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Universal Cardiac Screening For All Young Athletes?

It’s heart wrenching when young athletes die of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Last week the death of Wes Leonard, a Michigan high school star athlete, was especially poignant since he collapsed right after making the game-winning shot. This sort of tragedy occurs about one hundred times each year in America. That’s a lot of sadness. The obvious question is: Could these deaths be prevented? Let’s start with what actually happens.

Most cases of sudden death in young people occur as a result of either hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an abnormal thickening of heart muscle, or long QT syndrome (LQTS), a mostly inherited disease of the heart’s electrical system. Both HCM and LQTS predispose the heart to ventricular fibrillation — electrical chaos of the pumping chamber of the heart. The adrenaline surges of athletic competition increase the odds of this chaos. Unfortunately, like heart disease often does, both these ailments can strike without warning.

Sudden death is sad enough by itself, but what makes it even worse is that both these ailments are mostly detectable with two simple painless tests: The ECG and echocardiogram (heart ultrasound). Let’s get these kids ECGs and echos then. “Git ‘er dun,” you might say.

On the surface the solution seems simple: Implement universal cardiac screening of all young athletes. And you wouldn’t be alone in thinking this way. You could even boast the support of Dr. Manny Alvarez of Fox News and the entire country of Italy, where all athletes get ECGs and echos before competing. But America isn’t Italy, and things aren’t as simple as Fox News likes to suggest. Read more »

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

Drug Safety In Preventing Acute Mountain Sickness

This is a guest post by Dr. Jeremy Windsor.


Steroids and Acute Mountain Sickness

In recent years, many attempts have been made to identify safe and effective medications to prevent acute mountain sickness (AMS). Acetazolamide (Diamox), currently the “drug of choice” for this purpose, is not perfect and occasionally causes objectionable side effects. Dexamethasone (Decadron), a powerful steroid medication, has become increasingly popular for prevention and treatment in certain circles. While there is ample evidence to suggest that dexamethasone is effective, a recent case report highlights that this drug is not without risk.

In the latest issue of the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine [WEM 21(4):345-348, 2010] in an article entitled ”Complications of steroid use on Mt. Everest,” Bishnu Subedi and colleagues working for the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) described the case of a 27 year-old man who was prescribed a course of three drugs, including dexamethasone, intended to support him during his attempt to climb Mt. Everest. After more than three weeks of taking the medications, the mountaineer noticed the appearance of a rash and decided to stop taking them. Rather than wait for the rash to subside, he chose to continue his acclimatization program and ascend to Camp 3 at 7010m altitude. The patient arrived exhausted and confused; onlookers quickly recognized that something was seriously wrong and so a rescue party was organized to help him back to safety. Read more »

This post, Drug Safety In Preventing Acute Mountain Sickness, was originally published on by Paul Auerbach, M.D..

Combating Concussions: Impact Sensors For NFL Players’ Helmets

Anyone who’s ever watched football, the American variety, knows how rough of a sport it can be. With 22 fast-moving players (some weighing as much as 350 pounds) scrambling and tackling for possession of the pigskin, injuries are inevitable.

One of the scariest injuries a football player can get is a concussion. With its commonly insidious onset, concussions of the brain are often difficult to diagnose, or immediately treat to avoid long-term consequences.

The National Football League (NFL) has announced that they will be launching a pilot program next season in which accelerometers will be placed in players’ mouthpieces, earpieces, and helmets to analyze how blows to the head relate to the effects and severity of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries. The data could potentially help team doctors diagnose the severity of a concussion within a few minutes. Collected long-term from groups of players, the impact data could help coaches and doctors determine how players get injured and the possible effects of such injuries. Such data could also help engineers design a better football helmet.

As long as the game of football continues to be played, concussions will be pretty much impossible to avoid. However, changing technology and increasing knowledge of traumatic brain injury will hopefully only make football a safer, more enjoyable sport.

Wired article: Impact Sensors Slated for NFL Helmets Next Season…

Medgadget archive: Football helmet technology…

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

The Energy Drink

By Scott Gavura, BScPhm, MBA, RPh for Science-Based Medicine

My stimulant of choice is coffee. I started drinking it in first-year university, and never looked back. A tiny four-cup coffee maker became my reliable companion right through graduate school.

But since I stopped needing to drink a pot at a time, an entirely new category of products has appeared — the energy drink. Targeting students, athletes, and others seeking a mental or physical boost, energy drinks are now an enormous industry: From the first U.S. product sale in 1997, the market size was $4.8 billion by 2008, and continues to grow. (1)

My precious coffee effectively has a single therapeutic ingredient, caffeine. Its pharmacology is well documented, and the physiologic effects are understood. The safety data isn’t too shabby either: it’s probably not harmful and possibly is even beneficial. (I’m talking about oral consumption — no coffee enemas. Please.) In comparison, energy drinks are a bewildering category of products with an array of ingredients including caffeine, amino acids, vitamins, and other “natural” substances and assorted “nutraceuticals,” usually in a sugar-laden vehicle (though sugar-free versions exist). Given many products contain chemicals with pharmacologic effects, understanding the risks, signs of adverse events, and potential implications on drug therapy, are important.

So are energy drinks just candied caffeine delivery systems? Or are these syrupy supplements skirting drug regulations?

The Message

The ads are seductive. Who doesn’t want more energy? Who doesn’t want their mind and body “vitalized?” And don’t we have time-starved lifestyles? Initially envisioned for athletes, energy drinks are now marketed mainly towards teens and young adults, where uptake has been dramatic. Cross-promotion with extreme sporting events, and creating names like “Full Throttle,” “Rockstar,” and even  “Cocaine” burnish the “extreme” image. The market is now segmented further with products targeted at women, vegetarians, diabetics, celiacs, and more. However you identify yourself, there’s probably an energy drink developed with you in mind. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Your Hydration Needs Monitored By An Intelligent Water Bottle

Imagine a water bottle that knows how hard and how far you are running, how much you’re drinking, what’s the outside temperature, and, based on all these variables, the device calculates when you need to have a drink. Cambridge Consultants have developed the i-dration bottle that does just that.

From the press release:

Intelligent sensors in the i-dration bottle can be used to monitor the external temperature, drinking frequency and quantity, and this data is then sent via Bluetooth to its user’s smartphone. The phone’s inbuilt accelerometer and gyroscope can measure exercise levels, and by “fusing” the data from a heart rate chest-band and information pre-entered using the smartphone interface (such as height, age and weight), the application can perform an assessment of a user’s hydration levels. The i-dration bottle then responds accordingly by flashing a blue light if the athlete needs to drink more. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

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Latest Book Reviews

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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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