Friday, September 28, 2012

Insomnia and health

For many of us, the often-quote figure of 8 hours sleep a night is just that - an often-quoted figure rather than a realistic amount of time spent sleeping during the night time.

The reasons for not getting enough sleep are many, and can include things like:

  • too many caffeinated drinks before bed
  • body clock affected by long haul travel
  • a new arrival in the family
  • coughs and colds
  • worries about work or other life challenges
  • indigestion
  • toothache

The examples above of course are down to specific causes and in many cases will be temporary. But for many, lack of sleep is more persistent. So it's understandable that people seek a way to deal with it - but according to recent news, the use of sleeping pills could bring risks with it. Essentially, what's happening is that many who are experiencing problems with sleep may be using non prescription products to deal with sleeplessness rather than looking at possible root causes for the lack of sleep.

And while many of the causes of sleeplessness may be down to things like eating too late at night, some of the things that can make people unable to sleep are more serious - such as asthma and heart disease.

So, if you're having trouble sleeping, the best thing to do is, of course, seek advice from the doctor.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Health news: preventing cancer

In the past it was something that many of us would have perhaps been reluctant to discuss, but thanks to the great work of charities and health professionals, more and more of us are aware of what we can do to reduce our risk of various forms of cancer.

From self-checking for symptoms of testicular cancer and breast cancer, to healthy eating and skin care, most of us these days are much more aware of the things we need to do to stay healthy and minimise the risks. And of course it goes without saying that maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and keeping within the recommended alcohol intake limits' won't just help us lower our cancer risk, they'll also mean we're healthier and feel better in general.

And as time progresses survival rates are improving, according to NHS Choices, for most cancers. While this is great news, it looks as if there could be room for improvement. New figures released this week by the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) show that almost a quarter of all cancers are diagnosed while the patient is in hospital for emergency treatment. In some cases this happens when the patient was admitted for something other than symptoms relating to the cancer, but received the diagnosis after undergoing routine tests.

There is some good online info on cancer available from government health sites and private health insurance providers - including advice on cancer prevention as well as information on various types of the disease. 

The figures for older people being diagnosed in A&E is currently higher than the overall figures at around a third, which may well mean that at some point in the future we'll see some initiatives in reducing the figure and ensuring as many cases of the disease are diagnosed as early as possible.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

1 in 3 postpone doctor visits for unusual changes

Recent study findings from Cancer Research UK indicate that one in three people would postpone a visit to their doctor if they found 'unusual or persistent' changes on their body, in the hope that the symptoms would go away.

In an online poll conducted by the charity along with market research organisation YouGov, which surveyed more than 20,000 respondents, it was also found that some of the reasons for not going to the doctor in this situation included reluctance to waste their doctor's time in case it turned out not to be serious, and in some cases embarrassment.

Of course, if you read up on any of the advice for cancer symptom self-checking, it's always stated that you're strongly advised to get things checked out if you find anything untoward.

Cancer survival rates have improved a lot over the past few decades and one of the reasons is dwon to earlier detection. For more info, get over to the Cancer Research site's spot cancer early pages, where you'll find loads of great useful information - and even a nifty app to help.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A healthy heart - and why stress is the enemy

According to recently published research findings, it looks like the amount of stress we encounter at work should be something we need to pay close attention to – in order to try and stay as stress free as we possibly can. The research was based on information from over 20 studies in Europe into the effects of stress, and apparently it indicates that job stress can increase the risk of heart attacks.

The NHS Choices website – often useful for a very balanced view of the stories that dominate the health headlines – describes the findings as ‘plausible’ and makes mention of the fact that many research projects that have taken place in the past also suggest a link between job stress ‘and the risk of coronary heart disease’. However, as the research paper states – and the NHS site reminds us – the increased risk is “much smaller” than those posed by smoking or not taking exercise.

If you’re looking for some useful online resources on stress, then there’s a good range of webistes and pages out there. Insurance provider AXAPPP healthcare has a stress centre are on its website, providing fact sheets on the topic plus a range of articles designed to help you find strategies for stress management and reduction.

Stress has been in the news a fair bit recently. And the news last week that hospital admissions in England for people suffering from stress has risen this year just goes to highlight the importance of acknowledging the effect it can have on us, and also the need to make stress management a priority within UK health and wellbeing.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rise of the health apps

Where do you go for your health information? Maybe you have a medical dictionary, or follow the health stories in the newspapers. Now that the smartphone era has really arrived – and the mobile web begins to overtake the desktop web – there has been a massive change in the way we access information. With all the various app stores that have grown up over the last few years, there’s now a bewildering array of health apps available. Everything from aerobic exercise workouts to teeth brushing guides, there is pretty much an app for everything these days.

And it’s not just health apps for those looking to keep fit or find out more about a specific condition – there are now tablet apps designed by and for health professionals too.

But how successful are health apps? While just about everyone has played Angry Birds on their smartphone, it seems that health apps might still have a way to go before they’re being used by a majority of smartphone owners. A report in the social media and tech news site Mashable published in July gave some interesting stats on the use of health apps. Interestingly, while 88% of people in the States have a mobile phone, only 10% of people have actually downloaded health apps, according to the article.

This may well just be down to the fact that these apps are relatively new, and it may take time before more people become aware of them and try them out. There’s also the obvious fact that apps are going to become more and more sophisticated in time to come, so it’s likely that we will see a step change in the use of this type of app going forward.

Do you use health apps? Let us know in the comments.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Affordable health insurance: budgeting your spend

In times when the wider economic backdrop isn't quite as bright as we would obviously prefer it to be, it's natural to want to make a few savings here and there. Things like:
  • choosing a higher MPG model when purchasing your next vehicle
  • trading down when buying groceries
  • visiting the cinema and making fewer trips for other leisure activities
  • staycationing - in other words, taking your holidays closer to home
Chances are that if you ever do market research type surveys such as YouGov polls, then you'll have encountered a fair few questionnaires about household expenses and the savings you've been aiming to make during the time since the downturn became a reality for all of us back in 2008.
    When it comes to medical cover, then there is actually a good variety of options available for you and your family where you can make savings. Cheap health insurance plans mean you can select the level of cover that you require - and it also means not paying for anything that you don't need.

    How it works is that you choose the basic cover, then if you require any cover additionally you can add more depending on the coverage that suits your needs. On top of this there are other ways of brining down the cost - such as adding an excess to your health cover policy. Another way to bring down the cost is if your provider has a type of insurance whereby you're treated on the NHS if the waiting list is within a certain time, and if the list is longer than the specified time, you get private treatment at soonest available date.

    Keeping yourself healthy in a recession doesn't mean having to spend more money than you need to, which is why insurance providers offer affordable policy types. And since they're flexible they give you a choice in terms of what level of cover you can purchase.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012

    health news: stress levels rising?

    Stress is probably something that many of us have encountered at some point during our lives. The symptoms of stress can be fairly unpleasant – disturbed sleep, upset stomach, anxiety and so on. And so, too can the health risks – while stress isn’t – according to the British Heart Foundation – a ‘direct risk factor’ for cardiovascular disease, some of the ways we deal with it may be risky. Examples of this are things like smoking to deal with stress, and also eating too much or drinking too much alcohol.

    Managing stress is a definite health plus – and if you’re looking at ways to manage stress you might find that it also helps you approach stressful situations in a different way. Recognising stress triggers and understanding what causes you to become stressed means that you’ll be able to look at situations with objectivity and manage stress accordingly.

    Some of the recommended ways of managing stress will also have benefits in other areas of your life – for instance getting exercise and staying active are well known ways to fight stress. And they will, of course, also help to keep your weight in check, and your fitness levels up.  

    This week in the health pages there was an interesting statistic making the headlines – a 7 percent rise in English hospital admissions due to stress. The reason for the rise could be down to a combination of factors but leading mental health organisation The Mental health Foundation believe it could be a result of the recession . It could also be that people in work feel they have to stay later and get more done during the working day in a recession.

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

    British people living longer, healthier says report

    When historians of the future look back to the hundred years or so between the beginning of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, one of the salient features of this period of time that they're likely to marvel at is just how much the quality of people's health changed over this time. And how it all happened despite a worldwide population boom.

    To illustrate this more clearly, let's look at some figures, courtesy of the UK Parliament's "Trends in statistics since 1900" paper. Some of this stuff really is fascinating:

    In 1901 baby boys were expected to live until the age of 45, while baby girls fared slightly better with an average life expectancy of 49.

    In 2012? Well, let's just say things have improved dramatically - it's now 78 for boys at birth and 82 for girls.

    Let's bear in mind, though, that life expectancy is just a statistic, and that there were people born in 1901 who were still alive in 2001. But the averages do tell a story - while nobody can predict individual futures, as a society we started living longer and continue to increase our longevity. So my chances of living longer are better, although how long I actually do live is down partly to luck, environment, lifestyle, and other factors.

    Things like individual health insurance, technological advance, enlightened attitudes towards nutrition - and also mental health - plus the availability of health and wellbeing information on the internet - all have their part to play as well.

    Another thing to think about when looking at longevity statistics is that, again, they're really just a number interms of what they say about the quality of life that people have. So, the 1901 figure of 45 for men may seem very low now - but on top of that even those who did outlive that number for some years may well have had one of the diseases that were widespread at the time.

    Recently it was found that the 'healthy life expectancy' of people in England has increased. This is the period of our older years where we expect to be free of ailments. The figure for Scotland is down slightly, however -believed to be in part due to higher rates of smoking and other lifestyle factors.

    Monday, September 3, 2012

    Private healthcare trusts to run NHS services?

    The headlines are perhaps a little bit more dramatic than the reality - which is often the case. But the news that an ailing NHS trust in South London could potentially be run by a private healthcare trust is interesting for a number of reasons. Not least of which is that, if this proposed solution came to pass, it could conceivably have an effect on how we view the running of services and maybe move towards a more dynamic situation whereby services can be sustainable and - most importantly of all - people can get the services they require without the operation losing money.

    At the moment it's simply a matter of private healthcare trusts being asked if, in theory, they would like to take over this trust. According to news reports the trust in question had accrued 150 million pounds of debt since coming into existence three years ago, and has long waiting times for treatment and also longer than average A&E waiting times.

    Of course, if this trust was run by a private trust, it wouldn't wholly amount to the setting of a healthcare precedent in the UK - since earlier this year  an NHS hospital has been run by a private company with early signs of success including shortened waiting times.

    However, what we could see in the coming months and years is the beginning of a healthcare paradigm shift whereby the already complementary public and private healthcare systems see more in terms of working alongside each other to provide treatment.