4 key questions, 7 steps to health

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The noted heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard once said that our goal in life should be “to die young, as late as possible.”

These words of wisdom suggest that we need to tend to those things that keep us young functionally, mind, body and spirit. As we ascend in age, our goal should be to postpone as long as we can the depredations of unhealthy aging, premature disease and loss of function.

At a recent national conference for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, a nationwide organization including an OLLI here in Galveston that is dedicated to promoting healthy aging, I heard a terrific and highly practical presentation.

The keynote speaker was a friend of mine, Dr. Margaret Chesney, head of the University of California in San Francisco’s Osher Integrative Medicine Center and also former head of the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Dr. Chesney shared data that showed the answer to four simple questions can largely determine how healthy your lifestyle is.

The four questions were:
1. Are you a nonsmoker?
2. Is your Body Mass Index (BMI) less than 30?
3. Do you engage in mild or moderate physical activity at least 21⁄2 hours per week?
4. Do you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily?
Continue reading

Women: Care for your heart, know your risks

Dr. Rafic Berbarie

Dr. Rafic Berbarie

“I’m worried about my risk of having a heart attack.”

Whenever I start my office notes in seeing patients, the first line I fill out is the patient’s chief complaint. The above statement is a common complaint in my general cardiology practice. But often the patients have no symptoms; rather, a friend or loved one just had a heart attack and so they are worried and want a heart “checkup.”

February is heart disease awareness in women month, and as a physician, I want you to know what can be done to help prevent heart attacks.

While awareness is growing, people are often shocked to hear that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. In fact, if you added up how many women died of cancer, the number still would not equal the number of women dying from heart disease.

And while there are established screening guidelines for several cancers, there are no unifying screening guidelines for heart disease in women.

My first recommendation is to have a good primary care doctor who is reviewing your risk factors for heart disease. Continue reading

A top 10 list to die for

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

How are you going to die?

The Centers for Disease Control would answer that life expectancy depends greatly on where someone lives. Life expectancy in the United States ranks 40th in the world with 77.97 years. That addresses when someone might die but what about how? Most likely, it will be from one of these top 10 causes, based on how many Americans they kill each year.

10) Suicide – 38,285. Many factors are now known to influence suicide: mental illnesses, genetics, certain pharmaceuticals, traumatic brain injuries, drug and alcohol abuse and chemical or hormonal imbalances. To decrease these rates, education about the signs preceding suicide and accessible treatment is necessary.

9) Kidney Disorders – 45,731. Although dialysis can help people survive a little longer without a kidney, it is no cure. Kidney damage can occur from infection, high blood pressure, or toxic reactions to drugs, leading to chronic kidney disease that affects more than 26 million Americans. Continue reading

For some men, it’s “T” time – test or no test. Dr. Baillargeon explains.

Prescriptions for testosterone therapy have increased significantly during the last 10 years, according to a study in the current issue of JAMA Internal Medicine conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

About 50 percent of the men in the study who had received testosterone therapy had been diagnosed as having hypogonadism, a condition where a man is unable to produce the normal levels of testosterone.

But the study also found that, among new users of a prescription androgen product, about 25 percent did not have their testosterone levels tested before starting the treatment.  In addition, it’s unclear what proportion of the 75 percent who were tested had a low level of testosterone.

Dr. Jacques Baillargeon, lead author of the study and an associate professor in preventive medicine and community health at UTMB, said that he believes this is the first national population-based study of testosterone-prescribing patterns.  

(See video of Dr. Baillargeon explaining main findings of the study) Continue reading

Women’s hearts, women’s health

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

In case you missed it, February was Women’s Heart Health Month, perfectly fitting with Valentine’s Day in the middle of the month. It isn’t too late to wear a red dress to support awareness of heart disease in women.

The pink ribbon of breast cancer awareness is easily recognized and well known, but the red dress of heart disease is not. Yet, roughly 10 times more women die from heart disease annually as do from breast cancer. Since the mid 1980s, more women have been dying annually of heart disease than men.

Part of the problem here is focus and part is history. Breast cancer is enormously emotional, frightening, and potentially disfiguring. The good news is that it is more and more curable with good screening, early detection, treatment and follow-up. Also, many of the same lifestyle choices to reduce breast cancer risk also reduce heart disease risk.

An important issue is that heart disease symptoms in women are often subtle and less obvious than in men. The common triad of chest pain brought on by exercise and relieved by rest, which is a common, presenting sign of heart problems is not always so clear-cut in women. Because women’s heart disease tends to occur in smaller vessels and is more diffuse symptoms can present more generically. These include fatigue, shortness of breath, indigestion, nausea, faintness, upper back, neck or shoulder pain.

Let me give you the example of Lila, a lovely woman in my practice now in her mid 60s, who is now on the transplant list for a new heart. She seemed to be at low risk for heart disease. She was a nonsmoker, thin, active, with well-controlled blood pressure, blood sugars and cholesterol. She had also breast-fed her several children lowering her risk of breast cancer. Continue reading

Socialization is good for your heart’s health

Drs. Ken Fujise and Naveed Adoni

Drs. Ken Fujise and Naveed Adoni

This past Valentine’s Day, we hope you thanked your loved ones for the company and good cheer they provide. A lonely heart can result in a sick heart, as multiple studies have shown.

There is strong evidence that loneliness and social isolation are associated with adverse heart health. Loneliness and social isolation are comparable to smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and lack of physical activity as risk factors for chronic heart disease and heart disease mortality.

Among otherwise healthy individuals, those with fewer social interactions and smaller social networks have been shown to have increased risk of cardiovascular events and cardiovascular mortality. Cardiovascular events include heart attacks which usually manifest with chest pain, but it is very important to note that heart attacks in women can present differently with symptoms other than chest pain, including shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, extreme fatigue or pain or pressure in the upper back, lower chest or upper abdomen. Continue reading

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month

by Dr. George Carayannopoulos, director of the UTMB Heart Rhythm Center.

It was a typical morning for Adrienne and Dan. They woke up and turned to each other to welcome the day with a kiss and an “I love you.”

He went to get the newspaper, and she went into the kitchen to prepare coffee. He was at the breakfast table and told her that the forecast was for another sunny day. Adrienne was still in the kitchen but could hear him. She started talking to him about her plans for the day.

When she came out of the kitchen to bring the coffee to the table, Dan was slumped over in his chair, dead.

Dan had sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is defined medically as death or cardiac arrest occurring within one hour of the onset of symptoms, which could include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting or racing heart beats. Studies have shown, however, that the majority of people who have sudden cardiac arrest collapse or die without any symptoms. 

October was Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month. Many lives have been lost to SCA, and the story of Adrienne and Dan is not uncommon. The pain of losing a friend or loved one suddenly without warning is devastating. However, with continued medical research, increased awareness campaigns, and greater community access to state-of-the-art medical centers like UTMB, the problem of sudden cardiac arrest can be solved. Read the full story