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Fears about statin side effects: Often unfounded?

Updated March 1, 2021

A novel study suggests that the "nocebo effect" could be why some people believe they cannot tolerate statins.

Are you hesitant to fill your statin prescription because you're worried the drug will cause muscle aches and other side effects? Although you're far from alone (see "A royal pain?"), the reality is that all drugs have side effects, and statins aren't worse than other drugs. And fears about statin side effects may be depriving people of a potentially lifesaving medication.

The nocebo effect — the flip side of the well-known placebo effect — occurs when people experience negative effects from a drug, placebo, or other treatment based on an expectation of harm. Because of the widespread belief that statins cause muscle aches, statins have been suspected of triggering a strong nocebo effect. A recent study confirmed this observation (see "A study to assess statin side effects").

Did my diet cause my gout?

Updated March 1, 2021

Ask the doctors

Q. I eat a lot of shellfish and recently developed gout in my knee. Did my diet cause the condition?

A. As you probably know, gout is a painful form of arthritis that occurs when high levels of a waste product called uric acid build up in the body. It can settle into joints, where it forms sharp crystals that can trigger inflammation, redness, and pain. Your diet may have aggravated the condition, but didn't cause it.

Questions to ask before getting a hip replacement

Updated February 1, 2021

Bring this article to your doctor appointment.

You've run out of options for hip pain and you're facing a possible hip replacement (see "Anatomy of a hip replacement"). Once your doctor has determined that you're a good candidate for surgery — based on your medical history, images of your hip, steps you've taken to reduce pain (such as weight loss and low-impact exercise programs), and how pain has affected your daily function — you'll need to ask lots of questions.

"This is not a time to be shy. Be aggressive and get answers. The doctor expects that," says Dr. Scott Martin, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School and medical editor of the Harvard Medical School Guide Total Hip Replacement.

Put a song in your heart

Updated February 1, 2021

Listening to music may offer a range of benefits for cardiovascular health.

Music's capacity to evoke emotion is one reason people love listening to it so much. Whether you want to feel energized and uplifted or calm and relaxed, you can probably conjure a few examples of melodies that put you in your desired frame of mind. As it turns out, those mood-related benefits may extend to your heart.

"The beating of your heart and your fight-or-flight system are regulated by your brain. Once you understand that, it makes sense that listening to music that evokes a certain mood might affect the heart's function," says Dr. Andrew Budson, a lecturer in neurology at Harvard Medical School and chief of cognitive and behavioral neurology at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

Self-care for bursitis

Updated January 1, 2021

These painful flare-ups can occur suddenly and for no apparent reason. Here's what you can do about them.

Have you ever woken up with a mysterious egg-shaped swelling on your elbow or knee and have no clue what caused it? There is a good chance you have bursitis.

"Bursitis is definitely more common as you get older and just comes with the territory of living a longer and more active life," says Dr. Robert Shmerling, senior faculty editor at Harvard Health Publishing and Corresponding Member of the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Googling "chest pain" during the COVID-19 pandemic

Updated January 1, 2021

Research we're watching

Google searches for "chest pain" spiked in March and April of 2020 during the initial sharp rise in COVID-19 infections, according to a new study. The findings suggest that people were attempting to self-diagnose heart attacks — and may explain why fewer people sought treatment for heart attacks in hospitals during the pandemic.

The study relied on Google Trends, a tool that monitors search term queries over time. The authors looked at searches for "chest pain" and five control terms — "toothache," "abdominal pain," "knee pain," "heart attack," and "stroke" — from January 2017 through May 2020. Searches for chest pain (a common symptom of heart attack but not COVID-19) spiked in states with high rates of COVID-19 infection (New York, New Jersey, and Illinois), while searches for other terms stayed steady.

Take a soak for your health

Updated December 1, 2020

The benefits of tub baths are more than skin deep. Bathing regularly can help ease pain and potentially benefit your heart.

You know that sinking into a warm bath at the end of a long day can help you relax and unwind, but did you know it might also be good for your health? Research shows that using baths as a form of medical therapy, sometimes referred to as balneotherapy (see "Balneotherapy, or bath therapy"), can bring health benefits — among them, easing certain types of chronic pain, helping your skin, and potentially even improving heart health.

Balneotherapy, or bath therapy

The name balneotherapy is derived from the Latin word balneum, or bath. Today, balneotherapy may refer to the use of a typical bath (warm or cold) as a treatment for an illness or condition. However, the term historically and sometimes still refers to mineral baths or mineral-rich mud packs to coat the body. Some medical professionals also consider saunas or steam baths as balneotherapy.

When you take these popular pain relievers, proceed with caution

Updated December 1, 2020

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs known as NSAIDs pose a risk to the cardiovascular system.

Many people stock pain relievers in their medicine cabinets for headaches or strained muscles. Among the most common are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include the over-the-counter pills ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), as well many prescription drugs (see "Commonly used NSAIDs").

As their name indicates, NSAIDs help to reduce inflammation. For this reason, they may be more effective than other pain relievers — namely acetaminophen (Tylenol) — for certain conditions, such as arthritis. But because NSAIDs are available without a prescription, people often assume these drugs are completely safe. And they may overlook the warning that appears on ibuprofen and naproxen labels, which reads "Heart attack and stroke warning: NSAIDs, except aspirin, increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. These can be fatal. The risk is higher if you use more than directed or for longer than directed." (Although technically an NSAID, aspirin is a unique case; see "Aspirin advice.")

Unlocking the mystery of chronic pelvic pain syndrome

Updated December 1, 2020

The condition is an all-too-real problem for men, and one of the more difficult to treat.

After age 50, men often have periods of discomfort "down there." It could be a cramping, aching, or throbbing pain in and around your pelvis and genitals. You also may have issues in the bedroom and bathroom. While the problems are real, the cause is often difficult to pinpoint.

It's called chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS) — also known as chronic prostatitis — and it's one of the most puzzling and difficult-to-manage conditions for older men.

Diffuse Pain

Published November 24, 2020

We're sorry you have pain!

The word "diffuse" means "widespread" and refers to pain that is more or less all over, or at least in many areas. The goal of this guide is to provide information while awaiting evaluation with your doctor, or for additional information after you have seen him or her. Please keep in mind that this guide is not intended to replace a face-to-face evaluation with your doctor. The diagnoses provided are among the most common that could explain your symptoms, but the list is not exhaustive and there are many other possibilities. In addition, more than one condition may be present at the same time. For example, a person with rheumatoid arthritis could also have tendonitis.

Please click here to begin.

Do you have severe diffuse pain with fever, redness over the skin or joints, marked swelling, inability to use the muscles or joints, or recent significant trauma (a fall, car accident, etc.)?

Yes, I have one or more of the above.

No, none of these apply to me.

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