Medical News Today: What to know about eye floaters

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Medical News Today: What to know about duct tape wart removal

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Medical News Today: What to know about guanfacine for the treatment of ADHD

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Medical News Today: What to know about potassium deficiency symptoms

Potassium deficiency can occur if a person does not get enough potassium from their diet or loses too much potassium through prolonged diarrhea or vomiting. The symptoms depend on the severity of the deficiency but can include high blood pressure, constipation, kidney problems, muscle weakness, fatigue, and heart issues.

Potassium is an essential nutrient that the body requires for a wide range of functions, including keeping the heart beating. Severe potassium deficiency is called hypokalemia, and it occurs when a person’s potassium levels fall below 3.6 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).

Doctors consider a person to have severe hypokalemia — a potentially life-threatening condition — when their potassium levels are less than 2.5 mmol/L.

In this article, we describe some of the possible symptoms of potassium deficiency. We also cover when to see a doctor, diagnosis, treatment, and potassium food sources.

Constipation

Potassium plays an important role in relaying messages from the brain to the muscles and regulating muscle contractions. Low potassium levels can affect the muscles in the intestines, which can slow the passage of food and waste. This effect on the intestines can cause constipation and bloating.

Muscle weakness

Potassium deficiency can affect other muscles in the body, including those in the arms and legs, which can lead to general muscle weakness and cramping.

A person loses small amounts of potassium through sweat, which is why heavy sweating from intense physical activity or being in a hot climate can often lead to muscle weakness or cramping.

Unexplained fatigue

Potassium is an essential nutrient that is present in all of the body’s cells and tissues. When potassium levels fall, this can significantly affect a wide range of bodily functions, which can lead to low energy levels and both physical and mental fatigue.

High blood pressure

Blood pressure monitor being applied to arm of person with potassium deficiency or hypokalemia
A person’s potassium levels can affect their blood pressure.

Low potassium levels can lead to an increase in blood pressure, particularly in people with a high sodium, or salt, intake. Potassium has an important role in relaxing the blood vessels, which helps lower a person’s blood pressure.

Potassium also helps balance sodium levels in the body. A diet high in sodium is a common cause of high blood pressure. Doctors often recommend that people with high blood pressure lower their sodium intake and increase their potassium intake.

Polyuria

The kidneys are responsible for removing waste products and regulating the levels of fluids and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, in the blood. They do this by passing waste and excess electrolytes out of the body in the urine.

Moderate-to-severe hypokalemia can interfere with the kidneys’ ability to balance fluid and electrolyte levels in the bloodstream, and this can lead to increased urination, which is called polyuria.

Muscle paralysis

People with severe hypokalemia can experience muscle paralysis. When the levels of potassium in the body are very low, the muscles are unable to contract properly and may stop working altogether.

Breathing problems

Severe hypokalemia can also lead to breathing problems. Breathing requires the use of several muscles, particularly the diaphragm. If a person’s potassium levels become very low, these muscles may not work properly. A person may have difficulty taking a deep breath or may feel very short of breath.

Irregular heart rhythms

Doctor listening to patients heartbeat using stethoscope
An irregular heart rhythm is a potential symptom of hypokalemia.

Another symptom of severe hypokalemia is an irregular heart rhythm. Potassium plays an important role in regulating the contractions of all muscles, including the heart muscle.

Very low levels of potassium in the body can lead to irregular heart rhythms, including sinus bradycardia, ventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation. If a person does not receive treatment, these conditions can be life-threatening.

Doctors can detect irregular heart rhythms using an electrocardiogram (EKG).

When to see a doctor

People with symptoms of hypokalemia should see a doctor.

Hypokalemia is more common in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and gastrointestinal illnesses that cause severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting. Certain medications, such as laxatives and diuretics, can also increase the risk of potassium deficiency.

It is important to seek immediate medical attention for symptoms of severe hypokalemia, such as muscle paralysis, breathing problems, or irregular heart rhythms.

Diagnosis

A doctor can perform a simple blood test to determine a person’s potassium levels. The test involves taking a small blood sample from a vein in the hand or arm.

To determine the underlying cause of potassium deficiency, a doctor will also review the person’s medical history and any medications that they are taking.

The doctor may sometimes recommend additional tests, including:

  • further blood tests to check the levels of other electrolytes, such as phosphorous, calcium, and magnesium
  • urine testing to determine how much potassium is passing out of the body

Further tests may be necessary depending on the person’s medical history and symptoms.

Treatment

dried apricots in a bowl
Eating foods rich in potassium, such as dried apricots, can help to treat potassium deficiency.

The type of treatment for potassium deficiency will depend on a person’s symptoms and how low their potassium levels have become.

For people with mild hypokalemia, a doctor may recommend:

  • stopping or reducing the dosages of any medicines that can cause low potassium
  • taking daily potassium supplements
  • eating more foods rich in potassium, such as fruits and vegetables
  • taking medications that can increase potassium levels in the body, such as angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers

People with severe hypokalemia require immediate treatment, and a doctor may recommend intravenous potassium. However, doctors need to be careful when prescribing hypokalemia treatments as it is possible to provide a person with too much potassium, leading to excessive potassium levels in the body, or hyperkalemia.

Severe hyperkalemia can also cause serious muscle and heart problems.

Food sources

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended daily intake of potassium is:

  • 3,400 milligrams (mg) for adult males
  • 2,600 mg for adult females

Potassium occurs naturally in a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, nuts, and whole grains. The body absorbs around 85 to 90% of the potassium in food sources.

Examples of foods rich in potassium include:

  • dried apricots: 1,101 mg per half cup
  • cooked lentils: 731 mg per cup
  • dried prunes: 699 mg per half cup
  • orange juice: 496 mg per cup
  • banana: 422 mg in a medium-sized banana
  • 1%-fat milk: 366 mg per cup
  • spinach: 334 mg per 2 cups
  • nonfat fruit yogurt: 330 mg per 6 ounces
  • cooked, chopped broccoli: 229 mg per half cup
  • cooked brown rice: 154 mg per cup

The best way for a person to get enough potassium is to eat a varied and healthful diet.

Summary

Potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia, can occur if a person does not get enough potassium from their diet. Severe vomiting or diarrhea, IBD, and certain medications can increase the risk of deficiency.

The symptoms of hypokalemia depend on the severity of the deficiency, but they can include constipation, muscle problems, fatigue, and heart issues. Severe hypokalemia can be life-threatening if a person does not receive treatment.

The best way to get enough potassium is to eat a varied diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Medical News Today: What to know about black earwax

Earwax is a naturally produced yellow substance that helps keep a person’s ears clean and free of debris. Black earwax can sometimes appear, but it is usually the result of an excessive buildup of earwax and is rarely a cause for concern.

Earwax protects the ear canal from things that may enter it, including:

  • water
  • shampoo and conditioner
  • dirt
  • viruses, fungi, and bacteria

Several glands in the outer part of the ear produce earwax, which is sometimes called cerumen. Earwax also includes the old skin cells of the ear canal, which shed into it. In most cases, earwax is a sticky, yellow substance. However, it occasionally has a darker color, such as brown or black.

By knowing some of the potential causes, most of which are benign, a person can take steps to prevent and treat black earwax.

Causes and risk factors

Woman having ear examined by doctor with otoscope
Earwax can build up and become black.

When earwax is in the ear for long periods, its color will start to darken. The longer the wax remains there, the darker it will appear.

Research on the effects of earwax accumulation shows that males and older adults are more likely than other people to experience buildups of earwax.

In general, as a person ages, the earwax becomes drier and does not clear the ear canal as quickly or easily. As a result, earwax can build up and change from yellow to black.

However, black earwax can affect anyone. The following are some of the most common causes of black earwax.

Excessive earwax buildup

In most people, earwax naturally and regularly exits a person’s ears. However, if this does not happen quickly enough or the glands produce too much earwax, it can build up in the ear canal and become darker.

Insertion of foreign objects

People who use earbuds, earplugs, hearing aids, or any other object that they routinely place in the ear have a higher chance of developing black earwax. These foreign objects can both push earwax back into the ear canal and block earwax from exiting the ear.

Compressed earwax

The insertion of foreign objects into the ear can also lead to compressed earwax. People who regularly clean their ears with cotton buds run the risk of pushing the earwax back into the ear and compressing it against the eardrum.

In addition to becoming darker, compressed earwax can cause various symptoms, such as earaches, hearing loss, and dizziness.

Home remedies

Man having ear irrigation performed
Performing ear irrigation can help dislodge black earwax.

In most cases, black earwax does not pose a health concern or risk. However, if it becomes a problem, a person can usually treat it with home remedies. Anyone who experiences additional symptoms may also wish to speak to a doctor.

People can try the following home remedies for black earwax. It is important to note that these treatments are not suitable for those who have a hole in the eardrum, including one that is due to tube placement or a tear.

Ear irrigation

Ear irrigation involves the use of warm water, sometimes with an essential oil or hydrogen peroxide.

To irrigate the ear, a person should:

  • Fill a small, rubber syringe or bulb with warm water or a mixture of warm water and a few drops of an essential oil or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Tilt the head so that the affected ear is facing toward the ceiling and place the head over the sink.
  • Insert the syringe tip just over the opening of the ear canal.
  • Gently squirt the water into the ear and let it drain out.
  • Repeat with the other ear if necessary.

A person may also want to try positioning the ear toward the sink while irrigating it to allow the water and wax to drain with gravity from the ear.

Ear irrigation is generally a safe and effective way to remove a buildup of earwax from the ears.

Ear drops

Ear drops are another at-home treatment option. The most common over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops are:

  • hydrogen peroxide
  • natural oils, such as olive oil, mineral oil, and baby oil
  • ear drop solutions

When a person drops the solution into the opening of the ear, hard and dry wax absorbs it. This absorption should soften the earwax and make it easier to clear from the ear canal. It may help to take a shower a few minutes after applying ear drops to help rinse out the softened earwax.

Earwax removal drops are available to purchase online. Some drops contain peroxide.

Medical treatments

If at-home treatments are not successful or pain accompanies the black earwax, a person should speak to their doctor about potential treatments. A doctor may check for underlying conditions if this is the person’s first visit for this symptom.

Some methods that a doctor may try include:

  • irrigation with a special tool for cleaning out earwax
  • suction using a vacuum tool
  • removing earwax with a specialized tool called a curette

Prevention

Regular showers can help loosen earwax.
Taking regular showers can help loosen earwax.

Often, simply leaving the ears alone may help prevent excess wax from building up. Most of the time, with showers and jaw movement, the ears are self-cleaning and require no interference.

People should avoid cleaning their ears with long objects. Anyone with a history of wax buildups may also want to consider avoiding or limiting the use of earbuds and other devices that require insertion into the ears.

A doctor may prescribe medication to help soften a person’s earwax over time. This medication can help prevent the accumulation of earwax that can lead to black earwax and other side effects.

When to see a doctor

A person should speak to a doctor if this is their first time experiencing black earwax. A doctor may refer a person to an ear, nose, and throat specialist or check for underlying conditions before treatment.

A person should also seek medical attention if they experience any additional symptoms, including:

  • pain in the ear
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • itchiness in the ear
  • a cough
  • discharge from the ear canal
  • ringing in the ears
  • difficulty hearing

Finally, a person should speak to their doctor before they start an at-home treatment and let them know if the treatment does not work.

Takeaway

Black earwax is rarely a cause for concern. Additional symptoms tend to be mild, and people can usually treat them with home remedies.

Most people should leave their ears alone and practice good hygiene, and they will not experience an excessive buildup of earwax.

Anyone experiencing bothersome symptoms alongside black earwax should speak to a doctor.

Medical News Today: What to know about cupping therapy

There is some evidence to suggest that cupping therapy may be beneficial for certain health conditions. However, research into cupping therapy tends to be low-quality. More studies are necessary to understand how cupping therapy works, if it works, and in what situations it may help.

Cupping therapy is a traditional Chinese and Middle Eastern practice that people use to treat a variety of conditions.

It involves placing cups at certain points on a person’s skin. A practitioner creates suction in the cups, which pulls against a person’s skin.

Cupping can either be dry or wet. Wet cupping involves puncturing the skin before starting the suction, which removes some of the person’s blood during the procedure.

Cupping typically leaves round bruises on a person’s skin, where their blood vessels burst after exposure to the procedure’s suction effects.

Does it work?

Person having cupping therapy applied to back.
Cupping therapy may help increase or decrease blood flow.

According to a study paper in the journal PLoS One, cupping practitioners claim that it works by creating hyperemia or hemostasis around a person’s skin. This means that it either increases or decreases a person’s blood flow under the cups.

Cupping also has links to acupoints on a person’s body, which are central to the practice of acupuncture.

Many doctors consider cupping therapy a complementary therapy, which means that many do not recognize it as part of Western medicine. This does not mean that it is not effective, however.

Complementary therapies with supporting research may be an addition to Western medicine. However, as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) note, there is not yet enough high-quality research to prove cupping’s effectiveness.

Scientists have linked cupping therapy with a variety of health benefits, although there needs to be more research to determine whether it is effective as a treatment.

Pain relief

People frequently cite cupping therapy as a form of pain relief. However, while there is some evidence for its effectiveness, scientists need to conduct more high-quality studies to demonstrate this fully.

For example, a study paper in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found some evidence to suggest that cupping may reduce pain. However, its authors note that there were limits to the quality of the studies that showed this.

A meta-analysis that appears in the journal Revista Latina-Americano De Enfermagem claims that there may be evidence for cupping being effective in treating back pain. However, again, the researchers note that most studies were low-quality, and that there is a need for more standardization in future studies.

One study paper in the journal BMJ Open came to a similar conclusion for the effectiveness of cupping for neck pain. The researchers note that there is a need for better-quality studies to determine whether cupping therapy is truly effective.

Skin conditions

A study paper in the journal PLoS One found that there was some evidence for cupping therapy being effective at treating herpes zoster and acne.

However, it notes that the studies that supported these findings were at a high risk of bias. So, more rigorous, high-quality studies are necessary to verify the findings.

Sports recovery

A study paper in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine notes that professional athletes are increasingly using cupping therapy as part of their recovery practices.

However, the study found no consistent evidence to show that it was effective for anything related to sports recovery.

Side effects and risks

Person having cupping therapy close up view of skin on back suctioned in cup.
Cupping can cause irritation or damage to the skin.

According to the NCCIH, the side effects of cupping can include:

  • lasting skin discoloration
  • scarring
  • burns
  • infection

If a person has a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, cupping may make it worse on the area where the practitioner applies the cups.

In rare instances, a person may experience more significant internal bleeding or anemia if the practitioner takes too much blood during wet cupping.

According to a study paper that appears in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, cupping can also cause:

Due to the poor quality of studies investigating cupping, it is difficult to know how common these side effects are.

If a person has any of these side effects following cupping therapy, they should speak to a medical professional. Some people may have health conditions, such as problems with blood clotting, that making cupping less than ideal.

Takeaway

There is some evidence to suggest that cupping therapy may be able to help a person with certain health issues. However, there are not enough high-quality studies to support this.

To understand whether cupping therapy is effective, how it works, and what issues it is best for, scientists need to conduct and publish more high-quality research.

If a person finds that cupping therapy relieves their pain or helps their health in another way, and if they do not experience any adverse side effects, cupping may be a very good choice. However, some therapies have better evidence for their effectiveness. Doctors may advise that people consider these first.

A person may choose to use cupping therapy alongside better-evidenced therapies. If this is the case, it is important that they let a medical professional know.

Medical News Today: Everything you need to know about antifreeze poisoning

Antifreeze contains chemicals that are toxic if a person ingests them. Antifreeze poisoning can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

People add antifreeze to vehicle radiators to prevent the liquid coolant inside from freezing and overheating. Antifreeze typically contains ethylene glycol, methanol, and propylene glycol.

Although the chemicals in antifreeze are relatively nontoxic, the body can metabolize them into highly toxic alcohol byproducts.

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning may take time to develop, and they can be similar to alcohol intoxication

Anyone who suspects that they or someone else has ingested antifreeze should seek immediate medical attention or call the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) for expert advice at 1-800-222-1222. The AAPCC helpline is open 24 hours and is toll-free.

In this article, we discuss what to do if someone ingests antifreeze. We also cover symptoms, treatment, and complications of antifreeze poisoning.

We also discuss what antifreeze is and tips for preventing accidental ingestion.

What to do

close up of emergency sign on hospital
It is imperative that a person seeks immediate medical attention if they have ingested antifreeze.

A person should call 911 immediately or go straight to the emergency room if they suspect that they or someone else has ingested antifreeze.

It is vital to seek help, even if a person does not show or feel symptoms of antifreeze poisoning.

People who are unsure whether they or someone else has ingested antifreeze can also call the AAPCC for expert advice at 1-800-222-1222. The AAPCC helpline is open 24 hours and is a toll-free number.

Accidentally ingesting antifreeze can happen for many reasons. For example, children may drink antifreeze because ethylene glycol tastes sweet. However, manufacturers often add substances that make antifreeze taste bitter to reduce a person’s desire to drink it.

A person may accidentally drink antifreeze that someone has stored in an unlabeled container, such as a glass, food jar, or drinks bottle.

However, ingesting antifreeze is not always accidental. Some individuals may use antifreeze as an alternative source of alcohol.

Other people may intentionally ingest antifreeze as a means of self-harm or in an attempt to take their own life.

Suicide prevention

  • If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

Symptoms

Symptoms of antifreeze poisoning may not appear immediately after a person ingests it, as it takes time for the body to metabolize the chemicals.

The body converts the chemicals in antifreeze into smaller alcohols and acids. These can include:

  • glycolaldehyde
  • glycolic acid
  • glyoxylate
  • oxalic acid

The onset and severity of symptoms can vary according to several factors, such as the type and amount of antifreeze the person ingested.

In general, antifreeze poisoning occurs in three stages. We discuss each of these below:

First stage

The first stage of antifreeze poisoning typically begins between 30 minutes and 12 hours after a person ingests it.

The ethylene glycol in antifreeze affects the central nervous system first. Early symptoms of antifreeze poisoning may appear similar to those of alcohol intoxication.

These symptoms can include:

  • loss of coordination
  • slurred or jumbled speech
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • euphoria
  • nausea and vomiting
  • seizures
  • coma

Second stage

People generally enter the second stage of antifreeze poisoning 12–24 hours after ingestion.

During this stage, the body continues to metabolize the chemicals in antifreeze into toxic acids. These acids lower the pH level of the blood, which leads to a condition called metabolic acidosis.

At this point, antifreeze poisoning will start to affect multiple organs, including the kidneys, brain, lungs, and liver.

People in the second stage of antifreeze poisoning may experience:

A person may also lose consciousness or go into a coma at this stage. A doctor may suggest more aggressive treatments for a person in the second stage of antifreeze poisoning.

Third stage

The third stage of antifreeze poisoning occurs 24–72 hours after ingesting it.

If a person does not receive treatment, a buildup of calcium oxalate crystals can lead to kidney failure.

Treatment

person undergoing hemodialysis
A doctor may suggest hemodialysis to treat antifreeze poisoning.

Early diagnosis and treatment for antifreeze poisoning is essential to reduce a person’s risk of experiencing permanent organ damage and long-term health complications.

Treatment for antifreeze poisoning depends on:

  • the type and quantity of antifreeze a person has ingested
  • the amount of time that has passed since ingestion
  • the type and severity of a person’s symptoms

Doctors focus treatment for antifreeze poisoning on:

  • preventing the body from continuing to metabolize the antifreeze
  • removing antifreeze and toxic metabolites from the person’s bloodstream
  • providing supportive therapies, particularly in more severe cases that involve organ failure

Doctors prescribe antidotes, such as fomepizole and ethanol, to prevent a person’s body from metabolizing the chemicals in antifreeze into toxic metabolites.

Antidote therapy can help prevent further kidney damage but does not remove metabolites that have already collected inside the kidneys.

A doctor may then focus on returning the person’s blood pH to normal levels, such as by administering a bicarbonate solution through an intravenous line.

To remove unmetabolized antifreeze and toxic metabolites from the bloodstream, a doctor may also recommend hemodialysis.

During hemodialysis, a healthcare professional inserts a tube with a needle into a person’s arm. The tube connects to a dialysis machine.

The person’s blood flows along the tube into the machine, which filters out toxins and waste products. The filtered blood then passes through another tube back into the person’s arm.

Complications

It is essential to seek immediate medical treatment if a person suspects that they or someone else has ingested antifreeze.

Without prompt treatment, antifreeze poisoning can lead to serious complications. These complications can include:

What is antifreeze?

Antifreeze is a substance that people typically add to the liquid coolant inside car radiators. It contains chemicals that lower the freezing point and raise the boiling point of the engine coolant. Ingesting these chemicals can cause life-threatening symptoms.

Antifreeze typically contains ethylene glycol, methanol, and propylene glycol. Although these substances themselves are relatively nontoxic, the body rapidly metabolizes them into highly toxic alcohol byproducts.

Ethylene glycol is a water-soluble compound often present in household and car products. It is clear, odorless, and sweet-tasting, but it can irritate the eyes, skin, and airways.

If a person ingests products containing ethylene glycol, it can cause severe complications, such as kidney failure, permeant nerve damage, and, in some cases, death.

Methanol is a wood alcohol that manufacturers tend to use in paints, varnishes, and cleaners. Similar to ethylene glycol, methanol is highly toxic if a person ingests it.

Propylene glycol is a nontoxic substance. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve the use of small quantities of propylene glycol in foods such as frostings and frozen dairy products.

Prevention tips

close up of man pouring antifreeze into car
Keeping antifreeze in its original container can help prevent accidental antifreeze poisoning.

It is possible to prevent accidental antifreeze poisoning by:

  • keeping antifreeze in its original container
  • if it is necessary to transfer antifreeze to another container, labeling the container very clearly
  • storing antifreeze in places out of reach of children, such as in a locked cabinet or on the top shelf of a cupboard
  • carefully wiping up spilled antifreeze and thoroughly rinsing the affected area with soap and water
  • choosing a safer antifreeze formula, such as products that use propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol

Summary

Antifreeze poisoning is a medical emergency. Anyone who suspects that they or someone else has ingested antifreeze should call 911 or go straight to the emergency room. Do not wait for symptoms to appear before seeking help.

The symptoms of antifreeze poisoning can take time to develop. Early symptoms may appear similar to those of alcohol intoxication.

Antifreeze poisoning is life-threatening and can lead to permanent organ damage, so early diagnosis and treatment is essential.

Medical News Today: What to know about genital warts in women

Genital warts are a very common sexually transmitted infection. They can develop on or around the genitals and may appear as small bumps or fleshy growths.

These warts result from infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). People who have the virus can pass it on through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Genital warts can cause discomfort, but they do not lead to other health problems and are not cancerous.

A doctor can prescribe treatments for relieving symptoms, and they can also remove the warts.

In this article, we investigate the symptoms, causes, and risk factors of genital warts in the female body.

We also describe diagnosis, treatment, complications, and prevention.

Symptoms

Anyone can get genital warts. In females, genital warts can develop in or around the:

  • vagina
  • vulva
  • cervix
  • anus
  • groin region and upper thighs

Because the virus can spread through oral sex, warts can also appear on the lips, mouth, and throat.

Genital warts tend to look like small, fleshy bumps or growths. The number of warts can vary, and clusters may develop in a formation that resembles a cauliflower.

Genital warts are usually the same color as the person’s skin or slightly darker. The bumps may be smooth or rough. Also, they can be too small to notice.

Often, genital warts do not cause symptoms. However, they can occur with:

  • itching
  • burning
  • tenderness or pain
  • bleeding

Pictures

Causes

Genital warts result from infection with HPV. This is a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most common STI in the United States.

It affects around 79 million people in the country, mostly adults under the age of 30. There are around 14 million new HPV infections each year in the U.S.

A person with an HPV infection can pass on the virus through:

  • vaginal, anal, and oral sex
  • skin-to-skin genital contact
  • childbirth

Genital warts do not always appear immediately after a person becomes infected — they can take months or even years to develop.

The CDC note that most people fight off the virus without treatment and that, in this case, it does not cause any health problems. Once the virus goes, a person can no longer pass it on.

There are many different types of HPV. The type of HPV that causes genital warts does not cause cancer.

Risk factors

Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of an HPV infection.

Other risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • having a weakened immune system
  • being under the age of 30

When to see a doctor

When a person notices that they have genital warts, they should see a healthcare professional, for example at a sexual health clinic.

Sometimes genital warts clear up on their own over time. However, getting treatment can reduce the risk of transmission and help ease uncomfortable symptoms, such as itching and pain.

Diagnosis

Healthcare professionals usually diagnose genital warts with a physical examination. To see the warts better, they may use a colposcope or apply a vinegar solution to the genital area, if the warts are not visible to the naked eye.

A healthcare professional may also take a small sample of a visible wart and send it for analysis. This testing can help confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

Female patient listening to woman doctor in office
A doctor may prescribe topical treatments for the symptoms of HPV.

There is currently no treatment for HPV. A person’s immune system often fights off the virus over time.

If genital warts are causing discomfort or distress, a doctor can prescribe treatments to relieve symptoms or remove the warts. This treatment can also help reduce the risk of passing on the infection to other people.

Topical treatments for genital warts include:

  • podofilox
  • imiquimod
  • podophyllin
  • trichloroacetic acid

For people with larger or more difficult-to-treat warts, the doctor may recommend removing them. The following are some removal methods:

  • Cryotherapy. This involves freezing off the warts with liquid nitrogen. Cryotherapy may cause a burning sensation, as well as pain and blistering.
  • Surgical excision. This involves a doctor cutting away the warts. Before the procedure, they will give the person a local anesthetic to numb the area.
  • Electrocautery. This involves a doctor burning the warts off the skin with an electrical device. A person may require a local or general anesthetic.
  • Laser therapy. In this procedure, a surgeon uses a powerful beam of light to destroy the warts. It can cause pain and irritation afterward.

It is important not to use treatments for other types of warts on genital warts. Doing so can make symptoms worse.

Removing genital warts does not get rid of the HPV infection. They may return after treatment and a person can still pass on the virus.

Also, wearing a condom during sex can help lower the risk of transmission but does not completely prevent it.

Complications

There are over 100 different types of HPV. The types that cause genital warts do not cause cancer. Even if a person does not receive treatment for their genital warts, the warts will not become cancerous.

However, a person can have more than one type of HPV infection at a time, and at least 14 types can cause cancer, including cervical cancer.

When a female has genital warts, a doctor may suggest screening for signs of cervical cancer or high-risk types of HPV.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that all females:

  • aged 21–29 years have a cervical screening, also known as a Pap smear or smear test, every 3 years
  • aged 30–65 years have a Pap smear every 3 years, or a Pap smear plus an HPV test every 5 years

If a Pap smear gives an unclear or abnormal result, it does not mean that a person has cancer. The doctor will carry out additional tests to look for any changes in the cells of the cervix.

Pregnant women with a past history of genital warts should inform their healthcare providers. This is unlikely to cause any pregnancy complications or affect the baby.

Also, having genital warts during pregnancy can make the delivery more difficult.

Prevention

Wearing a condom during sex lowers the risk of getting genital warts. However, a condom does not cover the whole genital area and so may not completely protect against HPV transmission.

Other methods of birth control do not protect against genital warts. It is important for people to tell their sexual partners if they have these warts.

Getting an HPV vaccination can also help protect against the types of the virus that can cause genital warts or cervical cancer.

The CDC recommend HPV vaccination for all children at 11 or 12 years of age and for all females aged 13–26 years.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved the HPV vaccine for people aged 9–45 years.

Anyone with any severe allergies or an allergy to yeast should consult their doctor before getting the vaccine.

The CDC do not recommend the HPV vaccine for women who are pregnant.

Stopping smoking can also lower the risk of getting genital warts.

Summary

Infection with some types of HPV can cause genital warts. These can form in or around the vulva, vagina, or cervix.

The warts may appear on their own or in cauliflower-like clusters. They can cause itching, tenderness, or a burning sensation.

Genital warts are generally harmless and are not cancerous. The types of HPV that cause genital warts do not cause cervical cancer.

Although there is no treatment for the virus, a doctor can prescribe medications to relieve symptoms. They can also remove the warts. For large or difficult-to-treat warts, a doctor may recommend surgical removal.

A person can pass on HPV through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Wearing a condom during sex can help reduce the risk of getting and spreading genital warts. HPV vaccination can also protect against genital warts and cervical cancer.

Medical News Today: What to know about DEXA scans

A DEXA scan usually assesses or measures bone density. It may also have uses in determining body composition, such as the percentage of lean muscle and fat.

The dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan uses two low-energy X-ray beams, which doctors direct toward the bones. Using dual energy levels separates the images into two components, including soft tissue and bone.

When determining whether a person has low bone density or whether the condition is getting worse, a DEXA scan tends to be more accurate than a typical X-ray because it can detect even small changes in bone loss.

Doctors also consider it more reliable than other methods of calculating body fat percentage, including underwater weighing.

Scan results may indicate the severity of bone loss and help doctors determine a person’s risk of developing a fracture.

When assessing body composition, the results may also help determine a person’s level of visceral fat, which the body stores around certain internal organs.

Purpose

doctor using a dexa scan on a patient
Doctors may use a DEXA scan to diagnose osteoporosis.

The most common purpose of a DEXA scan is to assess whether a person’s bones are weak and or at risk of fracture. It also helps a doctor diagnose osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis causes the bones to lose density or become thin. When the bones get thin, they also become fragile, which makes them more susceptible to breaks.

Determining whether a person has osteoporosis as early as possible is important to prevent the condition from becoming worse. It also reduces the risk of fractures.

A DEXA scan is also a useful diagnostic tool to assess whether or not osteoporosis is getting worse. After the first DEXA scan, a doctor will usually order another scan in a couple of years to determine whether the bone density has changed.

DEXA scans can also evaluate the effectiveness of any prescribed osteoporosis treatments. The scan may indicate worsening or improving bone density, or bone density that remains the same.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, females over the age of 65 and males over age 70 should have a DEXA scan. The ideal frequency of scans may vary depending on the results.

People receiving treatment for osteoporosis may require a scan every 1 or 2 years.

Females who are postmenopausal but younger than 65 who also have risk factors for low bone density, such as steroid medication use or low body weight, should also have the scan.

The recommendation for females to undergo a DEXA scan at an earlier age than males is because they tend to develop loss of bone density sooner.

Procedure

A person does not need to prepare before they have a DEXA scan. They can eat and drink normally on the day of the procedure.

However, people who are taking calcium supplements will usually need to stop taking them around 24 hours before the scan.

Before the scan

An X-ray technician will perform the scan on an outpatient basis. People who are having the scan will change into a hospital gown and remove any metal objects they are wearing, such as jewelry and eyeglasses.

At the start of the scan, the person receiving the test lies on their back on the exam table. The technician will place an imaging device above them and an X-ray generator below them.

During the scan

During the procedure, the imaging arm moves slowly over the person’s body while a beam of low-dose energy passes through. When measuring bone density, the technician will usually scan the hips and spine. These are common locations of fractures in people with osteoporosis.

In some cases, the wrist, finger, and lower arm will undergo scanning. A procedure that doctors call a vertebral fracture assessment may also occur during a DEXA scan at some locations. This test determines whether a vertebral fracture risk is present.

When also measuring body composition, the entire body undergoes scanning. This measures skinfold thickness at specific sites on the body. Using an equation, it is possible to put the measurements together to determine a body fat percentage.

Safety and precautions

During the scan, people should remain still to prevent blurry images. The scan is painless and relatively quick, taking up to 30 minutes.

The DEXA scan is safe for most people. However, because it uses X-ray energy, there is exposure to radiation. People who are pregnant should talk with their doctor, who may advise them not to have the test.

Results

male patient speaking to doctor
A doctor can determine the most suitable treatment option by using the results of a DEXA scan.

The results of a DEXA scan for bone density use a system called a T-score. The T-score involves comparing a person’s scan with the bone density of a healthy young adult of the same sex.

The World Health Organization (WHO) provide the following definitions of bone density levels:

  • A T-score of -1.0 or higher is normal bone density.
  • A T-score of -1.1 to -2.4 indicates osteopenia, or low bone density.
  • A T-score of -2.5 or lower means a diagnosis of osteoporosis.

A DEXA scan may also report results using a Z-score, which reports the amount of bone a person has in comparison with other people of the same size, age, and sex. It can help determine whether something uncommon is leading to bone loss.

According to the International Society for Clinical Densitometry, a Z-score that is over -2.0 is considered normal. A score that is below -2.0 is what doctors interpret as below the normal range for the person’s age.

When the test also measures body composition, results include a total fat mass and total body fat percentage.

Takeaway

The DEXA scan is a useful diagnostic test that doctors use to determine whether a person has low bone density and or a higher risk of experiencing fractures.

The test may also provide information on body fat percentage.

The results of the scan can help a doctor determine whether treatment is necessary for osteoporosis and help monitor the effectiveness of treatment.

Although the scan exposes the person to a small amount of radiation, the benefits are usually worth the risk.

Medical News Today: What to know about salivary stones

Salivary stones are small stones that form in the glands of the mouth. They can block the flow of saliva and cause pain or discomfort.

The medical term for salivary stones is sialoliths. When they block the salivary glands, this is known as sialolithiasis.

Salivary stones are rarely a cause for concern, and people can often get rid of them at home. However, some stones may require treatment from a doctor.

In this article, we explain what salivary stones are and discuss their symptoms and causes. We also explore home remedies, when to see a doctor, medical treatment, and possible complications.

What are salivary stones?

salivary stones <br>Image credit: James Heilman, MD, 2012</br>
Salivary stones can form in the ducts of any salivary gland.
Image credit: James Heilman, MD, 2012

The salivary glands in the mouth produce a liquid called saliva. Saliva protects the teeth, helps with chewing and swallowing food, and initiates the process of digestion.

The mouth contains hundreds of minor, or small, salivary glands. There are also three pairs of major, or large, salivary glands. These large glands include the:

  • parotid glands, which sit below the ears on the inside of the cheeks
  • submandibular glands at the bottom of the mouth near the jawline
  • sublingual glands, which are underneath the tongue

Salivary stones are small deposits of calcium and other minerals. They can form in the ducts of any type of salivary gland. Larger stones can block the flow of saliva and cause the glands to swell.

According to research from 2012, more than 80 percent of salivary stones form in the submandibular gland, while 6–15 percent occur in the parotid gland, and 2 percent are in the sublingual and minor salivary glands.

Symptoms

Salivary stones do not usually cause symptoms when they are forming, and they can sometimes disappear on their own. The stones can vary in size, but they are usually hard and white.

Larger stones can block the flow of saliva in the gland. This blockage can cause saliva to build up behind the stone, which can lead to pain and swelling.

Common symptoms of blocked salivary glands include:

  • a sore or painful lump under the tongue
  • pain or swelling below the jaw or ears
  • pain that increases when eating

Salivary stones can sometimes also lead to infection in or around the affected gland. Symptoms of infection can include fever and the formation of pus around the stone.

Causes

Doctors do not fully understand what causes salivary stones. However, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of getting them.

These risk factors include:

  • being male
  • advancing age
  • having radiation therapy on the head or neck
  • mouth injuries
  • taking medications that affect saliva production, such as anticholinergics
  • having gout or Sjogren’s syndrome
  • having kidney problems
  • not drinking enough water

Home remedies

Salivary stones are rarely serious, and a person can often treat them at home.

Home remedies for getting rid of salivary stones include:

  • Sucking on citrus fruits or hard candies. Sucking on a wedge of lemon or orange increases the flow of saliva, which can help dislodge the stone. A person can also try sucking on sugar-free gum or hard, sour candies, such as lemon drops.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids. Regular fluid intake helps keep the mouth hydrated and can increase saliva flow.
  • Gentle massage. Gently massaging the affected area may relieve pain and encourage the stone to pass through the salivary duct. The Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation have an illustrated guide on how to do this on their website.
  • Medications. Some over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, can help relieve pain and swelling.
  • Sucking on ice cubes. Sucking on something cold, such as an ice cube or ice pop, may also help reduce pain and swelling resulting from salivary stones.

When to see a doctor

Salivary stones can sometimes cause infections or abscesses, so people who are unable to remove the stones by themselves should see a doctor. If the doctor is unable to remove the stones, they may refer the person to the hospital.

Anyone who has signs of an infection or abscess should see a doctor immediately. A doctor can usually treat an infection with antibiotics.

Medical treatment

Salivary stones <br>Image credit: Wouter Hagens, 2011</br>
Salivary stones that are large may be difficult to remove.
Image credit: Wouter Hagens, 2011

The doctor will look inside the person’s mouth to examine any painful areas and feel the size and shape of the stones. They may also request an X-ray or CT scan to determine the number of stones and their exact location.

Doctors are sometimes able to massage or press on a salivary stone to dislodge it from the gland. They may also use an ultrasound machine, which emits high-frequency sound waves that can break the stone into smaller pieces and make it easier to remove.

Salivary stones that are large or situated deep within the salivary gland may be harder to remove.

In these cases, a doctor may need to perform a sialendoscopy. This procedure involves using an endoscope to examine the inside of the mouth and widen the affected salivary duct, allowing the stone to pass through. As this procedure can be uncomfortable, the doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the person’s mouth first.

Complications

Doctors can usually remove salivary stones that are less than 2 millimeters wide without surgery. For larger or more difficult-to-remove stones, a person may need to go to the hospital. Surgery for salivary stones involves making a small incision in the person’s mouth to remove the stone.

For people with recurring stones, a doctor may recommend having surgery to remove the salivary gland. There are multiple salivary glands in the mouth, so people can still produce enough saliva if they lose a gland.

Surgery to remove the salivary gland does have some risks, which people can discuss with their doctor.

Summary

Calcified stones can sometimes form in the salivary glands of the mouth and may cause pain or discomfort. They are rarely serious, and a person can often remove the stones themselves.

A person should see a doctor if they are unable to remove the stones at home or if the stones keep coming back. It is also essential to see a doctor if the area around the stone becomes infected or if an abscess forms.

Doctors are often able to remove the stones by massaging them or using an endoscope. However, for very large or difficult-to-remove stones, they may recommend surgery. In some cases, a person may need to have surgery to remove the affected salivary gland.