HEALTHY HOLIDAY MESSAGES
While much of Australia has enjoyed a restful break over the summer holiday season, the AMA kept up the good fight, reminding everyone to put health and safety first. The following pages include samples of the awareness campaign the AMA leadership conducted over the Christmas-New Year period. These messages resulted in significant media coverage for the AMA during this time, and undoubtedly contributed to happier and healthier holidays for many Australians.
Avoid sexually transmitted infections – use protection and practise safe sex over holiday season
22 Dec 2018
The AMA is warning that one thing that you don’t want to give – or receive – at Christmas is a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said STIs are on the rise and people should be vigilant this holiday season about practising safe sex.
“STI rates in Australia have increased significantly in recent years,” Dr Bartone said.
“From 2013 to 2017, new cases of gonorrhoea increased by 80 per cent, and chlamydia increased by 13 per cent between 2015 and 2017.
“Young Australians – those between 20 and 30 – are the most likely to become infected with an STI.”
The AMA Position Statement on Sexual and Reproductive Health notes that other vulnerable populations include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; gay, lesbian and bisexual people; intersex, transgender and gender diverse people; people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and older Australians.
Although the most common STIs – chlamydia and gonorrhoea – can be treated with antibiotics, they can cause serious problems if left untreated.
Both these STIs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can result in ectopic pregnancies and infertility. Gonorrhoea infection can even spread to the joints and heart valves if not treated.
Research has shown that Australians tend to have more sexual partners in the summer season, and more people are diagnosed with STIs during this time.
Higher rates of travel during summer, as well as significant increases in drug and alcohol use, can mean that safe sexual practices are cast aside.
Although it can’t provide 100 per cent protection, consistent condom use significantly lowers the risk of contracting most STIs, including gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia, and genital herpes. Dams are also important for protection – including for sex between women.
“Worrying about contracting an STI is a great way to ruin an otherwise enjoyable sexual experience,” Dr Bartone said.
“Making sure you are careful and use protection can make sex safer and more enjoyable for everyone.”
The AMA Position Statement on Sexual and Reproductive Health is at: https://ama.com.au/position-statement/sexual-and-reproductive-health-2014
AMA Advice for Avoiding STIs:
- Use protection – use a new, lubricated condom every time. Check the use-by date and avoid tearing the condom when opening.Using water-based lubricant lowers the chance of condom
- Don’t assume that a partner does not have an STI because they don’t have symptoms – in many instances, STIs are asymptomatic.
- Have frank and upfront conversations with partners about their STI history.
- If you’re having casual sex, get tested for STIs regularly by visiting your GP or local sexual health clinic.
- Avoid combining sex with alcohol and drug use.
Make plans to protect your mental health
23 Dec 2018
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said making plans, being organised, and managing your physical and emotional health can reduce stress and make Christmas and New Year a positive time for your mental health.
Dr Bartone said that the holiday season can be the most mentally stressful time of the year.
“There is a lot to do at Christmas, especially if family members are returning home from interstate or overseas,” Dr Bartone said.
“Pressure and stress can build up due to housing more people, shopping, cooking, entertaining, or travelling. This can place severe pressure on people, which can lead to symptoms of anxiety, anger, and difficulty sleeping.
“The key is to get organised and delegate the jobs where possible.
“If things do get difficult, visit your GP for advice on how to get everything done and maximise your enjoyment of the holiday season,” Dr Bartone said.
The AMA has some basic advice for a mentally healthy festive season:
Sleep and relaxation:
Partying, seeing in the New Year, drinking and having a good time is what many people do, but the evidence shows that your mental health and well-being improve with quality sleeping and relaxation time. Routine sleeping patterns alleviate stress. And remember to relax – nap, read a book, watch some TV, go to a movie, do the crossword or sudoku, or reacquaint yourself with the comfy chair.
Physical activity releases endorphins and boosts serotonin, which helps you relax and improve your wellbeing and mood. Undertaking simple tasks such as walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, Pilates, or gym workouts reduces anxiety, leads to decreased depression, and improves your mental and physical health. If you have a dog, take it for a walk – you’ll both appreciate it.
Everything in moderation:
Eat, drink, and be merry, but do so in moderation. Alcohol is a known depressant. Drink in moderation, and always adhere to the recommended drinking guidelines. And while you’re counting your drinks, count your calories too. Doctors recommend following a well-balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, and proteins. Drink plenty of water (all the time), and exercise after indulging.
Keep calm and carry on with family gatherings:
The holiday season is known as the ‘time for family’ but this too can be stressful, with expectations and demands creating additional stress and anxiety. It is very important that we are all aware of our own wellbeing and take time out to relax, de-stress, take a walk, have a cuppa, play some music – do things that alleviate anxiety and help everyone get along. Remember, headphones were invented for a reason.
Travel, don’t unravel:
Travelling to Christmas functions is a major cause of stress. If you haven’t booked in advance, then be realistic about your options. Allow plenty of time if you’re driving, and do not rush. Remember, cold food can wait for you. Be considerate of other road users and remember to stop and take regular breaks if driving long distances.
Helping other people is good for your own mental health and wellbeing. Helping people and volunteering reduces stress and improves mood and self-esteem. Consider volunteering for your local charity or locally-run Christmas party. Doing good is good for your mental health.
Staying social over holiday season
24 Dec 2018
Social media can be a good way to stay in contact with family and friends over the holiday season, but it can have some negative effects.
“Almost four out of five Australians used some form of social media during 2018, and Christmas is a popular time to use social media,” AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said.
“Over the Christmas period, Facebook posts and photos increase significantly, and many shoppers use social media as inspiration for Christmas gifts and decorations.
“Photos of friends travelling, celebrating at Christmas and New Year parties, and spending time with their families are everywhere.
“Social media has brought many benefits – making it easier to stay in touch with distant family members, facilitating social connections for less mobile people, and providing new ways to share experiences and messages with friends.
“Research has even shown that older users of social media have a 30 per cent reduction in depressive symptoms, compared with their offline peers.
“Social media provides an easy way to catch up with family members who we might not be able to be with in person – from grandparents overseas, to cousins interstate. It’s also a good way to check on friends who might be feeling more isolated over Christmas.
“However, despite these positives, social media can also have many negative impacts on mental health. Among younger people, frequent use of social media platforms can lead to increased feelings of social isolation, as well as lowered self-esteem and more exposure to cyber bullying.
“Seeing negative posts and having negative interactions on social media has been shown to influence users’ future posts – indicating that this might influence their mood as well.
“Encouragingly, researchers from the University of California have found that happier posts had a stronger influence on future activity than negative ones.
“These holidays, try to use social media positively, to share festive messages and contact friends and family. Importantly, don’t let social media get in the way of spending quality time with those around you.”
AMA Tips for a Social Christmas:
- Keep an eye out for cyber bullying and report it whenever you see it. Make sure that kids are aware of what cyber-bullying is and how it can affect others.
- Avoid checking social media before you go to bed – using your phone late into the night can affect your sleep.
- Use social media to connect with friends, family and people who might need extra support over Christmas.
- Avoid long Facebook rants and futile keyboard warrior-ing – it’ll put you (and your friends) in a bad mood.
Set a limit before you start drinking
26 Dec 2018
Australians should set themselves a limit before they start drinking these holidays, to ensure that they do not end up in hospital, the AMA says.
“The holiday season is a time when many people catch up with family and friends, and relax. For some, this means engaging in risky drinking and drug taking,” AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said.
“People who drink excessively or take drugs not only put themselves at risk, but often put those around them at increased risk of harm.
“December and January are busy times for hospital emergency department staff and paramedics.
“These health professionals forgo time with their own families and friends to care for those who become ill or injured over Christmas and New Year. Unfortunately, many of these illnesses and injuries will be as a direct result of alcohol and drug consumption.
“One in 10 people arriving at the St Vincent’s Hospital emergency department have been drinking alcohol. On weekends, this rises to four in 10.
“Recent research found that nine out of 10 emergency physicians have experienced alcohol-related violence at work.
“Waste water testing has found a spike in illicit drug use over the summer season.
“Unfortunately, it is not only the people who drink excessively or take drugs who are at risk. Innocent bystanders can be injured or harmed when drug and alcohol-related conflicts escalate.
“People’s ability to make reasoned and wise decisions can be impaired when under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
“It is also important to remember that children’s exposure to inappropriate behaviour due to drugs and alcohol can influence their attitudes and behaviours in the future.
“If excessive or binge drinking is normalised at certain times of the year, children may grow up accepting and repeating the behaviour.
“Alcohol and drugs don’t have to be part of your celebrations. Sharing a drink or two with family and friends is acceptable, but it can very easily escalate to dangerous levels. Set yourself a limit before you start drinking, and stay out of hospital.”
Family time over holidays is a good time to discuss end-of-life care wishes
27 Dec 2018
The AMA suggests that the holiday season can be a perfect opportunity for many of us to discuss with their families their future healthcare wishes when they are approaching the end of their lives.
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said that while this may not seem the cheeriest conversation to have during the festive season, ensuring your family understands your wishes for end-of-life care can potentially be the greatest gift you give them.
“It can be confusing and devastating for family members, who have to make end-of-life care decisions for a loved one, not knowing what care their loved one would actually want to receive,” he said.
“Just as importantly, they need to know what care they do not want to receive should they lose decision-making capacity in the future.
“Making family members aware of your end-of-life care wishes alleviates the burden of uncertainty during an emotional and stressful time. It is much better to have such conversations in a relaxed setting than in the intensive care unit.”
The AMA strongly urges all Australians to undertake advance care planning, a process of planning for your future health and personal care by ensuring your values, beliefs and preferences are known to guide those who will make health care decisions on your behalf, should you lose capacity in the future.
The outcome of planning is an advance care plan that can be recorded in a variety of ways, including an advance care directive, medical enduring power-of-attorney, a letter, an entry in your medical record, or even a verbal instruction.
The Advance Care Planning Australia website is an excellent resource for individuals, families, friends, and carers. It guides people through the process of advance care planning and provides a range of resources, including information on forms and requirements for advance care planning in each State or Territory.
The website also provides important resources for health care professionals, including education and online learning.
“Advance care planning can be done by anyone at any age, regardless of whether you are healthy or experiencing an illness,” Dr Bartone said.
“While everyone should consider advance care planning, it is particularly relevant to those with a chronic illness, a life-limiting illness, are over 75 years of age, or are at risk of losing the capacity to make healthcare decisions.”
The AMA's Position Statement on End of Life Care and Advance Care Planning 2014 is at https://ama.com.au/position-statement/end-life-care-and-advance-care-planning-2014
The Advance Care Planning Australia website is at https://www.advancecareplanning.org.au
Be ready for the heat
28 Dec 2018
This summer is shaping up to be a hot one, meaning Australians will have to take extra precautions to prevent heat stress and dehydration AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said.
“The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting that temperatures over December, January, and February will almost certainly be higher than seasonal averages,” Dr Bartone said.
“In general, higher temperatures lead to more hospitalisations for heat stress and dehydration, particularly among older people, children, people who work outdoors, and people with pre-existing medical conditions.
“During heatwaves, it’s a good idea to stay inside in the cool whenever possible – but of course there’s a temptation to cool off at the beach or at the local swimming pool.
“With Australia having one of the world’s highest levels of UV exposure, sun protection is another important consideration during summer.
“To protect yourself from the sun, seek shade wherever possible and wear protective clothing, a hat, and sunscreen to cover up.
“Being aware of the health impacts of heatwaves – and understanding the signs and symptoms – is vital to protecting yourself and your family this summer.”
A recent Lancet report found that average summer temperatures have increased by 0.9°C since 2000, with a significant association between hotter days and higher mortality. It also found a strong relationship between hot days and increased suicide rates.
The AMA Position Statement on Climate Change and Human Health – 2015 outlines the impacts of worsening heatwaves on human health, including increased rates of heat stress, mental ill-health, and lowered work capacity.
Heatwaves can often coincide with other weather events like bushfires, which cause additional harm to the mental and physical health of Australians.
AMA Tips for Riding out Heatwaves
- Stay indoors when possible and drink two to three litres of water each day.
- Look out for dehydration symptoms - these include increased thirst, dry mouth and swollen tongue, weakness or dizziness, and palpitations, feeling confused or sluggish, or fainting.
- Seek medical help if you think someone might be suffering from heat stress.
- Keep an eye on elderly relatives and neighbours to make sure they are doing ok on especially hot days.
- If you are outside during the day, make sure you stay in the shade and cover up with long sleeves, sunscreen and a hat.
- The Bureau of Meteorology provides handy daily information on UV levels, and recommends timeframes when sun protection is most needed. This information can be found on the BOM weather forecasts, the BOM Weather app or the SunSmart app.
The AMA Position Statement on Climate Change and Human Health is at https://ama.com.au/position-statement/ama-position-statement-climate-change-and-human-health-2004-revised-2015
Keep cool and safe when in the water
29 Dec 2018
The AMA is urging everybody – whether locals or tourists, young or old - to be especially aware of the dangers of beaches, rivers, creeks, and other swimming spots during the summer season.
Last summer saw an increase in drowning deaths, with 110 lives lost.
Across the country, Surf Lifesaving Australia performed 10,249 rescues. They also performed 65,296 first-aid treatments.
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said the staggering drowning and lifesaving statistics show that Australians and visitors to our country are not heeding the lifesaving warnings.
“Tragically, every summer Australia experiences an increased number of drowning deaths,” Dr Bartone said.
“Our beautiful beaches, rivers, and waterways are much busier, with families on school holidays - and long, hot days make water activity more enticing.
“Every year, we repeat the same message: do not drink alcohol or take drugs if you are near water.
“The AMA also has a message for visitors, tourists and people travelling to new locations: pay attention to warnings, do not venture into unknown rivers or waterways, and always swim on beaches with lifesaving services nearby.
“People born overseas account for about one third of drowning deaths every year.”
To maximise water safety, the AMA recommends:
- Do not swim alone unless you are under the supervision of experienced lifesavers.
- Always swim between the flags, and check warning signs for dangerous conditions such as rips.
- Never ever swim or enter water while intoxicated or under the influence of illegal drugs, and use extreme caution if taking prescription medication.
- Never enter beaches, waterways, rivers, or creeks unless you know the depth, currents, and tides. One in 10 of all new spinal injuries occurs in the water.
- If you have children, never leave them unsupervised. And remember that flotation devices can make children appear more competent in the water than they are.
- If your child is given pool or water toys for Christmas, make sure that you familiarise yourself with the safety instructions, and read the instructions to make sure that toys are appropriate for the age and weight of the child.
- Leaving toys in the pool can tempt children into the water. Deflate and pack away toys when they are not in use to remove this temptation.
The AMA warns anyone undertaking rock fishing or partaking in activities like kayaking, windsurfing, or jet skiing to only do so if you are competent, and have experienced people with you.
New Year a good time for a new approach to looking after your health
30 Dec 2018
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said the AMA is encouraging people who may have a medical or health problem that they are keeping to themselves to use the New Year to act and discuss it with their GP.
Dr Bartone said the New Year is a good time for people to adopt a new and better approach to looking after their own health.
“The ‘it’ll be right’ attitude can far too often lead to circumstances where it isn’t right at all,” Dr Bartone said.
“Prevention is better than any cure, and you don’t have to be sick to pay a visit to your GP. Identifying a problem sooner rather than later means better health outcomes for the patient.
“For example, the survival rate for people with eight of the most common cancers is more than three times higher when the disease is diagnosed early.
“Just as you regularly service the car, the New Year provides the impetus to get a check-up, identify any risk factors, and take steps to mitigate them so that you are ready for the year ahead.”
Dr Bartone said the summer New Year is the perfect time to have a skin check.
“That new mole or the one that has changed shape or is starting to itch needs to be looked at and looked at now,” Dr Bartone said.
“And with today’s busy lifestyles, feeling stressed is commonplace. Constantly feeling stressed is not only bad for your mental health, it is bad for your physical health.
“Being stressed all the time can lead to depression, lower your immune system, increase your blood pressure, give you heartburn, and increase your glucose levels.
“Your GP can help you with managing your levels of stress and help you prevent the occurrence of conditions such as gastrointestinal issues, coronary heart disease, or Type 2 diabetes.”
Dr Bartone said identifying risk factors for such conditions, and providing advice towards preventing their emergence or their exacerbation, is a fundamental part of what GPs do for patients every single day.
“Don’t think they don’t have time for you, because they do. All you need to do is book an appointment,” he said.
“If you haven’t had a check-up for a while, the holidays are a perfect time to schedule one.
“Giving up smoking, reducing your alcohol intake, eating a nutritional balanced diet, and being more active, are all things your GP could help you with.
“Start a conversation with your GP today about your health concerns, and partner with them in improving your health outcomes for the year ahead and beyond.”
Consider giving the gift of life
31 Dec 2018
More than 1000 Australians will spend these holidays waiting for the ultimate gift of life – an organ transplant.
The AMA is encouraging all Australians to consider registering as organ and tissue donors, in the spirit of giving.
“As families come together to share the holidays, Christmas festivities and holiday gatherings can be a good time to discuss your donation decision with your family members,” AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said.
“Australia is a leader in organ and tissue transplantation, in terms of transplant outcomes. While donation rates are continually improving as a result of reform measures introduced in 2009, we can do better.
“We still do not have sufficient donated organs to meet the needs of those who might benefit from a transplant.
“By increasing Australia’s rate of organ and tissue donation, more individuals and their families can benefit from receiving life-enhancing transplants.
“This is also good for our healthcare system, as the transplantation of organs and tissues such as kidneys and corneas, is cost-effective compared to the expense of providing ongoing treatment to those waiting for a transplant.
“Less than two per cent of people in Australia who die in hospitals can become donors, as particular circumstances have to occur for a patient to be medically suitable to donate.
“That is why it is so important for every Australian to consider becoming a donor.
“In Australia, your family will always be asked to confirm your donation decision. In nine out of 10 cases, if the loved one is a registered organ donor, families agree to proceed with organ donation. That drops to four in 10 when the family is unaware or unsure of their loved one’s donation decision.
“The AMA supports organ and tissue donation, and strongly encourages every Australian to register their decision donation on the Australian Organ Donor Register, and discuss that decision with their families.
“We sincerely thank every organ donor for their generosity, and every donor family for making such a generous decision during a very difficult time in their lives.”
The AMA Position Statement on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation 2017 is at https://ama.com.au/position-statement/organ-and-tissue-donation-and-transplantation-2017
Unproven medicines a risk to health and wallet
02 Jan 2019
Australians are in danger of wasting their money on unproven complementary medicines and therapies, which could not only have serious side effects but could also leave them unable to pay for evidence-based treatments.
The AMA has released its updated Position Statement on Complementary Medicine 2018, which reflects changes to State laws and national monitoring systems that have come into place since the Position Statement was last reviewed in 2011-12.
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said Australian complementary medicine industry revenue had doubled over the past 10 years to $4.9 billion annually, including $630 million on herbal products and $430 million on weight loss products in 2017.
“While the AMA recognises that evidence-based aspects of complementary medicine can be part of patient care by a doctor, there is little evidence to support the therapeutic claims made for most of these medicines and therapies,” Dr Bartone said.
“The majority of complementary medicines do not meet the same standards of safety, quality, and efficacy as mainstream medicines, as they are not as rigorously tested.
“Some can cause adverse reactions, or interact with conventional medicine. Most just don’t do anything much at all.
“But they do pose a risk to patient health, either directly through misuse, or indirectly if a patient puts off seeking medical advice, or has spent so much on these products that they cannot afford necessary, evidence-based treatment.
“Children are particularly vulnerable, as diagnosing and treating illness in children is complex. A doctor must be involved in any diagnosis and ongoing treatment plan, including the use of complementary medicine.”
Dr Bartone said the AMA had long advocated for better regulation of non-registered health practitioners, such as naturopaths, herbalists, and Ayurveda practitioners.
“We have seen some positive changes over the past six years,” Dr Bartone said.
“All States and Territories now have regulations to protect Australians from unsafe and unethical practitioners.
“All unregistered practitioners must comply with a code of conduct, and they can be sanctioned or banned if they breach the code.
“But we still do not have a national, public register of non-registered practitioners who have been banned from working in their State or Territory, despite all Governments agreeing in 2015 to establish one.
“This register should be established as quickly as possible to alert the public and potential employers of any risks.”
The AMA Position Statement on Complementary Medicine 2018 is at https://ama.com.au/position-statement/ama-position-statement-complementary-medicine-2018
Published: 21 Jan 2019