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Corner Clinic: Our Experts Answer Your Health Questions

This month we talk about standing desks, calf cramps and dry eyes

By UC San Diego Health System Experts   |   May 06, 2015
  1. I keep hearing that I’m sitting too much at work and that it’s killing me. Should I get a standing desk?
  2. I regularly get serious cramps in my legs - should I worry about a pulmonary embolism?
  3. What can I do for dry eyes?
Kenneth Vitale 

I keep hearing that I’m sitting too much at work and that it’s killing me. Should I get a standing desk?

Kenneth Vitale MD, physiatrist and sports medicine physician, Department of Orthopedic Surgery

Sitting is the new smoking and the latest workplace taboo. Chairs worsen our posture and recent research shows sitting shortens our lifespan, increasing our risk of obesity, chronic low-back pain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression. Even an hour of intense exercise daily doesn’t counteract the negative effects of sitting all day at work. Sitting is a separate risk factor for disease regardless of a person’s exercise regime, and like smoking, its effects are cumulative and can’t be undone with a change in lifestyle.

Because of all this, most of us would benefit from a standing desk. It may, though, take time to become accustomed to being on our feet. Be patient. Most of us can retrain our body. An exception may be those with lumbar spinal stenosis, spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis. For these people, an adjustable desk that enables a person to sit or stand as needed may be advisable. If you do change to a standing desk, make sure you wear comfortable shoes and sit down periodically. The healthiest backs are the ones changing positions throughout the day. To help with this, you can put a box or small step under your desk to rest a foot on and alternate feet while standing.

Timothy Fernandes 

I regularly get serious cramps in my legs - should I worry about a pulmonary embolism?

Timothy M. Fernandes, MD, pulmonologist and assistant professor, Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine

Deep vein thrombosis occurs when one or more blood clots form in the deep veins of the legs and/or pelvis. Sometimes these blood clots break off and travel to the lungs, causing what is known as pulmonary embolism. There are several notable risk factors for both conditions, including recent hospitalization or surgery, immobilization or bed rest, cancer and taking hormone replacement or birth control pills.

The symptoms of a blood clot in the leg include swelling of the legs, redness, warm skin and leg pain. If the blood clot travels to the lungs, a pulmonary embolism may present with shortness of breath and chest pain. You should seek immediate attention in this situation as a pulmonary embolism can be a medical emergency.

Leg cramps are typically due to muscle spasms in the calf or foot. These spasms do not persist more than a few minutes and could be provoked by a number of conditions, such as low potassium levels, dehydration or certain medications. Leg cramps as a presenting sign of a blood clot would be unusual, but if these symptoms persist, contact your doctor to discuss whether any further evaluation is needed. Deep vein thrombosis is usually diagnosed by an ultrasound while a pulmonary embolism is usually diagnosed by a CT scan.

Natalie Afshari 

What can I do for dry eyes?

Natalie Afshari, MD, Stuart I. Brown MD Chair in Ophthalmology in Memory of Donald P. Shiley, professor of ophthalmology and chief, Division of Cornea & Refractive Surgery

Dry eyes are a common eye condition caused by a lack of adequate tears. A healthy tear film is required for lubrication of the ocular surface, comfort and visual clarity. Symptoms of dry eyes include discomfort, similar to the sensation of having sand in the eyes, blurry vision and sensitivity to light. Some people have dry eyes because they don’t produce enough tears to keep their eyes lubricated. Others have dry eyes because of imbalance in the composition of their tears, which are made of water, mucus and fatty oils. There are also many conditions that lead to dry eyes, including inflammation, eye lid problems (such as blepharitis), aging and certain medications or surgeries. A comprehensive eye exam can help diagnose dry eyes and identify the underlying cause of your symptoms. Treating this underlying cause is the key for improvement.

Over the counter artificial tears or ointments can provide symptomatic relief. Your eye doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory drops or closing your tear ducts by plugs to reduce tear loss. Warm compresses or lid treatments can clean blocked oil glands in those with imbalanced tear composition. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those in fish oils, may also have some benefit.

Care at UC San Diego Health

Ophthalmology and Eye Care

Pulmonary Vascular Medicine

Sports Medicine