Tag Archives: health checks

Do you know what hepatitis is?

‘Hep’ means liver and ‘itis’ means inflammation of, so hepatitis literally means inflammation of the liver.

Your liver is a large organ – it’s your body’s waste disposal system. It also regulates metabolism, stores iron and vitamins such as folate and B12 and produces proteins and bile, a liquid that’s needed to digest fats. If your liver doesn’t work properly, the result can be serious illness and it can be life-threatening, too.

The causes of hepatitis can be due to chemicals, alcohol, drug use and viruses such as the yellow fever virus and the virus that causes glandular fever.

There are seven forms of hepatitis – some types don’t cause serious health problems but others can result in chronic (long-term problems), scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and even liver cancer.

Here’s our guide to what you need to know about the different types of hepatitis.

What are the symptoms?

Short-term (acute) hepatitis may not have any symptoms at all and if there are symptoms, they might be pretty non-specific i.e. they can be connected with many conditions. For example, nausea, tiredness, abdominal pain, muscle and joint pain, getting bruised easily, a high temperature (fever) of 38 degrees Celsius, dark coloured urine and light bowel movements are signs of hepatitis.

small image_sore stomach

Long-term (chronic) hepatitis may not have any obvious symptoms, either, until the liver stops working properly and liver failure results. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) is also a sign of late stage liver failure. Hepatitis may only be picked up during blood tests.

If you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis, go and see your GP immediately.

The seven types of hepatitis are:

  1. Hepatitis A

Caused by the hepatitis A virus, this infection is caught by consuming food or drink contaminated with the bowel movements of an infected person. It is most common in countries with poor sanitation. This type of hepatitis usually passes in a few months. But, it can be severe and even life-threatening.

If you’re travelling overseas, book in before your trip to see your GP, who may recommend a vaccination.

small image_travelling

  1. Hepatitis B

Caused by the hepatitis B virus, infection is spread via the blood of an infected person (e.g. through shared injection needles).

Most adults can fight off the infection in two months or so. But infection in children may be long-term and can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Treatment may involve antiviral medications. If you are in a high-risk group, for example, if you are a health care worker or you inject drugs – your GP may recommend vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis C

Caused by the hepatitis C virus, this is usually spread via blood-to-blood contact with an infected person (e.g. via shared needles or through poor health care practices). Symptoms of infection may be similar to a bout of flu and many people don’t know that they are infected.

Around one in four people can fight off the infection but most people will develop chronic hepatitis C[i], which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Treatment is usually antiviral medication but currently there is no vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis D

Caused by the hepatitis D virus, this infection only affects people who already have hepatitis B. It is usually spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact. It is not common in Australia[ii].

Long-term hepatitis D infection can increase the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis D, your GP might suggest the hepatitis B vaccine to protect you from getting hepatitis D.

  1. Hepatitis E

Common in developing countries, this type of hepatitis is caused by the hepatitis E virus; infection is usually caught via consuming food and drink contaminated with bowel movements from an infected person. Generally mild and short-lived, the infection doesn’t require any treatment. However, for a small number of people, it can be serious (such as those with a suppressed immune system) and it can become chronic.

There’s no vaccine to protect against hepatitis E but you can reduce your risk by being very careful with food and drinks when travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation. If you are pregnant, you should not travel to areas where there is a lot of hepatitis E, especially during the last three months of pregnancy.

  1. Alcoholic hepatitis

Caused by excessive alcohol consumption over a number of years, many people who have it don’t know that they do because it usually doesn’t have any symptoms. However, it can be detected by a blood test (liver function test). Your liver can usually recover if you stop drinking alcohol. But if you don’t, the result can be liver failure or liver cancer.

small image_alcohol

  1. Autoimmune hepatitis

Like other autoimmune conditions, autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the cells of the body start attacking itself. Treatment involves medication to stop the attack.  More research needs to be done to find out why it happens and if anything can be done to prevent autoimmune hepatitis.

For more information, contact:

  • Your GP
  • National Hepatitis information line on 1800 437 222
  • DirectLine (for information about where to get clean needles and syringes for drug users) on 1800 888 236
  • Immunise Australia information line on 1800 671 811.
Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] NHS Choices. Hepatitis. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hepatitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx#hep-C

[ii] Hepatitis Australia. Hepatitis D. http://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/hepatitis-d/

Macular degeneration and diet

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration affects one in seven Australians over the age of 50[i]. It is the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in the country, being responsible for 50% of all blindness; more than glaucoma and cataracts combined.

The macula is a part of the eye, which is responsible for giving you the clearest vision. In macular degeneration, the cells in this area become irreversibly damaged and the result is a loss of vision.

There are two forms of this condition – wet macular degeneration and dry macular degeneration. There is no cure for either type of macular degeneration right now, but your optometrist can inform you about the different treatment options that can help to reduce vision loss for those with wet macular degeneration. In Australia, smoking is a major cause of blindness from macular degeneration[ii].

Why diet and vitamins are important for your eye health

Eating too many saturated fats has been shown to increase the advancement of macular degeneration[iii]. Saturated fat is found in foods such as beef, pork, lamb, butter, cream and high-fat cheeses as well as fast/takeaway/processed foods.

On the other hand, people who enjoy a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish have a lower incidence of macular degeneration[iv].

Carrots and celery

Protective plant pigments

Vegetables and fruits help to protect against macular degeneration. They contain antioxidant vitamins (such as vitamin C) and also antioxidant-rich pigments, one of which is lutein. Lutein is found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, mustard greens and collard greens (the darker the leaf, the more concentrated the pigments). Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits are especially rich in pigments – these include red grapes, oranges, rockmelons and mangoes. Orange produce contains the pigment beta-carotene, which helps to protect your eyes. Try and opt for five servings of veggies and two fruits daily. A serving is equivalent to ½ cup of most foods and one cup for leafy greens.

Make more of fish

Fish is also good for your eye health – eating fish has been shown to lower the risk for macular degeneration[v]. The recommended intake of fish is two to three times a week and the best types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines.  If you don’t eat fish, think about taking a daily omega-3 supplement. Speak to your local pharmacist about the best option for you.

Salmon

What about supplements?

A specific supplement for eyes may help to protect your eye health; it may also help to reduce vision loss in people who have moderate macular degeneration. Supplements have not been shown to be beneficial in patients who do not have macular degeneration, or have only mild macular degeneration. Talk to your optometrist to find out more.

About the author

Jane Le is qualified in ocular therapeutics and has been an optometrist since 2006. She has worked extensively across Australia and as a volunteer optometrist in El Salvador and in Mexico.

Optometrist Jane Le
Jane Le, optometrist at rt healthy eyes

 

 

[i] Macular Disease Foundation Australia. Deloitte Access Economic Report. http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/mdfreport.aspx

[ii] Australian Government. Smoking Causes Blindness. http://www.quitnow.gov.au/internet/quitnow/publishing.nsf/content/warnings-b-eye

[iii] PubMed – NCBI. Progression of age-related macular degeneration: association with dietary fat, transunsaturated fat, nuts and fish intake. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14662593

[iv] AMD.org. Diet And Vitamins for AMD. http://www.amd.org/can-diet-and-vitamins-help-macular-degeneration/

[v] University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega-3 fatty acids. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids

Protect your hardworking eyes

They work when you work, they work when you’re relaxing and they even work when you’re sleeping. So, are you giving your hardworking eyes the care they deserve?

At work …

Most eye injuries (60 per cent) occur during work[i]. According to the Australian government, the construction, mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing industries are where most eye accidents at work occur[ii]. Any job that involves airborne particles or hazardous substances carries a risk of eye injury. Protect your eyes by:

  • Wearing the right eyewear – your workplace health and safety policy advisors will direct you on the right kind of eyewear you need. Generally speaking, safety eyewear made with polycarbonate lenses and a safety frame with side shields or close fitting wraparound styles give the best protection.
  • Seeking shade – it’s not just your skin that the sun can damage, ultraviolet (UV) rays can also harm your eyes[iii]. Over time, too much sun can contribute to cataracts (where protein builds up in the lens making it cloudy and preventing light from passing clearly through it). So, if you work outside or spend part of the day outdoors, always wear a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Driving safely – did you know that the sun can penetrate glass and damage your skin and eyes? If you do a lot of driving, think about applying a clear, protective UV blocking film to the side windows as well as wearing sunglasses. And, if you’re suddenly more sensitive to light, see your GP.

safety at work

Protecting screen eyes

Do you find that you’re having trouble reading fine print whether you’re working in front of a screen or relaxing behind one? Called presbyopia (pronounced press-by-o-pee-a), this condition tends to affect people aged 40 and above. It happens as the lens loses its flexibility. And, in order to focus when you’re reading, the lens needs to be flexible enough to adapt and change shape.

If you work with computer screens for much of the day, you may experience eye strain – a bit like repetitive strain injury for your eyes. If this is you, your optometrist may prescribe computer glasses, which have lenses that are specially designed to maximise your vision at the kind of close-up distances that you need to be able to focus on when doing computer work. You can also make changes to your computer screen such as placing the screen about an arm’s length away from your eyes and a little below eye level. Also, make sure to take regular breaks from computer work. A good rule of thumb is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes look away from your computer about 20 feet (around 6.1m) in front of you for 20 seconds.

Feeding your eyes

What you eat can benefit your eyes. So, try to snack on nuts and seeds, which contain key antioxidants such as vitamin E and zinc to protect your eyes. Go for a mixed handful of almonds, Brazil nuts and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Flax and chia seeds are also a good option, as they contain omega-3 fats, which lubricate cells and help to reduce inflammation.

Go for green, yellow, orange and blue … Veggies are low in kilojoules and packed with nutrition, so opt for a cup or more daily. Brightly coloured veggies and fruits (such as carrots, eggplant, mangoes and blueberries) are also rich in eye protecting antioxidants.

vegetables

Avoid dry eyes. Your tears naturally lubricate your eyes but health conditions, medications, dry air, allergies and getting older can all cause dry, irritated eyes. Essential omega-3 fats help to nourish you from the inside out so try to enjoy oily fish like salmon, sardines and fresh tuna two or three times per week. Or, think about taking a fish oil supplement. These fats are called essential because your body can’t make them for itself – you have to get them from your diet. If dry eyes persist, ask your optometrist about a suitable product that might help or see your GP.

Due for a check-up?

You need regular eye exams all through your life, especially if eye problems run in your family or if you have other risk factors.  An eye exam can also show other conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Book an eye test with our qualified optometrists at rt healthy eyes. We’re open to – and we welcome – everyone!

Call rt healthy eyes Surry Hills (NSW) on 1300 991 044

Call rt healthy eyes Charlestown (NSW) on 1300 782 571

This health message is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund, Australia’s only dedicated, not-for-profit health fund for people who work in the transport and energy industries.

[i] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Epidemiology of ocular trauma in Australia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10485561

[ii] Australian Safety and Compensation Council. Work-related eye injuries in Australia. http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/Documents/201/WorkRelatedEyeInjuriesAustralia_2008_PDF.pdf

[iii] The Skin Cancer Foundation. How Sunlight Damages the Eyes. http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/for-your-eyes/how-sunlight-damages-the-eyes

14 signs that could mean your child has a vision problem

A massive one in five children has a vision problem that hasn’t been detected yet[i]. Good vision is vital for learning – a massive 80 per cent is done via sight[ii]! Yet, kids of all ages have trouble recognising when they have a problem with their vision. With nothing to compare their sight with, they’ll probably accept that what they’re seeing is normal and that they’re seeing the world in the same way as everyone else. Your child probably won’t be able to talk to you about what they’re experiencing if vision deterioration is slow, too. The result? Frustration, irritation and a loss of concentration or decreased performance at school.

The common signs and symptoms of vision problems in kids

Vision problems mean that kids can face challenges at school, which are often misdiagnosed as ADHD, dyslexia or other learning difficulties[iii]. So it’s important to know the signs. Watch out for:

  1. Headaches
  2. Eye strain
  3. Blurred or double vision
  4. Cross eyes or eyes that appear to move independently of each other
  5. A dislike of reading and up close work
  6. Short attention span during visual tasks
  7. Turning or tilting of the head, or closing or covering one eye to read
  8. Placing the head very close to a book or desk when reading or writing
  9. Constant blinking or eye rubbing
  10. Using a finger as a guide while reading and/or often losing where they are up to
  11. Slow rate of reading or poor understanding of reading
  12. Difficulty remembering what has been read
  13. Leaving out words, repeating words or confusing similar words while reading
  14. Poor eye-hand coordination.

If your child shows one or more of these symptoms, it could be due to a vision problem.

girl blowing bubbles

What to do

Many kids have never had a comprehensive eye examination, which is one reason why vision problems go unrecognised for so many children. Your optometrist is trained to pick up and treat problems effectively. Book your child in for an eye exam at least once every two years – more often if your optometrist recommends it.

And, if your optometrist doesn’t detect a vision problem, your child’s symptoms may be caused by another condition such as dyslexia or another learning disability. Knowing about this early is important and your GP can refer you to an educational specialist to help find the root of the problem. Either way, your child gets the treatment they need.

[i] Optometry Australia. Your Eyes. http://www.optometry.org.au/your-eyes/your-child’s-eyes/

[ii] Midwestern University. Uncorrected Vision Issues Misdiagnosed as Learning Disabilities in Children. https://www.midwestern.edu/news-and-events/university-news/uncorrected-vision-issues-misdiagnosed-as-learning-disabilities-in-children.html

[iii] Midwestern University. Uncorrected Vision Issues Misdiagnosed as Learning Disabilities in Children. https://www.midwestern.edu/news-and-events/university-news/uncorrected-vision-issues-misdiagnosed-as-learning-disabilities-in-children.html

 

Healthy countdown to Christmas

The lead up to Christmas is always busy. With all the extra parties to attend (and food to eat!) and a seemingly endless list of things to get done before the end of year, our health can really take a backseat.

To help make sure this silly season is your healthiest yet, we’ll be posting one health tip a day in the lead up to Christmas. So keep your eyes peeled and join us in our healthy countdown to Christmas!

  1. Breathe to de-stress: Deep breathing oxygenates your blood, which can relax you almost straight away. To breathe deeply, place your left hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly. Gently breathe in and out through your nose and concentrate on expanding your abdomen, not your chest.
  2. Laugh your way to good health: Laughter really is the best medicine! It makes you feel good by lifting your mood but also comes with other great health benefits – regular laughter strengthens your heart, lowers blood pressure, boosts circulation and stimulates your immune system, too!
  3. Learn to say ‘no’: Knowing when and how to say ‘no’ can be hard to master but it’s an important skill to learn. As well as helping to reduce your stress levels, you’ll free up time for you to do things that are more in line with your own priorities and needs.
  4. Get into portion-perfect habits: Ensure you’re getting the right mix of carbs, protein, veggies and healthy fats by following this simple rule: Fill ½ your plate with fresh veggies, ¼ of your plate with lean protein (fish, chicken, turkey, pulses or beans) and a ¼ of your plate with complex carbohydrates (wholegrains) from wholemeal pasta, potato with the skin on, brown rice or noodles.
  5. Get your kids’ eyes checked: Kids rely on their eyesight for reading, writing, computer work and for playing sport. Yet kids of all ages have trouble recognising when they have vision issues and, as a result, children can often be misdiagnosed with having ADHD, dyslexia or other learning difficulties[i].
  6. Up your water intake: Drinking more water comes with lots of health benefits. It keeps your body and skin hydrated, helps you avoid eating (or drinking) unnecessary kilojoules/calories, flushes out your kidneys (which may reduce your risk of kidney stones and other kidney problems) and supports healthy gut function.
  7. For healthier teeth, watch your diet: Oral bacteria live in your mouth, feeding on sugars from your food and drinks and producing waste that is acidic. So opt for a healthy diet without too many sugary or acidic foods to keep your teeth strong and healthy. Plus, drink plenty of water to produce saliva, your mouth’s natural way to cleanse itself.
  8. Be aware of sensitive teeth and gums: Sensitive teeth and gums could be a sign of gingivitis or gum disease, which can ultimately wear away your gums and damage your bones and jaw. It can also lead to tooth loss since teeth are lodged inside your gums. See your dentist to treat gum disease early.
  9. Watch out for ‘low-fat’ labels: Often, products labelled as ‘low-fat’ are packed full of sugar, which means they may contain ‘empty calories’ (a whole lot of kilojoules/calories with no nutritional value). High sugar intake also comes with a host of other harmful effects. Sugar may cause cravings, it’s bad for your teeth and it can contribute to a host of diseases including obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and liver disease.
  10. Keep the music down: A great tune is the perfect kick-start to the day or to a workout. But research shows that frequent exposure to noises above 100 decibels can permanently damage your hearing. Turn down your music to less than 60% of the maximum volume to protect your hearing.
  11. Exercise for your eyes: Exercise is great for your overall health and there’s evidence that aerobic exercise can reduce pressure on the eyes and prevent other risk factors for glaucoma, such as diabetes and hypertension, too.
  12. Pick the right time to weigh yourself: Step on the scale first thing in the morning before eating, exercising or drinking fluids. If you aren’t able to weigh yourself in the morning, be consistent by always weighing yourself at the same time on the same scale.
  13. Don’t skip breakfast: Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. It kick-starts your metabolism, gives you the energy to do more physical activities and can reduce your hunger throughout the day. Stick to a healthy breakfast made up of protein, wholegrains and some healthy fats like egg and avo on whole grain toast or fruit and whole grain cereal with yoghurt, milk or almond/soy milk.
  14. Find a fitness friend: A workout buddy can keep you motivated and make your workouts more fun! Plus, research has shown that having close friends who are active and who eat well reduces your risk for becoming obese since we tend to mimic those around us. In other words, healthy buddies are best!
  15. Brush your teeth at least two times a day: But if you’ve been eating or drinking acidic items (vinegary salad dressings, citrus, wine and/or juices or carbonated drinks) be sure to wait at least half an hour after eating/drinking. Otherwise you could literally brush away acid-softened enamel.
  16. Eat for your eyes: Eye health starts with what you eat – choose a diet rich in omega-3s (found in oily fish such as salmon), zinc (cashew nuts) and vitamins E (sunflower seeds) and C (citrus fruits).
  17. Get more sleep: Sleep deprivation has been linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mental illness. If you’re a healthy adult, you should aim for around 7-9 hours each night. Kids should get a little more, between 9-10 hours, depending on their age.
  18. Take your lunch break: Despite what you may think, taking lunch has actually been shown to increase productivity and reduce stress. And, if you don’t let yourself get over hungry, you may be more in control of what you’re eating and make healthier choices. So what are you waiting for? Take your lunch break and enjoy it!
  19. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: These days, we’re often glued to our screens, which can cause eyestrain, dry eyes and headaches. So follow the 20-20-20 rule: give your eyes a rest every 20 minutes by staring at least 20 feet (around six metres) in front of you for 20 seconds or more.
  20. Get to know your protein portions: For red meat have a portion about the size of your palm, for poultry consume a portion about the size of half of your hand and for fish you can eat about as much as the size of your entire hand. Don’t forget tofu, peas, beans and lentils are protein packed too – and don’t come with added fat or raise your cholesterol.
  21. Watch for dry mouth: Saliva is important – it’s antibacterial, neutralises acids and helps strengthen your enamel. And, if you don’t make enough, you may suffer from smelly breath and other problems. Speak to your GP if you notice persistent dry mouth or lips.
  22. Get a health check: Regular health checks are important to tackle any health issues early, before they become a problem. Speak to your GP about the appropriate health checks for your age and stage.
  23. Beat bad breath: Bad breath – or halitosis – affects everyone at some stage. To combat bad breath, brush for at least two minutes twice a day, clean your tongue, floss and drink plenty of water. Avoid smelly foods, cigarettes, alcohol and low carb diets, which can make whiffs worse.
  24. Book in for that eye exam: Are you seeing the world as clearly as you should? Some of the signs that you may be struggling with your vision are easy to spot, but others aren’t so obvious. Plus, everyone has trouble recognising when they have vision issues. So see things clearly – get your eyes examined!
  25. Smile: Smile at your co-workers, at strangers and at your in-laws … even if you feel like throttling them. Smiling can actually help lower your heart rate if you’re feeling stressed. So relax, smile and enjoy Christmas day!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our healthy countdown to Christmas. Stay healthy everyone and happy holidays!

[i] Midwestern University. Uncorrected Vision Issues Misdiagnosed as Learning Disabilities in Children. https://www.midwestern. edu/news-and-events/university-news/uncorrected-vision-issues-misdiagnosed-as-learning-disabilities-in-children.html

 

Jenna Kazokas - Marketing Coordinator at rt health fund
Jenna Kazokas – Marketing Coordinator at rt health fund

Testicular cancer – five common questions answered real quick!

Testicular cancer is the second most common form of cancer in young men aged 18-39. The good news is, most cases can be treated successfully and regular self-checks starting from the adolescent years are vital.

So, what do you need to know about testicular cancer?

  1. What is it? Cancer happens when abnormal cells occur and grow out of control forming a mass or tumour. These cells can invade and damage cells and tissue in other organs.
  1. Why does it occur? The exact causes of testicular cancer are not known, but a number of conditions increase the risk such as having a family or previous history of the condition.
  1. Who is affected? Testicular cancer is more common in white men than other ethnic groups. Being born with undescended testes and having HIV[i] also raises your risk of testicular cancer. Very tall men, who are 195cm (6.4 ft) or above, are three times more likely to develop testicular cancer than men of average height[ii].
  1. How is it detected? Regular self-examination is important. If you detect a swelling or lump in the testicle, which is usually painless, see your GP. A change in the shape/size of the testicle or a dullness or ache in the testes, lower abdomen or scrotum is also worth getting checked.
  1. What’s next? If the lump requires investigation, you’ll be sent for a painless ultrasound of both testicles. Often, you may also be given a blood test to identify raised levels of hormones that may indicate cancer. You might not have testicular cancer, but if you do, the sooner you start treatment, the more likely it is to be effective. Your doctor will speak with you about treatment options.

This health message is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund, Australia’s only dedicated, not-for-profit health fund for people who work in the transport and energy industries.

[i] American Cancer Society. Some facts about testicular cancer. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/testicularcancer/moreinformation/doihavetesticularcancer/do-i-have-testicular-cancer-facts-and-risk-factors
[ii] NHS Choices. Testicular Cancer – Causes. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-testicle/Pages/Causes.aspx

The six tell-tale signs that may mean you have diabetes

Someone is diagnosed with diabetes mellitus every five minutes or so around the country and it has been described as the biggest challenge to Australia’s health system. Already, 1.2 million Australians have been diagnosed[i], yet a massive half a million people are thought to have diabetes without knowing it yet. Are you that one in half a million?

Of those who have diabetes, around 10 per cent have type 1 diabetes (where no insulin is produced) while around 85 per cent have type 2 diabetes[ii] (where insulin is produced but isn’t used by the body). The other five per cent are women who have diabetes triggered by pregnancy.

Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked with being overweight – especially carrying too much weight around the middle, and with being inactive. Having a family history of type 2 diabetes also increases your risk.

The signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes aren’t always as obvious. It’s often diagnosed during a routine check-up at the GP. And, although the symptoms are often mild and develop gradually over a number of years, there are a few tell-tale signs. If you have any of these symptoms – or you know someone who does – go and get checked out by your GP.

  1. Hunger and fatigue. Your body and brain cells rely on a tiny sugar called glucose to provide the fuel they need to function properly. Your body tries to regulate your blood glucose level and keep it within very narrow limits. To physically enter the cells and provide nourishment, your body needs the hormone insulin. Insulin ‘holds hands’ with glucose to get it into where it needs to be. If your body becomes resistant to insulin, which can happen when there is too much fat in your cells (this distorts the shape of the membranes making it difficult for insulin to enter them) and the hormone can’t do its job, your cells become deprived of nourishment. The result? Hunger and tiredness.
  1. Thirst and frequent trips to the loo. Your body likes to hang on to the nutrients it receives and so it will reabsorb glucose. But when there’s too much glucose circulating around your blood (if insulin is absent or not working properly, for example), your body can’t reabsorb all of it. To get rid of the extra glucose, your body makes more urine. But for this to happen, it needs more fluid hence an increase in thirst. Drinking more means you need to urinate more, too. The glucose spills out in urine (diabetes means siphon – to pass through and the Latin word mellitus means honeyed or sweet!)
  1. Dry mouth and itchy skin. Because your body concentrates on trying to get rid of the excess glucose in your body through urine, there’s less fluid to go around for the rest of your body. The result can be a dry mouth and/or a strange, lingering taste. This can be due to less saliva production (saliva is your mouth’s natural cleansing system). Dry mouth can make dental problems worse so as well as seeing your GP, keeping up with visits to your dentist is vital, too. Also, because your kidneys are using so much fluid to get rid of excess glucose, there may be less fluid around to reach your skin. Dry, annoyingly itchy skin can result.
  1. Blurred vision. As your body battles with fluid and glucose, the fluid in your eyes can be affected. Dryness can mean that the lenses in your eyes alter in shape making focussing more difficult and leading to blurred vision.
  1. Infections. Millions of microorganisms live in harmony in and on your skin and that includes yeast organisms. But, if circumstances are right, yeast infections like candida and athlete’s foot can flourish and grow out of control since they love glucose and moist, warm conditions. That’s why recurrent yeast infections may be a sign of diabetes.
  1. Slow healing of cuts and wounds. Blood carries the nutrients and infection fighters needed to promote wound healing. But, fluctuations in blood flow caused by fluid levels can slow down wound healing. On top of this, high levels of blood glucose can affect the nerves leading to poor blood circulation. All of this makes it harder for blood to reach the wound or cut, which slows down wound healing.

Diagnosing and treating type 2 diabetes is very important. Your GP can give you a quick check-up and test for diabetes. And, treatment can help you stay well and help you avoid nerve damage, heart trouble, and other complications later on.

This health message is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund, Australia’s only dedicated, not-for-profit health fund for people who work in the transport and energy industries.

[i] Diabetes Australia. About Diabetes. https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/about-diabetes

[ii] Diabetes Australia. What is diabetes? https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/what-is-diabetes

Caring for your kidneys; a guide for professional drivers and sedentary workers

Jui Tham is Chief Medical Officer at rt health fund
Jui Tham is Chief Medical Officer at rt health fund

Your kidneys are incredible filters that work constantly to remove waste compounds from your blood and eliminate them via urine. Part of your body’s detoxification system, your entire blood supply passes through your kidneys[i] in just five minutes. And, over the course of a day, between one and two litres of waste leaves your body as urine.

Staying well hydrated is vital for your general good health and kidney health. Your kidneys need enough water to efficiently remove wastes through the urinary tract and prevent the build up of toxins. Think fast flowing waterfall rather than small, stagnant pond!

If you drive for a living and/or have limited access to rest breaks or you spend a long time seated, how can you protect your kidney health?

Some symptoms associated with potential kidney problems

Symptoms can vary depending on your individual circumstances and some people don’t get any symptoms at all. Some of the more common symptoms of kidney problems can be quite non-specific. They include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling in the hands and feet due to fluid retention

Other symptoms of potential kidney problems are more easily identifiable as related to the body’s urinary system, such as:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Passing stones in the urine
  • Painful urination
  • Dark and/or cloudy urine
  • Severe lower back pain.

An example of a common kidney-related condition – kidney stones

Not having easy access to fluids throughout the day raises your risk of kidney stones, which occur when naturally occurring salts or minerals in the urine clump together to form hard masses. The more concentrated the urine, the higher the likelihood that these salts or minerals will clump together.

Kidney stones affect four to eight per cent of the general population[ii] and, usually, the crystals are small and the minerals are dissolved in urine so they pass through without you noticing. But if salts clump together and become too large to pass easily, they can get stuck in the ureter (the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder). This blocks urine flow, causing severe pain (also called ‘renal colic’) and can also lead to infection and kidney damage.

More men are affected by kidney stones than women – one in 10 men compared to one in 35 in women. And, a family history of kidney stones, a history of urine infections and some medications also raises your risk.

Normally, there are no symptoms until a severe and sharp pain sends you running to the doctor. Painkillers may be all that’s needed, but if the pain is severe, hospital admission may be necessary. Surgery may then be required to remove the kidney stone or stones.

What can you do to reduce the risk of development of kidney problems?

There are a few things you can do to help reduce your risk for kidney problems:

  1. Drink more water

‘The main risks for people who drive for a living is that of relative dehydration,’ says Dr Tim Mathew, National Medical Director, at Kidney Health Australia. ‘Drivers should ensure that they drink at least two litres of water per day – and even more in the hotter times of the year.’

Life coach and accredited practising dietitian, Shivaun Conn agrees stressing that organisation is key. ‘Try to prepare for your journey by taking along large bottles of frozen water – they’ll provide refreshing hydration along the way.’ And, while it may not be convenient, try to stop for breaks as often as possible.

  1. Drink less alcohol

Limit alcohol to up to two standard drinks per day for men, one per day for women. According to the National Kidney Foundation, alcohol affects how your kidneys function, reducing their ability to filter harmful toxins in the blood.

  1. Have a health check

‘For drivers at risk, it is vital that they see their GP and organise an annual kidney check up,’ says Dr Mathew. This is especially important if close family relatives have had kidney disease or another chronic disease.

Even if you don’t have kidney problems or symptoms, a health examination (such as a blood test, urine analysis and/or x-ray) is important to discovering potential health problems – so don’t dodge your doctor!

  1. Don’t smoke

Smoking can harm your kidneys even if you have no other diseases and smokers are three times more likely to have reduced kidney function[iii]. And, stopping smoking can bring real benefits – this study showed that former smokers had fewer kidney problems than current smokers suggesting that smoking-induced changes are temporary and may be reversed if you stub out the habit.

  1. Eat smarter

‘A healthy Mediterranean type of diet is increasingly being shown to be beneficial in preventing Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and in minimising the risk of progression of the disease,’ says Dr Mathew. ‘It’s also important to get regular exercise and avoid getting too heavy as this can increase your risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure both of which are major risk factors for kidney disease.’

Diabetes and high blood pressure can damage your delicate kidneys. The damage happens gradually over many years without symptoms. That’s why it’s vital to try and keep your blood glucose levels and your blood pressure levels within normal limits.

Opt for low GI (glycaemic index) foods which help to keep your mind and body fuelled for longer and help your body to control blood glucose levels – very high and/or very low levels can damage tiny blood vessels including those that nourish your kidneys. Making sure you don’t get overly hungry can also help you make healthier choices when you’re faced with truck stop favourites.

Eating plenty of veggies and two fruits daily not only hydrate you but also provide potassium, which can help your body moderate sodium (salt) levels. Too much sodium means that your body uses water to try and get rid of the excess, which can mean you lose water. So enjoy more potassium-rich foods (bananas are especially rich in potassium). Try slicing banana and adding to sugar free, low-fat yoghurt and freezing both together for a healthy snack on-the-go.

And watch your dressings. The creamy, cheesy kinds can be rich in salt as well as fat. Stick with balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil if you can.

  1. Get organised

‘Try to plan around your shift and your journey,’ says Shivaun. ‘For example, take some freeze-able snacks with you – frozen grapes and yoghurt are particularly good and provide fluid, too.’

As well as increasing fluids in foods and drinks, Shivaun suggests that you decrease sodium (salt), which can be dehydrating – not good for your kidneys or your blood pressure.

‘Quick snacks like natural popcorn or unsalted nuts are better choices than a handful of chips, so keep a supply with you. And, while a ready-prepared salad may not satisfy your hunger, adding extra protein in the form of tinned salmon or tuna salad can help you feel more satisfied.’

‘Keeping snacks and foods that you can add to fresh bought foods helps to prevent you getting too hungry. This way, you’re mentally prepared to make better health choices,’ says Shivaun. ‘Healthy snacks are also important because it helps to prevent you getting too hungry and grabbing unhealthy fast food choices.’

  1. Watch your coffee breaks

Caffeine is a diuretic that causes the body to lose fluids excessively. Too many coffees and caffeine-containers like energy drinks and colas means that your kidneys are forced to work harder to pump out fluid and toxins because caffeine acts as a diuretic. Losing water from your body leaves you more vulnerable to dehydration, leading to kidney problems.

  1. Move more!

Aim to exercise so that you are a little out of breath – around 30 minutes each day is recommended by health experts. If your work/life schedule means you can’t fit in half an hour all at once, aim for three bouts of ten minutes dotted throughout the day. If you haven’t exercised for a while and/or if you have a medical condition, check with your GP first.

Sitting for long periods can contribute to kidney problems according to a study published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, men can see a benefit in kidney health by reducing their sitting time from eight to three hours, by 15 per cent[iv]. And, exercise boosted health even more when the men trained. Brisk walking, jogging or running on the treadmill may be more important for men, whilst cutting prolonged periods of sitting time may be more important for women according to the researchers. Plus, try to take frequent breaks, get out of your vehicle or stand up at your desk and stretch. This is great for your circulation and may help boost your concentration, too.

  1. Adopt a positive ‘stay well’ attitude.

Although you can’t avoid stress completely, try mechanisms that help you keep anxiety under control. Yoga is a great de-stressor and you don’t need to go to a class to get the benefits. You can download free apps that guide you through basic stretching and relaxing exercises (although you may want to get a professional to help you get the moves just right as you begin).

  1. Careful with those bumpy rides!

It’s thought that long-distance truck drivers may have a higher incidence of kidney bruising or damage compared with people doing other jobs. Driving over road bumps, potholes and rough terrain mean your body absorbs the vibrations via your vehicle and this may result in kidney disorders[v] (taxi drivers, truck drivers and mechanised equipment operators may also be at risk).

When you’re driving, try to make your seat as comfortable as possible. A good quality seat cushion may help to reduce vibrations. And when you’re on the road, park your vehicle, get out and stretch your legs as often as you can – good for your circulation and your concentration.

  1. When nature calls, answer!

When you need to go, go! By postponing it, your body reabsorbs some of the toxins it’s trying to get rid of. 

Find out more about kidney disease http://bit.ly/1ID5CUk or log onto kidney.org.au.

Jui Tham is Chief Medical Officer at rt health fund

References:

[i] Kidney Health Australia. All about our kidneys. http://www.kidney.org.au/kidneydisease/howourkidneyswork/tabid/590/default.aspx

[ii] Renal Resource Centre. Fact Sheet – Kidney Stones. http://www.renalresource.com/factsheets/kidneystones.php

[iii] Pinto-Sietsma SJ, Mulder J, Janssen WM, Hillege HL, de Zeeuw D, de Jong PE. Smoking is related to albuminuria and abnormal renal function in nondiabetic persons. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2000;133:585–591. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2671650/

[iv] Nilesh Bharakhada, Thomas Yates, Melanie J. Davies, Emma G. Wilmot, Charlotte Edwardson, PhD, Joe Henson, David Webb, Kamlesh Khunti

Association of Sitting Time and Physical Activity With CKD: A Cross-sectional Study in Family Practices. American Journal of Kidney Diseases 2012; doi:10.1053/j.ajkd.2012.04.024. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/251012.php

[v] Stephen J.Benstowe long driving hours and the health of truck drivers. New Jersey’s Science and Technology University. http://archives.njit.edu/vol01/etd/2000s/2008/njit-etd2008-006/njit-etd2008-006.pdf