The following are health and medical definitions of terms that appear in the Over-the-Counter article.
Acne: Localized skin inflammation as a result of overactivity of the oil glands at the base of hair follicles. Acne happens when oil (sebaceous) glands come to life around puberty, when these glands are stimulated by male hormones that are produced in the adrenal glands of both boys and girls.
Anal itching: Irritation of the skin at the exit of the rectum, accompanied by the desire to scratch. The intensity of anal itching is increased by moisture, pressure, and abrasion caused by clothing and sitting. It may be caused by irritating chemicals in food (as in spices, hot sauces, and peppers); irritation due to frequent liquid stools, as in diarrhea; diseases, such as diabetes mellitus or HIV infection, that increase the possibility of yeast infections; and psoriasis. Other causes of anal itching include hemorrhoids, anal fissures, abnormal local growth of anal skin (anal papillae), and skin tags. Treatment is directed first toward relieving the burning and soreness, including cleaning and drying the anus thoroughly, avoiding leaving soap in the anal area, showering gently without directly rubbing or irritating the skin, and using moist pads rather than toilet paper to clean the anus after bowel movements. Local application of cortisone cream may help. Also known as pruritus ani.
Asthma: A common lung disorder in which inflammation causes the bronchi to swell and narrow the airways, creating breathing difficulties that may range from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, and chest tightness. The diagnosis of asthma is based on evidence of wheezing and is confirmed with breathing tests. Many allergens and irritants can precipitate attacks of asthma. Avoidance of precipitating factors can be helpful. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, activity reduction, allergy shots, and medications to prevent or reverse the bronchospasm.
Athlete's foot: A skin infection caused by a fungus called Trichophyton that thrives within the upper layer of the skin when it is moist, warm, and irritated. The fungus can be found on floors and in socks and clothing, and it can be spread from person to person through contact with these objects. However, without proper growing conditions, athlete's foot fungus will not infect the skin. It can be treated with topical antifungal preparations. Also known as tinea pedis, athlete's foot is a form of ringworm.
Birth control: Birth control is the use of any practices, methods, or devices to prevent pregnancy from occurring in a sexually active woman. Also referred to as family planning, pregnancy prevention, fertility control, or contraception; birth control methods are designed either to prevent fertilization of an egg or implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.
Calcium: A mineral found mainly in the hard part of bones, where it is stored. Calcium is added to bone by cells called osteoblasts and removed from bone by cells called osteoclasts. Calcium is essential for healthy bones and is also important for muscle contraction, heart action, and normal blood clotting. Food sources of calcium include dairy foods; some leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and collards; canned salmon; clams; oysters; calcium-fortified foods; and soy foods, such as tofu. According to the National Academy of Sciences, adequate intake of calcium is 1 gram daily for both men and women. The upper limit for calcium intake is 2.5 grams daily.
Constipation: Infrequent and frequently incomplete bowel movements. Constipation is the opposite of diarrhea and is commonly caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulosis, and medications. Paradoxically, constipation can also be caused by overuse of laxatives. Colon cancer can also narrow the colon and thereby cause constipation. A high-fiber diet can frequently relieve constipation. If the diet is not helpful, medical evaluation is warranted.
Corns: Small calloused areas of skin caused by local pressure irritating tissue over a bony prominence. Corns most commonly occur over a toe where they form what is referred to as a hard corn. Between the toes, pressure can form a soft corn of macerated skin which often yellows.
Dandruff: A scalp condition that produces white flakes that may be shed and fall from the hair. One cause of dandruff is overworking of the sebaceous glands. Another cause of dandruff is fungus, especially an abundance of the fungus Pitrosporum ovale. If several weeks of using a good-quality shampoo does not stop the dandruff, treatment options include an antifungal shampoo such as Denorex, DHS Targel, ionil-T plus, MG217, Neutrogena T/Gel, Scalpicin, Sebulex, Selsun Blue, Tegrin, or Zircon. The active ingredients approved for dandruff treatment by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include tar, pyrithione zinc, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, sulfur, and ketoconazole.
Diarrhea: A common condition that involves unusually frequent and liquid bowel movements. The opposite of constipation. There are many infectious and noninfectious causes of diarrhea. Persistent diarrhea is both uncomfortable and dangerous to the health because it can indicate an underlying infection and may mean that the body is not able to absorb some nutrients due to a problem in the bowels. Treatment includes drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and taking over-the-counter remedies. People with diarrhea that persists for more than a couple days, particularly small children or elderly people, should seek medical attention.
Dyspepsia: Indigestion. A condition characterized by upper abdominal symptoms that may include pain or discomfort, bloating, feeling of fullness with very little intake of food , feeling of unusual fullness following meals, nausea, loss of appetite, heartburn, regurgitation of food or acid, and belching. The term dyspepsia is often used for these symptoms when they are not typical of a well-described disease (for example, gastrointestinal reflux) and the cause is not clear. After a cause for the symptoms has been determined, the term dyspepsia is usually dropped in favor of a more specific diagnosis.
Ear: The hearing organ. There are three sections of the ear, according to the anatomy textbooks. They are the outer ear (the part we see along the sides of our head behind the temples), the middle ear, and the inner ear. But in terms of function, the ear has four parts: those three and the brain. Hearing thus involves all parts of the ear as well as the auditory cortex of the brain. The external ear helps concentrate the vibrations of air on the ear drum and make it vibrate. These vibrations are transmitted by a chain of little bones in the middle ear to the inner ear. There they stimulate the fibers of the auditory nerve to transmit impulses to the brain.
Ear wax: A natural wax-like substance secreted by special glands in the skin on the outer part of the ear canal. It repels water, and traps material such as dust and sand particles. Usually a small amount of wax accumulates, and then dries up and falls out of the ear canal carrying with it unwanted particles. Ear wax is helpful in normal amounts and serves to coat the skin of the ear canal where it acts as a temporary water repellent. The absence of ear wax may result in dry, itchy ears, and even infection.
Fever: Although a fever technically is any body temperature above the normal of 98.6 degrees F. (37 degrees C.), in practice a person is usually not considered to have a significant fever until the temperature is above 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C.).
Flatulence: Excess gas in the intestinal tract. But excess flatulence is difficult to define without a yardstick to measure the "normal" frequency of gas passages. Symptom-free individuals have recorded approximately 14 passages of gas per 24 hours. From the Latin flastus, meaning blowing, as a breeze or snort.
Hair loss: Hair loss is the thinning of hair on the scalp. The medical term for hair loss is alopecia. Alopecia can be temporary or permanent. The most common form of hair loss occurs gradually and is referred to as "androgenetic alopecia," meaning that a combination of hormones (androgens are male hormones) and heredity (genetics) is needed to develop the condition. Other types of hair loss include alopecia areata (patches of baldness that usually grow back), telogen effluvium (rapid shedding after childbirth, fever, or sudden weight loss); and traction alopecia (thinning from tight braids or ponytails).
Heartburn: An uncomfortable feeling of burning and warmth occurring in waves rising up behind the breastbone (sternum) toward the neck. It is usually due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the rise of stomach acid back up into the esophagus. Heartburn has nothing whatsoever to do with the heart. It is a popular nonmedical term. It is medically called pyrosis.
Hemorrhoids: Dilated (enlarged) veins in the walls of the anus and sometimes around the rectum, usually caused by untreated constipation but occasionally associated with chronic diarrhea. Symptoms start with bleeding after defecation. If untreated, hemorrhoids can worsen, protruding from the anus. Treatment involves changing the diet to prevent constipation and avoid further irritation, the use of topical medication, and sometimes surgery. Also known as piles.
Infant: A young baby, from birth to 12 months of age.
Itching: An uncomfortable sensation in the skin that feels as if something is crawling on the skin and makes the person want to scratch the affected area. Itching is medically known as pruritis; something that is itchy is pruritic.
Lactose: The sugar found in milk. Lactose is a large sugar molecule that is made up of two smaller sugar molecules, glucose and galactose. In order for lactose to be absorbed from the intestine and into the body, it must first be split into glucose and galactose. The glucose and galactose are then absorbed by the cells lining the small intestine. The enzyme that splits lactose into glucose and galactose is called lactase, and it is located on the surface of the cells lining the small intestine.
Lactose intolerance: The inability to digest lactose, a component of milk and some other dairy products. The basis for lactose intolerance is the lack of an enzyme called lactase in the small intestine. The most common symptoms of lactose intolerance are diarrhea, bloating, and gas. The diagnosis may be made via a trial of a lactose-free diet or by special testing. Treatment involves avoidance of products that contain lactose or use of lactase enzyme supplements before eating. See also deficiency, lactase.
Menstrual cramps: Cramping in the lower abdomen, usually in the first or second day of the menstrual cycle, that is caused by contractions of the uterus as it expels its unneeded contents and by the passage of clotted blood through the cervix. Ibuprofen or other pain relievers can reduce the severity of menstrual cramps, and some women report that exercise is also helpful. Severe menstrual cramps, particularly if paired with excessive bleeding or passage of large blood clots, can occasionally be a sign of endometriosis or other disorders of the female reproductive tract. Also known as dysmenorrhea.
Pain: An unpleasant sensation that can range from mild, localized discomfort to agony. Pain has both physical and emotional components. The physical part of pain results from nerve stimulation. Pain may be contained to a discrete area, as in an injury, or it can be more diffuse, as in disorders like fibromyalgia. Pain is mediated by specific nerve fibers that carry the pain impulses to the brain where their conscious appreciation may be modified by many factors.
Pain management: The process of providing medical care that alleviates or reduces pain. Mild to moderate pain can usually be treated with analgesic medications, such as aspirin. For chronic or severe pain, opiates and other narcotics may be used, sometimes in concert with analgesics; with steroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs when the pain is related to inflammation; or with antidepressants, which can potentiate some pain medications without raising the actual dose of the drug and which affect the brain's perception of pain. Narcotics carry with them the potential for side effects and addiction. However, the risk of addiction is not normally a concern in the care of terminal patients. For hospitalized patients with severe pain, devices for self-administration of narcotics are frequently used. Other procedures can also be useful in pain management programs. For bedridden patients, simply changing position regularly or using pillows to support a more comfortable posture can be effective. Massage, acupuncture, acupressure, and biofeedback have also shown some validity for increased pain control in some patients.
Pharmacist: A professional who fills prescriptions and, in the case of a compounding pharmacist, makes them. Pharmacists are very familiar with medication ingredients, interactions, and cautions.
Poison: Any substance that can cause severe organ damage or death if ingested, breathed in, or absorbed through the skin. Many substances that normally cause no problems, including water and most vitamins, can be poisonous if taken in excessive quantity. Poison treatment depends on the 'substance.
Poison ivy: Skin inflammation that results from contact with the poison ivy vine. Chemicals produced by this vine cause an immune reaction, producing redness, itching, and blistering of the skin. Treatment involves use of topical medications.
Premenstrual syndrome: A combination of physical and mood disturbances that occur in the last half of a woman's menstrual cycle after ovulation which normally end with the onset of the menstrual flow. Physical features of the premenstrual syndrome (PMS) include breast tenderness and bloating. Psychological changes include anger and depression.
Seborrhea: A chronic inflammatory disease of the skin characterized by the accumulation of scales of greasy skin. There may be yellow crusted patches that are itchy. Seborrhea often affects the scalp. Other sites include the face, ears, eyebrows and eyelids, umbilicus, and genitalia, Seborrhea of the scalp is commonly known as dandruff.
Sleep: The body's rest cycle.
Syndrome: A combination of symptoms and signs that together represent a disease process.
Vaginitis: Inflammation of the vagina. The vagina is the muscular canal extending from the cervix to the outside of the body. Vaginitis is often caused by a fungus. A woman with this condition may have itching or burning and may notice a discharge. Vaginitis is a common condition. There are factors that predispose a woman to develop vaginitis. For example, women who have diabetes have vaginitis more often than women who do not.
Vitamins: The word "vitamin" was coined in 1911 by the Warsaw-born biochemist Casimir Funk (1884-1967). At the Lister Institute in London, Funk isolated a substance that prevented nerve inflammation (neuritis) in chickens raised on a diet deficient in that substance. He named the substance "vitamine" because he believed it was necessary to life and it was a chemical amine. The "e" at the end was later removed when it was recognized that vitamins need not be amines.
Weight loss: Weight loss is a decrease in body weight resulting from either voluntary (diet, exercise) or involuntary (illness) circumstances. Most instances of weight loss arise due to the loss of body fat, but in cases of extreme or severe weight loss, protein and other substances in the body can also be depleted. Examples of involuntary weight loss include the weight loss associated with cancer, malabsorption (such as from chronic diarrheal illnesses ), and chronic inflammation (such as with rheumatoid arthritis).
Yeast vaginitis: Infection of the vagina by a fungus known as Candida, characteristically causing itching, burning, soreness, pain during intercourse and urination, and vaginal discharge.
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