# Monday, March 31, 2008

Winter sports such as snowboarding or skiing are a great way to stay active during the colder months. It's important though, to make sure you are properly equipped in order to prevent serious injuries. While the number of snowboarding injuries does not surpass injuries incurred while skiing, they do tend to be more severe. The number of snowboarding injuries in Canada has risen drastically in the past ten years, with 88% of injuries being sustained by those between the ages of 10-19, with 80% of those being male. Half of those injuries were fractures, with over 40% being to the arms. While traumatic brain injuries, as well as spinal cord injuries are rare, they are on the rise, probably from the rising rend of acrobatic and high-speed moves.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in 1997 over 84,000 skiing injuries and over 37,000 snowboarding injuries were treated in various American emergency rooms. Out of those injuries over 17,000 were head injuries. Their studies have found that 11 skiing and/or snowboarding deaths could be prevented each year and over 7,000 head injuries could be either prevented or reduced in severity simply by using helmets. Many of these accidents occur due to loss of control; either moving too fast on the slopes or being on a slope that is beyond the skiers/snowboarders ability. In 1999 a new report was released showing that helmet use could prevent or reduce the severity of 44% of head injuries incurred by adults, and 53% of those incurred by children under the age of 15.

It is estimated that 25% of all snowboarding injuries occur during a person's first experience, and almost 50% occur during the first season of snowboarding. This is due to the fact that snowboarding is an extreme sport that requires balance and a stable stance on the board. As both feet are fixed in non-release bindings, ankles are susceptible to being injured as the snowboarder cannot "step" out when falling or colliding. This also leaves the upper extremities at high risk of injury as a person's natural instinct is to outstretch their hands in order to break the impending fall. It is essential that anyone learning how to snowboard takes lessons in order to learn the fundamentals, including how to fall properly in order to avoid these injuries.

It is important to have the right equipment in order to either prevent injuries, as well as lessen the severity of any injuries that may occur. The snowboard you use should be in good condition and is fitted for your weight, size, and skill. Purchase a helmet that is specifically designed for snowboarding; helmets designed for other purposes such as bicycling, will not give you enough protection, as well as being too heavy or bulky which can result in whiplash injuries. Snowboarding helmets consist of three layers and are cut higher in the back than in the front. The outer shell varies depending on the model you choose, but is designed to protect against any objects penetrating the shell. The middle layer consists of polystyrene, which will absorb shock during a fall. The inner layer is simply designed for warmth, so that no other headgear will be required. If your helmet has sustained a major blow, you will need to replace it. Make sure the helmet fits snugly and is comfortable.

Snowboarding boots come in three different types; each differs in the support they give to the ankle and foot. Soft boots are the most common type of boot used and offers good stability as well as flexibility. Hard boots are typically worn by racers. Hybrid boots offer the support of the hard boot, but with the comfort and maneuverability of soft boots. It is important to select the proper type of boot for the style of snowboarding you are participating in. Ankle injuries are more prevalent in those who wear soft boots due to their moderate ankle support; people who wear the hard boots however, are more at risk of knee injuries due to the lack of movement. Make sure that you buy the boots and bindings together as these are inter-related.

Wrist and elbow guards are also important to reduce fractures. Wrist guards that are used for inline skating or skateboarding can also be used for snowboarding. Knee and tailbone pads are very important for beginners, as falling backwards is more apt to happen when learning to snowboard.

If you are traveling to Canada, or are a Canadian traveling outside the country to participate in snowboarding, it's important to make sure that your travel insurance will cover any injuries sustained in this activity. Certain travel insurance policies will not reimburse medical bills that are a result of these types of injuries; you may require Adventure Travel insurance. Make sure to check with your broker before you leave to make sure you have the right coverage.

posted on Monday, March 31, 2008 10:28:11 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, March 17, 2008

Skin Cancer Prevention

Many Canadians are escaping the cold winter months by traveling to countries that have a warmer climate. It's important when enjoying your time in the sunshine to make sure you are not exposing your skin to potentially harmful UV rays, which can increase your risk of skin cancer. As children and infants are especially at risk due to having sensitive skin, precautions need to be taken.

Skin cancer is the one form of cancer that can be prevented. There are 3 types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant carcinoma. The first two are the most prevalent forms of skin cancer found in Canadians. They tend to develop later in life on areas of the skin that have been repeatedly exposed to the sun such as the face, neck, and/or hands. They are rarely fatal as it is uncommon for this form of cancer to spread to other areas of the body. Minor surgery easily removes the affected areas of skin. Malignant melanomas on the other hand, are quite fatal as they progress very rapidly and can develop on virtually any part of the body. This form of skin cancer also occurs a lot earlier in life and accounts for 5% of people affected by skin cancer.

Everyone is at some risk of developing melanoma, but certain factors can determine if you are at an increased level of risk. These are:

• Exposure to the sun. UVA as well as UVB rays are dangerous to skin health and can induce skin cancer. Blistering sunburns in early childhood as well as cumulative exposure are factors that can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. This applies to both natural sun and tanning booths.
• Moles. Most people have small brown moles or "beauty marks" that appear in the first several decades of life. These are normal moles which are harmless. Atypical moles however, can be dangerous. Also known as dysplastic nevi, these are moles or patches of skin that are abnormally dark, or moles that are bleeding, crusting or changing in their color, size, and/or shape. These should be checked immediately by your physician. It's important to realize that regardless of type, the more moles you have, the greater your risk is for melanoma.
• Skin type. People with fairer skin are more at risk for all forms of skin cancer.
• Family history. It's estimated that one out of ten patients diagnosed with skin cancer has a family member who has also had it. Therefore, it's important to know if your parents, siblings or children have been diagnosed with melanoma, as you are in a melanoma-prone family. A person who has a first-degree relative with melanoma has a fifty percent greater chance of developing skin cancer than those with no family history of the disease. You also have a slight increase in risk if anyone such as aunts, unless, cousins, grandparents, etc. have had skin cancer.
• Your own personal medical history. Having any form of skin cancer automatically increases your risk of occurrence. People with a compromised immune system that is a result from chemotherapy, organ transplant or HIV/AIDS are also at a higher risk level for melanoma.

The main cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). These rays cause skin cancer by directly damaging skin cells, as well as weakening the immune mechanisms in the skin. Consequently, most cases of skin cancer can be prevented by limiting your exposure to UV rays. Things you can do to minimize your exposure are:

• Try and spend time in the shade when outdoors during the hottest parts of the day
• If you're spending long periods of time in the sun, wear a broad-rimmed hat, as well as clothing that has a tight weave, and covers your skin
• Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 and offers both UVA and UVB protection. You should apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going in the sun, as well as 15-30 minutes after exposure. Make sure to reapply often after swimming, vigorous activity, or toweling off.
• Certain medications can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays, so read the labels and inserts for all your medications. If you're still unsure, consult with your physician or pharmacist.

If you are taking infants and/or children outside follow the above recommendations as well as:

• Never letting infants or young children play or sleep in the sun in a playpen, stroller, or carriage.
• Even when wearing sunscreen, do not let your children stay in direct sun for long periods of time.
• Make sure your children are wearing plenty of sunscreen, and reapply often as they are more active then most adults which can make it wear off more quickly.

Make sure to regularly check for any changes in moles on your skin, if you think there has been any sort of change, consult with your physician.

posted on Monday, March 17, 2008 1:22:22 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Saturday, March 1, 2008

Living With Chronic Pain

Every year, millions of Canadians suffer from chronic pain. More than half of these Canadians do not receive adequate treatment to alleviate this devastating pain. A recent study actually showed that in one large Canadian medical centre the majority of patients who were in moderate to severe pain were not even asked by medical staff if they were in pain. Statistics Canada has recently released a study which showed that over 25% of Canadian seniors who live at home, and nearly 40% who reside in a institution are living with chronic pain, severe enough that it interferes with daily life.

While pain is a natural part of everyone's life, chronic pain has distinct characteristics. There are 2 basic types of pain, acute and chronic, which are very different from each other.

Acute Pain: Results usually from disease, inflammation or injury to tissues. It generally comes on quickly, i.e. after surgery or trauma. It may be accompanied by emotional distress and/or high anxiety levels. The cause of acute pain can usually be quickly diagnosed and treated. As well, the pain is usually confined to a given period of time as well as severity. Only in rare cases does acute pain become chronic.

Chronic Pain: Lasts for a much longer duration than acute pain and is more resistant to medical treatment. Chronic pain is widely believed to represent disease itself, and can be made much worse by environmental as well as psychological factors. Chronic pain can be a result of an initial accident such as sprained back, infection, or can be the result of an ongoing condition such as cancer, arthritis. Chronic pain can also occur without any previous injuries and/or evidence of body damage. Severe and frequent migraines can also fit into this category.

There is no test that tells a physician just how much pain a person is in, or how intense their pain is. The physician can ask questions about whether the pain is dull or sharp, location, burning or aching, etc, but these are only general indicators. Physicians can however, use technology to find the source of the pain. The most common are:

Electrodiagnostic Procedures: Electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies, and evoked potential (EP) studies can help physicians tell precisely which nerves and/or muscles are affected by pain and/or weakness. EMG consists of thin needles being inserted into the muscles so the physician can see or listen to the electrical signals displayed. Nerve conduction studies involve the use of two sets of electrodes that are placed on the skin over the muscles. The first set sends a mild shock that stimulates the nerve that runs to the muscle. The second set makes a recording of the nerve's electrical signals, from which the physician is able to detect nerve damage. EP test follow the same theory, but with the second set of electrodes set on the patient's scalp in order to determine the speed of nerve transmission to the brain.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A MRI provides the physician with pictures of the body's tissues and structures, which can help determine where and why pain is occurring.

Neurological Exams and X-Rays: The physician will test movement, reflexes, balance, sensation as well as coordination. X-rays will show if any bones or joints are the cause of the chronic pain.

It is important for those who suffer from chronic pain to communicate effectively with their physician in order to receive the appropriate treatment and relief. Many different people in the medical field may be helpful in pain management, includes nurse, physiotherapists, psychologists, and occupational therapists, as well as your physician. If needed, your family doctor can refer you to a pain specialist if the pain is not self-resolving. To help your physician give you the proper care, be prepared for your appointments. By keeping a daily pain diary, and recording the amount of pain, the time it occurred and what you did to alleviate this pain get be a great assistance to your doctor. Make sure to use descriptive words such as throbbing, stabbing, burning, aching, tingling, dull, sharp, deep, pressing etc as well as rating it from 1 to 10. As well, keep a list of any and all medications that you take or have taken for pain control. It can also be helpful to list any activities you participated in either just before or at the onset of the pain.

Chronic pain can be managed in different ways, depending on the individual. This can be achieved usually through the proper pain medications, as well as such therapies as acupuncture, massage and chiropractic treatment. Some of the most common ways drugs that physicians use to treat chronic pain are:

Analgesics: The class of drugs that includes most painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. It is used in most nonprescription medications for mild to moderate pain.

Anticonvulsants: Usually used for seizure disorders, but can be effective for pain that is associated with neuropathic origins.

Antidepressants: Depression is now being associated with chronic pain, especially back pain. Some antidepressants in the psychotropic drug class can be used for treating both conditions. Some anti-anxiety drugs also contain muscle relaxants, and can be effective as well.

Antimigraine Medications: These medications are only for people who suffer from serious and/or frequent migraine headaches. The are only available by prescription, and should only be used under a physician's care, as some do have serious side effects.

COX-2 inhibitors: Used for the treatment of arthritis pain. These drugs are relatively new to the market, and have not yet been tested for long-term side effects. They do, however, seem to lessen some of the negative side effects commonly associated with older anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS).

Nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS): These drugs are effective for relieving pain by reducing the inflammation in the affected tissues. These can however, cause some people to suffer from upset stomachs.

Opoids: The oldest class of drugs known to mankind; they derive from the poppy plant. Codeine is a very mild form of opoid; morphine is one of the strongest forms of this drug. Opiates are a narcotic, and can induce sedation as well as pain relief. Opiates are physically addictive, and should only be taken with a physician's supervision and monitoring. Opiates do have such side effects as nausea (including vomiting in some cases) and constipation.

Methods other than medication can also be an effective measure to combat chronic pain. These may be used alone, or in conjunction with pain medication, depending on the individual.

Acupuncture: Is a traditional Oriental method of healing which involves applying needles to precise parts of the body. Although some consider this method controversial, it has been a popular method to help various conditions.

Biofeedback: Used mostly for headaches and back pain. A special electronic machine is used to train the patient to become aware of and ultimately control certain body functions. By learning to control things such muscle tension, heart rate and skin temperature, the patient will be able to effect a change in their response to pain by using techniques such as relaxation exercises.

Chiropractic: This can be very effective for those with acute lower back pain and other back disorders. This involves a licensed chiropractor manually manipulating the spine.

Counseling/Therapy: Psychological help and support can help patients by giving them much need coping skills to deal with chronic pain. Support groups can be helpful for those going through multiple surgical procedures as well as diseases such as cancer.

Physical Therapy/Rehabilitation: Exercise, massage, and/or manipulation can help not only alleviate pain, but help to speed up recovery from certain injuries.

It's important to let your physician know if you are experiencing pain that doesn’t seem to go away, or appears for no particular reason, as it may be symptomatic of a serious condition. There is no one specific cure for chronic pain; one of the above methods, as well as a combination of methods may be the right choice for you.

Many individual health insurance plans, as well as employee benefits packages offer coverage for not only the prescription costs, but for non-medicinal treatments. If you do not currently have coverage for such items as chiropractic visits, you can always enquire about adding these features to your current coverage.


posted on Saturday, March 1, 2008 2:14:36 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Seniors And Rising Prescription Costs

All Canadian seniors 65 and older are 'supposedly' covered by a provincial drug plan. However, new research shows that out of pocket costs paid by seniors for their prescriptions greatly varies between the provinces. Canadians in 2007 spent $26.9 billion dollars on prescription medication; out of that amount over $4 billion was directly out of pocket. This discrepancy in coverage means that some Canadian seniors are not able to afford much needed prescription medications.

Take, for example, a 65 year old woman on a government pension who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and needs 4 prescription medications in order to control her condition. If this woman lives in Ontario her out of pocket expense is eight dollars; if she lives in Manitoba she will have to pay five hundred and three dollars. A 73 year old man who needs five different medications to treat his heart failure will spend 60 dollars in New Brunswick; in Manitoba this expense soars to one thousand, three hundred and thirty two dollars.

These costs are based largely on age, level of income, marital status and your province of residence. It is estimated that the number of Canadians who are eligible for prescription reimbursement varies from 9% in Manitoba to 43% in Quebec; this can also depend on which jurisdiction the person resides in.

The income bracket of a Canadian senior can determine the amount of prescription reimbursement that they are entitled to. New Brunswick and P.E.I. are the most comprehensive provinces, offering seniors either full coverage or paying up to 35% of prescription costs, regardless of income. Ontario and Nova Scotia's reimbursement plans are based on income level. Seniors living in Quebec generally pay more for prescription costs, although there is some relief for low-income as well as those who require long-term and extensive drug treatment. When it comes to Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland, seniors will only be covered if they qualify as having a low income status.

Most seniors lose their drug coverage which they had through employee benefits at a time when they need it most. For seniors who are living on a fixed income, these prescription costs may not be affordable, thereby putting their health in jeopardy. For most seniors, prescription coverage is essential in order to make sure that if health problems do occur, they have the means to afford the medication.

A new study has been conducted by SunLife Financial to assess how many Canadian seniors have actually saved money to cover their healthcare costs. They found that only 9% of working Canadians have actually factored in healthcare costs when calculating their retirement savings. 80% of Canadians expect these costs to be covered by their provincial health care program. 65% of Canadians say that they do realize they will have to spend some of their retirement savings on healthcare expenses, but only 37% of this group said they have actually saved for it. 36% of Canadians are under the impression that their employee benefits will provide them with health coverage in their retirement years. And while those who say they are aware that they will need to save money for healthcare costs, the majority admits that they do not know exactly how much this will cost them.

Healthcare related costs need to be correctly assessed when planning retirement. If not, many Canadians may be running the risk of not being able to afford treatments, prescriptions, etc. when it is most needed. For those who have employee benefits, it is important to thoroughly understand what, if any, coverage will be provided upon retirement. It is not feasible to rely on provincial coverage to cover all your costs; private health insurance will more than likely be a much cheaper solution.

Canadian seniors who are retiring and losing their benefits may want to consider purchasing FollowMe coverage. There is no medical exam required if applied for within 60 days of the termination date of the employee benefits coverage. For those whose group insurance expired and it is longer than 60 days, or for those who didn’t have employee benefits, guaranteed issue health insurance is available. You will have your choice of plans depending on your needs, and acceptance is automatic with no medical questionnaire.  As prescription costs can be expensive, as well as subject to being raised, health insurance premiums offer several advantages. For those on a fixed income, the cost can be budgeted for, with a set amount having to be paid. This can be financially more feasible than trying to second-guess how much needs to be saved in the event of having to suddenly require medications. Health insurance will also cover other expenses, such as vision care costs, hospital benefits and dental coverage. Having health coverage will provide the security of knowing your hard earned savings will not be spent on having to cover these expenses, or the uncertainty of not being able to afford treatment.

posted on Wednesday, February 20, 2008 12:04:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Canadian Weedless Wednesday

Last week was National Non-Smoking Week across Canada, with the focal point being Weedless Wednesday. Started in 1977, National Non-Smoking Week is one of the longest running Canadian public health education efforts. It's goals are to educate Canadians about the dangers of smoking, to prevent people from starting to smoke, and to help smokers quit. Coincidentally, this national event took place on the heels of Wolfville Nova Scotia's ban on smoking in vehicles in which children under 16 are present. Presently Nova Scotia, British Columbia and the Yukon have had bills or motions introduced to make this ban province-wide.

Most Canadians are unaware of just what makes smoking so lethal. Not only is the smoker as well as non-smokers who breathe in second-hand smoke exposed to nicotine, but many other toxins are in cigarettes. All of these toxins are harmful to anyone who inhales them. A sample of the toxins found in cigarettes are:

   • Tar: found in tobacco smoke. Tar is a sticky black residue that contains hundreds of chemicals, most of which are classified as carcinogenic and/or hazardous waste. Found in tar are such chemicals as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, aromatic amines and inorganic compounds
   • Nicotine: is the addictive substance in tobacco. It occurs naturally in tobacco plants and is harmful to cardiovascular and endocrine systems in humans. It causes chemical and/or biological changes in the brain. Nicotine is extremely poisonous in large amounts
   • Carbon Monoxide: is in tobacco smoke as a result of burning tobacco, and is responsible for the reduction of red blood cells delivering oxygen to human tissue. This has the greatest potential for causing damage to the heart, brain and skeletal muscles.
   • Formaldehyde: Is registered in Canada as a pesticide and causes eye, nose and throat irritation as well as other breathing problems
   • Hydrogen Cyanide: One of most toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke; frequent exposure to low concentrations of this cause weakness, headaches, vomiting, nausea, eye and skin irritations and rapid breathing.
   • Benzene: has been declared toxic by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and is believed to be harmful at any level of exposure. It has been described as a Group 1 carcinogen.

It is obvious from this list that smoking and/or exposure to tobacco in any form is extremely harmful. Smoking is directly related to such potentially fatal diseases as:

   • Cardiovascular Disease: This includes heart attacks, strokes, hardening of the arteries and/or dilation or rupture of the aorta. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 2 out of 5 tobacco-caused deaths. It is responsible for the death of approximately 17,500 Canadians every year.
   • Cancer: This includes lung cancer, cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and/or esophagus, cancer of the pancreas, cancer of the kidneys and cancer of the bladder. Cancer is responsible for 2 out of 5 tobacco-caused deaths, and kills approximately 17,700 Canadians every year.
   • Respiratory Disease: Including pneumonia and influenza, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic airways obstruction. Respiratory disease is responsible for 1 out of 5 tobacco-caused deaths with a mortality rate in Canadians of approximately 9500 per year.

Smoking is also directly related to other serious health issues. Smokers are more likely to suffer from peptic ulcer disease; the ulcers are also slower to heal and more likely to reoccur. Smoking is also a risk factor for Crohn's disease, also known as chronic bowel disease. Smoking affects oral health; as well or oral cancer, smokers are more likely to experience tooth decay and/or gum disease. As smoking reduces bone density, it can cause and/or aggravate osteoporosis. Smokers with osteoporosis have increased chances of bone fractures. Because smoking decreases blood flow in the small blood vessels in the skin smokers are more likely to experience premature aging and more skin wrinkles. For women who smoke, they can experience menopause 1 to 2 years earlier than non-smoking women. For men, smoking may cause impotence.

The statistics surrounding the life expectancy of smokers is highly alarming.  The Canadian Council for Tobacco Control estimates that for every 1000 Canadians age 20 who smoke, about 500 will die from a tobacco-caused death if they continue. Out of these 500 deaths, half will occur before the smoker turns 70. Approximately 45,000 Canadians every year die from tobacco-caused illnesses, and smoking causes the highest number of preventable illnesses, disabilities and/or deaths in Canada.

Obviously, it is vital that Canadians quit smoking in order to prevent death and/or illness. There are many different theories about the best way to quit smoking. However, it is up to the individual to choose a plan and/or method that works for them; not everyone will benefit from the same method. For smokers who wish to quit, it's important to find a method that works for you and to be prepared for what quitting smoking entails.

While there are various unproven methods such as hypnotherapy, acupuncture, etc, the 2 major smoking cessation aids are:

Prescription Medications: Your doctor can prescribe certain medications like Varenicline tartrate which may reduce the sense of satisfaction that you get when smoking. It can also help reduce the cravings and help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. This drug works by weakening the chemical reactions in the brain caused by nicotine that make smoking feel pleasurable. However these types of medication are not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is also not recommended that nicotine replacement therapy products such as patches, gum or inhalers be used when taking this drug. Certain anti-depressants can also be helpful in quitting smoking. Although it is not certain how this works, studies have shown that smokers who have been treated for depression with certain prescription drugs reported that along with the symptoms of depression going away, so had their urge to smoke. These medications are only available with a prescription, so consult with your physician to see if this is an option for you.

Nicotine Replacement Therapies: Nicotine gum and the patch.

   • Nicotine Gum: Releases a dose of nicotine that when chewed helps with the withdrawal symptoms. Chewing nicotine gum can satisfy the cravings quickly and also helps to keep the mouth busy. It is available without a prescription, and can be purchased at most pharmacies. It is available in different doses for all levels of smokers.
   • Nicotine Patch: This consists of small self-adhesive patches that slowly release nicotine into the bloodstream. It can be placed anywhere on the skin between the waist and the neck. The patch allows the smoker to gradually reduce the amount of nicotine they use. It can however, cause the skin surrounding the patch to be irritated and may also cause headaches, dizziness, upset stomach and blurred vision. The 24 hour patches may cause sleep problems as well. Although this is available without a prescription, consult with your physician about using it, especially if you have angina, irregular heart, have had a heart attack, are pregnant and/or breastfeeding and if you are taking other medications.

It is important to be prepared to quit smoking. Consult with your physician; discuss the above-mentioned options to see what is right for you. You should also come up with a strategy to help avoid the pitfalls. Some good ideas for planning ahead to quit are:

   • Pick a quit day. Try and pick a date within 2 to 3 weeks of making the decision to quit. This deadline will help you decide how to handle the situations which make you want to smoke. Try and choose a time that isn’t very stressful. Remember, there’s never going to be the "perfect" time, so pick your date and stick to it.
   • For some people it can help to cut down first. You may also want to purposely leave your cigarettes at home when going out, cutting down on your cigarette breaks at work, etc.
   • Make a list of all the reasons you want to quit smoking and post them in every room of the house and/or work.
   • Get rid of all your ashtrays and make your usual smoking areas as uncomfortable as possible.
   • Plan ahead for ways to combat the urge to smoke. This can include going for a walk or working out; make sure you also have plenty of healthy snacks on hand for when the hand-to-mouth urge strikes.
   • Through the first few days, take it hour by hour. View each smoke-free hour as an accomplishment. It can be daunting when thinking of never smoking again, so break it down into manageable time frames
   • Drink lots of water to help flush the nicotine and other chemicals out of your system.
   • Change your routine for your usual times to smoke. For instance, if you smoke right after a meal, you need to replace that activity with another one.

Most relapses occur within the first three months of quitting smoking. They are usually caused by triggers, i.e. an incredibly stressful event. However, relapsing does not mean that you have to become a smoker again. If you do happen to slip and have a cigarette, don't overact, but become recommitted to being a non-smoker.

Being able to identify the symptoms of withdrawal can better prepare the smoker for what to expect, as well as how to alleviate them. Knowing what to expect and the general time taken to be rid of these symptoms can help the smoker come up with an effective quitting plan. Nicotine is physically addictive and it does take time for the body to expel itself of not only the nicotine, but the other chemicals that are being ingested with every cigarette smoked. Most smokers who quit experience physical effects such as:

   • Irritability: This generally lasts 2-4 weeks and is caused by the physical craving for nicotine. It is important to recognize that this is a withdrawal symptom and spend extra time devoted to relaxation methods such as hot baths, music, etc.
   • Lack of energy: Nicotine is a stimulant and keeps your brain active. The body generally takes 2-4 weeks to readjust to living without this boost. During this period don't push yourself too hard; if possible take naps when needed.
   • Insomnia: Nicotine affects brain waves and sleep patterns. Sleep pattern disruption usually lasts for a week. During this time try to avoid caffeine, especially at nighttime
   • Dry throat and cough: This usually only lasts a few days, and is caused by the body getting rid of trapped mucus in the airways. Make sure to drink lots of water and juice to help get rid of the mucus.
   • Dizziness: As your body is now receiving more oxygen, you may feel dizzy for 1 to 2 days. Make sure to get up slowly after sitting or lying down.
   • Difficulty concentrating: This can last for up to a few weeks and is caused by your body readjusting to not having the constant stimulation from nicotine. Reduce your workload and take a lot of breaks if possible.
   • Chest tightness: Chest muscles may be sore from excessive coughing as well as muscle tenseness from the cravings. This usually lasts for a few weeks; deep breathing can help alleviate the soreness.
   • Stomach pain, gas, and/or constipation: This can happen as bowel movement drops very briefly. When you quit smoking, make sure your diet is high in fibre as well as fruits and vegetables.
   • Hunger: Your body may confuse nicotine craving as hunger pains. As well, the hand-to-mouth action from smoking can be hard to break. This can last anywhere from 2-4 weeks. Make sure to have lots of healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, popcorn, fruit, pretzels, etc on hand so you can enjoy lots of guilt-free munchies.

The actual nicotine craving is usually the worst in the first few days of quitting, although some people can experience occasional cravings for long periods afterwards. Nicotine generally takes around 3 days to come out of the bloodstream. Recognize the cravings for what they are and try to wait them out, they tend to only last for a few minutes. Keep yourself busy with another activity during the cravings to take your mind off of it. If using nicotine gum as part of your plan, then this is the time to have a piece.

Smokers who quit before they experience irreversible heart and circulatory disease can greatly improve their health. In fact, after 20 minutes of quitting, blood pressure, pulse and body temperature all start to return to their normal state. Within 8 hours the oxygen and carbon monoxide levels in blood return to normal and smoker's breath disappears. In the first 24 hours of quitting smoking carbon monoxide will be eliminated from the body. As well the lungs will begin to clear out the smoking debris and mucus. 72 hours after quitting lung capacity begins to increase and breathing becomes easier. 3-9 months after quitting lung function increases by up to 10%. Being smoke-free for one year reduces the risk of heart disease by up to one-half of a smoker’s. Within 10 years the risk of lung cancer falls to one-half of the risks of a smoker’s, and within 15 years the risk of heart disease is about the same as someone who has never smoked.

Along with improved health, quitting smoking can be financially beneficial. For instance, Canadians who smoke one pack per day at $8.00 per pack will save $2920 in the first year alone. Smokers who quit will also experience savings in their health and life insurance premiums. As these premiums are based on health status, the more healthy you get, the more you can save. When you quit smoking let your health and life insurance broker(s) know so that they are aware of your new and improved health status.

For more information on the effects of smoking, and advice on how to quit please visit these websites:

Canadian Cancer Society
The Lung Association
Health Canada Quit4Life


posted on Tuesday, January 29, 2008 8:35:53 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Monday, January 7, 2008

Trans Fats: What Exactly Are They?

The banning of trans fats has been big in the news for the past year. Schools and restaurants are no longer serving foods that contain trans fats. They have been linked to heart disease and other serious health risks. But what exactly are trans fats and how do they differ from the essential fats that we need in our diet?

Fat is an important factor in a healthy diet. Fat provides essential fatty acids and calories, and helps the body absorb Vitamins A, D and E.  Fats and oils are mostly made up of a combination of the four main types of fatty acids. However, most combinations usually have a higher proportion of one particular type of fatty acid. The four main types of fatty acids are:

Polyunsaturated fatty acids: found in many common vegetable oils such as soybean, corn and sunflower, as well as fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, smelt, herring and trout. Fish oils, flaxseed, sunflower seeds, soybeans and certain nuts such as walnuts also are high in this type of fat.

Monounsaturated fatty acids: found in oils such as olive, canola and high oleic sunflower oil. Also found in avocados and nuts such as cashews, pecans, almonds and peanuts.

Saturated fatty acids: found in animal fats such as pork and beef, dairy products such as butter and cheese, and coconut, palm and palm kernel oils.

Trans fatty acids: naturally found in small amounts in foods such as dairy, beef and lamb. Small amounts are also formed during the refining of liquid vegetable oils such as canola and soybean. Trans fats are created when manufacturers use a process called partial hydrogenation, which turns liquid oil into a semi-solid form, like shortening and margarine.

Food products containing a high amount of trans fats have been popular with manufacturers because of the longer shelf life in comparison of products made with the other fatty acids. They also play a large role in making the popular flavors and textures in many bakery products and snack foods. Trans fats are the reason for the "melt in your mouth" sensations of pastries.

So which fats are good and which are harmful to your health? Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids can actually lower your risk of heart disease. These are the fats that should be included in your daily diet for optimum health. Saturated and trans fatty acids raise your risk of heart disease. These raise blood levels of bad cholesterol and lower the blood levels of good cholesterol. Bad cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, while good cholesterol lowers the risk.

Be aware of the types of fatty acids in your diet. Increase the amount of foods from the "good" fats groups, and lessen the amount of foods from the "bad" group. Optimal health relies on the food groups that contain good fats in order for the body to absorb essential vitamins, and to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.

posted on Monday, January 7, 2008 3:05:14 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Monday, December 10, 2007

Trans Fats To Be Removed From Ontario Schools

The provincial government is introducing legislation to ban all foods that contain trans fat from all Ontario schools. This includes all primary and secondary school cafeterias as well as vending machines on school property. This legislation will hopefully have a positive effect on the health status of Ontario students.

Currently, the sale of chocolate, soda, and potato chips have been banned from elementary schools across the province. The Ontario Liberal Party wants this ban to be law and extended to high schools as well. Schools will still be able to have special days such as "pizza day", but the daily menu will be free of trans fats. Other provinces are introducing similar legislation. Canadians currently consume up to 10 grams of fat per day, one of the highest rates in the world.

Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past 25 years in Canada. McGuinty wants to partner with parents in ensuring that children have a healthier diet. By educating children on nutrition, and helping them make better food choices, the obesity rate can theoretically be reduced. McGuinty says that it's not about eliminating junk food completely, but about learning about moderation and balance. Hopefully by learning about healthy choices as children, they will carry this knowledge into adulthood.

Childhood obesity greatly raises the risk of being obese in adulthood. Obesity in Canada now causes almost as many serious health problems as smoking. People who are obese are at a much greater risk of developing such diseases as hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart disease and gallbladder disease. They are also at risk for having strokes, osteoporosis, sleep apnea and certain forms of cancer. Obesity can also contribute to mental health issues like low self esteem and depression.

As with smoking, obese people are at risk of paying higher health and life insurance premiums. Therefore, an obese child who grows up to be an obese adult will probably have to pay significantly more for coverage. For children and adults, consult with your doctor (or pediatrician) about a safe way to lose weight and become healthier. Health Canada has some great information for families to increase their activity level and adopt a more health lifestyle.

Remember to consult with your health insurance broker after losing the weight. Once you are in better health, you may be eligible for a reduction in your premiums!

posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 7:01:12 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Osteoporosis Month In Canada

November is Osteoporosis Month in Canada. Approximately 1.4 million Canadians suffer from this disease, which mostly affects aging adults. Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density that causes bone fractures, deformity and/or disability. It usually affects twice as many women as men, with 1 in every 4 women over 50 at risk.

Osteoporosis occurs when bone mineral density is lost. This causes bones to become think and weak, and at high risk for fractures. It is  also known as the "Silent Thief" because there are usually no symptoms of bone loss until fractures start occurring. The most common fractures occur in the wrist, hip and/or spine. Mortality is significantly increased after hip fractures, and less than 50% of seniors fully recover from this ailment. It is estimated that 25% of seniors who have fractured a hip reside in long-term care facilities for at least one year.

Women are twice as susceptible to osteoporosis because they experience menopause. Estrogen is responsible for helping women maintain healthy bones. As estrogen levels drop significantly during menopause, women experience more bone loss. While hormone replacement therapy can help women reduce the drop in estrogen, it can increase their risk of breast cancer, as well as other adverse health effects. This is an option that should carefully be considered by a woman and her physician.

Although not as common in men, osteoporosis can occur. As well as age, there are several factors that increase a person's risk, including:

• A family history of osteoporosis
• Low calcium diet
• Sedentary lifestyle (not enough exercise)
• Low body weight
• Smoking
• Vitamin D deficiency
• Excessive caffeine intake (more than 4 cups a day of coffee, tea, and/or cola)
• Excessive alcohol consumption (more than 2 drinks per day)
• Long term use of certain medications (cortisone, prednisone, anticonvulsants)
• Osteopenia (lower than normal bone density)
• Early menopause or removal of ovaries (before 45) without hormone replacement
• Post-menopausal

If some of these risk factors are applicable to you or someone in your family, talk to your physician about a bone density test. Because bone density loss does not have symptoms until a fracture occurs, it is essential that seniors (especially women) take preventative measures. All seniors should:

• Follow a healthy diet, that includes calcium rich food. People over 50 need 200 mg of calcium per day. As the body ages, it loses the ability to absorb calcium as well as it used to, so seniors may require a calcium supplement. Calcium rich foods include milk products, salmon, beans, sunflower and sesame seeds, green vegetables, figs, and rhubarb.
• Get enough Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. All people over 2 years of age should consume 500 ml of milk every day, and everyone over 50 should take a daily supplement of 400 IU of Vitamin D.
• Regular exercise is important to keep bones strong. Seniors can do low-impact activities such as walking, dancing, hiking, etc. as part of their daily routine in order to strengthen bones. Activities such as yoga, swimming, tai chi can increase flexibility that helps prevent falls, which is important for those who already have osteoporosis.
• Quit smoking. Just by quitting you can dramatically reduce the rate of bone loss and risk of fractures.

Health concerns and needs change constantly throughout our lives. Therefore, it is imperative that our health insurance coverage reflects these changes, and adequately provides for these needs. For instance, Canadians in their 20's may not give much thought to whether or not their insurance covers such things as nursing homes and/or home care. However, for seniors, this may now be a priority in their coverage.

There are different ways to obtain health insurance that reflects these specific needs. Critical Illness insurance pays a lump sum for those who suffer a critical illness, regardless of if and when you are able to return to work. Although illnesses covered depends on the carrier, C.I. covers such health problems as:

• Cancer
• Heart Attack and/or Stroke
• Alzheimer’s
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Kidney Failure
• Blindness or Deafness
• Organ Transplant
• Parkinson’s Disease

Disability insurance pays a monthly benefit when the insured person is unable to work due to illness and/or accident, usually up to 2/3 of your current earnings. Premiums are higher for occupations deemed more dangerous. This benefit can last up until 2 years, until the age of 65. After 65, this benefit can be continued (although may be modified) but the insured must continue to work.

For residents of Ontario and Quebec there is a new product available from Blue Cross called Tangible. This insurance is a hybrid that offers Disability and Long Term Care if needed; if not it remains as life insurance coverage. With Tangible, 50% of the initial amount insured can be converted for Long Term Care.

It is important to remember that life doesn't remain constant. As our health needs change, we need to ensure that our insurance changes with it. Consult with your broker every few years in order to make sure that your current health insurance reflects your needs.

posted on Wednesday, November 7, 2007 12:11:04 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween Safety Tips

Children across Canada will be flocking to the streets in a few short days for trick-or-treating. Especially for younger children, the excitement of the holiday can make it easy to forget safety tips and measures. Parents therefore need to exercise caution and make sure that their children have a safe and happy Halloween.

It is recommended that parents accompany children under 10. If your child is over 10, and will not be accompanied by a parent, ensure that they are going out in a group. Map out a route that the group should follow, so that you know where they are going to be. Try and stick to a neighborhood that you know well. Give your child your cell phone so they can call in case of emergency. Tell your child to only go to houses that are lit up; and to never enter someone's home.

Check the weather forecast and make sure your child is dressed appropriately. As masks can impair vision, try and use makeup instead. Make sure the costume fits your child properly; long costumes can cause them to trip. Also ensure that the costume isn't made of a flammable material. Brightly colored costumes make your child more visible to motorists. Costumes should be comfortable and allow your child to move easily.

If you plan on handing out treats, make sure your porch and yard are well-lit. Clear your walkway and sidewalks for things such as wet leaves that children can slip and fall on. If you use candles in your jack-o-lantern, make sure it is placed out of reach of children. Keep your pets locked in a separate room; the constant doorbell and stream of people can upset a normally docile animal. If possible, avoid handing out candy that has common allergens, such as peanuts. If your child has food allergies make sure he/she knows what is allowed and what isn't. Make sure to tell trick-or-treaters not to eat their candy before they have gone home and had their parents inspect it.

It's important to remember that children can easily get caught up in the excitement of the night, and can forget simple rules. Talk to your child about why the rules are important, such as crossing streets only at intersections, so they have a better understanding. If possible, have a few adults from your neighborhood take out a group of kids. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

posted on Monday, October 29, 2007 1:54:46 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #   
# Monday, October 15, 2007

Anti-Inflammatory Removed From Canadian Market

Prexige, an anti-inflammatory prescription medication will no longer be sold in Canada. The drug has primarily been prescribed to adults who have exhibited the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis. Health Canada has canceled the medication's market authorization after receiving additional safety information. Further testing has shown a potential for serious liver problems.

Prexige has been on the market in Canada since November 2006. It has a maximum dose of 100 mg. daily. However, Australia pulled Prexige from their market this year following reports of serious adverse liver problems stemming from doses of 200 mg and 400 mg per day. Upon reviewing the additional safety information, Health Canada has concluded that it is not possible to safely and effectively manage this risk even with 100 mg daily. Currently 2 cases of liver-related problems have been reported in Canada since the drug's approval, and 4 cases have been reported worldwide.

While the vast majority of prescription drugs are safe to use (under a physician's direction) occasionally Health Canada must recall a product. It is important to remember that all medicines carry some risk. When starting a new prescription and/or over-the-counter medication, be aware of any changes that may occur and discuss them with your physician and/or pharmacist. It is possible to have adverse affects from a medication when you mix it with other medications, vitamins, foods and/or beverages. Read and follow the instructions for the prescription carefully. Ask your pharmacist for written information and/or directions regarding your medication.

For people who are currently on prescription medication(s), the following tips may prove to be useful:

• Ask your doctor why you are being prescribed this medication. Have an understanding of why you need this medication, and how it works. Some medications require check-ups and/or tests. Ask about the possible side effects, what to expect and how long it should take to start working. Tell your physician about all other medications, supplements, vitamins, etc. in order to prevent a possible adverse reaction.
• Use the same pharmacist. By doing this, one pharmacy will have your records and be aware of your medications. This will allow your pharmacist to monitor your prescriptions and make you aware of any possible harmful interactions.
• Keep a record of all medications you take. In case of emergency, have a current list of all prescriptions, over the counter medications, vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies you take. This information can be invaluable to a physician in the event of an emergency. It is also important for your physician and pharmacist to have this information.
• Safely store your medication. Read and follow the instructions on how to store your medication. Never combine different pills in one container, as you may not remember the instructions for each one.

If you have any questions about prescription recalls, go to the Health Canada website for further information.

posted on Monday, October 15, 2007 4:57:38 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Thursday, September 27, 2007

Diabetes And Exercise: Controlling Your Sugar Levels

A new study has found that aerobic exercise combined with weight training can stabilize the blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. Diabetics who regularly do both types of exercise improved their blood sugar levels at twice the rate of diabetics who just did one form of exercise. These recent findings are clinically significant in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes, also known as late-onset diabetes, usually manifests later in a person's life. This form of diabetes can be prevented and/or delayed through improving your health, as well as controlling your weight and diet. As the rates of obesity increase, so does the rate of Type 2 diabetes. The Canadian Diabetes Association estimates that 3 million Canadians will have Type 2 diabetes by the end of the decade. Over 40 thousand Canadians a year die as a result of diabetes-related illnesses.

Type 2 diabetes prevents the pancreas from producing enough insulin, the hormone that helps control glucose levels in the blood. People who suffer from this form of diabetes are at high risk of developing micro-vascular problems such as blindness, kidney problems and/or peripheral nerve problems.

This new research can significantly impact the 2 million Canadians currently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By combining both of these types of exercise, people suffering from Type 2 diabetes can reduce their risk of heart attack and/or stroke by up to 20%. They will also lower their risk of diabetes associated illnesses by as much as 40%.

For people who suffer from diabetes, the costs associated with treatment can be significant. Insulin, testing kits and blood sugar monitors can be expensive for those who do not have health insurance. For people who have diabetes and wish to obtain health insurance coverage, HealthQuotes.ca offers several plans which do not require a medical questionnaire.

Flexcare offers the ComboPlus Starter Plan which provides coverage for dental, prescription drug and health coverage. The Starter plan also provides coverage for durable medical equipment such as pens, needles and testing strips!

If you have Type 2 diabetes, consult with your physician about starting an exercise program that can help you control your sugar levels. By losing weight, eating healthy and exercising, you can be proactive about your disease. Talk to your insurance broker as well about which coverage is right for you.

posted on Thursday, September 27, 2007 1:23:39 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Canadian Mental Health Commission

Federal Health Minister Tony Clement has announced that Calgary will be the new home of Canada's Mental Health Commission. This newly formed commission is aimed at erasing the stigma associated with mental illness as well as sharing information about mental health issues nationwide. The 2007 Federal Budget has allocated $55 million dollars over the next 5 years towards this goal.

It is estimated that 20% of Canadians will experience some type of mental illness during their lifetime. Although most mental illness begins during the adolescent stage of life, it can strike at any time, and exhibit a myriad of symptoms. The cause of mental illness can be complex. Factors such as genetics, biology, personality and life events can all play a significant role in a person's mental health status.

Most people go through difficult times, and experience depression, sadness and/or a feeling of being isolated. These feelings are usually short-term and are emotional reactions to a specific incident (i.e. a death of a loved one, a break-up, etc.) These feelings are a normal part of life, and people learn to cope with the difficulties that come their way.

Mental illness however, is quite different. It can negatively impact a person's ability to function and/or cope with the most basic tasks of everyday life. Mental illness can be responsible for seriously disturbed thinking, moods, and/or behavior.  A person suffering from mental illness can show symptoms of significant distress and the ability to function "normally" over an extended period of time. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, depending on the type of illness, the individual, and/or their environment.

Mental illness can assume many forms, including:

• Schizophrenia, which affects how the person perceives the world
• Mood disorders (depression, bipolar, etc.) which affects how the person feels
• Anxiety disorders, which affects how the person perceives events or situations to be
• Personality disorders, which affects how a person perceives themselves in relation to others
• Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia) which affects how a person feels about their body image and food

Mental health plays a large role in physical health, and vice versa. It is common for people with physical health problems to experience anxiety and/or depression over their condition. These mental health issues can sometimes affect their recovery. Mental health issues can also increase the risk of physical problems, such as:

• Blood biochemical imbalances
• Weight gain/loss
• Gastrointestinal problems
• Heart disease
• Diabetes

Most mental illness can be successfully treated, with medication, psychotherapy, counseling, community support systems and/or education. However, many do not seek treatment due to the stigma of mental illness. The earlier treatment is sought, the quicker the effected person can begin to regain control over their life.

Another factor for people not seeking treatment may be due to finances. The Sun Life Basic, and Standard and Enhanced Plans offer compensation for psychologist visits and prescriptions. If you have group insurance through your employer, check to see if you are covered for psychology or psychiatric treatment.

It is important to take care of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues, please seek help immediately.

posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2007 4:58:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Tuesday, August 28, 2007

West Nile Virus

Cases of West Nile virus have risen throughout the western provinces. Currently 213 cases have been reported in Manitoba, which is double the amount of infection for all of Canada last year. Peak exposure to West Nile usually occurs between late July to mid August, with more cases expected to be reported since incubation time for the virus is usually 3 weeks. While it is currently not an epidemic, some experts are warning that the worst is yet to come.

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans when they are bitten by infected mosquitoes, which have previously fed on infected birds. Weather conditions can also play a large role in this virus, as mosquitoes prefer hot humid weather for breeding. As the first reported case of West Nile occurred in 2002, researchers are still uncertain about the long-term effects of this virus, but studies are showing that prolonged health concerns do occur.  This includes long term physical effects such as muscle weakness, paralysis, fatigue, headaches, confusion, depression, problems with concentration and/or memory loss. Therefore, it is important to recognize the symptoms of WN and obtain treatment accordingly.

Many people are bitten by infected mosquitoes and show no symptoms, and/or do not become severely ill. Illness usually occurs between 2 and 15 days of become infected, and generally causes flu-like symptoms. Mild cases of WN usually involve fever, headache and muscle ache, as well as swollen lymph glands and a rash. People who are otherwise in good health generally make a full recovery with no prolonged health problems.

For people who have weaker immune systems, including the elderly, WN can pose serious health risks, and can possibly be fatal. For these people, WN can lead to meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord or lining of the brain) and/or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). For these severe cases, the symptoms include the sudden onset of severe headaches, high fever, stiff neck, muscle weakness, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, loss of consciousness, and paralysis. Medical treatment should be sought immediately if you have experienced a mosquito bite and are experiencing these symptoms. West Nile virus can cause these extreme symptoms in people of every age bracket and health status.

It is important during the season to pay attention to your local news or local health agency to be informed if any WN cases have been confirmed in your area. As WN can quickly spread to different regions via  birds, it is important to minimize your risk of being bitten. Some helpful tips for reducing your exposure are:

• Try to avoid being outside at dawn and/or dusk, as this is the period when mosquitoes are most active

• Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants when outside, as well as a hat; this will deter bites

• When going outside, use insect repellent. If you are planning on being outside for a long period of time, make sure you re-apply the repellant if needed

• Make sure your windows are properly fitted with screens so mosquitoes cannot enter your house. Do not leave your doors open.

• Mosquitoes need standing pools of water to breed. Make sure you remove standing water from such places as birdbaths, pool covers, flower pots, pet bowls and wading pools. You can also clean your eaves troughs in order to prevent clogs that can trap water.

• Report any dead birds to your local health agency, as testing can be done to determine if the bird is infected.

If you experience any of the mentioned symptoms, and have mosquito bites, see your family healthcare provider. As long-term effects of WN are not yet known, it is important to be aware of the virus, and to keep your physician informed. As the global climate changes, so does the habits and habitats of mosquitoes. This is also true for the birds that originally carry the virus. Check with local health agencies every summer for the latest data and information.

posted on Tuesday, August 28, 2007 4:37:12 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Monday, August 20, 2007

Health Insurance for Students Studying In Canada

In a few short weeks, students from all over the world will be heading to Canadian universities and colleges. As a multi-cultural country, Canada welcomes foreign students, and recognizes their contribution to our communities. If you are not a Canadian citizen, and are planning on attending a post-secondary institution here, you should be aware of what exactly is entailed.

Non-Canadian citizens will require approximately 6 months in order to gather the required documentation and information that is needed. Make sure you allow yourself the necessary time to apply for and receive your documents and permits. You will need to allot time in order to find housing, etc. You will also need to determine how much money you will need in order to cover tuition, books, housing, etc. As you will not be covered under provincial healthcare, it is advisable to also purchase health coverage.

For those who wish to continue their education in Canada, we have provided some helpful tips to help you with the process.

• You must first choose the institution you wish to attend. Every university and college has it's own admission requirements, especially regarding language capabilities. It is important that you meet these requirements and are eligible for enrolment. It is advised that you apply a year before you wish to attend. Contact the university/college that you are interested in and obtain the necessary information and application forms. You must have your proof of acceptance before you apply for your study permit.

• Once you have your proof of acceptance, you can now apply for your study permit. In order to be eligible for this permit, you will need to prove that you have enough money to cover your expenses. This includes your tuition, living expenses for you and any family members that are coming with you to Canada, and transportation between Canada and your current country of residence. You may also need to obtain a certificate from the police stating that you have no criminal record and are not a risk to Canadian security. You must be willing to complete a medical examination, if necessary, in order to prove that you are in good health. An immigration officer may want to verify that you intend on leaving Canada upon completion of your studies.

• You are now ready to apply for your study permit. You will need to find out how long it will take to process your application. You can do this by visiting the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website. This website also has the necessary forms for you to download and print. Check the List of Designated Countries to see if you also need to apply for a temporary resident visa as well as your study permit. You do not need a separate application for a visa, as a visa officer will process your application at the same time. Collect all of the documents you will need to provide, such as your proof of acceptance, proof of identity, proof of financial support and letter of explanation. Once you have all your documentation in order, submit your application to the nearest visa office. You will be required to pay a processing fee, which is non-refundable, even if your application is denied.

• Once your application is approved, you will receive a letter of introduction confirming your approval. You must bring this letter with you to show immigration officials when you arrive in Canada. If you are from a designated country in which you require a visa, the Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) will be in your passport. This indicates the expiry date in which you must arrive in Canada, and also whether or not you will be allowed to enter Canada multiple times during your stay. Make sure you bring all of your necessary documents, as you will be required to show them before admittance into Canada.

The Canadian government does not cover the medical costs incurred by foreign students. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that foreign students purchase their own health insurance coverage. HealthQuotes.ca offers several Visitors to Canada insurance plans. These plans provide coverage for foreign students attending school in Canada. To qualify, you must be a full-time student during the time of coverage. These policies cover expenses such as:

•  Hospitalization
• Physician Fees
• Medical Appliances
• Nursing Care
• Diagnostic Services
• Prescription Drugs
• Dental Care
• Ambulance

For more information about health insurance for foreign students, please contact one of our brokers.

posted on Monday, August 20, 2007 3:36:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Lyme Disease In Canada

Lyme disease can pose a serious health risk, depending where you live in Canada. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that are usually carried by mice, squirrels, birds and other small animals. This infection is transmitted to humans via certain species of ticks, who first bite the infected animal, and then bite people. For people who live in southern British Columbia, southern and eastern Ontario, southeastern Manitoba and Nova Scotia, caution should be used when being outdoors during the spring thru to the fall.

Canada currently has 2 species of ticks which have been associated with transmitting Lyme disease. The western blacklegged tick has been identified as the species that inhabits British Columbia. Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are home to the blacklegged tick, more commonly known as the deer tick. Transmission generally occurs when humans walk through tall grass or vegetation, whereupon the tick attaches itself to the skin.

If you reside in, are visiting, or plan on visiting one of these provinces, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of Lyme disease. Although symptoms vary from person to person, Lyme disease commonly has three stages. The most common first symptom is a circular rash that begins at the site of the bite. The rash usually occurs 3-30 days after being bitten by a tick. A person bitten by an infected tick may also experience fatigue, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, fever and swollen lymph nodes. If this first stage is left untreated, the disease will progress to the second stage, which lasts several months. The second stage includes symptoms such as multiple skin rashes, migraines, painful and/or stiff joints, extreme fatigue and abnormal heartbeat. The third stage is comprised of chronic arthritis and neurological symptoms, which can include headaches, dizziness, paralysis and numbness.

Lyme disease, if left untreated, can develop into a chronic illness that is difficult to treat. If caught in the early stages, it is effectively controlled with antibiotics. Therefore, it is crucial that during tick season Canadians who live in the mentioned areas are aware of these symptoms. For those who spend time outdoors in the affected regions, there are several things you can do to minimize your risk of being bitten and potentially being infected.

• Check with your local public health office. They will have the current information on whether these ticks are currently in your area.
• When spending time outdoors, especially where there is tall grass and/or wooded areas, wear light-colored clothing that covers your entire body. Wearing light colored clothing will allow you to see if a tick is on you. In order to make sure ticks have no access to bare skin, tuck your shirt into your pants, and tuck your pant legs into your socks.
• Avoid wearing sandals or open shoes.
• Spray your clothing and exposed skin with insect repellent.
• Although cats and dogs cannot transmit the virus to humans, they can carry the ticks into your home. If you have pets that spend time outdoors, make sure you check them regularly for ticks.
• Check your clothing and body thoroughly for tick bites each and every time after spending times outdoors. If you discover a tick attached to your skin, grasp the tick's head with tweezers and slowly pull it out. Be careful not to crush or twist the tick when removing it. Save the tick in a bottle or plastic bag, in order for easy laboratory identification in case you develop Lyme disease. If you develop a rash or any other symptoms, immediately seek medical help.
• Remember that even if you don't live in one of the identified regions, migratory birds can spread the ticks into new areas.

Fortunately for Canadians, the risk of Lyme disease is fairly low. By exercising these simple precautions, you can greatly reduce your risk of being bitten, or, if bitten, reducing the length and severity of the illness.

posted on Tuesday, August 7, 2007 3:14:30 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Safety Issues Regarding Weight Loss Supplements

The rate of obese or overweight Canadians has significantly increased in the past 25 years. While the reasons for this increase remain complex and varied, the fact remains that obesity is a serious health issue. Being significantly overweight greatly increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, certain types of cancer, as well as increased probability of suffering a stroke.

As the obesity rate increases, so has the market for weight loss products. While there are several prescription weight-loss medications available in Canada, these are intended only for people who are medically at risk due to obesity. These drugs should be used under the strict supervision of a physician, and to be used as part of a medically sound weight loss plan that also includes physical activity and a balanced diet. These drugs should never be taken without the approval of your doctor, as there can be side effects and/or health risks. You should only use these medications exactly as prescribed, and never share them. It is not advisable to order these drugs online, unless you have a prescription from your doctor.

There are also various natural health products that are readily available in pharmacies, supermarkets, health food stores and/or online. While some of these products are safe and/or effective, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a magic pill that will miraculously make you lose weight. Any weight loss supplement, whether prescription or over the counter, will only work if it is a part of a weight loss plan that includes diet and exercise.

It is a common mistake to assume that over the counter diet aids are safe and effective. In fact, they could potentially lead to serious health concerns. If you are planning to use health products in order to lose weight, do some research and be informed about the potential risks of the products available. It is important to be aware of the ingredients in the health product you intend on using, and whether these ingredients can have an adverse effect when used with other drugs or foods. As well, these products may not be safe is you have other health problems or are elderly.

While it is impossible to list all the risks that are associated with all of the available products, here are some basic guidelines to help you make a wise, informed choice:

• Never use prescription weight loss medication that has not been prescribed to you by your family health care provider.  There are internet websites that will allow you to purchase these drugs without a prescription from your family doctor. Instead, you "consult" online with one of their "professionals". However, this can be very dangerous, as only your physician is completely aware of your medical history and health status. You may inadvertently be prescribed a medication that is harmful to you.

• Taking several different weight loss products together at the same time. Certain weight loss products and natural health products contain different ingredients that when combined may be harmful to you. These ingredients may also negatively interact with other medication you may be taking. Even if the product you intend on using does not need a prescription, consult with your health care provider in order to ensure that you plan on taking is safe for you.

• Be aware of who you're buying your product(s) from.  If you purchase these products online, be aware that not all websites are legitimate. Anyone can put up a website and advertise health products. These products, including prescriptions, may not be approved for sale in Canada because they are deemed unsafe and/or ineffective. Research the company that you are considering purchasing your health products from, and make sure that they are legitimate.

• Never take products in a manner for which they are not intended. Products like ephedra or ephidrene are authorized in Canada as a decongestant. However, they have been commonly misused as a weight loss supplement. Laxatives are also commonly misused in this fashion as well. These products are not intended to be used as weight loss supplements, and can cause serious health problems if used in such a manner.

• Do not assume that products are safe because they are advertised as natural.  Active components from a food substance can be extracted, concentrated and manufactured or sold as a natural health product. While the original food may in itself be safe when consumed in moderation, the higher doses found in the extract may be potentially harmful. This is especially true in the case of green tea, which is very safe, but where the highly concentrated form has been linked to serious liver damage.

• If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many advertisements make claims that are not supported by scientific fact. Many supplements claim to suppress appetite, increase metabolism and/or block the absorption of carbohydrates or fat. Products that are authorized for sale by Health Canada have been assessed and determined to be safe and effective for their authorized purpose. However, unauthorized products can be harmful, and/or ineffective.

It is important to consult with your physician or health care provider before embarking on any weight loss plan. While medications and/or supplements can help you lose weight, it is important to remember that there is no pill that will melt off the pounds. It is essential to incorporate exercise and healthy eating into your lifestyle in order to shed the unwanted pounds.

If you have been denied health insurance due to your weight issue, you may want to purchase Guaranteed Issue coverage. This policy does not require any medical information or ask questions regarding your health. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this coverage.

posted on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 12:36:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Extreme Heat And Your Health

While most Canadians enjoy the hot summer weather, extreme heat can prove to be a problem for some. With global climate changes, certain parts of Canada are now experiencing prolonged heat waves. This, combined with exposure to smog, can cause adverse health effects in some people.

Being active outdoors is a great way to get exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, it is important to recognize the effects that extreme heat can cause in order to stay healthy. Your body must work harder in a heat wave in order to maintain it's normal core temperature. Smog can further complicate matters by making it harder to breathe normally. While some people may experience mild unpleasantness, others may be potentially suffer serious and/or life threatening illness.

A heat wave refers to three or more consecutive days with extremely high temperatures, usually combined with high humidity. It is also common for the temperature to remain high even during night time hours. This means that your body is constantly working overtime to keep cool. This pressure can aggravate pre-consisting conditions where the heart and lungs are already strained.

While most people may just experience discomfort in a heat wave, certain groups are more at risk. This includes:

• Seniors
• Infants and pre-school children
• Pregnant women
• Diabetics
• People with heart and/or respiratory disease
• People who play sports, exercise or do strenuous work outdoors for a prolonged period of time
• People who work outdoors, i.e. construction workers
• People who are currently taking anti-depressants, anti-parkinson's drugs, diuretics, sleep medications, anti-diarrhea pills and certain antihistamines
• People who are overweight

Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can cause symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. These include:

• Heat Cramps: painful spasms usually in the leg and stomach muscles. These are usually accompanied by heavy sweating. If you are experiencing this, move to a cooler place and lightly massage the affected muscles. Sip a half a glass of cool water every 15 minutes.
• Heat Exhaustion: even though sweating profusely, your skin is cool, pale, and/or flushed. Can be accompanied by a weak pulse rate, dizziness and/or fainting, vomiting, headache and exhaustion. People affected by heat exhaustion should immediately lay down in a cool place, and put on cool wet clothes. Slowly sip a glass of water every half an hour, unless nauseous. If vomiting occurs, seek medical attention immediately.
• Heat Stroke: also known as sun stroke. This occurs when body temperature is high, pulse is strong and rapid, and breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Heat stroke is incredibly dangerous, and can result in death. Symptoms include severe headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and the skin is red, hot and dry, with no sweating. If you suspect you or someone else may be suffering from heat stroke go to the hospital immediately.

It is a good idea to pay attention to daily local forecasts, in order to be aware of any heat and/or smog alerts for your region. If you are susceptible to extreme heat and/or smog, try to remain indoors on those days where extreme heat is predicted. If you do plan on being outdoors on incredibly hot days, try to do so either in the mornings or evenings, when the temperature is not as hot. Dress in loose clothes, and make sure you wear a hat, as well as sunglasses. Remember to hydrate often, and bring water with you wherever you go. If you do not have air conditioning, find out if your city or town has cooling centres, where you can escape the heat if the need arises. You can also go to a mall, public library, etc. Try to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and beverages that contain large amounts of sugar, and these can cause the body to lose more fluid. Drinking sports beverages is also important if you have been sweating, as sweating causes the body to lose salt and minerals.

Although you may not be unduly affected by the heat, make sure that those in your family such as the elderly, etc. are taken care of. For those with small children, it is important to remember that they may not be able to handle the heat as well as you. Plan activities that you can all enjoy while getting some exercise.

posted on Tuesday, June 26, 2007 11:54:09 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 16, 2007
Visioncare for Seniors

As we get older, it is normal to experience change in our eyesight. With age often comes difficulty reading small print, increased sensitivity to sunlight, difficulty seeing colors and contrasts, and loss of depth perception. You may also have physical symptoms such as dry eyes, or watery eyes.

It is important to be aware of these changes, and to have your eyes examined regularly to detect any potential problems early on. With the proper care, most age-related vision loss can be corrected with glasses, medication and/or surgery.

For seniors experiencing more serious vision related conditions, vision aids and/or services and support can allow them to maintain their independence and allow them to remain living in their own homes.

Just some of the vision-related symptoms that seniors often experience include:

  • Squinting, greater sensitivity to light
  • Choosing bright objects over dull colored, because it's easier to see
  • Spilling food or drinks because you misjudge where it is
  • Difficulty copying from written text
  • Clumsiness due to not being able to see what you are doing, i.e. buttoning a shirt
  • Experiencing flashes of light or rapid movement from the corners of your eyes
  • Difficulty with night driving, as well as problems seeing street signs or traffic signs
  • Experiencing uncontrolled eye movements
  • Falling due to not being able to see objects in your path

In addition to normal vision changes due to aging, several diseases or conditions can also affect eyesight. Common illnesses include:

  • Glaucoma: occurs when pressure within the eye begins to destroy the nerve fibres in the retina. Early detection and treatment includes eye drops, medication and/or surgery. Because most people do not experience early symptoms, regular eye exams are imperative in order to prevent vision loss and/or blindness.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: diabetes can cause changes to the blood vessels, starving the retina of oxygen, causing cloudy vision, seeing spots, and blindness. People with diabetes need to make their eye specialist aware of their condition in order to prevent possible blindness. 
  • Cataracts: gradual clouding of the lens of the eye, which prevents light from successfully reaching the retina, making tasks such as driving or reading incredibly difficult and/or impossible. Can be successful treated with surgery.
  • Age-related macular degeneration: occurs when the macula is damaged or impaired due to aging. It can cause permanent loss of central vision. Early detection and laser surgery can vastly slow down vision loss.
  • Floaters: tiny spots that float across your field of vision. While this is normal, and can  be shifted out of your central vision by moving the eye around, it can also be symptomatic of a more serious eye disease. Obtain immediate treatment if there is a sudden change in the amount or type of spots, or if you experience light flashes.

As many seniors will experience some vision related problems at some time in their life, it is important to have coverage that will help cover these expenses. Most of these costs are covered through employee benefits, which normally cease after retirement. HealthQuotes.ca offers a FollowMe health plan, which requires no medical examination if applied for within 60 days of discontinued group insurance. This coverage can help defray the costs of vision related treatment, laser surgery, and/or glasses.

We also offer other guaranteed issue health insurance plans (i.e. no medical exam or questions) for those seniors who have medical issues but have not recently lost employee benefits.

Your vision is essential to your well-being, happiness, and continued independence, so make sure you have the visioncare coverage you need!

posted on Saturday, June 16, 2007 1:24:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Friday, May 18, 2007

Canadian Mumps Outbreak

Ontario is the latest province to have reported cases of the mumps. 3 cases have  been reported in Toronto, with 6 other cases being reported in other parts of the province. Toronto health officials have issued a warning, due to the highly contagious nature of this disease. The outbreak originated in Nova Scotia, with over 200 people contracting the virus, which has also spread to New Brunswick, which has 40 reported cases. The cases in Toronto have been directly linked to a student from the Maritimes visiting the city without knowing he was carrying the disease, with 300 people reportedly being exposed to the virus.

This recent outbreak seems to have started with the student population in New Brunswick. 95% of the cases are attributed to university students. Due to the close living quarters, and social settings, i.e. classes, dining halls, etc. the virus has quickly spread. Any students traveling to or from New Brunswick need to aware of their health and any symptoms they might be exhibiting in order to stop the spread of mumps. While the mumps is typically not a serious illness, it can cause meningitis, hearing loss and inflammation of the testicles or ovaries, and inflammation of the pancreas. Pregnant women who contract the mumps are also at risk of miscarriage. For anyone who has a compromised immune system, the mumps can pose a potentially fatal health risk.

While Eastern Canada experienced a mumps outbreak in 2005-2006, Ontario has not been exposed to the mumps in recent years. Therefore, many people may not be aware of the symptoms, and how it is spread. The mumps is a highly contagious virus that is spread through saliva. It is spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing, and also through the sharing of food, cigarettes and drinks or contact with any surface that has been contaminated with the virus. Therefore, it is important to not share these items, or any other items that would put you in contact with another person's saliva. The symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches and pains, fatigue, loss of appetite and tenderness of the salivary glands. If you are experiencing these symptoms, and suspect you may have been exposed to the mumps virus, it is advised that you self-isolate yourself for a period of 9 days (other than to obtain medical care) in order to stop the spread of the virus.

It is assumed that people approximately of 40 years of age have a natural immunity to the virus. Depending on the province in which you reside, people between 12-17 have already had 2 doses of the mumps vaccine. It is important that you check with your health care provider to see whether or not your children have received both doses of the vaccine in order to prevent them from contracting the mumps virus. For the people that do not fall into these categories, consult with your physician to see if you have been vaccinated, and whether or not you should receive another. For the areas that are experiencing current outbreaks, you may be advised to receive another vaccination, especially students and people who work in the healthcare industry.

posted on Friday, May 18, 2007 11:57:43 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
# Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Immunization For Canadians

For most Canadians, vaccinations are something we receive as children, and then forget about. There’s a tendency to mistakenly assume that certain diseases are no longer a risk, as outbreaks rarely, if ever, have occurred in our lifetime. However, travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into Canada when traveling to countries that have not yet eradicated these diseases. For those who have not been vaccinated, this means that they are at risk of becoming infected and becoming ill. Therefore, being current in your vaccination schedule is extremely important in order to maintain good health and to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

Immunization is not just for infants and children. Adults need to be aware of their current immunization status, as maintenance vaccinations are required for certain illnesses. People in certain occupations, such as health care, child care workers, etc. are at a higher risk of exposure. For adults traveling to foreign countries, they need to be aware of any required vaccinations as well as any current outbreaks of communicable diseases. For the elderly, being immunized against such illnesses as influenza and pneumonia are essential as these diseases can be fatal for those whose immune systems may be compromised.

It is important for Canadians to realize that many countries do not benefit from the high level of quality medical care that we take for granted. Certain diseases, such as cholera and typhoid are still a serious health concern in other parts of the world. Without being vaccinated for these diseases, travelers risk being exposed and contracting these diseases. Diseases such as Hepatitis A can be contracted through contaminated water and/or unsafe food handling. Countries that do not have adequate sanitation and clean water are especially high risk for Hepatitis A. As well, some countries may require proof of vaccinations before you are allowed entry.

When making your travel plans, it is important to research whether or not you will need to get specific vaccinations, and how long in advance they need to be done. Some vaccinations require a series of shots that are spaced out over several months. Consult with your physician before finalizing any travel plans in order to ensure that you have enough time to be properly vaccinated. If you do not have a family physician, you can find a Travel Health Clinic that can provide you with the necessary information.

It is recommended that Canadians traveling outside of the country have travel insurance. An accident or unexpected illness can cost thousands of dollars in unexpected medical expenses. As well as covering hospital and doctor bills, travel insurance covers such expenses as medical transportation back to Canada, trip cancellation and/or interruption, and baggage loss. HealthQuotes.ca also offers coverage for group travel, as well as adventure travel. Discuss your travel plans with a qualified agent and find the coverage that suits your specific needs.

posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2007 6:34:41 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #   
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