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Find answers to some common health issues from Asante Physician Partners team of health experts.

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Latest Question:


I was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure. What can I do to control it?

Marcelin Charles, MD

Marcelin Charles, MD
Family Medicine

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a serious condition and a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. There is no single cause of high blood pressure, though family history and lifestyle choices may play a part. Controlling high blood pressure can be difficult, but it is often possible with the right combination of medication and lifestyle changes.

Improve Your Lifestyle Where Possible

There are plenty of lifestyle choices you can make to help control high blood pressure. In general, you are less likely to experience high blood pressure at a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight can also make your blood pressure medication more effective.

Even when you are at a healthy weight, diet and exercise play an important role in managing blood pressure. Daily exercise and a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy options are an effective strategy for many hypertensive patients.

Cut Back On…

  • Saturated fat
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Tobacco
  • Sodium

All of the above have a relationship with high blood pressure. Some patients have successfully reduced their blood pressure with programs that included cutting back on these consumables. Cutting back on fat, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and sodium might be difficult, but developing healthier habits with any one of them can result in many more health benefits than just improved blood pressure.

Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions

Always take your doctor’s recommendations seriously, especially if you have been prescribed medication. Sometimes lifestyle changes alone can reduce high blood pressure to the point where medication is no longer necessary—but only your doctor can judge the appropriate time to stop taking medication. Because no two cases of high blood pressure are exactly alike, information that you find online may contradict what your doctor has told you about managing your condition. Trust your doctor over online information. If you have doubts, ask for a second opinion from a licensed medical professional.

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My doctor told me I need to pay better attention to my bone health now that I’m through menopause. What can I do to keep my bones strong?

Angela Mount - Ask A Doctor

For women age 55 and better, strong bones don’t have to be a thing of the past. While losing bone-protecting estrogen in menopause puts women at risk for osteoporosis, simple exercises can keep bones from weakening with age.

Good posture is the first key to strong bones. It can protect your body from unnecessary wear and tear. This means bearing equal weight on both feet when standing, with your sternum lifted to the ceiling and your shoulders slightly back, not slumped. Then try maintaining this alignment while walking.

Next, practice exercises that extend the leg, hip and spine. It’s best to start slowly. Try moving up and down on the balls of your feet while standing, or lying on your stomach and lifting the shoulders back to strengthen your spine. Once you’ve grown comfortable with the movements, adding moderate weights can enhance your workout.

Even if you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, strength training exercises can still be beneficial because they slow the process of bone loss. While exercising, though, make sure you watch your body mechanics. For example, avoid any sort of forward-bending exercise. Rather than bending in the spine, you should bend at the hip, called a hip hinge.

To illustrate, when removing an object from the bottom refrigerator shelf, bend at the hip and keep your spine vertical and straight. This will feel like a squat, almost as if you’re going to sit on a chair. Keep your sternum to the ceiling, bending at the ankle, knee, and hip.

Finally, work on improving your balance. Try standing on one leg for 10 to 20 seconds while you’re at the kitchen counter. Do this a couple times a day, gradually increasing your time. Good balance can prevent falls, which are particularly dangerous for people with weak bones.

In addition to exercise, strong bones need calcium. Talk to your primary care doctor about adding more calcium-rich foods or supplements to your diet.

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Other Common Questions:

Last year’s flu season was terrible. How do I protect myself and my family from catching the flu this winter?

Ask A Doc - Volodymyr Dovhyy, MD

Ask anybody who’s had influenza, and they’ll tell you it’s an awful experience. Fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, and fatigue are just some of the common symptoms suffered by thousands of flu victims every year. Fortunately, you can follow basic precautions to prevent getting or spreading the flu. 

  1. Get vaccinated! The single best way to prevent influenza is to get a flu shot. It’s a safe and effective option for most people ages 6 months and up. Protection develops up to two weeks after getting the shot and lasts for up to a year. The sooner you get your flu shot, the sooner your body will build immunities lasting throughout this year’s flu season. 
  2. Good hygiene habits are the key to keeping flu at bay. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. (And sneeze into a tissue, please! Then promptly throw it away.) When soap and water aren’t available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs are spread this way. 
  3. Try to avoid close contact with sick people, especially those with a fever. If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, do not go to work, school, or other public places. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible in order to keep from making them sick. 
  4. Finally, if you suspect you have the flu, it’s a good idea to see your primary care provider right away so he can test for the influenza virus and prescribe an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu. If taken within 12 to 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, antivirals can stop the flu from spreading throughout your body and shorten the duration of your misery. Antivirals can also reduce your chances of developing complications such as pneumonia. 

For more information on the flu vaccine or when to call your doctor about flu-like symptoms or complications, visit flu.oregon.gov

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What’s the best way to clean my ears?

Ask A Doc - Richard Huffaker, DO

Great question! What many people don’t realize is that cleaning your ears is often unnecessary, and can even be harmful—for two reasons. 

First, cerumen, or ear wax, creates a natural barrier to protect your ears from outside contaminants. Because ear wax is slightly acidic, it does a great job of keeping bacteria and fungus at bay. Without a healthy amount of ear wax, the ear canal can become susceptible to infections. 

Second, “cleaning” your ears with foreign objects, such as cotton swabs, actually pushes the ear wax further down the canal, gradually causing the wax to become impacted. This can lead to hearing loss, ear pain, and in rare cases, dizziness or vertigo. My rule of thumb is, “Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear!” 

Of course, if wax escapes the ear canal and turns dark yellow or orange, it can become unsightly. When that happens, you can gently wipe the external “bowl” of the ear with a wash rag or tissue. For most people, that’s all the cleaning required. 

However, some people have problems with ear wax build-up and may need further treatment. I recommend a few homeopathic remedies—none of which involve sticking a foreign object in your ear! 

  • Contrary to popular belief, water softens wax. Simply allow water to dribble in and out of your ear while showering. 
  • Using an eye dropper, place a few small drops of extra virgin olive oil in your ear canal to loosen the wax. You could also try baby oil, mineral oil, or glycerin. 
  • Mix a solution of half water, half hydrogen peroxide, and place a few drops in your ear canal. The wax will soften and eventually work its way out. 
  • After treatment, you can dry your outer ear with a towel or a hair dryer held at arm’s length. 

If these remedies don’t relieve excessive build-up, see an ear, nose, and throat specialist for help. We can perform a safe and effective ear-cleaning procedure using a microscope and gentle tools. 

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What is whooping cough? Is there anything I can do to prevent it?

Ask A Doctor, Eric Boehmer, MD, ADIHM

Whooping cough, technically called “pertussis,” is an upper respiratory bacterial infection. It starts with cold-like symptoms then develops into
severe coughing spells. Coughs are followed by a gasp of air, which creates a characteristic “whoop” sound.

Pertussis can be a serious and exhausting illness. During the coughing fits, oxygen levels can drop, turning lips blue. Coughing might also lead to vomiting, brain hemorrhage, nosebleeds, hernias, and broken ribs. Other complications may include pneumonia, seizures, swelling of the brain and spinal cord, ear infections, and dehydration.

The good news is—a vaccine is available to protect you and your family from pertussis. Your primary care provider can give you a booster shot as part of a routine exam. The pertussis vaccine is also part of the normal immunization schedule recommended for infants and children.

Between age 2 months and 5 years, children should receive a total of five DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccines at specific intervals. Adults and adolescents age 11 or older should get a one-time booster Tdap.

It’s especially important to be vaccinated if you have or are expecting a newborn baby in your care this winter. Pertussis can be dangerous for infants, often requiring hospitalization and respiratory support. Babies can’t get vaccinated until they are at least 2 months old, so the best way to protect them is to keep them from getting exposed. That means making sure the people around them have been vaccinated, including parents, grandparents, older siblings, and caregivers.

Talk to your primary care doctor about protecting yourself and the people you love with a pertussis vaccine this winter.

Request an Appointment with Dr. Boehmer>>

I have an ache in my shoulder that’s getting worse over time. Why does it hurt, and when should I see a medical professional?

Matthew Nugent, MD - Ask a Doctor

You’re not alone. An estimated seven out of ten people will experience some sort of shoulder pain in their lifetime. Let’s examine the common causes of shoulder pain, and what to do about them.

Arthritis is a condition in which the body’s cartilage breaks down. In some cases arthritis is genetic, but for most people it’s caused by wear and tear. Think of your cartilage like the tread on a tire; when the tread is worn out, the tire (i.e., your joints) can’t handle friction as well. Anybody can develop arthritis, but it’s especially typical in older patients.

Bursitis and bicep tendonitis are both inflammation injuries. Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa, which is a sac of lubricating fluid that cushions the shoulder joints. Bicep tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon connecting the bicep muscle to the shoulder. Both conditions can be caused by over-use or lack of use. They’re often seen in middle-age and older patients.

Pain from instability develops when shoulders are dislocating or moving too much. This is usually found in younger patients, athletes, or people who’ve experienced a traumatic shoulder injury.

How can you find relief? Start with home remedies, such as ice and over-thecounter anti-inflammatory medications. If those don’t ease the pain, it’s time to see an orthopedic physician. In my office, we conduct a thorough exam to diagnose the source of your pain. This includes an X-ray and possibly a cortisone injection, which not only gives you fast relief but also enables me to detect the cause of your shoulder trouble. In most cases, conservative treatment does the trick. This may involve a series of physical therapy sessions, once or twice a week for six weeks. These will help heal and strengthen your shoulder so you can return to normal activities, pain-free. For more serious injuries, however, we might need to continue with further testing, such as an MRI. This could lead to surgery to repair the source of your pain.

What can you do to prevent shoulder pain? Of course the best way to treat shoulder pain is to avoid it in the first place! Whether you are active at work or in sports, or if you engage in very little physical activity at all, you can prevent shoulder injuries by maintaining motion in your shoulders. Choose some targeted exercises to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles and biceps, which will make your body less susceptible to shoulder injuries.

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Reviewed by Philip Stanley on August 18, 2014