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Every week, the Pharmacy Self Care Program (from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia) publishes a Health Care Facts column.  This also appears in the Herbert River Express every week.

For your convenience, they will be published here - feel free to browse back over past editions.

 



John Bell Column 06 Mar 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –06 Mar 2012

 

 

Some South American help to manage arthritis

 

Llamas are domesticated animals native to the Americas and from the same family as camels and alpacas. Unlike alpacas, bred mostly for their fibre, lamas are more like camels in as much as they are widely used as pack animals.

Now, it seems llamas may be able to help unlock the key to the treatment of a particular form of arthritis. Chemicals from the immune system of llamas have inspired the development of a drug which, at least in early trials, appears to relieve the pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

RA is not the most common form of arthritis but it is one of the most distressing and disabling. Arthritis is often thought of as a single disease, but it’s really an umbrella term used to describe well over a hundred different medical conditions - conditions which are similar to the extent that they all involve our bones and muscles and particularly the joints where two or more of our bones meet.

Arthritis Awareness Week (17 – 23 March) gives us an opportunity to reflect not only on the problem, but also, in a positive way, on how we can control the symptoms and enable people with arthritis to lead normal active lives.

In conjunction with Arthritis Australia (the peak patient support organisation), the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia has developed information and materials to help ensure arthritis can be managed effectively. These materials include fact cards on osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Osteoarthritis (OA) affects the weight bearing joints: the legs, the shoulders, the knees and the lower spine. Often the hands are also affected, especially at the base of the thumb and the end joints of the fingers.

Presently there is no cure of OA, so all treatment is aimed at achieving symptom control. Effective management of OA involves a combination of strategies: joint protection and energy conservation, periods of both rest and exercise, physical aids, medication – both oral and injectable and, usually as a last resort, surgery.

In so far as medicines are concerned, as the primary aim of treatment is to reduce pain, simple pain relievers are the first choice for OA; and paracetamol is the best option.

For optimum results paracetamol should be taken not just now and again but routinely – 3g to 4g per day. This can be either two 500mg tablets up to four times daily, or two of the higher strength (Panadol Osteo) three times daily.

There is some evidence from clinical trials that glucosamine sulphate (1500mg/day) decreases the pain associated with OA of the knee joint. There may be benefit for other joints as well; however, it should be noted that results from later studies have not been universally supportive of the early trials.

Gout is the only form of arthritis where it is likely that some foods can aggravate the condition (check out the Gout fact card), but there is evidence that some foods will actually help other inflammatory forms of arthritis such as RA.

Specifically, the beneficial foods are those rich in what we know as omega-3 fatty acids, and the best sources of the omega-3 are oily fish. Olive oils and oils and spreads from flaxseed, canola and wheat germ are also beneficial.

Supplements of fish oil and krill oil can be used if fish is not regularly on your menu. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you on the most appropriate product and the correct dose.

Meanwhile, the arthritis fact cards are available from pharmacies around Australia providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s (PSA) Self Care health information. Check out the PSA website at www.psa.org.au and click on “Self Care” then “Find a Self Care Pharmacy”. There are also a few other fact cards with helpful advice for sufferers of arthritis. These include Pain Relievers, Preventing Falls, Relaxation Techniques and Weight and Health.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

 
John Bell Column 27 Feb2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –27 Feb 2012

 

 

Gut instincts

 

The gentle temperate weather conditions that usually prevail around Australia during spring are just a dim distant memory. The summer extremes this year have provided both widespread fires and floods, often with disastrous results.

One of the unfortunate side effects of these natural disasters is that many people are left without essential medicines; and emergency measures must be put in place to maintain some continuity of supply. But even for those of us not directly affected by loss of possessions, high temperature and high humidity can hasten the rate of destruction of medication ingredients.

All medicines are required to have an expiry date printed on the label. Of course this is not an indication that after this date the medicine is suddenly useless or dangerous, but it does mean that beyond the designated “expiry date” the quality and effectiveness of the medicine cannot be guaranteed.

A slight diminution in the efficacy of pain relievers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol would not be a problem, whereas doses of medicines for conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, high blood pressure or anti-coagulant therapy would need to be much more finely tuned. Also, many medicines, including some commonly used analgesics, have potentially unpleasant or toxic degradation products. For instance, aspirin breaks down to acetic acid and salicylic acid. Blister or foil packed products are likely to maintain their integrity better than tablets or capsules packed loosely in a bottle; and large pack sizes of products which are used only occasionally are not an economical purchase.

Expiry dates are established for each product based on research and testing - but under controlled storage conditions. "Store below 25 degrees" is a statement commonly seen on both prescription and non-prescription medicines. However, the reality is, in some countries and certainly in an Australian summer, in a non air-conditioned home, room temperature is many degrees hotter than this. So what are the likely consequences for medicines stored at temperatures in the 30s and 40s?

Well, for medicines taken for so-called acute conditions - for instance medicines such as antibiotics - a few days at temperatures higher than normal won't be too much of a problem. You would expect to complete the full course of the antibiotics well before, maybe months or years before, the expiry date. And we should never keep and subsequently consume the contents of a pack of partly-used antibiotics. This greatly increases the risk of the development of antibiotic resistance (in any event antibiotics are rarely helpful for upper respiratory tract infections).

Even for medicines taken long term, high temperatures for a few days should be fine; but if we live in an area of constantly high temperatures then a little planning ahead will be helpful. First,  we should make sure the expiry date is well ahead of the time we're likely to finish the course of treatment. And of course, our medicines should be stored in the coolest, safest place available. Except when specifically recommended, this does not mean the fridge, and definitely not the bathroom which can regularly get hot and humid.

So, we should keep our medicines as cool as we can, but no longer than we need to. We Australians are a nation of hoarders.  That may be great for some things – items of furniture perhaps, that might gain in antique status;  bottles of wine that mature with age, and there are those unique collectible items such as stamps and coins that appreciate in value as time goes by. There’s no financial benefit, however, in collecting medicines.  But, there are some significant problems associated with having old or unwanted medicines lying around the house. It’s wise to always check with your pharmacist if you have any doubts about the safety and quality your medicines.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

 
John Bell Column 20 Feb2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –20 Feb 2012

 

 

Keeping your medicines safe and secure

 

The gentle temperate weather conditions that usually prevail around Australia during spring are just a dim distant memory. The summer extremes this year have provided both widespread fires and floods, often with disastrous results.

One of the unfortunate side effects of these natural disasters is that many people are left without essential medicines; and emergency measures must be put in place to maintain some continuity of supply. But even for those of us not directly affected by loss of possessions, high temperature and high humidity can hasten the rate of destruction of medication ingredients.

All medicines are required to have an expiry date printed on the label. Of course this is not an indication that after this date the medicine is suddenly useless or dangerous, but it does mean that beyond the designated “expiry date” the quality and effectiveness of the medicine cannot be guaranteed.

A slight diminution in the efficacy of pain relievers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol would not be a problem, whereas doses of medicines for conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, high blood pressure or anti-coagulant therapy would need to be much more finely tuned. Also, many medicines, including some commonly used analgesics, have potentially unpleasant or toxic degradation products. For instance, aspirin breaks down to acetic acid and salicylic acid. Blister or foil packed products are likely to maintain their integrity better than tablets or capsules packed loosely in a bottle; and large pack sizes of products which are used only occasionally are not an economical purchase.

Expiry dates are established for each product based on research and testing - but under controlled storage conditions. "Store below 25 degrees" is a statement commonly seen on both prescription and non-prescription medicines. However, the reality is, in some countries and certainly in an Australian summer, in a non air-conditioned home, room temperature is many degrees hotter than this. So what are the likely consequences for medicines stored at temperatures in the 30s and 40s?

Well, for medicines taken for so-called acute conditions - for instance medicines such as antibiotics - a few days at temperatures higher than normal won't be too much of a problem. You would expect to complete the full course of the antibiotics well before, maybe months or years before, the expiry date. And we should never keep and subsequently consume the contents of a pack of partly-used antibiotics. This greatly increases the risk of the development of antibiotic resistance (in any event antibiotics are rarely helpful for upper respiratory tract infections).

Even for medicines taken long term, high temperatures for a few days should be fine; but if we live in an area of constantly high temperatures then a little planning ahead will be helpful. First,  we should make sure the expiry date is well ahead of the time we're likely to finish the course of treatment. And of course, our medicines should be stored in the coolest, safest place available. Except when specifically recommended, this does not mean the fridge, and definitely not the bathroom which can regularly get hot and humid.

So, we should keep our medicines as cool as we can, but no longer than we need to. We Australians are a nation of hoarders.  That may be great for some things – items of furniture perhaps, that might gain in antique status;  bottles of wine that mature with age, and there are those unique collectible items such as stamps and coins that appreciate in value as time goes by. There’s no financial benefit, however, in collecting medicines.  But, there are some significant problems associated with having old or unwanted medicines lying around the house. It’s wise to always check with your pharmacist if you have any doubts about the safety and quality your medicines.

  

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

 
John Bell Column 13 Feb2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –13 Feb 2012

 

 

Need more sleep? You must be dreaming

 

However long we sleep, we’re probably never satisfied. For some of us getting to sleep and/or staying asleep is a major problem and as a consequence we’re dopey and drowsy all day. For others, sleep appears to be just an inconvenient impediment to being able to complete the necessary activities of the day.

According to researchers Derk-Jan Dijk and Raphaelle Winsky-Sommerer from the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK, writing in the New Scientist magazine last year, the way we sleep has changed enormously over the past century. It’s not just the desire to watch sporting events in different time zones that has all altered our traditional sleeping habits, it’s also computers, late-night television, shift work and even light bulbs – with huge implications for our health.

Sleep deprivation can have serious adverse health effects – both physical and mental.  Feeling fatigued, irritable, anxious or depressed can all result from too little sleep.  The brain works harder but operates less effectively.  The ability to undertake usual tasks requiring concentration (such as driving) is greatly impaired.

Sleep was again the subject of a special report in New Scientist magazine earlier this month. As the article explains “your nightly eight hours are not a single undifferentiated lump, but instead multiple stages of four cycles” with each cycle of roughly 90 minutes repeated five or six times.

Now researchers are investigating ways to squeeze a full, restful and recuperative night’s sleep into fewer hours so we could cram more activity into the greater number of hours when we’re awake – and all this using technology rather that medicines.

Meanwhile the so-called hypnotics and sedatives certainly have a place in treating insomnia – where insomnia is defined as more than very occasional sleep disturbance.  Nevertheless, these medicines are best taken for the short term only.  It seems likely a habit forming tolerance will develop when continued use exceeds a few weeks.

If you have chronic, (that is long term), sleep problems, there may be some simple ways you can get into a regular sleep pattern more easily.  The newly revised Fact Card entitled Sleeping Problems gives some valuable tips.  This card is available from pharmacies around Australia providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information.

It’s most important to establish a routine.  Try to get up out of bed at the same time every day; and once you’re up, stay up.  It helps your body maintain that natural waking and sleeping rhythm that makes sleep easier.

Avoid caffeine-containing drinks (tea, coffee, cola, chocolate) in the evening.  As well as being a mild stimulant, caffeine also causes us to pass water more often; so our sleep can be disturbed by the need to visit the bathroom during the night.  If you can’t go without your tea or coffee at night, try the ‘decaf’ varieties.

We should be aware that night caps are for keeping the head warm.  The alcoholic varieties really don’t do anything for normalising our sleep pattern.  Alcohol can actually disturb the balance between the various stages of sleep and we tend to wake up still a little hung over.  And just like coffee, alcohol can also encourage those extra trips to the bathroom.

As well, some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can disturb your sleep.  Ask your pharmacist for advice about the possibility of this occurring.  If you need a cold and flu remedy the so-called day-time/night-time formulas are worth considering.

Remember that persistent sleep disorders, especially those involving pain or breathing difficulties need to be investigated by your doctor.

And, for the nearest location of your Self Care pharmacy to pick up your Sleeping Problems  fact card, phone the Pharmaceutical Society on 1300 369 772 or visit the website: www.psa.org.au and first click on “Self Care” then “Use the Self Care Pharmacy Finder”  

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

 
John Bell Column 06 Feb2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –06 Feb 2012

 

 

Heading off head lice

 

It’s normally considered that cockroaches and crocodiles are the great survivors from the dim distant past; but it appears even the humble head louse has been around for over 100,000 years. As irritating as head lice are, they are essentially harmless and there are even suggestions that they may be beneficial in stimulating some natural immunity against the much more dangerous body louse.

Head lice feed exclusively on human blood; but unlike body lice and mosquitoes, two other groups of little blood suckers, it appears that head lice do not carry disease. They can, however, cause severe itching and this can lead to scratching and skin infections.

The medical term for head lice is pediculus humanus capitis; but however you describe them, these tiny wingless insects are extremely common. In fact, head lice are endemic in Australia. Interestingly, they can’t jump or fly but they sure can crawl and climb; and they live their entire life (about a month or so) on the head of their host.

Of course, it’s about this time – when school age children are meeting old friends and making some new friends – they will attract some uninvited acquaintances as well. Statistics indicate that more than 20% of primary school students are likely to have head lice.

However, the fact is, anyone with a head can catch head lice – regardless of age, sex, background or how clean your hair is. Head lice spread anywhere that people work, play and live together. Indeed, it takes only one infested head to infest a whole classroom full of heads; then our children so unselfishly pass the infestation on to the rest of the family.

Their favourite hiding places are behind the ears and at the back of the neck. Female lice lay their eggs (known as nits) close to the scalp, where they remain firmly stuck to the base of the hair shaft until they hatch a week or so later.

Of course an itchy scalp may be due to many other causes – among them dandruff, psoriasis and so-called seborrhoeic dermatitis. So, before you start shampooing with insecticide, it’s best to get an accurate diagnosis.  The recently revised Pharmacy Self Care fact card titled Head Lice will help confirm the problem and find the solution as well.

The good news is that if you or your children have head lice, there are simple, safe and effective strategies to send them on their way. Various shampoos, lotions, cream rinses and conditioners are available. Many chemical treatments are based on the chrysanthemum-type pyrethrin insecticides; some contain malathion; and there are several remedies available based on essential oils such as anise, lavender, rosemary and the Australian favourite melaleuca (tea tree) oil. When used as indicated these natural treatments have been shown in some studies to be more effective even than the chemical treatments.

There are also special fine tooth combs (some battery operated) to help facilitate the removal of the sticky nits and a good hair conditioner will get rid of the knots.

If live lice are found in the combings after treatment, it’s possible that the head lice are resistant to the particular product, and the person should be retreated as soon as possible using a product from a different group. Nevertheless, most treatment failures are due to inadequate time in contact with hair and scalp, inappropriate application methods, or the use of ineffective products. Ask your pharmacist to recommend an evidence-based product – that is: one that is proven to be effective.

For information on where to find a Head Lice fact card, phone the Pharmaceutical society on 1300 369 772 or go to the Pharmaceutical Society website at: www.psa.org.au and click on “Self Care” then “Use the Self Care Pharmacy Finder”.  

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

 
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