What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a serious infection that causes the fluid and the membranes (known as the meninges) that are responsible for protecting the brain spinal cord to become inflamed.

Bacterial Meningitis
Bacterial Meningitis

There are two main types of meningitis: Viral and bacterial. Viral meningitis most common in the summer and autumn months, is the most common form and is the cause of almost 90 percent of meningitis cases. It typically goes away on its own without any treatment required. Bacterial meningitis, however, is the much more serious of the two, and if left untreated can be fatal. There are also rare types of meningitis, including fungal meningitis, which affects individuals who have weak immune systems, as well as parasitic meningitis, which is caused by lakes and rivers that are contaminated. Just like bacterial meningitis, these rare forms can also be fatal, which is why it’s crucial to seek immediate treatment upon the first sign of symptoms.

Meningitis Symptoms - Stiff Neck
A stiff neck is a common symptom of meningitis.

Symptoms of viral and bacterial meningitis can be very similar in nature, although the symptoms of bacterial meningitis tend to be much more severe. Symptoms can come on suddenly and last as long as 3 weeks. They include headache, stiff neck, fever, irritability, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, and a decreased appetite. Dr. Ali Ghahary again urges the importance of seeking treatment right away if you develop any of these symptoms – even if you do not think that you have meningitis – as it can mean life or death. As meningitis cannot be diagnosed based on symptoms alone, a test called a lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap) will need to be administered in order to make a definitive diagnosis. A lumbar puncture collects cerebrospinal fluid and checks for any increased pressure of the central nervous system as well as measures the levels of glucose, protein, as well as the white blood cell count. If glucose levels are low, and the white blood cell count and protein levels are high, then this is confirmation of meningitis.

While you’re not likely to catch meningitis simply from walking by/near someone already infected, the risk of transmission and catching meningitis increases if you have prolonged contact with an individual who is already infected. Bacteria from meningitis can be spread through saliva (i.e. coughing, kissing, sharing eating utensils and/or drinking glasses), mucus, sneezing, and even contaminated food.

In order to prevent serious complications of bacterial meningitis, such as brain damage or death, the patient will need to be hospitalized and administered IV antibiotics.

To avoid getting meningitis, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends patients maintain a healthy lifestyle, get enough rest, and avoid contact with those who are sick. There are also certain vaccinations that may be able to fight against some forms of meningitis, and that may be worth a discussion with your primary care physician.

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How to Stop Nosebleeds

There are several tiny blood vessels in the lining of the nose. Due to these blood vessels being so close to the surface, they can be easily damaged – either from dry air or too-frequent blowing of the nose – resulting in nosebleeds. If you take medications like antihistamines or decongestant, over time this can also dry out the nasal membranes and cause nosebleeds. Use of Aspirin, blood thinners, trauma to the nose, alcohol consumption, as well as chemical irritants can also cause nosebleeds.

In order to prevent nosebleeds from occurring, it is first important to figure out the cause. If your nosebleeds are a result of the use of nasal decongestants, it is generally fairly easy to stop the nosebleeds by discontinuing the use of the nasal spray. Instead, Dr. Ali Ghahary from Vancouver suggests switching to a saline nasal spray to help keep the nasal membranes lubricated. The more lubricated the nasal membranes are, the less likely you are to develop nosebleeds. Using a humidifier can also be helpful. To stop a nosebleed in its tracks, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends sitting in an upright position and leaning slightly forward. Sitting in this position reduces the blood pressure in the veins of the nose, which slows down the bleeding. You can also stop bleeding by taking your thumb and index finger, and pinching your nostrils shut. This applies pressure to the septum and can also slow down the bleeding. You may need to repeat these steps for approximately 10 to 15 minutes in order to stop the bleeding completely.

NosebleedsWhen simple methods such as the ones mentioned above fail, your doctor may choose to pack your nose to stop the bleeding. In cases where nosebleeds are severe and chronic, the blood vessels in the nose may need to be cauterized in order to stop the nosebleeds from occurring. This type of procedure is typically done by an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) specialist. An ENT specialist will also be able to look at your nose with a special instrument known as an endoscope, which can be helpful in ruling out sinus disease or any other problems that may be causing your nosebleeds.

You may also be predisposed to developing nosebleeds if you happen to be fighting a viral or bacterial infection (such as the common cold), have a history of both allergic and non-allergic rhinitis, have high blood pressure, or are going through hormonal changes as a result of pregnancy.

Most nosebleeds are not considered serious and generally stop on their own – oftentimes without even needing any special care. However, if your nosebleeds are severe and you are losing large amounts of blood, it is important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Chickenpox: How to Relieve the Itch

ChickenpoxThe chickenpox is a contagious disease that caused by the virus known as the varicella-zoster virus. It causes the skin to break out in a blister-like rash that results in itching, along with other flue-like symptoms such as fever and fatigue.

Chickenpox is most common in younger children, though individuals of all ages can also get the chickenpox. The virus can be highly contagious, especially for individuals who have not yet had the chickenpox or have not yet received the chickenpox vaccination. In order to protect your child against the chickenpox, Vancouver family physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, recommends that children get the varicella vaccine between 12 and 15 months. Once children reach the ages of 4 to 6, a booster shot is also given to protect them further. While it’s uncommon for anyone who has had the vaccination to get the chickenpox, it is still possible, though the symptoms are usually much milder and you tend to recover faster than if you hadn’t received the vaccine.

As mentioned, one of the most common symptoms of the chickenpox is itching. The itching occurs when the blisters release chemicals that activate the nerves in the top layers of your skin, sending a signal to the brain. Similarly, the same chemical release occurs when a mosquito bites you. While it can be difficult to fight the urge to itch chickenpox, it is best to try to avoid itching them as much as possible – this is because the bacteria from underneath your fingernails can lead to infection. Itching chickenpox can also cause permanent scarring.

That being said, there are a number of home remedies other and steps that Dr. Ali Ghahary suggests trying to alleviate the symptoms of chickenpox, as outlined below.

Home Remedies for ChickenpoxTaking Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help to reduce the fever that is associated with the chickenpox. It can also help to reduce pain caused by the blisters. It is important to avoid giving young children anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, as these medications can lead to a complication known as Reye’s syndrome.

It’s also very important to wear loose-fitting clothing rather than stretchy, elastic-like clothing while you have the chickenpox, as the looser the clothing is, the better your skin is able to breathe. Taking cool oatmeal baths, dabbing calamine lotion onto the itching areas of the skin, as well as taking antihistamines can also help to relieve the itch.

Unfortunately there is no quick cure for the chickenpox once you have them, and they just have to take their course. When you have the chickenpox, you’ll find that the blisters usually don’t appear all at once, and instead form over several days. They will usually stop appearing, however, by day 7, though it can take anywhere from 7 to 10 days for the virus to be out of your system completely.

What Are Gallstones and How Are They Treated

Gallstones

Do you have sudden pain and/or pain that is rapidly intensifying in the upper right side of your abdomen? What about pain in your shoulder, nausea or vomiting? All of these symptoms may be strong indicators of a gallbladder attack caused by gallstones. Such an attack can last for a few minutes or as long as several hours.

What Do You Do During a Gallstone Attack?

The first course of action (and the most important course of action, at that), would be to book an appointment with your family physician. If you do not have a family physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a general practitioner from Vancouver, is available to see patients on a walk-in basis at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, BC. It is important to note, however, that this is a walk-in clinic, therefore wait times and closing times may very. To find Dr. Ali Ghahary’s walk-in hours, please visit his website at alighahary.ca/schedule. You can also find out more information by visiting the clinic at brentwoodwalk-inclinic.com and by calling them directly.

What Causes Gallstones?

There are two types of gallstones that can form: Cholesterol gallstones, which are yellow in colour, or Pigment gallstones, which are dark brown or black in colour.

While it’s not clear what, exactly, causes gallstones, healthcare professionals are under the impression that it is a combination of many different factors including too much cholesterol in your bile – resulting in the formation of crystals that then turn into stones, as well too much bilirubin – a chemical that is products when red blood cells are broken down. Gallstones can also be caused by the gallbladder not emptying itself correctly, which can also contribute to the formation of stones.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Certain individuals are at a higher risk of developing gallstones. For example, they tend to occur more frequently in females than males, as well as certain ethnicities such as Native Americans or Mexican-Americans. You’re also at an increased risk of developing gallstones if you are over the age of 40, if you are pregnant, obese, have diabetes, have a family history of diabetes, take any medications containing estrogen (i.e. birth control/oral contraceptives), have liver disease, or have an unhealthy diet (i.e. a high-fat or high-cholesterol diet.)

How Can I Reduce My Risk of Gallstones?

In order to reduce the risk of gallstones, there are certain changes you can easily implement into your life. First and foremost, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends making healthy food choices – particularly foods that are low in fat and low in cholesterol, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poulty and fish, as well as whole grains such as brown rice, bran cereal, oats and whole wheat bread. AVOID foods like chocolate, pizza, creamy sauces and soups. You can find more information on a gallbladder-specific diets by reading HealthLink BC’s ‘Eating Guidelines for Gallbladder Disease’.

It is also important to remember not to skip your meals. By skipping meals or fasting, you actually increase the risk of gallstones, as this can cause bile to build-up in your body until the next time you eat. Also, try not to eat large, heavy meals. Instead, try consuming smaller meals throughout the day. Eating smaller meals tends to minimize the risk of gallstones by constantly removing bile from the gallbladder.

While diet is the primary cause of gallbladder disease, it’s also important to try to maintain a healthy weight. Eating healthy can certainly help with weight loss as well as weight maintenance, but it doesn’t hurt to implement physical activity into your daily routine as well. More information on the many benefits of exercise can be found by visiting Dr. Ali Ghahary’s blog on WordPress.

How Are Gallstones Diagnosed and Treated?

Gallstones are diagnosed based on the patient’s symptoms as well as medical imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or CT scan. Most individuals with gallstones may not even have symptoms nor need treatment. However, this is entirely dependent on how the patient feels as well as the findings of test results.

In some cases, healthcare professionals may take a ‘watch and wait’ approach for any complications to arise (i.e. intensifying pain) before deciding on treatment, while in other cases you may need to be prescribed oral medications to help dissolve the stones.

In cases where there are complications or if the gallstones keep returning, you may need surgery to have your gallbladder removed. This procedure is known as a cholecystectomy.