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Home >  Health News & Articles >  Dr. Bennett's Articles >  Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2007
Articles by Dr. Bennett
Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2007
Author: Cleaves M. Bennett MD FACP
Monday, January 07, 2008

In statistics that are now several years old, it‘s been estimated that one in three Americans (that’s more than 80 million of us!) have some form(s) of heart and blood vessel disease. More than half of those 80 million+ are under the age of 65. (CIRCULATION, the official journal of the American Heart Association, January 16, 2007).

Ah oh, that is a lot of people getting heart disease at a time that they should be in their “prime of life”. Maybe they’ve got a good job, they’re making good money, the kids are grown up enough they can pretty much amuse themselves, the spouse wants to go to Europe for July, and there you are, in the hospital with a heart attack.

In that under 65 group, the numero uno baby boomer is former President William Jefferson Clinton. (Now I’m using his entire name, much the way I am sure his mother must have used it, when she was calling him after he had been bad.) Because he has been very bad. He has not taken good care of himself. He had forgotten that his body is a temple. He’s enjoyed the best medical care at no charge for most of his adult life. He’s had plenty of money to buy his medicines. Yet without telling his doctor, he stopped his cholesterol lowering medicine for no other reason than taking it was a pain in the ___.

So he ends up scaring the pants off of poor Hilary who has been counting on him to campaign for her in ’08. Not to mention the fact that he personally has cost us taxpayers millions for what we all want and many don’t have, “the best” medical care. He’s had his first heart attack before he turned 60. That is very bad news for him and his family. Is he a typical baby boomer? No reason to believe otherwise. If so, the current Pres had better recalculate when Medicare runs out of money. We’ll find out soon enough.

Should we all be asking Santa for a home defibrillator?

Lifetime risk of some form of heart and blood vessel disease for men is 2 in 3, and for women is 1 in 2. In 2006 there were an estimated 1.2 million heart attacks in the USA. About one third of these patients died before receiving medical care. Now this is really scary: Two thirds of them were in people who had no idea that they had anything wrong with their hearts. Two out of three drop over dead and they never even knew what hit them! Of the remaining cardiac arrest victims who actually make it to the hospital, only about 5% to 10% leave the hospital alive.

Perhaps the hottest item for that older man in your life at Christmas time should be an implanted defibrillator? The current vice-pres has one and we’re not even sure that he’s really quit smoking yet. We can only hope Cheny’s secret service agents are all EMT’s or board certified cardiologists.

You play -- you pay, and too many of us play

The best predictors of heart problems in your 50’s and 60’s are your diet and lifestyle in your 20’s and 30’s, your BMI (a measure of obesity) and the associated levels of blood sugar, pressure and cholesterol. God doesn’t let us get away with anything. You play, you pay. Not only does all this heart disease disrupt lives and livelihood, it is very, very expensive. In fact, it is breaking the bank. Any number of banks for that matter. Medicare, Medicaid and many large corporations such as General Motors all have very difficult financial futures predicted. The Federal Government and many states are threatening funding for Medicaid right now. Remember Medicaid? That’s the USA’s attempt at (big fanfare here) universal health care for everyone, Hilary’s and the Democrat’s dream. More on that later.

In respondents ages 18 to 74 years, data for 2000 from the Centers For Disease Control showed the prevalence among American adults of healthy lifestyle characteristics was as follows:

  1. no smoking, 76.0% of us;

  2. healthy weight, 40.1% of us;

  3. consumption of 5 fruits and vegetables per day, 23.3% of us;

  4. regular physical activity, 22.2% of us.

  5. The overall prevalence of these healthy lifestyle indicators (ie, having all 4 healthy lifestyle characteristics) was only 3%, with little variation among subgroups. Three percent of adults do a good job at taking care of themselves. Is it any wonder there is a health care crisis in America? (I do all four, and a few others not on this list. It’s not that difficult, and it has changed my life forever.)

  6. Not only is there not enough money to pay for all the care that older Americans need now and are going to need in the future, there are not enough doctors either. Nor are there enough in the pipeline to provide care for all the baby boomers who are turning 60 in the next 2 decades. Do you have any idea what universal health care would do to that problem? America would be like England or Canada or perhaps even worse. You live in Los Angeles. You need to go to your doctor with a fever and a bad sore throat. The line starts in Bakersfield. They will try to fit you in, in 2 or 3 weeks. How do I know? There are quite a few countries that already have universal health care. Here’s one example.

    Right now in England they have this big problem of long waits to see their doctors. I learned this statistic from one of the government’s very own pamphlets; The “goal” for a patient with severe back pain to get an appointment to see an orthopedic doctor is 90 days. (hint: “goal” means they are not there yet.) People with money, such as the arab oil moguls, go to private doctors that are not part of the National Health Service. A tongue in cheek article in the British news stated “More than half of people would turn to therapists such as faith healers rather than endure long NHS waiting lists, according to a new poll. Seven out of 10 people questioned could name a paranormal expert, compared with one in 10 who could name a nationally acclaimed doctor.”

Pills are like seatbelts

We have been lead to believe that if we take enough pills we won’t have to optimize our lifestyles, eat healthy and take good care of ourselves. Most particularly, we assume taking the pills allows us to continue to eat anything we want. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the pills actually did all that they promised: like protect you from heart attacks and strokes and dementia and fragile bones and diabetes – hey, that would be great. But they don’t you see. Pills are not like a suit of armor nor a vaccination against polio. Pills are more like seatbelts. They are very effective in an emergency but you still have to drive carefully!!!

Pills change the odds that you’re going to get one of those health problems, but not prevent them entirely. A diuretic + potassium + atenolol (stress blocker) + Norvasc (dilates small arteries) is a typical 4 drug cocktail to lower high blood pressure. Four different drugs that you must swallow every day for the rest of your life. Did your doctor tell you that little bit of bad news?

These drugs don’t cure anything, they don’t make you feel any better, they cost a lot of money, and they all have side effects. It gets worse. If you don’t take them religiously, they are even less effective. (Do you even know anyone who can take 4 kinds of prescription medicines accurately and religiously every day for the rest of his life?)

Things you (and your doctor) don’t know about drugs

Moreover, there is no scientifically validated information proving that this combination continues to protect you beyond about 3 to 5 years. That’s the longest any drugs are tested before they are approved by the FDA. If you are still taking the drugs after 10 or 15 or even 20 years, neither the FDA nor the drug companies can promise you that they are still effective. And in fact, that particular combo, like most other combinations of pills, have never been tested to see if they work as well in combination as they did individually. You didn’t know that, did you? Your doctor doesn’t either.

Worse yet, that combination has never been shown to actually prevent heart attacks, strokes, hospitalizations or even death in all or even most people who take it. The blood pressure numbers will definitely look better, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are healthier and likely to live longer. There’s no way around it. If you just take lots of pills but don’t eat more healthfully, exercise regularly, and learn to relax more often, neither your doctor nor Big Pharma should be telling you, “Don’t worry, take these pills and you are going to be okay.” They simply don’t have the data to back them up.

Wait seven years before taking a new drug

There is another problem with pills concerning which big Pharma dissembles shamefully and seeks to hide from consumers. Most of my readers are probably not aware of the fact that a new drug can (and often will) be approved for release even though it is less effective and/or more expensive than similar drugs that are already on the market. It can even have more/worse side effects. Doesn’t matter at all to the FDA. To most people that’s a real shocker.

New drugs are approved, not because they are any better, but because they at least do some good and they don’t do too much harm or kill too many people. And of course, the reason for the original application to the FDA is based on the fact that the drug company thinks that they can make some money with the drug. In that respect big Pharma does not differ from big General Motors. All new cars are not necessarily better but at least they are different. Good marketing can turn “new and different” into blockbuster sales and profits.

Once a new drug is on the market, the number of prescriptions written and refilled, and thus the profits made by the drug company, has little to do with how safe and effective the drug actually is. In fact sales and profits are almost entirely determined by their advertising budget, and how many eyeballs they can capture. Believe me, they cast their nets as widely as possible.

Success for a new drug depends on: How many people are going to visit their doctor asking for the drug that they just saw on a TV or print medium or internet ad? How many cute drug reps visit the doctors with sample pills, warm cookies, short skirts and big smiles. And, not to denigrate the reps abilities and intelligence, the persuasiveness of their presentation of the scientific data that led to the approval of the drug by the FDA.

So, unless they get some real bad press, as Merck did with Vioxx, their inferior drug can become a blockbuster based solely on how well it is marketed! Now you know something that most doctors don’t even know. New drugs don’t have to be any better or even as good as the old drugs they seek to replace.

The heartburn pill sold by AstraZeneca is a case in point. Prilosec (aka “the purple pill”) was a big seller for years because so many people have heartburn. But eventually its patent protection ran out. Just in time AstraZeneca replaced it with a similar drug with identical efficacy and side effects. Wouldn’t you know, the new drug Nexium®, which obviously is the “next” best treatment costs about 10 times as much as Prilosec which is now sold generically. There is neither evidence nor even expectation that Nexium is any better. Which one do you think they advertise on TV?

Why seven years? New drugs are only tested on a relatively few patients for at most 3 to 5 years and often much less. Once the drug is on the market, if the ad campaign is effective, it will be used by 100’s of thousands or even millions of patients. That is when the relatively rare and severe side effects start showing up. Unless there is no alternative drug and the new drug can be life saving, don’t take a new drug until it has been on the market for 7 years.

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