Entries in Symptoms (12)


Fungal Meningitis: Know the Subtle Symptoms

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Health officials are urging thousands of back pain patients to be on the lookout for symptoms of fungal meningitis amid an outbreak that has killed five people and sickened 42 across seven states.

The outbreak has been linked to spinal steroid injections, a common treatment for back pain. The steroid, called methylprednisolone acetate, was made by the New England Compounding Center, a specialty pharmacy in Framingham, Mass. that has recalled three lots -- 17,676 vials -- of the drug and shut down operations.

Roughly 75 clinics in 23 states that received the recalled vials have been instructed to notify all affected patients.

[See a list of affected clinics]

“If patients are concerned, they should contact their physician to find out if they received a medicine from one of these lots,” said Dr. Benjamin Park of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that most of the cases occurred in older adults who were healthy aside from back pain.

Meningitis affects the membranous lining of the brain and spinal cord. Early symptoms of fungal meningitis, such as headache, fever, dizziness, nausea and slurred speech, are subtler than those of bacterial meningitis and can take nearly a month to appear. Left untreated, the inflammatory disease can cause permanent neurological damage and death.

“Fungal meningitis in general is rare. But aspergillus meningitis -- the kind we’re talking about here -- is super rare and very serious,” said Dr. William Schaffner, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. “There’s no such thing as mild aspergillus meningitis.”

The disease is diagnosed with a lumbar puncture, which draws cerebrospinal fluid from the spine that can be inspected for signs of the disease. Once detected, it can be treated with high doses of intravenous antifungal medications, possibly for months.

Twenty-nine of the meningitis cases -- three of them lethal -- have been in Tennessee, where more than 900 residents received the drug since July. Cases have also been reported in Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Florida and North Carolina.

Unlike bacterial meningitis, fungal meningitis is not transmitted from person to person. Only people who received the steroid injections are thought to be at risk, but only one in 100 of them have developed signs of the disease.

“At the moment the attack rate appears to be one percent or less, but of course more cases are sure to develop,” said Schaffner, adding that the level of contamination may have varied from vial to vial. “Some patients also received more than one dose, which would increase their risk.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'Mini Strokes' Can Lead to Major Disability, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, occurs when symptoms of a stroke come and then go away within 24 hours. The cause is often a clot in a vessel in the brain that temporarily blocks blood flow.

What makes TIAs and minor strokes so dangerous is that many who experience symptoms ignore them after they go away -- even though they may have experienced some degree of brain damage and are also at a higher risk for a full-blown stroke.

Now, new research suggests that in roughly one out of eight cases in which people experience major disability from TIA and minor stroke, the first occurrence of symptoms was their only warning sign that something was wrong.

A team of Canadian researchers monitored 510 people who experienced "mini strokes" -- a label doctors use to describe TIAs and minor strokes that involve mild and/or transient symptoms. These patients' initial symptoms were recorded and rechecked at 90 days with repeat brain imaging and measured level of disability.

What the researchers found was that 12 percent of patients who had the initial "mini stroke" had worsened disability in the next 90 days -- even if they had experienced no repeat events after their initial one.

The research was published Thursday in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke.

"Patients need to get in quickly even if symptoms have resolved or are resolving," said lead study author Dr. Shelagh B. Coutts, assistant professor at Hotchkiss Brain Institute Calgary in Canada. "We like to identify those at highest risk of disability."

Symtoms of a TIA are exactly the same as for a stroke, according the the American Heart Association, and include:

  • Numbness -- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Confusion -- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Trouble Seeing  -- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Dizziness  -- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Headache -- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Stroke experts not involved with the study said the findings are an important reminder that stroke symptoms, even if they don't linger, must be taken seriously.

"TIA is to stroke what chest pain is to heart attack," said Dr. Fadi B. Nahab, medical director for the stroke program at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. "People have a better understanding of chest pain and go the emergency room, whereas [they believe] symptoms for TIA must be something else."

"[People who have a TIA] have won the stroke lottery," said Dr. Steven Cramer, clinical director of the stem cell research center at the University of California, Irvine. "They found out there is something wrong without having to pay the big stroke price."

The findings, in fact, were so alarming that the study authors suggested that doctors should consider administering the clot-busting medicine known as tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, for patients who show up at the hospital after a TIA or minor stroke.

"If patients have symptoms that are mild, we are even currently doing a study to use thrombolysis, in those cases," she said.

Currently, tPA is only indicated for use in patients experiencing full-blown stroke. But as for whether the benefits of this medicine outweigh its risks in patients experiencing mini strokes, most doctors say more research is needed.

"There is no evidence at all that treating TIA acutely with tPA would make any difference," said Dr. Jeffrey M. Katz, director of the stroke center and stroke unit at North Shore University Hospital in Long Island, N.Y. "I think that many times we decide not to treat patients with minor symptoms from stroke because of the risk for bleeding with tPA and the thought that these patients will do well anyway."

But, Katz adds, "this is probably one of the largest studies to say that these patients may not do well ... Of course it says nothing about whether they would do well with tPA, but I think it certainly suggests that they aren't doing better if left untreated."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


West Nile Virus Signs, Symptoms

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Dallas County, Texas, has been hit hard by West Nile, a potentially fatal mosquito-borne infection. This summer health officials have recorded 465 cases and 17 deaths, on pace for the worst year ever for West Nile.

And north Texas isn't the only place reporting a spike in West Nile cases. The United States is experiencing the biggest outbreak in West Nile virus since 2004, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials say it's difficult to get accurate numbers on West Nile infections because approximately 80 percent of people with West Nile virus have no idea they have it. Most never develop any symptoms.

According to CDC, up to 20 percent of infected people develop West Nile fever and exhibit mild symptoms including fever, headache, muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting. They might also develop swollen lymph glands and a rash on the chest, back or stomach.

"Most of the time, the symptoms are nonspecific and may last for a few days or a few weeks," Dr. William Shaffner, chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, says. "Someone may just feel poorly and never associate it with West Nile."

Only about 1 percent are hit with a more serious form of the infection, West Nile encephalitis, characterized by high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. Illness may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.

Shaffner says people 65 and older are at greatest risk for contracting the more serious forms of the illness. Signs and symptoms typically develop between 3 and 14 days after someone is bitten by an infected mosquito.

West Nile Virus has no cure. You can only treat the symptoms and hope it goes away.

The best defense is prevention. The CDC offers the following tips to protect yourself:

  • Drain standing pools of dirty water that can collect in stagnant ponds, old tires and even empty soda bottles; this is where mosquitoes breed and lay their eggs.
  • Stay indoors during dawn and dusk hours when mosquitoes are most active.
  • To protect yourself indoors, make sure door and window screens are tight-fitting and in good repair.
  • To protect yourself outdoors, wear long sleeves, long pants and socks to cover as much of your body as possible and apply bug repellent.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


What Dad Didn't Know Best: Heart Attack Signs

ABC News' Dr. Richard Besser and his father, Bill Besser (ABC News)By Dr. Richard Besser

(NEW YORK) -- It's the phone call you never want to receive.

"Hi, it's Mom. We're at the hospital. They are admitting Dad. Give us a call."

My dad is a doctor. He is one of the big reasons I went into medicine. Seeing the impact he had on people's lives every day was inspiring. My mind was racing through the possibilities. I'm fortunate in that I come from healthy stock. Neither of my parents has ever had a serious illness. Their parents all lived to old age with their minds and bodies in great shape.

I called her back immediately. Dad was being admitted to the hospital because they thought he may have had a heart attack. Sometimes, it's obvious. With a massive heart attack you may lose consciousness and your heart may stop. With a small heart attack, they need to do multiple blood tests over time to see if there has been damage to heart muscle; that defines a heart attack.

My dad having a heart attack? How could that be? My dad was more active than I am. My parents are in their 80s but play tennis several times a week, ride their bikes every day, and swim. He'd never mentioned that he had chest pain or heart troubles.

Turns out he did have a heart attack but he had ignored every symptom. When he finally thought it was his heart, he waited hours before getting help. He did everything wrong. He doesn't want you to make the same mistakes.

Here are some of his signs that you should not ignore.

  1. Heartburn -- My father had been having heartburn for the past couple of months. It wasn't relieved by an antacid. This was new for him. If you have new onset heartburn, get it checked out.
  2. Poor sleep -- sleep disturbance can be the presentation of a number of medical problems. If your heart isn't working well, lying down can make it harder to breath but sometimes, all you'll see is a problem sleeping. My father attributed his problem sleeping to a new bed. If you are having trouble sleeping for the first time, get it checked out.
  3. Trouble climbing steps -- This is a classic sign of heart trouble. My mom could go up two flights of stairs without a problem. My dad was short of breath after even one flight. He attributed it to aging. Don't do that!

And while my dad didn't have pain, remember that the pain with a heart attack can vary from crushing pain in the chest to simple discomfort in your neck and jaw.

When my dad finally thought that he might be having a heart attack, he proceeded to make even more mistakes. He had my mom drive him to the hospital! He didn't take the aspirin that was in the emergency pill case on his key chain. And rather than going to the nearest hospital, he went to a hospital further away that he liked more. Thankfully, despite his mistakes, the cardiologists were able to open up his blocked arteries (one was 95-percent blocked), and within days he was back to playing tennis.

I feel so lucky that my dad dodged a bullet here. He wants to make sure you do all you can to increase your chances of making it through a heart attack. If you think you or someone you are with is having a heart attack, time really matters.

Here's what you should do, according to

  1. Call 911. Emergency responders will start treatment on the way to the hospital. For the best outcome, you should be at the hospital within one hour of a heart attack. Nearly half don't get there until four hours afterward because they ignore the signs.
  2. Chew and swallow an aspirin. Aspirin can cut down on clot formation. With a heart attack, the usual cause is a blood clot forming in one of the arteries supplying your heart muscle.
  3. Take nitroglycerin if it has been prescribed by your doctor. Don't take it if it wasn't prescribed for you.
  4. Begin CPR if the person having the heart attack is unconscious. New CPR guidelines call for skipping the mouth-to-mouth and just doing chest compressions. Remember to call 911 first so they can be on their way.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Concussion Symptoms in Children Can Last Up to a Year

Dorling Kindersley RF/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- Concussion symptoms in children could last much longer than you think.  

Study findings, published Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, show that some children who suffer mild traumatic brain injury -- or a concussion -- could exhibit symptoms for months after the trauma.  In fact, the researchers say memory and attention problems could be present for up to a year after the injury.

The study's lead researcher, Keith Owen Yeates, director of Columbus, Ohio's Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children's Hospital said, according to HealthDay, that most children who suffer a concussion do not have persistent difficulty for months afterward.  "But," he said, "there is a small, but significant proportion of kids that do go on to have persistent symptoms after their injury, lasting as long as three to 12 months."

The researchers say the severity of the injury could determine whether symptoms will persist. Children who lost consciousness appeared to have the worst symptoms, HealthDay reported.

Still, whether children lose consciousness or not, experts say to be cautious and take children with concussion symptoms to see a doctor.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Man’s Only Heart Attack Clue -- Nonstop Hiccups

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Hiccups can mean many things to many people.  Maybe you’ve had too much to drink, eaten something a bit too spicy or just can’t catch your breath. But one man’s hiccups served as a rare, important signal: He was having a heart attack.

A 68-year-old man came to the emergency room at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, telling doctors that he had been hiccupping for four days straight. The man was diabetic, a smoker and had high blood pressure, but doctors could find no signs of what might be causing his hiccups.

The medical team began to try to think outside the box, Dr. Josh Davenport, who treated the man in the emergency room, told ABC News. They gave the man a chest X-ray to look for a tumor in his lungs.

“Sometimes cancer can irritate the nerves running along the heart and diaphragm,” the muscle beneath the lungs that contracts forcefully and causes hiccups, Davenport said.

But the chest X-ray was normal. So doctors gave the man some muscle relaxers and sent him home.

“He had no other symptoms -- no chest pain, no trouble breathing, no sweating or weakness, nothing like that. So we weren’t really concerned,” Davenport said.

Two days later, the man came back to the emergency room still hiccupping. One doctor, remembering a rare case from long ago of hiccups associated with heart attacks, recommended giving the man an electrocardiogram to check his heart.

Bingo. The rhythm of the patient’s heart beats were abnormal and other lab tests showed that his blood had high levels of a protein that the heart’s cells release when they have been damaged.

“That’s how we determined he was having a heart attack,” Davenport said.

Doctors gave the patient drugs to treat the heart attack and soon after, his hiccups were gone. He was treated and released from the hospital.

Davenport, who wrote a report on the case published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, emphasized that this case is extremely rare. Hiccups are almost never a sign of a heart attack, cancer or any other medical problem.

According to the Mayo Clinic, hiccups usually come from eating too much, drinking carbonated beverages or too much alcohol, excitement or emotional stress. Longer lasting hiccups may start because of laryngitis, acid reflux or a tumor in the neck.

Scientists still don’t know exactly why we hiccup, and unfortunately, no scientific answer exists for the best way to get rid of them.

“Usually, it’s just something that has to go away on its own,” Davenport said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Case of Bacterial Meningitis Becomes Fatal for Boston Girl, 12

Comstock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The Boston Public Health Commission confirmed Monday that a 12-year-old Boston girl, hospitalized for bacterial meningitis, has died.

The seventh-grader at Boston Latin Academy was hospitalized Friday with symptoms of the infection.  By Saturday, her parents received a recorded message informing them of their daughter's illness, ABC News affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston reports.

Though risk for transmission is low, City Public Health Department officials are working with school staff to identify students and faculty at the school -- which serves about 1,800 students -- who had close contact with the girl to be checked for symptoms as a precautionary measure, according to a spokesperson for Boston Public Schools.

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis include fever, headache, stiffness of the neck, vomiting, sensitivity to light and an altered mental state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Superintendent Carol Johnson released a joint statement late Monday afternoon.

"At this difficult time our hearts ache for the family and friends of this young student," Mayor Menino said. "We mourn her loss and join with the Boston Latin Academy in this hour of grief."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Two-Year-Old ‘Superhero’ Saves Mom’s Life

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Lia Vega is only 2, but her mother is calling her a superhero. The little girl made a phone call Thursday that saved her mother’s life.

Lia was at her grandmother’s house in Houston with her mother, Larissa Taylor, and her baby sister when Taylor blacked out and collapsed, according to Houston affiliate KTRK-TV. Lia picked up her mother’s phone and called her grandmother, Bobbie Gonzalez, for help.

“She said, ‘My mom fell down,’” Gonzalez told KTRK. “I said, ‘Let me talk to your mom.’ And she said, ‘She won’t wake up.’”

“I never taught her how to use the phone, so I have no idea how she picked it up. I assume just by watching us,” Taylor said.

Gonzalez called 911 and rushed home, and Taylor got to the hospital just in time. There, she got an unexpected diagnosis: diabetes. Taylor told KTRK she never knew she was diabetic.

Dr. Lee Green, a professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan, said Taylor might have simply missed the symptoms of the disease or confused them with something else. The classic symptoms of diabetes -- dehydration, increased urination, fatigue and headache -- can seem a lot like a simple virus or the flu.

“This is someone who might have been feeling lousy for a while,” Green said.

However minor the symptoms might seem, he added, they are worth a visit to the doctor’s office.

Taylor said her story can serve as a lesson to other mothers about teaching their children how to use the phone in an emergency, especially if they have medical problems.

Lia is getting lots of love and praise from her family for her quick thinking. “She’s been wearing a towel around the house, calling herself a superhero,” Taylor said. “Definitely, she’s my little superhero.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Top 5 Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Every year since 1984 more women than men have died of heart disease, said Dr. Kathy Magliato, cardiothoracic surgeon at Saint John's Health Center, and 50 percent of all women never experience chest pains.

"Women tend to downplay their symptoms, and they tend to wait longer to come to the hospital, and that's why they die at home,” Magliato told ABC News.

While heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women, in recent years, as deaths attributed to the disease have declined, the drop has been much less significant in women.

"We have to think of this disease as a woman's disease, it's not a man's disease," said Magliato, who is also president of the American Heart Association. "The symptoms between men and women are so drastically different that what women believe is heart disease is really men's heart disease."

A new report from the Society for Women's Health Research and Women Heart cites a lack of gender-specific research and insufficient recruitment of women and minorities for trials as the main obstacles in detecting and diagnosing cardiovascular disease.

"Improved participation rates of women and minorities in CVD trial research would result in more appropriate prevention and early detection, accurate diagnosis and proper treatment of all women with heart disease," according to the report.

Another reason heart disease is more difficult to diagnose in women than in men is that abnormal blood vessel function happens on a smaller scale in women.

"Women tend to get disease at the level of ... microvessels, which are very small, very tiny vessels that supply the blood to the heart," said Magliato. "Men tend to get blockages in the larger blood vessels of the heart, the blood vessels that we see when we do our typical studies for diagnosing heart disease."

Magliato said that the best precautionary step a woman can take against heart disease, in addition to eating well and becoming active, is knowing the symptoms. She said women need to listen to their bodies, and if they have one or more of these top symptoms, they should see a doctor immediately.

Top 5 Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

1. Fatigue "A persistent, unexplainable fatigue is heart disease until proven otherwise," said Magliato.
2. Shortness of Breath
3. Indigestion, Upper Abdominal Pain or Nausea
4. Jaw or Throat Pain
5. Arm Pain (Especially the left arm)

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Disease: Signs May Appear Decade Before Symptoms

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The brain areas affected by Alzheimer's disease start shrinking up to a decade before symptoms like memory loss appear, according to new brain imaging research. The discovery, which adds to growing evidence that Alzheimer's is a slow-emerging disease, could help scientists identify people at risk before the damage is done.

The research team, led by Dr. Bradford Dickerson, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Frontotemporal Dementia Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, assessed the size of the hippocampus -- the brain's memory center -- and other brain regions affected by Alzheimer's disease. They used magnetic resonance imaging in 65 people who were cognitively normal. Among those with the smallest Alzheimer's-related brain area measurements, 55 percent were later diagnosed with the disease.

"It tells us that areas of the brain that are important for memory and other aspects of thinking are beginning to shrink in people who don't yet have symptoms," said Dickerson, lead author of the study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology. "We at least have the potential to detect changes a number of years in advance, and hopefully we could do something about it."

Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia among older adults, is estimated to affect five million Americans and is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dickerson compared detecting Alzheimer's-related brain shrinkage to measuring cholesterol levels in someone at risk for heart disease.

"We need to be developing a cholesterol test for Alzheimer's disease, in a sense," he said. "We need to have markers that we can identify in people that are still normal to boost that chance of preventing or slowing the disease."

But a dearth of effective treatments means early detection won't yet save lives.

"This imaging finding will not translate into new treatments. However, it does increase the rationale for utilizing preventive therapies," said Dr. Steven DeKosky, professor of neurology and dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

Brain shrinkage and memory loss are features of normal aging but happen earlier in people with Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers have previously shown that positron emission tomography (PET) scans can detect plaques of amyloid protein in the brain -- the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease -- before clinical symptoms appear. MRI is cheaper and more widely available, but still expensive.

Dickerson said the MRI-based tool is currently intended for research only, and is "not the kind of thing people can go and get from their doctor."

The next step, he said, is to replicate the findings in another, bigger group of study participants. He will also compare its usefulness as a biomarker to other experimental screening tools, such as PET scans and spinal taps.

In July 2010, a working group from the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association proposed changes to the diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer's disease to include brain imaging and tests on cerebrospinal fluid. The hope is that identifying patients in earlier stages of the neurodegenerative disease may boost treatment effectiveness.

"We don't yet have drugs that can do anything about Alzheimer's disease," Dickerson said, "but maybe we're testing them in people too late in the process."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio