Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What to Do When Your Ears Get Clogged on a Plane

Between the jet lag, dry air, and muscle-cramping seating in coach, flying can really do a number on your health. But one of the most common body complaints fliers experience tends to go overlooked or be blown off as no big deal: clogged or plugged ears.

The proper term is “ear barotrauma,” which pretty accurately describes the pain and discomfort the condition typically causes. This complaint isn’t just a passing annoyance. Besides starting your vacation or business trip on a particularly sour note, it can also lead to some pretty serious complications, too. 

To understand what’s behind that clogged sensation, you’ll need a quick anatomy lesson. Your ear is divided into three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear (which houses the eardrum), and the inner ear. The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose and upper throat via a passageway called the eustachian tube, whose job it is to stabilize the air pressure levels between your nose and ear.

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“Our eustachian tubes open and close multiple times a day, but the passageway is so tiny that we don’t really notice it as long as it’s moving properly,” says Ana Kim, MD, an otolaryngologist at ColumbiaDoctors Midtown and associate professor of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

RELATED: 7 Vacation Health Hassles Solved

“When we’re flying, however, there’s a rapid change in the barometric [air] pressure, which causes a collapse of the eustachian tubes and interferes with the normal air flow from the nose to the ear,” explains Kim. Getting on a plane while you’re sick with a cold or other head infection that triggers nasal congestion makes those changes in air pressure even worse. 

“If you have an active ear or sinus infection, you’re taking away what little volume of air you have [in the Eustachian tube] by flying, which could cause a lot of pain,” says Kim. Gwen Stefani experienced this a few weeks ago when she hopped a flight while fighting a cold and ended up with a ruptured ear drum due to changes in cabin pressure, boyfriend Blake Shelton told Entertainment Tonight.

To re-stabilize the air pressure levels and prevent uncomfortable aching, you’ll need to open up those tubes. Here are three things to try if it happens to you.

Pinch your nose and blow—gently!

To get your ears to “pop,” you can try closing off your nose and mouth, then gently forcing the air into the middle ear. Do not—repeat, do not—blow too hard. Doing so can actually rupture the membranes of the cochlea (the organ that allows us to hear), says Kim. And when that happens, fluid can leak out, causing hearing loss, nerve damage, dizziness, or a type of ringing in the ear called tinnitus.

RELATED: 5 Mistakes You’re Making Cleaning Your Ears

Move your mouth muscles

Call it a good reason to keep a pack of gum in your carry-on: moving the muscles of your jaw by chewing, yawning, or swallowing water or another beverage can help reopen the eustachian tubes, says Kim. If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler and you suspect (or they tell you) their ears are plugged up, have them sip juice or water or use a pacifier to get those mouth muscles going.

Take a decongestant

Medications like Afrin shrink blood vessels and reduce inflammation in your nasal cavity. Since it works right away, you can take it 10 minutes before takeoff to prevent your ears from clogging in the first place. One word of caution: Although these meds are over-the-counter, people who have heart problems or are pregnant shouldn’t take them unless they’ve cleared it with their doctor.

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If the clogging doesn’t go away … 

Most of the time, the pressure should clear up a few hours after you’re back on land, she says. If it lingers longer—into the following day, for example—you might have a buildup of fluid behind your ear that isn’t ventilating properly. For that, you’ll probably want to see a doctor. Not only will you experience some temporary hearing loss (everyone will sound like you’re listening to them underwater) you could put yourself at risk of a serious infection.



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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mom Explains Why It's So Important to Be Body Positive in Front of Kids — Even When Bikini Shopping

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

Trying on bathing suits tends to be a time when women self-criticize, but Brittney Johnson made sure her recent mother-daughter bikini shopping trip was a positive one because she knew her young daughter was listening to how she spoke about her appearance.

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In a Facebook post that now has been liked over 322,000 times and shared over 165,000 times, Johnson, 27, explained why it’s so important for moms to be body positive role models for their children.

In the post, Johnson details her shopping trip, noting that her young daughter was polite to servers and generous to other children she encountered at the mall. When they got to Target, her daughter helped her pick out a few different swimsuits to try on. Johnson started snapping pictures of herself in the swimsuits to get her friends’ opinions, and noticed that her daughter was trying on the bikinis too.

RELATED: These Swimsuit Selfies Are Perfect Proof That Every Body Is a Bikini Body

“I stopped for a second to see what she would say, and when she turned to the mirror, she said, ‘Wow I just love cheetah print! I think I look beautiful! Do you think I look beautiful too?!’ ” Johnson wrote. “It hit me that she only says what she hears. What she sees. I tell her that she is beautiful every single day.”

“She is kind walking through the mall, because I tell her she is kind everywhere else,” she continued. “She is polite at the order counter because she hears me when I’m polite to strangers everywhere. She gives compliments to people she doesn’t know because she loves how it feels when she hears them. And when we are in a dressing room, with swimsuits of all God-forsaken things, there is a split moment when I have the power to say ‘Wow I have really gotten fat this year’ or ‘Wow I love this coral color on me!’ And those are the words burned into my daughter’s brain.”

Johnson notes that parents know to be a model for good manners and kindness, but often forget to be good role models when it comes to body image.

RELATED: Here’s How Little You Need to Exercise to Boost Your Mood

“When it comes to body image, be an example,” she wrote. “I am not a size zero. I never will be. I have big thighs and a huge rump and for some reason the middle of my body gets more tan than the rest. But this body made a whole other body. I am strong. I am able. And I am happy. I don’t have to be beautiful like you, because I am beautiful like me.”

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She knows that instilling a positive body image in her daughter now will benefit her as she grows up.

“As my daughter gets older, and she faces judgement and criticism, I will always remind her that the girls who look the prettiest in a two-piece or a body suit or a freaking Snuggie are the ones who are happy. Because that’s all that matters,” wrote Johnson. “And I want her to look at herself every single day and say, ‘Oh wow! I think I look beautiful!’ because every girl deserves to feel that.”



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These Swimsuit Selfies Are Perfect Proof That Every Body Is a Bikini Body

Thursday, May 11, 2017

This Former Bikini Competitor Shared a Before-and-After Pic to Make a Powerful Point

The Best Health Advice We've Received from Our Moms

Here at Health, we’re dedicated to sharing the best and latest wellness advice. Our drive comes from our own goals to live healthfully—and these were inspired in part by the healthy-living lessons our mothers instilled in us throughout our lives. With Mother’s Day right around the corner, we’re excited to share the mom-backed wisdom that didn’t always make sense at the time … but we’re now super grateful for. Thanks a ton, Mom!

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Cooking 101

“The healthiest thing I learned from my mom is how to run a functional kitchen at home: how to shop for groceries and produce, how to store and keep food fresh, and how to plan for a week’s worth of meals for a whole family. She also taught me the basics of cooking, whether salads, soups, or main courses. My mom’s cooking mantra was always ‘delicious and nutritious' and to this day I find myself muttering those words as I putter around my own kitchen!”

—Michael Gollust, research editor

RELATED: 16 Delicious Recipes for Mother’s Day Brunch

Taking Charge of My Own Health

“My mom taught me that it’s important to ask a lot of questions and to advocate for myself when it comes to doctors, not to just do what anyone says blindly. Her point was that ultimately any decisions about my health are up to me.”

—Beth Lipton, food director

Avoiding Unhealthy Fats

“Remember when everyone became very concerned with trans fats in 2006 or so? My mom was obsessed with trans fats five years before they were a mainstream thing to worry about. She refused to let us buy anything that contained partially hydrogenated oils (which was about 90% of my preferred diet at the time) and would go on about how terrible they were for you. While it was embarrassing to be the only kid not allowed to eat packaged foods, I think it helped me become a healthier adult—I still read every nutrition label and double-check that there’s nothing partially hydrogenated in there.”

—Kathleen Mulpeter, senior editor

Preventing UTIs

“It’s never not awkward to receive sex advice from your mom (especially as a teenager). But my mom saying to hit the bathroom and pee after doing the deed will always stick with me. It’s the simplest way to prevent UTIs and although my 16-year-old self cringes at that conversation, her advice is tried and true.”

—Julia Naftulin, assistant editor

RELATED: 17 Healthy Mother’s Day Gifts

Eating Clean

“Growing up, our pantry was scarce of processed and sugar-laden products and treats like ice cream and sweet cereals. Even Lunchables were reserved for special occasions. Instead, my mom fed me clean, nutritious food—including kale, way before it was trendy. At the time, I wasn’t always a fan of this healthy lifestyle, but now I couldn’t be more grateful for her nutritional guidance. She taught me there’s nothing wrong with enjoying less-than-healthy foods every so often—the key is simply balance and being kind to my body.”

—Kristine Thomason, assistant editor

Embracing Body Empowerment

“My mom grew up in the 1950s, when information about sex and women’s health was suppressed. She wanted better for me, so she gave the quintessential 1970s feminist book Our Bodies, Ourselves when I was in high school. Our Bodies, Ourselves introduced me to the body- and sex-positive attitudes that empowered me.”

—Olivia Barr, digital photo editor

Making Time for Sleep

“My mom gets up with the sun and is in bed around 9 p.m. and she’s had this schedule her entire life. I don’t have her early-bird body clock, but I try to turn in as early as possible and get a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Considering how good she looks and how active she is, it’s clear that sleep is a key to health. She’s the only person I’ve ever known who doesn’t complain about being tired all the time.”

—Esther Crain, deputy editor

Moderation Is Key

“My mom’s healthiest advice? Everything in moderation. She picked it up from her mother (although my grandma would relay the wisdom in Greek) and she has subscribed to this balanced mentality ever since. Permission to indulge in a slice of chocolate cake now and then, granted.”

- Anthea Levi, assistant editor



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First Woman With Down Syndrome to Compete in Miss Minnesota USA: 'I'm Going to Blaze the Trail!'

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

Mikalya Holmgren is already a pageant pro, but she’s about to make history as the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in Miss Minnesota USA.

The 22-year-old college student decided to apply for the pageant in April.

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“I said, ‘I want to do this,’ ” Holmgren tells PEOPLE. “I want to show my personality. I want to show what my life looks like, being happy, and joyful. I want to show what Down Syndrome looks like.”

The Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota native, who is also an accomplished dancer, previously won the Minnesota Miss Amazing pageant, which features women with special needs. Holmgren says that she wasn’t nervous at all about applying for Miss Minnesota — just “super proud!”

And she was thrilled to get in.

“I was just so happy and I had a smile on my face,” Holmgren says, of hearing the news.

Denise Wallace, executive co-director of Miss Minnesota USA, says Holmgren was a perfect fit for the pageant.

“Mikayla is such an incredible and accomplished young woman. We feel she definitely has what it takes to compete at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant this fall in that she is the epitome of what the Miss Universe Organization strives to look for in contestants — someone who is confidently beautiful,” she tells PEOPLE.

RELATED: These Easy Tweaks Will Make Your Coffee Healthier

The Miss Minnesota USA pageant also made headlines last year when it featured Halima Aden, the first contestant to wear a hijab.

Holmgren now has until November 26 to prepare, and she’s excited to make a difference as the first person with Down Syndrome to compete for the crown.

“That means my life is changing because of the pageant. I’m very proud of myself. It’s a new thing in my life,” she says. “I’m going to blaze the trail!”



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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Taking Ibuprofen Daily Raises Your Heart Attack Risk

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Ibuprofen, naproxen and celecoxib are among the most commonly used drugs in the U.S. They don’t require a prescription, and they’re a quick answer to all kinds of pain. But lately there’s been growing evidence that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may not be as benign as people think they are. (For more recent reporting on the potential side effects of NSAIDs, read this.)

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In general, NSAIDs are considered safe when used as directed—which is to say occasionally, for spot relief of pain. More and more people, however, are relying on them for long term use, and at higher doses. Experts—and a growing body of science—say that’s where problems can start.

RELATED: The Ibuprofen Risks You Need to Know

In the latest study, published in the journal BMJ, researchers found that some risks can appear after even a few days of using NSAIDs. Compared with people who didn’t take the painkillers, those who did had a 20% to 50% greater chance of having a heart attack. The risk was higher for people who took 1,200 mg a day of ibuprofen—the equivalent of six standard tablets of Advil—and 750 mg a day for naproxen, the equivalent of roughly three and a half standard Aleves.

The researchers pooled data from several large studies on the drugs and their health effects. In all, more than 446,000 people who used the non-prescription painkillers were included. Among them, more than 61,000 had a heart attack. People who took NSAIDs for even a week had a significantly higher risk of having a heart attack; the highest risk occurred for those taking them for about a month. (After a month, the risk didn’t appear to increase further — the researchers think that’s because everyone who was vulnerable to the drugs’ effects on the heart would have experienced heart problems by then.)

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The results confirm those from earlier studies that also found a heightened risk of heart problems in NSAID users, but the large number of people in this analysis—and the more detailed look at how long people were taking the drugs—makes the connection even stronger. The researchers also accounted for other possible factors that could connect NSAID users and heart problems, such as diabetes, high cholesterol levels and previous history of heart disease. Even after those adjustments, the linked remained significant.

The study also confirmed that newer NSAIDs like celecoxib, known as COX-2 inhibitors, which were originally thought to cause more heart problems than traditional NSAIDs, were not more risky when it comes to heart attacks.

As TIME reported previously, some studies found a 19% higher risk of having heart trouble among NSAID users compared to people who didn’t use the drugs. Other studies have found higher risk of hearing loss and miscarriage as well. Those led the Food and Drug Administration to add a warning on NSAID labels about the risks of taking the drugs, especially for long periods of time at high doses.



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6 Simple Tricks to Keep Your Brain Young

Society tells us that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks—that it’s harder for adults to learn new skills than it is for kids. And in many ways, that’s true: Babies have nothing to do but eat, sleep, and learn, while grown-ups are faced with all sorts of time, money, and real-life constraints. (Not to mention, we get annoyed when we’re not good at things right away.)

But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Rachel Wu, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside. In a new paper published in Human Development, Wu argues that using a childlike approach to learning can help people of any age take on and conqueror new challenges.

Not only will this help adults develop new talents and hobbies, Wu says, but research suggests that it can keep their brains young, delaying or slowing age-related cognitive decline.

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Wu says that as we age, we transition from “broad learning” to “specialized learning,” focusing on our careers and specific areas of expertise. It’s that increasingly narrow specialization that leads to cognitive slowdown, she theorizes—initially in unfamiliar situations, but eventually all the time.

Instead of falling into this trap, Wu says, adults should embrace broad learning through the following six strategies. In children, these behaviors have been shown to increase basic cognitive abilities like working memory, inhibition, and attention. Wu predicts the same would be true for adults, too, if we’d actually give them a chance.

RELATED: New Ways to Boost Your Brain Power

Venture outside your comfort zone
As adults, we tend to use similar skills day in and day out: We take jobs in fields we’re already proficient in, drive the same routes to the same places, and fall into routines we’re comfortable with. But all this familiarity limits the parts of the brain we’re using on a regular basis, says Wu.

“If you’re trying to learn a new skill and it’s turning out to be really easy for you, that may be a sign it’s too similar to what you’re already familiar with,” she says. “Switching to something more challenging, that’s truly different than what you’re used to, may have more cognitive benefits.”

Get a teacher
It’s difficult for adults to teach themselves new skills, says Wu, especially if they really are trying something totally unfamiliar. Hiring an instructor or taking a class, on the other hand, can inspire discipline and hold people accountable for their progress.

Can’t afford professional lessons? “I’ve seen barter systems in groups of adults where someone is a skilled artist, for example, and someone is a musician,” says Wu. “At some point, everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s a learner.”

Believe in yourself
“This may be one of the toughest ones, because it’s so embedded in our culture and our stereotypes that you really can’t develop as an adult,” says Wu. Many people also believe that adults need natural talent to succeed in new areas, and that hard work simply isn’t enough. (Wu wrote about her own experience with these beliefs in a recent Scientific American blog post.)

“It comes down to ignoring those people who don’t believe in the process,” says Wu, “and pushing yourself to really believe it yourself—to know that you can and you will improve with practice.”

Surround yourself with encouraging people
A fear of making mistakes is another reason adults are so slow to learn new things; if we try and fail, we can face criticism, lose money, or get fired. And if we’re not good at something right away, we’re told to not give up our day jobs.

That’s why it’s important to build up a support network of people—at work and at home—who allow you to make mistakes and learn from them, says Wu. “Surround yourself with positivity,” she says. “It’s kind of a general life lesson, but it’s especially applicable here.”

RELATED: 8 Ways Sex Affects Your Brain

Make a serious commitment—and don’t give up
What keeps people motivated is very individualistic, says Wu, and people need to find the inspiration that works for them. “One of the reasons I have a piano teacher is that I will quit and use my time for something else if I’m not being pushed every week,” she says.

Some research shows that telling friends and family about a new goal can also help keep you motivated, she says. If you can afford it, spending money on a new pursuit—pre-paying for tennis lessons and a fancy new racket, for example, or booking a trip to Rome to practice your Italian—might also make it harder to throw in the towel.

Learn more than one thing at once
“Because our time is so valuable, we tend to zero in on one hobby or one skill we want to get better at,” says Wu. But dividing that time and energy into three or four areas will “stretch your brain in all different directions,” she says.

That doesn’t mean you should start four new challenges all at once, though. “Maybe you started learning a new language in 2016, and this year you add singing lessons, and next year you try something else,” she says. “You can add things gradually based on what you can handle.”

Strive for a variety of activities, as well. “If you try new things in different domains—one related to physical activity, one related to music, and another one artistic, for example—you might be stretching your brain more effectively than if you were learning how to paint, sculpt, and draw.”

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Wu says the idea that these six strategies can counteract cognitive decline still needs to be tested with scientific studies. But she says her theory is based on five decades of research, and she’s optimistic about what study results will reveal.

She also acknowledges that spending time and money on learning is a luxury that not everyone has, especially when we’re rewarded—by our jobs, other people, and our own egos—for doing what we’re already good at.

“I think the first step is being aware that this kind of living may be advantageous to you in the short term, but detrimental in the long run,” she says. “The second step is finding ways to work some variety, some new skill, into your daily life. Even just 10 minutes is better than nothing.”



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Swearing Can Be Good for You, According to Science

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com. 

The next time you could use a little burst of power—whether you’re biking up a steep hill or simply trying to open a jar of pickles—it might help to utter a few not-safe-for-work words while giving it your all. According to a new study, swearing seems to increase strength for short periods of time.

Previous research has shown that using profanity can increase pain tolerance. Scientists think this might be because it stimulates the body’s sympathetic nervous system—the system that revs the heart rate and activates the body’s “fight or flight” response when it senses some kind of threat.

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Researchers from Keele University and Long Island University Brooklyn hypothesized that this might also give people a quick strength boost, as well. To test their theory, they asked a total of 81 participants to complete short tests of anaerobic and isometric power. Some rode an exercise bike at maximum intensity for 30 seconds; others squeezed a hand-grip device as hard as they could.

They measured participants’ performance on these tests under two circumstances: once while repeating a curse word of their choosing every three seconds, and once while repeating a neutral word—something to describe a table in the room, like “flat” or “round.”

RELATED: Can Fidget Spinners Really Help Anxiety and ADHD? An Expert Weighs In

As predicted, the volunteers produced more pedaling power and had stronger hand grips while they were cursing. Surprisingly, though, the researchers found no significant differences in heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance (a measure that increases physiological arousal) between the swearing and non-swearing scenarios.

This suggests that the sympathetic nervous system may not be the driving factor after all, says co-author David Spierer, former associate professor of athletic training, health, and exercise science at Long Island University Brooklyn. Instead, the researchers think cursing may allow people to “shut down their inhibitions,” says Spierer, “and somewhat veil the effort and the pain of this really difficult task.”

RELATED:  Here’s How Many People End Up in the ER Due to Cotton Swabs

In this way, Spierer says, using swear words might be helpful in any circumstance where muscle strength and a sudden burst of force or speed is required. “If you’re trying to open a jar of pickles and it’s really tough, I’m not going to say that cursing will definitely enable you to open it,” he says. “But I do feel that cursing could decrease your awareness of what it is you’re doing, and that could actually make it more forceful.” The same could go for athletic events, too. “If you’re not really aware of the pain and difficultly, you can put more into your performance.”

For reasons that aren’t quite understood, a neutral word didn’t have the same effect on participants in the study. Spierer says it’s likely that everyone has different responses to profanity, as well. “In the study, some people chose more explicit words than others,” he says. He adds they were all short—mostly four letters—and repeated at a normal volume. “It’s not like they were going on a tirade and screaming at people.”

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If you want to try it yourself, Spierer suggests repeating your chosen word at a structured pace, like a mantra. “We think that if you get into a rhythm and your body can predict when it’s coming, it can have more of an effect.”

The study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, was presented this week at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Brighton, England.



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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Ashley Graham on How Parents Can Teach Their Children Body Positivity by Loving Themselves

I Survived Flesh-Eating Bacteria—and It Changed My Life Forever

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

This essay is part of a TIME series on the growing effects of antimicrobial resistance: superbugs that may no longer be treated with standard-course antibiotics. In 2016, World Health Organization leaders called drug resistance a “major global threat” that’s estimated to kill 10 million people a year in 2050. Here is the remarkable story of Aimee Copeland, who lost her leg, foot and hands after acquiring a bacterial infection that couldn’t be cured with standard antibiotics alone.

Before my accident, I had big plans for the summer of 2012. Everything seemed to be going right: I had just finished my final exams (I was working on my master’s degree in psychology), I was in a relationship, and I had a job as a waitress at a local cafĂ© in Carrollton, Georgia.

After finishing my shift on the afternoon of May 1, a coworker invited me and another friend to hang out at her home. It was a warm, sunny day, and there was a beautiful creek in her backyard. We put on our swimsuits and started wading in the water. Soon enough, we stumbled across an old, homemade zip line. I’ve always been adventurous, so I was thrilled to try it. All of us went across the zip line once with no problems. But on my second try, I heard a loud snap. The zip line broke, and I was hurled to the sharp rocks below. I got a nasty gash on my left leg and had to go to the hospital, where I was given 22 staples to close the wound.

If only that was the worst of it.

RELATED: I Got Run Over by a Truck—Literally. Here’s What I Learned From Almost Dying

A few days after the injury, I knew something wasn’t right. Even though I was given antibiotics, my leg didn’t seem to be responding or getting better. Instead, the pain in my leg felt like it was moving to different parts of my body, which didn’t make sense. Then one morning, I woke up and discovered my entire left leg looked like it was rotting. I couldn’t speak, and I felt like I was dying. What happened next remains a blur.

I was rushed to the hospital, where doctors eventually diagnosed me with necrotizing fasciitis—also known as flesh-eating bacteria—a bacterial infection that was destroying my tissue. The infection wasn’t responding to antibiotics. If doctors didn’t act fast, the bacteria would kill me quickly.

I was airlifted to a hospital in Augusta, and upon arriving, doctors told my parents that my organs were starting to fail. They asked for their permission to amputate my left leg and some of my abdomen to stop the bacteria from spreading to other parts of my body. I don’t remember much from this initial surgery since I was on life support, going in and out of consciousness. My parents said that every time I woke up, I would ask them where I was and how I got there. Each time I would react like it was the first time they were telling me. It was traumatizing for all of us.

The first thing I solidly remember from the ordeal happened a few days after losing my leg. My dad sat next to me in the hospital room, gently took my hands into his own and held them up so I could see them. My hands were dark purple and black and looked unrecognizable. Drugs I was taking, called vasopressors, had tightened my blood vessels and raised my blood pressure to keep adequate blood flow to my organs. But as a consequence, my hands and feet lost blood, and my risk for infection was high.

“Aimee, these hands are not healthy,” my dad explained. “They are hampering your progress. The doctors want to amputate them and your foot today to assure your best possible chance of survival.”

RELATED: What You Should Know About Meningitis, the Deadly Infection That Killed a Man in California

It was really hard to hear, but at that moment, all I wanted was to live. If my hands could hurt the rest of my body, then take them off. “Let’s do this,” I told my parents.

During the surgeries I was given a lot of painkillers, so everything felt hazy. It wasn’t until the medication wore off and I started physical therapy a few weeks later that I truly began to grieve the loss of my limbs. As I was learning to feed myself, brush my teeth and get dressed with no hands, it dawned on me that this was going to affect the rest of my life. But I was determined to move forward, and thanks to a supportive community around me, I pushed through the pain. I attended a 51-day rehabilitation program at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where I worked to rebuild my strength. It felt like boot camp. I spent hours learning how to get in and out of my wheelchair, and eventually I was fitted with prosthetics. Soon enough I was baking brownies and making jewelry.

My experience, and my positive outlook, gained a lot of media attention. I’m glad my story was inspiring, but I worry that people think I was happy-go-lucky the entire time. I cried a lot and went through a really dark period. My self-esteem was shot. I was going through withdrawal from all the painkillers I stopped taking, and my boyfriend and I broke up. The trauma of what we both experienced was just too much. I felt like I lost my best friend.

But these traumas, both physical and emotional, did not hold me back. When physical therapy was over, I finished school and obtained my master’s in psychology like I had always planned. After that, I got my social work license. I began interning at the Shepherd Center—the same rehab center where I was initially treated—and helped other people cope with injuries similar to my own.

RELATED: New Study Links Gut Bacteria and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Just a couple months ago, I began my first private practice job at Heartwork Counseling Center, where I now work as a psychotherapist. It’s extremely rewarding, and I think I have the best job in the whole world. In January, I started a non-profit called the Aimee Copeland Foundation, and my goal is to create a nature park that’s accessible to people with disabilities. Even before my accident, I wanted to use nature as a therapy. I remember lying in my hospital bed thinking, I can’t take people on hikes anymore without legs. That’s why I want to create a space that I and others can use to garden, hike and meditate.

Of course, not everything is easy. I still see a therapist regularly, and getting back into the dating game was hard to say the least. I did meet someone special though, and we’ve been together for two years now. Having a partner that loves me has helped heal my self-esteem.

People want to feel sorry for me, but I have an awesome life. I’ve learned to be grateful for the pain because it has helped me grow. I completely trust in the universe now. So much has been taken away from me. What do I have to fear?



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Scientists Discover Why Hair Turns Gray and Goes Bald

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Scientists have pinpointed the cells that cause hair to turn gray and to go bald in mice, according to a new study published in the journal Genes & Development.

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Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center accidentally stumbled upon this explanation for baldness and graying hairs—at least in mouse models—while studying a rare genetic disease that causes tumors to grow on nerves, according to a press release from the center.

They found that a protein called KROX20 switches on skin cells that become a hair shaft, which then causes cells to produce another protein called stem cell factor. In mice, these two proteins turned out to be important for baldness and graying. When researchers deleted the cells that produce KROX20, mice stopped growing hair and eventually went bald; when they deleted the SCF gene, the animals’ hair turned white.

RELATED: How to Conceal Your Acne, Dark Spots, Gray Hairs, and More

“Although this project was started in an effort to understand how certain kinds of tumors form, we ended up learning why hair turns gray and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair,” said lead researcher Dr. Lu Le, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in a statement.

More research is needed to understand if the process works similarly in humans, and Le and his colleagues plan to start studying it in people. “With this knowledge, we hope in the future to create a topical compound or to safely deliver the necessary gene to hair follicles to correct these cosmetic problems,” he said.



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Here's How Many People End Up in the ER Due to Cotton Swabs

They may look harmless, but cotton-tip applicators send an estimated 34 kids to the ER every day, according to a new study in The Journal of Pediatrics. The authors say their findings debunk the myth that we need to clean our ears regularly—and serve as a reminder that doing so may cause more harm than good.

The Q-tip, the original cotton-tip applicator, was invented in 1923 after the company’s founder watched his wife clean their baby’s ears with cotton wads and a toothpick. The ready-made swabs may have been a more convenient alternative at the time—but since the 1970s, doctors have cautioned against using them for the purpose of ear cleaning, noting that they can push wax deeper into the canal (causing impaction) and increase injury risk to the eardrum.

Today, research shows that the use of cotton-tip applicators is the most common cause of accidental penetrating ear injury in children. But despite doctors’ and manufactures’ warnings not to use the bathroom staple for ear hygiene, many people still do, says Kris Jatana, MD, an otolaryngologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and associate professor at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

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For the new study, Dr. Jatana and his colleagues looked at reports of cotton swab-related ear injuries at hospitals across the country between 1990 and 2010. (Because the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System stopped coding hospital reports for these specific injuries after 2010, more recent info was not available.)

In that 21-year period, an estimated 263,000 patients under age 18 were treated in emergency departments for complaints like ear blockage, pain, and bleeding—more than 1,000 a month, or about 34 a day. Most of these injuries—77%—occurred while children used cotton-tip applicators themselves. Parental and sibling use accounted for 16% and 6% of injuries, respectively. Overall, 73% of the injuries occurred during ear cleaning; other causes included children playing with the swabs or falling down while a swab was in their ear.

RELATED: 8 Things ER Doctors Refuse to Have in Their Homes

The most common injuries were foreign body sensation (the feeling that something is stuck in the ear), perforated eardrum, and soft-tissue injury. (While cotton swabs have also been associated with ear infections and earwax impaction, these conditions were excluded from the study because it wasn’t possible to know if they developed before or after a swab was used.)

Two-thirds of patients were under 8 years of age, and 40% were younger than 3. Fortunately, 99% of patients were treated and released—but the authors note that some of these injuries still could have been serious. Damage to the eardrum or inner ear can lead to dizziness, problems with balance, facial nerve paralysis, and permanent hearing loss, they write.

Injury rates did decline over the course of the study, but more than 12,000 children were still treated in 2010—a number that Dr. Jatana says is “unacceptably high.” 

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So how are people supposed to clean their ears?

In short, they’re not—at least not on a regular basis. “The ear is actually self-cleaning,” says Dr. Jatana. “Wax serves a function, to trap dirt and debris and bring it toward the outside of the ear.” It also humidifies the ear canal, he adds, and has antimicrobial properties.

“When visible wax is seen in the outer part of the ear, that can be wiped away with a small wet towel or baby wipe,” he continues. “But sticking any object into the canal itself is completely unnecessary and very dangerous.”

In January, the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation released updated guidelines on this topic, including a new list of do’s and don’ts for patients. They include “Do know that ear wax is normal,” “Don’t over-clean your ears,” and “Don’t put cotton swabs, hair pins, car keys, toothpicks or other things in your ear.”

RELATED: 5 Mistakes You’re Making Cleaning Your Ears

There are effective ways to treat bothersome earwax impaction, including irrigation devices, wax-softening drops, or in-office procedures. But the Academy recommends that people speak with their doctors before trying any treatments at home, since they aren’t safe for everyone.

You should also see a doctor if you experience drainage or bleeding from the ears, hearing loss, or feelings of pain or fullness in the ears, the guidelines state.

The study authors recommend that cotton-tip applicators be stored out of reach of children, that stronger warning labels be added to their boxes, and that parents be advised—as soon as babies are born—never to use them for ear cleaning. And just as importantly, they recommend more public education about the myths and facts of ear hygiene.

“I think some parents instill in their children that cleaning out the ear canal is similar to brushing their teeth,” says Dr. Jatana. “That misconception needs to be dispelled in order to help prevent these injuries from occurring.”



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Monday, May 8, 2017

Just 10 Minutes of Meditation Boosts Mood and Focus for People With Anxiety

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com. 

People who suffer from anxiety are often plagued by repetitive thoughts, which can distract from the task at hand and affect mood and productivity. But a new study suggests that just 10 minutes of daily meditation can help reduce episodes of mind wandering, especially for people who report high levels of emotional stress.

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Previous research has found that meditation can help prevent “off-task thinking” in healthy individuals, but this study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, aimed to determine the benefits of mindfulness specifically as they relate to anxiety.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo asked 82 college students, all of whom met the clinical criteria for anxiety, to perform a monotonous computer task that measured their ability to stay focused. At random points throughout, the participants were asked to reveal their thoughts “just prior to this moment.”

Then they divided the participants into two groups: One listened to an excerpt from The Hobbit, and the other listened to a 10-minute meditation that instructed them to focus on breathing and “remain open-minded to their experience.” (You can listen to the same recording, called Mindfulness of Body and Breath, here.)

RELATED: How to Rewire Your Negative Thinking Habits and Feel Happier

The groups then repeated the computer task. This time, 43 percent of thoughts in the meditation group were considered “mind wandering,“ meaning they weren’t related to the task or to things going on around them, down slightly from 44 percent in the pre-test.

In the group that listened to the audio story, the percentage of mind-wandering thoughts actually increased—from 35 percent in the pre-test to 55 percent in the post-test.

The meditation group also reported a significant decrease in “future-oriented thoughts,” from 35 percent before the mindfulness exercise to 25 percent after. This could indicate a shift in thinking from internal worries (about tomorrow’s exam, for example) to things going on around them in the moment (say, a dirty computer monitor or a flickering light), the authors say. That’s important, because stressing about future events is a hallmark of anxiety.

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And while meditation didn’t reduce all forms of off-task thinking in the study (like being distracted by external stimuli), it did appear to lessen performance disruptions associated with those thoughts. Both groups also experienced a decrease in negative emotions between the pre-test and the post-test.

“In short, meditation is beneficial in both improving mood and helping people stay focused in their thoughts and also behaviors,” says lead author and PhD student Mengran Xu. “The two do go together.”

Mind wandering accounts for almost half of humans’ daily stream of consciousness, Xu adds. It can cause us to make errors on everyday tasks, like mailing an envelope without its contents, but it’s also been associated with an increased risk of injury and death while driving, difficulties in school, and impaired performance in everyday life.



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The Case For Drinking Coffee Is Stronger Than Ever

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

There are few things more more ritualistic—and to many, more sacred—than a morning cup of joe. 64% of Americans drink at least one cup a day—a statistic that’s barely budged since the ’90s. Despite warnings from doctors over the years that coffee may be hard on the body, people have remained devoted to the drink.

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Luckily for them, the latest science is evolving in their favor. Research is showing that coffee may have net positive effects on the body after all.

Is coffee bad for you?

For years, doctors warned people to avoid coffee because it might increase the risk of heart disease and stunt growth. They worried that people could become addicted to the energy that high amounts of caffeine provided, leading them to crave more and more coffee as they became tolerant to higher amounts of caffeine. Experts also worried that coffee had damaging effects on the digestive tract, which could lead to stomach ulcers, heartburn and other ills.

All of this concern emerged from studies done decades ago that compared coffee drinkers to non-drinkers on a number of health measures, including heart problems and mortality. Coffee drinkers, it seemed, were always worse off.

RELATED: How Your Morning Coffee Might Slow Down Aging

But it turns out that coffee wasn’t really to blame. Those studies didn’t always control for the many other factors that could account for poor health, such as smoking, drinking and a lack of physical activity. If people who drank a lot of coffee also happened to have some other unhealthy habits, then it’s not clear that coffee is responsible for their heart problems or higher mortality.

That understanding has led to a rehabilitated reputation for the drink. Recent research reveals that once the proper adjustments are made for confounding factors, coffee drinkers don’t seem have a higher risk for heart problems or cancer than people who don’t drink coffee. Recent studies also found no significant link between the caffeine in coffee and heart-related issues such as high cholesterol, irregular heartbeats, stroke or heart attack.

Is coffee good for you?

Studies show that people who drink coffee regularly may have an 11% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers, thanks to ingredients in coffee that can affect levels of hormones involved in metabolism.

In a large study involving tens of thousands of people, researchers found that people who drank several cups a day—anywhere from two to four cups—actually had a lower risk of stroke. Heart experts say the benefits may come from coffee’s effect on the blood vessels; by keeping vessels flexible and healthy, it may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, which can cause heart attacks.

RELATED: Clear Coffee is the Beverage Trend You Didn’t Know You Needed

It’s also high in antioxidants, which are known to fight the oxidative damage that can cause cancer. That may explain why some studies have found a lower risk of liver cancer among coffee drinkers.

Coffee may even help you live longer. A recent study involving more than 208,000 men and women found that people who drank coffee regularly were less likely to die prematurely than those who didn’t drink coffee. Researchers believe that some of the chemicals in coffee may help reduce inflammation, which has been found to play a role in a number of aging-related health problems, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some evidence also suggests that coffee may slow down some of the metabolic processes that drive aging.

One downside is that people may become dependent on caffeine (no surprise to any regular caffeine-drinker who takes a coffee break). The symptoms—headaches, irritability and fatigue—can mimic those of people coming off of addictive drugs. Yet doctors don’t consider the dependence anywhere close to as worrisome as addictions to habit-forming drugs like opiates. While unpleasant, caffeine “withdrawal” symptoms are tolerable and tend to go away after a day or so.

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How much coffee is safe?

Like so many foods and nutrients, too much coffee can cause problems, especially in the digestive tract. But studies have shown that drinking up to four 8-ounce cups of coffee per day is safe. Sticking to those boundaries shouldn’t be hard for coffee drinkers in the U.S., since most drink just a cup of java per day.

Moderation is key. But sipping coffee in reasonable amounts just might be one of the healthiest things you can do.



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12 Reasons Why Dehydration Is Bad for Your Body

Most of the time, they’re harmless and go away on their own. But if hiccups persist for more than two days, call your doctor.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

This Viral Hashtag Illustrates How the New Healthcare Bill Affects Women

5 Things to Know About AHCA, the New House Republican Health Care Bill That Just Passed

This article originally appeared on Money. 

The Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare narrowly passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, advancing a plan that would gut health coverage for millions of Americans while delivering tax cuts to the rich.

The American Health Care Act, as the bill is called, had been tweaked in several ways since it was pulled from a House vote in March after failing to garner enough support. In making changes, Republican leaders tried to appease both hardline conservatives who thought the previous version was too much like Obamacare (aka, the Affordable Care Act or ACA) and moderates who worried about people losing coverage.

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But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not yet scored the revised bill, so lawmakers voted without key projections on how the legislation would affect the number of insured, premium costs, the federal budget, and other measures. The last CBO score—delivered in response to the prior iteration of the bill—estimated that the legislation would increase the number of uninsured people overall by 24 million by 2026.

Proponents, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, say the bill will restore choice to consumers and lower premiums that spiraled out of control under Obamacare. But critics counter that the bill’s effects on premiums would vary greatly based on an individual’s situation, and that weakened consumer protections could ultimately hurt everyone, including those with employer coverage.

Generally speaking, younger, healthy people would likely see their premiums decline under the Obamacare replacement, while older and less healthy people would see them rise. Young people can continue to remain on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Yet people will no longer be forced to pay a penalty if they go without health insurance for more than a short stretch—the bill does away with Obamacare’s “individual mandate,” but includes other incentives for people to maintain their coverage.

RELATED: 50 Health Issues That Count as a Pre-existing Condition

Here’s what you need to know about the bill, which continues next to the Senate. There, it faces new challenges and likely revisions before any vote. If it passes the Senate, President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

1. Essential Health Benefits Could Disappear

Obamacare created a list of 10 essential health benefits that health plans must offer, including maternity care and mental health care, which were routinely excluded from pre-Obamacare policies on the individual market. The amended American Health Care Act would allow states to apply for a waiver to define their own essential health benefits starting in 2020. There are several concerns with this approach. One is that insurance carriers would likely decline to offer costly benefits if they’re not required to, Linda Blumberg and John Holahan of the Urban Institute write in a recent report. Or if they do, they’ll offer them at such a high price that coverage will be unaffordable for most consumers.

Another concern is that, without essential health benefits, coverage for pre-existing conditions becomes meaningless. Obamacare detractors, including President Trump, are quick to say they want to retain coverage for pre-existing conditions. But if you have cancer and your policy doesn’t cover chemotherapy—because it no longer has to offer comprehensive benefits—then practically speaking, you’re not covered even though you can technically buy a policy.

What’s more, weakening of essential health benefits could also affect people with health coverage through their jobs, experts say. Obamacare required all health insurance plans, including those provided through an employer, to have an out-of-pocket maximum limiting the amount that the patient would have to pay in a given year. But that ceiling only applies to benefits that are considered essential health benefits. Under the GOP bill, employers could choose any state’s definition of essential health benefits, and those seeking to lower costs could gravitate toward the skimpier ones. This would leave workers vulnerable to catastrophic expenses if they get a serious injury or health diagnosis.

RELATED: House Votes to Repeal and Replace Obamacare

2. Medicaid Would be Cut

The American Health Care Act would radically change Medicaid, by phasing out the Obamacare Medicaid expansion that extended health coverage to more than 10 million lower-income Americans.

States would be allowed to continue to enroll people into the expanded Medicaid program until 2020. Then, it will “freeze,” and no other enrollees can be added, the thinking being people would eventually drop out of the program as they earn more money.

Beyond that, the bill would restructure all of Medicaid, not just the parts that Obamacare touched. The American Health Care Act would slash federal Medicaid spending by about $840 billion over 10 years, according to CBO projections. This would likely lead to benefit cuts for the 74 million Americans who rely on the program, including lower-income beneficiaries, as well as, the disabled and elderly people who have exhausted their assets.

These cuts to Medicaid would help fund that tax cuts that the bill grants to wealthy Americans. Obamacare levied certain taxes on the wealthy to help fund the premium subsidies that help make insurance more affordable for the 85% of the people on the individual marketplace who receive them. Yet the American Health Care Act rolls back the tax increases, and cuts to Medicaid will help to make up some of that lost revenue.

3. Pre-Existing Conditions Wouldn’t be Adequately Protected

After initially promising to protect people with pre-existing conditions from exorbitant premiums and deductibles, the House plan would allow insurers to once again charge sick people more for coverage under certain circumstances.

RELATED:  American Women Are Facing An Infertility Crisis

Insurers still cannot deny coverage outright to people with pre-existing conditions, as they could before the passage of the ACA. However, they will be able to charge significantly higher premiums once again if individuals do not maintain continuous coverage. States can apply for a waiver to the ACA’s community rating provision, which banned charging sick people in a community more for insurance than “healthier” people in the community (with exceptions for age and tobacco usage). In order to receive the waiver, states would receive money from the Patient and State Stability Fund to create things like high-risk pools.

These high-risk pools are intended to help bring down costs for sick people, but a recent report from the AARP found that premiums could exceed $25,000 per year for people in these pools, pricing many people out. The AHCA has $138 billion over ten years earmarked for the pools, which is not nearly enough to help subsidize costs, according to experts, even with an additional $8 billion that was added to the pot at the last minute.

4. Tax Credits Would Decrease for Most People

Tax credits to pay for individual coverage varied based primarily on income, as well as age and geographical region, under Obamacare, and 85% of enrollees receive help paying for coverage. In the AHCA, subsides depend almost exclusively on age, with all individuals in a certain age range receiving the same amount of support. The credits are phased out for the highest earners: they start decreasing when an individual earns $75,000, or $150,000 for joint filers.

Overall, the AHCA dramatically reduces the amount of money people will receive to help pay for their insurance, excepting the youngest, healthiest enrollees. This is the age breakdown for subsidies:

  • 30 and Under: $2,000 per year
  • 30 to 40: $2,500 per year
  • 40 to 50: $3,000 per year
  • 50 to 60: $3,500 per year
  • 60 and Over: $4,000 per year

Compared to the ACA’s credits, this structure benefits young healthy people, while hurting older people as well as sick young people. Lower-income older people would be hit particularly hard, as the fixed dollar subsidy won’t go as far in covering their costs as the income-based one. In 2026, a 64-year-old making $26,500 would owe a sizable $19,500 in annual premiums under Ryan’s plan, versus $15,300 under Obamacare, according to CBO projections. Meanwhile, the difference in subsidies would mean that the consumer pays just $1,700 out-of-pocket for premiums under Obamacare, versus $14,600 under the American Health Care Act.

RELATED:  Are Digital Doctors the Future?

5. Women’s Health Access Would Take Extra Hits

Though not explicitly stated, the AHCA aims to defund Planned Parenthood, the largest network provider of women’s health care in the country, by denying reimbursements from Medicaid and Title X (a federal program for family planning) funding for preventative and primary care. That could lead to as many as 650,000 women losing access to preventive care.

The waivers for pre-existing conditions and essential health benefits would also disproportionately affect women: things like maternity and newborn care could be on the chopping block, as well as birth control coverage. Other services that are currently considered preventive care that could change if essential health benefits are rejiggered include breast pumps, domestic violence screening and counseling, mammograms, newborn care, screenings for cervical cancer, STI counseling and well-woman visits. A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that because of increased birth control coverage, out-of-pocket prescription costs are actually on the decline—and that too would be reversed.

At the same time, sexual assault, domestic violence, pregnancy, C-section, postpartum depression, and eating disorders are all conditions affecting significantly more women than men (though not exclusively women), that could be considered pre-existing conditions once again.

The bill could put domestic violence victims at even more risk. As MONEY reported previously,

Under Obamacare, couples have to file taxes jointly to receive a tax credit—unless they are victims of domestic abuse, domestic violence, or spousal abandonment. The AHCA doesn’t account for this and requires all couples to file jointly to receive a tax credit, without exception.

Finally, women also make up the majority of Medicaid recipients, and nearly half of all births are covered by Medicaid.



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50 Health Issues That Count as a Pre-existing Condition

This article originally appeared on Money. 

The Republican plan to repeal and replace the the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which narrowly passed a vote in the House today, rolls back protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which could increase health care costs for an estimated 130 million Americans.

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The American Health Care Act stipulates that states can allow insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions more for health insurance (which is banned under the ACA) if the states meet certain conditions, such as setting up high-risk insurance pools. Insurers still cannot deny people coverage outright, as was a common practice before the ACA’s passage, but they can hike up premiums to an unaffordable amount, effectively pricing people out of the market.

In fact, premiums could reach as high as $25,700 per year for people in high-risk pools, according to a report from AARP. People who receive insurance through their employer would not be affected, unless they lost their job or moved to the individual insurance market for some other reason.

But what counts as a pre-existing condition? While it depends on the insurer—they have the right to choose what counts as “pre-existing”—these ailments and conditions were universally used to deny people coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on health care research.

  • AIDS/HIV
  • Alcohol or drug abuse with recent treatment
  • Alzheimer’s/dementia
  • Anorexia
  • Arthritis
  • Bulimia
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Hemophilia
  • Hepatitis
  • Kidney disease, renal failure
  • Lupus
  • Mental disorders (including Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Schizophrenia)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Obesity
  • Organ transplant
  • Paraplegia
  • Paralysis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pending surgery or hospitalization
  • Pneumocystic pneumonia
  • Pregnancy or expectant parent (includes men)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Transsexualism

But Cynthia Cox, Kaiser’s associate director, notes that the above list is a conservative sampling of all of the issues and maladies that insurers could count as pre-existing conditions. “There are plenty of other conditions, even acne or high blood pressure, that could have gotten people denied from some insurers but accepted and charged a higher premium by other insurers” says Cox.

Here are some examples of those other conditions that experts have noted could hike premiums:

  • Acid Reflux
  • Acne
  • Asthma
  • C-Section
  • Celiac Disease
  • Heart burn
  • High cholesterol
  • Hysterectomy
  • Kidney Stones
  • Knee surgery
  • Lyme Disease
  • Migraines
  • Narcolepsy
  • Pacemaker
  • Postpartum depression
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Seizures
  • “Sexual deviation or disorder”
  • Ulcers

The left-leaning Center for American Progress notes that high blood pressure, behavioral health disorders, high cholesterol, asthma and chronic lung disease, and osteoarthritis and other joint disorders are the most common types of pre-existing conditions.

Just how expensive are pre-existing conditions? A recent report from the Center for American Progress found that insurers could charge people with metastatic cancer as much as $142,650 more for their coverage, a 3,500% increase.



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Thursday, May 4, 2017

House Votes to Repeal and Replace Obamacare

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

House Republicans voted on Thursday to repeal Obamacare, making good on a seven-year campaign promise that could reshape health care in the United States and dramatically reduce the number of Americans with health insurance.

If the Republican bill passes in the Senate, it will reorganize insurance markets and affect coverage for many millions of Americans.

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“Seven years of Obamacare is enough,” House Speaker Paul Ryan wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.

The vote comes nearly six weeks after House Republicans had to pull an earlier version due to disagreements between moderates and conservatives in their caucus. The bill has since been amended twice, though the broad outlines remain the same.

The bill weakens protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. It rolls back the expansion of Medicaid and cuts taxes on the wealthy. It also significantly reduces federal assistance to lower-income Americans paying for health insurance, and it defunds Planned Parenthood.

In addition, it repeals the Obamacare “individual mandate,” the rule requiring people to buy insurance.

RELATED: American Women Are Facing An Infertility Crisis

“This bill brings choice and competition back into the health care marketplace and puts health care decisions back in the hands of patients and doctors,” Rep. Diane Black said on the floor of the House. “It’s been a winding road to get to this point, but we’re here today to fulfill the promise we made to the American people.”

Called the American Health Care Act, the bill was passed on Thursday morning without a score from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which is highly unusual for major legislation. But a similar, earlier version of the Republican bill would have reduced the number of insured by 24 million people by 2026 and raised premiums by 15 to 20% before they began to drop, according to the CBO.

Democrats decried the bill, saying it was rushed through the House without enough review and would damage the health care system. “Republicans are maliciously again attempting to destroy healthcare and coverage for the American people,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The vote on Thursday morning was a nailbiter.

RELATED: Why Multitasking Is a Bad Idea

Many Republicans — including those who voted for it — were privately unhappy with health care bill. For conservatives who wanted to repeal Obamacare fully, it does not go far enough; for moderates, it is too harsh on lower- and middle-income Americans. The bill is a “technocratic crap sandwich,” one Republican lawmaker said.

In addition, the bill comes without a score from the CBO, and some members felt the bill was rushed to the floor without members having time to understand the effects of the bill.

Rep. Peter King of New York said he had not read the latest amendment just hours before the vote, but that he would vote in favor anyway based on his discussions with Republican leadership. “You have to strike while you can,” King said.

For some, assurances from leadership were not enough. “I’m certainly not going to vote on a bill of this magnitude that hasn’t been fully scored by the Congressional Budget Office and whose price tag is unknown,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, Republican of Colorado.

RELATED: The Weird Way Antibiotics May Affect Your Nutrition

But Republicans in the House, embarrassed by their failed effort to pass the bill at the end of March, were determined to push the health care on to the Senate. It will almost certainly face a significant overhaul in the Senate, and then be sent to a joint-chamber conference committee, where changes are reconciled.

Republican House members described the bill as a first-draft effort, necessary to begin the repeal of Obamacare. Waiting any longer, some Republicans said, could cause the bill to fail.

“If we couldn’t get this across the floor it would all stop here today,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “Nobody should look at this as the be-all and end-all. It’s the first step, not the last step.”

“I don’t think time would be our friend. We want to get it over to the Senate so they can start their job,” said Rep. Chris Collins of New York.

But as a legislative blueprint, the House bill significantly weakens the protections established under Obamacare for Americans with preexisting conditions. It also will cut aid to lower-income Americans, making health care subsidies based on age, rather than income.

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Those who stand to gain immediately include younger and healthier insurance buyers in the open marketplace, and the wealthiest taxpayers, who will see a significant tax cut.

The farthest-reaching effect of the American Health Care Act, however, may be provisions that roll back the expansion of Medicaid beginning in 2018. Obamacare expanded Medicaid for states who chose to opt-in to everyone making up to 138% of the poverty line, expanding coverage in those states by well over 10 million people.

Halting the Medicaid expansion in those states, combined with the bill’s restructuring of health insurance subsidies, will mean that people making minimum wage and slightly more will experience the sharpest drop in coverage.

“The AHCA would lead to catastrophic coverage losses among those right above the poverty line,” said Dr. Julie Donohue, director of the Medicaid Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh Health Policy Institute. “While individuals right above poverty-level could technically purchase coverage on the marketplace, such coverage will be out of reach for nearly all.”

President Trump has promised the bill would cover those with preexisting conditions, but the bill would allow states to let insurers charge people with preexisting conditions higher premiums.

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Thursday’s House vote ensures that the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare does not end. But the Republican victory on Thursday may be setting lawmakers up for a major defeat in 2018.

The Republican health care bill is deeply unpopular, with just 17% of Americans approving of the bill, according to a poll from late March. The bill was opposed by AARP as well as the American Medical Association, health groups and hospitals. A majority of Americans want Congress to fix Obamacare rather than repeal it outright.

Democrats believe the bill’s passage on Thursday will help set up the party for a wave of congressional election victories next year. Even as they lambasted the Republican vote, Democrats were preparing to target the moderate Republicans in swing districts who voted for the bill.

“You vote for this bill, you’re walking the plank,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Republicans on the house floor.

The bill “is going to provide a great civics lesson for America,” she said. “Most Americans don’t know who their Congressperson is. But they will now.”



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Are Digital Doctors the Future?

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Doctor’s appointments can be a chore: It takes nearly 20 days on average to get an appointment with a family physician in the U.S., for instance. But it doesn’t have to be that onerous. New technologies that allow people to see doctors in just minutes—on their smartphone—have the potential to change health care delivery in the U.S..

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At Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego, two companies—Doctor on Demand and Healthy.io—revealed how they are making health care systems that are centered around patients’ schedules.

Doctor on Demand connects users with a variety of doctors over video chat. Doctors can see patients at any time of day over their smartphone, and send prescriptions to nearby pharmacies.

RELATED: Should You Trust Apps That Let You Video-Chat With a Doctor?

On Wednesday, Doctor on Demand announced that it is partnering with LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics to offer lab testing services. If a doctor sees a patient over video chat and determines they need lab work, the doctor can order the tests and direct the patient to a nearby lab for testing. Patients can choose a lab that works best for them based on location and costs.

“We are providing a lot of transparency and putting the patient in control of where they go to get that lab,” said Hill Ferguson, the CEO of Doctor on Demand. “It’s very different from the current experience and being told by your provider you need to go here at this time.”

Healthy.io, is also changing the testing game by turning people’s smartphones into medical devices. Through the company’s app Dip.io, people receive a testing kit at home, pee on a testing strip, and use a smartphone camera to scan the results and send them to a doctor for analysis. The company says it’s working to get FDA-approval for use in the United States.

RELATED: This Is What Real Heart Doctors Do Every Day to Stay Healthy

“Whatever you can do at home would allow for the physician at the hospital to be more effective,” said Yonatan Adiri, founder and CEO of Healthy.io.

But are people really ready to give up their in-person doctor’s appointments? Ferguson thinks so. “I think there’s something gained,” he said. “One-hundred percent of the doctor patient interaction [on Doctor on Demand] is eye-to-eye contact.”



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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Why Multitasking Is a Bad Idea

Here's How You Can Tame Your Distracted Mind

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com. 

How can you tame your distracted mind?

It’s not easy these days, given that many of us have a smartphone—if not smartphones, plural—and the ability to be accessible, connected, and theoretically productive around-the-clock. According to Adam Gazzaley, a professor in neurology, physiology and psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco—and the author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World—the evidence is all around us: 95% of people multi-task, and on average, we do so for one-third of the day. Some young people multitask with up to seven devices at once. Having grown accustomed to constant stimulation, our tolerance for boredom is lower than ever, tested even while waiting in a short line at the local grocery store.

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Gazzaley, who spoke at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego on Tuesday, points out our modern state is both natural (we are by nature information-seeking creatures) and sub-optimal. That is, the day’s many distractions—from working on multiple web windows to falling into the Facebook “sinkhole”—mess with our cognitive control. The resulting limitations in cognitive control—i.e., attention, working memory and goal management—in turn interfere with what Gazzaley considers the pinnacle of human brain evolution: our high-level goal setting abilities.

RELATED: The Simple Reason Exercise Enhances Your Brain

Gazzaley makes clear that technology did not create this distracting “interference” in the brain, but he says it has aggravated it, and that it has impacted all sorts of brain function, from the way our memory works to the way emotion gets regulated. Those changes in turn affect how we act in the real world, whether it be at work or in relationships or considering our own personal safety.

“There are many examples of decreased performance quality and productivity, and an increase in stress,” says Gazzaley of what he has labeled “the ancient brain in a high-tech world.”

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Gazzaley says there are two ways for people to take back control: modifying behavior or enhancing the brain. The former involves a greater level of personal awareness—multitasking is not necessarily a bad thing; knowing when to multitask is key to winning the battle. He recommends we all take a break from multitasking—nature and exercise are good for concentrating the mind; so are attempts at “single-tasking.” (He concedes this can be hard for people, and he advises a “baby step” approach to assuming singular focus.)

In terms of enhancing the brain, both physical and cognitive exercises can help. Gazzaley, with Akili, a company he co-founded, have also been developing a video game that can help the brain better deal with distraction; it’s currently in a phase III clinical trial, and he hopes it will soon be the first non-drug treatment for ADHD, as well as the first video game prescribed for medical purposes.



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How Worrying Can Actually Be Good for You

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com. 

Good news for worrywarts everywhere: Your fretting and fussing can actually have health benefits, according to a new scientific paper. Not only can worrying serve as an emotional buffer against worst-case scenarios, say researchers, but it can also be a strong motivator for proactive, healthy behaviors.

The article, published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, also argues that people who worry a lot may perform better in school or at work, and that they engage in more successful problem solving. “I think there’s a lack of understanding when people are made to feel bad for worrying, or told to ‘just stop worrying about it,’” says author Kate Sweeny, Ph.D., psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

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While worrying generally gets a bad rap, it does make sense that the habit could be protective: Naturally anxious people might be expected to follow health and safety advice to a T, like wearing their seatbelts, applying sunscreen every few hours, and keeping up-to-date with doctor’s appointments and screenings, for example.

And that’s partially correct, says Sweeny, although the truth is more nuanced: In one study referenced in her article, women who reported moderate amounts of worry—compared to those with relatively low or high levels of worry—were the most likely to get screened for cancer. “It seems that both too much and too little worry can interfere with motivation,” she says, “but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing.“

In fact, Sweeny suggests a three-step explanation for worry’s motivating effects: First, it serves as a cue that a situation requires action. Second, it keeps that situation at the front of people’s minds. And third, the unpleasant feeling prompts them to do something about it, in order to feel better.

RELATED: This Is the Fastest Way to Calm Down

Worrying about a future outcome can also help people brace for bad news, or make good news seem even better by comparison, Sweeny writes. That may be why even optimists tend to expect the worst about uncertain news, as her previous research has found.

Sweeny stresses, however, that extreme worrying is still harmful to one’s health; rumination and repetitive thoughts have been associated with depressed mood, poor physical health, and even mental illness.

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She doesn’t advocate for excessive worrying, but she does hope to provide reassurance to the occasional worrier, the nitpicky planner, and the overly prepared person who has to mentally run though every detail of a scenario while others simply kick back and relax.

RELATED: This Simple Type of Meditation Can Help You Manage News-Induced Stress and Anger

“I think the primary message is that when you’re feeling worried, take a minute to think about whether those thoughts are productive—maybe there are things you should be doing and preparing for to prevent bad things from happening—and in that case it’s a good thing,” she says. (If you’ve done all that and you’re still stressed out, then maybe try to distract yourself and think about something else.)

Sweeny also adds that some people clearly don’t worry enough about certain things, like what could happen to them if they engage in unsafe or unhealthy behaviors. “If you find yourself not caring about those things, it’s worth asking yourself why you’re downplaying those risks,” she says. “In those cases, worrying the right amount is far better than not worrying at all.”



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What Causes Hiccups and How to Get Rid of Them

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com. 

At best, hiccups are a nuisance. At worse, they could be a symptom of something seriously wrong. Luckily, it’s usually the former—a brief episode triggered by nerves or something you ate. But if hiccups persist for more than a few hours or if they show up frequently, it may be worth getting checked out by a doctor.

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Before we get into the scary stuff, though, it may help to understand exactly what hiccups are. A hiccup is an involuntary spasm of the diaphragm, the muscle between your chest and your abdomen. The diaphragm usually expands down and contracts back up smoothly as you breathe, but it can jerk down suddenly if it becomes irritated.

That sudden jerk triggers a closure of the glottis, the slit-like opening between the vocal cords and the voice box. “You quickly swallow air and your voice box shuts, and that’s what causes that hiccupping sound,” says Roshini Rajapaksa, M.D., a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and Health magazine’s medical editor.

RELATED: Why Researchers Recommend Eating Avocado Every Day (Yay!)

Lots of things can cause the diaphragm to become irritated, from a larger-than-normal meal, to sudden temperature changes, to the carbonated bubbles in soda. Alcohol, cigarette smoke, and swallowed air (while chewing gum, for example) are also likely culprits. Even feelings of stress or nervousness can set off a bout of hiccups. “And sometimes they can come out of the blue,” says Dr. Rajapksa.

Irritation to the vagus nerve or phrenic nerves, which run from your sinuses down to the diaphragm, can also trigger hiccups. That means that a sore throat or an ear infection—or even a hair touching your eardrum—can be to blame.

Most hiccups only last a few minutes or hours. When they last more than 48 hours, they’re known as persistent hiccups; when they last more than 30 days, they’re called intractable hiccups. You should see a doctor if your hiccups last more than a couple of days—they can not only begin to interfere with eating, sleeping, and mental well being, but they can also signal a hidden health condition. In severe cases, hiccups can even cause nerve damage.

RELATED: Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Flu: How to Tell the Difference

If you’re a heavy drinker or smoker, cutting back on these habits could help reduce your hiccups. Your doctor may also look for signs of gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), also known as acid reflux, which is a treatable condition and a common cause of hiccups.

In rare cases, hiccups can be caused by nerve damage or by a tumor in the stomach or neck. “There’s also an area of the brain involved with the hiccup reflex, so rarely a condition in the brain, like an infection or a mass, can cause them, too,” says Dr. Rajapksa. Hiccups can also indicate a stroke or heart problem, according to Texas A&M University, and a few cases have been associated with serious blood clots.

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Finally, hiccups may be a side effect of advanced diseases like cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), or liver or kidney failure. But usually they’ll occur along with other hard-to-miss symptoms—like fatigue, nausea, and swelling of the legs and abdomen—so it’s unlikely that hiccups would be the first indication that something is wrong.

Obviously, working with a doctor to address any serious underlying causes is the best way to treat hiccups that last for longer than a few days. But if you know you’re in good health and you really just need relief right now, Dr. Rajapksa says there are a few things you can try: “Sometimes drinking cold water or gargling with cold water can help, because it stimulates the back of your throat,” she says. “Holding your breath also works for some people.” If your hiccups become uncomfortable and painful or won’t go away on their own, doctors can prescribe muscle-relaxing medicines that can help.



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5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Transgender People

An estimated 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender, according to recent data from The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Even if you don’t personally know someone who is transgender, there’s much greater awareness for gender identity than there used to be, thanks in part to public figures like Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, andJazz Jennings from the TLC reality show I Am Jazz. But still, many misconceptions about what it means to be transgender persist. Below, Jay Wu, spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality, clears up five of the most pervasive myths.

The myth: There’s only one way to be transgender

People who are transgender do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. But exactly how that’s expressed can be different for everyone. It doesn't necessarily mean a transgender person has had gender reassignment surgery—although it could. When someone is transitioning, they’re in the process of living according to their gender identity. This may  include asking to be called by a different name, or requesting a different set of pronouns (whether it’s he/him, she/her, or they/them), officially changing their name, dressing differently, or undergoing medical procedures (such as gender reassignment surgery, or hormone therapy).

“For some people, they don’t necessarily need medical care to live fully as themselves; others find it’s incredibly important,” Wu explains. They add that there are many others who would like to undergo a medical transition but are unable to do so due to financial reasons, or because they don’t live near a medical provider that offers it.

RELATED: 5 Indisputable Facts About Transgender Kids

The myth: It’s offensive to mess up your pronouns

If someone you've known for many years comes out as transgender, you’ll probably wonder how you should refer to them. The best course of action, Wu says, is simply to ask. “This is something a lot of people feel awkward asking about, but it’s 100% okay to do so,” they explain. “They’d rather you ask than make the wrong assumption."And if you do accidentally let an old pronoun slip, don’t worry—it’s understandable. Instead of apologizing too profusely (which can take over the entire conversation), Wu recommends casually saying, "Oh, I meant to say 'he,’” and then moving on.

The myth: Transgender people are trying to get attention

“Yes, transgender people do get attention—but that attention can come in the form of extreme harassment and violence,” says Wu. As they begin the process of transitioning, transgender people need to overcome fear and doubt about whether they'll be supported by their family, friends, and community. And sadly, these fears are often legitimate. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 46% of transgender people reported being verbally harassed in the previous year, while 9% said they were physically attacked due to their identity. In school-age children, these numbers are even higher: 77% of transgender students said they received some form of mistreatment, 54% were verbally harassed, and 24% were physically attacked. 

“I don’t think anyone would fake it so that they’d have a higher chance of being assaulted by a stranger,” Wu says.

RELATED: What You Can Learn About Being True to Yourself From Caitlyn Jenner

The myth: Being transgender is a mental illness

At one point, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V)included gender identity disorder as a psychiatric illness. But today the DSM-V lists gender dysphoria, which is when someone is experiencing extreme emotional distress about their gender identity versus assigned gender.

“That’s when someone is having such a strong disconnect with their body that it interferes with their day-to-day life,” Wu says. "It’s the distress coming from being trans and living in a society that’s telling you you’re not supposed to be this way.”

While a therapist may be able to help someone with gender dysphoria work through this distress, being transgender itself is not the problem. "It’s the world around them that’s the problem,” Wu says.

The myth: Transgender people are a threat to bathroom safety

Although supporters of the controversial bills that seek to prevent transgender students from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity often point to public safety as the main concern, opponents maintain there’s no correlation between anti-discrimination bills and a rise in crime.

“This is a major myth that has been debunked by sexual assault and domestic violence groups,” says Wu.

Many LGBQT advocates point out that anti-discrimination laws have existed for years, and there isn’t any evidence that they have contributed to an increase of attacks on women in public bathrooms. Last year, the National Task Force to End Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Against Women released a statement giving their full support to equal bathroom access for the transgender community.



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