A loyal reader asked me to write a Medical Minute about Tonsiloliths, aka tonsil stones, also called tonsil calculus, pebbles, tonsil corn, etc. There is very little medical literature on tonsiloliths and your doctor may not have even heard of them. Some doctors mistakenly diagnose the yellowish tonsil calculi as a throat infection and prescribe antibiotics.

Tonsil stones usually affect adults who never had their tonsils removed. The stones are formed in crypts and crevices of your tonsils usually after you've had a bout of tonsilitis (infection of the throat). A tonsil stone may feel like a foreign object trapped in the side of your throat such as a popcorn kernel. You may be tempted to dig them out, but that is not advised.

The tonsils are lymphoid tissue on either side of your throat that act as part of your immune system to protect against infection. Crypts and crevices in your tonsils can run deep. Undigested food particles may become trapped inside these crypts where they are acted upon by bacteria and your immune system.

The undigested food is encapsulated inside a cheesy material that oozes out of your tonsils and adenoids and hardens into a foul smelling yellowish stone (calculous).
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Stomach cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancers. The disease has a poor prognosis. Life expectancy for a patient diagnosed with stomach cancer is usually 6 months. That is because the early symptoms of stomach cancer are often very vague and sometimes non-existent. By the time symptoms do appear the cancer has already metastasized and spread to other organs.

One in a million people under age 55 seeking treatment for indigestion are diagnosed with stomach cancer. One in 50 of all ages experiencing excess burping and gas (indigestion) are diagnosed with stomach cancer. Don't just assume that excess burping and gas is a result of what you ate. Especially if those symptoms continue for more than two weeks.

If you change your diet, eliminating foods that cause excess gas, and you're still burping and passing gas, it's time to see a doctor. Popping Rolaids and Tums for more than two weeks (and you haven't seen a doctor) is an indication of a more serious problem.

The bacteria H. Pylori is thought to be the main risk factor in 60-85% stomach cancers and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or excess stomach acid entering the esophagus and causing erosion and pain). If you test positive for H. Pylori, doctors will prescribe a course of antibiotics.

The symptoms of stomach cancer are very vague or nonexistent in the early stages. Symptoms include:

Early

  • Indigestion or a burning sensation (heartburn)
  • Loss of appetite, especially for meat
  • Excess burping and/or flatulence (passing gas)

Late

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen, pain radiating to the back
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Bloating of the stomach after meals
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Bleeding (vomiting blood or having blood in the stool), which can lead to anemia
  • Black tarry (sticky) stools

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According to an inside source, incarcerated rapper T.I., real name Clifford Harris Jr., is not among those inmates sickened by a gastrointestinal bug that's going around the Arkansas prison where he's serving a 366-day sentence.

Rumors that T.I was sick spread quickly after it was announced that visits to the federal prison were temporarily suspended until the bug could be contained.

This type of illness occurs frequently inside institutions, schools, college dorms, hospitals, or anywhere that large groups of people congregate.

The illness, known as gastroenteritis or stomach flu, can be caused by food poisoning, parasites, virus or bacteria introduced from the outside -- which is why visits to the prison have been temporarily suspended.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain (cramping)
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Malaise (weakness)
  • Bloody stools

Symptoms usually begin 1-2 days following the introduction of the infection, and may last for up to 10 days. Gastroenteritis is usually not life threatening and some patients recover without treatment. But gastroenteritis can lead to dehydration and death if prolonged diarrhea and vomiting are left untreated.

Treatment includes antibiotics (which are not helpful against a virus), anti-parasitic medications, and medications to relieve symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In some cases, patients may require hospitalization to replace fluids lost (rehydraton therapy).

This has been your Medical Minute.

Info on the Web:

Gastroenteritis - Web MD
Viral Gastroenteritis - CDC
Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) - Medicine Net

Past medical studies comparing skin cancer rates among Caucasians and blacks have shown that cases among whites were proportionately higher due to their lack of skin pigmentation.

But new studies reveal that that a deadly form of skin cancer (malignant melanoma) is now increasing among biracial people and light skinned blacks who have less pigmentation than dark skin blacks.

From Black Voices blog:

Studies show that when blacks do get skin cancer, it is often discovered at a later stage and is more deadly. Musician Bob Marley, for instance, died of malignant melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer that spread to his organs.

Sunscreen is the first layer of defense against the sun's dangerous rays, but a Consumer Reports poll shows that while 67 percent of people identifying themselves as light-skinned wear sunscreen, only 27 percent of dark-skinned people do. Experts recommend that everyone, regardless of skin color, protect themselves with SPF 15 sunscreen.

For black people with skin cancer, melanoma will usually appear in places where there is less pigmentation, like the palms of the hands, bottoms of the feet, under nails and on the genitals, but it may look different based on skin tone. The best way to be safe is to get any suspicious growths or moles checked out, just as you would a lump in your breast. It may be less likely that you'll have skin cancer, but no one is immune. READ MORE...

Photo: Wireimage/Getty

On Monday Barack Obama made another in a series of embarrassing goofs by suggesting that the swine flu pandemic was "not a cause for concern." Just two days later, Obama has reversed his stance, saying the outbreak of swine flu had created a "serious situation" in the United States requiring the "utmost precautions," such as closing down schools where cases of swine flu are reported.

The cases of swine flu has risen in the U.S. to 91, including one death -- an infant who died in a Houston hospital.

Be aware that there are no vaccines for this particular strain of swine flu. Also, antiviral medications do not kill the virus that causes swine flu. They only interfere with the ability of the virus to bind to certain cells in the body. Antivirals are only effective against specific virus, and only if administered in the early stages of infection (up to 48 hours). There is no known cure for a virus.

What can you do to protect yourself? Wash your hands frequently with soap and water (as warm as you can stand it) or alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Remember when using public restrooms to use a paper towel when turning off the faucet and when opening restroom doors.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth especially when out in public.

It's important to note that the majority of people infected with swine flu do make a full recovery, so don't panic. Remember, it isn't the virus that kills, it's the body's inflammatory response to the virus.

If you have flu-like symptoms (cough, sneezing, runny nose), don't go to work or school. If you have accompanying joint pain, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, go to the emergency room or notify your doctor immediately.

Information about swine flu on the web:

http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/

Medline Plus

The swine flu outbreak in Mexico is caused by a deadly new strain, or variant, of a particular strain of influenza virus that is naturally occurring among pigs. This strain mutated over time and jumped from pigs to humans. It is now transferred easily from human to human through coughing, sneezing, touching and through contact with the nasal and oral mucosa.

Swine flu transmission cannot occur through eating pork. There is no known cure for a virus other than a vaccine, which is usually made from a part of the virus itself. There is no vaccine for swine flu, and antibiotics are ineffective against a virus.

Swine flu kills relatively quickly, and it affects mainly the young and healthy. The mean age range of the 149 deaths reported in Mexico is between 20-40 years old.

So far outbreaks are being reported in New York (28 cases), California (7), Texas (2), Kansas (2), Ohio (1). Canada is reporting 6 cases, and there are 19 cases reported worldwide -- not including Mexico.

The signs and symptoms of swine flu to look out for are similar to the flu:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fatigue (feeling unusually tired)
  • Sore throat
  • Joint pain

The symptoms progress quickly to nausea, vomiting, disorientation and confusion ending in death.

Information on the web:

http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/

Flu cases in the United States - USA Today

Loyal reader Beverly Garrett is a friend in my head -- as Wendy Williams would say. Bev emailed me today to suggest a Medical Minute post about doctors over-prescribing medications especially to seniors.

This week I discussed this same subject with two of my close friends whose older relatives are feeling the ill effects of taking multiple medications.

I suggested they put all their meds in a bag and take the meds with them to their next doctor's appointment. That way the doctor can see all the meds they're taking and see if any combination of drugs are causing adverse interactions.

Forget about taking a list of meds because often times the doctors act like they're too busy to look at the list.

    Sandra,
    It's not just celebrities being inundated with unnecessary prescriptions, it's more the norm than the exception.

    I've had several doctors who prescribed something for every single symptom. And, I know other people whose doctors have done the same thing. That's a big problem for senior citizens as well. That's why the hospital I work at has a monthly "brown bag" seminar for seniors. Once a month seniors can bring all their meds in a brown paper bag to a clinic and have someone look over all the prescriptions. Many medications counteract others or aggravate other symptoms.

    I've gotten really sick from taking meds too close together and/or the side effects were symptomatic. Twice I could have sworn that I overdosed and was dying. On top of that I've got a draw full of unfilled prescriptions. After the last accidental overdose 2 years ago, I will not take more than two prescribed pills a day. If there's still an underlining symptom that isn't controlled, then I tell the doctor we need to find the cause not keep treating the symptoms.

    Love your blog,
    Beverly Garrett
    Pittsburgh, PA

Rapper Common and his bride-to-be, tennis superstar Serena Williams were spotted out & about shopping in NYC yesterday (3/6).

In this picture, Common appears to have what we in the medical field refer to as a "boxer's fracture" of his left hand. Although the term boxer's fracture is misnamed because boxers are trained to punch straight on to avoid these types of amateur injuries.

This injury occurs when a man throws an awkward roundhouse punch at a wall or door in a fit of rage -- usually during a heated argument with his wife or girlfriend.

The punch is delivered hard enough to fracture the metacarpal bone of the pinky finger -- and to leave a rather large hole in a door or wall.

Men who are raised by their moms (or aunties) to be respectful to women usually suffer this type of injury. That's because they know that real men take out their frustrations on inanimate objects (like punching bags) rather than on a woman's face.

Photos: Splash News Online

Yesterday, loyal member KaraZ requested a follow-up post on the four missing boaters after she read reports that three of the men removed their life vests and simply drifted off. She thought there was something fishy going on.

In reality, it is a miracle that one of the men survived. At the time the boaters went missing, the temperature of the water in the Gulf of Mexico was an average of 64 degrees. The normal body temperature is 98.6. Any deviation in either direction of that range can result in the break down of vital bodily functions, leading to death.

As you know, if your temperature drops too far below normal, the brain sends a signal to the body to begin shivering -- which in turn brings your body temperature back up due to the friction of the muscles.

But if you are exposed to the cold for a prolonged period of time, the shivering eventually stops. Once the shivering stops, confusion begins to set in and the patient loses his ability to think and speak clearly. In a last ditch effort to keep the vital organs (such as the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys) warm, the brain shunts warm blood away from the hands and feet and into the core of the body.

When the blood leaves the hands they become numb making it impossible to perform simple tasks such as holding onto the side of a boat.

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Some of you have emailed me requesting a Medical Minute segment. So here ya go, courtesy of T-Boz.

T has lived with Sickle Cell all her life, and has had to cope with a weak immune system and frequent illnesses.

She said she was sick during filming once, but quickly got over it. The long days of filming (16 hours) almost took their toll on T-Boz. “They kept you tired and hungry,” she said. But T-Boz, who turns 39 in April, never snapped on anyone in the cast as a result.

"Celebrity Apprentice" is two hours long this season instead of one. Season two debuts Sunday (3/1) on NBC at 9 p.m.

Source

Ovarian cancer is very difficult to diagnose.

Symptoms can be confused with other less life-threatening illnesses and usually don't present until after the cancer is in its advanced stages. For example, I had a friend in nursing school who was very promiscuous. Despite rules forbidding visitors in the dorms after 9 PM, this sistah always found a way to sneak men into her dorm room at night.

The next morning in class, she regaled us with graphic details of her nightly romps with men. In our final year, her stories took on an ominous tone. She complained of sharp pain during sex, spotting and vague lower back pain. She attributed her heavy menstrual bleeding to her fibroids.

In our final year, she was diagnosed with aggressive ovarian cancer, and she passed away a few months after we graduated.

She was only 21-years-old.

Ovarian cancer is very difficult to diagnose in its early stages because there are usually no symptoms. Ovarian cancer is almost always difficult to treat once diagnosed.

94% of women diagnosed early live longer than five years, according to the American Cancer Society.

For more info on ovarian cancer, visit Cancer.org.

This has been your Medical Minute.