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How to Find the Right Family Doctor for You

In a world where telemedicine has become common, and information is digitally available at a click, what’s the need for a personal family doctor? Why go through the inconvenience of researching MDs when there’s a walk-in clinic around the corner?

The answer is that your primary physician is an important member of your whole-health team. They will be an engaged, collaborative participant at every step of your physical wellness. A long-term relationship with a family doctor can be as beneficial as any other measures you take for your longevity.

At United Physicians Group, our primary care physicians keep your best interests at the center of focus. Here are some guidelines to assist you in this important choice. 

Start with the Red Tape

To maximize insurance benefits, you’ll likely need a doctor who is within your healthcare insurance plan’s network. Start by using the insurer’s directory, and then call the individual doctor’s office to confirm they do accept your plan.

While you’re confirming, ask whether or not the doctor has hospital admitting privileges. The doctor you choose may determine which hospital you are referred to if it becomes necessary.

Consumer Reports also recommends visiting certificationmatters.org to verify board certification. Searching for malpractice claims is another part of their advice. While a lawsuit is something that can happen to any doctor, no matter their level of excellence, finding more than one or two may prompt you to look elsewhere. 

Consider Location & Hours

A family doctor whose office requires a tiresome commute for you is unlikely to be a good fit. If it’s challenging to attend your annual physical, you may be much less likely to go in for other appointments, even when you need them. 

Don’t forget to consider your schedule, too. Appointment hours that don’t align well with your routine may complicate getting care. Are walk-ins available? How far out do you have to schedule an appointment? Similarly, ask whether the office provides a platform for secure email queries, an electronic portal for accessing records, or “after-hours” consultations.

Above all, pay attention to whether you feel your doctor can take the time to give you and the members of your family quality care and attention. 

Research Available Services

Equally important are your doctor’s services and areas of expertise. Beyond annual wellness or back-to-school visits, can they provide immunizations and in-office lab tests? Are they versed in current research around cancer prevention, diabetes, reproductive, or cardiovascular health? What about mental wellness, nutritional and exercise planning, or addiction cessation?

Remember that there are many factors that contribute to your long-term wellbeing, so it’s wise to screen potential family doctors for multiple areas of knowledge, skill, and concern. 

Consider the Personal Touch

“How well you and your doctor talk to each other is one of the most important steps to getting good health care,” reminds the National Institute on Aging. Be honest with yourself about personality qualities that may be of importance to you, including:

  • Gender (Woman, Man, Trans, Gender Fluid)
  • Age
  • Language fluency
  • Communication approach (Soothing and Gentle, No-nonsense and Direct)

Doctors are professionals who understand that they won’t be right for every patient. They want you to find a good fit, too. 

When you’re ready to begin, schedule an appointment so you both can get to know each other and discuss your health history and current needs. Though it may take a few attempts, the investment in this relationship is an investment in your long-term health! 

To make an appointment with a primary care physician with United Health Group, or to learn more about our services, contact us online at your convenience. 

How to Incorporate Exercise When You Have Chronic Pain

It doesn’t take much research to uncover the benefits of exercise. Most of us already know that physical activity helps us maintain a healthy body weight, strengthens muscular and skeletal systems, can combat chronic diseases, improves sleep, and alleviates stress.

All of these exercise advantages are especially helpful for those dealing with chronic pain on a regular basis. A 2016 study published by the U.S. Association for the Study of Pain furthermore suggests that “high volume, low intensity [physical activity] may have beneficial effects on pain modulatory function in healthy older adults.” In layman’s terms this means — the right kind of exercise might actually help with your pain.

But managing exercise simultaneously with chronic pain can be a challenge. The experts at United Physicians Group understand these nuances, and we’re here to help you navigate that landscape.

Get a Solid Start

Before you begin, Healthline experts recommend consulting your healthcare provider in an initial physical examination. Talking with your doctor prior to or in the early stages of an exercise regimen can help identify any potential hazards or concerns, such as instability or dizziness, or other conditions that may determine what form of exercise will keep you active but also prevent further pain or injury.

You and your health provider can also establish a baseline for your current pain. Then you can track any increases or decreases in your pain levels as you start your exercise program.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

To reduce the risk of making your pain worse, take exercise slow. Rely on low-impact and low-intensity exercises at first, such as swimming, walking, or light resistance training. As you gain strength, flexibility, and endurance, you can increase both weight load and intensity.

Lightly warm up muscles and blood vessels before your workout, and leave time to cool down with stretches afterward. Over time, stretching will increase your flexibility and improve your range of motion. According to David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, stretching can prevent exercise from putting too much strain on the muscle itself — another way to avoid more pain.

“Exercising releases feel-good endorphins,” says Wendye Robbins, MD, in an interview with Prevention, “which can help ease the pain all over. Start with simple exercises that target the less painful parts of your body.”

Pump Those Fluids

Staying hydrated is important for all of us, especially during a workout, but most especially for those with chronic pain. According to an interview in Spine Universe with Dana Cohen, MD, keeping well-hydrated is “the single most important thing we can do to treat and prevent chronic illness.”

Drinking water regularly (especially before, during, and after exercise) can also help lubricate joints, ease muscle cramping, and possibly improve muscle strength. Coping with chronic pain is complicated enough, without also having to worry over a new
exercise regimen. As your pain management specialists, we are here to help craft a plan that works for you. For a pre-exercise analysis, and advice on optimal workout routines, contact us online any time to schedule an appointment.

Are You What You Eat When it Comes to Chronic Pain?

The month of March marks a time of change: There’s the coming of spring, the start of daylight saving time, and even a chance to change your luck on St. Patrick’s Day. But March is also National Nutrition Month® — which presents an opportunity to change your eating habits, too. 

Turns out, paying attention to what you’re putting into your body isn’t simply good for your general health and well-being. Studies suggest that our diets can also help with chronic pain.

“A lot of chronic pain is the result of chronic inflammation,” says Dr. Fred Tabung, in a 2018 article from Harvard Health Publishing, “and the evidence is quite strong that your diet can contribute to increased systemic inflammation. But your diet is also one of the best ways to reduce it.”

Extinguishing the Flame of Inflammation 

Several sources can help point you in the right direction when it comes to identifying foods that either promote or prevent inflammation. The Fit Institute of Chicago, for example, recommends avoiding red meat, refined carbohydrates (in most cases: products made with processed white flour), soda, and fried foods to aid in inflammation reduction. Harvard Women’s Health Watch agrees, and adds margarine to the mix. 

Margarine (rather than butter) is on that list for a reason, as excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (not to be confused with their cousins, omega-3 fatty acids), may also contribute to inflammation, according to The Arthritis Foundation. This means check the ingredients on your salad dressings, and moderate your intake of safflower, corn, grapeseed, peanut, sunflower, and vegetable oil. Mayonnaise may be a place where omega-6 fatty acids lurk, as well. 

“To reduce levels of inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet,” Harvard Health Publishing recommends. Several studies suggest the Mediterranean Diet, with its focus on plant-based foods and whole grains, but the Mayo Clinic also breaks down their advice fairly simply when they suggest “eat more plants” and “cut the processed stuff,” among their five “simple rules of thumb for anti-inflammatory eating.”

Anti-inflammatory eating doesn’t just help with chronic and arthritic pain, either. Several sources, including The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy and The Neuropathic Therapy Center at Loma Linda University Health suggest it can benefit those suffering from peripheral neuropathy, too.

Can What’s in Your Stomach Also Go to Your Head?

Following the Mediterranean Diet and keeping omega-6 fatty acids low could also help with migraine headaches a 2020 study in Nutrients suggests, though the authors also encourage a willingness to experiment with solutions. Because of the more complex causes and contributing factors of migraines, one single diet plan may not be a fix-all. An elimination diet to identify more specific food triggers is recommended. Researchers also find ketogenic, modified Atkins, or an epigenetic diet may provide relief.

More reason to be flexible, and willing to experiment? The American Migraine Foundation says a variety of different foods may trigger migraine, including alcohol (especially red wine and beer), chocolate, aged cheese, cured meats, smoked fish, yeast extract, and artificial sweeteners. But even making sure you’re eating regularly is something the Foundation suggests may relieve this specific kind of pain. 

Pain in a Bottle

While alcohol shows up as a specific potential trigger for migraine, it has a variety of dangers for those in chronic pain. 

It may be tempting, for instance, to numb chronic pain with a cocktail or glass of wine, but the National Institute of Health warns that mixing alcohol with pain medications could cause dangerous problems. They also note that, as tolerance to alcohol’s effects develops, more alcohol is needed to reach the same analgesic effect. This can create alcohol dependence, and the consequential string of health risks associated with it, as listed by the CDC, including stroke, heart disease, and the risk of several cancers.

Keep in mind, whether you’re in chronic pain or not, alcohol is a well-established cancer-causing agent (among other health problems), and moderating your alcohol consumption is good practice for anyone concerned about their longevity.

Cup of Caffeine Instead?

Alcohol may be a clear thing to avoid, but advice about caffeine is a little less consistent. Though the American Migraine Foundation suggests limited caffeine might help treat migraine headaches (and acknowledges that caffeine is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter headache medicines), The Global Pain Initiative recommends caution with it:  “Caffeine actively causes pain by decreasing the pain threshold and making the nervous system more alert to pain.”

Tracking your consumption of and sensitivity to caffeine (as well as other specific foods) in a food diary may be the best way to help you narrow down the cause of (or solution to) the pain that ails you in this regard.

Find a Friend for This Relationship

Navigating the effects of chronic pain is complicated enough, without also having to sort out the best way to stock your fridge and pantry at the same time. Even when the relationship between what we eat and how we feel seems clear, the exact solutions aren’t always so easy to find. It’s why we recommend reaching out to a pain specialist for help crafting an individualized plan to address the whole experience of your chronic pain. Contact us any time to schedule an appointment and craft a comprehensive strategy (including what you eat) just for you. 

Safely Reach Out And Touch Someone if You Can (and Suggestions if You Can’t)

With Valentine’s Day falling smack in its center like a succulent cherry, February traditionally marks the month of love and affection. For many, the celebration of February 14th might include not only wine, roses, and a gourmet dinner, but also hugs, kisses, and possibly some sex. 

This year, however, February 2021 also marks the first anniversary of the United States’ public battle with COVID-19. In spite of 2020’s precautions and protocols (not to mention the current rollout of vaccines), the number of confirmed cases (and deaths) still increases daily. Nearly a year ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested we may never shake hands with each other again, and the “air kiss” greeting has certainly been retired until further notice. Today, masks, social distancing, and sanitization remain vital requirements. 

So what does that mean for the Month of Love? Has our need and desire for physical affection become obsolete?

Touched by the Hand of Science

The answer is a resounding no. In fact, a scientific study in the Western Journal of Communication supports that positive physical touch is not only good for your mood and your spirit, but also for your heart — and then some. Another article in The Journals of Gerontology indicates that hugging and embracing, receiving a pat on the back, getting a supportive neck massage — or experiencing any other close physical contact — can lower heart rate, improve sleep and respiratory rates, and yield higher oxytocin levels.

Moreover, as reported in Research on Aging, high physical touch can be protective against high blood pressure. A study of 59 women (reported in Penn Medicine) has also demonstrated that women who more frequently hug their partners often have a lower resting blood pressure than those who rarely engage in physical touch. 

What’s Oxytocin Got to Do with It?

While lower blood pressure and heart rates seem to be obvious health benefits (especially during American Heart Month) why are higher oxytocin levels something worth our attention? Known commonly as “the Love Hormone,” oxytocin is generally linked to the mother-child bond and/or skin-to-skin contact. But higher levels of oxytocin help us all feel more peaceful and satisfied. 

For example, elevated levels of oxytocin have been linked to improved sleep, as well as the ability to tell our brain we’re full and don’t need that second helping of macaroni and cheese. As also summarized in Frontiers in Psychology, when our oxytocin levels are higher, it’s possible we’ll sleep better, eat more sensibly, and feel more relaxed — therefore avoiding the myriad health complications of lack of sleep and overeating. 

Oxytocin also has the ability to undo the potential negative effects of cortisol — a stress hormone — in our bodies. When at work, cortisol prioritizes the systems required for short-term survival, rather than those that sustain long-term health. Higher levels of cortisol can contribute to a weakened immune system, suppression of the digestive system and reproductive systems, and as the Mayo Clinic reported, in general, create a greater chance of getting sick.  

“Oxytocin is part of a complex system of neurohormones, but when it’s released by physical touch it can have many benefits, including laying the foundation for cognitive, social and emotional well-being.” Paula S. Barry, MD, physician at Penn Family and Internal Medicine Longwood

But What If You’re Not Romantically Involved?

A careful read of all these studies indicates that the most direct way to increase oxytocin levels is through mutually welcomed, positive, enjoyable physical contact — preferably with someone you love. But this kind of connection with a domestic or romantic partner isn’t the only type we benefit from. The Journals of Gerontology reports that even positive touch from associates or others outside our closest circles may also have benefits including improved sleep, lower blood pressure, improved respiratory rate, and decreased experience of pain. 

But we aren’t limited to contact with just people, either. Affection with our furry friends can also provide similar health benefits as that with another person. Many sources, including Johns Hopkins medicine, the NIH, and the CDC encourage interactions with animals to decrease cortisol, triglyceride and cholesterol levels, plus increase oxytocin, and reduce risks of cardiovascular disease. Even simply spending time outdoors in a natural environment with birds, plants, and other wildlife (according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health) is shown to improve immune functions, prevent illnesses, and reduce stress.

Hands Up for Hands-Free Positivity 

For all of us, the new landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic means safe physical connection of any kind can only happen between a few select other humans (or animals), if at all. Even Time magazine has speculated about the negative effects of this contact-deficient world.

Fortunately, there are still ways the most independent (and germ-conscious) individual can substitute the benefits of physical contact, and keep their physiology thrumming.  

  • Jump Around
    • You don’t need the CDC or Harvard to tell you physical activity of nearly any kind has myriad positive effects on the body, including improving brain and cardiovascular health, strengthening bones and muscles, reducing your risk of type-2 diabetes, and even preventing some cancers. Whether walking, running, doing yoga or resistance exercises, or dancing around your apartment, 30 minutes of exercise five times a week will provide a boost like almost nothing else. 

Whatever you’re doing to love yourself through February, we’re here for you. If you’re not already monitoring your heart and cardiovascular health, if your stress levels appear to be increasing, if you’re concerned about a lack of physical contact — or anything else regarding your well-being — please reach out. As always, there’s a lot we can do to support your whole health, even without touch. Contact us any time to schedule an appointment

5 Tips for a Healthier Holiday Season (And Only One is About COVID-19)

2020 has been, to say the least, a difficult year, with much of what brings fullness to our lives temporarily on hold. The holiday season is upon us, and we’re all understandably feeling overdue for some rest, celebration, and connection with our family, neighbors, and friends.

Unfortunately, despite some recent encouraging news on the vaccine front, COVID-19 infection rates remain very high. It’s still not safe to celebrate the holidays in all the same ways we would in more normal times. At United Physician Group, we want and plan to celebrate the holidays. However, when this pandemic is finally behind us, we also want to celebrate that you and your family are healthy and well.

So we’ve compiled some tips to help you stay healthy as you adapt your holiday traditions to the current limitations and maybe create some new traditions. We hope you’re finding ways to feel close to your family and friends, even when physically far away.

Party Safely During a Pandemic

Let’s deliver the most disappointing news first: It’s simply not safe to host or attend large, indoor family gatherings or holiday parties this year. The safest plan for the holidays is to gather in person only with those people who already live in your household. The more you come together with people from outside your home — even if they’re close family or your very best friends — the greater your risks will be.

We know that’s hard advice to accept, but the medical science is clear. Gathering closely for more than a few minutes with people from outside your household puts everyone at greater risk of catching COVID-19.

The best idea: Celebrate in person only with the people who already live with you, and include anyone else virtually, by phone or video call.

The next best idea: Plan or attend parties in ways that reduce (but won’t eliminate) the risk.

The CDC has published some advice on how to do this. We recommend you read the full article, but some highlights include:

  • Keep gatherings small, with plenty of room for people to stay at least six feet apart from one another at all times.
  • Ask that everyone wear masks except when actively eating or drinking.
  • Weather permitting, open windows and doors to increase fresh air ventilation.
  • If at all possible, hold your party outdoors.

 

It’s all a lot, we know, but it’s what we have to do this holiday season to protect the people we care about.

Maybe consider:

  • Have a virtual cookie-making party via video conference, with everyone joining from their own kitchens.
  • Deliver prepared foods to nearby friends and family in a contact-free manner. (Foods do not appear to pose a significant infection risk.)
  • Try a drive-by party, where guests drive up to your house to pick up a gift or a bag of goodies without getting out of their cars.
  • Plan an outdoor holiday gathering that follows all CDC guidelines.

Get Your Flu Shot

If you haven’t already done so, it’s not too late to get your flu shot. In fact, December 6-12 is National Influenza Vaccination Week. Flu shots are a good idea every year, especially for children, pregnant women, adults over 65, and anyone with a chronic health condition. Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, the flu shot can help protect you and everyone you come in contact with.

Avoiding a serious case of the flu is even more important right now. Many hospitals are overcrowded with COVID-19 patients. There’s also the risk of catching both influenza and COVID-19 at the same time, putting you at greater risk of serious complications and hospitalization.

The good news? Getting the shot only takes a few minutes. Flu shots are safe and effective, and most people experience only very mild side effects that go away within a few days.

If you and your family haven’t already had your flu shot this season, talk with your doctor about getting it now. It might save you from a miserably sick holiday.

Choose Safe Toys and Gifts

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (PDF), in 2018 there were an estimated 226,100 toy-related injuries that resulted in emergency treatments at hospitals in the U.S. That’s why December is National Safe Toys and Gifts Month, a month dedicated to protecting children from injury by unsafe toys.

Prevent Blindness, the sponsor of National Safe Toys and Gifts Month, encourages you to:

  • Only buy toys rated as appropriate for each child’s age.
  • Teach children how to use their toys safely.
  • Monitor children while they play.

They also suggest several ways to verify that a toy will be safe for the child receiving it. Review their list to make safe choices for the children in your life.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry… in Moderation

Actually, no need to moderate the merriment, but be mindful of what you eat and drink. Some holiday indulgences are fine. Just don’t overdo it, and consider healthier alternatives where you can. If you’re diabetic, continue to monitor and maintain your blood sugar levels. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, and please don’t drink and drive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has some good suggestions for healthier holidays. Some of our favorites are:

  • Include plenty of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your holiday feasts.
  • When baking, replace butter with applesauce or mashed, ripe bananas. Experiment with cutting back on the sugar called for in recipes.
  • Talk, play games, and otherwise focus on the people more than the food.
  • Make exercise part of the holiday plan, perhaps with a backyard game or a walk after a meal.

Focus on Connecting Creatively

Close connections with people we care about can help prevent or ease depression while helping us live fuller, happier lives. Those connections are even more important during the holidays, when isolation can hit us hard.

This year, connecting safely with the ones you love may be more complicated because of the pandemic. Get creative and find a way to do so anyway.

Some ideas include:

  • Make time for long phone calls or video chats with the people you care about who live outside your household.
  • Have meaningful conversations and activities with the people who live with you.
  • Schedule well distanced and masked outdoor visits with friends and family who live nearby.
  • Reach back into tradition and send handwritten letters to the people who you care about.

There’s still so much to celebrate, even in the midst of this difficult year. All of us at United Physician Group celebrate the gift of you. Here’s to a happier, healthier new year.

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Have you scheduled your annual wellness visit? If not, resolve to do so before the end of the year. It’s an important foundation for healthy living in 2021 and beyond. Schedule your next check-up today.

Why is My Nerve Pain Worse at Night? (And How Can I Sleep Better?)

If you suffer from nerve pain caused by diabetic neuropathy, physical trauma, sciatica, lupus, arthritis, or other causes, you may find that your pain gets worse at night. While not everyone experiences this, it is quite common for people with nerve pain to report greater pain later at night or whenever they get in bed.

The pain may make it harder for you to get quality sleep, and that may in turn make your pain and overall health and wellbeing even worse. It’s a vicious cycle.

Let’s look first at why your nerve pain may be worse at night, then we’ll look at some ways you may be able to get better rest.

Why Nerve Pain is Worse at Night

Just as chronic pain can have many causes, so too can increased pain at night. Not all causes are fully understood, but here are some possible reasons you may be hurting more at night.

Body Position

When you lay down, the weight of your body may put pressure on your nerves in ways that it doesn’t when you’re upright. This is particularly common with sciatica and other chronic pain caused by pinched or compressed nerves.

Temperature

Cooler temperatures help many people sleep better. However, cold can also make arthritis pain worse. Neuropathy may make you more sensitive to cold and more likely to experience it as pain.

Attention and Distraction

You may simply be more aware of your pain at night when there is less to distract you from it. This doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real — it is — only that you may be noticing it more at night than you do when you have other things to occupy your mind.

Hormone Levels

As your body prepares itself for sleep, your hormone levels, metabolism, and many other biochemical processes adjust. Some of these changes may heighten your pain. Cortisol, for example, has anti-inflammatory effects. However, your cortisol levels drop through the first half of your sleep cycle to let you rest, potentially making pain from rheumatoid arthritis worse.

Medication Timing and Dosage

The medications that control your pain well during the day may be wearing off too soon at night. Or your nighttime biochemistry and symptoms may require a different dosage or medicine.

How to Sleep Better with Chronic Pain

You and your pain management specialist may have to take an experimental approach to sleeping better. What works well for one kind of chronic pain may not work well for another, and your body will respond in its own unique way. Here are some strategies that may help you reduce your nighttime pain and get better sleep.

Try Sleeping in Different Positions

If your chronic pain is caused by pinched or compressed nerves, adjusting your sleep position may relieve some of the pressure. For example, people with sciatica who prefer to sleep on their side often find it helpful to sleep with their affected leg on top. People with hip or knee pain may find relief by sleeping with a pillow between their legs.

Adjust the Temperature

Experiment with different room temperatures when you sleep. It may take some time to find the best temperature for you: cool enough to help you sleep, not cold enough to make your pain worse. Consider keeping a journal of each night’s room temperature, sleep quality, and pain, then see what patterns you notice over time.

Get Appropriate Exercise During the Day

Exercise during the day can help reduce some kinds of chronic pain, and it may help you rest better too. Talk with your pain management doctor about what kinds of exercise are appropriate and safe for you.

Practice Good Sleep Habits

While the day’s stimulations may distract you from your pain, they won’t help you sleep. Develop a sleep routine that helps prepare your body for rest. This might include turning off the TV and other screens 1-2 hours before bedtime, reading a book, or taking a warm bath. Anything that helps you relax and unwind before you head to sleep.

Prepare Your Mind for Rest

The stress of chronic pain can make it even harder to rest. Try meditation or deep breathing exercises to lower your stress and help reduce your perception of pain. They also give you something else to focus on instead of your pain.

Talk With Your Doctor About Your Medications

If the medications you’re taking to manage your pain are wearing off or not working as well at night, tell your doctor and discuss your options. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may recommend modified-release corticosteroids to prevent nighttime inflammation.

Good Sleep for Better Health

Whatever you do, don’t suffer sleeplessly in silence. Chronic poor sleep will only make your chronic pain worse, and it robs you of a better quality of life. Less nighttime pain and better sleep will help you feel better all day long.

If you’d like some help managing your pain for better rest and health, you can make an appointment with any United Physician Group Pain Management practice. We offer effective treatments that bring lasting relief. We’ll help you rest well and get your life back.

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.

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?

Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?

Intermittent fasting has made a lot of news the past few years, with some preliminary studies suggesting it may be beneficial for weight loss, reducing insulin resistance, lowering blood pressure, and even supporting better brain function. These results are not settled science — we don’t yet know with confidence if the benefits are real — but some of the early studies show encouraging results. Keep reading below if you’re wondering is intermittent fasting healthy?

There are a few different models of intermittent fasting, but the most common is called time-restricted eating. This is when you only eat during a certain span of hours during the day, either some days or every day. For example, in the common 16:8 time-restricting eating practice, you eat only during a predetermined 8-hour window each day and fast the other 16 hours.

During the fasting period, most people still drink water and other no-calorie drinks, such as black coffee or unsweetened tea. This may make fasting easier and protects against dehydration.

While the effectiveness is still uncertain, if you’re considering trying intermittent fasting, it’s important to first determine whether it’s safe for your health.

An article published by the Harvard School of Public Health warns that intermittent fasting is not safe for people who are diabetic, pregnant, breastfeeding, or currently using medications that must be taken with food. It’s also not safe for adolescents or others in a growth stage of life. And intermittent fasting is dangerous for anyone who currently or has ever struggled with eating disorders.

If none of these apply to you and if you’re generally in good health, intermittent fasting may be safe and could potentially offer some health benefits. But it’s always best to ask your doctor before starting any diet. They can advise you on safe eating practices suited to your present health. And they may offer better alternatives for achieving your health goals.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to monitor the latest results on intermittent fasting, and we’ll alert you as new information emerges.

Concerned About Your Weight or Insulin Resistance?

Contact your United Physician Doctor for an assessment and some sound advice if you’re wondering is intermittent fasting healthy?