Three health-care pros share their answers to their patients' common questions.
Q: My aunt had lupus. Is it hereditary, and what are my chances of getting it?
Dr. Dana Jerome, rheumatologist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto says:
"Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects approximately one in 1,000 Canadians, most commonly females between the ages of 15 and 45. In simple terms, when the immune system mistakenly produces antibodies against the body's own tissue, it can cause inflammation in the skin, joints, kidneys, brain and other systems. Symptoms vary depending on what organ or system is impacted but typically include swollen joints, pain in the chest when breathing and ulcers in the mouth and nose. Although there is no cure, various medications work to treat and control the disease. It's a complex illness, with age, ethnicity, gender and family history being factors that can determine whether it develops. Studies have shown that 0.4 to five percent of close relatives of lupus patients—a parent or sibling—may themselves develop lupus. While this may sound frightening, the odds of not having lupus when someone else in the family has it are at least 95 percent or greater."
Q: Should I be concerned about hypertension when I enter menopause?
Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto says:
"Hypertension occurs when blood pressure gets too high—140/90 or above, while 130/85 is considered prehypertension. Over time, hypertension damages the walls of the blood vessels, allowing plaque to accumulate, narrowing the arteries and, potentially, leading to cardiovascular diseases and kidney damage. Hypertension used to be a concern mainly for older women after menopause; what's alarming is we're seeing more cases with people as young as in their 20s, due to a diet high in processed foods and salt, being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle and experiencing disrupted sleep. A woman's blood pressure can vary across her lifespan and increases with age; the lowest readings are from puberty to menopause, with a possible spike during pregnancy or when using a contraceptive pill."
Q: Do you have any tips for seasonal allergy relief at this time of year?
Dr. Eric Leith, allergy specialist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto says:
"Spring allergens usually include tree and mould pollens, while reactions to grass and weed pollen can begin early in summer, depending on the climate and length of season. Pollen can trigger a host of symptoms, including itchy eyes, a runny nose, congestion and sneezing. Another common allergen is the fungus alternaria, which can cause hay fever or lead to asthma. There are nonmedical solutions to provide some relief from pollen allergies, such as minimizing exposure to the outdoors and keeping windows in your home and car closed and the air-conditioning on. Many prescription medications, such as antihistamines, anti-allergy eyedrops and intranasal steroid sprays, may be considered. If you have additional concerns or need further help, your physician can refer you to an allergy specialist."