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Health Q&A

Posted November 14, 2012 in Advice Column, Winterset

Q: What are muscle cramps?

A: A muscle cramp is an involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax. When we use the muscles that can be controlled voluntarily, such as those of our arms and legs, they alternately contract and relax as we move our limbs. Muscles that support our head, neck and trunk contract similarly in a synchronized fashion to maintain our posture. A muscle (or even a few fibers of a muscle) that involuntarily (without consciously willing it) contracts is in a “spasm.” If the spasm is forceful and sustained, it becomes a cramp. Muscle cramps often cause a visible or palpable hardening of the involved muscle.

Muscle cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to a quarter of an hour or occasionally longer. It is not uncommon for a cramp to recur multiple times until it finally resolves. The cramp may involve a part of a muscle, the entire muscle or several muscles that usually act together, such as those that flex adjacent fingers. Some cramps involve the simultaneous contraction of muscles that ordinarily move body parts in opposite directions.

Muscle cramps are extremely common. Almost everyone (one estimate is about 95 percent) experiences a cramp at some time in their life. Muscle cramps are common in adults and become increasingly frequent with aging. However, children also experience cramps of muscles.

Any of the muscles that are under our voluntary control (skeletal muscles) can cramp. Cramps of the extremities, especially the legs and feet, and most particularly the calf (the classic “charley horse”), are very common. Involuntary muscles of the various organs (uterus, blood vessel wall, bowels, etc.) are also subject to cramps.

Information provided by Winterset Care Center North, 411 E. Lane St., 462-1571 and Winterset Care Center South, 715 S. Second Ave. 462-4040.

Q: What is an abscessed tooth, and how do I treat it?

A: An abscessed tooth is a dead tooth that has become infected.  Well then, how does a tooth die?  The part of a tooth that is actually alive, the pulp, can die for many reasons.

Some of those reasons include the tooth having a cavity or a crack, gum disease surrounding the tooth and any trauma that may involve the head and neck. Bacteria then feed on the dead pulp, leading to pain, swelling, a bad taste in the mouth, bad breath and even the possibility of death.

So what can you do if this happens?

You need to have the dead pulp removed. This can be done in two ways. You either need to have a root canal to save the tooth, or the tooth will need to be removed. Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics will not cure an abscessed tooth. Antibiotics and draining the area are two options that are available to help treat the infection, but are not a cure.

Following good oral hygiene practices and routine dental examinations will significantly reduce your risk of an abscessed tooth. If you experience trauma to your head or neck, a chipped or cracked tooth, or suspect you have a cavity, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible.

Information provided by Dr. Christopher W. Blanchard, Blanchard Family Dentistry, 820 West Summit St., 462-4474

Q: I hear a lot about obesity and diabetes. What is diabetes, and how do you treat it?

A: In 2011, the American Diabetes Association found that 25.8 million children and adults — 8.3 percent of the population — have been diagnosed with diabetes.

There are two major types of diabetes but let’s just look at Type 2 diabetes, which is the more prevalent of the two types. It is often the result of inactivity and obesity. More than 40 million Americans have pre-diabetes (which often comes before Type 2 diabetes). It is thought that there are many more with diabetes, as Type 2 diabetes develops slowly, and some people with high blood sugar have no symptoms

First, what is diabetes? Diabetes is usually a lifelong (chronic) disease in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood. Diabetes can be caused by too little insulin, resistance to insulin or both. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to control blood sugar.

To understand diabetes, it is important to first understand the normal process by which food is broken down and used by the body for energy. Several things happen when food is digested:
• A sugar called glucose enters the bloodstream. Glucose is a source of fuel for the body.
• An organ called the pancreas makes insulin. The role of insulin is to move glucose from the bloodstream into muscle, fat and liver cells, where it can be used as fuel.
• People with diabetes have high blood sugar because their body cannot move sugar into fat, liver and muscle cells to be stored for energy. This is because either:
• Their pancreas does not make enough insulin.
• Their cells do not respond to insulin normally.
• Both of the above.
High blood sugar levels can cause several symptoms, including blurry vision, excess thirst, fatigue, hunger, frequent urination and weight loss.
Diabetes can lead to other serious problems, including:
• Eye problems, including trouble seeing (especially at night), light sensitivity and blindness.
• Skin problems including painful sores and infections. Can lead to amputation.
• Nerves in the body can become damaged, causing pain, tingling and a loss of feeling.
• Digestive problems.

Early on in Type 2 diabetes, you may be able to reverse the disease with lifestyle changes. Also, some cases of Type 2 diabetes can be cured with weight-loss surgery. Treatment usually involves medicines, diet and exercise to control blood sugar levels and prevent symptoms and problems. Getting better control over your blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels can help reduce the risk of kidney disease, eye disease, nervous system disease, heart attack and stroke. To prevent diabetes complications, visit your health care provider at least two to four times a year and talk about any problems you are having.

Learning how to live with diabetes is important, and at Madison County Memorial Hospital we have a dedicated team of professionals to help you take control of your life. Our certified diabetic educator works with our dietician to help those diagnosed with diabetes take positive steps to ensure a healthy future. Call (515) 462-5206 for more information.

Information from U.S. National Library of Medicine, provided by Chris Nolte, director, Public Relations and Development, Madison County Health Care Systems, 300 West Hutchings, Winterset, 515-462-9749.

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