HealthSmart Q & A-13

Dear HealthSmart,

How common are strokes? Is there a rise in incidence in the United States?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Erol Veznedaroglu, M.D., Director of Neurosciences Institute at Drexel University. Here’s his response:

To put some things in context, stroke is the fifth leading cause in death in the United States. One in five women will have one in their lifetime, and stroke will kill two times as many women as breast cancer. Rates of Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer combined equal to those of stroke. Stroke was essentially unheard of in people under 50 in the past, but now we are even seeing stroke in children, largely due to obesity. Our life expectancy is also increasing, so we’re seeing more cases as we age as a population. Age is certainly a risk factor, typically affecting women more than men, and we’re seeing men have strokes at a younger age.


Dear HealthSmart,

What is major depressive disorder and at what age do we see its onset?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Trivedi, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Here’s his response:

Major depressive disorder means patients experience one of the two primary symptoms, as well as at least five of the secondary symptoms for at least two weeks. Primary symptoms include a lack of interest in pleasure, as well as absence of pleasure received from activities or things in your life that previously provided pleasure. Secondary symptoms include low mood, sleeping too much or too little, binge eating or loss of appetite, agitation, concentration difficulty, hopelessness, and feelings of worthlessness. About half of people suffering from major depressive disorder are stricken before the age of 30. The onset of depression later in life is less common, with 20-30% of sufferers experiencing onset between the ages of 30-45. Regardless of the age it occurs, patients will continue to suffer from episodes of depression for their entire lives.


Dear HealthSmart,

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about women having dense breasts, and others not. What does that exactly mean? What makes a woman’s breasts classify as dense, and is having dense breasts a cause for concern?

HealthSmart asked Dr. Priscilla Slanetz, M.D., Associate Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. Here’s her response:

Breasts contain both fatty tissue and glandular tissue. Around 10% of the population have breasts that contain all fatty tissue, another 10% all glandular, and the remaining 80% fall somewhere in the middle with their own individual breakdown. Generally speaking, women who have majorly glandular tissue would be considered as having dense breasts. Having dense breasts poses a moderate risk for breast cancer because tumors and other abnormalities become harder to read on mammograms. It’s important that women are informed of their breast density levels by their physician, and that they have a conversation about supplemental screening options that can pick up what’s not seen in a traditional mammography, such as digital mammography, MRIs, or CTs.


Do you have questions on health or wellness you’d like answered by the nation’s leading medical researchers? If so, you can send to HealthSmart is a national newspaper column from the Washington News Service in DC. Due to demand, we are unable to reply to all inquiries. Responses through the column are no substitute for care from physicians or other medical professionals.

Copyright Ellen James Martin 2021



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