Recent Blog Articles

Harvard Health Blog

Read the latest posts from experts at Harvard Health Publishing covering a variety of health topics and perspectives on medical news.


Video: Are PSA tests beneficial?

Published March 28, 2011

Two international and large randomized studies provide the most convincing evidence thus far that PSA based testing does nothing or meaningfully little to reduce the death rate from prostate cancer and confirm many earlier studies that came to the same conclusions. In this video, Marc Garnick, MD, discusses the implications.

Update: Harmful radiation from Japan is not reaching the United States—no need for Americans to take potassium iodide

Published March 28, 2011

Minutes after I posted my article today about radiation from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant not reaching the United States in harmful amounts, I heard a news report about iodine-131 from the plant being detected in rainwater in Massachusetts. Iodine-131 is a radioactive form of iodine. It’s a byproduct of the reaction that […]

Harmful radiation from Japan is not reaching the United States—no need for Americans to take potassium iodide

Published March 27, 2011

Even though the situation at the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan remains unsettled, the likelihood that radiation released by the crippled power plant will reach the United States is slim. Harvard Health Letter editor Peter Wehrwein talks with Dr. Richard Zane, a disaster planning expert at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, about potassium iodide pills: what they can—and can’t—do, their benefits and hazards, and why Americans should not be stockpiling or taking them.

Is PSA reliable?

Published March 27, 2011

That’s a good question, because having an elevated PSA doesn’t necessarily mean that a man has prostate cancer.

Meditation helps manage stress and other tips from Harvard Medical School

Published March 25, 2011

• LINK TO VIDEO • In early March, I had the privilege of participating in a seminar on stress at Harvard Medical School. The talk was part of a free series called the Longwood Seminars which covers common medical topics. Although I was asked to talk about stress and the heart, I devoted most of […]

Understanding heart failure

Published March 25, 2011

Heart failure, the condition that took Elizabeth Taylor’s life, affects millions of Americans. The term “heart failure” is a scary one, conjuring up images of a heart that is suddenly unable to work. In truth, it represents a gradual decline in the heart’s ability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. As the heart weakens, all parts of the body suffer the consequences. Harvard Heart Letter editor PJ Skerrett explains what heart failure is, how it affects the body, and what can be done to treat it.

Oh please, not the “sex causes heart attack” story again

Published March 24, 2011

Having sex (or performing any kind of physical activity) triples the risk of having a heart attack, according to a new study. But there’s more to the story. The odds of having a heart attack during sex are about 1 in one million; tripling the risk boosts it to 3 in one million. In other words, sex can cause a heart attack, but usually doesn’t. And the more a person exercises, or has sex, the lower the chances of having a heart attack during the activity.

Suicide is forever, but the stress leading up to it is often temporary

Published March 21, 2011

Many suicides are impulsive, with just minutes or an hour elapsing between the time a person decides upon suicide and when he or she commits the act. Yet the stressful events that lead to suicidal thoughts are often temporary, such as losing a job or having a romantic relationship end.

Radiation risk in Japan: an update

Published March 19, 2011

Several people who read my earlier post about radiation readings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan pointed out that the time period over which the radiation exposure occurs is important. They’re right—the radiation dose and how long you are exposed to it determine how much radiation you are receiving. That is why […]

Radiation risk in Japan: understanding radiation measurements and putting them in perspective

Published March 16, 2011

News from Japan is full of talk about radiation risk and millisieverts. Harvard Health Letter editor Peter Wehrwein explains radiation doses and compares what’s happening in Japan with other exposures, from medical testing to Chernobyl and more.

Why Japan’s crisis causes worry, fear of radiation risk in the U.S.

Published March 16, 2011

Your perception of risk depends on many factors, including whether the risk is natural or man-made, imposed or voluntary, and how it affects you and your family. Harvard Health editor Ann MacDonald explains why Japan’s radiation crisis from earthquake-damaged nuclear power plants makes us worry on many levels.

Sudden death in young athletes—can it be prevented?

Published March 15, 2011

In a seven-day span, three high-school athletes died while pursuing their sports. An epidemic? No. Approximately 100 youth, high school, and college athletes die each year, many from a cardiovascular problem. The deaths renewed a hot debate among parents, coaches, and physicians: should the pre-sports checkup for competitive athletes include an electrocardiogram (ECG)?

Potassium iodide pills and prevention of thyroid cancer from Japanese nuclear power plant

Published March 14, 2011

Japanese officials are preparing to distribute potassium iodide pills to people living near the nuclear power plants crippled by last week’s earthquake. Harvard Health Letter editor Peter Wehrwein explains what these pills do and who needs them.

Thyroid cancer a hazard from radioactive iodine emitted by Japan’s failing nuclear power plants

Published March 14, 2011

The steam emitted by Japan’s failing nuclear reactors contains radioactive iodine-131. People living near the reactors can get substantial doses of iodine-131 by breathing the vapor from the reactors or ingesting iodine-131 from food or water. It accumulates in the thyroid gland, and significantly increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer.

How to do CPR when the heart suddenly stops: Press hard, press fast, don’t stop

Published March 11, 2011

When a fellow shopper suddenly collapsed in the grocery store, Harvard Health editor Ann MacDonald couldn’t exactly remember how to do CPR, even though she took a class some years ago. She knows now how to help when someone is having a sudden cardiac arrest. Her post offers basic instruction and resources for getting prepared.

Bridge the intention-behavior gap to lose weight and keep it off

Published March 10, 2011

The hardest part of trying to lose weight is the “intention-behavior gap.” That’s the disconnect between knowing what you need to do and actually doing it. A behavior chain can help you bridge the gap. This tool can help you recognize how a series of seemingly minor events can lead to an unfavorable outcome, such as overeating, and how to break the links.

Sugary soda and juice can boost blood pressure, weight

Published March 8, 2011

A large new study links drinking sugar-sweetened sodas and juices with higher blood pressure and extra pounds. The results are in line with earlier studies, and with some clinical trials, showing that daily consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages isn’t so good for the body.

Teens who smoke pot at risk for later schizophrenia, psychosis

Published March 7, 2011

Teenagers and young adults who use marijuana may be messing with their heads in ways they don’t intend. Ongoing research shows a possible link between early use of marijuana and later development of psychosis or schizophrenia.

Living with chronic headache: A personal migraine story

Published March 5, 2011
Headaches that appear every day can take over your life. A former editor at Harvard Health Publishing, who preferred to go by CJ for this post, tells what it’s like to live with migraine every day and offers tips for coping with the worst.

If pulmonary embolism can strike Serena Williams, it can ace anyone

Published March 3, 2011

If someone who stays fit for a living, like tennis star Serena Williams, can develop a blood clot in her lungs, anyone can. Called pulmonary embolism, this potentially deadly condition affects up to 600,000 Americans each year. Knowing the warning signs can help you get treatment right away.

Shingles can strike twice. Will the shingles vaccine help?

Published March 2, 2011

Getting the viral infection known as shingles doesn’t give everyone life-long immunity from it. Shingles can strike twice, or rarely, even a third time. A shingles vaccine can reduce the chances of a recurrence.

Oscar or not, The King’s Speech teaches about stuttering

Published February 27, 2011

The King’s Speech has won almost universal praise for its portrayal of reluctant monarch George VI’s stuttering. Harvard Health Letter editor Peter Wehrwein takes you behind the scenes with Alex Johnson, an expert in speech and stuttering at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston; Caroline Bowen, an Australian speech-language therapist; and a few other scattered sources.

When it comes to fiber, cereal fiber may be your best choice

Published February 25, 2011

Cereal fiber–from whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, barley and other whole grains–seems to offer more protection against heart disease and other chronic conditions than fiber from fruits and vegetables. The benefit isn’t necessarily from the fiber alone, but the natural package of nutrients that comes with the fiber. Processed foods, which are often stripped of their fiber and nutrients and then “fortified” in the manufacturing process, don’t measure up.

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