February is Heart Month in Canada

Heartbeat - Dr. Ali Ghahary
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Heart Month, created by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, is a campaign to raise awareness on heart disease and promote positive lifestyle changes to lessen the risk of patients developing heart disease or suffering from a stroke.

At least 9 in 10 Canadians over the age of 20 have at least one risk factor for developing heart disease, and an estimated 600,000 Canadians are currently living with heart failure. While there is no cure for heart failure, there are many steps a person can take to manage the condition, and other changes one can make to avoid the development of heart failure later in life, as 8 in 10 cases of heart disease and stroke are preventable by making simple lifestyle and behaviour changes.

If you are a smoker, consume alcohol, are physically inactive, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you are at an increased risk of developing heart disease. As many as 14 million Canadians are obese or overweight, and more than 2 million Canadians have been diagnosed with diabetes, with prevalence on the rise.

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Eating well is a key factor in keeping your heart healthy. Instead of eating over-processed food such as pizza, hot dogs, and deli meats, choose foods that are natural. Fruits and vegetables, for example, carry lots of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants, and you should eat 7 to 10 servings each day.

Dr. Ali Ghahary, a physician in Vancouver, is a strong advocate for healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, and you can find diet-specific information by visiting https://alighahary.wordpress.com. In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, you should also try to consume whole grain foods rather than refined grains such as pasta or white bread. Whole grain foods such as brown rice, quinoa and hulled barley contain fibre, vitamin B, and protein. Other foods containing proteins include beans, lentils, fish, tofu, lean meat, and certain dairy products that are lower in fat. Making a meal plan by writing down a list of foods and recipe ideas may be helpful, and you should always read the nutrients facts found on packaging to know how much salt, sugar or trans fat you may be consuming. If you like to snack, instead of eating potato chips try alternatives such as celery, cucumbers, carrots, or grape tomatoes – these go great with low-fat dips, salsa, hummus or peanut butter.

Physical activity is also important in maintaining heart health. By exercising 150 minutes per week, you are not only preventing heart disease and stroke, but you will also be lowering your cholesterol as well as avoiding diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. You will also notice benefits quickly; blood pressure will improve, and you will feel much more energetic as a result of staying physically fit.

For more information on exercise and its many health benefits, along with other great health tips, visit Dr. Ali Ghahary’s blog at http://alighahary.blogspot.ca. You can also follow Dr. Ghahary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DrAliGhahary.

Epilepsy Triggers and Treatment

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Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that is the result of abnormal brain activity, bringing about loss of consciousness, convulsions (seizures) and other sensory disturbances. Symptoms of epilepsy range from mild episodes of staring or petit-mal seizures, to more severe and uncontrolled movements and seizures known as grand-mal.

Epilepsy currently affects up to 65 million individuals worldwide and 300,000 Canadians, with 15,000 new cases of the disorder being diagnosed in Canada each year. At least 30% of patients that are diagnosed with epilepsy also have accompanying learning disabilities, psychiatric disorders, memory loss, and even behavioural problems. The number of Canadians diagnosed with epilepsy is higher than the number of Canadians that have been diagnosed with colon cancer, and almost as high as the number of Canadians with prostate and breast cancer. (It is always important to have regular checkups with your physician and go for any screenings required. http://alighahary.blogspot.ca)

In as many as 60% of the cases of epilepsy, the cause is unknown. However, epilepsy can also be the result of serious brain injury (i.e. trauma at birth), being involved a motor vehicle accident, or having a stroke. Brain tumors and certain infections can also lead to epilepsy. While epilepsy is more frequently diagnosed in children and seniors, it can affect individuals of all ages. 44% are diagnosed with epilepsy before the age of 5, 55% before the age of 10, and 75% to 85% before age 18. In nearly half of childhood cases, seizures disappear completely.

Along with the aforementioned causes, seizures can also be triggered by stress, emotions, lack of sleep, having poor nutrition or skipping meals, illness, fever and allergies.

Long-term drug therapy is used to treat epilepsy. Vancouver physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary and Neurologists across Canada prescribe both narrow-spectrum and broad-spectrum AED’s, depending on the types of seizures the patient is having, and they can be prescribed as a single medication or used in combination with others. Medications prescribed to treat epilepsy include those in the class known as Benzodiazepines, such as Clonazepam and Diazepam, which are also commonly used to treat those who have anxiety or difficulty sleeping. Other medications commonly prescribed to treat epilepsy and seizures include Divalproex, Gabapentin and Carbamazepine. If medications are unsuccessful, brain surgery may be considered.

As always, these medications have side effects and one individual may not react the same as another, so it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of these drugs with your doctor and pharmacist and be sure to make them aware of any concerns you have or side effects you may be experiencing.

Information on Hepatitis B (HBV)

Hepatitis B Virus, also known as HBV, is a potentially life-threatening liver disease that can be either acute or chronic. More infectious than HIV, Hepatitis B is contracted through contact with bodily fluids or blood of a person already infected with the disease. While less than 2% of the Canadian population is infected with HBV, it affects an estimated 1.2 million individuals in the United States and over 300 million individuals worldwide, resulting in the deaths of over 600,000 patients each year due to complications from the disease including cirrhosis – a condition that results in scarring of the liver usually as a result of exorbitant alcohol consumption, viral Hepatitis B and C, and other causes, in addition to liver cancer.

To see the difference between a normal liver and one that has been affected by Hepatitis B, visit Dr. Ali Ghahary’s Instagram page at: http://instagram.com/alighahary.

Symptoms of Hepatitis B Virus include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dark urine, pale stools, joint pain, stomach pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin.) However, more than half of those with Hepatitis B usually do not develop symptoms until their liver has been affected.

As mentioned, HBV is spread through contact with blood and bodily fluids. It can also be contracted through using unsterile tattooing or body piercing equipment, sharing personal hygiene items with another infected individual such as razors, toothbrushes, scissors and nail clippers, by sharing contaminated drug-use items (i.e. needles), as well as unprotected sex and having multiple sexual partners. It is important to note that HBV is not spread by having casual contact with someone…such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or being around individuals who may be coughing or sneezing.

Taking preventive measures to avoid contracting HBV is important. In Canada, all Provinces offer free immunizations to children and certain groups of adults who may be at risk of developing HBV. The vaccine is routinely given to children in Grade 6 who have not yet been vaccinated. It is also typically recommended to children under the age of 12 whose families have emigrated from countries that have a high HBV risk rate and to individuals who have had multiple sexual partners or a recent sexually transmitted infection (commonly referred to as an STI), individuals with chronic liver disease, and health care practitioners who are at risk of coming into contact with blood or bodily fluids as a result of their job.

PrintIn acute cases, Hepatitis B will clear on its on – usually within 6 months of first contracting the disease. This means that you will no longer be infected with HBV and also will not put others at risk of developing it. However, in chronic cases, long-term treatment is required. In order to manage symptoms associated with HBV, Vancouver physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary focus on relieving the patient’s symptoms, preventing any complications that may arise, as well as preventing transmission of the disease. To start, Dr. Ghahary will monitor patients with blood tests to keep a close eye on the health of the liver. Medications such as Epvir, Hepsera, Tyzeka and Baraclude will also be prescribed. These are antiviral medications that help to slow down the progression of the virus. In severe cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.

To cope with the diagnosis of HPB, it is important to educate yourself on the disease. Speaking to your physician is always a great place to start, and there are various libraries around Vancouver and the surrounding area that will likely have books available on the disease. The Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre also offers support and educational tools on HBV and other acute and chronic diseases, including HIV and HCV. If diagnosed with HBV, you should ensure that you are taking care of your liver by avoiding alcohol consumption, and ensure that you have a healthy diet, are getting regular exercise and enough sleep.

Canadians Living With Disabilities

As a general practitioner in Vancouver, Dr. Ali Ghahary is trained to care for patients living with complex conditions and medical needs, including persons with disabilities. Over 15 percent (more than 1 billion) of the world’s population currently lives with a disability – that accounts for over 3.8 million Canadians between the ages of 15 and 64 – a number that continues to rise.

wheelchair-1819053_1280The term “disability” can be used to describe any cognitive, sensory, mental or physical condition that causes social barriers and/or results in a severely limited ability for one to perform common, everyday, routine tasks (such as personal hygiene and cooking, in addition to attending school or work), and can sometimes require the need for daily assistance, either by a friend, a family member or in-home nursing care.

There are several different types of disabilities, all of which vary in severity. Below are just a few examples.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism is a lifelong disorder that is usually present from early childhood and is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Currently, it is the fastest growing neurological disorder in Canada, affecting 1 in 68 children. Children with autism often have difficulties with social interaction and communication, as well as neurological issues such as mood disorders (anxiety) and hyperactivity.

Down Syndrome
Cells that divide abnormally cause Down Syndrome, leading to physical and cognitive impairments, as well as developmental disabilities. In Canada, 1 in every 700 babies are born with down syndrome. Women who become pregnant at a later age are at a higher risk of giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome in comparison to younger mothers.

Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy is a condition that affects muscle tone and movement. Motor skills can also be affected, causing difficulty speaking, loss of bladder and/or bowel control, the ability to eat, as well as trouble breathing. It is caused by brain damage that occurs before or during birth, but can also occur during the first few years of a child’s life – usually between the ages of 3 and 5. There are over 60,000 Canadians living with Cerebral Palsy today.

Along with Vancouver physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary providing ongoing medical care to individuals living with disabilities, there are also several organizations around Vancouver and across British Columbia that are specifically designed towards providing necessary care, education and continued support to persons with disabilities, such as Disability Alliance BC (formerly known as the BC Coalition of People With Disabilities.)