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Posts tagged ‘disease’

Being Pro-active and Aware of Mental Health Defects

Seuing-Hui Cho. 23. Jared Laughner. 24. James Holmes. 24. Jacob Tyler Roberts. 22.

All four men, in their early 20’s, were involved in mass shootings that, combined, have killed dozens and crippled communities. While you wonder how some can be deranged enough to (allegedly) fire a gun into an open crowd, you also wonder how this could have been prevented and whether anyone saw signs beforehand of planned incidents like the Virginia Tech, Tuscon, Aurora, and Happy Valley shootings.

These four shooters all have a history of mental illness. These illnesses include schizophrenia, a disease that manifests around age 20, social anxiety, depression, and more. Many people argue that stricter gun control laws would help prevent these issues, but stricter gun control would only meet the solution halfway. On the other end of the spectrum, there needs to be more pro-activity in recognizing mental health illnesses and getting help quickly and early for those suffering from it.


Depression and social anxiety are two mental illness that are often the most expressed and easy to recognize. Although those who are depressed don’t always express it clearly, there are signs that friends and family members can look out for if they believe someone they know is depressed. Symptoms include attention deficit, fatigue and decreased energy, insomnia, irritability, feelings pessimism or emptiness, changes in appetite, constant headaches or physical pain, difficulty maintaining relationships, and thoughts of suicide. More symptoms stand out than others, but if you believe someone is depressed it’s better to be safe than sorry about confronting it.

Ask the person if they are having trouble with work, school, friends, spouses, money, or anything like that. If they complain they’re having headaches or other body pains often, getting a check up by a physician can determine whether or not the cause is depression. There are effective ways to treat depression, including SSRIs, individual and group talk therapy, and other psychotherapies. The worst thing about depression, particularly suicide, is that it is not taken seriously as a mental illness. If someone you know ever mentions committing suicide, even if it’s in a humorous manner, pull them aside and ask them if they’ve had thoughts of killing themselves. If they say No, make them insist and swear that they’re telling the truth, and if they Yes then stay with them and go with them to a counselor or psychiatrist. By being more pro-active about recognizing symptoms of depression, people can not only save lives of those who are depressed but also the lives of those they could hurt.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety isn’t just being social awkward. It is a fear of social situations and interactions. An estimated 19 million Americans are living with social anxiety. Social anxiety can be triggered by anything involving people, from eating at a restaurant to using public restrooms. Even future social situations that haven’t even happened yet can give someone social anxiety. It often starts in the adolescent years, but can be seen in childhood. In the cases of violent people who have social anxiety, they normally tailored  anxiety from a nervousness of people to a hatred of people. Rather than fearing social interaction, they loathed it and threatened or harmed those who forced social interaction upon them.

Some mild forms of social anxiety can include only one situation involving people, such as public speaking. However, more severe forms of social anxiety can interfere with relationships, work, and daily routines. People with social anxiety also have false and negative perceptions of people or events. Social anxiety is rarely diagnosed on its own. Those who suffer social anxiety often suffer from depression, OCD, and/or panic disorders. Symptoms of those mental illnesses lead to doctors to recognizing and diagnosing social anxiety. Signs of social anxiety include fear of talking or interacting with people, isolation, intense anxiety in social situations, severe mood swings, panic attacks, and confusion. Social anxiety can also manifest into physical symptoms which include muscle tension, upset stomach, sweating and blushing, shaking, increase heart rate and “pounding” heart sensation, and sometimes yelling or crying.

Social anxiety can be cause by biological, psychological, or environmental factors. Disrupted levels of serotonin in the brain can cause social anxiety and depression. There is also evidence that shows biological conditions like this tend to run in the family, so family history is a big factor to consider when diagnosing social anxiety. An embarrassing or humiliating past experience may leave psychological scarring and cause social anxiety in that manner. Environmental factors can influence social anxiety by observing other people and being over-sheltered or overprotected by parents during childhood. Treatments for social anxiety include medication, such an anti-depressants or beta blockers, and CBT, cognitive behavior therapy, which teaches people how to react to situations that trigger anxiety.


The third, and often most severe, illness often seen in perpetrators of violent acts is schizophrenia. Jared Laughner, the Tuscon shooter, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is often misunderstood and therefore perceived wrongly. Schizophrenia is a form of psychosis, where the person suffering from it cannot tell what is real and what is a product of their mind. To them, the world is a jumble of confusing thoughts, images and sounds. About 2.2 millions Americans live with schizophrenia, and the disease affects about 1% of the world’s population. The causes of schizophrenia are not well understood, but researchers believe it is caused by imbalance in brain chemistry, particularly sensitivity to a neurotransmitter called dopamine. There are different types of schizophrenia that each affect people differently and have their own severity. The most often seen and heard about is paranoid schizophrenia. People with this type are preoccupied with false beliefs or delusions about certain people or things, or even themselves. Their thinking, speech and emotions, however, remain fairly normal.

Schizophrenia is most commonly, but not always, a sudden onset disease. If often onset around age 19-22, but can occur earlier or later. Schizophrenia in children is extraordinarily rare, but has been diagnosed in children as young as 6. People with schizophrenia exhibit a number of rapid onset symptoms, including sudden changes in personality, ability to perform routine activities, trouble paying attention, and radical changes in behavior.  Other more subtle symptoms of schizophrenia include moodiness, loss of pleasure in certain activities or loss of interest in life, poor hygiene habits, and lack of motivation.

One of the most common and most observed, yet least acted on, symptoms of schizophrenia is withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities.  In the case of Jared Laughner, and many other people suffering from schizophrenia, he very quickly and inexplicably became isolated from friends and family, not talking to them or interacting with them for weeks or months at a time. If you notice a friend or family member exhibit this sort of isolation or any of the other symptoms of schizophrenia for a period longer than 6 consecutive months, get in contact with them as soon as possible. If they refuse to answer calls, emails, or knocks at the door, then you can contact your local law enforcement and let them know about the situation. The sooner schizophrenia is diagnosed, the sooner the sufferer can receive treatment.

Schizophrenic people are usually not violent, but there occasional violent patients. They are often prone to violence not only towards others but towards themselves. Suicide is the number one cause of premature death in schizophrenics. By being aware of the symptoms of schizophrenia, people can help recognize those suffering from schizophrenia and get them the help they need before something worse happens.

While not every shooting can be prevented, be aware of symptoms of mental disease can truly help save lives, whether it’s preventing a mass shooting or stopping a suicide. If you are ever unsure if someone is suffering from a mental illness, it never hurts to try and talk to them. Talking to them might encourage them to talk to others and seek help. Mental illness, unfortunately, is overlooked by physical disease. Maybe it’s because physical disease are more tangible and people empathize with those patients, maybe it’s because there is less hope for those who suffer from mental illness. Regardless, because of the lack of national awareness, it’s up to individuals to look out for each other. You never know when mental illness could set in and it’s difficult to recognize, but if you see signs of illness and fail to act before a friend or family members injures someone else or themselves, it could leave you asking “Why didn’t I do something before this happened?”


UPDATE: Now we add the Newtown shooter. Reports are conflicting his age but he is somewhere between 20-24 years old. This is not coincidence. People need to wake up and realize the threat that those suffering from mental health have to the community. Gun control isn’t the only issue at hand. We need to raise national awareness about the horrors of mental illness. We need to make people more aware of recognizing the signs and being more pro-active about getting help for their friends and family. Obviously, the government isn’t going to do anything because they have their heads up their asses, so it’s up to us as members of our communities to look out for one another. Be aware. Speak up. Offer assistance. Like I said, by recognizing helping out someone who may be suffering, you could potentially be saving the lives of dozens.


Infection Responses: How Strep Throat Can Cause OCD

Nobody enjoys being sick. The fever, the runny nose, the sore throat, the swollen glands and the hacking cough are all common symptoms that signal the presence of an infection. But almost all these symptoms aren’t caused by the invader. They are caused by the immune system in response to the disease.

The immune system is one of the most powerful and organized systems in the human body. It consists of the skin (yup! your skin is the first line of defense against infection!), the mucus membrane, and finally the leukocytes: T Cells and antibodies.

When a bacteria or a virus enters the bloodstream, the white blood cell identifies it as an invader and calls in the troops for attack. It send out certain antibodies, based on whatever toxin the bacteria or virus produces, to stop the movement of pathogens in the blood stream. After the antibodies have targeted the invaders, the tanks roll in. These huge white blood cells are known as macrophages. They literally eat the invaders and break down the pathogen’s cells walls inside their bodies.

As we grow into adults, our immune systems become more organized and we are able to handle stronger infections as well as stronger infection responses. But as children, our bodies are still developing and are fragile. Our immune systems fight hard so the pathogen can’t cause damage, but when our white blood cells fight TOO hard it can cause serious side effects, particularly in children.

More importantly though, additional studies have been published recently that are more specific about what types of infection response can cause mental disorders, specifically strep throat and OCD.

Streptococcus is a very common bacteria that comes in a variety of infections, the most common being strep throat. From pneumonia, to ear infections, even cavities and rare flesh eating diseases are all caused by streptococcus.

Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcus, or PANDAS, has been a condition characterized since the 1990s, but is just now only beginning to be understood. In PANDAS, the antibodies that are meant to target infection instead attack brain cells, causing sudden-onset mental defects.

There are several ways in which the immune system can work against the body. A study published in February has shown that a specific gene can cause inflammatory problems in the brain when the immune system fights infection. This sort of inflammation can lead to personality problems such as schizophrenia and suicidal behavior. Although this is the first study to suggest these kinds of changes in psychology as a result of immune response, this is also a new field of research where scientists and biologists are only beginning to dip their toes in a pool of information.

All this information is further proof that as well develop more powerful artificial antibiotics and antibacterial chemicals, the more we have to artificially develop our own bodies. Many doctors predict huge advancements in medicine within the next 25 years, such as gene therapy and effectively powerful drugs for psychosis. As this new trend in medicine advances, it will be interestingly intriguing to see how the response to this new research trends as well.

*Editor’s Note: I apologize for the lack of posts towards the end of the year. I seriously needed time off from school and work to enjoy my holiday as well as to spend time with family and friends. Although this blog was originally an assignment for school, I still enjoy researching interesting health topics and blogging about them on here. I’ll try to do a post every 10 days, but because this blog is no longer a priority I have to focus on my other academic studies before I can find time to blog. But I will continue searching for ways to improving this blog and I believe 2012 will have many great things in store!

How Influenza Paranoia is Overshadowing a Global Epidemic

Subway Riders in Mexico City wear surgical masks to prevent catching swine flu. Although the severity of the disease was extremely overstated, paranoia of a global flu outbreak has overshadowed modern day epidemics, such as HIV.

The world is overdue for a massive flu epidemic. That’s why every time a new strain of flu appears, people panic and run to the nearest drugstore for surgical masks. This often causes people to forget about an epidemic that still claims millions of lives each year.

Since the 1980’s, AIDS has been known as the deadliest pandemic that has yet to be cured. Although there was one case where a man was possibly cured of HIV via very expensive stem cell therapy, AIDS is the stage at which the disease becomes terminal. 2.5 million people are infected with HIV every year, and about 2 million of those have no access to antiviral drugs.

HIV/AIDS research has gained tremendous progress in the early 90’s. Patients diagnosed with HIV, such as basketball star Magic Johnson, can live HIV positive for years on highly active antiretroviral therapy without ever developing AIDS. Antiviral drugs, however, are expensive, carry several side effects, and have no guarantee of preventing the virus from developing into AIDS.

The history and emergence of HIV is not well known. The scientific community believes that the disease originated in chimpanzees and jumped to humans during the early 20th century colonial period in western Africa. In 1981, a largely noticeable amount of homosexual men started developing rare forms of pneumonia and cancer that were only found in people with severely compromised immune systems. The CDC first recognized the disease as GRIDS, gay-related immune deficiency syndrome, and later changed the name to AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, after the disease was found in heterosexual females and people receiving blood transfusions.

HIV infection occurs with the transfer of bodily fluids via sex, blood transfusion, contaminated needles puncturing the skin, and breastfeeding. HIV also has no obvious symptoms so it can go undetected for long periods of time. HIV becomes AIDS when your body’s T Cells, the cells that help recognize and target pathogens, declines to a number where you no longer have immunity to several common diseases that would never be fatal in a healthy person. These diseases are known as opportunistic infections.

Severe, unexplained weight loss is often the first symptom of AIDS. Skin rashes and respiratory infections soon follow.

This graph shows the percent of people in each country living with HIV. The U.S. has about a 1% HIV-infected population whereas countries in Africa tend to have 10-15% HIV-infected population.

About 1% of the U.S. population is living with HIV. However, countries in southern and western Africa have populations were HIV is found in 15% of people, including children. Because of the high cost of antiviral drugs, many Africans living with HIV develop AIDS and die by the time they’re 20.

There are ways to help. Several AIDS research foundations have generated millions of dollars into HIV prevention and treatment (i.e. vaccines). Several charity groups are also raising awareness about the transmission of the virus in order to better educate people about the risks of unprotected sex and sharing needles.

If you’re living in the United States, chances of getting infected with HIV are slim, but better to be safe than sorry. Use condoms to not only prevent the spread of HIV but other STIs. Don’t share needles with anyone and if you go to get a tattoo or a piercing make sure the staff there uses a clean, sterilized new needle before use.

If you think there is even the remotest possibility you could be infected, get tested immediately. Many insurance plans cover some if not all of the cost of testing, and even if yours doesn’t being tested is still very affordable.

And remember, HIV is not a death sentence like it was once thought to be. It’s why people use the term “living with” instead of “dying from” when talking about disease.

Photos courtesy Time Magazine and Wikipedia.

More Stretch, Less Stress

Studies have shown practicing yoga several times weekly has many health benefits.

When you hear the word “yoga” what comes to mind? Deep breathing, weird poses and soothing music are often associated with a typical session of yoga. Unfortunately, the health benefits of yoga aren’t being stressed enough, especially to the younger generation.

While it may seem yoga is a great way to relax, it also helps the biochemistry of your body. A new study reported in the journal Diabetes Care reported that those with Type 2 Diabetes who took yoga class were able to shed more weight and easily retain their blood sugar levels contrasted to those who did not take yoga.

Researchers, however, don’t exactly know why yoga is so beneficial. Most of the medical evidence suggests that the deep breathing exercises help lower what is known as oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress occurs when byproducts of the cells’ energy usage rise to levels beyond the body’s ability to neutralize them. These “free radicals” can circulate around the body and cause organ damage. Oxidative stress has been attributed to a number of chronic disease.

Long term oxidative stress has the biggest impact on the brain and the heart. It is most involved in diseases such as heart failure, atherosclerosis, mycardial infarction (heart attack), Alzheimer’s, Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and chronic fatigue syndrome.

So how does breathing cut down on oxidative stress?

The Sympathetic Nervous System, the system that controls the “fight or flight” response, is like the gas pedal of the brain’s organ control system. When the body is faced with combating a degenerative disease such as heart disease or Alzheimer’s, the SNS sends these cells into an energy output overdrive which produces these free radicals. Deep breathing stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is like the brake against the gas pedal.

There’s also controversy over the effects antioxidants have on oxidative stress. While Vitamin E, a natural antioxidant, seems to help improve heart disease, there is no conclusive evidence of antioxidants having a significant impact.

If you are suffering from a chronic degenerative disease or know someone who is, yoga is a great way to improve your lifestyle. Even if you aren’t affected by a chronic disease, yoga is a great way to live healthier. Three 15-minute sessions a week is proven to help relieve stress, reduce tension in the muscles, shed weight and combat illness.

The best thing about yoga is there’s no gym or class membership required! There are several great yoga routines on YouTube you can do at home.

I picked out this video because it not only focuses on calming the body but also calming the mind. Calming the mind is what activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System and reduces stress.

Photo courtesy of

Control Your Fever Fervor

There’s a common misconception about fevers known as Fever Phobia. People believe that fevers are some sort of serious illness and if they go untreated the fever will melt their brain. While they are uncomfortable for anyone, fevers are actually your friends most of the time.

A fever, or controlled hyperthermia, is when you reach an internal body temperature higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s your body’s way of kicking it’s immune system up a notch. The shivering and chills are your body’s way of generating heat. Fevers work in two different ways:

Cells, and more importantly their enzymes (those catalysts that help convert energy), work well in warm temperatures. The warmer the temperature, the faster they work. The warmer temperature also helps your white blood cells mobilize and work more quickly to take down whatever is making you sick.

Bacteria and viruses have a threshold for temperature. They can only live in certain environments before it gets to chaotic for them to function. A fever creates this unbearable environment for pathogens and causes them to literally burn up.

Fevers should be monitored carefully, however. Your body has a threshold for temperature too, and it’s only a little bit higher than the threshold for germs.

For adults, a fever is considered dangerous at temperatures at or above 104.7 degrees. If your fever reaches 105 degrees or if you have a fever greater than 102 that lasts longer than three days, even while being treated with ibuprofen, seek medical attention.

If the fever is below the danger level, it can be managed  ice cold sponges applied to the forehead and neck. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also help lower the temperature of the fever. However, fevers can’t really be treated and could take a couple days to go away.

The most significant risk of a fever is dehydration, so keep drinking water if you’re sick.

Any fever under 103 degrees is generally harmless. Fans and air conditioning, ice cold towels, ibuprofen, and plenty of water provide comfort for those times where you’re sick and stuck on the couch watching daytime television.