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Living Well

Lake Region Healthcare is committed to helping you live well in all the dimensions of wellness.

​Living Well in the Lakes Region is our regular column in the Battle Lake area newspapers. The most recent articles can be found here:

Clouded by Cataracts?

Shedding light on the world’s leading cause of vision loss during June, Cataract Awareness Month

By Dr. Jim Garrity, Ophthalmologist

According to the organization “Prevent Blindness,” the number of cataract cases are projected to increase by 50 percent in the next 10 years. Much of this increase is due to the aging of America’s population. A cataract, by definition, is an opacity in the normally clear lens. As we age, the proteins in the lens of the eye start to break down and clump together, making a cloudy area knows as a cataract. This typically starts to happen around age 40 and by the time we’re 80, most people either have some degree of a cataract or have already had cataract surgery.

Cataracts can affect younger people and even newborn babies. It’s unclear whether other factors may also contribute to their formation. It’s possible that too much ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, smoking, certain diseases such as diabetes, genetic predisposition, injuries and even certain medications such as prolonged use of corticosteroids may also increase risk factors.

Signs & Symptoms

It's important to know the symptoms since cataracts are the leading cause of blindness among older adults. The most common symptoms that signal you may be developing cataracts include:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision
  • Colors look faded
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Lamps, sunlight or headlights seem too bright
  • Seeing a halo around lights
  • Double vision affecting one eye
  • A need to change your eyeglasses or contacts prescription often

Talk with your eye doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Even if they are not related to the development of cataracts, they may be signs of other eye problems. Eye doctors check for cataracts as part of a dilated eye exam – a simple and painless process of giving eye drops to widen your pupil so the doctor can check your eyes for cataracts and other eye problems.


If cataracts are discovered, a new prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses may help early on. Using brighter lights, anti-glare sunglasses and magnifying glasses could also be effective management techniques in early stages. Surgery, however, is the definitive way to get rid of a cataract. If symptoms begin to interfere with everyday activities like reading or driving, your doctor will likely suggest cataract surgery. It’s one of the most common operations in the United States and thankfully, it’s a safe solution to correct the vision problems caused by cataracts.

During this outpatient surgery, the doctor will remove clouded lens and replace it with a new, artificial lens. The surgery lasts less than an hour and is quite painless. About 9 out of 10 people who get cataract surgery see better afterward. As with any surgery there are risks. Talking about your options, risks and benefits with an eye doctor is the best way to determine when and if cataract surgery is right for you.

Like most medical conditions, early detection and prevention will contribute to better outcomes. Regardless of your age, be sure to schedule regular eye exams. After age 60, a dilated eye exam is recommended every one to two years.

5 Things to Know about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

by Jana Sundeen, DNP

Do you have—or suspect you may have—irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Here are five FAQs about IBS that might help you better understand this difficult disorder.

  1. What is IBS?

IBS is best understood as a long-term or recurrent disorder of gastrointestinal (GI) functioning. Functional GI disorders, which clinicians now call disorders of gut-brain interactions, are related to problems with how your brain and your gut work together. These problems can cause your gut to be more sensitive and alter how the muscles in your bowel contract. Changes in how these muscles contract lead to diarrhea, constipation or both.

  1. Who gets IBS?

Women are about twice as likely as men to develop IBS. It's more common for people younger than age 50 to develop IBS than older people. Risk factors for developing IBS include having:

  • A family member with IBS.
  • A history of stressful or difficult life events in childhood, such as abuse.
  • A severe infection in your digestive tract.
  1. What are some symptoms of IBS?

People with IBS may experience mostly diarrhea, mostly constipation, or both diarrhea and constipation.

Other common symptoms of IBS include:

  • Bloating—a sensation of fullness in the belly.
  • Urgency—the need to use the bathroom in a hurry.
  • Mucus in the stool, and the sensation of incompletely passing stools.
  1. How is IBS treated?

It's important for people with IBS to learn as much as they can about the condition and to find a health care provider who understands the challenges of treating it. A strong patient-provider partnership can go a long way toward improving and controlling symptoms.

Lifestyle changes are often recommended as a first line of treatment. Recommendations are based on your symptoms and what triggers them. For instance, if eating certain foods makes your IBS worse, then you may need to avoid those foods or eat fewer of them.

Work with your healthcare provider to identify factors that may make your symptoms worse.

  1. Are there medicines that can help treat IBS?

If lifestyle changes do not relieve IBS symptoms, there are medicines that may help, including:

  • Antispasmodics, which may relieve abdominal pain or discomfort in some people, particularly if their symptoms occur soon after eating.
  • Anti-diarrheal agents, which can prevent or relieve symptoms of diarrhea but may not ease its pain.
  • Laxatives, which can help with symptoms of constipation but may not do much to control its pain. These drugs should be used under the supervision of a physician.
  • Anti-anxiety medications, which can be helpful for people who have IBS associated with psychological distress.

Sources: International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

So You Want to be a Swimmer

by Tom Uvaas, Unity Wellness Swim Instructor

My name is Tom Uvaas and for most of my life I have been involved in the world of swimming, as a competitor, a swim coach, and now as a swim instructor. I have been blessed in all these arenas because of excellent athletes, great families, a very supportive community, and many blessings from God.

I also learned throughout my career to give thanks, so I open with thanking the Foss Swim Program for its gift to our community of 14 years of instructing families in how to swim and enjoy swimming using their method. Also, a huge thank you to Lake Region Healthcare, where I have been employed for the past 15 years. It has provided us with one of the most comfortable teaching environments: an Endless Pool at 92 degrees.

So, let’s talk about swimming! A few simple tips:

Get Wet!

If you want to swim - you have to get wet. Bath tubs are great pools for those under 6. You can have the little ones work on back float, pours/sprinkles on the face, face in the water looking down at a bath toy with goggles, and kicking. This is the group that improves the most; they have their own pool.

Older swimmers can practice in pools & lakes, but need to know their limits and get comfortable- walking, short floating, trying to scull on front and back, and putting their face in the water.

Goggles are Good!

The key is a good comfortable fit. I would recommend:

  • Ages 3-5: Frogglez Goggles & FINIS DragonFly Goggles [easy cap-strap] - this is more comfortable for a younger swimmer
  • Ages 6-10: TYR Swimple & Speedo Child Swim
  • 11 & Older: TYR and Speedo young adult/adult.

Also, you will want to have dark goggles to use outside; these also work indoors. BUT GOGGLES REALLY WORK to help enjoy your swimming!

To Be a Swimmer Takes Time!

On a swim team, we would practice 6 days a week and average 30+ miles of training.; not all hard training, but a lot of water adaptation. The same is true for anyone who wants to enjoy swimming. Not hard training but floating, relaxing, building confidence, and feeling safe. There is a saying: “You want the water to be your friend.” And this takes TIME!

Have Fun!

Those who know me, know I really enjoy having fun, either coaching great swimmers or teaching a 3 year-old how to place his/her face in the water for the first time. The key is to make the experience FUN! For example, play games, count how fast he or she can kick with a board, move tots through the water on different water rides, have your own imaginary water park. Also, to relax a swimmer, especially on his/her back, you can sing or whistle a tune.

Always Respect the Water!

Remember to always have a healthy respect for the water! Safety is Number One. Know your and your child’s limits, and ALWAYS supervise your children and be aware of danger.

In closing, swimming is a lifetime activity that can be enjoyed at all ages. Practicing, relaxing, and enjoying the water, will make your experience safe and rewarding.

6 Ways to Love Your Heart

By Dr. Kristina England

A heart-healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be complicated. Small steps go a long way toward reducing risk for heart-disease, stroke, heart failure and other issues.

High blood pressure affects almost half of all adults and 75% of them do not have their high blood pressure under control*. Controlled blood pressure is considered to be less than 130 over 80. High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because there are no obvious symptoms to indicate something is wrong. But if left uncontrolled, it can lead to a myriad of health issues including:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney disease or failure
  • Vision loss
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Angina
  • Peripheral artery disease

The damage from high blood pressure occurs over time, causing tears in your artery walls. Making some simple lifestyle changes can significantly lower your risk while also preventing other serious condition. Here are six simple steps to lower your risk.

  1. Learn your health history. Know your blood pressure numbers and talk to your family to understand your genetic risk factors. A conversation with your doctor about other facets of your personal health profile is also important to understanding your individual risk.
  2. Eat more whole foods. Science continues to show us that food itself can be medicine. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats will help keep your heart in shape. Less salt, added sugar and saturated fats will help too.
  3. Physical activity not only helps control high blood pressure, it also helps manage your weight, strengthen your heart valves, lower stress levels and improve mood.
  4. Think about what you drink. Substitute water for sugary drinks to manage calories. If you drink alcohol, limit consumption because too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. For females, we recommend no more than one alcoholic beverage per day and no more than 2 alcoholic beverages for males.
  5. If you smoke, start your quit plan today. Talk to your doctor about help available or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free support.
  6. Get screened. If you’re in a risk category (are over 40 or if you have early family history of heart disease, a history of smoking or are currently smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes or are a postmenopausal woman), make an appointment for a heart health screen. A comprehensive check of your heart allows you and your primary care provider to assess your risk and make a plan together to prevent problems later. Screenings are offered at Lake Region Healthcare’s Cardiac Rehab in the Mehl Center and you don’t need a doctor’s referral to schedule one.

Managing high blood pressure is good for your whole body. These steps are in no particular order, choose the one or two most appealing to you and build from there. Your heart does a lot for you! Taking some small steps to make sure it can keep the beat will have benefits far beyond your heart health.

*According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.


Everything is Progress

Absolutely EVERYTHING is progress

by Karoline Gustafson, Head Coach & Personal Trainer at LRH Unity Wellness

B.S. Health Promotions (Exercise Science), CF-L1 Trainer, USA Weightlifting Level 1, Gymnastics Certificate, Precision Nutrition L1, NSCA - Certified Personal Trainer, NSCA - Certified Special Populations Specialist

A year ago, friend of mine gave me a little card that says, “Absolutely EVERYTHING is progress.” At the time my leg was in a brace locked in the straight position and crutches were my means of transportation. With PLENTY of time on my hands to think about what it meant for me, that little card hit me harder than expected.

It became the backbone of many of my decisions from that point on. Will this meal help me heal? Yes or no? Will doing my exercises (even though I don’t want to) help me get back under a heavy barbell? Yes or no? Will this decision move me forward or backward in my life goals? Is this forward progress or progress in the other direction?

Every year CrossFit has a worldwide event called the CrossFit Open. It’s a three-week event in which CrossFit headquarters announces a workout on Thursday and athletes in gyms around the world complete the workout by the following Monday. Those that sign up for the Open submit their scores and then watch their name bump around on the worldwide leaderboard as the workouts get more intense. Why would anyone from Fergus Falls even sign up for an event like this?

You may be surprised to learn that over 20 local athletes participated in the 2023 CrossFit Open at Unity Wellness in Fergus Falls. The reasons they described were because it’s a chance to see where their fitness level is compared to years past, to connect with the gym community, and to see where their fitness level sits among hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. It’s a chance to see if they made progress over the last year.

Measurable, observable, repeatable, that’s what CrossFit preaches. But how do you apply that in YOUR daily life? Are your goals progressing forward or backward? Remember, “Absolutely EVERYTHING is progress.”

Seeing measurable progress is important no matter what goal you are trying to reach. It could be a goal related to fitness, nutrition, stress, sleep, professional goals, really anything. Measuring your progress, taking time to reflect on that progress (good or bad), and being able to duplicate the forward progress will get you to your goal.

Write down your goals, the steps it will take you to reach those goals, your successes, and your failures. Keeping track of your goals allows you to observe if you are on the right track. Telling someone about your goal is helpful, too!

Observing your progress allows you to identify areas giving you success. Using those successes can help you find pathways towards your goals that are repeatable. These repeatable processes can easily become habits!

As we closed out the CrossFit Open many participants reached or succeeded their goals. Some got their first pull-ups and one qualified for the next round of competition. Others fell short of their goals. Most importantly, everyone has a measurable, observable, and repeatable statistic to help them set their fitness goal for 2024.

Progress can be forward, or it can be backward, but it’s not linear. Build off your successes, make changes to things that aren’t working right, and give yourself the grace and grit it takes to reach your goals.

What to do when Life Happens

By Sharla Mitchell, NASM PED, Peak Pilates L1 Comprehensive

Wellness Trainer at Lake Region Healthcare Unity Wellness

I was ultra-fit throughout my 30’s and 40’s. I lived in Colorado in my 40’s and enjoyed rock climbing in Garden of the Gods, hiking, and just about any activity that took me outdoors. I chose to be a personal trainer for my career because I enjoyed being fit and helping others get fit.

Life seemed to be going well until April 19, 2018. I had a stroke which left me unable to see normally, unable to drive, unable to walk in a straight line, and I was unable to leave the house without help. The neurointerventionalist told me that I’d never work again, never work out again and he suggested that I take up playing chess. Anyone who knew me, knew that I could never sit long enough to play chess, so that wasn’t an option. The only option in my mind was to get better.

There were a lot of challenges to overcome but one by one, things started changing. Not knowing if I’d ever be ‘normal’ again was really difficult mentally. I’m a firm believer in our words having power so needless to say, I didn’t talk a lot those first two years. I did fill my time by listening to positive messages which gave me hope. Joyce Meyer often says “You can be bitter or you can be better but you can’t be both”. Andrew Wommack says “You can be the victim or you can be the victor”.

After 3 years, I was well enough to pack up my house, sell it and move to MN, closer to family. I found a full-time job and settled in. I worked in an office, very excited that I was indeed able to work.

The hardest thing for me was sitting all day. I am no longer the fit, energetic person I had always been. What I’m currently learning is that as life happens, I need to learn to embrace who I am today and let go of the past. Every morning I have a chance to be different, a chance to change and a chance to be better. I will never achieve the level of fitness I enjoyed in my 30’s and 40’s but with consistency I can achieve optimal health for my current self.

5 years later I’m back working as a trainer at Lake Region Healthcare Unity Wellness Center. I’m finding that getting healthy is a TEAM sport and what a great team they have assembled here. I’m constantly amazed by the compassion and acceptance of the staff here. They don’t expect me to be perfect but encourage me to just get started. I’ve learned a lot of things on this journey called life. The most important thing was not to let a bump in the journey stop me from moving forward every day. If you want help improving your health, stop over and see us at Unity Wellness. If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always gotten.

Connecting to Thrive

Connecting to Thrive

By Natalie Knutson, Director of Wellness at Lake Region Healthcare

What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life? If you were to invest now, into your future best self, where would you put your time and energy? These are some big questions to consider when you stop and reflect on how you are living. Your responses will be very personal to you! But, there is one common response that we all should consider, and that is our social connections.

Decades of research suggest that the quality of our social ties might be the single biggest predictor of our well-being. We are wired to connect, reach out and interact with each other. In many cases social connections register in our brain much like physical pleasure. In addition, research also proves that increase in life span, decrease in anxiety and depression, faster disease recovery and improvement in life satisfaction more of the many benefits of social connections.

So, what are some basic ways to establish positive social connections? 1) Maintain and reconnect with those you have lost contact with. This could be a written card, phone call, email or even a simple text. 2) Connect with your neighbors. Take the time to connect with the people you encounter daily. This could be a neighbor living next to you, a co-worker at the office, someone you pass routinely on a walk or even someone you see during your weekly routine. 3) Think of those who support you. Write down those who have supported you in the past and currently. Reflect on how that support made you feel? Think about how you support others. 4) List your 4am friends. Make a list of people you could reach out to at any time of day. Tell them! In many cases they will be grateful to know they mean that much to you, but they will also be there for you in time of need.

Circling back to the introduction of this article, I stated that the quality of our social ties might be the single biggest predictor of our well-being. It’s important to create social connections and feel socially connected, but what makes a quality social connection? We have learned from long time researcher, Brene Brown, that trust is the foundation of all social connections. Trust is not an all or nothing but rather built in small moments. The concept has 7 different components, with some more familiar to you than others. They consist of: Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Nonjudgment, and Generosity. While all of them are very important, let’s explore a few. Vault is probably the most common concept people think about when identifying if they trust someone or not. Vault is considered confidential. You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. Another common term people consider when assessing the quality of their connection, is nonjudgment. This is a chance to ask for what you need, talk about how you feel, all without judgment. Lastly, is reliability. You do what you say you’ll do. You don’t overpromise and you’re aware of your limitations. You’re able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities. So now the question is, do you trust yourself? Think about your social connections, are they quality connections?

Considering the timeliness of this article, as the leaves are changing and seasons are changing, so too your connections will change. It’s natural that people will come in and out of your life, but what’s important is that you hold onto those connections that fill your cup and make you feel good! The change in season can also bring cold weather, emotional distress and lack of motivation to get out. It’s more important than ever to stay connected and love on one another.

For more information about social connections and the Thrive initiative, go to:

About the Author:

Natalie Knutson is the Director of Wellness, Coach and Personal Trainer at Lake Region Healthcare’s Unity Wellness Center. Her ultimate goal in life is to inspire individuals to be their best and to promote a healthy lifestyle of exercise, nutrition and a calm mind. Her journey began when I had a moment in college that pushed me into the fitness industry and led me to my passion. She graduated from UND with a degree in physical education and exercise science with a minor in health education. She is a certified personal trainer and certified special population specialist through NSCA, group fitness-certified, with specialties in Kettlebells, Drums Alive, Spinning and CrossFit. She has been teaching group fitness and personal training since 2007 and has been at Lake Region Healthcare since 2008.

Mammograms: No Excuses! Prep for the squeeze with ease.

By Steph Polzin, PA-C Lake Region Healthcare Cancer Center

Ladies, do any of these excuses sound familiar?

  • “I don't have time for a mammogram.”
  • “I can't afford a mammogram.”
  • “Mammograms are painful.”
  • “I'm afraid to get a mammogram.”
  • “Breast cancer doesn't run in my family.”
  • “I've had normal mammograms in the past, so I don’t need another one.”

Regardless of the hesitation, the benefits of mammograms are real, and they far outweigh any of the excuses. Regular mammograms help find cancer in its early stages, when it's usually easier to treat. According to the American Joint Commission on Cancer (AJCC), the five-year disease-free survival rates were 98-100% for stage I or early-stage disease. I’d like to address some of the common hesitations to get a mammogram and then offer some practical tips on preparing for a comfortable, easy screening appointment.

No More Excuses:

  1. I don’t have time: Getting your mammogram should only take about half an hour, including the time to register. It’s 30 minutes invested in you and your health. You’re worth it!
  2. I can’t afford it: Medicaid and Medicare cover regular screenings and so do most insurance companies. Check with your insurance provider to see if your screening is covered and whether your plan covers 2D or 3D mammography before you go in for a mammogram.
  3. They’re painful: Mammograms may be uncomfortable, but they shouldn’t be painful. Your technologist is committed to making it as comfortable as possible while still getting excellent imaging for the early detection of breast cancer. Speak up and the tech will stop compression or re-position as needed.
  4. I’m afraid they will find something: The fact is that most breast lumps and other changes don't turn out to be cancerous. It’s not uncommon for calcifications, cysts or fibroadenomas to show up as a change in breast tissue and flag further testing. They are usually benign or harmless and no further treatment is needed.
  5. Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family: Genetics are not the major risk factor. The fact that you are a woman and aging are the two most prevalent risks for breast cancer. If you want to learn more about your risk, try the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment tool on our website.
  6. I’ve had normal screenings in the past, so I don’t need to keep going back: Annual screenings are an important tool in detecting cancers early before they have a chance to spread. The smaller it is, the easier it is to remove or treat.

Mammo Prep Tips:

With the excuses behind us, let’s talk about how to prepare for a successful and “as comfortable as possible” mammogram.

  1. Plan ahead: Schedule your mammogram for the week after your period, when your breasts are less likely to be swollen and tender. If you have implants, tell the facility when you make the appointment. Arrange for any previous mammograms to be sent for comparison. Or get copies to bring with you.
  1. Avoid these items: On the day of your mammogram, don't use deodorant, powders, lotions or perfumes on your chest or arms. These products can show up as white spots on your mammogram, affecting its accuracy.
  1. Dress appropriately: Wear a top or blouse—with pants or a skirt—rather than a dress. That way, you'll only need to undress from the waist up.
  1. Speak up: Let the technologist know about any concerns you have about your breasts or the mammogram. They will be glad to answer your questions and help address your concerns.
  1. Ask what to expect: Find out when and how you'll be notified of the results of your mammogram.
  1. Protect your future: Review your risk for breast cancer with your healthcare provider to determine a screening schedule that’s right for you. In general, women aged 45 and older should get regular mammograms, and women with a high risk of breast cancer should start screening earlier.

Bottom line: There’s no better time than the present to get your first, or next, mammogram and to make it an annual event. Better yet, do it with a friend and treat yourselves to coffee afterward!

About the Author

Stephanie Polzin, Certified Physician Assistant, has served the Lake Region Healthcare community since 2015. After five years in the family & internal medicine staff in the LRH Primary Care Department, she transitioned to the team at our Cancer Care & Research Center in 2020. She is committed to exceptional, personalized health care and serving as an advocate for cancer patients.

Stephanie received her MS, Physician Assistant Studies from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, SD and completed her undergraduate studies at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and Concordia College, Moorhead. She is a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. Before joining LRH, Stephanie worked with the University of Minnesota Physicians Masonic Cancer Center in Minneapolis providing outpatient care to patients with newly diagnosed or chronic oncological and hematological malignancies. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and children. They especially enjoy outdoor and lake-related activities.

What Men Over 50 Should Know about BPH

By Destiny Conzemius, DNP

Lake Region Healthcare Urology Department

If you’re a male over age 50, chances are good you might have questions about benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) – even if you don’t know what it is. BPH is benign growth of the prostate and this is age related condition is very common in men over age 50. Estimates are that over 70% of men between the ages of 60 and 69 have BPH. While BPH is not life threatening it can cause a significant impact on quality of life.

BPH Symptoms

There are many symptoms that are associated with BPH. The growth and increased prostate size can lead to obstruction and make it difficult for the bladder to empty. Men with BPH may notice a decreased force of their urine stream, trouble starting/stopping their stream or needing to strain while urinating. They may also feel like they don’t completely empty their bladder. BPH can also cause urinary retention. Additional symptoms may include urinary frequency, getting up several times at night to go to the bathroom (nocturia), as well as an urgent need to get to the bathroom. This urgent need to urinate may also be accompanied by involuntary loss of urine. Symptoms associated with BPH often have a slow onset over time.

Treatment Options

There are many treatment options available for BPH. For men who have only mild to moderate symptoms and their symptoms are not bothersome, watchful waiting is certainly an option. When symptoms become moderate to severe and are significantly bothersome, there are two classes of medications commonly used to treat BPH. One class of medications will relax smooth muscle tissue in the prostate and the base of the bladder to allow for better urine flow. The other class will reduce the size of the prostate. If medication therapy is not effective there are a variety of minimally invasive prostate procedures as well as a formal resection of the prostate tissue which can provide symptom relief.

Bottom line, if you’re experiencing symptoms of BPH know that it’s normal. If and when it begins to impact your quality of life, there are safe and easy options that can help. Ask your primary care provider or reach out to a urologist to understand which options might be best for you.

About the Author:

Destiny Conzemius, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) has been on our team of Urology providers in the Fergus Falls clinic location since October of 2020. Destiny completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Creighton University and also holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Presentation College and Associate in Applied Science in Practical Nursing from NDSCS. Most recently she has served as a Nursing Lab and Simulation Specialist at NDSCS in Wahpeton and as an Adjunct Clinical Instructor. Her nursing experience has included roles in long-term care, orthopedics, the operating room, and nursing education. She has particular professional interest in the areas of rural and underserved populations, as well as the education of nursing students and advancing nursing practice.

The Athlete’s Guide to Surviving Fall Practice

By Todd Grothe, ATC, CSTS | Lead Athletic Trainer

Fall sports are nearing their respective start dates. As an Athletic Trainer, my goal is always keeping athletes healthy and strong. As fall sports season approaches, here are a few suggestions to make these days run smoothly for you.

Physicals: Get one soon! Your doctor’s office is usually swamped this time of the year and you don’t miss a day of practice because you didn’t get a physical. Lake Region Healthcare is offering easy-access sports physicals in Fergus Falls, Battle Lake, Barnesville, Elbow Lake, Herman and Morris. You can find all the dates and details at or call your clinic for an appointment.

Impact testing: This will be offered at all schools served by a Lake Region Healthcare Athletic Trainer. Contact your respective schools to find schedule date for this prescreening concussion test and plan to participate.

Cardio Training: No one want to be laying on the field or floor gasping for breath while your teammates run by you like gazelles chased by a lion. If you’ve lagged on your cardio this summer, start getting in shape now!

Clothing: The right clothing can make the hot gym or scorching turf feel a lot cooler. Avoid cotton and dark colored clothing which retains sweat and heat while hindering your body’s ability to cool itself.

Nutrition and hydration: Coming to early morning practice on an empty stomach will negatively impact your performance. Eat and drink prior to arriving in the morning. Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after practice. Eat something with a good balance of carbs and protein within ½ hour of the end of practice to insure the best absorption of these nutrients.

Footwear: Break those shoes before the first day of practice. This will help with prevention of blisters, shin splints, and heel pain.

Hygiene: Wear clean clothes daily to each practice and shower immediately after the workout. This is part of being good to yourself and your teammates!

Your Athletic Trainer: Please see your Athletic Trainer at the first sign of any problem. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

These tips should help you sail through the dreaded fall practices and keep you gazelle intense until your first contest.

Eating to Thrive

Eating to Thrive

Moving food from fuel to fullness

By Jessica Drake, NASM Certified Nutrition Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer | Wellness Trainer

Food. Where did your mind wander after reading that simple four-letter word? You might have remembered your favorite meal, thought about what you’re cooking for supper, or maybe you jumped to your favorite restaurant. Some of you may have felt frustrated as you’re working to cut back on food and feel like you’re missing out or are trying to fast to lose weight. Regardless of what direction you went with the word food, it is an important component of our lives.

Take a moment to think about what your food experience has been. Do you look forward to your next meal? Is food stressful because of cooking, planning, or expenses? Are you rushing to eat as fast as you can due to your busy schedule? Are mealtimes a moment to relax and catch up with your family’s lives?

We’ve likely all heard the analogy that “food is fuel”. While this is true, food IS fuel, food is also so much more. Food is tradition, culture, celebration, emotions, preferences, fuel, and the list goes on. When we eat only to fuel our bodies, we miss out on the fullness all those other pieces bring related to what food means to us. Ultimately, this is dissatisfying, and we are unable to continue this in the long run.

How do your habits compare to this? Are you eating to survive as it is a necessary part of your life? This would be eating because you’re hungry and need to get calories/fuel in. When we eat to survive, we often end up eating similar foods each day. We might be missing out on important nutrients that our bodies need to function at its best. Eating to survive could mean that you aren’t mindful of the types of foods that you choose. Foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugars are hard on our bodies. According to the USDA 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, you should be limiting saturated fat, salt, and sugars to 15% of your total calories. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, 15% comes out to 300 calories. If this is how you’ve been eating for a long time, you might not notice your body dragging. It is time to make a change.

It’s time to eat to thrive! When we eat to thrive, we are making choices that will fulfill all our needs as an experience. It will also help us to stay healthier by getting in more variety to include important vitamins and minerals. It will keep you more energized, focused, promote overall health, help with your immune system, and much more. So, with everything going on in our busy lives, how do we eat to thrive?

When choosing meals and snacks, these are the components of a well-balanced diet that you should look for:

Vegetables: different colors provide different nutrients, so variety is important! All of these can be fresh, frozen, or canned. USDA recommendations are 2-4 cups per day

  • Dark Greens
  • Red and Orange Vegetables
  • Beans, Peas, Lentils
  • Starchy Vegetables
  • Others

Fruits: all can be fresh, frozen, or canned. USDA recommendations are 1.5-2.5 cups per day

Grains: try to make ½ of them whole grains rather than refined grains. USDA recommendations are 5-10 ounces per day.

Dairy: try to choose low fat or fat free versions. Sour cream, cream cheese, and cream don’t count as they are low in calcium. USDA recommendations are 3 cups per day.

Protein: meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, and soy products fit under this category. Look for lean options. USDA recommendations are 5-7 ounces per day.

It is important to remember while eating to thrive, that it doesn’t mean cutting out all your favorite foods. It is all about finding a balance. Imagine that you’ve come to a fork in the road. One path leads to your goals, whatever they might be. The other one leads away from your goals. At the intersection there is a double pan balance scale. The more choices you make that are aligned with your goals, the more that scale will tip and send you along the path of your best self and vice versa if your choices are not aligned. There aren’t “cheat days” in eating to thrive. You make choices throughout the day based on where you want to go.

Now is a great time to start eating to thrive and making daily choices to help tip the scale towards the you that you want to become.

About Jess:

Sports have always been a constant in Jess’s life, from playing backyard sports with family, to elementary school leagues, high school athletics, and eventually college intramurals. At Colorado State University she majored in Food Science and Human Nutrition. Knowing she still wanted the exercise component in her career, she found Nutrition & Fitness is the best of both worlds. She interned here at Lake Region Healthcare’s Unity Wellness center during the summer of 2020 and then started as a Wellness Trainer in March of 2021. She strives each day to help people reach their goals through fueling and performing to reach that next level – whatever that may be!

Facts and Myths About Migraines

July 2022

By Kayla Villagomez, NP

Lake Region Healthcare Primary Care and Neurology Services

Migraines are one of the more painful types of headaches you can get. They usually produce a severe throbbing pain on one side of the head. They frequently come with nausea, vomiting and a sensitivity to sound and light. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they are also one of the main causes of disability worldwide. In one study among patients with migraines in the United States, more than half reported severe impairment in activity, the need for bed rest, and/or reduced work or school productivity due to migraines.

There are still many factors that are unknown when it comes to migraines, one of which is the exact reason migraines occur. Migraines are thought to be caused by abnormalities or shifts in brain activity that temporarily disrupts nerve signals and blood vessels in your brain.

While there is no cure for migraines, there is treatment. Understanding the symptoms, seeking treatment, and getting a diagnosis are important steps to alleviate the pain associated with migraines and find ways to manage the symptoms so that daily life does not have to be disrupted.

Here are some facts about migraines to help spread further understanding of these headaches and steer people who suffer from them toward helpful solutions.

Myth or fact: Migraine is just another term for headache.

MYTH. Migraines are a form of headache. But migraines are also a neurological disease that can sometimes be accompanied by structural changes in the brain. Additional symptoms of migraine can include difficulty concentrating, vertigo, visual disturbances, numbness, impaired speech, and physical weakness.

Myth or fact: All severe headaches are migraines.

MYTH. Other types of headaches such as cluster headaches, tension headaches and sinus headaches, can also be very painful.

Myth or fact: Not all migraines come with a warning “aura”.

FACT: Only about 25% to 35% of people with migraines experience aura which usually consists of visual disturbances, like flashing lights and zigzag lines. Some people get tingling sensations that travel from one arm to one side of the face. These warning symptoms usually disappear within about a half hour and are followed by a severe headache.

Myth or fact: Caffeine always makes migraines worse.

MYTH. A migraine may be triggered from overdoing it on caffeine, but it’s actually one of the key ingredients in some of the more effective over-the-counter migraine medicines. Drinking a caffeinated soda or coffee can sometimes help relieve migraine pain. Limiting caffeine intake to one or two caffeinated drinks per day is recommended. Excessive caffeine can actually make headaches worse.

Myth or fact: Some foods can cause migraines.

FACT. Certain foods can trigger migraines—but they vary among people. Triggers for one person may not cause a migraine for others. Some of the foods and substances commonly associated with migraines are alcohol, chocolate, cheese, gluten, and foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) or histamine.

Myth or fact: Taking more headache medicine for a migraine attack will help control it.

MYTH. Relying too much on pain relievers can cause rebound headaches—also called "medication overuse" headaches. Taking large amounts of medication to get rid of a migraine can lead to more frequent and severe migraines in the future. In general, it is recommended to limit pain relievers to 2 or 3 times per week.

Myth or fact: Effective medicines are available to treat migraine.

FACT. Doctors often prescribe a class of drugs called triptans to relieve migraine pain. There are seven different triptans—all are available as tablets, and some are available as an injection or a nasal spray. There are also a variety of medications that can be used to prevent migraines.

If you are questioning whether you have migraine headaches and whether medication might help, it is beneficial to consult with a doctor. You should see a doctor if you experience headaches that occur more often than usual, are more severe than usual, worsen or don't improve with appropriate use of over-the-counter drugs, or keep you from working, sleeping or participating in normal activities. If the headaches in any way cause you distress, and you would like to find treatment options that enable you to control them better it’s worthwhile to schedule time to address this with your provider.

There are also times when severe headaches can be the symptom of a serious condition such as stroke, meningitis or encephalitis. Go to a hospital emergency room or call 911 if you have any of the following signs:

  • An abrupt, severe headache like a thunderclap
  • Headache with fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizures, double vision, speech problems, balance problems, numbness or weakness in any part of the body.
  • Headache after a head injury.
  • A chronic headache that is worse after coughing, exertion, straining or a sudden movement
  • New headache pain after age 50

Migraines are often undiagnosed and untreated. If you regularly have signs and symptoms of migraine, keep a record of your attacks and how you treated them. Then make an appointment to discuss your headaches with your medical provider. Even if you have a history of headaches, seek medical advice if the pattern changes or your headaches suddenly feel different.

About Kayla Villagomez, FNP

Family Nurse Practitioner Kayla Villagomez provides service to patients in the Lake Region Healthcare Neurology department and also sees patients for primary care family medicine needs. She received her Family Nurse Practitioner degree from the Maryville University of St. Louis and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Kayla is from Pelican Rapids, MN and is a Certified Spanish/English Translator and speaks, reads and writes Spanish fluently. When she’s not working, Kayla enjoys spending time with family, reading, listening to music and going to sporting events.

Men's Health Month: The formula for a healthier life? These five simple steps add up.

By Dr. JoEllen Kohlman, Cardiologist

As a cardiologist, I usually don’t see patients until heart health is a problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the leading cause of death for men in the United States. June is Men’s Health month, a great time to think about small steps you can take to prevent heart disease and improve the chances of having more meaningful years to spend with loved ones enjoying things you're passionate about. Here are five steps I invite men to consider:

  1. See your doctor regularly

That's something many men avoid—maybe because they don't think checkups are necessary as long as they're feeling fine. But some diseases don't have symptoms until they get much worse. With regular checkups, these health problems may be found early, when they're easier to treat, especially high blood pressure – a major cause of heart disease.

Take this step: Talk to your doctor about how often you should be examined and screened for health problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, and various kinds of cancer. Your age, personal and family medical history, lifestyle, and other factors will help determine the schedule.

  1. Avoid smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco

You've heard it a million times: Tobacco is hazardous for your health. Cancer, heart disease and lung disease are linked to tobacco, and all these problems can lead to a shorter life span.

Take this step: Talk to your doctor about quitting if you use tobacco. Your doctor can steer you toward help lines, medications, counseling, and other forms of quitting support.

  1. Watch your weight

More and more men are allowing their weight to get out of control, according to the CDC. Being overweight increases your risk for heart disease as well as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and other health problems.

Take this step: Balance the calories you eat and drink with the amount of physical activity you get. Likewise, eating more plant-based foods—fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains—and less saturated fat can also help with weight control. And when the urge to snack hits, grab some fruit or some carrot sticks instead of munching on chips or cookies.

  1. Exercise often

Physical activity helps reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and colorectal cancer. And it can help you look and feel your best.

Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

You could also choose 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (e.g., jogging or running) every week instead of moderate activity, or a mix of moderate and vigorous activity. Start slowly and work your way up.

Take this step: Brisk walking, swimming, mowing the lawn, using hand weights and bicycling are just some of the many activities you can pick from. If you have a chronic health condition, work with your doctor to tailor an exercise program to fit your needs and limitations.

  1. Mind your mental health

Too much daily stress can take a toll on your health. Having trouble sleeping, getting angry and drinking more than usual are some signs of stress overload in men.

Stress (as well as other factors) may also contribute to depression, a serious illness. Signs include persistent sadness, hopelessness, extreme tiredness, and thoughts of suicide.

Take this step: Try healthy ways to ease stress, such as exercising and taking time out for hobbies and relaxing activities. If you think you might have depression, tell your doctor right away. Depression is treatable.

Concerned about your heart health? Dr. Kohlman is accepting new patients at our Fergus Falls Main Clinic. Call 218.739.2221 for appointments or ask your primary care provider for a referral.

Are you surviving or thriving?

By Natalie Knutson, Lake Region Healthcare Director of Wellness

Are you thriving or just surviving? If you’d like to do more thriving, there’s a program locally that can help. “Thrive” is a community-based mental and well-being initiative that aims to promote health through happiness and meaning. It was developed using positive psychology research and framework. The evidence-based practices of the Thrive program can increase feelings of purpose, strengthen social relationship and lead to a flourishing community. Everyone can get to a thriving state by simply learning and incorporating these practices into daily life.

The Thrive program was created using PERMA+ positive psychology theory. The theory was developed by Dr. Seligman. Key elements of the program are recognizing and practicing ways to change mindset, creating purpose in each day and happiness through various practices. PERMA+ stands for: Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationship, Meaning, Accomplishment + physical activity, nutrition, and sleep. Changing your mindset is not easy and it takes work. It is defined as the ability for individuals to believe they can make change when they experience delays or setback. Beliefs we hold about our abilities and potential are predictive of well-being.

Thrive also aims to teach individuals and communities how mindset can influence behavior. Embracing a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset can have a big impact and lead to improved well-being. Key characteristics of a growth mindset are being able to embrace change, never giving up, learning from others, and being a lifelong learner.

So how do you get to that thriving state? The Thrive program promotes five practices that can enhance well-being. Each practice connects to two components of PERMA+. They are 1) Gratitude, 2) Kindness, 3) Flow, 4) Connections and 5) Values. Each component is extremely important to a thriving human. In this article, the focus is on Gratitude (positive emotion/relationships).

Practicing gratitude regularly can lead to decreased depressive symptoms and increased feelings of well-being. It can also improve your working memory, psychological well-being, and sleep. Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth and has the ability to block toxic emotions (envy, resentment, and regret). One powerful gratitude practice is “Three Good Things”. Each day for two weeks, simply write down three things that went well for you that day, and why. This evidence-based practice gives pause in the day to reflect on the positive and the writing about the “why” helps focus on the deeper goodness in our lives. Based on the study by Dr. Seligman, people who participated in “Three Good Things” over the course of two weeks increased scores on happiness scales and decreased depressive symptoms. The effects were felt as long as six months later. Those that continued the practice for one, three, and six months had significant increases in happiness and reductions in depressive symptoms. Additional gratitude practices can include journaling, gratitude letters and visits, and any other kind of positive practice you enjoy.

Watch for future articles on the other PERMA+ components with tips for building up all give key areas as you journey to go beyond surviving to thriving.

Many thanks Live Well Fergus Falls for helping us create Thrive for the benefit of everyone who lives and works in our region. For more information and updates on the Thrive initiative and how you can get involved, go to:

A Pop Quiz to Test Your Stroke Knowledge during May, Stroke Awareness Month

By Dr. Mathias Christianson, Emergency Department Physician at Lake Region Healthcare

You may have heard it said “minutes count” when a stroke happens, and it’s true. Time is brain when it comes to strokes. This is because a stroke starves brain tissue of oxygen. This tissue begins to die in as little as four minutes after the beginning of a stroke, and when brain tissue dies, it is gone forever.

I work in the Lake Region Healthcare Emergency Department. Our team is always ready, 24/7/365 to help when stroke strikes. We are a Level 3 Trauma Center and are designated as an Acute Stroke Ready Hospital. We have an excellent stroke program with a team of highly experienced nurses, physicians, and advance practice providers. They work closely with our lab and radiology department to get time sensitive tests completed to determine the best treatment path. Stroke neurologists are available to us by tele-neurology 24/7 when needed, allowing most of our stroke patients to stay close to home rather than travel to another stroke center. Last year we saw over 150 people come to our ER with stroke symptoms. I’ve seen enough to say without a doubt, the amount of time between the start of a stroke and getting emergency care can make all the difference in minimizing brain damage, long-term disability or even death due to stroke.

My goal in writing this article is to capitalize on the publicity around Stroke Awareness Month to help you feel more confident in recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke, so that if it happens to you or someone you love, you can act as FAST as possible and improve our odds of a positive outcome.

Since we’re approaching the end of the school year, I thought a test might be appropriate. So, let’s see how you do, and what you can learn from this pop quiz.

Q: What is the acronym used to help spot the signs and symptoms of a stroke:

  1. FAST ABCS c. SPOTS d. None of these

A: Acting FAST can help people get the stroke treatment they need. If you think someone may be having a stroke, do the following:

F – Face – ask the person to smile…does one side of the face droop?

A – Arms – ask the person to raise both arms….does one drift downward?

S – Speech – ask the person to repeat a simple phrase….is the speech slurred or strange?

T – Time – if you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately and waiting for emergency help to arrive.

Q: Which of these symptoms should you look for in someone who may be having a stroke?

  1. Numbness in the face, arm, or leg
  2. Confusion, including trouble speaking or difficulty understanding speech
  3. Trouble seeing from one or both eyes
  4. Trouble walking or problems with dizziness
  5. Severe and sudden onset of headache
  6. All of the above

A: All of these are key symptoms of stroke in men and women. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms in order to get FAST treatment. Call 9-1-1 right away if you or someone else has any of these symptoms.

Q: To receive the best possible treatment, stroke needs to be diagnosed within ___ hours of the first symptoms.

  1. 2 hours 3 hours c. 5 hours d. 8 hours

A: The stroke treatments that work best for the most common type of stroke are available only if a stroke is recognized and diagnosed with 3 hours of the first symptoms. Stroke patients who do not arrive at the hospital in time may not be eligible for these treatments. Acting FAST can help stroke patients get the treatments they desperately need.

Q: What is the FIRST thing you should do in the event of a stroke?

  1. Drive yourself or the stroke victim to the emergency room
  2. See if the signs or symptoms subside and then call 9-1-1
  3. Call 9-1-1 immediately and wait for EMS to arrive
  4. Take a nap

A: You may think you can get to the hospital more quickly if you drive yourself, but calling 9-1-1 right away can get you the treatment you need immediately. In many cases, lifesaving treatment can begin in the ambulance. EMS providers, such as paramedics, can screen for stroke symptoms, start treatment and notify stroke-certified centers or hospitals to be prepared for your arrival.

How did you do? This quiz is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and there are many other helpful resources on the site at if you’d like to learn more.

While stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in our country, it doesn’t have to be. Learning how you can prevent stroke by acting FAST and teaching what you know to others, you could save a life – maybe even your own.

April Showers bring Community Health Challenge Kick-Off

9th Annual Community Health Challenge Kicks Off April 17th

The Lake Region 150 inspires community to take 150 healthy actions over the next six weeks

By Natalie Knutson, Director of Wellness at Lake Region Healthcare

Spring has us all itching to get outside and resume a more active lifestyle after winter's long stay with us this year. So it's the perfect time for The Lake Region 150, which kicks off this month and marks the 9th annual community health challenge sponsored by Lake Region Healthcare.

Registration is open and everyone is welcome to join at any point during the challenge, which runs through May 28th.

This year's challenge is focused on promoting small daily actions that lead to better health. We chose the theme as a spin-off of the 150th Anniversary for the City of Fergus Falls, where our main campus is located. But make no mistake, this challenge is for everyone across the region to join in! We will all be working toward a common goal, to complete 150 actions over the next six weeks that are shown to improve overall health.

These actions include everything from exercise to stretching and from increasing water intake to practicing gratitude. There are weekly themes and different actions to complete and track each week. The themes include Movement, Hydration, Connections, Healthy Eating, Mindfulness, and Rest.

In addition to building healthier daily habits, a big prize is also on the line. Anyone who registers and completes at least four weeks of the challenge will be eligible for a grand prize drawing for $1500 in cash.

We are excited to be wrapping up our challenge at this year's Lake Region Run on June 4th. The run starts and finishes at the Dr. Allen Magnuson Park (NP Park) and we’ll be expanding on the event to share other wellness resources at a Health Challenge Wellness Expo. The Expo will include Health & Wellness Exhibitors, health screenings, food and the Challenge prize drawings & swag pick up.

Also related to both the Challenge and the Lake Region Run will be the inclusion of a Couch to 5K training program open to all challenge participants. The program includes a training guide and group led training runs held several days each week leading up to the June 4th 5K at the Lake Region Run.

More information about the challenge, links to register, record and submit challenge activities, view weekly progress and more is on the challenge website Don’t wait to hop on board since you need to register by April 30th to be eligible for the grand prize. Full rules are available on the challenge website.

I hope you’ll get your family, friends and co-workers to join you and sign up for the challenge. We would love to see a huge turnout from the Battle Lake, Ashby and surrounding communities. Together we can build healthier communities across our region for the next 150 years!

Athletic Trainers: Healthcare for Life and Sport

By Todd Grothe, ATC, CSTS

Lead Athletic Trainer, Lake Region Healthcare Sports Medicine Department

March is National Athletic Training Month, a time when athletic trainers across America are being recognized for their commitment to helping people prevent injuries and stay healthy and active. Athletic trainers (ATs) are health care professionals. Highly educated and dedicated to the job at hand, athletic trainers can be found in high schools and colleges, corporations, professional sports, the military, performing arts and clinics, hospitals and physician offices. The team of ATs at Lake Region Healthcare work in our clinic and in our area schools, standing by the AT month slogan, “Providing Healthcare Everywhere.” The unique skill set and expertise of ATs make them a vital component of the healthcare team. Here are a few things you might not know about the role of an AT.

Athletic trainers are experts.

Working to prevent and treat musculoskeletal injuries and sports-related illnesses, athletic trainers offer an unparalleled continuum of care. ATs are part of a team of health care professionals; they practice under the direction of and in collaboration with physicians. ATs work with individuals who are physically active or involved in sports participation through all stages of life to prevent, treat and rehabilitate injuries and medical conditions. Athletic trainers should not be confused with personal trainers or “trainers” who focus solely on fitness and conditioning. It’s important to refer to an “athletic trainer” or “AT” appropriately to ensure clarity of profession and quality of care.

Athletic trainers save lives.

Sports injuries can be serious. Brain and spinal cord injuries and conditions such as heat illness can be life-threatening if not recognized and properly managed. ATs are equipped to treat acute injuries on the spot. Yet active people can have chronic illnesses as well. People with diabetes and asthma can and do safely work and exercise, and ATs help manage these critical health issues as they relate to physical exertion.

Not all athletes wear jerseys.

ATs can be the first line of defense in workplace health and wellness. The duties of many workers – such as baggage handlers, dancers, soldiers and police officers – require range of motion, strength and stamina and pose a risk for musculoskeletal injuries. ATs work with individuals in various settings to help prevent injuries and return patients to full activity whether it is for work or play.

The athletic trainer is the “on-site” health care system for athletes.

Athletic trainers are on site. They work with patients to avoid injuries. They’re present when injuries occur and they provide immediate care; they rehabilitate patients after injuries or surgery. It’s a continuum of care. They know their patients well because they are at the school or on the field/court every day.

Athletic trainers take responsibility and mitigate risk.

School administrators, athletics directors and coaches have their own jobs, which may pose a conflict of interest with athlete safety; they are not experts in managing injuries or sports-related illnesses, nor should they be responsible for doing so. Treating injuries at school or at work when appropriate, rather than sending the patient to the emergency department, can save money and time loss – and gets the patient back to activity faster. Just as professional athletes do, recreational athletes should have access to athletic trainers.

What can you do to help us celebrate National Athletic Training Month this March?

Just follow these important tips:

  • Before participating in physical activity, see your physician for a physical exam.
  • Always make sure there is an emergency action plan in place.
  • During exercise, drink to thirst or based on individual needs depending on sweat rate.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and other harmful drugs. And, finally….
  • Have access to an athletic trainer. We are here to help you and your protection is our priority.

I’ll close with a shoutout to our team and thank them for the awesome support they provide to athletes in the Fergus Falls, Hillcrest, M State, Battle Lake, Henning, Rothsay and Underwood school programs. I’m proud to work alongside Amy Beckman, Patrick Dilly, Justine Roe, Jenna Noland and Brian Pickering to ensure our local athletes know we are here for you, always.

February is Heart Month: How COVID is Impacting Heart Health

By Dr. JoEllen Kohlman, Cardiologist

On the first Friday of every February, we see television personalities wearing red during the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign as they interview cardiologists and other health experts. This initiative was designed to raise awareness of women’s heart health and serve as a catalyst for change to improve the lives of women around the world. The focus is usually on risk factors and tips for preventing cardiovascular disease and include such things as eating a healthy diet, exercising more, reducing stress, managing cholesterol, and maintaining adquate control of blood pressure. While these are all still very important messages, there is clearly a new factor in play in the form of COVID-19. Now that COVID-19 and its several variants have been around for a couple of years, we are starting to understand how COVID-19 is impacting people with a current heart condition and the potential long-term impacts on heart health.

COVID-19 and Your Heart

It was recognized early on that the COVID risks were higher for people with pre-existing conditions like cardiovascular disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease and possibly even those with hypertension (high blood pressure) are more likely to be severely ill from COVID-19 infection. The same is true for people who have diabetes, are overweight, or are recovering from a stroke.

The virus that causes COVID-19 infection has also been linked with an increased risk of developing several cardiovascular conditions. A CDC study conducted from March 2020 to January of 2021 reported that patients with COVID-19 infection were nearly 16 times more likely to develop myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) compared with patients who didn’t have COVID-19 infection. Another study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals infected with COVID may have a substantially higher risk bleeding in the brain, heart attack, and abnormal heartbeats.

Across all variants, it appears the virus does not directly infect the heart muscle but instead makes the heart work harder to pump oxygenated blood due to the lungs being overtaxed with the illness. COVID-19 infection also makes a person more susceptible to blood clots in the body which may lead to heart attack or stroke.

What You Can Do

Thankfully we’ve learned a lot about the virus and how we can better protect ourselves from the severity of its impact. Vaccines continue to be our best line of defense. Despite their waning ability to protect against infection, the available vaccines – especially those with a booster – are doing a very good job of lessening the severity of illness and reducing hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 infection. When patients ask me if the vaccine is safe for someone with a heart condition, I unequivocally answer “yes.” What we know today is that people with heart disease, or those who are at risk for heart disease, are at a much greater risk from the virus than they are from the vaccine. Because the vaccines approved for use in the United States don’t contain a live virus, it reduces concern for heart disease patients and others with weakened immune systems. If you are on a blood thinner, it is also safe to get the vaccine. The needle is small enough not to be troublesome and, just like after getting blood drawn, by simply pressing firmly for a minute or two after the shot a person should be able to avoid significant bruising.

Other steps you can and should take to stay healthy include: washing your hands frequently and thoroughly; wearing a well-fitting mask in public in areas with a substantial or high community transmission (regardless of vaccination status); avoiding close contact with people who are ill; covering coughs and sneezes; cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces regularly; and following quarantine guidelines when appropriate. These, and other CDC guidelines, are my go-to and can be found at

Finally, I want to emphasize how important it is to keep up with your regular preventive health visits. Healthcare facilities, Lake Region Healthcare included, have infection prevention protocols in place to ensure a safe visit. When appropriate, we also offer the option to connect virtually with Tele-Health appointments. When emergency strikes, hospitals and emergency departments are still the safest place – even during a pandemic. I urge you not to delay the care you need. We are seeing more and more patients needlessly dealing with more severe illnesses and chronic conditions due to delays in seeking health care.

COVID-19 isn’t going away… at least not any time soon. Being proactive about your health by getting vaccinated, taking common-sense precautions, making smart lifestyle choices, and keeping up with your preventive healthcare visits is your best bet at a heart-healthy future.

About Dr. Kohlman

Dr. JoEllen Kohlman-Petrick currently practices cardiology at the Main Lake Region Healthcare’s Clinic in Fergus Falls, MN. She received her Doctor of Medicine from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and her Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Iowa State University in Ames. She completed an Internal Medicine residency and Interventional Cardiology fellowship at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and s a General Cardiology fellowship at Saint Louis University in Missouri. Dr. Kohlman-Petrick holds certifications from the American Board of Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Disease, and Interventional Cardiology. Her professional interests include helping people make positive lifestyle changes such as improving their diet and starting an exercise program to help prevent the development or worsening of various heart conditions. She is a loving wife and mother of four amazing children and in her spare time she is an avid runner and triathlete.

Winter Skin Care Tips from Dr. Allison Goddard, Board Certified Dermatologist

January 2022

I don’t have to tell you that the weather around here is frigid and windy during the winter. Even in the mildest winters, our cold, dry winter air can lead to skin that is itchy and flaky, and hands that can become raw, red and chapped. Thankfully, there are some simple things you can do to relieve winter dry skin.

10 quick tips for dry skin relief

  1. Use a humidifier to add much-needed moisture to the air.
  1. Use fragrance-free laundry detergents and avoid fabric softeners.
  1. Try not to scratch. If your moisturizer isn’t providing relief, try a cold pack or compress to relieve the itchy spot.
  2. Our hands are usually the first place that dry skin shows up. Wear gloves when: going outdoors; washing dishes or doing things that require your hands to get wet; working with chemicals or greasy substances.
  3. If you’re using a hand sanitizer because of COVID-19, wait until your hands are completely dry, then apply a moisturizer.
  1. Limit yourself to one 5- to 10-minute bath or shower daily; bathing more than that can strip away much of the skin's oily layer and cause it to lose moisture.
  1. Wash with warm, not hot water, and a mild cleanser. Gently pat your skin dry.
  2. Apply moisturizer after getting out of the bath or shower.
  3. When shaving, use a shaving cream or gel. Try leaving it on your skin for several minutes before starting.
  4. Read ingredients on skin care products—deodorant soaps, alcohol-based toners, and products that contain fragrance can irritate dry skin. Look for a cream or ointment that contains one or more of the following ingredients:
    • Jojoba oil
    • Dimethicone
    • Glycerin
    • Hyaluronic acid
    • Lactic acid
    • Lanolin
    • Mineral oil
    • Petrolatum
    • Shea butter

When to seek help for your dry skin

If you’ve tried all of the tips above and your skin is still itchy, dry and rough—or if your skin is getting worse—it may be time to see me. Excessively dry skin can be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

I can diagnose what’s causing your dry skin and create a treatment plan for you. Treatment for dry skin can strengthen its outer layer leading to:

  • Being more comfortable and preventing further skin damage
  • Reducing your skin’s sensitivity
  • Lessening your risk of developing a skin infection

A few words about sunscreen

You may think that sunscreen is only important during the summer months. However, snow reflects the sun’s rays back at us, actually increasing our need to use sunscreen in the winter. My advice is to use sunscreen at all times when you’re outdoors, regardless of the time of year to protect you from developing sunburn, wrinkles, premature aging and cancer.

Spring is just around the corner

Spend some time with the 10 tips for winter dry skin right now so that this spring your skin will be ready for those short sleeves and shorts we all want to put on.

About Dr. Goddard

Dr. Allison Goddard practices dermatology at Lake Region Healthcare’s Main Clinic in Fergus Falls. Her areas of professional interest include complex medical dermatology and integrative dermatology. She has broad experience in procedural dermatology which includes removal of benign and malignant skin lesions. She also offers a variety of noninvasive procedures to help you maintain healthy and youthful skin.

Our Team is Growing: Meet our New Audiology, Back Care, General Surgery, Podiatry & Wound Care Providers

December 2021

While Dr. David Brett and Kiana Deal, NP, continue to meet the primary care needs of our community at the Battle Lake Clinic, the team of primary and specialty providers at the Fergus Falls Main Clinic are an extension of the care offered close to home by your healthcare family at Lake Region Region Healthcare. The growth in 2021 has been so exciting. We welcomed Dr. Allison Goddard, Dermatologist, and Dr. Chelsey Johnson, Plastic Surgeon earlier this year and just this past month have added five more new providers including Dr. David Brett (who you were introduced to in this paper a couple of weeks ago). This week we’ll briefly introduce you to four more providers who joined us this past month.

Dr. Courtney Fochs, Audiology

Dr. Fochs received her Doctorate of Audiology at Missouri State University after receiving her undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.She will be available to help pediatric (ages 5 and up), adult, and geriatric patients with hearing evaluations. Other services include adult hearing aid selection, fitting, verification, adjustments, follow-ups, and aural rehabilitation. When she’s not working, she enjoys reading, cooking, hunting, fishing, sporting events, concerts, traveling, and spending time with her two cats.

Dr. Luke Holkup, General Surgery

Dr. Holkup is originally from Wahpeton, ND. He went to Concordia College in Moorhead for his undergrad degree and received his medical degree and surgical education at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Grand Forks. His practice will be focused on endoscopy along with a broad scope of general surgery procedures like hernias, gallbladders, and emergency surgeries. His hobbies include cooking, interdisciplinary education and he is the Co-founder & Assistant Coach of Wahpeton Class AA Amateur Baseball.

Berit Spidahl - PA, Podiatry and Wound Care

Berit received her Physician Assistant degree from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN and holds her undergraduate degree in Biology with Health & Medical emphasis from Minnesota State University in Moorhead. She will be seeing patients as part of the Podiatry team in the Fergus Falls Main Clinic as well as providing patient care in the Wound Care Center located on the first floor of Lake Region Healthcare’s hospital. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her son and watching him play football, baking, reading, discovering new music, and spending time in nature.

Laura Suggs – NP, Back Care Center

Laura holds her Master of Science in Nursing as a Family Nurse Practitioner Specialty from Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her BSN at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona and also has an Associate of Applied Science in Emergency Management Services & Paramedic from Broward College in Florida. She will be seeing patients who are experiencing new or chronic back pain. Along with her support staff, Suggs will assess and treat back pain, and work with colleagues to refer when exercise, physical therapy, injections or surgical interventions are advised. In her spare time, she enjoys snowmobiling and going to the Lake. She and her family love to jet ski, go boating, water skiing, four wheeling and doing anything outdoors.

Thanks for reading and for supporting your local community based clinics. We’re privileged to be here in your town, enriching life through health and helping you Live Well in the Lakes Region.

Lake Region Healthcare’s Foundation: Of the Community, By the Community, For the Community

November 2021

There is plenty in the news these days about the financial challenges surrounding healthcare. Consumer out-of-pocket spending on healthcare jumped 10% in 2021, a trend that is expected to continue at that growth rate for at least the next five years. [1] At the same time, rural healthcare systems like Lake Region Healthcare (LRH) are struggling as declining reimbursement rates and disproportionate funding levels make it challenging to meet the needs of the rural communities they serve. [2] This is why we see an emerging emphasis on philanthropy in the growth & financial strategies of community-based healthcare organizations. A strong healthcare system is part of the economic foundation of a community, often the major employer and a major contributor to the tax base. But the economic vitality of rural healthcare providers today is at risk like never before.

People may not realize that LRH is a nonprofit community-based healthcare organization. LRH is a public charity, organized for the purpose of delivering healthcare and related services. This hasn’t been a topic of much conversation in the past, so there are some important clarifications about what that means and why a purposeful and deliberate effort to increase community financial support is in the works through the efforts of the LRH Foundation.

What is a non-profit?

The definition of nonprofit is a company “not conducted or maintained for the purpose of making a profit.” Nonprofits are one of many business categories. Nonprofits are not publicly owned (like a big box store, for example) that exist to return earnings to shareholders. Non-profits are not individually owned or family-owned companies like many of the great local businesses in our communities. Privately owned companies exist for a small group of individuals or families to earn a living from. (By the way, we support and value all publicly owned and privately owned businesses). Nonprofits are also not government sponsored or owned organizations like some area County Hospitals that are extensions of a municipal organization that is supported by taxpayer dollars.

Nonprofits are organizations “owned by” the community in the sense that they don’t exist to return earnings to a shareholder, to a family, or any person or persons, and are not part of taxpayer supported government. Instead, they are self-sustaining, charitable organizations of and for the communities they serve. In the case of LRH, the purpose is not creating profit, but stewarding margins to accomplish a mission. LRH does things that all charities do, such as offering free or discounted care to patients unable to pay. In 2020, for example, LRH provided over $550,000 in charity care – services provided to those who cannot pay and for which there is no reimbursement. Two emergency rooms (in Fergus Falls and Elbow Lake) are staffed and open to all community members, regardless of ability to pay, 24/7 365 days of the year. Still, profits are necessary to survive, grow, and re-invest in the facilities, equipment and people needed to provide the care our communities need. LRH strives to be self-sustaining and self-supporting through margins earned on operations. Yet, by the very nature of being a non-profit, the charitable purpose is to serve the community and increasingly, funding from donors will be necessary to ensure resources are there to accomplish the mission.

The LRH Foundation

The LRH Foundation is organized as a supporting 501c3 with a single purpose to support the work of its parent organization, Lake Region Healthcare, in accomplishing its mission. The Foundation was started back in the 1980’s. In its early years, it served primarily to manage gifts made toward healthcare scholarships. In about 2008, the Foundation was called to action in support of funding a new Cancer Care & Research Center on the Lake Region Healthcare Fergus Falls campus. Over 10-million dollars was raised for the project and the community response was inspiring. Since that time, the Foundation has served as an important source of support for the Cancer Center in particular, receiving donations from appreciative patients, friends, and families, securing grants, and organizing fundraisers to help meet the needs of patients facing the challenges of cancer treatments. The Foundation has played a vital role in supporting our healthcare heroes through the COVID pandemic as well, spearheading the COVID-19 Relief & Response Fund and the Healthcare Hero Appreciation Stations.

New Foundation Leadership

Earlier this year I was hired as the new Foundation Director to again help raise the bar for philanthropic support of community-based healthcare. I’ve been in the role since April and it’s been great to bring my 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector to LRH (I worked for CentraCare as a development officer and for Alexandria Technical & Community College as the Executive Director of the Foundation). I am a lifelong learner and I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Mini MBA in non-profit management, and I am a Certified Gallup Strengths coach. I’m also currently pursuing my master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.

My work for the Foundation is done alongside Laura Gervais, the Foundation and Volunteer Coordinator. We are reinventing many of the Foundation’s initiatives to increase support of all kinds at all levels – from estates and planned giving to a monthly giving club called “Champions for Health, and events like the upcoming “Night to Shine Virtual Gala.”

The December 11th Virtual Gala event will seek to raise $50,000 for the Healthcare Education Fund to support healthcare workers in attaining continuing education to earn higher-level certifications and licenses. High-caliber talent is always our aim, and it will take even more intentional effort during this critical time in the healthcare workforce crisis. As our people learn new skills and develop new competencies, our rural healthcare systems reduce employee turnover, increase productivity, improve worker satisfaction, and promote staff versatility. Advancing the quality of our care team expertise also enhances the quality of care we are able to provide to you, our community. Plus, even though it’s virtual, the event includes famous American Legion rib dinners for pick up and a live auction with chances to bid on unique experiences. I hope you’ll join us for the gala and investing in community-based healthcare here at home.

To learn more about the LRH Foundation, to become a Champion for Health, or to purchase Gala tickets, visit

[1] Healthcare market research group Kalorama Information

[2] National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health

Plan Now to Prevent Flu and COVID This Winter

October 2021

By Dr. Mark Vukonich, Family Medicine & Primary Care Physician at LRH

Pandemic fatigue is real for many in our communities, but with flu season starting, now is not the time to let up. This year’s flu season could be extremely challenging for our communities and our healthcare providers. Fortunately, we have a vaccine to help protect almost everyone ages 6 months and older.

With more children back in school buildings, more adults returning to their offices, and more in-person gatherings of families and friends, the convergence of the flu and COVID-19 may create the “twindemic” people feared last year. We absolutely do not need any extra strain on our healthcare system and workforce, so it’s incredibly important to prevent what we can. That’s why we’re recommending both the COVID vaccine and the flu shot for you and your family this year.

Last year, the safety measures we took to fight COVID-19 may also have contributed to a very mild flu season. And that was a welcome dose of good news in a difficult time. The unpredictable nature of this virus means we are still learning about how it mutates and what it may or may not do over the coming months. That’s why we can’t let last year’s low influenza number lull us into complacency this year.

The flu and you

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends flu shots for almost everyone 6 months and older. Flu shots are especially important for people at high risk of getting very sick, including:

  • People 65 and older.
  • People with certain chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Young children, especially those under 2 years.
  • People from racial and ethnic minority groups.
  • People with disabilities, especially those that affect muscle or lung function or that make it difficult to cough or swallow.

Most people should get their flu shot in September or October, CDC says. That's before the flu starts spreading in most places. But it's also late enough to last through the worst of the flu season.

Children 6 months to 8 years old who have not had a flu shot before need two doses given at least four weeks apart. They should get an early start so they can get the second dose by the end of October.

What’s new for the flu shot this year?

A few things are different for the 2021-2022 influenza (flu) season, including:

  • The composition of flu vaccines has been updated. (There are many different flu viruses, and they are constantly changing. The composition of US flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match circulating flu viruses. This season, all flu vaccines will be designed to protect against the four viruses that research indicates will be most common.)
  • All flu vaccines will be quadrivalent (four component), meaning designed to protect against four different flu viruses.
  • Flucelvax Quadrivalent is now approved for people 2 years and older.
  • Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time (previously COVID vaccines were not administered within a certain number of days from other vaccines).

One appointment, two shots

As mentioned above, it’s now safe to get the flu shot and the COVID vaccine at the same time. If you've yet to get a COVID-19 vaccine, there are good reasons to include them in your plan this fall. The vaccines are safe and very good at protecting people from COVID-19.

CDC recommends that most people 12 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19. It may not be long before this is extended to younger children as well. At the time of this writing, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was considering Pfizer’s request to allow the use of its vaccine in children ages 5 to 11. If the FDA authorizes emergency use of the child-size Pfizer doses, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will next decide whether to recommend the shots for youngsters, and the CDC will make a final decision.

Booster shots, or a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, are also recommended for certain groups, including those with compromised immune systems, people who live in long-term care settings and those whose occupation puts them at higher risk. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if a 3rd dose booster is a good idea for you.

Do they really help?

CDC conducts studies each year to determine how well influenza vaccines protect against flu. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population. The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines continue to be studied. During initial clinical trials, effectiveness ranged from 93% to 95%. Both influenza and COVID vaccines are also shown to reduce severity of illness and likelihood of hospitalization. According to the CDC, flu vaccines have reduced the risk of hospitalizations among older adults on average by about 40%.

What else can you do?

While symptoms are slightly different and it is possible to get both influenza and COVID at the same time, preventative measures for both illnesses are the same. Take these preventative actions against the spread of both infections:

  • Wash your hands
  • Avoid close contact with those who are sick
  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Get your flu and COVID-19 vaccines
  • Talk to your doctor if you have questions.

Fall is generally considered a good time to get the flu vaccine. The best way to prevent yourself and others from getting sick this flu season is by getting vaccinated for both influenza and COVID19.

Reliable sources for more information:

Thanks for reading and for supporting your local community-based clinics. We’re privileged to be here in your town, enriching life through health and helping you Live Well in the Lakes Region.

Get to Know Your Care Team: Introducing New Battle Lake Clinic Physician Dr. David Brett

September 2021

Lake Region Healthcare is excited to announce the addition of Dr. David Brett to our medical staff. He is joining our team of primary care providers at the Battle Lake Clinic. With nearly 20 years of experience including Emergency Medicine, Urgent Care and Family Practice, Dr. Brett will provide a full spectrum of primary care needs for all ages at the clinic here.

Brett received his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, Missouri and completed a Rotating Osteopathic internship, an Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Residency, and a Family Practice Residency at various locations Pennsylvania.

He has served as an emergency department physician and medical director in Roseau, MN and as an urgent care/family practice physician in California. Since 1996 he has also served as a traveling contracted emergency department physician with the Wapiti Medical Group. We recently asked him a few questions to help you get to know him better.

Q: Tell us more about your background and what you've been up to leading up to joining Lake Region Healthcare's medical staff.

A: Well, I've lived in Minnesota for more than 20 years. My wife, who is nurse, is from a small town just south of Roseau. We have worked up there a lot over the past 20 years and I have been out in California the last three years or so working first in Northern California, then in Central Coast and in Southern California at some family practice clinics. Although the last job I had was more urgent care. We have four children and my youngest lives in Los Angeles, that's how I ended up working out there.

Q: Why did you decide to join Lake Region Healthcare and what interested you about this particular position serving in the Battle Lake Clinic?

A: This is an independent group here at Lake Region and my wife and I both appreciate that. My wife has been a nurse in a critical care hospital, smaller than this for her whole career. I also worked here in the Emergency Department from 2010 to 2016 on a contracted basis. At that time the ER director was Mike Van Valkenburg, and he was actively involved in trying to get me to actually move here. He's no longer working in the ER, he's retired, but he's the guy that told me a lot of positive things about the area around here.

As far as working in the Battle Lake Clinic, before I even did family practice, I had a separate residency in anatomic and clinical pathology and lab medicine, and then decided after finishing that that I wanted to see patients again. So, I did a second residency, which is kind of a crazy thing to do, but it means that I'm a clinical guy, but I'm also a lab guy. So, on top of that I ended up working in a lot of ERs and lately urgent care, which is its own thing. Those sorts of experiences make me well-suited for places like Battle Lake. I also have an interest because of my lab background in cancer screening, infectious diseases, dermatology, things like that. So, what's important to me when I see patients is to try to take care of their immediate needs, but also if there's time, to expand the search and look at the old records and sort of turn over any and all stones with patients that have multiple medical problems.

Q: You worked in a busy urgent care outside of Los Angeles at the height of COVID. What was that experience like and what advice do you have for people today about COVID?

A: I worked in a busy urgent care outside of Los Angeles that owns 22 different urgent care clinics, and they had a full lab, full x-ray, full everything. While a lot of the urgent cares in Southern Cal shut down during the COVID peak, we didn't. We opened our doors, and we went into a surge volume status. We were seeing a tremendous number of people, and we had our own lab testing, our own PCR testing, our own antibody testing. We had it all. I was involved with thinking about what are we going to do for these patients and manage through the challenges.

As far as advice, my advice has always been to talk to your doctor. It doesn't matter what your age is, and what your status is, your doctor's going to have to look at every patient as an individual. There's no one answer for everybody. There's a lot of in-between answers as well. So, I look at patients as individuals anyway, even more so with the pandemic. We'd much rather you get your advice from your doctor or your provider than off the internet or the TV. Yes, watch the news and keep up on it, but then bring those questions to your provider.

Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working, and what are you looking forward to in terms of being part of both the Lake Region healthcare family, and the Battle Lake Clinic community?

A: We like to garden. We like to be part of the land, whether it's gardening or fishing, or hunting, or being outside. I like farm country, lake country, and being in the woods. We're going to be looking for place to live in the community that has a little room outside for fishing, and gardening and whatnot.

Q: Anything else you’d like the Battle Lake & surrounding community to know about you and your philosophy as you start your practice at the Battle Lake Clinic?

A: Well, I'm kind of a regular guy. So I try to approach patients from where they're at. What do you do for a living? Are you a farmer, are you mechanic, businessman? How do you fit into the community? I like to get to know people on a basic level. My favorite part of the day is what happens behind the door with the patient. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone and to taking care you and your family’s medical needs.

To learn more about Dr. Brett, visit our website at Thanks for reading and for supporting your local community based clinics. We’re privileged to be here in your town, enriching life through health and helping you Live Well in the Lakes Region.

Get to know your care team: Dr. Chelsey Johnson

September 2021

New Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon at LRH Loves Living on Battle Lake

Dr. Chelsey Johnson is one of the newest members of the Lake Region Healthcare medical staff and she brings a brand new service to our communities. As a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Dr. Johnson specializes in both reconstructive and aesthetic plastic surgery of the entire body including everything from tummy tucks and facelifts to scar revision and breast reconstruction after mastectomy.

Dr. Johnson was born and raised in Fargo, ND and for the past several years she’s enjoyed vacationing at the family cabin on West Battle Lake. Now that she and her husband have moved here, they’re lucky enough to call the lake place “home.”

“My husband and I have enjoyed vacationing here every summer while I was in training,” said Dr. Johnson. “He is from a small Midwest town, too, and our education/jobs have brought us all over the country. What I missed most about the other places we’ve lived in, is that there wasn’t the sense of community that I enjoyed while growing up. I am happy that I was able to experience other places in the country, to then know that this is where I belong.”

Speaking of her education, it’s very extensive. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from the University of Arizona Dr. Johnson went on to obtain her medical degree at the University Of Arizona School Of Medicine in Tucson, AZ where she was elected into Alpha Omega Alpha – the most prestigious medical honor society. During medical school she spent an additional research year at Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA) studying craniofacial sutures and the effects of surgical intervention and manipulation on skeletal growth. She then trained at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – voted the #1 Plastic Surgery Residency in the country. While there, she ventured beyond the foundations of learning how to be a skilled and safe reconstructive surgeon and pursued further training with renowned plastic surgeons across various institutions focusing on facial rejuvenation, breast reconstruction, and body contouring.

I believe every patient is unique and requires a specialized approach to surgery – whether it is deemed “reconstructive” or “cosmetic.” I want to restore form and function, in a beautiful, natural and safe manner, from pediatrics to geriatrics and everyone in between.”

She says one of the best parts of her job is accompanying patients through their surgical journey knowing that with restoration or improvement in one’s appearance, comes a renewed sense of self with increased confidence and self-esteem. “I spend time with patients getting to know them and their desired outcomes from the very beginning. I want to really understand where they are coming from and decide together the best approach to achieve their goals.”

“I am just so excited to be here in the lakes region to offer these plastic surgery services right here so people don’t need to travel out of town for them. I appreciate the ability to step away from the hustle and bustle and have the time to get to know the people in my community. I most enjoy the water, views, and trails of the Battle Lake area, as well as the quaint town with fantastic shops and restaurants. I also love how close it is to all of our family and friends. Finally it’s a car ride and not a plane ride to visit them all!”

“I am simply delighted to be living here, to be offering these new services to the community, and I can’t wait to meet you all!”

To learn more about Dr. Johnson’s plastic and reconstructive services, visit or

Thanks for reading and for supporting your local community based clinics. We’re privileged to be here in your town, enriching life through health and helping you Live Well in the Lakes Region.

Heat Related Illnesses: Looking out for athletes, elderly

August 20, 2021

By Becca Boesl, FNP at Lake Region Healthcare

It’s been an unusually hot summer, making heat related illnesses more common than ever. Some people are more susceptible to experiencing these issues, including athletes as they begin fall sports practice this month. We asked Lake Region Healthcare (LRH) Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Becca Boesl about who is most at risk as well as how to prevent and treat these common summer illnesses.

What are the most common heat-related illnesses you see in the clinic?

Heat related illnesses can occur when the body becomes too hot and can no longer cool down or regulate temperature appropriately. Common heat related illnesses we see in this area include sunburn, dehydration, and heat exhaustion. Heat can also worsen chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma/COPD, and heart disease.

Who is most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses?

Some people are at a greater risk of heat related illnesses than others. More vulnerable individuals include:

  • Infants and young children
  • The elderly or those over the age of 65
  • People with chronic medical conditions including hypertension, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and mental illness.
  • People that take medications including diuretics, certain medications for blood pressure, antihistamines, and antipsychotics.

What can be done to prevent these illnesses?

Just like we prepare for the cold weather as Minnesotans, there are things we can do to decrease our risk of heat related illnesses in the summer.

  • Limit time outdoors during the midday and afternoon when temperatures are the warmest
  • Avoid vigorous physical activities in high temperatures
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
  • Wear appropriate clothing (lightweight, light colored, shorts/short sleeves)
  • Apply broad spectrum Sunscreen to prevent sunburn
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages
  • Never leave children or pets unattended in cars

What are signs and symptoms of these illnesses?

Symptoms of heat related illnesses can include warm red skin, thirst, muscle cramps, heavy sweating, headache, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. More severe symptoms include confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, and high body temperature (103 or higher).

What should be done if symptoms present and how do you know if you need to seek medical attention?

If heat related illness is suspected, the individual should be moved to a cool location and given sips of water. Cool wet cloths on the body or a cool bath is helpful. If severe symptoms are present including temperature greater than 103, confusion, loss of consciousness, or seizures, you should call 911 for emergency medical care right away. These are symptoms of a heat stroke, which can quickly damage the brain and other vital organs and even results in death.

Thanks for reading and for supporting your local community based clinics. We’re privileged to be here in your town, enriching life through health and helping you Live Well in the Lakes Region.

About the Author: A native of Brandon, MN, Becca has been on the medical staff at LRH since 2018. She received her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) at North Dakota State University and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Prior to joining LRH, she served as an APRN, DNP, Hospitalist for CentraCare in St. Cloud where she also previously served as an RN for their Inpatient Rehabilitation and Patient Care services. Rebecca has experience in assessing, diagnosing, and treating both acute and chronic illnesses and particular strength in providing preventative care and effective patient education.

Get to know your care team: Kiana Deal, PA-C Battle Lake Clinic

August 9, 2021

Lake Region Healthcare (LRH) welcomed Kiana Deal, Physician Assistant, to our medical staff in 2016. She works full time at the Battle Lake Clinic to provide primary care services for all ages.

Kiana received her Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, and her Bachelor of Arts in Biology with emphasis in Health and Medical Sciences and Minors in Chemistry and Psychology from Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Deal has a long history with LRH having completed her preceptorship here under the mentorship of Mark Vukonich, MD; Brooke Hills, FNP; and Mary Bressler, FNP. She also has past experience working as a CNA at Johnson Memorial Health Services in Dawson, MN and at St. Francis Healthcare in Breckenridge.

Deal is a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the Minnesota Academy of Physician Assistants. Her professional interests include preventive health and wellness, women’s health and dermatology.

When asked why she chose to practice at Lake Region Healthcare Deal said it was “because of the phenomenal experience I had as a student while at LRH. They have a great group of providers and support staff, covering a wide variety of specialties, and I am excited to be a part of the team. Also, after growing up in a rural community, I am thrilled to be going back to my roots, and practicing in a small, family friendly community like Battle Lake.”

In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, hiking, 4-wheeling, traveling, gardening and watching and playing sports, particularly football. She is married to Justin and they have a son named Lawson, a dog named Bear, and a cat named Tuna.

She is available for general physicals, sports and camp physicals, problem visits for acute issues, follow-up visits for chronic conditions including mental health, simple skin procedures, laceration repairs and the painfully common lakes area need for fish hook removal.“I enjoy helping patients have a better understanding of their health and steps to achieve their individual goals. I feel it is important to advocate for their own health and to feel comfortable being open and honest about their healthcare needs. I am here to listen,” Deal says.

Kiana is accepting new patients at the Battle Lake Clinic and would consider it an honor to take care of you and your family’s primary health care needs. “Working in Battle Lake has allowed me to care for the whole family in a small town atmostphere. We have a great team at the clinic, for which I am very thankful, and we look for to serving you,” she added.

EXTRA NOTE: If you haven’t shared your thoughts on healthcare in your community yet, please take our healthcare perceptions survey to make sure your input is included in future planning for services provided at our Battle Lake, Ashby and other outreach clinic communities and at our main campus in Fergus Falls. The survey can be found on our website at through August 16th.

Thanks for reading and for supporting your local community based clinics. We’re privileged to be here in your town, enriching life through health and helping you Live Well in the Lakes Region.

The Who, When, What & Why of High School Sports Physicals

July 26, 2021

by Brian Pickering, MSE, ATC, ITAT, NASM-PES

With COVID restrictions being lifted or pulled back in many areas of our lives, high school athletes need to be aware that physicals will be required for many athletes to participate in interscholastic activities during the 2021-2022 school year. Traditionally an athlete needed a physical completed every three years, but with the waiver granted by the Minnesota State High School League in the spring of 2000, athletes that would have needed a physical in the fall of 2020 were given an extension. Here’s what you need to know about to make sure your athlete is ready to go the first day of practice and have an enjoyable and injury free season.

Who: A sports qualifying physical examination is required for any athlete who wishes to participate in a Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) sanctioned sport.

When: The MSHSL requires the full exam every three years (generally 7th and 10th grade) although individual schools may require athletes to complete this more frequently. Should there be a serious injury or health condition, a visit to the student-athlete’s primary care provider is recommended to ensure that they are still fit to participate in activities. A shorter self-assessment called the “Annual Sports Health Questionnaire” must be filled out by the parent and the athlete each year. If your athlete needs a full exam this year, it should ideally be scheduled 4 to 6 weeks prior to the first practice for their sport. With the increase in the number of athletes needing sports physicals for the 2021-2022 school year, spots are filling up fast. To ensure that your student-athlete is cleared for the start of practices contact your primary care provider today to schedule your appointment.

What: A sports qualifying physical exam is ideally conducted by the athlete’s primary care physician. When calling to schedule an appointment, it’s important to indicate you need an exam for a Sports Physical. Any doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner can perform the assessment, but the primary care provider is more likely to have the background and relationship to do a more meaningful assessment.

Why: The exam covers a broad range of factors all related to the health and safety of an athlete. The medical history of an athlete will be reviewed along with a thorough examination of the eyes, ears, heart, lungs, abdomen, skin, musculoskeletal system and immunization status. This provides the examiner the information needed to sign off on clearance for the athlete to play the sport(s) desired based on the athlete’s health, level of physical contact, level of intensity and strenuousness of their desired sport(s). There may be a need to order further tests based on the findings of the exam. It is especially important for athletes that contracted COVID-19 to be seen by a qualified medical provider to ensure that there are no residual effects from the virus including inflammation of the heart or lung damage that could impact participation. The goal as always is the safety of the student-athlete.

Extra Note: Lake Region Healthcare and Prairie Ridge Healthcare are offering 8 special dates across five clinic locations for easy access, and discounted Sports Physicals to help athletes be ready for the fall sports season. Check out the ad with the schedule elsewhere in this edition or online at COVID-19 vaccines are also available for student-athletes 12 and older. Call 218.739.2221 for vaccine appointments.

Back to Normal? The Latest on Healthcare and COVID

July 12, 2021

It’s been a long haul. COVID turned our lives upside down over 16 months ago and we’ve been longing for the day we can say “it’s over” ever since. It’s hard to define what “over” might mean, but I’m happy to be at a point where we can say increasing rates of people vaccinated for COVID-19 and continued low incidence of hospitalized patients and low infection rates, have allowed us to make several changes to return to pre-Covid status in areas deemed safe to do so.

As we move out of the extreme COVID-intensity we’ve operated under for so many months, it’s a relief to see the data supporting the changes we are making to help feel like we’re getting back to some normalcy. We can finally now say we are open & ready to see you without many of the obstacles to accessing care that had to be in place for everyone’s safety during the earlier days of this pandemic. I also can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get back to your regular healthcare activity. We know people scaled back on wellness visits, immunizations, elective procedures, preventive exams and even emergency visits due to fears surrounding COVID. Those delays are taking their toll on our collective health and people are coming to us sicker than ever before. It’s time to reverse that trend, and we’ve done everything possible to make your healthcare experience safe.

Because the vast majority of the special activities & processes that surrounded COVID are no longer in need of crisis management, we are further normalizing them into safe everyday operations. Our Incident Command response team has closed their active operations, but continues to keep a steady eye on the data and metrics to monitor any uptick or increase in the disease. Among the other changes we’re making are a lifting of most visitor restrictions and a transition of the COVID nurse line and drive through testing into everyday clinic operations.

Most COVID related protocols are “back to normal” at LRH and PRH with a few exceptions:

  • All patients & visitors entering our facility continue to be asked COVID screening questions and are required to wear masks in the facility in accordance with CDC and MDH guidelines for healthcare settings.
  • Visitor restrictions are lifted and back to pre-COVID standards as of June 16th with these exceptions:
    • No visitors are allowed for COVID-positive hospitalized patients.
    • One visitor per patient at the Cancer Center.
    • Patients at all of our clinics, including here in Ashby and Battle Lake, are encouraged to limit the number of people who accompany them to clinic visits to one or two persons per visit to help reduce waiting area crowding. Exceptions to accommodate family groups will be made as needed.

Per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for health care facilities, masks are still required in all LRH and PRH facilities, even for those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. We know that masking is not the norm outside healthcare sites, but we will continue to follow the requirements and recommendations of the agencies that oversee us, and ask our patients and visitors to mask until further guidance is given.

Patients with respiratory or COVID like symptoms are now able to see their regular primary care/pediatric providers instead of being directed to special respiratory illness care sites. With that transition, the drive through testing line in Fergus Falls will be closing and COVID testing will be done at clinic locations. These changes will help streamline and provide comprehensive and private COVID-19 care from your primary care provider. The Walk-In Clinic in Fergus Falls has also returned to safe normal processes for all patients and no longer requires an appointment to be made if you are experiencing respiratory symptoms.

Finally, we’d really like to encourage more people to get the vaccine as new variants of the virus continue to develop and spread. While science is not yet clear on the vaccine effectiveness against certain variants, we do know that the overwhelming number of people experiencing serious COVID illness recently, regardless of strain, are not vaccinated. Vaccination reduces overall transmission—and thus the chances for mutations and variants—and in many cases can protect against variants. That’s why it’s so important for all who are eligible to get vaccinated. If you need to schedule your vaccine, contact the clinic for appointment availability and watch for additional vaccine clinics that will be scheduled over the course of the summer to meet the needs of students and others as demands present.

I can’t thank our staff and providers enough for their dedication to our communities through these challenging times. Likewise, we appreciate everyone’s patience and attention to safety as we’ve faced this pandemic head on, together as a community. We continue to watch the data and are on alert for any spikes in cases that might signal a need to shift back to some restrictions. In the mean time, we’re really grateful to be where we are today, a little more like normal.

Until next time, continue to Live Well in the Lakes Region! ~Kent Mattson, LRH CEO

From Community Clinic to Regional Specialists: The Big and Small of It

June 28, 2021

For those who don’t know me, I’ve been CEO of Lake Region Healthcare for over a year and a half now, the majority of which was heavily focused on the pandemic. I’m a Battle Lake resident and a Fergus Falls native. Though I don’t come from a clinical background, I was raised by a nurse (who coincidentally served at both Lake Region Healthcare and Prairie Ridge Healthcare) and I have spent the last 20+ years serving this organization as general counsel and then as Chief Legal & Strategy officer before becoming CEO. I’m excited to kick off this first in a regular series of columns to connect with the residents and visitors to our Battle Lake & Ashby local clinic communities. We’ll plan to offer you pertinent health related information to help you Live Well in the Lakes Region, such as how to access the care you need, getting to know our medical staff, trusted health education from our medical experts and general health and wellness human interest topics. To start, it seems to make some sense to give you some context about the scale & size of the organization behind what might seem like just a little community clinic on your main street.

Big Enough to Specialize, Small Enough to Personalize

The Lake Region Healthcare enterprise is comprised of Lake Region Healthcare, an independent community-governed non-profit headquartered in Fergus Falls, the Mill Street Residence Assisted Living Facility in Fergus Falls, and the non-profit critical access hospital, Prairie Ridge Healthcare in Elbow Lake. Together we bring specialty and sub-specialty services to patients at hospital and clinic locations throughout the Lakes Region and west central Minnesota including:

  • 108 bed hospital and Level 3 trauma center emergency room in Fergus Falls
  • 10 bed hospital and level 4 trauma center emergency room in Elbow Lake
  • 9 Community Clinics (Fergus Falls Main, Elbow Lake, Ashby, Barnesville, Battle Lake, Evansville, Herman, Hoffman, Morris, MN)
  • A Walk In/Urgent Care Clinic in Fergus Falls
  • A Cancer Care, Radiation Oncology and Research Center in Fergus Falls
  • A Health & Wellness facility In Fergus Falls
  • A Home Medical Supply Store In Fergus Falls
  • A 64 unit Assisted Living Facility in Fergus Falls

With over 110 medical staff and roughly 1,100 employees, we are categorized as one of just six mid-sized health systems in Minnesota. That size allows us to be able to provide a robust roster of medical specialties thanks to our regional scale, such as cardiology, cancer care, dermatology, ENT, neurology, psychiatry, podiatry, pulmonology, orthopedics, ENT and spine care, in addition to general surgery, primary family care, pediatrics and OB/GYN services. We’re excited to be bringing on a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery physician later this summer.

We value our clinic presence in Battle Lake and Ashby, and strive to help you all Live Well in the Lakes Region, as part of our mission to provide health care close to home. Our plans for growth will continue to be driven by community needs. You’ll be invited to take a community health needs survey later this summer and we hope you’ll take time to share your perspectives to help us better serve you. Because in the end, that’s what we’re all about: a community of people caring for people. We’re a healthcare organization of the community, by the community and for the community. The size and scale of our organization allows us the ability to give you more providers, more specialties, high competency and high quality but it’s the people inside these walls who make it different and special. The stellar medical professionals with impressive credentials who care for you like family (which many of you are!). Our team has family and friend connections everywhere in the lakes region, and even if we’ve never met, our person-centered pledge is to operate with a people are precious mindset so you’ll be like family to us before long.

On that note, thanks for reading and thanks for your support of your local community based clinics. We’re privileged to be here in your town, enriching life through health and helping you Live Well in the Lakes region.

Have a safe & happy 4th of July, too. I hope you don’t need to visit our board certified physicians in the Emergency Department, but they’re here when needed.

Until next time, be well. ~Kent Mattson, LRH CEO

Keeping Our Kids Safe – Car Seat Basics

Plus free car seat check-up & bike helmet event in Ottertail Sept. 27th

By Katie Martin, LRH Nurse Practitioner

The best way to keep your child safe in the car is to use the right car seat in the right way. This article will highlight some of the basics based on the questions I frequently hear from parents of young children about what type of car seat is the safest to use, and questions about when to switch car seats.

Keeping the children of our community safe is an important job and whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend; if you are someone who has children in your vehicle you need to know what the laws and recommendations are.

Car seat and restraint laws frequently change, so what you read here may not apply in the years to come. In addition, every brand and type of car seat has different height and weight recommendations, so always check your manual when deciding where and how to place your child. Currently, children must be in some type of a child restraint (car seat or booster) until they are 8 to 12 years old or 4’9”, whichever comes first.

When a baby is first born, he or she should be in a rear facing car seat. Current recommendations are to keep your child rear facing as long as possible but at least until age 2. Turning infants and young toddlers forward facing before that time can result in serious head and neck injuries should you be involved in a crash. Their skeletal systems are not mature enough to handle the impacts and studies have proven that rear facing infants and toddlers have much better protection than those who are forward facing. Check your car seat manual to see how long you can keep your child rear facing. In many instances, this can be up to 40, 50 or even 60 pounds, depending on the type of car seat.

I understand the concern about leg room when the older infants and young toddlers are rear facing, but they are usually very comfortable to sit with their legs crossed or extended onto the seat. In addition, there are some car seats now that have extended leg room options that can keep your child safe, comfortable and happy when rear facing.

Once the child reaches the weight or height limit for the rear facing car seat, it is time to turn them around. Please check the car seat manual to make sure your car seat can be forward facing as well, otherwise you’ll need a new car seat. Initially, they should still be in the 5-point

harness provided by the car seat until they outgrow that height or weight recommendation set by the car seat manufacturer.

Once your child has outgrown the weight maximum for your rear-facing seat (again depending on the type of car seat this can be up to 40, 50 or even 60 pounds) it’s time to transition them to a forward-facing car seat.

When moving to a forward-facing car seat, there are a few things to consider. Typically the child will still be in the harness, and have the latch straps on both sides and the tether at the top. Different vehicles have different instructions on how to install the forward-facing latch straps and tethers, so it is important to keep both your vehicle manual and the car seat manual handy when installing the car seats. There are weight limits for the latch straps, and once the child reaches the maximum weight you can use the seatbelt to secure the car seat instead. The safest option for your toddler to preschool aged child is to keep him or her in a forward-facing seat for as long as possible, some car seats allow for up to 65 pounds.

A booster seat is the next option for school aged children after they have outgrown their forward-facing harness seats. Most children should be in a booster seat until they are somewhere between 8-12 years old, depending on the height and weight of the child. Most children will not fit in a vehicle’s seat belt alone until 10 to 12 years of age. Children should not be out of the booster seat until the seatbelt reaches across the chest, and not into the neck or throat. The child should also be able to sit comfortably back in the seat with the knees to the edge of the seat. It’s also important to consider maturity of the child. If he or she is transitioned at too young of an age, the child may not be reliable to sit up and leave the seatbelt alone. Car crashes can happen at any second, so it’s essential that children remain in proper restraint the entire time during the trip.

Once again, there are many different resources available if there are questions when installing child restraints. A great local resource coming up on September 27th is the Otter Tail County Safe Community Coalition Care Seat Checkup. It will be held from 3 to 6pm at the Ottertail Operations Center by appointment only. A certified child passenger safety technician will check your child safety setas to make sure they are installed according to manufacturer specifications, Each seat check takes about 20 to 30 minutes and they ask you to bring all manuals for your vehicle and seats along to your appointment.

There are also websites, like, or your child’s primary care provider that are good resources to help answer questions you may have. This is certainly not an all-encompassing guide, but these are general recommendations based on the most current evidence. The number one priority is the safety of the kids. Please, always make sure that kids are restrained properly and in the backseat until at least age 12. Also, be a good example and buckle up yourself! It’s safest for you and for them if you’re buckled in as well.

Thanks for reading and for supporting your local community based clinics. We’re privileged to be here in your town, enriching life through health and helping you Live Well in the Lakes Region. Until next time, Be safe & buckle up!

Thyroid Health

By Dr. Mark Vukonich, Family Medicine

January is Thyroid Awareness Month. How often do you think about your thyroid? Why do you even need it and what does it do?

In a nod to the purpose of thyroid “awareness” month, I’ll try to answer some of those questions today and help you know when to be concerned about your thyroid health.

The Basics

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below the Adam’s apple. It produces hormones that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and rate. The thyroid hormones control metabolism – the process where the food you eat is transformed into energy. When your thyroid makes either too much or too little of these important hormones, it’s called a thyroid disease. When the thyroid makes too much, your body uses energy too quickly, which is called hyperthyroidism. This does more than make you tired, it can make your heart beat faster, cause you to lose weight without trying and make you feel nervous. On the opposite end, if your thyroid makes too little, it is called hypothyroidism and you may feel tired, gain weight, or possibly be unable to tolerate cold temperatures.

Common Causes

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be caused by other diseases that impact the way the thyroid gland works, or it can be inherited. You may be at higher risk if you have a family history of thyroid disease, a medical condition such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, if you take a medication that’s high in iodine, or are older than 60 years, especially in women.

What to Watch For

Unfortunately, the symptoms of a thyroid condition are often very similar to the signs of other medical issues which can make diagnosis tricky. As I mentioned above, things like nervousness and anxiety, unexplained weight loss, or sensitivity to heat are common symptoms of an overactive thyroid. Weight gain, forgetfulness, fatigue, dry and coarse hair or hair loss, and intolerance to cold temps are common symptoms of an underactive thyroid. To help determine whether symptoms are thyroid related or simply connected to something like aging or pregnancy, there are blood tests, imaging tests and physical exams that can be conducted.

In many cases, taking a look at the thyroid itself gives the best clues. A thyroid scan or an ultrasound can help check for increased size, shape or growths (nodules) of the thyroid. Your doctor might simply feel your neck for growth or enlargements of the thyroid as well.

Treating Thyroid Disease

If it’s determined your thyroid is producing too much or too little, the goal is to return thyroid hormone levels to normal. This can be done a variety of ways and best method for you will depend on the cause of your thyroid condition. There are medications that stop your thyroid from making hormones or to add thyroid hormones back into your body, beta blockers that help control your symptoms or radioactive iodine that works by damaging the cells of your thyroid to prevent it from making high levels of thyroid hormones. Surgery (thyroidectomy) is a more permanent form of treatment which will prevent the thyroid from creating hormones, but this requires you to take thyroid replacement hormones for the rest of your life.

A fine need biopsy may be recommended to look for cancerous tissue if thyroid nodules, or lumps are found. While lumps are pretty common (nearly half of adults will develop one by age 60), less than 10% of thyroid nodules are cancerous, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. In the unlikely event that the nodule is due to cancer, surgery is the most common treatment and can usually cure it.

Living with Thyroid Disease

People can generally live a normal life with thyroid disease once they find the right treatment option to control hormone levels. Your healthcare provider is an important partner in finding the best solution and monitoring it over time to make adjustments that help you successfully manage the disease.

When your thyroid doesn’t work properly it can impact your entire body. If you’re experiencing symptoms you think could be related to an over or under active thyroid, don’t ignore it. Talk to your healthcare provider.

Other Living Well Resources from LRH

Our annual living well education series is a monthly opportunity to access free resources from our clinical and wellness experts.

Our annual health challenge offers a friendly competition to inspire everyone in the community live well and win some great prizes thanks to our generous Foundation. Watch for a kick off after the new year.

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