27 Jul

Medical News Today: How does the brain turn unconscious information into conscious thought?

hand holding brain lightbulb
A new study investigates when the ‘a-ha!’ moment takes place in the brain, and how similar it is to other brain processes.
Neuroscience tells us that most of the work done by our brains happens on an unconscious level, but when does that “a-ha!” moment occur? And what happens during it? New research investigates.

Many of us have noticed that we seem to get our best ideas when we’re in the shower, or that we can find the answer to a difficult question when we least think about it.

A large body of neuroscientific studies has pointed out that the brain does a lot of work in its spare time, the so-called idle state – wherein the brain does not appear to be thinking about anything at all – and that this is the time when it works at its hardest to find solutions to complex problems.

With time and advances in neuroscience, it has become more and more clear to researchers that Freud was right and the mind, as well as the brain, do work unconsciously. In fact, it would be safe to say that what is consciously known to us is just the tip of a much larger iceberg, deeply submerged in unconscious waters.

But the exact moment at which information becomes known to us – or when the “tip of the iceberg” pierces through the water, and the unconscious becomes conscious – has been somewhat of a mystery, from a neuroscientific point of view.

In other words, we do not yet know when that intellectually satisfying “a-ha!” moment takes place, or what the biology is behind it. This is why a team of researchers at Columbia University in New York City, NY, set out to investigate this moment in more detail.

The scientists were led by Michael Shadlen, Ph.D., of Columbia University’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, and the findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

The hypothesis

Dr. Shadlen and colleagues started out from an interesting hypothesis, one which they derived from previous research on the neurobiological processes involved in decision-making.

As the authors explain, research conducted in both monkeys and humans shows that many of our decisions take place at a point when the brain “feels” as though it has gathered enough information, or when a critical level of information has been accumulated.

This process of making a decision once the brain has accumulated enough evidence bears the name of “bounded evidence accumulation.” Reaching this threshold is important because, although the brain does not use all of the information available, it uses as much as is necessary to make a speedy yet accurate decision.

The researchers wondered whether or not this threshold is also responsible for our “eureka!” moments.

In Dr. Shadlen’s words, “Could the moment when the brain believes it has accumulated enough evidence be tied to the person’s awareness of having decided – that important ‘a-ha!’ moment?”

Examining the ‘a-ha!’ moment

To answer this question, the scientists asked five people to perform a “direction discrimination” task. In it, the participants looked at dots on a computer screen. The dots moved randomly, as grains of sand would when blown by the wind. The participants were asked to say in which direction the dots had moved.

The moment they “decided” which direction the dots seemed to be taking was considered to be the equivalent of the “a-ha!” moment.

In the center of the screen, there was a fixed point and a clock. The display also had two “choice targets” – namely, left or right – and these were the directions in which the participants had to decide that the dots had moved.

Shortly after the dots had stopped moving, the participants used an electronic, hand-held stylus to move the cursor in the direction that they thought the dots had moved.

To determine when the decision was made, the researchers used the technique called “mental chronometry” – that is, after they made their decision, the participants were asked to move the clock backward to the point when they felt that they had consciously done so.

“The moment in time indicated by the participants – this mental chronometry – was entirely subjective; it relied solely on their own estimation of how long it took them to make that decision,” Dr. Shadlen says. “And because it was purely subjective, in principle it ought to be unverifiable.”

‘A-ha’ moment similar to making a decision

However, by applying a mathematical model, the scientists were able to match these subjective decision times to the bounded evidence accumulation process.

The subjective decision times fit so well with what the scientists determined as the evidence accumulation threshold that they were able to predict the choices of four of the five participants.

“If the time reported to us by the participants was valid, we reasoned that it might be possible to predict the accuracy of the decision,” explains Dr. Shadlen.

“We incorporated a kind of mathematical trick, based on earlier studies, which showed that the speed and accuracy of decisions were tied together by the same brain function.” This “mathematical trick” was the evidence accumulation model.

Essentially, the act of becoming consciously aware of a decision conforms to the same process that the brain goes through to complete a decision, even a simple one – such as whether to turn left or right.”

Michael Shadlen, Ph.D.

In other words, the study shows that the conscious awareness of the “a-ha!” moment takes place precisely when the brain has reached that threshold of evidence accumulation.

The findings provide unique insights into the biology of consciousness, say the researchers, and they bring us closer to understanding the biological basis of decisions, ethics, and, generally, the human mind.

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27 Jul

Medical News Today: The 10 best prostate cancer blogs

man looking at a digital tablet
Prostate cancer blogs often feature personal stories from other people with prostate cancer and information from experts on the disease.
Being diagnosed with prostate cancer may trigger a range of feelings, including fear, anxiety, depression, and disbelief. While everyone finds their own way to cope with a diagnosis, prostate cancer blogs may help you to feel as though you are not alone. We have selected the best prostate cancer blogs.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancer types in men, with around 161,360 new cases in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Around 1 in 7 men will receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer in their lifetime.

Although around 26,730 yearly deaths occur from prostate cancer among U.S. men, most men who are diagnosed with the condition do not die from the disease; more than 2.9 million U.S. men who have received a prostate cancer diagnosis “at some point are still alive today.”

Healthcare providers will help you to determine the most effective course of care for your condition. However, prostate cancer blogs can help you to connect with people who understand what you are going through.

Medical News Today have located the 10 best prostate cancer blogs that provide guidance, information on what to expect, and support.

Harvard Health Blog: Prostate Health

Harvard Health logo

Harvard Health Blog is run by Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of the Harvard Medical School of Harvard University. Harvard Health Publications draw on the expertise of more than 11,000 physicians, researchers, and faculty members to deliver up-to-date information that is trustworthy and accessible.

Their Prostate Health blog has posts from Charlie Schmidt, among other writers. Schmidt is the editor of Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease.

Schmidt writes articles such as how combining surgery, radiation, and hormonal therapy may extend survival in advanced prostate cancer, how a new imaging technique may help men to avoid prostate biopsy, and how a urine test can predict high-grade prostate cancer.

Visit the Harvard Prostate Health blog.

Prostate Cancer Foundation

PCF logo

The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) was founded in 1993 to harness more financial and human resources in the mission to develop new breakthroughs and find a cure for prostate cancer.

Through the support of the PCF, the number of drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of prostate cancer has increased from seven, when the PCF first started, to 13 today. The PCF say that there are many more treatments in the pipeline.

The PCF blog features patient stories including Charlie’s battle with prostate cancer for 13 years, Stevie’s bid to spread awareness on being responsible and getting prostate checkups, and Russell’s request for a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test that led to the discovery that he had prostate cancer.

Visit the PCF blog.

Journey to ZERO

Zero logo

ZERO is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to end prostate cancer and have a future with zero prostate cancer deaths. They aim to advance prostate cancer research, help to improve the lives of men and their families, and inspire action against prostate cancer.

ZERO provide educational resources and are funding research for early prostate cancer detection methods. They hope to motivate a passionate, like-minded, and multigenerational team of advocates to put an end to prostate cancer.

The Journey to ZERO blog includes patient education, community perspectives, personal stories, and advocacy in action. Posts include Paul’s 5-year anniversary of being diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer, Landi’s making of a documentary film about prostate cancer in the African American community, and how the ZERO360 support program helped a 56-year-old with his cancer diagnosis, job loss, and financial burden.

Visit the Journey to ZERO blog.

Sperling Prostate Center

Sperling Prostate Center logo

The Sperling Prostate Center is based in New York City, NY, and offers advanced noninvasive imaging to detect prostate tumors, and prostate treatments with a goal of minimal side effects, a low rate of recurrence, a near nonexistent risk of impotence or incontinence, and preserving quality of life.

Dr. Dan Sperling is the founder of Sperling Prostate Center. He helped to pioneer the MRI-Guided Prostate Laser Ablation, which is a minimally invasive procedure designed to target and destroy only the prostate tumor while leaving healthy tissue untouched.

The Sperling Prostate Center’s Prostate Health & Wellness Blog covers topics including how Italian-style coffee may reduce prostate cancer risk, the new patient selection guidelines for focal therapy, and the 10 key warning signs of prostate cancer.

Visit the Sperling Prostate Cancer blog.

Prostate Cancer 911

Prostate Cancer 911 logo

Prostate Cancer 911 is a website by Dr. David Samadi and his team. Dr. Samadi is the chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, NY. He is a world-renowned prostate cancer specialist.

Dr. Samadi is trained in both open surgery and minimally invasive advanced treatments for prostate cancer, including laparoscopic robotic radical prostatectomy and laparoscopic radical prostatectomy. He aspires to bring global awareness to prostate cancer.

The Prostate Cancer 911 blog includes prostate cancer news such as how radical prostatectomy improves the chance of long-term survival, nutritional tips for during and after prostate cancer treatment, and potential prostate cancer warning signs and when to be concerned.

Visit the Prostate Cancer 911 blog.

Renew | Repurpose

Renew Repurpose logo

Renew | Repurpose replaces the blog Cancer Adventures that Marlys Johnson initially set up with her husband Gary after he received a prostate cancer diagnosis. Marlys says that Gary was the “same witty, courageous wry-humored kind man until [his death in] November 2014.”

Marlys has created Renew | Repurpose to go beyond cancer and help people to find a fresh purpose in seasons of loss. Marlys explains that an unspeakable loss could happen through a serious illness or disability, loss of meaningful work, an empty nest, a divorce, unwanted location, financial setbacks, or the death of a loved one.

Recent posts on the blog include 11 reasons why you should not get involved with a support team, how to live knowing that cancer and loss will change your future, and how to maintain bonds with deceased loved ones.

Visit the Renew | Repurpose blog.

Dan’s Journey through Prostate Cancer

Dan's Journey logo

Dan’s Journey through Prostate Cancer is the blog of Daniel E. Zeller. Dan started an unplanned and unexpected journey into the world of prostate cancer in 2010.

Dan says that having first-hand knowledge from other people with prostate cancer was invaluable to him, and the intent of his blog is to help educate, increase awareness, and provide insight for those who are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Latest posts by Dan include a survey for individuals who have had a prostatectomy and had their PSA return after surgery, life 78 months after radical prostatectomy, and perspectives gained through a prostate cancer support group.

Visit the Dan’s Journey through Prostate Cancer blog.

Vital Jake

Vital Jake logo

Janet Worthington is the writer of the blog Vital Jake. Janet started writing about prostate cancer in the early 1990s after her husband’s father had died from prostate cancer at age 53. Janet’s father was also diagnosed with prostate cancer, and Janet says that having the radical prostatectomy saved his life.

Janet’s heart lies in writing articles about men’s health. Her mission is to be that of a patient advocate, to write for the typical person who visits the doctor. She writes in an easy-to-understand way and shares information with individuals who need it the most.

Blog posts on the Vital Jake Prostate blog include gene-targeted treatment for prostate cancer, a discussion on prostate cancer treatment and erectile dysfunction, and how Paul survived prostate cancer and beyond.

Visit the Vital Jake Prostate blog.

Living with Prostate Cancer

Living with Prostate Cancer logo

Living with Prostate Cancer is a blog created by Todd Seals. Todd was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in 2006, at age 42, and he shares his story to inspire others. Before cancer, he says that he took life for granted and that cancer gave him a second chance.

Todd’s blog is about living with cancer and focuses more on the living than the cancer itself. He says that while cancer will always be a part of his story, it will never be the focal point.

Popular posts on the blog include Todd’s new chapter with a new oncologist and insurance, his challenge after being prescribed Zytiga, and a list of rules to help you survive the prostate cancer journey, which Todd put together on the 10-year anniversary of his stage 4 diagnosis.

Visit the Living with Prostate Cancer blog.

Prostate Cancer Institute of Los Angeles

Prostate Cancer Institute of Los Angeles logo

The Prostate Cancer Institute of Los Angeles specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of prostate cancer of all stages.

They offer an expert team of urologists, oncologists, radiologists, and radiation oncologists to provide prostate cancer patients with the best treatment options and outcomes.

The most recent posts on the Prostate Cancer Institute of Los Angeles blog include reducing your risk of prostate cancer through maintaining a healthful diet, risk factors that are associated with prostate cancer, and suggestions of what to do after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Visit the Prostate Cancer Institute of Los Angeles blog.

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27 Jul

Medical News Today: What happens in the brain during anxiety? Study sheds light

an illustration of the human brain and neurons
New research has uncovered brain cells that become activated in response to uncertain outcomes.
We all get anxious from time to time, but what happens in the brain when this dreaded feeling looms? New research helps to answer this question.

In a study of monkeys, Ilya Monosov, Ph.D., of the Departments of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, discovered specific cells in the brain that are activated in response to anxiety.

The researcher recently published his findings in the journal Nature Communications.

In simple terms, anxiety is defined as feelings of worry, nervousness, or fear about an event or situation that could yield an unpleasant outcome, such as a job interview or an exam.

While these feelings may quickly subside for some people, others may develop anxiety disorders, wherein anxiety persists or worsens over time.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect around 40 million adults in the United States.

Dr. Monosov believes that his new study may open the door to new treatments for anxiety disorders, after identifying a group of brain cells that play a role in anxious feelings.

Uncertainty triggers specific brain activity

Dr. Monosov came to his findings by studying the brains of rhesus monkeys, which have many brain structures similar to those of humans.

He focused on the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) of the brain, a region in the prefrontal cortex that previous studies have shown plays a role in behaviors associated with uncertainty – a key driver of anxiety.

For his study, Dr. Monosov trained two monkeys to associate three different geometric patterns with three different outcomes. One pattern was associated with receiving an irritating puff of air in the face (representing a certain outcome), one pattern was associated with a 50-50 likelihood of getting a puff of air in the face (representing an uncertain outcome), while the third pattern was associated with no outcome.

As the monkeys were shown each geometric pattern, Dr. Monosov used MRI to measure neuronal activity in the ACC of their brains.

The researcher identified brain cells in the ACC that were activated in response to the geometric design associated with an uncertain outcome. However, when the monkeys were shown patterns associated with a certain outcome or no outcome, these brain cells showed no activity.

“We found a population of neurons that activated specifically when monkeys thought something bad or annoying – like a puff of air to the face – might be coming, but not when they knew for certain it was,” explains Dr. Monosov.

Findings may fuel new treatments

In another experiment, Dr. Monosov trained the monkeys to recognize two geometric patterns associated with the certainty or possibility of receiving a sip of juice, representing a positive outcome.

The results were similar to those seen in the first experiment: when the monkeys were presented with an uncertain outcome, a specific group of brain cells in the ACC were activated. These cells were not activated when the monkeys were presented with the certain outcome.

According to Dr. Monosov, these findings not only help to explain the brain mechanisms that underlie anxiety, but they may also pave the way for new treatments for anxiety and other behavioral disorders.

Now that we know which cells are active when an animal is faced with the uncertainty of a bad experience, we can try to disrupt the activity of these cells. It opens up avenues of research, which may one day lead to new ways to treat disorders such as anxiety and depression.”

Ilya Monosov, Ph.D.

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27 Jul

Medical News Today: Heart attack: Blood vessel growth may improve treatment

illustration of blood vessels
Researchers have made a discovery in the area of new blood vessel formation, and their findings could help to improve heart attack and cancer treatments.
Scientists have discovered a cell mechanism involving the hormone leptin that plays a key role in the formation of new blood vessels. The discovery may help to develop treatments that stimulate tissue repair following a heart attack, as well as treatments that stop abnormal tissue growth, such as in cancer.

A report on the discovery, by researchers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The finding reveals important new clues about the cell biology of “angiogenesis,” or the generation of new blood vessels, which occurs in both health and disease.

The researchers, including study leader Paolo Madeddu, a professor of experimental cardiovascular medicine at the University of Bristol, believe that their discovery could help to improve treatments for heart attack and cancer, two of the world’s leading causes of death.

For example, heart attacks damage heart muscle, and a better understanding of how to generate new blood vessels could improve regenerative medicine approaches that help the heart to repair itself.

Similarly, in cancer, tumors rely on the formation of new blood vessels to grow, so understanding how this happens could help to develop treatments that block this growth.

Heart disease, the main cause of heart attacks, is the world’s biggest killer. In 2015, an estimated 17.3 million people died from heart disease and the number is expected to exceed 23.6 million by 2030.

Cancer caused approximately 8.8 million deaths worldwide in 2015. The number of new cases, currently estimated at around 14 million per year, is expected to increase by 70 percent over the next 20 years.

Pericytes and new blood vessel growth

The new study investigated how a group of cells called pericytes stimulate the growth of new blood vessels. Pericytes are a type of stem cell found in the walls of blood vessels.

In their report, the researchers note that pericytes are “emerging as promising candidates” for treatments that involve new blood vessel generation.

Studies that have investigated what happens when pericytes are transplanted into tissue that has suffered from insufficient blood supply, or “ischemia,” have already shown that the cells are stimulated by lack of oxygen. However, the molecular process remained unknown.

Prof. Madeddu and colleagues discovered that the hormone leptin appears to play an important role in the ability of pericytes to stimulate new blood vessel growth.

Leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells, is already known to be important for regulation of appetite and energy balance. The authors note that there is also evidence that some components of the leptin “pathway are expressed in human stem cells,” but it is not clear how it works.

Oxygen starvation ramps up leptin

The team discovered that when starved of oxygen, pericytes produce 40 times more leptin and that this overproduction continues until oxygen levels return to normal.

The researchers also found that the increase in leptin makes the pericytes more resistant to induced cell death, or “apoptosis,” and that it enhances their ability to migrate and stimulate blood vessel formation.

They conclude that leptin appears to play an important part in a number of actions that help to generate new blood vessels in tissue that has suffered from oxygen starvation.

“Increasing leptin in pericytes in a damaged heart might help it to heal faster,” Prof. Madeddu explains, “whereas blocking the production of leptin in cancerous pericytes might starve the tumor of nutrients and force it to shrink.”

He and his colleagues hope that the discovery will help to develop treatments that mean heart attack patients do not have to undergo coronary artery bypass, which usually takes a long time to recover from.

The invasive surgery involves taking blood vessels from elsewhere in the body, such as a leg, to bypass the damaged artery and restore blood flow to the heart muscle.

This new discovery could have important implications for the treatment of heart attacks, which is when a main coronary artery gets blocked, but also cancer. These results reveal a new signaling mechanism that may have a far-reaching and significant impact on cardiovascular regenerative medicine.”

Prof. Paolo Madeddu

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27 Jul

Medical News Today: Swan neck deformity: Causes and treatment

Swan neck deformity <br>Image credit: Phoenix119, 2014.</br>
Image credit: Phoenix119, 2014
Swan neck deformity is a condition that affects the joints in the fingers.

It is caused by abnormal stress on the volar plate, the ligament around the middle joint of the finger (PIP joint).

The resulting shape looks similar to a swan’s neck, which is how the condition got its name.

What is a swan neck deformity?

For a swan neck deformity to occur, abnormal stress must be put on the ligament around the PIP joint of the finger.

The stress causes the ligament to loosen, which then causes hyperextension of the PIP joint. As a result, the PIP joint bows in towards the palm.

Simultaneously, the joint furthest from the palm (DIP joint) forces the fingertip to point towards the palm.

The abnormally bent fingers may make it difficult for a person with swan neck deformity to grasp objects or make a fist. The limited motion may be classified as a disability, as the person has lost some fundamental functions of the fingers and hands.

Some similar finger malformations can be mistaken for swan neck deformity. These include the duckbill deformity, which causes the thumb or fingers to form a 90 degree angle.

Though related to other deformities, swan neck deformity is distinct in that it can only occur on the fingers, as the thumb lacks a middle joint.


rheumatoid arthritis
A common cause of swan neck deformity is rheumatoid arthritis.

While there are several potential causes of swan neck deformity, the most common cause is rheumatoid arthritis.

Other possible causes may include one or more of the following:

  • other types of arthritis
  • untreated mallet finger – a condition often caused by injury
  • poorly healed fracture in the finger
  • other direct trauma to finger that has weakened the ligaments surrounding the PIP joint
  • nerve damage that causes muscle spasms
  • severely jammed finger tip
  • tightened hand muscles due to injury
  • looseness of the fibrous plate inside the hand located at the base of the fingers
  • loose finger ligaments
  • ruptured finger tendon or tendons
  • some genetic conditions, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

People diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis are at greater risk for developing swan neck deformity in one or more of their fingers.

When first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a person may wish to talk to a doctor about precautionary measures to help avoid developing swan neck deformity as the disease progresses.


In later stages of swan neck deformity, it is relatively easy to recognize symptoms visually.

Earlier signs of swan neck deformity may include pain when bending the knuckle and a slight bend in the wrong direction of one or more fingers.

Left untreated, the two outer joints of the finger will eventually bend noticeably, causing the finger to resemble a swan’s neck.


Doctors diagnose swan neck deformity with a visual examination of the hands. The doctor will look for a hyper extended middle joint (PIP) and check whether the tip of the finger is flexing inwards to point towards the palm.

In addition to determining if a patient has swan neck deformity, a doctor will look to diagnose the cause. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, the most likely cause is the arthritis.

If rheumatoid arthritis is not the cause, a doctor may order an X-ray of the finger or fingers to determine if an acute injury may be the cause.


There are a variety of treatment options for people who have swan neck deformity. There are two broad categories of treatment: surgical and non-surgical.


physical therapy on an older ladies hand
Physical or occupational therapy may be used to treat swan neck deformity.

Non-surgical treatment focuses on restoring flexibility to the PIP joint and aligning the hand and fingers. Fixing the PIP joint should fix the DIP joint in most situations. If it does not, additional surgery may be required.

In some cases, a person may receive physical or occupational therapy. These treatments use stretching, massage, and joint mobilization to help restore function and alignment of the fingers and hands.

In addition to therapies or as a stand alone treatment, a doctor may prescribe special finger splints. These produce the best results when the PIP joints are most supple. Many newer styles of splints resemble jewelry and can be discrete or decorative.

A person may take over-the-counter or prescription medicines to help reduce pain and discomfort. A person should consult their doctor before taking any new medications.

Surgical Options

Before surgery, a surgeon may suggest that a person tries some of the non-surgical treatment options for several weeks.

Severe cases of swan neck deformity, as well as those that do not respond to therapies and splints, are the most likely to be recommended for surgery.

There are several surgical options available. Soft tissue surgery, finger joint fusion, and PIP joint arthroplasty are all viable options for treating swan neck deformity.

  • Soft tissue surgery involves releasing, aligning, and balancing the ligaments around the PIP joint. However, surgery that aims to fix the soft tissue that contributes to swan neck deformity may not be as effective. After surgery, most people will receive physical therapy to aid recovery.
  • Finger joint fusion involves fusing the DIP joint so that the finger tip will not be able to bend at the DIP joint. Fusing the DIP joint stabilizes the joint, reduces pain, and avoids further deformity. In more severe cases, a surgeon may recommend fusing the PIP joint in a slightly bent position.
  • PIP joint arthroplasty involves replacing part or all of the PIP joint in the affected fingers. Both ligament sections around the joint are removed and replaced. Once the new ligaments are in place, the surgeon typically reconstructs some of the soft tissue to help restore movement to the finger.

Recovery and management

After surgery, it is not uncommon for a person to undergo continued occupational and physical therapies. These therapies will help a person gradually regain strength and mobility in the fingers. Typical recovery times range from a few months to half a year.

The goal of therapy is to regain strength, improve range of motion, bring back fine motor skills, and reduce pain.

In addition to therapies, a person may continue to wear a brace or splint.

If the swan neck deformity occurred as a result of an acute injury, a person will probably expreience no further complications once they recover from surgery.

People with rheumatoid arthritis may need to undergo surgery and therapy several times to reduce the impact of swan neck deformity.

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27 Jul

Medical News Today: Lymphangioma: Diagnosis and treatment

The lymphatic system helps to eliminate toxic or waste materials from the body. Lymphangomia is caused by a disorder with the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system helps to eliminate toxic or waste materials from the body. Lymphangomia is caused by a disorder with the lymphatic system.
A lymphangioma is a swelling or mass that occurs mainly in the head, neck, and mouth.

Lymphangiomas are the result of a congenital condition and are usually apparent at birth, or at least by the time a person is 2 years old.

What is a lymphangioma?

A lymphangioma can affect any part of the body but usually occurs on the head, neck, or mouth. The swelling is made up of one or many fluid-filled sacs that are caused by a problem with the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and is made up of a network of tubes known as lymph vessels. These vessels transport a fluid called lymph around the body and into the bloodstream.

Lymph nodes positioned around the lymphatic system help rid the body of infection and inflammation.

Lymphangiomas and certain other types of masses related to the lymphatic system are known as lymphatic malformations. These swellings or masses are benign and not associated with cancer.

Causes and risk factors

Checkup of lymph nodes.
Some complications of lymphangioma include difficulty or pain when swallowing, and breathing problems.

Lymphangiomas are caused by abnormal development of the lymphatic system, but exactly why this happens is unknown.

A lymphangioma is described as a “somatic mutation,” meaning that it affects the genes but is not an inherited condition.

Lymphangiomas can also occur as part of another condition, including:

Lymphatic malformations can occur in both males and females of any race. They are a rare condition affecting around 1 in 4,000 newborns.

In general, lymphangiomas do not cause any medical problems. However, because of their prominence on the face and neck, they can affect a person’s appearance.

Also, more serious complications can occur, including:

  • pain
  • infection
  • breathing problems when swellings in the neck press on the airway
  • difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • inflammation or cellulitis
  • bleeding
  • double vision if the eye socket is affected
  • wheezing and chest pain if the chest is affected


Lymphangiomas usually occur in one localized area. Occasionally, they can be widespread throughout the body.

While the swelling will often be present at birth, it may be too small to see at first. In these cases, the lymphatic malformation grows as the infant grows.

The appearance of lymphangiomas can vary from small patches to large swellings, depending on how much fluid they contain.

There are three types of lymphatic malformations:

  • Macrocystic: A large, fluid-filled pocket or pockets under the skin. The skin appears red or bluish. Macrocystic lymphatic malformations are more than 2 centimeters (cm) in diameter and usually occur on the neck. They can also affect the chest, armpit, or groin.
  • Microcystic: A group of small, fluid-filled sacs that can occur anywhere on the body. The skin is red or bluish, and the mass grows in proportion with the child.
  • Mixed: A combination of macrocystic and microcystic lymphatic malformations.


Diagnosis of lymphangiomas is not usually difficult and can often be done before birth, using a prenatal ultrasound.

Once a baby is born, a lymphangioma can be identified during a physical examination. It will usually appear as a soft, ill-defined fluid-filled mass that moves around under the skin when pressure is applied.

The use of ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can also help identify the mass.


Surgery is a possible treatment option. If the lymphatic mass is close to nerves or muscle, it can make the surgery more complicated.

Treatment for lymphangiomas varies case by case, and it often involves a team of specialists working together to decide the best course of action.

The location, type, and symptoms of the mass will all contribute towards deciding what treatment to use. If the lymphangioma is not causing specific problems, either medically or regarding appearance, then often no treatment is needed.

When treatment is needed, the most common types are:

  • Surgery: Surgical removal can be a difficult procedure if the lymphatic malformation has traveled into the nerves and muscles.
  • Sclerotherapy: A solution is injected into the swelling to cause it to shrink or collapse.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: A high frequency current delivered via a needle destroys abnormal tissue.
  • Dermabrasion: A skin resurfacing technique can be used to treat facial scarring.
  • Percutaneous drainage: An incision is made in the lymphatic malformation, and the fluid is drained.
  • Drug treatment: Commonly associated with treating cancer, the drug sirolimus has been shown to shrink lymphatic malformations. Clinical trials are still determining its effectiveness, however.

Unfortunately, in many cases of lymphangiomas, they can recur after removal.

Further treatment may also be necessary if the swelling has affected a person’s breathing, eating, or speaking.

Outlook and complications

In general, the long-term outlook for people with lymphangiomas is good.

However, if left untreated, they can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. This impact includes complications such as disfigurement, which can be particularly distressing in cases of lymphatic malformations on the face.

Body parts or organs located near the lymphangioma can also be affected.

Simple masses that are completely removed generally do not recur. However, more complex masses that are completely removed recur in 10 to 27 percent of cases.

Between 50 and 100 percent of people who have a complex mass only partly removed will experience recurrence.

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27 Jul

Medical News Today: Could tai chi reduce the risk of falls in older adults?

Older adults tai chi at sunset China
Tai chi may reduce fall risk in older adults.
A recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society investigates tai chi as a way to reduce the risk of falling among older adults. This ancient art could help to improve the lives of modern at-risk individuals.

Falls are a serious risk for older adults. According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the “leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.”

In the elderly population of the United States, 17.6 percent reported between one and five falls in the previous 3 months – 6 percent of which were serious.

One study concluded that the issue appears to be getting worse; self-reported falls among adults aged 65 or older increased from 28.2 percent in 1998 to 36.3 percent in 2010.

Because of the size of the problem and the aging population of Western countries, a fair quantity of research has gone into identifying potential interventions that might help to minimize this worrying problem.

Earlier studies have shown that light physical activity can reduce the rate – but not necessarily the risk – of falls. A 2012 Cochrane review concluded, “Group and home-based exercise programs, usually containing some balance and strength training exercises, effectively reduced falls.”

An ancient art in a modern setting

Recently, researchers led by Rafael Lomas-Vega, Ph.D., of the University of Jaén in Spain, set out to analyze previous research investigating tai chi as a way of reducing falls in older adults.

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice. Its exact origins are buried in the mists of time, but it may date back as far as the 12th century. Although initially created as a martial art, there are now a number of different forms.

In the West, the most familiar form is not focused on self-defense, consisting of slow, measured movements; it is designed to improve whole-body coordination and flexibility.

Because tai chi is said to improve balance, proprioception (a sense of one’s position in space), and flexibility, all while being low impact, it is the perfect candidate for use by older adults.

Although this intervention has been tested and reviewed before, earlier reviews had certain limitations. For instance, they did not analyze short-term and long-term effects, and they chose to focus on the number of fallers rather than an individual’s rate of falls.

The authors of the current study outline their focus:

Considering the lack of available information […] the aim of the present systematic review was to investigate the most recent randomized controlled trials that analyze the effectiveness of tai chi on improving the falls rate, the rate of injurious falls, and the time to first fall…”

Tai chi benefits

In all, the team analyzed and combined data from 10 good quality studies. Interventions ranged from 12 to 26 weeks, and all involved 1-hour sessions that took place between one and three times per week. Participants were aged between 56 and 98. When compared with other activities, such as low-intensity exercise and physical therapy, tai chi fared well.

At short-term follow-up (under 12 months), tai chi reduced the rate of falls by 43 percent compared with other interventions, and by 13 percent in the longer-term (over 12 months).

When they investigated falls that caused an injury, the data were not quite as robust, but they calculated that tai chi reduced risk by 50 percent in the short-term and 28 percent over the long-term. However, tai chi did not seem to make a difference to when an individual was likely to have their first fall that caused an injury.

The current study adds to the evidence in support of tai chi as useful in protecting older adults from falls. However, the researchers are cautious. Prof. Lomas-Vega explains, “Due to the small number of published studies, further research is needed to investigate the effect of tai chi on injurious falls and time to first fall.”

Although the current study did not attempt to explain why tai chi is beneficial, it is likely to be due to a range of factors, which could include improvement in reaction time, a better and more stable gait, improved balance, and better balance recovery.

Because tai chi is low impact, simple, and cost-effective, it is an ideal intervention for use in care settings, in the community, and at home.

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Source: medicalnewstoday

27 Jul

Medical News Today: Could UV-absorbent DNA layer replace sunscreen?

woman sunbathing and reading a book at the beach
Could an artificial DNA film eventually replace sunscreen?
Researchers have developed a DNA film that absorbs ultraviolet light more efficiently the longer it is exposed to it. This extra layer could be applied over the skin instead of sunscreen, potentially protecting it from the negative effects of sunburn, developers explain.

Every summer, we are bombarded with offers for the latest and best products to bring with us to our sun-kissed holiday destinations. From sunglasses to sunscreen and after-sun body lotions, drugstores display a wealth of eye and skincare products.

In the future, however, we may have other options to protect ourselves from the negative effect of the summer sun.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays are emitted by the sun and they are the reason why we get tanned in the summer. They are also emitted by tanning beds. But UV rays are also very harmful to the skin, and they are a major risk factor for skin cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to UV rays can start causing harm to the skin within 15 minutes in the absence of protective layers and sunscreen.

Dr. Guy German, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and colleagues have designed a film layer made out of DNA capable of absorbing UV light and thus effectively protecting the wearer’s skin.

The researchers published their study results in the journal Scientific Reports.

Using DNA as a ‘sacrificial layer’

As previous research has shown, UV radiation causes significant damage to the DNA, which can result in cancer and the premature aging of the skin, causing wrinkles and spots.

Dr. German and his colleagues decided to use this knowledge to develop a DNA layer that would take the sun damage instead of the wearer’s skin.

“We thought, let’s flip it. What happens instead if we actually used DNA as a sacrificial layer? So instead of damaging DNA within the skin, we damage a layer on top of the skin,” says Dr. German.

The DNA films were created by drying DNA from a water-like solution. Once dry, the films resembled a net of crystals under the microscope. This “coating” is thin and visually transparent.

When exposed to UV light from a UV lamp, the DNA films demonstrated a high absorption capacity that increased with the length of exposure.

In other words, the longer the DNA layer was irradiated with UV light, the more absorbent it became.

“If you translate that, it means to me that if you use this as a topical cream or sunscreen, the longer that you stay out on the beach, the better it gets at being a sunscreen,” explains Dr. German.

Another significant finding was that the films of DNA were hygroscopic, meaning that they were capable of absorbing and retaining moisture. The implications here are that, when the artificial DNA layer is applied to human skin, it will allow it to remain hydrated for longer.

Wider implications for healthcare?

Future research, Dr. German says, should investigate whether or not these DNA films could have more far-reaching uses and serve other protective purposes.

Could they be used as a transparent wound dressing, allowing doctors and patients to observe the healing process without removing this stratum?

This is something that the researchers want to look into, stating that, if effective as a wound cover, the DNA film would also be able to protect the injury from sun exposure, as well as allow for the maintenance of a humid environment, which is favourable to faster healing.

Not only do we think this might have applications for sunscreen and moisturizers directly, but if it’s optically transparent and prevents tissue damage from the sun and it’s good at keeping the skin hydrated, we think this might be potentially exploitable as a wound covering for extreme environments.”

Dr. Guy German

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Source: medicalnewstoday

27 Jul

Medical News Today: Letter from the Editor: Happiness

Marie on the beach
The beach around the corner from our office is one of my happy places.
As medical journalists, we are curious, but we are always mindful of our identities. Our role is to accurately report on the findings of medical professionals, not to dispense medical advice ourselves.

However, I was recently asked about what I’ve learned at the helm of a medical news website for several years, and my answer may surprise you.

There are two major trends that peer-reviewed studies point to again and again when it comes to our health, and they don’t involve hitting the gym 7 days per week. More simply, they are moderation and happiness.

It may seem obvious, but moderation in eating habits, drinking habits, and even exercise habits are, time and time again, linked to beneficial health outcomes.

But what role does happiness play in our health? In many cases, science says that it plays the starring role. From maintaining motivation for physical activity, to contributing to our overall well-being, happiness is implicated.

What is more, studies suggest that happiness boosts heart health, and it could even help us to live longer.

The key to happiness is undoubtedly different for each of us. Curious as to what my editors would say, I put the question, “What makes you happy?” to my team at the Medical News Today office. The answers were all diverse.

Some of the top responses included: listening to music, drinking cider while playing music, sports, making other people happy, clifftop walks, my child, a wood full of bluebells, sunshine, my football team winning the premiership, books, wrapping my head around something complex, swimming in the sea, eating a nice meal, dogs that look like their owners, and successfully haggling at a flea market.

The list goes on and gets even more eccentric, but the point is that we all have our unique stimuli of joy. This month, one of my newest sources of happiness on MNT is our new snapshot articles from Yella Hewings-Martin, Ph.D., our resident scientist.

Having worked for over a decade as a Ph.D. student on the biology of a rare children’s disease, then as a research fellow on new treatments for severe burn injuries, she is well placed to answer the scientific questions we are all curious about.

Some of my favorites from this month investigate where tattoo ink travels in the body and what determines hair shape.

As our Science Editor, Yella is also doing deep analyses on recent studies. Her article on the science behind health claims for coffee was right up my alley; coffee and my happiness are positively correlated.

Let us know what makes you happy and what you’re curious about. Whether you’re here to learn more about your own health on the journey to wellness or you’re simply interested in the science, thank you for joining us.

You can catch us on Twitter and Facebook, but in the interest of happiness, ditch the laptop or the smartphone and get out to band practice, the woods, or wherever else your happiness lies.

We’ll be right here, after a quick stroll on the beach.

[Marie signature]

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Source: medicalnewstoday

27 Jul

Bacteria May Explain Why Uncircumcised Face Higher HIV Risk

News Picture: Bacteria May Explain Why Uncircumcised Face Higher HIV RiskBy Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

Latest HIV News

TUESDAY, July 25, 2017 (HealthDay News) — For the first time, bacteria that live under the foreskin of uncircumcised straight men have been linked to a rise in the risk for contracting HIV, new research indicates.

Researchers found four specific types of bacteria tied to a higher risk of the AIDS-causing virus. These bacteria are part of the microbiome — a collection of microorganisms found in a particular area — of the area on the penis located under the foreskin.

The study of African men revealed that whenever these bacteria increase in quantity by a factor of 10, HIV risk appears to rise by as much as 63 percent.

“We found that heterosexual men who carried certain kinds of bacteria on their penises were more likely to get infected by HIV,” explained study lead author Dr. Cindy Liu. She’s an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health with George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington, D.C.

“These bacteria,” she added, “belong to a group called anaerobes, because they thrive in areas with low oxygen, such as under the foreskin of uncircumcised men.

Liu called the findings “exciting,” because they may lead to “new ways to lower the risk for HIV infection, specifically by reducing these kinds of bacteria. The next step is to figure out how to do that, but we’re not there yet.”

According to the World Health Organization, male circumcision can help cut back on the risk for acquiring HIV in heterosexual men. The WHO recommends undergoing circumcision for HIV prevention only for those who live in areas where HIV rates are high, where new HIV infections frequently occur among heterosexual partners, and where male circumcision is otherwise relatively uncommon.

To explore how foreskin bacteria might boost HIV vulnerability, investigators spent two years tracking more than 180 men who lived in the town of Rakai in Uganda.

During that time, 46 men became infected with HIV.

And after analyzing bacterial samples swabbed from under the foreskin of all the participants, the study team concluded that those who had higher quantities of four anaerobic bacteria also had a significantly higher risk for contracting HIV.

As to why, the team theorized that it could have something to do with an increase in the production of certain biochemicals (called cytokines) triggered by the presence of these particular bacteria.

In turn, these biochemicals appear to draw in immune cells. As infection fighters, immune cells are typically considered the “good guys.” But they are also well known as a point of high vulnerability entry for HIV. So in this instance, their rise in number — initially sparked by bacterial growth — may serve to draw HIV in, thereby driving up infection risk, the researchers said.

Liu stressed that the new study focused solely on heterosexual men living in areas with high HIV infection rates.

“It’s thought that most gay men are infected while having unprotected receptive anal sex,” she said, “so these findings are probably not relevant to the gay community in the United States.”

As for what can be done to reduce risk among uncircumcised straight men, Liu acknowledged that “not every man wants to be circumcised.

“[But] at this time,” she said, “there is unfortunately not a known effective way to change the penile microbiome to reduce the risk of HIV.”

Dr. Michael Horberg is director of HIV/AIDS with Kaiser Permanente, and immediate past chair of the HIV Medicine Association in Washington, D.C. He was not involved with the study, but said the finding “adds to the knowledge that uncircumcised men are at significantly greater risk of HIV infection than circumcised men.

“A clear implication of this study,” Horberg added, “is [that] circumcision is an important HIV prevention mechanism in areas of high HIV prevalence.”

It’s not clear yet what steps uncircumcised men can take to limit their risk in addition to condom use, Horberg said.

“However, among uncircumcised HIV-negative men, good penile hygiene should theoretically help,” he said, “including cleansing underneath the foreskin and complete air drying of the area prior to pulling the foreskin back.”

Liu and her colleagues reportedtheir findings in the July 25 issue of mBio.

Copyright © 2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: Cindy M. Liu, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., assistant professor, environmental and occupational health, George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, Washington, D.C.; Michael A. Horberg, M.D., director, HIV/AIDS, Kaiser Permanente, and immediate past chair, HIV Medicine Association, Washington D.C.; July 25, 2017, mBio

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Source: MediciNet