Medical News Today: Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of dementia

New evidence suggests that atrial fibrillation, in which the heart has an irregular beat, is linked to an increased risk of dementia. This knowledge, however, also indicates a potential preventive strategy, researchers show.
person holding heart figurine
An irregular heartbeat speeds up the rate at which cognitive function deteriorates, but there may be an easy way to address this.

In a new study paper published yesterday in the journal Neurology, researchers at the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University, which are in Sweden, explain that atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is linked with an increased risk of developing dementia.

In A-fib, the heart’s atria — or the chambers that receive blood and then send it to the ventricles, which pump it out to the rest of the body — beat irregularly.

Because of this, blood can pool inside the heart and form clots, which may later circulate to the brain, leading to a stroke.

The new study has found that A-fib also increases the risk of another health problem as people age — namely, dementia. However, this warning also comes with an encouraging solution, the authors explain.

“Compromised blood flow caused by atrial fibrillation may affect the brain in a number of ways,” as study co-author Chengxuan Qiu explains.

“We know [that] as people age, the chance of developing atrial fibrillation increases, as does the chance of developing dementia,” Qiu says, adding:

Our research showed a clear link between the two and found that taking blood thinners may actually decrease the risk of dementia.”

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A-fib is linked with faster cognitive decline

In the new study, the investigators analyzed data collected from 2,685 participants with an average age of 73. All of these participants were followed for an average period of 6 years.

The team interviewed each person and administered a medical exam at baseline and then again after 6 years for participants younger than 78, or once every 3 years in the case of participants older than 78 at the beginning of the study.

None of these volunteers had dementia at baseline, though 9 percent of all the participants (243 individuals) had been diagnosed with A-fib.

Over the follow-up period, 11 percent of the total number of participants (279 individuals) developed A-fib, and 15 percent of the cohort (399 individuals) received a diagnosis of dementia.

After analyzing the data, the researchers revealed that the cognitive function — including thinking capacity and memory — of participants with A-fib tended to deteriorate more rapidly than in the case of people with healthy cardiovascular systems.

Also, people with A-fib had a 40 percent higher chance of developing dementia when compared with their healthy peers.

Of the 2,163 participants without A-fib, 10 percent (278 individuals) were diagnosed with dementia throughout the course of the study.

As for the 522 people with A-fib, 23 percent (121 individuals) developed dementia.

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Blood thinners may counteract risk

However, the team also saw that participants with A-fib who took blood thinners to prevent blood clots actually had a 60 percent lower risk of developing dementia, compared with those who did not take this medication.

Of the 342 people who did not take blood thinners, 22 percent (76 people) developed dementia, while among the 128 participants who did take blood thinners, only 11 percent (14 people) developed the neurodegenerative condition.

At the same time, the researchers also note that participants who took antiplatelet drugs — which prevent clots from forming in the arteries — did not have a lower risk of dementia.

“Assuming that there was a cause-and-effect relationship between using blood thinners and the reduced risk of dementia,” explains Qui, “we estimated that about 54 percent of the dementia cases would have been hypothetically prevented if all of the people with atrial fibrillation had been taking blood thinners.”

“Additional efforts should be made to increase the use of blood thinners among older people with atrial fibrillation,” the researcher advises.

The investigators nevertheless admit that their study faced some limitations, such as the fact that it did not distinguish among different subtypes of A-fib, or that certain participants with A-fib may not have been diagnosed accordingly due to lack of symptoms.

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Medical News Today: What to know about head and brain MRI scans

Doctors use MRI scans to diagnose and monitor head injuries and to check for abnormalities in the head or brain.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans provide 3-D images of specific body parts. The scan produces highly detailed images from every angle. Depending on the purpose of the scan, a doctor may recommend contrast, which is a substance that a person takes beforehand. It helps the images to be more clearly defined.

An MRI scan is painless and noninvasive. The length of the procedure varies, depending on the situation.

In this article, we take a close look at head MRI scans in adults and children. We discuss their uses, what to expect during a scan, and how a person receives the results.

Purpose and uses of head MRI scans

Man having head and brain MRI
An MRI scan can provide detailed imagery of soft tissue.

MRI scans allow doctors to see what is happening inside the body. These scans do not produce radiation, unlike CT scans and X-rays.

MRI scans use strong magnetic forces and radio waves to create images. They can scan bone, organs, and tissue, which makes them ideal for a complex body part like the head.

MRI scans show a higher level of detail than other imaging techniques, especially in soft tissue. This is important when examining the brain or brain stem for damage or disease.

A doctor may recommend an MRI head scan if they suspect that a person has:

Procedure and what to expect during a head MRI

A head MRI is noninvasive. When a person arrives at the clinic, a doctor or technician will talk them through the process and tell them what to expect.


First, a healthcare professional will ask a series of questions about a person’s medical history.

Radiographers also need to know if a woman is pregnant. Doctors tend not to recommend MRI scans during pregnancy, because it is unclear whether the magnetic force can affect fetal development.

They will also ask if a person has any metallic objects, such as piercings, metal plates, watches, or jewelry. These can interfere with the scan, and a person must remove them before entering the scanner.

Other metallic objects that can interfere with a scan include:

  • brain aneurysm clips
  • cochlear implants
  • dental fillings and bridges
  • eye implants
  • metallic fragments in the eyes or blood vessels
  • metal plates, wires, screws, or rods
  • surgical clips or staples

A healthcare team member will usually ask a person to put on a hospital gown. They will store a person’s clothes and any jewelry in a safe locker until the scan is finished.

During the scan

The technician will bring the person into the room that contains the MRI scanner. The person will lie on a sliding trolley, and the technician may cover them with a sheet.

The technician will then position the trolley so that the person’s head and neck are inside the MRI scanner. They will leave the room and speak to the person through a radio.

People should be aware of the following:

  • Pillows or foam blocks on the trolley will keep the head in the right position.
  • MRI machines make a lot of noise, so expect to hear loud hums, knocking sounds, and general electronic noise. Technicians will usually provide headphones or earplugs.
  • People must stay very still inside the scanner to ensure clear, accurate images. If a person moves, they may have to repeat the scan. If someone, such as a person with Parkinson’s, has trouble lying still, a technician may offer restraints to help.
  • Every MRI machine has a call button. If a person feels anxious or wants to stop the procedure, they can press the call button and talk to the medical staff.
  • Most tattoos are safe in an MRI. However, some inks contain traces of metal, which can cause heat or discomfort during a scan. If a person feels any discomfort, they should tell the radiographer.

The medical team may offer anesthetics or sedatives to people who have extreme claustrophobia.

If a person has taken a sedative, they should avoid driving themselves home. Also, a person needs time to recover from an anesthetic at the medical center. In the event of an allergic reaction, the healthcare team will keep the person under observation.

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Types of MRI scanner

MRI scanner machine
MRI machines come in a range of sizes.

Several types of scanners can provide a head MRI. The size of the machine will depend on the purpose of the scan and whether the person has claustrophobia.

Types of scanner include:

  • Closed bore. These look like enormous tubes, which a person enters by lying on a sliding bench.
  • Short bore. In this type of machine, the tubular part is shorter, making it less likely to trigger claustrophobia.
  • Wide bore. The opening of the tubular area can be around 70 centimeters in these machines.
  • Open MRI. These come in a variety of shapes. They can have an open side or top.

The narrower the bore, the more detailed the image will be.

Head MRI scans with contrast vs. no contrast

Contrast is a magnetic substance. If a person drinks or receives an injection of contrast before a scan, it can help to improve the image. The majority of MRI scans do not require contrast.

The doctor and radiologist will decide if contrast is necessary, and a person takes it orally or by injection.

Contrast travels to organs and tissue through the bloodstream. The MRI procedure is the same, whether or not it requires contrast.

Contrast makes tissues and organs stand out on the MRI image. This can illuminate early abnormal tissue growth, including tumors. Receiving an early diagnosis can help improve a person’s outlook.

Scans related to the following issues can require contrast:

There is a small chance that a person may have an allergic reaction to contrast materials. Before administering the contrast, a doctor will ask about:

  • allergies
  • current medications
  • medical history
  • recent illnesses or operations

After taking the contrast, a person should check for any side effects. Report any adverse effects to a healthcare provider.


The radiographer will review and interpret the scans. They will then contact the doctor with the results. This can take several days unless it was an emergency scan.

A person can request to see their scans by asking their doctor. The doctor may need a follow-up scan, and they will explain why.

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The costs of an MRI procedure, and how much insurance will cover, varies.

There may also be associated costs, for contrast, anesthesia, and additional procedures.

Speak to the healthcare provider for an accurate estimate.

Head MRI scans in children

Doctor showing child MRI results
A doctor can explain the MRI process to children before undergoing the procedure.

Medical procedures can be scary. It is important for a caregiver to find out the details and explain them to the child beforehand, to reduce any anxiety. Some hospitals have leaflets that help to explain certain procedures.

Head MRI scans for children are almost identical to those for adults. The main difference is the use of a coil.

An MRI coil fits around the child’s head as they lie or sit in the machine because their heads are smaller.

Young children and babies find it hard to stay still for long, and the healthcare provider may recommend an intravenous sedative. The medical team will monitor them throughout the procedure.

Usually, a caregiver stays with the child during the scan. If this is not possible, the caregiver can often wait in the radiographer’s station.


Head MRI scans are an important tool for diagnosing and monitoring. They can indicate changes in tissue, which is vital in assessing many conditions, particularly those affecting the brain.

Unlike X-rays and CT scans, MRI scans do not involve radiation. They present no risk, apart from triggering certain anxieties or claustrophobia. There are ways to prevent this from happening.

MRI scanners are being improved all the time. With the new generation of scanners, the aim is to cut down scan times and enhance accuracy.

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Medical News Today: Best medications for treating diarrhea in Crohn’s disease

Diarrhea is a common symptom of Crohn’s disease. There are several anti-diarrheal medications that a person with Crohn’s can use to treat acute bouts of diarrhea.

Crohn’s disease causes long-term inflammation of the digestive tract and typically affects the end of the small intestine or the beginning of the colon. Common symptoms of Crohn’s include:

People with Crohn’s disease can find diarrhea a particularly troubling symptom. It can come on unexpectedly and interfere with daily activities significantly. If left untreated, diarrhea can also lead to serious health complications, such as severe dehydration.

In this article, we look at different anti-diarrheal drug treatments for people with Crohn’s disease along with some general tips for managing diarrhea.

Over-the-counter medications for diarrhea

People can buy several treatments for diarrhea over-the-counter (OTC) at pharmacies. Below are some examples:


Loperamide tablets which can be use as an anti-diarrheal treatment for crohn's<!--mce:protected %0A--><br>Image credit: Kristoferb, 2010</br><!--mce:protected %0A-->
Loperamide slows down bowel movements.
Image credit: Kristoferb, 2010

Loperamide is a common OTC treatment for short-term diarrhea. The drug works by reducing water in the intestines and slowing down bowel movements. Loperamide can be used to control ongoing diarrhea or reduce the amount of fluid in people with ileostomies.

Loperamide is an oral medication that comes in tablet, capsule, and liquid form. A doctor can also prescribe loperamide.

Doctors generally do not recommend taking loperamide long-term, as it can increase a person’s risk of developing megacolon, where the colon swells or an intestinal obstruction develops.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warn that taking more than the recommended dose of loperamide can cause dangerous heart problems or even death.

People should speak to their doctor before taking loperamide if they have a history of a slow or irregular heartbeat.

The FDA state that loperamide is safe when taken correctly.

Psyllium husk

Psyllium husk, also known as ispaghula husk, is a bulk-forming laxative that can help treat mild diarrhea.

Psyllium husk is widely available and is a type of fiber that works by absorbing water in the intestines, which thickens the stool and slows its passage through the bowels.

Psyllium husk often comes as a powder that a person mixes with water and then drinks. People can also use this medication to treat constipation.

When using psyllium to treat diarrhea, it is important to avoid products that also contain laxatives.

Bismuth subsalicylate

Bismuth subsalicylate is a common OTC remedy for people with diarrhea and is available as chewable tablets, capsules, or as a liquid.

This medication works by reducing how much fluid the intestines absorb and reducing inflammation. Bismuth subsalicylate also has antacid properties that may help with nausea, heartburn, and upset stomach.

Using this medication can temporality cause a person’s stools or tongue to become dark. These side effects are harmless and usually go away a few days after stopping bismuth subsalicylate.

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Prescription drugs for diarrhea

When a person with Crohn’s disease visits their doctor about diarrhea, they may be given a prescription medication to treat the symptoms.


Woman taking a pill which is an anti-diarrheal treatment for crohn's
A doctor may prescribe anti-diarrheal treatment when a person has Crohn’s disease and diarrhea.

Colesevelam is a type of drug known as a bile acid sequestrant. These drugs treat diarrhea by regulating the amount of bile acid in the digestive system.

Bile acids help the body to digest food. However, in some people with Crohn’s disease, particularly those who have had part of the small bowel removed, bile acids can build up in the bowel and cause diarrhea.

A small 2014 study investigated the effectiveness of colesevelam for treating diarrhea in people with Crohn’s disease. Participants who took colesevelam saw a significant improvement in symptoms after 4 weeks compared to those who received a placebo.

Colesevelam is a prescription medication that comes in tablet form.


Diphenoxylate is a synthetic opioid that treats diarrhea by slowing down the passage of stool through the intestines.

Doctors usually prescribe diphenoxylate in combination with fluid and electrolyte replacement measures to treat people with severe diarrhea.

Diphenoxylate comes in tablet and liquid forms and is available on prescription only.

Because diphenoxylate can become addictive, manufacturers combine it with atropine to cause unpleasant side effects if a person takes too much of the medication. It is, therefore, essential to carefully follow the doctor’s instructions when taking diphenoxylate.

Codeine sulfate

Codeine is a prescription drug that doctors usually prescribe to treat people with pain or coughing. They also sometimes prescribe it for treating short-term diarrhea.

Codeine is an opioid and can help treat diarrhea because it slows down the passage of stool through the intestines.

As with other opioids, codeine can become addictive, so it is essential for people to follow their doctor’s instructions when taking this drug.

Side effects of codeine can include dry mouth, nausea, and sleepiness.

General tips for managing diarrhea

person writing food notes in notepad diary or journal book on table
Keeping a food diary helps people identify foods that trigger diarrhea.

Talk to a doctor before starting OTC treatments for diarrhea, as the primary use of these medications is usually not meant for people with Crohn’s disease.

Also, people may wish to check that these OTC medicines do not have any negative interactions with others they are taking for their condition.

During bouts of diarrhea, it is essential to stay well-hydrated and drink plenty of water. Dehydration, when not treated appropriately, can become serious and even lead to hospitalization.

Drinking plenty of water is necessary to ensure adequate hydration. It is also important to replace electrolytes by drinking broths or low-sugar juices and sports drinks. People should avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these can stimulate the intestines, making diarrhea worse.

Dietary changes can help reduce or prevent diarrhea for people with Crohn’s disease. These adjustments may include:

  • avoiding high-fiber foods
  • avoiding fizzy drinks, such as soda and cola
  • keeping a diary to identify and avoid foods that trigger or worsen diarrhea
  • eating more frequently but with smaller portion sizes

A doctor or dietitian may also be able to recommend and provide support for specific diets that may help with a person’s symptoms.

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Diarrhea is a common yet troublesome symptom of Crohn’s disease. There are a range of OTC and prescription drug treatments a person can take to treat short-term diarrhea. However, it is important for people with Crohn’s disease to speak to a doctor before starting any OTC medications.

During bouts of diarrhea, it is also critical to drink plenty of fluids and replace lost electrolytes. For some people, dietary changes may help reduce or prevent diarrhea or other symptoms of Crohn’s disease.


When a person with Crohn’s disease experiences diarrhea, what is the best treatment option, and when should they see their doctor?


The best treatment is one that you and your doctor determine works for you individually. It may mean trying different approaches, and it can also depend on the severity of your disease. 

It is important to control the symptom of diarrhea to prevent dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and weight loss. Start by discussing with your doctor what you should, or should not, try. Ask your doctor about interactions between prescribed medication and OTC or homeopathic remedies. 

The takeaway is that you should see your doctor for ongoing diarrhea that does not respond to OTC medication, or that causes blood in your stool, unexplained fever, or weight loss. 

Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

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Medical News Today: How do you lose belly fat?

There are many reasons why people gain belly fat, including poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress. Improving nutrition, increasing activity, reducing stress, and making other lifestyle changes can all help people lose unwanted belly fat.

Belly fat refers to fat around the abdomen. There are two types of belly fat:

  • Visceral: This fat surrounds a person’s organs.
  • Subcutaneous: This is fat that sits under the skin.

Health complications from visceral fat are more harmful than having subcutaneous fat. People can make many lifestyle and dietary changes to lose belly fat.

Why is belly fat dangerous?

Plate full of sugary foods which may cause belly fat
A poor diet can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight is one of the leading causes of major diseases.

Excess belly fat can increase the risk of:

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Causes of belly fat

Common causes of excess belly fat include the following:

1. Poor diet

Sugary food, such as cakes and candy, and drinks, such as soda and fruit juice, can:

  • cause weight gain
  • slow a person’s metabolism
  • reduce a person’s ability to burn fat

Low-protein, high-carb diets may also affect weight. Protein helps a person feel fuller for longer, and people who do not include lean protein in their diet may eat more food overall.

Trans fats, in particular, can cause inflammation and may lead to obesity. Trans fats are in many foods, including fast food and baked goods, for example, muffins or crackers.

The American Heart Association recommend that people replace trans fats with healthful whole-grain foods, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.

Reading food labels can help a person determine whether their food contains trans fats.

2. Too much alcohol

Consuming excess alcohol can cause a variety of health problems, including liver disease and inflammation.

A 2015 report on alcohol consumption and obesity in the journal Current Obesity Reports indicates that drinking excess alcohol causes males to gain weight around their bellies, though study results in females are inconsistent.

3. Lack of exercise

If a person consumes more calories than they burn off, they will put on weight.

An inactive lifestyle makes it hard for a person to get rid of excess fat, particularly around the abdomen.

4. Stress

A steroid hormone known as cortisol helps the body control and deal with stress. When a person is in a dangerous or high-pressure situation, their body releases cortisol, and this can impact on their metabolism.

People often reach for food for comfort when they feel stressed, and cortisol causes the excess calories to remain around the belly and other areas of the body for later use.

5. Genetics

There is some evidence that a person’s genes can play a part in whether or not they become obese. Scientists think genes can influence behavior, metabolism, and the risk of developing obesity-related diseases.

Similarly, environmental factors and behavior also play a role in the likelihood of people becoming obese.

6. Poor sleep

woman in bed staying up late looking at smart phone
Too little rest can have an impact on well-being.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine links weight gain to short sleep duration, which could lead to an excess of belly fat.

Both poor quality and short duration of sleep can play a part in the development of abdominal fat.

Not getting enough good sleep may, potentially, lead to unhealthful eating behaviors, such as emotional eating.

7. Smoking

Researchers may not consider smoking to be a direct cause of belly fat, but they do believe it to be a risk factor.

A 2012 study published in the journal PloS one showed that, although obesity was the same between smokers and nonsmokers, smokers had more belly and visceral fat than nonsmokers.

How to lose belly fat

By considering the following changes, people may be able to lose their unwanted belly fat:

1. Improve your diet

A healthful, balanced diet can help a person lose weight, and it is also likely to have a positive effect on their overall health.

People should avoid sugar, fatty foods, and refined carbohydrates that have low nutritional content. Instead, they should eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates.

2. Reduce your alcohol consumption

A person trying to lose excess abdominal fat should monitor their alcohol intake. Alcoholic drinks often contain additional sugar, which can contribute to weight gain.

3. Increase your exercise

Man walking his dog to try and lose belly fat
A person can lose belly fat by exercising as part of their daily routine.

A sedentary lifestyle brings with it many serious health problems, including weight gain. People trying to lose weight should include a good amount exercise in their daily routine.

Undertaking both aerobic exercise and strength training can help people tackle their belly fat.

Exercise is most effective if people combine both cardiovascular and high-intensity training alongside weights and resistance training.

4. Get more sunlight

A 2016 review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health indicates that exposure to sunlight in animals could lead to a reduction in weight gain and metabolic dysfunction.

The review highlights that few studies have looked at the effects of sunlight on humans, in respect of weight gain. It states that more research is required to support the findings so far.

5. Reduce your stress

Stress can cause a person to gain weight. The release of the stress hormone cortisol influences a person’s appetite and could cause them to eat more.

Stress-relieving tactics include mindfulness and meditation, and gentle exercise, such as yoga.

6. Improve your sleep pattern

Sleep is vital to people’s overall health, and too little rest can have a severe impact on well-being.

Sleep’s primary purpose is to allow the body to rest, heal, and recover, but it can also have an impact on a person’s weight.

Getting enough good-quality sleep is essential when a person is trying to shed weight, including belly fat.

7. Quit smoking

Smoking is a risk factor for increased belly fat, as well as many other serious health concerns. Quitting can significantly reduce the risk from excess belly fat, as well as improve overall health.

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There is a higher likelihood of various health issues if a person has excess belly fat. Causes include poor diet, lack of exercise, and short or low-quality sleep.

A healthful diet and active lifestyle can help people lose excess belly fat and lower the risk of the problems associated with it.

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Medical News Today: Vitamin A supplements could harm bone health

Vitamin A is a vital nutrient that supports the body’s development and strengthens the immune system. Because our bodies do not naturally produce vitamin A, some choose to take supplements. However, too much vitamin A is likely to harm bone health, researchers warn.
vitamin a concept photo
When does vitamin A pose a risk to bone health? A new study explores.

Normally, we derive vitamin A from the food we eat, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, beef liver, salmon, and several dairy products.

Having a balanced, healthful diet should ensure that we have enough vitamin A in our systems.

How much vitamin A someone needs depends on their age, as well as other factors.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) state that the ideal daily intake of vitamin A is 900 micrograms retinol activity equivalents (mcg RAE) for men and 700 mcg RAE for women aged 19–50.

For example, half a cup of raw carrots contains about 573 mcg RAE, and 3 ounces of pan-fried beef liver contain 6,582 mcg RAE, according to the NIH.

Despite the fact that we can derive enough vitamin A from food, some individuals choose to boost their levels of vitamin A by taking supplements.

However, over time, this might lead to an overload of this nutrient, which can actually increase a person’s risk of experiencing bone fractures. This is what researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have found in a recent study.

The study’s results — reported in the Journal of Endocrinology — indicate that taking too much vitamin A can make bones “thin out,” thereby putting them at risk of fracturing easily.

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The impact of too much vitamin A

The researchers conducted the study in mice, and it came on the heels of another project that also looked at the effect of oversupplementing vitamin A on bone health.

Previous studies in mice, the study authors explain, have tested the effects of short-term vitamin A overdosage.

Those studies found that rodents that took the equivalent of 13–142 times the recommended daily amount of vitamin A for humans had poorer bone health and an increased risk of fracturing after only 1 or 2 weeks.

This time, though, the team wanted to test vitamin A oversupplementation in conditions that more closely resembled those to which a person may be exposed when taking supplements over long periods of time.

So, study co-author Dr. Ulf Lerner and team administered lower vitamin A doses — the equivalent of 4.5–13 times the recommended daily allowance for humans — for 1, 4, or 10 weeks.

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The scientists saw that after only 8 days of oversupplementation, the mice’s bone thickness had started to decrease. Over 10 weeks, the rodents’ bones became increasingly fragile and prone to fracturing.

“Previous studies in rodents have shown that vitamin A decreases bone thickness but these studies were performed with very high doses of vitamin A, over a short period of time,” explains Dr. Lerner.

“In our study,” he adds, “we have shown that much lower concentrations of vitamin A, a range more relevant for humans, still decreases rodent bone thickness and strength.”

In the future, Dr. Lerner and team would like to see whether oversupplementation of vitamin A can also impact bone growth related to exercise, as well as the effects of overdosing in older mice, hoping to simulate the impact of too much vitamin A in aging humans.

“Overconsumption of vitamin A may be an increasing problem as many more people now take vitamin supplements,” warns Dr. Lerner.

Overdose of vitamin A could be increasing the risk of bone-weakening disorders in humans but more studies are needed to investigate this. In the majority of cases, a balanced diet is perfectly sufficient to maintain the body’s nutritional needs for vitamin A.”

Dr. Ulf Lerner

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Medical News Today: Osteoarthritis: New compound may stop the disease

New research, published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, shows that an innovative blocking agent can stop the degeneration of the cartilage when injected into the joints.
x ray of knee joint
Osteoarthritis often affects the knee joints.

Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition that affects the bones and cartilage within the joints.

Although it occurs most often in the hands, hips, and knees, osteoarthritis can also affect the body’s spine.

Currently, at least 30 million adults in the United States are living with osteoarthritis, making the condition the most prevalent form of arthritis.

While there are a variety of ways in which people can manage this long-term, chronic condition, there is currently no cure for it.

However, scientists may have now found a treatment that promises to stop the disease from progressing. The researchers started by focusing on a molecule that they previously found to cause inflammation, break down the cartilage, and deplete the body of collagen.

In the new study, the scientists developed a compound that blocks this molecule. Mohit Kapoor, Ph.D., arthritis research director at the University Health Network in Toronto, Canada, and senior scientist at the Krembil Research Institute, also in Toronto, led the team.

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‘Discovery could be a game changer’

Kapoor and his colleagues have recently discovered that a molecule called microRNA-181a-5p has a “critical” role in the destruction of the joints.

In the present study, the team wanted to see if a blocking agent can counter this damaging molecule.

So, the researchers tested the therapeutic potential of so-called locked nucleic acid-antisense oligonucleotides (LNA-ASO) in rats, rodents, cell cultures, and tissue samples from people with knee and spine osteoarthritis.

More specifically, they tested the effects of a blocker called “LNA-miR-181a-5p ASO” and found it to be effective.

“In this study,” write the authors, “we provide the first evidence that intra-articular injection of in vivo grade LNA-miR-181a-5p ASO can attenuate cartilage degeneration in preclinical models of [facet joint] and knee [osteoarthritis].”

Dr. Akihiro Nakamura, the first author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the Kapoor laboratory, explains the results of the experiments.

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“The blocker is based on antisense technology. When you inject this blocker into the joints, it blocks the destructive activity caused by microRNA-181-5p and stops cartilage degeneration,” says Dr. Nakamura.

“The blocker we’ve tested is disease-modifying,” explains Kapoor. “It has the ability to prevent further joint destruction in both knee and spine.”

“This is important because there are currently no drugs or treatments available to patients that can stop osteoarthritis,” continues the senior scientist.

“Current treatments for osteoarthritis address the symptoms, such as pain, but are unable to stop the progression of the disease,” he adds.

Study co-author Dr. Raja Rampersaud, who is also an orthopedic spine surgeon, comments on the findings, saying, “The technology in osteoarthritis is in its infancy, but the research has now taken a big step forward.”

Soon, the team plans to start safety studies and human clinical trials. If the researchers find the right dosage and a way to inject the blocker straight into the joints, the findings will provide a valid treatment that can stop the disease from progressing.

If we are able to develop a safe and effective injection for patients, this discovery could be a game changer.”

Dr. Raja Rampersaud

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Medical News Today: Health benefits of elderberry

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Medical News Today: Does high altitude affect COPD?

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Medical News Today: First period after having a baby: What to expect

It is common for a woman’s period to change after having a baby. Some women experience heavier or more painful periods, while others find that their periods become easier.

In the months after giving birth, periods may be irregular but may return to normal over time. There is no way to predict how giving birth will affect a person’s period, but women who breastfeed typically go longer without having a period.

In this article, learn more about what to expect from the first postpartum period.

What to expect

First postpartum period
Periods may change after childbirth, as the uterus takes time to return to its normal size.

Having a baby is a major trauma for a woman’s body, and it takes time to recover. There is no such thing as a “standard” postpartum period, but it is common for the first few periods to be different from how they were before pregnancy.

There are many reasons why periods may change after childbirth, including:

  • the uterus taking time to return to its normal size
  • hormone levels shifting
  • breastfeeding affecting hormone levels

Some women notice that their periods are heavier after childbirth. Others find that the blood is a different color, that there are more clots than usual, or that cramps are more intense.

According to Cleveland Clinic doctor Diane Young, most women will notice their period returns to their personal “normal” over time, meaning however it was before pregnancy.

When will it arrive?

Among women who do not breastfeed or who breastfeed on an irregular schedule, menstruation tends to return more quickly.

A 2011 analysis of six previous studies found that most women got their first periods between 45 and 94 days after giving birth. One study in the review found that the average first period happened at 74 days postpartum.

The main factor affecting the timing of the first postpartum period is ovulation. Women who want to check whether they are ovulating can try using an ovulation predictor kit (OPK), which are available in pharmacies and online.

Measuring basal body temperature every day can also help detect ovulation.

Irregular postpartum periods

Especially in the months immediately after giving birth, it is common to have irregular periods. Women who are breastfeeding are more likely to notice irregular periods, as the hormones that support breastfeeding can cause the body to delay ovulation or ovulate infrequently.

Even in women who are not breastfeeding, periods may be irregular, as the body takes time to recover from pregnancy and childbirth.

Over time, menstruation will return to its usual pattern. However, some women may have had irregular periods before pregnancy, such as those with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis.

If a woman is concerned about irregular postpartum periods, it is best that they speak to a doctor to find the underlying cause.

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What about lochia?

First postpartum period cramps
A woman may experience cramps when passing lochia after giving birth.

Lochia is the discharge from the vagina after giving birth. It begins as heavy bleeding and may be dark red and full of clots.

Over several days or weeks, the bleeding gets lighter, eventually turning pink, brown, and clear.

It is common for women to experience some cramps when passing lochia because the uterus is contracting as it returns to its usual size.

Lochia is not a period. It is a sign that the body is still recovering from giving birth, as the uterus sheds the lining that supported the pregnancy.

A 2012 review found that lochia bleeding lasted from 24 to 36 days. However, only one study followed participants until bleeding had stopped, meaning that postpartum bleeding continues for at least 3 to 5 weeks, but possibly longer.

It is possible to mistake lochia for a period or to think a period is lochia. While both lochia and menstruation begin with bright red blood, lochia tends to get lighter in color as the days pass, while the blood from a period darkens over time.

Periods while breastfeeding

Women who are breastfeeding may not have a postpartum period for many months because breastfeeding often prevents ovulation and subsequent menstruation.

Some women treat breastfeeding as a birth control method. But a 2015 Cochrane Review of previous research found that 11.1 to 39.4 percent of women who were breastfeeding had at least one period within 6 months of giving birth.

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Birth control

First postpartum period birth control
Some birth control options may help regulate postpartum periods.

It is safe to begin using some forms of birth control immediately after childbirth. Doctors usually recommend waiting several weeks or longer before starting combination pills, however.

Women who want to avoid hormonal birth control can consider condoms, diaphragms, the non-hormonal intrauterine devices (IUD), or fertility monitoring methods.

Hormonal birth controls may help regulate postpartum periods. These methods include pills containing estrogen and progestins, or only progestin, as well as the hormonal IUDs, injections, or implants.

Some birth control options can stop a woman’s period or cause less frequent periods. A doctor may recommend these options for women who experience very heavy or painful periods.

Women who are breastfeeding may worry about the effects of birth control on the baby or their ability to produce breast milk.

A 2012 study compared two different types of birth control — combined pills and progestin-only pills — and did not find significant differences in breastfeeding patterns or milk production.

While hormonal birth control is safe to use while breastfeeding, it is still essential for a woman to talk to a doctor about any new medication she may be about to begin.

When to see a doctor

After a woman has given birth, the doctor or midwife should offer advice about warning signs of a problem. Normal bleeding patterns vary, depending on the birthing method, a woman’s medical history, and other individual factors.

A person should see a doctor immediately for:

  • very heavy bleeding that soaks through more than a pad per hour for longer than 2 hours
  • bleeding that occurs with a fever
  • intense cramping
  • clots larger than a golf ball

A person should also arrange to see their doctor for unusual bleeding, very painful periods, or for questions about irregular periods.

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The first postpartum period may be heavier and more painful than those before pregnancy, or it may be lighter and easier.

Some women have their first postpartum period shortly after lochia, while others may wait many months, especially if they are breastfeeding.

When changes in a woman’s period are painful or otherwise troubling, it is best to speak to a doctor, who can help relieve the symptoms.

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Medical News Today: Can apathy predict dementia?

Because there is no cure for dementia, accurately predicting who will go on to develop it is vital to minimize its impact. According to a new review, apathy may hold the key.
Older adult top of head
A new study investigates apathy and its role in dementia onset.

Dementia overwhelmingly impacts older adults. Although scientists know about some risk factors, predicting who will eventually develop dementia is challenging.

As people age, cognitive abilities tend to decline, and 5–20 percent of those over 65 years old will develop mild cognitive impairment.

Older adults with a mild cognitive impairment who visit memory clinics — which are centers dedicated to diagnosing memory problems — often fear that they will receive a dementia diagnosis.

In reality, most individuals’ memories will either return to normal levels of functioning or not deteriorate any further.

However, while the person is in the clinic, doctors are keen to understand who is most at risk. There is no cure for dementia, so early detection is the best way to ensure the best care.

Observing changes in behavior might be a useful way to assess an individual who might otherwise fly under the radar.

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Apathy as an early warning sign

One behavior of interest is apathy, which is defined as a loss of motivation, a lack of interest, and reduced emotional expression. If apathy is related to an increased chance of developing dementia, it might become a relatively easy way to identify increased risk — even in a short consultation.

Already, researchers have noted that apathy is a common feature of dementia, occurring in around half of the people with Alzheimer’s disease. To date, studying the role of apathy before dementia develops has received little attention.

Recently, researchers set out to see whether apathy could become an early marker for dementia. To do this, they dipped into the findings from previous studies and carried out a fresh analysis of the pooled data. As the authors explain:

“We aimed to systematically review and meta-analyze the evidence from longitudinal cohorts for the association between apathy in older people and the risk of incident dementia.”

In total, the researchers assessed and collated data from 16 studies, including 7,365 participants. Their results were published earlier this month in JAMA Psychiatry.

The authors concluded that “[a]pathy was associated with an approximately twofold increased risk of dementia in memory clinic patients.”

Researchers saw a particularly pronounced effect in younger, healthier individuals because it was easier to detect apathy in them.

Older people tend to withdraw for a range of reasons, such as physical or cognitive constraints, rather than apathy. When a younger individual becomes withdrawn, it is perhaps more unexpected, making it more obvious.

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A new marker?

Changes in apathy could be useful for doctors, helping them gauge the potential risk of developing dementia, alongside standard clinical tests; the authors explain further:

“Apathy is a relevant, noninvasive, cheap, and easily implementable prognostic factor prodromal to dementia.” They go on:

It has important clinical significance because patients are vulnerable and tend to withdraw from care, requiring an active caregiving approach from clinicians.”

Recent research has focused on developing biomarkers for dementia risk, including MRI and the analysis of cerebrospinal fluid. Compared with these high-tech options, assessing apathy would be much quicker and more cost-effective.

As ever, more research is required to gather more detail on this relationship. The authors also note that it is important to remember that not every older adult with apathy will go on to develop dementia.

However, they also write that older adults with apathy “represent a medically highly vulnerable group that tends to withdraw from care.”

As the United States population ages, the early detection of dementia is more important than ever. Assessing an individual’s level of apathy might soon become a part of the clinician’s range of predictive tools.

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