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Health Q&A

Posted December 19, 2012 in Advice Column, Grimes

Q: I have a bulging disc. Is surgery my only option?

A: No, there are many non-invasive options which include chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy and spinal decompression therapy.

Spinal decompression therapy is the application of intermittent traction to a region of the spine to create a negative intradiscal pressure. This is often referred to as a “vacuum effect” inside the spinal disc. It is designed to reduce the pressure inside the disc and allow the transfer of fluids, nutrients and oxygen back inside the disc. This allows the disc to heal from the inside out. In healthy spines, this occurs naturally with daily motions and activities. A disc with decreased nutrition, fluids and oxygen is more likely to become injured. The traction also decreases the pressure in the disc which allows the disc bulge to be drawn back into its normal boundaries and results in taking pressure off a “pinched” nerve.

Spinal decompression therapy usually consists of several treatments but patients usually report a reduction of pain within a few treatments. Remember, discs need time to heal, sometimes months. The goal of spinal decompression therapy is to make the patient more mobile with less pain so they can return to a lifestyle of more activity. More activity and movement in the spine creates more nutrient movement to and from discs which results in a healthier spine.

It is important to remember that chiropractic care and regular back strengthening exercises work with spinal decompression therapy to provide a speedy recovery and a healthy spine.

Spinal decompression therapy has shown a very high rate of success of reducing and eliminating back and neck pain. Check with your chiropractor to see if you could benefit from spinal decompression therapy.

Information provided by Williamson Chiropractic, 206 S. Main St., 986-9189.


Q: What are long-term reversible contraceptives?

A: Long acting reversible contraceptive (LARCs) methods — intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants — are the most effective forms of reversible contraceptives available and are safe to use by almost all reproductive-age women. LARCs are the best tools to fight against unintended pregnancies, which currently account for approximately 49 percent of U.S. pregnancies each year.

IUDs and implants are inserted in the doctor’s office. There are two types of IUDs — small T-shaped devices, inserted in the uterus are available. The copper IUD, effective for 10 years, releases a small amount of copper into the uterus which prevents fertilization. The hormonal IUD releases progestin into the uterus that thickens the mucus and thins the uterine lining. It also makes the sperm less active, decreasing the ability of egg and sperm to remain viable in the fallopian tube. Hormonal IUD is effective for 10 years.

The contraceptive implant is a match-sized rod inserted under the skin of the upper arm. It allows the controlled release of an ovulation-suppressing hormone for up to three years. Present day IUDs are much improved and safer than earlier versions. Complications are very rare. IUDs are not abortafacients; they work prior to the time when pregnancy is established. They are safe in the majority of women including adolescents and women who have never had children. Up-front costs for LARCs maybe higher but they are most cost-effective methods in the long run. Women interested in a LARC should consult their physician to see if they are a candidate and review the adverse effects prior to making an informed decision.

Information provided by West Des Moines OBGYN, 4949 Westown Parkway, Suite 140, West Des Moines, 515-223-5466.


Q: How can I treat my cold?

A: A cold is one of the most common illnesses in the United States.  It is a respiratory infection that can be caused by more than 200 different types of viruses. Because of the large number of different viruses that can cause a cold, it is possible to contract a different cold many times in a season. The common symptoms of a cold include a runny nose, congestion, sneezing, itchy throat, productive cough, headache and fever.

Since a cold is caused by a virus, there is no cure. The best way to avoid a cold is prevention. Make sure to wash your hands frequently and disinfect commonly-handled items such as telephones and doorknobs. Sneeze into the crook of the elbow or a tissue and not into the air or your hand.

If you do get a cold, over-the-counter (OTC) treatment can be used to make yourself more comfortable. Medications that may help include decongestants (pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine), antihistamines (chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine), cough suppressants (dextromethorphan) and pain relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen). If you need help treating your cold this season, make sure to ask your pharmacist for a recommendation.

Answer provided by Hy-Vee Drugstore, 1541 S.E. Third St., Suite 100, 986-4527.


Q: What are the symptoms of a slipped disc? My grandfather says there is no such thing.

A: Your grandfather is partially correct. Discs do not slip, but they do herniate. Thus, if you want to be accurate, you can call such a condition a herniated nucleus pulposus.

An important job of spinal discs is to separate and cushion vertebras from one another. About one-half inch thick, they are made of a strong, rubbery material which allows them to compress and absorb the shocks your spine takes as you move about.

Sometimes a disc herniates or bulges and presses spinal nerves. This is the condition commonly called a slipped disc.

Urgent pain is the chief symptom of a herniated disc. The pain can span the scale from a dull ache to a sharp, unremitting pain — usually in the low back — sometimes extending into the buttocks and sometimes down the leg. Movement may make the pain worse.

Numbness in the legs, tingling and “pins and needles” feelings are sometimes present. Pain is the chief symptom and calls for an examination at once to determine its cause. Chiropractic care can help reduce the pain and discomfort by aligning the spine in its natural position, thus decreasing the pressure on the disc and nerve.

Information provided by Meghan Mueller, PT, DPT, Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers, 1451 Gateway Circle, Suite 500, 986-5190.


Q: How serious is the flu?

A: January and February are considered peak months for influenza outbreaks. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. The flu vaccine is recommended for all individuals older than 6 months and younger than 65. Those most at risk for a severe flu illness are those less than 2 years of age, pregnant women, the eldery and those with chronic illnesses. The flu is spread by respiratory droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby and infect others. Symptoms of the flu include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (very tired).

What to do if you think you have the flu? Supportive therapy including increasing rest and fluid intake and using OTC Tylenol or ibuprofen for fever control. Antiviral drugs can also be used to treat flu illness. They can make people feel better and get better sooner. Antiviral medications may also prevent serious flu complications. These drugs are not antibiotics, but they do need to be prescribed by a medical provider. They work best when started during the first two days of illness. Antibiotic therapy does not treat the flu. If you develop symptoms of the flu it’s best to see your medical provider.

Information provided by Grimes Family Physicians, 101 S.E. Destination Drive, 986-4524.


Q: How will Christmas candy affect my teeth at the holidays?

A: Tooth decay can cause the destruction of tooth structure. Plaque — the sticky stuff that attaches to our teeth — combines with the sugars in candy which produces acids that cause tooth decay. But since it is the holiday season only once, and we know that we are going to eat the good stuff, what should we do?

Brushing after consuming candy is the way to go. If you decide to sit down and have a plate full of turtles, almond bark pretzels, cookies with sprinkles or peanut brittle (sorry, got carried away there), go ahead and brush your teeth when you are done. The longer you wait to brush your teeth after consuming, the more damage the sugar is doing to your teeth.

If you have holiday parties galore, carry a toothbrush with you. It might be a party foul, but you will be giving your teeth a nice present this holiday season. Also, there are sugar-free candies and cookies that exist and will help your sweet tooth around around the holidays. And remember with holidays, it is always more important to give than receive. Give the gift of a holiday electric toothbrush that might be on special sale at your local dental office. Merry Christmas and happy New Year and remember, it is always fun coming to the dentist.

Information provided by Grove & Platt Dental Associates, PLC, 1541 S. Third St., Suite 300, 986-4001 and American Dental Association.

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