Medical News Today: Family, not friends, lowers death risk in older age

It is no secret that being around friends and family in older age can benefit health; loneliness among seniors has been linked to increased risk of depression, heart disease, and more. According to a new study, however, only family can lower mortality risk in later life.
[A family playing a board game]
Having more family and feeling closer to relatives in later life may improve longevity.

Lead author James Iveniuk, of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Canada, and colleagues found that older adults who have more family members and who are closer to their family have a lower risk of death, though the same link could not be made with friends.

The researchers recently presented their findings at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in Washington, D.C.

According to a 2010 study from the AARP – previously the American Association of Retired Persons – around 32 percent of adults aged 60-69 and 25 percent of adults aged 70 and older report feeling lonely, and these individuals are more likely to report poor health than non-lonely adults.

For example, one study found seniors who have little face-to-face contact with friends and family are at almost double the risk of depression.

As such, it goes without saying that being around friends and family in later life poses significant benefits for physical and mental health, but how does this social contact affect risk of death? This is what Iveniuk and colleagues set out to investigate.

Greater closeness to family members lowers death risk

For their study, the researchers drew data from the 2005/2006 and 2010/2011 waves of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP).

In the first wave, participants aged 57-85 years were asked to list up to five people they felt closest to, as well as report what their relationship was with these individuals and how close they felt to each person. The mortality of the participants was then assessed in the second wave.

The majority of participants were married, were in good physical health, and reported low levels of loneliness, the team reports.

The study results revealed that participants who reported feeling “extremely close” to non-spousal family members within their list of closest confidants had around a 6 percent risk of death over the following 5 years, while those who reported feeling “not very close” to non-spousal relatives had a 14 percent risk of death.

What is more, the researchers found participants who listed more family members than friends as their closest confidants had a lower risk of death during the subsequent 5 years, regardless of their feelings of closeness.

“Regardless of the emotional content of a connection, simply having a social relationship with another person may have benefits for longevity,” says Iveniuk.

He adds that they were surprised by their findings, noting that one might assume friends are more important for mortality because we choose them based on our specific needs.

“But that account isn’t supported by the data – it is the people who in some sense you cannot choose, and who also have little choice about choosing you, who seem to provide the greatest benefit to longevity.”

James Iveniuk

Marriage important for mortality in older age, regardless of marital quality

The researchers also assessed how certain characteristics of social networks affected participants’ risk of death.

They found that being married, having a larger social group, greater participation in social organizations, and being emotionally closer to social contacts were equally important factors for mortality in older age.

The team was surprised to find that marriage was beneficial for mortality, even among subjects with poor marital quality. “We observed no association between measures of support from the spouse and mortality, indicating that the presence of a marital bond may be more important for longevity than certain aspects of the bond itself,” says Iveniuk.

Time spent with friends and family, feelings of loneliness, and access to social support were found to be less important factors for mortality, the team reports.

Overall, the researchers say their findings highlight the importance of good family relationships for a longer life.

“Going back to the very first sociological theorists, many different thinkers have noted that there is some kind of special significance that people attribute to family ties, leading people to stay close to and support people who wouldn’t necessarily be individuals that they would associate with if they had the choice,” says Iveniuk.

Read about a study that suggests divorce is seasonal.

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Medical News Today: Brain cells restored by stem cell therapy following stroke, neurological diseases

When a person has a stroke, blood flow to the brain is interrupted, causing brain cells to die within minutes due to lack of oxygen. In some cases, this can result in paralysis, speech and language problems, vision problems, and memory loss. But in a new study, researchers have shown that stem cell therapy increases nerve cell production in mice with brain damage due to stroke.
x-ray of brain after stroke
Stroke interrupts blood flow to the brain and could produce paralysis and speech problems, among other disabilities.

The researchers – led by Berislav Zlokovic, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Southern California (USC) – publish their findings in the journal Nature Medicine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and is also a major cause of disability in adults.

The effects of a stroke depend on the location of the blockage and how much brain tissue is involved, but a stroke on one side of the brain will result in neurological effects on the opposite side of the body.

For example, a stroke on the right side of the brain could produce paralysis on the left side of the body, and vice versa.

A stroke in the brain stem can affect both sides of the body and could leave the patient in a so-called locked-in state, where the patient is unable to speak or move the body below the neck.

Given that about 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year, the researchers of this latest study wanted to investigate potential therapies.

Therapy is a combination of two methods

The researchers say their therapy is a combination of two methods. One involves surgically grafting human neural stem cells onto the damaged area, where they are able to mature into neurons and other brain cells.

The other therapy uses a compound called 3K3A-APC, which has been shown to help neural stem cells that have been grown in a petri dish grow into neurons. But the researchers say it was not clear what effect the molecule – called activated protein-C (APC) – would have on live animals.

As such, the team used mice for their experiment, and they found that a month after inducing stroke-like brain damage in the mice, those that had received both the stem cells and 3K3A-APC performed much better on motor and sensory function tests, compared with mice that received only one of the treatments or neither.

The researchers also observed that the mice given 3K3A-APC had more stem cells survive and mature into neurons.

But how did the researchers induce stroke-like brain damage in the mice? They disrupted blood flow to a specific brain area.

Then, 1 week later, which is the mouse equivalent of several months in humans, the researchers inserted the stem cells next to the dead tissue and administered either a placebo or 3K3A-APC.

“When you give these mice 3K3A-APC, it works much better than stem cells alone,” says Dr. Zlokovic. “We showed that 3K3A-APC helps the cells convert into neurons and make structural and functional connections with the host’s nervous system.”

‘No one in the stroke field has ever shown this’

The researchers also looked at the connections between the neurons that grew from the stem cells in the damaged brain region and nerve cells in the primary motor cortex.

The team found that the mice given the stem cells and 3K3A-APC had more neuronal connections – synapses – that linked those areas, compared with the mice given the placebo.

Then, when the researchers stimulated the mice’s paws with a vibration, the neurons that grew from the stem cells exhibited a stronger response in the mice that were treated.

“That means the transplanted cells are being functionally integrated into the host’s brain after treatment with 3K3A-APC. No one in the stroke field has ever shown this, so I believe this is going to be the gold standard for future studies.”

Dr. Berislav Zlokovic

Following on from this study, the researchers want to pursue another phase II clinical trial to examine whether the treatment combination can encourage the growth of new neurons in human stroke patients to improve function.

They say that if that trial is successful, it could be possible to test the therapy’s effects on other conditions, including spinal cord injuries.

“This USC-led animal study could pave the way for a potential breakthrough in how we treat people who have experienced a stroke,” says Jim Koenig, Ph.D., program director at the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), who funded the study.

“If the therapy works in humans,” he adds, “it could markedly accelerate the recovery of these patients.”

Read how sleep disorders increase the risk of stroke.

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Medical News Today: Wearable sleep device may reduce PTSD risk in military

A wearable device designed to improve sleep quality by altering brain rhythms could help reduce risk of developing PTSD in military personnel, according to data presented at a conference recently.

wearable sleep optimizing device
The wearable sleep device is designed to improve sleep quality by allowing users to hear sound translations of their brainwaves.
Image credit: Brain State Technologies

Sleep disturbance is a well-known core feature of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and one of the most difficult symptoms to manage.

However, evidence is emerging that sleep disturbance is not only a result of PTSD, but may also be involved in causing it.

Now, the developers of a wearable sleep device, in collaboration with neurology researchers, have produced an analysis that suggests improving sleep quality could help reduce new cases of PTSD in service personnel deployed to combat zones.

The team, from Brain State Technologies in Scottsdale, AZ, and Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, presented their ideas and analysis at the Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS), held August 15-18, in Kissimmee, FL.

Estimated the reductions in new cases of PTSD

For their analysis, the team used data from a 2013 study published in Sleep of military service members deployed to Iraq after 9/11.

That study had found predeployment insomnia symptoms in combat personnel “were significantly associated with higher odds of developing posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety postdeployment.”

The team combined estimates of the extent to which insomnia symptoms might raise risk for PTSD with estimates of how insomnia might be reduced by using Brain State’s wearable sleep device, called BRAINtellect 2.

They applied the results to a scenario where large numbers of service personnel are sent to a combat zone and estimated the reductions in new cases of PTSD.

Could also help treat PTSD

The wearable sleep device could also help with the treatment of PTSD, say the developers, noting that sleep disturbance is also one of the hardest symptoms of PTSD to treat, with counseling and medication often being largely ineffective.

Dr. Sung Lee, Brain State’s director of research, says, “the relationship between sleep problems and post-traumatic stress is highly intimate, probably even at the level of individual neurons.”

He suggests sleep disturbance could be an important reason traumatized individuals experience problems using brain circuits that do not relate to the stress response.

The device comprises a u-shaped band embedded with sensors that is worn around the head during sleep.

The sensors pick up brainwaves and send them to a small unit that translates them into sounds of varying pitch and rhythm, which are then played back to the wearer through earbuds.

Brain State say this helps the brain to relax and reorganize itself.

“We think that focus on sleep quality could reduce PTSD not only in the military, but also in police, medical first-responders, and others who have high exposure to trauma.”

Lee Gerdes, CEO of Brain State

Brain State developed the wearable device with help by an award from the U.S. Army Research Office.

Estimates suggest that up to half of Americans experience some level of insomnia in any given month.

Discover how an electrical forehead patch could treat chronic PTSD.

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Medical News Today: Gallbladder Disease: What You Need to Know

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The gallbladder is a small organ that sits under the liver. It stores bile and releases it into the small intestine during digestion. Bile is a yellowish liquid made by the liver that helps the body to break down fat and get rid of waste.

There are a number of problems that can affect the gallbladder. This article looks at types of gallbladder disease, how they are diagnosed, treatment options, and prevention tips.

Types of gallbladder disease

Here are some common conditions that can affect the gallbladder:


The most common form of gallbladder disease is gallstones. Gallstones are small stones formed in the gallbladder made up of cholesterol that has solidified.

Gallstones and a jar.
Gallstones are small stones made up of cholesterol that has become solid.

Gallstones often go unnoticed and don’t cause any problems. However, if they are large, they can become trapped in an opening or “duct” inside the gallbladder. This can result in a sudden pain in the upper body called biliary colic.

Biliary colic tends to come on after eating foods that contain a lot of fat, although it can occur at other times of day or night. The pain that is felt in the upper part of the torso is continuous and accompanied by a feeling of sickness and sometimes heavy sweating.

The pain isn’t made better by going to the toilet, vomiting, or passing wind. An episode can last for anything from 1 to 5 hours, and it’s possible not to have another one for several weeks or months.

A diagnosis is made after a doctor’s physical examination. Ultrasound can be used to detect gallstones and, for long-lasting symptoms, blood tests can also be done.


A more severe gallstone blockage inside a bile duct can produce swelling in the gallbladder. This condition is called cholecystitis and, if left untreated, can lead to serious complications.

There are two types of cholecystitis: acute and chronic.

Acute cholecystitis

This comes on as sudden, intense pain with nausea, vomiting, and fever. The pain can last from 6 to 12 hours, or longer. An episode of acute cholecystitis usually clears within a week. If it doesn’t, it may be a sign of something more serious.

According to the Merck Manual, 95 percent of acute cholecystitis cases are caused by gallstones. However, acute cholecystitis can be the result of conditions that aren’t linked to gallstones.

There is a form of acute cholecystitis that occurs without gallstones. It can appear after major surgery or critical illnesses, or be the result of infection or a weak immune system. People with this form of cholecystitis become very ill. The inflammation can become so severe that it can result in rupture of the gallbladder.

Chronic cholecystitis

Chronic cholecystitis is the result of long-term inflammation in the gallbladder. It is caused either by gallstones or previous episodes of acute cholecystitis.

Someone with this type of cholecystitis will experience repeated episodes of upper body pain and sudden inflammation. They will also experience less pain compared with someone with acute cholecystitis and will rarely experience a fever.

Cholecystitis can have a number of serious complications. These include:

  • Gallbladder infection: If cholecystitis is caused by a build-up of bile, the bile may become infected.
  • Death of gallbladder tissue: If untreated, cholecystitis can cause gallbladder tissue to die. Dead tissue can result in a torn or burst gallbladder.
  • Torn gallbladder: A tear in the gallbladder can also be caused by gallbladder swelling or infection.

Both forms of cholecystitis can have life-threatening consequences if left untreated, and so an early diagnosis is essential.

Diagnosis of gallbladder disease

A doctor will make a diagnosis from the symptoms described by the patient and a physical examination. Ultrasound can be used to detect gallstones, fluid around the gallbladder, and thickening walls.

For persisting symptoms, blood tests can also be done. Imaging tests are carried out when acute cholecystitis is hard to diagnose or doctors suspect cholecystitis without gallstones.

Treatment of gallbladder disease

People with a form of cholecystitis need hospital treatment. The aim is to control the symptoms and reduce inflammation in the gallbladder. This involves fasting to ease the stress on an inflamed gallbladder.

Image of the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
A swollen gallbladder may need to be removed with surgery.

Fluids are fed into the veins to avoid dehydration. A patient may also have antibiotics to fight infection and pain medication to relieve the pain of inflammation. Symptoms are likely to improve within a couple of days.


In more complicated cases, surgery may be required. Surgery to remove the gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy and is a common procedure. In most cases, the patient will be able to go home the same day.

In chronic cholecystitis, removal of the gallbladder usually takes place once an episode subsides.

Surgery may be required within 48 hours if:

  • The patient has acute cholecystitis and surgery does not pose a risk
  • The patient is old or has diabetes
  • A doctor suspects a complication such as an abscess or gangrene
  • The patient has cholecystitis with gallstones

If surgery is too risky because of other health issues such as heart, lungs or kidney conditions, it can be postponed until treatment for such conditions is under control.

Preventing gallbladder disease

Preventing gallstones reduces the risk of cholecystitis and can be done by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and keeping fit
  • Avoiding rapid weight loss
  • Eating a healthy diet that’s low in fat and high in fiber

Diet before and after surgery

A diet that’s low in fat is often recommended several weeks before surgery. Most people don’t need to follow a special diet afterward and can usually start eating normally after a few hours. It’s better, however, to begin eating small meals.

Some side effects from the surgery are indigestion, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea. These may be eased by avoiding caffeinated drinks and spicy or fatty foods. Fiber intake should be increased gradually.

In general, eating a good, balanced diet is important for staying healthy. The British Liver Trust recommend eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, and high-fiber foods such as wholemeal bread and pasta. They also recommend avoiding salty foods and eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.

Living without a gallbladder

As the gallbladder is not an essential organ, a person can lead a normal life without one. Bile will still find its way to the small intestine via other ducts in the liver instead of being stored in the gallbladder.

Other problems affecting the bile ducts

There are other diseases that affect the bile duct:

Image of the pancreas in the male body.
An inflamed pancreas can also block the bile ducts.

Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC)

This condition involves inflammation of the bile ducts in the liver with increasing scarring. It begins with inflammation that blocks the flow of bile out of the liver. The bile becomes trapped in the liver cells causing inflammation.

Over time, inflammation causes the liver to become scarred, leading to cirrhosis and liver failure.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)

Scarring due to inflammation causes narrowing and blocking of the bile ducts, eventually leading to cirrhosis. As a result, bile salts that help the body absorb fats are not expelled normally.

PSC is similar to PBC. The difference is that PSC affects the bile ducts outside the liver as well as those in the liver. The cause is unknown but is likely to be due to the immune system attacking the body.

Tumors of the bile duct and gallbladder

Cancer of the bile ducts or gallbladder is rare. Being older or having PSC increases the risk of developing this cancer.

Pancreatitis and pancreatic tumors

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. The condition can be caused by gallstones, certain viral infections, digestive enzymes, alcohol and some drugs.

Many pancreatic tumors can block the bile ducts through which the bile leaves the liver.

Impact of other conditions on the gallbladder

Other conditions that can affect the gallbladder are:

  • Some intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease, which affects normal absorption of nutrients
  • Diabetes, which can also increase the risk of gallstones
  • Overweight and obesity put a strain on the body and also increases the amount of cholesterol in bile, which can cause gallstone formation

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Medical News Today: Thyroid Storm: What You Need to Know

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The thyroid is a small gland located at the front of the neck that is responsible for making thyroid hormones. These hormones enter the blood and are carried to tissues located throughout the body.

Thyroid hormones help the body use energy and control a number of activities. They control breathing, how fast the body burns calories, and even how fast the heart beats.

These hormones are also involved in processes such as helping the body stay warm and keeping the brain, heart muscles, and other organs working properly.

Thyroid hormone levels are controlled by a small gland in the brain called the pituitary. This gland makes the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which stimulates the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones.

TSH levels in the bloodstream rise or fall depending on whether enough hormones are made to meet the body’s needs. As thyroid hormone levels go up or down, the pituitary gland drops or raises TSH production in response.

When the gland releases too many or too few hormones, thyroid disorders can occur.

According to the University of California, San Diego Health Center, around 20 million Americans currently have some form of thyroid disease. Both overactive and underactive thyroid glands can lead to a variety of serious health problems

What is hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism is a thyroid disorder that occurs when the thyroid makes too much of the hormone thyroxine. An overactive thyroid can cause many body functions to speed up. There are many conditions that can cause hyperthyroidism, including:

Image of the thyroid gland in the body.
The thyroid gland is located at the front of the neck.

  • Graves’ disease
  • Viral infections, autoimmune conditions, or having a period following childbirth – these can enflame the thyroid
  • Overactive thyroid nodules
  • Tests that use iodine
  • Eating too many foods containing iodine
  • Consuming large amounts of thyroid hormone
  • Tumors of the ovaries or testes

Hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems. This can make it difficult for doctors to diagnose. They often look for a wide variety of signs and symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms include:

  • Sudden weight loss, even when appetite and diet remain the same
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Trembling in hands and fingers
  • Sweating
  • Changes in menstruation
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • Changes in bowel patterns
  • An enlarged thyroid gland
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Thinner skin or brittle hair

Some people may not have any symptoms at all, which makes the disorder even more difficult to pinpoint.

What is thyroid storm?

Without treatment for overactive thyroid problems, people can develop serious health problems. These can include heart problems, weak and brittle bones, and even death.

Thyroid storm is a rare but life-threatening condition that can occur if hyperthyroidism is not treated. Thyroid storm can occur in any patient with untreated hyperthyroidism.

It is generally brought on by stressful situations such as trauma, surgery, or a severe infection. Thyroid storm is a severe form of having too much thyroid hormone in the body. It can lead to heart failure and a buildup of fluid in the lungs.

Symptoms of thyroid storm may result in a number of complications. They include:

An ill woman is holding her head.
Symptoms of thyroid storm include fever, nausea, and heart failure.

  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Heart failure
  • Confusion
  • Shaking
  • Sweating

A high fever is often one of the most common signs of thyroid storm. It may reach as high as 105-106°F.

Diagnosis of thyroid storm

There are no specific lab tests that can diagnose thyroid storm. The diagnosis is primarily up to the doctor. To diagnose thyroid storm, the doctor will look to see if the patient has any common symptoms of hyperthyroidism, high temperature, fast heart rate, or confusion.

Blood tests can help signal high levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. The thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test is also used.

Thyroid storm is a very dangerous condition. In many cases, there is no time for blood tests. Instead, medical treatment is started immediately. Even with medical care, The University of California, San Diego Health Center state that the mortality rate of thyroid storm is between 20-30 percent. The disorder is particularly dangerous in older adults.

Treatment for thyroid storm

Treatment for thyroid storm depends on age, the cause, the severity of the illness, and any other medical conditions the patient may have.

In many cases, the right treatment regime produces improvement within 24 hours. With continued treatment, thyroid storm is generally resolved within a week. Treatment options include:

  • Beta-blockers to control symptoms like altered heart rate
  • Iodine
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Propylthiouracil or methimazole

According to The American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of the United States population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetimes. Undiagnosed thyroid disease can increase the risk of osteoporosis, infertility, and heart disease.

People with an overactive thyroid can help control their disorder by eating well, exercising, and keeping their stress levels down.

Anyone that experiences any of the symptoms discussed should see a health professional immediately. Other disorders can mimic hyperthyroidism, so testing is often needed for a correct diagnosis.

Quick treatment is vital to making sure that the body functions normally, but also prevents the onset of thyroid storm. Thyroid storm can be prevented by treating an overactive thyroid and following doctor’s orders.

What is Graves’ disease?

Graves’ disease is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism. According to the Graves’ Disease and Thyroid Foundation, about 2-3 percent of the population – about 10 million people – have this disorder.

The Virginia Mason Institute state that as many as 70-80 percent of patients with hyperthyroidism have Graves’ disease. It is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. In response, the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone.

The pituitary gland releases the hormone that helps control thyroid function. The thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb) is linked with Graves’ disease, and it works like the regulatory pituitary hormone. As a result, the TRAb overrides the normal regulation of the thyroid and causes hyperthyroidism.

Anyone can develop Graves’ disease, but there are a number of factors that increase the risk, including:

A woman is holding her red glowing throat.
Women are more likely than men to develop Graves’ disease.

  • A family history of Graves’ disease or other thyroid or autoimmune disorders
  • Other autoimmune disorders: People inflicted with other immune disorders such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk
  • Emotional or physical stress: Stressful life events or illnesses can trigger an onset of Graves’ disease
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy or a recent childbirth can increase the risk of the disorder in some women
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking can affect the immune system and increase the risk of Graves’ disease

Women are also more likely to develop the disorder than men. According to the Office on Women’s Health, it affects 10 times more women than men, and often strikes while they are in their 20s and 30s.

Graves’ disease treatment

Most people who have Graves’ disease have some symptoms of hyperthyroidism. A doctor will likely perform a physical exam as well as additional tests to help make a final diagnosis. These can include:

  • Thyroid function tests
  • Radioactive iodine uptake (RAIU)
  • Antibody tests

There are three main treatment options. Beta-blockers, which block the action of the thyroid hormone, are given.

Two antithyroid medicine drugs are used in the U.S: methimazole and propylthiouracil. They help to keep the thyroid from making too much thyroid hormone.

Radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment requires patients to swallow a pill that contains a form of iodine that damages the thyroid with radiation. By damaging thyroid cells, less thyroid hormones are made.

In some cases, surgery is recommended where most of the thyroid is removed.

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Medical News Today: My Baby Has Acne: What Should I Do?

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Parents may think that they will only be dealing with acne during their child’s teen years, but no. Some parents may just get a quick glimpse into the teen years as soon as their new baby comes home.

Many babies will experience a bout of baby acne. Typically, acne in babies is nothing to be concerned about.

In most cases, baby acne causes red or white bumps on the cheeks, nose, forehead, chin or the baby’s back.

Why do babies get acne?

In order for the skin and hair to stay lubricated, the many oil glands within the skin secrete an oil called sebum. If sebum becomes trapped and forms a plug within the hair follicles, acne can occur due to the growth of bacteria.

A baby with acne on its face.
Many babies will get acne, but doctors are uncertain what causes it to appear.

If the hair follicle becomes infected with bacteria, the area can become inflamed. This results in a pimple forming – a raised red spot with a white center.

Acne is most likely to appear on areas of skin that have the most oil glands. These areas are on the face, neck, back, shoulders, and chest.

Adult acne can be made worse by factors such as medication, diet, and stress. These factors may not have much of an effect on babies, however.

It is not entirely clear why babies get acne. Experts believe that maternal hormones play a role, leading to oil gland problems and blemishes.

In addition to hormonal causes, some medications taken either by the mother during breastfeeding or by the infant may lead to the development of acne. Skin care products may also be to blame. At times, infants can have a negative reaction to certain skin care products, such as those containing oils.

Acne in most infants goes away after a few weeks. However, some infants can experience acne for more than 6 months. Acne in babies is not a scar-forming condition.

Symptoms of baby acne

Baby acne can be confused with other skin conditions that are discussed below. It typically presents as small, red, or white bumps that may be present on various parts of a newborn’s skin.

Baby acne most commonly appears on the cheeks, chin, nose, and forehead. At times, it can appear on the baby’s back. Worsening symptoms of baby acne can occur with heat, fussiness, and skin irritation.

Treatment for baby acne

Baby acne typically goes away on its own. However, there are some skin hygiene tips that parents can follow for their baby:

A baby is having its face cleaned.
Parents can cleanse the skin affected by acne with water, but should avoid soaps, lotions, or oils.

  • Cleansing the skin affected by acne one to three times per day with water only
  • Avoiding the use of soaps, lotions, or oils on these areas of skin
  • Patting the baby’s skin dry after cleansing
  • Not applying over-the-counter adult acne or skin care products to the baby’s skin
  • Applying a dab of breast milk to the area affected with acne – this may encourage skin healing

As with acne in adults, it is important to avoid picking, squeezing, or scrubbing areas affected with acne. Doing so can make the acne worse, possibly leading to infection or scarring by damaging the skin.

Some babies may benefit from using a non-oily lotion. Parents should stop using this if the appearance of the skin gets worse, however.

At times, a medicated cream or other treatments may be recommended by the child’s pediatrician. Parents should speak with a doctor if they are concerned that their baby’s acne may need evaluation and treatment.

When to see a pediatrician

Treatment is not usually needed for baby acne. However, it is important for parents to speak with their baby’s pediatrician if they notice:

  • Signs of infection – redness, swelling, or discharge
  • Possible signs of eczema – patches of red, dry, and flaking skin
  • Any other skin concerns

Other skin conditions that affect babies

At times, a baby may have other skin conditions unrelated to baby acne. Other common skin conditions in infants include:

  • Milia: This skin condition is marked by small, white bumps.
  • Heat rash: Baby heat rash can cause skin itching and baby fussiness. It often appears on the legs, arms, upper chest, and diaper area alongside moist red bumps that are small in size.
  • Diaper rash: Diaper rash is present on the skin covered by diapers, causing red and irritated skin.
  • Cradle cap: Cradle cap appears on the head, eyebrows, and upper body as red bumps with yellow flaking skin.
  • Eczema: Most commonly, eczema causes patches of dry, flaking, and red skin that may also have fluid-filled pimples. Most outbreaks of eczema appear on the cheeks and scalp. Some progress to areas with creasing, such as the elbow and knee creases.

Parents should speak with their child’s pediatrician if they have any concern about the appearance of their child’s skin. Evaluation and treatment may be necessary in some cases.

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Medical News Today: Divorce is seasonal, peaks following family vacations

University of Washington sociologists find – from biannual patterns of filings for divorce – that divorce is seasonal during the periods following winter and summer vacations.
[Family waiting for a delayed flight in a departure lounge]
Divorce appears to peak during the times following winter and summer vacations.

Associate sociology Prof. Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini presented the findings at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle, WA.

The results of the research suggest that divorce filings could be driven by a “domestic ritual” calendar governing family behavior.

The team found that divorce consistently peaks during the months of August and March – times that follow winter and summer holidays.

Prof. Brines mentions that troubled couples may see the holidays as a time to mend relationships, and they might believe that if they have a happy Christmas or a successful camping trip, everything will be “fixed” and their lives will improve.

However, in reality, those periods of the year can be both emotionally charged and stressful for many, and they may expose cracks in a marriage. The seasonal nature of divorce filings may reflect the disillusionment unhappy spouses experience when vacation time does not live up to their high expectation, the research team points out.

New school year may influence divorce month in couples with children

“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past,” says Prof. Brines.

“They represent periods in the year when there’s the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life. It’s like an optimism cycle, in a sense. They’re very symbolically charged moments in time for the culture,” she adds.

Couples may make a conscious decision to file for divorce in August, following the family vacation, and before the kids start back at school. Prof. Brines and colleagues examined the reason for the divorce spike in March. Given that March is a few months after the winter holidays, is there still a connection between divorce and vacations?

Prof. Brines suggests that while considerations for divorce are the same during both peak periods – sorting finances, finding an attorney, summoning the courage to go ahead – the start of the school year may hasten decisions for couples with children in August.

The divorce peak in March could also be influenced by the trend of a rise in suicides in spring. Experts also indicate that the extra daylight and increased activity during that time of year elevates mood enough to motivate people to act.

Pattern of divorce was tied to family holiday periods

Prof. Brines and Serafini were initially investigating the effects of the recession – observing rising unemployment rates and declining house values – on marital stability.

While examining divorce filing throughout Washington, the team noticed monthly variations with the pattern of heightened filings emerging in March and August. “It was very robust from year to year, and very robust across counties,” Prof. Brines explains.

After accounting for other seasonal factors, including the housing market and unemployment, the pattern remained.

The team hypothesized that if the pattern was tied to family holidays, other court actions involving families – such as guardianship rulings – should show a similar trend, which proved correct.

During the recession, patterns had a slight shift, with a peak earlier and later in the year and more unpredictability in trends. Prof. Brines notes that this trend disruption is unsurprising given the uncertainty around financial considerations, such as housing values and employment. However, the pattern shift during the recession was not statistically significant.

Seasonal divorce persisted in states with simpler divorce processes

Two of the 39 counties in Washington were excluded – Lincoln and Wahkiakum – as they are among the few places nationwide to allow divorce to proceed via mail without a necessary court appearance.

Anyone in Washington can file for divorce in Lincoln and Wahkiakum, and given the simpler divorce procedure, the researchers expected the results to be skewed by including these two counties.

However, while examining Lincoln County – which has accepted divorce by mail since 2001 – they found the pattern was the same as the rest of the state, although more pronounced.

“That leads me to think that it takes some time emotionally for people to take this step. Filing for divorce, whether you do it by mail or appear in court, is a big step.”

Prof. Julie Brines

Future research will examine if the trends noticed in Washington also apply to other states. Prof. Brines and Serafini have already analyzed data for Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona – states that have similar laws to Washington but have different demographics and economic conditions.

During the recession, Florida and Arizona were hit hard by the real estate collapse, and Ohio had above average unemployment rates. Despite those differences, the seasonal divorce peaks persisted.

“What I can tell you is that the seasonal pattern of divorce filings is more or less the same,” Prof. Brines concludes.

Read about how men in unhappy marriages are less likely to develop diabetes.

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Medical News Today: Cocaine addiction reversed in rats with novel compound

Cocaine addiction is a major problem in the United States, with deaths from the drug increasing by 42 percent between 2001-2014. Now, researchers may have found a way to reverse the issue.
[Lines of cocaine on a black surface]
Researchers say their study suggests targeting TrkB receptors in the brain is a feasible treatment option for cocaine addiction.

A new study – led by researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, CA – describes how targeting and blocking the activity of a brain receptor called TrkB reduced cocaine-seeking behavior in mice, paving the way to a possible treatment for cocaine addiction.

Senior author Candice Contet, a biologist at TSRI, and colleagues recently published their findings in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Cocaine – also referred to as “coke,” “crack,” or “blow” – is an illicit drug that derives from the leaves of the Erythroxylum coca bush, native to the Andean region of South America.

Cocaine a powerful stimulant and very addictive. It activates the reward pathway in the brain – known as the mesocorticolimbic reward system – producing a sense of euphoria and pleasure, making users crave more of the drug.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in 2014, around 913,000 people in the U.S. met the criteria for cocaine addiction, and of the almost 1.3 million emergency department visits for drug abuse in 2012, cocaine was involved in more than 500,000.

At present, there are no medications to treat cocaine addiction; behavioral interventions – such as contingency management, where people with cocaine use disorders are presented with motivational incentives to stop using the drug – are the primary form of treatment.

The new study from Contet and colleagues, however, suggests a pharmacological treatment for cocaine addiction may well be in the cards.

Targeting TrkB to combat cocaine addiction

Previous research in rat models of cocaine addiction has shown that repeated exposure to the drug leads to long-term changes in two major areas of the mesocorticolimbic reward system: the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex.

Scientists found such changes are partly triggered by modifications to the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) – a protein that activates TrkB receptors – and injecting BDNF directly into the nucleus accumbens of rats increases cocaine-seeking behavior.

On the other hand, studies have found that inhibiting BDNF production or BDNF/TrkB signaling in the nucleus accumbens reduces signs of drug dependency in rats.

As such, researchers have looked to targeting and blocking TrkB as a way to combat addiction to cocaine and other drugs, but this has not been without its challenges.

For example, Contet and colleagues note that in the medial prefrontal cortex, BDNF reduces dependency behaviors – as demonstrated in rat studies. However, blocking BDNF/TrkB signaling in this region increases such behaviors.

“Based on these previous findings, we were very excited to investigate whether blocking TrkB receptors throughout the brain would be beneficial or detrimental in helping to reduce the motivation to take cocaine,” says study co-author Michel M.M. Verheij, who was a research associate at TSRI when the study was conducted.

TrkB inhibitor reduced cocaine dependency in rats

For their study, the team tested the effects of a newly developed compound called cyclotraxin-B – which can travel from the bloodstream to the brain to block TrkB receptors – on rats that had learned to press a lever in order to self-administer cocaine.

This led the rats to use significantly less cocaine and press the lever fewer times. What is more, the treated rats were less likely to start using the drug again after a period of withdrawal. All of these factors represent a reduction in cocaine dependency.

What is more, the researchers found that cyclotraxin-B led to more normal TrkB signaling activity in the nucleus accumbens.

Interestingly, treatment with the the TrkB inhibitor also led to signs of more normal TrkB signaling activity in the medial prefrontal cortex.

“We suspect that the antagonist has its primary action in the nucleus accumbens, where it’s logical that it would prevent the activation that is triggered by cocaine,” explains Contet, “while what happens in the prefrontal cortex is probably a downstream consequence, rather than a direct effect of the TrkB antagonist in that region.”

One important observation, the team notes, is that cyclotraxin-B did not lower the rodents’ appetite for a tasty glucose solution. “That’s good because it shows that the TrkB antagonist doesn’t work by causing a general suppression of appetite or activity, but specifically reduces the sense of reward and motivation for cocaine,” says Contet.

Overall, the team says these findings indicate that targeting and blocking TrkB receptors in the brain has the potential to curb cocaine abuse:

“Altogether, our data show that systemic administration of a brain-penetrant TrkB antagonist leads to brain region-specific effects and may be a potential pharmacological strategy for the treatment of cocaine addiction.”

Read about how cocaine may cause brain cells to destroy themselves.

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Medical News Today: Why Are My Eyes Yellow?

MNT Knowledge Center

Eyes can say a lot about a person. These organs not only offer insight into a personality but can offer clues to the body’s overall health.

When the whites of the eyes turn yellow, it generally indicates that something is going on in the body that causes jaundice. Jaundice describes a yellowish tint to the skin and the whites of the eyes.

Excessively high levels of bilirubin in the blood cause jaundice. Bilirubin is a yellow waste substance found in bile, the liquid the liver makes to help break down fats.

When there is too much bilirubin in the bloodstream, it may leach into surrounding tissues like skin and eye tissues, causing them to yellow. Jaundice has different causes in adults, children, and newborns.

Anatomy of the eye

Jaundice mainly affects the front of the eye as this is where the yellow pigment would be visible.

A diagram of the eye.
A diagram of the eye. Jaundice is often seen in the sclera, iris, and eyelid.

It’s important to understand the anatomy of the front of the eye to understand how jaundice affects the eye. The front part of the eye is made of several different parts:

  • Eyelid and lashes: Upper and lower lids and lashes offer eyes protection from dirt and dust. They are also used to blink so the eyes stay moist. If jaundice is present, both the outer eyelids and the underside of the eyelid that is visible when the lid is lifted may have a yellow tint.
  • Pupil: The pupil is the dark center of each eye that controls the amount of light that enters. Generally, jaundice does not discolor the pupils.
  • Iris: The iris is the colored part of the eye immediately surrounding the pupils. It has muscles that contract the pupils. Yellowing may be seen in the iris if a person has jaundice.
  • Sclera: The whites of the eye. The sclera surrounds the iris and protects the fragile structures on the inside of the eye. Yellow eyes are often first noticed because the sclera yellows.

Causes of yellow eyes in newborns

Jaundice in newborns is very common because a newborn’s liver is still maturing. Bilirubin often builds up faster than a newborn’s immature liver can break it down, causing jaundice to occur frequently.

Aside from a yellowing of the skin, one of the clearest signs of jaundice in a newborn is the yellowing of the eyes.

A newborn baby with jaundice.
Jaundice is common in newborns as their livers are still developing.

Yellow eyes are only one symptom of newborn jaundice. New parents should also watch for the following symptoms:

  • Yellow skin
  • Lack of energy
  • Irritability
  • Fever
  • Trouble with eating

Any newborn with these symptoms should be checked immediately by a medical professional.

Most cases of newborn jaundice are harmless and resolve on their own as the baby’s liver matures.

Normal newborn jaundice causes include:

  • Physiological jaundice: Many newborns have this type of jaundice, due to the newborn’s still-developing liver. It normally appears when a baby is 2 to 4 days old.
  • Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding can cause jaundice when a baby isn’t getting enough breast milk to flush the bilirubin out. This type of jaundice often resolves when a mother’s milk comes in.
  • Breast milk: Occasionally, substances in breast milk cause a baby’s intestines to hold onto bilirubin rather than pass it through stool. This form of jaundice normally resolves itself by 12 weeks.

Some causes of newborn jaundice may be more concerning. These causes include:

  • Blood incompatibility jaundice: When a mother and baby don’t have compatible blood types, the mother’s body may attack the baby’s red blood cells while it is in the womb. As the mother’s antibodies are already breaking down the baby’s red blood cells before birth, this type of jaundice may present itself as early as 1 day old.
  • Jaundice of prematurity: Premature babies are at the greatest risk of jaundice because their livers are very immature. Premature babies may have more severe jaundice or jaundice alongside a number of other conditions.
  • Infections: Some bacterial infections like sepsis can cause a newborn to have jaundice.
  • Hemorrhage: Internal bleeding can cause jaundice. Premature babies are particularly at risk from hemorrhages.

While most cases of normal jaundice are mild to moderate, more severe newborn jaundice is possible. Cases of mild jaundice may resolve themselves while more moderate jaundice can be treated with light therapy.

Very severe cases may be treated with a blood transfusion. A pediatrician will be on the lookout for jaundice at a baby’s first checkup.

Causes of yellow eyes in older children and adults

In older children and adults, yellow eyes are always concerning because jaundice is not common in these age groups.

Unlike yellow skin, which may be from eating too many yellow and orange vegetables, yellow eyes are nearly always a sign of jaundice. Yellow eyes and jaundice in older children and adults normally indicate an underlying medical issue.

An adult with yellow eyes.
Yellow eyes in older children and adults often signal an underlying medical problem.

There are three main reasons for jaundice to occur:

  • Liver disease or liver injury: Liver problems cause a type of jaundice known as hepatocellular jaundice.
  • Breakdown of red blood cells: When red blood cells are broken down too quickly, there is an increase in bilirubin production.
  • A blockage in the bile duct system: When the tubes that carry the bile from the liver to the gallbladder and intestines get blocked, bilirubin can’t leave the liver and builds up excessively. This type of jaundice is called obstruction jaundice.

A number of medical conditions that need treatment under a doctor’s care can cause any of these types of jaundice. These conditions include:

  • Acute inflammation or infection of the liver: If the liver is injured or infected, the liver may not be able to process bilirubin properly.
  • Inflammation or obstruction of the bile duct: Swollen or blocked bile ducts prevent bile from being released into the liver. When bile isn’t released, the liver can’t dispose of bilirubin.
  • Hemolytic anemia: Hemolytic anemia is a blood disorder that occurs when the body breaks down red blood cells too quickly. When the red blood cells break down too quickly, production of bilirubin goes up. This can lead to anemia, where someone doesn’t have enough red blood cells.
  • Malaria: This mosquito-borne blood infection can cause jaundice.
  • Pancreatitis: An infection of the pancreas that causes it to swell can lead to jaundice.
  • Cancers: Some cancers can cause jaundice, including cancer of the liver and pancreas.

Older children and adults may notice yellowing of the skin and eyes without other symptoms. Jaundice often occurs with other uncomfortable symptoms, however, including:

  • Itchy skin
  • A general feeling of being unwell
  • Fullness in the stomach
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Pale stools
  • Dark urine

All sudden cases of jaundice in adults and older children should be looked at by a physician to rule out serious causes.

There are a few harmless causes of jaundice in older children and adults that are less common.

For example, Gilbert’s syndrome is a genetic liver condition where the liver doesn’t process bilirubin properly. Gilbert’s syndrome may cause occasional bouts of jaundice and irritable bowel syndrome. However, the condition does not impact the health of the person overall or increase their risk of complications.

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Medical News Today: The height of politics: Taller people more likely to vote conservative

Social class, culture, and age are among the many factors that can influence voting behavior. Now, new research using data from the United Kingdom claims a person’s height can be added to the list, after finding taller people are more likely to be politically conservative.
[A man voting]
Researchers find the taller a person is, the more likely they are to be politically conservative.

The study comes from Sara Watson, assistant professor of political science at The Ohio State University, and Raj Arunachalam, of economic consulting firm Bates White, LLC, in Washington, D.C.

According to the researchers, many studies have found that income tends to be higher for people who are taller, and other research has suggested a person’s income influences voting behavior.

However, Watson and Arunachalam note that some studies assessing the association between income and voting have produced conflicting results.

“We were thinking about why there were so many seemingly contradictory findings. One reason might be that income fluctuates from year to year, so that a relationship between your overall economic well-being and your political beliefs can be hard to uncover,” says Watson.

With this in mind, she and Arunachalam decided to use height as a proxy for income as a way of determining whether there is a link between a person’s earnings and their voting behavior.

Every 1-inch increase in height increased conservative support

The team drew data from the 2006 British Household Panel Survey, which includes around 10,300 individuals from 250 regions across Britain.

The researchers analyzed the self-reported height, income, and political beliefs of more than 9,700 of the survey respondents.

The team found that the taller participants were, the more likely they were to be politically conservative.

For every 1-inch increase in height, the team found individuals were 0.6 percent more likely to support the U.K.’s Conservative Party and 0.5 percent more likely to vote for this party.

Taller adults were also more likely to support conservative views, the researchers report; for example, they were less likely to agree that major public services and industries should be owned by the state.

The link between taller height and increased conservative support was stronger for men than women; taller men were 0.8 percent more likely to be politically conservative, while conservative support was 0.4 percent more likely for taller women.

However, Watson and Arunachalam warn that this difference between men and women was not statistically significant.

After accounting for a number of potentially confounding factors – such as race, religion, and marital status – the researchers found their findings stayed the same.

Cementing the link between height, income, and voting

Next, the researchers applied height to an “instrumental variable” strategy, which allowed them to assess how income influences voting.

“Height is useful in this context because it predicts income well,” explains Watson. “Because we only expect height to affect political behavior through income, we can use it to investigate the effect of income on voting.”

The results revealed that every 1-inch increase in height equated to approximately £350 (around $460) in income, and each 10-percent rise in income increased the likelihood of voting for the Conservative Party by 5.5 percent.

While the researchers were unable to pinpoint why height appears to influence a person’s income, they point to previous studies that have suggested people favor taller individuals, believing they have more self-confidence and are more intelligent.

There is no doubt that the link between height, income, and political preference is an interesting one, but as the researchers note, there are many more factors that can influence a person’s political views.

“Income and height play a role, but they are not political destiny,” says Watson.

Read about how taller people might be at greater risk of cancer.

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