The Digestive System

The digestive system consists of several different organs that are responsible for the break-down of food, which then gets converted into nutrients that our bodies require for cell repair, growth and energy. These organs include the liver, the pancreas, the gallbladder, and the gastrointestinal tract.

Below, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a Vancouver-based family doctor, talks about some of the common disorders that correlate with the digestive system.

Ali Ghahary - The Digestive SystemThe liver, for example, which is located on the right side of the stomach, is responsible for the body’s metabolic process, including the break-down of old and/or damaged blood cells, the production of proteins for blood clotting, the detoxification of chemicals, and other important functions. There are certain health conditions that are commonly associated with the liver, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure.

The pancreas, which is responsible for secreting enzymes, breaking down food and producing insulin, also has certain disorders associated with it that should not be ignored – though some may be difficult to diagnose. Pancreatic cancer, for example, is often silent and without symptoms until it is in a much later stage. There is also a condition that is known as acute pancreatitis, which can come on suddenly and cause the pancreas to become inflamed. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and bloating, and can last for several days.

Gallstones are a common and painful condition associated with the gallbladder, which can occur if your gallbladder does not empty properly. While many people with gallstones will not notice any symptoms, others can. Symptoms that can occur when gallstones are present include sudden pain in the epigastric area (the upper belly), pain after eating meals, and pain when taking deep breaths. In order to treat gallstones or if you are having gallbladder problems, surgery may be a necessary treatment method, though it is not uncommon for physicians to take a watch-and-wait approach.

Lastly, the gastrointestinal tract. The most common disorder associated with the GI tract is GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease), also commonly referred to as acid reflux. Gastrointestinal reflux disease occurs when the stomach’s acid content regurgitates or refluxes to the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn. More information on GERD can be found on Dr. Ali Ghahary’s blog.

Click here for even more information from Dr. Ali Ghahary on disorders of the digestive system.

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Health Risks of Poor Oral Hygiene

Did you know that brushing and flossing your teeth on a regular basis does much more than keep your teeth and gums healthy? Good oral hygiene habits also helps to prevent serious illness that you may not have even known could be caused by poor dental care.

Ali Ghahary - GingivitisGingivitis, for example, is the leading cause of bleeding gums, and it affects as many as 1 out of every 2 Canadians. Gingivitis is most commonly caused by lack of oral hygiene – such as daily brushing and flossing. By brushing and flossing regularly, you remove the build-up of plaque. Failure to remove plaque then leads to the gums becoming red, sore and inflamed.

The first step in treating gingivitis is to get a thorough teeth cleaning done by a hygienist. A hygienist has proper dental tools to be able to remove the build-up of plaque that you may not be able to remove yourself by simply brushing. To continue your care and ensure your gums are on a healthy path, the hygienist will usually go over proper brushing and flossing techniques with the patient. Gargling with a warm salt-water rinse or antibacterial mouthwash may also be recommended by your hygienist or dentist, as well as more frequent teeth-cleaning appointments.

By leaving gingivitis untreated, you are at a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This is due to the fact that gingivitis can also cause infection of the gums, and the bacteria as a result of the infection can enter into the blood stream, travel directly to the arteries in the heart, and cause a condition known as atherosclerosis – commonly referred to as hardening of the arteries, which can block the body’s blood flow. Bacteria from infected gums can also enter the brain through certain nerve channels or via the blood stream, which can then lead to the development of dementia. You can also develop respiratory infections after a prolonged period of time, and even complications of diabetes. Individuals with diabetes are much more susceptible to dental disease such as gingivitis, so proper dental care is especially important in those with pre-existing health conditions such as this.

Ali Ghahary - Dental Extraction

As mentioned in Dr. Ali Ghahary’s earlier article, lack of oral hygiene can also lead to tooth decay, which can then lead to potentially requiring a root canal – or, if the tooth cannot be saved, extraction. Dental extractions can be hard on the body, and the recovery process isn’t always a fun one. For instance, dry socket (also known as alveolar osteitis) is a common but extremely painful condition that can happen after dental extractions. Dry socket occurs when a blood clot does not properly form (or is lost) in the area of the extraction, leaving underlying nerves exposed, thus causing pain. In order to treat dry socket, your dentist will first clean the area and then place a special dressing in the extraction site to help speed up the healing process, though it can take several days for the pain of dry socket to diminish.

As with any dental procedure, always follow any post-op instructions given to you by your dentist and be sure to see them for a follow-up appointment if you have any concerns or questions. If you are experiencing pain and are unable to make an appointment with your dentist, try using over-the-counter analgesics such as Advil or Tylenol. Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician practicing at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby, may also be able to make recommendations until you are able to see your dentist. No appointment is necessary to see Dr. Ali Ghahary; you can view his walk-in schedule by visiting alighahary.ca/schedule.

If the pain becomes unbearable then a visit to the emergency room may be warranted.

Prevention of Pancreatic Cancer

Ali Ghahary - Prevention of Pancreatic CancerPancreatic cancer affects as many as 5,000 Canadians each year and is one of the deadliest forms of cancer that an individual can be diagnosed with. Because of the way in which the pancreas is positioned in the body (deep in the abdomen and in front of the spine), symptoms of pancreatic cancer will often be silent until the cancer itself has metastasized, which makes it a difficult cancer to treat.

Once the cancer has metastasized, signs and symptoms that a patient might experience include abdominal pain that radiates to the back, lack of appetite, weight loss that is unintended, fatigue, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin). With pancreatic cancer it is also not uncommon to develop a new-onset of diabetes, blood clots, and even depression. As many other health conditions can cause similar symptoms, it is still important to book an appointment with your family doctor. If your family doctor is unavailable, Dr. Ali Ghahary welcomes walk-in patients at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby.

While survival rates of pancreatic cancer have increased over the years, it is still considered to be a form of cancer that is predominantly incurable. Currently, the one-year survival rate of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is 20%, while the five-year survival rate is just 7%.

In order to diagnose pancreatic cancer, your physician may order a blood test. Blood testing can check the levels of certain proteins in your blood. If these are elevated, it may be an indicator of pancreatic cancer. Imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI’s and ultrasounds may also be used, and a biopsy may also need to be performed in order to further test certain cells and tissus.

Ali Ghahary - Blood Test for Pancreatic Cancer

There is no definitive way to stop a patient from being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. However, there are certain preventative measures a patient can take in order to help prevent and lower their risk of developing pancreatic cancer in the future, such as making certain lifestyle changes.

One of the biggest causes of pancreatic cancer is smoking. Quitting smoking can significantly lessen the risk of pancreatic cancer, and it can also have a positive impact on many other aspects of your health. For some helpful information on smoking cessation, visit Dr. Ali Ghahary’s article on Medium.com.

It’s also important to stay at a healthy weight. Individuals who are obese are at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, although it can still affect individuals of all shapes and sizes and is a type of cancer that does not discriminate one way or the other. Dr. Ali Ghahary shares insightful tips on the importance of healthy eating, and even recommends specific low-carb diets, which you can read more about on his blog on WordPress.com.

Lastly, limit alcohol intake. Heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to cirrhosis – a degenerative disease of the liver, which can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Preventing Lung-Related Issues Due to Forest Fire Smoke

In light of an air quality advisory that was recently issued by Environment Canada as a result of the forest fires that are burning across British Columbia, individuals who suffer from pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, COPD and other lung diseases may notice an increase in their symptoms.

As the wildfires are expected to last for several weeks, it is important to have a good health plan in place – especially if you are older, as you may be at a higher risk of developing lung-related problems as a direct result of smoke inhalation. Younger children and pregnant women are also at a higher risk of running into problems as well. While not everyone will react to smoke in the same way, some telltale signs that it may be affecting you include burning or itchy eyes, as well as a runny nose and cough. Individuals who are asthmatic may notice that they are coughing more than usual, wheezing, feel tight in the chest or short of breath. Similar symptoms are also present with COPD in addition to excess mucus being produced.

In order to prevent some of these symptoms from occurring or worsening, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a physician practicing in the Greater Vancouver area, notes that it is important to ensure you are continuing your treatment and using any inhaled corticosteroids or other related treatment as prescribed by your physician. If you have not yet sought out any treatment, it is important that you do so.

As the tiny particles from forest fire smoke can easily make its way into your home without you even realizing, triggering symptoms even further, it is also recommended that you keep windows and doors closed as much as possible. While this may not be ideal, especially during the hot weather that is expected to arrive in Vancouver as early as tomorrow, you will be much healthier in the long run. If you do not have access to air conditioning in your home or enough fans, buildings such as malls and community centres are a great way to seek additional, cool and clean-air shelter. Cooking can also add to indoor pollution levels, so rather than using your oven or stove, try eating foods that are pre-cooked and non-perishable – however, still make sure that you are making healthy food choices.

If forest fires are active in your area, remember to pay attention to your local news and monitor weather conditions as well as the air quality levels.