NPR's health reporters steadily cover the news in health and medicine. But there are always a few breakout stories that especially resonate with readers. In 2018, our most popular health stories ranged from practical advice on personal health, to discoveries on the frontiers of medicine, to the high cost of health care today. We pored over the list of our most widely read posts to bring you these highlights: 1o stories that reflect the health issues that mattered to you over the last 12 months. If you missed these when they first came out, here's your chance to catch up.
When NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff was travelling in Liberia in 2014, she noticed how Liberian women bent over to work in their gardens: They hinged from their hips, keeping their backs straight like a tabletop. Later she learned "table" bending is common in many places around the world. But in Western societies, we typically bend our spines into a C shape when we lean over. This habit puts more stress on the spinal disks and may lead to back pain. Doucleff's story includes expert instructions from movement and anatomy experts for how to spare your spine.
As though having a heart attack at age 44 wasn't bad enough, Drew Calver, father and high school teacher, was hit with a nearly $109,000 bill when he got home. "They're going to give me another heart attack stressing over this bill," Calver said.
Our story, published in partnership with Kaiser Health News, detailed how Calver fell victim to twin medical billing practices that increasingly bedevil many Americans: surprise bills and balance billing.
The story sparked a national conversation over what should be done to combat surprise medical bills that afflict a growing number of Americans. And shortly after the story published, the hospital said it would slash Calver's bill to $332.29.
Millions have been spent on Alzheimer's research without producing a cure, a method of prevention or even a clear understanding of what causes the disease. Now there's a new push to investigate a radical theory: Could a germ be the cause? Some think a microbe could be the trigger leading to protein build up in the brain and a flare-up in the immune system.
And one man is willing to hand over $1 million of his own money to anyone who can figure out if a germ is involved.
Maybe the kids aren't alright. The results of a survey of 20,000 adults suggest a lot of Americans experience of loneliness and social isolation — especially young adults. Using one of the best-known tools for measuring loneliness — the UCLA Loneliness Scale — the survey found that more than half of respondents felt isolated.
Those in Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, had the highest overall loneliness scores. This phenomena may be linked to social media use and screen time, according to other research. Whatever the cause, researchers say it's a public health hazard, as social isolation may contribute to chronic disease.
Lyme disease was once unheard of in western Pennsylvania, where entomologist Barbara Thorne spent time as a kid. It wasn't until she got bitten herself that she realized that Lyme-infected ticks had become widespread in that part of Pennsylvania.
Prevalence of Lyme has been steadily increasing across many parts of the country. And the disease causes symptoms ranging from fever, fatigue and a rash, to serious damage to the joints, heart and nervous system, But no need to avoid the out-of-doors. Thorne has advice for how to avoid getting bitten, and what to do if you are.
When NPR editor Gisele Grayson and her mom Carmen Grayson decided to get their DNA tested, they were met with a little surprise. Carmen, whose mother was Italian, had 31 percent Italian and Southern European DNA, but Gisele had none. To find out what was up with that, they spoke with genetics experts who explained that the ways DNA testing companies analyze your genes leave a lot of room for interpretation. They become less accurate the more specific you try to get. But no matter: The experts all agreed: DNA is just a piece of what makes you who you are.
In this time of rising heroin and fentanyl overdoses, how do you make sure you're prepared to save a life? Many states now have a standing order allowing anyone to buy the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone. But for a nurse named Isela, choosing to carry the drug nearly lost her the ability to buy life insurance.
The insurance company denied her because it feared she was a drug user herself. "But I'm a nurse, I use it to help people," Isela remembers telling her agent.
Her struggles have led to a push to get insurance companies to change their policies.
Nearly 19 million Americans take fish oil supplements and some 37 percent of us take vitamin D. But long-awaited research on both supplements called some of their health claims into question.
Researchers found no protective benefit for cancer and overall cardiovascular events from taking the supplements. (They did find a benefit for one kind of event, heart attacks, for African-Americans and people who eat little fish but more study is needed to verify those findings.)
The story prompted a wave of questions from our readers and listeners, asking, essentially, should I stop taking these supplements? Here are answers to that question and more.
Charlie Hinderliter wasn't opposed to the flu shot. He just didn't think he was at risk of a bad case of the flu since he was healthy and in his 30s.
Turns out, he was wrong. After 58 days in the hospital, a week in a medically induced coma, two surgeries and three weeks in a nursing home, he's now speaking out to encourage everyone to do something he'd never done before: Get a flu shot.
If his story wasn't motivating enough, NPR's Allison Aubrey reported these 5 reasons to get the flu shot.
As evidence grows that chronic sleep deprivation puts teens at risk for physical and mental health problems, there's been increasing pressure on school districts around the country to consider a later start time.
In Seattle, school and city officials recently made the shift, moving the official start times for middle and high schools nearly an hour later to 8:45 a.m. Researchers studied teens before and after the change and got hard proof that it helps: Start school later and teens get more sleep and do better in school.
Carmel Wroth is an editor on NPR's Science Desk.