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Modern Snake Oil: Physician Touts Baseless Cures For Rheumatoid Arthritis

There’s an old saying in medicine: “Use the new medicine while it still works.” This is more than just a cute quip. The saying encompasses a few different phenomena. When a drug is tested on a few thousand people, the luck of the draw may show a greater effect than would be seen in a larger, more diverse population. Also, less common side effects will become more evident in a larger sample. Once several million people take the drug, it may turn out that the drug isn’t as spectacular in a large, diverse population, and that certain side effects, though rare, are serious.

This is one of the reasons I’m a very conservative and skeptical physician. Today’s miracle drug may be tomorrow’s Vioxx. Less conservative doctors may make much more enthusiastic recommendations. I found one physician promoting pomegranate juice for rheumatoid arthritis (or at least linking to the article on Joe Mercola’s site without comment). It sounds harmless enough, but what’s the evidence? (You can hunt for the page yourself; I’m not linking to Mercola.)

The statement is based on a pilot study out of Israel consisting of data from six patients. The measures used seem quirky, but are irrelevant anyway. There are no conclusions that can be drawn from such a small sample. Despite this, the authors conclude (and Mercola and the doctor who posted the link presumably endorse) that, “Dietary supplementation with pomegranates may be a useful complementary strategy to attenuate clinical symptoms in RA patients.”

Really? Based on what? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Living With Severe Chronic Pain

Living Beyond Pain

Prepared Patient - When Pain Doesn't End - photo from fotolia.comFor people with severe chronic pain like Kelly Young and Teresa Shaffer—both of whom have become patient advocates—coping with agony is a fact of life.  Young suffers from rheumatoid arthritis while Shaffer’s pain is linked primarily to another degenerative bone disease.

Chronic pain is one of the most difficult—and common—medical conditions.  Estimated to affect 76 million Americans—more than diabetes, cancer and heart disease combined—it accompanies illnesses and injuries ranging from cancer to various forms of arthritis, multiple sclerosis and physical trauma.

Pain is defined as chronic when it persists after an injury or illness has otherwise healed, or when it lasts three months or longer. The experience of pain can vary dramatically, depending in part on whether it is affecting bones, muscles, nerves, joints or skin. Untreated pain can itself become a disease when the brain wrongly signals agony when there is no new injury or discernable other cause. Fibromyalgia—a disease in which pain in joints, muscles and other soft tissues is the primary symptom—is believed to be linked to incorrect signaling in the brain’s pain regions.

Finding a Doctor

The first step to deal with chronic pain is Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

A Doctor’s Letter To Patients With Chronic Disease

Dear Patients:

You have it very hard — much harder than most people understand. Having sat for 16 years listening to the stories, seeing the tiredness in your eyes, hearing you try to describe the indescribable, I have come to understand that I, too, can’t understand what your lives are like. How do you answer the question, “How do you feel?” when you’ve forgotten what “normal” feels like? How do you deal with all of the people who think you are exaggerating your pain, your emotions, your fatigue? How do you decide when to believe them or when to trust your own body? How do you cope with living a life that won’t let you forget about your frailty, your limits, your mortality?

I can’t imagine.

But I do bring something to the table that you may not know. I do have information that you can’t really understand because of your unique perspective, your battered world. There is something that you need to understand that, while it won’t undo your pain, make your fatigue go away, or lift your emotions, it will help you. It’s information without which you bring yourself more pain than you need suffer. It’s a truth that is a key to getting the help you need much easier than you have in the past. It may not seem important, but trust me — it is. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

Examine A Hand, Foreshadow A Future

Back to the subject at hand.

To those who are relatively new to this blog, one of the most popular…uh…tolerated series of posts has been my series on the physical exam. If you haven’t done so already, you may want to go back and read the posts to get in the proper mindset (or destroy enough brain cells).

Astute readers will note that doctors are not the only professionals to examine the hand.

Long before we knew anything about carpal tunnel syndrome or the thenar eminence, we had Madam Linda and her cohorts looking at the hand for signs of what the future will bring for the individual that happens to be connected to the hand in question. Just as stars and planets can have a peculiar interest as to whether a person will run into money, the lines on a person’s hand can foreshadow a person’s future. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

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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