Help for hemorrhoids

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— Dr. P

Help for hemorrhoids

One of the most embarrassing conditions also can be one of the easiest to treat and manage.


Hemorrhoids are without doubt among the most unpleasant of health topics. But if you have suffered from them, you may find comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

More than 75% of people ages 45 and older have had hemorrhoids, with symptoms like rectal pain, itching, and bleeding after a bowel movement.

Put an end to your hemorrhoid flare-ups, with these tips from the experts at Harvard Medical School

"Hemorrhoids can be painful and embarrassing, but they often shrink on their own with simple self-help and over-the-counter remedies," says Dr. Howard LeWine, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

A look inside

Hemorrhoids are swollen veins near the anus. There are two types: internal and external. You can have either type by itself, or both at the same time.

Internal hemorrhoids form inside the anal canal and are often painless. However, they may cause intermittent bleeding, usually with bowel movements, and sometimes discharge mucus. Internal hemorrhoids may also protrude outside the anus, where they appear as small, grape-like masses.

External hemorrhoids form just outside the anal opening, where they primarily cause swelling, bothersome protrusions, and discomfort.

Cause and self-care

Sometimes hemorrhoids develop for no apparent reason, but often they are associated with chronic constipation or diarrhea, straining during bowel movements, and prolonged sitting on the toilet. This can interfere with blood flow to and from the rectum (the last six inches of the large intestine) and the anus, causing blood to pool in the veins around the anus, enlarging them.

The good news is that neither kind of hemorrhoid is dangerous, and severe complications are rare. Still, it's important to see your doctor if you experience rectal bleeding, feel a lump in the anus, or have ongoing rectal pain, as these might be signs of an unrelated and more serious condition, such as colorectal or rectal cancer.

Symptoms for either kind of hemorrhoid often can be relieved with self-care treatments. For example:

Sitz baths. A regular sitz bath can relieve itching and irritation. Fill a tub with three to four inches of warm (not hot) water and sit in it with your knees bent for about 10 to 15 minutes. Gently pat yourself dry with a towel.

Fiber supplements. These reduce hemorrhoid bleeding, inflammation, and enlargement by drawing water into your stool to make it easier to pass. A psyllium husk fiber supplement, such as Metamucil or a generic equivalent, is a good choice, although psyllium may cause gas or bloating. In that case, try a supplement containing wheat dextrin (Benefiber) or methylcellulose (Citrucel).

Topical therapies. Over-the-counter products are available for hemorrhoids, such as pads infused with witch hazel (Tucks), as well as soothing creams that contain lidocaine, hydrocortisone, or other ingredients like phenylephrine (Preparation H). These substances help shrink the inflamed tissue and provide relief from itching. External hemorrhoids rarely need more than self-care.

"The exception is a thrombosed hemorrhoid, the sudden formation of a hard, inflamed clot inside the hemorrhoid," says Dr. LeWine. "If this occurs, contact your doctor, since you may need a surgical procedure."

Nonsurgical options

When internal hemorrhoids continue to cause symptoms despite home treatment, your doctor may recommend an office-based nonsurgical procedure. Here are the most common options.

Rubber band ligation. This is the most widely used procedure for treating internal hemorrhoids. The doctor inserts a small elastic band into the anal canal and places it around the base of a hemorrhoid. The band cuts off the hemorrhoid's circulation, which causes the hemorrhoid to wither and die. The rubber band eventually falls off unnoticed. The procedure requires no anesthesia, although a numbing agent is sometimes used if you feel discomfort.

Sclerotherapy. The doctor inserts a proctoscope (a special metal or plastic scope used to view the hemorrhoids) into the anus. He or she then injects a chemical solution directly into the hemorrhoid or the area around it. This solution causes a local reaction that interferes with blood flow inside the hemorrhoid, causing it to shrink. Afterward, some people experience mild bleeding, pain, and pressure.

Coagulation therapy. This uses heat, laser, or electric current to cut off the hemorrhoid's blood supply. Once the hemorrhoid shrinks and dies, scar tissue forms on the anal canal wall to hold nearby veins in place so they don't bulge into the anal canal. One hemorrhoid is treated at a time, with a 10- to 14-day period between treatments.

6 Reasons to See a Gastroenterologist

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Many conditions can cause problems during digestion. Chronic pain in the belly is one warning sign that something is wrong. Nagging symptoms, such as bloating, gas and diarrhea are others. They're all reasons to see a gastroenterologist. These doctors are trained to treat conditions that affect the organs of the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, colon, pancreas and liver. If you notice any of the telltale symptoms, it may be time to check in with a gastroenterologist.


Heartburn is pain or burning in the chest or throat. It occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. That's the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Many people get heartburn now and then. It goes away on its own or with over-the-counter medicines. But, symptoms that occur more than twice a week could be a sign of a more serious problem: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

GERD develops when acid from the stomach irritates the lining of the esophagus. GERD is more common among people who smoke or are overweight. Pregnant women also are apt to develop the condition. Medication is available to treat GERD. Severe cases may need surgery. Untreated GERD can cause more serious problems, including chronic inflammation in the esophagus and breathing problems.


Gallstones are small, hard nuggets that form in the gallbladder, a small organ in the belly. A gallstone can be as tiny as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. Some people have one large stone. Others develop multiple stones of different sizes. Sudden pain on the right side of your abdomen could be a gallstone. Pain from gallstones passes once they move. Gallstones develop because of imbalances in the substances that form bile. That's the digestive liquid made by the liver. Doctors don't know why these imbalances occur.

Obese people and pregnant women are more likely than others to have gallstones. Having gallstones also becomes more common with age. Anyone who has had one gallstone is at risk for another. Many people who develop gallstones have surgery to remove their gallbladder. In some cases, medications can dissolve the stones.

Lactose Intolerance

People who develop uncomfortable symptoms after drinking milk or eating dairy products may be lactose intolerant. Lactose is a sugar found in milk. The body produces the protein lactase to help break down milk products, including cheese and yogurt.

But, people with lactose intolerance don't make enough lactase to fully digest even small portions of these foods. This can lead to bloating, belly pain, diarrhea, gas, and upset stomach. Symptoms usually appear up to two hours after eating dairy. They can range from mild to severe. Gastroenterologists can test for lactose intolerance. Treatment may involve dietary supplements and changes to your diet.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a genetic condition that involves the immune system. People with the disorder must avoid eating gluten. Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye and barley. It may also be found in certain medicines, vitamins and supplements. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their immune system responds by damaging their small intestine. This can cause pain and diarrhea. A blood test can help diagnose celiac disease. A gastroenterologist may also need to examine a sample of the small intestine to look for damage.

Celiac disease is not the same as gluten sensitivity. The conditions share common symptoms. The main difference is that people with gluten sensitivity don't develop damage in their small intestine. Completely avoiding gluten can ease symptoms of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. You may need additional treatment for intestinal damage.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Sometimes, a person's immune system mistakes food and other substances in the digestive tract for dangerous germs. It acts against healthy tissue by mistake. This causes inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD includes several disorders that trigger chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. The small and large intestines become irritated and swollen, causing severe belly paindiarrhea, and rectal bleeding, as well as symptoms that seem unrelated, such as fatiguejoint pain, and fever. Symptoms may ease up and then return during a flare.

The most common IBDs are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Ulcerative colitis affects the large intestine. Crohn's disease affects anywhere along the digestive tract. Blood tests, tissue or stool samples, X-rays, and CT scans help doctors diagnose IBD. So does endoscopy. That involves checking the inside of the intestines with a scope that has a specialized camera.

Treatment may include medication, surgery, and lifestyle changes, including taking steps to avoid stress. IBD is not the same as IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome. Some symptoms are similar, but IBS does not cause damage in the digestive tract from inflammation.

Colon Cancer Screening

A gastroenterologist can look for signs of certain diseases, such as colon cancer, even if you don't have symptoms. For a colonoscopy, for instance, the doctor will insert a thin tube with a tiny camera into the rectum to see the inside of the colon. Also, imaging scans and stool samples can help diagnose cancer.

Colon cancer usually develops from abnormal growths on the colon or rectum. Finding these growths early lets doctors remove them before they have a chance to become cancerous. Early detection and diagnosis of cancer saves lives. By the age of 50, all people should start getting regular screenings for colon cancer.

Vitamin D May Help Ease Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Vitamin D May Help Ease Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Researchers say they’ve noticed a vitamin D deficiency in many people with IBS. Increasing the level of the vitamin could reduce symptoms.

It’s the most common disease diagnosed by gastroenterologists and it affects approximately 10 to 15 percent of the adult population in the United States.

But there is no known cause and no cure for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Treatment for the condition is focused on alleviating symptoms such as abdominal pain, constipation, bloating, and diarrhea.

Now, researchers from the University of Sheffield in England have found a new way to possibly manage IBS — vitamin D supplements.

The inspiration for the study came simply from speaking with a patient with IBS.

“The vitamin D/IBS link wasn’t spotted by medics or scientists. It came from patients,” Bernard Corfe, PhD, lead author of the study and principal investigator in molecular gastroenterology at the University of Sheffield, told Healthline.

“Vitamin D is an important factor in multiple diseases and areas of health, including musculoskeletal, immune, mental health, and other gut health conditions, including colorectal cancer and IBD (irritable bowel disease),” he added. “The latter two suggested to us that there might be a plausible role for vitamin D in other colon conditions.”

What the study uncovered

Corfe and his team reviewed and integrated all research available on vitamin D and IBS, and also assessed the potential benefits of vitamin D supplements for those with IBS symptoms.

They found a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in IBS patients around the world.

“This study looked at all research reported throughout the world and found the deficiency was consistent irrespective of latitude or geography,” Corfe said.

It is unclear why those with IBS seem to have vitamin D deficiency. One theory is that diet plays a role. Another is that the impact of IBS on a person’s daily habits may prevent them from getting enough vitamin D.

“It’s unclear which is the chicken and which is the egg,” Dr. Jeffrey Baumgardner, an assistant professor of medicine in gastroenterology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), told Healthline.

“Certain behaviors in IBS… that you’re not feeling well so you don’t go outside as much, would lead to people having vitamin D deficiency based on the consequences of the disease,” he said.

A disease that affects many

Although only 5 to 7 percent of the estimated 10 to 15 percent of adults living with IBS have been formally diagnosed, it is estimated in the United States there are between 2.4 and 3.5 million physician visits for IBS annually.

About 40 percent of patients who report having IBS are male, while about 60 percent are female.

For those living with the condition, the impact goes far beyond physical discomfort.

“It can lead to people being fearful of leaving the home, unable to go to work, and a significant use of the medical system. The difficult part of IBS is there is no good test to officially diagnose IBS… so often people are stuck being told it’s all in their head and there’s nothing wrong,” Baumgardner said.

Checking patients for vitamin D deficiency is becoming a common practice for gastroenterologists. It only requires a simple blood test.

Dr. Arnold Wald, a professor of gastroenterology at the University of Wisconsin, is one of many who regularly request tests of patients’ vitamin D levels.

“I do check vitamin D deficiency in many of my GI patients and I’m often rewarded by finding it,” he told Healthline. “It’s very inexpensive to order and very inexpensive to treat.”

Vitamin D solution

Wald argues that the link between IBS and vitamin D calls for further exploration and may become a regular test requested by physicians.

“It’s so easy to detect, it’s so easy to treat that you might be remiss in not thinking about vitamin D deficiency in almost any patient you see, particularly those with GI symptoms,” he said.

“It makes a lot of sense from a public health standpoint, as long as we don’t overdo the treatment and call people vitamin D deficient who may simply have marginally low levels. If we do that, we’re just making expensive urine,” Wald added.

Corfe and his colleagues concluded that the large majority of patients with IBS were likely to benefit from vitamin D supplements.

“Even if the vitamin D doesn’t benefit the IBS, there are multiple health reasons to maintain good levels of vitamin D,” he said.

Vitamin D also promotes bone health, immune function, general well-being, mental health, and gut health.

Baumgardner says patients with IBS should be cautiously optimistic about vitamin D supplements.

“If I were someone with IBS, I would want this to be the easy, simple silver bullet because vitamin D is cheap and has a low side-effect protocol. So, it could be useful,” he said.

However, he says, it is important people understand that as everyone’s symptoms of IBS vary, so too will their response to possible treatments.

“There is nothing that is 100 percent effective because everyone’s symptoms are somewhat different, so not everyone is going to respond to the same thing,” he noted.

“It will help people, but it won’t help everybody. If you are someone with IBS, I think you should talk to your doctor about vitamin D, but don’t be discouraged if it won’t work,” Baumgardner said.

Cervical Health Awareness Month

I want to bring to your attention the importance of cervical health.
— Dr. Dale

From Cervical Health Awareness Month

Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. But over the last 30 years, the cervical cancer death rate has gone down by more than 50%. The main reason for this change is the increased use of screening tests. Screening can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It can also find cervical cancer early – when it’s small, has not spread, and is easiest to cure. Another way to help prevent cervical cancer in the future is to have children vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes most cases of cervical cancer. (HPV is linked to a lot of other kinds of cancer, too.)

The American Cancer Society is actively fighting cervical cancer on many fronts. We are helping women get tested for cervical cancer, helping them understand their diagnosis, and helping them get the treatments they need. The American Cancer Society also funds new research to help prevent, find, and treat cervical cancer.

The Gift of Beauty: Special Offers This Holiday Season

From us to you, thank you for being the best patients a doctor could ask for.
— Dr. Dale

This holiday season, Dr. Prokupek’s beauty division, Aesthetic Body Solutions, is offering deals for the holiday!


(REG. $200)

$100 OFF


Give the gift of beauty this holiday season with our amazing gift set! This amazing deal includes 2 CoolSculpting cycles, 2 IPL treatments, and 20 units of Botox. Take advantage of this special package deal and save over $400!
Email Chelsie at to claim your deal.   

Here’s to the new year and a new you!

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About National Influenza Vaccination Week

It’s not too late! It’s National Influenza Vaccination Week.
— Dr. Dale

About National Influenza Vaccination Week

CDC established National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) in 2005 to highlight the importance of continuing flu vaccination through the holiday season and beyond.

NIVW 2017 is scheduled for December 3-9, 2017

NIVW Timing

Flu vaccination coverage estimates from past seasons have shown that few people get vaccinated against influenza  after the end of November.

  • Last season only about 40% of the US population recommended to get a flu vaccine reported having been vaccinated by the end of November.
  • CDC and its partners choose December for NIVW to remind people that even though the holiday season has begun, it is not too late to get a flu vaccine.
  • As long as flu viruses are spreading and causing illness, vaccination should continue throughout the flu season in order to protect as many people as possible against the flu.
  • Even if you haven’t yet been vaccinated and have already gotten sick with flu, you can still benefit from vaccination since the flu vaccine protects against three or four different flu viruses (depending on which flu vaccine you get).


Flu Vaccination for People at High Risk

Another goal of NIVW is to communicate the importance of flu vaccination for people who are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications.

  • People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or lung disease, and people aged 65 years and older.
  • For people at high risk, getting the flu can be more serious than for other people. Flu is more likely to lead to hospitalization or death for people at high risk.
  • Flu vaccine uptake estimates among adults 50 years and older fell by 3 percentage points last year.  That means many more adults were left vulnerable to flu and its complications.
  • Anyone who gets flu can pass it to someone at high risk of severe illness, including infants younger than 6 months who are too young to get the vaccine.
  • A full list of people who are high risk of developing flu-related complications available.


NIVW Key Messages & Free Resources

CDC has developed a number of tools and materials for organizations across the country to aid their vaccination efforts during National Influenza Vaccination Week.


Here’s How Much Exercise You Need Per Week To Live Longer

Agreed. We need to stay active to stay healthy!
— Dr. Dale

From Here’s How Much Exercise You Need Per Week To Live Longer

It’s official: If you want a longer life, you need to get moving.

A recent study published in the journal The Lancet found that the minimum amount of exercise you need to increase your longevity is approximately 150 minutes per week. The research also showed that everyday activities ― like cleaning your room and biking to work ― are just as beneficial as organized workouts when it comes to meeting that goal. 

A team of researchers surveyed people between ages 35 and 70 about their physical activity in order to reach the results. Between 2003 and 2010, more than 140,000 participants in 17 countries completed a one-time questionnaire about how many minutes they had spent being active in the past week. Researchers then checked in with participants on the state of their health for about six to nine years after they took the survey.

Ultimately, people who regularly exercised at least 150 minutes per week had a 28 percent lower risk of death overall and a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease. People who exercised significantly more than that (at least 750 minutes per week) had an additional 20 percent lower risk of death. The results fall in line with the World Health Organization’s recommendations, which is for people to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week to improve fitness and decrease mortality risk. 

The authors noted that, while most studies survey high-income countries where exercise is recreational (like a spin class), this study also included low-income and middle-income countries where exercise more often comes as a part of daily life (like biking to work). The results showed that it doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do. Walking, housework and having an active job can all give you a longer life as long as you’re reaching those 150 minutes.

“The main takeaway is that any type of activity is good for us,” study author Scott Lear, who leads cardiovascular research at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, told HuffPost. “It doesn’t matter how we label it, our body sees it the same way... Going for a walk can be just as good as spending an hour gardening or cutting the grass.”

Group fitness trainer Josh Carter also wants to dispel the notion that exercise has to be hard or expensive in order to be effective.

“Movement is movement,” Carter, the owner of Fit Body Boot Camp, told HuffPost. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be hard or re-organize your life. I tell people to just get up 30 minutes earlier and go for a walk if they want to get started. Take the stairs or park far away. It’s two minutes here and five minutes there, but it all adds up.”

Looking for some ways to sneak in some fitness so you hit those 150 minutes per week? Here are some inexpensive options you can try:

Go for a walk instead of a coffee break.

Instead of hitting Starbucks, “most of my employees use their 15-minute breaks to go for a walk around the parking lot,” Carter said. “They talk, they laugh, whatever. Just get your blood pumping.”

Cut your Netflix time in half.

Think of what could happen if you, say, took a brisk walk instead of watching that second “Game of Thrones” episode tonight.

“If people start paying half as much attention to their health as they do to a Netflix marathon ― literally half ― it pays off,” Carter said.

Walk, bike or run to your next event.

The study lists “active transportation” as one of the main ways its healthy participants unintentionally exercised their way to a longer life. Walking to the subway and climbing its stairs counts here. So does running to work or biking to the grocery store. 

Get a workout buddy.

Many of us would be more inclined to practice yoga or go for a run if it were framed as a social hangout. So grab a partner, and lengthen your lives together. Your bodies and minds will thank you.

7 Foods That Can Boost Memory

Try to include these foods in your diet as much as possible.
— Dr. Dale

From 7 Foods That Can Boost Memory

We’ve all been there—forgetting keys, a deadline, a friend’s birthday. Even with all the calendar apps and other tools available, it’s hard to remember everything.

Luckily, there are some foods that can boost your brain function and improve your memory, so you can feel more alert and on top of things.


Preliminary research suggests a direct link between memory and prebiotic intake, though the reasoning has yet to be established, according to registered dietician nutritionist Maggie Moon, author of The MIND Diet.

“The best bet is to eat foods throughout the day that offer complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, such as arugula, beets, black beans, nuts, raspberries, and sorghum,” as these can boost microflora in the gut, Moon says.


“Walnuts are packed with vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, phenols, and even melatonin, the sleep hormone, all of which boost memory and cognitive function,” says Jennie Ann Freiman, MD.

“The list of walnut goodies includes vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, calcium, and phenolic compounds that are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, fighting free radicals and oxidative stress that impair brain function,” Frieman says.

Compared with other nuts, walnuts have a particularly high ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, like alpha linolenic acid, which converts to omega-3, says registered dietician Benjamin White. Walnuts also can improve blood flow, which is especially important for sending oxygenated blood to the brain and maintaining proper functions, he adds.

For brain boosting, aim to eat 1 1/2 oz. of walnuts daily (about a handful, or about 20 walnut halves), Freiman says. Include the skins, if possible. Walnut skins contain 90% of the nut’s phenols, so they’re worth consuming, despite their slightly bitter taste, she notes. Phenols are health-boosting in a number of ways, including keeping the gut balanced for better digestion and reduced inflammation, White says.


You already know that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Turns out that can help improve memory and brain function, says Asher Cowan, MD. Turmeric can boost circulation and blood flow to the brain, which may halt memory deterioration–especially important as we age, he says.

The spice, popular in India, is traditionally paired with fat, and that’s how you should eat it, too. “Turmeric contains predominately fat-soluble nutrients and is best absorbed and utilized when eaten in the traditional way with ghee or coconut oil,” he says. “Use it in stir-fires to sauté vegetables, or put in smoothies with coconut oil. The powder dissolves quickly in the food and from there has easy access to your bloodstream and brain.”


Beet root juice is bursting with natural nitrates, which the body converts to nitrites, then nitric oxide, which increases blood flow to the brain. “A recent well-designed but short-term clinical trial showed adults performed better on cognitive tasks 90 minutes after drinking and absorbing about two cups (450 ml or 15.2 oz) of beetroot juice,” says Moon. It may also strengthen your athletic performance, says a 2017 study published in the journal Nutrition.

Add some beet juice to your morning smoothie for sweetness and a different flavor profile than the usual, as well as a memory helper. And, make sure to eat a variety of plant foods, like celery, green beans, and spinach, which also provide nitrates, Moon says.


Add “brain booster” to bone broth’s list of potential benefits.

“Strange as it may seem, chicken soup is great for your memory,” says acupuncturist and Oriental medicine expert Elizabeth Trattner. “In traditional Chinese medicine, the brain is known as ‘the sea of marrow.’ For thousands of years, one of the best anti-aging and memory loss remedies is soup made from marrow. Chicken soup and stews made with real bone marrow not only improve brain function, but the function of the spleen as well,” which in traditional Chinese medicine is responsible for the thinking process.


Here’s another reason to wake up with eggs: The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a key nutrient in eggs, can help keep brain cells sharp, says certified clinical nutritionist Nicole Visnic.

Research suggests that eggs also may help improve cognitive performance factors, such as verbal fluency, problem solving, and memory, says Moon.

Visnic recommends raw, soft-boiled or over-easy eggs to protect the nutrients from the oxidative effects of heat. Add raw eggs to smoothies or use them to make aioli or Caesar dressing.

However, it’s worth being careful: “Food poisoning via salmonella infection from eating raw or undercooked eggs is not extremely common (1 in 20,000 cases according to the CDC); however, the very young, very old, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system should take extra precautions,” Moon says.

If you love a runny yolk (and who doesn’t?) but don’t want to risk it, look for pasteurized eggs, like these from Davidson’s, she suggests.


Is there anything green tea can’t do? This powerhouse beverage has been shown to improve memory, says registered dietician Natalie Rizzo, as it helps messages get around through different parts of the brain, leading to better memory retention.

For a refreshing summertime beverage, try Visnic’s recipe for green-tea lemonade: “Take 16 oz. of green tea, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 10 to 20 drops of liquid stevia, depending on how sweet you like your lemonade. Three 8-oz. cups per day is the sweet spot for this beverage,” she says. “A recent study found that drinking 27.5 grams of green tea extract per day can help with memory function.”

Or try adding green tea to baked goods, marinades, and your morning oatmeal.

Doctors to millennials: Stay home when you have the flu

Be proactive and make an appointment with us for your flu shot!
— Dr. Dale

From Doctors to millennials: Stay home when you have the flu

Flu season is upon us, and before long it's likely to seem like people are coughing and sniffling everywhere you turn. New research sheds light on a group of people who may be especially likely to spread the infection to others: millennials.

According to the new survey of 1,800 American adults released by CityMD, millennials (ages 18-34) who have had the flu or flu-like symptoms were much more likely than those 35 and older to have ventured out the last time they felt sick, potentially exposing friends, neighbors and co-workers. About three-quarters of millennials admitted to going out sick, compared to 56 percent of older adults. 

Of those who left the house, the most common place they went was a drug store, followed by a grocery store. Nearly 40 percent said they went to work sick. Smaller numbers went to a family or friend's house, a restaurant or deli, public transportation, and even the gym while they were ill.

"Most millennials are young and healthy. Many of them probably never even had the flu before so they may think some of their symptoms are just extended cold-like symptoms and so they may underestimate how long it takes to recover from it." Dr. David Shih, executive vice president of strategy, health and innovation at CityMD, told CBS News.

Shih said in general, many healthy young people tend to "think they're invincible."

However, this attitude is problematic because even if they can bounce back quickly, they may be putting others at risk.

"The flu is one of those silent and contagious diseases that we see every year and millions of Americans get the flu. Unfortunately, there are some population segments that are more at risk like the elderly, the very young, and pregnant women," Shih said. "When we have a large population who are out and about in public spaces with the flu, there is a higher exposure."

How serious is the flu?

For many, the flu causes moderate symptoms that ease after a few days, but for others it can lead to severe illness and sometimes even death. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu has caused between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually since 2010. The numbers can vary widely depending on how severe each year's flu season turns out to be.

Health officials are concerned that the 2017-18 flu season in the U.S. may be particularly bad because the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia, was hit hard over the past few months with a flu strain that's notorious for causing severe illness, especially in older adults.

People with other serious health conditions are at greater at risk of dying from the flu, but even young and otherwise healthy people can sometimes develop fatal complications.

Will a flu shot really work?

The CDC recommends everyone age 6 months and older should get a flu shot before the end of October, if possible, each year. This is the primary means of prevention against the flu.

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body, which takes about two weeks after vaccination.

The seasonal flu shot protects against the four strains that research indicates will be the most common during the upcoming season.

"Now, there are times where they may be off or they may be wrong, but getting a flu shot will still decrease your likelihood of getting the flu because there's always going to be some minor variations but there's definitely enough similarities for your body to pick up the defenses," Shih said.

Studies have also shown that even people who get the flu despite having gotten the flu shot tend to have milder symptoms and recover more quickly.

How do I know if I have the flu or a cold?

The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Colds are usually milder than the flu and people with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

If you're not sure whether your illness is a cold or the flu, there are tests your doctor can run to find out.

How does the flu spread?

The virus is spread mainly by droplets in the air when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk. People who are sick with the flu can spread it to others up to 6 feet away. 

In order to prevent spread of the flu, those who are sick should always cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing and wash their hands frequently with warm water and soap or use hand sanitizer. 

Flu germs can also last on surfaces for up to 24 hours, depending on the surface. The harder the surface, the longer germs can last. So, one person with the flu who coughs into their hand and then later grabs ahold of a doorknob or picks up the office coffeepot can quickly infect many others.

How long are people with the flu contagious?

Shih says many people believe that after one or two days, you are no longer contagious. However, that's not true.

"As long as you're coughing, sneezing, dripping, you're exposing germs whether to the air or to a surface," Shih said.

When can I go back to work? 

While it's very common for people to want to get back to work and their daily routines soon after getting sick with the flu, experts advise against rushing things.

The length of the illness will vary from person to person. Young, healthy people may bounce back very quickly, but in others flu symptoms may take up to two weeks to completely go away, Shih said.

"The general advice for a patient is to really take the 3 to 5 days to rest and only exercise and go about your daily business once you feel you have the energy," he said.