Good news for heart patients
New technology for the first time is making it possible for heart patients to undergo an often-important screening, and cardiologists at Saint Louis University Hospital and other SSM Health hospitals in St. Louis are among the first to put it to use.
SSM Health doctors are using the first implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for use with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The electronic device is implanted below the collarbone to help regulate potentially life-threatening heart problems. It can deliver a “shock” to initiate a proper heart rhythm for someone experiencing cardiac arrest.
Many patients with ICDs at some point need an MRI scan, but until now, scans were too risky for those with ICDs because of potential dangerous interactions between the MRI and the ICD function.
“Through this device, patients can safely have access to an MRI, which for older adults with multiple health issues is often common,” said Ali Mehdirad, M.D., a SLUCare physician. “Previously, patients with ICDs would simply be unable to receive important screenings they needed for other medical issues. Now, we can help far more people.”
The FDA approved the new ICD system from Medtronic in September, and SLU Hospital doctors performed their first implant on Oct. 7.
Addicted to shopping
A recent study shed new light on several aspects of shopping addiction.
Cecilie Andreassen, a clinical psychologist specialist and visiting scholar at Yale University School of Medicine, headed a research project that revealed some clear tendencies exhibited by people who become dependent on shopping.
“Addictive shopping clearly occurs more regularly amongst certain demographic groups. It is more predominant in women and is typically initiated in late adolescence and emerging adulthood, and it appears to decrease with age,” Andreassen said. “We have also found that shopping addiction is related to symptoms of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, and shopping may function as an escape mechanism for, or coping with unpleasant feelings – although shopping addiction may also lead to such symptoms.”
The study found that symptoms of the disorder are closely related to symptoms of drug and alcohol addictions.
Researchers developed a scale using seven criteria to identify shopping addiction:
• You think about shopping/buying things all the time.
• You shop/buy things in order to change your mood.
• You shop/buy so much that it negatively affects your daily obligations (e.g., school and work).
• You feel you have to shop/buy more and more to obtain the same satisfaction as before.
• You have decided to shop/buy less but have not been able to do so.
• You feel bad if you for some reason are prevented from shopping/buying things.
• You shop/buy so much that it has impaired your well-being.
Each of the above criteria are scored on the following scale: (0) completely disagree, (1) disagree, (2) neither disagree nor agree, (3) agree, and (4) completely agree. Scoring “agree” or “completely agree” on at least four of the seven criteria may suggest an individual is a shopping addict.
Sniffing out Parkinson’s disease
A British woman with an incredibly keen sense of smell has led researchers to believe they soon may be able to detect Parkinson’s disease by swabbing a person’s skin – even before the person begins exhibiting symptoms.
Joy Milne said she began noticing an occasional subtle, musky scent on her husband six years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Later, she commented to doctors that she noticed the same distinct odor on other people with the disease, so researchers at Edinburgh University designed an experiment to put her claim to the test.
Milne was asked to sniff T-shirts that had been worn by 12 individuals and identify those belonging to people with Parkinson’s. Initially, they believed she was correct on 11 of her 12 identifications, but they later learned she was correct 100 percent of the time. One of the T-shirts she insisted had been worn by someone with Parkinson’s was worn by a man who was not diagnosed with the disease until eight months after the experiment.
Researchers are attributing Milne’s ability to skin changes in those with early Parkinson’s and hope to develop a simple swab test to screen for the disease.
Coffee and the clock
A jolt of caffeine a few hours before turning in for the night will turn back the body’s clock about one hour, according to new research.
University of Colorado scientists studied the effects of caffeine on five people who lived for 49 days in a lab with no clock and no knowledge of outdoor light to indicate the time of day.
Some participants were given the equivalent of a double espresso and others were given a placebo three hours before going to sleep. Researchers checked levels of the hormone melatonin for all participants because a rise in melatonin causes sleepiness.
Melatonin levels rose about 40 minutes later in participants who drank the espressos than in those who were given placebos.
Researcher Dr. John O’Neill said while the effect of coffee on sleep was established a long time ago, until now, caffeine’s impact on the body clock was a mystery.
“Our findings also provide a more complete explanation for why it’s harder for some people to sleep if they’ve had a coffee in the evening – because their internal clockwork thinks that they’re an hour further west,” O’Neill said.
Washing away stress
Washing dishes typically is considered a chore, but according to a study published in the journal Mindfulness, it is a job that can increase calm and decrease stress.
Florida State University researcher Adam Hanley wanted to find out how life’s mundane activities could be used to promote a sense of mindfulness and, therefore, increase one’s overall sense of well-being.
Hanley and his colleagues designed a study involving about 50 students who were assigned the task of washing dishes. The students who were told to focus on the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water and the feel of the dishes reported a 27 percent decrease in nervousness and a 25 percent increase in mental inspiration. The other students – those in the control group – did not experience any benefits.
Researchers concluded that washing dishes can be used as an informal, contemplative practice that promotes a positive state of mindfulness.
A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine offers important tips for everyone who flies.
Noting there is no way for airlines to prepare for every medical contingency, William J. Brady, M.D., author of the article, said travelers need to think ahead and use good judgment.
“If you’re not feeling well, if you’re ill, if you’re just getting over an illness, if you’re just developing an illness, if you’ve been injured on the way to the airport or recently, if you’ve just had surgery, in situations like that you need to realize that you’re going up in an environment that can be compromising medically,” Brady said. “Be smart. If you just had surgery, you probably shouldn’t be flying unless you just have to be flying and have medical approval. If you are developing a high fever and a cough and you’re scheduled to fly somewhere, don’t do that. You’re putting yourself and potentially others near you at risk. Don’t get on an aircraft and have a bad event occur just because you’re in a rush to get somewhere.”
Checking the checkers
Turning to the Internet or a smartphone app to find out what might be causing medical symptoms is a common practice, but are symptom checking sites reliable?
To find out, a National Institutes of Health-funded research team analyzed the accuracy of 23 free, symptom checking programs found online, in the Apple app store and on Google Play. The programs were put to the test on 45 standardized patient symptom descriptions.
Here is how they fared:
• The programs listed the correct diagnosis as the first option 34 percent of the time.
• In more than half of cases (58 percent), the correct diagnosis was listed among the top 20 possible diagnoses.
• The symptom checkers gave helpful triage advice 57 percent of the time.
• Triage performance was most effective in emergency scenarios, with appropriate advice dispensed in 80 percent of cases.
• Overall, the checkers tended to err on the side of caution, often suggesting that users seek professional medical care when self-care measures would have sufficed.
According to lead study author Dr. Ateev Mehrotra of Harvard Medical School, symptom checkers can serve as useful tools for people trying to decide if they should get to a doctor quickly.
“But in many cases, users should be cautious and not take the information they receive from online symptom checkers as gospel,” Mehrotra said.
Postpartum depression among new moms has gotten lots of attention through the years, but a new study showed expectant dads might experience their own brand of the baby blues.
Researchers at McGill University Health Centre in Canada recruited more than 600 expectant fathers over the course of 18 months and had them complete questionnaires designed to measure factors including food consumption, physical activity, sleep quality, social support, marital adjustment, financial stress and demographics. Each man completed the questionnaire during his partner’s third trimester of pregnancy, and 13.3 percent of them were found to have elevated levels of depressive symptoms at that point in time. Men who experienced trouble sleeping were at the highest risk of becoming depressed.
Fortunately, researchers found that most factors linked to the expectant fathers’ depression were modifiable.
“These are important signals because some of these factors may worsen in postpartum, (and) certainly sleep will be compromised in the first years,” researcher Dr. Deborah Da Costa said. “We know that antenatal depression is the strongest predictor for postnatal depression, so teaching (expectant) fathers and screening for this early on can be beneficial in terms of decreasing the risk or the continuation of depression postpartum.”
The study was published in The American Journal of Men’s Health.
On the calendar
“Babysitting 101” is from 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14 at Middendorf-Kredell Library, 2750 Hwy. K in O’Fallon. Topics covered include the business of babysitting, child development, safety and first-aid, and fun and games. BJC HealthCare offers the class in conjunction with St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The fee is $30. To register, call 344-5437.
“Harms of Heroin” is from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov 18 at Spencer Road Library, 427 Spencer Road in St. Peters. Attendees hear first-hand from a recovering addict, a parent who lost a child to a heroin overdose and an attending physician from the Progress West Hospital Emergency Department. Registration is required. Call 928-9355, or visit bjcstcharlescounty.org.