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January 29th, 2009
10:37 AM ET

Should children take cholesterol reducing drugs?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Kate, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

"My 10-year-old is overweight and our doctor suggested he start taking statins. Is he too young to begin this type of medication? Is it even safe?"

Answer:

Strange as it sounds, in rare cases prescribing statins to kids as young as 8-years-old is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But certainly, not every child who is overweight needs such treatment.

The academy recommends that doctors use the following criteria when prescribing statins to kids: a child’s LDL level above 160 plus two risk factors, such as being overweight and high blood pressure. Or a child with no risk factors but an LDL level above 190.

Although controversial to some, many experts agree that these cholesterol-lowering drugs are safe, and the benefits outweigh any potential side effects.

The American Academy of Pediatrics looks at it as a preventive measure, hoping to avoid serious health problems later in life. The U.S. has a generation of children developing adult-like health conditions that will put them at high risk for blood clots and heart disease by their mid-30s if parents and doctors don’t monitor it.

That’s one reason, with an estimated one in three of our kids overweight, pediatricians are beginning to track weight and cholesterol levels starting at age 2.

But is medication the only answer? Absolutely not. Parents first need to exhaust all diet and exercise options. Take walks at night or race around the living room to burn extra calories each day. And lead by example. If you make healthy food choices, your kids will pick those habits as well. Small changes can save kids from years of potential health problems. For an overweight child, losing just 5 percent of their body weight can reduce cholesterol levels and prevent the need for medication.


January 28th, 2009
10:33 AM ET

She’s hot; he’s cold - battling body temperatures

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

In February, my husband and I will celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary.  Many marriage experts will tell you, if a couple have survived that long, they’ve pretty much worked out the kinks in their relationship.  And for the most part, that’s true when it comes to my hubby and me; except for one thing.  We fight constantly over the temperature on our car’s thermostat.

I have always been one of those people who feel warm all the time. I can be out in 20-degree weather in Syracuse and I’m sweating.  My husband, on the other hand, is forever cold.  His feet, ears, hands, (everything but his heart) are always freezing.  A 90-degree day in Miami is comfy for him.  So whether we use the heater or the air conditioner in the car is always an issue. 

Why the difference?   It seems that each one of us has our own body temperature, regulated by the human thermostat, known as the hypothalamus.  This section of the brain controls our body temps.  The average temperature of the human body is 98.6 degrees. But according to doctors, many of us have body temperatures that can vary, plus or minus, within a few degrees of that number.  So what is a “normal” temperature for some is not always “normal” for others. And because we are mammals and not reptiles, our bodies adapt to cold and hot by either shivering or sweating, depending on our body temperature.

There are different factors that can affect whether our inner thermostats go up or down. Medication can cause our temps to change.  Certain blood-thinning meds, pills for blood pressure and thyroid medication can all make our body temperatures dip.  And illnesses including diabetes and hypothyroidism can cause us to become chilly.

Muscle mass is another factor.  A lot of people think fat can insulate the body, and for the most part it helps.  But lean muscle mass requires more energy to run and so increases the metabolic rate to process calories into usable fuel for muscle.  That keeps us toasty.  And water helps. Health experts say drinking water can regulate body temperatures and keep them level.

Our age also makes a difference. By the time we reach our 50s, the difference in body temperatures between men and women becomes apparent.  Ladies begin to feel the effects of menopause, and “hot flashes” can make them so uncomfortable that many want to participate in their local “Polar Bear” plunge sans bathing suit!  Men can begin to face circulation problems earlier than women. Bad circulation can keep blood from flowing to hands and feet, producing chilly extremities, which could drive even the most macho of men to wear mittens.

So the next time someone asks you why you’re driving around with the air conditioner on in the middle of January…or wearing a parka in May, say, “It’s not me, it’s my hypothalamus!!!”  At least that’s what I keep telling my husband. 

Are you always cold or warm?  What do you do to make yourself more comfortable?  We’d love to hear about it.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


Filed under: Cancer

January 27th, 2009
03:05 PM ET

Tips to keep you on your feet

By Cristina Hernandez
CNN Medical Producer

I was in church with a friend on Sunday night. The weather outside was chilly, but the air inside the church felt, hot, thick, and many people were clustered together. It was stifling. As we both kneeled, I looked to the left and noticed that my friend had slumped down, with his eyes open and his arms were flopping loosely. At first, I didn't know what was happening, and I was terrified. My first thought was, "Did he faint or have a stroke? What's happening?" I called his name, too loudly for inside a church, and he didn't seem to hear me, even though his eyes were open. A few minutes passed and he seemed to regain his consciousness. I realized that he had fainted.

He didn’t give me the chance to help him sit down. I think he was embarrassed, and he went outside to breathe the cold, fresh air. I found him pacing in the chill. Thank goodness, he was OK. We went to my house, and I offered him a snack and gave him something to drink, which he said made him feel better. He explained that he had jogged seven miles earlier in the day, and he had eaten only two pieces of toast - clearly not enough food to replenish his energy after a long run. He also may have become dehydrated after he ran.

According to the Mayo Clinic, fainting occurs when the blood supply to your brain is disrupted, causing loss of consciousness. It usually lasts for just a few seconds or minutes. Fainting can occur for many reasons, and it becomes more common with advancing age. While my friend’s fainting incident was caused by skipping meals and possibly being dehydrated after his vigorous workout, it’s important to note that fainting after exercise can also signal a hidden health problem, and it’s a good idea to consult your health professional to rule out any serious medical issues.

It's important to fuel your body properly, before and after working out. According to Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist, if you have not eaten within three hours before a workout, it's a good idea to have a small, carbohydrate-rich snack, such as whole grain crackers, cereal, fruit, or half a peanut butter sandwich. Eat the snack 30 to 45 minutes before your workout to give you energy. If you plan to eat a meal within two hours after your workout, you probably don't need a post-workout snack unless you have exercised for longer than 90 minutes. In that case, a snack containing protein and carbohydrates - a fruit smoothie, yogurt, or cottage cheese and fruit - can help your body to rebuild or protect muscle, especially if the workout includes weight training. If you ate a meal within the last three hours, and are planning a short 30-minute cardiovascular workout, Jampolis says, you probably don't need any extra calories before or after you exercise. Avoid eating too much fiber before you work out. Fiber slows down digestion and can cause gas and cramping.

Don't forget the importance of keeping your body properly hydrated. Water is the best way to replace lost fluids. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, physical activity causes the body to lose water primarily through sweat, urination and breathing, even in cold weather. If you exercise during hot weather, dehydration can occur more quickly and impair both physical and mental performance. Symptoms of dehydration include thirst, rapid heartbeat, dark colored urine and dizziness, which can lead to fainting. The key to a successful and comfortable workout is to replace lost fluids by drinking plenty of water or other liquids before, during and after you exercise.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


January 26th, 2009
01:29 PM ET

Parental concerns persist with childhood vaccines

By Andrea M. Kane
CNNhealth.com Producer

A small drama is unfolding in Minnesota. Five cases of Haemophilus influenzae type B (known as Hib) disease were documented in 2008 – the most since 1992. But this is more than just five individual tragedies. It’s tragedy times two – because a vaccine exists to prevent Hib disease, and it has been routinely given to children in this country as part of the standard vaccine schedule since 1991.

Hib is a serious bacterial infection that usually occurs in infants and children under 5. It can lead to meningitis (infection of the brain and spinal cord coverings); pneumonia; infection of the blood, joint, bones and covering of the heart; and severe swelling of the throat. Sometimes, it results in death. Before the vaccine, there were about 20,000 cases of Hib disease each year and Hib was responsible for up to 60 percent of all cases of meningitis (resulting in death 2 to 5 percent of the time, and producing lasting brain damage and deafness 15 to 30 percent of the time).

Part of the problem is that there has been a national shortage of the Hib vaccine since November 2007, and Minnesota has been particularly hard hit. The other part of the problem is that some of the parents did not immunize their children (admittedly, I have no knowledge of their motivation). According to Minnesota officials, three of the five cases - including the one death - occurred in unimmunized children (in the other cases, one child was too young to complete the four-dose series and the other child had an underlying condition).

I am a parent. I have two young girls, now 7 and 9. And, like every parent, I like to believe that I am doing the best I can to protect them. And for me, part of that is to make sure they are vaccinated.

But I’d be lying if I said that, when it came time to immunize them during their toddler years, I didn’t worry that they might  develop autism.

Stories suggesting a link between vaccines and autism are very pervasive  and proponents of the theory are vocal. But even though there is no scientifically sound research to support it, the speculation persists. Despite the emotion inherent in this debate, I am a medical writer who has read many studies finding no connection between autism and vaccines- including a recent one from California showing that the incidence of autism had actually gone up despite the removal of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal from most vaccines and an earlier study from Denmark.

Still, in the back of my mind, a little voice whispered, “What if one of my girls is genetically predisposed, and this is the environmental trigger…” Or “What if one of my girls receives one too many vaccines today, and it pushes her immune system over the edge.”

But all I had to do was take a look at my own mother, who has lived with the consequences of polio, a disease she contracted when she was 2 – way before the polio vaccine ever existed - and my resolve was hardened. Growing up, I heard stories (never from her) about how she spent months at a time in a body cast, and how my grandparents were at first heartbroken and then sought to shelter her from life’s daily insults. I know intimately the criss-cross of scars on her legs, the clippity-clop sound of her particular gait, and the swift hand-on-knee movement she makes to manually move her leg in and out of a car. And I can see where her quiet-but-unyielding determination, and her dignity in the face of adversity came from. And her ordeal is not over: she now gets to worry about post-polio syndrome.

I love my mother and I wouldn’t change anything about her but I would do anything - especially vaccinate my kids - to avoid my children having to go through anything like what she experienced and continues to go through. Vaccines were developed to spare our children pain, damage, disfigurement and death. It seems ridiculous not to avail myself of the tools I have been offered to protect them from diseases we know can and will hurt them.

Did you, will you vaccinate your children? Tell us why or why not.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


Filed under: Autism • Children's Health • Parenting • Vaccinations

January 23rd, 2009
10:52 AM ET

Tempering television for tots

By Shahreen Abedin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

This weekend, we took our 13-month-old to a dinner party where we were lucky enough to put the munchkin to sleep and stay up late with the grown-ups and play board games. It was so much fun, especially because we didn’t have to rush home to relieve the baby sitter. We rolled in around 2:30 a.m. Yay for us being cool parents who can manage taking the baby out and staying up late.

Come Sunday morning, different story. Baby boy woke up at 7 a.m., and my sweet husband (who usually plays with the baby on weekend mornings so I can sleep in) asked me to get up with the little one for a change. Barely awake, I took the baby into the living room, turned on the TV, and let my kid watch "Blue’s Clues."

Go ahead, call me a bad mommy. I’ve called myself that too for the same reason, even though I swear I’ve done it only when I’ve been too tired to keep the baby entertained after working all day or being seriously sleep deprived, or too busy because the office is still calling me or I’ve got a deadline to meet. Regardless, I still feel the guilt, because the American Academy of Pediatrics says no TV before age 2. Research shows kids under 30 months don’t gain any benefit from watching TV aside from being able to mimic what they see (no matter how “educational” the programming may be). And, there have been a ton of studies documenting real problems when small kids watch TV. For example, a 2007 study in the journal Pediatrics found early childhood attention problems by as early as age 3; every additional 50 minutes of watching in a day caused a measurable negative impact on the child's ability to focus later. Other studies have linked toddler tube time to problems with vocabulary development, etc.

Only when they hit preschool age do they actually stand to benefit from small amounts of educational TV, but the negative effects don’t go away when kids are older. Just last month a review of 173 different studies was published, finding a strong correlation between TV, movies, video games, other types of media exposure, and long-term poor health effects such as childhood obesity, smoking, drug abuse, teen sex, and bad grades.

But it does feel better to know that I’m not alone and in fact, I’m one of the "better" moms (at least in this respect!!!). A 2007 study in the Archives of Pediatric Medicine found that by 3 months of age, about 40 percent of kids regularly watch TV and by 24 months, the proportion shot up to 90 percent (results were based on a survey of over 1,000 American parents of kids under 2). Most of those kids started to watch by about 9 months, and they were clocking from an hour to one and a half hours daily, on average. Experts say that if the parent is interacting with the child during the TV watching, at least that improves the quality of the time, but this study found that parents watched along with their child only about one-third of the time, so the others were basically relying on the TV to serve as an electronic baby sitter.

When I talked to Dr. Laura Jana, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a working mom herself, the first thing she did was tell me I wasn’t a bad mother. The parents who sound troubled and guilty about media exposure aren’t the ones she worries about, because at least they're aware that it's a problem. I started to feel a little better. I mean, it’s hard to have a full-time job and raise healthy kids all at once, and occasionally you’re going to have to resort to other means in order to have time to take down the laundry or throw dinner together or catch a few ZZZs in order to function at a human level. I figure, the key is to not make it a regular practice, and to limit the amount of time spent at once (like 15 to 30 mins max for a young child if at all possible). Jana suggested that if you’re going to let your tot watch TV for whatever reason, at least make sure it’s not a program containing violence or adult themes. And she suggests extending the TV experience into other learning formats. So, for example, buy a Blue’s Clues book and use it to reinforce what happened during the program.

When I’ve discussed this topic with friends in the past, invariably someone says something like, “Well when I was a kid I watched TV all the time, and I turned out just fine.” So now I’m calling on you parents out there. Do you let your small kids watch TV? How often, and do you feel guilty about it? What are your reasons for letting them do it? Is the "no TV" rule for kids under age 2 an unrealistic goal, given all the things parents have to juggle (including their sanity)? Did you watch a lot of TV as a small child, and if so, do you think it had a positive or negative effect on you?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


January 22nd, 2009
10:35 AM ET

Can weather affect our health?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Erin, Liverpool, New York

"It seems that every time I end up experiencing a bad sinus headache, it's a result of the cold weather. Is there any relationship between the weather and our health?"

Answer:

Being outside "in the cold" doesn't give you a cold, but the weather can play a role in your health.

Many studies show headaches can be trigger from high temperatures, humidity and barometric pressure. Even air pressure from outdoor activities - scuba diving or climbing in high altitudes - can trigger sinus headaches.

So, what to do about it, right? We obviously can’t change the weather forecast but you may be able to stay a step ahead of the symptoms. Start keeping track of when your sinus headaches occur and the temperature level outside. For some, the cold weather may trigger it, for others, it may be a hot and humid day. Once you figure it out you’ll be able to modify your daily activities or take medication in advance.

Weather can also have an impact on your heart and lungs. In fact, smog and polluted air can cause inflammation of the lungs. As a result, your blood gets slicker and thicker and may cause a heart attack or stroke.

People who exercise outside have to be particularly careful. Take running for example. Runners take in more than 100 liters of air a minute, compare that with an average of 6 liters a minute for a sedentary person. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Los Angeles, California, are among the most polluted cities in the U.S. On a quest for the cleanest air? Visit Cheyenne, Wyoming, or Santa Fe, New Mexico. Both these cities ranked the best in American Lung Associations 2008 “State of the Air” report. Click here  to see where your city ranks.

The people most at risk for weather-related health problems are the elderly, children, and anyone with a history of heart disease or asthma. Bottom line: If weather is causing you a headache or something more serious, it’s important to identify what’s triggering your symptoms and talk to your doctor about it.


January 20th, 2009
11:46 AM ET

A time of hope

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

They have come from all over the country: San Francisco, Charlotte, Hartford, Atlanta, Grand Rapids. Old and young, black and white, Asian, and Hispanic. They have traveled in wheelchairs and by skateboards. A few arrive in limos, thousands have taken the subway. Many have just walked. But their purpose is the same. They are in the nation's capital to witness history; to be able - years from now, when asked, "Where were you when he took office? What were you doing?" - to respond, “I was there."

As a long time Washingtonian, I am experienced at riding the Metro (subway) system. So when they warned that millions were expected to attend the Inauguration of Barack Obama, I knew it was going to be tough getting into work. Arriving this morning at 6:30 a.m. at my local station I found the crowds to be heavy, but light-hearted. It may have been cold, but the feeling was warm. People with Obama buttons, hats, and banners jammed the Metro platforms. All were smiling, none minded that there was standing room only on the train. Once in transit they began to sing, to laugh, and to talk to strangers. It was a feeling of camaraderie, of pure joy that I have never experienced on our subway system. And the hope and anticipation was contagious.

As we enter into a new age of American politics - as we watch the first black American become the 44th President of The United States - it is time to take stock of our love for our country and our love for one another. We are one nation of good people from all nationalities, who care about the state of our union. It is time we join hands and support our new administration - we all MUST, be we Republicans or Democrats, Independents or those just uninterested - to take care of one another and make this country strong. These are tough times. Our hearts are stressed, our minds are clouded. If we have hope, all things are possible. Positive thinking can make all the difference, both physically and mentally. Positive thinking helps with stress management and can even improve our health. Positive thinking reflects our outlook on life, our attitude towards ourselves and others. So instead of complaining, it's time to do something for one another. We still have a long way to go to get the U.S. back on track, but this is the perfect time to start.

What do you think?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


January 19th, 2009
12:22 PM ET

Inaugu-phobia

Crowds gather on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Sunday for a pre-inaugural concert.

Crowds gather on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Sunday for a pre-inaugural concert.

By Sabriya Rice
CNN Medical Tapes Producer

Half of my family lives in the D.C. area, so naturally everyone I know is curious about whether I plan to attend this year's historic inauguration. As much as I'd love to take a front-row seat in history, every time I read about the more than 1.5 million people expected to pack the streets of the District, I get nauseated. As I reflected on other idiosyncrasies of my life, like how I refuse to climb crowded staircases, or how I let several trains pass to avoid squeezing into a cramped car, I began to wonder if an undiagnosed phobia was the culprit of my peculiar inauguration evasion. And if so, what could I do about it?

Experts I spoke with said anxiety about being trapped in enclosed spaces is pretty common. According to Dr. Reid Wilson, a psychiatrist at the University of North Carolina, claustrophobia ranks among the top five phobias, along with fears of public speaking, heights, bugs and swimming. Maybe that explains why so many D.C. residents I know are actually planning to head out of town. Even my otherwise fearless father is considering a trip to Florida. Like many others, they are avoiding the crowds and opting to watch the ceremony on television. Certainly, they could attend if they wanted to, but made rational decisions to watch from elsewhere. Take a self-test if you think you may have an anxiety disorder.

For the 6 million Americans suffering from panic disorders, including phobias, the decision whether or not to attend may be a little more complex than for the mildly affected. For example, for agoraphobics - people with a fear of being in places where they feel immediate escape might be difficult - the thought of being among millions of spectators may generate more than the normal sense of discomfort. "Think about the worst feeling you've ever had, and then multiply it by one hundred," says Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. She describes it as a sensation of "sheer panic," which can be accompanied by rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, and an overwhelming desire to get away.

Usually the fears are irrational. A person with a chronic phobia may work themselves into a tizzy wondering, for example: What if I suddenly have a heart attack? Or worse, what if a stampede of wild hyenas escapes confinement and rushes downtown, sending the entire mob into dizzying turmoil? These things aren't likely to happen, but fear of them could cause "significant distress."

When I think about it, it's fitting that it was during another inauguration speech some 77 years ago, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt voiced the now famous phrase "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And, anxiety coach Dr. David Carbonell says a substantial moment in American history like the Obama inauguration may be just big enough to motivate some mild phobia sufferers to overcome their anxieties. Find a therapist near you here.

Fortunately, my slight fear of crowded places isn't a clinical condition. But, whether or not you have a crowd phobia, the same advice still holds. The specialists I consulted said being prepared is the best course of action when dealing with such throngs of people. If you're going to be in the District of Columbia on Tuesday, having an emergency plan isn't a bad idea. Know, for example, the location of escape routes, or how to contact your friends and family if you get separated from your group. Just being prepared can help ease your troubled mind. And if you're still concerned about the masses, Dr. Carbonelle says, don't worry. "Stay long enough, and the fear will leave before you do."

Are you attending the inauguration? How do you plan to handle the crowd?

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


January 16th, 2009
11:22 AM ET

Keeping the lid on pot

By Caleb Hellerman
CNN Medical Senior Producer

This week the Drug Enforcement Administration overruled one of its own administrative judges, nixing a plan that would break the government’s monopoly on legally growing marijuana for research purposes.

The rejected application came from Lyle Craker, a plant researcher at the University of Massachusetts. He wants to produce strains of pot that could be used in medical research. The jury is still out on this one. Some studies show that marijuana helps ease pain in patients with muscular dystrophy or the eye disease glaucoma; others find that pot restores the appetite of AIDS and cancer patients who are otherwise too nauseated to eat. But some doctors aren’t swayed. Still others say it would be better to distill one or more of the chemicals in marijuana, to produce a more traditional medicine.

As things stand, all marijuana used for research is grown by ElSohly Laboratories, a government-sponsored private company in Oxford, Mississippi. That gives the federal government veto power over any new study. The arrangement also discourages private companies from taking part. Rick Doblin, head of a group called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which sponsored Craker’s application, told me, “No pharmaceutical company would spend ten  million dollars or more to obtain approval for a medicine and then have to purchase it from a monopolistic competitor.”

Doblin says the DEA decision is a parting shot by the Bush administration, a backhanded way to block further research. Unanswered is whether Barack Obama will take a different approach. During the campaign, he said he would stop federal raids on people using marijuana with a doctor’s prescription, but lately he’s shown a more cautious side. In December, in response to a popular question on his website, the incoming administration posted, simply, “President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.”

I asked a spokesman in the Transition Press Office if Obama would support research like Craker’s. He couldn’t say.

Should the government allow more research on medical marijuana? Tell us.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


January 15th, 2009
10:43 AM ET

How can cardiac calcification be treated?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Collin, Oak Park, Illinois

"I'm in my 40s and was told I have cardiac calcification. I'm curious about treatments for it and read that chelation therapy might work. Does that work?"

Answer:

Thanks, Collin, for writing in. Cardiac calcification is fairly common sign of early artery disease. It shows up on X-rays or CT scans in people of all ages. If developed during middle-age years, family history probably plays a role. I get tested regularly for heart disease and calcium buildup because I, myself, have a family history of the disease. There are often no symptoms of distress or pain so its important to keep up with annual exams.

Let me back up and explain exactly what cardiac calcification is. During the beginning stages of artery disease, the lining of aortic wall becomes inflamed, then plaque starts to build up and over time, calcium deposits begin to form in the artery wall. Those deposits are the calcification.

It's not reversible, but you can control the inflammation and prevent the calcium from progressing by controlling your risk factors. I ran this question by the American Heart Association, which confirmed that if you don't smoke, keep your weight down and your blood pressure/cholesterol at a normal range, you can prevent future damage.

Sounds like a simple solution, right? Well thats because it is simple. Many people search the Web for a magic drug, or a quick fix treatment when the solution is often as easy as working out, eating healthily.

Consuming healthy food will keep your numbers at a healthy range and your weight down. Limit or avoid transfat and saturated fats found in fried foods, cookies, eggs, palm oil. Look for sources of good fats in fish, flaxseed and olive oil. They'll help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your overall risk of heart disease.

You mention chelation therapy as a treatment option. Chelation therapy is typically used for treating mercury poisoning. Some people report using it to treat heart disease but there is no evidence that it works. In fact, the American Heart Association and National Institutes of Health do not recommend chelation therapy for heart patients, noting lack of evidence and also unpleasant side effects. The side effects include vomiting, headache, inability to create new blood cells and even kidney damage. The best treatment option is monitoring your vitals signs.

Collin, it's a positive thing that you've discovered these calcifications at a young age. Now, be empowered to take the steps necessary to stop the progression of the disease and you'll go on to live a long, healthy life. Best of luck!


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