Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Screening for post-partum depression

For those of us who have abruptly run out of estrogen--before a period, after delivering a child or miscarrying, and entering menopause--it is no news that sudden declines in this hormone can precipitate anxiety and depression. Pediatricians at the University of Colorado have devised a quick and easy 3 question screen to identify women at risk for significant post-partum mood disorders.

Women are instructed to answer 'most of the time,' 'some of the time,' 'not very often,' and 'never' to the following statements:
  1. I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong.
  2. I have felt scared or panicky for not very good reason.
  3. I have been anxious or worried for not very good reason.
Dr. Stephen Stahl has pointed out a phenomenon he calls 'kindling' with respect to hormone-related mood swings, namely that a history of responding to hormone changes in a sad or anxious sort of way makes it more likely that a woman will have a similar response to such episodes in the future. I think this 3 question tool would be useful in identifying women having a rough go of it mood-wise through the other biggest hormonal challenge of a woman's life, namely menopause.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pyridium (phenazopyridine)

Chances are good that this specimen will look familiar to those of you who have been treated for a urinary tract infection known as cystitis. While waiting for the antibiotics to start to work killing the unwanted bacteria invading your bladder, your doctor may have given you Pyridium, an analgesic that soothes the burning pain and spasms of the infection and turns your pee the color of orange Kool-Aid in the process.

A case report in the Mayo Clinic's journal last year(1) is a good reminder that even that which seems innocuous-- a drug taken for a day or two to jump start recovery from a bladder infection-- can have serious side effects. This little old lady with a history of recurrent urinary tract infections (a problem common both to little old and not-so-little, not-so-old ladies) complained her urine was orange and her hands were blue. No problem with the orange urine, we see that of course all the time with the initial use of Pyridium. But what was up with the alarming discoloration of her hands and her ear lobes?

The satisfying pink color of our palms derives from the oxygenated blood carried in the arteries within. Hemoglobin combined with oxygen or oxyhemoglobin imparts that familiar red hue to arterial blood. In order to grab an oxygen molecule, the iron in hemoglobin must be in its reduced or ferrous state with a free electron which can bind to a free electron hanging off the oxygen we absorb through our lungs. When iron is oxidized into its ferric state, a lack of a free electron means no oxygen-binding resulting in methemoglobin which is brown and causes a dusky discoloration to skin. In a normal healthy state, enzymes act to reduce methemoglobin back to oxyhemoglobin.

What's all this got to do with seeking a little relief from a bad bladder day? While a little relief, i.e. a day or two of Pyridium is a good thing, ongoing use of the drug--in this case ten days--is a bad thing. Pyridium and other drugs that diminish the activity of reductase enzymes can result in methemoglobin production. A little abnormal hemoglobin makes your digits blue, a lot makes you seize, fall into a coma, and die.

I've not seen a case of this in all the years I've prescribed this analgesic for UTIs. But this is a good reminder that some folks, on receiving a prescription of thirty Pyridium with the instructions to take it three times daily as needed for bladder pain will do just that, take the entire prescription rather than quitting its use when the bladder no longer pains.
(1) Singh NK et al. Elderly Woman With Orange Urine and Purple Hands. MayoClinProc. July 2008;83(7):744.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sleep deprivation and susceptibility to colds

What a sorry parade I've had through my office the last month. Not only were these poor souls coughing their brains out (and sharing their respiratory droplets with me!), they had: company coming, an upcoming trip to London, an important work presentation, a parent in the hospital, an enormous party to host, and finals to study for (and take). There's never a good time to be sick, but somehow we often seem to be sick when we can least afford to take to our beds. So here's interesting medical news from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Psychologists there polled 153 healthy subjects over 14 consecutive days about how long they slept and how rested they felt. And then--get this--they quarantined off this group who quite clearly were paid for this study, inoculated their noses with infected droplets from other people's noses (!) and checked out who fell ill and who did not.

Participants reporting less than 7 hours of sleep were nearly 3 times as likely to get sick than their 8+ hours-of-sleep colleagues. And those with less than 92% sleep efficiency meaning that they actually slept less than 92% of the time that they were in bed were over 5 times more likely to succumb to the germs in the donated mucous.

So ah-hah! That explains it--you stay up late cleaning house for company, finishing your work before your trip, fretting over your ailing parent, studying for exams, you walk through the supermarket and the bag boy sneezes on you, and poof! done deal! you're sick. So get some sleep and I will too in case you can't sleep, get sick, come to my office, and cough on me.

Caffeine-induced hallucinations

Psychologists at Durham University in the UK polled students there about their caffeine intake as it related to hearing voices, seeing things or people that weren't there, or the predisposition to out-of-body experiences. Turns out, the more coffee (or tea) you quaff, the more likely you are to have paranormal encounters.

Study author Dr. Simon Jones allowed, however, that these result might simply indicate that "People who tend to see or hear things may just be more naturally prone to drink a lot of coffee."

Do you see dead people at Starbucks? If you're the sort--and I certainly am-- who enjoys other people's surveys, log-on to Caffeine Questionnaire . The researchers are still collecting data on close encounters of the caffeinated kind.

Friday, January 02, 2009

"Shampoo your hair, not your body"

It's dry skin city here in Denver year-round but especially in winter when the air is cold as well. As a result, I see any number of patients with bizarre skin rashes that look icky and infectious but are the result, rather, of too much hot water and not enough moisturizer.

This skin care tip comes from Dr. Jeffrey Benabio's The Dermatology Blog. He notes that shampoo is specifically designed to remove oils from your hair and will do the same to your skin. Rather than lather yourself like an Irish Spring commercial with rich shampoo bubbles (or soap bubbles for that matter), check out his other tips on this post and the rest of his blog.