flu shot heart

A flu shot may protect your heart, says Gill Director Dr. Susan Smyth

Dr. Susan Smyth

Dr. Susan Smyth

Written by Dr. Susan Smyth, the medical director of the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Flu season is here, which means it’s time to get your flu shot.

It’s common knowledge that the flu vaccine prevents the misery of influenza and helps protect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, young children and the chronically ill.

But did you know that getting a flu shot might also prevent a heart attack or stroke?

The flu can be dangerous, even deadly

Influenza, or the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory viral infection easily spread from person to person when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. Flu can cause high – sometimes dangerous – fevers as well as chills, sore throat, cough, congestion, muscle or body aches, and headaches. Some people, commonly children, may also have vomiting and diarrhea.

And flu can be dangerous: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 49,000 flu-related deaths occur each year.

How a flu shot might help those with heart problems

While anyone can have complications from the flu, people with cardiovascular problems are at higher risk to develop them, which can lead to respiratory failure, pneumonia, heart attack and/or stroke, and can also worsen pre-existing conditions like heart failure, diabetes or lung disease, including asthma.

A study published in the prestigious medical journal JAMA found that getting a flu vaccine reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure or other major cardiac events – including death – by about a third over the following year.

It’s possible, although not yet proven, that flu increases the risk of a clot forming in blood vessels and/or that flu virus can provoke inflammatory changes in the blood vessels that contribute to heart attacks.

Help prevent the spread of flu

The best way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated every year. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every fall. While most people have no side effects from the vaccine, some people might develop a mild fever, muscle aches or mild arm soreness.

Although some people claim that the flu vaccine actually causes the flu, this is simply not true.

Everyday preventive actions, such as avoiding close contact with infected people, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and frequent handwashing are also recommended to help reduce the spread of germs that cause the flu.

It is important to remember that the more people who get vaccinated against the flu, the fewer people who are likely to have it. By lowering your own risk you are also lowering the risk for those around us – your children, your grandchildren, your coworkers and friends.

And finally, if you have a higher risk for heart attack or stroke, talk to your doctor about whether a flu vaccine is a wise choice for additional, potentially life-saving protection.


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Move it now or lose it later, says new research

When it comes to mobility, if you don’t use it, you stand a good chance of losing it.

That’s according to new research that analyzed a decade’s worth of data from more than 130,000 people between the ages of 50 and 71. The findings were reported last month in The Journals of Gerontology.

The data showed a relationship between TV watching and disability. Between 1995 and 2006, those who reported watching more than five hours of TV daily and got three or fewer hours of physical activity weekly were three times more likely to be unable to walk or have trouble walking by study’s end.

In other words, if you sit around now, you might not be able to walk later.

“Physical activity” in the study included light-intensity exercise such as housework and shopping, as well as moderate-to-vigorous–intensity movements including brisk walking, yard work and jogging.

Although computers, mobile phones and the ability to stream movies and TV shows have increased the amount of time people spend sitting, it’s possible and beneficial to build exercise into everyday activities. Here are some tips:

  • If you’re using the computer, get up and move around at least once an hour.
  • Try using a standing desk.
  • If you’re watching TV, stand up and move around during the commercials.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park farther from the store or the workplace.

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How to safely manage chronic pain with and without opioids

Dr. Kristy Deep

Dr. Kristy Deep

Written by Dr. Kristy Deep, associate professor of internal medicine in the UK College of Medicine and co-chair of the UK HealthCare Opioid Stewardship Committee.

Treating pain is important, and for many people, the reliance on opioids or narcotics may not be the best answer.

The amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1999 despite the fact that the overall amount of pain reported hasn’t changed. There are also risks from opioid pain medicines, including side effects and the risk of overdose. According to some studies, as many as 1 in 4 people receiving prescription opioids long-term in a primary care setting struggle with addiction.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain, or pain that lasts longer than six months, is different than acute pain like the pain that comes from an injury. In chronic pain, there are changes in the way the brain “listens” to signals from the body. The goal in treating chronic pain is to help the brain interpret those signals in a different way so that the pain is less severe and does not impact a person’s quality of life.

New evidence and serious risks

New evidence shows opioid pain medications may not be the best answer for chronic pain. The risks of harmful side effects or addiction must be taken into consideration before prescribing or taking opioid pain medications.

In some cases of moderate to severe acute pain, such as after surgery or in the treatment of cancer pain, prescription opioids are important treatment options. However, it is important to remember the serious risks, especially if you have other medical conditions or are taking medications that can interfere with opioids. You should also work with your health care provider to make sure you are getting the safest, most effective care.

Controlling your pain

People often believe that they won’t be able to control pain without opioids, but non-narcotic medicines are often found to be better for providing pain relief. In short, if you suffer from chronic pain, many medications and non-medication treatments should be considered as an alternative to opioids.

The most important action you can take is to talk to your healthcare provider about ways to manage your pain that doesn’t involve prescription opioids – or keeps your dose as low as possible. Some of these options may actually work better and have fewer risks and side effects.

Options may include:

  • Pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Some medications that are also used for depression or seizures.
  • Physical therapy and exercise.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – a psychological approach in which patients learn how to modify physical, behavioral and emotional triggers of pain and stress.

Important things to remember

However, if you are prescribed opioids and your doctor believes it is the best regimen for your pain, keep in mind some important tips:

  • Never take opioids in greater amounts or more often than prescribed.
  • Talk about ways to help manage chronic pain without prescription opioids.
  • Talk about any concerns and side effects like sleepiness or constipation.
  • Help prevent misuse and abuse by never selling or sharing prescription opioids.
  • Never use another person’s prescription opioids.
  • Store prescription opioids in a secure place and out of reach of others.

Next steps:

  • Check out our post on the positive effects of using physical therapy to treat chronic pain.
  • Read about our own Dr. Rae Brown, an anesthesiologist at UK HealthCare whose work has helped tackle the opioid crisis.

Protect your eyes with these 9 tips for everyday sun safety

Dr. Claire Fraser

Written by Dr. Claire Fraser, an ophthalmologist at UK Advanced Eye Care.

Now that the solar eclipse is over, it’s a good idea to review the basics of everyday sun protection for your eyes. Long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight can lead to damage on the inside and the outside of your eyes.

There is an increased risk of developing cancers of both the eyelids and the eye itself with increased exposure to the sun. Long-term sun exposure can also result in chronic eye irritation and non-cancerous growths. Sun exposure can even cause cataracts. Every time we are out in the sun without eye protection, we may be adding damage that increases our risk. These problems can take years to develop, but it’s never too early to protect your eyes.

Eye protection is important all year. Snow-blindness is a type of painful damage to the front of the eye that can occur when UV rays are reflected from ice and snow.

For these reasons, eye doctors recommend that you wear proper sunglasses and a brimmed hat when you’re in the sun for long periods of time. Here are nine tips for eye protection:

1. Choose the right sunglasses.

Look for sunglasses that offer at least 99 percent UV absorption. Glasses with 100 percent UV absorption are even better. This can also be indicated by a label stating, “UV absorption up to 400 nm.”

2. A darker lens isn’t always the best.

It can make your eyes feel more comfortable in bright light, but it doesn’t mean improved UV protection. A colored lens such as amber, green or gray can still have 100 percent UV absorption.

3. Large-framed lenses offer more protection.

Larger frames and wraparound styles allow fewer UV rays to reach the eye from around the glasses. This means more protection to the eyes and eyelids.

4. You don’t have to spend a lot of money.

There are excellent inexpensive options for sunglasses that offer 100 percent UV protection.

5. All sunglasses must meet impact standards.

These standards are set by the Food and Drug Administration for safety. Plastic lenses are less likely to shatter when hit by an object. For sports, get plastic lenses that offer shatter-protection.

6. Sun damage can happen during all seasons.

Don’t forget to protect your eyes during the winter months, especially when outside in the snow.

7. Tanning beds can cause severe eye damage.

Tanning beds can produce UV radiation levels up to 100 times higher than that from the sun.

8. Never look directly at the sun, even with sunglasses.

Looking directly at the sun at any time can lead to permanent damage to the center of your vision.

9. Protect your children’s eyes, too.

Don’t forget to protect your children’s eyes with hats and sunglasses. Damage from UV radiation adds up over time.


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Here’s how to improve your everyday memory as you age

Research shows that the human brain starts to shrink with age. When the brain shrinks, your ability to remember things can decline. You can help offset the decline in memory with regular activity that challenges both the mind and the body.

Here are some tips to help minimize age-related changes and improve everyday memory:

Stay active

Cardiovascular activity for 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week is important for physical and mental health. Try walking, swimming or another activity that you enjoy. Physical activity enlarges the hippocampus (the most vital part of the brain for memory) and improves long-term memory.

Sleep more

It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age. What often happens is sleep patterns change. As we age, we spend more time in lighter sleep stages than deeper sleep stages. Try and get as much sleep as it takes for you to feel rested (at least seven to nine hours), and this includes and encourages naps.

Continue to socialize

Being social and getting out improves your memory and your mood.

Be sure you can see and hear well

It is hard to learn new things and remember old things if you can’t see or hear well. Wear your prescription glasses or hearing aids if they are prescribed to you. Have your sight and hearing tested periodically.

Avoid distractions that divert your attention

Distractions can range from trying to do several things at once to loud background noises. Even your own thoughts can distract you. When you’re preoccupied, it’s harder to pay attention. Stay focused on one task at a time so you don’t forget directions or other important information.

Try new things

New experiences, such as going to a new place or even taking a different route to your usual places, can also improve recall. Trying new things activates the part of your brain that turns short-term memory into long-term memory.

Use these memory aids

Despite the best efforts, episodic memory, which captures the “what,” “where,” and “when” of daily life, declines somewhat over time. So does long-term memory. The American Psychological Association offers these suggestions:

  • Make lists of what you want to accomplish and check off items when they are finished. Follow your established routine.
  • Don’t hurry. Take your time learning new information or remembering old information.
  • Stay organized: Keep things you use a lot in the same place each time. Put your keys and other important things somewhere that you walk by frequently.
  • Make visual associations to remember names or places.
  • Keep a calendar or planner of important dates. Check it throughout the day.

How we can help

Normal memory problems should not affect your everyday life. If you occasionally forget where you put things, you might just need to get better organized. However, if you forget how to do something or what to do in certain situations, you should see a health care provider. These memory problems are not a normal part of aging.

The UK Memory Disorders Clinic at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute offers a variety of services to individuals with memory problems and their families. Patients at the clinic undergo a complete evaluation from our team of experts to diagnose and treat a variety of memory disorders.


Next steps:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that can affect mental capability and cause memory loss. It usually affects people who are 65 or older, so if there’s a senior in your life, be aware of these signs and symptoms of the disease.
  • Learn more about the UK Memory Disorders Clinic, which provides support to those with memory problems and their families.

Improving health and well-being through the power of music

It took just 45 minutes for UK HealthCare music therapist Jennifer Peyton to make a powerful, positive impact on a patient’s health.

The patient had come to Eastern State Hospital after trying to hang himself. After learning that the patient enjoyed classic rock music, Peyton played the Eagles’ Take it to the Limit, and then asked about this line: “If all the pieces fell tomorrow, would you still be mine?”

“’You may have untied my rope,’” Peyton remembers the patient saying.

“This gentleman said, ‘I know that I need to be there for my wife because she was there for me,’” Peyton recalls. “He pulled me aside after and said, ‘You may have untied my rope.’ I really had to choke back the tears. That was because of music, because of the rapport that I built in just 45 minutes with the individuals in that group, and the discussion we had leading up to this meatier question about support systems.”

Music therapy – part of UK HealthCare’s Creative Arts Therapies program – is an established healthcare practice that uses music to help improve patients’ well-being. Medical music therapy can enhance quality of life, increase self-awareness, and prevent or manage a range of physical and emotional symptoms through the use of live music and interactions with a music therapist.

There are currently five music therapists on staff at UK HealthCare

“We are dedicated to using the arts through evidenced-based practices to improve physical, mental and emotional health,” said Cheryl Benze, the creative arts clinical coordinator for UK HealthCare.

Benefits for patients of all ages

Lyric analysis is just one of many methods used in music therapy to improve patients’ health and well-being alongside standard medical care. Both vocal and instrumental activities enhance communication and manage anxiety, pain, nausea and other symptoms.

Adults and teens can benefit from lyric analysis, songwriting, and the progressive adjustment of music intensity to match and alter mood. However, music therapy is beneficial for even the youngest of patients who have barely started their life journey.

Katie Goforth is a music therapist at Kentucky Children’s Hospital who often uses multimodal neurological enhancement (MNE) in the neonatal ICU. Many of her patients are premature infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome or chronic respiratory illness.

With MNE, auditory, tactile and vestibular (gentle rocking) stimulation are introduced in progression to encourage relaxation and increase tolerance to stimulation. Infants’ ability to tolerate each layer of stimulation is directly correlated to their neurological development and maturation.

“It helps babies organize their bodies and understand what’s happening to them in the real world,” Goforth said. “For example, when they’re getting a bath, they’ll understand that sensation is enjoyable.”

For older children like toddlers, who may be particularly fearful in a hospital setting, singing and playing instruments can be relaxing and offer some normalcy. Movement can be incorporated to make occupational and physical therapy goals more enjoyable.

Music therapy misconceptions

Since music therapy is not as widespread as other types of healthcare, many people misconstrue its purpose or may not even know about it.

“From a layperson’s point of view, we’re often seen as entertainment, rather than an evidence-based therapeutic service,” Goforth said of music therapists.

“Even when it looks like it’s just for fun, there are many clinical decisions made to achieve an elevated mood and positive experience,” added Jessy Rushing, lead music therapy clinician and internship supervisor.

In addition to standard music classes, music therapy education requires courses in behavior sciences, psychology, anatomy and physiology, and music therapy specifically. Clinical studies in school are followed by a six-month clinical internship and board exams. All of this culminates in a master’s degree and music therapy board certification, or MT-BC.

Because music is so subjective and personal, one song can mean something different for each patient. As soon as a patient’s mood shifts, music therapists can tweak the activity to meet the patient’s changing needs. In this way, music therapists are able to make noticeable differences in patients’ well-being on a daily basis, improving their healthcare experience.


Next steps:

  • UK Arts in HealthCare enhances the healing atmosphere of UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital through artwork and installations by local and international artists.Learn more.
  • Find out more about UK Integrative Medicine & Health, a program that focuses on the treating the whole patient using all appropriate therapies, healthcare expertise and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.
tobacco treatment training

Training program at UK is helping others kick their tobacco habit

The UK College of Nursing’s BREATHE Tobacco Treatment Specialist (TTS) training program recently received accreditation from the Council for Tobacco Treatment Training Programs, making it one of only 18 accredited training programs for tobacco treatment in the world.

The BREATHE TTS training program was developed as a collaborative effort by UK and community partners interested in establishing a network of health professionals who can provide evidence-based tobacco dependence treatment.

Earning accreditation means TTS training programs comply with established education standards. Those who complete an accredited program demonstrate a high level of proficiency in tobacco dependence treatment and will be eligible to obtain a certification as a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist.

“We are so pleased to receive accreditation and provide greater access to tobacco treatment training through this all-online format,” said Audrey Darville, PhD, APRN, BREATHE TTS program director and associate professor in the UK College of Nursing. “Our goal is to increase the number of tobacco dependence treatment providers in Kentucky and beyond.”

The BREATHE TTS course, the first offered completely online, teaches guidelines developed by the Association for the Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependence. The course includes 27 hours of self-paced training, assignments and evaluation. After finishing the course, participants earn a training certificate, the first step in obtaining TTS certification.

Kentucky has one of the highest adult smoking rates in the nation and an urgent need to increase the number of trained health professionals in tobacco treatment. The program was launched in February 2017 and has provided training to 22 professionals, which triples the number of trained TTS individuals in Kentucky. Participants are from a variety of healthcare disciplines and work in inpatient, outpatient, community and public health settings.

“The knowledge I gained from the BREATHE TTS program has enabled me to offer so much more support and guidance to my patients on a daily basis,” said Teresa Cumpton, a TTS training participant and a pulmonary educator at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Ashland, Ky.

UK Markey Cancer Center affiliate sites also are engaged in training tobacco treatment specialists, said Dr. Timothy Mullett, medical director of the Markey Affiliate Network.

“They are passionate about cancer control, and having this accredited tobacco treatment specialist training program at UK is an important milestone for Markey Cancer Center and UK HealthCare,” he said.


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online bill payment

Online bill payment now available via My UKHealthCare portal

A new and much-requested service has been added to the My UKHealthCare patient portal: online bill payment.

To access online bill payment, simply log in to your portal account and choose “My Account” in the top right menu and then choose “Billing.”

The My UKHealthCare patient portal is a convenient, secure way for patients to connect with UK HealthCare through self-service online tools.

Don’t yet have a portal account? Be sure to provide an accurate email address at your next appointment. You can also request an account at myukhealthcare.org. Note that it may take up to three days after request for your portal account to be set up. Other portal benefits include:

  • Send a secure email message to your care team.
  • Request prescription renewals when it’s convenient for you, not just when our offices are open.
  • Request, cancel or reschedule appointments.
  • Pay your bill online.
  • View lab test results, radiology reports and office visit summaries.
  • Get health maintenance reminders.
  • View your immunization record and allergies.
  • See your healthcare provider’s notes from your clinic visits and discharge summaries for hospital stays.
  • View your hospital discharge instructions.

If you have questions about the medical information contained in your portal, please send a message to your care team via the portal’s messaging system. You may also call the appropriate clinic. For assistance with portal functionality, call 859-218-6221 or 844-820-7344 daily 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.


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toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone. Know the symptoms.

Joanne Brown DNP, APRN

Joanne Brown DNP, APRN

Written by Joanne Brown, DNP, APRN, an adjunct instructor in the UK College of Nursing and women’s health nurse practitioner at University Health Service.

Toxic shock syndrome, or TSS, is a life-threatening illness that occurs when poisonous toxins are released into the bloodstream, potentially damaging skin tissue and harming vital organs, such as the lung, liver and kidney.

It’s important to remember that toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone. The disease can occur in women, men and children of all ages.

It was first reported in children in 1978, but it was later identified in women who were using tampons during their menstrual periods. However, after highly absorbent tampons were removed from the market, the number of TSS cases associated with the use of tampons has declined. In fact, 50 percent of TSS cases today are not associated with menstruation.

Risk factors, symptoms of toxic shock syndrome

Risk factors for TSS include:

  • Recent childbirth.
  • Skin infections, cuts and burns.
  • Wound infection after surgery.
  • Viral infections, such as the flu or chickenpox.
  • Use of contraceptive sponges, diaphragms, super-absorbent tampons, nasal packing and other foreign items.

Common symptoms of TSS are:

  • Sudden high fever.
  • A rash resembling a sunburn, especially on the palms and soles of the feet.
  • Peeling skin one to two weeks after the onset of acute illness.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Redness of the eyes, mouth and throat.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Seizures.
  • Confusion.
  • Headaches and muscles aches.

There is currently no test used to identify TSS. Clinicians can make a diagnosis based on a physical examination and the patient’s symptoms. Some examinations may include blood tests to check organ function or swab samples from the cervix, vagina and throat.

Treatment for TSS

Treatment includes removal of foreign bodies and drainage of infections. Patients may be prescribed antibiotics to fight bacterial infections in the body as well as dialysis, intravenous therapy and medicines to control blood pressure. Patients with a severe condition might need to stay in the hospital intensive care unit for monitoring.

Anyone who notices signs of TSS should see a doctor immediately, especially if the person has a wound or skin infection or has recently used tampons. TSS can cause severe health concerns, such as liver, kidney, and heart failure, and shock or reduced blood flow through the body. TSS is a medical emergency that can cause death if untreated.

TSS can reoccur. To lower the risk of menstrual TSS, avoid using highly absorbent tampons, change tampons frequently and alternate using tampons and sanitary napkins.


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Simple medication errors can cause a dangerous overdose

Simple medication errors can cause a dangerous overdose

Dr. Clark Kebodeaux

Dr. Clark Kebodeaux

Written by Clark Kebodeaux, an assistant professor in the UK Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science.

It’s an unfortunate statistic: Kentucky ranks third in the nation in drug overdose deaths. Although much of this stems from opioid overdoses related to prescription or illicit drugs, the statistic covers all examples of drug overdose, including those from common medications you probably have stocked at home.

Nonprescription drugs, commonly referred to as over-the-counter (OTC) medications, play a crucial role in our nation’s healthcare system. The vast array of OTC drugs that are available to consumers serves to treat many common ailments, from simple aches and pains to dental care.

Although OTC medications promote the health of millions of people, their inappropriate use can cause unintentional harm.

Know your dosage

Knowing which ingredients are in the medicine you’re taking is crucial in avoiding an overdose. For example, one of the most common overdose culprits is acetaminophen, or Tylenol. When used at the appropriate dosage, acetaminophen can help reduce a fever or improve pain, but too much can cause serious side effects, including damage to the liver.

In addition to Tylenol, acetaminophen is also in many cough and cold products – both prescription and OTC. People may not be aware that acetaminophen is in these medications, which can lead to an accidental overdose. Always double-check the “drug facts” label on your OTC medications for active ingredients, and consult your pharmacist or healthcare provider to avoid using too much of any one medication.

Be careful with kids

Medication for children and infants poses another risk for overdose.

Regardless of the product, it is important to always use the measuring device – such as an oral syringe, dropper or dosing cup – that is included with the medication. Many of these products are uniquely designed for medicine, and using a spoon from home or an alternate form of measurement can result in an accidental overdose.

Talk to your pharmacist

One of the best ways to prevent an overdose is to talk to your pharmacist.

Pharmacists are excellent resources for drug information and can help reduce and prevent errors with medications. In particular, pharmacists can help you understand when and how to take your medications, their potential side effects and how to identify if two medications should not be taken together.

In an emergency, call Poison Control

If you suspect that you or someone else may have taken a medication incorrectly, call Poison Control immediately at 800-222-1222.

Each medication may have a different overdose treatment, and there are professionals available to help with each specific situation.


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