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How to Stop Stress; Your Gender and Age Can Affect the Type of Headaches You Get; Hunting Down an Illness; Inspiration to Get off the Couch

Aired March 1, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: This is HOUSE CALL and I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We're making the rounds this morning.
First off, how to stop stress, maybe even money problems in their tracks.

Then, while your gender and your age can affect the type of headaches you get.

And hunting down the cause of a debilitating and unknown illness. It's a medical mystery.

Finally, dropping just ten pounds can be hard. But wait until you meet our success story. She hopes to inspire you to get out of that couch.

But first, unemployment rates, foreclosures, stocks up, then down. There are more than enough reasons to be stressed about money these days. In fact, more than half of those in a recent survey say rent or mortgage costs are a source of stress.

Now, we know stress causes a multitude of health problems from headaches, to sleeplessness, to teeth grinding. What may surprise you is as a doctor, they give you the same advice as a financial adviser.

And our own adviser, CNN's personal finance editor Gerri Willis joins us now to talk to these steps.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Sanjay, this is a big problem for people. You know, they stress out. And they do the wrong things with their money.

The first thing that happens is that they want to sell stocks willie nilly. I can't tell you how many e-mails I'm getting from folks, young folks who want to get out of the stock market right now. How crazy is that? They've got lots of time to plan for the future, but they want to sell stocks. Don't do it.

Look, leave your portfolio alone for a little while. Don't check your stocks every day. You know, have a little patience You got to sit back and think. And then get a plan. Think about putting a plan in place, because this will relax you a little bit. Maybe you go out, you find a financial adviser.

Maybe you decide, hey, I'm going to pay down some of this credit card debt. And that's a really smart thing to do right now, because that's really your high cost debt out there. And then think about what you're going to do down the road, how you're going to find money to put to work and where you're going to put it to work because once you have that plan, things become a lot easier.

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting because as a doctor, we talk about the effects of stress. And in the short term, I mean, people get emotional it sounds like about the stock market. And getting emotional, getting amped up may be a good thing to some extent, but in the long-term, it can cause all sorts of health problems. So what should they be doing then?

WILLIS: Well, if you are in real trouble here, let's say you're in debt up to your ears, maybe you're going into foreclosure, you may need some real counseling. National Foundation for Credit Counseling, is a great place to go if you're looking for some help, maybe some debt consolidation.

But hey, maybe you're just the run of the mill kind of person, who's depressed by what you see in the markets and you're worried about your own savings. Well, maybe it's time to get a financial adviser or an expert who might walk you through some of the options for you. You know, it pays to find people who can help you out. And if not, you know, there's certainly enough web tools out there to do your own research to make you comfortable with your investments now.

GUPTA: It's really important stuff. It's amazing how many people are worried about this. I'm glad you're here to help at least allay some of our fears and get us through this period. Gerri, thanks so much.

WILLIS: Thank you.

GUPTA: Good financial tips certainly and good stress busting advice as well for you at home. Check out Gerri's new book. It's a really good one, "Home Rich: Increasing the Value of the Biggest Investment of Your Life." Important stuff. And of course, be sure to watch her show called "OPEN HOUSE" Saturday and Sunday on CNN and "Headline News."

We know financial woes can be a big headache, but the millions of Americans who suffer from frequent migraines, a headache can mean debilitating pain. Now on this week, devoted to learn more about gender differences and migraines.

So CNN medical correspondent Judy Fortin explains the gender and age differences that impact your headaches.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reverend Unnia Pettis relies on her faith to get through a day. As a domestic violence counselor, a college instructor, and a practicing minister, Pettis is a busy woman. And to add to her stress, she suffers form severe migraines.

UNNIA PETTIS, MIGRAINE SUFFERER: Three, four, five times a week, they're with me all the time. I have one now.

FORTIN: Pettis is 39 and says her migraines have changed since her teens.

PETTIS: I sought a neurologist and took all the best migraine medicine that there was. And now that in my 30s, I've realized that they've intensified even more.

FORTIN: According to neurologists, migraines are three times more common in women than in men. Many women experience migraines after they start their menstrual cycles. As they age, their migraines become more intense and more frequent.

MARC SCHLOSBERG, NEUROLOGIST: And these patients sort of run into a chronic daily headache type of picture, so that they're having headaches every single day. The daily headache tends not to be as bad as the migraine headache, but they still have migraines on top of the daily headaches.

FORTIN: In their 30s and 40s, migraine symptoms in some women begin to change. They experience more nausea and vomiting, and are more sensitive to light. And as they age, medications for migraines don't work very long.

SCHLOSBERG: It's not uncommon for people to start taking these medications more and more frequently because they get less and less effective.

FORTIN: In their 50s, many female migraine sufferers find relief after menopause as their migraine symptoms go away. Doctors believe that's estrogen levels play a huge role. For men, migraines don't go away as they get older. They tend to be more severe. Many male suffer from chronic cluster headaches as they age.

SCHLOSBERG: Cluster headaches occur in clusters that last a few months each. So people will have these daily cluster headaches for a few months and then they'll go away. And then they'll often come back the next year.

FORTIN: For Reverend Pettis, the idea of growing older brings one ray of hope, her mother as well as her aunt all suffered from migraines when they were younger. And after menopause, all of the headaches vanished. It's a small comfort for Pettis, who has a long way to go before she reaches her 50s.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: So how do you know if it's a migraine or just a normal headache? Well, symptoms of a migraine usually include a sharp stabbing pain that is often one sided. You have sensitivity to light and sometimes have nausea or visual disturbances.

If you have migraines, not only should you be watching your diet, but studies show that patients who exercise on a regular basis have fewer episodes. Now if you think you may be having migraines, go see your doctor.

Some quick medical headlines now. First up, in what some are calling the largest notifications of its kind in U.S. history, health officials say about 40,000 patients may need to be tested immediately for possible exposure to HIV and Hepatitis strains B and C.

Patients who visited the Endoscopy Center of Southern Las Vegas between March 2004 and January 2008 may have been exposed to the diseases when syringes were reused to draw medication and possibly contaminating the remaining medication in the vials which were given to other patients. People who visited the center during those dates are asked to call the Nevada Health Department at 702-759-4636.

And in other news, a new study suggests the small amounts of mercury in high tech compact fluorescent light bulbs could cause health problems to infants, young children, and pregnant women if those bulbs break. You see, mercury is needed for the lamps to produce light. Experts say if you break a fluorescent bulb, ventilate the room, use some stiff paper to remove the pieces, and wipe the area down with a damp paper towel.

Coming up, why the story of one woman who managed to gain back her mind control, changing her life and her body forever. That's later in the show.

But first, patients feeling weak, unable to walk. And the reasons are unclear. A small Minnesota town with a big medical mystery. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Welcome back. A small town in Minnesota has been grappling with a big mystery. Residents are getting sick, very sick for seemingly no reason. It all started with one young woman's baffling symptoms.


GUPTA: Austin, Minnesota, a small hardworking town at the heart of a big medical mystery. It all started in November 2006. Susan Kruse started to notice something terribly wrong.

SUSAN KRUSE, HAD MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS: Charlie horses that wouldn't go away in my left calf of my leg. Eventually, it started moving to the right leg. And then shortly after that, the tips of my fingers, the bottoms of my feet started going numb.

GUPTA: It was about to get much, much worse. Even moving her hands was a struggle. Eventually, she could no longer walk.

No one could figure out what was wrong with her. Depression, gallstones, neuropathy, a string of hazy diagnoses from more than a dozen doctors, no answers, none. It was a mystery and Susan was in trouble.

In less than three months by February, she could no longer work her shift at the local pork processing plant.

KRUSE: I'm only in my middle 30s. Who needs to be in a wheelchair in their middle 30s? Oh, I was very scared. I had no idea what was going on with my life.

GUPTA: The months passed by and Susan got progressively worse. And as hard as they tried, no one could answer any of her questions. What exactly was her condition? How did she get it? Could it be treated? Meanwhile, less than a mile away at the local hospital, something strange was starting to happen.

DANIEL LACHANCE, DR., NEUROLOGIST, MAYO CLINIC: We are seeing patients with symptoms that include weakness, tiredness feeling in their legs.

GUPTA: One patient after another came in with these mysterious symptoms -- Susan's symptoms.

LACHANCE: These patients' illness follows in a combination that we really have not seen with other illnesses.

GUPTA: Doctors were stumped. Eventually, 11 other residents of Austin would come in with the same ailment. Neurologist Dr. Daniel Lachance started to fit the puzzle pieces together. He was certain there had to be a common link.

LACHANCE: These individuals, one, had a common pattern of illness, but also they had something else in common. And they all appeared to work in the same place.

GUPTA: Here, at this plant, quality pork processors. Susan had worked there for 15 years.

KELLY WADDING, PRES., QUALITY PORK PROCESSORS: This is either a real strange phenomenon, a coincidence, or is there, you know, is there something going on on the floor that could be causing this? Just a lot of question marks.

GUPTA: While they knew where it started, no one had any idea why or how people were becoming sick.


GUPTA: And when we return, the investigation continues and leaves doctors to diagnose a brand new type of complex illness.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. Before the break, we told you the story of a mysterious debilitating illness striking people in a small Minnesota town. We pick up the story now with a break in the medical investigation.


GUPTA (voice-over): For months, a strange phenomenon was growing and only getting more serious in Austin, Minnesota. Dozens of people were suddenly losing strength in their arms and their legs until they found a break in the case.

RUTH LYNFIELD, DR., MINNESOTA DEPT. OF HEALTH: What has been unique about this investigation has been the cooperation and the help of the plant. The turning point was when we inspected the plant. It seemed that these workers were clustered in a particular part of the plant.

GUPTA: An important clue, everyone affected worked around an area where brain tissue was removed and packaged for export. It is called appropriately the head table.

JENNIFER MCQUISTON, VETERINARY EPIDEMIOLOGIST, CDC: People may be exposed to the brain material in ways that normal people would not be exposed to, say through eating pork or preparing food.

GUPTA: You heard right. People do eat the brains of pigs. In fact, it's popular in parts of the American south and in some Asian countries like Cambodia and China. But eating the pork brains doesn't make you sick. Instead, something else had happened to Susan and the others.

Take a look. In this part of the plant called the head table, brain tissue is removed by high blasts of compressed air. The liquid combined with brain tissue turned into this mist. Health investigators say the droplets could have entered the system through the nose or the mouth.

And then, that brain material started a dangerous reaction in the body, pushing the immune system into overdrive. Eventually, Susan's body was literally attacking itself. Specifically, her own brain and her own spinal cord.

MCQUISTON: It appeared to be different than what we have previously seen. We're calling it progressive inflammatory neuropathy.

GUPTA: The shorthand is PIN, a brand new type of complex illness. The mystery has a name. Today, big brains are no longer harvested with compressed air at this Minnesota plant, or at two other major pork processing plants in Indiana and Nebraska. But PIN was not contained before it appeared in two states. At least 15 PIN cases have now been confirmed. No one has died, and most have recovered.

WADDING: Since we put in some precautionary measures and have stopped harvesting brains, we have not had any new cases.

LYNFIELD: We still do have some work to do before the mystery is solved. It will likely be months or even years before we really understand maybe what caused the illnesses in these workers.

GUPTA: It gives Susan some solace to finally figure out what robbed so much of her function for so long. And she has benefited from medication and regular immune therapy treatments. The mystery for Susan now, whether she'll ever fully recover. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And Susan, we all wish you good luck with your recovery.

Just ahead, from wait times to calling with test results. This week's empowered patient has tips for your doctor patient relationship.

And later in the show, 2.5 years ago, this woman started the journey to change her life forever. Stay with us and hear her story.


GUPTA: In today's "Empowered Patient" segment, what you can realistically expect from your doctor. Well, there are a few basic things you really ought to be getting. And if not, it might be time to get a new doctor.

So CNN's medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here to explain the must haves of your doctor patient relationship. What have you got?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I want to first say doctors don't have to be perfect. And they can't be perfect. You're as close as it gets.

GUPTA: Oh, wow. Nicest thing she's ever said to me.

COHEN: But you don't have to expect perfection from your doctor. But experts that we talked to said there are a couple of basics that you really should expect, that are reasonable to expect.

For example, if you call your doctor and you're sick, and you say, I really want to talk to someone, I feel awful, you should expect a call back within about 90 minutes from a doctor or a nurse to assess your situation. They shouldn't leave you feeling awful all day long.

Also, here's another thing to expect. You should expect test results back within 48 hours. Not within 48 hours of having the test, but within 48 hours of when the doctor's office gets those test results back. Because there is a problem sometimes that offices don't call with the results. They sort of sit on a desk somewhere. So expecting a phone call within 48 hours is a reasonable thing.

GUPTA: I've been on that end of the patient deal as well, where I haven't gotten the test results back. So people say, OK, sounds good, we expect these things. Well, what if they're not getting them?

COHEN: Well, one thing you want to do is you don't want to bolt immediately. You don't want to say oh, they didn't call me within 90 minutes, forget it, I'm out of here.

What you want to do is you want to talk to your doctor. And you want to say, you know, a couple of times when I've been sick, doctor, I've called and nobody's called me back. Or they've called me back in the next day. That's not acceptable. Let's talk about, you know, is this going to change? What are the plan for this to change? So you want to have a dialogue before you actually bolt.

GUPTA: Now Elizabeth, my dad would want me to ask you this question, because he's asking me this all the time. And I don't really have an answer for him. He's waiting in the doctor's office. And he's waiting and waiting and waiting. And he's getting impatient. What do they do at that point? What should a patient do at that point?

COHEN: Well Mr. Gupta, what you should do, is you first have to think, have they come out and chatted with me about this wait? For example, I remember when I was pregnant, my obstetrician was late like two hours on several different visits. And the nurses came out and said we're so sorry, but he's delivering babies. Another doctor is sick. And he's delivering babies. We're sorry. And they actually gave us some food because we were pregnant women and very hungry.

And you know, I didn't leave the obstetrician because I had a couple of two hour waits. So it really depends on how often the waits happen. And it also depends on whether or not they come in and have a discussion with you about them.

GUPTA: Yes, delivering babies, pretty good excuse.

COHEN: Yes, I thought so.

GUPTA: Pretty good. Well, thanks, Elizabeth. As always, really good stuff. Make sure to check out the first of Elizabeth's top five tips at Every week, she writes about ways you can empower yourself to get the most out of your health care. Important stuff.

Speaking of empowered, imagine going from morbidly obese to a spread in "People" magazine. How this woman changed her life and hopes to inspire others to do the same.

And more of your headache questions answered. All that's coming up on HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. Jennifer Marnell went through what she calls a mind change, from a severely overweight mom to a proactive weight loss inspiration. We hope her story shows you no matter how much weight you have to lose, you can do it.


JENNIFER MARNELL, WEIGHT LOSS SUCCESS: In most of the pictures, I didn't have a smile on my face.

GUPTA: Jen Marnell was 27-years-old, 300 pounds, and very unhappy.

MARNELL: I didn't realize how depressed I was because my family loved me regardless, no matter what. It was a struggle with being overweight all my life. I was overweight from the time I was about eight-years-old.

GUPTA: One day at an amusement park, Jen was kicked off a rollercoaster ride because of her size. In that moment, she began undoing 27 years worth of bad habits.

MARNELL: I just broke down in tears. And that was really the final straw.

GUPTA: Jen started her weight loss journey, exercising on her own at the gym and quickly moved up to group classes. When she reached goal weight of 120 pounds, almost a 200-pound weight loss, she started a new career as a personal trainer.

MARNELL: It's just made life a whole lot more exciting, more adventurous. I'm able to take more risks do -- you know, do more things. It's really taken a weight off my shoulders literally.

GUPTA: Jen says her experience adds authenticity to her "can do" message. After all, she's been there.

MARNELL: It can be done, you know, through hard work and dedication. It's not going to be easy. You know, I won't lie to you. But it can be done.

My name is Jennifer Marnell and I lost 180 pounds.


GUPTA: Could the big screen cause an even bigger headache? One more thing to consider before you head to the movies this weekend. That's a topic of my favorite segment, "Ask the Doctor." That's after the break.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. And it's time for our segment called "Ask the Doctor." We answer the medical questions that are on your minds.

And here's a question from Elora in New Jersey. "It seems like every time that I watch a movie in the theater, I get a massive headache. Can the distance between you and a movie screen give you a headache?"

Great question, Elora. Headaches can be caused by many things as we've been talking about all show. And in a movie theater, there are several factors to consider.

First, it's not just where you sit, but how you sit. You might actually be sitting in a way where you have bad posture. Or in an intense movie, you may be tensing your muscles. That can lead to headaches. So keep an eye on that.

Also, if the theater plays movies at a high volume, this could be the culprit. Consider ear plugs to reduce the sound or sit further away from the speakers. And finally, if you wear glasses, be sure to bring them with you. Squinting at the screen can cause eye strain, which may result in headaches. So have fun at the movies.

And remember, this is the place to all of your answers to your medical questions. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.