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  • January 14, 2022

    By Allison Larson, MD

    Whether you’re a winter sports enthusiast or spend the season curled up by the fireplace, the low humidity, bitter winds, and dry indoor heat that accompany cold weather can deplete your skin’s natural moisture. Dry skin is not only painful, uncomfortable, and irritating; it also can lead to skin conditions such as eczema, which results in itchy, red, bumpy skin patches. 

    Follow these six tips to prevent and treat skin damage caused by winter dryness.

    1. Do: Wear sunscreen all year long.

    UV rays can easily penetrate cloudy skies to dry out exposed skin. And when the sun is shining, snow and ice reflect its rays, increasing UV exposure. 

    Getting a sunburn can cause severe dryness, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. Snow or shine, apply sunscreen before participating in any outdoor activity during the winter—especially if you take a tropical vacation to escape the cold; your skin is less accustomed to sunlight and more likely to burn quickly.

    The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.

    That being said, if you are considering laser skin treatments to reduce wrinkles, hair, blemishes, or acne scars, winter is a better time to receive these procedures. Sun exposure shortly after a treatment increases the risk of hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), and people are less likely to spend time outside during the winter.

    Related reading: 7 Simple Ways to Protect Your Skin in the Sun

    2. Do: Skip products with drying ingredients.

    Soaps or facial products you use in warm weather with no issues may irritate your skin during colder seasons. This is because they contain ingredients that can cause dryness, but the effects aren’t noticeable until they’re worsened by the dry winter climate.

    You may need to take a break from:

    • Anti-acne medications containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
    • Antibacterial and detergent-based soap
    • Anything containing fragrance, from soap to hand sanitizer

    Hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, which contains a high level of skin-drying alcohol, cannot be avoided; we need to maintain good hand hygiene to stop the spread of germs. If your job or lifestyle requires frequent hand washing or sanitizing, routinely apply hand cream throughout the day as well.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen a lot of people develop hand dermatitis—a condition with itchy, burning skin that can swell and blister—due to constant hand washing. Sometimes the fix is as simple as changing the soap they're using. Sensitive-skin soap is the best product for dry skin; it typically foams up less but still cleans the skin efficiently.

    3. Do: Pay closer attention to thick skin.

    Areas of thin skin, such as the face and backs of your hands, are usually exposed to the wind and sun the most. It’s easy to tell when they start drying out. But the thick skin on your palms and bottoms of your feet is also prone to dryness—and tends to receive less attention.

    When thick skin gets dry, fissures form. You’ll see the surface turn white and scaly; then deep, linear cracks will appear. It isn’t as pliable as thin skin. When you’re constantly on your feet or using your hands to work, cook, and everything in between, dry thick skin cracks instead of flexing with your movements. 

    To soften cracked skin, gently massage a heavy-duty moisturizer—such as Vaseline—into the affected area once or twice a day. You can also talk with your doctor about using a skin-safe adhesive to close the fissures and help them heal faster.

    Related reading:  Follow these 5 Tips for Healthy Skin

    4. Don’t believe the myth that drinking more water will fix dry skin.

    Contrary to popular belief, the amount of water or fluids you drink does not play a major role in skin hydration—unless you’re severely dehydrated. In the winter, especially, dry skin is caused by external elements; it should be treated from the outside as well. 

    The best way to keep skin hydrated and healthy is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment—not lotion—to damp skin after a shower or bath.
    Some people need additional moisturizers for their hands, legs, or other areas prone to dryness.

    While some lotions are made better than others, most are a combination of water and powder that evaporates quickly. Creams and ointments work better because they contain ingredients that can help rebuild your skin barrier. 

    Look for products with ceramide, a fatty acid that helps rebuild the fat and protein barrier that holds your skin cells together. The AAD also recommends moisturizing ingredients such as:

    • Dimethicone
    • Glycerin
    • Jojoba oil
    • Lanolin
    • Mineral oil
    • Petrolatum
    • Shea butter

    For severely dry skin, you can try a “wet wrap” technique:

    1. Rinse a pair of tight-fitting pajamas in warm water and wring them out so they’re damp, not wet.
    2. Apply cream or ointment to your skin.
    3. Put on the damp pajamas, followed by a pair of dry pajamas, and wear the ensemble for several hours.

    Dampness makes your skin more permeable and better able to absorb hydrating products. If the wet wrap or over-the-counter products aren’t working for you, talk with a dermatologist about prescription skin hydration options. 

    Drinking more water isn’t the answer to dry winter skin. The best solution is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment directly to damp skin. Get more cold weather #SkinCareTips from a dermatologist in this blog:
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    5. Don’t confuse skin conditions with dryness.

    Skin conditions are often mistaken for dry skin because peeling or flaking are common symptoms. Redness of the skin or itching in addition to dryness and flaking indicates a skin condition that may need more than an over-the-counter moisturizer.

    Skin cells are anchored together by a lipid and protein layer (like a brick and mortar wall). With very dry skin, the seal on this wall or barrier is not fully intact and water evaporates out of the skin’s surface. The skin will become itchy and red in addition to scaly or flaky. If you experience these symptoms, visit with a dermatologist.

    6. Don’t wait for symptoms to take care of dry skin.

    Be proactive—the best way to maintain moisture is to apply hydrating creams and ointments directly to your skin on a regular basis. Start by applying them as part of your morning routine. Once you get used to that, add a nighttime application. And carry a container of it when you’re on the go or keep it in an easily accessible location at work.


    You can’t avoid dry air, but you can take precautions to reduce its harsh effects on your skin. If over-the-counter products don’t seem to help, our dermatologists can provide an individualized treatment plan. Hydrated skin is healthy skin!

    Does your skin get drier as the air gets colder?

    Our dermatologists can help.

    Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment

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  • December 24, 2018

    By Allen J. Taylor, MD

    The holidays offer us time with friends and family, and sometimes even vacations from work. But one thing we have noticed over the years is that the holidays and winter months also correspond with increased risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to a 2017 study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    Cold weather can cause your blood vessels and arteries to shrink, restricting blood flow and reducing oxygen to the heart. As a result, your heart has to pump harder—which can cause your blood pressure and heart rate to increase. These factors can make individuals more vulnerable to heart disease and other heart conditions.

    We see this firsthand at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, as we are much busier around the holidays. In fact, we see about 50 percent more heart attacks in the winter. And, alarmingly, more people die of heart related causes on Christmas and New Year's Day, than any day during the year. While these numbers aren’t meant to scare anyone, they serve as a good reminder for us to take time this winter to stay on top of our heart health.

    The #holidays are a time to enjoy time with friends and family. However, it's also a time to give your #hearthealth special attention, as it can be more prone to increased risk of #heartdisease. via @MedStarWHC @TaylorMHVIcard

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    Heart Conditions Associated with Winter Holidays

    Holiday Heart Syndrome

    Binge drinking during the holiday season creates increased heart risk known as holiday heart syndrome, in which patients develop atrial fibrillation (A-fib), an irregular rapid heart rate that has symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness. Alcohol causes A-fib, through triggers such as:

    When uncontrolled, A-fib can cause heart failure as the irregular fast heart rhythm can make it more difficult for the heart to pump blood throughout the body.

    Studies show that moderate to high alcohol intake causes A-fib in people over 65 with existing cardiovascular disease or diabetes. And binge drinking increases the risk of A-fib  similar to habitual heavy drinking for those who consider themselves moderate drinkers.

    Heart Failure

    We also see more heart failure at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute during the winter months. This matches the experience in other areas of the country. A study 20 years ago examined the number of visits for heart failure to 18 different emergency departments in New Jersey and New York from Dec. 1 to Jan. 31 each year.

    Comparing the average daily visits during a two-week window between Christmas and New Year’s Day, there was about a 23 percent increase in daily visits from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7, about a 33 percent increase from Dec. 26 to Dec. 29, and a 30 percent increase from Jan. 2 to Jan. 5.

    Tips for Good Heart Health This Winter

    Some common tips we provide patients—especially around the winter holidays—to maintain a healthy heart include:

    • Avoid binge drinking: Men should try drinking no more than two drinks a day, while women should drink no more than one to avoid any health implications.
    • Avoid stress, if possible: Low stress levels promote good heart health. The holidays can overwhelm us with to-do lists: holiday parties, gift-giving, or making travel plans. Making plans in advance and getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night help control your stress levels. Make sure you seek medical attention if these simple tips aren’t helping.
    • Don’t avoid care: People tend to be busier during the holidays. And from my experience, this can delay them from seeking medical attention. Although some clinics have limited hours during the holidays, your local emergency room, or prompt care, can help. MedStar Health has a large network of prompt care sites in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
    • Follow a Mediterranean diet: This diet encourages healthy food choices including fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, grains, poultry, and eggs. The Mediterranean diet provides the best-studied and most evidence-based diet to prevent heart disease.

    Staying top of your heart health all year long included increased heart awareness during the winter months and around the holidays. I hope that these tips bring you heart health this holiday season and all year long!

    Call 202-877-3627 or click below to make an appointment with a cardiologist.

    Request an Appointment

  • December 22, 2018

    By MedStar Health

    Once you do someone a favor, it may be easy to turn down their attempt to repay you. However, allowing a person to thank you often makes them feel better.

    For instance, when a neighbor or friend wants to return your favor of mowing their lawn or giving them a ride to work, it can be natural to feel uncomfortable and tell them not to worry about it. But if you sincerely thank them for their appreciation or take them up on their offer to “repay” you, it can benefit them. Think of it like a double-sided scale where, when someone does something for you, it tips the scale. It’s in our nature to want to keep this scale balanced by returning favors.

    In fact, we worked with a research program at Georgetown University, where half the were instructed to graciously respond to patients’ gratitude, while keeping the other half of the students totally out of the study. We found that patients who were seen by the students in the study felt more respected than patients seen by the students who were not involved in the study.

    Related Reading: Three Tips to Help You Feel Thankful— Beyond the Holidays

    How to Return Favors

    Accepting people’s favors starts with knowing how to give them ourselves. The next time someone does you a favor, make sure you respond in ways that:

    • Are specific: Whether you’re doing it verbally or through a thank you note, don’t only thank them, but let them know specifically how it helped you. It makes your message seem more genuine.
    • Offer something in return: Try inviting the person over for dinner or giving them a small gift to show your appreciation.
    • Say how it made you feel: Explaining how it makes you feel sends an impactful message that helps the recipient understand how much they helped you, and it makes them feel good.
    Returning people’s #Favors is an important way to feel better ourselves. When thanking them, make sure you are specific, say how it made you feel, and don’t downplay their favor. Learn more via @MedStarHealth

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    Common Ways to Return Favors

    Giving thanks is different for everyone, as some people have to do something more meaningful to find balance. Some of the easiest and most common ways to give thanks include:

    • Giving a heartfelt expression, such as a hug or a sincere “thank you”
    • Giving a gift
    • Writing a thank you note

    Allowing others to return our favors is important, as it gives both parties the chance to feel good. Next time you do someone a favor, make sure you give them the chance to repay you.

    Would you like to thank a MedStar Health associate for making a positive impact on your life or a loved one’s life? Express your gratitude by sharing your story on the MedStar Health Facebook page using the hashtag #GratitudeMatters.

    Share Your Story

    If you’d like to partner with our grateful patients, families, and friends who are committed to MedStar by making a gift online, visit this page.

  • December 18, 2018

    By Vadim V. Morozov, MD

    In most women, the endometrium—the mucous membrane lining the uterus—grows inside the uterus and sheds during the monthly period. But in women with endometriosis, the endometrium starts to grow outside the uterus, on the surface of the bladder and intestines and all around the pelvic organs.

    As a result, women with endometriosis experience symptoms that can range in severity from hardly noticeable to debilitating pain. Common symptoms include:

    • Constant dull to severe pelvic pain from inflammation
    • Cramping
    • Digestive problems, such as diarrhea or nausea
    • Heavy menstrual periods
    • Pain during sex
    • Painful urination
    • Subfertility, or difficulty becoming pregnant

    Fortunately, treatment is available to reduce these life-altering symptoms. Let’s discuss common questions women ask about endometriosis and how medical advances are changing the way we approach diagnosis.

    LISTEN: Dr. Morozov discusses endometriosis treatment in the Medical Intel podcast.

    How is endometriosis diagnosed?

    We can make an initial diagnosis by listening to a patient describe her symptoms and by conducting a physical exam. But to be 100 percent sure, we must perform minimally invasive surgery and do a biopsy of any endometrial lesions, or tissues that have been damaged by the culprit disease.

    The cause of endometriosis is unknown, but we know genetics can play a role. For example, if a woman’s mother, sister, or aunt had endometriosis, she is at a higher risk of developing it herself. Some studies also claim that environmental factors, such as organic pollutants in the atmosphere, also affect the development of endometriosis. However, we do not yet have conclusive results.

    How is endometriosis treated?

    Endometriosis is very unlikely to go away on its own. Thankfully, treatment can radically reduce symptoms for many patients. We typically start with medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, or birth control pills that control hormonal fluctuations in the body. However, most patients don’t find enough relief with medication alone and eventually opt for minimally invasive surgery to remove the endometriosis. This procedure is performed through incisions in the belly that are less than an inch in length.

    It’s important to seek treatment for endometriosis as soon as you notice symptoms. That way, we can work to control the endometriosis before it can spread to other organs in the pelvis and abdomen. Additionally, the symptom of pelvic inflammation has led researchers to speculate that there could be an association between endometriosis and endometrioid-type ovarian cancer, or when endometrioid tumors develop in the ovaries. There is no direct link, but some researchers are studying whether particular endometriomas— ovarian cysts containing thick, brown fluid—could lead to endometrioid-type cancer.

    It’s important to not let go endometriosis go untreated, as it can spread beyond the pelvic area and harm a woman’s #GI tract. Thankfully, minimally invasive surgery can help. via @MedStarWHC

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    What is recovery like after endometriosis surgery?

    Patients usually feel substantial symptom relief within six months after surgery. During the first six to eight weeks, patients might be sore from the procedure. Then, the endometriosis pain starts to dwindle. The severity of pain during recovery varies from patient to patient.

    I have an honest discussion with my patients in anticipation of the treatment option she chooses. It’s important to note that the goal of surgery or medication can’t realistically be to make a woman 100 percent pain-free, but to control her symptoms so she can function normally with minimal pain.

    You tell us: Have you undergone successful endometriosis treatment? Tell us about your experience on Twitter or Facebook.

    What advancements can improve treatment in the future?

    There are a couple exciting areas of research regarding endometriosis right now. One is the development of biological markers for the disease, which would allow doctors to diagnosis it without doing surgery. The markers are made by drawing patients’ blood or doing a saliva test. The tests would go to a laboratory and determine whether there’s a good chance someone has the disease. It’s still in the research phase, but the results so far are promising.

    Other research includes the development of better visualization tools for surgery. We often go into laparoscopy with a small camera that’s placed in the abdomen and pelvis, and there is a risk that we might miss a lesion because our eyes alone can’t always recognize them in the pelvis. As a result, researchers are working on camera filters that allow for better visualization during laparoscopic surgery.

    MedStar Washington Hospital Center is one of the largest and best equipped medical facilities on the east coast. Our group at the National Center for Advanced Pelvic Surgery has multiple urogynecologists and specifically-trained female urologists that specialize solely in endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain.

    If you experience endometriosis symptoms, don’t wait to seek treatment. Our endometriosis specialists offer initial diagnosis, second opinions and ongoing care for chronic pelvic pain.

    Call 202-877-3627 or click below to make an appointment with a doctor.

    Request an Appointment

  • December 14, 2018

    By MedStar Health

    We all know how good it feels to receive gifts or words of affirmation. However, it can be easy to forget that giving to others makes us feel just as good, if not better.

    When considering giving, imagine a double-sided scale in which weight can be applied to either side depending on whether you receive or give an act of kindness. When the receiving side is heavy, it’s important that you balance the scale back out.

    For example, one patient at MedStar Washington Hospital Center loved to read but found all of the magazines near his room to be outdated. One of his nurses noticed this and took a trip to the store to buy new ones. The patient was ecstatic—this simple gesture meant the world to him. And you can imagine how good it made the nurse feel to see him so grateful.

    Acts of kindness have been proven to increase happiness levels, studies show. Learn more in the #LiveWellHealthy blog via @MedStarHealth
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    The Benefits of Giving

    When we give to others, whether it’s volunteering, giving gifts on the holidays, or complimenting others, we can experience several benefits, including:

    • Increased happiness: Those who spend money on others rather than themselves feel happier, according to studies.
    • The ability to inspire others: We’ve noticed that people on the receiving end of gifts typically want to pay it forward.
    • Making an impact: When you give a meaningful gift or experience to someone, you can make an impact in their life by uplifting them. Moreover, volunteering allows you to impact numerous people at once, whether you’re donating food to the homeless or helping build homes.

    Some people feel as though they can’t give due to a lack of money. But giving is more about the intent and time you provide someone else. No matter how you provide for someone, it all comes from wanting to help others. In fact, many of our volunteers do so because they've had an experience that impacted them or a loved one—it’s their way of balancing the double-sided scale.

    Giving During the Holidays

    The holidays are a common time to consider giving. And in the rush of preparing for events and gifts for your family and friends, you can feel as though you have a lot to do.

    You can benefit from taking time to consider the things you’re grateful for and then expressing this feeling through the way you help others. When you do this, giving becomes less of “I have to do this,” and more of “I want to do this.”

    Related Reading: Four Tips to Help You Feel Thankful— Beyond the Holidays

    Whether you have $20 or $20,000 to spend, remember that it’s the thought and time you spend on gifts that is most important. Some common inexpensive ways to give during the holidays include writing heartfelt, personalized cards and simply spending quality time with your loved ones.

    Giving can be an important way to boost your own happiness while helping others. Whether it’s through volunteering or gift-giving during the holidays, make sure it is a priority this year.

    Has MedStar Health had a positive impact on your life or that of a loved one? Express your gratitude by sharing your story with us today!

    Share Your Story

    If you’d like to partner with our grateful patients, families, and friends who are committed to MedStar by making a gift online, visit this page.

  • December 11, 2018
    Diarrhea is a menace in the form of hard-to-control bowel movements and loose, watery stools three or more times per day—quite the hassle when you’re at work, traveling, or doing everyday activities. Other unpleasant diarrhea symptoms include:
    • An urgent need to use the bathroom
    • Inability to control bowel movements
    • Nausea
    • Stomach pain
    But along with being annoying, severe diarrhea can dehydrate the body, leading to further health complications, such as low blood pressure or fainting. Diarrhea comes in two forms: acute and chronic. The conditions have similar symptoms, but much different implications for patients. Acute diarrhea lasts for less than two weeks and gets better on its own. It’s usually a sign of an infection, food poisoning, lactose intolerance, or gastroenteritis. Chronic diarrhea can last much longer and can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, or C. difficile infection. Most acute cases can be managed at home, but severe diarrhea warrants a visit with the doctor. Let’s discuss how to manage diarrhea and the tell-tale signs of when to go see your doctor.

    5 ways to overcome diarrhea

    1. Stay hydrated

    There are over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions sold in pharmacies, but I always suggest to patients an easy way to make it at home. Mix six teaspoons of sugar, one-half teaspoon of salt, and a half-gallon of water in a container and drink it throughout the day. The sugar and salt help your body absorb water better, which keeps you better hydrated.

    2. Consider taking zinc supplements

    Zinc been shown to reduce the severity and duration of diarrhea, especially in children. This is used more commonly in developing countries, but something to keep in mind if you’re having ongoing acute diarrhea.

    3. Eat a healthy diet

    I advise my patients to eat a healthy, nutritious diet full of plant-based protein, increased yogurt intake, and additional prebiotic foods. These nutrients can restore the beneficial bacteria that diarrhea causes your body to flush out.

    4. Avoid antibiotics

    Antibiotics could be used to treat diarrhea, but most times they can do more harm than good. Antibiotics can disrupt the microbiome, or the trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi found primarily in a person's gut, and can cause more long-term symptoms. Plus, they can cause antibiotic-associated diarrhea from irritation or changes to the colon bacteria and even cause an infection with C. difficile. I reserve antibiotic treatment for those patients for whom it’s the only feasible treatment, such as for a proven, serious infection.

    5. Consider taking probiotics

    If I do prescribe an antibiotic, I typically recommend eating yogurt, which includes Lactobacillus, a natural probiotic that reduces the severity and duration of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Keep in mind, most probiotic supplements are not FDA regulated, so buying a probiotic and expecting big results could be a shot in the dark. Fermented foods are an excellent source of prebiotics as well and a great addition to your daily food intake. Examples of such foods are sauerkraut, kombucha tea, tempeh (made from fermented soy beans), and miso (a Japanese seasoning made from soybeans fermented with koji, which is a natural fungus. Prebiotics are foods that feed the good bacteria in our gut. You can find prebiotics in plant-based foods such as dandelion greens, onion, garlic, leeks, and common foods like asparagus, green unripe bananas, oats, and barley.

    When to seek treatment

    Even when taking preventative measures, there are times, what I call “red flag symptoms,” when a person should visit their doctor, such as when there are:
    • Nocturnal stools or waking up in the middle of the night to have a bowel movement
    • Signs of blood in the stool
    • Symptoms of weight loss, fevers, or night sweats
    • Times when diarrhea occurs even without eating, or on an empty stomach
    I remember treating a young woman who had been on antibiotics many times for sinusitis and urinary tract infections, and she was suffering with chronic diarrhea. After tests from her primary care provider showed no obvious conditions, we gave her a breath test and discovered she was suffering from small bowel bacterial overgrowth. After initially treating her with a non-absorbable antibiotic (we had to in order to get rid the overgrowth), we helped the patient improve her diet with more plant-based foods, adding prebiotic foods, and probiotics. Her condition vastly improved in the following months. For most patients, the first step in diagnosing the cause of chronic diarrhea is a stool study to uncover undiagnosed infections or diseases. The doctor also might conduct lab work to identify any conditions, such as anemia or abnormal liver numbers. If your doctor identifies any underlying conditions, you might need further testing. For example, an endoscopy may be necessary so we can take biopsies of the small bowel. Sometimes, a colonoscopy may be necessary if there’s blood in the stool or ongoing nocturnal stools, as it could show inflammatory bowel disease or microscopic colitis. Diarrhea can make everyday activities a hassle, but it also can signify a more serious condition. If you’re suffering from severe or chronic diarrhea, see your doctor for help right away.