Vital Signs | KERA News

Vital Signs

Vital Signs is a weekly consumer health chat featuring leading North Texas medical figures. Hosted by Sam Baker, topics range from flu to skin cancer to exactly what a New Year’s cocktail does to your body.

Listen every Monday at 8:22 a.m. on KERA 90.1 FM.

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Migraine headaches are severe enough to make you reach for anything that might bring relief. And that can lead to serious problems. The American Headache Society (AHS) recently issued recommendations of things NOT to do when diagnosing or treating migraines.


New guidelines were released earlier this month on who should take statin drugs to reduce cholesterol. It turns out that those cholesterol numbers we’re so obsessed with may be less important than risk factors.

Amid controversy over the recommendations, we take a look at what statins are and how they work. In Vital Signs, KERA’s Sam Baker spoke with Dr. Roberto Wayhs, a cardiologist with Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas.


Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and its progression largely focuses on plaque buildup in the brain. But researchers at U-T Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Presbyterian think they’ve hit on another possibility: The role the immune system may play in both Alzheimer’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. Dr. Nancy Monson, an immunologist at UT Southwestern, explains in this week’s edition of KERA’s Vital Signs.


In this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs, we revisit the subject of stroke. A study last month in the Lancet pointed to an increase in stroke among younger adults. Dr. Ben Newman, an endovascular neurosurgeon at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, talked with Sam Baker about who’s affected and why.


In this week’s installment of Vital Signs, a new study challenging the idea of simply staying active and engaged to keep aging minds sharp. Researchers at U-T Dallas found activities like reading, socializing or word games aren’t enough. Learning new, mentally challenging skills produced more benefit.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Numerous stories on the subject mostly focus on women. Men also get breast cancer, but their lack of awareness about that often has serious consequences. Dr. Roshni Rao of UT Southwestern Medical Center talked (with KERA’s Sam Baker) about male breast cancer in this installment of Vital Signs.


Actor Tom Hanks recently revealed he has the most common form of diabetes – type 2.

Those with type 2 diabetes don’t properly use insulin, which is needed to absorb sugar and starches in the blood.

Hanks has attributed the disease to both lifestyle choices and genetics. In the latest installment of KERA’s Vital Signs, Dr. Saleemah Fahmi, an endocrinologist at Methodist Charlton Medical Center, explains how those factors impact the disease.


Its symptoms suggest a number of ailments, but doctors have been diagnosing more cases of Chiari (pronounced kee-AH-ree) malformation — a condition where the brain intrudes on the spinal column. In this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs, Dr. Sabatino Bianco, a neurosurgeon with of Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, talks about the two most common forms of Chiari.


Senior citizens will have some extra protection this flu season: A new “high dose” version of the flu vaccine intended the boost the immune system of people 65 and older. In this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs, Dr. Adam McDaniel, an internist with Centennial Medical Center, explains how the new vaccine works.

It’s the most aggressive and rapid growing form of brain tumors. But researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified a protein called RIP 1  that may slow down glioblastomas.

Dr. Amyn Habib, an Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, is senior author of the study in Cell Reports. In this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs, he explains how the protein works.

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Your own lifestyle habits aside, belly fat and other body changes in middle-aged men has been attributed to low testosterone. But a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests a hormone more associated with women may be the real culprit. In this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs, Dr. Bradley Jones, an internist with Baylor Health Care, explains the value of this new information about estrogen.

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Along with the return to school across the country, each September also brings an annual spike of asthma attacks to emergency rooms. The two are related.  Dr. Stephen Mueller, a pulmonologist with Methodist Charlton Medical Center, explains how in this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs.

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After a natural or manmade disaster, there are emergency responders to help with rescues, injuries and property damage. But a new study by psychiatrists at UT Southwestern Medical Center says disaster response should include mental health.


When someone’s brought into the emergency room for acute ischemic stroke – or a blocked artery to the brain – a neurologist is called in to determine treatment. But back in 2010, Baylor Healthcare System noticed a problem at a regional center in Waxahachie: speed. The solution was a telemedicine program using laptop cameras and a robotic device to save crucial time in providing treatment. Dr. Dion Graybeal, medical director of the Baylor stroke program, talks about how it’s done  in this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs.

Signs of a stroke require attention as soon as possible. Doctors are using videoconferencing with laptop cameras and a robotic device to save crucial time. Dr. Dion Graybeal, medical director of Baylor's stroke program, talks with KERA's Sam Baker about the latest developments.

Texas students had to get up to date on vaccinations to return to school today – especially the measles shot. An outbreak of the viral disease in North Texas has hit Tarrant County hardest. Many of the 15 cases traced back to a person who traveled out of the country where measles is more common. In this installment of KERA’s Vital Signs, Tarrant County epidemiologist Dr. Russell Jones talks about the importance of getting vaccinated.

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Doctors usually clamp and cut the umbilical cord less than a minute after childbirth. But a study recently published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggests waiting longer would benefit a newborn. Dr. Sheri Puffer, an Ob-Gyn with Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, explains why in this edition of KERA’s series Vital Signs.


Even after federal and local education campaigns, viral hepatitis seems to be surging. The Centers for Disease Control say it’s the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplants.

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Research shows high rates of depression among patients with chronic illnesses. It’s best to treat them both at the same time, but that can present problems for hospitals. Dr. Radha Kambhampati is Medical Director of Behavioral Health for Baylor Health Care System. It opened facilities in Garland and Irving in 2013 to address this issue. He talks about it in this edition of Vital Signs.

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There’s no cure for dementia. But a study recently published in the journal Neurology found evidence to suggest reading, writing and playing games throughout your life can slow the disease's progress. Dr. Kevin Conner, a neurologist and the director of the Stroke Center at Texas Health Arlington Memorial hospital, explains why in this edition of Vital Signs. 

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Health officials are trying to find the source of an outbreak in North Texas of cyclosporiasis. Nearly 50 cases have been reported statewide - most of them in Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant counties.  Cyclosporiasis is a foodborne illness that can cause severe diarrhea and other symptoms. Tarrant County Medical Director Dr. Sandra Parker talked about the disease with KERA’s Sam Baker in this edition of Vital Signs.

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The Food and Drug Administration’s approved a new treatment for the most frequent symptom of menopause: hot flashes. Brisdelle is significant because it doesn’t contain hormones – something many menopausal women have avoided as treatment since a 2002 study linked hormonal replacement therapy to breast cancer. Dr. Jill Waggoner, a family medicine specialist with Methodist Charlton Medical Center, talks about this with KERA’s Sam Baker in this week’s Vital Signs.

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A dental exam will certainly spot cavities, gum disease and other signs of poor oral health, but research is showing the mouth can also show early signs of health problems elsewhere in the body. Dr. Charles Wakefield is a professor and director of the advanced education in general dentistry residency program at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry. He shares some examples in this edition of Vital Signs.

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Like many American holidays, a Fourth of July celebration for many is tied to food – and usually not the nutritious kind. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this week’s Vital Signs, Lona Sandon of UT Southwestern Medical Center shares suggestions for healthier eating with KERA’s Sam Baker, beginning with burgers and hot dogs.

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Nearly 160,000 people die of lung cancer each year. Many cases aren’t discovered until the advanced stage. But research since a 2011 trial involving older, heavy smokers indicates low-dose or low radiation CT scans outperform chest X-rays in detecting early signs of lung cancer and reducing its death rate. In this edition of Vital Signs, Dr. Kartik Konduri, co-director of the Lung Cancer Center of Excellence at Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center, explains why Baylor Health Care recently has expanded its use of low-dose CT scans to screen high risk patients.

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More than 25 million people – nearly a third of them children -  are known to have asthma. The lung disease causes recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing – all of which can be more troublesome on ozone alert days in summer. Dr. Stephen Mueller with Methodist Charlton Medical Center explains why in this week’s edition of Vital Signs.


Before Angelina Jolie told the world about her decision to have a double mastectomy, you might not have heard of BRCA1 or BRCA2. These are two genes where mutations are known to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Jolie’s health risk was raised because of a mutation of the BRCA1 gene.  

Scientists say we need to look beyond BRCA – to other genes that also increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. KERA’s Lauren Silverman talks with Linda Robinson, assistant director of the Cancer Genetics Program at UT Southwestern about the future of genetic testing for breast cancer. 

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Seven percent of school-age kids have attention deficient/hyperactivity disorder. And last week, the American Psychiatric Association's Manual of Mental Disorders broadened the criteria for ADHD. The changes will better describe the course of symptoms over a lifetime. In this week’s Vital Signs, KERA’s Sam Baker talks with Dr. James Norcross, a psychiatrist with UT Southwestern Medical Center.

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It’s estimated about one in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis – or low bone density. But it’s not just an older woman’s disease. About one in four men over 50 will meet the same fate. And the disease isn’t limited to older people. KERA’s Sam Baker talked with Dr. Joseph Borrelli of Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital about how osteoporosis works in this edition of Vital Signs.

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Recent reports of a so-called "sex superbug" - a drug-resistant strain of gonorrhea - reaching the U.S. turned out to be false. The H041 strain hasn’t been detected since a case in Japan several years ago. But even though gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics, the health community remains concerned about the threat of drug-resistant strains of the sexually transmitted disease. Dr. Cedric Spak, with North Texas Infectious Diseases Consultants and Baylor Medical Center Dallas, explains why in this week’s edition of Vital Signs.