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Recognizing Different Arrhythmias: There’s An App For That

The recognition and management of cardiac arrhythmias is a must-have clinical skill for residents and physicians, and one that is often not well-taught at some institutions.

For example, deciding whether a patient is in a shockable rhythm, realizing what medications should or should not be given in a particular situation, or assessing the degree of atrioventricular block, can all be important considerations in patient care.

The Arrhythmias app, designed by Abe Balsamo, recently cracked the Top 10 list of most-downloaded medical apps in the app store.  This app represents Mr. Balsamo’s first foray into the app world, though he has several other apps in development, according to his website  The app’s growing popularity has been driven by its point-of-care abilities that appeal to healthcare professionals, especially emergency medical personnel.

Read below the jump to see how the Arrhythmias app can assist healthcare professionals with the recognition of different arrhythmias. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at iMedicalApps*

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The Science Behind Their Potential Heart Health Benefits

The Biology of Omega-3 fatty acids: (Just a little science:)

When fish, flax-seeds or Brussels sprouts pass through the intestine, pancreatic enzymes transform the fat to free fatty acids. These acids are quickly taken up by the cells. Once in the cell, these fatty acids enter the mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum and cytosol–places that you might recall because your mom helped you make a Cell sponge cake in 7th grade Biology.

In the cells, the Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA and EPA) exert their healthy influence in three major ways:

  • in the control of chemical messengers;
  • in the flux of ions—cell electricity;
  • in the smoothness and health of the cell membrane.

That’s enough about cells.

How do these (good) fats help our bodies?

Omega-3 fatty acids reduce Inflammation:

–Omega-3s get in the cellular (not phone) mix and end up competing with chemicals that cause inflammation—medical people say they antagonize bioactive mediators of inflammation.

–Newly-discovered by-products of Omega-3s are important in the resolution phase of inflammation. Biochem people call these chemicals, resolvins. All you have to remember here is this: to resolve (inflammation) is heart-healthy.

–When omega-3s are incorporated into the membranes of cells they do a lot of good: things like making the membrane more fluid and less sticky. For some reason, they even block genes that induce hardening of the arteries. (Genomic effects.)

Omega-3s benefit the heart: They… Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

The Hug That May Have Saved A Life

Every once in a while we physicians make an astute (or perhaps lucky) observation that becomes a turning point in a patient’s life.

I’ll never forget the time that I placed a hand on an elderly woman’s belly after she said that she felt a little bit dizzy – the pulsatile abdominal mass that I discovered set in motion a cascade of events that resulted in life-saving surgery for an disecting abdominal  aortic aneurysm (AAA). It was incredibly gratifying to be involved in saving her life – and now anyone who so much as swoons in my vicinity gets a tummy rub! (Yes, Dr. Groopman I know that’s not necessarily a rational response to one lucky “exam finding.”)

Last week I made a fortunate “catch” on the order of the AAA discovery from years ago. I was giving a close friend of mine a hug (he’s significantly taller than I am) when I noticed that his heart was beating rather quickly through his shirt. I instinctively grabbed his wrist to check his pulse, and voilà - it was irregularly irregular. My friend had new onset atrial fibrillation – and although he was initially resistant to my idea of going straight to the ER, I eventually convinced him to come with me. An EKG confirmed my clinical diagnosis, and blood thinners (with Pradaxa) and a rate control agent were administered. He will undergo cardioversion in a couple of weeks. We were both relieved that our intervention may well have averted a stroke, heart failure, or worse.

My peers at the hospital have been poking fun at me for my hug diagnosis, and my reputation as the “hug doctor” now preceeds me. I continue to protest that I do know how to use a stethoscope  - but alas, there have been more requests for stat hugs from me than cardiopulmonary exams.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to top this clinical diagnosis, but a life of trying to find my next case of atrial fibrillation through hugging will likely make a few people smile.

Don’t Treat The Number, Treat The Patient

In medicine we’re often reminded not to base our therapy solely on lab test results. Although it’s tempting to reduce patient care to a checklist of “normal” bloodwork targets, we all know that this is only a fraction of the total health picture. Today I made a mistake that brought this truism home: “Don’t treat the number, treat the patient.”

I’m turning 40 this year and decided to make an ambitious fitness goal for myself — to be in better shape at 40 than I was at 30. No small feat for a person who used to be in good form a decade ago (not so much now, ahem). So, I joined a gym owned by an affable triathlete and invited her to make me her project. Let’s just say that Meredith believes that one piece of sprouted grain bread is the breakfast of champions — and with that she has me doing many hours of cardio sprints and strength training every week. I’m still alive. Barely.

Today in my endurance spinning class (an unusual form of torture where you get yelled at — I mean encouraged — on a stationary bicycle for an hour and a half in a dark room filled with high-decibel rock music and sweaty co-sufferers), I was somewhat alarmed by my heart rate. I was taught in medical school that one’s maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. So mine should be about 180. I assumed that anything higher than that was incompatible with life.

So when I saw my heart rate monitor rise to 185 on a steep climb at maximum speed, I wondered if I might be about to die. I certainly felt physically challenged, but not quite at death’s door, so I looked around sheepishly at my nearest peer’s monitor to see if she was handling the strain any better. Nope, she was also at 185. “Gee, what a coincidence,” I thought. “We must be exactly the same fitness level.” Read more »

The Today Show Misinforms People About Robot-Guided Heart Procedure

The NBC Today Show aired a segment on the Stereotaxis robotic system for performing catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation using magnetically-steered ablation catheters yesterday (video here). It sure generated a lot of buzz around our hospital. While I share the reporters enthusiasm for all the gadgets and gizmos (what doctor-engineer wouldn’t like such neat toys?) the enthusiasm should be tempered with a strong dose of reality regarding this technology and any atrial fibrillation procedure.

First is the claim that the patient will be cured with “85-90%” certainty. While these success rates have been reported using this technology for the much simpler atrial flutter ablation, this level of success has not been substantiated in meta analyses of atrial fibrillation ablation studies to date: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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