Archive for the ‘JAMA’ Category

Hospital-induced delirium: part one: the basics

Friday, July 13th, 2012

When they return from surgery, will some be delirious?

About two months ago I visited a friend in the hospital. He’s a little over 80 years old, has several significant chronic medical problems and had recently undergone surgery. When I arrived in his room, he was in bed, didn’t recognize me and then sat up and started rowing. Obviously he was delirious and hallucinating.

I’ve seen him at home since and he’s back to baseline, but the topic of post-surgery delirium surfaced in the July 4, 2012 issue of JAMA, so I started reading on the subject

I found an article in a 2004 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP) that was a good start, but was clearly aimed at medical folk, especially those who would be prescribing medication for the mostly severely affected patients with delirium. The AJP piece said the first step is determining the cause…if possible. It mentioned that the word itself comes from the Latin word delirare, loosely translated as “to be out of one’s furrow.” My online dictionary defines delirium as an acute (as opposed to chronic) disturbed state of mind that occurs in fever, intoxication, and other disorders and is characterized by restlessness, illusions, and incoherence of thought and speech.

The most recent mental health Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-IV-TR, a much-used but somewhat controversial tome (I’ll write about the DSM in a later post), says delirium is a syndrome (a collection of symptoms and physical signs) of many different causes and that its major features are confusion and loss of short-term memory. It mentions one classic sign, not seen in all cases by any means, is carpologia, a term I’d never heard before, but a behavior I’ve seen many times; it means picking at the bed sheets in a purposeless, repetitive fashion. The patient may be agitated, have delusions and hallucinations, and may try to remove their IV lines or climb out of bed.

On the other hand, some people have a lethargic, hypoactive form of the syndrome; those may be even tougher to diagnose.

A Mayo Clinic website mentions one hallmark of delirium is a sudden or relatively sudden onset with symptoms that tend to wax and wane. Input from family members as to the patient’s pre-illness/surgery mental status may be very helpful in sorting out those who had pre-existing dementia from those who didn’t, as the two conditions not infrequently co-exist.

too much alcohol can lead to delirium

It’s not just surgical patients, of course; when I was in practice the term internists used was “ICU-itis, and medical patients, especially the elderly who were in Intensive Care for a prolonged period, were the ones we had to deal with most commonly. So a better term might be hospital-induced delirium. But some delirious patients have ingested substances causing the condition (PCP would be one example and alcohol withdrawal another), have heavy metal poisoning, medication-caused delirium, infections involving the central nervous system or metabolic disorders.

It’s common, but much more so in older patients and a 2010 meta-analysis of forty-two high-quality studies concluded that delirium in this group is associated with poor outcomes, regardless of age, gender, preceding dementia, and other illnesses.

I’ll come back to this frequent and often ominous issue in my next post. As our population ages, we’ll likely see more of this condition. Planning in advance for hospital stays may help prevent some episodes of delirium.



Adulthood: when your BMI is more important than your IBM (stock)

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

I do this at home, without clothes

In my last post I wrote about our upcoming generations and their obesity issues. Unfortunately, as you might have easily been able to predict, that carries over into adulthood. The same issue  (Feb 1, 2012)  of the Journal of the American Medical Association (usually called JAMA) had several articles on adults also. To begin with the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) looked at the body mass index (BMI) of men and women from 1999 through 2010.

“AARRGGHH” you say, “Why the hell should I care about whatever BMI is enough to try to understand it?”

Well, that’s a tough question, I admit. But BMI is the standard way of deciding if a person is too thin, normal, overweight or obese. So let’s give it a try.

Your BMI is a number calculated using your height and weight.  If you weight 250 pounds and you’re a seven-foot tall basketball professional center player, you’re unlikely to be obese. But if you’re five foot, six inches tall, and don’t exercise at all, like the adolescent I was reading about recently, you’re far too heavy. In the first case, the athlete has a lot of muscle, whereas the youngster is almost certain to be carrying around a lot of excess fat.

For a long time physicians just weighed their patients. That plus eyeballing their bodies in an exam room works for most people. Then along came the BMI as one way of getting a little more scientific. I looked online for the history of the use of body mass index as I suspected it was “invented” by a European (it was). It certainly seems to me to favor the metric system. There it’s easy to figure out your BMI; you divide your weight in kilos by your height in meters. It’s much more complicated using pounds and inches (BMI = weight in pounds divided by height in inches squared and that number is multiplied by 703) The CDC explanation of BMI is helpful and also supplies a “widget” you can download and a calculator if you just want to bookmark the website.

height counts, for adults too

So now you’ve (hopefully) figured out your own BMI; What does it mean and how reliable is it?

First the numbers: most people with a BMI under 18.5 are skinny, underweight. That probably excludes a whole passle of long-distance runners. Most people with a BMI over 18.5 and under 25 are in the “normal” weight category. I used the CDC calculator and my number is 20.5. Most whose magic number is 25+ and less than 30 are overweight and almost anyone whose BMI is over 30 is obese. The teenager I mentioned above has a BMI of 40.

Okay, you say. Now what do I need to do once I know what category I’m in.

I’d start with the eyeball test. Do you have a roll around the middle? In early 2009, weighing only three pounds more than I had for twenty years, I clearly did. I made up my mind to do something about that excess flab, knowing that fat in the belly also implies arteries that are narrowing down.

After losing thirty pounds and keeping it off, I bounced up after the Superbowl and went back on my diet, i.e., consuming fewer calories. I went to a meeting last evening; there were lots of goodies, but I ate only carrots and cucumbers. This morning I’m at 148.2 pounds, smack dab in the middle of the three-pound “ideal weight” range I decided on.

Harvard Medical School just published a piece titled “Choosing the diet that will work for you.” The central theme is cutting calories.

The very high-priced spread

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

This obese teenager could be headed for trouble

I’ve been concerned about our burgeoning problem of excessive weight, so when the Journal of the American Medical Association for February 1, 2012 arrived, I was intrigued by the variety of articles touching on the subject. Let me start with a disclaimer: I have no clear-cut special competence, no magic bullet for preventing or treating obesity in our children. I do think it’s a major threat to the upcoming generations here and elsewhere in the world. I am also very aware that its opposite numbers, hunger and even starvation, threaten whole populations around the globe.

But my own background, both as a physician and as someone who has successfully fought weight issues (I weighed 218 in 1969 and 148 this morning), has made me concentrate on the American epidemic of eating to excess as a major area of my interest.

The first article dealt with kids and adolescents. A group of CDC researchers reported an update on obesity in American kids, giving data from 199 to 2010. The newest statistics show nearly ten percent of our infants and toddlers are obese and close to 17% of our kids ages two to nineteen. As the kids got older, more boys than girls were obese in this survey with over 4,000 participants.

Then there was an article titled “Weight Loss Stratagies for Adolescents,” based on a Boston Children’s Hospital Conference roughly a year ago. The MD, PhD Harvard Professor of pediatrics who discussed the issue began with the case history of a particular obese girl, a fourteen-year-old who was five foot six and weighed nearly 250 pounds (giving her a body mass index,BMI, of 40). Her adoptive parents were overweight themselves, but had to learn to “back off” in their attempts to control her diet. There is some early data that suggests that parents can help by providing health food choices in the home and facilitating enjoyable physical activity throughout the day (versus a fixed “exercise time).

I had seen an example of that with some former neighbors whose boys, in order to have their one hour of “screen time,” had to be outside playing for several hours at a time. Both youngsters were lean.

One critical point to be made is avoiding focusing on obese kids only. A large Danish study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December, 2007,  followed over a quarter million children born in the 1930 to 1976 time period. Denmark established a national civil register of “vital statistics” in 1968 and enrolled everyone in the country, giving them a unique number, ironically termed their CPR number. Although that had nothing to do, I gather, with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which is what I think CPR means, the study did look at risk factors for coronary heart disease.

When your heart's on fire, it may not be from love

The results are impressive and threatening: every one point increase in BMI across the spectrum was associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. A child didn’t have to be fat to be at risk later on. One calculation estimated that a 13-year-old boy weighing 25 pounds more than the average had a one-third increase in the likelihood of having a heart attack before the age of sixty.

It’s time to start helping our kids live leaner and longer, healthier lives.