Do You Head for Your Bed When You Feel Sick?

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Will Bed Rest Help You Get Better?

Remember the last time you had the flu or a cold? Do you think you heal faster by staying in bed for a day or two or going to work? An extensive review of the medical literature published in the British medical journal, Lancet, showed that there is no evidence that bed rest helps you heal faster from any medical condition.

During World War II, American soldiers were drafted and sent to do their basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center before they were sent to fight in Europe. A major epidemic of flu occurred affecting almost all the troops.

Half of the soldiers were kept in bed, while the other half stayed in the vigorous exercise of basic training. Both groups required the same amount of time to recover, although those forced to undergo the rigorous demands of preparing for war complained more.

In the Lancet report, researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia searched the medical literature from 1966 to the present and found only 39 studies testing whether bed rest benefited any medical condition. 24 studies showed that bed rest was of little or no benefit in preventing side effects of medical procedures such as spinal anesthesia, spinal fluid withdrawal, and multiple x-ray procedures.

Fifteen studies showed no benefit in treating medical conditions such as low back pain, spontaneous labor, high blood pressure during pregnancy, uncomplicated heart attacks, rheumatoid arthritis or infectious hepatitis.

From 1900 to the 1940′s, two months of enforced bed rest was routinely prescribed following a heart attack. Several studies showed that men who were put at bed rest after a heart attack, were more likely to die than those who were active, so doctors responded by shortening bed rest from two months to two weeks. In 1955, US President Dwight Eisenhower was playing golf when he complained of pain in his chest and belly. His doctors diagnosed a heart attack and ordered immediate bed rest and kept him in bed for several days.

His doctors were afraid to let Eisenhower out of bed and were so concerned about his electrocardiogram that they called in the world-famous cardiologist Paul Dudley White. The first thing that Dr. White did was check Eisenhower’s electrocardiogram and the second thing he did was to get Eisenhower out of bed and walking.

Then the news media throughout the world carried stories of how President Eisenhower was ordered out of bed after having a heart attack.

President Eisenhower recovered and went on to continue serving as president through a second term. This prompted more studies to be done which showed that bed rest can kill. Now doctors get people up after heart attacks as soon as they think that it is safe to do so, often within 12 to 24 hours.

Another study showed that exercise helps cancer patients recover faster and improve their lifestyles and attitudes. These studies do not suggest that you should exercise when you feel miserable. They show that there is no evidence that staying in bed helps you heal faster.

So the next time you feel sick, you can stay in bed if you like, but there is no evidence that it will help you get better faster.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin has been a radio talk show host for 25 years and practicing physician for more than 40 years; he is board certified in four specialties, including sports medicine. Read or listen to hundreds of his fitness and health reports at http://www.DrMirkin.com

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