Diverticulitis/Diverticulosis – Whatever the Case, a Word to Watch Out For!

diverticulitis

Painful abdominal cramping in association with a change in bowel movements might represent a non-specific gastrointestinal virus; or it could be the manifestation of a potentially serious disorder known as diverticulitis. More commonly found in patients over the age of 60, diverticulitis is a disease that involves an inflammation of the colonic wall and has the ability to cause severe complications. The underlying disorder (i.e. diverticulosis) that predisposes patients to diverticulitis is unquestionably widespread, with some sources reporting that more than 1 in 10 Americans have the disease. Of those, 25% will go on to manifest diverticulitis. What’s more, this statistic is not isolated to the aforementioned age category and also occurs in young adults. Additionally, scientists have stated that the prevalence of diverticulitis has been steadily increasing, a trend that has been witnessed in several countries. It’s important, therefore, for people to learn about the typical symptoms of this disorder and understand that receiving prompt and simple treatment is usually all that’s necessary to eradicate the infection.

A diverticulum is a sac-like protrusion at a weak point within the colonic wall. The presence of a diverticulum fundamentally means that a person has diverticulosis. If the diverticulum undergoes microscopic perforation, a bacterial inflammatory process ensues which is known as diverticulitis. The majority of patients with diverticulitis experience left-sided lower abdominal pain, low grade fevers, and either diarrhea or constipation. Of note, the reason why patients develop abdominal pain on the left lower side is due to the fact that the narrowest and most susceptible part of the colon, the sigmoid, is located there. Serious complications such as bowel obstruction, abscess (collection of pus) formation, or a major perforation of the bowel are rarely encountered. The diagnosis is generally made with a combination of the patient’s clinical presentation and radiographic imaging studies such as a CT scan. Most patients can be successfully treated with an outpatient antibiotic regimen, but if the patient is elderly, immunocompromised, or has a high fever, they will likely warrant admission to the hospital. Of all the patients with diverticulitis, 20-40% will have a recurrent episode, and elective surgery may be considered in those with four or more presentations of diverticulitis.

Many researchers believe that our dietary habits account for the rise in diverticulosis and diverticulitis seen worldwide. Previously, scientists thought that hard small food particles such as popcorn and nuts were responsible for the development of the diverticulum but data has shown that these foods are not associated with this process. On the other hand, what has been demonstrated is that patients who consume a higher amount of fatty foods and red meat have an increased risk of developing diverticular disease. More anecdotally, many people believe that processed foods are a contributing factor to a variety of disease processes, which has created a movement back to organically produced food items. In addition to this, data has also shown that consuming a high fiber diet and being involved in vigorous exercise activity reduces the risk of symptomatic disease. In fact these are beneficial practices that everyone should partake in irrespective of this disease entity. In any respect, paying attention to both potential symptoms and best practices is a sensible way to reduce the risk of diverticular disease.

Enterovirus D68 – Easy to Catch, Hard to Shake

enterovirus D68

Enterovirus D68 has become a major antagonist in recent news headlines, as it has been noted to be the culprit of a severe illness that has resulted in the hospitalization of multiple children. Unfortunately, its notorious reputation is not unfounded, given that several children have lost their lives as a result of this particularly aggressive infection. EnterovirusD68 causes a severe respiratory illness which has been responsible for various disease outbreaks in the past. Interestingly, although scientists have known about this virus and its biological activities since 1962, they had never seen as many cases as they have witnessed throughout this year. Researchers are still trying to decipher why the virus has precipitated a nationwide outbreak. To date, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has confirmed a total of 664 cases, a number expected to increase since the virus is still within its peak season. Despite the fact that we are unable to eliminate the virus from the environment, we can focus on proactive and critical measures, such as preventing the acquisition and spread of disease.

The enteroviruses are ubiquitous in our environment and the EnterovirusD68 is only one of 100 scientifically classified strains. High rates of infection predominantly occur during the summer and fall but the virus is present throughout the year. Enterovirus D68 can be found in respiratory secretions and it is generally transmitted when someone infected coughs or sneezes around another individual. The incubation period (time from acquisition of disease to manifestation of symptoms) is variable but it ranges from 3-5 days, whereas the infectivity period (length of time that patients can transmit disease) can easily last several weeks. Patients with this type of enterovirus classically experience fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, and body aches. The diagnosis is made by a specialized laboratory cell culture test and the treatment is generally supportive because there is no preventative vaccine or cure. It is important to note that despite the fact that this virus can affect anyone, it has been reported to be more aggressive in children, particularly in those with a history of asthma or any other chronic lung disease.

The public, especially parents, might be concerned about Enterovirus D68 but the fact of the matter is that the majority of patients with this virus are substantially more likely to manifest a mild non-threatening illness than a severe disease. Nevertheless, if your child is displaying symptoms of a respiratory illness [which could be due to this or any other type of virus in the community] it is reasonable to request a prompt evaluation by a physician. More importantly, even if your family is not displaying signs of illness, it is best to prevent the disease altogether. Therefore, everyone should partake in the following routine practices: wash your hands often with soap and water; do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with dirty hands; avoid close contact with people who are sick; cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing; and disinfect your surrounding work and home surfaces frequently. These simple activities, when regularly executed, might make the ultimate difference between who gets ill and who stays healthy.

E-Cigarettes – Electronic ≠ Non-toxic

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The dramatic anti-smoking television commercials featuring people with voice boxes or fake teeth after suffering from smoking-related cancer, along with similar advertising regarding the hazardous effects of cigarette smoking, have radically affected the way that tobacco companies market their products. Today, the tobacco industry and related smoking businesses have decided to shift gears and focus their attention on the promotion of “safer” products for the consumers, resulting in the invention of the electronic or e-cigarette. This item has been advertised as a better alternative to traditional cigarette smoking, with some even stating that it can aid in the process of smoking cessation. However, e-cigarettes have not been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and a quick internet search will show that the agency has major safety concerns regarding these products. Furthermore, due to the lack of large scientific studies regarding e-cigarettes, the long-term clinical effects of these products remain unknown.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that aerosolize nicotine, a naturally occurring central nervous system stimulant. The electronic cigarette apparatus is composed of a battery, a heating unit, and liquid nicotine within a diluent. When a person inhales through an e-cigarette, the battery unit is activated and the heating unit is turned on, resulting in the subsequent vaporization of the nicotine product. Both the e-cigarette and the traditional cigarette contain the addictive ingredient nicotine; the difference being that because there is no actual combustion reaction with the e-cigarette, what the person is really exhaling is vapor as opposed to the smoke, containing carbon monoxide, brought about with regular cigarettes. Yet, inhaling nicotine is not inconsequential and this substance has been known to be one of the major contributing factors in the development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. The FDA has examined a variety of e-cigarette brands and has found that some contained carcinogenic (potential to cause cancer) substances within their ingredients. Moreover, they also reported that certain e-cigarettes claiming to be free of nicotine did in fact contain it, leading many to question the reliability of their reported chemical content.

The internet has been booming with advertisements for e-cigarettes, with several companies reporting that their products promise to treat insomnia and sexual dysfunction. Most of these claims are unsubstantiated and more research needs to be conducted before we can define the e-cigarette’s true physiologic effects. Interestingly, major tobacco powerhouses, who concomitantly own e-cigarette companies, are placing more ominous written warnings on their e-cigarette products than on their traditional cigarette packaging. It is unclear if they are doing this in the consumer’s best interest, as an effort to legally protect the company, or even to shine a light on traditional cigarettes as a safer alternative. Nevertheless, the fact remains that nicotine in any shape or form is an addictive and harmful substance for the human body. So, if you’re a smoker looking to quit your addiction, it’s probably best not to move to another mode of nicotine use, especially one that has not been thoroughly tested. And for those non-smokers who may be driven by the allure of having an e-cigarette in your hand, your choice is as toxic as the substance you’ll be putting into your body.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – Tension in a Confined Space

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Modern day technology encourages all of us to communicate by either texting on our smartphones or by typing messages on a computer, two tasks considered effortless by most people. Yet, for those who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, this routine activity can turn into an arduous and agonizing task. Carpal tunnel syndrome is characterized by discomfort and tingling of the hand, and in extreme cases, it can even impair hand mobility and strength. It is known to affect 10 million Americans and it is more common in females. Despite ongoing research, scientists have not been able to elucidate the exact cause of carpal tunnel syndrome but they have suggested that genetic predisposition might play an important role in this disorder. Nevertheless, there is good news: we have a wide variety of effective treatments available for carpal tunnel syndrome. Therefore, familiarizing yourself with the classic symptoms of this common malady will help you identify the signs of this disorder and seek treatment before it becomes a debilitating issue.

The carpal tunnel is a physical canal located in the wrist where a circular band of tissue encloses the median nerve (responsible for the sensation in the 1st 3 fingers and certain hand movements) and several tendons. Scientists have suggested that carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when there is an increase in pressure within the canal. For example, an inflammatory process within the canal (such as that seen in wrist trauma) will result in swelling and irritation of the median nerve and its nearby tendons, culminating in the clinical symptoms observed in this condition. The most common manifestations include a dull ache in the hand, numbness of the hand, and general weakness with normal functions. The symptoms are prominent at night time and, in severe cases, the pain can radiate up the forearm. The diagnosis can be made with a review of the patient’s history and a physical examination but patients may warrant nerve conduction studies (evaluation of the capacity of electrical transmission of a nerve) and imaging modalities such as an MRI. The treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome will depend on its severity but it generally involves: a wrist splint that maintains the joint in a neutral position; oral steroid tablets; physical therapy; local steroid injections into the canal by a hand surgeon; ultrasound treatment to promote nerve and tendon recovery; and surgical decompression of the carpal tunnel.

A number of risk factors have been delineated for this disorder and they include obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, trauma, and pregnancy (due to the naturally occurring fluid retention). Other plausible influential elements are repetitive hand and wrist movements as well as working with vibrating tools. The majority of patients with carpal tunnel syndrome will respond to conservative treatment but those over age 50 with symptoms of constant tingling and numbness lasting longer than ten months, will require more aggressive treatment. Nonetheless, the best approach is to reduce the recurrence of symptomatic carpal tunnel syndrome episodes. Therefore, engaging in frequent stretching exercises, the application of a splint, anti-inflammatory medications, intermittently resting your hand when at work, and participating in yoga will all help to decrease carpal tunnel syndrome’s incapacitating effects.

Atrial Fibrillation – A Common Irregularity with Unsettling Symptoms

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Oftentimes, when a person experiences a rapidly beating heart in association with generalized fatigue he or she is likely to attribute those symptoms to either emotional stress or simply a lack of sleep. Yet, these familiar nonspecific complaints could actually relate to the initial presenting symptoms of atrial fibrillation, the most commonly sustained cardiac arrhythmia. Worldwide, approximately 33.5 million individuals suffer from this condition, and every year an additional 5 million patients get diagnosed. Atrial fibrillation is associated with numerous medical conditions and is also one of the major causes of a non-hemorrhagic stroke (no intracranial bleeding). Therefore, patients should be aware of what the typical symptoms of atrial fibrillation entail, given that early diagnosis and treatment will not only result in symptom improvement but also in the prevention of life-threatening complications as well.

Atrial fibrillation is classified as an irregular heart rhythm that poses a potential threat to the normal functioning of the heart. The atria in the heart are the chambers that receive blood, whereas the ventricles are the chambers that pump the blood. In a normal heart, an electrical signal produced in the atria is responsible for the electrical current that signals the heart to beat and pump the blood in a coordinated fashion. In patients with atrial fibrillation, the atria have multiple signals firing, leading to an irregular heart rhythm that may compromise normal blood flow. The classic symptoms of atrial fibrillation include general malaise, palpitations, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath, which is especially noticeable with any physical exertion. The diagnosis can be made by feeling the pulse during an examination as well as through the evaluation of an electrocardiogram. But if the patient is not having the arrhythmia at the time of examination, the diagnosis can be missed. In this specific subset of patients, a special long-term heart monitor might be applied. The treatment usually involves medications to control the heart rate, anti-coagulation (i.e. blood thinners) in those patients at risk for clot formation, cardioversion (electricity to reset the heart rhythm), and a surgical procedure known as an ablation, whereby a specialized cardiologist will remove the tissue responsible for the extraneous signals. Untreated atrial fibrillation may result in stroke and heart failure.

Some patients might have a genetic predisposition for the development of atrial fibrillation, while others might develop this in conjunction with another disease process. For example, conditions such as hyperthyroidism, pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung), and pericarditis (inflammation around the lining of the heart) may all trigger an irregular heart rhythm, and in these situations, only the primary disorder needs to be treated. Even though deductive reasoning would lead one to believe that those with more frequent and prolonged episodes of atrial fibrillation are at higher risk for complications, this has not proven to be the case. As a result, patients with this condition need an individualized treatment plan by their cardiologist. In addition to this, some studies have suggested that increasing fish in one’s diet and decreasing alcohol consumption might reduce the frequency of episodes. Remember, when someone complains of significant weakness and lightheadedness, consider that it might signify more than just psychological stress and necessitate further assessment from a physician.

Menopause – Uneasiness is Often Made Better with Understanding

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While your family is gathered in the living room during the heart of winter, your mother comments that she finds the house temperature to be uncomfortably warm. She proceeds to lower the thermostat to a chilly 50 degrees and you remind her that everyone else in the house finds that temperature to be unbearably cold. She quickly snaps back at you and responds, “Well, I’m feeling hot and sweaty and can’t stand this heat.” Though seemingly ripe for a sitcom, this is a typical experience of a woman who is transitioning into menopause, the stage of a woman’s life when there is a permanent cessation of the menstrual cycle. Yet, contrary to popular belief, the classic symptoms of hot flashes and mood changes that most people associate with menopause are most prominent in the period of time just preceding menopause (a.k.a. peri-menopause); an interval during which hormonal fluctuations are considered erratic. Symptoms related to menopause are exceedingly common and studies have shown that up to 80% of females experience the aforementioned manifestations. Luckily, treatment is available for women who are symptomatic, and for men, recognizing and understanding this clinical syndrome can only benefit them, as knowing what to expect will allow them to better manage their relationships with a close or companion female.

The physiologic changes accompanying the menopause transition occur about 4 years prior to the final menstrual period. As a woman gets older, the ovaries start to degenerate, resulting in the subsequent decline of the estrogen and progesterone hormones. These hormonal changes are responsible for the clinical manifestations of menopause. The most commonly reported symptoms include: A) hot flashes, i.e., an intense heating sensation felt over the chest and face, often associated with perspiration and anxiety; B) sleep disturbances; C) depression; D) vaginal dryness, due to a decrease in estrogen levels; E) sexual dysfunction; F) cognitive changes, commonly described as memory loss or difficulty with concentration; G) joint pain; and less commonly noted, H) migraine headaches. The diagnosis of menopause is based on the patient’s clinical history and presentation, but it may involve blood testing for hormone levels. The treatment for this condition is hormonal replacement therapy, and there are a variety of formulations available that can be used. These can be administered orally, topically, or as an intra-vaginal cream (a remedy that has less systemic effects than the oral formulation).

For the majority of women, peri-menopause is an extremely trying stage to cope with, both from a mental and physical standpoint. Different natural therapies have been looked at and some have reported that plant based estrogens, such as those found in soy, could serve as an alternative treatment for menopausal women. However, studies have failed to demonstrate a clear benefit. Moreover, even though there are a variety of effective treatments available, not all women are candidates for hormonal therapy. It is contraindicated in women with a history of breast cancer, coronary artery disease, or blood clots, as hormonal therapy has been known to increase the risk of these conditions. Nevertheless, if someone close to you is approaching menopause, consider that they are undergoing uneasy and uncontrollable physiologic changes; so if you recognize a shift in behavior, remember: being receptive and patient is the first line of treatment.

Vocal Failure – Keep Your Vociferous Voicings to a Reticent Rap

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There is nothing more irritating than waking up in the morning and realizing that you have lost your voice, a necessary faculty oftentimes taken for granted. And it’s hardly any consolation if you wake up with a sliver of a voice that emanates raspy and hoarse sounds. Numerous causes for voice failure have been delineated and these range from a throat infection causing laryngitis to chronic voice overuse. The latter is the most common cause for which celebrities such as Rachel Ray and Adele undergo vocal cord surgery. Yet, voice disruptions are not isolated to those who habitually strain their vocal cords, as data shows that 1 out of 3 people in the general public are affected with this condition. Luckily, hoarseness is largely due to benign causes and does not require any specific treatment. However, when vocal failure and hoarseness become a recurrent malady, further investigation is required in order to exclude a serious underlying pathology.

Voice deficits can occur for one of two reasons: a functional issue, whereby the performance of a specified activity causes the condition (e.g. a teacher who speaks loudly in the classroom) or an organic cause (e.g. a mass in the airway tract obstructing airflow). To understand the mechanisms by which voice disorders occur, we must first understand the physiology of voice production. The physical act of speaking occurs through an intricate system that involves the coordinated movement of exhaled air through the vocal cords, all of which is regulated and directed by the nerves and muscles surrounding the airway tract. Any problem at the aforementioned sites can result in changes of voice quality, which includes losing the ability to speak. The most common causes of vocal failure include: A) acute laryngitis, an inflammation of the larynx (i.e. voice box) due to a respiratory illness; B) chronic laryngitis, a long-term inflammatory process caused by environmental irritants (e.g. chemical fumes); C) vocal cord nodules, callous tissue formation that results from persistent voice straining; D) nerve damage, which may cause paralysis of the vocal cords; and E) laryngeal cancer. The diagnosis of hoarseness is made by a combination of the patient’s clinical presentation and a direct visualization of the laryngeal structures via a camera scope (performed by an Ear, Nose, & Throat surgeon). The treatment varies with the specified cause and can involve resting the voice for those with an acute infection, physical therapy for patients who constantly use their voice (e.g. singers), and surgery in those with nodules or cancer. On occasion, patients may require specialized injections and laser therapy.

Whether vocal failure or hoarseness is an issue for you or not, regularly participating in a healthy voice regimen will be of benefit to you. Therefore, you might consider undertaking the following behavior modification practices: eliminating irritants such as tobacco smoke; limiting dehydrating agents such as alcohol and caffeine; reducing the consumption of foods that can exacerbate acid reflux; using a humidifier in your bedroom; drinking plenty of water; and limiting the use of a loud voice. Making these practices a habit will keep you from having to whisper your way through the day.

ALS – The Principal Objective of the Ice Bucket Challenge

ice bucket challenge

Behind the current entertaining challenge, which encourages the masses to dump ice cold water over their heads, is the devastating illness ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after the famous baseball player who was afflicted with and ultimately succumbed to the disorder. It’s a progressive condition that begins with muscle weakness and rapidly evolves into a major disabling disorder. In addition to this, it carries a high mortality rate with an average survival of 3-5 years after initial diagnosis. In the U.S., 7,000 new cases are diagnosed every year and, unfortunately, scientists have yet to decipher the cause of the sickness. The Ice Bucket Challenge has provided a fun way of bringing attention to and creating awareness for ALS, but we shouldn’t forget that the serious disease for which the campaign was created is in considerable need of financial support; a necessary step for the continuation of essential research.
ALS is a degenerative disease of the nervous system responsible for the active decomposition and death of motor neurons (nerve cells that carry the signal from the spinal cord to the muscles, resulting in the manifestation of movement). When these cells collapse, the signaling process becomes aberrant and the muscles are unable to receive proper instruction on how to accomplish movement. Scientists have suggested that abnormalities in the mitochondria and DNA might play a role in ALS and, to date, the only confirmed risk factors are genetic predisposition and advanced age. The classic clinical presentation of patients with ALS includes: lack of coordination, loss of balance, development of a slow pace, weakness of the arms and legs, difficulty with speech and swallowing, poor cognition, and weakness of the diaphragm muscle which results in respiratory failure [the most common cause of death]. The diagnosis of ALS is mostly clinical and is based on a set of objective exam criteria. Additional testing may include electro-diagnostic studies (e.g. nerve conduction study) which can measure the capacity of a nerve to transmit signals. The treatment of ALS is mostly assistive, as there is no cure for this disease and therapy is geared toward improving the patient’s symptoms. This is generally accomplished by a specialized medical team that can provide physical, occupational, and respiratory therapy.
Lou Gehrig, ironically nicknamed the “Iron Horse” due to his durability and remarkable consecutive games streak, had a dramatic deterioration in speed and coordination in the year 1939. It was that year, at the all-too-young age of 36, when he was diagnosed with ALS. His wife was told that the cause of ALS was unknown and that despite the fact that it was a painless and non-contagious disease, it was a cruel condition characterized by the destruction of the motor nervous system. Maddeningly, not much has changed in 75 years as we have yet to find a finite cause or a cure. The Ice Bucket Challenge marketing campaign, however, has revived an interest in Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Research cannot be conducted without appropriate financial backing, therefore, whether you want to dump ice on yourself or not, you must remember that monetary contributions are the most effective way for the average person to make a difference in overcoming this aggressive and debilitating disease.

Suicide – When Mental Illness Trumps the Spirit

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We have all been struck by the tragic loss of Robin Williams, an esteemed actor who lost his life by way of suicide. In the aftermath, the public has been engrossed in the following question: how is it that such a successful individual could end up taking his own life? Unfortunately, for those of us familiar with the mentally ill, this is not a surprising or infrequent scenario, given that psychiatric illness has the ability to override a patient’s overall resolve. Suicide is a desperate measure by those burdened with severe mental illness and, contrary to popular commentary, it is not a selfish act. There are 50,000 suicide attempts in the U.S. every year and although it may seem an impenetrable event, it isn’t. If we teach the public to recognize the common risk factors that lead to suicide, they might be able to further identify an individual at risk and spur them to seek medical attention. More importantly, we must remove the stigma attached to mental illness and start taking responsibility for those around us, as this is the only effective approach that will result in the reduction of deaths by suicide.
Researchers have found a number of critical risk factors that predispose patients to suicide and, not surprisingly, psychiatric disease is at the top of the list. More than 90% of patients who have attempted suicide suffer from a psychiatric disorder; and the higher the severity of illness, the higher the risk. The most commonly encountered diseases include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, alcoholism, and any other substance abuse disorder. Other significant determinants include being of male gender, being unmarried, suffering from a chronic illness, and having a history of childhood abuse. Of note, patients approaching the anniversary of a lost loved one or those who have had prior suicide attempts are also at great risk. Interestingly, data shows that the most critical protective factor for the prevention of suicide is having abundant social support and family connectedness. A psychiatrist will evaluate a patient at risk and if there is significant concern, the doctor will admit the patient to a psychiatric facility for further therapy.
The public may sometimes feel weary about asking someone if they are feeling suicidal because they are afraid that talking about the subject matter might lead an individual to commit the act. Studies have shown that this question has the opposite effect and patients are more likely to pursue aid when asked about their feelings. Kevin Hines, a patient who actually survived his suicide attempt, states that while sobbing for 40 minutes while standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, a tourist came by and asked him to take a picture. She never asked him why he was crying and he soon realized that nobody really cared; he took the picture and later proceeded to jump off the bridge. The moral of the story is that family, friends, and even strangers matter. Take the time to connect and listen to those around you, as you might detect something that nobody else will. This has been proven to be the most crucial intervention that can make the difference between living and dying.

Gonorrhea – Fun Acquisition; Frightening Side-Effects

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While attempting to urinate, a 21 year-old male notices that he is expelling a white discharge instead of urine; he quickly googles his symptoms and finds out that he might have the sexually transmitted disease: gonorrhea. There are approximately 800,000 new cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. every year, a conservative estimate as there many others who contract this condition who remain undetected. It is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, predominantly affecting those in the 15-24 year-old category. Unbeknownst to many, gonorrhea is not isolated to the genital region and it has the capacity to reach a multitude of organs within the human body. The real endangerment is that despite the fact that classic symptomatic gonorrhea presents with a thick white discharge, there are numerous patients who never manifest symptoms, posing an infectious disease threat as they continue to spread disease without ever knowing that they were carriers to begin with. Therefore, it is critical for the public to familiarize themselves with gonorrhea, its respective transfer, and complications; in this way, patients can undergo prompt diagnosis and treatment if affected, and receive proper instruction on disease prevention.
Gonorrhea is an infection caused by the Neisseria Gonorrhoeae bacteria, a microorganism that has the ability to easily attach to any mucosa (moist tissue that lines certain parts of the inside of the body); and once it adheres to the human cells, it can subsequently invade the specified organ. Gonorrhea is notorious for its infection of the genital organs in both genders but it is also able to infect other regions such as the pharynx (throat) and rectum. The transmission of bacteria occurs via sexual intercourse [including oral and anal intercourse], given that through these areas bacteria gain rapid access to the mucosal tissue. The classic manifestation of symptomatic gonorrhea consists of purulent discharge from the vaginal region or penis, burning with urination, testicular pain, and abdominal pain. Furthermore, although infection of the pharynx only causes a sore throat, disease in the rectum presents with pain and irritating discharge. In rare cases, gonorrhea has the ability to invade the bloodstream and cause serious infections in organs such as the brain. Fortunately, the diagnosis can be made by obtaining a culture of the vaginal or penile area or through a urine test. Gonorrhea is easily treated with antibiotics and when these are taken appropriately, they completely eradicate the infection.
Patients who are at high risk for gonorrheal infections include: HIV infected patients, individuals with new or multiple sexual partners, sexually active homosexual men, and those with a history of other sexually transmitted diseases. In these cases, routine screening should be conducted irrespective of the presence or absence of symptoms. Even if gonorrhea is isolated to the genital organs, if left untreated, it has the ability to cause serious and devastating complications. For instance, females with untreated disease can develop scarring of their pelvic organs, infertility, and Fitz-Hugh Curtis syndrome (a condition whereby pelvic disease may cause scarring of the liver). As with any other disease, prevention is the ideal scenario, therefore, using prophylactics, practicing mutual monogamy, or abstinence, will save you and others from an unpleasant experience.