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This week we respond to questions about Chantix (a medication to help smokers quit) and low back pain in people who sit all day.

Dear HOUSE Calls,   
I’m trying to quit smoking and my doctor prescribed Chantix, I’ve heard it can cause heart attacks.  Is it safe?

We are so happy that you’ve started trying to quit. It can be a long process. We think that for some people Chantix can be a great aid in the struggle to quit smoking.

About Chantix, there was a study suggesting an increase in the short term risk of heart events with the medication, but mostly in people who already have heart conditions.

The tricky thing here is that quitting smoking is far and away one of the best things you can do for your health. But the near term risk is scarey for some people. And, to confuse things, continuing smoking over time increases your heart attack risk far more than six months of taking Chantix.

There are other medicine and non medicine techniques. These include nicotine replacement therapy (patch, pill, gum, lozenge, and inhaler), buproprion (Wellbutrin and Zyban), behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, and group support. Some studies show that a combination of several techniques (for instance, nicotine replacement and group support) can work better than just one alone. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each, but the most important thing you can do is keep on that road toward quitting.

Dear HOUSE Calls,   
I have a desk job and my low back hurts.  Is there anything that I can do to help?

This is such a common complaint for office workers. Sitting, and especially sitting for long stretches of time, places a lot of stress on your back and makes your core weak.

There are many things your can do. First, make sure you ergonomic position is reasonable: your feet should be flat on the flow and you knees slightly above your hips. Hopefully you can adjust your chair to make this happen. Your desk still needs to be in reach, but watch key board position, because as your chair drops, your hands might need to reach up to type and that can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Some offices and companies can help with this by having an ergonomic specialist evaluate your office environment, especially if your back pain becomes a big problem. Some people can even adjust their desks so that it’s possible to work while either sitting or standing.

Second, get up frequently and try to move around. Get a glass of water, or walk a couple of times around your desk. This is good for you in so many ways, and actually will increase your productivity.

Third, get into the habit of stretching your back daily for just five minutes. There are 100s (maybe 1000’s) of suggestions online. Pick 4-6 stretches and make them a habit. Better still, consider an exercise that will strengthen your core and stretch your back at least twice per week. We like yoga, pilates, and swimming. We think you’ll like the results.

HOUSE Calls is a weekly column by Dr. Adam Zolotor, Dr. Adam Goldstein, and Dr. Cristy Page on behalf of YOUR HEALTH and the UNC Department of Family Medicine.

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