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Obesity Beats Adiposity For Cardiovascular Risk

Obesity contributes to cardiovascular risk no matter where a person carries the weight, concluded researchers after looking at outcomes for nearly a quarter-million people worldwide.

Body mass index, (BMI) waist circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio do not predict cardiovascular disease risk any better when physicians recorded systolic blood pressure, history of diabetes and cholesterol levels, researchers reported in The Lancet.

The research group used individual records from 58 prospective studies with at least one year of follow up. In each study, participants were not selected on the basis of having previous vascular disease. Each study provided baseline for weight, height, and waist and hip circumference. Cause-specific mortality or vascular morbidity were recorded according to well defined criteria.

Individual records included 221,934 people in 17 countries. In people with BMI of 20 kg/m2 or higher, hazard ratios for cardiovascular disease were 1.23 (95 percent CI, 1.17 to 1.29) with BMI, 1.27 (95 percent CI, 1.20 to 1.33) with waist circumference, and 1.25 (95 percent CI, 1.19 to 1.31) with waist-to-hip ratio, after adjustment for age, sex, and smoking status. After adjusting for baseline systolic blood pressure, history of diabetes, and total and HDL cholesterol, corresponding hazard rations were 1.07 (95 percent CI, 1.03 to 1.11) with BMI, 1.10 (95 percent CI, 1.05 to 1.14) with waist circumference, and 1.12 (95 percent CI, 1.08 to 1.15) with waist-to-hip ratio.

BMI, waist circumference, or waist-to-hip ratio did not importantly improve risk discrimination or predicted 10-year risk, and the findings remained the same when adiposity — the carrying of adipose tissue (fat) — measures were considered. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Colon Cancer Screening: Guideline Truths And Myths

Colon cancer screening has a particular personal interest for me — one of my colleagues in residency training had her father die of colon cancer when she was a teenager.

No one should lose a loved one to a disease that, when caught early, is often treatable. But for both men and women, colon cancer is the third most common cancer behind lung cancer and prostate cancer in men, and behind lung cancer and breast cancer in women, it’s the second most lethal.

The problem is that patients are often confused about which test is the right one. Is it simply a stool test? Flexible sigmoidoscopy? Colonoscopy? Virtual colonoscopy? Isn’t there just a blood test that can be done? (No.)

In simple terms, this is what you need to know:

All men and women age 50 and older should be screened for colon cancer. Even if you feel healthy and well and have no family history, it must be done. Note that Oprah’s doctor, Dr. Oz, arguably a very health-conscious individual learned that he had a colon polyp at age 50 after a screening test. Left undetected, it could have cut his life short. This wake-up call caused him to abort his original second season premier on weight loss and instead show the country why colon cancer screening matters. He admitted that if it wasn’t for the show and the need to demonstrate the importance of screening to America, he would have delayed having any test done.

The least invasive test is a stool test. If it is to screen for colon cancer, then the test is done at home and NOT in the doctor’s office. Either the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) are available to screen for unseen microscopic blood that could be a sign of a colon polyp or cancer. Research shows that when a stool test is done annually, the risk of dying from colon cancer can fall by 15 to 33 percent. If you don’t want any fiber optic cameras in your rectum and lower colon, this is the test for you. You must do it annually.

The next two tests are similar but often confused: The flexible sigmoidoscopy and the colonoscopy. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

Does “I Know CPR” Mean You Can Do CPR?

While I was browsing the produce section of my grocery store the other day, the sound of a panicked voice coming over the store’s loudspeaker made me jump. “Does anyone in the store know CPR? Anyone? CPR? We need you in baked goods!”

I froze. In theory, I know how to perform CPR — cardiopulmonary resuscitation. I took a two-hour course on it nearly 25 years ago. But I hadn’t given it much thought since then and I certainly hadn’t practiced what I learned.

My mind started whirling as I tried to remember the sequence of steps. They’d changed the rules a few years back — I knew that much — so I wouldn’t have to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But where exactly on the chest was I supposed to push? Should I form a fist and push down with my knuckles, or use the ball of my hand?

Suddenly, sirens wailed outside the store. The rescue squad had arrived. Too late, as I learned afterward, for this man, who was a victim of a sudden cardiac arrest. This type of heart attack strikes so fast that there usually aren’t any warning signs. You might see someone grasp his or her chest, collapse, twitch and gasp a few times, and then lie deathly still.

At that point, every minute counts. Enough oxygen remains in the person’s bloodstream to nourish the brain for several minutes — but a bystander has to circulate oxygenated blood to the brain and other organs by pushing down on the chest hard and fast, mimicking the heartbeat.

I’m a health writer. I knew this intellectually. But until those agonizing moments in the grocery store, I never really understood on a gut level just how important every minute is. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

5 Avoidable Air Travel Health Risks

For those of you planning air travel to your next medical conference (and ACP Internist isn’t too shameless to plug Internal Medicine 2011 — we hope to see you there), TIME reports that there are five health risks that are rare yet have recently happened. Tips on avoiding these maladies include:

E. Coli and MRSA on the tray table. Microbiologists found these two everywhere when they swabbed down flights. Bring your own disinfecting wipes.

Bedbugs in the seat. British Airways fumigated two planes after a passenger posted pictures online about her experience. Wrap clothes in plastic and wash them.

Sick seatmates. Everyone has experienced (or been) this person. Wash your hands.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Tennis star Serena Williams experienced a pulmonary embolism, possibly related to recent foot surgery. But DVT can happen to anyone restrained to a cramped position for long periods of time. Move around in-flight (but not during the beverage service, of course.)

Dehydration. Dry cabin air may make it more difficult to fight off infections. Drink more water.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Preventing Hospital-Acquired Infections: Patients Must Be “Safety Partners”

This is a guest post by Dr. Julia Hallisy.

Serious infections are becoming more prevalent and more virulent both in our hospitals and in our communities. The numbers are staggering: 1.7 million people will suffer from a hospital-acquired infections each year and almost 100,000 will die as a result.

When our late daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with an aggressive eye cancer in 1989 at five months of age, our life became consumed by doctor visits, MRI scans, radiation treatments, chemotherapy — and fear. My husband and I assumed that our fight was against the ravages of cancer, but almost eight years later we faced another life-threatening challenge we never counted on — a hospital-acquired infection. In 1997, Kate was infected with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the operating room during a “routine” 30-minute biopsy procedure to confirm the reoccurrence of her cancer.

Kate’s hospital-acquired infection led to seven weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit on life support, the amputation of her right leg, kidney damage, and the loss of 70 percent of her lung capacity. While most infections are not this serious, the ones that are often lead to permanent loss of function and lifelong disabilities. In the years since Kate’s infection, resistant strains of the bacteria have emerged and now pose even more of a threat since they can be impossible to treat with our existing arsenal of antibiotics.

Patients afflicted with MRSA will often have to contend with the threat of recurrent infections for the rest of their lives. These patients live in constant fear of re-infection and often struggle with feelings of vulnerability and helplessness. Family members, friends, and co-workers may not fully understand the facts and have nowhere to turn for education about risks and prevention. Loved ones may worry unnecessarily for their own safety, which can cause them to distance themselves from someone who desperately needs their presence and support.

We have the knowledge and the ability to prevent a great number of these frightening infections, but the busy and fragmented system in which healthcare is delivered doesn’t encourage adequate infection control measures, and patients continue to be at risk. A significant part of the problem is that the public doesn’t receive timely and accurate information about the detection and prevention of MRSA and other dangerous organisms, and they aren’t engaged as “safety partners” in the quest to eliminate infections. Read more »

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

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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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