‘Handle with care’, they are humans too

‘Handle with care’, they are humans too

In December 2003, when Chinmay Dharmesh Modi was 9, his parents discovered that they were suffering from AIDS. It was like a bolt from the blue. The situation became turbulent for Chinmay’s family, whereas he was too young to realise the implications of the disease.

“My mother had a gynaecological problem, and so her doctor referred her for a few medical tests. Everything seemed to be perfect, except the HIV test. The doctor, for his re-confirmation and satisfaction, called my mother for s second time,” Chinmay, now 23, told IANS.

“The doctor later revealed that her HIV Test was positive. Everyone was shocked with the report — later, my father and I, too, were found to be HIV positive,” he added.

Chinmay, young as he was, grew terrified, being unable to understand why everyone who visited them was screaming and crying loudly. He refers to that phase as the worst of his life.

An HIV-infected person can additionally suffer from mental health problems. When one’s immune system is damaged by HIV, some infections tend to easily affect the nervous system.

“Apart from destroying the immunity system of the body, depression is most common among HIV-positive people. It all starts with a sense of disbelief when tested positive and then the patient loses all hope, leading to panic and fear,” Gorav Gupta, Director, Tulasi Healthcare, New Delhi, told IANS.

“Many people living with HIV are at an increased risk of developing mood swings, cognitive or anxiety disorders,” Gupta added.

The consequences of stigma and discrimination against HIV positives are wide-ranging. Some people are shunned by their family and friends, or by their community. Many others face poor treatment in healthcare and educational settings.

Chinmay recalled how he was thrown out of school when the authorities learned that he was HIV positive. But later, due to pressure from an NGO, Gujarat State Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, the school had to take him back.

“Even when I was back to school, I was secluded by my teachers and friends. I used to be all alone most of the time,” Chinmay rued.

“Even the doctors exploited and discriminated against us. My parents, who suffered from weak eyesight, are now blind due to negligence and late treatment by doctors, and it shook me,” he said.

Strong-willed Chinmay, who is now an Executive Member representing Youth and Adolescents living with HIV in the National Coalition of People Living with HIV in India (NCPI+), was also the victim of ex-pulmonary tuberculosis a few years back during his graduation.

“There is a need to create awareness and bust myths to prevent stigmatisation of such individuals as well as their families. We also need to develop an empathetic attitude and offer our support to them,” Samir Parikh, Director, Department Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, told IANS.

Firoz Khan, the NCPI+ National Coordinator, said: “HIV positive people are as normal as others and we are not demanding any special status. The society should treat us with respect and dignity, as it will enable more people to come forward and live a normal life.”

Chinmay, who is currently a professional social worker, has also worked with some big names, including late President A.P.J Abdul Kalam, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the South African Cricket Team and veteran actress Sharmila Tagore. He also represented India at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in Sri Lanka (2007) and Bangladesh (2016).

To remove the social stigma over AIDS, people need to be educated about the myths and actual causes of the disease, Chinmay noted.

“One of the best ways to fight stigma and empower ourselves against HIV is by speaking out openly, honestly and loudly about who we are and what we experience. Doing this will make you feel happy, fresh, healthy and energetic,” Chinmay asserted.


Keep a check on diabetes to avoid visual impairments

Keep a check on diabetes to avoid visual impairments

Diabetes, if not checked in time, may lead to serious eye problems that may even lead to blindness in later life, health experts have warned.

High blood sugar from diabetes is associated with damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, which leads to diabetic retinopathy.

“Diabetes mellitus causes blindness by many mechanisms such as retinopathy, cataract formation (whitening of the lens of the eye), glaucoma (elevated eye pressure) and eye blood vessel blockage,” Md. Ashraf Ganie, Associate Profesor, Endocrinology and Metabolism, AIIMS, New Delhi, told IANS.

The serious eye problems caused by diabetes may show no symptoms or mild vision problems, but eventually it may cause blindness,” he added.

“People with a long duration of uncontrolled diabetes are prone to retinal damage, which may cause either PDR (Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy), CSME (Clinically Significant Macular Edema — the build-up of fluid in the macula, the vision area at the centre of the retina) or Proliferative Vitreoretinopathy. It can further lead to retinal thickness, retinal detachment and blindness,” Mihir Raut, Physician and Tutor Diabetology at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, told IANS.

“Diabetic retinopathy includes swelling in the macula. It can affect either of the genders. Risk increases with increasing age, though it is more dependent on duration and control of diabetes,” said Ritesh Narula, Consultant, Retina and Uvea services, Centre for Sight.

Diabetic retinopathy is an ocular manifestation of diabetes, a systemic disease that affects up to 80 per cent of all patients who have had diabetes for 10 years or more.

Women who develop or have diabetes during pregnancy may also see the rapid onset of diabetic retinopathy.

According to experts, the condition of diabetic retinopathy can develop in anyone who has Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, but mostly people with Type 1 diabetes are at the higher risk.

Initially there are no symptoms of early diabetic retinopathy. It may depend on the system and organ involved. Most of the diabetic patients are advised to have their eyes checked by an eye specialist on a regular basis.

“The symptoms come in an advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy when one starts experiencing blurring of vision which cannot be corrected by glasses or sudden loss of vision,” Neeraj Sanduja, Senior Consultant, Opthalmology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute here, told IANS.

Apart from eye problems, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart problems, stroke, genitourinary problems, nerve damage, foot problems, skin diseases, sexual problems and depression.

Sometimes people with diabetes don’t realise that they have the disease until they begin to have other health problems like heart disease, eye complications, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problems, skin complications, dental disease, erectile dysfunction and the like,” Mudit Sabharwal, Consultant Endocrinologist at Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute (PSRI) here, told IANS.

Laser treatment is usually very effective against diabetic retinopathy for preventing vision loss if it is done before the retina has been severely damaged. Surgical removal of the vitreous gel (vitrectomy) may also help in improving vision if the retina has not been severely damaged.

“Diabetic retinopathy can be treated with laser or injections in the eye. Advanced cases may need vitreoretina surgery,” Narula added.

Diabetic complications can be prevented by maintaining a good lifestyle, such as maintaining blood glucose values in the normal range by diet, exercise, medication, self-monitoring of blood glucose and yearly screening and a complete body check-up, including the eyes and heart.

“There is no satisfactory treatment for diabetic retinopathy. The key lies in prevention (by good glucose control) and early detection by annual fundoscopic examination by a qualified eye specialist,” Ganie added.

Birth control pills may increase the risk of stroke: Experts

Birth control pills may increase the risk of stroke: Experts

Apart from obesity, birth control pills and additional factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or diabetes may put women at increased risk for the most common type of stroke, health experts suggest.

Oral contraceptives increase the risk of ischemic strokes, caused by a blood clot that blocks or plugs a blood vessel in the brain.

“Women who take birth control pills are slightly at higher risk of stroke as a result of the high estradiol content in these contraceptive pills, which also increases the risk of blood clots,” Vipul Gupta, Additional Director, Neurointervention Surgery, and Co-Director, Stroke Unit, Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon, told IANS.

“The risk also increases for a woman during pregnancy as the increased blood pressure puts stress on the heart. Also migraine can cause chances of stroke three times up in women,” Satnam Singh Chhabra, Head Neuro and Spine Surgeon, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, added.

Women who smoke are also advised against taking birth control pills as this may increase the risk of a stroke.

Stroke is a serious medical emergency causing premature death and disability. It occurs when blood flow to an area of brain is cut off; brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die.

“A stroke occurs when blood supply to a part of the brain is suddenly cut off. The brain cells in the immediate area begin to die because they stop getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function,” Gupta explained.

Apart from the ischemic stroke, there is the hemorrhagic stroke caused by a blood vessel that bursts and bleeds into the brain.

“Rheumatic heart disease and atrial fibrillation in younger females is emerging as major cause of strokes,” M.G. Pillai, Head of the Cardiology Department at Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, told IANS.

When brain cells die during a stroke, the abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost.

The treatment for stroke may also depend on its type. An ischemic stroke in many cases can be reversed through medicines but only if it is detected within three hours of its occurrence. Treating a hemorrhagic stroke involves finding the cause of bleeding in the brain and controlling it.

“Depending on the damage and overall health of a patient, one can regain the lost abilities to some extent through rehabilitation and medicines,” Chhabra explained.

Unlike ischemic strokes, hemorrhagic strokes aren’t treated with antiplatelet medicines and blood thinners because these medicines can worsen the bleeding.

Advanced scans, such as CT angiography, perfusion imaging and MRI are also done to evaluate the site of blockage and quantify the extent of the brain that can be salvaged.

Gains can happen quickly or over the time depending on various factors like the area of the affected part, how much is affected and the patient’s motivation. The most rapid recovery usually occurs during the first three to four months of a stroke.

“The cure for a stroke depends on the amount of area damaged. If the damage is fatal then it may take months to heal and if the damage is normal, the patient may recover within a week or two,” Kishan Raj, Consultant Neurologist at IBS Hospital, Faridabad, explained.

According to experts, 80 per cent of all strokes are preventable. This starts with managing key risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, atrial fibrillation and physical inactivity.

Strokes are life-changing events that can affect a person both temporarily or permanently.

After a stroke, successful recovery will often involve specific rehabilitative activities such as speech therapy, physical therapy to help a person re-learn movements and coordination along with occupational therapy to help people improve their ability to carry out routine daily activities.

Men can also get osteoporosis

Men can also get osteoporosis

Long thought to be a “women’s disease”, osteoporosis can affect men too because apart from the hormonal changes around menopause, factors such as low testosterone levels, sedentary lifestyle choices, excessive consumption of alcohol and smoking or tobacco-use can also contribute to the disease, health experts suggest.

Osteoporosis, which causes bones to become weak and brittle, affects more women because they tend to have thinner bones than men. Moreover, it is also known that as women reach menopause, their vulnerabilities to the disease go up because estrogen, a hormone in women that protects bones, decreases sharply during this time.

“Though women are more prone to osteoporosis it is also found in men, and testosterone being low in levels or deficient, low levels of vitamin D and calcium, lifestyle habits that include smoking, alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise are the primary factors to blame,” Rana K. Chengappa, Clinical Director, Sports Medicine, AktivOrtho, an orthopaedic, neurological and gynaecological rehabilitation centre here, told IANS.

A recent study by researchers at Harvard Medical School found that visceral, or deep belly, obesity is a risk factor for bone loss and decreased bone strength in men.

“It is important for men to be aware that excess belly fat is not only a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes, it is also a risk factor for bone loss,” one of the researchers, Miriam Bredella, told a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Osteoporosis is a serious disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone or makes too little bone. As bones become less dense, they weaken and are more likely to break.

“Osteoporosis mean holes in the bones. This weakening of bones may increase the risk of fractures. The disease itself, though silent, can result in fractures of important bones like hips, spine and wrists,” Sanjay Agarwala, Head-Orthopaedics and Traumatology, P.D. Hinduja National Hospital, Mumbai, explained.

There are many health problems such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney or liver disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis that can also increase the risk of osteoporosis.

“Many health problems like blood disorders, digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders and neural disorders may increase the risk of osteoporosis. Usage of high dosage of certain medicines for a long time may also reduce the bone mineral density,” Pradeep Moonot, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai, noted.

While some of the risk factors for osteoporosis, such as body type, family history and age, are beyond our control, the experts suggested that there are several ways to prevent and control osteoporosis such as getting involved in physical activities, yoga, dancing and aerobics.

“Weight-bearing exercises such as running, jogging, walking, climbing stairs and yoga help a lot in reshaping our bones,” said Vinay Gupta, Head of Department and Senior Consultant, Orthopaedics, Saroj Super Speciality Hospital here.

“Your diet should include low fattening dairy products like toned milk, yogurt and low-fat cheese, fresh fruits and green vegetables,” Chengappa added.

The trouble with osteoporosis is that it is a silent disease and one gets to know only after suffering a fracture after a trivial fall or after a backache investigation that reveals a compression fracture of the spine.

“One of the ways to detect it is to do a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test which gives us information on bone density,” Chengappa said.
“Women who have achieved menopause and men beyond 70 need to take special precautions to avoid falls,” said Raman Kant Aggarwal, Team Orthopedics, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute in the capital.

The experts also warned that as osteoporosis often limits mobility, it may also lead to feelings of isolation or depression in long-term sufferers.

Heart failure not as life-threatening as heart attack: Experts

Heart failure not as life-threatening as heart attack: Experts

Heart failure may be a serious health hazard but not life-threatening like a heart attack, health experts say.

“Heart failure refers to the heart’s inability to circulate blood through the body. Blood flow is slower than normal, which compromises the blood flow to the vital organs of the body like kidneys, liver and brain, leading to the malfunction of these organs,” Subhash Chandra, Chairman, Cardiology, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi, told IANS.

Heart failure is not similar to a heart attack and it is important for people to understand the difference, the experts said.

“Heart failure refers to the condition wherein the blood pumping capacity of the heart is reduced. Heart attack is secondary to blocked coronary circulation. Blood supply to muscles of heart is cut or drastically reduced,” Salil Shirodkar, Interventional Cardiologist at Mumbai’s Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, told IANS.

According to the experts, two types of heart dysfunctions can lead to heart failure — systolic heart failure and diastolic failure.

Systolic heart failure is the most common cause of heart failure and occurs when the heart is weak and enlarged and the muscle of the left ventricle loses some of its ability to contract or shorten, whereas diastolic failure is when the muscle becomes stiff and loses some of its ability to relax.

As a result, the affected chamber has trouble filling with blood during the rest period that occurs after each heartbeat.

Heart failure is caused by many conditions that damage the heart muscle, including coronary artery disease (CAD), heart attack, cardiomyopathy — disease of a heart muscle.

“The main causes of heart failure are blockages in the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart leading to heart attacks, weakness of the heart muscles either because of unknown reasons or because of some infection, drugs, diabetes, etc.; high blood pressure is also one of the main causes of heart failure,” Vishal Rastogi, Head of Department, Heart Failure Clinic, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, told IANS.

Heart failure can also occur with heart defects present at birth or congenital heart defects.

“Children with congenital heart defects often have slower growth and development and they may be smaller than other children of the same age. They may also have life-long problems with learning difficulties,” Shantala Vadeyar, Group Medical Director, Department of Fetal and Maternal Medicine, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Mumbai, told IANS.

Early symptoms of heart failure are fatigue and shortness of breath. These affect daily activities such as walking, climbing stairs or carrying groceries.

The warning signs associated with heart failure includes acute shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, accumulation of excess fluid in body tissues, tiredness, fatigue, nausea, lack of appetite and an elevated heart rate.

“Basically your heart tries to compensate for its lack of strength by beating more often to help deliver a sufficient amount of blood to your tissues and organs,” Chandra explained.

However, heart failure can be prevented by having proper diet, daily exercise, swimming, jogging, adequate sleep, and minimising stress and tension.

Diabetic or hypertensive patients should be more careful; they should always take the medications as prescribed by the doctor.

“As of now there’s no known cure for heart failure, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent a weak heart from getting weaker,” Chandra said.

“Controlling hypertension, regular medical follow-up with doctors, non-smoking and alcohol consumption in moderation and lifestyle modifications with an effective mix and match of diet, along with daily exercise, are the key to preventing heart failure,” Shirodkar added.

For children with congenital heart defects, it is not all bad news, as some of these defects may be treatable.

“Many congenital heart defects (CHD) can also be treated and children can lead a normal life. It is important that CHD should be detected in the developing baby so that doctors can counsel parents to help them prepare for possible outcomes and surgical interventions,” Vadeyar said.

Surgery may also sometimes prevent further damage to the heart and improve its functioning.

Obesity may hamper your sexual and social life: Experts

Obesity may hamper your sexual and social life: Experts

Obesity is a major health challenge worldwide. Apart from known health hazards such as heart disease and diabetes, it can also prevent sexual intimacy and may ruin your social life, experts say.

India is home to the third-highest number of obese and overweight people, according to recent reports.

Obesity is categorised on the basis of BMI, which is defined as the body mass divided by the square of the body height and is universally expressed in units of kg/m2, resulting from mass in kilograms and height in metres.

Obesity is often associated with laziness and a sedentary lifestyle, which may often percolate into sex lives as well. In men, it also significantly decreases the time they can maintain an erection.

Men who are obese tend to have lower levels of testosterone — the male sex hormone — that helps in development of male sexual organs and strong bones. The reduced levels of this hormone may at times lead to erectile dysfunction.

“Obesity is directly linked to hormonal imbalance and lower testosterone levels, which, in turn, can inhibit sexual desire in men,” Tarun Mittal, Consultant Surgeon (Laparoscopic and Bariatric Surgery), Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, told IANS.

“The increased body fat leads to more sex hormone binding globulins (SHBG) in the system. SHBG is a natural chemical that binds to testosterone, which means that there is less of the sex hormone left to handle the demands of a normal sex life,” Mittal added.

Also, obesity increases the risk of developing a number of serious health conditions, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, sleep apnea, gallstones, other heart disease and various types of cancer.

“Obesity can lead to heart problems, breathing difficulties, joint problems and sudden cardiac death,” Ashish Bhanot, Chief Bariatric Surgeon, Apollo Spectra Hospitals, New Delhi, told IANS.

“With a high risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, obesity may also take an emotional toll, as some may experience depression, feelings of social isolation, discrimination and an overall lower quality of life,” Bhanot added.

Further, apart from the physical intimacy, obesity may also affect the social life, as overweight or obese people are more prone to being bullied, humiliated or ostracised. They are also more likely to engage in bullying behaviour.

The fear of bullying may also lead them to exercise less and stay indoors.

Obesity is directly related to presence of excess fat in the body. Sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, excess consumption of sugars and carbohydrates and lack of exercise are the main causes of the increasing numbers of obesity cases.

However, only a limited number of cases are due primarily to genetics, medical reasons, or psychiatric illness.

“Obesity creates a negative self-image. An individual feels demotivated and there’s lack of self-confidence. Such people are unable to accept their weight and their size can leave them sleeping single in a double bed,” Deep Goel, Director (Department of Bariatrics) and Gastrointestinal Onco Surgeon, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, told IANS.

Successful weight-loss treatments can help in fighting obesity. This may include making dietary and lifestyle changes, such as eating fewer calories and getting involved in physical activities.

Surgeries through laparoscopic or robotic approach are also performed for weight loss. Obesity surgery works by helping to reduce the number of calories that are available in your body. Surgery is the only available method for morbidly obese patients.

Bariatric surgery is recommended for people with a BMI of 40 or more or if they have a serious health problem related to their obesity. Bariatric surgery also helps in reducing 70-80 per cent of excess within 6-9 months.

Most of the experts say that the natural way of reducing obesity is by controlling the diet and exercising.

“The best way to overcome obesity is by making certain positive lifestyle changes, exercising and adopting a proper fat-loss diet. A healthy lifestyle eventually helps to overcome diseases and enhances the quality of life,” Rachit Dua, a Delhi-based advanced certified fitness coach and nutritionist, told IANS.

“Saturated fats do not make you fat, excess of sugar and carbohydrate does. So it is generally advised to strictly stay away from sugars and trans fats. Also, do not over-exert your body with exercise, gradually increase the intensity,” Dua suggested.

Rejuvenate yourself with serenity, peace in the nature’s lap

Rejuvenate yourself with serenity, peace in the nature’s lap

Break the monotony and get out of your hectic city life to explore the silence and solace of nature amid glorious mountain peaks. In the land of the Himalayas, there are many places to rid yourself of stress and truly search for peace.

Kasol, located 42 km east of Kullu district between Bhuntar and Manikaran in Himachal Pradesh is a beautiful remote village situated in the Parvati valley, some 230 km from state capital Shimla.

The mesmerising view of the valley, complete with beautiful mountain peaks, pine trees, colourful flowers and the breezy wind gave me goosebumps once I touched base at Kasol. The snow clad-mountain peaks looked so calm and peaceful.

Kasol has many things to offer — from trekking to camping to different types of cuisine, as well as shopping from the local market.

Apart from its scenic beauty the local people of Kasol are also very warm and welcoming to visitors.

Kasol is also famous as the ‘Mini Israel’ of India because of the large number of tourists from the West Asian country. The locals say they come to Kasol to unwind after finish their compulsory military service in Israel.

This influx has seen an explosion of restaurants and shops catering catering to their needs. Thus, one can easily get a variety of Israeli foods in Kasol.

To check this out, I ventured into the Sasi restaurant, situated on the banks of River Parvati. I glanced through the menu and ordered Shakshouka — an Israeli dish made of poached eggs in tangy tomato gravy along with hummus and pita bread served with a glass of fresh watermelon juice. Quite a treat it was.

Apart from from the amazing hospitality, Kasol is also trending on social media sites for its long and short distance trekking options for casual walkers and the hardcore ones — and even a combination.

There is, for instance, Tosh, a village on the slope of a mountain 18 km from Kasol, that involves a 16 km walk on a bumpy trail and a two km hike.

With its small population, the village can be explored within a day. It also provides a 360 degree view of the Parvati Valley and one can sit back and enjoy the beautiful view and sunset. It was even more vibrant than a smoky party.

Another trek is from Tosh to Kheerganga, 2,960 meters above sea level. This is a moderate trek of 14 km and takes fit and regular travellers about six to seven hours. The place remains snow-covered during whole winters.

At the highest point, there is a little pool with natural hot spring water. According to the locals, it is believed to be “holy” and also has healing powers. The pool is divided into two sub-pools separately for men and women.

On the way to Kheerganga, the village of Nakthan and the temple of Rudra Nag are ideal places to take short breaks. The sunrise and sunset are a must watch in the mountains. The sound of chirping and giggling birds, the silence of the valley and the majestic view of those snow covered peaks will surely rejuvenate you.

Then, a short distance night trek to Chalal after dinner is a must do for all those travelling to Kasol. It takes around 20-30 minutes and it is advisable to carry a torch for a better view and safety on the road.

Unlike other popular hill stations which offer equally majestic views, Kasol appears to be much more serene and tranquil.

So, get your bags packed and start exploring Kasol and the region around it. You will surely not regret doing so.


* How to reach: Alight at Bhuntar, which is well connected from Delhi and Chandigarh by bus. You can take bus or taxi from Bhuntar to Kasol.

* One can also take a flight from Delhi to Bhuntar.

* Places to visit: Camping near Parvati river, treks to Chalal, Tosh and Kheerganga.

* Where to stay: From budget home-stays to costly hotels and resorts, one can easily find various options to stay in Kasol in the Rs 300 to Rs 4,000 price ban.

* Summer is the best time to visit.

(Picture Courtesy: Khushi Verma)