Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

Don’t travel without medical information

August 11, 2001


As an emergency medical technician in a resort town, I'd like to suggest that people keep their medications with them in the original bottles so they can be easily identified. You'd be amazed how many patients we see who have put all their meds into a single large bottle or into a weekly dispenser.

Someone who is confused or unresponsive cannot tell us what medicine they are taking, and often family members can't help. It would be useful for people with medical conditions to carry with them the following information: the patient's full name; home address; age or date of birth; name, address and phone number of doctor; medical history; allergies to meds; complete list of current medications with dosages.

In an emergency, having this information in one place makes life easier for the ambulance crew, the patient and the family.

Thank you for these lifesaving recommendations. No one plans to become ill while on vacation, but it does happen. The summary you recommend would be a great help, even at home.

I thought you only got heart disease if you had high cholesterol. My friend, a woman 53 years old, had a heart attack even though her cholesterol was 141 (HDL 49, triglycerides 124 and LDL 67). There's no heart disease in her family, she did not smoke, and she had low blood pressure. And yet she is scheduled for open heart surgery because she has four blocked arteries. Is there anything she could have taken to protect herself? I don't want to have a similar experience.

Half of all heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol levels. Clearly, cholesterol is not the only factor determining heart disease.

Another risk that has been recognized is homocysteine. High levels of this amino acid, produced when meat is digested, are associated with clogged arteries. To control homocysteine, people might need more folic acid, vitamin B-12 and vitamin B-6 than they get in their diets.

We are sending you our "Guide to Cholesterol and Heart Health," which discusses homocysteine, cholesterol and other cardiac risks. Others who would like a copy should send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. C-8, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

My husband drinks two to three mugs of coffee daily. He contends that this is no big deal and that lots of folks drink a lot more than that.

I know he's addicted. When he doesn't get his daily coffee ration he is irritable, lethargic and gets sleepy in the afternoon. He also complains of an upset stomach and is taking more and more Pepcid. Is it bad for him to be so dependent on caffeine?

A mug of coffee can contain as much as 200 mg of caffeine. Two or three of these can amount to a big dose resulting in such symptoms as heartburn, anxiety, muscle twitches, heart palpitations, frequent urination and insomnia.

Your husband's digestive woes might improve if he cuts back on caffeine, but he shouldn't do so suddenly. Many people experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, headache, drowsiness and fatigue when they miss their regular dose of caffeine. Just two or three cups a day can trigger dependence in some individuals, who suffer if they stop suddenly.

I'm concerned about my daughter's sleep. This summer she has a part-time job in the afternoon, and she is never up much before noon. She and her friends stay up late talking on the phone, and when I suggest she should be going to sleep earlier so she could get up before lunchtime, she says she can't get to sleep. We fight about this quite a bit.

I worry that when school starts she will have great difficulty adjusting her schedule so she can catch the school bus at 7:15. I certainly don't want her to start relying on medication to sleep every night, though. What do you think of herbs that are supposed to promote sleep? Would they be safe for a teen-ager?

Teen-agers are often sleep-deprived. Their body clocks don't conform well to school schedules. Although they might need more than eight hours of sleep, they frequently don't get sleepy until the wee hours. Stimulating activities with friends or watching movies can make matters worse.

Ask your daughter to draw up a plan to make the transition for rising early. If she needs herbal help getting to sleep, valerian for several weeks might be an option. To make sure that you get a reliable product, check a recent report at

We are sending you our "Guide to Getting a Good Night's Sleep" for other suggestions. Other who would like a copy should send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. I-70, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Last year I had toenail fungus. I started treating it with tea tree oil applied with a cotton swab twice a day. It took six months, but the fungus cleared up and hasn't returned.

Tea tree oil has antifungal properties. Diligent use can be effective, but keep the concentrated oil away from skin, as it can be irritating.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, N.Y. 10017, or e-mail them via their Web site,

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