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Harvard Health Blog

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


A different nonhormonal birth control option

Published August 30, 2021

Last year the FDA approved a hormone-free birth control option called Phexxi. It’s a contraceptive gel that changes the pH of the vagina to help immobilize sperm, rather than a spermicide. How effective is it, what are the possible side effects, and which other available birth control options could you consider?

Tooth loss truth: It’s no longer about the tooth fairy

Published August 27, 2021

Older Americans are keeping their teeth longer, but the prevalence of tooth loss is higher among people with chronic disease or overall worse health. However, loss of a tooth can also result from tooth decay, periodontal infection, or accidental trauma. Aside from accidents, most people should be able to prevent tooth loss by following good oral care habits.

Unvaccinated and misunderstood? Let’s talk

Published August 25, 2021

As the pandemic drags on, it feels like the US has stalled on vaccinations. COVID hospitalizations and deaths are rising again and people on both sides of the vaccine divide seem frustrated or worse. A recent survey suggests ways to address some obstacles and push for solutions that address a range of concerns.

Level of health literacy affects treatment choice for slow-growing prostate cancer

Published August 24, 2021

A genetic test that provides an assessment of how aggressive a man's prostate cancer is and how likely it is to spread within his body. A new study has investigated for the first time how results of this test are impacting treatment decisions — with surprising results.

Supporting a bullied middle schooler

Published August 23, 2021

When children reach middle school, bullying can become more personal as classmates play a bigger role in their lives. Learning to deal with unpleasant emotions is an important part of adolescent development, and parents can help children in this situation by validating their child’s feelings and working with them on antibullying techniques.

FDA approves new autism diagnostic aid

Published August 20, 2021

If a child exhibits signs of autism spectrum disorder, it’s very important to obtain a diagnosis as quickly as possible because treatment is more successful if started earlier in a child’s development. But the diagnostic process involves lengthy assessments, and the wait for an evaluation can be long. A new device that aims to accelerate the process has been approved by the FDA.

Does HIPAA prohibit questions about vaccination?

Published August 19, 2021

Privacy rules described in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevent disclosure of certain health information to unauthorized people without your permission. Here are the basics on what HIPAA does and doesn't allow –– including whether it's legal to ask and answer questions about COVID-19 vaccination status.

Back-to-school in 2021: Keeping children safe and well

Published August 18, 2021

As another school year in the shadow of COVID-19 begins and the Delta variant surges, once again parents are concerned about how their children will be affected. National, state, and local guidelines continue to evolve, but the overarching goal is to return to full-time, in-person learning for students wherever possible.

Tempted to have genetic testing? First ask why

Published August 17, 2021

Several companies promote at-home genetic testing to uncover a range of potential health problems (and, in some cases, ancestry traits). Just how useful is this and how do such tests differ from genetic testing a doctor may recommend for medical reasons?

Looking out for diverticulitis

Published August 16, 2021

More than half of US adults over 60 have diverticulosis, a condition where part of the wall of the colon bulges outward and forms tiny pouches. Diverticulosis does not cause symptoms, but if a pouch becomes inflamed or infected it becomes diverticulitis, which can be mild or more serious.

Air pollution: How to reduce harm to your health

Published August 13, 2021

Some air pollution levels have inched up in recent years, and accumulating evidence suggests that higher levels of particulates in the air are linked with increased levels of hospitalization for many serious health problems. But we can make choices to help both the environment and our health.

Aortic stenosis: Do health disparities affect treatment?

Published August 12, 2021

Aortic stenosis is the narrowing of the aortic valve in the heart, which can lead to heart failure if the problem is not identified and treated. Unfortunately, research shows that inequities exist in access to proper diagnosis and care for this condition. Understanding how stenosis is identified and treated can help you receive good care.

The endocannabinoid system: Essential and mysterious

Published August 11, 2021

Though recently discovered, the endocannabinoid system regulates and controls many of our critical bodily functions. Researchers are investigating the ECS’s role in learning and memory and in hunger, hoping that these avenues of research may lead to new drug discoveries.

Bugs are biting: Safety precautions for children

Published August 10, 2021

Most of the time, biting bugs are just a nuisance that goes with being outdoors in warm weather. But sometimes insect bites can lead to illnesses like Lyme disease, Zika, or West Nile virus. To prevent bug bites, take simple precautions and learn how to choose and safely use insect repellents on children and yourself.

Time to hire a caregiver? 3 tips to help

Published August 9, 2021
If you are facing physical or cognitive challenges, hiring caregivers to come into your home can be an effective way to continue living independently. It’s not always easy having new people coming into your home, but there are things you can do to adjust to the changes.

Extreme heat: Staying safe if you have health issues

Published August 6, 2021

Climate change has made life-threatening heat waves increasingly common across the globe. Anyone with health issues will have a more difficult time in extreme heat, including older people and people with diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and other conditions. Be prepared by knowing how to identify and treat heat-related illness, and how to plan for hot days.

Tick season is expanding: Protect yourself against Lyme disease

Published August 5, 2021

If it isn’t treated, Lyme disease can harm the joints, heart, and nervous system. Avoiding tick bites is the best way to prevent Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. Warming temperatures due to climate change mean that ticks now thrive in a broader geographic area for a longer portion of the year, so it’s more important than ever to protect yourself.

Heart disease risk: Partnering on lifestyle change can help

Published August 4, 2021

For people who have risk factors for heart disease, it’s important to make lifestyle changes like losing weight, getting more exercise, and eating a healthier diet. Longstanding habits are hard to change, but managing the challenge of healthy eating is easier if people have a partner who is supportive and involved in making food choices.

Can wearing contacts harm your vision?

Published August 3, 2021

Millions of people wear contact lenses, and with proper use and care they are very safe. However, sleeping with lenses in that are not specifically intended for extended wear can increase the risk of infection in the eye’s cornea.

Vegan and paleo: Pluses and minuses to watch

Published August 2, 2021

Strict vegan and paleo eating patterns seem to be at opposite ends of the diet spectrum. Both can offer health benefits, though it’s wise to understand the nutritional gaps left by each approach due to excluded food groups and consider five principles that will make any eating plan you choose nutritionally sound.

Postpartum anxiety is invisible, but common and treatable

Published July 30, 2021

It’s not unusual for women to feel down or depressed after giving birth, but if the feelings persist or become debilitating, it’s cause for concern. Many of the symptoms overlap between postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, but some women do not respond as well to some treatments for depression, so it’s important to establish the correct diagnosis.

Right-sizing opioid prescriptions after surgery

Published July 29, 2021

It’s common for doctors to prescribe opioid pain medications for their patients after surgery; however, prescribing large numbers of pills increases the possibility of dependence and overdose. Writing prescriptions for smaller quantities of pills while still monitoring people's pain is one way to reduce the likelihood that a person develops a problem.

Ready for your routine medical checkup?

Published July 28, 2021

Before the pandemic did you schedule a routine, in-person health checkup every year? Is this necessary or can you safely skip a year or consider a telehealth visit or a combination of in-person and virtual care? There are pros and cons to these options and no single solution will work for everyone.

Nicotine addiction explained — and how medications can help

Published July 27, 2021

Addiction is now understood to be a neurological disorder that results from changes to the brain’s reward center caused by addictive substances. Ideally, treatment for nicotine addiction combines medication to suppress cravings with counseling to help patients reprogram their behavior.

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