I Was Young And Active, But A Blood Clot In My Leg Almost Killed Me

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I'm 24 years old, an avid runner and cyclist, follow a healthy diet, have never smoked, and have no family history of major health problems. In other words, I'm as healthy as they come. So it came as a shock a few months ago when a sudden health issue came close to killing me. 

It started as a bad cramp. I woke up at 3 in the morning to what felt like a charley horse in my left calf, something that I'd experienced plenty of times before. I didn’t think much of it, though, because after about a minute of stretching, it felt better. I went back to sleep.

Over the next two days, those painful jolts in my calf kept coming back. I assumed I must have strained my calf during a workout, so I continued with my daily routine despite the pain. Thinking maybe I just needed to give my legs a break, I eased up my runs and took a couple of Pilates classes instead. I felt fine, so I assumed my leg was on the mend. 

Everything changed on day four. The pain worsened, and the cramps came four to six times a day, lasting for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. That's when I started getting nervous. 

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With a quick Google search on calf cramps, I discovered information about deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. I learned that DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins in the body, usually in the legs, and that symptoms include swelling, warmth, redness, and pain. Aside from the pain, though, I didn't have any other of the listed symptoms. Plus, I didn't think I had any risk factors for the condition.

Later that same night, though, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep. I counted down the hours until I could go to Urgent Care. I still didn’t think that it was a blood clot, but I knew that whatever it was, I needed to take care of it immediately.

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When I went to Urgent Care the following morning, the doctor felt around my leg and compared it to my other one.

“Your leg seems fine,” he said. “No swelling, redness, or warmth.”

“But it hurts so much,” I pleaded, hoping that he could give me some comfort in a diagnosis, at the very least.

“Are you on a birth control pill?” the doctor asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Get an ultrasound for good measure, but it’s most likely nothing.”

From Urgent Care I went to the radiologist’s office, where two different technicians examined the blood flow in my leg. They were not allowed to give me any information, but I heard them repeat the word “gastrocnemius” several times. I quickly Googled what that was, and the first hits that came up were about the gastrocnemius muscle, which is located in the calf.

I was instantly relieved, thinking they were referring to simple muscle pain. I even felt slightly embarrassed that I'd gone through the whole production of seeing the radiologist.

That is, until the radiologist entered the room and informed me that I needed to go to the emergency room immediately. “You have a blood clot in your gastrocnemius,” he said. “You need to be treated immediately in case the clot travels from your leg up to your heart or lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.”

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I rushed to the ER. There, the doctors asked if I’d gone on any long trips recently. I had—the day before my pain started, I took a five-hour bus ride. It turns out that DVT risk increases when you sit for extended periods and don't move your legs. The docs blamed my DVT on a combination of that bus ride and my birth control pills, which also increase blood clot risk. 

The doctors also explained that while pulmonary embolism as a result of DVT is rare, my risk was higher than most. I was supposed to fly to Paris just four days later, and another period of prolonged sitting could have prompted the clot to move from my calf to my heart or lungs—potentially killing me. 

Seeking medical help when I did prevented the clot from having a severe impact on my life. I had to take anticoagulants (blood thinners) for three months, could not travel for one month, and had to go off my birth control. That’s it. Canceling a trip to Paris was worth saving my life. 

If there’s one thing I learned from this experience—whether you notice a sudden, persistent leg cramp, or anything in your body that intuitively feels off—don’t hesitate to see a doctor. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

6 Ways a TV Binge Affects Your Body, and How to Fight Each One

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The third season of House of Cards just dropped on Netflix, which means all 13 episodes—each about 50 minutes long—are ready and waiting for you to devour. Fan of the show? Well, we have an idea what you'll be doing this weekend (sitting on your couch, engrossed). And you probably won't be alone: According to a 2014 poll by research firm Miner & Co Studio, 70% of U.S. television watchers self-identified as binge-viewers.

But before you settle in for a delightfully dark weekend with the Underwoods, let's talk about what a TV binge can do to your body. You know that a habit of sitting for prolonged periods has been linked to everything from obesity to early death, but you may wonder: What harm can one or two lazy days really do?

Well, let's just say there are some good reasons to try to split up your TV or movie binge.

"Even one long television session can certainly cause some immediate side effects," says John P. Higgins, MD, associate professor of cardiology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and a certified personal trainer. "And the more you do it, the more you'll be at risk for longer-term problems."

Here are all the ways your body is affected while you binge-watch, plus how to fight each one.

 

Your appetite

Watching television often goes hand in hand with mindless overeating and unhealthy snacking, Dr. Higgins says, and watching episode after episode can make that worse. "You probably don't want to stop for an hour to cook yourself a healthy meal, so you order pizza or fast food, or you snack on junk food the whole time." And if you think that one bad-for-you dinner can't hurt, think again: A 2012 study from the University of Montreal found that a single meal high in saturated fat can can damage arteries and restrict blood flow in the body. Furthermore, watching high-paced, action-oriented programs also triggers more distracted eating than less stimulating news or talk shows, according to a 2014 study by Cornell University.

Simply seeing characters eat on TV may make you consume more calories, Dr. Higgins adds, just as watching them drink alcohol may trigger you to crave a cocktail, or seeing them smoke (ahem, Frank and Claire) may tempt smokers to light up.

Fight it: Prep healthy food in advance
Make a healthy meal before you indulge in one (or more) episodes, and have pre-portioned healthy snacks (think popcorn or almonds) at the ready.

RELATED: 20 Snacks That Burn Fat

Your muscles

It's unlikely that you'll gain five pounds or sabotage your fitness goals in one sitting, but spending all day on your butt can have more immediate consequences, including stiffness, back pain, and muscle cramps.

Fight it: Watch on the go
Download the Netflix app, so you can watch from your phone or tablet on the treadmill, stationary bike, or—Frank's personal favorite—the rowing machine. At the very least, you should take a stand and stretch break between each episode.

RELATED: 15-Minute Workout: Get Total-Body Toned

Your mood

A recent study by University of Texas at Austin researchers found that binge-watching is linked with feelings of depression and loneliness. People often try to lose themselves in TV to distract themselves from their negative feelings, the authors say, but often they're unable to stop—even when they know they are neglecting work and relationships. Spending a whole weekend watching TV may also cause feelings regret and guilt, says psychiatrist Grant Brenner, MD, adjunct assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, but those are usually temporary.

For viewers with pre-existing mental health conditions, however, a binge session may have bigger consequences. "Perhaps they're in a vulnerable state and the material triggers a negative reaction—such as activating trauma or amplifying irrational beliefs of some sort," Dr. Brenner says.

Speaking of trauma, House of Cards has some dark subject matter. "Being exposed to any sufficiently intense or resonant emotionally-laden experience can potentially affect a person's disposition and outlook," Dr. Brenner adds, at least for a few days.

Fight it: Watch with friends
You need to talk to someone about Frank and Claire, and why that thing that was so crazy was just. so. crazy!

RELATED: 12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

Your sleep

And not just the sleep you lose by watching straight through the night (you probably already know you shouldn't do that); it's possible that your shut-eye schedule in the days after your binge session could be affected as well, Dr. Higgins says. "If you watch in a dark room with a lack of sunlight it can screw up your circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep-wake cycles." On top of that, research suggests that the blue light emitted from televisions, computers, and smartphones can impair the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps promote sleep. (Not to mention, it can cause headaches and eye strain.)

Fight it: Avoid a binge that's too close to bedtime
You need at least an hour away from the blue light to appropriately wind down. Also: watching on a screen that's close to your face may have the biggest impact, so be sure you really "sit back" and relax.

RELATED: 10 Sleep Compatibility Problems, Solved

Your circulation

Staying in one position for too long can contribute to deep vein thrombosis and the formation of potentially fatal blood clots, even in otherwise active individuals. "I've seen young healthy people who have been laying around all day surfing the web or watching movies get blood clots," Dr. Higgins says. "When you're watching TV, you may be moving your hands a bit but usually your feet are just laying there."

Fight it: Get up at least every 30 minutes
"It's another important reason to get up every 30 minutes or so, even if it's just to stand and pump the calves and keep the blood flowing," Dr. Higgins says.

RELATED: How to Prevent a Blood Clot

Your metabolism

Studies show that spending long periods of time in a chair or on a couch do slow metabolism and cause the body to store more fat, which can lead to a slow, steady weight gain. Plus, you've heard it before, but it's worth repeating: prolonged sitting has been linked to certain cancers, diabetes, disability, and heart disease—and the more time people spend watching TV, the more likely they are to die prematurely. In many cases, these associations hold true even if you're getting the recommended amount of exercise during the day.

Fight it: Don't make it a habit
Thankfully, it's not every week that Netflix releases an addicting show.

RELATED: 6 Ways to Sit Less Every Day

The bottom line

There are ways to make the occasional marathon TV session healthier. "If you decide you're going to watch five episodes in one day rather than one episodes every night of the week—and you use that hour each night to work out when wouldn't otherwise—you can treat a weekend binge as a reward," Dr. Higgins says.

Brenner agrees. "For a lot of folks, binge-watching might be a form of relaxing 'stay-cation,' especially if it is viewed as a valuable recreational experience and not as an excessive indulgence," he says. "As with most things, moderation is the key to avoiding problems."

RELATED: 5 Ways To Make Your Netflix Binge A Little Healthier

 

Health24.com | ‘It was like it happened overnight’ – Bride-to-be develops vitiligo months before her wedding

The weeks leading up to her wedding should have among the most exciting of her life.  

But this American bride was left devasted after developing a skin disorder just a few months before her big day.

Kandice Benford (32) from Mississippi believes that her vitiligo – the loss of skin colour in blotches – was triggered by the stress of planning her wedding ceremony. 

The bride-to-be first noticed the white spots on her hands during her college years, but says that she never really cared about it at the time.

But the skin disorder got worse after her 30th birthday.

“You see yourself every day for 30 years and then one morning you wake up and you look different,” says Kandice.

“Kids would say, ‘Mummy, what is that all over her face?’ or people would ask, ‘Is it a burn?”

She accredits the rapid spread of the skin disorder to juggling work, planning her wedding and looking after her husband, Elliot (30) who was ill at the time.

 “I think stress triggered it. Because I got stressed, I started seeing a more prominent spot on my nose and it started spreading more. It was like it happened overnight,” says Kandice to Metro News

When her big day arrived, Kandice was tempted to cover up her blotches with makeup but her husband convinced her not to, Daily Mail reported.

“I was freaking out but everybody has been very supportive. My husband said, ‘You’re beautiful with or without’, she recalls.

The 32-year-old gave herself a quick pep talk and moved on. “I had to embrace it,” says Kandice who ended up looking and feeling amazing on her wedding day.

“I can honestly say having vitiligo has made me more confident in myself.”

It’s been a year since she said “I do” and a more self-assured Kandice wants other women with vitiligo to embrace their unique features.

“At first, the stares made me feel very, very uncomfortable but now I look at those people and wave,” she says.

“To anyone else going through this, you need to love yourself. Be patient with yourself. You are stronger than you think.”

Sources: metro.co.uk, dailymail.co.uk, mirror.co.uk

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Health24.com | 6 tips for fuelling before and during a race

When I first started practicing, my team of clients would say, “Just tell us what to eat and when.”

My response: “Everyone’s different.”

Without trial and error, there’s no blanket recommendation on what to eat on race day.

But the more I run and race, I realise there are habits we all should adopt and nutrition tips that apply to each and every runner.

1. If you’re racing longer than 90 minutes, carb-loading applies

If you’re lacing up for a 10K, you can skip this ritual. Or if you’re gifted enough to run a half in say, 80 minutes, you may be able to get away without the load.

For the rest of us, tapered training accompanied by three days (one day at the minimum) of gloriously imbibing in whole grains, bread, bagels, fruit and cereal will do it.

How much is enough? You’re going to need to aim for 4.5 to 5.5g of carbohydate per 500g, which is likely more than you’re used to and might mean the vast majority of your daily kilojoules in the days before the race are coming from baked goods, pretzels, potatoes and whole grains.

For those who are carb-phobic, you might be afraid this amount of carbs will derail your weight goals or open the door for gluttony. But remember: carb-loading is only temporary and it’s important to fend off race-day walls.

Once the race is over, you’ll return to your normal pattern of balanced eating with about 55 to 65% of kilojoules coming from carbs and the rest from lean protein and unsaturated fats. (Right?)

2. Don’t skip breakfast

While you may have found some weight-loss success with “training low” (i.e. training on an empty tank and burning off some fat reserves), race day is not a day to train low.

The goal on race day is to perform and finish rather than meet weight goals. (I promise you one day of fuelling the run is not going to derail long-term weight loss.)

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Read more: The perfect breakfast for every runner

What to eat for breakfast? Aim for a light meal you’re familiar with and one that sits well in your system. Most research suggests you should eat 0.5 to 1.8g of carbs per half kilo in the one to four hours before a workout.

The longer you have before heading out, the more time you’ll have to digest. Most athletes can handle 0.45g per half kilo of carbs (and a bit of protein) in the hour or so before a race.

3. If you’re going to run a half or full, you need to fuel along the way

Certainly, your carb-load (see above), if done properly, will fill your muscle glycogen stores to the brim before you take off.

But even with the carb-load, there’s a limit to how much muscle glycogen you have on board. Which means that at some point during the race, you’re going to need to add some fuel to your tank.

You can find the 30 to 60g of carbs you need in gels, blocks, bars and drinks. Aim to consume some carbs every 15 to 20 minutes along the course. This will give your system time to absorb the fuel and disperse to working muscles.

Read more: Should you grab a gel, energy bar or sports drink?

Remember to practise fuelling during your training. If you’re trying to determine which brand and flavour of fuel to use, check the race website. It’s well worth your time to do the research; the race is bound to hand out a certain brand of gel.

If you can tolerate the brand they are using, you can be confident on race day that you won’t have any GI surprises and you won’t need to pack as much in your fuel belt. If you try out the on-course brand and find it isn’t for you, no problem.

Experiment with other brands, flavours and forms during training. Once you find one that works, stick with it and pack it on race day.

4. Don’t wait

If you start to feel good during a race, don’t save your fuel thinking you’ll use it once you start to feel fatigued. By then it may be too late!

Instead of letting your glycogen stores get past the point of no return, start fuelling early and often. If you take just a bit of fuel at a time, you can meet your goal of 30g or more of carbs an hour without feeling like you have a gut bomb.

Read more: 6 common race-day fuelling mistakes

5. Chase those gels with blocks of water

Your system will struggle to absorb the badly needed energy unless you dilute it by grabbing some water along the course. So plan your fuelling strategy (especially with gels) around the aid stations. 

6.  Drink along the course

Every runner is different in terms of choice, volume and frequency. Most find that if they replace sweat losses and are careful to drink to thirst (potentially beyond if sweat losses are intense), they finish the race feeling strong.

Personally, I find that as a salty sweater (a really salty sweater, with a sensitive gut), I need heavy electrolytes and fluids. But high-carb sports drinks aren’t for me. When I hit the wall, it’s an electrolyte issue rather than a carb issue.

Read more: 5 hydration mistakes you are probably making

Like anything, it took a lot of trial and error before I figured this out. So while the above tips are general, solid guidance, take time to practice fuelling ahead of race day.

And best of luck in your training and fuelling!

This article was originally featured on www.runnersworld.co.za

Image credit: iStock

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