CATEGORY: Health & Medicine
March 7, 2013– 2

I’m not a doctor, but for the purpose of this blog post, please imagine that I am wearing a lab coat and a stethoscope—maybe even two stethoscopes, just to be extra professional. Wolfram|Alpha now has an understanding of sig codes, which are the marks on your drug prescriptions that tell the pharmacist what it is you’re getting, what it does, and when precisely it should be taken. Patients aren’t often exposed to sig codes these days, but pharmacy techs learn them, since they receive these abbreviated instructions from the doctor. More »

February 6, 2012– 10

Remember that New Year’s resolution you made to lose weight this year? If you’re one of the many people around the world who pledged to get healthy and finally lose that weight, Wolfram|Alpha is here to help! Even with January behind us, there is still plenty of time to get back on track in 2012.

Studies throughout the decades have shown that regular diet and exercise is the number-one way to get healthy. Wolfram|Alpha can offer you a variety of different ways to start, track, and maintain your new healthy lifestyle.

Query how to lose weight, and Wolfram|Alpha will bring up a formula where you can enter all the information needed, including your intended physical activity level, to figure out how many calories you should be eating every day in order to reach your target body weight:

How to lose weight More »

December 19, 2011– 5

We are pleased to add our latest work in the domain of radiation shielding to our ever-widening repertoire of highly technical and challenging areas. Although this was one of the earliest features added to Wolfram|Alpha, we have now significantly expanded the functionality of the area that permits users to ask about the shielding efficacy of numerous materials against multiple radiation sources. Most importantly, we have now included the computations for shielding against that most dreaded radiation—the gamma ray. We think these new features will be extremely useful in helping people to better understand the common shielding gadgets they might see every day (such as at the dentist’s office or when getting an X-ray).

At launch we had information only for beta radiation (electron beam) but now have added alpha particles, protons as well as photons to our collection. Additionally, we have significantly improved the natural-language capabilities in this domain. For example, asking Wolfram|Alpha “At what thickness of lead is 3 MeV gamma radiation halved in intensity?” immediately returns the thickness of the lead sheet as the result. Or maybe you’re interested in figuring out how far alpha particles travel through air. Just ask, “What thickness of air will shield 5 MeV alpha particle radiation?” What if there is a glass window? Once again, the query is at your fingertips: “What is the maximum electron radiation that a 2″ thick plate glass can block?More »

October 28, 2011– 1

With Halloween around the corner, everyone’s thinking about costumes, trick-or-treating, and jack-o’-lantern carving and figuring out what to do with a 1,818 pound pumpkin. While the latter might only be true for the owners of this year’s largest pumpkin, Wolfram|Alpha has something for everyone this Halloween. The nearly one-ton squash belongs to a farmer from Quebec, Canada. Besides carving it into a giant jack-o’-lantern, the next best thing to do with that much pumpkin is make enough pumpkin pie for a small town. A common recipe for a pumpkin pie calls for two cups of pumpkin. Using Wolfram|Alpha, we find that 1,818 pounds of pumpkin will allow us to make 3,550 pumpkin pies.

Hopefully you are in a giving mood, so you can cut each pie into eight slices to come up with just enough to share with the entire town of Allen Park, Michigan. With 28,210 people in Allen Park and 28,400 slices of pie, you’re still left with 190 slices to put in the freezer for later. More »

September 28, 2011– 1

Diving organizations such as PADI® or NAUI provide certified recreational scuba divers with a dive table to determine how long a diver can stay underwater at a given depth, both for the initial and subsequent dives. The reason for the dive planner is to ensure that the amount of nitrogen your body absorbs during a dive remains within acceptable limits.

Dive tables do not tell you how much nitrogen has accumulated in your body after a dive; they simply tell you how long you can stay at a given depth without having to have a mandatory decompression stop.

Recreational dive tables come in the form of a plastic coated card, and for many recreational divers these cards are daunting and look very complicated. For example, the PADI® dive card has tables on both sides of the card, containing over a thousand numbers.

At Wolfram|Alpha we have removed the complexity of trying to read the NAUI and PADI® dive tables.

Recreational dive planner More »

August 10, 2011– 0

Recently we released our pregnancy data content, accessible through various queries such as “pregnant 18 weeks” or “pregnant, fetus’s weight 5 lbs 4 oz”. To add to that data, we have created an Apgar score calculator and assessment tool.

The Apgar score is a value assigned to newborn babies within the first 5 to 10 minutes of life. This value is a quick assessment of the baby’s overall health based on 5 variables: the color of the baby’s body and extremities, pulse, reaction (e.g., facial expression, cry response) to stimulation of the nose or feet, muscle tension after stimulation, and respiratory activity. All of these variables can be described more simply as appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, and respiration. Not so coincidentally, the first letters of these descriptions form an acronym that corresponds to the physician who developed the scale, Dr. Virginia Apgar. More »

May 24, 2011– 7

Ah, spring! The time of year when winter coats are exchanged for short sleeved shirts, space heaters for open windows, and winter colds for stuffy noses, rashes, and itchy or watery eyes. When suffering from any set of symptoms, misery often seeks company, and what better way to find out how many other people share in your seasonal symptomatology than through Wolfram|Alpha? By aggregating survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), our medical content team has put together a unique set of symptom-searching tools that will enable you to investigate all of the symptoms you may experience throughout the year. For example, by entering “sneeze”, you can immediately find that an estimated 960,000 patients complain of sneezing when they visit the doctor each year, and that marginally more male patients complain of sneezing than female patients.

Sneeze
More »

May 2, 2011– 1

There are more than four million births per year in the US alone. And just in time for spring, a time associated with new life, Wolfram|Alpha’s research team has introduced a unique set of tools to help soon-to-be mothers and fathers better understand what is happening to their developing fetuses throughout pregnancy.

One of the most common methods of monitoring fetal development is through ultrasounds. Besides providing first glimpses of the baby, ultrasound images also provide doctors and technicians with important information about the fetus’s physical development. This information is useful in helping doctors diagnose, predict, and potentially avoid complications further down the line in pregnancy. To find out the typical measurements of a fetus for a given gestational age (e.g. 21 weeks), try entering something like “pregnant 21 weeks” into Wolfram|Alpha.

For the gestational age of 21 weeks, Wolfram|Alpha can tell you the estimated fetal weight, the normal range of fetal weights, and the estimated dates of conception and birth.

Pregnant 21 weeks
More »

November 22, 2010– 1

This Thursday, we’ll celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States. The first U.S. National Thanksgiving was celebrated on November 26, 1789. The holiday was originally established to show gratitude for a plentiful harvest and to give thanks for relationships with family and friends. A customary U.S. Thanksgiving celebration is centered on sharing a great feast that includes turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and more with loved ones. (Of course, in recent years, we’ve also tossed in football and holiday shopping.)

A cornucopia is a traditional centerpiece that symbolizes abundance and is often found on a Thanksgiving meal table. Wolfram|Alpha is a cornucopia of sorts—a horn filled with many trillions of pieces of data that produce an abundance of facts. In the spirit of the holiday, we though we’d share some fun Thanksgiving-themed facts we discovered from Wolfram|Alpha.

waturkey

Fact: A typical turkey bats its wings 3 times per second.

Fact: If you’re in Champaign, Illinois, set your alarm to 6:51am on Thanksgiving Day if you’re planning to rise with the sun to start cooking your holiday bird. Click here for sunrise information for your location.

Fact: The chill point of cranberries is 2 degrees Celsius.

Fact: There are 5.8 grams of fiber in one serving of cornbread stuffing.

Fact: The first known English use of the word “cornucopia” was in 1508.

Fact: Need to burn off holiday calories? Six hours of Black Friday shopping will burn 1050 calories, or you can knock off 457 calories by staying in and watching football.

Dig into Wolfram|Alpha to find interesting facts of your own. (You might need them in the near future—hint, hint.) Here at Wolfram|Alpha, we’re thankful for all of our dedicated blog readers and Wolfram|Alpha users.

November 12, 2010– 7

The most fundamental mission of Wolfram|Alpha is to be the internet’s hub for all things computable. With this in mind, our medical data team has been combing through peer-reviewed journals, population-based surveys, and credible online health calculators to bring you the most complete, up-to-date, and easy-to-use library of medical calculations available anywhere on the web. This endeavor has been ongoing since the launch of Wolfram|Alpha more than a year ago, and can be demonstrated through queries such as “heart disease risk”, “male age 27, 175 lbs”, or “basal metabolic rate”.

Over the past couple of months, we have worked to implement over 20 new equations. For example, hematocrit levels outside the normal range are indicative of any number of health concerns ranging from dehydration to kidney disease. In circumstances where estimates of hematocrit are in need and only certain parameters are known, Wolfram|Alpha can be used to fill in the gaps and assess whether the estimated value falls within the normal range, given a number of personal attributes such as weight, height, sex, or age:

Hematocrit blood viscosity male age 20

Calcium in the blood is also a very important indicator of various health conditions, including complications of various types of wounds, hyperparathyroidism, and even osteosclerosis. Given total calcium and serum protein levels, Wolfram|Alpha can estimate the blood concentration of unbound ionized versus protein-bound serum calcium: More »

August 9, 2010– 1

On August 2, The New York Times reported that the (near) final estimate for the total amount of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon drilling accident is approximately 4.9 million barrels. It would be nice to understand what this number means in the context of the commodity markets where oil is traded. It would also be nice to better understand what this oil spill did to BP stockholders.

Wolfram|Alpha can help answer these questions. For example, someone might wonder what all this oil would be worth on the oil market. The input “price of 4.9 million barrels of oil” tells us that the value of this oil on the oil futures market is around $398.8 million (at the time this was written). That’s a lot of money just floating around the Gulf! But to be fair, much of it was cleaned up. Wolfram|Alpha also shows a graph of how the value of this oil has fluctuated over time as well as the latest quote of a barrel of oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Price of 4.9 million barrels of oil

Someone might wonder whether the amount of spilled oil was enough to affect the price of oil in the U.S. The input “oil futures open interest” gives us the number of oil futures contracts currently in existence for the front-month contract.

As the graph illustrates, open interest starts out strong every month (as the front-month contract rolls forward to the next month). As the contract approaches expiration, some people close out their positions while others roll their positions forward into a future month’s contract. The best measure of open interest would be the higher numbers shown immediately after the front-month rolls forward (especially since other contract months aren’t accounted for here).
More »

July 23, 2010– 6

Runners and cyclists can now get personalized physical activity and fitness results from Wolfram|Alpha. Our team has added enhanced activity formulas to provide specific results that account for the individual differences among all types of runners and cyclists. Whether preparing for a race or monitoring regular routines, athletes and enthusiasts alike can now calculate actual performance results and compute performance predictions and the impact of exercise on personal physical fitness.

You can calculate your own results in Wolfram|Alpha by using a natural language input such as “cycling 72.13 miles for 240 minutes” or you can type in “cycling” to explore all of the formula’s options. For example, a cyclist who is preparing for, or who has just completed, a race can calculate a variety of user-specific metabolic properties, like the amount of fat and the number of calories burned, by taking into account factors such as age, gender, height, weight, incline, resting heart rate, and wind speed and direction. Below are sample results from Wolfram|Alpha when calculating the speed a 25-year-old male cyclist needs to maintain to complete a race in 240 minutes:

Calculating the speed a 25-year-old male cyclist needs to maintain to complete a race in 240 minutes

To complement the results of Wolfram|Alpha’s calculations, cyclists can compare their speed or pace with world record times by clicking the “Show comparisons” link.

Runners can input similar information and calculate calories and fat burned; oxygen consumed; heart rate; equivalent activities; conversions for speed, pace, distance, and time; and performance predictions. For this example, we convinced a member of our team to share his post-race results from the 2009 Chicago Marathon: More »

July 15, 2010– 6

A new medical diagnosis or drug treatment can often leave us with more questions than answers. A few weeks ago we introduced a disease dataset within Wolfram|Alpha that can be helpful for those wondering how their condition and treatment plans compare to those of other patients. Most notably, this dataset includes the fraction of patients within the United States that have been diagnosed with a medical condition in a given year. For each condition, Wolfram|Alpha has various levels of information, including commonly reported symptoms, co-occurring diseases, and lab tests used for diagnosis. Beyond this, Wolfram|Alpha also has carefully curated data on drug treatments. For example:

The data displayed from these inputs gives classes of drugs prescribed or administered to patients during health care provider visits. Wolfram|Alpha ranks the drug classes by the number of patients to whom they were administered. For example, “hypertension drug treatment”, initially shows us that, of all the patients diagnosed with hypertension, 25% were prescribed angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, 22% HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, 21% cardioselective beta blockers, 19% antihypertensive combinations, and 16% calcium channel blocking agents. (That’s over 100% total because some patients are prescribed more than one medication.)

Drugs prescribed to treat hypertension

Looking above the ranked drug table we can see that there are a handful of useful options. Click “Show drugs”, and the table opens up and displays a ranked table of brand-name drugs prescribed within each class. From this table, you can see interesting differences in drug-prescribing patterns between the sexes. For example, the angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor Lisinopril is more commonly prescribed to male hypertension patients than females, but looking further down the list, we can see that female patients are more commonly prescribed Enalapril than are males.

Common brand-name drugs used to treat hypertension

Wolfram|Alpha can also can also provide generic options for prescription drug treatments. More »

July 13, 2010– 4

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults engage in at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic physical activity each week. Recommendations for children age 6 to 17 are even higher: at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous activity each day.

Yet according to the CDC, only one-third of American adults regularly engage in some kind of physical activity, and the prevalence of childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past three decades—to nearly 20% among children age 6 to 19. The warm and sunny days of summer provide an excellent opportunity to try new outdoor activities, or spend more time engaged in old favorites. Wolfram|Alpha can perform useful computations for many popular summer water sports, including fishing, water skiing, and sailing. By adding time and/or body weight to these inputs, you can tailor the calculations to your own physical measurements and activity schedule:

For queries about activities such as swimming and rowing, you can now incorporate other variables about speed and pace, along with age and physical measurements:

In addition to basic information about calories and fat burned, the amount of oxygen consumed, and the metabolic equivalents required for the activity, Wolfram|Alpha also computes estimates of working heart rate and heart rate reserve.

Below the “Heart rate pod”, Wolfram|Alpha generates an “Equivalent activities” pod that displays the amount of time it would take to expend the same amount of energy performing other activities. Within the “Speed” and “Pace” pods that follow, you can click “Show comparisons” to see how your predicted performance measures up against various world records. Below the “Pace” pod, there are “Distance” and “Time” pods followed by the “Performance prediction” pod. Using Riegel’s endurance model, this pod displays the predicted time, speed, and pace over standard swimming race distances. More »

June 29, 2010– 7

How many people are diagnosed with diabetes in a given year? Is hypertension more common in men than in women? What drugs are most commonly prescribed for anemia?

In order to address questions like these and many more, Wolfram|Alpha has now assimilated data from two different surveys conducted by the CDC: the national ambulatory medical care survey (NAMCS) and its hospital-focused counterpart, the national hospital ambulatory medical care survey (NHAMCS). Together, these surveys provide information on common reasons why people visit the doctor’s office, drug treatments that are highly correlated with a particular disease, and which diseases are most commonly diagnosed within specific races, ethnicities, and genders.

Through Wolfram|Alpha, you can investigate data on thousands of diseases and medical conditions, such as these:

Instead of looking at all the information at once, you can also try more targeted inputs, such as “fraction of US population affected by lung cancer”:

Fraction of the United States population affected by lung cancer

From this output, we can see that approximately .21% of all U.S. patients are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. More »

May 24, 2010– 4

We recently added data on health indicators for more than 200 countries and territories. We now have World Health Organization data on health care workers, immunizations, water and sanitation, preventive care, tobacco use, weight, and more.

Data is also now available on specific types of health care personnel, such as physicians, nurses, and dentists, and Wolfram|Alpha can also compute per capita figures for each type of health professional. Check out the figures on midwives in South Africa or dentists in Iceland—or for a particularly interesting view, try asking about doctors per capita in all countries.

Other intriguing indicators include figures on hospital beds, drinking water and sanitation, tobacco use, weight and obesity, and reproduction and contraception.

Data on underweight children in Africa

Some data, such as for infant immunizations (including DTP, MCV, hepatitis B, and Hib), spans several years—which allows you to see dramatic increases in immunizations in many developing countries, as well as surprising declines in some first-world nations. More »

January 20, 2010– 2

Here in the Northern Hemisphere we’re well into the doldrums of winter. The cold, wind, rain, sleet, and snow keep many of us cooped up during the winter months. It’s about this time that cabin fever sets in and that big pile of fresh powder on the ground starts looking more and more like a winter playground. But before you head outside for a little bit of outdoor fun or a quick trip across town during these blustery winter months, it’s important to prepare for outdoor temperatures to avoid potentially serious physical effects from cold, such as frostbite.

Frostbite is a condition where tissue such as skin is damaged, and in some cases destroyed, due to exposure to extreme cold. Wolfram|Alpha has a tool that allows you to quickly compute how long your skin can be exposed to such weather conditions before becoming susceptible to frostbite.

A simply query of the term “frostbite” in Wolfram|Alpha will bring up the calculator featured below. You can update the default values for temperature and wind speed with the ones for your area. (Did you know you can simply enter “weather” into Wolfram|Alpha to get your local weather information?)

In this example, Wolfram|Alpha calculates that at a temperature of 7 °F coupled with a wind speed of 40 mph, frostbite can occur within 24 minutes.

Wolfram|Alpha calculates the risk of frostbite

More »

December 8, 2009– 3

One of Wolfram|Alpha’s primary sources for medical test data is the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), an annual survey of thousands of people, from throughout the United States, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Wolfram|Alpha’s presentation of this data is unique in that it doesn’t just report reference ranges, but allows you to see where your own measurements and test numbers fall within the survey’s distribution of results. (Wolfram|Alpha does not give advice, medical or otherwise.)

At the most basic level, an input of “cholesterol test” returns the survey’s distribution of total cholesterol values:
Wolfram|Alpha computes cholesterol test data

More »

August 5, 2009– 1

A trip to the doctor’s office can sometimes leave patients with more questions than answers, specifically if their doctor has requested they undergo medical tests. Wolfram|Alpha is a helpful reference for understanding what the tests measure and how to interpret the results. Wolfram|Alpha allows you to query information on a specific medical test or a panel of tests, compare tests and results for patients with specific characteristics, compute your estimated risk for heart disease, and find the diagnosis corresponding to an ICD-9 code. Wolfram|Alpha can take into account specific patient characteristics like gender, age, smoker, non-smoker, pregnant, diabetic, obese, and underweight. Wolfram|Alpha can give you a snapshot of available data that might help you understand how your results compare to others’. (Wolfram|Alpha does not give any advice, medical or otherwise.)

First we will demonstrate how you can use Wolfram|Alpha to learn more about a specific type of test your doctor has ordered. By entering the name of the test into Wolfram|Alpha, such as “CBC”, we can learn what the test measures. In this case, the test measures the number of cells commonly found in a blood sample, such as red blood cells and platelets.

Referencing CBC test results data in Wolfram|Alpha

More »

June 17, 2009– 15

In recent blog entries we have been highlighting ways Wolfram|Alpha can compute complex data to be helpful in our everyday lives. Yesterday, we discussed how Wolfram|Alpha can help us track all the good (and not so good) nutrients we put in our bodies. Some indications of how well we may, or may not, be doing in that area are measurements of the human body. Wolfram|Alpha has some easy and fun tools to create general or personalized reports for adults and kids alike. As a reminder, all Wolfram|Alpha medical results are based on statistical data, and are not medical advice.

For adults, Wolfram|Alpha can compute body statistics such as your body mass index (BMI), body surface area, and body measurements based on factors such as age, height, weight, and gender.  The results of these computations can give you an understanding of the number of calories your body needs daily; recommended body weight based on your gender, age, and height; typical organ properties such as lung capacity; and more. More »