Health & Fitness
Heimlich Heroes Teach Kids How to Respond | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:48

022615hThree siblings sit in their kitchen enjoying a bedtime snack of sliced oranges. One of them accidently takes too big a bite and suddenly his face is red and he can’t breathe. A routine activity has turned into a choking emergency.

Without a second thought, an older sibling wraps his arms around his brother and performs the Heimlich maneuver. The orange slice is dislodged. Oxygen is restored. They all can sleep soundly.

“It happened too fast for me to be nervous,” Louis Fritz of Walton, Kentucky, says of his heroic act.

Thankfully, Fritz was able to recognize the signs of choking and perform the Heimlich maneuver with confidence — saving his younger brother’s life. He learned about the Heimlich maneuver from reading a hospital poster a few years prior.

“I had never actually practiced the Heimlich maneuver before I had to use it on my brother,” reflects Fritz, “I think it’s important for all kids to be trained because you never know when you might need to save someone from choking.”

Choking is the fifth-leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Over the years, the Heimlich maneuver has saved an estimated 50,000 U.S. lives, and thousands more worldwide.

Although most people don’t consider themselves heroic, one organization is passionately working to teach people that anyone can be a “Heimlich Hero.”

Heimlich Heroes is a free interactive program designed for children ages seven and up. By the end of their basic one-hour training, students are taught how to recognize the signs of choking, minimize or eliminate the risk of choking and properly perform the Heimlich maneuver.

Over 4,000 people across 22 states have been trained or have registered with Heimlich Heroes for training… free of charge.

The Heimlich Heroes training kit includes an instructional video, learning materials for students based on their ages and the Heidi or Hank training doll. These 42-inch dolls feature an internal diaphragm, lungs and a windpipe. The dolls’ plastic mouths expel a peanut-sized foam cushion when the maneuver is performed correctly.

Practicing the maneuver on a doll helps children learn the approximate amount of pressure they need to exert and it builds confidence in performing it. When faced with a choking emergency, trained children are then ready to spring into action and save a life.

Although the basic training session only lasts an hour, extended lessons that align with the Common Core curriculum are available for school use.

Heimlich Heroes is specifically designed to help children, teachers, sitters, parents and other youth leaders become equipped to handle a choking emergency and prevent needless deaths. Training is simple, free and easily accessible.

To access free training materials and learn how to bring Heimlich Heroes to your school or organization, visit

CAPTION: Practicing the Heimlich maneuver on a doll helps children learn the approximate amount of pressure they need to exert and it builds confidence in performing it.

‘Get to Know Your Thyroid’ Tonight at Carlton Plaza | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 14:46

022615h2By Farnoosh Farrokhi, M.D. • Special to the Times

Goiter is simply an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. The thyroid gland makes two main hormones which regulate body metabolism. The pituitary gland in the brain controls the function of thyroid by making a hormone known as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

Causes of Goiter

The most common cause of goiter worldwide is a lack of iodine in the diet. In the United States, where the use of iodized salt is common, a goiter is more often caused by an over- or under-active thyroid, or by lumps that develop in the gland itself.

“Hashimoto’s thyroiditis” is one of the causes of under-active thyroid which can result in goiter. This is an autoimmune condition in which there is destruction of the thyroid gland by one’s own immune system, rendering the gland unable to make enough hormones. The brain senses the low thyroid hormone level and secretes more TSH to stimulate the thyroid. This stimulation causes the thyroid to grow and produce goiter.

Another common cause of goiter is “Graves’ disease” which causes an over-active thyroid. In this condition, one’s immune system produces a protein that stimulates the thyroid gland to enlarge and produce more hormones.

Occasionally, thyroid function is normal but goiter is caused by large lumps on the thyroid gland. These lumps are called “nodules.” Unlike the other goiters, the cause of this type of goiter is not well understood.


Not all goiters cause symptoms. If they are large enough, they may cause a tight feeling in the throat, coughing, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing and breathing.


Diagnosis can be made by physical exam or thyroid ultrasound. Once diagnosed, thyroid function tests should be checked to determine if the thyroid is functioning normally, or if it is under- or over-active.


Treatment options depend on the cause of the goiter. If the goiter is due to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, thyroid hormone supplements should be given as a daily pill. This treatment will restore thyroid hormone levels to normal, but does not usually make the goiter go completely away.

If the cause of goiter is an over-active thyroid, treatment with medications and radioactive iodine usually leads to a decrease or disappearance of the goiter. In cases with normal thyroid function, small goiters usually do not need treatment, but for large goiters with compressive symptoms, surgical removal might be suggested.

Farnoosh Farrokhi, M.D. will be presenting a free talk, “Get to Know Your Thyroid” at 6 p.m. tonight, Feb. 26, at Carlton Plaza, 1000 E. 14th St., in San Leandro. Call 510-869-6737 to reserve your seat.

Dr. Farrokhi is a board-certified endocrinologist and is affiliated with Eden Medical Center.

Weight-loss Myths Debunked | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 February 2015 15:02

021215hMore than a third of adults in the United States, 35.1 percent, are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nearly 70 percent are at least overweight, and obesity in adolescents has quadrupled in the past three decades.

“Most of us know we’re facing a national health crisis, yet diets for millions of Americans continue to be based in heavily processed foods,” says Dr. Eleazar Kadile, who specializes in treating patients with obesity and associated chronic disease.

Poor attitudes and lack of understanding contribute significantly to this national crisis which contributes to our national healthcare difficulties, says Dr. Kadile. He debunks these five myths about being overweight and obese.

It’s your fault that you’re fat: Obesity is caused by complex imbalances within a person’s body and their environment. Some imbalances are exacerbated by poor dietary choices based on bad dietary information, personal history and psychological patterns.

Together, the physiological, psychological, social and environmental causes of the disease of obesity create a predicament that obese people are drawn into and unable to get out of.

Obese people are among the fat and happy: Large people can be masters at suppressing the indignities they suffer in society. The obese often have to pay first-class fares since cheaper seats for transportation are designed for thinner people. Most advertisements employ beautiful people who are thin, and rarely attractive actors who are larger.

National campaigns to battle obesity do not focus on the factors beyond diet and exercise that keep people overweight. Obese patients also spend an average of nearly $1,500 more each year on medical care than other Americans.

• Obese and overweight people just need the right diet. There’s no shortage of diets promoted by beautiful people who promise amazing results. If only overweight people eat what they eat, then they’ll be beautiful, too. But that’s just not true.

What and how one eats is just a part of an excessive body mass index (BMI) level. Other important factors to achieving a healthy BMI include good information regarding one’s health, sustained motivation to change, continuous learning, vigilance and an ability to be extremely honest.

Food is not an obese individual’s friend; exercise is. Eat less; exercise more; lose weight — those have been the commandments in the religion of weight loss. But most obese people have tried this and it hasn’t worked. More than being a source of pleasure, comfort and survival, food is medicine.

“Sometimes, you need to eat fat — the right kind — in order to burn fat. And, many exercises can actually harm an obese person,” says Dr. Kalide. “You can’t impose cookie-cutter solutions to this complex problem and expect them to work.”

Fat people need to “just do it” — lose weight. This attitude is not based in reality; it’s an over-simplistic response to a frustrating problem.

“Morbidly obese patients need plenty of preparation,” he says. “When a patient comes to me, I go through a rigorous list of questions regarding medical and family history. I ask about eating, sleeping and activity patterns, as well as medical conditions, emotional patterns, stress histories, good times and bad times, etc. I also have them go through an extensive battery of medical tests. That’s the effective and safe way of doing it.”

In other words, “just do it” just doesn’t cover it.

CAPTION: It takes more than just eating less and exercising more to maintain a healthy weight.

Is It a Heart Attack or Just Stress? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 February 2015 15:00

You’ve had a stressful day at work — you’re late with an assignment, your email box is overflowing — and, at home, the kids aren’t making things any easier.

And now you need to get dinner on the table. You suddenly notice your heart is pounding, you can’t catch your breath and you feel lightheaded.

Is it a panic attack — or a heart attack?

Heart disease in the East Bay

Although sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” heart disease kills around the same number of women and men each year in the United States. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk. Almost two-thirds of women who die suddenly of heart disease have no previous symptoms.

“Chest pain is a common symptom of a heart attack,” says East Bay interventional cardiologist, Robert Greene, M.D., who practices at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. “Unlike men, women tend to experience more subtle heart attack symptoms, like nausea, jaw/back pain, fatigue and shortness of breath.”

What causes heart attacks?

“Myocardial infarction, or a heart attack, occurs when the blood flow to the heart is blocked,” explains Dr. Greene. “This blockage is caused when fat and cholesterol — known as plaque — buildup in the vessels that supply blood to the heart. Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot forms on the plaque and cuts off the blood supply to the heart.”

Tips for a healthy heart

“Catch heart disease before symptoms begin,” warns Dr. Greene. “Have your cholesterol and blood pressure levels checked regularly beginning at age 45.”

• Maintain a healthy weight

• Eat five servings of fruit and veggies each day

• Exercise regularly (at least 30 min., five times a week)

• Quit smoking

• Manage stress

“Walking 20-30 minutes each day can reduce your heart attack risk more than drugs or surgery,” adds Dr. Greene. “And don’t forget about reducing stress.”

It’s easy for a woman to ignore the signs of a heart attack, because they are so similar to the symptoms of a panic attack: stress/fatigue, a rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath.


Measle Cases Hit Alameda County | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 29 January 2015 13:08

012915hBy Amy Sylvestri • San Leandro Times

Five cases of measles have been discovered in Alameda County, four of which have been traced to the recent outbreak of the disease at Disneyland.

A total of 73 confirmed cases of measles have been reported statewide — five Alameda County cases, two in Santa Clara County, and the rest in Southern California.

The outbreak appears to be stemming from unvaccinated individuals, according to Sherri Willis, spokeswoman for the Alameda County Public Health Department.

Willis says that 82 percent of the cases statewide have occurred in people who have not been vaccinated against measles.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease which begins with a fever, followed by a cough, runny nose, pink-eye and rash – the rash is often on the face near the hairline and behind the ears. Infected individuals are usually contagious from about four days before the rash appears to four days afterwards, according to state health officials.

The disease spreads rapidly at theme parks, shopping malls and other places where large numbers of people congregate.

Dr. Jeff Leinen, a physician with Sutter Alameda County, says that it’s a numbers game: the more people who are vaccinated, the safer in general the population is from infection.

“As long as there are about 92 percent of people vaccinated, there won’t generally be enough susceptible individuals in the area for it to move through the population,” said Leinen. “Even if you are sick and coughing, there will be enough protected individuals around that passing it along will be rare. The trouble comes when the percentage of immunized individuals dips.”

Leinen said that whether people aren’t being immunized because they are unable to for financial reasons or because they deliberately chose to be anti-vaccination for themselves and their children, the public is now seeing the consequences.

Most infants cannot have the measles vaccine until they are six months to a year old. That means Disneyland should be off the list for vacation spots for people with small babies and the unvaccinated in general.

“If you are planning to visit and have a baby that is too young for the vaccine, don’t go,” said Willis. “And what we are beginning to see now, is that measles are in the community.”

Willis said the county will not release the exact cities of residence of the people infected due to privacy concerns, but that the five individuals range in age from children to adults and that they are not in the same family.

In the Alameda County cases, two people were totally unvaccinated and one was under vaccinated. In the 1970s and 1980s, only one measles shot was required, now doctors recommend two.

“The important thing now is that people be aware of their vaccination status,” said Willis. “If you have only had one shot, you may need a booster. This vaccine is 99 percent effective in two doses, which is more than many other vaccines.”

Of the 73 cases statewide, 82 percent of them occured in people who have not been vaccinated against measles.

PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Carol E. Davis

Get Help Paying Medicare Costs | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 29 January 2015 13:07

By David Sayen • Special to the Times

Did you know that you may be able to get help from your state to pay your Medicare premiums?

State-based Medicare Savings Programs also may pay Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance) deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments.

If you have income from working, you may qualify for these programs even if your income is higher than the income limits listed below. There are four kinds of Medicare Savings Programs:

• Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) Program — Helps pay for your Part A and/or Part B premiums, deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments.

• Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) Program — Helps pay your Part B premiums only.

• Qualifying Individual (QI) Program — Helps pay your Part B premiums only. You must apply each year for QI benefits and the applications are granted on a first-come, first-served basis, with priority given to people who got QI benefits the previous year. (You can’t get QI benefits if you qualify for Medicaid).

• Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program — Helps pay your Part A premiums only. You may qualify for this program if you have a disability and are working.

If you qualify for a QMB, SLMB, or QI program, you automatically qualify to get Extra Help paying for your Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) plan.

If you answer yes to the questions below, call your State Medicaid office to see if you qualify for a Medicare Savings Program:

(1)Do you have, or are you eligible for, Medicare Part A?

(2)Is your income for 2014 at, or below, the income limits listed below?

(3)Do you have limited resources, below the limits below?

The amounts that follow may increase in 2015. But it’s important to call or fill out an application if you think you could qualify for savings even if your monthly income or resources are higher than the amounts listed here.

QMB Program: Individual  = $993; Married couple = $1,331

SLMB Program: Individual = $1,187; Married couple = $1,593

QI Program: Individual = $1,333; Married couple = $1,790

QDWI Program: Individual = $3,975; Married couple = $5,329

Resource limits for the QMB, SLMB, and QI programs are $7,160 for one person and $10,750 for a married couple. Resource limits for the QDWI program are $4,000 for one person and $6,000 for a married couple.

Countable resources include money in a checking or savings account, stocks, and bonds, but don’t include your home, one car, a burial plot, up to $1,500 for burial expenses if you have put that money aside, furniture, and other household and personal items.

David Sayen is Medicare’s regional administrator for California. Call 1-800-633-4227.

Reset Your Internal Clock | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 January 2015 15:32

By adjusting your circadian rhythm you can better the chances of a good night’s sleep

011515hBy Mark Underwood • Special to the Times

Have you ever wondered why you tend to wake up at the same time without an alarm clock, fall asleep about the same time or get hungry about the same hour each day?

The answer is due to your circadian rhythm or biological clock found deep in the brain. Our amazing clocks are highly intertwined with physiological and behavioral processes. They routinely manage our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle with brain wave activity, hormone production and cell regeneration.

But our internal clocks don’t adjust well to new routines.

Biological clocks have a profound effect on when we go to sleep, eat and wake, but also on mental and physical health.

The inner workings of our clocks are high-tech machines. One good example is the daily night-time routine. As night falls the clock is in high operational mode as it begins to slow the body for sleep, lowering body temperature, and releasing the hormone melatonin that makes us feel sleepy.

The clock is “programmed” to react to light and darkness and the daily departure of the sun — essential for our bodies to function throughout a busy day.

Creatures of habit

Our internal clocks keep us on track. Without the intricate balance, we’d have jet lag more often than not. Sluggishness, insomnia, lost appetite, and an awful feeling of being “out of it,” are natural consequences of jet lag, a frequent discomfort of travelers.

When you travel across time zones and it’s 10 p.m. back home, your internal clock will have you wanting to go to bed no matter what the local time is, even if it’s noon locally.

Even though our clocks do not adapt well to interruptions in daily routines, our circadian rhythm can be reset, making good sleep possible.

There are many situations when our clocks may be out of sync with daily life. If you go to bed much later than usual, take a different job that requires you to work at night, or act as a personal caregiver to a friend which results in interrupted patterns of sleep, you’ll probably have problems adjusting your circadian rhythm.

People who have chronic sleep problems have a weaker defense system against pathogens that cause illness, such as the common cold. To make matters worse, it is known that poor sleep can lead to overeating. While it is not exactly understood, the body uses rest to “recharge” the body. Hormones such as leptin, which control appetite, may be affected.

Clock reset tips

What can you do if you are one of millions who work late at night or sometimes disrupt your circadian rhythm?

• Decrease caffeine and alcohol intake before bedtime.

• Work on reducing stress. We all have stress, but it is the single major factor to poor sleep and long-term health problems.

• Find structured ways to relax. Yoga is a good example.

• Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water.

• Exercise regularly, but if you’re exercising too close to bedtime, you might be confusing your internal clock with this nightly activity.

• If you need to sleep in the daytime, it is very important to shut out light to trigger light/dark cycles. Adjust your room’s environment if your room is too hot or loud. Studies have shown that very dark (pitch black), cool rooms are the most “sleepable.” If you live near traffic, invest in ear plugs.

• Upgrade your mattress for a more comfortable, good night’s sleep.

Mark Underwood is a neuroscience researcher, president and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience, a biotech company located in Madison, Wisconsin.

Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 January 2015 15:30

By Linette Escobar • Special to the Times

How are you doing with those New Year’s resolutions? Research from the University of Scranton suggests that only 8 percent of people succeed in keeping their resolutions. The team at Castro Valley Adult & Career Education (CVACE) knows all about achieving goals and is offering a host of new classes to support you in your effort to improve your health and lifestyle.

First, set short-term and realistic goals. Joyce Hanna from Stanford University’s Health Improvement Program says that by breaking goals into smaller steps you will be more likely to sustain a behavior change. It might not be realistic to exercise an hour every day, but attending a weekly class is do-able and sets you up to complete even more challenging long-term goals.

This is where CVACE offers support. Get in shape with their new Pilates and Zumba Classes.

Pilates is designed to develop your core and create the well-balanced body you’ve been looking for. The once-a-week, 10-class series starts Thursday, Jan. 22, and is just $80.

Zumba started on Jan. 13. At $84 dollars for the series, it comes out to just $7 a class. Additionally, CVACE offers yoga, basketball and even table tennis.

Second, change one behavior at a time. The American Psychological Association recommends focusing on small steps and only working on one behavior at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Next, get support. Betsy Capes of Capes Coaching says, “Having a champion alongside you makes all the difference.”

The instructors and other classmates at CVACE can be partners in your behavior change. Get together with others looking to improve their diets by taking “Achieving Healthy Weight with Whole Food Nutrition” which starts on Jan. 22. The class is taught by nutrition and herbal therapist Susan Blanc. Then, keep going by taking her healthy weight hands-on cooking class or fermented foods for digestive health class in March.

Finally, focus on why you have set this goal. Ms. Hanna from Stanford says that focusing on the benefits you will receive will help you stay committed when you might feel weak. Write a note on your bathroom mirror that says, “I want to play hide and seek with my kids without getting winded.” Look at that in the morning to help you get to that Zumba class at night.

Whether your goal is getting a new job, planning for retirement, learning how to use your iPad, producing a podcast or starting an organic garden, CVACE has a class for you.

For more information, check out their catalog or go to With their help, you can find yourself among the 8 percent next January saying, “I did it!”

Linette Escobar is Marketing Chair for Castro Valley Adult & Career Education.

Tis the Season… To Be Stressed | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 15:03

121114hWhile the holiday season usually means many joys and delights, for some people it can also mean more stress.

Added expectations, additional pressures at home, demands on time and economic concerns can take a toll on a person’s psyche. It’s not uncommon over the holidays to hear or read stories about “holiday depression.”

Symptoms of holiday depression can include insomnia, sadness or nervousness. Physical symptoms can develop as well, such as weakness, lack of energy, fatigue, headache or digestive troubles.

The good news is: Believe it or not, most of us cope quite well with these stresses.

While there is probably no way to eliminate stress completely (particularly during the holidays) it is possible to achieve a good balance by planning ahead, staying healthy and sharing the holiday burden.

Maintaining stability with work, family and other pressures is difficult enough on a normal day, but the stress of juggling holiday responsibilities can push anyone. There are ways to help friends, family and ourselves maintain a balance during the holiday season:

• Eat a balanced and healthy diet: Choose to eat healthy foods most of the time, especially for breakfast and lunch. This will provide the energy your body needs to keep up with what could be a busier holiday schedule. Use moderation in your intake of food, alcohol and parties.

• Exercise: It’s not only a great way to keep holiday bulge at bay, exercise also increases feelings of contentment and happiness.

• Get Rest: Our bodies need more rest during stressful times. Keeping a reasonable bedtime during the holidays will give you more energy and make things more enjoyable.

• Delegate tasks: Don’t feel you have to do it all during the holidays. It’s an unrealistic expectation. Ask for help when you need it.

• Set priorities: Your schedule is likely to be busier than usual during the holidays, but you don’t have to attend every party or cook a six-course meal for all 35 of your relatives. Remind yourself about what is important to you and your family. Do those things and decline the rest. Create a holiday budget and prioritize your spending, as well.

• Set boundaries: Sometimes a variety of pressures from relatives cause the largest amount of stress during the holidays. If a certain relative is the cause behind your anxiety, for your own health, you may want to try to avoid them as much as possible during the holiday season.

• In general: Be aware that there is a difference between “the blues” and a real clinical depression which can happen for some during the holidays.

If you feel your holiday depression is affecting your health and quality of life, talk to your doctor.

Eden Medical Center

Is a Weight-Free Holiday Possible? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 15:01

On average, Americans gain weight during the holiday season. While it may not be dramatic, research shows the extra pounds accumulate over the years.

“There are strategic steps to avoid holiday weight gain while still enjoying holiday feasts,” says Sonya Angelone, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In preparation for a big holiday dinner, avoid skipping meals throughout the day, which usually results in overeating later.

“It is especially important to eat breakfast,” says Angelone. “High-fiber and high-protein foods like oatmeal and milk with fruit, an egg and spinach on whole wheat toast, Greek yogurt with nuts, or a whole-wheat English muffin will satisfy hunger without a lot of calories.”

Holiday meals tend to be large or buffet-style and include second and third helpings. A common mistake is eating large portions of foods that are considered healthful. To avoid overeating, start by filling your plate with vegetables and salad before going to the entrees and desserts. Eating a salad before your meal can help you eat fewer calories overall.

Including nutrient-rich foods in your diet is great, just remember that these foods have calories too, which should be taken into consideration with your whole eating plan.

“And be mindful of alcohol consumption. Drink more water throughout a party to quench your thirst and help keep the cocktails to one or two,” says Angelone.

For more healthy holiday tips and info, visit


GERD: A Growing Epidemic | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 12:42

112714hBy Wilson Tsai, M.D. • Special to the Times

As families gather for Thanksgiving dinner this week, about one in five of us will approach the meal with some trepidation because of the potential for heartburn.

It is estimated that one in five Americans suffers from heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Symptoms of GERD include discomfort, regurgitation, sore throat, persistent cough and even chest pain, and can interfere with sleep or everyday activities.

Heartburn should not be ignored. Not only can it negatively affect your quality of life, it can lead to more serious conditions, including esophageal cancer, the fastest growing type of cancer in the United States today.

Thanksgiving Week is also GERD Awareness Week. Here are 10 things you need to know about heartburn/GERD:

1. Symptoms of GERD happen when stomach contents such as food, acid and bile back up into the esophagus because of a weak sphincter muscle at the bottom of the esophagus.

2. Some people have “trigger foods” that can bring on symptoms. Most commonly, these include fatty, spicy and acidic foods, such as coffee, chocolate, onions, tomatoes and citrus. Alcohol also can increase reflux.

3. GERD is a growing epidemic. Twenty percent of U.S. adults suffer from GERD.

4. Reflux symptoms can sometimes resemble the symptoms of a heart attack, which can be painful and frightening. Reflux often can be a burning sensation, while a heart attack may be more like pressure or a constriction.

5. Some lifestyle modifications can help reduce the severity and frequency of GERD. Risk factors include smoking, alcohol use, diet and obesity. Eating small, frequent meals and avoiding meals late at night can also help.

6. Up to 40 percent of people who take antacids and medications continue to have symptoms. It’s important at this point to see your doctor. It can be an indication of a more serious condition.

7. Prescription medications, such as Prilosec or Nexium, are meant to be taken for a maximum of 14 days. Medicines do not stop reflux or the progression of the disease. They just change the acidity of the reflux so it burns less.

Alleviating symptoms does not address the cause of GERD, which is a weak sphincter muscle that allows the acid to splash back into the esophagus. So you’re just “masking” the problem, while injury to the lining of the esophagus may continue.

8. Long-term use of the medications have been linked to lower calcium absorption that can lead to bone fractures, as well as decreased magnesium absorption that can lead to heart arrhythmias.

9. GERD can progress to Barrett’s Esophagus in 10 to 15 percent of long-term reflux sufferers. Barrett’s Esophagus is a change in the lining of the esophagus due to chronic irritation from GERD and can be a precancerous condition. Since 1976, the diagnosis of esophageal cancer has increased by 600 percent and is the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. today.

10. There are minimally invasive surgical procedures that address the cause of GERD. Nissen fundoplication is a time-tested surgical procedure where the stomach is wrapped around the esophagus to recreate a sphincter so acid can’t back up into the esophagus.

A newer, lesser-invasive option is the LINX procedure, where a small flexible band of magnets enclosed in titanium beads is placed around the weak esophageal sphincter. When the patient swallows, the beads expand. The magnetic attraction between the beads keeps the sphincter closed to prevent reflux.

GERD affects a lot of people and there are a lot of misconceptions as to how to treat it. The most important thing is that you don’t ignore it.

Dr. Wilson Tsai is a board-certified thoracic surgeon and medical director of Esophageal and Thoracic Surgery at Eden Medical Center. To learn more about the treatment options for GERD, call (510) 727-3375 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Weigh Medicare Part D, Advantage Plan Carefully | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 12:39

By Jason Alderman • Special to the Forum

If you’re currently enrolled in Medicare, what you do or don’t do next week could determine whether you can secure the best, most affordable coverage next year. Here’s why:

Medicare Part D prescription plans frequently change premiums, drug formularies, deductibles and copayment amounts for specific drugs from year to year. Medicare Advantage plans often make similar changes; plus doctors, hospitals and pharmacies may drop out of their preferred provider networks.

Thus, by simply choosing the same options for 2015 without investigating alternatives, you could wind up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars more for similar healthcare services.

Medicare’s annual election period (a.k.a. open enrollment) to make coverage changes for 2015 runs to December 7. For most people, this is the best – and sometimes only – opportunity to make coverage changes. (Exceptions are made for people who qualify for a special enrollment period – see “Medicare & You” at for details.)

If you already have traditional Medicare Parts A and B, you needn’t make any changes; however, if you also have Part D, you must either reenroll in your current plan or choose another.

During open enrollment you can:

• Switch from Medicare Parts A, B and D to Medicare Advantage or vice versa.

• Switch from one Advantage plan to another.

• Switch from an Advantage plan offering drug coverage to one that doesn’t or vice versa.

• Join a Part D plan, switch from one plan to another or drop coverage altogether.

Current Advantage plan enrollees can also use the Medicare Advantage disenrollment period (Jan. 1 to Feb. 14) to switch back to Medicare Parts A, B and D. However they cannot:

• Switch from original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.

• Switch from one Advantage plan to another.

• Switch from one Part D plan to another.

When choosing next year’s Part D plan:

• Carefully review your plan’s “Annual Notice of Change” for substantive changes to premiums, deductibles, copayments, covered drugs, participating pharmacies, etc.

• Notice whether they’ve changed copayments/coinsurance for your medications or possibly dropped some altogether. Ask your doctor whether comparable, covered drugs will work; otherwise you could pay more next year.

• Even if your plan hasn’t changed substantially, it’s still wise to use the Medicare Plan Finder at to compare all available plans. You’ll be prompted to enter your medications and dosages. The calculator then ranks plans by “star rating” and overall cost.

• Note: The lowest premium may not be your best bet – sometimes plans with higher monthly premiums have a lower overall cost due to their more favorable deductible, copayment and coinsurance amounts.

Medicare Advantage plans are HMO- or PPO-type alternatives to Medicare Parts A and B. Most cover drugs and some include extra benefits like vision and dental coverage at additional cost. They usually have lower deductibles and copayments but require you to use the plan’s provider network. A few tips:

• If your Advantage plan includes drug coverage, you don’t need Part D.

• Carefully review the “Annual Notice of Change” from your plan for any substantive changes.

• Even if your plan hasn’t changed substantially, you can use the same Medicare Plan Finder as above to review available plans. As with Part D plans, an Advantage plan with a lower premium might have a higher overall cost, due to various restrictions.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs.



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