Immune Dysfunction

Almost 24 million Americans live with an autoimmune disease—and many of them are women.

Your immune system is your body’s strongest defense against outside attackers, whether these are environmental factors or common bacteria and viruses you pick up from other people. So what happens when it turns on itself?

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April is National Humor Month | Physical Exam or Wellness Visit?

Celebrate National Humor Month with a smile!

By Chris Hammerlund

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April being National Humor Month, it's a pretty good month to remember one of your Illinois neighbors, Hunter Doherty Adams. Never heard of Hunter Doherty Adams who lives in Urbana these days? Of course you have.

He's the real funny-faced doctor“Patch Adams” made famous by Robin Williams in the movie of the same name. Actually, Adams was made famous by himself long before Robin Williams came along.

Assured Healthcare Staff enjoying Laughter Yoga.

Assured Healthcare Staff enjoying Laughter Yoga.

He's devoted his life to caring for people who spend most of their lives in the rips of the health safety net. In the first 10 years of his official medical career, he treated 15,000 patients for free.
He was his own national health insurance plan. He's a doctor with different point of view.

This is sort of his month because Adams has always believed that humor was a tool to keep people healthy. But not a silly, feel-good sort of trick. An actual medically valid tool.

He's sort of a holistic medical holy warrior and though the movie that bears his name portrayed him as a mostly well-meaning eccentric, the real Patch Adams has spent his life as a tough - minded civic activist.

But his teams of volunteers still gather every year, load up their clown makeup, bright colored fright wigs and head off to a remote foreign locale to deliver medical expertise - and laughs.

The thing to remember about Adams is that humor is a not a casual affectation to him. It's a way to face health troubles and triumph over them. He believes the power of a large unrestrained laugh, a wide smile and an open heart can cure what some medicines can't. He's teaching us to take care of ourselves with laughter. Love is not a grim duty. It's joyous. And Adams has always taught that the healthy person is firmly planted in a community of shared joy, a family of care and a sense of happiness.

It's one of those ideas that seem “new age” now, but in 100 years the concept will seem so obvious that no one needs to defend it. Remember the days when we thought acupuncture was some goofy hocus-pocus?

Adams used his own funny faces to help conquer his own depression. And then he went global.

So this is his month in a real, meaningful way. But he won't keep it to himself because being funny is only real if your share it. Science already knows thatlaughter has positive physical effects.

One day science might prove that happiness is its own cure.
So, make yourself laugh and mean it.
Make someone you care about giggle.
It might be the best thing you can do for good health.

Ask The Nurse: The Risks of Skipping Cardio Rehab Therapy

cardio rehab therapy

Dear Nurse Chris: After a heart attack two years ago, I took all the medicines my physician asked, but he also wanted me to commit to a long period of rehab. It seemed way too strenuous for me, and I was scared it might cause another attack so I didn’t go. I am 56 now. Was I right or wrong to skip the rehab?  Emily in Grayslake

Dear Emily: You took a big risk, and be sure to check with your cardiologist about this. Here’s what one study says: People who get all 36 sessions of cardiac rehabilitation that most Medicare plans cover are less likely to die or suffer a heart attack in the next three to four years than people who have fewer sessions.

You’re younger than that group, but if your insurance covers it, make use of the treatment.

If anyone pays attention, which they should, this research could encourage heart patients who don't follow doctors' orders to heed their advice. Only about one-fifth of heart patients even try rehab. Of those who do, few get all the sessions that are recommended. The new study is one of the first big efforts to look at how survival is affected by the "dose" of rehab that heart patients get. Researchers saw a clear trend in this 65-and-older group.
"What this study shows in a very convincing manner is that the more sessions a cardiac patient goes to, the better off they are," Dr. Stanley Hazen, preventive cardiology and rehabilitation chief at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Associated Press.

Say "rehab" and many people envision weak heart patients being pushed to run on a treadmill. Exercise is crucial, but it can be just a brisk walk or swimming or a stationary bike. That's important. Find something you enjoy and are willing to do.

More than three years later, 18 percent of those who attended fewer than 12 cardiac rehab sessions had died versus 11 percent of those who went to all 36 sessions. After taking into account age and other differences in these groups of patients, that works out to a 47 percent reduction in the risk of death for those attending 36 sessions. Heart attacks also were less common in that group.

There was a strong trend: as the number of classes went up, the risk of having a heart attack or dying in the next few years went down.

Meditation Made Easy

A daily meditation practice is one of the very best habits you can establish for yourself. Studies have shown that meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and boosts immunity. It can also help you to let go of negative feelings and give you a more positive outlook without the use of medication. Unfortunately, many people are intimidated by the thought of meditation because they believe it is either difficult to do, overly time consuming or attached to a specific religious belief; all of which are false. Meditation is actually a very healthy practice that will result in less stress, a healthier body and more mental clarity. To reap the benefits to mind, body and spirit, you need only to practice a very basic form of meditation. Try these simple steps for just 10 minutes each morning:

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Meditation Made Easy

meditation techniquesA daily meditation practice is one of the very best habits you can establish for yourself. Studies have shown that meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and boosts immunity. It can also help you to let go of negative feelings and give you a more positive outlook without the use of medication. Unfortunately, many people are intimidated by the thought of meditation because they believe it is either difficult to do, overly time consuming or attached to a specific religious belief; all of which are false. Meditation is actually a very healthy practice that will result in less stress, a healthier body and more mental clarity. To reap the benefits to mind, body and spirit, you need only to practice a very basic form of meditation. Try these simple steps for just 10 minutes each morning:

  1. Dress comfortably and find a quiet location where you will not be interrupted. (This is sometimes the most difficult part!)
  2. Sit or lie down (some people say that meditation should never be practiced lying down, but it can as long as you are not prone to falling asleep... sleep and meditation are two very different things and do not have the same effects.)
  3. Relax your body by taking a few slow, deep breaths. (Make sure that your belly rises before your chest as you breathe in. This is known as deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing or "belly" breathing and helps the body to relax. Deep breathing is a great relaxation technique on its own.)
  4. Now, simply close your eyes and try to clear your mind of all thoughts while focusing on your breathing... as thoughts do come into your mind (and they will), gently acknowledge them and then let them go, refocusing each time on your breathing. Your goal is to stop thought as much as possible and you will find that as you practice meditation daily, it will become much easier and more beneficial. Some people find that listening to a constant sound such as the air conditioning or a hum will help them focus. In this type of basic meditation, there is no need to use a mantra (a word or phrase used to focus the mind in some types of meditation).

Be sure to keep your practice simple and it will be much easier to maintain. It's as easy as that!

Terri R. Marshall is the owner of Tranquility Bay Relaxation Therapy & Wellness Coaching in Annapolis, Maryland. She is a Relaxation Therapist, Certified Stress Management Specialist, Certified Wellness Coach, Therapeutic Guided Imagery Practitioner and Green Living Consultant. Terri specializes in local individual Relaxation Therapy sessions which relax the body, calm the mind and soothe the spirit as well as Wellness Coaching sessions which promote a health and happiness. In addition, she is available for out-of-area telephone consultations and gift certificates are now available for all Tranquility Bay services. Visit Terri's website for more information or a copy of any of her great self-help publications:

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For Ankle Sprains, It's Cold Comfort

This question came up again recently, and it's been a frequent one over the years.  Should treatment for a sprained ankle include cold or warm applications? A sprained ankle is considered an acute injury, and can include both pain and swelling.  Once it's been determined that the injury is actually a sprain and not something more severe, cold therapy with ice to the site is the treatment of choice, even if initial application is delayed by as much as 24 hours.

Here’s how it works. The cold acts as a vasoconstrictor (a fancy phrase that means it tightens blood vessels) and thereby reduces the swelling in the ankle; in theory, it should also decrease some of the pain.

Ice to the affected area should be used for up to three days. Heat is usually applied for chronic injuries (they go on for a longer period) that have no inflammation or swelling. Another aid to faster healing is to keep the affected foot elevated and stay off of it as much as possible, as this helps to promote healing.

Bottom line:  Staying cool is the rule of thumb when dealing with minor ankle sprains.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2011. Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.

Can Mom's Voice Heal?


Sometimes science eventually gets around to proving what every sort of knows intuitively. Though research is still in its early stages, it turns out that moms can be one of the great cures for what ails a child. Researchers at Northwestern University are testing whether a mother’s voice can pierce through a coma.  There, voices of family and friends are recorded and then played back to the brain-injured patients through headphones several times a day.

One of those patients, Ryan Schroeder, a 21-year-old college student, was in a coma after being flung from snowmobile into a tree. He started to respond to external stimuli after three weeks of hearing his mother’s voice played over and over.

Coincidence? We’ll see. But a year later, Schroeder is walking with assistance, texting friends and brushing his own teeth.

Lead researcher Theresa Pape, an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University, suspects repeated exposure to the voices of loved ones could help regenerate the brain’s neural networks. MRI scans of coma patients reveal that parts of the brain light up when they hear family members, but not for unfamiliar voices. 

The new research shows how potent the sound of a familiar voice can be, says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist with Rutgers University in New Jersey and author of “Why Him? Why Her?”.

“It shows why it’s important to have people in our lives that we can call, who will calm us and get our cortisol levels down,” Fisher said.

Ultimately, the study confirms something we instinctively knew all along, Fisher says: “When we call someone we love, we feel better.”   Researchers  from the University of Wisconsin asked 61 girls and their moms to take part in an experiment to determine whether a voice could be as comforting as physical hugs and kisses. The girls, ages 7 to 12, were instructed to give a talk and then solve some math problems in front of a panel of judges. The situation figured to make any kid’s heart pound and blood pressure rise.

Before the girls gave their performances, the researchers measured the levels of two important and powerful hormones: oxytocin and cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that spikes during times of stress. Oxytocin is the bonding, or so-called “love,” hormone.

“It’s generally been assumed that there has to be physical contact for oxytocin to released,” said study co-author Seth Pollak, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin. “We were curious what would happen if the contact was only by phone.”

After their math tests, the girls were sent to one of three rooms. In one, moms were waiting with hugs and kisses and warm reassurances of the girls’ success. “The moms came in and hugged the girls and stroked their hair,” Pollak said. “They’d reassure their daughters with words like ‘I’m sure you did fine. You always perform so well.’ ”

In another room, girls received phone calls from their mothers with verbal reassurances similar to those heard by the first group. A third group of girls didn’t meet up with their moms but were sent to watch the heart-warming movie “March of the Penguins.”

When the researchers later measured hormone levels, they found, not surprisingly, oxytocin rose and cortisol fell in girls who had been in physical contact with their mothers. What was surprising was that the behavior of the hormones was almost identical in girls who had only spoken to their mothers on the phone.

Of course, the study studies relationships, not necessarily love. Pollak allows that when relationships are more complicated and there is tension involved, mom’s voice might not be so soothing.

Pollak says he’d like to explore the effects of a mom’s voice in those complicated relationships in future research.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2010.Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.

When Does Healing Begin? Grief Reconciliation


When you are in the throes of grief you think you will never be happy again. Your world is a narrow, dark tunnel. You do not see any light, yet glimmers exist, and they are signs of healing. Watch for these signs, for they give you the courage to move forward with life. Healing begins when you feel a real smile.

I did not smile after four loved ones died in the span of nine months. In fact, I forgot what a smile felt like. Then one day, I smiled a tentative smile, and it felt good. Bob Deits writes about recovering in his book, "Life After Loss." He thinks "the first step on the path to renewed joy and vitality after a major loss is the most difficult of all." Smiling was my first step and it may be yours.

Healing begins with the first laugh.

There was nothing to laugh about, so I did not laugh for months. I used to be known for my sense of humor and one day I laughed spontaneously. Though it was a rusty laugh, it told me healing had begun. Laughter heals. Do not be afraid to laugh when you are grieving.

Healing begins when you forget about loss.

Grief was all I thought about. I could not escape it. Judy Tatelbaum details the grief process in "The Courage to Grieve." "We can see we are moving closer to recovery from grief when the deceased is no longer our primary focus," she writes. It takes longer to recover from multiple losses. Still, I continued to do my grief and do the things I loved -- writing, reading, cooking. These activities gave me a break from grief. Be glad when you forget about loss for a moment. You are healing.

Healing begins when you start to see hope.

Multiple losses robbed me of a future. I could not imagine life without my loved ones. Because I had grieved before, read about grief, and written about it, I knew I had to watch for signs of hope. I found hope in a robin's song, a baby's laugh, buds on apple trees, and smiles on my grandchildren's faces. Look for hope and you will find it.

Healing begins when you plan a new life.

After a loved one dies you have two options, give up on life or live it. I chose the second option and planned a new life. Planning this life took more than a year. Alan Wolfelt, PhD, writes about planning in his article, "Reconciliation." The article lists reconciliation criteria. One criteria is "the capacity to organize and plan one's life toward the future."

Healing begins when you act on your life plan.

I am living my new life now. Does it contain any joy? The answer is a heartfelt yes. Keep doing your grief work and you will create a new life, too. Grief is work and so is life. Artist Grandma Moses described life in a few words, "Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be." This is your truth, this is your healing.

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief," written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.

Centering Corporation in Omaha, Nebraska has published her 26th book, "Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life." The company has also published a companion resource, the "Writing to Recover Journal," which contains 100 writing prompts.

Please visit Harriet's Website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

5 Things to Keep Handy When You Have a Sick Child


Parents who have an infant keep a diaper bag packed at all times. Parents of a child diagnosed with a chronic condition or newly diagnosed acute illness need to be equally prepared. Here are five things to keep packed in a tote for easy grabbing for that emergency room visit or unexpected hospital admission.

  1. Keep a list of current medications and current medical history in your bag. When you are flustered in an emergency situation, you can easily forget to mention an important piece of information about your child, especially if your child is on chemotherapy or other intermittent medication. Write it down.
  2. Keep a change purse with a roll of quarters and a few singles zipped into your tote bag. Emergencies tend to happen when you are low on cash in the wallet. A change purse with at least vending machine money will keep you prepared for that unexpected hospital admission.
  3. Keep a sweater or sweatshirt for yourself. Hospitals are always cooler than you expect and nerves will make you shiver. It is the little things that make a difference and being comfortable eases your stress level.
  4. Keep a favorite comfort stuffed toy or blanket for your child, a book, or other item that helps to distract your child during painful procedures like blood draws and exams. Keep an extra dose of Tylenol or other as needed medications your child may need on an intermittent basis. Children who need anti- nausea medications or seizure medications may need a dose if travel has lasted longer than expected or some other unforeseen circumstance occurs. Keep those medicines in a childproof container in your bag.
  5. Keep a notebook with emergency phone numbers, notes from previous admissions, or any other information you may not always recall immediately. The notes you have made may make a difference in the immediate care of your child in an emergency.

Parents who have a small tote bag packed with these items can survive until family can bring other belongings for that unexpected hospital stay. Have the bag in the car to easily grab if and when it may be needed.

For more information on children coping with illness or death and dying issues, or health and safety tips for children visit

Visit for an interactive website where kids can blog or read articles geared towards them.

Terri Forehand is a pediatric critical care nurse and freelance writer. She has a passion for kids of all ages, especially kids who are fighting against tough illnesses and diseases. Visit her blog and website for more information. She is currently working on fiction for kids.