Slipped Disc and Spinal Surgery

slipped disc
Many people who experience a slipped or herniated spinal disc will have few or no symptoms. Bed rest and, if there is pain, analgesics and anti-inflammatory medication are usually enough to resolve the problem within about six weeks. But for the unlucky few - statistics range from one in 10 to one in 100 -going under the knife is the only way to solve the problem.

What is a Disc?

A vertebral disc is the protective, circular pad of cartilage that lies between each vertebra of your spine. The disc is made up of a tough, fibrous outer casing with a softer, gel-like substance inside. Your discs hold your vertebrae together and cushion and protect them when you jump or run.

You have 23 discs in your spine, which is surrounded by a complex network of nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments.

What Causes Disc Degeneration?

Our discs degenerate as we get older: they start to lose their water content, causing them to dehydrate and making them less flexible and more prone to damage. But a slipped or herniated disc can also be caused by an injury such as a fall, by bending awkwardly, and by pushing, pulling or lifting heavy objects.

Additional factors are smoking, being overweight and having a job that involves a lot of sitting (including driving and sitting in front of a computer). Genes also play a part.

What is a Herniated Disc?

A herniated or slipped disc is a disc whose outer casing has torn, allowing the gel inside to bulge out. The protruding matter may press on any of the many nerves that surround the spine, causing varying degrees of discomfort and pain.

Lumbar (or lower-back) disc herniation is more common than the cervical (or upper-back) kind.

The term slipped disc is somewhat misleading in that a disc cannot actually slip out of place.

Who is Likely to Experience a Herniated Disc?

More men than women have this problem, and it affects mainly people over the age of 30.There is also a strong genetic component: people with a family history of back problems are more prone to the disorder. It is also more likely to happen to people who have jobs that involve long periods of sitting or heavy lifting (especially if a heavy object is lifted while the person is bent at the waist rather than with bent legs and a straight back) - but it can happen to anyone at any time.

How Does a Slipped Disc Manifest?

Slipped discs most often happen in the lower back but, oddly enough, this isn’t always where you feel the pain – and, in fact, some people may experience no pain or discomfort at all. The referred pain of a slipped disc happens when the protruding part presses on any of the nerves around the spine, particularly the very large sciatic nerve, causing pain in the buttocks, legs and feet (or, if the damaged disc is higher in the back, in the neck, arms and hands). Muscle spasm is sometimes a symptom of a slipped disc.

Other symptoms of a herniated disc are numbness or tingling in the limbs and/or weakness in the muscles. In some people, the referred neural pain of a slipped disc is so intense that it becomes impossible for them to sit, walk or lie in certain positions.

How is a Slipped Disc Diagnosed?

Initially, your GP will do a few simple tests, including testing your reflexes, walking ability and muscle strength. Most herniated discs heal themselves over about six weeks. If, however, the pain persists or other symptoms present themselves (most seriously, bladder or bowel problems as a result of nerve interference), you’ll need to have an X-ray to rule out the possibility of a tumour, infection or fracture. These excluded, an MRI will determine the extent of the damage caused by a herniated disc.

What are the Treatment Options for a Slipped Disc?

Bed rest and medication (including prescribed painkillers and anti-inflammatories) usually do the trick, and therapy by a physiotherapist or chiropractor can help. Surgery is always a last resort when it comes to a herniated disc. Various specialists cite stats ranging from nine in 10 to 99 in 100 people whose problem will resolve without it – but for that unlucky small percentage, surgery is the only way to go. Unfortunately, however, even the surgery doesn’t always work for some people, who might still require further medical treatment after an operation.

What Does a Discectomy Involve?

For a discectomy, the surgeon will need reference to an MRI to see exactly what needs to be done. The operation is done under general anaesthetic and takes 60-90 minutes, depending on what is involved. Once you have been put under, the surgeon will make a small incision in your back and remove the bulging parts of the damaged disc or the entire disc.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Discectomy and What is Involved?

Recovery rates vary depending on the age, health and attitude of the person who’s had the operation. Although sitting is very restricted for the first two weeks and driving for the first three, you do need to get active as soon as you can. You will be given a light exercise regime by your doctor, which you must follow, and you should go for a walk every day.

The first six weeks following surgery are critical to healing; the first three months are important; and it can take up to a year for the healing process to be complete.

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Skin Patches Could be a New Era in Vaccine Against Pandemics

Scientists have unveiled a ground breaking way of treating influenza using innovative skin patches.

The breakthrough has the potential to spell the end of using needles to vaccine against pandemics.

It’s believed that the patches could be sent out in the post and could be administered by anyone with no need for medical training.

The skin patches possess several microscopic needles that are made of biodegradable plastic.

The needles can painlessly enter the surface of the skin and deliver the vaccination into the system.

Tests have so far indicated that the patch can possibly work better than the traditional way of vaccination using syringes.

Experiments have been conducted in laboratory’s on mice and revealed that the patches are better than injections at preventing flu.

This is due to the vaccine entering the body at skin level which is the most important area for the immune system.

In contrast syringes place the vaccine into muscles that are not as adept at producing immune reactions.

Those mice who received a second vaccination, three months after the first vaccination, through skin patches shrugged off influenza easier than the mice who received injections.

Professor Mark Prausnitz of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who led the research team is confident that the breakthrough has the potential to transform vaccination.

He told the “The dissolving micro needle patch could open many new doors to immunisation programmes by eliminating the need for trained personnel to carry out the vaccination.

“This approach could make a significant impact because it could enable self-administration as well as simplifying vaccination programmes."

Developing World may Benefit From Breakthrough

One of the greatest advantages from the skin patches could be the increased capacity for treating developing world patients.

The reductions in necessary infrastructure has the potential to expand immunisation programmes reaching more of those in need.

Currently inoculating with needles is expensive and needs trained professionals to carry out the injections.

There would also be less of a risk of contamination from dirty needles using the patches, and the problem of how to store needles that need to be reused would also be eradicated.

Skin Patch Vaccination: How it Works

Each skin patch is to be armed with 100 micro needles, made from the plastic polymer polyvinylpyrrolidone, and are already in use for medical equipment that is placed inside the body.

The micro needles, which are six times the thickness of human hair, are then covered with freeze dried vaccine.
After the micro needles have pierced into the skin they dissolve within a few minutes ferrying the vaccine into the most important cells in the immune system, which are prevalent in the skin.

The immune cells inside the skin are designed to capture the ‘antigens’ that are a component of the vaccines.
Further trials involving animals will need to take place and it could be several years scientists believe before the skin patches become used routinely.

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Digestion, Excretion Strange Facts and Health Problems

A doctor can tell much about a person’s health and can diagnose certain conditions by sending stool samples for analysis. In their book, Body Signs, Joan Liebmann-Smith and Jacqueline Nardi Egan discuss some of the illnesses that can be identified through faeces.

The Sounds and Products of Digestion

A rumbling stomach is a sign that the digestive system is working well. The sounds are caused by peristalsis which is the muscular contractions of the walls of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Although the sounds are normal, severe gurgling accompanied by bloating, gas, nausea and diarrhoea may be a sign of a GI problem such as stomach viruses, bowel obstructions, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Burping and farting are the result of gas in the intestinal system and are a natural way of expelling the excess. It is estimated that most people produce between one and three pints of gas per day.

Facts about Human Faeces and Health

Stools vary greatly in colour, texture, size and quantity and these differences can reveal much about diet and health. Here are some signs to watch out for:
  • Green stools can be a sign of a diet rich in green vegetables or the result of certain antibiotics and iron supplements.
  • In a similar fashion, orange stools can be caused by eating a large amount of orange foods and certain medications.
  • Red stools can be a sign of eating large volumes of red food but there is always the chance that they contain blood. Bright red streaks of blood can be a sign of haemorrhoids. Red stools may indicate conditions such as diverticulitis or the presence of polyps. Dark red stools can signify problems in the upper GI tract.
  • Black tarry stools can be caused by iron supplements, charcoal and medicines containing bismuth. It can also be blood that has passed down from the oesophagus or stomach and may indicate some type of ulcer.
  • Pale stools are often a result of excess pale food or barium x-rays but may be a sign that bile is not reaching the stools. This can be caused by a number of serious conditions such as hepatitis, liver cancer and cirrhosis.
  • Floating stools are caused by excess gas and occasionally, celiac disease
  • Greasy stools with a bad odour may be the result of a high level of fat. This can be caused by bad diet or a condition where fat is not being absorbed
  • Skinny, ribbon-like stools can be a sign of bowel disease, adhesions, polylps or cancer and should be investigated by a doctor
Digestion is a natural process that is accompanied by sounds and the production of gas and stools. The colour, size and shape of faeces can give an indication of the diet of a person as well as being a sign of illness. Any sudden changes should be observed and monitored, and if they persist, medical help should be sought.

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Ears Strange Facts and Health Problems they can Cause

When people talk about ears, they normally visualize the outer ear. In actual fact the ear is made up of the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. The outer ear is comprised of the auditory canal where wax collects and the pinna. The middle ear is made up of the Eustachian tube, ossicles, ear drum and inner ear cavity. The inner ear is comprised of the cochlea, oval and round windows and the semi-circular canals.

Physical Signs on the Outer Ear

In their book, Body Signs, Joan Liebmann-Smith and Jacqueline Nardi Egan say there are certain visible signs on the outer ear that can indicate health problems:
  • Because ears jut out from the body, they tend to burn quickly and are a sign of excess exposure to the sun
  • Red ears are also a sign of certain ear infections such as psoriasis
  • Certain types of migraine are often heralded by the ear on the affected side turning red
  • A permanent diagonal crease across the ear lobe is a possible sign of a familial tendency towards heart disease and diabetes
  • Deformed ears may be a birth defect or a sign of a genetic condition such as Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome

Problems with the Middle and Inner Ear

Health issues with the inner parts of the ear can affect the outer ear in certain circumstances:
  • Excess ear wax is one of the most common problems. It is normally produced to self-clean the ear but an excess may signify a diet low in fat or that the ears have been over-cleaned by a cotton bud or similar
  • A watery discharge can be a sign of a respiratory tract infection or some kind of infection of the ear
  • Pus leaking from the ear is a sign of a perforated ear drum or middle ear infection and needs medical attention
  • A bloodied discharge from the ear can be a sign of a tumor or trauma to the head and needs immediate medical attention
  • Itchy ears can be caused by over-cleaning, allergies, fungal infections and skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis
  • Vertigo or extreme dizziness accompanied by nausea and vomiting can be a sign of an ear infection, a brain tumor, head injury or Meniere’s Disease

Blocked Ears and Ringing Ears

There are various medical conditions that cause hearing problems and strange sensations in the ears:
  • Change of altitude when climbing or flying can cause ears to block up temporarily
  • Tinnitus is a condition where sufferers hear a ringing or other persistent sounds in their ears
  • Hearing a throbbing sound or heartbeat in one ear only can be a sign of an impending stroke. This needs urgent medical attention
Ears and hearing are interrelated and problems with the ears can also affect balance. Some health issues relate to the outer ear while others relate to the middle and inner ear. Certain symptoms are mild and can be solved easily while others need medical attention. It is important to care properly for ears.

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Human Hair Strange Facts and Possible Problems

human hair
Hair is something that most people take for granted. However, unexpected changes should be noted and if necessary, a doctor should be consulted. In their book, Body Signs, Joan Liebmann-Smith and Jacqueline Nardi Egan list some of the signs to look out for as well as the problems they could indicate.

Changes in Hair Texture

Hair contains a large number of minerals and is affected by a person’s age, sex, race, area of residence and hair products used. Forensic analysis can reveal certain poisons that may pass into the hairs. Dry brittle hair and split ends may be a sign of too much sun and swimming or chemical treatments but can also be a sign of an underactive thyroid, stress and poor diet.
In women, pregnancy and menopause can cause hair to become thicker, more or less oily and to curl or straighten.

Changes in Hair Color

The most common change to hair color is the process of turning grey and then white as color pigments decrease as the person ages. This is a normal consequence of age but there are other factors that can cause a change in hair color:
  • Chemotherapy often causes hair loss – and when the hair begins to grow again, it may be a different color for a few months
  • A green tinge in hair can be a sign that the swimming pool is over-chlorinated. It can also be caused by copper water pipes feeding into the pool. In rare cases, green hair can be caused by mercury poisoning
  • Striped hair manifests as bands of hair that is blonde, grey or reddish and is caused by severe nutritional deficiencies
  • Prematurely grey hair can be a sign of various disorders including pernicious anemia and Graves’ disease

Changes in Hair Growth

Human hair grows about a half inch each month. The average person will shed about 50 to 100 hairs a day which is normal. About 90% of hair is in a growing stage at any one time, while 10% will be in a resting phase.
  • The medical term for abnormal hair loss is alopecia. This is an autoimmune disorder and can cause partial or total hair loss
  • Chemotherapy attacks rapidly dividing cancer cells but also stops hair growth. New growth normally begins within a few months of the completion of chemotherapy
  • Hormonal imbalance and disorders can cause hair loss
  • Poor diet or an excess or deficiency of certain foods can cause hair loss
Hair is a sign of beauty and people spend money on keeping it looking good. Problems with hair can be distressing and may need medical investigation. The most common problems involve hair color, hair texture and hair growth. If a change or condition appears suddenly and there is no apparent reason for it, it is best to visit a doctor.

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Noses Facts and their Health Problems

Noses have a practical and aesthetic function. Many people are concerned that their nose is bent or too big or too small. They pay little attention to the fact that it helps them breathe and smell. In their book, Body Signs, Joan Liebmann-Smith and Jacqueline Nardi Egan discuss how the nose can reveal health problems.

Visible Health Problems with Noses

The appearance of a nose can give doctors a clue as to the health of the person. Here are some of the signs they may look for:
  • A red nose may be due to a simple problem such as a cold, allergies or sunburn. In some cases, however, it can be a sign of alcohol abuse or a skin condition called rosacea
  • People with allergies often push their nose up to try and gain relief from itchiness. This may form a crease across the bridge of the nose
  • A bulbous nose is a caused by a condition known as rhinophyma. The nose skin becomes thickened and may become waxy and oily

Internal Health Problems and Noses

There are a number of health issues that relate to the nose and its inner workings:
  • Snoring – especially snoring that has recently started can be a sign of a cold or allergy or something more serious such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Rarely it can be caused by a growth that is blocking the airflow through the nose.
  • A runny nose is usually due to a cold but can also be caused by snorting cocaine or a tumor.
  • A dry nose may be caused by the use of some medications that are used to treat asthma and a blocked nose.
  • A bad smell coming from the nose can be a sign of ozena – a condition where the nasal structure becomes atrophied.
  • A decreased ability to smell may be due to aging. People in their 80s only smell half as well as a person in their 60s.
  • A blocked nose from a cold can also affect the sense of smell
  • A zinc deficiency may cause a loss of smell as can various other health problems such as diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
The sense of smell is closely related to taste and is often taken for granted. The most common problems with noses normally relate to blockages and loss of smell. Fortunately, most of these are easily resolved but in some cases, they may be symptoms of a more serious condition. It is important to consult a rhinologist if there are ongoing problems.

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