Health Matters Podcast is a series created in collaboration with WVUA-23 and Alabama Public Radio that features University Medical Center physicians and providers who bring awareness of important health issues and relevant and timely health information to the public.
Dr. Brittney Anderson is a family medicine physician at University Medical Center in Demopolis, where she cares for patients in a region of the state known as the Black Belt. She has cared for patients with COVID-19 who, because of their underlying health conditions, often experience more adverse outcomes from the virus. Those underlying conditions are the result of a critical shortage of health care in the Black Belt.
We’ve all been dealing with COVID-19 since last March. University Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Weida said things are getting better, but the pandemic is far from over. “We’re going to need to watch the variations, watch for responses to the vaccine,” Weida said. “I’ve seen a few patients who actually get COVID more than once.”
We have all been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic since March of last year. Today we’ll hear from Dr. Tom Weida, Chief Medical Officer of University Medical Center. He will give us an update on where we are now in regard to COVID-19, and what we might expect in the coming months.
COVID-19 has significantly impacted the elderly, from the risk of severe illness to isolation from family and friends. University Medical Center Psychiatrist Dr. James Reeves said those older than 65 are proving resilient amid the pandemic. “When you talk to seniors, when you do these studies you find that they have dealt with much more stress than any other age group combined,” Reeves said. “If you think about the wars and recessions this country has been through in the last 70 years, plus their own personal crises dealing with health issues, family issues or things.”
Every year, millions of people in the U.S. wind up sick from the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that last year, 34,000 Americans died from the flu. This year, health experts worry about an overlap of flu and COVID-19, and the potential burden to people and our health care system. University Medical Center Family Medicine Physician Dr. Jennifer Clem said protecting yourself from the flu has never been more important.
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected many people’s mental health. As the pandemic wears on, it’s likely those mental health burdens will increase as measures taken to slow the virus’ spread such as social distancing and business and school closures lead to greatrer isolation. Dr. Martha Crowther, a practicing psychologist at University Medical Center said it’s important to be aware of the impact to mental health as COVID-19 continues. “People are feeling very anxious often, stressed out and uncertain,” Crowther said. “I was trying to find the right word to describe this, but initially when the pandemic first happened, people were just caught off guard.”
Now that COVID-19 vaccines are more widely available, it’s important that you understand more about them. University Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Weida said each of the vaccines available have their own safety guidelines, effectiveness and potential side effects. “I would say most who are gonna get the vaccine don’t really have any side effects,” Weida said. “Some folks may feel flu-like symptoms, maybe get a headache or just aches.”
Eating vegetables is an important part of maintaining good health. They’re low in fat and calories, and a a great source of nutrients including vitamins, fiber and potassium. With the rise of farmers markets, it’s easier than ever to find locally grown fresh vegetables. But have you ever wondered about the best way to clean all that fresh produce?
Eating a healthy diet doesn’t always have to be expensive. University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences faculty member and Registered Dietician Suzanne Henson said it’s not complicated to live healthy within a budget. “There are foods on those shelves that are cost effective, and so hopefully we can fight that myth that eating healthy is expensive,” Henson said.
At one time or another we’ve all wanted to shed a few pounds. University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences faculty member and registered dietician Suzanne Henson discusses how you can avoid fad diets and stay on track with your weight loss goals. “In the two decades I’ve been working in this field, the thing that will always work is balance and not eliminating any one food group,” Henson said. Some people may need to shift their eating habits a little more toward new food groups, like eating more vegetables.
Does social media influence what we eat? Recent research on the subject shows our online social circles may implicitly influence our eating habits. One study found that college students ate more fruits and vegetables, or indulged in more junk food, if they perceived that their social media peers did. Let’s hear more about this from Suzanne Henson, a registered dietitian at University Medical Center.
More and more people are buying frozen foods with the coronavirus keeping families at home and shopping trips at a minimum. Recent surveys show consumers are relying more on frozen food because of a longer shelf life and the ability to stock up. University Medical Center Registered Dietician Susanne Hansen said frozen foods are always great because they’re easy to prepare, inexpensive and usually healthy.
Meat is an important source of protein and iron, but there have been times during the COVID-19 pandemic where meat processing plants were temporarily closed and meat may not have been as readily available. University Medical Center Registered Dietician Suzanne Hansen said there are easy ways you can incorporate protein and iron into your diet without meat. “One of my favorite meals is to take black beans and put them into a quesadilla with some leftover veggies,” she said.
Summer is a brilliant time for outdoor picnics and barbecues, but it also brings a potential for food poisoning if those outdoor treats aren’t kept at a safe temperature. University Medical Center Dietician Suzanne Henson said there are several ways you can keep potential problems at bay. “Typically it’s the proteins,” Henson said. “So your poultry, your meat, things like fish are certainly concerns.”
Every year, thousands of adults in the U.S. become seriously ill and are hospitalized because of preventable diseases. Shingles, pneumonia and the flu are some of the top illnesses that can be prevented with vaccines. University Medical Center Family Physician Dr. Jane Weida said vaccines are some of the most convenient and safest preventive care measures available.
Much has changed for those living with acquired immune deficiency syndrome since the first case was reported 30 years ago. Today, those with these syndrome are living longer, healthier lives thanks to medications available and medications that treat the disease. But, there are still too many people getting acquired immune deficiency syndrome and not getting treatment, particularly in the rural, deep south.
If you have Medicare as your insurer, there’s an exciting new opportunity for you to stay healthy. It’s called a Medicare Annual Wellness Exam. University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Weida said the exam is a great service for Medicare patients wanting to keep an eye on their health and prevent issues down the road. “(The exam) doesn’t really involve an invasive physical,” Weida said. “It’s really more about the interview process. It’s important to tell (your doctor) about those little things that may be troubling you or bothering you because they may lead to something bigger.”
If you receive medical care through Medicare, you’ll want to know about an opportunity that is available to you: a Medicare wellness visit. These visits are different from regular physicals but are equally useful. University Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Weida said Medicare wellness visits are important for your health. “For Medicare patients, there’s something known as an annual wellness visit,” Weida said. “Basically, when you first get into Medicare that first year, you can get a ‘Welcome to Medicare’ visit, and then after that an annual Medicare wellness visit. The purpose of that is to really sort of develop a preventative care plan for each individual so that they stay healthy, stay out of the hospital and be as healthy as they can.”
For many young folks, going to the doctor is something you only do when you’re sick. Dr. Tiffany Thomas, a faculty member at University Medical Center, said it’s important everyone get regular checkups. “High blood pressure is one that we commonly think of, diabetes is also another,” Thomas said. “It’s important to get treatments early. That really helps prevent complications.”
If you’re like many people, you’ve had the same doctor for years. But what do you do when that doctor you’ve formed a meaningful bond with announces their retirement? University Medical Center Family Medicine Physician Dr. Jane Weida said finding a new doctor can be tough, but usually you won’t have to look far.
We’re all too hard on ourselves regarding our weight, height and appearance sometimes. Registerd Dietician and Univerisity of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences Faculty Member Suzanne Henson said body shaming can ruin someone’s self-esteem, but it can lead to lifelong problems for children. “I truly get concerned working with families, whether there’s a parent and a child or a caregiver who is taking care of children who criticize that child’s weight,” Henson said. “They may not have poor intentions, but my fear is that you can set up a lifelong feeling of shame about your body and preoccupation with dieting that will follow you lifelong.”
Dr. Thad Ulzen is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at University Medical Center. He is also working to enhance care and services provided by Brewer-Porch Children’s Center in Tuscaloosa, which became part of The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences in October 2020. Brewer-Porch provides behavioral health care for children and adolescents locally and from across Alabama. Ulzen talks about the care currently provided at Brewer-Porch and how care and other services will be expanded in the future.
People are carrying a good bit of stress with them these days, and that can cause real health concerns. University Medical Center Director of Case Management and Social Services Dr. Bob McKinney offered some tips for coping with all the stressful news coming in each and every day. “One thing that I would encourage people to do is actively seek out sources for good news, not just whatever somebody is feeding you,” McKinney said. “But in addition to that, a lot of national news in the United States is very divisive. Distance gives perspective, so I would encourage people to at least explore international news sources.”
Poor sleep is a common problem, with 25% of adults saying they often don’t get a good night’s rest. But sleep is critical for good health, and not getting enough puts you at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Dr. Brittany Anderson is a family medicine physician at University Medical Center who regularly talks with her patients about sleep.
There are plenty of social media experiences out there today, but studies show apps like Instagram and TikTok can take a toll on the mental health of teens. Social media can make people feel insecure about their status, and it’s also been linked to body image concerns. University Medical Center Psychiatrist Dr. Marissa Gigi specializes in adolescents, and says that while social media can be fun, many teens are too invested.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been stressful. Fear and anxiety about the virus, and the future, can be overwhelming. And social distancing can make people feel isolated and lonely. Today we’ll hear from Dr. Marth Crowther, a psychologist at University Medical Center. She talks about a new service for faculty and staff of The University of Alabama – and their families – that can help.
Yoga has been around for centuries but researchers were never sure of its benefits. Dr. Bob McKinney with the University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences said the benefits all depend on how you’re using yoga. “You can have a very aggressive, active class in which you’re working and sweating and really changing some things about your body or you can have a nice mellow relaxing class,” McKinney said. “That’s still a yoga experience, and it gives you a very different awareness of yourself.
Yoga isn’t just for people looking for relaxation in their life, it’s also beneficial for anyone suffering from physical or mental ailments. Dr. Bob McKinney with the University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences said evidence supports the idea that yoga may be beneficial for people with arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome or chronic back pain, along with other illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome. “There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that yoga is beneficial for those folks,” he said. “But it can also be beneficial for people who are dealing with various mental health diagnoses.”
University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences Professor of Community Medicine and Population Health Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster studies minority health and health disparities. Here, she discusses those disparities and their impact on Alabama’s minority communities. “Even just recognizing that there are racial disparities, we even use the term ‘inequities’ because we want people to think a little deeper than just Black and white differences,” Payne-Foster said. “When I say inequities I want people to think about systems that make people different in this country, so inequities around history, the context of history for African Americans in this country.”
Patients aren’t one size fits all. That’s why the National Institute of Health is conducting a large research project that will hopefully accelerate precision medicine. Dr. John Higgenbotham, an epidemiologist and the chair of the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences said precision medicine helps focus on a person’s individual health needs, and the college is recruiting patients into the study by using their mobile outreach units. “We work with the University Medical Center to help us recruit people to participate, but we also have a mobile unit that we’re really excited about,” Higgenbotham said. “This is a 40-foot bus that has two exam rooms, so we can actually take our clinic out into rural areas and recruit people there to participate.”
As we get closer to the start of the school year, children and their parents might be thinking about sports even in the midst of COVID-19. How can youth sports organizations protect players from the virus and what can players do to protect themselves and their teammates? University Medical Center Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Brett Bentley said you can cut down on the chances of spreading or catching COVID-19 with some simple tips. “If you’re unwell, stay home,” Bentley said. “Secondly, wash your hands frequently and throughout the day.”
Endocrinologists are doctors who specialize in glands and the hormones they make, meaning they most commonly treat diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure, thyroid diseases or hormonal issues. Dr. Robert Osburn is an endocrinologist who recently joined the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, and he says his specialty gets more important for potential patients as they age. “An endocrine organ is a gland in the body that secretes a substance into the blood that affects something somewhere else in the body,” Osburn said.
You may not be familiar with hospitalists, but these medical professionals help ensure your health is top priority as you or a loved one transitions from a primary care doctor into a hospital setting. Dr. Robert Shepard from the University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences said a hospitalist is a physician who’s dedicated to taking care of patients who are in a hospital. “In other words they don’t tend to have an office practice,” Shepard said.
A hospitalist is a doctor who practices in the hospital, caring for patients from the time they are admitted to the time they’re discharged. Hospitalist services are common across the country, and hospital medicine is now one of the country’s larges medical specialties. Univesrsity Hospitalist Group was established by University Medical Center in partnership with DCH Regional Medical Center.
High blood pressure is a common health condition with nearly half of adults diagnosed with hypertension. High blood pressure puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke. University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences Associate Professor of Community medicine Dr. Louanne Friend conducts research into high blood pressure. Her work has spawned the Hype app patients can use to track their blood pressure and other health indicators.
ou’ve likely heard of lupus, but did you know it’s a difficult disease to diagnose? University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences Department of Community Medicine and Population Health Faculty Member Dr. Pamela Payne Foster said lupus is something many people suffer with for some time before they’re properly diagnosed. Women of color are often worst affected by a delayed diagnoses, she said.
The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that by the year 2030, we’ll have more patients over 65 than we do children. Dr. Anne Hallie-Tierney is the geriatrician at University Medical Center. Here’s what happens at your first visit to a geriatrician. “A geriatrician is, in the simplest terms, someone who takes care of older adults,” Hallie-Tierney said. “What I usually tell people is that there are two ways to be old.”
Women strive for optimal health during pregnancy, but it’s important that they’re healthy even before they get pregnant. University Medical Center Family Medicine Obstetrician Dr. Connie Leeper said a considerable amount of development takes place in the first weeks of pregnancy, often before women even know they’re pregnant. “I usually recommend that if they are even thinking about having a baby they should just go ahead and be on a vitamin that has folic acid,” Leeper said.
Breast cancer is common among American women, but is often easily treatable if discovered early. University Medical Center OB/GYN Dr. John McDonald said it’s important to stay aware of breast cancer risk factors and symptoms, as well as keeping up with the necessary screenings. “By the time you reach age 50 you have a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer if you are a woman,” McDonald said. “However, in the past 20 to 30 years our treatments and detection rates have gotten way better.”
In the United States, there are more than 13,000 cases of cervical cancer every year. Most people don’t know that cervical cancer can be prevented. University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences Interim Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology Dr. John McDonald said cervical cancer is the most common gynecological cancer in the world. “It is not the most common cancer in the United States because we have an effective screening test called the Pap smear that was developed many years ago,” McDonald said. “The rates of cervical cancer in the United States have dropped dramatically since the implementation of the annual Pap smear.”
Endometriosis is an often-painful condition in women that occurs when the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. Let’s listen to Dr. John McDonald, an OB/GYN at University Medical Center, as he explains the symptoms and causes of endometriosis.
Family medicine physicians often choose to incorporate obstetrics into their practice to better serve their patients. This is particularly helpful for patients in rural and underserved areas, where the nearest obstetrician might be counties away. Dr. Connie Leeper is a family medicine obstetrician at University Medical Center. She says family medicine obstetricians can also provide continuity of care by caring for women before they are mothers, during their pregnancies and deliveries, and can care for their babies.
One of the biggest challenges we have in rural Alabama is good access to maternal prenatal care. Barbara Jurnegon is a nurse practitioner who is working with University of Alabama researchers on delivering that care in the home. “Our initial plan will actually be visiting moms in their third trimester in the last part of their pregnancy, and we will come in and develop a plan with the nurse, which is me, the obstetrician and the mom,” she said.
One of the most challenging problems in rural Alabama today is the lack of access for maternal care, particularly for those living in under-served areas. Dr. Mercedes Morales is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences. She said there’s an innovative research project that involves telemedicine and team-based care to ensure the best outcomes for women in under-served locations.
For many women, the menstrual cycle is something to dread because of the pain and discomfort. University Medical Center OBGYN Dr. Cecily Collins said women should be aware in any potential changes in those patterns. “I would not really say it’s a pain threshold tolerance issue for most women,” Collins said. “It’s different or it’s worsening. Menstrual cramps are there. They’re present and they’re real even if you don’t have any issues. But if it’s to the point that you have to come see me as your physician it’s probably not just something in your head.”
COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, and pregnancy is no exception. Expecting mothers are wondering if they should get a COVID-19 vaccine. University Medical Center OBGYN Dr. John McDonald said there’s a reason it’s recommended. “It will definitely help if you were exposed to the virus,” McDonald said. “You do not want to be in a situation where you get extremely sick with COVID and you are pregnant.”
Screening tests can prevent illness and disease even before you have symptoms. Some screenings for women’s health include mammograms and PAP smears are done regularly, and University Medical Center OBGYN Dr. John McDonald said he urges women not put off these screenings because of COVID-19. “When COVID first came about in March of this year, we saw a reduction in our clinic of up to 60% to 70% no-show,” he said. “Those rates have primarily gone away now and people are also becoming more comfortable with engaging the health care system.”