laurie-breen

Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.

Drastic Times Call for Drastic Measures: The Opioid Epidemic and the Electronic Health Record

The over-prescription of medication has reached epidemic proportions. While politicians give speeches and draft legislature to address the opioid epidemic, the improper use of prescription medication impacts our society in many ways. For example, when a patient presents with a cold virus and is prescribed an antibiotic “just in case,” not only does the antibiotic cost the patient money, but it will have no effect on the cold virus. On a larger scale, these unnecessary antibiotics may encourage the evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Most medical practices in America have adopted some sort of electronic health record system, but Americans have resisted a national electronic health record database, citing valid concerns about privacy and government overreach. However, Rumball-Smith et al., argue in JAMA that if carefully implemented and used wisely, the electronic health record (EHR) could address systematic problems when it comes to prescription drugs and “be a powerful vehicle for measurement and intervention around low-value care.” Image by mcfarlandmo / CC by 2.0 So why not implement a national database for electronic health records? The main advantage of this system is also the biggest threat – the ability to track information down the to the individual level presents an opportunity to intervene. But at what cost to privacy? A national EHR could show if a patient was soliciting pain medication from multiple doctors and flag that patient’s record. Or,...

What You Know About Blood Pressure May Be Wrong

Blood pressure measurement is a routine part of nearly every medical examination. Hypertension is one of the biggest cardiovascular risk factors for heart disease, stroke and death. Around 85 million people in the United States have it, which may show no symptoms and go undetected until it is too late. While blood pressure varies throughout the day, a reading of 180 over 110 mmHG or higher could be a sign of hypertensive crisis. Image: Source The most common method for measuring blood pressure around the world is the “brachial cuff method,” which was invented over a century ago. Before 1855, physicians had to puncture an artery and calculated the pressure if the flowing blood using a mercury sphygmomanometer. The first non-invasive technique was invented by Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch around 1881, when he came up with the idea to use water, and later air, to restrict blood flow through the arm.  It was further refined by Scipione Riva-Rocci who published “Un nuovo sfigmomanometro” in 1896, which re-incorporated the mercury manometer to von Basch’s technique. Finally, Russian surgeon Nikolai Korotkov added the stethoscope in 1905. The same general technique is used today, either manually or with a digital cuff. However, recent research published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology has found that the cuff method may not accurately measure blood pressure in the mid-range. This study included...

Suffering From Swallowing Disorders? 3D Printing Food Can Help

For those who suffer from swallowing disorders, the options for nutrition are severely limited. In many cases, patients may only tolerate specific textures to ensure adequate nutritional intake and safety. Approximately 1 in 20 Americans have a swallowing disorder, with over 10 million being evaluated for swallowing difficulties each year, according to the National Foundation for Swallowing Disorders. Image: Rainbow 2013-055, Frédérique Voisin-Demery/ CC by 2.0 Speech pathologists generally recommend that patients with dysphagia eat mostly pureed, minced and moist, or soft and bite sized foods, depending on the severity of their condition. Unfortunately, this limits people to foods that may look unappealing, and there is no doubt that eating pureed food all the time can be very boring and repetitive. But the 3D printing industry has a solution – 3D printing food that both looks and tastes appealing. Image: www.wasproject.it  Food created by 3D printers is having a bit of a moment, with restaurants that are incorporating 3D printers into their kitchens, and even some shops and pop-ups serving solely 3D-printed food. However, doctors and speech pathologists envision an entirely different opportunity for 3D-printed food: helping those with dysphagia improve their diet by offering a wider variety of experiences that still suit their condition. Image: Foodink.io By using 3D printers, clinicians see an opportunity to add colors, flavors and an infinite number of ways to present the food at...

Ketamine: The New “Miracle” for Depression?

Although it is known among the general population mostly as a popular party drug, ketamine was originally invented in a commercial laboratory in 1962.  In 1970, it was approved by the FDA for use as an anesthetic among soldiers in the Vietnam War. Non-medical use of ketamine began in the U.S. at roughly the same time, but it wasn’t until 1999 that ketamine became a federally controlled substance in the U.S. Despite its bad rap as a dangerous post-party drug, ketamine is listed as a “core” medicine in the WHO’s Essential Drugs List, as it is produced very cheaply around the world and is fast and effective as an anesthetic for minor procedures. Image: Source However, ketamine is having a new heyday as patients and clinicians are looking to the drug to help treat severe depression. Although it is still considered an “off-label” use of the medication, researchers from the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, have just completed clinical trials using ketamine to treat depression. Although the initial trial consisted of just 16 senior citizens, the researchers are extremely optimistic about the emerging results, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Lead Professor Colleen Woo reported to ABC News in Australia that “all the symptoms of depression across the board disappeared. So [the patients] felt better, they were able to enjoy things, they were interested in...

The 5 Second Rule – A Scientific Examination

It’s a lazy Saturday and you’re at home having a leisurely lunch, watching YouTube on your phone while you eat a delicious bologna sandwich. The next thing you know, those crazy YouTube cats have made you laugh so hard that you drop your sandwich – what do you do? Do you throw the contaminated sandwich away? Or do you think to yourself “five second rule,” pick it up and continue eating? Everyone knows the 5 Second Rule: if you drop food on the floor, it’s okay to eat, as long as you pick it up within five seconds. A researcher at the University of Illinois found that 56% of men and 70% of women surveyed had heard of this rule (or its alternative version, the 3 Second Rule), qualifying it as a legit Western Cultural Phenomenon. So, is this real or what? Surprisingly, studies have given conflicting views as to what exactly the 5 Second Rule means for our health and welfare. Jillian Clarke, the researcher from U of Illinois found that food was contaminated within five seconds of being dropped onto ceramic tile inoculated with E. coli. She had some trials and tribulations in the course of her research – at first she was simply going to drop the food on the lab floor, but the lab floors turned out to be *too* clean. She also found that women tended...

How Do We Help Patients Reduce their Risk of Dementia?

Here’s something to note when helping patients reduce their risk of dementia: each year in the US, doctors diagnose around 3 million cases. However, dementia isn’t a disease, but a grouping of conditions that impair brain functions. These functions can include: Memory Communication and language Ability to focus and pay attention Reasoning and judgment Visual perception Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, with different types of damage causing different types of dementia. For example, vascular dementia is  caused by conditions that deprive brain cells of oxygen, such as a stroke. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with brain cell damage that prevents communication between the cells.  Dementia associated with aging largely affects those over the age of 60, and although there is no cure, various treatments can help with symptoms or slow progression. However, new research is suggesting that certain lifestyle changes could help decrease the risk of developing dementia in old age. New research published in JAMA shows that there may be a link between chronic or persistent pain and an increased risk for accelerated dementia. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco published results on a longitudinal study that followed patients for up to 12 years, and found that those who reported pain in the first two years of interviews were more likely to have a faster decline in memory performance as they aged and also had an...

Don’t Get Sick: Four Pet Diseases To Watch For

With diligent care and cleaning of your pets, along with regular checkups at the vet’s office, it’s pretty unlikely that you would contract a disease from your pet. However, all animals are potential carriers of zoonotic diseases. Here are four pet diseases to watch for: Cats – Toxoplasmosis You could contract this parasite from your cat if you aren’t careful to wash your hands after cleaning out your kitty’s litterbox. Although an estimated 60 million people in the US carry the Toxoplasma parasite, most don’t show symptoms. However, in pregnant women and those with compromised immunity, Toxoplasma could cause serious health problems. Tips from the CDC to avoid bringing toxoplasmosis home include changing the litterbox daily, keeping your cat indoors and feeding cats canned or dried commercial food or well-cooked meats – not raw or undercooked food. Dogs – Bubonic Plague While you can’t get the plague directly from Fido, you could get it from one of his fleas, if that flea is carrying the bacterium Yersinia pestis. In humans, the Bubonic Plague can cause headache, chills, fever, weakness and swollen lymph nodes. Treat promptly with antibiotics, and make sure you keep your pets free of fleas. Cases of Bubonic Plague are very rare, with only about 7 reported cases per year in the US. Birds – Parrot Fever Parrot Fever, or Psittacosis, comes from infection from the bacteria...

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