Spirituality and Health in Today’s World

Written by Bunga

Megaoesophagus and Myasthenia Gravis
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Image by timtak
Andy’s illness has been diagnosed as the fairly rare and fairly serious Aquired Myasthenia Gravis, in a classic form.

Myasthenia Gravis is an autoimmune disease (like lupus and rheumatic arthritis) where the body attacks its own neurtransmitters, resulting in general paralysis of the striatic (that means voluntarily controlled) muscles.

Typical syptoms are
1) Passive regurgitation, since the oesophagus muscles become weak. (We did not notice Andy having this. It is not the same as vomiting, which Andy did have.).
2) Megaoesophagus – a big and flacid oesophagus, as shown in the Xray here.
3) Paralysis of the face muscles. Hence Andy’s jowls.
4) Weak or high pitched bark.
5) Paralysis of leg muscles.
6) Sleeping with the eyes open (Andy had this too. I was going to take a photo)

The disease can be diagnosed by a blood test for "serum antibodies to the acetylcholine receptor," but this test can not be done in Japan. We have sent off to have it done in the US.

The disease was diagnosed effectively however by the use of pharmacological testing, using the short-acting drug edrophonium chloride (brand-name “Tensilon”). This drug TEMPORARILY counteracts the effects of the paralysis, so that the dog returns to normal for about 5 minutes after injection. Since Andy could just about totter today, they were not sure whether to administer the drug. I said that we would be able to tell if Andy had improved.

A few minutes later considerable laughter was heard coming from the room where the several vets were inspecting Andy. Shortly afterwards, Andy came bounding out of the room followed by a vet with a video camera. I guess it must have been quite a laugh, because the difference between a well Andy and the Andy we have at present is very considerable.

I thought that the laughter was a bit painful myself. I was pleased that they had a good video for educational purposes, and pleased that we had discovered the disease, but a bit depressed for Andy.

It was a bit like "Awakenings," a true story about comatose humans that were given a drug which woke them temporarily from a coma. The difference being that the test for canine Myasthenia Gravis is well known, as is the brevity of the effect, beforehand. All the same, more laughter was heard as they reviewed the video.

I will have have to ask them for it. Perhaps I was pissed about not being able to share in the laugh? Hmm…That capped it off.

By the time Andy got to the end of the corridoor the effects were wearing off. We called him back, at their instruction for the benefit of the camera but his legs gave way again.

The good news is that we know what the illness is, and we can begin treatment. The treatment (using something to supress the enzyme that is attacking the body) is not a cure, but there is quite often spontaneous remission. Sometimes it just gest worse though, so wishing Andy good luck…

Spirituality is recognized as a factor that contributes to health. The practice of using spirituality as a means to improve health has been around for thousands of years.  Many believe that the use of spirituality to improve health has such a long history because it seems to works.  Here we examined spirituality and its importance in promoting health, helping patients to face illness, death, and suffering, as well as examined the current role of spirituality in compassionate care by physicians.


How is Spirituality defined?


Spirituality has been defined as: a belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself; a sense of connection with all living creatures; and an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life.  Spirituality is also the manner in which one finds meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace in life.  It is expressed in an individual’s search for meaning through religion and/or belief in God, family, nature, values, principles, and the arts. Although religion and spirituality are often associated, many believe that personal spirituality can be developed outside of religion.  Acts of compassion and selflessness, altruism, and the experience of inner peace are all characteristics of spirituality.

Three major categories of scientific research on spirituality and health

There is considerable scientific research analyzing the potential connection between religious practice, prayer and health.  This research has been undertaken at some of the countries’ most prestigious universities and is the basis of dozens, if not hundreds, of major scientific articles.  Although the research is mostly observational, it suggests that there is a link between spiritual practice and better health.  Of the more than 300 studies done, over three-fourths show positive effects. Certain studies have shown that people with a religious commitment have fewer symptoms of mental and physical disorders and make fewer doctor visits than other people. Other studies have found that these patients tend to have a reduced risk of diseases including cancer and coronary heart disease.  These studies are divided into three major categories, and examples are given:


1. Studies on Mortality-For example, researchers at the Human Population Laboratory in Berkeley California (1997), examined the association between religious attendees and mortality rate in 5,286 people.  They found lower (up to 65%) mortality in frequent religious attendees.  A basic scientific study, by H.W.  Koenig at Duke University credited this lower mortality rate to a decrease in the immune regulator Interleukin 6 and to better immune function.


2.  Studies on coping-J.W. Yates in Medical Pediatric Oncology Journal (1981) showed that patients who practiced spirituality had a more positive outlook and were better able to cope with pain, and their illness, even those in advanced stages of cancer.

3.  Studies on patient’s recovery– indicate that spiritual commitment tends to enhance recovery from illness and surgery.  For example, a study of heart transplant patients showed that those who were regular attendees fared better than those who were not.  Other studies indicate that people with strong spiritual beliefs heal faster from surgery, are less anxious and depressed, have lower blood pressure. These studies show that the faithful tend to have higher levels of hope and optimism.


Spirituality in today’s medicine

Many Americans are looking forward to the use of spirituality in health care. This may be due to dissatisfaction with the impersonal nature of our current medical system, and the realization that medical science does not have all answers to questions about health.  In the past decade or so, the number of American medical schools offering courses on spiritual issues has risen to more than 40.  Several medical associations have integrated spirituality into their policies, and some physicians are becoming involved in compassionate care which includes:

Having a compassionate presence-giving full attention and support to physical emotional and spiritual needs.
Listening to fears, hopes and dreams.
Getting a  spiritual diagnosis by involving a chaplain
Spiritual counseling by a chaplain

It is also important to note that spirituality does not guarantee health and the danger exists that prayer may be substituted for medical care, or that spiritual practice could delay the receipt of necessary medical treatment.

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Audrey Robinson is a research scientist in Cell and Molecular Biology. She is dedicated to the field of cancer research and has striven to support this research through her internet business marketing products for financial education and wealth management. She is also a coach for internet marketers. Visit her website that offers help for those seeking financial freedom and independence as well as wealth management education.

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