many people are now looking for more long-term solutions. Two commonly used methods to achieve this are laser hair removal and electrolysis.

Both procedures target hair follicles under the surface of the skin to curb or prevent their growth. Although electrolysis is the only hair removal method endorsed by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permanent hair removal, and according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, laser hair removal is currently the more popular option in the United States.

Keep reading to discover the advantages and disadvantages of each procedure.

What is laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal
Laser hair removal does not eliminate unwanted hair forever.

Laser hair removal uses a laser to damage hair follicles sufficiently to reduce hair growth.

It will permanently diminish hair growth, but does not eliminate unwanted hair forever — eventually, the hair will grow back.

What does the procedure involve?

Before the procedure, the technician performing the laser surgery will trim the hair that is being treated close to the skin.

The technician will then adjust the laser’s settings based on the color and thickness of the hair being removed, as well as the area being treated. Preparations will likely also take into account the color of the person’s skin.

The technician will then apply a cold gel to the skin to protect it. Some people may be given a topical anesthetic to minimize discomfort. Anyone having their hair removed with a laser will need to wear eye protection during the treatment.


After the procedure, it may be necessary to apply ice packs to alleviate discomfort. For severe pain, a doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers or a steroid cream.

Most people will require up to 8 follow-up treatments to get the best results, which can be scheduled 4 to 6 weeks apart. Once hair growth has been sufficiently restrained, a person may require a once-or twice-yearly maintenance session.

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Advantages of laser hair removal

Some of the benefits of laser hair removal include:

  • Precision: The lasers quickly target coarse, dark hairs.
  • Speed: Laser pulses take just milliseconds, and can treat several hairs at once, which means that small areas can be treated in just minutes.
  • Lighter growth and color: New hair growth tends to be less dense than before, and the new hair is often a few shades lighter than the original hair.
  • Efficacy: Many people see long-term results after 3 to 8 sessions.

Disadvantages of laser hair removal

Laser hair removal is not suitable for everyone, and there are some risks involved. Its main disadvantages include:

  • Not suitable for all coloring: The laser works best on people with light skin and dark hair because the laser targets dark colors.
  • Risk of adverse reactions: Some of the more undesirable side effects of laser hair removal can include discolored skin, swelling, skin redness, blisters, and scarring. However, some of these resolve within hours of the treatment.
  • Photosensitivity: Lasers can increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity); so direct exposure to the sun must be avoided immediately after the procedure. People having laser treatment should avoid sunlight for 6 weeks before treatment to prevent discoloration of the tanned skin.
  • Dangers of numbing products: According to the FDA, the use of skin-numbing products in laser hair removal has led to reports of serious and life-threatening side effects that occurred after individuals applied a numbing agent to large areas of the body.

People should use a fully trained, certified laser technician working under the direction of a board-certified healthcare provider to reduce the risk of severe and long-lasting side effects following laser hair removal.


Insurance companies consider laser hair removal to be a cosmetic procedure, and so they do not cover it.

Costs vary according to the area of the body being treated and the number of sessions required but can cost $200 to $400 per visit. Prices also vary depending on the geographic location of the laser treatment center.

It is also necessary to factor in the price of the yearly maintenance procedures when calculating the total cost of this treatment.

At-home therapies or salon treatments, although significantly cheaper, carry more significant risks.

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What is electrolysis?

Electrolysis can permanently remove hair follicles.

Electrolysis involves passing an electrical current through a hair follicle, which damages the follicle and prevents new hair growth.

Electrolysis is the only method of permanent hair removal available. To ensure efficacy and safety, a licensed, board-certified dermatologist or electrologist should carry out the procedure.

What does the procedure involve?

Before the procedure, a person will typically have a consultation with an electrologist to discuss their health and medical history.

The procedure itself involves the technician placing an ultra-thin needle into the targeted hair follicle. An electric current passes through the probe, killing the hair root.


Very little aftercare is necessary. Although the skin may feel irritated and appear slightly red, these symptoms tend to resolve within a few hours.

For permanent hair removal, a person will need several treatments. This is because the skin has multiple follicles for each hair, so dormant follicles may begin to grow hair between sessions. Follow-up sessions treat these newly active follicles.

The majority of people will require follow-up sessions every week or every other week for several weeks to eliminate hair on the target area.

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Advantages of electrolysis

Electrolysis has the following advantages:

  • Permanent: Electrolysis is the only FDA-approved method of permanent hair removal.
  • Versatility: According to the American Electrology Association, electrolysis is effective for people with any skin type, skin color, hair type, and hair color. Electrolysis is suitable for any area of the body — including the eyebrows.
  • No recovery time: People can resume their daily activities immediately after the procedure.
  • Maintenance-free: There is no need to schedule an annual electrolysis session — once the hair has been removed no more treatments are necessary.
  • No harsh chemicals: Unlike with laser hair removal or hair bleaching, electrolysis does not require the use of chemicals on the skin.

Disadvantages of electrolysis

Although there are many benefits to electrolysis, there are some risks and drawbacks to consider:

  • Several sessions: If larger areas are being treated with electrolysis, such as the legs or back, it can take several long sessions to achieve permanent results. Also, removing coarse hair, such as from around the bikini line, requires more sessions. Some people may require up to 30 treatments.
  • Discomfort: People undergoing electrolysis hair removal may experience some pain and discomfort. It may help to take a pain reliever before treatment and to apply ice following the session.
  • Potential for adverse effects: These include scarring in rare cases or infection from unsterilized needles. These risks highlight the importance of only using a board-certified dermatologist.


Most insurance will not cover electrolysis hair removal. However, depending on the area and the type of hair being treated, it can work out less expensive than laser hair removal.

For example, a 30-minute session targeting a small area can cost as little as $45.

People should keep in mind that they might require more sessions than they would with laser treatment.

What hair removal treatment is best?

Both laser hair removal and electrolysis treatments provide a long-term solution to unwanted hair growth.

All things considered, despite being a slower method of hair removal, electrolysis is more versatile, and permanently removes hair. It also typically causes fewer adverse reactions.

Those considering long-term hair removal treatments should speak with a skincare specialist about the best options for their needs.

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Medical News Today: Another work email out of hours? Why you should ignore it

It’s the weekend. You’re spending quality time with your family and friends. Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of a work email resonates from your phone. Do you read it now? Or do you wait until Monday? If you opt for the former, be warned: you might be putting your well-being at risk.
a man distracted by his phone
A study highlights how a lack of work-life balance can have negative effects on our well-being.

Researchers from the University of Zürich in Switzerland found that employees who allow their work to seep into their personal lives feel more emotionally exhausted and have a lower sense of well-being, compared with those who maintain a clear separation between work and their personal lives.

Sadly, this is likely to be a common problem; it seems that few of us manage to achieve work-life balance.

A survey from the Society of Human Resource Management suggests that around 89 percent of employees in the United States consider work-life balance to be a problem.

With longer working hours and increasing job demands, this is hardly a surprise. However, as the new study highlights, we need to be careful; letting our work trickle into our personal lives could have significant implications for our well-being.

This finding — as reported by the researchers in the Journal of Business and Psychology — may seem obvious, but what is interesting about the new study is that it sheds light on why failing to draw the line between work and our free time can have such negative effects. In a nutshell, it’s down to the amount of time we allow ourselves to recover from work demands.

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Studying almost 2,000 employees

Study co-author Ariane Wepfer — from the Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention Institute at the University of Zürich — and her colleagues came to their results by analyzing the data of 1,916 employees from German-speaking countries. Of these employees, around 50 percent worked at least 40 hours per week.

Each employee took part in an online survey, which assessed how well they separated their work from their personal lives. For example, they were asked whether they thought about work in their free time, and how often they worked at weekends.

Respondents were also asked whether they allowed themselves time to relax out of work to enjoy some hobbies or socialize. The survey also gathered information about the employees’ sense of physical and emotional exhaustion, and whether they felt they had a good work-life balance.

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Less recovery time leads to exhaustion

The results of the survey demonstrated that employees’ who did not draw the line between work and their personal lives were less likely to take part in hobbies and other activities that may help them to recover from work demands.

As a result, these employees reported greater exhaustion, compared with those who put strict boundaries between their work and personal lives.

“Employees who integrated work into their non-work life,” says Wepfer, “reported being more exhausted because they recovered less. This lack of recovery activities furthermore explains why people who integrate their work into the rest of their lives have a lower sense of well-being.”

According to the researchers, these findings should further encourage employers to put policies in place to ensure employees maintain a good work-life balance.

“Organizational policy and culture should be adjusted to help employees manage their work-non-work boundaries in a way that does not impair their well-being,” says Wepfer. “After all, impaired well-being goes hand in hand with reduced productivity and reduced creativity.”

So, the next time work demands try to creep into your personal life, tell yourself that it can wait. You’ll be doing your well-being the world of good.

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Medical News Today: Ketamine ‘rapid and effective’ for reducing suicidal thoughts

Ketamine — a medication primarily used as an anesthetic — may offer a fast and effective way to reduce suicidal thoughts among individuals with depression. This is the finding of a new study by researchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, NY.
a sad woman looking out of a window
Research suggests that ketamine could be a fast-acting and effective treatment to reduce suicidal thoughts.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States; each year, around 44,193 people in the U.S. take their own lives, and a further 494,169 are hospitalized for self-harm injuries.

Depression is by far the most common disorder underlying a suicide attempt; around 30–70 percent of those who attempt suicide have major depression or bipolar disorder.

But how can you tell if a friend or loved one with depression is having suicidal thoughts? Verbal threats of suicide or being a burden to others, an increase in the use of drugs or alcohol, and changes in mood can all be warning signs.

Of course, it is not possible to predict whether a person will attempt suicide, which highlights the need for speedy treatments that can reduce suicidal thoughts.

“There is a critical window in which depressed patients who are suicidal need rapid relief to prevent self-harm,” explains study leader Dr. Michael Grunebaum, a research psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center.

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“Currently available antidepressants can be effective in reducing suicidal thoughts in patients with depression,” he adds, “but they can take weeks to have an effect.”

Dr. Grunebaum explains, “Suicidal, depressed patients need treatments that are rapidly effective in reducing suicidal thoughts when they are at highest risk. Currently, there is no such treatment for rapid relief of suicidal thoughts in depressed patients.”

Previous research, however, has pointed to ketamine as a potential candidate, after finding that low doses of the drug may help to reduce suicidal ideation in people with depression.

Dr. Grunebaum and colleagues set out to investigate this association further with their new study. Specifically, they investigated whether or not ketamine could reduce suicidal thoughts within 24 hours of administration.

The findings were recently published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

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Ketamine quickly halved suicidal thoughts

The research included 80 adults who had major depression. All participants had suicidal thoughts, as determined by their scores on the Scale for Suicidal Ideation (SSI).

The participants were randomized to one of two treatment groups. One group received a low-dose of ketamine, while the other group received a low-dose of midazolam, a sedative.

Using the SSI, the researchers assessed the presence of suicidal thoughts at 24 hours after each drug was administered.

While both groups saw a clinically significant reduction in suicidal thoughts, this reduction was greater for subjects who received ketamine: 55 percent of the ketamine group experienced a 50 percent or higher reduction in suicidal thoughts, compared with 30 percent of the midazolam group.

Ketamine’s effects on suicidal thoughts remained for up to 6 weeks, the team reports. Furthermore, those who received ketamine experienced greater improvements in mood, depression, and fatigue, compared with those who received midazolam.

The team notes the effects of ketamine on depression accounted for around a third of the drug’s effects on SSI scores, which suggests that ketamine can directly target suicidal thoughts.

The most common side effects of ketamine were dissociation and an increase in blood pressure upon administration. However, the team notes that these side effects soon subsided.

Overall, the researchers say that their findings show that “ketamine offers promise as a rapidly acting treatment for reducing suicidal thoughts in patients with depression.”

Additional research to evaluate ketamine’s antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects may pave the way for the development of new antidepressant medications that are faster-acting and have the potential to help individuals who do not respond to currently available treatments.”

Dr. Michael Grunebaum

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Medical News Today: Breast cancer: These gene variations may shorten young women’s survival

Women under the age of 40 who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer tend to have poorer relative survival rates than older women diagnosed with the condition, but why? A new study has identified a potential genetic explanation.
a DNA strand representing a mutation
Researchers have identified variations in a gene that may increase disease progression in young women with breast cancer.

Researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom found that women aged 15–39 who had early-onset breast cancer possessed specific gene variations that were associated with increased disease progression.

Lead study author Dr. William Tapper — from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Southampton — and team say that their results not only shed light on why younger women with breast cancer have lower survival rates, but they could also offer new treatment targets for the disease.

The researchers recently reported their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States; there is a 1 in 8 chance that a woman will develop the disease in her lifetime.

Breast cancer is most common among women aged 40 and older; women under the age of 40 account for only around 4 percent of new invasive breast cancer cases in the U.S.

But while younger women are at lower risk of developing breast cancer, when they are diagnosed with the disease, their relative survival rates are lower.

Younger women are often diagnosed with breast cancer when the disease is more aggressive, which may partly explain their poorer survival. However, the new study from Dr. Tapper and colleagues suggests that certain gene variations might also play a role.

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Variations found in ADAMTSL1 gene

The researchers came to their findings by conducting a meta-analysis of four cohorts including a total of 6,042 women who had received a breast cancer diagnosis. Of these women, 2,315 were between the ages of 15 and 39.

The team looked at the stage of breast cancer at diagnosis, the overall survival of the women, and their gene expression profiles.

Among younger women diagnosed with early-onset breast cancer, it was found that two single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the ADAMTSL1 gene were associated with greater risk of disease progression.

SNPs are variations in a DNA sequence that can affect how a gene functions, and this plays a role in disease.

The researchers say that this finding “suggests that unique disease mechanisms may influence survival in younger women and provide some biological insight into why younger-onset breast cancer has a worse prognosis.”

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What is more, Dr. Tapper and team say that the results could pave the way to new diagnostic and treatment strategies for young women diagnosed with early-onset breast cancer.

Our findings increase our understanding of the genes and pathways that are involved in breast cancer prognosis, and may provide new targets for the development of novel therapies.”

Dr. William Tapper

“In the short- to medium-term,” continues Dr. Tapper, “this genetic factor may be used to improve prognostic models.”

“In the long-term,” he adds, “when more is known about the mechanism underlying this association and its relationship with treatment response, it may have an influence on approaches to the most effective breast cancer treatments.”

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Medical News Today: Chronic appendicitis: What you need to know

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Medical News Today: Need more sleep than most people? Blame your genes

Some people need more sleep than others, and a new study has found that our personal sleep requirements may be down to our genes. So, you’re not lazy after all — it’s your DNA’s fault.
Man asleep with alarm clock
Scientists ask why some people can’t get out of bed.

Some people can function perfectly well on just a few hours of sleep, while others need a good 10 hours or more each day to remain chipper. Famously, Donald Trump claims that he only needs 3–4 hours in bed each night.

This isn’t news, of course; these differences are well-documented. However, until recently, very little was known about why such variation exists.

A recent study set out to understand why some individuals appear to be able to burn the candle at both ends while others need to spend half of their lives under the sheets.

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What is sleep for, anyway?

Overall, sleep is still a relatively mysterious beast. Despite spending around one third of our lives in slumber, its exact roles are still being unpicked.

We know that it is involved in memory consolidation and probably gives cells and tissues a chance to rest, regenerate, and clear out the day’s buildup of metabolic trash.

A lack of sleep also seems to impair the immune system, so it might be involved there, too. We really don’t know the full ins and outs of sleep, though.

When you consider that, when in the wild, animals must lie unconscious in the dark, surrounded by potential predators, you realize just how important sleep must be. But there is a counter-argument that lying still and quiet might be a better way to avoid becoming someone else’s snack than moving around all night.

Either way, the fact that so much of our lives is dedicated to sleep means it must be pretty darned important.

The latest research to peer into the puzzle of sleep comes from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Their findings are published this week in the journal PLOS Genetics.

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Sleepy flies

In this study, the team wanted to get a handle on the mechanisms that underpin why some people need more sleep than others. The scientists hoped that the findings might offer some clues into two conditions at either end of the scale: insomnia, or not being able to get enough sleep, and narcolepsy, which is a condition characterized by intrusive “sleep attacks.”

Scientists know that circadian rhythms, or daily cycles of sleep and wakefulness, are involved in our individual sleep patterns. These cycles are under genetic control, so it seems reasonable that genes are playing a part in sleep duration, too.

The current study aimed to pin down the elusive genes that might have a hand in this variation. The researchers — led by Susan Harbison, Ph.D., an investigator in the Laboratory of Systems Genetics at NHLBI — used a fruit fly model. Yes, it may seem bizarre, but fruit flies have their own version of sleep.

In fact, all animals that have been studied to date experience something at least a little bit like sleep, which is further evidence of sleep’s importance.

They selectively bred 13 generations of fruit flies to produce either long-sleepers (18 hours per day) or short sleepers (3 hours per day), the Donald Trumps of the fly kingdom. And so, without adding, subtracting, or meddling with the fly’s genetic code, they were able to produce strains with wildly different sleeping habits.

What is particularly interesting about this study is that we created long- and short-sleeping flies using the genetic material present in nature, as opposed to the engineered mutations or transgenic flies that many researchers in this field are using.”

Susan Harbison, Ph.D.

“Until now,” she adds, “whether sleep at such extreme long or short duration could exist in natural populations was unknown.”

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They then compared the genomes of the two strains, looking for genes that varied between them.

A total of 126 differences across 80 genes were uncovered. These genes were involved in a wide range of vital developmental and cell signaling pathways, and some are known to be involved in brain development, memory, and learning.

According to the study authors, the fact that so many genes appear to be involved “suggests that sleep duration in natural populations can be influenced by a wide variety of biological processes, which may be why the purpose of sleep has been so elusive.”

The good news is that neither the long- nor short-sleepers saw a reduction in lifespan — which is particularly good to know.

Although this is only a small part of a very large puzzle, it is a particularly interesting part. Additional research using human populations is likely to offer up more insight into the strange phenomenon we call sleep.

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Medical News Today: Could a cup of hot tea each day reduce the risk of glaucoma?

A new study has discovered that the risk of glaucoma — a fairly common eye condition in the older population that can result in loss of vision — was lower in people who drank hot tea every day.
a cup of hot tea and a pair of glasses
Could one cup of hot tea per day have a protective effect against the onset of glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye condition characterized by damage to the optic nerve, which may result in partial or total loss of eyesight. Risk factors for developing glaucoma include age, a medical history of diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.

According to recent data from the National Eye Institute, in 2010 alone, 1.9 percent of the North American population aged 40 and over was diagnosed with a form of glaucoma.

Coffee consumption has previously been associated with an increased risk of developing glaucoma, due to increased intraocular blood pressure.

However, the results of further research were split, with some indicating that moderate coffee consumption did not affect the risk of glaucoma, and others obtaining mixed results.

Furthermore, some studies hypothesized that the consumption of other caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks could also influence the risk of developing glaucoma.

So far, this notion has not been verified, since most of the research addressing the link between drinks and the risk of heightened intraocular pressure referred to small, and thus inconclusive, population samples.

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Recently, scientists from Brown University in Providence, RI, and the University of California in Los Angeles have decided to compare how the consumption of various drinks — including hot tea, decaffeinated tea, iced tea, coffee, and soft drinks — influence the risk of glaucoma.

“No study to date has compared the effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, tea, and soft drinks on glaucoma,” write the researchers.

“The objective of this study,” they add, “is to examine the association between consumption of various caffeinated and decaffeinated beverages and glaucoma.”

The results of the study were published yesterday in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

Lower risk for tea drinkers

Lead study author Connie Wu and her colleagues analyzed data sourced from the 2005–2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which gathered the medical data of around 10,000 people.

The survey used a range of tools, including interviews, physical examinations, and blood samples, aiming to give a detailed pictured of health in the United States population.

The team chose the 2005–2006 survey because it also gathered data on glaucoma diagnoses. That year, 1,678 participants agreed to share full eye test results, and of these, 84 adults were found to have a form of glaucoma.

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As a part of their assessment, the participants were quizzed on their drinking habits, including how much coffee, hot tea, decaffeinated tea, soft drinks, and iced tea they had drunk over the past year, and how often.

The researchers found that the participants who drank hot tea every day had a 74 percent lower risk of developing glaucoma than those who didn’t.

To ensure the consistency of these results, the team also checked for potential confounding factors, such as a history of diabetes and smoking habits.

No links were found between glaucoma risk and any other type of beverage taken into account in the study, including coffee — both caffeinated and decaffeinated — as well as decaffeinated tea, iced tea, and soft drinks.

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Is the relationship causal?

The scientists warn that this is only an association noted in an observational study, so no cause-effect relationship should be inferred without further analysis.

The study also had other limitations, such as the small number of participants with glaucoma and a lack of detailed information about the timeline of diagnosis.

Other missing information refers to how much of the beverage the hot tea drinkers actually had each day, what kind of tea they consumed, and how it was brewed, which may have swayed the findings.

Still, the study authors note in their paper that “[t]ea contains phytochemicals and flavonoids [types of active chemical compounds found in plants], which have been observed to have anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties associated with the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.”

Thus, the researchers suggest, it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to consider that the consumption of tea could have a protective metabolic effect.

Wu and colleagues also refer to existing studies that have proposed that glaucoma may, in part, be an effect of oxidative stress and neurodegeneration, which are two processes linked to aging and breakdown at cellular and molecular levels.

Taking into account the potential protective effect of hot tea consumption when it comes to cell aging and damage, the researchers suggest that further efforts should be dedicated to investigating the role of this common, and much-loved, beverage.

“Further research is needed to establish the importance of these findings and whether hot tea consumption may play a role in the prevention of glaucoma,” the team concludes.

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Medical News Today: Ten causes of epigastric pain

Epigastric pain is felt in the middle of the upper abdomen, just below the ribcage. Occasional epigastric pain is not usually a cause for concern and may be as simple as a stomach ache from eating bad food.

There are many common digestive problems associated with epigastric pain, as well as a range of other underlying conditions that can cause pain in that area.

Serious cases may be life-threatening, and it is important to work with a doctor to understand the difference between a simple cause of epigastric pain and a more serious underlying condition.

Ten causes of epigastric pain

Epigastric pain is a common symptom of an upset stomach, which can be due to long-term gastrointestinal problems or just the occasional bout of indigestion.

1. Indigestion

man with hand on chest
Epigastric pain is felt just under the ribcage and is generally not a cause for concern.

Indigestion usually occurs after eating. When a person eats something, the stomach produces acid to digest the food. Sometimes, this acid can irritate the lining of the digestive system.

Indigestion can cause symptoms such as:

  • burping
  • bloating in the abdomen
  • feeling full or bloated, even if the portion size was not big
  • nausea

These symptoms are often felt alongside epigastric pain. While indigestion happens to everyone from time to time, it may be a sign that a person is intolerant of something they have recently eaten.

2. Acid reflux and GERD

Acid reflux occurs when the stomach acid used in digestion gets backed up in the food pipe (esophagus). Acid reflux usually causes pain in the chest and throat, which is commonly known as heartburn. This feeling may accompany epigastric pain or be felt on its own.

Other common symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • indigestion
  • burning or aching chest pain
  • feeling like there is a lump in the throat or chest
  • an acidic or a vomit-like taste in the mouth
  • a persistent sore throat or hoarse voice
  • a persistent cough

Ongoing acid reflux can damage the food pipe and may cause gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. People with GERD experience epigastric pain and symptoms of indigestion frequently and may require treatment and dietary changes to manage the condition.

Some cases of GERD can lead to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, where the tissue of the food pipe starts to look like the tissue in the intestines.

3. Overeating

The stomach is very flexible. However, eating more than necessary causes the stomach to expand beyond its normal capacity.

If the stomach expands considerably, it can put pressure on the organs around the stomach and cause epigastric pain. Overeating can also cause indigestion, acid reflux, and heartburn.

4. Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance can be another cause of epigastric pain. People who are lactose intolerant have trouble breaking down lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

For people with lactose intolerance, eating dairy can cause epigastric pain and other symptoms, including:

  • stomach pains
  • cramps and bloating
  • gas
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea

5. Drinking alcohol

Moderate drinking is usually not enough to upset the stomach or intestines. However, drinking too much alcohol at once or excess alcohol over long periods of time can cause inflammation in the lining of the stomach. This inflammation can lead to epigastric pain and other digestive issues.

6. Esophagitis or gastritis

Esophagitis is inflammation of the lining of the food pipe. Gastritis is inflammation of the lining of the stomach. Esophagitis and gastritis can be caused by acid reflux, infections, and irritation from certain medications. Some immune system disorders may also cause inflammation.

If this inflammation is left untreated, it can create scar tissue or bleeding. Other common symptoms include:

  • acidic or vomit-like taste in the mouth
  • persistent cough
  • burning in the chest and throat
  • trouble swallowing
  • nausea
  • vomiting or spitting up blood
  • poor nutrition

7. Hiatal hernia

A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm and into the chest. This may be due to an accident or weakened diaphragm muscles.

In addition to epigastric pain, other common symptoms of hiatal hernias include:

  • sore throat
  • irritation or scratchiness in the throat
  • trouble swallowing
  • gas or especially loud burps
  • chest discomfort

Hiatal hernias typically affect older people and may not cause epigastric pain in every case.

8. Peptic ulcer disease

Peptic ulcer disease is when the lining of the stomach or small intestine has been damaged by a bacterial infection or by taking too much of certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Symptoms of peptic ulcer disease can include epigastric pain and signs of internal bleeding, such as stomach pain, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

9. Gallbladder disorder

Issues with the gallbladder may also cause epigastric pain. Gallstones may be blocking the opening of the gallbladder, or the gallbladder may be inflamed. Specific gallbladder symptoms can include:

  • intense pain near the upper right side of the stomach after eating
  • clay-colored stool
  • jaundice or yellowing skin
  • loss of appetite
  • gas and bloating

10. Pregnancy

It is very common to feel mild epigastric pain during pregnancy. This is commonly caused by acid reflux or pressure on the abdomen from the expanding womb. Changes in hormone levels throughout pregnancy can also aggravate acid reflux and epigastric pain.

Severe or persistent epigastric pain during pregnancy can be a sign of a more serious condition, so a woman should visit her doctor if experiencing any unusual symptoms.

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man having an endoscopy
An endoscopy may be carried out to find the cause of unexplained epigastric pain.

Diagnosing the cause of epigastric pain is essential to ensure proper treatment. A healthcare professional will likely ask a series of questions about the pain and any additional symptoms.

If the cause is unclear, they may order tests, including:

  • imaging tests, such as X-rays, ultrasound, or an endoscopy
  • urine tests to check for infections or bladder disorders
  • blood tests
  • cardiac tests


Treating epigastric pain will vary according to the cause. For instance, if overeating frequently causes epigastric pain, a person may wish to eat smaller portions and ensure they are eating filling foods, such as lean proteins. They may also want to avoid foods that cause gas.

Conditions such as GERD, peptic ulcers, and Barrett’s esophagus may require long-term treatment to manage symptoms. A person should work with their doctor to find a treatment plan that works for them.

If a doctor thinks that taking certain medications is causing the condition, they may recommend switching to a new drug or reducing the dosage.

Over-the-counter or prescription antacids to help reduce frequent acid reflux and epigastric pain caused by stomach acid may be helpful.

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When to see a doctor

Occasional epigastric pain is not usually a cause for concern, but anyone with severe or persistent epigastric pain should see their doctor.

Symptoms that last more than a few days or that occur more than twice a week on a regular basis would be considered persistent.

A visit to the emergency room may be necessary in some cases. Signs of severe complications that require prompt treatment include:

  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • intense pressure or squeezing pain in the chest
  • coughing up blood
  • blood in the stool
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea lasting more than 24 hours in adults
  • high fever
  • extreme fatigue or loss of consciousness

Many cases of epigastric pain can be treated and prevented by making small changes in the diet or lifestyle. Even chronic symptoms can be managed well with medications and dietary changes.

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