The ABCs of headaches

Almost everyone has experienced a headache at some point in his or her life. It is one of the most common medical complaints, but it can still be difficult to describe. The pain can be throbbing or squeezing and can span the whole head or be localized to one part of the face or skull.

Head pain can be classified into one of three types: Primary headaches, secondary headaches and the more rare cranial neuralgias or facial pain. 

Primary headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache. They are painful and can impact your daily activities. Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can usually relieve sporadic tension headaches. However, if you experience chronic headaches, preventative medication may be required. 

Migraine headaches are a common type of primary headache affecting both children and adults. Treatment is focused on stopping symptoms and preventing future episodes. Pain relieving medications can be taken during migraine episodes, and preventative medications should be taken regularly to reduce the severity and frequency.

Cluster headaches are rare, commonly affect men in their late 20s or older, and recur daily. The pain from the first episode must be managed, and the subsequent headaches must be prevented. Some migraine medications, lidocaine and oxygen are common initial treatment options.

Secondary headaches

Secondary headaches are caused by underlying structural or infectious problems in the head or neck, including dental pain, sinus infections and more serious conditions like meningitis. Secondary headaches also include those associated with substance abuse, including hangover headaches. 

Preventing headaches depends on the type and severity of previous headaches. You can prevent some secondary headaches by avoiding their causes, like excessive drinking. For other types of headaches, you’ll need to keep track of symptoms, duration, severity and any possible triggers. As you track your headaches, a pattern will emerge, enabling you to avoid triggers and prevent future headaches.

The health benefits of observing and creating art

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most beloved, extraordinary artists of all time. It is also well known he suffered from mental illness. He created some of his most famous and widely recognizable paintings while convalescing at an asylum, into which he voluntarily admitted himself. He often wrote to his brother of the calm, focused feelings he experienced when painting.

As noted in Vincent’s letters, creative expression is a powerful tool for well-being.  

The nonprofit group Resources to Recover defines art therapy as the application of art to treat mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, dementia, and PTSD. It can be used in conjunction with traditional mental health therapy to manage behaviors and reduce stress.

A pilot study published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association demonstrated preliminary evidence that just 45 minutes of creative activity significantly reduces stress in the body, regardless of artistic experience or talent. Nearly 75% of the study participants had lower levels of salivary cortisol, the “stress hormone,” after the art making session.

All arts and crafts hobbies seem to have the power to positively affect the brain in a fashion similar to meditation. An online survey conducted with members of a virtual knitting community about  the benefits of knitting on their personal and social well-being published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy.

Observing visual art can also reduce stress and anxiety for patients in hospitals and doctors’ offices. A study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being concluded, “Art contributes to creating an environment and atmosphere where patients can feel safe, socialize, maintain a connection to the world outside the hospital and support their identity.”

Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the works of others or create your own, take advantage of healing power of art on the mind and body. 

Are you sleep deprived? Here’s how it can affect your overall health

Sleep deprivation can be caused by a range of factors including lifestyle choices, caring for an infant and sleep disorders.

Sleep debt

Not getting enough sleep results in what the National Sleep Foundation calls “a slow accumulation of sleep debt.” Sleep deprivation can have an adverse effect on brain function, leaving you feeling forgetful or unfocused, which can result in mistakes at work or impaired driving.

The good news is that, according to a Harvard Medical School article, it’s possible to repay your sleep debts. You can add a few hours of sleep to your weekend schedule or take a relaxing, sleep-filled vacation to make up for lost rest. Depending on how much sleep debt you’ve accumulated, it could take a while for you to see the results – but setting clear sleep goals for yourself and tracking your sleep can help you get there.

Immunity and chronic illness

Have you ever noticed that you catch a cold when you haven’t slept well for a while? Lack of sleep causes your body to make fewer cytokines, a molecule that regulates immunity and inflammation. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also linked insufficient sleep to the development chronic diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.

Get better sleep

Good sleep habits have a direct, positive effect on mental, physical and emotional health. Here are some tips from the CDC for a better night’s sleep:

  • Have a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
  • Get regular exercise
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and comfortable
  • Limit the use of electronic devices before bed

Sleep is usually the thing we do after we do everything else. To stay healthy, especially during cold and flu season, make sleep a priority and get the recommended hours of sleep for your age group. It can be helpful to track your sleep using and app or journal (visit to get on the waitlist for Nano’s wellness app) to better understand your sleep patterns and where you can improve your routines. Your body will thank you for it!

Do you live in a heart disease hotspot?

Heart disease, which can include several types of medical conditions, is the leading cause of death in the United States. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 610,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. every year. Heart disease can be congenital or caused by conditions like coronary artery disease, and it can result in heart attacks and heart failure.

In fields like epidemiology and public health, the term “hotspots” has been used to refer to areas of elevated disease emergence or prevalence, as well as areas of high transmission risk. The National Center for Biotechnology Information encourages the use of more precise terms, such as “burden hotspot,” “transmission hotspot,” and “emergence hotspot.”

This distinction is necessary so local and federal public health officials can make decisions regarding intervention and disease control, and so you can decipher available information and make informed choices about your health.

Why are heart disease hotspots important?

The American Heart Association (AHA) conducted a comprehensive study on the current and projected prevalence of heart disease, which includes factors such as gender, race and ethnicity. However, public health officials are becoming more interested in how geographic factors such as recreation, transportation, crime and unemployment affect your health.

Think of these factors as yet another data point to include in your full profile of health to help you understand your health risks, put symptoms in context and plan your best path to well-being.

“In many ways, your ZIP code is more important than your genetic code when it comes to health,” said Jay Butler, chief medical officer and director of public health for the state of Alaska.

The more you know
Do you think you live in a heart disease hotspot? The CDC created an interactive map showing heart disease mortality by state. This data, along with information about heart disease, prevention, and treatment will give you the tools to take control of your cardiovascular health.

Anxiety: the causes, triggers and myths

Anxiety can be a normal part of life. It’s the body’s defense mechanism, keeping us out of danger and preparing us for necessary action.

For many people, however, anxiety can become overwhelming. It disrupts their daily lives and even makes routine activities impossible. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates 264 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety disorders often have intense and persistent worries and fears, which result in panic attacks.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can begin occurring in childhood and are sometimes the result of treatable medical conditions. Some examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, specific phobias and separation anxiety. 

What causes anxiety disorders?

Experts have not discovered the exact cause of anxiety disorders. However, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health, believe brain chemistry, along with genetic and environmental factors may play a role. 

People with depression, irritable bowel syndrome, or a history of substance abuse have a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Other factors that can increase your risk include stress, genetics, personality type, severe trauma and gender. 

Putting together a full picture of your wellness that includes other health conditions, family history and environmental exposure can help you better understand the cause of your anxiety and may help your doctor or therapist treat you more effectively. 

Anxiety triggers

Because anxiety has different effects on different individuals, triggers may be difficult to identify. Sometimes, environmental factors, such as location, sounds, and smells may trigger anxiety, especially in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some common anxiety triggers include:

  • Health issues and certain medications
  • Social or public events
  • Stress and relationship conflicts
  • Financial matters

Myths and misconceptions

If you or someone you love lives with an anxiety disorder, you may not be able to discern between trustworthy information and misinformation. 
Visit the ADAA website for valuable information like their Myth vs. Reality infographic, as well as links to other informational websites.

Preventive care: the secret to staying healthy

Many of us only think of visiting our doctors when we feel ill – but prioritizing preventive care is actually one of those most critical things you can do for your lifelong health. Think of it like the routine maintenance your car needs to run smoothly and have a long lifespan. But instead of oil changes and tire rotations, your routine maintenance should include yearly check-ups, screenings for chronic diseases and updated immunizations.

Why is preventive care so important? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if everyone in the United States received the recommended clinical preventative care, more than 100,000 lives could be saved each year. 

Early screenings for diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease make treatments more successful and help lower the cost of long-term care. Preventive care also promotes healthy lifestyles through counseling on smoking, weight loss, healthy eating and reducing alcohol intake.

The following lists include some of the critical preventive care services available.

For everyone:

  • Immunizations
  • Depression screenings 
  • Obesity screenings and counseling 

For adults:

  • Blood pressure screenings 
  • Type 2 diabetes screenings 
  • Alcohol misuse screenings and counseling 
  • Diet counseling
  • HIV screenings and counseling

For women:

  • Breast cancer screenings
  • Contraception counseling
  • Cervical cancer screenings 
  • Check-ups for pregnant women
  • Counseling for nursing moms
  • Osteoporosis screening 

For children:

  • Well-baby and well-child exams
  • Vision and hearing screenings
  • Autism screenings at 18 and 24 months
  • Behavioral assessments
  • Developmental screenings

Most medical insurance providers cover 100% of preventive care, so budget does not need to be a barrier to routine health screenings for you and your family. 

For more information on the preventative care benefits, check with your insurance company or visit

Bacteria vs. virus – what’s the difference?

Bacterial illnesses and viral ones may make you feel equally bad, but knowing the distinctions between the two can be important for monitoring and understanding your health. 

Here’s the nutshell version:

  • Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms and can thrive in soil, plants, water, living and dead organisms, including humans. They reproduce independently through binary fission.
  • Viruses do not have a cellular structure, nor can they replicate outside host cells. They are pathogenic and can infect all living organisms, including bacteria.

Ok, neat – but how does this impact your health?

Some bacteria are beneficial to humans. However, we can contract bacterial infections a number of ways, including consuming contaminated food and contact with an infected person. Most bacterial infections like strep throat and sinus infections are easily treated with antibiotics. 

Viruses invade a host cell and reprogram it to reproduce the virus’s genetic structure. The host cell then bursts, releasing more copies of the virus that can attack other cells. This replication cycle is why it is very difficult to treat viral infections. Antiviral medications can help individuals infected with influenza or HIV. However, a typical viral infection must simply run its course.

What about the impact on public health?

Most people don’t understand the difference between bacterial and viral infections, so the unnecessary use of antibiotics has promoted the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate more than 2 million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, of which at least 23,000 die.

The takeaway? 

Bacterial and viral infections can have similar symptoms, but they are very different in terms of treatment. Always take precautions to avoid infection and consult your doctor before taking any medication.

An unlikely contributor to hypertension: your environment

If you’re not familiar with hypertension, it’s a condition that essentially means you have elevated blood pressure – and it’s an increasing cause for concern in the United States. In January 2018, the American Heart Association (AHA) reported that over 103 million American adults had high blood pressure. This represents nearly half of the adult population!

Hypertension can have a profound impact on your life because it raises your risk for heart disease and stroke.

There are an array of potential causes for hypertension – from aging and drug use to infection and diet. But one of the more unexpected causes – and one that you can take action against – is your environment.

In 2018, researchers found that every human being walks around with his or her own unique “environmental cloud” – also known as the exposome cloud – which is made up of the thousands of pathogens, beneficial bacteria, chemical compounds (like insecticides or carcinogens) and particulate matter that we are exposed to in our daily lives. If you live in Los Angeles and spend hours in traffic driving to your office every day, your exposome cloud will likely look very different from someone who works on a farm in Vermont.

If you are in a more urbanized or industrialized area, particulate matter associated with air pollution may be the greatest cause for concern when it comes to hypertension. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 24% of all deaths from stroke and 25% of all deaths from ischemic heart disease are due to poor air quality.

After conducting a highly controlled study, researchers found that with every slight increase (meaning less than about a quarter of a tiny raindrop) of particulate matter concentrations, the incidence risk of hypertension is raised by 11% (Huang et al, 2019).

The causes of hypertension can be varied and complex – but taking a close look at the air quality you come in contact with every day and taking steps to improve it can be an important preventive tool when it comes to this serious disease.

Why immunizations are important for the entire family

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? This has been a hot topic for years, debated by doctors, celebrities, politicians, parents and even kids. 

The proven, science-based fact is this: immunizations are crucial to your health.

Immunizations protect our children from many of the infectious diseases that killed or disabled children just a few decades ago. They also help the vaccinated individual protect others who are unvaccinated, such as babies, and protect those who need protection from infectious disease such as pregnant women, cancer patients and immunocompromised individuals. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines are very safe and only given to children after careful review by scientists, doctors and healthcare professionals.

But what about immunizations for adults, you ask? They are just as important.

Being a grown up is an endless cycle of multitasking. Sometimes we forget to add water to the coffee machine or show up to the office with our shirts inside out. So, it’s not surprising that some of us may forget or just skip our own vaccinations. 

Every year, thousands of adults become ill from the flu and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Some vaccines can wear off over time, while others are recommended for certain age groups. 

Organizations like the CDC and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend the following immunizations:

  • Flu: yearly, all adults
  • Tdap: every 10 years, all adults
  • HPV: single dose, adults under age 26
  • Shingles: single dose, adults over 50
  • Pneumococcal: two doses, adults over 65

The vaccine is one of the most important medical discoveries of our lifetime and one of the greatest public health success stories. Vaccines have greatly reduced the infection rate of diseases like measles, diphtheria whooping cough, and they will continue to be our most important tool in the fight against preventable disease in the future.

For more information, visit the CDC Vaccines and Immunizations website.

Feeling drained or fatigued? Boost your energy naturally

It’s 9 a.m., and you have things to do. So why do you feel like taking a nap? If your usual cups of coffee aren’t cutting it, you may need to look at other factors. 

Most of us love coffee – but some of us can’t or shouldn’t ingest caffeine or other stimulants. The following caffeine-free tips for boosting your energy are also great habits for a healthier lifestyle.

Check your nutrition and hydrate

If you’re feeling the mid-morning or afternoon slump, chances are you might need a snack or water. Obvious, right? For most of us, it isn’t. Keep water and some power snacks on hand, specifically foods with protein, fat and fiber.

Get some sleep

Most adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep. Be honest with yourself – are you really getting your full quota? To get the most out of this important time, set a bedtime routine, limit screen time and go to bed at around the same time every night.

Stay active

This may seem counterintuitive, but slowly increasing your physical activity can have a cumulative effect on your overall energy levels. According to a Johns Hopkins article, you only need about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to see a difference in the quality of your sleep.

Reduce stress

People of all ages can feel stress and anxiety, which can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Relaxing activities, like meditating, reading a book or knitting are great for reducing tension and increasing energy levels.

Take your vitamins

Even if you eat a balanced diet, you may be missing a vitamin or mineral. A daily multivitamin could be the key to alleviating your low energy levels. Some pregnant women may experience iron-deficiency anemia, which can be treated with a supplement.

Natural energy boosters are great ways to beat fatigue. However, excessive fatigue could be a result of a serious medical condition like depression, sleep apnea, or chronic fatigue syndrome. If you have persistent low energy levels, be sure to contact your medical provider.