Medical News Today: How can I stabilize my blood pressure?

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Medical News Today: ALS: How ‘toxic’ proteins could protect neurons

Researchers have now investigated the mechanisms of a protein called SOD1 that is known to play a role in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and they uncovered some surprising findings.
an illustration of nerve cells
Researchers suggest that proteins thought to destroy neurons in people with ALS may actually have the opposite effect.

The scientists found that while small aggregates of SOD1 can drive the neurological disease, it is possible that larger aggregates may actually help to protect neurons.

Lead study author Cheng Zhu, Ph.D. — from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) — and colleagues recently reported their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that is estimated to affect around 14,000–15,000 people in the United States.

In ALS, motor neurons — which are the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement — will gradually deteriorate. As the disease progresses, symptoms will worsen, and people with the condition eventually lose their ability to walk, talk, and breathe.

There is no cure for ALS, and the majority of people with the condition pass away as a result of respiratory failure. This most commonly occurs within 3–5 years of symptom onset.

The exact cause of ALS remains unclear, but researchers have identified mutations in the SOD1 gene as a possible culprit.

Studies have suggested that these mutations lead to the production of toxic SOD1 proteins, and that these form fibrous aggregates that can destroy motor neurons.

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Trimers, fibrils, and neurons

As Zhu and colleagues explain, there are two types of fibrous aggregates formed by SOD1 proteins: small aggregates, which are made of only a few SOD1 proteins; and larger aggregates, or fibrils, which comprise several SOD1 proteins.

In a previous study, the team found that fibrous aggregates made of just three SOD1 proteins — referred to as “trimers” — can destroy motor neuron-like cells. Evidence for the toxicity of larger fibrils, however, has been sparse, with many studies failing to show that they cause neurons harm.

What is more, the team notes that drugs developed to clear larger fibrous aggregates from motor neurons have shown no success in clinical trials.

This begs the question: are larger fibrous aggregates really a cause of neuronal death? To find out, Zhu and colleagues set out to compare the effects of trimers and larger fibrils on neurons — but this was not without its difficulties.

“One challenge,” notes Zhu, “is that the smaller structures such as trimers tend to exist only transiently on the way to forming larger structures.”

“But we were able to find an SOD1 mutation,” he adds, “that stabilizes the trimer structure and another mutation that promotes the creation of the larger fibrils at the expense of smaller structures.”

“So, we were able to separate the effects of these two species of the protein.”

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Larger fibrils protect, not destroy

In their study, the researchers assessed the effects of mutant SOD1 proteins on cells that mimicked the motor neurons that are destroyed in people with ALS.

Compared with motor neuron-like cells that possessed normal SOD1 proteins, the scientists found that mutant SOD1 proteins that primarily formed trimers killed motor neuron-like cells.

“Looking at various SOD1 mutants, we observed that the degree of toxicity correlated with the extent of trimer formation,” says Zhu.

However, they discovered that when mutant SOD1 produced proteins formed larger fibrils that suppress trimers, the functioning of motor neuron-like cells was comparable with cells with normal SOD1. This suggests that larger fibrils protect neurons, not destroy them.

According to the researchers, these findings indicate that promoting fibril formation in the brain might be a potential treatment for ALS that is triggered by mutations in the SOD1 gene.

And the possible benefits might not be limited to ALS; a number of neurodegenerative diseases — including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease — are driven by fibril-type aggregates.

Although SOD1-associated ALS represents a small fraction of all ALS cases, uncovering the origins of neurotoxicity in SOD1 aggregation may shed light on the underlying causes of an entire class of neurodegenerative diseases.”

Senior author Nikolay Dokholyan, Ph.D., UNC-Chapel Hill

The researchers now plan to find out more about how mutant SOD1 proteins produce trimers and identify drugs that can block their formation.

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Medical News Today: Does menopause cause rashes?

Menopause causes a dramatic change in hormone levels, including a decline in estrogen, which is what causes the symptoms associated with menopause. The most common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness — but can menopause also cause a rash?

In this article, we look at how estrogen and menopause affect the skin, and whether rashes are related to these hormonal changes.

Estrogen and the skin

older woman scratching her hand with a menopause rash
During menopause, decreased estrogen levels may cause skin problems to develop.

Estrogen plays a vital role in keeping the skin young, elastic, and healthy. Estrogen helps the skin by:

  • Stimulating the production of oil, collagen, and other substances involved in skin health.
  • Promoting wound healing.
  • Reducing inflammatory skin disorders during pregnancy or periods of high estrogen.
  • Possibly protecting against mortality from melanoma and other skin cancers.
  • Providing some protection against sun damage.

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How menopause affects the skin

While decreasing estrogen levels do have an impact on a person’s skin, there are many other factors involved in skin health. These factors can include:

  • sun exposure or damage
  • dehydration
  • smoking
  • fat redistribution
  • genetics

Skin changes that may occur during menopause include:


There is no evidence to suggest that menopause is linked to a specific type of rash. However, as a woman approaches menopause, the body becomes significantly more sensitive to changes in temperature, particularly heat.

During and before menopause, a woman may suddenly feel hot and sweaty, causing her face to become flushed or red. These are known as hot flashes, and they can be mild or severe enough to interfere with daily life.

Decreased estrogen levels can cause the skin to become itchy, sensitive, or irritated. Women may also notice that they are more sensitive to itchy fabrics, soaps, or beauty products. Scratching at itchy skin can cause hives and rashes.

A woman who has a rash should consider switching to natural or fragrance-free products to reduce irritation and inflammation. If rashes become especially problematic, she should see a dermatologist for further advice.

Facial hair

The decline in estrogen and other hormones can cause changes in a woman’s hair, causing it to thin or fall out.

During menopause, women may also notice that hair begins to grow on their face where it had not previously grown. This can include under the chin, along the jawline, or on the upper lip.

Women have many options for dealing with unwanted facial hair. Waxing and shaving are easy at-home options. A dermatologist can provide other options, such as laser treatment or hair removal cream.

Thinning skin

As estrogen levels fall, it can cause the skin to get thinner and more delicate, meaning it is more easily damaged. Thinning skin can even lead to more frequent and noticeable bruising.

It is essential to use an SPF 30 sunscreen every day, even when not spending a lot of time in the sun. While sunscreen cannot treat thinning skin, it can prevent it from getting worse.

A woman should see her dermatologist if thin skin presents a serious problem with tearing or injury. The doctor may be able to suggest medical treatments that can help manage the problem.

Dry skin

In addition to thinning skin, women in perimenopause or menopause are more likely to have issues with dry or flaky skin.

This is because estrogen helps the skin to hold on to water, keeping it soft and moist. Without estrogen, the skin is prone to drying out.

To prevent dry skin, people can use a gentler cleanser, as traditional soaps can be particularly drying for older women. Moisturizing right after showering or bathing is best.

People should avoid using exfoliants or other strong products because they can be particularly damaging to delicate or dry skin.

Age spots

Age spots are a common complaint of menopausal women. This is usually a sign of sun damage that has occurred throughout a woman’s lifetime.

Wearing sunscreen consistently and from an early age is the best way to prevent age spots and skin cancer developing later in life.

Some types of skin cancer can look like an age spot, so it is essential to see a dermatologist regularly. The risk of skin cancer increases with age and sun exposure.


woman using moisturizer on her face to help with menopause rash
An oil-free moisturizer is recommended to keep the skin soft.

Skin changes are a common complaint among women during or approaching menopause.

While these issues are the result of normal hormonal changes, there are a few things that women can do to help prevent them from happening or getting worse. Simple steps include:

  • Using moisturizer: An oil-free moisturizer can help to keep skin thick and soft. Choose something gentle and free from perfumes or dyes to minimize the risk of irritation.
  • Wearing sunscreen every day: Regular use of sunscreen can help prevent skin damage from sun exposure.
  • Taking sun protection seriously: In addition to wearing sunscreen, wear hats, sunglasses, and other protective clothing to keep the skin covered up while exposed to the sun.
  • See the dermatologist: It is important for women to see a dermatologist every year. In addition to screening for cancer or other suspicious marks, it is also a great opportunity to ask questions about problems or concerns about the skin.

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While there is no evidence that menopause can cause a rash, it is common for women to experience reddening and irritation of the skin during a hot flash. This is usually short-lived and will resolve once the hot flash goes away.

Avoiding skin irritants, applying sunscreen daily, and seeing a dermatologist can help women manage or prevent some of the other skin conditions associated with menopause.

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Medical News Today: How music helps the heart find its beat

“Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation,” wrote scientist Oliver Sacks. Medical research lends credibility to his observation, as classical music is known to lower heart rate and blood pressure. However, a new study shows that a little “mediation” from antihypertensive drugs goes a long way in helping the heart to find its natural, healthy rhythm.
heart with headphones
New research suggests that music helps the heart to stay healthy by enhancing the effect of blood pressure medication.

Combining the soothing power of music with the beneficial effects of antihypertensive drugs seems to create a beautiful synergy that lowers the heart rate and blood pressure of people with hypertension.

This is the main result of a new study carried out by an international team of researchers. Their results are now published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“The inexpressible depth of music,” as Sacks called it in his book Musicophilia, has been shown before to have healing effects on the heart. Studies have suggested that music can lower the blood pressure, reduce the heart rate, and ease the distress of people living with heart conditions.

The comforting effects of music do not stop here. Music therapy was shown to help the heart to contract and push blood throughout the body, classical and rock music makes your arteries more supple, and listening to music during surgery helps to lower the heart rate to a more calming pace.

Given all of these intriguingly positive effects of music on the heart, could it be that music can also boost the positive effects of blood pressure medication?

This question puzzled the researchers — who were led by Vitor Engrácia Valenti, a professor in the Speech Language Pathology Department at the São Paulo State University in Brazil. So, they set out to investigate.

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Adele and Enya boost hypertension drugs

Prof. Valenti and his colleagues investigated the effects of instrumental music on the heart rate and blood pressure of people with “well-controlled hypertension.” These were 37 participants who had been taking antihypertensive medication for a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 1 year.

After taking their usual blood pressure medication, the participants listened to music for 60 minutes using earphones. The next day, they took their medication as usual, but they sat in silence with the earphones turned off for the same amount of time.

The songs that they listened to included instrumental piano versions of Adele’s “Someone Like You” and “Hello,” as well as an instrumental version of “Amazing Grace” by Chris Tomlin and “Watermark” by Enya.

The team took heart rate variability measurements at 20, 40, and 60 minutes after the participants took the blood pressure medication.

The heart rates of the music-listening participants dropped significantly 60 minutes after taking blood pressure medication, whereas when they did not listen to music, the heart rates did not slow down at all.

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The effects of medication on blood pressure were also “more intense” when the participants were subjected to instrumental music.

We found that the effect of antihypertension medication on heart rate was enhanced by listening to music.”

Vitor Engrácia Valenti

The scientists speculate on the potential mechanisms that might explain the results. Referring to some of their previous research, they say, “We’ve observed classical music activating the parasympathetic nervous system and reducing sympathetic activity.”

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for speeding up the heart rate and increasing the blood pressure, whereas the parasympathetic one does the opposite.

So, in addition to triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, the researchers hypothesize that music also stimulates gastrointestinal activity, which, in turn, might facilitate and speed up the absorption of blood pressure drugs.

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Medical News Today: What happens if you sleep with your eyes open?

People who sleep with their eyes open may wake up feeling their eyes are dry and grainy. Some may think this habit is odd, but it is quite common. A person who sleeps with their eyes open regularly could end up with severe eye problems, however.

The medical term for sleeping with the eyes open is nocturnal lagophthalmos. Up to 20 percent of people are affected. One reason that it happens is problems with the facial nerves or muscles that make it difficult to keep the eyes fully closed. It can also occur because of problems with the skin around the eyelids.

If people keep their eyes open while sleeping, their eyes can dry out. Without enough lubrication, the eyes are more susceptible to infections and can become scratched and damaged.

People may experience the following:

  • redness
  • blurred vision
  • irritation or a burning sensation
  • scratchiness
  • sensitivity to light
  • feeling as if something is in the eye or rubbing against it
  • poor sleep quality

Most people realize they have slept with their eyes open because another person tells them they have done so.

What are the treatment options?

girl lying down sleeping with eyes open
Up to 20 percent of people may sleep with their eyes open.

There are several treatment options.

A doctor might also prescribe medications, including:

  • eye drops
  • artificial tears
  • ophthalmic ointments to help prevent scratches

A person can also wear moisture goggles at night, which can help.

These work by moisturizing the eyes during sleep. Sleeping with a humidifier in the bedroom can also keep the surrounding air moist and less likely to dry out the eyes.

A doctor may recommend using an external eyelid weight. This is attached to the outside of the upper eyelids to keep them closed. Applying surgical tape to the eyelids also serves the same purpose.

Another option is surgery, though this is usually only recommended for severe cases.

Surgery for nocturnal lagophthalmus

There are multiple surgeries that can treat lagophthalmos.

In one type of surgery, a gold surgical implant is inserted into the eyelid that works like an eyelid weight to keep the eye closed while someone is sleeping.

This surgery involves making a small incision on the outside of the eyelid above the lashes. This creates a small pocket where the implant is inserted. The implant is held in place with stitches, which seal the pocket.

Antibiotic ointment is applied to the eyelid to help it heal. As a result of the surgery, a person may experience:

  • swelling
  • discomfort
  • redness
  • bruising

These symptoms should reduce over time as the eyelid heals.

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Causes of nocturnal lagophthalmos?

People usually sleep with their eyes open because of a problem with the facial muscles, nerves, or skin around the eyelids.

Paralysis or weakening of the muscle that closes the eyelids, known as the orbicularis oculi, can cause someone to sleep with their eyes open.

Conditions that can cause muscle weakness or paralysis of the facial nerves include:

Trauma, injury, or surgery can also result in damage and paralysis to facial muscles and nerves.

Infections can be less common causes, and these may include:

Graves’ ophthalmopathy, where the eyes bulge or protrude, can also make it difficult to close the eyes.

Very thick upper or lower eyelashes may also prevent the eyelid from closing completely, though this is rare.

There is not always a reason or underlying condition that causes nocturnal lagophthalmos. It may also be genetic.

How is it diagnosed and is it bad for vision?

man having eye exam at opticians
A doctor may use a slit lamp to examine the eyes.

If someone suspects they have nocturnal lagophthalmos they should visit their doctor.

A doctor will ask whether any recent trauma or illness could be the cause, how long symptoms have been going on for, and when symptoms are at their worst.

If a doctor believes nocturnal lagophthalmos is the cause of the symptoms, they will see what happens to the eyelids after they close.

They will observe the eyes for a few minutes to see whether the eyelids begin to twitch or open.

Other tests a doctor may perform can include:

  • measuring the space between the eyelids
  • measuring the amount of force used to close the eyes when blinking
  • a slit lamp exam, using a microscope and bright light to examine the eyes
  • a fluorescein eye stain test to see if the eye has been damaged

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It is possible that serious problems may occur if the eyes become dry or dehydrated. These include:

  • loss of vision
  • eye infections
  • risk of scratching the eye
  • exposure keratopathy where the outermost layer or cornea is damaged
  • corneal ulcer where an open sore develops on the cornea

How does it affect sleep quality?

Nocturnal lagophthalmos is linked to reduced sleep quality. A person may not sleep as long or as well due to the pain and discomfort caused by the eyes drying out throughout the night.

People should make an appointment with their doctor if nocturnal lagophthalmos is
suspected. A doctor can then help them find appropriate treatment.

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Outlook and takeaway

People who sleep with their eyes open do not usually experience severe complications or damage to their eyes. However, if left untreated for an extended period, the risk of serious damage to the eyes increases and may result in loss of vision.

Treatment for sleeping with the eyes open is usually straightforward, and eye drops, eyelid weights, and air humidifiers can all help.

In some cases, nocturnal lagophthalmos is a sign of an underlying condition. Therefore, a person who suspects they are sleeping with their eyes open should contact their doctor to rule out a more significant problem and get treatment quickly.

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Medical News Today: What does a right-sided headache mean?

Many people experience headaches on the right side of their head only. The pain may be accompanied by other symptoms, including fatigue, nausea, and visual disturbances.

Almost 50 percent of adults each year report headaches, making them among the most common health complaints.

Read on to learn more about headaches on the right side of the head and remedies to help manage the pain.


A headache on the right side of the head may be caused by:

Neurological issues

Man with headache on right side of head holding head and holding glass.
Neurological issues can cause a headache on the right side only.

Various issues in the brain can cause a one-sided pain.

The following neurological conditions may be responsible for headaches on one side:

  • Occipital neuralgia: This occurs when nerves running from the top of the spinal cord to the scalp (occipital nerves) become damaged or inflamed. Symptoms include sharp pain in the back of the head and neck, pain behind the eye, and sensitivity to light.
  • Temporal arteritis: Arteries in the head and neck become inflamed with temporal arteritis. Along with muscle pain, it causes a severe headache on the side of the head. Other symptoms include fatigue, jaw pain, and tender temples.
  • Trigeminal neuralgia: This causes intense pain in the face and head. The pain usually affects only one side at a time. It is caused by disruption to the trigeminal nerve at the base of the brain.

Medication use

Headaches can occur as a side effect of prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications. They can also be caused by overusing medication, including OTC painkillers such as:

  • acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • aspirin
  • ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)

This type of headache is called a rebound headache. According to the World Health Organization, it is the most common type of secondary headache disorder. A secondary headache is a headache that is caused by another condition.

Headaches caused by medication overuse are often at their worst upon waking.

Other causes

Other causes of headaches can lead to pain across the entire head or just one side.

These include:

  • allergies
  • an aneurysm, a weak or bulging artery wall
  • fatigue
  • head injury
  • infections, including sinus infections
  • fluctuations in blood sugar levels caused by missing meals
  • muscle strains or knots in the neck
  • tumors

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What types of headache affect the right side?

There are over 300 types of headache, about 90 percent of which have no known cause.

However, a migraine or a cluster headache are the most likely causes of a headache on the right side of the head. Tension headaches may also cause pain on one side in some people.


Woman with migraine in bed holding right side of head.
Migraines are often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound.

Genetics are thought to play a role in migraine headaches — a type of severe headache that causes a pulsating sensation or throbbing pain in the head.

The severe pulsating sensations or throbbing are usually accompanied by:

  • blurred vision
  • nausea
  • sensitivity to light
  • sensitivity to sound
  • vomiting

Up to a third of people that get migraines experience visual disturbances or temporary loss of vision (known as an aura) before the onset of the pain. Symptoms can last for up to 72 hours if untreated, with the pain typically affecting only one side of the head.

The following factors can trigger migraines:

  • bright lights
  • changes in weather (humidity, heat, pressure)
  • emotional stress or anxiety
  • foods and drinks, such as alcohol, chocolate, cheese, and cured meats
  • hormonal changes in women
  • loud noises
  • skipping meals
  • strong smells
  • tiredness
  • too much or too little sleep

Early treatment is key to reducing the length and severity of symptoms. Treatments include OTC or prescription medicines. Prevention involves avoiding triggers and using preventative medications, in some cases.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are rare but severe headaches that occur in cyclical patterns. The pain is intense and usually located around one eye. It may also radiate to other areas of the head and face, as well as the neck and shoulders.

People typically experience frequent headache attacks (clusters) for weeks or months before a period of remission.

Other symptoms of cluster headaches include:

  • facial sweating
  • pale or flushed skin
  • red or watery eyes
  • restlessness
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • swelling around the affected eye

Men tend to experience cluster headaches more often than women. The exact cause is unknown, but smoking, alcohol use, and a family history of cluster headaches may increase risk.

There is no cure for the condition, although treatments can reduce the number and severity of cluster headaches.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, occurring in 75 percent of people.

They usually affect both sides of the head, but some people may have symptoms on one side only.

Signs include:

  • dull, aching pain
  • scalp tenderness
  • tender or tight shoulder and neck muscles
  • tightness or pressure across the forehead, sides, or back of the head

Symptoms usually last for a few minutes to a few hours and are mild to moderate in severity.

Occasional tension headaches can be treated with OTC pain relievers or home remedies. People with frequent tension headaches may need to change their lifestyle, identify and avoid triggers, or use prescription medications.

When to see a doctor

Many cases of headache will resolve on their own, without any intervention. People that experience headaches regularly should make an appointment with their doctor to identify the underlying cause.

Anyone who experiences the following symptoms alongside a headache must seek medical attention:

  • changes in vision
  • confusion
  • fever
  • head injury
  • increased pain during movement
  • neck stiffness
  • numbness
  • personality or cognitive changes
  • rash
  • sleep disturbances
  • slurred speech
  • weakness

People who have headaches that are very severe or get progressively worse should also see a doctor.

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Tips for quick relief

Oil diffuser on orange background.
Inhaling diffused essential oils may help to relieve headache pain.

Many headaches can be treated quickly and successfully at home by trying the following:

  • applying a warm or cold compress to the back of the neck
  • avoiding foods that trigger headaches, including alcohol, caffeine, and MSG
  • drinking water to address dehydration
  • having a nap
  • loosening tight hairstyles such as ponytails and braids
  • massaging tight muscles in the neck and shoulders
  • moving away from bright or flashing lights, loud noises, and strong smells
  • stopping slouching, as muscular tension can cause headaches
  • taking a warm bath or shower
  • taking a break from screens, including computers, tablets, and television
  • taking OTC painkillers, but avoiding excessive use of them as they can trigger rebound headaches
  • doing breathing exercises to reduce pain and alleviate stress and anxiety
  • using aromatherapy, diffusing oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, or peppermint oils for tension headaches


Headaches are a widespread health complaint, affecting the majority of people at least occasionally.

Most headaches are not cause for concern. Usually, symptoms will resolve within minutes to hours and can be eased with OTC medications, lifestyle changes, and home remedies.

See a doctor if headaches are severe, persist, or get progressively worse. Even if a migraine or a cluster headache is responsible for the pain, many treatments are available to manage symptoms and reduce the frequency of the headaches.

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Medical News Today: How can you stop a panic attack?

Panic attacks can be sudden and overpowering. They can affect anyone and may be caused by general anxiety, panic disorder, or depression.

Physical and emotional symptoms can occur during an attack, often at the same time. Physical symptoms include sweating, rapid breathing, nausea, and a racing heartbeat. Emotional symptoms include feelings of fear and intense, repetitive worrying.

In this article, we look at ways to stop panic attacks and reduce the risk of their occurrence. We also look at how to help someone having an attack and describe the outlook for the future.

Ways to stop a panic attack

Man walking alone in forest outdoors to treat panic attack.
Accepting and recognizing panic attacks is an important part of reducing their impact.

Below are 13 methods that can help to alleviate the symptoms of a panic attack.

1. Acceptance and recognition

A person may have experienced panic attacks in the past. During an attack, it can help to remember that they pass and cause no physical harm, though they are unpleasant. A person should acknowledge that the attack is a brief period of concentrated anxiety and that it will end.

If a person is experiencing an attack for the first time, it is advisable to visit a doctor as soon as possible. Some symptoms of panic attacks can indicate other events, such as heart attacks or strokes.

2. Deep breathing

Deep breathing can sometimes bring a panic attack under control. Rapid breathing can increase anxiety and tension, so instead taking long, slow breaths can help.

A person should breathe steadily, counting slowly to four while breathing in and to four when breathing out.

A feeling of tightness in the chest can cause a person to take short breaths during an attack. It is a good idea to breathe deeply from the abdomen, filling the lungs slowly and steadily.

3. Inhale lavender

Lavender essences have long been used to relieve anxiety and bring about a sense of calm relaxation. Inhaling the scent of lavender oil during a panic attack may help relieve some symptoms. A person can rub a small amount of oil onto their wrist or hand and inhale.

This oil is widely available online. Purchase it only from trusted retailers.

An individual should avoid lavender if they have recently taken a benzodiazepine medication. The two together can cause heightened drowsiness.

4. Medication

When a doctor prescribes a medication for use as needed, rather than as a regular dosage, the medicine is referred to as a PRN. These medications typically work fast.

Depending on the severity of panic attacks, a doctor may prescribe a PRN containing a benzodiazepine or a beta-blocker. Propranolol is a beta-blocker that slows a racing heartbeat and decreases blood pressure.

Benzodiazepines commonly prescribed for panic attacks include Valium and Xanax. This class of drugs can be highly addictive. The body may quickly develop a tolerance, and a higher dosage will soon be needed to achieve the same effect. People should use them sparingly.

5. Limit stimuli

Sights and sounds can often intensify a panic attack. If possible, find a more peaceful spot. This could mean leaving a busy room or moving to lean against a nearby wall.

Closing the eyes can make it easier to focus on breathing and other coping strategies.

6. Learn triggers

A person’s panic attacks may often be triggered by the same things, such as enclosed spaces, crowds, or problems with money. By learning to manage or avoid triggers, a person may be able to reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks.

7. Light exercise

Light exercise can help to stop panic attacks. Exercise releases hormones called endorphins that relax the body and improve the mood.

Walking can help to produce endorphins, and it can also remove a person from a stressful environment. The rhythm of walking may also help a person to regulate their breathing.

8. Mindfulness exercises

Panic attacks can make people feel detached from reality. The intensity of anxiety can overtake other senses. Mindfulness can help to re-ground a person and direct their focus away from sources of stress.

Below is one example of a mindfulness exercise. Each step should be completed slowly and thoroughly:

  • Look at five separate things, thinking about each for some time.
  • Listen for four distinct sounds, and examine what is different about each one.
  • Touch three objects. Consider the texture, temperature, and uses.
  • Identify two different smells. Do they trigger any memories?
  • Taste something. This could be a fingertip or a piece of candy.

9. Focus on an object

Concentrating on a nearby object can help a person stop a panic attack. A person who experiences attacks regularly may want to carry something for this purpose.

Focusing on one thing can reduce other stimuli. As a person looks at the item, they may want to think about how it feels, who made it and what shape it is. This can help to reduce the symptoms of a panic attack.

10. Try muscle relaxation techniques

Another symptom of a panic attack is muscle tension. Practicing muscle relaxation techniques may help to limit an attack. If the mind senses that the body is relaxing, other symptoms, such as rapid breathing, may also diminish.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a popular technique for coping with anxiety and panic attacks.

11. Picture a happy place

A person’s happy place should be somewhere they would feel the most relaxed. Every aspect of it should be pleasing.

When a panic attack begins, it can help to close the eyes and imagine being in such a place. Think of how calm it is there. Imagine bare feet touching the cool soil, hot sand, or soft rugs.

Thinking about a relaxing and calm environment can help a person to become relaxed and calm.

12. Repeat a mantra

A mantra is a word, phrase, or sound that helps with focus and provides strength. Internally repeating a mantra can help a person to come out of a panic attack.

The mantra can take the form of reassurance and may be as simple as, “This too shall pass.” Or, it may have a more spiritual meaning.

As a person focuses on gently repeating a mantra, their physical responses can slow, allowing them to regulate their breathing and relax muscles.

13. Tell people

If panic attacks frequently occur in the same environment, such as a workplace, it may be helpful to inform others and let them know what kind of support to offer.

If an attack happens in public, telling even one person can help. They may be able to locate a quiet spot and prevent others from crowding in.

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Nine ways to reduce anxiety

Woman lying outside on grass with book and hat covering head
Taking time to focus on what triggers anxiety can help to improve mental well-being.

Everyone can benefit from reducing the impact of anxiety. Diminishing general levels of anxiety will also help to prevent panic attacks.

The following strategies can help:

1. Visit the doctor

Some people avoid getting needed medical assistance because they worry that a doctor will think they are silly or petty if they report anxiety. If anxiety regularly impacts a person’s life, they should contact a doctor.

2. Meditation

Regularly meditating is a great way to relieve stress, promote peacefulness, and regulate breathing.

3. Breathing exercises

The rapid, shallow breathing often associated with panic attacks is called hyperventilating. Learning to breathe more slowly and deeply can help to combat the effects of hyperventilation.

4. Regular aerobic exercise

Regular aerobic exercise can promote deeper sleep, get rid of built-up tension, and produce endorphins, which make us happier and more relaxed.

5. Identify changeable triggers

Many factors can cause anxiety, and they vary from person to person. If possible, identify the things that cause panic attacks and work to avoid or alter these triggers.

6. Healthier lifestyle

Keeping the body in balance is a great way to lessen the impact of anxiety. The following strategies can help:

  • avoiding or reducing smoking, alcohol, and caffeine
  • following a healthful diet
  • getting a good night’s sleep
  • staying hydrated

7. Herbal remedies

People have used herbs to treat anxiety and depression throughout history. Some of the most popular herbal remedies are available to purchase online, including kava extract, passiflora, and valerian.

Results of studies have been varied, but research into the effects of herbal remedies is ongoing. Speak to a doctor before taking this type of remedy.

8. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT can give someone tools to reduce stress and avoid anxious thinking. It may be an effective treatment method for panic attacks.

9. Learning what works

Meditation may work well for one person, while exercise is better for another. Try different strategies and see what works best.

What to do when someone is having a panic attack

Hands reaching out across a table.
Knowing how to help someone when they are having a panic attack can make a difficult situation much easier to manage.

Here are some tips on how to help a person having a panic attack:

  • Remain calm.
  • Make sure that the person has enough space around them.
  • Suggest moving to a quiet spot nearby.
  • Remind the person that panic attacks always end.
  • Help them to control their breathing.
  • Avoid asking too many questions, and do not validate any negative statements.
  • Never tell someone to calm down or say that there is nothing to worry about.
  • Stay with them. If they insist that they need to be alone, make sure that they remain visible.

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When to seek help

Panic attacks can be frightening and disorienting, especially the first time. Symptoms can be similar to those of other health conditions.

Seek medical advice if:

  • a panic attack lasts longer than usual — most last between 5 and 20 minutes
  • a panic attack is noticeably worse than usual
  • panic attacks are inhibiting a person’s life, possibly by stopping them from working or socializing.

Seek emergency treatment if a stroke or heart attack is suspected.


Many tools can help a person to manage their panic attacks, from medical and psychological support to advice about nutrition and a healthier lifestyle.

It is essential to seek help, try different strategies, and be realistic about outcomes. It is unlikely that panic attacks will disappear overnight, but it is possible to limit their impact over time.

Every day, more information becomes available for people who want to feel less stress, become healthier, and be kinder to themselves.

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Medical News Today: Low anion gap: Causes, test, and treatment

An anion gap is calculated by using the results of an electrolyte blood test. This test can help determine what is causing a pH imbalance.

For the body to function normally, it needs to maintain a normal pH balance, or balanced levels of acid and alkali or base in the blood.

When these levels are out of balance, a person may experience symptoms of high acid, otherwise known as acidosis, or high base, known as alkalosis, depending on the underlying cause.

Electrolytes have an electrical charge that helps them maintain the body’s pH level. They are vital for many bodily functions and include substances such as sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, and other minerals.

Causes of a low anion gap

An electrolyte blood test
An electrolyte blood test is used to calculate an anion gap.

Normally, anion gap results range from 3 to 10 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L).

Several underlying conditions can result in a pH imbalance and cause an abnormal anion gap.

A low anion gap is very rare. If an electrolyte test shows a low anion gap, a doctor will usually order a second test, as the results may be due to a laboratory error.

Other than a laboratory error, a less common cause of a low anion gap is hypoalbuminemia.


Hypoalbuminemia is when a person has too little albumin in their blood. Albumin is an essential protein.

Hypoalbuminemia usually occurs because of inflammation throughout the body.

Causes of hypoalbuminemia include:

Hypoalbuminemia is also considered a contributing factor to having a low anion gap in people with multiple myeloma. It is not known, however, if testing a person’s anion gap is a useful tool for monitoring the progression of the disease.

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Causes of a high anion gap

When a person has too much acid or too little base in their blood, the anion gap will be higher than normal. This is called acidosis and can be life-threatening in some situations.

Acidosis can be caused by a variety of conditions, including:

  • some lung disorders, such as severe asthma, sleep apnea, pneumothorax, myasthenia gravis, botulism, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • uncontrolled diabetes or diabetic ketoacidosis
  • kidney damage or failure
  • prolonged diarrhea
  • starvation
  • excessive alcohol use that causes alcoholic ketoacidosis
  • lactic acidosis, which is a buildup of lactic acid
  • exposure to high levels of salicylates (aspirin), methanol, ethylene glycol, or antifreeze
  • drug overdose


young woman yawning while in front of computer
Drowsiness and fatigue can be symptoms of acidosis.

Depending on the cause of the pH imbalance, a person may experience a variety of symptoms.

Conditions associated with a low anion gap are unlikely to cause symptoms. In most cases, the result is from a mistake in the calculation.

Anyone with a low anion gap due to an underlying medical condition will experience the symptoms of that condition.

A person with acidosis may not experience any symptoms or may have nonspecific symptoms related to the underlying medical condition, such as:

When a person has alkalosis or higher levels of base in their blood, they may experience symptoms related to the underlying medical condition, such as:

  • low calcium levels
  • a headache
  • lethargy
  • seizures, muscle spasms, and delirium
  • heart palpitations
  • weakness

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Treatment for an abnormal anion gap will focus on the underlying cause.

A low or high anion gap alone cannot diagnose a medical condition, so a doctor will perform a variety of other tests before making a treatment plan.

Anyone concerned about a high or low anion gap in their blood test results may find it helpful to speak with a doctor about the potential cause.


A range of underlying medical conditions can affect the body’s pH levels. Calculating the anion gap can help a doctor determine the underlying cause of the abnormality.

A low anion gap is very rare and is often caused by a laboratory error. In this case, a person will require a repeat blood test.

High anion gaps are often associated with serious conditions, such as lung disorders, uncontrolled diabetes, and drug overdose. These conditions need prompt treatment to prevent severe complications, including death.

Anyone who does not understand the underlying cause of a low or high anion gap results should speak to their doctor.

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Medical News Today: Two common iron supplements may cause cancer

A new study finds that two iron compounds, which are used in supplements and food additives, raise levels of a cancer biomarker — even when consumed in low amounts.
iron supplements
Certain iron supplements may raise the risk of colorectal cancer, a study shows.

The new research comes from the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, in collaboration with the United Kingdom Medical Research Council and the University of Cambridge, also in the U.K.

The scientists — led by Nathalie Scheers, an assistant professor at the Chalmers University of Technology — explain that their research was prompted by older studies that showed that two compounds, called ferric citrate and ferric EDTA, promote tumors in mice.

But, these previous studies did not reveal “whether all forms of ‘bioavailable’ iron exacerbate gut cancer cells,” or whether different forms of iron display the same mechanism.

So, in the new study, Scheers and colleagues examined the effect of these two compounds on the growth of human colorectal cancer cells. Additionally, they tested another widely available iron compound called ferrous sulfate.

In their experiment, the researchers used levels of the compounds that might realistically be found in the gastrointestinal tract after taking the supplement.

To their knowledge, Scheers and colleagues are the first to study the effect of these compounds on human cells. The researchers published their findings in the journal Oncotarget.

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Ferric citrate, EDTA may be carcinogenic

Scheers and her team used a range of techniques, including cell proliferation assays and Western blot analysis, to carry out their investigation.

The study revealed that even in low amounts, both ferric citrate and ferric EDTA raised cellular levels of a cancer biomarker called amphiregulin and its receptor. By contrast, ferrous sulfate had no such effect on the cells.

“[S]pecific iron compounds affect cell signaling differently, and some may increase the risk of colon cancer advancement in an amphiregulin-dependent fashion,” the authors write.

Scheers comments on the findings, saying, “We can conclude that ferric citrate and ferric EDTA might be carcinogenic, as they both increase the formation of amphiregulin, a known cancer marker most often associated with long-term cancer with poor prognosis.”

However, Scheers adds, “we must bear in mind that the study was done on human cancer cells cultured in the laboratory, since it would be unethical to do it in humans.”

“But, the possible mechanisms and effects observed still call for caution. They must be further investigated.”

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The problem with iron supplements

Ferric citrate, often marketed as Auryxia, is a widely available iron supplement used to treat anemia in people with chronic kidney disease.

In some countries, ferric EDTA is sometimes added to cereals, flour, or powdered drinks. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of ferric EDTA as a food additive to a variety of sauces, including soy sauce, sweet and sour sauces, teriyaki, and fish sauce.

Iron supplements are used medically by pregnant women, people who have lost blood, and patients with chronic kidney disease, among others. The researchers warn that these groups of people might be at a higher risk of consuming harmful levels of the carcinogenic chemical.

The authors caution that consumers may find it difficult to discern between iron supplements because “[m]any stores and suppliers don’t actually state what kind of iron compound is present — even in pharmacies.”

“Usually, it just says ‘iron’ or ‘iron mineral,’ which is problematic for consumers,” Scheers adds. “Most importantly, researchers and authorities need to start to distinguish between this form of iron and that form of iron. We need to consider that different forms can have different biological effects.”

At the moment, people should still follow recommended medical advice. As a researcher, I cannot recommend anything — that advice needs to come from the authorities.”

Nathalie Scheers

“But, speaking personally, if I needed an iron supplement, I would try to avoid ferric citrate,” she concludes.

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Medical News Today: Late menopause may protect women’s memory

New research, published in the journal Neurology, suggests that a late menopause onset may benefit the memory skills of senior women later in life.
senior woman looking out the window
Experiencing menopause at a later age may offer cognitive advantages in the long run.

A new study led by Diana Kuh, from University College London in the United Kingdom, asks whether the age at which a woman gets her menopause influences her memory performance years later.

She and her colleagues were prompted in their research by existing studies that seemed to suggest that an older age at menopause — coupled with a longer reproductive life — are linked with better cognitive performance years later.

However, as the study authors explain, those studies did not use a particularly large sample, and neither did they benefit from a group of age-homogeneous participants.

So, Kuh and team set out to rectify this by looking at birth cohort studies. They investigated the data of 1,315 women using the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development in the U.K.

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Menopause and memory: Studying the link

As a part of the survey, the women had been clinically followed since birth — that is, since March 1946 — and had at least one cognitive evaluation as adults. Furthermore, the survey included questions about their age at menopause and other aspects of their reproductive health.

At ages 43, 53, 60–64, and 69, the study participants were asked to take verbal memory tests as well as tests for their cognitive processing speed.

The memory assessment consisted of a task in which the participants were asked to recall as many items as possible from a list of 15, and to do so three times. The maximum score achievable in this task was 45 (they scored one point for each word).

Also, the survey included information on whether the women were taking hormone replacement therapy, whether they had had any surgery such as a hysterectomy, their cognitive ability as children, and a few other social factors, such as level of education and their occupation.

All of these factors were accounted for by the researchers in their analysis.

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Late menopause may benefit verbal memory

The study revealed that, on average, participants remembered 25.8 words at age 43, a number that declined to 23.3 words by age 69.

But women whose menopause occurred naturally and later in life had higher scores, being able to recall an additional 0.09 words per year. This correlation was not affected by the use of hormone replacement therapy.

Kuh comments on the findings, saying, “The difference in verbal memory scores for a 10-year difference in the start of menopause was small — recalling only one additional word, but it’s possible that this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later.”

However, she adds, “More research and follow-up are needed to determine whether that is the case.”

By contrast, no similar correlation between age and memory was noted among women who had surgery-induced menopause. Also, the researchers found no correlation between the age of menopause onset and the women’s information-processing capabilities.

Speculating on the possible mechanisms behind the findings, Kuh says, “This difference [between memory skills and processing speed] may be due to the estrogen receptor role, which regulates the gene that codes brain-derived neurotrophic factor.”

The brain-derived neurotrophic factor, she continues, “helps to solidify memory formation and storage.” Kuh and her colleagues conclude:

Our findings suggest lifelong hormonal processes, not just short-term fluctuations during the menopause transition, may be associated with verbal memory, consistent with evidence from a variety of neurobiological studies.”

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