Health and Psychology

Health and psychology

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This blog covers current events, brain injury, general psychology, health psychology, medical psychology, testing, and general issues.

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Brain injury in court

Posted by Margaret Donohue on June 16, 2019 at 3:00 PM Comments comments (2)

The vast majority of neuropsychologists publishing research on brain injury in the United States appear to have some connection to insurance companies.  So the research they tend to publish minimizes the impact of repetitive brain injury, the apparent delay in symptom onset from time of injury, the impact of whiplash without loss of consciousness and correlation to brain injury.  What they focus on is estimates of effort and use a population of individuals simulating brain injury in college students as a "deceptive group."  This creates incorrect data about brain injuries that are then believed by physicians, neurologists, neuropsychologists, and psychologists in general.

MYTHS:

1. Brain injuries completely recover in a few days to a few months.  All brain injuries such as concussion completely resolve in 6 months.

2. Low impact crashes with whiplash only do not result in concussion or brain injury.

3. People complaining of ongoing symptoms are either faking, exaggerating, have a mental illness, or something else is wrong besides their brain injury.

4. Neuropsychological testing for brain injury requires multiple measures of malingering, effort and attempts to fabricate their presentation.

FACTS:

1. A lot of brain injuries with mild concussion completely recover with no residual symptoms, but about 20% have ongoing symptoms.

2. Following an injury or accident symptoms can occur as long as 96 hours post accident or injury.

3. Neuropsychological testing is expensive.  The use of testing time to document exaggeration or effort is better spent looking at functional ability and limitations.  The testing should match the symptoms, and be consistent with the history and medical records.  If the testing doesn't match the history THEN do testig for malingering and effort.

4. Brain injuries cause psychological difficulties.  In addition if someone has pre-existing depression, anxiety, or other symptoms of mental illness the brain injury will complicate coping and response to treatment.

5. A very small percentage of people that have sustained a brain injury will go on to develop a malignant leision in that area of the brain or an autoimmune disorder.  We are currently researching that population.  If you or a family member has developed an autoimmune disorder or any form of brain cancer after a traumatic brain disorder or concussion, I'm interested in hearing from you.  Please drop me an email Donohuema1@me.com.

Research

Posted by Margaret Donohue on January 20, 2019 at 8:20 AM Comments comments (0)

There are two types of doctoral degrees in psychology.  A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). The first degree is heavily involved in training in the scientist practitioner model and focuses on research, statistics, and evaluation.  The second is applied psychology with a focus on training, experience, and applications of psychological theory.


I have a PhD.  I am a researcher.  I value research. And I like good research.  Good research enlightens and moves the field into newer areas. It can be replicated.  It actually seeks to know new information.  The best research is published in peer reviewed journals.  It looks at research scientifically.  Poor research sets the field back.  It pushes future research into attempts to replicate the research multiple times and not being able to do so.  Poor research has an agenda.  It's not designed for scientific inquiry but to prove a point.  Poor research can also be research that can't get published in scientific journals but gets published as articles in pop magazines. 


Individuals with a PsyD also do research but they tend to look at the experiences people are having.  Not just data but what people think about their experience.

Autism

Posted by Margaret Donohue on November 27, 2018 at 7:35 AM Comments comments (0)

We've discovered men and women are different yet again.  This is true for cardiac presentation, learning issues, and most recently autism spectrum disorders.The ccommonly perceived presentation of boys that may also be intellectually disabled, that are non-verbal, socially inept, don't make eye contact, spinning in circles and flapping their hands is a misleading stereotype.  It has been popularized in books, television and movies, is wrong for most autistic females.


More and more women are realizing they have intensely focused passions, repetitive behaviors and perhaps some issues with language that also fall within the spectrum.  But they are also social, verbal, make eye contact, and seek out people to have as friends.  The small percentage that are intellectually challanged, is outweighted by those that aren't. 


Further, autistic people are speaking out about the therapies that diminish them and force them to interact in ways that run counter to their own mental health needs.  And they don't use politically correct "people first" language. 


I'm reluctant to diagnose autism in individuals with other known genetic disorders.  But some psychologists aren't as reluctant.  So if someone is positive on a major test for autism such as an Autism Diagnostic Observational Schedule, or an Autism Diagnostic Interview, or a self-report such as the Ritvo Autism Asperger Diagnostic Scale or other similar screening instruments they may have autism, but if they are female they are less likely to be diagnosed with the condition.


It's also important to point out that individuals with autism may cope just fine when not in neurotypical environments.  They are normal autistic people not abnormal neurotypical people.


There's a wonderful meme circulating from Autistic not weird.com:

"I'm autistic, which means everyone around me has a disorder that makes them say things they don't mean, not care about structure, fail to hyperfocus on singular important topics,have unreliable memories, drop weird hints and creepily stare into my eyeballs."

"So why do people say that YOU'RE the weird one?"

"Because there's more of them than me."

If you need help with a diagnosis feel free to contact our office 818-389-8384. Or email at DonohueMA1@me.com.

Sleep Disorders

Posted by Margaret Donohue on July 23, 2018 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I want to let you know about the Sleep Help institute.  They have a lot of information on sleep, resources, medical conditions and sleep.


www.Sleephelp.org/sleep-deprivation  has articles about sleep deprivation.


www.Sleephelp.org/autism-asd Sleep and autism Spectrum Disorders. 


Here's a link to their full collection of resources:

www.sleephelp.org


Mental Status Examination

Posted by Margaret Donohue on July 28, 2017 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The Mental Status Examination

The mental status examination is a screening test for a wide variety of mental disorders and conditions. In it’s most common form it is abbreviated to a mini state exam with fewer categories and often used to evaluate cognitive difficulties.

The full exam consists of evaluation in multiple categories:

  • Appearance and behavior
  • Orientation, concentration and attention
  • Language and memory
  • General information and intellect
  • Thought process
  • Thought content
  • Mood and affect
  • Delusions, illusions and hallucinations
  • Insight and judgment
  • Abstract reasoning and synthesis of thought
  • Reading, writing and math
  • Drawing and copying
  • Repetition, Registration
  • Risk assessment
  • Validity of assessment results and effort of person being evaluated


The mini exam has fewer categories and is generally used to assess significant cognitive impairment:

  • Orientation
  • Immediate Recall
  • Counting backwards
  • Spelling backwards
  • Delayed Recall
  • Language Naming
  • Repetition of a complex phrase
  • Following a three step-command
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Copying


A standard verbally based IQ test combined with behavioral observations will provide as much or more information than a full mental status examination if performed by a skilled examiner. If the examiner is familiar with a wide variety of psychological and neuropsychological test instruments the screening test can be scaled up to reflect a higher general education or premorbid level of intellect or scaled down to reflect someone from a more culturally improverished environment. Items can be substituted to document more subtle degrees of impairment and to clarify areas of strengths as well as areas of weakness or concern.

A skilled examiner performing the examination in it’s complete form can be as much art as science. Some parts of the test are developmental in nature, so some items are easier to complete than others for average people with no impairment. Most people with no difficulties will pass a mental status examination with very few minor errors. Significant cognitive impairment is readily apparent to a trained observer on presentation and a mental status examination is simply for the purpose of documenting global difficulties. Likewise, individuals attempting to fabricate results often perform so poorly as to be obvious.

If you know of someone needing an assessment, feel free to contact our office. We offer a wide variety of assessment and treatment services.

1985 to the future

Posted by Margaret Donohue on May 3, 2017 at 7:45 AM Comments comments (0)

It was 1985.  I was newly licensed with specialty training in this weird not-yet-ready-for-prime-time area of psychology no one really knew anything about-Medical Psychology.  And I was working in a medical practice with a physician I knew.  I had training in both medicine and pharmacy.  So I went through paper charts of any patient that had been seen for four visits with no clear diagnosis.  While all of the patients I saw had psychiatric symptoms, 80% would be found to have a primary medical conditions that would account for those symptoms.  The patients were then scheduled.  I took vitals of height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, and reviewed all their medications and how they were taking them.  The history took from 1-3 visits to ensure I had everything correct.  I documented in the patient's chart.  I had patients document symtpoms and keep records. I made house calls.  I made recommendations for lab studies, changes in medications, and referrals for specialty care.  I explained diagnosis, lab studies, medications, and how to take them.  I set up systems for taking medications.  I explained diets.  I would even help patients shop for food.  I did psychological testing to differentiate psychological conditions.  The internet was not a standard household item.  I had AOL dialup service at home, but I had access to multiple medical libraries in Los Angeles.  When the field of medical psychology was initially conceptualized this was how it looked.  A cross between psychological history taking and testing services and physician assistant and health educator.  Ideally, in the future, we would have prescribing abilities.  The future never came.  


There are about 5 medical psychologists in the greater Los Angeles area.  We know each other.  The field merged with Health Psychology back in the late 1990's and the concept of psychologist as physician assistant was lost in the process.  It's a field that needs to return.  In force.  


It's 2017.  A patient sees their physician or physician assistant or nurse practitioner.  They download all their initial information from a patient portal and upload it back to an electronic health record (EHR).  The physician's scheding team books the first appointment and ensures the physician has access to the patient data.  In the 15 to 30 minute initial office consultation, the patient is expected to report their symptoms and get any needed testing or treatment planning for future visits.  Five minutes of that visit are spent taking vitals.  The patient may have completed a health screening questionnaire or a psychological symptoms checklist.  If they check positive on those questionnaires they may be sent to a psychologist for further treatment.  80% of them will have a primary medical condition that accounts for their psychological symptoms.  It's likely to be missed.  


There's another issue now that wasn't present back in 1985.  A patient contacted me because the labs in her patient access portal had come back positive.  Her physician will see her in two weeks.  Because the scope of practice in medical psychology is weird, (I can make suggestions to physicians that they can accept or reject) but I can't actually order things directly, I had made recommendations for the labs that had now come back abnormal.  So I now have more information than her physician does.  I can see her urgently and provide her with information (based on research) about her illness, give her information about support groups, provide her online information about clinical trials, and suggest all the next steps she'll need to discuss with a specialist she needs to have her physician refer her to.  The patient portal is new.  Physicians don't yet know how to manage that.


in the past, this process could have taken months. The diagnosis part alone could have taken that long.  Her psychological complaints don't match the medical illness, unless you listen for 40 minutes and really hear what she's saying.  You also have to look at her.  Medical things are often visible.  That part of looking at people to see medical illness is known as clinical medicine and it's a lost art and getting more lost as it's replaced by laboratory medicine.  That means that if the lab reports are all normal, some physicians will say the person is normal too.  And they are wrong.  80% of the time and more likely with women than with men patients.  Women start with psychiatric complaints and then go to physical complaints.  This gets physicians off on the wrong decision tree.  So a heart attack will present as depression, fatigue, feeling tired and not able to do housework, almost like the flu in women.  Men will complain of nausea, chest, neck, back or jaw pain with a heart attack.  So women get a prescription for Prozac and men get an ER visit.  So my patient's medical symptoms got lost in the psychiatric complaints that are part of the medical condition.  The patient portal allowed her to send me labs in seconds.  I had her diagnosis as soon as the positive labs were read.  I have her full history and I saw her and actually looked at her.  Now there is nothing psychiatric.  She'll get some specialty care to rule out complications, but she can now spend her time investigating treatment options.


In the future there should be more people like me.  We will likely have virtual practices.  I can see the patient through a video.  I can get their labs through their patient portal.  I can still take a history.  In rare cases I may need to see the person face to face.  But may cases like this can be done through telehealth.  There still needs to be the psychologist/physician that says it's not a psychological condition untill all the medical conditions are ruled out.  we still need the field of medical psychology.  Maybe it can be brought back.

Sepsis

Posted by Margaret Donohue on April 17, 2017 at 9:10 AM Comments comments (0)

A female patient of mine with chronic pain had a new symptom.  Severe abdominal pain.  "It's like I'm being stabbed with a hot knife."  That's a very specific description.  One that will prompt an emergency room doctor to start poking around in the abdomen or taking an x-ray of the abdomen or doing an ultrasound of the abdomen.  But the symptom has nothing to do with the abdomen.  The gastrointestinal tract is where the immune system is going into overdrive.  On a scale of 1 to 10 the pain ranges from an 8 to a 10.  Although the person may have a fever, they tend to complain of feeling cold.  The temperature drops in the morning and rises in the afternoon or evening.  There are night sweats.  These are the beginning signs of the development of a septic infection.  


It's important to find out the actual location of the infection.  In the case of my patient she had a vaginal discharge.  So the infection wasn't in her GI tract, it was in her vagina.  When caught this early, these infections can be treated with antibiotics.  If she had waited for the next symptoms of sepsis to develop, the one's that may still get missed by an emergency room physician, the prognosis becomes grim.  25% of early sepsis patients die after an initial misdiagnosis.


I've had patients with the abdominal pain have a simple infected pimple or cut, or even a sinus or lung infection progress to sepsis.  All present with the strange severe abdominal pain.  If it's a lung infection, the cough may prompt a physician to prescribe a steroid.  That will help the cough, and slightly stop the pain, but the infection will get a huge boost.  The rate of infection spread can be alarmingly fast.  The next two stages can progress in as little as 6 to 12 hours.


The next stage of sepsis is a strange confusional state where thinking becomes difficult.  Blood pressure rises or drops, heart rate elevates, blood sugar elevates.  The body is going into massive overdrive as it tries to fight off the infection and is loosing.  This is where many physicians may make the diagnosis of sepsis or at least an infection.  The abdominal pain will have returned.  This pain seems to confuse physicians.  If they missed the infection initially, they may not realize how severe it is.  At this point the infection must be treated aggressively because the next stage has a mortality rate nearing 85%.


The last stage of sepis is recognizable to emergency room physicians.  The person is in severe pain, the blood counts are severely depressed or severely elevated.  The blood itself is infected and can be cultured.  The temperature is very high or very low.  The blood pressure is very high or very low and the blood volume is depleted.  The heart rate is elevated and the lungs are starting to gain fluid.  The kidneys are shutting down and no longer producing urine.  The person may be vomiting from the pain or pacing from the pain.  This stage is treated with intravenous antibiotics and may require surgery to remove the infected tissue.


If you have unusually severe abdominal pain, keep going back to see your physician and report all signs of infection, no matter how small or how far away from the abdomen the apparant infection may be located.  If your temperature is over 101 degrees or below 96.8 degrees and your heart is beating too fast go see your doctor or go to a hospital emergency room.  It may save your life.



Diagnosis of medical versus psychiatric anxiety or depression

Posted by Margaret Donohue on April 10, 2017 at 11:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Medical causes of depression and anxiety account for about 58-79 % of all diagnosed cases of depression and anxiety.  So it's helpful to differentiate them.  

  • Psychological cases respond generally well to evidence based treatments for depression and anxiety.  So if a person has been through an evidence based treatment, and followed the protocol, and was adherent, they should have some degree of improvement in about 4 to 6 weeks. 
  • In addition there should be something that triggered the depression or anxiety to start.  So if that's missing, it's more likely to have a medical cause.  
  • The most common causes of missed diagnosed medical conditions are infection, endocrine, medication side effects, neurological conditions, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, allergic reactions, and malignancy. 
  • There should also be thoughts related to emotions in psychological conditions but there may not be thoughts related to mood issues in medical conditions.

One thing I try with people is to see if they respond to what I call the straw test.  See if the person can access the anxious or depressed feeling.  Have them then place a straw lengthwise between their teeth forcing their mouths into a wide smile.  See if they can still access the feeling of depression or anxiety.  If they can it's more likely medical than psychiatric.  Psychiatric conditions will respond to changing behaviors or thoughts.  This was first found in 1988 in a study by Strack, et.al.  where he had people hold a pencil between their teeth or between their lips.  Between the teech creates a forced smile and between the lips a forced frown.  He said it was a facial feedback hypothesis.  Neurolinguistic programming would hypothesize that it's a physical anchor.  It's a simple trick that can help with differential diagnosis.

Sexual Assault

Posted by Margaret Donohue on October 9, 2016 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

I don't believe I know any woman over the age of 15 that hasn't been sexually assaulted, inappropriately gropped, fondled or touched without her consent by someone.  So I'm not surprised that when @kellyoxford asks women on twitter to share their first sexual assault stories that there are more than 1 million responses with most of the events starting in childhood.


While the tipping point in the conversation about the prevalence of assault against women may be the latest video clip about Trump, it started earlier with the story of the rapes on campuses across the country, the victim letter from the Stanford rape case, the film The Hunting Ground, and the dozens of women talking about Bill Cosby assaulting them.   It started with Anita Hill talking about sexual harassment at work before congress and that conversation about how a reasonable person and a reasonable woman might have different perspectives.  


On Friday President Obama signed into law the Sexual Assault Survivor's Rights Act that allows rape kits to be preserved for up to 20 years or the State's maximum statue of limitations.  It also lets survivors be advised in writing 60 days before their rape kit is destroyed and lets them request preservation beyond the scheduled destruction date.


Sexual assault is one of the most unreported crimes.  Reading through the responses to Kelly Oxford's post on twitter, men apologize, point out that Bill Clinton did bad things too, or talk about how people are innocent until proven guilty.  They blame the media and point out that men are sexually assaulted as well.  


To men out there, you don't need to apologize or deflect.  What you need to do is to speak out.  The conversation Trump had in 2005 is common.  It's not okay and it normalizes inappropriate behavior.  It's your turn to speak out against the men that talk like this.  Get offended.  The men that talk this way prey upon your mothers, sisters wives and daughters.  Talk to the women that have been assaulted.  Find out for yourself that it's almost every woman you know and often most girls you know.  You have to get horrified before you support tremendous change.

Herxheimer Reactions

Posted by Margaret Donohue on September 24, 2016 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction also known more simply as Herxheimer or Herx reaction sometimes occurs after antibiotic treatment causes a large die off of bacteria, fungus, yeast, or other systemic infections. initially described by Adolf Jarisch in 1895 and later by Karl Herxheimer in 1902, the reactions have been found in syphillis, sarcoidosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic lyme disease, leptospirosis, relapsing fever and candidiasis starting within an hour or so of taking the antibiotic to several weeks later and can last for a few hours to weeks.  


Symptoms of a herxheimer reaction include:

  • Flu like illness
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Low grade fever
  • Bone pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Mental Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Neurological Symptoms
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Changes in heart rate or rhythm
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rashes

It's important to recognize that the reaction is the result of the toxins being released by the bacteria, fungus or yeast dying off and not the result of a side effect of the antibiotic.  The reaction is generally mild, but may be severe and may require medical treatment to lessen the severity.  Treatment may consist of corticosteroids, IV fluids, blood pressure medication, and even dialysis.

If you think you may be having a Herxheimer reaction check with your physician.  In most cases the reaction subsides without incident in a day or so.

If you have quyestions about any medical condition we can assist with information, research and support.  Feel free to contact us at 818-223-4116.


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