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Schedule Conolonsocopy on To-Do list

Colonoscopies aren’t something a lot of people really want to talk about, but they are one of the most important preventative health screenings men and women can get. They’re so important that the month of March is dedicated to the topic—it’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month! 

The role of a colonoscopy is to detect precancerous polyps in the colon, which doctors can remove before they turn into cancer. The screening test can also detect early-stage cancer, increasing the chance of successful treatment and survival. We sat down with Dr. Ahmad Kadhim, gastroenterologist at General Physician, PC, to ask three important questions that help shed some light on why this screening is absolutely worth discussing with your doctor.

Q: It used to be that age 50 was considered a good time to start getting regular colonoscopies, but now more doctors are saying to start at 45. Why?  

A: Over the past 10 years the rates of colorectal cancer in young people throughout the United States have risen—so much so that the American Cancer Society and United States Preventative Task Force (USPSTF) recently lowered the recommended age to begin screening for colon cancer from age 50 to age 45.

No one really knows other causes for colorectal cancer development besides strong family history and unfortunate genetic inheritance. There are other theories which include environmental factors and unhealthy habits.

Q: Are there other things beside family history that increase a person’s risk of colon cancer?

A: Yes, and the common risk factors for colon cancer are similar to risk factors for many other serious health concerns. They include obesity, not getting enough exercise, poor dietary habits, excessive alcohol, smoking, increased red meats, and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. 

Q. What about the in-home colon cancer screening kits that are available at drug stores—are those a reasonable substitute for a colonoscopy?

A: There is a limited role for them especially for individuals who do not want to consume bowel preparation or undergo a colonoscopy. They should be offered to average-risk individuals (with no family history of colon cancer) and no alarm-like symptoms such as abnormal weight loss or blood in the stool. It is important to keep in mind that this test is NOT a replacement for a colonoscopy in the sense that it does not detect early polyps or lesions like a colonoscopy. With colon cancer DNA-detection kits, the cancer is often diagnosed in late stages which can limit treatment success at times. It is also important to remember that at-home stool kit tests may result in false positive and negative results, which might lead to performing a colonoscopy anyways.

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Hand holding plastic heart

While February might be American Heart Month, cardiovascular health is an important cornerstone of overall health that’s worth celebrating and maintaining 365 days a year. For some everyday tips to keep hearts going strong, we spoke with Dr. Vijay Iyer, Medical Director of Cardiology at Great Lakes Cardiovascular and Chief of Cardiology at Buffalo General Medical Center and Gates Vascular Institute.

1. Know your family health history.

“Knowing your family history and whether anyone developed heart disease at an early age helps you understand your preexisting risk,” says Dr. Iyer. “If you’re at high risk because of family history and you have other risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, and so on, it’s important to get more aggressive with prevention and work with a cardiologist and come up with a plan.”

2. Exercise for at least 15 minutes a day.

“It’s important to do the little things to move more,” says Dr. Iyer. Even simply walking briskly for 15 minutes is a great start and is a short enough timeframe to fit into even the busiest schedules. 

3. Quit smoking.

“Absolutely refrain from smoking,” says Dr. Iyer. “It’s the worst thing you can do for your heart.” 

While quitting can be challenging, it’s always worth it. Finding the right smoking cessation program and having a support network are crucial. Your doctor—and friends who have successfully kicked the habit—are great resources to find a strategy that fits your personality, habits, and budget. And if one method doesn’t work for you, try another. 

4. Improve what’s on your plate.

Keto? Paleo? Mediterranean? Juice? There’s no shortage of diets and food trends claiming to be the healthy way to eat. And while many of them do have valid heart benefits, going from a daily burger to a life of quinoa and kale overnight isn’t realistic or sustainable—but finding healthier replacements for certain red-flag foods whenever possible is a no-brainer.

“There’s so much info out there about healthy eating that it’s daunting,” says Dr. Iyer. “But we know the basics: cut back on fried foods, red meats, and saturated fats. A little bit in moderation is fine, but don’t overdo it.”

5. Start young. 

“Heart health starts in your 20s; you can’t wait to think about it until you’re in your 50s,” says Dr. Iyer. “Cardiovascular issues generally don’t develop in two years—it takes a long time for heart disease to progress, so it takes a sustained effort to prevent it, too. You should know your family history and cholesterol profile by age 25. And if you never start bad habits in your early years, you never have to quit them later.”

6. Don’t wait for a crisis.

“Prevention is hard,” admits Dr. Iyer. “We don’t change if nothing has happened yet. Most of the time we say we need to have a wake-up call to change, but that’s a heart attack or stroke in this case. We want to avoid that. It’s hard to be motivated if you haven’t had an event yourself or had friend or family member experience a heart attack or stroke. The reasons behind not adopting healthy habits aren’t that people are unaware, but it’s more of an ‘it hasn’t happened to me yet’ phenomenon.”

7. Get heart healthy together.

There are few things that sabotage a diet faster than a well-meaning spouse or best friend showing up with a pizza or a box of donuts. Whether you’re trying to eat better, be more active, or give up cigarettes, one of the surest ways to success is to share your journey with those around you. 

“Life is busy—it’s hard to make changes and sustain them, but it’s easier with support,” says Dr. Iyer. “Lifestyle improvements are often decisions to make as a family or as a couple, not as an individual. For example, if you’re a couple, both people need to commit to stop smoking. It’s not going to work if one person is trying and the other is not.”

 

Dr. Vijay Iyer is an interventional cardiologist specializing in structural heart interventions. His clinical practice includes general cardiology, interventional cardiology, and complex valvular heart diseases. He directs the complex valve clinic at Buffalo General Medical Center, as well as structural heart interventions at the Gates Vascular Institute and Buffalo General Medical Center. https://www.greatlakescardiovascular.com/physicians/interventional/vijay-iyer-md-phd

new year resolutions

A New Year often means new opportunities to live healthier. As a result, we eagerly resolve to kickstart new habits or give up old ones as we enter the New Year. But, as we try to keep our resolutions – with good intentions – we give up before the first month of the new year is over. Frustrating, right? The key is to make a plan and set goals. Then, with a strong foundation, sound support systems, and effort, our healthy resolutions become lasting, new healthy habits for 2022. 

 

Regular Wellness Checkups

First, make an appointment to see your health care provider and ensure you’re in good health. Whether it's a yearly physical, bi-annual dental checkup, or managing any chronic conditions, start the year off right and check in on your body. These visits will help provide you with a baseline health measurement. Next, work together with your provider to create a wellness plan. Your plan may include diet, regular office visits, an exercise regimen, a review of medications, or more. Finally, you and your provider working together will solidify those wellness resolutions.

 

Mental Health

Mental and emotional well-being is fundamental to pursuing your resolution goals, but what does that look like? According to the WHO, good mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community”. Much like physical health, good mental health is dependent on proper diet, exercise, and sleep. In fact, according to a study done at the University of Otago, sleep is the strongest predictor of mental health over diet and exercise. In addition, lowering screen time and meditation can help boost cognitive function and mood. Good mental health may also begin as a discussion with your doctor at your annual physical. Your primary care physician can share trustworthy resources if needed. 

 

Sleep

A good night's sleep can boost your immune system, prevent weight gain, strengthen your heart and increase your productivity – all good if you are looking to make changes for 2022. According to the CDC, adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but only one-third get the recommended amount of sleep. 

Lack of proper sleep can reduce memory, decision-making capabilities, and concentration. And, according to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, you’re twice as likely to get in a car accident when you’re cruising on six to seven hours of sleep. 

The bottom line – sleep is good for you. So create nighttime routines to get your mind and body relaxed, try meditating or praying, avoid eating right before bed, and stop looking at your phone or tablet.

 

Healthy Eating

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. The right foods can fuel the body, boost brainpower and make falling asleep easier. The USDA recommends eating a balanced diet with protein, vegetables, grains, fruits, and healthy oils to maximize your health. 

Kelly Cardamone, MS, RDN, CDCES, Nutrition & Diabetes Program Manager at General Physician, PC recommends the following: "Aim to eat healthy 80-90% of the time and make protein the garnish at a meal and not the centerpiece. Eat three balanced meals a day to prevent unnecessary and unhealthy snacking, and include a fistful (that equals a cup) of vegetables at most meals. Try to eat more vegetables than fruits every day as a daily goal. 

In addition, a healthy diet can help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke and has the power to reduce your chances of chronic diseases over your lifetime. However, if you are dealing with multiple health conditions (diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, high cholesterol), it can feel overwhelming to find a diet that works to support you. Kelly suggests seeking out the help of a Registered Dietitian. "That is why we are here! We help you find a healthy eating plan that addresses multiple conditions."

 

Exercise

According to a survey done by Marist Poll and NPR, one of the most popular New Year's resolutions is exercise. Much like sleep and nutrition, exercise has far-reaching health benefits. The Mayo Clinic explains that "exercise boosts cognitive function and mood, helps control weight, and aids in restful sleep." 

You don't have to shell out dollars for a gym membership either. There are plenty of ways to get your body moving - no matter your physical condition. Take a walk, ride your bike, or swim, snowshoe, cross country ski, sled or hike, take a dance class, swim, or YouTube home exercise videos. Again, there are plenty of ways to get active and fit. The key is to find what is suitable for you and stick with it. And, as recommended, check with your doctor before starting any new routines.

 

Set Goals and Follow Up

All of the above are great New Year's Resolution suggestions. But there’s one more thing you need to be successful – goals. Setting goals help turn your resolutions into bite-sized and specific chunks. Keep your goals SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. And be sure to track your resolution journey. Journaling offers you a way to review and evaluate your progress and challenges. Keeping a journal forces you to commit your goals in writing and will help you be successful.

 

No Time Like the Present

The New Year is an exciting opportunity to start fresh. If a healthier lifestyle is your goal, a good foundation will help you actualize your resolutions and form lifelong habits. Use 2022 as an opportunity to start your journey to living a healthier life. Include your physician, set goals, and commit to making a change.

 

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