What Is A Cardiologist?

The skeptical cardiologist recently received a cease and desist letter from a lawyer representing Dr. Steven Gundry who felt I was defaming the goop doctor and supplement peddler by saying he was not a cardiologist.

The lawyer’s letter reminded me that many patients do not understand exactly what a cardiologist is and mistake us for cardiothoracic surgeons.

Here’s how the American College of Cardiology defines a cardiologist:

A cardiologist is a doctor with special training and skill in finding, treating and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

And here is part of my response to the lawyer which further clarifies the differences:

I understand your confusion with respect to the terminology of cardiologist versus cardiac or cardiothoracic surgeon. A surprising number of patients and readers think that I as a cardiologist perform “heart surgery.” Of course, actual surgery on the heart requiring “cracking open the chest” (which is what most laypeople consider “open heart surgery”) is always done by a cardiac surgeon not a cardiologist.

Like all other board-certified cardiologists I have gone through accredited training programs in internal medicine followed by a formal cardiology training program. There is no evidence that Dr. Gundry has done this.

Cardiologists, being extremely bright, entrepreneurial  and energetic, have expanded the toolkit they have for diagnosing and treating heart disease without having to engage in surgery. Thus,
cardiologists can insert  stents to open blocked coronary arteries, implant pacemakers and even replace valves all by accessing the cardiovascular system via its arteries and veins.

We don’t call this surgery because we aren’t surgeons and didn’t go through surgical training. We call these procedures. These are invasive procedures, to be fair, as we have invaded the vasculature and the interior of the heart and from these arterial and venous incursions complications may ensue.

A typical invasive procedure that cardiologists do looks like this:

This is a cardiologist  gaining access to the arterial system by inserting a catheter into the radial artery.

 

 

A typical open heart surgery performed by a cardiothoracic surgeon requires large incisions with direct visualization of the heart and looks like this:

 

 

 

 

 

Cardiologists And Cardiac Surgeons Undergo Totally Different Training

I began my response to Gundry’s lawyer by indicating my surprise that the lawyer felt Gundry was a cardiologist:

This comes as quite a surprise to me as my detailed research into Dr. Gundry’s background, training and credentials revealed absolutely no evidence that he is or ever was a cardiologist as we in the medical community define cardiologist. In fact, as you can see in his listing on CTSnet (which is a network of cardiothoracic surgeons) his post medical school training consisted of the following

University of Michigan Hospitals Surgery Internship (1977-78)
National Institutes of Health, Clinical Associate in Cardiac Surgery (1978-80)
University of Michigan Hospitals Surgery Residency (1980-83)
University of Michigan Hospitals Cardiothoracic Surgery Residency (1983-85)

He is trained as a cardiothoracic surgeon. Cardiothoracic surgeons go through surgical training programs which are completely different from the medical training programs that cardiologists like myself go through.

My description of him in this regards reads as follows:

“He is also widely described as a cardiologist but he is not, He is (or was) a cardiac surgeon (like, strangely enough, the celebrity prince of quackery, Dr. Oz)”

As you can see, my statement is perfectly accurate.

As far as him being a being elected a “Fellow of the American College of Cardiology” I can find no documentation of this and he is not currently listed as a member of the American College of Cardiology. But even if he was this does not make him a cardiologist because many cardiothoracic surgeons are members of the ACC.

Might I suggest you ask Dr. Gundry if he thinks he is a cardiologist. I’m pretty sure he would answer no.

What Is A Quack?

The lawyer then went on to accuse me of suggesting that Gundry is a quack because:

A “quack” is defined in common parlance as a lay person pretending to be a licensed physician. In other words, a fake doctor. The term “quack” connotes dishonesty, deception, fraudulent behavior, etc. Dr. Gundry has been a licensed physician and surgeon since at least 1989 (see Exhibit B attached), performed thousands of heart surgeries, and developed patented, life- saving medical technology. Your statements are not only factually incorrect, but are also irresponsible and intentionally misleading, resulting in harm to Dr. Gundry’s reputation and income.

To which I responded:

There seems to be an attempt here to suggest that by saying he is not a cardiologist I am calling him a quack. But as my previous information should have convinced you he is not a cardiologist but a cardiothoracic surgeon. He has done very good work as a cardiothoracic surgeon and I am happy to attest to that. I will be happy to add that information to his description in my up and coming posts on him.

At no point do I call him a quack in my posts. Clearly if I’m calling him a cardiothoracic surgeon I am acknowledging that he is a licensed physician and not, clearly, a fake doctor.

I have to admit my definition of quack has not been the common dictionary definition of “fake medical doctor.”  I have always considered those who engage in quackery to be quacks.

Quackery is defined at Quackwatch (the definitive website on the topic) as the promotion of unsubstantiated methods that lack a scientifically plausible rationale. 

And one can have a perfectly legitimate training as a medical doctor and engage in what most would consider quackery.

Even board-certified cardiologists like myself can engage in quackery.

Clearly there is a disconnect between the common definition of quack and that of quackery and in a  subsequent post I will delve further into the miasma of quackery, quacks and quacking,

Anatinely Yours,

-ACP

N.B. While researching this post I came across a fantastic article on Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop Doctors from David Gorski at Science-Based medicine. I highly recommend reading the entire piece (gwyneth-paltrow-and-goop-another-triumph-of-celebrity-pseudoscience-and-quackery) for your edification and pleasure.

Gorski’s paragraph on Gundry begins

  • Dr. Steven Gundry, a cardiothoracic surgeon very much like Dr. Mehmet Oz who, as he took incredible pains to lecture Dr. Gunter in his section of Goop’s hit piece on her, who once was a very respectable academic surgeon and, even better than Dr. Oz, served as Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Loma Linda University for a number of years, before leaving academia to undertake his private practice. (No wonder he and Dr. Oz seem to have an affinity for each other!) These days, he devotes his time to his practice, writing books, giving talks, and selling expensive supplements like Vital Reds (a bargain at $69.95 for per jar, discounted to $377.73 if you buy six jars) and Lectin Shield (a slightly more expensive bargain at $79.95 a jar, $419.70 for six), while bragging (as he did in his response to Dr. Gunter) about how so very, very hard he works and even—gasp!—accepts Medicare and Medicaid patients. His most recent book is The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy Foods” That Cause Disease and Weight Gain. (Spoiler: That “hidden danger” is lectins.)

 

Featured image Photo by Ravi Singh on Unsplash

Does One Need A Doctorate To Analyse Science? And Does Bias Smell?

The skeptical cardiologist reserves the exclusive and unimpeachable right to censor reader comments he deems inappropriate, nasty or unhelpful.

There’s a good chance if you attack me personally, I won’t post your comment. On the other hand,  if I find your attack particularly amusing there is a good chance I’ll include it in a blog post.

Here’s an ad hominem attack I really enjoyed:

You may be an MD, but you are no doctor. That requires a doctorate, which I have, and I can smell the bias from the other side of the Earth. Your “skepticism” is a front for your cynicism, and you yourself are the very thing you hate when denigrating people like Esselstyn as “evangelists”. Get a doctorate degree and learn science before attempting to analyse it.

There is so much to unpack and ponder in this paragraph! I love it.

The reader says that I am “no doctor.” This, it appears, requires a doctorate (which, coincidentally my reader has). The reader advises me to “get a doctorate degree” before attempting to analyse science.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines doctorate as “the highest degree from a university” whereas Merriam-Webster defines it as “the degree, title, or rank of a doctor”

If we assume the reader is going by the Cambridge English definition, and my title of doctor of medicine doesn’t count as a doctorate, let’s see what does.

Wikipedia lists a ton of different types of doctorates. My reader didn’t specify what kind. Would a Doctor of Music qualify me to analyse science? If so, sign me up for the coursework.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My newly-minted mother-in-law has a doctorate in English, is she more qualified than me to analyse science?

The reader left his comment on my post about the death of Robert Atkins, so I’m not even sure what bias I am accused of, but I love this sentence:

“I can smell the bias from the other side of the earth”.

In my defense it should be pointed out that the entire Robert Atkins post is a precise  analysis of his medical history and doesn’t really touch on science. Perhaps the bias my reader smells from so far away is my bias to seek the truth.

Finally, I have to say the killer sentence in my reader’s comment  is the most brilliant ad hominem attack I have ever encountered:

Your “skepticism” is a front for your cynicism, and you yourself are the very thing you hate when denigrating people like Esselstyn as “evangelists”.

It is so deep and piercing that I am incapable of defense and I can only say “mea culpa” and I yield to your doctoral brilliance.

By the way, this whole PhD versus MD debate brings up the burning question of who one should be referring to as doctor. Should I address my mother-in-law as Dr. Perkins since she has a Ph. D. in English Literature?  And, by the way, although she is my go-to person for questions about D.H. Lawrence, Hemingway and Shakespeare, I don’t think her scientific analytic skills are up to mine even with her doctorate.

Doctorally Yours,

-ACP

Photo by Adrien Converse on Unsplash

N.B. I have deduced my reader is from Australia based on his use of analyse and his smelling my bias on the other side of the earth.

(Also, his email address ends in au)

frequency of usage of analyse versus analyze in England
frequency of usage of analyse versus analyze in England .
frequency of analyse versus analyze in America

 

 

Graphic Cigarette Package Warnings May Soon Be Coming To Our Country

Two years ago I asked (and answered) the question Why Doesn’t The USA Have Graphic Warning Labels On Cigarette Packs Like The Netherlands?

Big tobacco had successfully blocked such labels but yesterday the FDA announced a proposed rule which would post new graphic health warnings on cigarette packages if approved:

The 13 proposed warnings, which feature text statements accompanied by photo-realistic color images depicting some of the lesser-known health risks of cigarette smoking, stand to represent the most significant change to cigarette labels in 35 years.

Here are some of the proposed graphics which aren’t quite as attention-grabbing as the ones I saw in Europe.

 

 

Cigarette smoking is by far the worse thing my patients do to compromise their health and I’m in favor of hammering home the horrible complications smokers face.

Do you want feet like this?

 

 

 

 

Or Lungs like these?

 

 

 

 

Or a scar on your chest from open heart surgery?

 

 

 

 

 

All this and more can be yours if you keep smoking!

I’ve reposted below my initial blog on the topic.


While strolling the delightful (and typically debris-free) streets of Haarlem in The Netherlands the skeptical cardiologist espied an unusual cigarette pack on the ground.

In comparison to the typical American cigarette pack I noted a very prominent and disgusting picture of a leg which had been ravaged by peripheral artery disease.

The large print translates “smoking clogs your arteries.”

This is one of many potential warnings on Dutch cigarette packs. My favorite is

Roken kan leiden tot een langzame, pijnlijke dood

(Smoking can lead to a slow, painful death)

Perhaps, if such warning had been on American cigarette packs in the 1990s my mother would have been able to walk without severe pain in her legs (claudication) from the severe blockages caused by her decades of cigarette smoking.

When cigarette smoking patients tell me that “you have to die from something” I tell them that although they are greatly increasing their chance of dying from lung and cardiac disease, the smoking may not kill them but  leave them miserable and unable to walk or breath.

Experts on tobacco control note that these large, graphic and direct warnings are much more effective than the first small boxed warnings:

After the implementation of the first warning labels in 1966, the FTC’s 1981 report concluded that the original warning labels were not novel, overexposed and too abstract to remember and be personally relevant.46 Warning labels, like advertisements, wear out over time.47 Written warning labels wear out faster than graphic ones.48,49 In response, Congress passed a law mandating four rotating warnings. Studies on them began appearing in the late 1980s, demonstrating that several years after the implementation, those written labels on cigarette packs were also not noticed and not remembered by smokers and adolescents.5053 Since then, the diffusion and evolution of tobacco warning labels have been propelled by observational and experimental studies showing the effectiveness of large graphic warning labels in informing consumers about the health harms of smoking and reducing their smoking behavior.45,54

Here’s how Australia’s warnings have evolved

autralia-cigarette.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2011 the US Congress passed legislation moving America towards such effective graphic warnings:

However, the law was challenged by Big Tobacco and has never been enacted. From the FDA site:

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act requires the FDA to include new warning labels on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertisements. On June 22, 2011, the FDA published a final rule requiring color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking to accompany the nine new textual warning statements. However, the final rule was challenged in court by several tobacco companies, and on Aug. 24, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the rule on First Amendment grounds and remanded the matter to the agency.[1] On Dec. 5, 2012, the Court denied the government’s petition for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc. In 2013, the government decided not to seek further review of the court’s ruling.

The FDA has been undertaking research related to graphic health warnings since that time.

[1] R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., v. Food & Drug Administration, et al., 696 F.3d 1205 (D.C. Cir. 2012)

What Other Countries Are Doing

According to a Canadian Cancer Society report from late 2016,

More than 100 countries/jurisdictions worldwide have now required pictorial warnings, with fully 105 countries/jurisdictions having done so. This represents a landmark global public health achievement.

Increasingly, the United States stands alone, because of a constitutional doctrine privileging commercial speech above public health.

Here are the countries requiring pictorial warnings courtesy of that Canadian Cancer Society report.

And some of their warning pictures:

And this a picture that FDA would have required:

 

Skeptically Yours,

-AcP

Neil Young’s Harvest Moon Gathering Should Be Awesome

For multiple reasons Neil Young is the skeptical cardiologist’s favorite musician. I love everything he has done from work with Buffalo Springfield to CSNY  to Crazy Horse. His solo work is simply amazing.

I last saw him at the Fabulous Fox Theatre here in St. Louis last summer and at the age of 72 he was still mesmerizing as he ambled from grand piano to acoustic or electric guitar singing in his inimitable and still powerful voice and telling stories behind his brilliant iconic songs like Ohio.

He continues to create relevant and beautiful work to this day. On top of all this he handles his musical catalogue with tremendous integrity. You will not find a Neil Young song in a Bud, Chevy or Uber commercial.

Therefore, when I heard about the benefit concert he was putting on in September I bought tickets even though it was going to be just outside of LA.

I am sadly unable to attend as I could not get out of my hospital  on-call obligations for that weekend .

If any readers are interested in purchasing my two tickets let me know.
Here’s the description:

Neil Young and Norah Jones top the lineup for the inaugural Harvest Moon A Gathering. The benefit concert will be held at the Painted Turtle in Lake Hughes, California on Saturday, September 14.

Father John Misty and Masanga round out the lineup for the 2019 Harvest Moon A Gathering. The daytime concert will feature performances on a grassy hillside with views of the performers, mountains and Lake Hughes at the site, which is nestled near Los Angeles National Forest. Proceeds from the event will benefit both The Painted Turtle, a non-profit providing children living with serious medical conditions a traditional camp experience free of charge, and The Bridge School, which provides free education to children with severe speech and physical impediments.

Each ticket will include an all-star celebrity chef picnic cooked and served by SoCal’s top chefs as well as a beer and wine tasting from select California Breweries and Wineries.

Price is for two tickets. Face value. Concert is sold out.

For many years Neil and Pegi Young put on The Bridge Concert which was an annual benefit for the Bridge School. This was an absolutely awesome outdoor event in Mountain View, CA but the concerts ended after Neil and Pegi divorced.

I was fortunate enough to catch the last one in 2016 and I consider it one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. Here are the artists and their setlists.

The crowd at The Bridge School Concert 2016. A wonderfully chill, friendly and happy group. Expect the same at Harvest Moon.
With any luck, the Harvest Moon will be equally exciting.
Skeptically Yours,
-ACP
Update. It appears I have a buyer.

I Am A Keto-Friendly Cardiologist And I Love Keyto

The skeptical cardiologist has become more selective with regard to who he will accept as a new patient.  In practical terms this means I now call patients who want to see me and discuss with them why they want to see me, how they were referred or heard about me, and what their expectations are.

This might seem a little odd but turns out to be an excellent way for me to meet and smooth entrance for these newbies into my practice and gather important records and recordings prior to the first visit.

Recently, when I asked one of these potential patients why they had sought me as their cardiologist, the wife told me that through her internet research she had gleaned that I was a “Keto-friendly Cardiologist.”

Given that I have challenged conventional dogma on the dangers of dietary saturated fat and cholesterol and have written about ketosis (see here and here) a few times on this blog and defended Dr. Atkins I do actually consider myself “keto-friendly”.   However my prospective patient’s wife was not aware of the skeptical cardiologist as a blog writer.

How or why I was identified as Keto-friendly cardiologist was not clear.

I realized I needed to make it perfectly clear. It is now time to come out of the keto closet.

I am a “Keto-friendly cardiologist”!

I have dozens of patients who have been very successful using very low carb/high fat diets to help them lose weight and gain control of their diabetes and hypertension.

I don’t poo poo low carb high fat diets and I think they are vey compatible with a heart-healthy existence.

(I also advocate my version of a “plant-based diet“.)

In fact, lately I’ve gone back to dabbling with a Keto Diet myself.

To aid me in the dabbling I have found a device called Keyto to be the key to success and understanding of my ketosis.

Keyto: Breath Sensor for Ketosis and Weight Loss

When I went back to dabbling with ketosis in early 2019 I was using the Keto-Mojo finger prick device to measure my blood levels of beta hydroxybutyrate. I liked the precision this offered  compared to urine dip sticks but grew to dislike the need to prick my finger and create blood loss.

About a month ago I ordered I discovered the keto breath sensor KEYTO and have found since then that  it wonderfully simplifies  the process of being on a keto diet.

Keyto costs $99 and comes in a box the size of a video cassette  case.

In the box is the sensor device, four blowing mouthpieces, a very simple user manual, a AAA battery and a cute little bag for carrying the device

Ethan Weiss, MD, a highly respected preventative cardiologist and founder of Keyto includes a welcoming message for users which summarizes the mission of Keyto:

We designed the Keyto program to help you over-achieve your weight loss and health goals. With the Keyto Breath Sensor in this box, and the Keyto App on your phone, you have the key to unlocking success. You’ll be eating delicious foods, losing weight, and many  users even report an increase in energy and focus

Using Keyto Is Simple and Convenient

Getting started with Keyto is very easy: download the Keyto smartphone app, log in and follow the straightforward directions for pairing the breath sensor with the app.

Once paired via Bluetooth making measurements is easy. It’s important to understand the breathing technique needed and to facilitate this I strongly recommend watching the brief explanatory video Weiss has provided. Basically, you want to use a normal breath and blow for 10 seconds so that you are near the end of expiration when the device makes its recording.

To initiate a measurement you push the plus sign on the main “Journey” screen in the app then push the on button on the sensor.

Usually, if the sensor has been turned on and the app is activated the app immediately connects to the sensor, occasionally I have had to turn the sensor off and on again to initiated the connection.

At this point the sensor begins  warming up, reaching a temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit over a period of about 80 seconds.

The app displays the progress and offers you the option of answering some questions about how you are feeling and doing on the keto diet.

I often take my BP while this is going on. Sometimes I read the New Yorker. Frequently I listen to Radiohead (Climbing Up The Walls). It takes a while. Pay attention, though. You don’t want to miss your blowing window and have to repeat the process.

 

The app will give you a warning about 10 seconds prior to the time you need to blow. The graph to the right appears when it is time to blow and you can view the sensors output as it tracks the acetone it is seeing over the 10 seconds that you blow.

At the end of the blow you wait a few seconds, eagerly awaiting your score. Will you be in Ketosis?

 

Finally, your score is revealed. In this case I was congratulated for being in light ketosis with a fat burn of “medium high.” The highest score is an 8.

You can add notes to the record of your score

If you blow a 6 the app tells you that your fat burn is high and that you are in ketosis: “metabolizing fat like a champion.”

Accuracy of Keyto

When I first began using Keyto I checked the Keyto numbers versus the beta hydroxybutyrate (BOHB)  numbers I was simultaneously getting from my Keto-Mojo meter.

I found a Keyto 3 corresponded to 0.8 BOHB, a Keyto 4 to 0.9 BOHB, and a 5 to 1.0 BOHB.  That was enough to convince me that the device was accurate and useful in measuring my level of ketosis.

Given that it is so convenient compared to a finger stick I have stopped using the Keto-Mojo completely.

My observations confirm what Weiss and Ray Wu, MD, the cofounders of Keyto describe in very lucid prose here.

In extensive user testing, Keyto is directionally consistent with the more accurate commercially available blood meter. Keyto and blood β-hydroxybutyrate trend directionally the same in the majority of cases. Both go up and down in similar magnitude at different ranges of ketosis. There are some differences which are likely due to biology – the kinetics of clearance of acetone and β-hydroxybutyrate are not identical.

Some of the differences are also likely due to how we designed the Keyto program. Our primary goal was to develop a system that would give users the information they need to know i.e. if they are in ketosis, which would ultimately help promote healthy behavior change. Therefore, we chose not to report acetone concentrations in PPM or to attempt to convert PPM to blood β-hydroxybutyrate (mmol/L). The Keyto Level system was simply more effective, motivating, and fun without adding complexity and false precision.

I can make multiple measurements throughout the day without worrying about the cost or the discomfort of a finger stick. The ability to make multiple measurements means that I am getting very rapid and frequent feed back on how my dietary and lifestyle choices are effecting my level of ketosis.

Warning! Because the device is so convenient-literally you can have it with you at all times-you may find yourself blowing into it excessively. This may irritate your friends and loved ones, especially those that aren’t on a keto diet.

Keyto is Legitimate

The Keyto website has an excellent introduction to the keto diet (keto 101) and has numerous other very helpful resources for those who seek to lose weight using the diet.

In general I get a good feeling of integrity and legitimacy from every aspect of the Keyto operation.

I have a tremendous professional respect for Ethan Weiss, the cardiologist behind Keyto. He’s very active on Twitter and is typically spot on with his comments. He’s done a podcast with Peter Attia which serves as an excellent summary of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. He does really good basic science research involving growth hormone.

Weiss is now doing his own podcast called Best Known Method by Keyto which I highly recommend. It is not, surprisingly, focused on the keto diet or the keyto brand but interviews thought leaders in cardiology like Ron Krauss and Lisa Rosenbaum.

If you want to read more about how the Keyto breath sensor works see here. This is a very clear and concise description of the science behind the device and it is complete with references.

Ultimately, although I consider myself a keto-friendly cardiologist, I’m most interested in the diet that helps my patients achieve  and sustain their goals of weight loss and better health. For many this is the keto diet.

And for those who find the keto diet is optimal for their health I will be advising them to acquire a Keyto breath sensor and check out the programs Keyto offers to support their health goals.

Acetonely Yours,

-ACP

Are You Taking A Statin Drug Inappropriately Like Eric Topol Because of the MyGeneRank App?

The skeptical cardiologist was listening to a podcast discussion between Sam Harris and Eric Topol recently and became  flabbergasted.

Topol, the “world-renowned cardiologist” who is seemingly everywhere in media these days was discussing what he considers the overuse of imaging technology during the podcast which Harris’s website describes as follows:

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Eric Topol about the way artificial intelligence can improve medicine. They talk about soaring medical costs and declining health outcomes in the U.S., the problems of too little and too much medicine, the culture of medicine, the travesty of electronic health records, the current status of AI in medicine, the promise of further breakthroughs, possible downsides of relying on AI in medicine, and other topics.

Personally, I have been amazed at the hype and promotion that artificial intelligence (AI) has been getting given the near total absence in cardiology of any tangible benefits from it and I wanted to hear what the man who wrote ” Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again ” had to say about it.

About 28 minutes into the podcast, Harris, who has lately been preoccupied with promoting meditation as a cure for all ills, begins describing a procedure he underwent:

I’ve had a few adventures in cardiology. CT scan, calcium score scan.

Harris, who in neuroscience and philosophy might speak precisely, here is very vague. Did he get a coronary calcium scan (CAC) or a coronary CT angiogram? There is a huge difference and he is conflating the two imaging procedures.

Apparently he is unhappy with having undergone it but:

I might be telling a different story if my life was saved by it.

And his doctor’s rationale  for getting the scan was lacking:

The way this was dispensed to me. We now have this new tool, let’s use it.

Let me just say at this point that if your doctor’s rationale for performing a test is that he has a machine that performs the test just say no. Or demand an explanation of how the results will change your management or prognosis.

Apparently the scan that Harris had didn’t turn out either horrifically worse than expected or remarkably better and didn’t change management:

In my case at the end it didn’t make sense.

Now, I can forgive Sam Harris for being somewhat naive and misguided when it comes to coronary artery scans or coronary CT angiograms but Eric Topol , the world’s leading talking cardiology head should fully understand the value of coronary artery calcium scans.

This is where I first become flabbergasted.

Topol says in response at this point that coronary artery calcium scans are “terribly overused” and that “I’ve never ordered one.”

Eric, you cannot be serious!

Are you telling me that you wouldn’t order one on your 60 year old airline pilot friend whose father dropped dead of a massive MI at age 50 but whose lipids look fine?

Why doesn’t Eric order CACs?

Because “There are so many patients who have been disabled by the results of their calcium score even though they have no symptoms.”

This is where the degree of my flabbergastment increased by an order of magnitude.

Our job as preventive cardiologists is to identify those at high risk and lead them to lifestyle choices and medicine that dramatically lowers that risk.  We educate them that the large build up of subclinical atherosclerosis we identified does not have to result in sudden death, crippling heart attacks or strokes. We reassure them that with the right tools we can help them live a long, productive and happy life.

Eric, what do you tell these people? The calcium score is irrelevant? You’re fine. You shouldn’t have gotten it. Surely not! This would be the preventive cardiology equivalent of sticking one’s head in the sand.

This is not the first time Topol has opined on the dangers of CAC. An excerpt from his book, ‘The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands” posted on Scientific American describes the ills created in a 58 year old man who had a CAC score of 710.

My patient was told that he had a score of 710—a high calcium score—and his physician had told him that he would need to undergo a coronary angiogram, a roadmap movie of the coronary anatomy, as soon as possible. He did that and was found to have several blockages in two of the three arteries serving his heart. His cardiologists in Florida immediately put in five stents (even though no stress-test or other symptoms had suggested they were necessary), and put him on a regimen of Lipitor, a beta-blocker, aspirin and Plavix.

This case is not an example of inappropriate usage of CAC it is an example of really bad doctoring and failure to utilize the CAC information properly.

One should never order a cardiac catheterization/coronary angiogram solely on the basis of a high CAC score. Even ordering a stress test in this situation is debatable as I discuss here.

And Topol’s patients symptoms were most likely related to a beta-blocker that he didn’t need (see here).

My Gene Rank

Later in the podcast I reached maximum flabbergast  levels when Topol announced that as a result of a high score for CAD risk he received using an iPhone app called MyGeneRank he had started taking a statin drug.

He enthusiastically promoted the app which his Scripps Translational Science Institute developed and urged listeners to utilize this approach to better refine the estimate of their risk of heart attack and stroke.

Per the Scripps website:

The MyGeneRank mobile app is built using Apple’s ResearchKit, an open source framework that enables researchers and programmers to build customized mobile apps for research purposes. With user permission, the app connects with the 23andMe application program interface and automatically calculates and returns a genetic risk score for coronary artery disease.

In addition, the app calculates a 10-year absolute risk estimate for an adverse coronary event, such as heart attack, using a combination of genetic and clinical factors. Users are able to adjust behavioral risk factors to see the influence of lifestyle habits on their overall risk.

Elsewhere, Topol, has stated

“We are excited to launch a unique study that combines an iOS app and genomics to help guide important health decisions,” says Eric Topol, MD, Founder and Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and Professor of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute. “Not only does participating in the study arm individuals with their own data, but it also gives them the opportunity to participate in new type of research – one that is driven by and for patients.”

Curious, I downloaded the MyGeneRank app, answered some questions and gave it permission to access my 23 and Me data. After requiring me to complete a survey on my health it then  yielded  my coronary artery disease risk score.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, no! My genetic risk score was at the 81st percentile! In the red zone.  According to Eric Topol I should take a statin like him. Based on these results I probably should be incredibly anxious and crippled by fears of cardiac death.

Fortunately, I have superior information to allay my fears. I’ve had CAC scans in the past which are well below average for men my age. Despite my dad’s history of early CAD, a recent coronary CT angiogram showed minimal plaque. I know exactly where I stand risk-wise.

How many cardiac cripples has Topol’s MyGeneRank inappropriately created?

Is the data that MyGeneRank utilizes superior to that from CAC scans?

For coronary artery calcium scanning there is a wealth of data supporting improved risk prediction and we are looking directly at the atherosclerotic process that eventually causes the diseases we want to prevent.

It’s interesting that a recent study looking at a polygenetic risk score’s ability to predict cardiac events was comparing the risk score’s ability to predict subclinital atherosclerosis:

Each 1-SD increase in the polygenic risk score was associated with 1.32-fold (95% CI, 1.04-1.68) greater likelihood of having coronary artery calcification and 9.7% higher (95% CI, 2.2-17.8) burden of carotid plaque.

In the Scientific American article Topol quotes Mark Twain:, “To a man with a hammer, a lot of things looks like nails that need pounding.”

Topol’s hammer is artificial intelligence. We eagerly await the day he discovers a nail that he can bang on that  significantly advances medical care.

In the meantime I and the vast majority of progressive preventive cardiologists will be utilizing CAC scores intelligently to identify both those patients at high risk for cardiovascular events who need more aggressive treatment and those at low risk who can be reassured and have treatment de-escalated.

Polygenetic CAD risk scores do show promise to improve our predictive powers but more study is needed in this are before we make clinical treatment decisions based on the results.

Astoundingly Yours,

-ACP

The Omron Evolv One-Piece Blood Pressure Monitor: Accurate, Quick And Connected

When it comes to self-monitoring of blood pressure the best device (assuming equivalent accuracy) is the one that patients are most likely to use.

The Omron Evolv has become that device for the skeptical cardiologist as it combines a unique one-piece design with built in read-out with a quicker, more comfortable  yet highly accurate BP measurement technique.

My previous favorite BP device, the QardioArm remains a close second.

Evolv Form and Function

The Evolv is sleek and stylish in appearance and has no external tubes, wires or connectors. It runs on 4 AAA batteries.

 

 

The  cuff is pre-formed and is incredibly easy to self-administer to the upper arm. Measurement is simple. Press the start button and it immediately starts inflating the cuff.

The results are displayed on an LCD screen on the cuff.

The Omron uses an oscillometric technique to measure the blood pressure as it is inflating. This “inflationary” technique has been shown to be as accurate as measuring during deflation but is much quicker. A study using the recently developed “Universal Standard Protocol” for evaluating the accuracy of BP devices showed that the Omron Evolv was highly accurate compared to gold standard sphygmomanometry.

Omron has come up with some slick marketing terms for the inflationary and pre-formed wrap aspects:

  • Intellisense Technology – Inflates the cuff to the ideal level for each use.
  • Intelli Wrap Cuff – For an easy and accurate reading

With the inflationary technique the cuff knows when to stop inflating, (hence “intellisense”) therefore, there is less tendency to go to higher pressures compared to the deflationary technique and less potential for discomfort from those higher pressures.

Evolv Communication-Sharing Results

The Evolv communicates via Bluetooth with the Omron Wellness (or Connect) smartphone app. Your BP  and heart rate measurements are easily transferred to this app and can be viewed over time.

My blood pressure and heart rate measurements over the last week.

If  one clicks on the little export icon at the upper right had corner of this summary screen you can “export CSV” which creates a file of BP measurements over a defined period that can then be emailed to yourself, your curious friends, or your doctor.

Another option is to export the summary report but this is a premium feature and requires payment.

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Monitoring Heart Rhythm and Blood Pressure-The Omron/Kardia Pro Connection

I’ve discussed in detail how management of my afib patients who have the Kardia mobile ECG device and connect to me via the internet using KardiaPro Remote has tremendously advanced their care.

AliveCor has partnered with Omron and the Omron Connect (or Wellness) app is essentially the Kardia app which my patients utilize to record their ECG recordings and share them with me.

With this app, therefore, patients who have the connection subscription service can utilize the Omron app to share both their ECG and BP recordings with me online. This is really quite an amazing development.

Below are recordings from one of my patients that I took from the patient screen which I view online.

The data can be viewed in various formats including this one which gives a good idea of daytime variation in BP as well as percentage recordings in goal range.

 

For me, this ability to rapidly view patient’s blood pressures over time in meaningful ways greatly facilitates management. If we could find a way to seamlessly import these data directly into our EMR it would an even bigger step forward.

Speaking To Your BP Cuff

I don’t use Alexa but Omron highlights how the Evolv works with Alexa:

 

 

Somehow, this doesn’t seem helpful to me but I tried asking Siri (with both my Apple Watch and iPhone) if she could give me info on my blood pressure and she failed miserably

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolv-The Future of BP Management?

To summarize why I am so enthusiastic about this BP cuff

  • Portability and compactness. One piece design without tubes or wires.
  • Rigorously proven accuracy
  • Esthetically pleasing
  • Quicker and more comfortable than “deflationary” cuffs
  • Read-out on cuff-no separate unit or smartphone required
  • Communicates well with highly functional app for organizing or reporting BP measurements over time
  • Coordination of ECG measurements from Kardia and BP measurements on app through KardiaPro facilitates physician management of patient’s cardiovascular conditions.

Oscillometrically Yours,

-ACP

N.B. In the course of researching the Omron Evolv I looked at multiple home BP monitor review websites online. Almost without exception these were worthless.  I suspect many of these device review sites are funded by companies making the products. Others just aggregate information from company websites and regurgitate it without analysis. Websites with apparent consumer reviews are also suspect as I have found unscrupulous vendors are manipulating the whole review process.

Fortunately, your trusty skeptical cardiologist remains unsullied by any financial connections to corporate America. Or corporate Japan for that matter  (It appears Omron has its headquarters in Kyoto, Japan). However, Omron, if you are listening perhaps you can send me for my review one of your new Complete combined BP and EKG monitoring devices!

 

 

 

 

And one final detail. I checked just now and you can purchase the Evolv at Amazon for $69. Bundles that connect you to your doctor through the cloud and get you an Evolv plus or minus the Kardia ECG device at a reduced price are available through both the Kardia and Omron websites and apps.

 

Ilene Has High Cholesterol With A “Wonderful Ratio” And A Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion: Should She Take A Statin?

Recently the skeptical cardiologist was asked by Ilene, a reader with an HDL almost as high as her LDL and a history of branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO) whether she should take the statin her cardiologist had prescribed.

I enjoy reading your articles and would appreciate your opinion on my situation.  I recently took a lipid panel blood test: total cholesterol: 244 HDL:112 LDL:121 VLDL:11  CRP: 1.77 Triglycerides: 57.  Also my Cardiac Agatston  score is 21.
I had a Branch Retinol Vein Occlusion a year ago in my left eye  (it’s healing beautifully) and as a precaution  am now taking Amlodipine 5mg daily (my blood pressure was never too high to begin with) along with a daily baby aspirin.
I am otherwise a healthy 72 year old woman, exercise and eat healthy.
My regular doctor (Integrative MD) says my cholesterol ratio is wonderful….my cardiologist wants me to take a statin (Atorvastatin) in a low dose.  The ONLY med I take is Amlodipine and I am not one to be taking a plethora of meds for the rest of my life (unless “absolutely” necessary.  What is your suggestion…take a statin or not.
While I can’t provide medical advice to Ilene specifically it is worthwhile  to ponder  the general aspects of her case and how I would approach it as it likely applies to thousands of other patients including many of my own.
In my mind there are two questions here: 1) Should Ilene and patients like her take a statin to prevent future heart attacks and strokes and 2) Do statins  effect the Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion (BRVO)?
Although I’m not a fan of integrative or functional medicine Ilene’s integrative MD is correct in saying that her ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol is wonderful. Perhaps that high  HDL is protecting her from a build-up of atherosclerotic plaque.
On the other hand, Ilene tells me that  “My father did have a heart attack in his 60’s”.  Perhaps she inherited something from him that puts her in a higher than average risk category.
With the information from the CAC we don’t have to guess about the influence of the high HDL and the family history of CAD. Her score is at the 48th percentile, slightly below average for white women her age, thus it would appear she is not destined for her father’s fate.
Frequent readers of skepcard (especially my posts on statin fence sitters) will know I  plug all these numbers (preferably with the calcium score available) into the MESA coronary calcium risk calculator
In this case, the CAC score does not significantly alter our risk estimate as it is so close to the average for her age
Even if we count her as having hypertension because she is on the amlodipine her 10 year risk of heart attack and stroke is low at 3.2%.
Guidelines don’t recommend statin treatment unless risk is >7.5%.
Also, note that I answered yes to “Family history heart disease” but most studies generally only consider this a risk factor if father had heart attack prior to age 55 years. If we make that a no the risk drops to <3%.
Now that we’ve answered Ilene’s real question let’s see if the BRVO warrants statin therapy.
Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion
BRVO is the blockage of a vein from the retina and the second most
common cause of vision loss from retinal vascular disease, following diabetic retinopathy. It typically  results in the painless loss of vision in one portion of one eye due to hemorrhage and edema in the retina.
A reasonable summary of BRVO provided by the American Academy of Ophthalmology can be found here.
BRVO is not clearly related to atherosclerosis or hyperlipidemia and there is no evidence that taking a statin would prevent recurrence or help the condition.

The leading theory for what causes BRVO is that the more delicate and distensible retinal veins are squished or compressed at points where the stiffer and thicker retinal arteries cross them.  Up to Date notes:

Whereas branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO) appears to be related to compression of the branch vein by retinal arterioles at the arteriovenous crossing points, central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) is usually associated with primary thrombus formation.

Although BRVO is more common in patients with hypertension and atherosclerosis it is not clear that one causes the other or that treatment of hypertension or atherosclerosis diminishes the risk of BRVO.  So statins are not recommended.
More Questions
Every patient case for me leads to more questions,  more investigations and more knowledge. Here are some questions that occurred to me from ilene’s case.
-Why would someone with no symptoms and no heart problems be seeing a cardiologist?
(“I started seeing a cardiologist just to make sure all systems were “go” and stayed that way!… we take care of our cars so why not my body. )
I kind of like this answer and I definitely see lots of patients with that philosophy but if we extrapolate the car analogy: going to a cardiologist would be like taking your car to a mechanic who only works on engines or perhaps one specific part of the engine (help me out here people who know about cars.)
-Why was Ilene unwilling to take a statin? (I pretty much know the answer to this (see here) for most patients.
‘m just afraid of the horrible muscle related side effects of statin drugs…and that’s why I’m taking Berberine 500mg twice a day.
Yep. I feel a post abut Berberine may be in the works!
-Finally, should a 72 year old with a CAC score of 21 and BRVO be taking a baby aspirin?
I’ve generally advocated aspirin in primary prevention for scores >100  so wouldn’t advise it for prevention of cardiovascular events in this situation.
In addition, I have seen nothing in the literature that recommends aspirin for BRVO. These two BRVO experts do not recommend either aspirin or anticoagulants.
Proretinally Yours,
-ACP
N.B. If you have a blockage of the the artery that supplies blood to the retina or a branch retinal artery occlusion ( BRAO)
you might benefit from a statin as this is often caused by a clot or plaque flying out of the heart or the carotid artery.

Have You Used The SonoHealth EKGraph?

The skeptical cardiologist is evaluating a personal mobile ECG device made by SonoHealth called the EKGraph.

If any readers have encountered this device or have used it please email me your experience at drp@theskepticalcardiologist.com or leave a comment on the post.

Skeptically Yours,

-ACP

Why I Encourage Self-Monitoring Of Blood Pressure In My Patients With High Blood Pressure

The skeptical cardiologist primarily makes decisions on blood pressure treatment these days based on patient self-monitoring. If high readings are obtained in the office I instruct patients to use an automatic BP cuff at home and make a measurement when they first get up and again 12 hours later. After two weeks they report the values to me.

I described in detail the recommended technique in my 2018 post entitled “Optimal Home Blood Pressure Monitoring: Must The Legs Be Uncrossed and The Feet Flat?

Although I’ve been recommending self-monitoring to my patients for decades it is only recently that guidelines have endorsed the approach and good scientific studies verified its superiority. I was pleased when the 2017 ACC/AHA guidelines for High Blood Pressure made home self-monitoring of BP a IA recommendation.

And last year a very good study, the TASMNH4 was published which demonstrated the superiority of self-monitoring compared to usual care.

TASMINH4 was a parallel randomised controlled trial done in 142 general practices in the UK, and included hypertensive patients older than 35 years, with blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg, who were willing to self-monitor their blood pressure. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1:1) to self-monitoring blood pressure (self-montoring group), to self-monitoring blood pressure with telemonitoring (telemonitoring group), or to usual care (clinic blood pressure; usual care group).

The home BP goal was 135/85 mm Hg, 5 mm Hg lower than the office BP goal. At one year both home self-monitoring groups had significantly lower systolic blood pressure than the usual care group.

This trial was not powered to detect cardiovascular outcomes, but the differences between the interventions and control in systolic blood pressure would be expected to result in around a 20% reduction in stroke risk and 10% reduction in coronary heart disease risk. Although not significantly different from each other at 12 months, blood pressure in the group using telemonitoring for medication titration became lower more quickly (at 6 months) than those self-monitoring alone, an effect which is likely to further reduce cardiovascular events and might improve longer term control.

Advantages of Home Self-Monitored Blood Pressure-Limitations of Office BPs

I described why I switched to home BPs in a post about the landmark  SPRINT trial in 2015:

Every patient I see in my office gets a BP check. This is typically done by one of the office assistants who is “rooming” the patient using the classic method with , listening with stethoscope for Korotkov sounds. If the BP seems unexpectedly high or low I will recheck it myself.

Often the BP we record is significantly higher than what the patient has been getting at home or at other physician offices.

There are multiple factors that could be raising the office BP: mental stress from driving to the doctor or being hurried or physical stress from walking from the parking lot.

In addition, I feel that multiple assessments of out of office BP over the course of the day and different days are more likely representative of the BP that we are consistently exposed to rather than one reading in the doctor’s office.

Accuracy and technique in the doctor’s office is also an issue.

Interestingly, we have assumed that manual office BP measurement is superior to automatic but this recent paper found the opposite:

Automated office blood pressure readings, only when recorded properly with the patient sitting alone in a quiet place, are more accurate than office BP readings in routine clinical practice and are similar to awake ambulatory BP readings, with mean AOBP being devoid of any white coat effect.

A patient left a comment to that paper which is quite insightful:

I had a high blood pressure event several years ago. Since then I have monitored my BP at home, sitting with both feet flat on the floor, not eating or drinking, not speaking or moving around, on a chair with a back, and without clothes on the arm being used for the measure. My BP remains normal.

I have never had my BP taken correctly in a doctor’s office. They will do it while I am speaking with the doctor, sitting on an exam table with my legs swinging, with the monitor band over my heavy winter sweater, right after I have sat down. They do not ensure that my arm is supported or at the right height. If I recommend that I take off my sweater, or move to a chair with a back, they tell me that is not needed. I have decided to refuse such measurements. How can they possibly be monitoring my health this way?

This patient’s observations are not unique and I suspect the majority of office BPs have most if not all of the limitations she describes.

Self Monitoring Improves Patient Engagement In BP Control

I have found self-monitoring of patient’s BP to substantially enhance patient engagement in the process. Self-monitoring patients are more empowered to understand the lifestyle factors which influence their BP and make positive changes.

Blood pressures are amazingly dynamic and as patient’s gain understanding of what influences their BP they are going to be able to take control of it.

I take my BP almost daily and adjust my BP medications based on the readings. After prolonged work or exercise in heat, for example, BPs will decline to a point where I’m light headed or fatigued. Less BP med at this time is indicated. Conversely, if I’ve been overly stressed BPs increase and upward titration of medication is warranted.

With some of my most engaged and enlightened patients we perform similar titrations depending on their circumstances. Sometimes patients perform these titrations on their own and tell me about them at the next office visit.

What’s The Best Way To Communicate Home BPs?

Many of my patients provide me with a hand-written record of their BPs over two weeks.  Some mail them to me, others bring them in to the office. We scan these into the EMR. I look at these and make an estimate of the average systolic blood pressure, the variation over time and the variation during the day. It’s not feasible for me or my staff to enter the numbers or precisely obtain an average.

Some patients send us the numbers through the internet-based patient portal into the EMR. This is preferable as I can view these and respond quickly and directly back to the patient with recommendations.

More and more patients are utilizing their smart phones to record and aggregate their health data and will bring them in for me to look at during an office visit. I’ve described one stylish and slick BP cuff, the QardioArm which has neither tubes nor wires and works through a smartphone app. Omron , also has multiple cuffs which communicate via BlueTooth to store data in a smartphone app.

Ideally, we would have a way for me to view those digitally recorded BPs with nicely calculated averages online and within the EMR. Unfortunately, such connectivity is not routinely available.

However, for my patients who are already monitoring their heart rhythms with a Kardia mobile ECG and are connected with me online through KardiaPro Remote I can view their BP recordings online.

I’ll discuss in detail in a subsequent post the Omron Evolv home automatic BP cuff (my current favorite) which is wireless and tubeless and connects seamlessly to KardiaPro allowing me to view both BP and heart rhythm (and weight) recordings in my patients

To me, this empowerment of patients to record, monitor and respond to their own physiologic parameters is the future of medicine.

Sphygmomanometrically Yours,

-ACP

From the 2017 ACC/AHA BP guidelines

and the proper technique for office BP measurement

 

 

Unbiased, evidence-based discussion of the effects of diet, drugs, and procedures on heart disease

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