What to know about eczema

Eczema is a condition in which patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, cracked, and rough. Some types can also cause blisters. Home remedies and medical treatment can help manage and prevent flares.

Different types and stages of eczema affect 31.6 million people in the United States, which equals more than 10% of the population.

Many people use the word eczema when referring to atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type. The term atopic refers to a collection of conditions that involve the immune system, including atopic dermatitis, asthma, and hay fever. The word dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin.

Certain foods, such as nuts and dairy, can trigger symptoms of eczema. Environmental triggers can include smoke, pollen, soaps, and fragrances. Eczema is not contagious.

About a quarter of children in the U.S. have the condition, as well as 10% of African Americans, 13% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, 13% of Native Americans, and 11% of people who are white.

Some people outgrow the condition, while others will continue to have it throughout adulthood. This article will explain what eczema is and discuss its symptoms, treatments, causes, and types.

The symptoms of atopic dermatitis can vary depending on a person’s age and the condition’s severity and can vary by individual.

People with the condition will often experience periods of time when their symptoms worsenTrusted Source, followed by periods of time when their symptoms will improve or clear up.

The following sections will outline some of the potential differences in symptoms in more detail.

General eczema symptoms

In most cases eczema symptoms are mild. The most common symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:

  • dry, scaly skin
  • skin flushing
  • itching
  • open, crusted, or weeping sores

People with severe eczema may need more intensive treatment to relieve their symptoms. Continuous rubbing and scratching can also lead to skin infections.

Eczema symptoms in People of Color

In People of Color, an eczema rash may appear gray or brown. This can make outbreaks harder to see.

However, People of Color who get eczema may also get dark or light skin patches even after eczema symptoms go away. These can last a long time. Doctors call these patches hyperpigmentation and depigmentation or hypopigmentation.

A dermatologist can evaluate these patches, which may respond to treatments like steroid creams.

Infant eczema symptoms

The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in babies under the age of 2:

  • rashes on the scalp and cheeks
  • rashes that bubble up before leaking fluid
  • rashes that can cause extreme itchiness, which may interfere with sleeping

Childhood eczema symptoms

The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in children age 2 and above:

  • rashes that appear behind the creases of elbows or knees
  • rashes that appear on the neck, wrists, ankles, and the crease between the buttocks and legs
  • bumpy rashes
  • rashes that can become lighter or darker
  • skin thickening, also known as lichenification, which can then develop into a permanent itch

Most people with the condition develop it before the age of 5 years. An estimated 60% of children will no longer show symptoms by adolescence.

African American and Hispanic children may have more severe eczema than children who are white.

Symptoms in adults

The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in adults:

  • rashes that are more scaly than those occurring in children
  • rashes that commonly appear in the creases of the elbows or knees or the nape of the neck
  • rashes that cover much of the body
  • very dry skin on the affected areas
  • rashes that are permanently itchy
  • skin infections

Adults who developed atopic dermatitis as children but no longer experience the condition may still have dry or easily irritated skin, hand eczema, and eczema on the eyelids.

The appearance of skin affected by atopic dermatitis will depend on how much a person scratches and whether the skin is infected. Scratching and rubbing can further irritate the skin, increase inflammation, and make the itching worse.

There is currently no cure for eczema. Treatment for the condition aims to heal the affected skin and prevent flares of symptoms.

Doctors will suggest a treatment plan based on an individual’s age, symptoms, and current state of health.

For some people, eczema goes away over time. For others, however, it is a lifelong condition.

The sections below will list some treatment options.


Doctors can prescribe several medications to treat the symptoms of eczema, including:

  • Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments: These are anti-inflammatory medications and should relieve the main symptoms of eczema, such as inflammation and itchiness. People can apply them directly to the skin. Some people may benefit from prescription-strength medications.
  • Oral medications: If topical treatments are not effective, a doctor may prescribe oral medications like systemic corticosteroids or immunosuppresants. These are available as injections or oral tablets. People should only use them for short periods of time. Also, it is important to note that the symptoms may worsen upon stopping these drugs if the person is not already taking another medication for the condition.
  • Antibiotics: Doctors prescribe antibiotics if eczema occurs alongside a bacterial skin infection.
  • Antihistamines: These can reduce the risk of nighttime scratching, as they tend to cause drowsiness.
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: This drug suppresses the activities of the immune system. It decreases inflammation and helps prevent flares.
  • Barrier repair moisturizers: These reduce water loss and work to repair the skin.
  • Phototherapy: This involves exposure to UVA or UVB waves. This method can treat moderate dermatitis. A doctor will monitor the skin closely throughout the treatment.
  • Injected biologic drugs: These medications block proteins in the immune system to limit immune system response.

To treat moderate to severe eczema, a doctor may prescribe a combination of topical and systemic treatments, such as biologics.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two biologics to treat eczema: dupilumab (Dupixent) and tralokinumab-ldrm (Adbry).

These biologics target specific proteins in the immune system that trigger inflammation, which can help reduce eczema symptoms. They can sometimes cause side effects, which are usually mild and manageable.

Even after an area of skin has healed, it is important to keep looking after it, as it may easily become irritated again.

Even though the condition itself is not currently curable, each person should consult with a doctor to get a tailored treatment plan.

Home care

There are several things that people with eczema can do to support skin health and alleviate symptoms.

They can try:

  • taking lukewarm baths
  • applying moisturizer within 3 minutes of bathing to “lock in” moisture
  • moisturizing every day
  • wearing cotton and soft fabrics
  • avoiding rough, scratchy fibers and tight fitting clothing
  • using a humidifier in dry or cold weather
  • using a mild soap or a non-soap cleanser when washing
  • taking extra precautions to prevent eczema flares in winter
  • air drying or gently patting the skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing the skin dry after bathing or taking a shower
  • where possible, avoiding rapid changes of temperature and activities that cause sweating
  • learning and avoiding individual eczema triggers
  • keeping fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking the skin

People can also try various natural remedies for eczema, including aloe vera, coconut oil, and apple cider vinegar.

Researchers do not know the definitive cause of eczema, but many health professionals believe that it develops from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Children are more likely to develop eczema if a parent has it or another atopic condition. If both parents have an atopic condition, the risk is even higher.

Some environmental factors may also bring out the symptoms of eczema. These include:

  • Irritants: These include soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables.
  • Allergens: Dust mites, pets, pollens, and mold can all lead to eczema. This is known as allergic eczema.
  • Microbes: These include bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
  • Hot and cold temperatures: Very hot and very cold weather, high and low humidity, and perspiration from exercise can bring out eczema.
  • Foods: Dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat can cause eczema flares.
  • Stress: This is not a direct cause of eczema, but it can make the symptoms worse.
  • Hormones: Females may experience increased eczema symptoms when their hormone levels are changing, such as during pregnancy and at certain points in the menstrual cycle.

There are several types of eczema. Besides atopic dermatitis, other types include:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis: This is a skin reaction that occurs following contact with a substance or allergen that the immune system recognizes as foreign.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema: This refers to irritation of the skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It is characterized by blisters.
  • Neurodermatitis: This leads to scaly patches of skin on the head, forearms, wrists, and lower legs. It occurs due to a localized itch, such as from an insect bite.
  • Discoid eczema: Also known as nummular eczema, this type presents as circular patches of irritated skin that can be crusted, scaly, and itchy.
  • Stasis dermatitis: This refers to skin irritation of the lower leg. It is usually related to circulatory problems.

Eczema is a common inflammatory skin condition. The most common type is called atopic dermatitis. Eczema is most common in children, but the majority of children will grow out of it by the time they reach adolescence.

Eczema can cause discomfort and can vary in severity. It can present differently depending on a person’s age. In people with darker skin tones, the symptoms may be harder to see.

Although there is currently no cure, people can treat and prevent eczema flares using home remedies, moisturizers, medications, and lifestyle changes.

Healthy Lifestyles

A healthy lifestyle can help you thrive as you move through your life’s journey. Making healthy choices isn’t always easy – it can be hard to find the time and energy to exercise regularly or prepare healthy meals. However, your efforts will pay off in many ways, and for the rest of your life.

Steps you can take:

  • Be physically active for 30 minutes most days of the week. Break this up into three 10-minute sessions when pressed for time. Healthy movement may include walking, sports, dancing, yoga or running.
  • Eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose a diet that’s low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and moderate in sugar, salt and total fat.
  • Avoid injury by wearing seatbelts and bike helmets, using smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the home, and using street smarts when walking alone. If you own a gun, recognize the dangers of having a gun in your home. Use safety precautions at all times.
  • Don’t smoke, and quit if you do. Ask your health care provider for help. UCSF offers a smoking cessation program.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Never drink before or when driving, or when pregnant.
  • Ask someone you trust for help if you think you might be addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • Help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS by using condoms every time you have sexual contact. Keep in mind, condoms are not 100 percent foolproof, so discuss STI screening with your provider. Birth control methods other than condoms, such as pills and implants, won’t protect you from STIs or HIV.
  • Brush your teeth after meals with a soft or medium bristled toothbrush. Also brush after drinking, before going to bed. Use dental floss daily.
  • Stay out of the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun’s harmful rays are strongest. Don’t think you are safe if it is cloudy or if you are in the water, as harmful rays pass through both. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen that guards against both UVA and UVB rays, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Select sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of the sun’s rays.

Healthy Outlook

You may feel pulled in different directions and experience stress from dealing with work, family and other matters, leaving little time for yourself. Learning to balance your life with some time for yourself will pay off with big benefits – a healthy outlook and better health.

Steps you can take:

  • Stay in touch with family and friends.
  • Be involved in your community.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and do things that make you happy.
  • Keep your curiosity alive. Lifelong learning is beneficial to your health.
  • Healthy intimacy takes all forms but is always free of coercion.
  • Learn to recognize and manage stress in your life. Signs of stress include trouble sleeping, frequent headaches and stomach problems; being angry a lot; and turning to food, drugs and alcohol to relieve stress.

    Good ways to deal with stress include regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and relaxation exercises such as deep breathing or meditation. Talking to trusted family members and friends can help a lot. Some women find that interacting with their faith community is helpful in times of stress.
  • Get enough sleep and rest – adults need around eight hours of sleep a night.
  • Talk to your health care provider if you feel depressed for more than a few days. Depression is a treatable illness. Signs of depression include feeling empty and sad, crying a lot, loss of interest in life, and thoughts of death or suicide. If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, get help right away. Call 911, a local crisis center or (800) SUICIDE.
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Mediterranean Lifestyle Can Help Lower Your Risk of Cancer, Early Death

Eating foods associated with the Mediterranean diet has been associated with lower cancer risks. 

  • New research shows that individuals adhering to a “Mediterranean lifestyle” have 29% lower risk of all-cause mortality and 28% lower risk of cancer mortality compared to those who do not.
  • The Mediterranean lifestyle includes a variety of factors including diet, eating habits, and rest.
  • The study suggests that the health benefits can be replicated outside of the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean lifestyle — including factors like diet, eating habits, rest, and physical exercise — has consistently been touted for its myriad health benefits, being both heart-healthy and protective against cancer. But can those benefits be replicated outside the unique geography of the Mediterranean region?

New research says: yes.

In a study published this week in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers found that adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle by middle-aged individuals living in the United Kingdom reduced all-cause and cancer-related mortality by 29% and 28%, respectively.

“This study adds to the literature that beyond diet, other components of the Mediterranean Lifestyle can play a combined and stronger role in the risk of mortality, cancer and cardiovascular disease, not only in Mediterranean countries but in non-Mediterranean,” Dr. Mercedes Sotos-Prieto, PhD, lead study author, Nutrition Epidemiologist at the University Autonomous of Madrid, Spain, and Adjunct Professor at Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, told Healthline.

What is the “Mediterranean Lifestyle”?

Sotos-Prieto and her fellow researchers utilized data from a cohort of individuals from the UK Biobank, a population-based study across England, to analyze the lifestyle and eating habits of 110,799 individuals between the ages of 40 and 75, with a nine-year follow-up period.

Using the MEDLIFE system, researchers were able to establish point-based scores for members of the cohort that indicated adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle. MEDLIFE factors were broken down into three major categories: Mediterranean diet, eating habits, and physical and social habits.

The Mediterranean diet is defined by high consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (like olive oil), and lean protein, predominantly fish. Eating habits of the region include limiting salt and sugar consumption, reduced exposure to processed foods, and moderate consumption of red wine. Social factors and “conviviality,” as the study terms it, include socializing with friends, especially at meals, collective sports, limited sedentary activities, and taking naps.

Using self-reported assessments about diet and physical activity, researchers were able to determine how well members of the UK Biobank cohort adhered to the primary components of the Mediterranean lifestyle.

What the Study Found

The results of the study found that those with the highest level of adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle had the highest protective benefits compared to those with the lowest levels. Those with the highest levels of adherence had reduced all-cause and cancer-related mortality by 29% and 28%, respectively. In fact, researchers determined that every two-point increase in an individual’s MEDLIFE score was associated with a 9% lower risk of both all-cause and cancer-related mortality.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, a dietician and president of KAK Consulting, told Healthline that the results of the study weren’t surprising.

“The Mediterranean diet has been consistently found to reduce the incidence of many chronic conditions. Related to cancer, it shows an example of how a dietary pattern high in nutrient-dense foods can help with overall health and cancer prevention. For example, many of the foods found on the Mediterranean diet are high in polyphenols and flavonoids, which have been found in other studies to play a protective role against certain chronic conditions including cancer,” she said.

Beyond the Mediterranean

While evidence has continued to grow about the salutary effects of the Mediterranean diet, particularly in relation to cardiovascular disease questions have emerged as to its feasibility outside of the geographic region from which it originated. Indeed, an article published just this year simultaneously noted the benefits of the diet, while also raising concern about it: “The requirement for strict adherence to this diet for the best preventative effects is not practical for most people in today’s world. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to realize benefits appear to be significantly diminished when adherence occurs in an episodic nature or when only certain parts of the diet are followed.”

However, the work of Sotos-Prieto and her colleagues published this week further lends credence to the health benefits of not only the Mediterranean diet, but the synergistic effects of the entire Mediterranean lifestyle, even when it is undertaken in a country and culture outside its native geography.

“It is important to recognize that each country has its local habits, food consumption and, thus, food patterns should be culturally adapted to ensure both that it is accepted by the population and that it is feasible within the existing food market,” she said.

“Our study makes an important addition to the literature by showing that adherence to the Mediterranean diet based on locally available products was associated with lower all-cause and cancer mortality and, furthermore, that the overall Mediterranean way of life was also strongly protective of such outcomes.”

Speaking on behalf of the American Cancer Society, Dr. Caroline Um, PhD, RD, Principal Scientist, Epidemiology Research at the ACS, told Healthline “The findings of this study support those of other studies that suggest there are health benefits associated with a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, and adds to the limited evidence that benefits may also extend to non-Mediterranean populations.”

“While the ACS Diet and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer PreventionTrusted Source do not specifically endorse the Mediterranean or any specific diet, they do contain several similar recommendations to the Mediterranean Lifestyle, such as a dietary pattern that includes fruits and vegetables and limits red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as being physically active and limiting sedentary time. In contrast, the ACS Guidelines do not recommend any alcohol consumption for cancer prevention.”

Getting Started

If you’re interested in bringing some of the Mediterranean into your life and your kitchen, Kirkpatrick offers a few simple tips:

  • Find opportunities to obtain nutrient density: go for veggies and hummus or mixed nuts instead of chips.
  • Get five colors in every day. “Doing so means you’re eating more plants and trying a variety of options in turn provides a variety of nutrients.
  • Aim to consume more fiber and add more whole grains to your diet.
  • Limit consumption of processed red meat, sugar, and refined grains.

Healthline also has a handy beginner’s guide to the Mediterranean diet to answer more of your questions.

The Bottom Line

The Mediterranean lifestyle is consistently shown to be one of the healthiest diets in the world. New research indicates that it is associated with significantly lower all-cause and cancer-related mortality.

It is possible to adapt your diet and exercise to more closely resemble the Mediterranean lifestyle, even if you don’t actually live in the region, and you’ll likely reap some of the health benefits.

High blood sugar may raise heart disease risk even if you don’t have diabetes

People with elevated blood sugar levels may have a 30–50% higher risk of developing heart disease, even if their blood sugar levels are below the diabetes threshold. CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images

  • Researchers found that people with elevated blood sugar levels have a 30–50% increased risk of developing heart disease, even if their blood sugar levels are below the threshold for diabetes.
  • The findings show that males were more likely to be prescribed preventive antihypertensive and statin therapies than females, revealing a “prescribing gap.”
  • Healthy blood sugar levels are important for health and energy, and certain factors may spike blood sugar, even when a person does not have diabetes.

Every person needs a certain amount of sugar in their blood to stay healthy and energized.

A person’s blood sugar levels will fluctuate throughout the day depending on what they eat and is also impacted by their age and overall health.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and University College London have found both men and women with raised blood sugar levels have a 30–50% increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease, even if their blood sugar levels are below the threshold for diabetes.

Additionally, researchers reported a potential disparity between the amount of preventive antihypertensive and statin medications prescribed to males and females, suggesting a potential “prescribing gap.”

This study was recently published in the journal The Lancet Regional Health – Europe.

How high blood sugar may be linked to heart disease

Researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank of more than 427,000 UK residents for the study.

About 54% of participants were females and about 46% were males. All participants had different blood sugar levels including:

  • healthy
  • prediabetic
  • diabetic

Dr. Christopher Rentsch, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and lead author of this study explained to Medical News Today:

“We were interested to explore which risk factors drive known sex differences in the risk of heart disease between men and women with diabetes, and whether men or women with moderately elevated blood sugar below the threshold for diabetes are also at increased risk of heart disease.”

Upon analysis and after adjusting for age, the research team found both men and women with moderately elevated blood sugar levels below the threshold for diabetes were at increased risk for any type of cardiovascular disease.

“The finding that moderately elevated blood sugar below the diabetes threshold was associated with (an) increased risk of heart disease was not entirely surprising based on prior research in this area. For example, there is a recognized state of ‘prediabetes’ where blood sugar is elevated but not yet meeting the criteria for a diabetes diagnosis. Prediabetes is known to increase the risk of progressing to diabetes and potentially developing heart disease. Key novel contributions of our work were quantifying the risk of heart disease across a full range of blood sugar levels for both men and women and demonstrating these associations were largely explained by modifiable factors.”

What is considered high blood sugar? 

Sometimes a person’s blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, can become too high. Certain factors may cause a person’s blood sugar to spike, even if they do not have diabetes. These may include:

  • unhealthy diet
  • lack of exercise
  • insufficient sleep
  • stress from illness

There are a few different tests used to determine a person’s blood sugar levels.

One of those tests is the fasting blood sugar test, where a person’s levels are checked when they have not eaten. A fasting glucose reading of 99 mg/dL or below is considered healthy.

Another commonly used test is the A1C test, which measures a person’s average blood sugar levels over two to three months. An A1C test reading of 5.7% or below is considered healthy.

When a person’s blood sugar levels test in ranges above normal, it is considered high blood sugar, medically known as hyperglycemia. High blood sugar can signal either prediabetes or diabetes.

Symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • excessive thirst
  • frequent need to urinate
  • extreme hunger
  • unexplained weight loss
  • tiredness
  • blurred vision
  • headaches
  • mood changes

If left untreated, high blood sugar levels can lead to a variety of health issues, including:

  • nerve damage
  • chronic kidney disease
  • vision issues
  • foot ulcers
  • erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • skin problems

Previous research has also linked high blood sugar levels to an increased risk for certain heart conditions, including stroke and high blood pressure.

 Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about your blood sugar levels and heart disease risk.

Young People Are Having Less Sex Than Their Parents Did at Their Age, and Researchers Are Exploring Why

Young adults aren’t behaving like their parents: They’re not drinking as much, they’re facing more mental health challenges, and they’re living with their parents longer. On top of that, computer games and social media have become a sort of stand-in for physical relationships.

All that means young Californians aren’t having as much sex.

The number of young adults going without sex was rising even before covid made dating harder and riskier. In 2011, about 22% of Californians ages 18 to 30 reported having no sexual partners in the prior 12 months. That crept up to 29% in 2019, and it jumped to 38% in 2021, according to the latest figures from UCLA’s California Health Interview Survey.

Other age groups in California also reported an increase in abstinence, but the trend was not nearly as pronounced.

“Everything happens later,” said San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, author of “Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents—and What They Mean for America’s Future.” She said the numbers reflect how young adults increasingly delay major life events, such as moving out of their parents’ homes and forging long-term romantic relationships.

Singles saw the most dramatic change.

It has long been the case that single people are more likely to report having no sex than married or cohabiting people. But as young adults delay marriage, the gap has widened.

Young adults may be putting off long-term relationships “due to their increasingly economically precarious status or stress related to completing education and looking for jobs,” said Lei Lei, a sociology professor at Rutgers who recently co-authored a paper that examined why fewer young adults are having sex. “They are busy with other domains of life.” Researchers also noted that hundreds of thousands of young adults identify as asexual.

Rising computer use may play a role in the trend. Young adults increasingly form relationships through playing video games with people they do not physically meet, Lei said. These distant relationships sometimes interfere with the formation of sexual relationships.

A Pew Research Center report from 2015 found equal numbers of men and women played video games but that young adult men were more than three times as likely as young adult women to identify as serious “gamers.”

Young adults also have access to endless amounts of free pornography online, a departure from the porn magazines, videotapes, and DVDs many of their parents bought. Much of the most popular online porn features violence or coercion, which gives some young adults a flawed perspective on sex and turns others off it entirely, said Debby Herbenick, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University Bloomington’s School of Public Health.

“Those kinds of behaviors are really, really normalized among young people,” she said, referring to rough sex.

Sex also has a correlation with income. Young adults who make less money were more likely to go without sex than peers making more.

Much recent discourse about lack of sex among young adults has revolved around so-called incels, young men who contend — often in vile, misogynistic terms — that dating apps like Tinder make it easier for women to find conventionally attractive, wealthy, or otherwise high-status men and ignore everyone else.

Erin Tillman, a certified sex educator and executive director of the nonprofit Sex-Positive Los Angeles, said it makes her sad when she hears men blame women for not wanting to have sex with them. She said those men could likely change their perspective and find intimacy.

“They hold the cards in terms of making themselves better,” she said.

The sexless trend has the potential to lower rates of unplanned pregnancy. And it could also reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections, though that has not yet happened.

Herbenick does worry about young adults who want sex but aren’t having it. “It can feel really lonely if you feel like people are rejecting you or wouldn’t be interested in you,” she said.

But Tillman remains optimistic, noting the latest group of young adults, like every new generation, is finding its way and approaching sex differently than their parents.

“I’m not worried, because people are just basically finding different ways to connect with each other,” Tillman said.

Phillip Reese is a data reporting specialist and an assistant professor of journalism at California State University-Sacramento.

Alcohol Kills Men More Often, but Women’s Death Rates Are Catching Up

Women are catching up to men when it comes to dying from alcohol abuse, a new study finds.

Although men are nearly three times more likely to die from alcohol abuse than women, such deaths among women are rising at a faster rate. Between 2018 and 2020, alcohol-related deaths rose 12.5% among men, but jumped nearly 15% among women.

“It’s really concerning,” said lead researcher Dr. Ibraheem Karaye, an assistant professor of population health at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

For the study, he and his colleagues examined data on nearly 606,000 alcohol-related deaths between 1999 and 2020.

Karaye said he can’t say with certainty why this trend is happening. However, he thinks that the obesity epidemic among women may be tied to alcohol-related deaths because it comes with a higher risk of alcohol concentration.

“You are more likely to observe toxicity and develop complications and die as a result of that,” he said.

Moreover, alcohol-related deaths are also compounded by simultaneous opioid use, Karaye added.

“In some alcohol-related deaths, there is a very high chance that individuals do not only consume alcohol but also opiates,” he said. “Studies increasingly show that alcohol and opioid co-involved mortality absolutely exist.”

The researchers also found that among white, Hispanic and Black women, the use of alcohol is on the rise as are alcohol-related deaths. Alcohol-related deaths among women are higher in the South and West than in the Northeast and Midwest, Karaye added.

Linda Richter is senior vice president for prevention research and analysis at the Partnership to End Addiction.

“This study highlights the importance of not losing sight of the risks of alcohol, despite the widespread and deeply-ingrained normalization of its use in our society. With all the focus on opioids like fentanyl, we’ve taken our eye off the real dangers associated with excessive alcohol use, which causes significantly more deaths annually than all drugs,” said Richter, who was not part of the new study.

The harms are not limited to the most extreme consequence of death, she noted. “In recent years, we’ve seen increases in risky drinking, with rates of increase higher among females than males. This narrowing of the long-standing sex gap in risky alcohol use and, as this study shows, mortality, underscores the need to drive more resources to raise public awareness and offer effective and early interventions to stem this tide.”

Along with greater acceptance of alcohol use, including binge drinking and excessive use, some of the risk factors for drinking that are more prevalent in females have increased as well, including stress, anxiety and depression, Richter added.

“And due to physiological sex differences in alcohol’s effects, biological females who drink excessively experience alcohol-related harms more quickly and intensely than males — a fact well known to researchers and clinicians, but not widely understood by the general public,” Richter said.

The narrowing of the sex gap in risky alcohol use is most prominent among younger people, although that does not appear in these mortality data, she said.

“But to reduce these increasing mortality rates in the long term, we must invest in prevention efforts that start early and continue throughout the life span in age-appropriate and research-informed ways,” Richter added.

For more on alcohol and your health, see the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

What to know about bone diseases

Certain conditions or diseases can affect bone strength and flexibility and result in health complications.

Bone is a living, growing tissue that mainly consists of collagen and calcium. Bones provide a rigid framework, known as the skeleton, which protects soft organs and supports the body.

There are two types of bone in the body. Cortical bones are compact and dense and form the outer layer of the bones. Trabecular or cancellous bones make up the bones’ inner layer and are spongy with a honeycomb structure. The bones not only protect the organs from injury but also allow the body to move and provide support. Additionally, bones act as a reservoir for minerals such as calcium.

A person may have a condition or diseaseTrusted Source that affects the flexibility and strength of the bones. These conditions may arise from various sources, including genetics, environmental factors, diet, and infections.

In this article, we will explore some of the diseases that can affect the bones, as well as potential causes and symptoms

Some common bone conditions include:


Osteoporosis is a disease that results in a decrease in bone mass and mineral density. The quality and structure of the bone may also change. Osteoporosis can decrease bone strength and increase the risk of fracturing.

The risk of osteoporosis increases with age and affects people of all ethnic groups. It most commonly affects non-Hispanic white females and Asian females.


Osteopenia refers to a decrease in bone mineral density below a normal level but not low enough for a doctor to classify it as osteoporosis.

A T-score is a measure of bone density. A person with a T-score between -1 and -2.5 will receive a diagnosis of osteopenia, whereas a doctor would classify a T-score lower than -2.5 as osteoporosis. The prevalence of osteopenia is 4 times higherTrusted Source in females compared with males.

Paget’s disease

Paget’s disease is a condition that affects the bone remodeling process. This refers to the action by which the body breaks down old bone tissue and replaces it with new bone tissue. 

In people with this chronic condition, the process of rebuilding bones takes place at a faster rate, resulting in an unusual bone structure. This can either cause the bones to become softer or larger, making them more susceptible to complications such as bending or fractures.

Osteogenesis imperfecta

Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) is a disorder that causes the bones to fracture easily. Some people may also refer to OI as brittle bone disease. The condition results from a change or mutation in the genes that carry information for making a protein known as type I collagen. This protein is necessary for strong bones.

People with a family history of OI have a higher risk of having the disease as a person can inherit the gene mutation through one or both of their parents. There are different types of OI. The most common and mildest type is type I, while type II is the most severe.


Osteonecrosis, also known as avascular necrosis or aseptic necrosis, occurs when there is a disruption to a bone’s blood flow, leading to bone tissue deathTrusted Source. This can cause the bone to break down and the joint to collapse.

While osteonecrosis may occur in any bone in the body, it commonly affects the shoulders, hips, and knees. The condition occurs most often in people aged 20–50 years. These individuals also often have a history of trauma, corticosteroiduse, or excessive alcohol intake.


Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. This condition affects the body’s joints by degrading cartilage, the tissue that covers the surface of joints. Osteoarthritis can also change the shape of bones. Osteoarthritis most frequentlyTrusted Source affects the hands, hips, and knees.


Osteomyelitis describes an infection or inflammationTrusted Source of the bone, with myelitis referring to inflammation of the fatty tissues within the bone. It typically occurs when a bacterial or fungal infection enters a bone from the bloodstream or surrounding tissue. It can happen at any age but is more common in young children.

Fibrous dysplasia

Fibrous dysplasia occurs when abnormal fibrous tissue replaces healthy bone tissue. The unusual scar-like tissue makes the bone weaker. This can cause the bone to change shape and increase the risk of fractures.

Fibrous dysplasia typically occurs due to a gene mutation that results in bone cells producing an abnormal type of fibrous bone. While it can develop in any bone, it occurs most often in the thigh bone, shin bone, ribs, skull, humerus, and pelvis.

Bone cancer and tumors

Bone cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that begins when cells in a bone start to grow out of control. Any of the cells in the bone can develop into cancer.

Primary bone cancers are cancers that start in the bone. The most commonTrusted Source types of primary bone cancers include osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma. Cancer cells can also spread to the bone from other areas of the body. Doctors refer to these as bone metastasesTrusted Source. The most common site for bone metastases is the spine.


Osteomalacia, also known as bone softening, refers to a condition where the bone does not harden the way it should after forming. This metabolic bone disease occurs when there is incomplete mineralization of the bone. Mineralization refers to the process where minerals coat the inner layer of the bone, forming a hard outer shell. The incomplete formation of this shell leaves the collagen soft and vulnerable.


Rickets is a childhood bone condition similar to osteomalacia, but it occurs due to imperfect mineralization.

It results in soft, weak bones, typically due to a vitamin D deficiency. Without sufficient vitamin D, the body cannot metabolize calcium and phosphorous, which are essential for proper bone development and growth. Vitamin D deficiency may result from inadequate nutrition, lack of sun exposure, or malabsorption.

Autoimmune conditions

An autoimmune condition occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own cells, tissue, and organs. Bone diseases can develop secondary to some autoimmune diseases, increasing the risk of complications such as bone loss and fractures. These conditions includeTrusted Source:

  • Type I diabetesPeople with this condition produce minimal or no insulin, meaning the body cannot absorb sugar from food easily. People with type I diabetes have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): This condition can result in widespread inflammation affecting many parts of the body. Some treatment options for SLE may put people at a higher risk of bone loss and fractures.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): This condition causes the body’s immune system to attack the membranes around the joints and causes the cartilage to degrade. There is an increased risk of bone loss and fractures in people with RA. 
  • Celiac disease: This condition causes the body to develop an intolerance to gluten, a protein commonly present in food products such as wheat, rye, and barley. The immune system attacks and damages the lining of the small intestine. A person with untreated celiac disease may develop bone disease due to difficulty absorbing calcium, which is necessary for healthy bones.

Bone disease symptoms can vary depending on the condition, and some may present no symptoms at all. For example, osteoporosis is known as a “silent” disease because there are usually no symptoms until a broken bone occurs.

General symptoms of bone disease may include:

A person may also have symptoms specific to a type of bone disease. For example, someone with osteomyelitis may experienceTrusted Source redness, swelling, and warmth at the infection site.

A person with bone cancer may also experience other symptoms, including weight loss and fatigue, or may have a lump in the area of the tumor.

A number of factors can cause bone disease. Some may be specific to a certain type of bone disease. Causes include:

  • Genetics: A person may have a higher riskTrusted Source of developing a type of bone disease due to a mutation or change in a gene or a history of bone disease in their family. A person may inherit a gene mutation from one or both parents.
  • Aging: As people age, the mineral content of their bones begins to decrease, resulting in the bones becoming less dense and more fragile.
  • Nutrition: A balanced diet is essential for healthy, strong bones. In particular, people need to consume sufficient levels of calcium and vitamin D
  • Problems with bone remodeling: After age 20, a person may experience an imbalance where the body breaks down old bone tissue quicker than it can replace it. This can result in a loss of bone strength and quality.
  • Hormonal changes: Imbalances of certain hormones may increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. For example, low estrogen levels during menopause or low levels of testosterone can increase a person’s risk of osteoporosis.
  • Medications: Certain medications can increase the risk of bone disease development. For example, corticosteroids, thyroid medicines, and drugs that reduce levels of sex hormones can harm bone health.
  • Lifestyle factors: Lifestyle factors including low physical activity levels, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption can predispose a person to osteoporosis.

A person will need to contact a doctor to receive a diagnosis of a bone condition. The doctor will normally start by taking a person’s medical history. This may include questions about how long they have been experiencing any symptoms and whether they have a family history of bone disease.

The doctor may also carry out a physical examination to check for:

  • loss of height or weight
  • change in posture
  • changes in balance or the way a person walks
  • changes in muscle strength
  • any redness or swelling, such as occurs with osteomyelitis

The doctor may also order tests to diagnose the type of bone disease a person has, including:

  • X-ray imaging: The most common type of X-ray imaging a doctor may use is a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan. This uses a low amount of X-rays to measure the body’s bone mineral density.
  • MRI scans: This test uses a magnet to create an image of the body and provides detailed images of bones and other tissues, including cartilage and ligaments.
  • Blood tests: A doctor may orderTrusted Source blood tests to help confirm a bone cancer diagnosis and provide information on the stage of cancer.
  • BiopsyA doctor may take a small amount of bone tissue from the affected area to examine it under a microscope for an accurate diagnosis.

The most appropriate treatment option will depend on the type of bone disease and how serious the condition is.

For example, with osteoporosis and osteopenia, the goal of treatment is to stop further bone loss and prevent fractures from occurring. Therefore, treatment may include:

  • recommending nutritional guidance
  • making lifestyle changes such as performing more physical activity and quitting smoking
  • putting measures in place to reduce the risk of falls to prevent fractures
  • prescribing medication

Some conditions, such as OI, do not currently have effective treatments. Therefore, the goal of treatment is to prevent or control symptoms and improve muscle strength and bone mass. In addition to taking medication, a person with OI may have physical therapy to improve muscle strength and mobility.

Certain conditions may require surgical options. For example, a person with osteonecrosis will generally requireTrusted Source surgery to preserve the joints. A person with a bone tumorTrusted Source may require surgery for its removal.

People with bone cancer may also need additional therapies, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, depending on how advanced the bone cancer is.

It is advisable for a person to contact a doctor if they fracture a bone or experience symptoms such as bone pain. They should also contact a doctor if they notice a change in their posture, height, weight, or movement when walking.

This is important as early detection can prevent the disease from progressing further.

Bone diseases refer to conditions that alter the strength or flexibility of bones. They can result in symptoms such as bone pain, difficulty moving, and a higher risk of bone fractures. These conditions can have many potential causes, including aging, genetics, hormonal changes, and nutritional deficiencies. Lifestyle factors such as low levels of physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption can also increase the risk of bone disease.

A doctor can perform tests to identify bone diseases. After diagnosis, a doctor can suggest a suitable treatment plan, which may include medication, lifestyle changes, and surgery.

Stretch Your Brain as You Age, Lower Your Dementia Risk?

Researchers in Australia found that journaling, using a computer, taking education classes and other “literacy enrichment” activities might lessen the risk of developing dementia by 11%. Playing games, cards or chess and doing crosswords or other puzzles could slash the risk by 9%.

“These findings highlight the types of activities which may be most beneficial to preserve cognitive health with aging,” said lead researcher Joanne Ryan, head of the biological neuropsychiatry and dementia unit at Monash University, in Melbourne.

Other activities linked to a lower risk of dementia included artistic activities, such as craftwork, woodwork or metalwork, and painting or drawing. Even passive activities, such as reading, watching television, and listening to music or the radio helped thwart mental decline, but to a lesser degree.

Interpersonal networks, social activities and outings, however, did not affect dementia risk, the researchers noted.

This study can’t prove that these mental activities actually prevent or delay dementia, only that there seems to be a correlation, Ryan said.

“We can’t show a cause-and-effect relationship,” she said. “But these activities likely help maintain and build neural networks in the brain, and through these activities, we can develop new knowledge and new ways of thinking about things, which we refer to as building cognitive reserve.”

These activities could help people maintain good cognitive function, even if they have some degree of Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia, she said. “They can develop compensatory mechanisms and, thus, don’t develop dementia until later,” Ryan explained.

It is possible there are other reasons for the findings, Ryan said. “Although we accounted for things like differences in education and socioeconomic status, as well as health status, it is possible that people who engage regularly in these mental activities are different in other ways that we haven’t been able to account for, which explains why they have reduced dementia risk,” she said.

It’s unlikely that mentally stimulating activities can completely prevent dementia but they might delay its onset, Ryan added.

“Continued learning and engagement in new activities which challenge and stimulate the mind may be the best way to help promote good cognitive function with age,” she suggested.

One expert agreed that keeping your brain active can help keep it healthy.

“Music, art, other activities, crossword puzzles, things like that absolutely help reduce the transitioning into dementia,” said Dr. Theodore Strange, chairman of medicine and a gerontologist at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City.

“Even plaque buildup may slow over time if you continue to do these cognitive activities that use the brain,” he said.

The brain isn’t a muscle, Strange said, but like a muscle, it can atrophy if not used. It’s not clear, however, how mental activity protects the brain, he noted.

Still, “a healthy lifestyle, an active lifestyle, a lifestyle filled with activities that utilize the brain are important to keep the brain functioning for as long a period of time as you can,” Strange added.

For the study, Ryan and her colleagues collected data on more than 10,300 men and women with a median age of 74 (half younger, half older), who took part in the ASPREE Longitudinal Study of Older Persons. All were in relatively good health. From March 2010 through November 2020, the researchers looked at the participants’ lifestyles and who developed dementia.

The report was published online July 14 in JAMA Network Open.

For more on keeping your brain healthy, head to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Medical Myths: All about stroke

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, over 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year, and around 610,000 are first strokes.

In 2019, stroke was the leading cause of mortality globally, accounting for 11% of deaths.

There are three main types of stroke. The first and most common, accounting for 87% of cases, is an ischemic stroke. It occurs when blood flow through the artery that supplies oxygen to the brain becomes blocked.

The second is a hemorrhagic stroke, caused by a rupture in an artery in the brain, which in turn damages surrounding tissues.

The third type of stroke is a transient ischemic attack (TIA, which is sometimes called a “ministroke.” It happens when blood flow is temporarily blocked to the brain, usually for no more than 5 minutes.

While stroke is very common, it is often misunderstood. To help us dispel myths on the topic and improve our understanding, we got in touch with Dr. Rafael Alexander Ortiz, chief of Neuro-Endovascular Surgery and Interventional Neuro-Radiology at Lenox Hill Hospital.

1. Stroke is a problem of the heart

Although stroke risk is linked to cardiovascular risk factors, strokes happen in the brain, not the heart.

“Some people think that stroke is a problem of the heart,” Dr. Ortiz told MNT. “That is incorrect. A stroke is a problem of the brain, caused by the blockage or rupture of arteries or veins in the brain, and not the heart.”

Some people confuse stroke with a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage in blood flow to the heart, and not the brain.

2. Stroke is not preventable 

“The most common risk factors [for stroke] include hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, trauma to the head or neck, and cardiac arrhythmias,” said Dr. Ortiz.

Many of these risk factors can be modified by lifestyle. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet can reduce risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes.

Other risk factors include alcohol consumption and stress. Working to reduce or remove these lifestyle factors may also reduce a person’s risk of stroke.

3. Stroke does not run in families 

Single-gene disorders such as sickle cell disease increase a person’s risk for stroke.

Genetic factors including a higher risk for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors may also indirectly increase stroke risk.

As families are likely to share environments and lifestyles, unhealthy lifestyle factors are likely to increase stroke risk among family members, especially when coupled with genetic risk factors.

4. Stroke symptoms are hard to recognize 

The most common symptoms for stroke form the acronym “F.A.S.T.“:

  • F: face dropping, when one side of the face becomes numb and produces an uneven “smile”
  • A: arm weakness, when one arm becomes weak or numb and, when raised, drifts slowly downward
  • S: speech difficulty, or slurred speech
  • T: time to call 911

Other symptoms of stroke include:

  • numbness or weakness in the face, arm, leg, or one side of the body
  • confusion and trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • difficulty walking, including dizziness, loss of balance and coordination
  • severe headaches without a known cause

5. Stroke cannot be treated 

“There is an incorrect belief that strokes are irreversible and can’t be treated,” explained Dr. Ortiz.

“Emergency treatment of a stroke with injection of a clot busting drug, minimally invasive mechanical thrombectomy for clot removal, or surgery can reverse the symptoms of a stroke in many patients, especially if they arrive to the hospital early enough for the therapy (within minutes or hours since the onset of the symptoms),” he noted.

“The longer the symptoms last, the lower the likelihood of a good outcome. Therefore, it is critical that at the onset of stroke symptoms — ie. trouble speaking, double vision, paralysis or numbness, etc — an ambulance should be called (911) for transport to the nearest hospital,” he continued.

Research also shows that those who arrive within 3 hours of first experiencing symptoms typically have less disability 3 months afterward than those who arrived later.

6. Stroke occurs only in the elderly 

Age is a significant risk factor for stroke. Stroke risk doubles every 10 years after age 55. However, strokes can occur at any age.

One study examining healthcare data found that 34% of stroke hospitalizations in 2009 were under age 65.

A review in 2013 points out that “approximately 15% of all ischemic strokes occur in young adults and adolescents.”

The researchers noted that stroke risk factors including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, lipid disorders, and tobacco use were among the most common co-existing conditions among this age group.

7. All strokes have symptoms 

Not all strokes have symptoms, and some research suggests that symptom-free strokes are far more common than those with symptoms.

One study found that out of the over 11 million strokes in 1998, 770,000 presented symptoms, whereas close to 11 million were silent.

Evidence of these so-called silent strokes appears on MRI scans as white spots from scarred tissue following a blockage or ruptured blood vessel.

Often, silent strokes are identified when patients receive MRI scans for symptoms including headaches, cognitive issues, and dizziness.

Although they occur without symptoms, they should be treated similarly to strokes with symptoms. Silent strokes put people at risk of future symptomatic strokes, cognitive decline, and dementia.

8. A ministroke is not so risky

“The term ministroke has been used incorrectly as some think that it is related to small strokes that carry low risk,” said Dr. Ortiz. “That statement is incorrect, as a ministroke is a transient ischemic attack (TIA).”

“It is not a small stroke, but a premonition that a large stroke can occur. Any symptom of acute stroke, transient or persistent, needs emergency workup and management to prevent a devastating large stroke,” he added.

9. Stroke always causes paralysis 

Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability, but not everyone who has a stroke will experience paralysis or weakness. Research shows that stroke leads to reduced mobility in over half of stroke survivors aged 65 and over.

However, the long-term impacts of stroke vary on many factors, such as the amount of brain tissue affected and the area affected. Damage to the left brain, for example, will affect the right side of the body and vice versa.

If the stroke occurs in the left side of the brain, effects may include:

  • paralysis on the right side of the body
  • speech and language problems
  • slow and cautious behavior
  • memory loss.

If it affects the right side of the brain, paralysis may also occur, this time on the left side of the body. Other effects may include:

  • vision problems
  • quick and inquisitive behavior
  • memory loss.

10. Stroke recovery happens fast

Recovery from stroke can take months, if not years. However, many may not fully recover. The American Stroke Association says that among stroke survivors:

  • 10% will make an almost complete recovery
  • another 10% will require care in a nursing home or another long-term facility
  • 25% will recover with minor impairments
  • 40% will experience moderate to severe impairments

Research suggests there is a critical time window between 2–3 months after stroke onset, during which intensive motor rehabilitation is more likely to lead to recovery. Some may also be able to spontaneously recover during this period.

Beyond this window, and beyond the 6-month mark, improvements are still possible although are likely to be significantly slower.


Cancer is one of our nation’s most feared diseases, with more than 1.6 million new cases diagnosed each year. But thanks to National Institute of Health (NIH) research, this number is now falling. Between 1991 and 2014, #cancer death rates went down 25 percent.

NIH research has transformed the way we think about cancer from affecting specific parts of the #body to a much more precise understanding of the molecular cause. For example, the drug pembrolizumab is one of a new class of cancer drugs that works by engaging a patient’s immune system to attack his or her tumors. Doctors already use this drug to treat some patients with several specific cancer types, including lung cancer and head and neck cancer. And, very recently, it became the first cancer therapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat any type of tumor, regardless of its location in the body, as long as the tumor has specific genetic features that make it much more likely to shrink after treatment with the drug. This is just one example of how genomics has revolutionized our understanding of cancer (see Precision Oncology, p.18).

Despite gains, there is much work to do. Many clinical trials are testing new targeted treatments, as well as combinations of different cancer therapies. With other federal agencies, NIH is participating in the Cancer MoonshotSM, a bold initiative to accelerate cancer research that aims to make more therapies available to more patients while also improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage.

Good Health for All

Many people in America are more likely to get certain #diseases and to die from them, compared to the general population. One of NIH’s greatest challenges is to understand and eliminate profound disparities in health outcomes for these individuals. We know the causes of health disparities are many. They include biological factors that affect disease risk; but most of the causes turn out to be non-biological factors such as socioeconomics, culture, and environment. Teasing apart health outcomes that differ among racial/ethnic groups is providing clues. For example, NIH research shows that among cigarette smokers, African Americans and Native Hawaiians are more susceptible to lung cancer than Whites, Japanese Americans, and Hispanics. Scientists are also intrigued by the “Hispanic paradox,” in which U.S. Hispanics often experience similar or better health outcomes across a range of diseases compared with non-Hispanic Whites. Understanding this advantage may help us identify contributing factors and effective interventions.