Keeping You Safe While Getting You the Care You Need

Note: Please refer to our post “What Your Doctor Wants You to Know About Coronavirus (COVID-19)” for more information about COVID-19 prevention and symptoms, and for guidance on what you should do if you think you may have the virus.

The spread of COVID-19 around the world has rightly focused a lot of attention on preventing and treating this dangerous viral infection. But while COVID-19 is a serious public health emergency, it’s also important that you and your family continue to receive the other preventative and therapeutic care you need for your health and wellness.

That’s why we’ve enhanced our already strict procedures to prevent the spread of germs and diseases, including but not limited to COVID-19. And it’s why we’re offering telehealth virtual visits and remote patient monitoring, where appropriate, so you can receive personalized care from the safety and convenience of your home.

Keeping You Safe

Even in ordinary times, all United Physician Group practices follow rigorous best practices to protect our patients and healthcare providers from the spread of infection and disease. During the COVID-19 crisis, we’re doing more than ever to keep everyone safe.

Disinfecting

In order to keep every United Physician Group facility sanitized and safe, we are:

  • Using disinfectant cleaning solutions recommended by the CDC to wipe down all surfaces.
  • Disinfecting every exam room thoroughly after every patient.
  • Disinfecting all chairs, exam tables, and high touch areas such as door knobs multiple times per day.

Screening

As usual, we’re making reminder calls 48 hours prior to each patient’s appointment. During those calls, we’re now:

  • Asking patients screening questions to assess any symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19 and converting all affected patients to telehealth virtual visits. 
  • Making sure anyone who has an elevated risk of carrying the virus gets appropriate care and monitoring, and…
  • Either rescheduling their original appointment or converting it to a telehealth virtual visit.

When patients arrive for their appointments — and before they enter the building to check in — we’re:

  • Taking their temperatures.
  • Asking them the same screening questions.

Distancing and Limiting Contact

We’re taking several measures to prevent patients from coming into close contact with one another:

  • Scheduling fewer appointments so that fewer patients are in our facilities at any one time.
  • Re-arranging our waiting rooms to keep everyone at least six feet apart.
  • Quickly bringing patients back to private exam rooms.

We’re also offering parking lot visits, where appropriate. Your doctor and nurse will come out to your car and stay six feet away from you, so you never have to enter the facility.

Telehealth Virtual Visits and Remote Patient Monitoring

We’ve also expanded our telehealth services, including virtual visits and remote patient monitoring. Using video conferences, remote testing and monitoring, and our patient portal, we’re able to:

  • Make initial assessments of patient health and healthcare needs.
  • Conduct many routine follow-up visits.
  • Manage and monitor chronic disease testing and care.
  • Refill and monitor prescriptions. 

Telehealth isn’t appropriate for all conditions and concerns, and we’re still asking all new patients to come in for their first visits. However, in many cases telehealth allows us to provide good care remotely while protecting you from any potential exposure to disease.

Whether you’re at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or just not comfortable coming into the office, telehealth is one more way that we’re working every day to give you the best in personalized care.

If you’re interested in a telehealth visit, please contact your United Physician Group provider for more information.

The Care You Need

These are difficult times we’re all going through, but we’ll get through this together with proper precautions, a little technological assistance, and the expertise of your neighborhood United Physician Group doctors.

Don’t let fear of COVID-19 keep you from receiving the personalized care that will help you stay healthy and well. Whether you’re feeling sick, experiencing chronic pain, or due for a check-up or screening, get the care you need by scheduling an appointment. Contact your United Physician Group provider today.

Does Stress Make Chronic Pain Worse?

In these uncertain times, it’s natural that many of us are feeling more stress and anxiety. Even if you and your family are healthy and safe at home, fear of the unknown and the troubles of others can weigh heavily on all our hearts and minds.

If you or someone you love experiences chronic pain, you may wonder whether all this stress can make that pain worse. Or maybe you’re already experiencing more severe pain and wondering whether stress is to blame.

The Cycle of Stress and Pain

Let’s first acknowledge the obvious. Chronic pain can be a source of stress. It may make it harder for you to work or care for your family. It may interfere with your rest and sleep. And hurting all the time is inherently stressful. Your body is always looking for a way to relieve or escape the pain.

So pain can absolutely cause stress. But can stress also make the pain worse?

While the answer is less clear, there is a growing consensus among researchers and pain management specialists that it can. This is not to suggest that the pain isn’t “real.” It’s very real. But stress may be making it worse.

According to an article published by the Institute for Chronic Pain (reporting on a manuscript in the Journal of Pain), stress can activate the immune system and cause increased inflammation. And inflammation can aggravate many causes of chronic pain.

A 2015 meta-study published in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences found that stress can cause both analgesia and hyperalgesia: reduced or increased sensations of pain. While the results were complex, increased pain seemed more common in cases of chronic stress than with occasional, isolated stress. Negative emotions also heightened the impact of stress on pain. (A stressful but enjoyable experience, such as competing in a sport, may be less likely to increase pain.)

And in a 2017 manuscript published by the Department of Health and Human Services, the authors suggest that chronic pain and chronic stress are two parts of the same underlying neurobiological system, interrelated in subtle and intricate ways.

Research in this area continues, and we don’t yet fully understand how pain and stress are related. However, if you’re experiencing chronic stress, it may very well be making your chronic pain worse.

What Can You Do to Ease Anxiety?

If stress is making your chronic pain worse, there’s a lot you can try to ease that stress and possibly ease your pain too. Your United Physician Group family medicine doctor or pain management specialist can help guide you to effective stress relief and pain management.

Your options may include:

Lifestyle Changes

  • Regular exercise: If your chronic pain doesn’t prevent it and your doctor approves, exercise can help you manage stress.
  • Quality sleep: Chronic pain and stress can make it harder to sleep, but, if you can develop good sleep habits, the rest may ease your stress.
  • Good nutrition: A healthy diet keeps your body in balance and better able to handle each day’s challenges. Also consider moderating or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, which can make stress worse.
  • Complementary treatment: Yoga, massage, meditation, guided breathing, and other supportive treatments may help ease your stress.

Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you develop skills to better manage stress.

Medicine

Some prescription medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and antidepressants, may treat chronic pain and chronic stress simultaneously.

You Don’t Have to Figure This Out Alone

If you’re hurting and under stress, the most important thing you can do is to reach out for help. You don’t have to have all the answers. Reach out to your pain management specialist, and let us know what you’re going through. We’ll help you figure it out.

Do I Have Allergies or COVID-19?

Note: As a new and emerging virus, Novel Coronavirus 2019 COVID-19 is not yet fully understood. Information about the disease is changing every day. The information presented below may change as we learn more. Refer to the CDC website for the latest information.

Spring pollen is suffusing the air across the Southeast at the same time that cases of the COVID-19 pandemic are peaking. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you may wonder whether your symptoms are caused by everyday allergens or the Novel Coronavirus. Distinguishing between the two may mean the difference between taking an antihistamine or quarantining yourself under a doctor’s care.

Fortunately, although there is some overlap between the symptoms of allergies and COVID-19, many symptoms of each are distinct. Below, we’ll go over the differences. However, you’re always welcome to call your United Physician Group doctor if you’re unsure. We understand how worrying it can be to wonder if you have COVID-19, and we’ll be glad to put your mind at ease.

Having Trouble Breathing? Seek Help Immediately

First a word of warning: If you’re suddenly and severely short of breath, or also experiencing chest pain, call 911 immediately.

If your shortness of breath is less severe but frequent, occurs even when you are sitting or lying down, or is accompanied by wheezing or a feeling of tightness in the throat, call your doctor promptly for further evaluation.

In cases such as these, it doesn’t matter whether your difficulty breathing is caused by allergy-induced asthma, COVID-19, or something else. Whatever the cause, it’s a serious medical concern, and you need a doctor’s attention.

Symptoms of Allergies

Allergic rhinitis, sometimes called hay fever, is caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, mold, and pet danders. (You can also be allergic to foods, medicines, insect stings, and material such as latex, but these allergies are less likely to be confused with COVID-19.)

Common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy eyes, nose, throat, or ears
  • Redness or watering of the eyes

You may also experience a sore throat or cough, both caused by postnasal drip, but these symptoms are less useful in distinguishing between allergies and COVID-19.

Symptoms of COVID-19

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that infects cells in the upper respiratory system. In some people, it can lead to pneumonia and other serious health threats. As has been reported widely, many people seem to be asymptomatic: they do not experience any symptoms while infected, or their symptoms are so mild that they don’t realize they are sick.

For people who do experience symptoms of COVID-19, the most common are:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough

(A “dry cough” is one that does not produce any mucus or phlegm.)

Less common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Loss of taste or smell

According to the WHO, some people with COVID-19 also experience a runny/stuffy nose or a sore throat, but these symptoms are hard to distinguish from allergies. 

This list is not all-inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

How to Tell the Difference

Comparing the most common symptoms of allergies and COVID-19, if you don’t have a fever and your symptoms include itchiness in your nose, eyes, throat, or ears, it’s unlikely you have COVID-19. If you do have a fever accompanied by dry cough and fatigue, you may have COVID-19 and should call your doctor.

But, as always, if you’re unsure, please contact your doctor and ask. We’re here for you, and your United Physician Group doctor wants to know what’s going on. If you’re concerned about your health, we want to help.

How to Treat Allergies

If your allergies are new or have become worse, or if you have never asked a doctor about your allergies, you may not be aware of the wide range of treatment alternatives available to you today. Your United Physician Group family medicine doctor can discuss your options with you.

Antihistamines and corticosteroids may control your symptoms. Many are available both over the counter and, through your doctor, at prescription strengths.

Immunotherapy, such as allergy shots, may bring more lasting relief. Some immunotherapy treatments can even be given in your primary care doctor’s office. Your family medicine doctor can discuss these options with you.

You can also take measures to limit your exposure to the allergens that trigger your symptoms. Monitor your area’s daily pollen and mold counts, posted on many websites, and avoid outdoor activities on days with high counts. Keep your home and car windows closed during high-allergen days. Shower and change your clothes after returning inside from extended outdoor activities. Lastly, avoid exposure to any animals that trigger symptoms for you.

What to Do If You Suspect You Have COVID-19

Many people who become infected with COVID-19 are able to stay at home while the virus runs its course. Some develop more serious symptoms or complications that require hospitalization. Anyone with COVID-19 risks transmitting it to other people they come in contact with.

If you suspect you have COVID-19, call your doctor, report your symptoms, and ask for guidance. (If you have severe shortness of breath, call 911.)

Refer to the advice in our previous post, “What Your Doctor Wants You to Know about Coronavirus (COVID-19).”

And if you have any further questions or concerns, contact your United Physician Group doctor. We’re here and ready to help.

Is It a Pinched Nerve or Something Else?

What’s causing the pain?

Is that pain in your back, buttocks, or limbs a pinched nerve? A herniated disc? A pulled muscle? Or something else?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “pinched nerve” is not a medically precise term, but doctors and patients often use it to encompass a wide variety of conditions that may cause you pain. The underlying conditions can include:

  • Herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Direct injury to the nerve
  • Obesity
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Bone spurs
  • Repetitive stress

In all cases, these conditions cause pain through “compression, constriction, or stretching” of nerves.

Symptoms of pinched nerves may include:

  • Numbness or a feeling that a hand, foot, or other area of your body is “falling asleep.”
  • Muscle weakness in one area of your body.
  • Tingling or a feeling of “pins and needles” in the affected area.
  • Sharp pain that radiates out. (In contrast, a pulled muscle will usually cause dull pain that’s focused in one spot.)
  • A burning sensation in the affected area that feels like it’s located in your deep tissues.

Treatment for pinched nerves.

In most cases, pinched nerves are temporary. You may need only rest and conservative treatment. But sometimes pinched nerves are a sign of something more serious that could cause lasting damage. So it’s important to pay attention and seek help early if your symptoms are serious or don’t improve.

If your pinched nerve pain is mild and recent, you can try:

  • Rest the area that’s hurting.
  • Take an over-the-counter NSAID such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Alternate heat and ice to relax muscles and reduce swelling.

But if the pain is more serious or doesn’t respond to home treatment, talk with your primary care doctor or pain management specialist. They may recommend:

  • Exercise, stretching, or physical therapy
  • A splint, collar, or other devices to isolate the affected area while you heal
  • A steroid injection
  • Surgery

Don’t ignore the pain.

If you have a pinched nerve, there’s no need to suffer in silence. There’s a lot you and your doctor can do to ease the pain. Also, ignoring a pinched nerve puts you at greater risk of permanent nerve damage.

So if the pain is mild, try rest and home care right away. If the pain is moderate to severe or doesn’t respond to rest and home care, don’t delay. Contact your primary care doctor or a pain management specialist right away.

Make an appointment with a pain management specialist. We’d like to help.

Why is My Pain Worse When it Rains?

Is the pain during rain all in your brain?

Can you feel the rain coming in your joints? It’s an idea that goes back at least to Hippocrates, nearly 2500 years ago: the weather may affect some chronic health conditions. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may already have direct experience with “arthritis weather,” and some people with other chronic pain conditions report that their pain gets worse when it rains.

There’s a plausible hypothesis for this perceived correlation. Rain typically comes with a drop in barometric pressure: the low pressure system you may have heard your local weather person forecast. Lower pressure outside your body may cause tissues inside your body to swell and irritate sensitive nerves. However, this explanation has not been proven, and some scientists point out that the changes in air pressure are about the same as riding in an elevator to the top of a tall building.

Other scientists speculate that high humidity may be to blame. Or a drop in temperature. Or the psychology of gray, dreary days. Whatever the underlying mechanism may be, the lived experience for many patients is clear: rain days are pain days.

Science has long attempted to study this anecdotal wisdom, but the results have been mixed. Some studies have found no correlation between pain and weather. Others have found evidence to support a connection between pain and low barometric pressure or high humidity. Both high and low temperatures have also had a correlation to pain in some studies.

So what can you do for rainy day pain?

While we don’t know for sure that rainy weather makes pain worse, you know when you’re hurting. Always follow your pain management doctor’s usual instructions. But here are a few things you might try to ease the pain on rainy days:

  • Run a dehumidifier. When it’s wet outside, use a dehumidifier to keep your indoor air at 40-60% relative humidity for comfort and health.
  • Wear compression socks, cuffs, and gloves. Rheumatoid arthritis and some other causes of chronic pain get worse with swelling and inflammation. Whether it’s caused by a low pressure system or something else, compression garments over the affected joints can bring down swelling and promote good circulation.
  • Adjust your thermostat. While the correlations between temperature and pain are not at all clear, keeping your home at a comfortable temperature may help.
  • Get some easy exercise. If you’re able and if your doctor approves it, light exercise may help loosen up your joints and bring down swelling. It can also lift your rainy day mood.
  • Be good to yourself. This is important every day, but those rainy day blues can heighten pain. Serious depression or anxiety can make pain even worse. Treat yourself well. If you’re experiencing something deeper or longer-lasting than an unhappy day, reach out for support. Caring for your emotional health can help ease the pain.

Here for you in all kinds of weather.

If you’re not already getting help managing your chronic pain, or if your pain is getting worse, we hope you’ll reach out. No matter what the weather forecast, there’s a lot we can do to ease your pain.

Make an appointment with a pain management specialist. We’d like to help.

 

What Your Doctor Wants You to Know about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Note: As a new and emerging virus, Novel Coronavirus 2019 COVID-19 is not yet fully understood. Information about the disease is changing every day. The information presented below may change as we learn more and you should refer to the CDC website for the latest information.

COVID-19 currently spreading around the world is raising questions and concerns for many families. Please call your United Physician Group doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms that you think may be COVID-19 (more on that below). Additionally, if you or your family have other health conditions that may make you more vulnerable to the disease, call your doctor for advice on how to prepare and limit your risk.

We’re learning more every day about COVID-19 and how to treat it. We’re here for you and ready to help.

Here are answers to some of the questions you may have, as provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How can I protect myself and my family from COVID-19?

Scientists are working on potential vaccines for COVID-19, but currently, the only prevention is to avoid exposure to the virus.

To lower your risk, you and your family should:

  • Wash your hands frequently and well.
  • Avoid touching your face after touching other surfaces. (We know it’s hard.)
  • Avoid close contact (less than six feet away) with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched. (e.g. doorknobs, kitchen and bathroom counters, toilets, appliances)
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • If you have symptoms that could be COVID-19, consider wearing a facemask to avoid spreading the disease. Refer to the CDC for guidelines on wearing facemasks if you are NOT experiencing symptoms. 
  • Stay home if you feel sick unless you require medical assistance.

If you or someone in your family develops symptoms that may be COVID-19, call your doctor immediately.

What are the symptoms?

Some people experience no symptoms at all, but the most common symptoms are fever, shortness of breath, and coughing. Other symptoms may resemble a bad cold or the flu. According to the WHO, these may include “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.” Serious cases can lead to pneumonia and difficulty breathing.

If you or someone in your family is having difficulty breathing, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

Who is most vulnerable to the disease?

Our best information so far says that the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 are elderly people and people with underlying health conditions that compromise their immune system. Young and otherwise healthy people do catch COVID-19 and, as a result, should also exercise the same level of caution to avoid contracting the virus.

Every COVID-19 case should be taken seriously, for your own health and for the health of those around you. 

If I develop symptoms that may be COVID-19, what should I do?

If you’re experiencing symptoms that may be COVID-19, the first and most important thing to do is call your doctor. Tell them what you’re experiencing, the concerns you have, and ask for instructions and advice.

If your symptoms are severe or life-threatening, such as serious difficulty breathing, call 911.

While we don’t yet know enough about COVID-19 to say precisely how many people develop serious symptoms, we do know that the majority of people do not. If your symptoms do not require hospitalization, your doctor will likely advise you to stay at home while you recover. The CDC recommends that you:

  • Stay at home except when needed to get medical care. Avoid public areas and public transportation so that you do not further spread the disease.
  • Wash your hands frequently and well.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces every day. (e.g. doorknobs, kitchen and bathroom counters, sink fixtures, appliances)
  • Limit contact with others in your home. If possible, use a separate bathroom and avoid contact with common area surfaces, such as the kitchen.
  • Monitor your symptoms and seek help if they worsen, especially if you have difficulty breathing.
  • Call ahead to your doctor before coming in, and let them know that you are experiencing symptoms that may be COVID-19.
  • Follow both your doctor and the CDC’s guidelines to determine when to end home isolation

Are the United Physician Group offices open? 

Currently, all United Physician offices are still operating to service all of our valued patients that depend on the care and service we provide. In the event that you are sick, unable to come in or simply are uncomfortable with visiting the office in person, please contact your closest location for options on TeleVisits. 

What is the United Physician Group doing to protect my health if I have to visit the office? 

There is no higher priority for us than the health and safety of our patients, staff and their families.

United Physician Group clinical staff is following the Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations provided by the CDC. This includes 

  • Disinfecting each exam room or patient area after each patient is seen 
  • Disinfecting common areas and surfaces multiple times throughout the day
  • Initiating an extensive deep clean and disinfection to be performed nightly at all locations, and 
  • Implementing additional infection control and prevention measures for clinical staff

To protect the health of our staff and patients and ensure the continuation and a smooth transition of your healthcare, United Physician Group will be converting all previously scheduled and future sick visits to TeleVisits. We are also screening all patients prior to arrival in the office for any symptoms consistent with those of COVID-19 and asking affected patients to remain home.  

Any patient in the office that is exhibiting fever, cough or shortness of breath will be provided appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and isolated from the patient population.

We’re here for you.

Because COVID-19 is still new and not entirely understood, we know that it can cause some anxiety and concern. Paying attention to the disease is smart, but there’s plenty we can do together to prepare. Call your United Physician Group doctor with your concerns. We’re here for you.

What Helps for Getting Over a Cold?

Although colds aren’t actually caused by cold temperatures, they are more common in winter. Whenever a cold strikes, it can sap your strength, cloud your mind, and leave you feeling miserable.

Sneezing, coughing, congestion, sinus pressure, sore throat… There’s still no cure for the common cold, but you can treat the symptoms and feel better faster. Keep reading below to learn what helps for getting over a cold?

Get Plenty of Rest

With our busy lives, it’s sometimes hard to slow down. But you need more rest when you have a cold so your body has the energy to heal.

Drink Lots of Fluids

Water, herbal teas, and fruit juices will keep you hydrated while helping to loosen congestion. Add a little honey to soothe your throat and possibly ease coughing. (Note that honey is not safe for children under one-year-old.)

Keep the Air Moist

If the air in your home is dry, use a cold-mist humidifier to add moisture to the air. It may help soothe irritated sinuses and help prevent reinfection.

Gargle with Warm Saltwater

If your cold symptoms include a sore throat, gargling a few times a day with warm saltwater may ease inflammation and help you feel better.

Use Saline Nasal Drops or Saline Irrigation

Saline nasal drops or irrigation may help ease decongestion and reduce sinus inflammation, making it easier to breathe through your nose.

Over-the-Counter Cold Medicines

Over-the-counter (OTC) cold medicines can help ease cough and cold symptoms. Children under the age of 4 years old should not take OTC cold medicines, unless directed by your doctor. For children 4 years and older, discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Pain relievers can help ease the aches and soreness of a cold. Many OTC cold medicines include some form of pain reliever, so be careful not to double-up by taking pain relievers in combination with cold medicines that contain them. Children under 6 months old should only take children’s dose acetaminophen. Children 6 months and up can take appropriately dosed acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Only adults should take aspirin, which can increase the risk of Reye’s Syndrome in children.

Give It Some Time

The only real cure for a cold is time. Colds are caused by what’s called a “self-limiting” viral infection: it will usually run its course and go away on its own. However, the CDC advises that you contact your doctor right away if your cold lasts more than 10 days, if you have a high fever (or a low-grade fever that lasts more than 4 days), if you have trouble breathing, or if your symptoms return and get worse. Also contact your doctor if you have any other symptoms that concern you, or if you’re just not sure what to do. When in doubt, call and put your mind at ease.

Don’t Suffer in Silence

If you’re suffering from a cold and want some advice, call your United Physician Group doctor for help. We can help you answer what helps for getting over a cold?