View Full Version : Medical Myths that can kill you

Oct 22, 2008, 04:02 PM
http://www2.lifescript.com/Health/Everyday-Care/Myths/Medical%20Myths%20That%20Can%20Kill%20You.aspx?utm _campaign=2008-10-22&utm_source=healthy-advantage&utm_medium=email&utm_content=healthy-well-wise_Medical%20Myths%20That%20Can&FromNL=1?79451_30342898_18861_0.htm

Medical Myths That Can Kill You
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Some myths are harmless: Breaking a mirror means seven years of bad luck, a tablespoon of vinegar cures hiccups. But some myths can kill you if you don't get the facts from a doctor. In this LifeScript exclusive, NBC News medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman debunks the most dangerous myths about health ("only the elderly have strokes") – and shares secrets that could save your life…

Defined as false information that's widely believed, myths can steer people toward illness, hardship and even death, warns Snyderman in her new book Medical Myths That Can Kill You: And the 101 Truths That Will Save, Extend and Improve Your Life (Crown Publishers, June 2008). From tetanus shots to colonoscopies, the book helps readers manage their medical destinies by disproving common beliefs that can send us to the morgue before our time.

In an exclusive interview with LifeScript, Snyderman, a practicing physician and chief medical editor for NBC News, reveals the most lethal misconceptions we tend to have about our health. She also gives us the lowdown on whether widely circulated warnings (e.g. coloring your hair while you're pregnant can harm your baby) are fact or fiction.

Silence Is Deadly
The greatest threat to women's lives is a lack of assertiveness in the presence of medical personnel, Snyderman says. As patients, we like to believe that doctors treat everyone with equal care and concern, but unfortunately they don't, Snyderman warns.
"There are inherent biases in health care, whether it's racism or sexism or ageism," she says. In her book, this is Myth #3: Doctors don't play favorites.

Such discrimination means certain groups of patients can get short shrift when they most need optimal care. For example, obese women often receive inadequate doses of chemotherapy because doctors discount them for being overweight, Snyderman reports. The same holds true for poor women.

The long-term solution to these injustices is for women to try as many different physicians as possible until they find one who takes their complaints seriously and shows unreserved dedication to making them well.

In the short term, women simply need to speak up, insisting on attention and care from doctors and nurses. "When it comes to navigating the health care system, good manners are not conducive to good health," Snyderman says. For example, if you're going to the emergency room, bring someone with you if possible. That way, you'll have an advocate who can speak up on your behalf while you're weak or incapacitated.
Make That Appointment
Myth #1 in the book: Annual checkups are obsolete. Snyderman makes a case for not only visiting a primary care doctor every year, but also ensuring that the services you receive are tailored to your sex, age and any risks based on your family history.

For example, Snyderman's grandfather died of colon cancer in his 60s, so at every annual checkup her father insisted on getting a sigmoidoscopy, an exam of the lower colon. When the colonoscopy, a more thorough treatment, became available, he told his doctor he wanted one. It ended up revealing a cancerous mass in his intestines that the sigmoidoscopy would have missed. Because he demanded the colonoscopy and caught the problem early, he survived treatment and has remained healthy for the last 21 years.

Medical Myths provides a three-page table readers can use to determine which special tests − bone density, mammograms, eye and ear exams − they should request at which ages. Snyderman also stresses the importance of routine checks such as blood pressure and urinalysis, which help detect problems before they turn into crises.

Because many of us simply forget to schedule yearly exams, she suggests picking a memorable date, like your birthday, as the designated time to make the appointment.
Get a Shot
Some 70,000 U.S. adults die every year from causes that could have been prevented with simple injections. Snyderman tackles this in Myth #2: Vaccinations are just for kids. Many of us think that once we've completed the childhood series of shots for polio, measles and the like, we're done with hypodermics for good.

Not so. We may need tetanus booster shots, human papillomavirus (HPV) injections to prevent cervical cancer, and even a vaccine against meningitis, a deadly bacterial infection of the brain that tends to strike on college campuses.

And if your parents dropped the ball on childhood vaccinations for diseases such as chicken pox and measles but you survived to adulthood without contracting them, you're not out of danger. Talk to your doctor about getting immunized.

Snyderman's book gives invaluable information about the shots you may need and recommends checking out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, www.cdc.gov, for a more detailed rundown.
Listen to Your Heart
Heart attacks only strike the elderly and paunchy middle-aged men, right? Not necessarily. If you're not a member of either of those groups, you could still be at risk, Snyderman cautions, in what she terms Myth #4: Only old people get heart disease and stroke.

The American Heart Association recommends everyone begin receiving heart checks at age 20, because problems that lead to arteriosclerosis, the buildup that blocks blood flow to the heart, can start at a young age − a possible consequence of factors such as a fat-laden diet, smoking and obesity.

In fact, Snyderman attributes her own heart problem, discovered when she was in her 50s, to careless eating habits in her youth – habits she has now reversed.

Strokes, which occur when there's a stoppage of blood flow to the brain, can also affect young people.

In addition to protecting themselves by getting tested for high blood pressure, cholesterol count and body mass index (BMI), women need to be aggressive about getting to the emergency room at the first sign of danger, Snyderman says.
Regardless of your age, if you experience signs of a heart attack (pressure in the chest or pain radiating from the chest) or stroke (a sudden numbness on one side of the body), get medical help immediately. Also be aware that symptoms of a heart attack can differ by gender. Women's heart attacks are often preceded by jaw pain, a feeling of breathing icy air or overwhelming fatigue. Call an ambulance if you have any of these symptoms.

And for best response, never drive yourself to the E.R. "When you arrive with sirens, you'll get treatment faster," Snyderman says. "Or walk right up to the desk and say, ‘I think I'm having a heart attack.' That's how you get past the paperwork."

Don't Trust Every Herb
To shatter belief in Myth #6 − natural means safe − Snyderman reminds us that two substances that can end lives (tobacco and arsenic) are perfectly natural, plant-derived entities.

So what about the hundreds of holistic remedies and diet supplements − from wheat grass juice and blue-green algae to biotin capsules − that health food stores dispense? They provide holistic hope for us when traditional medicine fails or scares us. But is our faith misplaced?
There aren't any easy answers, Snyderman concedes, because most of these products haven't received the extensive clinical testing that prescription drugs go through before entering the market. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't require such trials for natural substances.

Fortunately, if you decide to try natural products, there are some sensible steps you can take to make sure you're not doing yourself more harm than good. First, be frank with your conventional doctor. Tell him or her what you're taking and how much, and who (an herbalist or homeopathic professional) has been giving you advice.

"Everything you put in your mouth can affect something else you're taking," Snyderman says. Your conventional doctor needs to have all the information before giving you prescription drugs or any type of anesthesia for surgical procedures.

Also, do your homework before you try any natural remedies. "It's best to look at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [www.ajcn.org] or the Tufts University Web site [http://www.library.tufts.edu/hsl/subjectGuides/cam.html]," Snyderman says. "And remember, medicine is a moving target. Wisdom changes."
If you haven't read up on your favorite dietary supplement lately, it's time to do some research.

Debunking 6 Small Myths
We compiled a short list of medical urban legends we'd heard for years and asked Snyderman if they're fact… or folklore. Here are her answers:

LifeScript: Is coloring your hair while pregnant really dangerous to the fetus?
Snyderman: There's never been a link between hair coloring and hurting a baby.

LifeScript: Is it true you can have one glass of wine per day while pregnant?
Snyderman: Yes, but sip it slowly and have it with food.

LifeScript: We hear a lot about people testing their "toxin load." But do we really have to remove all toxins from our environment? Isn't some exposure healthy?
Snyderman: We're all walking around with toxic things inside us, but is it worth testing? No. It's BS. The only exceptions are if you have a child with a neurological problem or have an old house. It wouldn't hurt to test for lead. There are simple home tests you can use for that.
LifeScript: Can talcum powder really give you ovarian cancer?
Snyderman: An interesting question, because no one knows for sure. As doctors, we used to have talc on our gloves, and we learned to rinse it off because little deposits could show up in the [patient's] abdominal cavity.

LifeScript: Do you really have to drink water right after a massage?
Snyderman: No. And you don't have to drink eight glasses of water a day either. Drink when you're thirsty.

LifeScript: What do people believe that always surprises you?
Snyderman: That dietary supplements are as good as food. You can't replace food with supplements.

Want to learn more? Get your own copy of Medical Myths That Can Kill You.

Women's Health: How Much Do You Know?
As a woman, your health concerns are as unique as your body. How you take care of yourself has a huge impact on your future, affecting everything from your ability to have children to your risk of heart disease. There's no substitute for good health, and when it's gone, it's often gone for good. Don't let it pass you by. Test your smarts with this women's health quiz.

Oct 23, 2008, 11:51 AM
I noticed your post on Medical Myths by Dr. Nancy Snyderman and wanted to thank you for spreading the word about her work. She is one of the founders of the organization where I work and I have gotten to know her. She is down-to-earth and reading her book is like having a conversation with her.
I wanted to tell you about a new Virtual Social Network, that she is launching along with a team of well-known health experts to elevate the quality of online health discusstions. It launches November 12th, and is called BeWell.com. If you have a moment, check it out and let me know what you think. We are looking for feedback from individuals interested in communicating online about health and thanks again for your mention of Medical Myths.