Blood Transfusions: Who Needs Them and Why?

Dr. Ali Ghahary - Blood TransfusionsBlood is a vital part of the human body. It is responsible for the transportation, protection and regulation of different substances; from supplying the body with essential substances and nutrients such as oxygen, sugar and hormones, as well as the removal of waste, in addition to acting as a clotting agent. Without it, our bodies would not be able to properly function.

A large percentage of Canadians have required blood transfusions, and many hospitalized Canadians need blood transfusions every day. Canada has one of the safest blood systems in the world. To ensure that blood donation is safe for the intended recipient, the Canadian Blood Services requires that donors meet certain criteria prior to making their donation. This criteria includes being over the age of 17, meeting certain height and weight requirements, as well as having good overall health. However, it is also important to note that not everyone is eligible to donate blood. To find out whether or not you are eligible, the Canadian Blood Services has a list of the ABC’s of Eligibility on their website at blood.ca.

A blood transfusion can be necessary for a number of reasons, with the most common one being anemia. Anemia can be caused as a result of a severe injury (i.e. from a traumatic event such as a car accident), being iron deficient, having kidney disease, liver disease, having an infection or infections that stop the blood from producing properly, and even certain cancers that cause the blood cells to produce at a decreased rate, such as lymphoma or leukemia. A patient may also require a blood transfusion after surgery due to blood loss.

There are certain risks and complications that can occur as a result of giving blood. For those who are donors, it is not uncommon to notice some local bruising around the area in which the needle was placed. Typically this bruising will go away on its own after a few days. If you are having localized pain, over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen can provide you with some relief. It’s also not uncommon to feel faint/lightheaded after donating blood. To avoid fainting, you will be asked to stay at the blood donor clinic for at least 15 minutes before you are allowed to leave, and may also be asked to eat a light snack. It’s also important to drink additional fluids (at least 16 oz.) for up to 2 days after donating blood.

Similarly, blood recipients are also faced with complications and risks – including allergic reactions, fever, iron overload, and a rare but serious condition known as acute immune hemolytic reaction that causes your body to attack new red blood cells and produce substances that are harmful to your kidneys. When receiving blood, your doctor has weighed the risks and benefits.

If you have any further questions about blood donation, Vancouver physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, recommends contacting the Canadian Blood Services by calling 1-888-2-DONATE.

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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.

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.