Is your mobile health app making you sick?

Health appsWe use health and medical apps every day to track monitor our health, track fitness or even help diagnose health problems.

A new study estimates that one and a half billion smartphone users have a health app installed. But the medical app we’re using might be doing us more harm than good. Recent research by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that fewer than 25 percent of medical apps offered patients legitimate medical information. Experts are concerned that many health and medical apps could give patients incorrect or insufficient information, risk the privacy of their health data, or even sell it. In some cases, apps that advertise diagnostic features have been revealed as fraudulent.

Lack of health app regulation

Even when they’re not deliberately malicious, many health apps don’t have any quality checks or regulation. For example, a recent study into hypertension apps found that many make medical claims without clinical validation or FDA approval. The research by the Journal of the American Society of Hypertension found that fourteen percent of the top 107 hypertension apps in the Google Android store made medical device claims. The apps’ features included using smartphone’s camera to measure blood pressure. The app claimed that this is an accurate measurement.

In fact, there is no evidence that measuring blood pressure with a camera is effective. Patients relying on one of these apps to manage hypertension could be getting incorrect information, and becoming sick as a consequence.

The authors conclude that much more research is needed before we can rely on apps to monitor our health reliably: “High quality, adequately powered randomized controlled trials are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of mobile-health interventions on clinical outcomes in hypertension.”

Legal responsibility

So what legal recourse does a patient have if something goes wrong after relying on a medical app?

A representative from the medical law firm Patient Claim Line recently stated that ‘health app developers are unlikely to face medical negligence suits for a misdiagnosis, since there’s no doctor-patient relationship between the app developer, the provider and the patient. That’s one of the reasons patients should always communicate with the doctor if they are using a health app, and check the accuracy of the information it provides’. But she supported the use of health apps, adding that their point ‘is to make the patient much better informed and to ask the doctor much better questions, so together they can do a much better job avoiding medical errors’.

Although app developers are unlikely to face a medical negligence suit, developers could face their own types of liability. In addition to potential liability for violating the FDA’s medical device regulations, private apps are likely to be subject to product liability claims, for example through a design defect, a breach of warranty or failure to warn.

Privacy Concerns

Medical health apps help us by monitoring and analyzing our health data, but in the process they collect a huge amount of personal data. That wonderful mine of information can be a danger zone if it’s not properly secured and protected. Privacy and security of patient information are becoming major concerns.

Executive Director of The App Association Morgan Reed advises consumers to stay on the alert: “if you’ve been given a free application and you can’t figure out how it is being paid for, then the chances are high that it is being paid for by using your information for advertising.’

Even if the app isn’t selling your data, merely having insecure storage or data transfer could put your privacy at risk.

Addressing the risks

Rising awareness of the problem is leading to solutions. Several app accreditation programmes have been launched to address concerns about the quality and safety of health apps. One example is the UK’s National Health System (NHS) Health Apps Library; a curated list of apps for patient and public use. Under this programme, registered apps undergo an appraisal process that examines clinical safety and compliance with data protection law.
The app industry, government and the public realize it is important for mobile health apps to be reviewed, approved and properly regulated by governments and their health authorities.

As mobile technology becomes more embedded into our healthcare, there are opportunities for action to further address these privacy and safety concerns, minimize the risk of future privacy breaches and to prevent misdiagnosis errors and security flaws.

Restless legs at night?

summerlegs1It’s 3 a.m. and you’ve just woken up again with an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. There’s a bubbling, crawling feeling in your calves and the whole length of your legs are aching. If this sounds familiar, you might be suffering from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).

RLS is a debilitating condition that is more common than many people think. Studies show that up to 15% of adults(1) will experience restless leg syndrome at some time in their lives. Restless legs can afflict both sexes, but the condition is more common in women, with 19% of women developing RLS symptoms when they are pregnant. Most people who are severely affected by RLS are middle-aged or older.

There is no specific diagnosis criteria for Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), with doctors relying on your symptoms and medical history. It may have no known cause, or be a known symptom of another underlying medical condition. Some common medical conditions associated with RLS are:

Magnesium deficiency

Studies show that RLS may be associated with low magnesium levels in the body. Magnesium encourages sleep and relaxes muscles. Insufficient magnesium can cause muscle spasms and twitches. Both anecdotal evidence and scientific studies have shown that magnesium supplements can help with RLS.

Dopamine dysfunction

Our brains use the chemical dopamine to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity. Problems with dopamine levels in the brain can cause the unpleasant sensations associated with RLS such as burning, itching and the uncontrollable need to move the legs.

Iron deficiency

Evidence (2)  shows that low levels of iron in the brain could be responsible for RLS in some circumstances. Unfortunately, research suggests that taking iron supplements is not the answer in this case because the issue is the uptake of the iron that is already present in the blood and not a lack of iron.

Varicose veins or venous reflux

RLS is strongly associated with varicose veins, the dark blue or purple, lumpy and swollen veins, most often found in the legs. Varicose veins develop when tiny valves in the veins get damaged. A damaged vein valve can’t pump blood smoothly, causing it to pool or even flow in the wrong direction. This causes the condition we know as varicose veins.

Addressing underlying venous reflux or varicose veins can help many patients find relief from RLS. A recent study (3) found that 98% of patients with RSL experienced relief from their symptoms after having their varicose veins treated, and 80% had long-term relief.

Coping with RLS and easing symptoms

• Avoid or limit alcohol, caffeine and nicotine for at least several    hours before sleep.
• Treat your varicose veins to obtain symptom relief.
• Ensure you get regular exercise.
• Do a range of leg stretches at least twice a day.
• Have regular leg massages.
• Avoid eating a heavy meal close to your sleep time.
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule.
• Avoid daytime naps.
• Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation or progressive   muscle relaxation, to help reduce RLS symptoms.

Although RLS does not cause serious health problems in itself, it can have a serious negative impact on your quality of life. Repeated sleep interruptions can lead to severe fatigue, low mood and depression.

Although there are drugs out there that may help manage RSL, medications do not provide a cure, and they also carry their own side effects and risks. Thankfully there are many non-pharmaceutical options that can help you relieve your symptoms:

 
1: Best Practice Journal, 2012; BPJ: 49

2: Connor JR, Boyer PJ, Menzies SL, Dellinger B, Allen RP, Ondo WG, Earley CJ. “Neuropathological Examination Suggests Impaired Brain Iron Acquisition in Restless Legs Syndrome.” Neurology, August 12, 2003, Vol. 61, No. 3, pp. 304-309.

3: Dermatol Surg. 1995 Apr;21(4):328-32.

Chuckling goats’ kefir for eczema

chuckling goatsMany moons ago on a Turkish boat I tried something which I was told was like yogurt. It was kefir and I thought it was vile. All these years later I have come across kefir in a completely different way. You may have heard Shann Jones on BBC Radio 2’s Steve Wright Show. She is American, married to a Welsh farmer, and because her son had eczema they decided to get a goat and ensure that he had goat’s milk products instead of cow’s milk which can exacerbate the condition.

Out of the goat’s milk Shann decided to make soap and skin cream which cleared her son’s eczema. They also found out how to make the live culture kefir which is quite prevalent in Eastern Europe. It is a natural probiotic which has very strong powers to heal the gut and repopulate it with healthy bacteria. It still tastes vile but it’s incredibly effective.

Rich, Shann’s husband, went into hospital for a major operation and when he returned home he had a large incision that was infected with MRSA. Shann used essential oils and Manuka honey on the wound and completely cleared the infection.

Now they have 55 goats and a thriving online business where you can buy a 21 day supply of Kefir, special soaps containing essential oils and a kefir cream to put on the skin. And they have lots of success stories, some of which will appear on this website soon. It’s not just skin conditions that can be helped. As so many health issues come from an unhealthy gut, people have found that it can be helpful for psoriasis, acne, eczema, IBS, and osteoarthritis, etc.

Shann says of eczema, ‘Steroid creams alone never resolve the problem, because it’s not a skin condition, it’s a gut disorder.’ She has had many people writing in with photos – like these ones here of eczema that has healed after a course of kefir.

Research is currently going on into the healing powers of kefir.

www.chucklinggoat.co.uk

Tax sugary drinks?

sugar Recommendations to put an extra 20 per cent tax on sugary drink to prevent people becoming obese were put forward by the BMA (British Medical Association) recently. But will anything change? Recommendations come out all the time but do they get taken up. The BMA claims that poor diets cost 70,000 premature deaths a year.

The BMA suggests an extra tax of 20 per cent on unhealthy food and drinks. A 330ml fizzy drink is likely to contain up to nine teaspoonfuls of sugar. Apparently a sugar tax on drinks in Mexico has resulted in lower consumption. The overall aim is to reduce the number of people becoming obese and getting diabetes, which are both attributed to the increase in sugar consumption, which is highest in the 11 to 18 year old group. They take 15.6 per cent of their energy from sugar, when the limit for everyone should be 5 per cent.

There should be restrictions on promoting unhealthy foods to children through advertising and fun characters. Instead they suggest that there should be marketing campaigns to promote awareness and the importance of healthy foods. Other suggestions are for school meals to include a free fruit and vegetable scheme, and for the price of fruit and vegetables to be subsidised.

How many times have you visited a hospital and found the full range of fizzy drinks, crisps, sweets and chocolate on sale in the shop? The recommendations suggest banning these sales, and having a traffic light coding on food.
Other recommendations include:
• No trans fats in food allowed.
• Compulsory reduction of salt levels in food and drink products.
• Targets to reduce calories, fat, saturated fat and added sugar levels in a range of soft drinks, confectionery, biscuits, and many other processed foods.
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Needless to say this needs international co-operation.
Dire warnings from the British Medical Association include the spectre of 30 per cent of the UK population being obese by 2030.

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Relaxation tips

1.relaxing bath WALK: Go for a walk – 20 minutes or so alone and preferably in countryside or in a park.

2. BATH: Lie in a hot bath for 20 minutes with a fantastic combination of a handful of Epsom salts, (or other pure salts), half a cup of bicarbonate of soda, and 10 drops of lavender oil (or other soothing oil like geranium or ylang ylang.

3. BREATHING:  Try yoga breathing – alternative nostril breath or simply lie down, breathe in through the whole diaphragm to a count of four, and breathe out for a count of four.

4. MEDITATION: Learn to meditate – it’s not as mystical as it sounds. Just closing your eyes, sitting still and repeating a mantra or even one, two, one, two.

5. CALMING: Take Rescue Remedy after a shock or when you’re feeling generally anxious or stressed. The pastilles are good.

6. DRINKING & EATING:  Try to avoid stimulants with caffeine in (coffee) and too much alcohol. Eat healthy meals with plenty of fruit and veg.

7. LYING DOWN:  Lie in the semi-supine position (knees bent and a couple of paperbacks under your head). This is an Alexander Technique position, better done on the floor or a massage table. Close your eyes and let your muscles relax.

8. PANIC:  When you’re feeling really panicky, try A. Vogel Stress Relief. It helps you to feel more normal without making you drowsy.

9. SLEEPING: At night put lavender drops on a tissue to calm you down and help you have a restful sleep.

10. T’AI CHI: Take up t’ai chi – moving meditation, which energises you and makes you feel calm.

See Relax, Relax, Relax. 

 

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Lavender essential oil Absolute Aromas 10ml £11.61
Rescue Remedy pastilles Bach Flower Remedies
Passiflora & Valerian Plus ESI 50ml £7.79
Geranium essential oil Absolute Aromas 10ml £9.22
Rescue Remedy Dropper Bach Flower Remedies 20ml £10.52
Rescue Remedy Spray Bach Flower Remedies 7ml £8.60

 

Read Stress – The Essential Guide by Frances Ive.

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