Ask Our Doctors

How can I make my meals healthier?

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Dear Doctors,

I’m overweight and I want to start eating better, but I have no idea where to start. How can I make my meals healthier?

— Hungry for Information

Dear Hungry,

We commend you on your decision to eat healthier! With so much conflicting information out there about diet and nutrition, we understand your confusion.

Here are the facts: Research shows that you can significantly decrease your chances of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases by eating a varied diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat, and low in saturated fats and cholesterol.

These tips will help you build a more nutritious diet:

  • Read the labels on food products. Look for foods that are low in fat, sugar and sodium and high in protein and fiber.
  • Load up on fruits and vegetables. Aim for at least five servings a day of a variety of produce.
  • Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water each day.
  • Eat lean meats, such as chicken and fish.
  • Bake or grill your food with heart-healthy olive oil instead of frying it.
  • Choose skim milk and other dairy products that are low in fat.
  • Switch your snack food from potato chips to baked pretzels or air-popped popcorn.
  • Save cake, ice cream and other sugary treats for special occasions.

To create a healthy eating plan that’s right for you, talk with your doctor. A dietitian can provide great information and support, as well.

Bon appetit!

What does board certification mean?

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Dear Doctors:

On my doctor’s Web page, her list of credentials includes the fact that she is board certified. What does board certification mean?

— Curious

Dear Curious,

You’re asking an important question. Over the years, board certification has become an increasingly important and expected credential.

How does a doctor become board certified?

All doctors must graduate from medical school and complete the requirements for licensure, which vary by state and often include an examination and an internship or other graduate medical education. Then, doctors who choose to specialize in one area of medicine, such as pediatrics, family medicine or orthopaedic surgery, complete a residency that ranges from 3 to 7 years, depending on the specialty.

During or after completing a residency, a doctor may choose to take a comprehensive exam to become certified by the medical board that oversees their specialty. For example, my own board certification in Emergency Medicine comes from the American Board of Emergency Medicine.

Some specialty boards require oral as well as written examinations, and surgical boards often require case reviews. The timeline for completing the certification process varies by specialty.

Once passing this rigorous examination process, a doctor becomes board certified. Most medical boards require doctors to maintain certification by continuing medical education and periodically becoming recertified by passing additional examinations.

Why is it important for a doctor to be board certified?

For a doctor to become board certified, he or she must demonstrate thorough knowledge of all aspects of their specialty. The certifying board stands behind the doctor as having achieved the highest level of skill in that specialty. Board certification indicates that a doctor has made a commitment to meeting the highest standards in their field and maintaining those standards.

For most of us, board certification represents the achievement of a goal; the culmination of all our years of training. It marks us as the specialist we set out to become.

The Portage Health medical staff voted in 2004 to require all doctors joining our medical staff after that date to be board certified within five years after completing their residency. Currently, 87 percent of Portage Health’s physicians are board certified.

How can I find out if my doctor is board certified?

You can ask your doctor or the administration of the healthcare organization where they work. At Portage Health, we include our doctors’ board certifications on our Web site.

Thank you for your excellent question!

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

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Dear Doctors,

My brother, who has snored for years, was recently diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. I snore pretty loudly, as well. What is obstructive sleep apnea? How do I know if I might be at risk?


Dear BuzzSaw,

When we snore, the tissue in our nose and the back of our throat vibrates and makes noise. That tissue – instead of simply vibrating – can partially or completely collapse, blocking the passage of air to our lungs. The temporary stoppages in breathing that result are called apneas. Since they occur from obstructions in our airway while we sleep, the condition is called obstructive sleep apnea(OSA).

Symptoms of OSA include snoring, fatigue and sleepiness during the day. Your friends or family members also may notice that you stop breathing while you sleep. Children with obstructive sleep apnea have difficulty concentrating, may perform poorly in school, and sometimes are labeled as being lazy or diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.

Physicians care about OSA for both its short-term and long-term consequences. In the short term, people with OSA frequently are sleepy during the day. This not only makes for poor quality of life, but it has been shown to dramatically increase the risk for car crashes. In the long term, OSA has been associated with an increase in high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, stroke, heart attack and sudden death.

OSA usually is diagnosed by a test called polysomnography, also known as a sleep study. A sleep technologist monitors the patient while he or she sleeps, looking for signs of obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep-related problems.

In children, untreated OSA can lead to permanent changes in the way the nose, throat and mouth develop. These changes lead to the child having OSA as an adult.

Fortunately, OSA is treatable. In most adults, OSA can be treated by a device that delivers a small amount of air pressure to the nose and throat while you sleep. In children, removing the tonsils and adenoids usually cures the condition.

Thank you for your question!

What is a hospitalist?

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Dear Doctors:

My friend had a three-day stay at Portage Health recently for pneumonia. She was cared for by a hospitalist. What is a hospitalist?


Dear Wondering:

A hospitalist is a physician who spends most or all of their time caring for patients in the hospital. They do this during shifts when they remain at the hospital and have no other duties. They devote their time strictly to taking care of patients already in the hospital, managing new patients as they come in to the hospital, and providing consulting services when requested by other doctors. They are immediately accessible in person to patients and nurses in the hospital.

Hospitalists represent an emerging new medical specialty. They come from family medicine or internal medicine training and often with a focus on hospital and critical care. With dedication to hospital care they gain greater experience in providing care to ill patients in the hospital.

This program at Portage Health began in May 2008 and operates from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Most Portage Health physicians are requesting that the hospitalist care for their patients in the hospital. Dr. Terry Kinzel, Dr. Monsoor Khokhar and Dr. Lori Vaughan are our Portage Health hospitalists. They serve our patients in the hospitalist capacity.

Hospitalists offer the opportunity for improved service by their immediate accessibility and improved care from their greater experience in caring for hospitalized patients.

What can I do to improve my heart health?

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Dear Doctors,

After a long battle with heart disease, my mother died last year. What can I do to improve my heart health?


Dear Worried,

I’m so sorry that you lost your mother. Heart disease claims about a million lives each year; it is the No. 1 cause of death for women and men in the United States. Here’s how you can take action to significantly decrease your risk of heart disease.

Know your history

If any of your immediate family members developed heart disease, your own heart is at an increased risk.

Team up with your doctor

Talk with your physician about your concerns and ask how you can boost your overall health.

Learn your numbers

Request a full physical and blood screening to check your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. Review these numbers with your doctor and discuss ways you can lower any dangerously high results.

Quit smoking

Even a casual habit greatly increases your chances of developing heart disease and other serious ailments.

Power up your plate

For heart-healthy meals, choose vegetables, fruit, whole grains and fish. Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Get moving

Exercising for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can help ward off heart disease. You don’t have to join a gym — walking works.

Drop a few pounds

For most people, a weight loss of five to 10 pounds can help prevent high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which are serious risk factors for heart disease.

These simple lifestyle changes can help you protect your most vital organ for a lifetime of good health. Bravo to you for taking steps to keep your heart strong!

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