Aug
25
2018

The Downside Of Living To 100

A review article has examined longevity and reviewed the downside of living to 100. In their 80’s about 10% of the population live in nursing homes, but among centenarians 55% are residing in nursing homes. They are often very lonely, as their social circles have shrunk as they aged.

Common diseases of older people

Osteoarthritis makes it difficult for people to get around, it causes chronic pain and it can also be the reason for falls. In 1990 there were 213.4 cases of osteoarthritis per 100,000. 26 years later, in 2016 there were 232.1 cases of osteoarthritis per 100,000 people.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has been falling, because less people smoke cigarettes now. Statistics show 1667 cases of COPD per 100,000 in 1990, but only 945 cases of COPD per 100,000 in 2016.

Diarrhea and common infections have dropped sharply from 8951 per 100,000 in 1990 to 3276 per 100,000 in 2016.

What other common diseases do older people get?

There are a number of common diseases that affect the elderly.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis of the hips and the knees are common, but it can affect every joint in the body. In the end stage knee replacements or hip replacements may be necessary. But before a total knee replacement or total hip replacement can even come into consideration, the person’s heart needs a thorough checkup to ensure that it is safe for the patient to undergo surgery under a general anesthetic.

Heart disease

Older people often have heart disease.

When coronary arteries are narrowed, heart attacks occur. Cardiologists can place stents, so that previously narrowed coronary arteries receive normal blood flow. Following such a procedure the patient may live for another 10 to 15 years.

There are also heart valve calcifications. The aortic valve is particularly endangered. A heart surgeon may be able to replace a diseased aortic valve by a porcine valve.

The nervous system of the heart transmits electrical signals from the sinus node to the muscle fibers, which can get diseased. Heart rhythm problems may necessitate the insertion of a pacemaker.

Finally, the heart may enlarge, but pump less blood than before. This condition is congestive heart failure. The 5-year survival for this condition is only 50.4%. Unfortunately there is very little the doctor can do for patients like this.

Cancer

The older we get, the more DNA mutations we accumulate. At one point cancer develops. If the diagnosis happens at an early stage there is a good chance that surgery can remove a cancerous growth, and the patient survives. But there are cancers that are notoriously difficult to recognize in the early stages. These are: cancer of the pancreas, kidney cancer, stomach cancer and certain types of leukemias.

Respiratory diseases

Those who smoked earlier in life may develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is a chronically disabling lung disorder. Often these individuals have to carry an oxygen tank with them wherever they go. The 5-year survival rate for people with COPD is 40 to 70%.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease where the bone is brittle. Spontaneous bone fractures can occur at the wrists, the upper thigh bone (femoral fractures) or in the vertebral bones. Women in menopause are hormone deficient and this contributes to calcium depletion of the bones. Lately research has shown that vitamin K2 and vitamin D3 are necessary for a normal calcium metabolism. Briefly, 200 micrograms of vitamin K2 and 5000 IU of vitamin D3 every day are the necessary dosage that the body can absorb calcium from the gut, eliminate it from the blood vessels and deposit it into the bone. Calcium is present in milk products and milk. If a person does not consume enough milk products a supplement of 1000 mg of calcium daily does make sense.

Alzheimer’s

The older we get, the more likely it is an onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Between the ages of 90 to 94 there is a yearly increase of Alzheimer’s of 12.7% per year. The group from age 95 to 99 years has a yearly increase of Alzheimer’s of 21.2% per year. Persons aged 100 years and older have an increase of Alzheimer’s by 40.7% per year. What this means is that essentially there is a doubling of Alzheimer’s every 5.5 years. We do not have all of the answers why this is happening and why Alzheimer’s develops. But we do know that diabetics are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. High blood sugar levels and high insulin levels seem to lead to the precipitation of the tau protein in the brain, which causes Alzheimer’s.

Diabetes

When diabetes is not well controlled, there is accelerated hardening of the arteries. This can cause heart attacks and strokes. Longstanding diabetes can affect the kidneys (diabetic nephropathy, kidney damage) and can lead to hardening of the leg arteries. Often the only treatment left is a below knee amputation. Blindness from uncontrolled diabetes is common and pain from diabetic neuropathy as well.

Diabetics have an average life expectancy of 77 to 81 years. However, if they pay attention to their blood sugars and manage their diabetes closely they can live past the age of 85.

Falls and balance problems

As people age, their balance organ is not functioning as well. Also, people with high blood pressure medication may have postural hypotensive episodes that can lead to falls.

There may be a lack of cognitive functioning and misjudging of steps, ledges and irregularities in the floor. When a person has brittle bones from osteoporosis and they fall, a hip fracture is very common. At a higher age surgery for a hip fracture is dangerous. It can have a mortality of 50%.

Obesity

A person with obesity has a life expectancy that is 10 years less than a person without obesity. The reason for this is that with obesity This is so, because the risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, arthritis and diabetes is increased.

Depression

Older people often get depressed. It even has its own name: involutional depression. People can get into a state of mind, where they think negatively. Depressed people feel that they have nothing to live for. They lost friends; they are shut in because they can’t drive a car any more. This type of depression needs treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The danger of leaving depression untreated is that the person may get suicidal. In older people depression is often precipitated by physical health problems.

Oral health

When teeth are not looked after, gingivitis and periodontitis can develop. Infected gums can shed bacteria into the blood and this can affect the heart valves. Endocarditis, the infection of heart valves, is a cardiological emergency. Prolonged antibiotic therapy is necessary to overcome this condition.

Poverty

Poverty has real consequences. The aging person may not have access to the optimal medical care facility because of a lack of funds. But even at a younger age there is evidence that people are healthier when they are wealthier.

Shingles

Older people often get shingles, even if they had chickenpox or shingles as a child. This is evidence that the immune system is getting weaker. Shingles in an older person should alarm the treating physician that there could be an underlying cancer. Due to that knowledge a cancer-screening tests should be part of the medical exam. In addition, a varicella vaccine should be offered to the patient to build up immunity.

The Downside Of Living To 100

The Downside Of Living To 100

Conclusion

Living to 100 is often glorified in the press. Maybe you have seen a 90-year old jogger completing a marathon, or you saw an 85-year old couple ballroom dancing. But what they don’t show you is what I summarized here, the less glamorous things about living to 100. You may get a heart attack or a stroke. Osteoarthritis may affect you how you walk. Congestive heart failure may make you get short of breath when you walk upstairs. Then there are various cancer types that are difficult to diagnose early.

If you have smoked in the past, you may suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which leaves you breathless.

Other illnesses

Osteoporosis can lead to spontaneous fractures. Because the bone has a lack of calcium, this is difficult to treat and takes a long time to heal.

Alzheimer’s is ever so much more common when you approach the year 100. There are other medical conditions you can get: obesity, diabetes and depression. When you get shingles for the second time, it may mean that your immune system is getting weak and a cancer-screening test should be done.

There are some downsides when you approach the age of 100.

Know your risks and be vigilant

You may keep your physician busy checking out various age-related illnesses, but more importantly, get regular check-ups and tests. Any condition is easier to treat with an earlier diagnosis! The message for anybody reading this is very simple. Prevention through healthy living is something you can actively pursue. Keep your body and your mind busy. Enjoy time with friends and family instead of living a solitary existence. See the glass that is half full instead of viewing it as half empty. Stick to a healthy diet. Knowing all the risks is not a scare but a call to being vigilant. Knowledge is powerful and will help you to enjoy your golden years feeling well and happy.

May
21
2014

Forty Percent Of Premature Deaths Can Be Prevented

A new report from the CDC (Center of Disease Control) in the US has revealed that up to 40% of premature deaths could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. As this link shows every year about 900,000 premature deaths occur in the US, which are due to 5 major diseases that in the opinion of the CDC can be prevented by 20 to 40%. Here are the diseases that kill: cancer, heart disease, COPD/emphysema, stroke and accidents/injuries. These conditions were responsible for 63% of all deaths in the US in 2010.

Let’s discuss each of these conditions and how one could lower the risk of dying from them.

1. Cancer:

The Framingham Heart Study has shown that smoking and cancer are closely related. Smokers who quit can significantly reduce their risk of getting cancer. We also know that exercise and prophylactic supplements like fish oil and vitamin D3 have cancer preventative effects.

Antioxidant supplementation that included beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E daily or on alternate days for 1 to 12 years, along with selenium supplementation reduced the incidence of cancer of the esophagus, colon, pancreas, stomach or the liver. Insulin resistance due to sugar and starch overconsumption is causing cancer, particularly breast cancer, colorectal cancer and endometrial cancer. I have discussed this in a recent blog.

Pollution has been linked to increased lung cancer risks as discussed here.

2. Heart disease:

Heart disease can be caused by several factors in combination. Lifestyle issues are important: Smokers need to quit smoking as the Framingham Heart Study has shown more than fifty years ago that smoking causes heart attacks. Obesity and diabetes also contribute significantly to the risk of heart disease. Often these are connected to faulty nutrition, which is another lifestyle issue that comes to mind when too much sugar and starchy foods are taken in; your liver will convert these into fatty acids, triglycerides and elevated, oxidized LDL cholesterol, which gets deposited under the lining of the arteries. A lack of exercise adds to this problem as a lack of exercise lowers the protective HDL cholesterol and fat is deposited under the lining of the arteries. Start exercising and your protective HDL cholesterol will rise, your total cholesterol to HDL ratio will lower to healthier levels and your risk for hardening of the arteries and for getting a heart attack will fall. If you have diabetes, it is important that you manage your blood sugars well; this means that if you inject insulin, you want the blood sugar tests to be within the normal range and the hemoglobin A1C values to be below 5.5%. Poorly controlled diabetes is an important cause of heart attacks and strokes. High blood pressure is also an important cause of developing heart attacks and strokes. It is important to control your blood pressure by taking blood pressure lowering pills and also by exercising regularly. Exercise seems to send a signal to relax the blood vessels thus lowering the blood pressure, which in turn prevents heart attacks.

Forty Percent Of Premature Deaths Can Be Prevented

Forty Percent Of Premature Deaths Can Be Prevented

 

3. COPD/emphysema:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema is mostly caused by chronic exposure to cigarette smoke from smoking. The earlier you can quit, the better your chances that your breathing will not be the limiting factor when you age. But it is also important to avoid exposure to other noxious gases, such as from welding and from exposure to pollution. This may involve a decision to move to a less polluted area. Or it might involve a job retraining. Those who are suffering from COPD can be helped to a certain extent by a portable oxygen tank with nasal prongs.

4. Stroke:

As mentioned before, quitting smoking, controlling high blood pressure and controlling blood sugar, if you suffer from diabetes have been shown to stabilize your blood vessels including the ones that supply your brain. The key is to prevent hardening of the arteries by a healthy lifestyle. Exercising and keeping your weight under a body mass index of 25.0 have been shown to be effective stroke prevention. Healthy nutrition as indicated above under “heart disease” is equally important for stroke prevention. Go green (eat more vegetables, consume more green smoothies), cut down grains, sugar and starchy foods and you will live longer without strokes and heart attacks. Remember, what’s good for your heart is good for your brain!

5. Unintentional accidents/injuries:

Wearing helmets when bicycling, wearing seat belts when driving in a car, avoiding risky behaviors are all measures that save lives. One factor stands out in all of this: if you drink too much, you run the risk of being involved in unintentional accidents or injuries. People may not like to hear this, but your brain lacks the natural inhibitory impulses when you are under the influence of alcohol, so you become more daring and you may not pay attention for the split second that could have prevented an injury or accident. People react very differently to alcohol. Some people feel inebriated after only ½ a glass of wine or beer whereas others can drink more before they make mistakes. The best is to be sober when you drive, ski, use power tools or walk in traffic. Even climbing ladders requires a clear mind!

Conclusion:

As the CDC said 20 to 40% of premature deaths (deaths that occurred before the age of 80) could have been prevented, if the above-mentioned recommendations were followed. Let me rephrase this: 180,000 to 360,000 premature deaths every year in the US before the age of 80 could have been prevented! Curative medicine cannot help with these statistics as a heart attack or stroke has happened when it has struck you. Cancer and end stage lung disease are similar conditions that you are suddenly faced with when they occur and unintentional accidents just seem to happen. This is where the importance of prevention can be seen, because these little baby steps every day are adding up to something formidable, a force to be reckoned with. Be part of the solution, think prevention!

More information on:

1. Cancer mortality: http://nethealthbook.com/cancer-overview/overview/cancer-mortality-rate/

2. Higher vitamin D3 intake lowers mortality from heart attacks, strokes, cancer, fractures due to osteoporosis: http://nethealthbook.com/news/higher-vitamin-d-levels-associated-lower-risk-mortality/

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

Mar
01
2014

Smoking Remains A Health Hazard

Recently new statistics came out that show that 48.8 million people in the US (19% of the population) still smoke. 22 % of the population are male, 17% female. Smoking is responsible for 20% of all deaths in the US (1 in 5 deaths). It is interesting to note that in the older age group (above the age of 65) only 8% are smoking, but 22 % of the 25 to 44 year old group is smoking. Among the American population Native Americans have the highest percentage of smokers (32% are smokers). 10% of Americans of Asian descend smoke. Blacks, Whites and Hispanics are placed in between them and the American Indians. Finally, people who can least afford it (who are below the poverty level) have the highest percentage of smokers (29% smoke) while 18% of people above the poverty level smoke. Education seems to have a protective effects when it comes to smoking: of the least educated group of people 45% are smokers while only 5% with postgraduate education smoke.

Effects of cigarette smoke on the body

As this link shows the concoction of various ingredients in the smoke of cigarettes causes various parts of the body to react differently to these chemicals. Here is a rundown of diseases caused by smoking cigarettes.

1. Lung cancer: This is the most common cause of death in women who smoke, more common now than breast cancer. 90% of lung cancers in women are due to smoking. The same was true in males, but as a group they now smoke less than in the past.

2. Other cancers:  cervical cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder, esophageal, stomach, laryngeal, oral, and throat cancers are all caused by smoking. Recently acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow has been added to the list of smoking related cancers.

3. Abdominal aortic aneurysm: As cigarette smoke destroys elastic tissue, it is no wonder that the loss of support of the wall of the aortic artery leads to the development of large pouches, which eventually rupture with a high mortality rate due to massive blood loss.

4. Infections of lungs and gums: Smokers are prone to infections of the lungs (pneumonia) and of the gums (periodontitis).

5. Chronic lung diseases: emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma.

6. Cataracts: lack of perfusion of the lens leads to premature cataract formation.

7. Coronary heart disease: hardening of the coronary arteries, which leads to heart attacks, is very common in smokers.

8. Reproduction: reduced fertility in mothers, premature rupture of membranes with prematurely born babies; low birth weight; all this leads to higher infant mortality. Sudden infant death syndrome is found more frequently in children of smoking moms (Ref. 1).

9. Intermittent claudication: after decades of smoking the larger arteries in the legs are hardening and not enough oxygen reaches the muscles to walk causing intermittent pausing to recover from the muscle aches. If it is feasible a cardiovascular surgeon may be able to do a bypass surgery to rescue the legs, often though this is not feasible and the patients lower legs or an entire lower limb may have to be amputated.

10. Others: osteoporosis is more common in smokers; poor eye sight develops due to age-related macular degeneration that sets in earlier and due to tobacco amblyopia, a toxic effect from tobacco on the optic nerve; hypothyroidism is aggravated by smoking and menopause occurs earlier.

Smoking Remains A Health Hazard

Smoking Remains A Health Hazard

What happens in the lung tissue in smokers?

Ref. 1 gives a detailed rundown of the changes in the lung tissue as a result of exposure to cigarette smoke. The various components of cigarette smoke lead to an activation of special white blood cells, called monocytes that after stimulation turn into tissue macrophages. In addition neutrophils (regular white blood cells) also get stimulated. Between them they produce cytokines and chemokines and the neutrophils secrete elastase that digests elastic tissue in the lungs. Breakdown products of the elastic tissue serve as a powerful stimulus to the immune system to mount an autoimmune response. After some time of being exposed to cigarette smoke the immune system considers part of the lining of the lungs as foreign and cytotoxic lymphocytes attack the lining of the air sacs (alveoli). Lung specialists consider chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD or emphysema) to be an autoimmune disease (Ref.1).

The sad part is that when this condition has progressed far enough, even quitting smoking may be too late to stop the autoimmune disease by itself as the body has been sensitized and the immune system is convinced that the altered lung tissue should be attacked. Add to this that carcinogenic substances and toxins in cigarette smoke damage the DNA of all cells and the energy producing mitochondria, and the stage is set for the combination of chronic inflammation and the release of free radicals to cause all of the diseases mentioned above.

Quit smoking still important

It is extremely important to quit as soon as possible to avoid the full-fledged sensitization of the immune system against ones own lung tissue. Studies have shown that 36% of survivors of heart attacks will successfully quit, 21% of healthy men with a known risk of cardiovascular disease will quit when asked to do so and 8% of pregnant women will quit. When a physician examines a patient in the office and asks a smoker to quit smoking 2% of these smokers will respond and still not smoke 1 year after this doctor’s visit. This may not sound like much, but it is an encouraging effect. Perhaps the most important fact is what I mentioned in the beginning of this blog: the least educated group of people smoked the most (45%) while the most educated people smoked the least (5% of people with a postgraduate education). My hope is that the Internet and other educational media will contribute to education to convince people how important prevention is.

Pharmacological assistance to quit smoking

Nicotine replacement therapy can involve any of 2- and 4-mg nicotine polacrilex gum, transdermal nicotine patches, nicotine nasal spray, the nicotine inhaler or nicotine lozenges. Discuss with your doctor what may be best in your case. Typically one of these products is used for 3 to 6 months.

Bupropion is an antidepressant with a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor affinity. Bupropion is useful to help with the withdrawal from nicotine addiction, which occurs in depressed or non-depressed people. It strictly has to do with the stimulation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.  Typically the dose is 150 mg of a sustained released bupropion tablet per day for 7 days prior to stopping smoking, then at 300 mg (two 150-mg sustained-release doses) per day for the next 6 to 12 weeks. 44% quit at 7 weeks versus 19% of controls. A newer nicotine partial receptor stimulator, varenicline, has been compared to bupropion. It was slightly more effective in helping people to get off cigarettes. Varenicline is started at a dose of 0.5 mg per day for 3 days, then 0.5 mg twice daily for 4 days, followed by a maintenance dose of 1 mg twice daily. If nausea is a problem, lower doses can be used. Varenicline has been approved for a 3-month period with an option of a second 3-month period, if relapse occurs. Discuss with your doctor what is best for you.

According to Ref. 1 a combination therapy of bupropion and nicotine patch was more effective than either one alone.

Will power, hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy to quit smoking has been popular, but is not as effective as it is often claimed. Will power, measured by the “placebo” response is quite effective given the fact that nicotine is very addictive and yet 19% in the placebo group were able to quit on their own. According to Ref. 1 varenicline treatment for 12 weeks produced abstinence for 9 to 52 weeks and was compared to bupropion and placebo. The abstinence rates were 23%, 15%, and 10% for varenicline, bupropion, and placebo. This means that will power was still 2/3 as effective as bupropion and 43% as effective as varenicline. Don’t underestimate will power!

Conclusion

The best scenario is to never start smoking. The second best is to quit as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the third scenario of continuing to smoke is still very prevalent worldwide. I have seen the damage done first hand in practicing medicine, which motivated me to never smoke. But I am aware of the difficulties of quitting because of the highly addictive nature of cigarette smoking. Where is the support from governments on this? The problem is that the government benefits from taxation of cigarettes. Nevertheless it is laudable that there are government sites through the CDC to help you quit smoking.

At the end we are all responsible for our own health. If you are presently smoking, psych yourself up for the day that you will quit. Quitting means that you are deciding actively to live longer. Studies have shown that it takes often several attempts before you eventually quit successfully.More information on some of the topics mentioned:

1. Lung cancer and other cancers: http://nethealthbook.com/cancer-overview/overview/epidemiology-cancer-origin-reason-cancer/

2. Heart attack: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/heart-disease/heart-attack-myocardial-infarction-or-mi/

3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd/

Reference

1. Mason: Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, 5th ed.© 2010 Saunders

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Sep
28
2013

Sleepless Nights

Sleeping problems (insomnia) are very common. About 10% of the population suffers from chronic insomnia; 30% of the population suffers from occasional sleep problems. In a large outpatient population of a clinic consisting of 3500 patients who had at least one major clinical condition, 50% complained of insomnia, 16% had severe symptoms, 34% had mild symptoms (Ref.1). Insomnia is more common among women, and older people as well as in people with medical or psychiatric illnesses. Long-term studies have shown that the same insomnia problems persist throughout many years. It is not possible to offer a simple remedy for insomnia, because insomnia is a complex problem. Here I will discuss some of the causes of insomnia and also discuss some of the treatment options.

Symptoms of insomnia

The person who suffers from insomnia will usually state that they have problems falling asleep. Worries of the day suddenly circulate through their thoughts and they toss and turn nervously looking at the clock from time to time and getting more and more anxious that they cannot sleep. Others fall asleep OK, but in the middle of the night they wake up perhaps to visit the restroom, but then they cannot go back to sleep. Others wake up 2 hours before their normal alarm clock time and they feel their stomach rumbling making it impossible to fall back to sleep. Older people with chronic diseases and general poor health suffer more from insomnia. In this setting insomnia may be more related to the underlying disease rather than old age. Psychiatric disorders also are associated with more insomnia. Treat the underlying psychiatric illness, and the insomnia disappears.

Although insomnia is a sleep disturbance during the nighttime, people who are affected with this complain of daytime fatigue, of overstimulation, yet they catch themselves making frequent mistakes, and their inability to pay attention gets them involved in accidents and falls. Longitudinal studies have shown (Ref. 1) that people with chronic insomnia are more likely to develop psychiatric disease, such as major depression,  anxiety disorder and alcohol and substance abuse. Unfortunately these disorders can by themselves again cause insomnia, which reinforces chronic insomnia. Insomnia leads to poorer social and physical functioning, affects emotions, leads to a lack of vitality and physical endurance, contributes to worsening of pain and can affect general and mental health.

Research about insomnia

Much has been learnt from sleep studies using polysomnography monitoring during a full night’s sleep. These studies have been used mainly as a research tool. In such studies eye movements, brain wave activity, muscle activity, chest movements, airflow, heart beats, oxygen saturation and snoring (with a microphone) are all simultaneously recorded. This way restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, snoring, seizure disorders, deep depression etc. that can all lead to insomnia can be diagnosed and separated from insomnia. The stages of sleep (wakefulness, stage 1 to 3 sleep and the REM sleep stage) can also be readily measured using polysomnography (Ref.2). According to this reference the majority of insomnia cases do not need this complex procedure done.

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

Causes of insomnia

Traditionally insomnia cases are classified into primary insomnia and secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia is caused by all of the factors discussed below. When they are dealt with, we are left with cases of primary insomnia.

The following medical conditions can cause insomnia: heart disease, pulmonary diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); gastrointestinal disease like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s disease; chronic kidney disease; musculoskeletal disease like arthritis, fractures, osteoporosis; neurodegenerative disease like MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease; endocrine disease like diabetes, hyper- or hypothyroidism, adrenal gland fatigue and insufficiency; and chronic pain conditions. Also, psychiatric conditions like major depression, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders can cause insomnia.

This list in not complete, but it gives you an idea of how complex the topic of insomnia is.
The physician who is seeing a patient with insomnia needs to rule out any of these other causes of insomnia to be certain that the only condition that is left to treat in the patient is insomnia itself. The other diagnoses have to be dealt with separately or else treatment of insomnia will fail.

Ref. 1 points to a useful model of how to think about causation of insomnia: there are three points to consider, namely predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors. Let’s briefly discuss some of these.

Predisposing factors

We are all different in our personal make-up. If you are well grounded, chances are you are not susceptible to insomnia. Anxious persons or persons who have been through a lot of negative experiences in life will have personality traits that make them more prone to insomnia. Lifestyle choices such as late nights out, drinking with the buddies in a bar (extreme circadian phase tendencies) will have an impact on whether or not you develop insomnia.

Precipitating factors

A situational crisis like a job change or the death of a loved one can initiate insomnia.  However, there could be a medical illness such as a heart attack, a stroke or the new diagnosis of a psychiatric illness that has become a precipitating factor. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome belong into this group as well as would the stimulating effect of coffee and caffeine containing drinks. Jet lag and nighttime shift work can also be precipitating factors.

Perpetuating factors

Daytime napping to make up for lost sleep the night before can undermine sleep initiation the following night, which can lead to a vicious cycle. Similarly, the use of bedtime alcoholic drinks leads to sleep disruption later that night and can become a perpetuating factor, if this habit is maintained. Even the psychological conditioning of being anxious about whether or not you will fall asleep easily or not the next night can become a perpetuating factor.

I will return to this classification and the factor model of causation of insomnia when we address treatment options.

Drugs that can cause insomnia

One major possible cause for insomnia  can be side effects from medications that patients are on (would belong to the ‘perpetuating factors’ among causes). Physicians call this “iatrogenic insomnia”. The antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) like Prozac are particularly troublesome with regard to causing insomnia as a side effect. Other antidepressants like trazodone (Desyrel) are used in small doses to help patients with insomnia to fall asleep. Some asthmatics and people with autoimmune diseases may be on prednisone, a corticosteroid drug. This can cause insomnia, particularly in higher doses; so can decongestants you may use for allergies; beta-blockers used for heart disease and hypertension treatment; theophylline, an asthma medication and diuretics. Central nervous stimulants like caffeine or illicit drugs can also cause insomnia. Hormone disbalance in general and hyperthyroidism specifically as well as Cushing’s disease, where cortisol levels are high will cause insomnia.

Treatment of insomnia

So, how should the physician approach a patient with insomnia? First it has to be established whether there is secondary insomnia present due to one of the predisposing, precipitating or perpetuating factors. In other words, is there secondary insomnia due to other underlying illnesses? If so, these are being addressed first. Lifestyle choices (staying up late every night) would have to be changed; alcohol and drug abuse and overindulging in coffee or caffeine containing drinks needs to be dealt with. Cognitive therapy may be beneficial when mild depression or anxiety is a contributing factor to insomnia.

The remaining insomnia (also medically termed “primary insomnia”) is now being treated.

The following general points are useful to get into the sleeping mode (modified from Ref. 3):

  1. Ensure your bedroom is dark, soundproof, and comfortable with the room temperature being not too warm, and you develop a “sleep hygiene”. This means you get to sleep around the same time each night, have some down time 1 hour or so before going to bed and get up after your average fill of sleep (for most people between 7 to 9 hours). Do not sleep in, but use an alarm clock to help you get into your sleep routine.
  2. Avoid caffeine drinks, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs. If you must smoke, don’t smoke later than 7PM.
  3. Get into a regular exercise program, either at home or at a gym.
  4. Avoid a heavy meal late at night. A light snack including some warm milk would be OK.
  5. Do not use your bedroom as an office, reading place or media center. This would condition you to be awake.  Reserve your bedroom use only for intimacy and sleeping.
  6. If you wake up at night and you are wide awake, leave the bedroom and sit in the living room doing something until you feel tired and then return to bed.
  7. A self-hypnosis recording is a useful adjunct to a sleep routine. Listen to it when you go to bed to give you something to focus on (low volume) and you will find it easier to stop thinking.

Drugs and supplements for insomnia

1. In the past benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), fluorazepam (Dalmane), temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion) and others were and still are used as sleeping pills. However, it was noted that there are significant side effects with this group of drugs. Notably, there is amnesia (memory loss), which can be quite distressing to people such as not remembering that someone phoned while under the influence of the drug, you promised certain things, but you cannot remember the following morning what it was. Another problem is the development of addiction to the drugs with worse insomnia when the drugs are discontinued. Many physicians have stopped prescribing benzodiazepines.

2. There are non-benzodiazepines drugs that are used as sleeping pills (hypnotics), such as Zaleplon (Sonata), Zolpidem (Ambien) and Eszopiclone (Lunesta).  They seem to be better tolerated.

3. Ramelteon, a melatonin agonist, is available by prescription in the US. It probably is the best-tolerated mild sleeping pill and works similar to melatonin, but is more expensive. Chances are that your physician likely would prescribe one of the non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon for you as they do not seem to be addicting.

4. However, there is an alternative: Many patients with insomnia tolerate a low dose of trazodone (Desyrel), which is an antidepressant with sleep restoring properties. A low dose of 25 to 50 mg at bedtime is usually enough for insomnia. This allows the patient to fall asleep within about 30 minutes of taking it, and sleep lasts through most of the night without a hangover in the morning. Many specialists who run sleep laboratories recommend trazodone when primary insomnia is diagnosed. However, this is still a drug with potential side effects as mentioned in the trazodone link, but 50 mg is only ¼ of the full dose, so the side effects will also be less or negligible.

5. I prefer the use of melatonin, which is the natural brain hormone designed to put us to sleep. Between 1 mg and 6 mg are sufficient for most people. We know from other literature that up to 20 mg of melatonin has been used in humans as an immune stimulant in patients with metastatic melanoma with no untoward side effects other than nightmares and some tiredness in the morning. A review from the Vanderbilt University, Holland found melatonin to be very safe as a sleeping aid. There are several melatonin receptors in the body of vertebrates (including humans), which are stimulated by melatonin.

6. Other natural methods are the use of L-Tryptophan at a dose of 500 mg at bedtime, which can be combined with melatonin. It is the amino acid contained in turkey meat, which makes you tired after a Thanksgiving meal. GABA is another supplement, which is the relaxing hormone of your brain, but with this supplement tolerance develops after about 4 to 5 days, so it is only suitable for very short term use. Herbal sleep aids are hops, valerian extract and passionflower extract. They are available in health food stores.

Conclusion

A lack of sleep (insomnia) is almost a given in our fast paced lives.

When it comes to treatment, all of the other causes of secondary insomnia need to be treated or else treatment attempts would fail. What is left is primary insomnia. This is treated as follows:

We need to review our sleeping habits, lifestyles and substance abuse. Remove what is detrimental to your sleep. Start with the least invasive treatment modalities such as self-hypnosis tapes, melatonin, L-Tryptophan or herbal extracts. Should this not quite do the trick, asks your doctor for advice. The non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon would be the next level up. It may be that an alternative such as low dose trazodone would be of help. Only, if all this fails would I recommend to go to the more potent sleeping pills (keep in mind the potential for addiction to them).

References

1. David N. Neubauer, MD (John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD): Insomnia. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice – Volume 32, Issue 2 (June 2005)  © 2005, W. B. Saunders Company

2: Behrouz Jafari, MD and Vahid Mohsenin, MD (Yale Center for Sleep Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA): Polysomnography. Clinics in Chest Medicine – Volume 31, Issue 2 (June 2010), © 2010 W. B. Saunders Company

3. Jean Gray, editor: “Therapeutic choices”, 5th edition, Chapter 8 by Jonathan A.E. Fleming, MB, FRCPC: Insomnia, © 2008, Canadian Pharmacists Association.

Last edited Sept. 28, 2014

Nov
01
2004

Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking A Myth

The fear of gaining weight after quitting to smoke tends to be a fear among a number of smokers, but a study presented at the annual congress of the European Respiratory Society in Glasgow in 2004 may very well put these fears to rest.
Dr. Audrey Lynas, a respiratory specialist at Sunderland Royal Hospital reported a study on 622 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a late effect of smoking). The body mass index was not different from those who continued to smoke than those who were ex-smokers. Both groups had a BMI of 26, and five years down the line, they still haven’t put on any weight, reported Dr. Lynas.

According to a 2002 survey in Britain, 30% of female smokers and 14% of male smokers said, that they would not try to quit, as they were afraid of gaining weight. Even patients with COPD (the previously mentioned chronic obstructive lung disease) may be influenced by this fear, even though it is crucial for them to quit in order to stop the progression of their lung disease.

It seems logical, that quitting the cigarette habit is not associated with weight gain. However, if nibbling becomes a substitute for smoking, frequent snacks lead to an overload of calories.

Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking A Myth

Weight Gain After Quitting Smoking A Myth

Weight gain will be the consequence of the additional munching. Stop smoking is not the culprit for weight gain.

More on weight loss here: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/weight-loss-and-diet/

Reference: The Medical Post October 5, 2004, page 7

Last edited Oct. 27, 2014