Silent health threats can sneak up and put you at risk without warning. The Doctors break the silence to reveal the early signs and symptoms of these dreaded killers.
Silent Threat: Sepsis
Pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections are quite common, but if left untreated, can lead to dire consequences. “So many women, I hear them say, ‘Oh, I’ve got a bladder infection. I’m drinking cranberry juice to get rid of it,” Dr. Jim says. “But that doesn’t do it.”
“Cranberry juice is only a prevention,” Dr. Lisa adds. “It keeps the bacteria from clinging to the bladder wall. It is not a cure, so if you have a bladder infection, you have to get it treated. You have to take antibiotics for it.”
But bladder infections aren't the only cause for treatment. Even an unattended skin wound can cause your body to shut down if you ignore it, and 44-year-old Renee's body nearly shut down just days after she was bit by a dog.
Renee ignored flu-like symptoms and forgetfulness. Two days after the bite she wound up in the hospital fighting for her life with a severe case of sepsis. “I didn’t really listen to my body, which I should have done,” Renee says.
Sepsis is the body’s over-active reaction to a localized infection that enters the blood stream. Even after the initial infection is eradicated, sepsis continues to attack the body, especially the organs, causing symptoms such as a fever, lightheadedness, fast heart rate, rashes and confusion. “You don’t get confusion from a skin infection,” Dr. Travis says. “You don’t pass out from a skin infection, and that’s the sign of something more serious. And that’s where you start talking about sepsis.”
Because the sepsis cut off the blood supply to her limbs, Renee was told she would lose both of her hands and both of her feet. “I lost two fingers, which is pretty much a miracle,” she says.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” Renee says. “I’m actually still supposed to be in ICU, so this is amazing!”
To help prevent sepsis, make sure to treat wounds and infections with Neosporin or antibiotic ointment. Dr. Jim says that if a symptom doesn’t make sense -- such as confusion caused by a skin wound -- see your doctor. “This is one of the reasons young babies, any baby under age two months, if they get a fever, it’s much more likely to be sepsis than just your typical virus,” Dr. Jim says. “So any baby that has a fever, you have to call the doctor.”
Silent Threat: Toxic Shock Syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome, which is similar to sepsis, occurs when bacteria enters the blood stream and causes organs to shut down. Wearing a tampon or diaphragm for too long can cause TSS because they can become breeding grounds for bacteria. Removing a dry tampon can cause tears in the vaginal wall and can lead to bacteria build-up.
To help prevent TSS while wearing a tampon, Dr. Lisa advises using the lowest absorbency tampon for your flow and changing it every four to eight hours. If you find your tampon fully saturated before four hours, you should use the next absorbent size. And while TSS is a risk, Dr. Lisa explains that if used correctly, tampons are safe. “They are a great thing for women because they let them be active,” she says. “They are very, very important to women, but you have to use them the right way, because they can lead to infections. But they are very safe and very good.”
Silent Threat: SIDS
Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is the unexplained sudden death of a child under 1. SIDS is the leading cause of death in infants between 1 month and 1 year of age, with about 3,000 babies dying from SIDS each year in the United States. “SIDS these days is decreasing,” Dr. Jim says. “But more and more kids are dying from asphyxiation, strangulation, things like that, so we need to do something about the crib environment.”
For the best environment for your infant, Dr. Jim explains his dos and don’ts of crib safety.
• Have your baby sleep on his or her back.
• Keep the crib as bare as possible.
• Do not overheat the baby with extra blankets.
• Keep a smoke-free environment.
• Put a fan in the room. This can reduce the risk of SIDS by 70 percent.
• Put the crib in the parents’ bedroom.
• Breastfeeding may lower the risk of SIDS.
• Don’t overstuff the crib with full bedding, extra pillows or bumper pads. If you need to use a bumper pad, opt for a flat one.
• Don’t use sleep wedges, unless your doctor recommends it.
• Don’t leave stuffed animals in the crib.
• Don’t keep the baby dressed in a skullcap.
• Don’t use loose sheets and blankets. Use one tightly fitted sheet around the mattress and keep the baby in a sleep sack with a closed bottom and arm openings.
• For steps to prevent SIDS, check out Dr. Jim's blog!
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
The aorta is the body’s main artery, pumping blood from the heart to the organs. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is an aneurysm that develops in the part of the aorta that extends through the abdomen. A bulge occurs below the arteries that nourish the kidneys. The bulge can grow extremely large, showing no symptoms whatsoever.
Approximately 15,000 Americans die each year from a ruptured aortic aneurysm, making it the 15th leading cause of death in the United States. It can result from vascular disease, trauma or a genetic defect in the wall of the abdominal aorta. If left untreated, the condition can result in a rupture of the aorta, usually with fatal results.
Warning signs of AAA include intense back or abdominal pain, a rapid pulse, nausea and vomiting, excessive sweating and shock. “Screening is essential,” Dr. Travis says. “This is something that can be screened for with a simple ultrasound machine.”
To prevent AAA, an endovascular stent grafting procedure is available. The stent is inserted through the groin and through the large vessel in your thigh to the aneurysm site in your abdomen. “This stent will basically prevent that aneurysm from ever rupturing, and it can save lives,” Dr. Travis says. “As people get older, certainly above the age of 50, if you have high cholesterol, a history of heart disease, this can be a risk. So talk with your doctor, if you’re older, about getting screened for this.”