Category Archives: Atherosclerosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease

What Can We Learn About Heart-Healthy Lifestyle From The Tsimane People of the Amazon Rainforest ?

The skeptical cardiologist has been in Washington, DC attending the Scientific Sessions of the American College of Cardiology for the last three days in an attempt to upgrade his cardiology knowledge and obtain CMEs for all the various areas he needs CME (echo/nuclear/CT/vascular).

I’ve written some posts for SERMO, a physician social media site,  on interesting presentations from the meeting.

Here’s my take on one paper (published simultaneously in The Lancet) that is of general interest:

I’m a big advocate of coronary artery calcium (CAC) scans for helping make decisions on individual patients with intemediate risk for CAD. Several speakers at this year’s American College of Cardiology Meetings presented convincing data supporting this approach, providing more information to get patients off the fence about taking statins.

However, CAC apparently would be a useless test in the Tsimane (pronounced chee-MAH-nay) people according to a study presented at  the ACC meeting and published simultaneously in The Lancet.

Researchers performed CT scans on 700 of  these “forager-horticulturalist”  people, indigenous to the Bolivian Amazon Rainforest and found very little calcium suggesting that they have an amazingly low rate of atherosclerosis compared to we who have to live in the industrialized world.

Obviously CT scanners are not portable so the Tsimane traveled by river and jeep from the Amazon rainforest to Trinidad, a city in Bolivia and the nearest city with a CT scanner. It took tribe members one to two days to reach the nearest market town by river, and then another six hours driving to reach Trinidad.

85% of the Tsimane people studied had CAC scores of 0. In those over age 75 years, 65% had CAC scores of 0, and just four individuals in their 80s had moderately elevated CAC (> 100). The incidence of CAC > 100 in the entire Tsimane population was 3%, which is about one tenth the prevalence in a matched industrialized population. In addition, incidences of obesity, hypertension, high glucose concentrations, and cigarette smoking were rare overall.

The Tsimane live a subsistence lifestyle that includes hunting, gathering, fishing, and farming. They don’t eat at McDonalds and the men spend almost 7 hours pers day on physical labor. Their diet consists mostly of unprocessed fiber-rich carbohydrates with rice, plantain, manioc, corn, wild nuts, and fruit composing their staples. Fat consumption is 9% of calories versus 23% in the U.S.

Supporters of plant-based diets, of course, seized on these data to support the unsubstantiated claim that meat and dairy consumption is the main cause of atherosclerosis in western civilization.

Hillard Kaplan, one of the authors and a Professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico said:

 “Their lifestyle suggests that a diet low in saturated fats and high in non-processed fibre-rich carbohydrates, along with wild game and fish, not smoking and being active throughout the day could help prevent hardening in the arteries of the heart. The loss of subsistence diets and lifestyles could be classed as a new risk factor for vascular aging and we believe that components of this way of life could benefit contemporary sedentary populations.”

However, the real cause of the low levels of coronary artery calcification in the Tsimane remains a mystery because this kind of observational study cannot establish causality. Perhaps it is the 17,000 steps a day that they walk  engaging in foraging and horticulturalism. Could it be due to the absence of processed food and added sugar? The Tsimane have high levels of parasitic infections: perhaps that is protecting them.

Of two things I am certain:

-The Tsimane don’t need statins.

-I prefer my lifestyle to munching on manioc and foraging all day.

Semihorticulturally Yours,

-ACP

 

Longevity: Lifespan, Healthspan and Swimming Underwater At Age 98

img_7056
Eugene and Naomi.

The skeptical cardiologist has a few nonagenarian patients who seemingly defy the ravages of aging and remain vibrant and active into their late 90’s.

Eugene, for example, still ballroom
dances regularly with his wife, Naomi and swims underwater significant distances.

In this video, recorded when he was 97, you can see him swim the length of a swimming pool underwater

As life expectancy at birth has increased  from 35 years in 1900 to over 80 years now, we see more and more individuals reaching their nineties. Ongoing research seeks to further extend our lifespan.

But just as important as increasing lifespan is increasing healthspan, the portion of the life span during which function is sufficient to maintain autonomy, control, independence, productivity and well-being.

Eugene is an example of someone with a long lifespan and healthspan and this is what we truly seek, the combination of living well and living long.

Peter Attila writes that lifespan is driven by how long one can avoid the onset of diseases caused by atherosclerosis such heart attacks and strokes (see my  discussions on subclinical atherosclerosis here), cancer and neurodegenerative disease.

Healthspan,  Attila writes, is about preserving three elements of life as long as possible:

  1. Brain—namely, how long can you preserve cognition and executive function

  2. Body—specifically, how long can you maintain muscle mass, functional strength, flexibility, and freedom from pain

  3. “Spirit”—how robust is your social support network and your sense of purpose.

Problems with the body result in frailty, recognized as a major cause of disability and related falls, hospitalizations and death in the elderly.

The single best tool for warding off frailty appears to be physical exercise.

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Eugene and Noami tripping the light fantastic in our exam room

So, if you want to life a long life with lots of quality years at the
end of that life be like Eugene: swim and dance with your loved ones. Keep moving, stretch and exercise in some manner regularly.

Gerontologically Yours,

-ACP

Are You On The Fence About Taking A Statin Drug?

The father of the eternal fiancee’ of the skeptical cardiologist (FOEFOSC, let’s call him “Geo”) is a typical 61 year old white male. A year ago his primary care physician informed him that he needed to start taking a statin drug because his cholesterol was high. The note accompanying this recommendation also stated “work harder on diet and exercise to get LDL<130.”  No particulars on how to change his current diet and exercise program were provided.

Neither of Geo’s parents and none of his siblings have had heart problems at an early age and Geo is very active without any symptoms. His diet is reasonably free of processed food and added sugar, he is not overweight and his blood pressures are fine. Due to concern about side effects he had read about on the internet and because he doesn’t like taking medications , Geo balked at taking the recommended statin,

Reluctance to start a new and likely life-long drug is understandable especially when combined with a constant stream of internet-based bashing of statins.

My advice was sought and I suggested a few things that would be helpful in making a more informed decision:

-Calculate Geo’s 10 year risk of heart attack and stroke using the ACC ASCVD Risk estimator app.

-Assess for early or advanced build-up of atherosclerotic or fatty plaque in the carotid arteries (vascular ultrasound) and coronary arteries (coronary calcium scan).

As I’ve pointed out before (here), the vast majority of men over the age of 60 move into a 10 year risk category >7.5%, no matter how great their lifestyle is, and Geo was no exception with a risk of 8.4%. His total cholesterol was 249, LDL (bad) 154, HDL (good) 72 and triglycerides 116.

The vascular ultrasound showed below normal carotid thickness and no plaque and his coronary calcium score was 18,  putting him at the 63rd  percentile. This is slightly higher than average white men his age.

When Geo presented these findings to his PCP, he seemed unaware of the ASCVD risk estimator (recommended by AHA/ACC guidelines first published in 2013), which no longer suggests LDL levels as goals. His PCP also seemed miffed that he had gotten the coronary calcium scan. Geo felt like the PCP’s attitude was “shut up and do what I tell you.”

Geo’s PCP’s approach exemplifies a not-uncommon traditional doctor-patient relationship, but a better approach is shared decision-making (see here). Geo, like many patients, welcomes more information on the risks and benefits of any recommended treatment so that he can participate in deciding the best course of action.

I steer patients who want more complete information towards my  evidence-based blog posts on statins (see here for discussion on statin side effects and here for statin benefits beyond cholesterol lowering.)

By giving patients more information on the risks, side effects, and benefits of the statin drugs along with a better understanding of their overall risk of heart disease and stroke, we can hopefully move more patients “off the fence” and onto the most appropriate treatment.

Stay tuned to find out what The Skeptical Cardiologist Recommended for Geo.

Decisively Yours

-ACP

For more discussion on the value of coronary artery calcification (CAC) and the value of statin in lower risk patients see this recent paper entitled “Refining Statin Prescribing in Lower-Risk Individuals: Informing Risk/Benefit Decisions”(PDF refining-statin-prescribing-in-lower-risk-individuals-informing-riskbenefit-decisions)

If you’d like to read the recently published recommendations of the US Preventive Services Task Force on statins for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease see here. Importantly this panel of unbiased experts concluded that statin therapy significantly reduced overall mortality and cardiovascular mortality. In addition, the review found no increased risk of diabetes overall with statin therapy. The only trial that identified an increased risk was using high intensity statin therapy (Crestor (rosuvastatin) >20 mg).

And,  since the internet is jammed with people who believe statins robbed them of their brain power, I would advise noting that the writers concluded  “These findings are consistent with those from a recent systematic review of randomized trials and observational studies that found no adverse associations of statins with incidence of Alzheimer disease, dementia, or decreased scores on tests of cognitive performance.”

 

 

Vote Yes on Missouri’s Amendment 3 To Cut Cigarette Smoking and Enhance Early Childhood Education

The skeptical cardiologist spent way too much time soliciting and analyzing the arguments against Amendment 3 on a gorgeous fall Sunday.

I found two sites to be very helpful in sorting through the “smokescreen” put up by opponents: Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids and the blog of Megan Green.  Both of these sites I have concluded are only interested in helping children and have unimpeachable credentials.

If you take the time to read these discussions I think you will conclude as I have that Amendment 3 should be supported as a measure that will both reduce cigarette smoking and enhance early childhood education in Missouri.

Megan Green points out that the complexity of the Amendment relates to :

Washington University in St. Louis put out studies in 2009 and 2012 about the reasons that the last two cigarette tax increases failed. It was largely because proponents of the tax were fighting big tobacco, wholesale tobacco, convenience stores, and pro-life, each of which are very powerful lobbies. It is nearly impossible to fight all of them and win.

Here’s what I concluded:

Misguided Argument 1 :There are restrictions on the money being used on stem cell research. This appears to be why Washington University sent an email to all their faculty urging them to vote no.

Megan Green, (self-described as Progressive | 15th Ward Alderwoman | PhD Student in Ed Policy | Change Agent | Social Justice Activist | STL City Advocate) who helped craft  A3 answers this clearly in a blog post:

Utilizing lessons learned from the 2006 campaign detailed in the study, an attempt was made to neutralize the opposition by adding specific language stating that the money would not be used to support abortions or stem cell research in the 2012 initiative, which also failed. As detailed in a 2012 study also from Washington University in St. Louis, the pro-life groups were still not satisfied, but were not as active as in prior campaigns due to the ballot language excluding funding of stem cell research.

Fast forward to 2016, and once again proponents of a cigarette tax took the recommendations of the Washington University in St. Louis study, (ironically, the same group that is now opposing us) and added the protective language to the policy. The Washington University report recognized the 2012 anti-abortion, anti-stem cell language helped, but it was not strong enough to stop all pro-life opposition. In order to neutralize opposition, we made adjustments and used the following language:

2016 language: “None of the funds collected, distributed, or allocated from the Early Childhood Health and Education Trust Fund shall be used for human cloning or research, clinical trials, or therapies or cures using human embryonic stem cells, as defined in Articles IX, section 38(d).”

The effect of this language is ensuring the revenue from this screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-6-45-19-amspecific 60-cent tobacco increase can only go towards early childhood and smoking cessation/prevention programs. The language does nothing to change Missouri’s existing laws as they relate to abortion or stem cell research or funding. A legal opinion was even issued by retired Missouri Court of Appeals Judge James R. Dowd where he stated that “It is evident that there is no risk that a Missouri court could read the proposed amendment as a repeal of Amendment 2 (the Amendment authorizing stem-cell research), either expressly or by implication.”

Misguided Argument #2. The measure will fund religious and private schools with public money.

Raise Your Hands for Kids (an excellent site devoted to supporting the amendment which addresses in detail all of these concerns)  has a succint document that addressess all the opponents issues which answers this concern by saying:

The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits public dollars going towards religious instruction. Missouri education leaders suggest that to adequately serve our birth through 5 population and deliver quality pre-K, Missouri must have a blended funding model.

For a really detailed analysis of the early childhood education screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-6-45-03-amsituation in Missouri (which is shockingly lagging other states) take the time to read Megan Green’s answer to this argument:

As the daughter of a retired NEA Local President there are few things that matter more to me than the protection of public education. I also think that it is important to understand a few things about the landscape of early childhood education in Missouri. First, the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits public dollars from going toward religious instruction. Funds cannot be used on religious education, period. With that said, religious organizations, such as the YMCA already receive public money to provide early childhood programing so long as that funding does not go toward religious education.

Second, it’s important to understand how the current system of early childhood education is funded. In Missouri we already have a blended funding model between public and private institutions. Private schools already receive early childhood programs and, in fact, most programs in this state are private. Parents receive child care subsidies, or for lack of a better term, vouchers. Programs also receive food and other health related government funding. In return, these programs must adhere to state licensing standards.

Although I would love for Missouri to have a completely public early education system, it is irrational to think we could move to a completely public system. Most of the supply in Missouri is in the private sector, and we also use public money at private institutions in the form of child care subsidies and child and adult food care program reimbursement. A prime example of this are Head Start programs, which are often private organizations, such as Grace Hill, the YWCA, and the Urban League, who receive government contracts to run the program.

Facilities have to be licensed or accredited in Missouri to receive those funds. Missouri recently passed a quality rating system this past year that ensures quality. Although I support when St. Louis Public Schools added pre-k programming to its elementary schools, the decision was done without the consultation of those in the private sector, and as a result, some really high quality programs serving low-income kids went out of business because they couldn’t compete with free.

The best delivery model for early childhood education services for children ages birth through 5 is a public/private model. Public schools are not in the business of taking care of infants and toddlers. The only way we can reach all children is through a blended model, and we already do that in Missouri — Head Start and Missouri Preschool Project public money’s go to private providers.

If we already had the bulk of our early childhood programs in the public sector, then I would be all for it going just to the public sector, but that is not the system we have. Only having the funds in the public sector would disenfranchise many children in rural areas where schools would have to build additions to accommodate rather than being able to use existing programs. Couple that with the travel times induced by closing programs in small towns and having to bus or drive kids that young to school districts is not in the best interest of kids. There has to be a public/private partnership where school districts can contract with quality programs to replicate their programs in a public setting rather than starting from scratch. I’m rarely on the opposite side as the teachers unions, but I am in this case because we have real financial, logistical, and educational reasons to not switch to a completely public system.

In sum, if we only want early childhood education in the public sector are we saying that we should defund programs like Head Start and the Missouri Pre-school Program? Then are we further saying that no non-profit organization should receive government funding because they do not operate in the public sector? I think not.

Unless we are ready to draw those hard lines in the sand, that no non-profit or Head Start Program should be receiving government money since they are not public entities, I encourage you to vote YES on Amendment 3.

Misguided Argument #3. Studies have shown that the increase in cigarette tax proposed is not enough to impact cigarette smoking. This seems to be the argument of the major health organizations that have come out against the tax.

I really searched hard to find any study that supports this claim and couldn’t find one. For a discussion of how effective cigarette taxes are in reducing smoking read this pdf from The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Misguided Argument #4. This is a regressive tax which will hurt the poor more than the affluent.

From a review in Tobacco Control:

The regressivity of existing taxes, however, does not necessarily imply that tax increases are regressive as well. In many countries, tobacco use among the lowest income/SES populations is most responsive to price, while use among the highest income/SES populations is least responsive. Thus, a tax increase that raises tobacco product prices will lead to the largest declines in smoking among the lowest income persons, and the burden of tax increase will fall more heavily on higher income consumers whose smoking behaviour changes little in response to the tax increase.

I urge all Missouri readers to educate yourself on Amendment 3 by reading the source documents and fully understanding the document.

I now strongly advocate voting yes for Amendment 3

Antinicotinely Yours

-ACP

And here’s some more stuff to ponder

The St. Louis Post Dispatch supports Amendment 3 after a judge ruled that verbiage in the Amendment would not limit funding for stem cell research in the state

Quotes from Transnational and U.S. Tobacco Companies (from tobaccofreecenter.org)

  • Tobacco companies have opposed tobacco tax increases by arguing that raising product prices would not reduce adult or youth smoking. But the companies’ internal documents, disclosed in the U.S. tobacco lawsuits, show that they know very well that raising cigarette prices is one of the most effective ways to prevent and reduce smoking, especially among kids.

    • Philip Morris: Of all the concerns, there is one – taxation – that alarms us the most. While marketing restrictions and public and passive smoking [restrictions] do depress volume, in our experience taxation depresses it much more severely. Our concern for taxation is, therefore, central to our thinking . . .
    • Philip Morris: When the tax goes up, industry loses volume and profits as many smokers cut back

    Higher Tobacco Taxes Reduce Tobacco Use / 4

    • Philip Morris: It is clear that price has a pronounced effect on the smoking prevalence of teenagers, and that the goals of reducing teenage smoking and balancing the budget would both be served by increasing the Federal excise tax on cigarettes.22
    • Philip Morris: Jeffrey Harris of MIT calculated…that the 1982-83 round of price increases caused two million adults to quit smoking and prevented 600,000 teenagers from starting to smoke…We don’t need to have that happen again.23
    • Philip Morris: A high cigarette price, more than any other cigarette attribute, has the most dramatic impact on the share of the quitting population…price, not tar level, is the main driving force for quitting.24[For more on cigarette company documents and price/tax increases see the 2002 study in the Tobacco Control journal, “Tax, Price and Cigarette Smoking: Evidence from the Tobacco Documents.”25]

Cigarette Smoking Kills: Should Missourians Vote Yes To Raise Cigarette Taxes?

Recent statistics show that cigarette smoking is  responsible for 167, 133 cancer deaths annually in the US or 29% of all cancer deaths.

Cigarette smoking also kills annually in the US  160,000 people by promoting cardiovascular disease.

Thus, from a health standpoint we should be doing everything possible to stigmatize and make more difficult cigarette smoking.

One approach to this is to tax cigarettes, raising the financial burden of smoking. Across the US, therefore, states have added cigarettes taxes which average 1.65$ per pack.

My state of Missouri has the lowest state tax on cigarettes of 17 cents per pack. Multiple ballot attempts to raise this amount have failed in the past.

However, on this Tuesday’s ballot there are two competing options that we can  vote on that will raise cigarette taxes: Amendment 3 (raises cig taxes  60 cents and earmarks funds for a newly created Early Childhood Education and Research Fund) and Proposition A (raises taxes 23 cents and earmarks funds for infrastructure.) (Links are to Ballotpedia, a reputable source of information nationwide.)

I’ve been researching both of these proposals over the last few days since receiving an email from a physician colleague urging  me to vote no on Amendment 3. Remarkably, a coalition of health organizations (The American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkAmerican Heart AssociationAmerican Lung Association in MissouriCampaign for Tobacco-Free KidsHealth Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and Tobacco-Free Missouri) has come out against the propositions to raise cigarette taxes with the following statement :

Small increases to the tobacco tax – like the proposals being considered – will generate new revenue, but will not keep kids from becoming addicted to cigarettes or help adults quit.Tobacco taxes work when the price increase is substantial enough to motivate current smokers to quit and prevent kids from starting. A dime here or there is not sufficient. Tobacco companies are adept at finding ways to absorb small tax increases through adjusted pricing. What’s worse, these marginal increases could hamper future efforts; promising profitable returns for the tobacco industry at the continued expense of Missourians’ health…

Tobacco products in Missouri are too cheap and the health costs are too high. Our state is long overdue for a tobacco tax increase, but it needs to be one that will make a difference and save lives. A meaningful tobacco tax increase – of $1.00 per pack or more – has proven time and again to be an effective way to reduce tobacco use, cut healthcare costs and generate state revenue.[7]

Our local public radio station had a good discussion recently which is summarized here.

I found the PRO comments of Jane Dueker particularly persuasive as summarized below:

PRO: Jane Dueker wants people to vote “Yes” on Constitutional Amendment 3. Here are her main points:

Jane Dueker is a proponent of Constitutional Amendment 3.
CREDIT KELLY MOFFITT | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO
  • This tax would provide $300 million in funding for early childhood education, healthcare and smoking cessation programs. Right now, Missouri can’t even fund the K-12 Foundation Formula, so any extra funding is needed for early childhood education.

  • By filing this as an amendment, we were able to make a constitutional “lock box” that would keep the legislature and special interests from taking money that is specifically dedicated to this fund, like what happened with lottery funds.

  • Right now, only 3 percent of 4-year-olds in Missouri are in a publicly-funded preschool. Missouri is behind states like Oklahoma with 76 percent, Illinois with 27 percent and Arkansas with 38 percent.

  • Higher tobacco taxes have failed in 2002, 2006 and 2012. This is more reasonable and we don’t have a clause that says another tobacco tax could not be added on top of this one to give that “sticker shock” to consumers.

  • This closes a loophole that kept cheap cigarette companies from paying their fair share into a 1998 court settlement to recover some of state governments’ tobacco-related health-care costs. Now, smaller tobacco companies would pay a 67-cents-a-pack hike on low-cost cigarettes in addition to the 60 cent tax on all cigarettes. This would give Missouri $1 billion annually we currently don’t get. Missouri is the only state that hasn’t closed this loophole and the state is a “dumping ground” for the cheapest cigarettes in the country.

  • Groups that oppose this either think the tax is not high enough (health groups) or that they don’t get money from this fund (pro-choice and research institutions).

  • Missouri’s Foundation Formula public school funding starts at kindergarten and cannot fund early childhood education. This money could go to public or private early childhood education entities in a way it would not be distributed through the foundation formula.

  • $15-30 million dollars would be raised through this tax that would go to smoking cessation programs.

  • The fund will be administered by a board of unelected people because they have special experience in early childhood education. A “person of faith” is required on the board because of their position as a community anchor.

At this point, I’m leaning toward voting yes on Amendment 3 but confused as to why RJ Reynolds is supporting it to the tune of 12 million dollars and the “good guy” health organizations oppose it. I’d appreciate any input/comments on this from readers. I strongly urge everyone to read and learn as much as you can about the issue before walking into the voting booth.

By the way, I recently observed this Canadian cigarette package img_7957which I think excellently conveys the horror of cigarette smoking.

Truthily Yours

-ACP

Some more  stats to ponder from the CDC

Cigarette smoking causes premature death:

  • Life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than for nonsmokers.
  • Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 90%.

Exposure to secondhand smoke causes an estimated 41,000 deaths each year among adults in the United States:

  • Secondhand smoke causes 7,333 annual deaths from lung cancer.
  • Secondhand smoke causes 33,951 annual deaths from heart disease.

Two Three Letter Words For Saving Lives: CPR and AED

Every two years the skeptical cardiologist has to get recertified in Basic Life Support for medical personnel. This involves a review of what, the American Heart Association has decided, are important changes in guidelines for Emergency Cardiac Care and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

I highly recommend all of you undergo such training. Although the survival rate of patients with “out of hospital cardiac arrests” is very low, your appropriate actions could be crucial in saving the life of a stranger or a loved one.

About a year ago one of my patients suddenly, and without any warning symptoms, collapsed at work. Fortunately for him, a co-worker had undergone CPR training and initiated chest compressions right away. When paramedics arrived 15 minutes later he was defibrillated from ventricular fibrillation and taken to a nearby hospital.

Our best information on cardiac arrest suggests that without CPR, irreversible brain damage (due to lack of oxygen) develops in about four minutes after the heart stops beating. Even with good CPR, the longer the time interval from arrest to defibrillation, the less likely the patient is to survive with good brain function.

Thus, the two keys to helping someone who drops dead next to you are beginning effective CPR (and compression only is OK) and defibrillating a fibrillating heart as soon as possible.

My patient was comatose on arrival to the hospital and was put into a hypothermic state, a process which has been shown to improve neurological outcome in cardiac arrest victims. Doctors informed his wife that they thought his prognosis was bad-less than 5% chance of surviving with intact brain function.  After three days he awoke from his coma and was transferred to my hospital.

I visited him in the ICU and other than a sore chest and an inability to remember the events surrounding his cardiac arrest, he was mentally normal and felt great. He continues to do very well to this day, but without the bystander CPR that he received (followed by the defibrillation) he would be one of the 350,000 who die of cardiac arrest in the US each year.

If the co-worker had not initiated CPR for the many minutes it took for EMRs to arrive, my patient’s brain would have been dying from lack of oxygen and it is most likely he would have suffered severe encephalopathy or brain death.

Recognizing Cardiac Arrest

Recognizing when someone needs CPR is a critical first step in the chain of events that can improve survival in cardiac arrest.

You are looking for two things before starting CPR:

  1. Unresponsiveness. The victim  does not move and does not respond at all to either verbal or physical stimulation.
  2. Breathing is absent or atonal (meaning ineffective , intermittent gasps).

Agonal respirations have also been described as “snoring, snorting, gurgling, or moaning or as barely, labored, noisy, or heavy breathing.”  Studies have shown that agonal respirations are common in the early minutes after cardiac arrest and are associated with good outcomes.

Two Steps To Save A Life

The two key components of resuscitation are CPR and defibrillation.

Performing these steps is simple and straightforward.

The earlier they are started, the more likely the victim is to survive.

If someone collapses near you and they are unresponsive and not breathing, they need CPR and an AED. Call for help as you are starting CPR.

images

 

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

CPR consists of repeated compressions of a victim’s chest.

img_7451
I came across this machine recently. You can learn and practice hands-only CPR using it.

Everyone has seen dramatizations of CPR and it is quite simple to do even without training. Basically, you want to “push hard and fast in the center of the chest.”

CPR training undergoes some tweaking over time as more scientific data is obtained but the fundamentals remain the same. The changes that the AHA is emphasizing in their current CPR courses are:

-depress the chest at least 2 inches

-depress the chest 100-120 times per minuCPR-Certificationte (as opposed to just >100 time per minute).

Of note, the recommended sequence has changed from A, B, C, to C, A, B. Compressions right away followed by assessment of airway and then mouth-to-mouth breathing.  In fact, because compressions without breaths have been shown to be as effective as with breaths, if you are uncomfortable giving breaths, recommendations now are to just do CPR.

 

Initiating CPR and calling 911 are the greatest initial things you can do for the person who collapses next to you.

However, the earlier you can defibrillate that person from ventricular fibrillation, the better their chance of survival.

Ambulatory electronic defibrillators or AEDS , if available, are very easy to use devices that can shorten the time to defibrillation and are the second key to successful resuscitation of cardiac arrest victims in the community.

I’ll talk about using them in a subsequent post.

antimortatorially yours

-ACP

 

Donald Trump Has Moderate Plaque Buildup In His Coronary Arteries and his Risk For A Cardiac Event Is Seven Times Hilary Clinton’s Risk

Donald Trump recently appeared on the Dr. Oz show and handed a letter to the celebrity medical charlatan and TV host, Mehmet Oz.

The letter was written by his personal physician , Dr. Harold Bornstein,  screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-3-21-11-pm
and summarized various  laboratory and test  results which led Bornstein to conclude  that Mr. Trump is in excellent health (Bornstein did not repeat his earlier, bizarre statement that “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”)

From a cardiovascular standpoint the following sentence stood out:

“His calcium score in 2013 was 98.”

Regular readers of the skeptical cardiologist should be familiar with the coronary calcium scan or score (CAC) by now.  I’ve written about it a lot (here, here, and here) and use it frequently in my patients, advocating its use to help better assess certain  patient’s risk of sudden death and heart attacks.

coronary calcium
Image from a patient with a large amount of calcium in the widowmaker or LAD coronary artery (LAD CA).

The CAC scan utilizes computed tomography (CT)  X-rays, without the need for intravenous contrast, to generate a three-dimensional picture of the heart. Because calcium is very apparent on CT scans, and because we can visualize the arteries on the surface of the heart that supply blood to the heart (the coronary arteries), the CAC scan can detect and quantify calcium in the coronary arteries with great accuracy and reproducibility.

Calcium only develops in the coronary arteries when there is atherosclerotic plaque. The more plaque in the arteries, the more calcium. Thus, the more calcium, the more plaque and the greater the risk of heart attack and death from heart attack.

What Does Donald’s Trump’s Calcium Score Tell Us About His Risk Of A Major Cardiac Event?

We know that, on average, even if you take a statin drug (Trump is taking rosuvastatin or Crestor), the calcium score goes up at least 10% per year which means that 3 years after that 98 score we would predict Trump’s calcium score to be around 120.

Based on large, observational studies of asymptomatic patients, Calcium scores of 101 to 400 put a patient in the moderately high risk category for cardiovascular events.

When I read a calcium score of 101-400, I make the following statements (based on the most widely utilized reference from Rumberger

This patient has:

-Definite, at least moderate atherosclerotic plaque burden

-Non-obstructive CAD (coronary artery disease) highly likely, although obstructive disease possible

-Implications for cardiovascular risk: Moderately High

Patients in this category have a 7-fold risk of major  cardiac events (heart attack or death from coronary heart disease) compared to an individual with a zero calcium scorescreen-shot-2016-10-04-at-3-16-25-pm

 

 

Clinton versus Trump: Zero is Better

Since we know that Hillary Clinton recently had a calcium scan with a score of zero, we can estimate that Trump’s risk of having a heart attack or dying from a cardiac event is markedly  higher than Clinton’s.

Clinton, born October 26, 1947 is 68 years old and we can enter her calcium score into the MESA calcium calculator to see how she compares to other women her age. A  coronary calcium score of 6 is at the 50th percentile for this group.

Interestingly, Trump’s score of 98 at age 67 years was exactly at the 50th percentile. In other words half of all white men age 67 years are below 98 and half are above 98, creeping into the moderately high risk  category.

(This should not be surprising, I touched on the high estimated cardiovascular risk of all aging men in my post entitled “Should all men over age sixty take a statin drug?”)

So, based on his coronary calcium score from 2013, Donald Trump has a  moderate build up of atherosclerotic plaque in his coronary arteries and is at a seven-fold higher risk of a cardiac event compared to Hilary Clinton.

Let the law suits and tweets begin!

Electorally Yours,

-ACP

 

 

 

 

Do You Know What’s On Garry Shandling’s And Your Parent’s Death Certificate?

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Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk and Kathy Griffin “hanging” with an apparently healthy Larry Sanders on March 20. These two appeared on Shandling’s brilliant Larry Sanders TV show.

When someone who had appeared to be healthy dies suddenly, it is often assumed that he/she died of “a massive heart attack.” Certainly, this was the case in the recent unexpected sudden death of Garry Shandling, the actor and comedian.  Shandling, aged 66, died March 24 of this year.

ET online reported:

“His publicist Alan Nierob told the ET that Shandling had no history of heart problems, but that doctors believe he died as the result of a heart attack.”

Although a heart attack resulting in ventricular fibrillation is the most common cause of a sudden, unexpected death in individuals over the age of 40, it is not the only one.

In fact, People  magazine reported that Sanders experienced shortness of breath and pain in his legs just a day before his death, and that he spoke to a doctor friend about his symptoms, who stopped by that night to check on him,

Shortness of breath and pain in the legs raise the possibility of a clot or DVT in the leg, which can break loose and embolize into the pulmonary arteries. Such a pulmonary embolism, if massive, can result in swift and sudden death.

The LA Coroner’s office could not get Sanders’ physician to sign his death certificate and the cause of death has still apparently not been determined, pending toxicology testing which typically takes 6 weeks.

What’s On Your Parent’s Death Certificate

More important than what is on Garry Shandling’s death certificate is what is on your parent’s death certificate, and whether it is accurate. If one of your parents died prematurely and suddenly, it is  important to know with precision what caused it. If the cause was an heritable cardiovascular condition, hopefully, appropriate testing can determine if you have that condition, and steps can be taken to prevent your premature demise.

Examples of inherited cardiovascular conditions (in addition to heart attack (myocardial infarction) or pulmonary embolism) that can cause sudden and unexpected death include aortic aneurysm dissection, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasis, and long QT syndrome.

Unfortunately I find that, at least in my patients, uncertainty about the cause of death of one’s parents is the norm.

Many of my patients, for example, tell me one of their parents died of a “massive heart attack” and they assume that they are at increased risk of the same fate. When I press for details, typically no autopsy was performed.  Mom or dad may have been found dead at home, or they may have suddenly keeled over but not survived to make it to the hospital for a definitive diagnosis.

Without an autopsy in such circumstances, it is not possible to be sure of the cause of death.

Even if you have a cause of death listed on your parent’s death certificate, there is no guarantee that it is accurate.  The doctor that filled it out, without an autopsy in many circumstances, is just speculating on the cause based on what he/she knew about prior medical conditions and the circumstances surrounding the death.

I was recently asked to fill out the death certificate of an elderly patient of mine who had atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure and was living in a nursing home.

One night she was noted by the staff to be very short of breath and was taken to a local  emergency room where she was pronounced dead.

Based on the information available to me, I had no idea what caused her death. Although she had quite signifiant cardiac problems, when I last saw her she was stable and I have numerous patients with the same conditions who live for decades.

I filled out the death certificate, listing all of her conditions, and entered in that the cause of death was unknown.

Although the CDC guide for physicians filling out death certificates clearly states that this is acceptable, I was subsequently informed that the funeral home did not accept unknown cause of death and that they had found another doctor to fill in a cause  of death.

I guarantee you, whatever he put on as the cause of death was total speculation.

Jerry Seinfeld was good friends with Garry Shandling and, oddly enough, not too long ago, featured him in an episode of his internet series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” entitled “It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive.

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Shandling mentions “I had hyperparathyroidism,” making a joke that “the symptoms are so much like being an older Jewish man, no one noticed!”

James Fallows, the excellent The Atlantic writer, highlights his own experience with hyperparathyroidism (a disease that leads to high calcium levels and is easily treated with surgery), in a recent Atlantic article. The subtitle of this article, “a rare and under-publicized condition that can sometimes be fatal,” suggests that hyperhyperparathyroidism might have led to Shandling’s death.

I don’t think this is likely because Shandling suggests that the disease is in the past tense (i.e. he has already had the surgery), and sudden death from hyperparathyroidism would be extremely unlikely.

Fortunately, Shandling is getting a full examination and autopsy to fully determine the cause of his death. If he has offspring, this will be extremely helpful to them in understanding what medical conditions they can expect later in life.

If he was not a celebrity, his death, like many of your parents’, most likely would have been ascribed to a “massive heart attack.”

 

 

Are We Springing Forward to Death?: Daylight savings time and myocardial infarction

Tonight we will lose an hour of our lives when we observe Daylight Savings Time (DST).

Media reports suggest that DST, beyond robbing of us that nocturnal hour in the spring are also increasing our risk of heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) and death.

Is this a valid concern or just media hype on a slow news day?

Scientific studies on this topic are mixed.

A recent study from Finland found MI rates increased 16% on the Wednesday after spring DST time change and dropped by 15% on the Monday after fall DST time change.

A 2015 German study found no difference in MI rate in the 3days or 1 week after spring or fall DST transitions.

However, some American studies have detected a bump in MI rate on the day after DST transition in the spring and a similar drop in MI rate on the day after the fall DST change.

A study of 42000 patients undergoing acute PCI for MI in Michigan found that

“The Monday following spring time changes was associated with a 24% increase in daily AMI counts (p=0.011), and the Tuesday following fall changes was conversely associated with a 21% reduction (p=0.044). No significant difference in total weekly counts or for any other individual weekdays in the weeks following DST changes was observed.”

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They concluded:

Our data argue that DST could potentially accelerate events that were likely to occur in particularly vulnerable patients and does not impact overall incidence. There is considerable controversy over the health and economic benefits of DST, and some authorities have argued that this practice should be abandoned.17 Although we are unable to comment on the merits of these arguments, our data suggest that while such a move might change the temporal fluctuations in AMI, it is unlikely to impact the total number of MIs in the broader population.

Mondays, in general, are the days of the week on which most MIs occur. This has been attributed to an abrupt change in the sleep–wake cycle and increased stress in relation to the start of a new work week

Manipulations of the sleep–wake cycle have been linked to imbalance of the autonomic nervous system, rise in proinflammatory cytokines and depression so presumably the additional disruption created by DST adds to this effect.

However, the data suggest that this very weak effect means only that if you were going to have an MI in the next week, after DST it is more likely to occur on the Monday of that week than on another day. Your overall risk of MI is not changed.

From a public health standpoint the major conclusion is that emergency rooms and cath labs should consider increasing staffing by 24% on the Monday after the spring DST time change.

I don’t think this is a significant factor for my patients. We have to deal with events and stressors that influence our sleep-wake cycle constantly. Good planning and sleep hygiene are the keys to success and reducing stress.

So, fear not the grim reaper as you set your clocks forward tonight.

Circadianly yours,

-ACP

PHOTO: PAVEL ŠEVELA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

 

Should You Get a Stress Test After Your Stent or Bypass Operation If You Feel Fine?

If you’ve had a coronary stent implanted or undergone bypass surgery, it is common to wonder about the status of the stent or the bypass grafts or the coronary arteries that maybe had a 50 or 60% blockage and were left alone.

This is especially likely if there was little or no warning that you had really severely blocked coronary arteries.

After all, you are thinking: “doesn’t it make sense to monitor these things and stay on top of them; be proactive?”

It certainly seems reasonable on the surface, and for many years, routine stress testing of patients without symptoms on an annual basis, was the norm.

However, this practice is much more likely to cause harm than to benefit patients and is recognized by the American College of Cardiology as one of 5 things that patients and physicians should question as part of the “Choosing Wisely” campaign (see here).

“Performing stress cardiac imaging or advanced non-invasive imaging in patients without symptoms on a serial or scheduled pattern (e.g., every one to two years or at a heart procedure anniversary) rarely results in any meaningful change in patient management. This practice may, in fact, lead to unnecessary invasive procedures and excess radiation exposure without any proven impact on patients’ outcomes.”

Studies have shown that stress testing less than two years after a coronary stent, very rarely change management.

The American College of Cardiology, American Society of Echocardiography and the American Society of Nuclear Medicine are all in agreement that stress testing less than two years after a coronary procedure is “inappropriate,” and more than two years after the procedure is “uncertain.”

Why Do Cardiologists Order These Tests If They Are Inappropriate?

There are 3 reasons, and they are representative of the major factors driving all over-testing in medicine.

  1. Financial. Cardiologists frequently benefit from stress tests they order in multiple ways. First, they may own the nuclear camera used in the test and the more stress tests performed in their office, the more money they will make from the technical remuneration for the procedure. The cardiologist also frequently interprets the test results and receives a professional fee for both supervising and interpreting the nuclear images. Finally, if the test is abnormal, the cardiologist may then recommend additional testing, which he may perform (cardiac catheterization, stent) or interpret (coronary CT angiogram).
  2. Defensive medicine. It is not uncommon for cardiologists to be sued for NOT performing a test or procedure when the patient’s outcome is bad. On the other hand, I have never heard of a cardiologist being sued for DOING an inappropriate stress test.
  3. Keeping the customer happy. Too often patients feel that if their doctor is performing frequent tests on them, he is being vigilant, proactive and “staying on top of things.” They don’t realize the down sides to the extra testing and the lack of benefit.

Not uncommonly, patients switching to me from another cardiologist indicate that they have been getting an annual stress test and are disappointed to hear that I am not recommending one.

They may think that I’m lazy or not up on the latest techniques in cardiology. Usually in this situation I have to spend a fair amount of time trying to teach them about the possible downsides of over-testing.

In the case of stress nuclear testing, harm comes from two sources:

  1. Radiation. Stress nuclear tests typically utilize the radio tracer Technetium-99 and result in a radiation dose of around 15 mSv. This is about 10 times the radiation from a typical coronary calcium scan. A chest x-ray gives 0.02 mSV and the annual background radiation in the US is 3 mSv.
  2. False positives. Nuclear imaging is very susceptible to images which appear to show abnormalities of blood flow, which in reality are just due to soft tissue (breast, diaphragm, fat) interposed between the heart and the camera. These can be interpreted as due to a heart attack or blocked coronary artery when everything is actually fine with the artery.  False positives then lead to additional testing such as a cardiac catheterization, which carries risks of bleeding, heart attack, stroke and death.

One important point to remember is that coronary stenting has not been shown to reduce heart attacks or prolong survival outside the setting of an acute heart attack. Therefore , if you’ve already had a cardiac catheterization that either resulted in bypass surgery or a stent of one artery, it is highly unlikely that a subsequent catheterization/further procedures will lower your heart attack or dying risk.

Certainly, if you have a change in symptoms that suggest that your coronary artery disease has progressed, this is an appropriate reason to consider stress testing. Such symptoms include shortness of breath on exertion and chest discomfort, especially if it occurs during activity. Diabetics often don’t have symptoms that warn them of a problem, therefore, we should consider stress testing more frequently and at a lower threshold for them.

For most people, however, more is not always better when it comes to cardiac testing and, in many circumstances, can be worse.

Here’s to choosing wisely,

-ACP