Archive for the ‘mental health issues’ Category

Heart attacks Part 2: Prevention: risk factors & our kids

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Here's a risk factor you can eliminate

This post pings off the April 17, 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal, "The Guide to Beating a Heart Attack." I initially wrote about surviving a heart attack (myocardial infarction {MI} is the medical term). Next I wanted to turn toward the prevention side.

I first found the Interheart study's article from 2004, "Nine modifiable risk factors predict 90% of acute MI." The study followed 29,000 people from 262 sites in 52 countries and concluded that the common belief that half of heart attacks can be predicted was clearly an underestimate.

The research group found the same impact of the nine variables everywhere in the world: abnormal blood lipids (fats, like cholesterol) and smoking were at the top of their list. Then came diabetes, high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, stress & depression, exercise, diet and alcohol intake.

I was used to measuring cholesterol and its HDL (so-called good cholesterol)  and LDL (bad cholesterol) components. This study actually used a more sophisticated lipid approach.

They measured the ratios of  the proteins that bind to and carry fats, apolipoproteins A and B. APOA is associated with HDL lipids while APOB is said to unlock the door to cells and in doing so acts as an unwelcome delivery van for cholesterol. When present in high levels, APOB can lead to plaque formation in blood vessels and an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

They also found some good news: as expected, eating fruits and vegetables daily, exercising and perhaps moderate alcohol intake were associated with lower risks of CHD. Again this was true everywhere in the world.

The WSJ article mentioned that hospital admissions for heart attacks had actually decreased among the elderly; these nine factors were better predictors in younger groups. What can be done to stop the looming specter of CHD among our younger population?

The CDC examined the parameters in a recent online article titled "A Growing Problem." One issue was "screen time." Our kids eight to eighteen average four an a half hours a day watching TV and three more on cell phones, movies, computers and video games. I even read an article about a two-year-old whose parents think learns a lot from their iPad. Maybe so, but how much exercise does that kid (and his older compatriots) get?

The CDC feels there is a dearth of quality physical activity in our schools; as of 2009 only a third of them provided daily PE for our kids. And after they leave school or when they're on vacation, many don't have safe access to biking, hiking, running, playing areas and trails.

Somerville chose healthier food in their schools

One Massachusetts community, Somerville, has gotten attention for their anti-obesity integrated program, "Shape Up Sommerville"  (You can watch the thirteen minute PBS special on their community-wide progress). The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is attempting to help similar programs get started across the country, especially focusing on childhood obesity.

Recently I heard a NPR comment that caught my attention. If we don't do something to stop the epidemic of childhood obesity, we'll soon be seeing CHD rates soar in people in their 20s and 30s and maybe even younger.

A French researcher said, "Mankind is doing a good job of killing himself."

We need to try new approaches to help our kids. The Somerville plan sound like a good place to start.




Chocolate: a new medicine? Part One

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Dark chocolate, in small amounts, is good for youI was reading The Wall Street Journal this morning and came across an article titled "A Chocolate a Day to Get Slimmer?" I'm not a major chocolate eater, but had heard something on NPR about this study yesterday, so ate eight small pieces of dark chocolate at a board meeting last evening. Then, when I weighed myself before breakfast today, I realized I was down 2.8 pounds.

Should I continue this increased chocolate consumption or was that, as I of course knew, just "water weight" I'd lost? The previous night I'd eaten a prolonged meal with friends at our favorite Thai restaurant and the next morning had gained over three pounds.

Let me digress a bit. Whenever I mention water weight I'm really referring to fluid that the body keeps because of dietary salt excess. I normally don't use table salt, as I have a family history of high blood pressure and was aware that most of us, eating a typical American diet, were ingesting far too much sodium, the crucial element in table salt. When I eat out I expect my weight to bounce up a few pounds and don't worry about that short-term increase. The salt in the food causes me to retain fluid and therefore to gain weight temporarily. Many diet plans that advertise losing five or more pounds in the first week are really helping people get rid of water weight.

Okay, back to chocolate. The article I mentioned is important, but the message it's carrying is nothing new. In 1973 I saw Woody Allen's movie, "Sleeper" in which he plays a nerdish store owner who is revived out of cryostasis (a form of preservation using ultra-cold temperatures) after 200 years. In that future world science has shown chocolate to be good for you.

Two prominent food gurus, Andrew Weil and Den Ornish, mention health benefits of chocolate. I found Dr. Ornish's 2007 Newsweek article,"Chocolate to Live For," in which he mentions a host of medical studies showing dark chocolate, which has higher amounts of beneficial chemicals called flavinoids, may lower blood pressure and and improve blood flow to your brain and heart. White chocolate and milk chocolate have very small amounts of flavinoids and bitter dark chocolate has the most.

Eat a small bite of dark chocolate and meditate

The phrase "moderation in all things" dates back more than two thousand years to a Roman "comic dramatist." It certainly applies here. None of the articles I read were about eating a lot of extra calories in the form of chocolate. Dr. Ornish's approach made sense to me; he very slowly eats a bite of dark chocolate, meditates while doing so by focusing on the experience with all of his senses, and regards the very first bite as being the most pleasurable.

What a great way to eat something he regards as a special treat as well as a health food.

I've never tried that with chocolate, but having read his magazine piece, I'll try that approach.

I'll continue with more medical background on chocolate in my next post, but to whet your appetite will give you a link to today's article in WSJ.

Happy chocolating.




End of Life Care

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Hospice care nurses can make you smile

We've had a relative and a friend who each had Hospice care, one in another state and one locally. Both their spouses thought that Hospice was wonderful and wondered why they had to wait so long before their loved one was eligible for it. So when the Annals of Internal Medicine for February arrived, I decided to read an article titled "End-of-Life Care Discussions Among Patients with Advanced Cancer" and the section called "In the Clinic" which this month was on Palliative Care.

I knew that Hospice is for patents in their last six months of life. More than three quarters of them have at least one of four diagnoses: congestive heart failure, kidney failure, dementia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema). They have no life-saving avenues left and are normally not in a hospital setting. Some prefer to die at home and some are in long-term care facilities. We have a local organization, Pathways Hospice which supplies care for patents in several Northern Colorado communities; they offer on-call nursing care 24/7, spiritual care, appropriate medical equipment and counseling services. Their care is overseen by physicians trained in Palliative Medicine.

I thought the two overlapped, but didn't know as much as I wanted to much about Palliative Care itself. It's now a subspecialty recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties and its physicians usually work with a team that may include social workers, chaplains, physical therapists and pharmacists. The patents they care for have severe illness and are usually in a hospital setting, although some may be seen in outpatient clinics.

There are no treatment limitations for this group of patients, but for some the article said, "You would not be surprised if the patent died within 12 months." Other have had recurrent hospital admissions or complex care needs. They may have limited family support or chronic mental illness.

Management of their symptoms: pain, shortness of breath, nausea, agitation and distress, delirium and "failure to thrive" are crucial avenues for the Palliative Care team to address. Those teams have quadrupled in the last ten years.

The link I supplied led me to a directory of hospitals which offer Palliative Care teams. Physicians trained in Palliative Medicine supervise both those teams and Hospice activities.

But it's best to have that talk while you're still able to.

The problem I noted reading the Annals articles was that many patents don't ask their docs about EOL care and, somewhat surprisingly, many physicians don't have any discussion with their patients about this crucial area until the very last moment, if that. Frequently people in the final month of their lives finally have that EOL talk; often they're an inpatient by then and being cared for by someone other than their long-term physician.

My wife and I have discussed what we do and don't want, but I think it's time for me to let my primary care physician know what I've decided. At present I'm basically healthy, but I'm also about to turn seventy-one and you never know.



It goes far beyond football, boxing and hockey

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

The brain is vulnerable to trauma

I feel like I've opened the proverbial can of worms, finding, in this case, a topic that keeps expanding. I started with reading an article in The New York Times about the death of a professional hockey player, but I quickly delved into the medical literature.

I've spent much of the day reading article after article on traumatic brain injury  (TBI), which can be mild or severe, and another entity called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, one that's frequently been in the news over the last two years. Let's start with TBI. I'll be writing about teens and younger kids. I'll deal with CTE in another post focused on adults.

A Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  report in the most recent edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed nonfatal TBI related to either sports or recreational activities in kids age 19  or younger. The numbers involved were staggering, nearly 175,000 per year being seen in Emergency Departments (EDs).

A large majority of those sports and recreation-related TBI ED visits were by boys and the annual total of those ED trips increased markedly during that nine-year time frame. They were injured biking, playing football, soccer, basketball or while engaging in miscellaneous playground activities. They went to the ED in smaller numbers for injuries suffered in many other activities, including horseback riding, ice skating, ATV riding, tobogganing and even golfing (here the injuries included those related to golf carts). Surprisingly, skateboarding accounted for only a fourth of the ED visits for biking and football accidents and TBI was less frequently seen.

A helmet is a good start

As my wife and I drive around town, we often see college students riding their bikes at night while helmet-less and light-less. I fear for their brains.

There's another, less well-accepted entity, so-called "Second Impact Syndrome." I read an article about this in a February 2009 article by two authors on the faculty of the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. In this scenario athletes who've had a TBI then have a second brain injury when they go back to playing their sport far too quickly. The initial injury may have been relatively mild; the recurrent trauma may kill them in a matter of minutes.

Another review of this  syndrome said 94 catastrophic head injuries had been reported in American high school and college football players in a 13-year time frame, 92 in high schoolers.  Seven of ten had a prior concussion in the same football season; over a third played with continuing symptoms.

This speaks to the crucial question of when an athlete (or a bike or horseback rider) who has suffered TBI should return to their sport/activity. Last night I called a younger friend who had been bucked off his spooked mare and suffered a concussion eight days ago. He was still having headaches and agreed with me that it was far too soon to get back on his horse.

A new CDC program called Heads Up offers TBI guidelines for coaches, parents and physicians.




So is it your thyroid after all?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Is this woman depressed, hypothyroid or both?

On November 21, 2011, The New York Times had an article entitled “For Some, Psychiatric Trouble May Start in Thyroid." As a mental health therapist who is hypothyroid, my wife has a particular interest in this subject and pointed out the article for me.

The premise, put forth by Dr. Russell Joffe, a New York psychiatrist, and a group of his professional peers, is that subclinical hypothyroidism may play a significant role in depression. A Brown University professor of psychiatry and human behavior also commented on this connection asking, “Is there an underlying thyroid problem that causes psychiatric symptoms, or is it the other way around?

From the endocrinology side, Dr. James Hennessey, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medcsl Center in Boston, noted "Psychiatric symptoms can be vague, subtle and high individual."

A study, published five years ago by Chinese researchers, gave six months worth of  thyroid hormone replacement therapy (see links below for the NIH's info sheet on this medication, levothryroxine and other info from, to patients with subclinical hypothyroidism and found improvements in brain scans, memory and executive functions.

sketch of the thyroid gland

So how is this condition diagnosed? and what does your thyroid do anyway? Most of us are familiar with this two-lobed, twenty to sixty gram,two-inch structure, located in the front of our necks and wrapped around our windpipe. It's a hormone producing gland with two products, thyroxine or T4 and its active hormone, triiodothyronnine or T3. I've always thought of its function as a major regulator of metabolism, but in reality that's only one of its duties: it does control how speedily we use energy, but also has a role in how we make proteins, how we react to other hormones and how our bodies handle calcium.

I've spent much of today reading about the thyroid; some things I knew; some I hadn't reviewed since med school basic science classes (1962-1964) and other were brand-new to me. Fetal development of the gland is stimulated by two other hormones released by the hypothalamus and pituitary and those are at high enough levels to cause the fetus to make T4 in clinically significant amounts by 18-20 weeks of gestation. The active hormone, T3, stays at low levels for another 10 gestational weeks, then increases until term.

The net result, it is felt, is protection of fetal development, especially of the brain, in the event the fetus's mother is herself in a hypothyroid state.

But back to adults and the link between thyroid status and mental health.  One of the crucial measurements of thyroid function is the level of TSH, thyroid stimulating hormone. Normal levels for this pituitary hormone are 0.4 to 5.0 in most labs in the United States; nearly nine years ago, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommended the doctors consider treating patients whose TSH levels are higher than 3.0. Other scientific groups agreed.

If a TSH level above 5.0 is abnormal, then ~5% of our adult population is hypothyroid. But if that level is reduced to 2.5 to 3.0, then ~20% of us are hypothyroid.

I wonder if a new field of medicine, halfway between the endo folk and the mental health practitioners, is on the horizon.

Issues with Psychiatric Drug use

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Are drugs always the answer?

An article in the Wall Street Journal for November 16th caught my eye. My wife is a mental health therapist (the non-prescribing variety) and I knew this one would interest her. The title was “Psychiatric Drug Use Spreads: Pharmacy Data Show a Big Rise in Antipsychotic and Adult ADHD Treatments.”

She wasn’t especially surprised to hear that one in five adults were taking at least one psychiatric drug.  But as opposed to anti-anxiety drug use, both of us were struck by the comment that drugs given (and perhaps overused) for kids with ADHD are also increasingly being given to adults.

I went to the Internet to find the data. There’s an enormous company called Medco that provides pharmacy services for greater than 65 million people. I had never heard of the firm, but it’s rated number 35 of the Fortune 500 and in 2009 reported revues just under $60 billion.

Their senior psychiatrist, a Dr. David Muzina, has a great CV, working in major roles at the Cleveland Clinic from 1999 to 2009. I did note his “Summary” claimed “17 year’s of Cleveland Clinic experience as a Staff Psychiatrist,” but he graduated from medical school in 1993, presumably finished his Psychiatry residency in 1997 and then ran an inpatient psych unit at Lutheran Hospital (location unspecified) for two years.

In any case Medco, where Dr. Muzina is a Vice President, in and presumably heading their Neuroscience Therapeutic Resource Center, published an extremely interesting report titled “America’s State of Mind.” (see link below). This summarizes research on the prescriptions of greater than two million people in this country from 2001 to 2010.

The trends are stunning.

Boys and girls, men and women are all now more likely to be taking a drug used for mental health problems. Fifteen percent of adult men are on one or more of these medications and, amazingly, twenty-six percent of adult women.

In reality the ADHD drug use in adults is still comparatively uncommon (less than 2%), but NPR recently reported a severe shortage of Ritalin. Newer drugs which treat ADHD will enter the generic market in 2012; that should save patients considerable amounts of money.

The real impact is in the antidepressant arena: twenty-one percent of women 20 and over take these meds and the percent rises with age. It’s 16% of women ages 20 to 44, 23 percent of those between 45 and 64 and 24% of women over 65 years old. For men in comparable age groups the percent are 8, 11 and 13.

Then there’s regional distribution: what I call the “Middle West” and my own Mountain region have the lowest percentage on mental health drugs while Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi have the highest.

So how many are actually taking their meds as prescribed? And how many are having serious side effects?

An issue raised in one of the publications is that of patients not taking prescribed dosages of their meds (if any), having increased symptoms and physicians therefore increasing their medication dosage.

Then if they do start taking the drug as prescribed....