Health & Fitness

July 30, 2013

Prep at home to slash risk of hospital infections

Scheduled for surgery? You’re no doubt thinking hard about what to do before and after to support optimal healing. Just in time, a series of good-news reports reveal that simple steps at home — and with your doctor’s help — can slash infection risk, bolster immunity, reduce pain and help you recover better.

Scheduled for surgery? You’re no doubt thinking hard about what to do before and after to support optimal healing. Just in time, a series of good-news reports reveal that simple steps at home — and with your doctor’s help — can slash infection risk, bolster immunity, reduce pain and help you recover better.

Case in point: Post-surgery infections hit as many as 10 percent of patients, leading to longer hospital stays, more drugs and slower healing. But we know as many as 85 percent of staph infections after heart and joint replacement surgeries come from bacteria the patient brought with them. So having your doctor test your nose for staph bacteria a week or so before surgery is smart. If you’re a carrier, the doc can have you swab your nose with an antibacterial ointment in the days before surgery and then provide a staph-busting antibacterial wipe two hours before surgery. Those precautions cut the risk of self-infection by 71 percent for staph and 59 percent for other infections.

Another smart move: Relaxing before your procedure. It can reduce pain and the amount of pain medication you need by 36 percent. That, in turn, can help you heal faster. We like progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises that tame tension by focusing your attention on each slow, easy inhalation and exhalation. Try doing it in the days and hours before surgery to reduce levels of stress hormones and cool post-surgery inflammation; you’ll heal more quickly.

But don’t stop there. Try guided imagery after surgery. Use your imagination to picture oxygen and nutrients infusing wellness and healing throughout your internal repair zone, including the skin. It’s been proven to help people achieve good knee stability after joint surgery, boost levels of skin-mending collagen after gallbladder removal and reduce pain after heart valve and other cardiac operations.

Clean up the smart way: Before you leave for the hospital, take a bath or shower. Use an antibacterial wash or wipe if your doctor recommends it, then put on clean underwear, socks and clothing that hasn’t been worn since being laundered. But leave your hairy chin, legs and underarms alone. Stop shaving 48 hours before surgery. Tiny nicks and irritation can invite bacteria inside. If hair is slated to be removed for surgery, ask your doctor or nurse to use clippers or a depilatory instead of a razor, or to skip the hair removal altogether.

Eat right, exercise regularly. Every cell in your body is made from the foods you eat, so give it the building blocks it’ll need for healing: Five to nine servings of fruits and veggies a day, 100 percent whole grains and DHA omega-3 rich salmon and ocean trout are a good start. Also, cut back on foods packed with saturated fat. Eating a diet that’s low in fat, with no sugar or syrup added and that has only 100 percent whole grains can lessen inflammation after surgery, helping you heal faster.

Add 30 minutes of daily walking, proven to keep immunity strong. Can’t walk? Upper-body exercises, using bands or an arm cycle and chair-based exercise can do the trick for you.

Aim for normal blood sugar levels before, during and after surgery. If you have diabetes or prediabetes, effective blood sugar control helps lower infection risk.

Kick the butts. Tobacco use boosts your odds for a post-surgery lung infection and may slow healing. Plan to start breathing free eight weeks before surgery.

Stop some supplements, and tell all. Your doctor will advise you about which medications and over-the-counter remedies to stop before surgery. Make sure you ask about DHA omega-3 and baby aspirin (in some specific situations, it’s good to keep taking them) and also about any herbs you use. Plenty of botanicals can interfere with healing. For example, gingko and ginseng may cause bleeding; St. John’s wort may increase or decrease the effects of medications given to you during or after your procedure. It’s smart to stop two weeks before your appointment in the operating room.

Cool heat rash

Heat rash is a common skin irritation that’s associated with steamy, hot weather. If you’ve noticed small, itchy, prickly red bumps or blisters forming where your sweat accumulates (under the breasts, in folds of skin around the neck, groin, armpits and creases of the elbows) you may be prone to heat rash. Adults get it too — not just babies.

It may come from having an extra dose of a common skin-dwelling bacteria called Staphylococcus epidermidis. The bacteria produce a slightly sticky substance, and when combined with sweat and dead skin cells, it can clog your pores, and that rash appears. But heat rash isn’t an infection — not unless you scratch it and break the skin, allowing bacteria to get in and start trouble. In fact, with a few smart steps, the rash usually will go away quite quickly. And you can keep it from coming back:

1. Avoid heavy creams in vulnerable areas. Use cornstarch or talc-free powder to keep areas dry. And try calamine lotion to ease the itch.

2. Wear light, absorbent cotton or wicking materials that draw moisture away from the skin. And avoid skin-tight clothing. Skinny jeans can become itchy jeans.

3. Take a cool bath or shower without harsh soaps, and dry off thoroughly.

4. If the rash doesn’t fade in three to four days, see your doctor.

Stand tall for weight loss

Good posture is not just about appearing to be slimmer; if you’re overweight, improving your posture can help you shed unwanted pounds. It takes effort to maintain good posture, and that burns calories. It also improves respiration, which improves blood flow and revs your metabolism. Now you’re burning even more calories.

Here’s how to stand straight. (Hint: Try this with or without a book on your head.)

1. Keep the top of your head straight up toward the sky.

2. Relax your shoulders and keep them down and back.

3. Don’t jut your chin forward or tuck it in; keep it parallel to the floor; your neck should be upright, not tilted.

4. Your abdominals should be engaged; not straining, but working to keep you aligned.

5. Distribute your weight evenly over your hips and legs.

Advergames target kids

These days, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on cleverly packaged ads for junk food. They’re served up on websites, Twitter, Facebook and other social-media platforms and reach your kids through their computers, cellphones and tablets. The latest? Super-sweet cereal brands have launched online advergames. These digital amusements may seem entertaining, but really they’re insidious ways to get kids hooked on products filled with added sugars and additives. Take a look at if you think we’re kidding.

That’s why we’re on a campaign to get you — Mom and Dad — to help your kids stay healthy by learning to resist junk-food marketing that targets them. Talk to your kids about the sneaky and deceptive ads that target them. Make them aware of the ads’ power to cultivate a “gotta have that” feeling that’s in their worst interest. Create your own game: Make your child a “try to pull the wool over your eyes ad” detective and reward him or her for spotting them. Take the TV out of their bedroom. Unsupervised viewing erases your ability to help your child evaluate what he or she is seeing. Establish times to play outside and set strict limits on time spent on digital devices and computers, except for studying.

Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

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