ACC/AHA Guidelines: Not a Replacement for Clinical Contemplation

On May 19th the Journal of the American College of Cardiology published an illuminating paper by Pant et al. examining the impact of a dramatic change in one of the Cardiac Guidelines. The paper was entitled “Trends in Infective Endocarditis Incidence, Microbiology, and Valve Replacement in the United States from 2000 to 2011”. In 2007 the ACC/AHA Guidelines were radically shifted, advocating an enormous reduction in sub-acute bacterial endocarditis prophylaxis (SBEP) precautions. The rationale for the dramatic shift from an aggressive to a conservative stance emanated from two findings: a lack of RCT evidence for the need for SBEP precautions under most circumstances, and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Without claiming prescience or any other such miraculous gift, I will tell you that at the time I predicted a significant future rise in endocarditis. My belief was that the guidelines overshot their intentions. Some individuals, I surmised, have valvular heart disease that predisposes them to developing SBE yet fails to be “significant” enough to make them candidates for the revised SBEP recommendations.

For several years I bucked the system and continued my aggressive prophylaxis. Then I buckled. I followed the guidelines to a tee. Though none of my patients has developed SBE, I now question my decision to cave under the pressure of the guidelines. I have always been one to try to think through issues, to treat patients outside any preordained box and beyond an overly simplified algorithmic construct. But in this case I felt perhaps I should just go with the flow. In truth, it was just easier to do so. My liability was lessened and my decision-making efforts were simplified. Yet, in retrospect, seeing the predictable rise in streptococcal SBE, I have been forced to re-examine my decision. In doing so, once again I am confronted with our current fixation on RCTs as proof positive “evidence,” with all other levels of understanding being “non-evidence”.

The absence of RCTs in this construct is tantamount to a lack of evidence. This paradigm is of course false. Many levels of valid evidence exist and oversimplification, though appealing, is inherently flawed and theoretically dangerous. We see this now in eight years of follow up after the change in ACC/AHA SBEP Guidelines. We also see this in many other aspects of everyday practice. Though I chose an easier and perhaps idler path in this circumstance, I will now reverse my position and once again give greater thought to each SBEP recommendation I render. It will take longer to do so; more complex doctor-patient discussions will be required; and larger liability will fall upon my shoulders. But these are the elements required to be a better physician. I owe it to my patients, and equally importantly to myself, to do so. Having said this, pragmatic issues remain. How do we practice medicine in an efficient, cost-effective, economically sound, intellectually stimulating, personalized, high-level fashion, while adhering to the mounting pressure of regulatory changes and requirements? This is the question that requires our most focused attention yet typically receives short shrift. For modern American Medicine to enjoy the future we all believe it deserves, this question, along with its counterparts, deserves our full and undivided attention.

Learn more about preventive cardiology at www.preventivecardiologyinc.com.

For more information about the supplements and vitamins critical to your everyday health visit www.vitalremedymd.com.

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Fish Oil: It Conveys Much More Than Cardiovascular Health

woman jogging at sunrise
Numerous studies have evaluated the effects of the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, on cardiovascular health. Overwhelmingly, scientists and clinicians involved in such research believe that omega-3 fatty acids play various beneficial roles in preserving optimal vascular and cardiac health: Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Thrombotic, Anti-Arrhythmic, and TG-Lowering effects are considered to be the most relevant. Recently, Smith et al. published a fascinating and novel clinical trial looking at a non-cardiovascular yet widespread adverse aspect of aging: muscle mass decline. They published their findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Fish oil–derived n–3 PUFA therapy increases muscle mass and function in healthy older adults. All parameters evaluated improved with the administration of 3,200 mg of daily DHA+EPA. Thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, one-repetition maximum (1-RM) lower- and upper-body strength, and average power during isokinetic leg exercises all demonstrated statistically significant improvement. Improving muscle strength as we age can have far-reaching beneficial consequences that could reduce both morbidity and mortality. Thus, these findings need to be further studied in larger and even more consequential trials. But what additional meaning can we garner from their trial?

I believe that beyond their fascinating and clinically pertinent findings there actually lies a far more evocative message. It is simply that we should be extraordinarily cautious about abandoning the evaluation of therapies (even dietary) when they make biological and physiological sense. Fish oil consumption is woefully low in the US when compared to the far more healthy Japanese population. Our life expectancies are far shorter and various cancers occur more frequently in the US. It is scientifically quite plausible that our deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids plays a significant role in our relatively diminished health. But, after the publication of a few clinical trials failed to demonstrate the cardiovascular benefit of fish and fish oil in select patient populations, some physicians truly abandoned their prior admonitions for patients to augment fish consumption. They were derailed by the controversial results of just a few trials (that many exceptional researchers consider to be flawed in the first place). This type of knee jerk reaction has no place in medicine. It is dangerous and counterproductive. To protect our patients and maintain our scientific integrity, we must always practice with open and attentive minds. Once again I implore my scientific colleagues as well as the oftentimes superficially inquisitive media to follow the science, not the hype.

Learn more about preventive cardiology at www.preventivecardiologyinc.com.

For more information about the supplements and vitamins critical to your everyday health visit www.vitalremedymd.com.

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Contemplations on Amsterdam and the ISA

Reflecting on the meetings I stare out the window of the restaurant and watch and recall:

The Anne Frank House with its images of a single family destroyed for the crime of being Jewish,
Nazis gathering Jews in the streets
Raping women
Killing children and old men,
Shopkeepers, bankers, doctors, lawyers, street cleaners, teachers;
None was immune.
I stare from the window watching the dog-walkers, bike riders, bustling streets brimming with energy, life, and carelessness.
The same streets just a moment ago were heavy with German tanks and soldiers herding Jews to their death;
For being Jewish.
Dog walkers and bike riders ride carelessly now, oblivious to the history of their streets;
Unaware that they ride and walk over the dried blood of fallen innocents.
The Amsterdam tulips have just finished their showing.
The city drips with life.
And but a few hours from this place are men and women and children being slaughtered today in fashion similar to what took place a short dream ago.
Over and over it goes.
How to stop this merry-go-round is unfathomable.
People who love their children cry when they hurt; they bleed when they are injured; pray to some god for whatever they pray; hope for their better day. Yet they still tear apart the lives of others. Still break the boundaries of peace and liberty, and freedom of thought and belief.
I ride the elevator to John Legend’s song from Selma, “One day, when the glory comes; it will be ours, it will be ours.”
The meetings were wonderful but they are a distraction, a diversion from the ineluctable.
Still, without them we would have only despair as our companion.
How do we disentangle this man-made, endless, seemingly insoluble dilemma?

Learn more about preventive cardiology at www.preventivecardiologyinc.com.

For more information about the supplements and vitamins critical to your everyday health visit www.vitalremedymd.com.

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