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During 2011, five health problems reached epidemic proportions with almost no coverage in the news media. Here are five health trends that are catching us by surprise.

1. Obesity has fueled a 50% increase in diagnoses of gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD).

Gastroesophageal reflux is a normal part of life for just about everyone. From to time the valve between the esophagus and the stomach fails to completely close and a little stomach acid splashes up into the throat. It's unpleasant, but it's not really a disease condition.
In gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), however, the esophagus may be nearly constantly bathed in stomach acid and bile. The result can be the painful sensation of heartburn, or a collection of vague symptoms that may include laryngitis, erosion of tooth enamel, sour taste in the mouth, nighttime coughing, bronchospasm, bronchitis, and even pneumonia.

Epidemiologists used to estimate that about 7% of Americans had GERD. Now the estimate is 10%. The reason? More and more Americans are becoming obese. Fat weighs down on the distal esophageal high-pressure zone, the valve that keeps stomach acid and bile in the stomach. The weight on the muscles surrounding this valve weakens them and forces stomach acid upward with increasing frequency. Fortunately, losing weight helps to resolve the condition.

2. Diagnoses of ischemic bowel disease were up to 100% higher in 2011.

Ischemic bowel disease is the result of poor circulation to the through two arteries that deliver blood to the colon, known as the superior and inferior mesenteric arteries. Ordinarily, about 25 to 35% of the total output of blood from the heart travels to the colon. During times of severe stress (dehydration or intense athletic competition, for example), up to 2/3 of the blood supply that ordinarily goes through these arteries may be diverted to other parts of the body.

When these arteries don't deliver enough blood and oxygen to the colon, it becomes inflamed. The inflammation can be intensely painful long before there are other symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, bloating, and fluctuations in blood pressure and pulse. Up to 25% of persons over the age of 85 will develop chronic ischemic bowel disease due to poor circulation and live long enough to die of some other cause. Up to 90% of persons of any age who develop acute ischemic bowel disease after dehydration or injury die during treatment.

The reason for the enormous up tick in diagnoses in ischemic bowel disease in 2011 has not yet been discussed in the medical literature. If you experience intense pain in the upper left quadrant or center of your abdomen after you become dehydrated, however, seek medical care right away.

3. Non-prescription pain relievers were recalled several times during 2011.

In June of 2011 Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Extra-Strength Tylenol, recalled 60,912 bottles of their product after receiving reports of a musty smell when the bottle was opened. Many people know that this follows a similar recall in 2009, but not as many remember a massive recall of Tylenol products in the 1970's when seven consumers died of cyanide poisoning attributed to product tampering.

In August of 2011, British consumer products maker Reckitt Benckiser recalled its pain killer Nurofen when some packs were found to be mixed with packets of the schizophrenia drug Seroquel XL and other were found to be mixed with packets of the seizure medication Neurontin. While the problem with Tylenol was determined to be a manufacturing error, the contamination of Nurofen was believed to be due to terrorism.

4. Deaths from overdoses of painkillers are on the rise.

In November 2011 the US Centers for Disease Control announced that in the most recent year for which it had compiled statistics, 2008, nearly 16,000 Americans had died of overdoses of painkillers. Most of these deaths occurred when people "doctor shopped" multiple prescriptions for Oxycodin and/or Vicodin.

5. Sudden deaths among young athletes are becoming more common.

US news agencies reported more stories of teenaged athletes, usually male, dying on the playing field when struck in the chest. The Mayo Clinic also reports an upsurge in sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS) in athletes under the age of 35.

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