American Heart Month

February marks American Heart Month in the US.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, affecting Americans of all backgrounds. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 42 seconds and someone dies from heart-disease related causes every minute. During American Heart Month, everyone is encouraged to examine their heart health and take charge with heart-healthy behavior.

There are a number of risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are major risk factors for one’s heart health. Almost half of Americans (47%) are affected by at least one of these risks. A diagnosis of diabetes also comes with increased risk of heart disease, as well as poor diet, obesity, and excessive alcohol use.

There are different types of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common diagnosis, resulting from plaque buildup inside of arteries. Others are affected by arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat; congenital heart defects; cardiomyopathy, or weak heart muscles; heart valve problems; heart infections; or cardiovascular disease.

file4671234819876The first step in being aware of your heart health is to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Regular check-ups—even when you are not sick—can give great insight into one’s overall health and is a great opportunity to ask questions about improving your health. Check your blood pressure and cholesterol and set goals with your doctor if they are high. Regular exercise and healthy eating can greatly improve one’s heart health. Start walking every other day, control portion sizes with meals while eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting fats and sodium. Quitting smoking can cut one’s risk for heart disease and stroke, and not starting leaves one at a distinct advantage. Lastly, take any blood pressure or cholesterol medications as prescribed. It is important to take them as directed by your doctor to ensure the most benefit to your heart health. Getting a full night’s sleep and reducing stress can also have an impact on your overall heart health.

 

One out of every four deaths in the United States is from heart disease. Awareness can save lives and can take many forms. This Friday, February 3, is the fifteenth annual National Wear Red Day meant to bring national attention to heart health, particularly in women, encouraging Americans to wear red this Friday for awareness.

 

Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States over $207 billion each year in healthcare costs, medications, and lost productivity. NeedyMeds’ Disease Information Page for Heart Disease has information on the assistance available for those in need, including Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) that offer medications for low or no cost as well as Diagnosis-Based Assistance. Support can also be found in our State Sponsored Program, including the CDC’s WISEWOMAN program to provide low-income, under-insured/uninsured women with chronic risk blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. For those working towards better heart health and need help remembering to take prescribed medications on time, NeedyMeds’ Alert app can keep you informed on when you need to take your medicine or even get a refill. Use our website to find assistance or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

Cervical Health Awareness Important for All

January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month in the United States. With all women being at risk for cervical cancer, it’s important to be mindful of the health risks, symptoms, and resources available to those in need. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 12,000 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 4,000 die from it annually.

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The main cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed between people through sex or any genital skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus. HPV is so common that most people will have it at some point during their lives without ever developing symptoms. About 90% of cases are cleared naturally by the immune system within two years; however, there is no way of knowing which individuals will go on to develop health problems.

Some strains of HPV can cause warts around genitals or in one’s throat, while others can cause normal cells in the body to turn abnormal—possibly leading to cancer over time. Other factors that can increase your risk for cervical cancer are smoking, having HIV, using birth control pills for an extended time (five or more years), or giving birth to three or more children.

The most important thing one can do to prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21. Regular Pap tests performed by a doctor are the main defense against cervical cancer. There are vaccines for HPV that can greatly decrease the chances of contracting the potentially malignant virus available to pre-teens and young adults. Safe sex practices can also reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of infection for both cervical cancer and HPV.

Cervical Health Awareness is important for more than just straight/cisgender women  Transgender men are also at risk for cervical cancer if they still have a complete or partial cervix or if they have a history of cervical cancer, precancerous conditions, or HPV. Transgender people can experience additional barriers to screening such as discrimination and disrespect—one in five trans men report being refused health care based on their gender identity—which can cause many to postpone or avoid preventative care. Testosterone treatments common for trans men can also cause changes in the cervix that may appear precancerous, making the results of Pap tests difficult to interpret. Trans women who have undergone “bottom” surgery can also be at risk for cervical cancer depending on the type of surgery and the kind of tissue used to create one’s cervix. Transgender individuals should speak with their healthcare provider to see if a Pap test or comparable cancer screenings would be appropriate for them.

In a previous blog post, we featured the National Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, a national government initiative that provides free or low-cost screenings for those who qualify and gives access to treatment through Medicaid for women diagnosed with cancer through the program. We had another blog covering Planned Parenthood’s many important services, including cervical cancer screenings. Planned Parenthood performed 378,692 Pap tests in 2013 alone. NeedyMeds has information on over 500 Planned Parenthood clinics; search your zip code for locations in your area.

Cervical Health Awareness is a nationally important matter. Women should be encouraged to get their well-woman visit with their doctor this year and be told of the resources available if they need help. Parents should know the HPV vaccine can also greatly decrease their children’s risk of contracting cervical cancer. For more resources, check our website Needymeds.org or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

Healthcare After U.S. Election

We are getting further away from Election Day in the U.S. and getting closer to 2017, when many of the changes voted on will take effect.  Americans voted on much more than president this past November that will impact our nation’s healthcare; several states voted to allow or expand cannabis (aka marijuana) use for medicinal purposes, Colorado weighed in on assisted suicide, and California proposed price caps on prescription medications.

Colorado became the fifth state to allow a person with a terminal illness to receive a prescription for life-ending drugs from a doctor, with two-thirds of Colorado voters supporting the “End of Life Options” law. The law was modeled after Oregon’s 22-year-old “Death with Dignity” law that requires two physicians to agree the patient is mentally competent and is expected to live fewer than six months.  California, Vermont, and Washington also have similar laws allowing for physician-assisted suicide. Opponents of the law point to a lack of safeguards protecting vulnerable individuals and the possibility insurance companies could begin determining it is more cost-effective to provide medical aid in dying as opposed to lifelong medical care.

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California voters turned down the Drug Price Relief Act by a margin of 46% in favor versus 54% opposed. The law looked to limit what state health programs paid for medications so that they matched the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which receives the steepest discounts in the country. With the cost of prescription medications being a huge issue this election cycle, many analysts cite the impact of pharmaceutical lobbyists in the measure’s defeat, with pharmaceutical companies contributing $68.5 million to the opposition campaign versus the $4.4 donated in support of the measure (mostly from the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation).

This election had four states voting for medical cannabis: Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota all passed their referendums. Despite being a Schedule I substance federally, defined as having no accepted medical use, a total of 28 states plus Washington, DC now have cannabis as a medicinal option for patients. Cannabis is mostly prescribed for pain relief but can also be used to treat muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea, lack of appetite from chronic illness, seizure disorders, and/or Crohn’s disease.

The biggest voting contest was that for President of the United States, which was won by businessman Donald Trump.  Some Americans have very serious concerns regarding their health care as President-elect Trump ran on a platform of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka Obamacare) and overturning landmark reproductive health rights case Roe v Wade.  He has since softened on his stance on the ACA, saying there are provisions that he likes “very much”—namely, the ban on insurers denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing young adults to be insured on their parents’ policies—but remains at odds with many on reproductive rights. During his campaign Donald Trump pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides cancer/STI screenings and prenatal care to hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Trump has named Georgia Representative and orthopedic surgeon Tom Price—an outspoken opponent of the ACA and Planned Parenthood—as nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, who would be responsible for an annual budget of over $1 trillion, health programs that affect over 100 million Americans, regulating food and drugs, and sponsoring biomedical research in the United States. Furthermore, with Republicans controlling the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Oval Office, some fear the dissolution or privatization of programs like Medicare or Social Security that help many elderly or younger Americans with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

We at NeedyMeds expect to grow in the future as the potential need for assistance navigating the sometimes-expensive landscape of health care rises. Our site has databases of Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), Diagnosis-Based Assistance (DBAs), and Free/Low-cost/Sliding-scale Clinics to help those in need.  The NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can save users up to 80% off the cash price of prescription medications for those without insurance or choose to use the card instead of insurance. In addition to the plastic card, the card is available in a printable form or a smartphone app for Apple and Android devices. For more help finding information, call our toll-free helpline: 1-800-503-6897.

Tips for Healthy Travel for the Holidays

Last week was Thanksgiving in the United States, and the holidays are around the corner for the whole world. Many people travel to visit family during these months, including some who may be traveling with a chronic illness. We at NeedyMeds have some tips for healthy travel over the holidays along with suggestions for those with potential health concerns.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest seeing a doctor before travel and learning about your destination, especially if traveling out of the United States. Consider any special health needs for children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, chronic illness, or weakened immune systems. If you are traveling abroad, the CDC has a resource to see what inoculations are required and other things to keep in mind about different destinations.

  • If you are flying, give yourself enough time to make it through parking, security, and other lines. Remember to be patient when encountering delays in travel.

  • If you are driving, plan your route ahead of time and pack a GPS, smart phone, or up-to-date road maps as a backup. Remember to get out of the car to stretch and get fresh air periodically.

  • No matter how you are traveling, wash your hands often. Traveling by plane can put one in tight quarters with people from all over the country or the world, potentially exposing you to viruses you may not have antibodies for. We have more tips to avoid colds and flu here.

  • Sleep well the night before travel. While anticipation and excitement can make restful sleep difficult, we have tips for healthy sleep.

  • Eat well before hitting the road.  A wholesome diet not only keeps one’s immune system in fighting shape and gives ample energy for the trip ahead, but it will help travelers avoid expensive and unhealthy junk food.

  • If you have a chronic illness, doctors recommend taking a health history information sheet (HHIS) that includes diagnosis, physician and emergency contact information, medications and dosages info. Travelers should bring a copy of all prescriptions along with their medication in its original packaging. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has guidelines for passengers with disabilities and other health conditions to avoid delays or complications if traveling by air. A medic alert bracelet or first aid kit will also ease the mind of those worried about managing their illness abroad.

While we do not have information on programs that can help with traveling for the holidays, NeedyMeds has resources for those in need of assistance traveling to medical appointments, including specialists far away. For help, search for your diagnosis and look for Travel Expenses or Transportation (Air) under Services to find programs that offer assistance. Some programs may offer transportation for non-medical purposes such as grocery shopping. There are also programs that offer meal delivery or food pantries for those in need with certain diagnoses, which can be found under Services as well. For more information, check our website or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897.

Resources for Transgender Awareness Week

Transgender Awareness Week falls between November 14-20 every year and is meant to help raise visibility of a vulnerable and underserved community.  ‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned at birth; ‘gender identity’ is one’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither.

Transgender Pride Flag

Transgender Pride Flag

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people can face significant problems with accessing health care. Finding a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable of transgender health issues can be a hurdle itself; some healthcare professionals may believe that there is something wrong with someone because they are transgender—they are wrong. Even after finding a knowledgeable and sympathetic doctor, insurance may not cover the cost of treatment. Many transgender people are on a dosage of hormones which can affect one’s blood pressure, blood sugar, or in rare cases contribute to cancer. Some cancers found in transgender people can appear atypical—trans men are at risk for ovarian and cervical cancers, and trans women can be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Transgender/gender non-conforming people experience gender dysphoria, a clinically significant distress recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) caused by a person’s assigned birth gender differing from the one with which they identify. This leads to increased depression among the transgender community, which can be exacerbated by being rejected by family and friends, abuse/violence, or discrimination.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) protects against discrimination based on gender identity. Despite these protections, over 27% of transgender/gender non-conforming people report having been denied health care. Even paperwork can be a barrier to access for transgender individuals as standard forms often only list “male” or “female.” Nearly 21% of transgender people in the US report being subjected to harsh or abusive language from a healthcare professional, and an almost equal amount say healthcare providers have blamed them for their own health conditions. Transgender people report the highest rates of discrimination and barriers to care among the LGBT community.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has information on finding insurance for transgender-related health care. To further help those in need, NeedyMeds has a growing list of programs in our Diagnosis-Based Assistance database for transgender/gender non-conforming people that offer various forms of assistance such as financial aid or legal services. NeedyMeds’ unique crowdfunding platform HEALfundr is also available for individuals trying to raise funds for their transition. If you know any programs assisting transgender/gender non-conforming people that we don’t have listed on our site, leave a comment and let us know about it.

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