Why is the flu so bad this year?

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“Flu is everywhere in the U.S. right now,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza division, said during a Jan. 12 media briefing. On a map of the United States tracking flu activity, “this is the first year that we have had the entire continental U.S. be the same color,” he noted.

Only Hawaii and the District of Columbia have been spared widespread flu infection so far, according to the CDC.

Why is the flu so bad this year?

During each flu season, one or more specific types and strains of the influenza virus are responsible for causing the flu. When certain types and strains of the virus show up, it can make some flu seasons worse than others.

This flu season, H3N2 – a subtype of influenza A – has been the dominant strain. Health officials say we tend to see a worse flu season with more severe illness when H3 viruses are prominent. At this point, 80 percent of reported flu cases are this more severe strain, according to the CDC. The H3N2 strain combined with a long bout of cold, wintery weather has resulted in a very active flu season.

What about the flu shot?

While the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s still the best protection against H3N2 flu and other flu strains, such as H1N1 and B viruses which have also shown up this season. And it’s not too late to get one! If you haven’t already gotten a flu shot, we recommend doing so as soon as possible (excluding children under 6 months).

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Is there anything else I can do to avoid the flu?

Washing or sanitizing your hands frequently can go a long way in preventing the flu. You should also take these general measures to reduce your risk:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may have respiratory infections.
  • Don’t share food, drinks or personal items (like lip balm) with anyone.
  • Don’t bite your nails or put your hands near your eyes, mouth or nose.
  • Wipe down surfaces with household disinfectant regularly.

If you do start to show symptoms, you can help others avoid getting infected by staying home from work or school.

More information

For more on the flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more healthy tips and medical information, continue to check in on the Denton Regional Urgent Care blog. At Denton Regional Urgent Care, we have physicians that are board-eligible in family medicine or emergency medicine. We offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it, even after hours or on the weekend as well.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.

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Four Low-Cost Ways to Pamper Yourself

Need a break? Instead of doing chores this weekend, pamper yourself—you’ve earned it. Here are a few simple ways to relax and recharge.

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Dip into a hobby

Hobbies are an excellent way to unwind, according to the American Institute of Stress. For instance, Tessa Morrell, an editorial manager in Nashville, Tenn., says art is her favorite way to relax.

“Creating art can be really therapeutic,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll just paint for the sake of painting with no direction or goal in mind.”

Read a book

Instead of watching TV or surfing the Internet, curl up with a book. The mental escape helps you forget your worries and keep your mind sharp. Like to talk about books? Join a book club to interact with others and discover new authors.

Spend time with friends

Remember how good it felt the last time you hung out with friends? If you can’t remember, you’re overdue for a reunion. Have lunch with a friend, invite people over for a game night or meet a pal at the mall for retail therapy.

“If I can get out of the house, a lunch date with girlfriends is always great,” says Jennifer Parker, a stay-at-home mother of two from Murfreesboro, Tenn.

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Take a hike

The wind in your hair, the sound of birds singing and the sight of spring blossoms make hiking a pleasure. As a bonus, the physical activity can relieve stress, improve mental function and make you feel better about yourself, according to the American Psychological Association. Double the fun by inviting a friend.

3 Ways to Improve Your Family’s Health

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We all want our kids to grow up strong, smart, happy and healthy. But sometimes, guarding your family’s health can seem like you’re playing nutritionist, coach, germ-fighter, nurse and psychologist all at once.

Here are three tips for improving your family’s health:

Tip 1: Take back the kitchen

Do you want to cook healthier? With some simple tweaks, you can lighten up regular recipes for brownies, casseroles and other tastytreats. Plan healthy meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner by learning about healthy food substitutions. For instance, you can sprinkle powdered sugar on cakes instead of using frosting. Reduce fat and calories in baked goods by cutting the fat ingredient such as butter or margarine by one-half and substituting a moist ingredient like applesauce, fat-free sour cream or orange juice. Search the web for more tips about healthy foods and in no time you will be cooking healthy recipes for you and your family.

Tip 2: Get up and move

Exercise benefits include low blood pressure, strong muscles, weight control and stress reduction. Walking, sports and aerobic classes are just a few of the exercises that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Tip 3: Develop relationships with your family’s healthcare providers

One of the most important decisions you will ever make — and you’ll probably make it more than once — is choosing the right doctor. Ask your friends, your coworkers and your neighbors who they like, and look for these names in the packet of options you get from your insurance provider. Make sure your doctor of choice has a healthy online reputation on common websites such as Vitals or Healthgrades.

Once you’ve picked your provider, get to know the entire office. Make an appointment to meet the office staff, nurses and provider. Ask questions about the style of care, availability and other important concerns you have.

These three tips can keep your family happy and healthy!

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This content originally appeared on the website of HCA partner sharecare.com.

This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.

For more healthy tips and medical information, continue to check in on the Denton Regional Urgent Care blog. At Denton Regional Urgent Care, we have physicians that are board-eligible in family medicine or emergency medicine. We offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it, even after hours or on the weekend as well.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.

8 Great High-Tech Health Gadgets

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Striving to lose weight? Want to sleep better or exercise more? There are tons of gadgets and apps out there that can help. From devices that track your activity (and even your dog’s!), to sensors that give insight into your sleep patterns, to a bracelet that actually reminds you when to apply sunscreen, here are our top picks of high-tech health gadgets.

Wearable activity trackers

Brand names: Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP24, Garmin vivofit, Misfit Shine and others

What they do: Track your activity day and night with a wearable fitness tracker. Most devices can track steps, sleep and calories burned. Plus — they sync with a computer or smartphone.

Approximate cost: $50-$150

Why we love them: Wearables are fun gadgets to help you increase activity throughout the day, especially if you compete with friends and family using the device’s app.

Smart scales

Brand names: Fitbug WoW, Fitbit Aria, Withings Smart Body Analyzer and others

What they do: Measure weight, body mass index, body composition and more while syncing data wirelessly to free smartphone apps.

Approximate cost: $75-$150

Why we love them: Any tool that helps make weight loss easier is on our wish list!

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Headphone headbands

Brand Names: RunPhones, Tooks Sportband, HVLO Headphones

What they do: Keep your ears toasty while you listen to your books or music on a jog.

Approximate cost: $20 – $60

Why we love them: The headphone/headband combination means one less piece of gear to fuss over. Plus — wearing a headband over regular headphones can hurt your ears.

Slouch stoppers

Brand names: Lumo Lift, iPosture and others

What they do: These monitor your posture and notify you if you’re slouching.

Approximate cost: $25-$100

Why we love them: Sitting pretty isn’t just for looks. It can help relieve back pain and stiffness caused by slouching.

Sleep sensors

Brand names: Beddit, Withings Aura Smart Sleep System, Emfit QS

What they do: Track your sleep patterns and sleep environment and send personal feedback wirelessly to your phone. Unlike wearable fitness trackers, these devices stay in the bedroom.

Approximate cost: $150 – $300

Why we love them: Wearable activity trackers may be all the rage, but if you just want better insight on your sleep, these devices are great options.

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Sun-smart bracelet

Brand name: JUNE by netatmo

What it does: Measures your sun exposure throughout the day and reminds you when to apply sunscreen or head for the shade.

Approximate cost: $100

Why we love it: No more accidental sunburns — which means younger, healthier skin.

Cool pedometers

Brand names: Striiv Smart Pedometer, Hammacher Schlemmer Smart Pedometer, MilestonePod

What they do: Track steps, distance and monitor progress over time. The Striiv doesn’t require a smartphone. Hammacher Schlemmer’s model plugs directly into your smartphone. MilestonePod syncs wirelessly to your smartphone.

Approximate cost: $25-$100

Why we love them: Unlike old-school pedometers, they provide motivating feedback and can turn getting more steps into a game.

Fido’s fitness tracker

Brand name: Whistle Activity Monitor

What it does: Tracks your pup’s daily activity with a small device that attaches to a collar and syncs to the Whistle app on your iOS or Android device.

Approximate cost: $100

Why we love it: Discovering how much our dogs actually move when we’re not around can give us insight into their health and behavior — and let us know if we need to provide more playtime. And hitting the park with your pooch is a great way to get exercise for yourself too!

This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.

For more healthy tips and medical information, continue to check in on the Denton Regional Urgent Care blog. At Denton Regional Urgent Care, we have physicians that are board-eligible in family medicine or emergency medicine. We offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it, even after hours or on the weekend as well.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.

Reduce Stress at Work for a Healthy Heart

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Is cleaning out the refrigerator (yes, including that green glob at the back) more appealing than putting up with stress at work? If so, it may be time to save your sanity, and maybe your heart.

Doctors have always worried about men’s and women’s hearts caving in to job stress, because those with a high job strain face up to a 40 percent higher risk of heart attacks and surgery for blocked arteries.

So what should you do? Try these strategies to reduce stress on the job:

  • Don’t mutter, “Calm down.” Move. The best way to counter the fight-or-flight stress response is to get active. Do push-ups against your office wall. Hike the hallways or walk around the block. Activity is a BOGO: You relieve tension and condition your heart.
  • Add color. Take charge of your space. Splashes of color from posters, photos, flowers or even a throw rug can improve your mood and your productivity. A combination of red and green is better than dull white, black and brown. In one study, those muted colors made people duller, too, scoring 12 points lower on IQ tests.
  • Take time for tea. Polyphenols in black tea may reduce stress hormones in your blood and help your body shed tension faster.
  • Instead of upsetting family life every night by taking work home (50 percent of people do), declare once a week official “FAB” night, as in Forget About Business. Watch a funny movie together. Tell jokes at dinner. Laugh it up. You’ll feel your tension fade, and your family will draw closer.

Additionally, research shows that – much like a healthy diet and regular exercise – a joyful, enthusiastic disposition and positive attitude may help keep your heart free of disease.

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In one 10-year study, people who scored high in emotions like joy, enthusiasm and contentment had a much lower incidence of coronary heart disease compared with folks who experienced those good feelings less frequently. More research is needed to confirm the link between a positive attitude and a healthy, good heart, but other research has already done a pretty good job proving the other side of the coin – that negative emotions like anger, hostility and depression can increase the risk of heart disease.

In addition to setting the stage for a good heart, studies have shown that happiness can boost your immune system, nip your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, and help you live longer in general. And who doesn’t want to feel happy, anyway? It certainly makes life easier.

This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.

For more healthy tips and medical information, continue to check in on the Denton Regional Urgent Care blog. At Denton Regional Urgent Care, we have physicians that are board-eligible in family medicine or emergency medicine. We offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it, even after hours or on the weekend as well.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.

What the new blood pressure guidelines mean for you

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For the first time in 14 years, the American Heart Association changed their blood pressure guidelines. The new guidelines have lowered the number for what’s considered high blood pressure, also called hypertension. The result: Nearly half of American adults are now considered hypertensive.

Find out more about the new guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, plus how to check your numbers and lower your hypertension risk.

How to understand your numbers
Blood pressure is depicted as a fraction or a division equation, with a larger number on top and a small number on the bottom, separated by a slash.

The top number is systolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure inside the arteries when the heart contracts or beats. The bottom number, diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in the arteries at rest, between heartbeats. So, a blood pressure reading that’s 120/80 means the systolic blood pressure is 120 and diastolic is 80.

“If your blood pressure is high, your heart muscle is pumping against high resistance,” explains Khalil Afsh, MD, an internist and clinical lipidologist with Orange Park Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida.

Given enough time pumping against high resistance, says Dr. Afsh, the heart will hypertrophy, or grow bigger. This can lead to impaired blood flow, arrhythmia and cardiac arrest.

Under the new guidelines, approximately 103 million adults in the US have high blood pressure. Prior to the new guideline release, about 70 million Americans had hypertension. It’s in your best interest to know your numbers because high blood pressure can lead to a host of problems, such as artery damage, stroke, heart attack and even kidney and eye damage.

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What’s changed under the new guidelines
The guidelines for what’s considered normal blood pressure have remained the same: A blood pressure reading of less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic is considered normal. However, the new guidelines now define hypertension as a reading above 130 mm Hg systolic or 80 mm Hg diastolic. This is a change from the old definition of hypertension—140/90 and higher.

Under new guidelines, 46 percent of American adults will be considered hypertensive, up from 32 percent under old guidelines.

The new guidelines also eliminated the category of prehypertension, once defined as a blood pressure reading between 120 and 139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic. Now, the guidelines list:

  • Elevated: Systolic between 120 and 129 and diastolic less than 80
  • Stage 1: Systolic between 130 and 139 or diastolic between 80-89
  • Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90—previously classified as stage 1

If your reading shows systolic blood pressure above 180 or diastolic above 120, this is considered a hypertensive crisis, and patients should seek prompt medical care.

Research suggests complications can arise before blood pressure reaches 140/90. These changes will encourage early intervention to prevent any further increase in blood pressure levels and reduce the likelihood of hypertension-related complications, like stroke, vision loss and heart attack.

But pressure that’s too low can cause its own set of problems. Hypotension, or low blood pressure, can lead to blurry vision, confusion, dizziness, fainting, lightheadedness, nausea and vomiting, fatigue and weakness. Sudden and drastic drops in blood pressure can starve vital organs like the heart and brain of oxygen. Hypotension, unlike hypertension, doesn’t have a hard and fast range. As long as your low blood pressure doesn’t cause any symptoms, you don’t need to worry.

Tools of the trade: How to measure your blood pressure
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury or mm Hg. Why mercury? Take a closer look at the blood pressure cuff the nurse or doctor puts around your arm. The cuff is called a sphygmomanometer and, even today, many contain mercury to measure barometric pressure in the arteries, according to Afsh.

The cuff is inflated to squeeze the artery and prevent blood from flowing, then the air is released. When the blood starts flowing again, the doctor or nurse will look at the pressure reading and determine the systolic blood pressure. “When the pulse goes away, we’re measuring diastolic blood pressure,” says Afsh.

Afsh says he tests blood pressure at least once more after a reading comes back high. “When someone comes to our practice and we find high blood pressure, we ask the patient to relax and then measure again,” he says. “Anxiety can raise blood pressure.”

Talking while your blood pressure is being monitored or having a full bladder can also throw the reading off. Sometimes someone can have high blood pressure in one arm and not the other due to a problem with their veins, adds Afsh. “I usually go with the lower reading because when you have high blood pressure in one arm, there’s probably a blockage.”

You might want to get a device to monitor your blood pressure at home. Many people’s readings are higher in the doctor’s office than they are at home because doctors make them nervous; it’s a phenomenon known as white coat hypertension.

Look for a device that takes measurements from the upper arm and can be used on both arms. It’s a good idea to bring the device to your healthcare provider’s office to make sure it works correctly and you know how to use it properly.

What you can do about high blood pressure
There is no cure for high blood pressure, but a combination of lifestyle modifications and medication can help manage the condition, and reduce your risk of complications. Your doctor is most adept to guide you through the changes you should be making, which might include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting salt intake
  • Scaling back alcohol consumption
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Upping daily physical activity
  • Maintaining healthy weight
  • Sticking to your medication schedule

This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.

For more healthy tips and medical information, continue to check in on the Denton Regional Urgent Care blog. At Denton Regional Urgent Care, we have physicians that are board-eligible in family medicine or emergency medicine. We offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it, even after hours or on the weekend as well.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.

5 Healthy Food Gift Ideas

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Want to bring a little good cheer into a friend’s life? Here’s our list of five healthy food gift ideas that will make everyone happier (including you, because giving is a great feeling).

1. Walnuts

It may sound like a boring gift, but did you know that eating 12 halves of walnuts daily could increase your lifespan up to 20 percent?! Munching on this healthy snack 30 minutes before mealtime is an effective way to control appetite and keep your arteries clear! Pair a half  pound bag of walnuts with some of the below gifts, or give them to family members as a stocking stuffer!

2. Dark Chocolate

Yes, you read that right! Gift a half pound of dark, 70 percent cacao chocolate as a healthy present this holiday season! One ounce daily can reduce heart attack and stroke risk by 30 percent, while preventing some cancers. This gift also pairs well with some of the other gift suggestions like walnuts, coffee and wine.

3. Coffee

Coffee has many health benefits, so consider adding some java to your gift list this year! Your daily dose of coffee (three cups) can cut stroke risk by 30 percent and may help prevent some cancers, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. This makes a great gift on its own, or paired with dark chocolate.

4. Wine

A bottle of red wine makes a great gift, and even has health benefits! Wine boosts the “good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein, and reduces the “bad” cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, keeping everything from the brain to sexual functions up and running.

5. Garlic goodness

Garlic-infused olive oil delivers an immune-boosting, heart-healthy flavor and keeps your joints healthy! This is a great gift for the cook in the family, or any foodie friends, and is easy to find. This is also a great gift to pair with some fresh bread and maybe even a bottle of wine.

This content originally appeared on the website of HCA partner sharecare.com.

For more healthy tips and medical information, continue to check in on the Denton Regional Urgent Care blog. At Denton Regional Urgent Care, we have physicians that are board-eligible in family medicine or emergency medicine. We offer convenient access to the expert care you need right when you need it, even after hours or on the weekend as well.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.