Children and Face Masks: 6 Tips to Make them More Comfortable

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is important to talk with children about the reasons people wear a face mask, practice social distancing and frequently wash their hands. COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking. A cloth face covering acts as a barrier to help prevent the spread of those droplets.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended everyone over the age of two wear a face mask in settings where social distancing is not possible. However, for many parents, getting a child to wear a face mask and leave it on may feel like a challenge. The physicians at Gaston Medical Partners want to remind parents that their child is capable of wearing a mask – it may just take patience and practice.  

Kids are resilient and adapt quickly. If you’re working with children, remember these tips to help make wearing a face mask more comfortable and routine.


1. Explain

Explain why the face mask is important using age-appropriate language. For younger children, stick to simple, concrete terms such as stating, ‘Wearing a face mask helps keep us safe and keep others around us safe,’ or ‘Wearing a face mask can help protect us and others from germs.’ Be consistent in how you explain this and repeat the message over and over.

For older children, share more detailed information and refer to trusted resources such as the CDC for illustrations that show how masks can help prevent the virus from spreading.


2. Normalize and Validate

If a child has concerns or fears about wearing a face mask, practice patience and acknowledge that this is different, and it may feel weird. Adults should lead by example, wearing their own face masks.

Remember children learn and process feelings through play. Give a child a mask for their favorite stuffed animal or have them help draw and decorate a mask. Practice putting the mask on their toy and have the child practice wear theirs to make it feel more routine. Listen to what the child says during play to understand the emotions they are feeling.


3. Ensure Fit and Comfort

Making sure a child’s mask fits correctly and comfortably will help prevent fidgeting. A cloth face mask should fit over a child’s nose and mouth securely under their chin. Avoid any gaps on the sides by adjusting the mask’s fit so it is snug. Always check that the child can breathe easily when wearing the face mask. When putting on a child’s face mask, or when teaching the child how to put on their own mask, make sure they wash their hands first.

For little ones sensitive to touch and sound, a soft fabric mask may be more comfortable than a paper disposable face mask that can rub or rustle. To protect against droplets from coughs or sneezes, try a face shield.


4. Enlist the Child’s Help

There are many different types of masks available so make sure to have the child participate in the process of picking one out, giving them some control. If they are involved and choose their favorite color or character, they are more likely to feel excited about wearing the face mask.

Choose a covering that is easily washable and sized for the child’s age. If little ones complain about ear pressure, find face masks that tie behind the head, or use clips or buttons to fasten ear loops to a headband, hat or an extender band.


5. Practice

Whenever introducing something new to a child, it can help to practice and slowly get them comfortable with the change. Before the child wears their face mask in public, practice putting on the mask and wearing it for short periods around the home working up to longer periods of time. Some even use a timer and rewards.


6. Plan

Wearing a face mask is a big adjustment for all of us. Make sure to build in plenty of time to have the child practice putting on and taking off their own face mask. Wear them around the house to get more practice and plan for hiccups when out in public.

Remember this is new and has an adjustment period. Use positive language and reinforce why wearing a face mask is helpful for families and for others in the community. Focusing on the things that can be controlled and thinking positively can go a long way in reducing anxiety. Try to remain patient, positive, and praise small victories, no matter how tiny.

 

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, we have compiled answers to the most frequently asked questions heard from patients. If you still have reservations about the safety and efficacy of these vaccines, we strongly urge you to rely on factual, science-based resources like ours. We are confident that once you get the facts, you’ll get the vax.

To learn more about vaccine distribution including where you can make an appointment and what group you’re in, click here.


Why People Should Be Vaccinated

It seems that vaccine production was rushed, how can that be safe?

The fact is that scientists had already been working on vaccine strategies for viruses just like coronavirus for several years prior to the appearance of COVID-19. In addition, the companies that produced the mRNA COVID vaccines have been studying mRNA technology for over a decade. However, the speed occurred because a global pandemic struck and governments rapidly funded vaccine trials and then put large amounts of money into manufacturing vaccines at a rapid rate. NO steps were skipped in the vaccine trials.

Does the vaccine change my DNA?

Absolutely not. All vaccines introduce a little piece of the virus into your body, which is not enough to make you sick. Your immune system then makes antibodies against that little piece so that when the real virus enters your body, the antibodies are ready to fight off the virus.

The mRNA vaccines provide the genetic “code” for surface pieces of the coronavirus. Once your cells have the genetic code, your body produces pieces of the virus protein and your immune system then makes coronavirus antibodies. The mRNA NEVER enters the cell nucleus where all your DNA is stored.

I’d rather wait to see how others do first…

Hundreds of thousands of people were immunized through all the vaccine trials across the world. If there had been any serious side effects or safety concerns, the vaccines would not have been approved.

Was the vaccine tested on people of diverse ethnic backgrounds? Was everyone in the vaccine trials healthy? How do I know it’s safe for me?

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccine trial participants included 20-25% Hispanic, 10% Black and 5% Asian volunteers. Both vaccine trials had 20-25% of participants over age 65, and 30-35% of patients were obese. 5-10% of participants had diabetes, COPD or heart disease.

Is there a concern about getting the vaccine while pregnant or could it impact my fertility?

Talk to your OB/GYN about getting the vaccine if you are pregnant. While numbers of pregnant individuals in the trials were small, there were no adverse events with the vaccine. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) recently recommended withholding COVID-19 vaccines from pregnant individuals unless they are at high risk of exposure, however we still believe the benefits outweigh any risk. There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility.

Will we get to stop wearing masks after vaccination?

The vaccines are 94-95% effective after getting both doses, which is great news.  However, we will need to keep wearing masks until enough people get vaccinated to protect the bigger population.


Questions About Receiving the Vaccine

Does my doctor think I should get the vaccine?

Yes, in general, we strongly recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccine when and where possible. If you are undergoing chemotherapy now, check with your oncologist for guidance.

If I was diagnosed with COVID-19, should I still get the vaccine? If so, when?

If you have had COVID-19, you can get the vaccine at least 30 days after diagnosis. You could possibly wait up to 90 days after the COVID-19 illness before getting the vaccine, but waiting 30 days is the minimum.

Can I contract COVID-19 after getting my first dose of the vaccine?

Yes, you can contract the COVID-19 illness, but not from the vaccine itself. This is why it is incredibly important to continue to wash your hands, wear your face mask and practice social distancing. You only obtain partial immune protection after the first COVID-19 vaccine and thus are still able to contract the COVID-19 illness.

If I contract COVID-19 after receiving my first vaccine shot should I delay getting the second shot? 

If you contract COVID-19 after your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, you can receive your second dose as scheduled, or as soon as your quarantine is complete.

I am allergic to many medications, should I get the vaccine?

Even if you have a history of anaphylaxis, it is OK to get the COVID-19 vaccine. You will be monitored for 30 minutes after receiving your COVID-19 vaccine. If you have a history of anaphylaxis to a vaccine, please consult your physician before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine and my shingles vaccine near the same time?

Getting the shingles vaccine shortly before or after getting either dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will not impact the effectiveness of either vaccine. We do recommend spacing the vaccines out by at least 14 days because they both cause similar side effects and may be hard on your body. Prioritize your COVID-19 vaccine first!

Can l get the COVID-19 vaccine if l am currently taking a blood thinner medication (including Plavix and Warfarin)? 

Yes, you can. When you go to get your vaccine, let the person giving you the shot know so they can apply extra pressure to prevent bleeding after your vaccination.

If I am undergoing cancer treatment, or am on immunosuppressant drugs, is it safe for me to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you are undergoing cancer treatment, be sure to speak with your oncologist. If you are not in active treatment, you should proceed with getting the COVID-19 vaccine. If you are on immunosuppressants, speak with your doctor about vaccination and timing.


References:

  1. FDA Briefing Documents, Moderna Covid 19 Vaccine, 12/17/20
  2. FDA Briefing Documents, Pfizer-BioNTech Covid 19 Vaccine, 12/10/20
  3. “The Race to Save the World,” Walter Iaacson, Time Magazine, 1//18/21
  4. mRNA Vaccine: Facts vs Fiction, Toks Falarin, MD
  5. Graphic from Nature magazine
  6. ACOG and SMFM Joint Statement on WHO Recommendations Regarding COVID-19 Vaccines and Pregnant Individuals

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Gaston Medical Partners does not yet have the COVID-19 vaccine(s), as we are awaiting approval for distribution from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). We expect this to happen soon, but unfortunately, details and exact timing are still unknown.

We will contact patients once we know the official process. Thank you for your understanding and continued support!


Where You Can Get the Vaccine

Atrium Health
Please note you will need to create a MyAtrium account.
704-468-8888

CaroMont Health
If no appointments are available, join the interest list to recieve updates.

CVS

Gaston County Public Health704-866-3170

Mecklenburg County Public Health
980-314-9400, Choose Option 3

Novant Health
Please note you will need to create a Novant MyChart account.
855-648-2248

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
855-472-3432

Walgreens


Where We Are Now

More than 70,000 people volunteered in clinical trials for the two vaccines to see if they are safe and work to prevent COVID illness. Volunteers included Black/African American, Hispanic/LatinX, Asians and others. To date, the vaccines are 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 with no serious safety concerns noted in the clinical trials. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes sure the vaccines are safe and can prevent people from getting COVID-19. Like all drugs, vaccine safety continues to be monitored after they are in use.

You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. You may have temporary reactions like a sore arm, headache or feeling tired and achy for a day or two after receiving the vaccine. Learn more in our COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs.

Take your shot at no cost. The COVID-19 vaccine will be available for free, whether or not you have insurance.


You Will Have a Spot for the Shot

Gaston Medical Partners is taking steps with the NCDHHS to be a Phase 2 distributor to provide the vaccine to more groups. We do not yet have distribution approval or access to either COVID-19 vaccine, nor do we have a waiting list for the distribution of the vaccine (waiting lists are determined and directed by the CDC and the NCDHHS).

NC COVID-19 Vaccination – 4 Phase Prioritization Framework (Provided by the NCDHHS)

SC COVID-19 Vaccination Plan (Provided by SC DHEC)


What We Can All Do Now

Exercise the power you already have to fight COVID-19:
  • Do not let your guard down. Wear your mask, wash your hands and socially distance.
  • Prioritize your wellness. Do not cancel your existing medical appointments, and get your flu shot.
  • Avoid large gatherings and limit holiday celebrations to those in your immediate household.

Stay connected to us, and to your care. Never forget we’re with you every step of the way. 

Creating Healthy Habits That Stick

The beginning of a new year offers a clean slate with endless possibilities. And with it, inevitably, comes talk of New Year’s resolutions. According to Merriam-Webster, a New Year’s resolution is “the promise to do something differently in the year ahead.” But resolutions often have the negative connotation of being easily broken or abandoned. So if there are changes that you want to make in this new year, what is the most successful way to go about it? 

The physicians at Gaston Medical Partners suggest changing your thought process and approach. Instead of making resolutions, work to establish habits. Think brushing your teeth before bed, having your morning coffee, etc. Your body craves routine and habits help free up your mind to think about other things. 

You may wonder why it’s so hard to break a bad habit and the reason for that is fairly simple.  Your brain releases dopamine when a behavior brings pleasure, which makes you want to keep repeating the habit. That is where willpower and dedication come into play as you work against the craving and desire to give in to it.

We hear a lot about trying to break bad habits but what about creating healthy habits? While it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become a habit, there are things that you can do to help set yourself up for success. The physicians at Gaston Medical are here to explain.


Ease into it

In order for something to become a habit, it needs to be done consistently so it becomes an automatic behavior. And that must start with setting realistic goals. For example, if you want to start regularly exercising, be honest with yourself about what will be attainable, remembering your body craves routine. Rather than planning to exercise one hour a day, five days a week, start with something more manageable, like 20 minutes, three times a week, and go from there. You will be surprised at how much easier an hour of exercise will feel once you’ve built up to it, versus going from zero to 100.

Rather than thinking about your end goal, focus on your objectives for a defined period of time to avoid becoming overwhelmed or discouraged. Think of your goals in weekly increments, and modify as needed. 


Record your goals to track your progress

Writing things down is helpful in jogging the memory, and it also keeps you accountable. At the beginning of every week, write down what you hope to accomplish and log your activity. It’s motivating to track your progress and can impact your goals for the following week.


Tag onto an existing habit

When incorporating new behaviors, it can be easy to forget about them or lose track of time throughout the day. What could help, experts say, is to tie the new activity to something you’re already doing. That way, you’ll be sure to complete it since you don’t forget well-established habits. 

Remember our earlier example of brushing your teeth being a habit? If your new goal is taking those multivitamins your doctor recommended, you might want to take them at the same time you brush your teeth. The new habit gets tied to the one that is already a well-established routine.


Connect a new behavior to something positive

In addition to tagging a new behavior to an existing habit, you may be more apt to do it if it’s associated with something positive. Whether it be new running sneakers or an audiobook reserved only for that activity, the more you’re motivated, the more consistent you can be, increasing your chances of creating the desired habit.


Have some accountability

It’s easier to follow through on something when you know that someone is depending on you. That’s why it often helps to have an exercise partner. If a family member or neighbor doesn’t share your same goals, turn to a friend who can help hold you accountable for the goal that you set. Maybe it’s texting them once you’ve completed a workout or knowing that you’re going to send them a picture of your weekly progress (since it’s all written down!). We are more apt to complete something when we know that someone is expecting us to do it.


Acknowledge and reward your wins

If you were able to complete all of your planned goals for the week, take a minute to bask in that success. You deserve it, and it should serve as motivation when looking at the week ahead. You’re on your way to making a habit of it.


Be kind to yourself

By the same token, we are all human, and life sometimes gets in the way and thwarts our plans. Don’t let that discourage you and make you abandon your goals. If you ended up eating a burger for dinner when you planned to eat grilled chicken, forgive yourself and know that tomorrow is another day to start fresh. If the day has gotten away from you and you can’t exercise for 30 minutes, do a seven-minute workout, or even just squats or crunches. Any exercise is better than no exercise, and it shows your commitment to developing healthy habits.

While it’s not easy (or immediate), we are all capable of changing our behaviors. A new year is a wonderful time to reflect on our goals and plan ahead to make them a reality. Remember that consistency is key in turning a goal into a habit, something our bodies crave. If you have specific questions about how to start establishing healthy habits, ask your primary care physician for help. 

 

Making Healthier Choices in the Kitchen

It’s that time of year when we all seem to indulge a little more than usual. The holidays bring delicious food and tried-and-true family recipes. But before we know it, we are talking about New Year’s resolutions. If one of yours is to eat healthier, you’ll be happy to know this doesn’t have to mean giving up all of the foods you love. The team at Gaston Medical Partners has suggestions for you on easy modifications to make in the kitchen to cut down on calories and fat, but not taste.


Food Substitutions

Lower the fat and calories

  • When baking, substitute applesauce for half the oil in a recipe. Your dessert will taste the same but have fewer calories!
  • Choosing egg whites or an egg substitute lowers the amount of cholesterol and saves on calories. Two egg whites or ¼ cup egg substitute is the equivalent of one egg. 
  • Using cooking spray instead of oil means less calories.
  • Look for low-fat dairy options over the full fat versions, to save on total fat and calories.
  • Plain greek yogurt is a great substitute for butter, oil, sour cream, mayo or buttermilk, adding extra protein with less calories and fat.
  • Extra-lean versions of ground beef are a better choice than the higher fat options. Another healthy choice in replacement of ground beef is ground chicken or turkey to save on fat and calories.
  • Skinless, white meat chicken is the healthier alternative to dark meat chicken with the skin.

Lower the carbs

  • Lettuce wraps can take the place of tortillas, providing all the nutritional benefits that come from leafy greens, with far fewer carbohydrates and calories.
  • Riced cauliflower is a good choice over white rice for vitamin A and vitamin C.
  • When cauliflower isn’t being used as rice, it can become cauliflower mash to provide an alternative to traditional mashed potatoes.
  • If looking to cut down on carbohydrates and calories, spaghetti squash can replace traditional pasta for more vitamins, minerals and fiber.
  • If spaghetti squash is not your thing but you are trying to stay away from pasta, zoodles (aka thin slices of zucchini) can fit the bill. They are low calorie, low fat, low carb and a good source of potassium, calcium and vitamin C.

Increase the nutritional value 

  • Replace half the amount of all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. Whole wheat contains more nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. That means multigrain or whole wheat versions of your favorite products are always the healthier choice.
  • Reach for brown rice instead of white rice for the healthier choice. It’s higher in fiber, magnesium and other nutrients. Sweet potatoes are also a great substitution for white potatoes, including as fries. With fewer calories and carbohydrates, they are full of fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C
  • By using olive oil instead of butter, you’ll reap all the benefits that come along with it. A large part of the highly regarded Mediterannean Diet, olive oil contains healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, reduces inflammation, and may prevent strokes and heart disease, fight Alzheimer’s Disease and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. All this and even more nutritional benefits, and it’s not thought to contribute to weight gain!
  • Reach for low-sodium or reduced-sodium options when given the choice (think canned soup and soy sauce).
  • Dark chocolate wins out over milk chocolate. With higher levels of antioxidants, dark chocolate is considered “heart-healthy,” helping to lower your blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
  • Dark, leafy greens (think spinach or romaine) are more nutrient-dense than traditional iceberg lettuce, packing in iron, vitamin C and antioxidants.
  • Instead of reaching for high fat, high sodium and high calorie potato chips, a better option is the baked chip variety, and trumping that are kale chips that provide vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

Cooking Techniques

The way you choose to prepare your food also influences its nutritional value. Baking is preferable to frying in reducing the fat content. Steaming vegetables wins out over boiling, to help retain more of the nutritional benefits.


Snack Smart

One of the quickest ways to sabotage your waistline is with mindless snacking. Try to be deliberate about what you eat in between meals and make your choices count. The doctors of Gaston Medical Partners provide three tips for healthy snacking here.

Incorporating some of the above small changes into your diet can lead to big health benefits, and not at the expense of your tastebuds. So eat up!

 

Managing Lower Back Pain

It’s something that we’ve probably all felt before – that random sharp pain or twinge in your lower back when doing something completely routine, like sneezing, or taking clothes out of the dryer. With back pain being the second most common reason that people go to the doctor, the physicians at Gaston Medical Partners often diagnose and treat lower back pain. 

The good news is most cases are not a result of something serious, and resolve over time. But living with lower back pain can limit your lifestyle, so understanding the causes and treatment options is important to getting back to your favorite activities. 


Back Pain Common Facts

In addition to being the second most common reason to see the doctor, back pain is the second most common cause of missing work. It’s also the most common cause of disability in those 45 years of age and younger. 

Back strain is the most common cause of lower back pain and average recovery time varies, with most recovering within 12 weeks.


Lower Back Strain Risk Factors

There are many factors that put you at increased risk of developing back pain, including:

  • Obesity
  • Bad posture
  • Sedentary lifestyle (sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time)
  • Smoking
  • Overactivity
  • Age
  • Osteoporosis (a condition where your bones are weak)

How to Reduce Your Back Injury Risk

A healthy lifestyle can also lead to a healthier back. In efforts to avoid back pain, remember:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight will prevent putting additional strain on your back.
  • A balanced diet ensures you’re getting the nutrients your body needs (don’t forget about calcium and vitamin D, to help ward off osteoporosis!) and managing your weight. 
  • Regular exercise (aerobic and strength training) has many benefits to overall health. Any amount is better than none at all, but ideally, you should try for 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (or 75 minutes a week of more intense exercise), including at least two strength training sessions. Having a strong core (muscles in the back, abdomen and sides) helps prevent back pain by supporting the spine.
  • Don’t smoke. Your spine will age faster if you smoke, as the smoke and nicotine can wear down the discs between the vertebrae. You’re also more prone to coughing if you smoke, which can irritate your back.
  • Work on your posture. Your weight should be evenly distributed on both feet when standing, with your head up, hips tucked in and shoulders straight. It’s important to remember not to slouch. When sitting, make sure that your chair provides the proper amount of lower back support, and that both feet can rest comfortably on the floor. Don’t cross your legs! Try to only sit for short periods of time (10 to15 minutes and then get up and move, arching your back to stretch).
  • Lift wisely. Before lifting a heavy object, determine the best plan of action.. Bend at your knees, engage your core and lift with your legs. If something is too heavy for you to lift, do not hesitate to ask for help. 
  • Avoid overactivity. Repetitive motions can lead to muscle soreness. 

Lower Back Pain Treatment Options

Time is usually the best treatment, but it’s hard to be patient when your back is hurting. If you’ve tried to incorporate some of the tips above, and things are not feeling any better, you should turn to your primary care provider to come up with a plan that is best for you. 

Frequent treatment options include over-the-counter medicines (think acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories), rest, physical therapy, or certain exercises, like yoga or pilates. If there is still no improvement, your doctor may order additional tests, such as X-rays to examine the bones, an MRI to examine the soft tissue, or a CT scan to provide more detailed imaging of the bones.

So while lower back pain can be frustrating, feel reassured that it is generally something that resolves on its own. There are, however, ways to help it improve, as well as ways to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. And hopefully, with rest and a treatment plan created in connection with your doctor, you’ll be back to business in no time.

 

All About Alzheimer’s

November marks National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. While we may not all know the ins and outs of this disease, we know the terrifying feeling that comes with noticing changes in your own memory, or changes in someone you love. The physicians at Gaston Medical Partners are here to provide you with an overview and help raise awareness of a disease that affects more than five million people in the United States.


What is Alzheimer’s?

While the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” are sometimes used interchangeably, dementia is not considered an actual disease. Rather, it refers to memory loss and impaired cognitive ability, and is not a normal part of the aging process. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is a diagnosed disease and the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60%-80% of all cases

The name comes from Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist who studied the brain of a woman after she died of unknown causes, with many of the symptoms we now associate with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Alzheimer’s is considered a progressive disease, and to date, one with no cure. Research is ongoing, and there are treatments available to help improve quality of life. Most diagnosed with the disease are ages 65 and older, but approximately 200,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms usually present as struggling to remember newly learned information, since Alzheimer’s affects the part of the brain responsible for recent knowledge. As the disease progresses and brain cells continue to be damaged and die off, symptoms also progress, often resulting in disorientation, general confusion, changes in behavior, trouble speaking and more significant memory loss.

The average life expectancy after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is four to eight years, but this can vary depending on other factors, with others living much longer. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.


Symptoms to Watch

The Alzheimer’s Association has compiled a list of ten things to look for when considering a potential diagnosis:

  1. Daily life disrupted by memory loss
  2. Difficulty with following directions or working with numbers 
  3. Trouble with regular tasks
  4. Confusion about time and place
  5. Changes in vision that lead to issues with balance, judging distance and contrast in colors
  6. Struggling to find the right words in conversation
  7. Losing things and being unable to find them
  8. Making questionable choices
  9. Inability to continue with social activities (due to trouble holding conversation)
  10. Overall changes in behavior

What Puts You At Risk?

Since Alzheimer’s is a disease that generally affects those who are older, age is naturally a factor. While men and women seem equally affected, women are more frequently diagnosed since they generally live longer than men. Having a family history, such as a parent or a sibling with Alzheimer’s, also puts you at increased risk. Additional risk factors include having Down syndrome, a past head injury, poor sleep habits, and health issues that put you at risk of heart disease (obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use, etc.).


Can You Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

While Alzheimer’s is not preventable, you can help reduce your risk with a healthy lifestyle. There seems to be a correlation between cardiovascular health and brain health, so taking the proper precautions to avoid heart disease (eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, preventing/managing diabetes, monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol, and avoiding smoking) can have the additional benefit of lowering your potential risk for Alzheimer’s.

It is also recommended that you keep your mind sharp. Activities like reading, playing games that make you think (cards, crossword puzzles, etc.), music and art are all good choices. Continuing to remain socially engaged and connected with others is just as important.


How is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

While a conclusive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can only be determined after death when the brain is studied during autopsy, physicians use a number of assessments to help rule out other health issues. This includes conversations with the patient and/or caregiver, where the provider can learn more about their health history and current experiences; cognitive tests to look for memory impairment, language retrieval, counting issues and general problem solving; testing blood and urine; and exploring any relevant brain findings using technology like CT, MRI or PET.


What Should You Do?

If you fear that you or someone close to you may be suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia, speak with your primary care provider for guidance in getting a proper diagnosis. The Alzheimer’s Association also has a Western Carolina Chapter and a hotline available 24/7 at 800.272.3900.

Diabetes – Know Your Risks

With diabetes the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, affecting over 34 million people, it makes sense that the month of November is designated American Diabetes Month. But what exactly is diabetes? What are its risk factors and symptoms? And can you prevent it? We asked the physicians at Gaston Medical Partners to provide some clarity.


What is diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when your body cannot properly process blood sugar, also known as glucose. The food you eat is broken down into sugar, which is released in your bloodstream. When your blood sugar rises, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which allows the glucose to reach the cells in your tissues and muscles, and fuel your body. With diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce insulin or doesn’t properly use it. Without appropriate levels of insulin, higher amounts of blood sugar will remain in your bloodstream, which can lead to a variety of health issues.


What are the different types?

Prediabetes – Approximately one in three people are diagnosed with prediabetes, which refers to having higher than normal blood sugar. Without making appropriate changes, those with prediabetes are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes – Most often appearing in childhood or adolescence, type 1 diabetes occurs when your body does not produce insulin. Type 1 affects 5%-10% of those with diabetes, and it is not preventable.

Type 2 diabetes – The most common kind of diabetes (accounting for 90%-95% of cases), type 2 generally affects those over the age of 40. With type 2, your body doesn’t properly use insulin and you need to work to control blood sugar levels. Implementing changes to your diet or incorporating regular exercise into your routine can help manage it, or you may need medicine to help regulate your glucose.

Gestational diabetes – Gestational diabetes can occur during pregnancy in women who have no previous history of  diabetes. It can increase the baby’s health risks, so women diagnosed with gestational diabetes should work with their doctors to help manage their blood sugar levels for the rest of the pregnancy. Developing gestational diabetes can put women at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, but gestational diabetes typically resolves on its own after the baby is delivered.


What are the risk factors?

Several factors put you at increased risk of developing diabetes, namely being overweight, not exercising, having a family history (parent or sibling), being over the age of 45, or having gestational diabetes when pregnant. Racial identity can also play a role, with African American, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian and Alaska Native at higher risk.


What are the symptoms?

With type 1 diabetes, symptoms can come on more suddenly and be more severe. While some people with prediabetes or type 2 may not exhibit any symptoms, typical symptoms of type 1 include increased thirst, frequent urination, hunger, fatigue, ketones in urine (that show a lack of insulin), and unexplained weight loss.


What can you do?

While diabetes is not completely preventable, you can lower your risk factors by incorporating a healthy, active lifestyle. Eating a well-balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight, combined  with regular exercise, can help keep diabetes at bay, or help you to manage your blood sugar levels should you develop it. If you have any concerns about your risk factors for diabetes, or want to discuss testing your blood sugar, speak to your primary care physician for guidance.

Make No Bones About It – Keeping Your Bones Healthy and Strong

Halloween brings pumpkins, bats, ghouls and goblins. And we can’t forget the skeletons. Though often serving as a scary decoration or costume, skeletons are nothing to fear. Bones play a vital role in the human body, and there is no better time than the month of October to talk about bone health. The physicians of Gaston Medical Partners are here to break it all down for you (no pun intended).


Let’s Talk About Bones

Bones are living tissue made up of collagen and calcium phosphate. The adult human body contains 206 bones, which provide structure and serve to protect our organs. Ever wonder why it seems like children heal quicker from broken bones than adults? New bone replaces old bone at a faster rate during childhood and teenage years, contributing to your overall bone mass. Girls reach their peak bone mass earlier than boys, at age 18, with boys reaching it at age 20, although bone mass can keep growing through your late 20s. The higher your starting bone mass, the less likely you are to suffer from bone diseases, like osteopenia and osteoporosis.


Osteopenia vs. Osteoporosis

Bones become thinner as you age, and the condition osteopenia refers to bones that have weakened, but not to the point of breaking. If osteopenia does occur, it’s usually not until after age 50, and treatment can help prevent it from turning into the more severe bone disease, osteoporosis.

Over 53 million people in the United States have either already been diagnosed with osteoporosis or find themselves at an increased risk of it due to lower bone mass and deteriorated bone tissue. Both men and women can be affected by osteoporosis, but women are at a greater risk. It affects 25% of women ages 65 and up compared to 5% of men ages in the same age range. A diagnosis of osteoporosis may not be known until after someone breaks a bone, with the most common injuries occurring in the wrist, hip and spine


Why Are Women More Likely to Get Osteoporosis?

Based on their overall size, women have less bone tissue than men. The hormonal changes that come in the first few years after menopause, due to lack of estrogen, also contribute to faster bone deterioration. Women of white and Asian backgrounds are at highest risk.


Can You Do Anything to Help Your Overall Bone Health?

There are several things that you can do to keep your bones strong and help ward off osteoporosis:

  • Remain physically active with strength-building and weight-bearing exercises. 
  • Avoid tobacco use and excess alcohol.
  • Review the medications you are taking to see if they can affect your bones.
  • Know your family history, in case you are at increased risk. 
  • Make sure your diet contains enough calcium. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day, increasing to 1,200 mg a day for women over age 50 and men age over age 70. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), leafy greens like spinach or kale, seeds, almonds, edamame and tofu, beans and lentils, and foods that may be fortified with calcium (think orange juice). Fun fact: Your bones and teeth contain 99% of your body’s total calcium, with the rest being in your blood.
  • Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. The RDA is 600 international units (IUs) a day, increasing to 800 IUs a day for adults age 71 and older. If you worry that you aren’t getting enough vitamin D from sunlight or food choices like fatty fish, eggs or foods fortified with it, you can get your levels checked and consider adding a supplement to your diet.

If you have any questions about your risk factors for osteoporosis or to find out if early screening is right for you, speak to your primary care doctor. Until then, be aware of the things you can begin doing to help keep your bones strong and healthy. And during Halloween season and all year long, remember there’s more to a skeleton than meets the eye.

Practical Health Tips for Women

Every October, we are surrounded by pink for Breast Cancer Awareness, a reminder to women about the importance of preventative screening. Annual mammograms are recommended for women beginning at age 40 (those with a family history of breast cancer may choose to start earlier). But what about other health conditions that impact women? The physicians at Gaston Medical Partners are here to provide some tips on ways for women to stay healthy (and happy!).


Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

While breast cancer may be more top of mind in October, heart disease is actually the leading cause of death in women (accounting for one out of every five deaths). Heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease, includes any condition affecting the heart, such as heart attacks and stroke.

Key risk factors contributing to heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol (specifically LDL, known as “bad” cholesterol that can clog arteries, and triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the blood), diabetes and smoking. The good news for women is that establishing healthy habits can help lower your risk. Staying on top of your health with an annual wellness visit will ensure that you’re aware of your blood pressure, cholesterol breakdown and overall glucose level, in case any lifestyle modifications are needed, or if medicine could be beneficial.


Healthy Habits First

In establishing the most healthy lifestyle, try to incorporate the habits below.

Eat Right
Eat a healthy, varied diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, with a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber. Try to limit processed foods and be aware of the amount of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol you are consuming, as well as your salt and sugar intake. The kinds of foods you eat can have a direct impact on your blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and weight (adult women should have a body mass index ranging from 18.5 to 24.9). A well-balanced diet will supply your body with the proper fuel and the right amount of vitamins and minerals (vitamin supplements are generally not needed if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet). For healthy snacking ideas, check out some recommendations from the physicians at Gaston Medical Partners. 

Stay Hydrated
Women should make sure to stay hydrated, aiming to drink 11.5 cups of liquid a day (80% from drinks and the rest from food). Proper signs of hydration include not feeling thirsty throughout the day, with colorless or light yellow urine.

Move Your Body
Incorporating regular exercise into your routine is so important for overall health. Exercise can help you manage your weight and lowers your risk of heart disease, as well as certain kinds of cancer. Women should aim for 150 minutes of activity a week, which includes any kind of moderate activity–think a brisk walk around the neighborhood, riding bikes, dancing or playing basketball. Gaston Medical has suggestions for ways to incorporate activity at home. In addition to all of the health benefits, exercise literally helps you “feel” good, as it releases endorphins. 

Check Your Vices
Smoking has already been mentioned as a key risk factor contributing to heart disease, but it’s also linked to many other health issues, including lung cancer and emphysema. If you’re thinking about quitting, remember that your body starts to begin the healing process 20 minutes after your last cigarette! Speak to your doctor about a cessation program or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

While drinking in moderation is fine, excessive alcohol consumption is linked to many health issues that impact the liver, brain and heart, as well as put you at an increased risk of breast cancer. It is recommended that women consume no more than one alcoholic beverage a day.

Mental Health
There is no time like the middle of a global pandemic to remind ourselves about the importance of our mental health. Women today have increased daily stressors that can negatively affect the body, impacting overall mood and behavior. Left unchecked, stress can contribute to larger health issues. Try to take time for yourself to connect with friends and family, and spend time doing a hobby you enjoy. Eating right and exercising, as mentioned above, also help with managing stress.

It’s Bedtime
Kids never seem to want to nap or go to bed at night, but it’s something that most adults wish would be forced on them! Adults should aim to get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night to help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even stroke.

Sun Safety
With skin cancer being the most common cancer, it is important to protect your skin when outside, starting at a very young age. When selecting a sunscreen, look for one with broad spectrum protection, which helps block both UVA and UVB rays. Read up on six ways to stay safe in the sun.


Don’t Put Off Preventative Care

It’s important for both you and your primary care physician to be aware of your family health history, as you may choose to begin preventative screening at an earlier age (think cholesterol panel, mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.). Annual wellness visits will help you keep up-to-date on this and any necessary vaccines, as well as routine bloodwork and a physical exam. Our goal at Gaston Medical Partners is to keep you feeling healthy and happy.