Preeclampsia Awareness Month

Preeclampsia is a serious disorder that occurs during pregnancy, typically after 20 weeks gestation and, in rare instances, up to six weeks into the postpartum period. The condition can endanger the lives of both mother and baby. It is rapidly progressive and characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Among the symptoms to watch for are swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision.

The cause of preeclampsia is still not fully understood, but here are some possible risks:

  • Being a first-time mom
  • Previous experience with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia
  • Being younger than 20 years and older than age 40
  • Obesity or having a BMI of 30 or greater
  • Carrying multiple babies
  • Sisters and mothers that had preeclampsia
  • Having high blood pressure or kidney disease prior to pregnancy

A Security Blanket While Expecting

No, it’s not one of those blankets you have to drag everywhere like your little one might do. Instead, Future Moms (Anthem) and Healthy Pregnancies, Healthy Babies® (Cigna) were created as a resource for information and reassurance you might need while expecting your baby.

Through your participation in either program you can focus on your well-being, the health of your baby and earn a gift card to help with those new baby purchases. When you complete the program, you’ll be eligible to receive:

  • A $500 gift card if you enroll by the end of your first trimester
  • A $100 gift card if you enroll by the end of your second trimester

Each pregnancy is different, and brings its own set of questions or concerns. With registered nurse coaches and a 24/7 NurseLine, you’ll have access to qualified professionals who will listen to your inquiry and provide advice and guidance whether it’s your first bundle of joy or fourth. To access either program, call the toll-free number on your ID card.

Risky Behaviors & Mental Health

When you hear the title Risky Business, it is likely the movie classic comes to mind first. Mental Health Month (MHM), however, is using the theme to connect the dots between habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or worsening mental illnesses. Here are some examples of the connection of such behaviors to mental health – and while some may sound a bit strange, they’re habits to keep in mind when diagnosing a mental disorder.

Of course, not every form of mental illness is a result of risky behavior. Mental health problems may also be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation and mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal.

With proper care and treatment many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental illness or emotional disorder. Here are a few Pearson resources as well as other information where you can find support should you or a loved one need it.

Shining a Light on AMD

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye condition. It’s the disturbance of the macula, the part of the retina that controls how well we can see detail in front of us—as opposed to seeing things in our periphery. AMD is a leading cause of legal blindness in people age 65 and over, and 1.75 million adults in America suffer from its effects.

Two Forms of AMD

Dry Form

Dry macular degeneration is the most common type of AMD. It occurs when yellow deposits called drusen build up in and around the macula and start to break it down. Over time, the drusen will start affecting central vision, causing blurred, speckled, or distorted vision. Over time, dry macular degeneration can also lead to central vision loss.

Wet Form

Wet macular degeneration accounts for only about 10% of those with AMD, but it attacks vision more fiercely than dry macular degeneration does. Blood vessels start to crowd the macula where they shouldn’t be. As these vessels grow, they begin to rapidly damage the macula. Wet macular degeneration can lead to central vision loss in a very short period of time.

What Treatments are there for AMD?

If your eye doctor finds signs of wet macular degeneration, he might suggest laser surgery. This procedure is generally painless and quick. The doctor will use a laser to address the excess blood vessels, and patients are usually able to retain their overall sight with the exception of a small, dark spot from the laser.

Unfortunately, there is currently no FDA-approved cure for dry macular degeneration. Eating healthy, avoiding smoking, exercising consistently, and visiting your VSP eye doctor yearly are the best ways to battle any eye condition, including AMD. Because AMD doesn’t damage peripheral vision, those who have it are usually able to continue their normal activities with the help of low-vision optical devices or other vision aids.

Remember, although treatment of a vision-related illness like AMD is covered under your medical plan, your Vision Service Plan provides for a 100% covered (in-network) exam for routine eye exams once every 12 months.

Source: American Academy of Ophthalmology

February is American Heart Month

While most of us are familiar with the annual, February campaign to raise awareness about heart health, we can’t afford to become glib about the subject since cardiovascular health remains the leading cause of death in men and women in the U.S. In addition, it also continues to be a leading cause of serious illness and disability among Americans.

Not Just Your Grandpa’s Disease…

Considering that about 82% of people who die of coronary heart disease are at least 65, most of us think of that heart disease and heart attacks are an older person’s issue but, sudden heart problems can occur much earlier in life, too. As many as 10% of all heart attacks in men occur before age 45. As with heart attacks in older adults, about 80% of these attacks stem from coronary artery disease—that is, cholesterol-filled blockages in the arteries that serve the heart. Smoking and the epidemic of obesity in America are two contributing factors to these blockages among males in the 18-45 age group.

…Or Your Grandma’s Disease

Heart disease is generally considered an older women’s condition, and to a large extent this is true, but it is still a leading cause of death among younger women.

Researchers interviewed 24 female heart attack survivors who were aged 55 and younger while the women were still hospitalized. Nine out of 10 reported experiencing severe chest pain during the event, but only four of 10 perceived the problem as heart related. Dr. Judith Lichtman, PhD, of Yale School of Medicine, told WebMD that many of the women thought they had indigestion or heartburn. “Women in the 55 and younger age group often assume they are not at risk for heart disease,” she said.

Warning Signs in Men and Women

Television makes us think that every heart attack is a sudden event and, while some are, most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Some of the signs that can mean a heart attack is happening in either men or women at any age are listed below, but it’s important to note that women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This may occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness and/or extreme fatigue

Lowering your Risk

While we’ve learned that things like family history, abnormalities or blood clotting factors, etc. cannot be prevented, there is a lot we can do to lower our risk of heart disease. Here are a few tips from the Mayo Clinic:

1. Don’t smoke or use tobacco

Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis).

2. Daily exercise

Physical activity can help you control your weight and reduce your chance of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart.

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart.

4. Drink alcohol in moderation

If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s better for your heart to do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

5. Be sure to get your annual physical – it’s free!

Pearson health plans provide 100% for your yearly checkup.

Source: American Heart Association

National Diabetes Awareness Month

National Diabetes Month is observed every November to draw attention to diabetes and its effects on millions of Americans. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States. It can cause blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease, and other health problems if it’s not controlled. One in 11 Americans have diabetes — that’s more than 29 million people. And another 86 million adults in the United States are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Understanding Diabetes

type 1

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. The body breaks down the sugars and starches you eat into a simple sugar called glucose, which it uses for energy. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.

The good news is that, with the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy lives.

type 2

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels.

The good news is that, people who are at high risk for type 2 diabetes can lower their risk by more than half if they make lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, increasing physical activity, and losing weight.

Visit the American Diabetes Association for a host of resources. The Living with Diabetes section offers a wealth of information about being recently diagnosed to complications to treatment and a section for parents and kids.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

We all hope that there won’t be a need for awareness campaigns for any disease, but until then, the annual, national Breast Cancer Awareness Month does so many good things. It raises funds for research and support, educates the public and brings millions together on a mission to find a cure.

While the work continues to eradicate this cancer, according to the American Cancer Society there will be an estimated 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S. The good news is that the combination of early detection with treatment advancements is working – over 2.9 million breast cancer survivors (both female and male) are alive in the U.S. today.

While the suggested ages and frequencies of mammograms have changed more over the last several years causing confusion, remember they are just guidelines. That’s why it is critical to have a conversation with your doctor about what is best for you. You can find a helpful list of questions for your physician here. Together, you can consider factors such as family history and genetic tendencies to determine when and how often to have a mammogram.

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, but there are things you can do that might lower your risk. Body weight, physical activity, and diet have all been linked to breast cancer, so these might be areas where you can take action. For those who have certain risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history, there are medical options to speak with a physician about such as drug treatments and surgery. Read the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention to learn more.

Pearson Benefits believes very strongly in the power of preventive medicine and strongly urges you and your covered dependents to take advantage of the screenings covered at 100% (includes no copay). Check out the list today, and then make the appointments that apply to you or your loved ones. Consider it a gift to yourself.

Effective January 1, 2017, the Basic and Enhanced PPO Plans administered by Anthem and Cigna will cover 3D mammography for routine breast cancer screening. As a reminder, the PPO plans cover the first mammography of the calendar year at 100%.

As We Live and Breathe

Each year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) declares May to be National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. It’s a peak season for asthma and allergy sufferers, and a perfect time to educate ourselves about these conditions.

Understanding Allergies

Allergies affects as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children in the United States. When you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it isn’t. When you come into contact with the allergen, your immune system’s reaction can inflame your skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system. Take a look at the major types of allergens here:

Frequently Asked Questions about Allergies

  • What are the symptoms of allergies?

    The most common allergy symptoms can simply make you uncomfortable. For example, you may have watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, a rash or hives. Other more serious symptoms, like trouble breathing and swelling in your mouth or throat, may be a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. In addition, food allergies can also cause gastrointestinal issues, which cannot only be difficult to live with, but can impact nutrition. While most allergies can’t be cured, a number of treatments can help relieve your allergy symptoms.

  • What are the treatments for allergies?

    Good allergy treatment is based on your medical history and the severity of your symptoms. It might include avoidance of allergens, medication options and/or immunotherapy (a treatment to train your immune system not to overreact).

  • Who develops allergies?

    Allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. While it’s true that allergies are more common in children, they can occur for the first time at any age or, in some cases, recur after many years of remission.

  • What’s the difference between food intolerance and food allergy?

    A food intolerance means either the body cannot properly digest the food that is eaten, or that a particular food might irritate the digestive system. Symptoms of food intolerance can include nausea, gas, cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, irritability, and headaches.

    A food allergy happens when the body’s immune system, which normally fights infections, sees the food as an invader. This leads to an allergic reaction — a response from the immune system in which chemicals like histamine are released in the body. The reaction which, depending on its severity, can be life-threatening may cause symptoms like breathing problems, throat tightness, coughing, vomiting, abdominal pain, hives, swelling, or a drop in blood pressure.

  • Why are food allergies on the rise among children?

    According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.

    The number of people who have a food allergy is growing, but there is no clear answer as to why. Researchers are trying to discover why food allergies are on the rise in developed countries worldwide.

    For information on kids’ allergies including recipes, resources for those newly diagnosed, local and/or online support groups, visit

Understanding Asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways that affects breathing. In an asthma attack, the bronchial tubes that draw air into your lungs are constricted due to spasms of the muscles surrounding them. People with asthma vary greatly in the frequency and severity of their symptoms. Some have mild symptoms only after exercising or when otherwise ill; others have frequent, severe attacks.

The 26 million Americans with asthma have inflamed airways which are sensitive to things which may not bother other people, known as “triggers.” Asthma triggers vary from person to person. Some people react to only a few while others react to many. The most common asthma triggers include:

Frequently Asked Questions about Asthma

  • Can asthma be cured?

    As yet there is no cure for asthma, but asthma can be controlled with proper treatment. People with asthma can use medicine prescribed by their physician to prevent or relieve their symptoms, and they can learn ways to manage episodes. They also can learn to identify and avoid the things that trigger an episode. By educating themselves about medications and other asthma management strategies, most people with asthma can gain control of the disease and live an active life.

  • Is asthma a psychological or emotional disease?

    No. Although episodes of asthma can sometimes be brought on by strong emotions, it is important to know that asthma is not the result of emotional factors. Years ago, people more commonly believed that asthma was “all in one’s head” and therefore not a real illness. Physicians and other medical scientists today know that this is wrong.

  • How is asthma diagnosed?

    Physicians rely on a combination of medical history, a thorough physical examination, and certain laboratory tests. These tests include spirometry (using an instrument that measure the air taken into and out of the lungs), peak flow monitoring (another measure of lung function), chest X-rays and sometimes blood and allergy tests.

  • What does an asthma attack feel like and what happens during an attack?

    An asthma episode feels somewhat like taking deep breaths of very cold air on a winter day. Breathing becomes harder and may hurt, and there may be coughing. Breathing may make a wheezing or whistling sound.

Sources: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Kids with Food Allergies

Mental Health and our Youth

Most mental disorders begin during youth (12-24 years of age), although they are often first detected later in life. Poor mental health is strongly related to other health and development concerns in young people, notably lower educational achievements, substance abuse and violence. The National Alliance on Mental Health provides these statistics which demonstrate the struggle for youngsters dealing with mental health challenges.

  • 20% of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition
  • 11% of youth have a mood disorder, 10% have a behavior/conduct disorder and 8% have an anxiety disorder
  • 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24
  • 90% of those who died by suicide had an underlying mental illness

Untreated mental health problems can disrupt children’s functioning at home, school and in the community. Without treatment, children with mental health issues are at an increased risk of school failure, contact with the criminal justice system and even suicide. As adults, we can take it upon ourselves to be informed about mental illness so we know what to look for in the children in our lives. Parents and family members are usually the first to notice if a child has problems with emotions or behavior. Parental observations, along with those of teachers and other caregivers, can help determine whether there is a need to seek help.

  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than 2 weeks (e.g., crying regularly, feeling fatigued, feeling unmotivated)
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort or fast breathing
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  • Trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so
  • Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or gain
  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits
  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating that can lead to failure in school

Bullying – Long Lasting Impacts

In 2013, Duke University professors published research that shows the degree to which bullying can affect someone’s mental health. The study discovered that victims of childhood bullying have a higher risk of developing mental health problems later in life. The study followed more than 1,000 youth, starting at the ages of 9, 11 and 13. The youth were interviewed each year until they turned 16. Follow-up interviews were then conducted into adulthood.

Results of the study showed bullying elevated the rate of mental health problems.  Some of the key findings were:

  • Youth who were victims of bullying had a higher chance of having agoraphobia, anxiety and panic disorders.
  • Youth who bullied were at risk for antisocial personality disorder.
  • Those doing the bullying as well as their victims had higher levels of all anxiety and depressive disorders, plus the highest levels of suicidal thoughts, generalized anxiety and panic disorder.

For some help with the topic of bullying, from noticing the symptoms to having a conversation with a youngster to finding out where/how to get help, visit the MHA.

Sources: The National Alliance on Mental Health, Duke University, Mental Health America, Mayo Clinic

Growing Old is Normal

There is no disputing that with age, the odds increase for developing health issues. Maybe it’s arthritis or eye conditions causing impaired vision. These can all be part of living longer; however, that is not the case with depression. A common misconception about depression is that it is a normal part of aging, with 58% of people aged 65 and above believing that it is “normal” for people to get depressed as they grow older.

Depression, a type of mood disorder, is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults. More than two million of the 34 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some form of depression. Here are some reasons why, and some alarming facts about treatment.

  • Symptoms of clinical depression can be triggered by other chronic illnesses common in later life, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
  • One-third of widows/widowers meet criteria for depression in the first month after the death of their spouse, and half of these individuals remain clinically depressed after one year.
  • Older patients with symptoms of depression have roughly 50% higher healthcare costs than non-depressed seniors, and because of the higher cost, many do not seek treatment.
  • Depression is a significant predictor of suicide in elderly Americans.

The lack of recognition of depression as an illness by the elderly themselves makes it that much more important for those of us who are or who will take care of older loved ones to be knowledgeable about this subject. In addition to those outlined in Article 1, the following mental health symptoms may also appear in the elderly:

  • Sadness, discouragement, crying
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, brooding, irritability
  • Say they feel sad, blue, depressed, low, nothing is fun, down in the dumps
  • Loss of ability to experience pleasure
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt, including self-reproach for minor failings
  • Delusions (false fixed beliefs that are characteristic of “psychotic” depression)
  • Hallucinations (false sensory experiences characteristic of “psychotic” depression)
  • Pacing, wringing their hands, pulling or rubbing their hair, body, or clothing
  • Believing they have cancer or some other serious illness when they don’t (called somatic delusions)

Fortunately, clinical depression is a very treatable illness. More than 80% of all people suffering from depression, regardless of age, can be successfully treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.

Sources: Mental Health America, The National Alliance on Mental Health

The Fast Track to a Healthy Heart

Hypertension – or high blood pressure – affects one in four Americans, and
occurs when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels
is too high. It is especially dangerous because it may not give any warning
signs. Read below to see what factors cause hypertension so you can take
control of having a healthy heart.

Weighing on Our Hearts

Being overweight or obese increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. Nearly 70% of American adults are either overweight or obese and roughly one in three U.S. children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese. Losing a few pounds can provide you with cardiovascular benefits, so every step in the right direction is a step toward healthier living.

No one ever said that losing weight was easy, but you can take advantage of the WeightWatchers® discount offered through Pearson, where you will enjoy special savings on valuable and convenient weight-loss solutions. Visit Weight Watchers to purchase any of these offerings or for more information.
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Sources: American Heart Association