You sigh with resignation when some annoying symptom appears or worsens, dismissing it as an inevitable sign of aging—but that can be a mistake.
Reasons: Often, simple self-help strategies correct the problem. In other cases, a visit to the doctor can prevent unnecessary suffering or even save your life. Symptoms to watch for…
- Seeing Spots. Gazing at a blank wall, you notice floaters-tiny dark specks or strings-in your field of vision
Normal aging: The vitreous, a gel-like substance inside the eye, becomes more liquid, allowing microscopic fibers within to dump and cast shadows on the retina.
For self-help: Try non-prescription Dry Eye Relief Tear Stabilization Formula (www.Cure Floaters.com). Its omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients may reduce visual distortion from floaters by improving the cornea's film of tears.
See your doctor if: Floaters are accompanied by gradual blurring or an overall yellowish or reddish hue to your visual field. You may have cataracts (clouding of the eyes' lenses), correctable with surgery.
Seek emergency care if: Floaters suddenly increase significantly in number or are accompanied by flashing lights or hazy vision. You could have a retinal tear or detachment that requires immediate surgery to prevent vision loss.
- Dizziness. You stand up and your head spins.
Normal aging: The ear has fluid-filled structures that sense movement and balance. When tiny calcium crystals in the inner ear dislodge and float in this fluid, you may develop benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Other possibilities include orthostatic hypotension (postural low blood pressure), which occurs when blood pools in the legs, decreasing oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain...or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Self-help: Get up more slowly. In mild cases of BPPV or orthostatic hypotension, this prevents dizziness. BPPV also may be corrected with head movements called Epley or Semont maneuvers, which cause the crystals to lodge in a harmless area. For instructions online, see www.dizziness-and-balance.com (click on "Dizzy Patients"). To avoid blood sugar dips, each day eat three moderate meals and two healthful snacks that include some protein. Do not drive when dizzy!
See your doctor if: Dizziness persists or is severe enough to create a risk of falling. A physician or physical therapist can guide your head through the Epley or Semont maneuvers. Low blood pressure can be corrected with diet, drugs and/or compression stockings. You also should be checked for medication side effects and underlying disorders (diabetes, anemia, ear or sinus infections) linked to dizziness.
Seek emergency care if: Dizziness is accompanied by impaired vision, speech problems, and/or weakness or tingling on one side of the body. These may indicate a stroke.
- Indigestion. You feel a burning sensation beneath your breastbone.
Normal aging: When the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach weakens, digestive acids can move upward into the esophagus and cause irritation
Self-help: Limit foods and beverages likely to trigger discomfort-citrus, onions, tomatoes, mint, spicy or high-fat foods, coffee, alcohol. Do not eat within three hours of bedtime. Lose excess weight. Wear clothing that is loose at the waist. Do not smoke. Use blocks to raise the head of your bed by about six inches.
See your doctor if: Symptoms occur more than twice per week-chronic heartburn may warrant medication or surgery. If you also experience swallowing difficulties, vomiting, tarry stools or unintended weight loss, get screened for gastrointestinal ulcers and cancer.
Seek emergency care if: Upper abdominal pain occurs along with unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and/or back pain. These can be signs of a heart attack
- Leaking urine. You sneeze or are hurrying to the bathroom and—whoops! Some urine escapes.
Normal aging: Pelvic muscles that control urination weaken over time...and declining estrogen thins the walls of the urethra, creating a wider and weaker channel for urine to leave the bladder
Self-help: Six times each day, do "fast-and-slow" Kegel exercises.
How: Contract the muscles around your vagina and anus, lifting them upward and inward…hold for 10 seconds, then relax for 10 seconds... repeat 10 times. Next, contract for one second, then relax for one second...repeat 10 times. Avoid caffeine and carbonated beverages they can irritate the bladder.
See your doctor if: You often leak urine or use the toilet more than eight times per day or more than twice at night.
Treatments: A probe inserted into the vagina emits a current that may stimulate and strengthen pelvic muscles over time. Collagen injected into the bladder outlet may improve closure...Botox injected into the bladder lining can reduce spasms. Surgical options include inserting a sling to support the urethra...or implanting a nerve-stimulating device that calms spasms in an overactive bladder.
Seek emergency care if: There is blood in your urine. You must be checked for kidney stones, pyelonephritis (a kidney infection), severe urinary tract infection and/or urinary tract cancer.
- Poor memory. You made plans to see a friend but cannot remember where to meet.
Normal aging: As the body produces lower levels of chemicals that brain cells need to function optimally, memory worsens.
Self-help: Try daily crossword or Sudoku puzzles or games that challenge brain speed (see www.GamesForTheBrain.com). Get regular aerobic exercise to increase cerebral blood flow and promote neuron regeneration. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Do not smoke or consume more than one alcoholic drink daily-people with these bad habits develop Alzheimer's disease an average of 2.3 to 4.8 years earlier, respectively, than nonsmokers and nondrinkers.
See your doctor if: Forgetfulness interferes with day-to-day tasks or if loved ones say that they notice behavioral changes. High blood pressure and diabetes increase dementia risk, So work with your doctor to control these conditions. Ask your doctor if memory problems may be linked to medication or an underlying problem, such as a vitamin B-12 deficiency, sleep disorder, anemia, low thyroid or depression.
Seek emergency care if: A memory lapse occurs suddenly and is accompanied by changes in vision, speech and/or balance-this could signal a stroke. Also get immediate help if memory problems occur after a head injury, even a seemingly minor one. This can signal bleeding within or around the brain. Emergency surgery can be lifesaving.
Topical Gel Beats Bladder Problems
Gelnique, the first topical gel to treat overactive bladder (loss of bladder control), has been approved by the FDA. The gel is applied once daily to the thigh, abdomen, upper arm or shoulder. In a 12-week study of 789 women and men with overactive bladder, Gelnique decreased incontinence episodes by 10% and urination frequency by 6%, compared with a placebo. Gelnique is not metabolized by the liver, thus reducing side effects. Patients with urinary retention (inability to pass urine) or gastric retention (delayed emptying of the stomach) or uncontrolled narrow-angle glaucoma should not use Gelnique.