Whenever I hand a prescription for pain pills to a patient, I tell them, “Remember not to drink any alcohol when taking these medications.”
For years, we in the medical community thought that simple message was getting through. It turns out we were wrong.
Every 19 minutes someone dies because of misuse of prescription medications. Sometimes it is because they take too much. Many times it is because they forget or ignore the warning their doctor gave about combining the medications with alcohol. And tens of thousands of people die every year as a result.
As much attention as we pay to illicit drugs such as cocaine or heroin, the truth is prescription medications kill more people in this country than those illicit drugs combined. Perhaps it is a perception issue: “It came from a pharmacy, therefore, it must be safe.”
They certainly can be safe, but they can also be incredibly addictive, with more than 1.9 million Americans hooked on prescription pain medications alone.
Editor's note: Today marks the kick-off of the 2012 CNN Fit Nation Tri Challenge. This year's Challenge includes seven participants who have never competed in a triathlon. This will be Dr. Sanjay Gupta's third CNN Fit Nation Tri Challenge. Here Dr. Gupta shares what he has gained by joining the triathlete ranks.
As people get older, there is this feeling that time is moving faster than ever. Studies have shown that this feeling is true across cultures all over the world, genders and borders. As a student of the brain, I have been trying to learn why this time-warp feeling is so prevalent.
Of course, time itself is not changing, but it is our perceptions that change a great deal. As a child, days seemed to last forever, and you can probably describe in astonishing detail the first time you drove a car or a childhood summer. It turns out the first time you experience something brand new, the more attention you spend on it. You remember every little detail, and carefully store those details in your memory banks. It is that attention that seems to slow time down, and often make things more enjoyable.
It is also one of the reasons we should always be having new experiences, especially as we get older.
Watch "Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: Big Hits, Broken Dreams" Sunday, January 29 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET.
One day late in the summer of 2010, I was sitting in my backyard with my oldest daughter. We had just finished cutting the lawn when my neighbor and his oldest son stopped by.
His son, a football player at one of the powerhouse local high schools, had grown nearly an inch over the summer and weighed more than 200 pounds. He was already in practice for the upcoming season. He asked if I had time to speak to a friend of his who also played football and had suffered a concussion the previous season.
They were asking me in my capacity as a neurosurgeon, but also in desperation, as this young man was still having tremendous difficulty nearly a year after his injury.
Editor's note: Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigates 9/11's toxic dust - what it felt like to breathe it, be enveloped by it, and what the experience means for the next time disaster strikes, in "Terror in the Dust," Saturday, 9 p.m. ET.
I still remember the patient I was examining on the morning of September 11, 2001. She was in her 70s and had a relatively small, benign tumor known as a meningioma. It was located in the right frontal lobe of her brain and I had performed an operation the day before to remove it. I remember her face as I walked in the door. She was sitting up in bed, and had applied lipstick. “Positive lipstick sign,” I had whispered to my residents. I had learned over the years that if a patient was feeling and recovering well, she would be more likely to comb her hair and put on lipstick. This was a good sign for my patient.
A curtain separated two beds in the room and both had televisions in front, bolted to the lime green walls. For whatever reason, I still vividly remember the color of the walls. At different points in our lives, time moves more slowly and becomes unforgettable. Every detail seared into our memory. This was one of those moments.
I had asked my patient to flex her muscle as I tested the bicep strength in her left arm. I was now asking her to extend her arm, while I was feeling to see if all three heads of her triceps muscle were contracting. I remember the moment when there was a collective gasp in the room, and I looked up, wondering if something had happened. My patient’s eyes were fixed on the TV.
Editor's note: Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: The Last Heart Attack at 8p and 11p ET on Saturday, September 3rd.
While working on “The Last Heart Attack,” I had a chance to interview some extraordinary people around the country. Patients struggling with heart disease provided lessons that can sometimes be taught only after being smacked in the face with their own mortality. For example, I have never seen former President Clinton so candid. He was convinced he was going to die back in 2004, after feeling chest tightness during a flight back to New York on a small plane.
I interviewed cardiologists who believe we are so darn close to virtually eliminating heart disease. And, the truth is, it doesn’t involve spending any more money, investing in any more research or creating anymore tests. Rather, it will take a strict implementation of what we already know about diet and nutrition. It will also take brave champions to navigate through the clutter of confusing counsel, special interests and shoddy science.
One day, I had a chance to speak to a couple of those champions candidly while waiting for a shoot to begin - Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. I had read Campbell’s book, "The China Study," years ago and remember how audacious he was in telling readers that most of what they believed about food and its relationship to health and disease was plain wrong. His findings changed the way people all over the world eat, including me.
Since January, six iReporters have been training in the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. We’re following along as they prepare to compete alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the August 7 Nautica NYC Triathlon. During their last week before the race, we asked each of them the following questions: What's the biggest change you've seen in yourself since kickoff weekend? What are your personal goals for the tri?"
This weekend, "Sanjay Gupta, M.D." will be live from New York at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and Sunday. Watch the culmination of our team's training
A couple of years ago, I was worried I had become too complacent and full of too many excuses. A bowl of ice cream was justified almost every day. Hadn’t my day been so busy? A little treat was warranted. Exercise was always the first thing to fall off the map with a busy work life and a house full of three small children. “Tomorrow will come, and I will make a change,” I kept telling myself. Problem is – the tomorrows always came, without fail. And, the changes never happened, without fail.
I needed a reset button, and I had a pretty good idea how to do it. It would need to be drastic, in my case. It would also have to appeal to my inner competitive spirit, and changes would need to be visible immediately. I decided to sign up for a triathlon, and to tell everyone about it. After doing that, I would need to own it.
Two years later, as I finish training for my second triathlon, which is this Sunday, I write this blog as a changed man. Besides the obvious fitness benefits and the compliments from my wife, which come more frequently, I have become better at managing my time, setting priorities and practicing what I preach. My diet improved, because it had to improve. I simply felt too sluggish during a training ride if I had indulged the night before. I came to enjoy exercise, relish it, almost need it. Remarkably, despite adding another significant time commitment, I found I was getting more done in my life overall.
Programming note: On Saturday, June 25, Nick Charles lost his battle with cancer. On Sunday, CNN will rebroadcast Dr. Sanjay Gupta's special report, "Nick Charles: Lessons from the Fight," at 7:30 a.m. ET.
I like to fix things.
As far back as I can remember, I was the person who took broken things apart with the confidence that I could put them back together, while making them better. “Call Sanjay,” my mom would often tell her friends if they were confronted with a problem. At first it was lamps and clocks, or perhaps a dry wall that didn’t fit quite right or an edge of carpeting that always bunched up. It evolved into malfunctioning dishwashers, ovens, radios and computers. I helped my dad restore an old MGB when I was a teenager, after having practiced on a 1975 Ford Granada, and an even older lime green LTD.
It is perhaps what drew me to neurosurgery and the opportunity to tend to injured or diseased brains and spinal cords. There has always been great satisfaction in “fixing” things. It is also part of the reason I am so frustrated when I cannot.
No matter how old someone is, or how sick they have been, it still comes as a shock to hear they have died. 83-year-old Jack Kevorkian, Dr. Death himself, died this morning as Bach, his favorite, played over the intercom. I felt an involuntary gasp of air in my throat when I learned of his passing.
Learn more about cell phones and the current research into whether they could cause brain tumors, “Sanjay Gupta, M.D.,” Saturday, 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent
Just about every time I use a cell phone, I plug in my wired earpiece first. Having discussed the use of earpieces on several news shows, people expect to see me using one. If I am walking around the CNN studios, my colleagues often comment on it. In airports, people will stop me in the rare cases I forget to use the earpiece, and remind me about it. Perhaps, they are intrigued because I am a neurosurgeon who openly shows some concern about cell phones.
Truth is, it is a pretty easy thing to do – using an earpiece. Furthermore, my neck doesn’t hurt after being on the phone for a long conference call, and given that many of those calls take place in a car, an earpiece becomes a requirement. Still, though, I don’t want to dodge the obvious question: Do cell phones cause brain cancer? FULL POST
All the news about one of my favorite actresses, Mary Tyler Moore, reminded me of the first time I saw a patient with a meningioma. It was 1995. I was a junior neurosurgery resident, and my professor introduced me to a 69-year-old, perfectly healthy appearing woman. That surprised me at the time, because moments earlier, I had been reviewing her MRI scan. She had an obvious bright mass in her brain located in the right frontal lobe.
I carefully examined the movements of her eyes and face. I checked her motor strength and sensation in her four extremities and completed a full neurological exam. Her long-term memory and instant recall were intact, and she did not complain of headaches. “I wouldn’t even know it is up there,” she said, referring to her brain tumor.
This pleasant woman had been showing up at the clinic for several years, with a scan in hand to review with my professor. If the mass looked no different, and more importantly, if the patient didn’t have any neurological changes – they would simply make a date to see each other again in another year, and repeat the process. They had collectively agreed to not operate on the obvious brain tumor, but instead to watch, wait, and bank on the possibility she would never need an operation in her lifetime.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.