Category Archives: Atherosclerosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease

Do Statins Cause Memory Loss? The Science, The Media, The Statin-Denialist Cult, and The Nocebo Effect

The Skeptical Cardiologist was recently contacted by a television reporter  working on a segment about statins. and looking for a cardiologist to interview who “is concerned about the cognitive side effects of these drugs.”

Since I regularly prescribe statin drugs to my patients to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke,  I am very concerned about any possible side effects from them, cognitive or otherwise. However, in treating hundreds of patients with statins, I have not observed a consistent significant effect on brain function.

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement in 2012 regarding rare postmarketing reports of ill-defined cognitive impairment associated with statin use it came as quite a surprise to most cardiologists.

The FDA made a change in the patient information on all statin drugs which stated:

Memory loss and confusion have been reported with statin use. These reported events were generally not serious and went away once the drug was no longer being taken

This FDA statement was surprising because prior observational and randomized controlled trials had suggested that patients who took statins were less likely to have cognitive dysfunction than those who didn’t.

Early studies implied that statins might actually protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact these signals triggered two studies testing if statins could slow cognitive decline in patients with established Alzheimer’s disease  One study used 80 mg atorvastatin versus placebo and a second 40 mg simvastatin versus placebo and both showed no effect on the decline of cognitive function over 18 months.

More recently, multiple reviews and meta-analyses have examined the data and concluded that there is no significant effect of statins on cognitive function. Importantly, these have been written by reputable physician-scientists with no financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

 

Data Show No Evidence of Causality Despite Case Reports

The FDA added the warning to statin patient information based on case reports  Occasional reports of patients developing memory loss on a statin do not prove that statins are a significant cause of cognitive dysfunction.

Case reports have to  be viewed in the context of all the other scientific studies indicating no consistent evidence of negative effects of the statins. Case reports are suspect for several reasons:

First, patients receiving statins are at increased risk for memory loss because of associated risk factors for atherosclerosis and advancing age. A certain percentage of such patients are going to notice memory loss independent of any medications.

Second. The nocebo effect: If a patient taking a statin is told that the drug will cause a particular side effect,that patient will be more likely to notice and report that particular side effect.

A recent study in The Lancet looked at reported side effects in patients taking atorvastatin versus placebo and found substantial evidence for the nocebo effect.

Analysis of the trial data revealed that when patients were unaware whether they were taking a statin or a placebo, the number of side effects reported was similar in those taking the statin and those taking placebo. However, if patients knew they were taking statins, reports of muscle-related side effects in particular increased dramatically, by up to 41 per cent.

Third, a review of the FDA post-marketing surveillance data showed the rate of memory loss with statins is not significantly higher than for other non-statin cardiovascular medications (1.9 per million prescriptions for statins , 1.6 per million prescriptions for losartan) and clopidogrel (1.9 per million prescriptions for clopidogrel.)

What Most Media Prefer: Controversy And Victims

I thought my experience and perspective on statins and cognitive function might be useful for a wider audience of patients to hear so I agreed to be interviewed. After I expressed interest the  reporter responded:

I would like to interview you and also a person who has experienced memory and/or thinking problems that they attribute to statin use.  
 I responded with “let me see what I can find,”  although I was concerned that  this reporter was searching for a cardiologist to support attention-grabbing claims of  severe side effects of statins rather than seeking a balanced, unbiased perspective from a knowledgeable and experienced cardiologist.
If I produced a “victim” of statin-related memory loss this would boost ratings.
I then began racking my brain to come up with a patient who had clearly had statin-related memory loss or thinking problems. I asked my wonderful MA Jenny (who remembers details about patients that I don’t) if she could recall any cases. Ultimately, we both came up without any patients for the interview. (Any patient of mine reading this with definite statin memory loss please let me know and I will amend my post. However, I won’t be posting anecdotes outside of my practice.)
I have had a few patients relate to me that they feel like their memory is not as good as it was and wonder if it could be from a medication they are on.  Invariably, the patient has been influenced by one of the  statin fear-mongering sites on the internet (or a friend/relative who has been influenced by such a site.)
I wrote about one such site in response to a patient question a while back:
The link appears to be a promotional piece for a book by Michael Cutler, MD. Cutler’s website appears to engage in fear-mongering with respect to statins for the purpose of selling his books and promoting his “integrative” practice. I would refer you to my post entitled “functional medicine is fake medicine”. Integrative medicine is another code word for pseudoscientific medicine and practitioners should be assiduously avoided.
The piece starts with describing the case of Duane Graveline, a vey troubled man who spent the latter part of his life attempting to scare patients from taking statins. Here is his NY Times obituary.
You can judge for yourself if you want to base decisions on his recommendations.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest statins cause dementia.
An Internet-Driven Cult With Deadly Consequences
Steve Nissen recently wrote an eloquent article which accuses statin deniers of  being  an “internet–driven cult with deadly consequences.”  Nissen has done extremely important research helping us better understand atherosclerosis  and is known for being a patient advocate: calling out drug companies when they are promoting unsafe drugs.
I have immense respect for his honesty, lack of bias, and his courage to be outspoken .  He writes:

“Statins have developed a bad reputation with the public, a phenomenon driven largely by proliferation on the Internet of bizarre and unscientific but seemingly persuasive criticism of these drugs. Typing the term statin benefits into a popular Internet search en- gine yields 655 000 results. A similar search using the term statin risks yields 3 530 000 results. One of the highest-ranking search results links to an article titled “The Grave Dangers of Statin Drugs—and the Surprising Benefits of Cholesterol”. We are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our patients to Web sites de- veloped by people with little or no scientific expertise, who often pedal “natural” or “drug-free” remedies for elevated cholesterol levels. These sites rely heavily on 2 arguments: statin denial, the proposition that cholesterol is not related to heart disease, and statin fear, the notion that lowering serum cholesterol levels will cause serious adverse effects, such as muscle or hepatic toxicity— or even worse, dementia.”

He goes on to point out that this misinformation is contributing to a low rate of compliance with taking statins. Observational studies suggest that noncompliance with statins significantly raises the risk of death from heart attack.

The reasons for patient noncompliance, Nissen goes on to say, can be related to the promotion of totally unproven supplements and fad diets as somehow safer and more effective than statin therapy:

“The widespread advocacy of unproven alternative cholesterol-lowering therapies traces its origins to the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). Incredibly, this law places the responsibility for ensuring the truthfulness of dietary supplement advertising with the Federal Trade Commission, not the U.S. Food and Drug Administra-tion. The bill’s principal sponsors were congressional representatives from states where many of the companies selling supplements are headquartered. Nearly 2 decades after the DSHEA was passed, the array of worthless or harmful dietary supplements on the market is staggering, amounting to more than $30 billion in yearly sales. Manufacturers of these products commonly imply benefits that have never been confirmed in formal clinical studies.”

Dealing With Statin Side Effects In My Practice

When a patient tells me they believe they are having a side effect from the statin they are taking (and this applies to any medication they believe is causing them side effects), I take their concerns very seriously. After 30 years of practice, I’ve concluded that in any individual patient, it is possible for any drug to cause  side effects.  And, chances are that if we don’t address the side effects the patient won’t take the medication.

If the side effect is significant I will generally tell the patient to stop the statin and report to me how they feel after two to four weeks.

If there is no improvement I have the patient resume the medication and we generally reach a consensus that the side effect was not due to the medication.

If there is a significant improvement, I accept the possibility that the side effect could be from the drug. This doesn’t prove it, because it is entirely possible that the side effect resolved for other reasons coincidentally with stopping the statin. Muscle and joint aches are extremely common and they often randomly come and go.

At this point, I will generally recommend a trial at low dose of another statin (typically rosuvastatin or livalo.)  If the patient was experiencing muscle aches and they return we are most likely dealing with a patient with statin related myalgias. However, most patients are able to tolerate low dose and less frequent administration of rosuvastatin or Livalo.

For all other symptoms, it is extremely unusual to see a return on rechallenge with statin and so we continue statin long term therapy.

Today a patient told me he thought the rosuvastatin we started 4 weeks ago was causing him to have more diarrhea. I informed him that there is no evidence that rosuvastatin causes diarrhea more often than a placebo and had no reason based on its chemistry to suspect it would. (Although I’m sure there is a forum somewhere on the internet where patients have reported this). Fortunately he accepted my expert opinion and will continue taking the drug.

If the symptoms persist and the patient continue to believe it is due to the statin, we will go through the process I described above. And, since every patient is unique, it is possible that my patient is having a unique or idiosyncratic reaction to the statin that only occurs in one out of a million patients and thus is impossible to determine causality.

Since statins are our most effective and best tolerated weapon in the war against our biggest killer, it behooves both patients and physicians to have a high threshold  for stopping them altogether. Having such a high threshold means filtering out the noise from attention-seeking media and the internet-driven denials cult thus minimizing the nocebo effect

Antinocebonically Yours

-ACP

N.B. It turns out the reporter had an open mind about the issue of statin-related memory loss. We had a good discussion  and at some point you may see the skeptical cardiologist on TV being interviewed on the topic.

I could bring to the interview one of  my many patients who since starting to take statins have  not had a heart attack or stroke and who have taken statins for decades without side effects.

Now that would make for some compelling and exciting TV!

For a nice discussion of Nissen’s article see Larry Husten’s excellent piece at Cardiobrief.org here (/nissen-calls-statin-denialism-a-deadly-internet-driven-cult/)

 

Unsure About Taking A Statin For High Cholesterol? Consider A Compromise Approach

In an earlier post the skeptical cardiologist introduced Geo, a 61 year old male with no risk factors for heart attack or stroke other than a high cholesterol. His total cholesterol was 249, LDL (bad) 154, HDL (good) 72 and triglycerides 116.

His doctor had recommended that he take a statin drug but Geo balked at taking one due to concerns about side effects and requested my input. My first steps were to gather more information.

-I calculated his 10 year risk of stroke or heart attack at 8.4% (treatment with statin typically felt to benefit individuals with 10 year risk >7.5%) and as I have previously noted, this is not unusual for a man over age 60.

-I assessed him for any hidden  or subclinical atherosclerosis and found

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.

So Geo definitely has atherosclerotic plaque in his coronary arteries. This puts him at risk for heart attack and stroke but not a lot higher risk than most men his age.

Strictly speaking, since he hasn’t already had a heart attack or stroke, treating him with a statin is a form of primary prevention. However, we know that atherosclerotic plaque has already developed in his arteries and at some point, perhaps years from now it will have consequences.

What is the best approach to reduce Geo’s risk?

It’s essential  to look closely at lifestyle changes in everyone to reduce cardiac risk.

The lifestyle components that influence risk are

  1. Cigarette Smoking (by far the strongest)
  2. Diet
  3. Exercise
  4. Obesity (Obviously related to #1 and #2)
  5. Stress
  6. Sleep

Patients who try to change to what they perceive as a heart healthy diet by switching to non-fat dairy and eliminating all red meat will not substantially lower risk (see here.) Even if you are possess the rock-hard discipline to stay on a radically low fat diet like the Esselstyn diet or the Pritikin diet there are no good data supporting their  efficacy in preventing cardiac disease.

Geo was not far from theMediterranean diet I recommend but would probably benefit from increased veggie and nut consumption. He was not overweight and he doesn’t smoke. I encouraged him to engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly.

Low Dose, Intermittent Rosuvastatin

I engaged in shared decision-making with Geo.  Informing him, as best I could, of the potential side effects and benefits of statin therapy.

After a long discussion we decided to try a compromise between no therapy and the guideline recommended moderate intensive dose statin therapy.

This approach utilizes a low dose of rosuvastatin taken intermittently with the goal of minimizing any statin side effect but obtaining some of the benefits of statin drugs on  cardiovascular risk reduction.

I have many patients who have been unable to tolerate other statin drugs in any dosage due to statin related muscle aches but who tolerate this particular  treatment and I  see substantial reductions in the LDL (bad) cholesterol with this approach.

Studies have shown that rosuvastatin 5–10 mg or atorvastatin 10–20 mg given every other day produce LDL-C reduction of 20–40 %

Studies have also shown that In patients with previous statin intolerance, rosuvastatin administered once or twice weekly (at a mean dose of 10 mg per week) achieved an LDL-C reduction of 23–29% and was well tolerated by 74–80 % of patients.

In a recent report from a specialized lipid clinic, 90 % of patients referred for intolerance to multiple statins were actually able to tolerate statin therapy, although the majority was at a reduced dose and less-than-daily dosing.

Results in Geo

After several months of taking 5 mg rosuvastatin twice weekly Geo felt fine with no discernible side effects. He obtained repeat cholesterol  levels:

His LDL had dropped 52% from 140 to 92.

Hopefully, this LDL reduction plus the non-cholesterol lowering beneficial properties of statins (see here) will substantially lower Geo’s risk of heart attack and stroke.

We need randomized studies testing long-term outcomes using this approach to make it evidence-based. But in medicine we frequently don’t have studies that apply to  specific patient situations. In these cases shared decision-making in order to find solutions that fit the individual patient’s concerns and experience becomes paramount.

Faithfully Yours,

-ACP

 

 

 

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.

img_7051
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?

0324-garry-shandling-twitter-4
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.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 7.04.14 AM

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.”