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Health Capsules
December 2005
Dizzy for the Holidays

For many people, the end of the year is filled with trips to the shopping mall to buy presents for the holidays. For those with balance disorders, the thought of shopping malls and the dizzy spells they bring can be scary.

Shopping malls provide a lot of visual stimuli: skylights, big window displays, people rushing around and multiple floors that make you look over balconies. For some people, these sights can be very challenging.

According to Dr. Joseph Furman at the University of Pittsburgh, the brain of someone with a balance disorder may incorrectly process all this visual information. They can become overwhelmed and feel unsteady, giddy and woozy, or have a sensation of movement, spinning or floating. The disorientation they feel can sometimes cause a panic attack.

Some people with balance disorders avoid going to crowded shopping malls altogether and instead shop online or by catalog. But in many cases, balance disorders can be successfully treated.

Several diseases and disorders can contribute to balance problems, and treating the underlying problem can improve or cure the balance disorder. Your doctor can also refer you to a specialist who can design a personalized program of balance retraining exercises involving head and body movements.

Scientists continue to work toward a better understanding of balance disorders and to test new treatments. One grant from NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, for example, was awarded to the University of Pittsburgh to create a virtual environment to teach people with balance disorders how to adapt to complex environments.

If you have a balance disorder, see your doctor about it. Bring a written list of symptoms, along with a list of all the medications you’re taking, to help the doctor make a diagnosis and recommend the right treatment.

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  Taking Medication for Weight Loss  

A new study shows that, for those taking the weight-loss medication sibutramine (Meridia®), a program of diet, exercise and behavioral therapy leads to significantly greater weight loss than the medication alone. The study confirms that lifestyle modification plays an important role in any weight loss program, whether it involves medication or not.

Researchers supported by NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) randomly assigned 224 obese adults to four groups: 1) lifestyle modification; 2) lifestyle modification plus weight-loss medication; 3) weight-loss medication plus brief physician-mediated therapy; and 4) weight-loss medication alone.

The lifestyle modification therapy group had thirty 90-minute group meetings during which participants were instructed to complete and share weekly assignments such as keeping daily food and activity records. The combined therapy group received medication and lifestyle modification therapy. The medication with brief therapy group met with physicians 8 times for 10-15 minutes, where they were given assignments like those in the above groups. The medication alone group also met with physicians but were only given general information on diet and exercise. All groups were given the same diet and exercise plan.

After one year, patients in the combined therapy group lost an average of about 26 pounds—more than double the weight loss seen with medication alone (11 pounds). Almost 3 out of 4 people, 73%, of those in the combined group lost 5% or more of their initial body weight, compared to 56% of those in the brief therapy plus medication group, 53% of those in the lifestyle modification alone group and 42% of those in the medication alone group.

Improving your eating and physical activity habits are the first line of treatment for obesity. For those having trouble losing enough weight to improve their health, weight-loss medications can help. But these medications are most effective, this study confirms, when they’re used along with a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity rather than instead of them.

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Real Men. Real Depression:

Depression affects an estimated 6 million men each year. But men are often reluctant to recognize, acknowledge and seek treatment for their depression. Read and hear personal stories of depression from real men with varied backgrounds, learn more about depression and find out how to get help. From NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health.

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