Tag Archives: heart

Covering heart disease and older adults

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

heartCardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the U.S. As with many other chronic conditions, age is the greatest risk factor. In 2013, someone in the U.S. died from cardiovascular disease every 40 seconds.

The average annual rates for first cardiovascular event rise drastically with age – from three per 1,000 men from 33 to 44 years old, to 74 per 1,000 men in the 85-to-94 age group. For women, comparable rate rises occur 10 years later than men.

Of the estimated 82.6 million Americans who have one or more types of cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association says about 40 million are age 60 or older.

Many of the problems older people have with their heart and blood vessels are really caused by disease, not by aging. For example, an older heart can normally pump blood as strong as a younger heart; less ability to pump blood is caused by disease. But, changes that happen with age may increase a person’s risk of heart disease.

Get more facts, stats and resources for your reporting on heart disease.

Steak and eggs: Putting science, health news into context

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

Steak and eggs

Photo by avlxyz via Flickr

Is it just me, or do medical journals seem to have a knack for publishing conflicting findings on the same topic within the very same week?

That’s what happened earlier this month when the journal Nature Medicine published a fascinating paper that linked a chemical plentiful in red meat, l-carnitine, to the acceleration of atherosclerosis in mice. Researchers also found convincing evidence that when l-carnitine is converted into another chemical, called TMAO, by gut bacteria it may also be linked to heart disease in people. (For an engrossing account of these experiments and the science behind them, check out Gina Kolata’s story for The New York Times.)

A few days later, I ran across this headline: “L-Carnitine Significantly Improves Patient Outcomes Following Heart Attack.” C’mon now. Really? First l-carnitine is bad for the heart, now it’s beneficial? Continue reading

Was a study of chelation fatally flawed or just countercultural?

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

This is the second of two posts about a study of whether chelation therapy might benefit some patients who have suffered a heart attack. In the first post, I gave health reporters high marks for their coverage.

Early in my career, I covered a story on chelation therapy. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the alternative treatment. I was a broadcast producer, and we needed video, so we visited a chelation clinic. Looking back, I can’t recall what our story was about, but I do remember what it was like to talk to the patients as they sat in recliners that lined the walls of the narrow storefront.

They were all hooked up to IV bags filled with a vivid yellow liquid that was a mixture of B-vitamins and the chemical EDTA that they believed was flushing heavy metals, minerals, and toxins from their bodies.

Many spoke of chelation with fervor. One man, a diabetic, credited the regular three-hour infusions with saving his legs, which were riddled with sores.

Chelation has been around for decades. It is accepted treatment for lead poisoning and other kinds of heavy metal toxicity. But alternative practitioners have greatly expanded its use, with claims that it can treat myriad ills, everything from autism to Alzheimer’s to problems caused by metal hip implants.  There’s almost no scientific evidence to back up these claims.

It was against this backdrop – lots of claims, enthusiastic patients, evangelistic providers – that the NIH set out to test the practice.

The Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy, or TACT, has again ignited a heated debate among doctors.

Here’s another voice to add to the discussion. He is lead study author Gervasio A. Lamas, M.D., chairman of medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla., and professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University Division of Cardiology. I asked him to talk about the process of publishing TACT and asked him to respond to a few of the main criticisms of the trial. These are lightly edited questions and answers from our interview: Continue reading

Health reporters deserve high marks for chelation coverage

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

In case you missed it, health reporters who cover medical studies had a shining moment recently. It centered around the heavily stage-managed publication of the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy, or TACT.

TACT was a 10-year double-blind, randomized controlled study of 1,708 patients that was carried out at 134 sites in the U.S. and Canada. It cost the government and, by extension, taxpayers, $31 million. About 60 percent of the sites were traditional chelation centers – some of which had shaky legal histories, the rest were traditional cardiology practices and academic medical centers, including Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic. Continue reading

Heart research hits plateau

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Just in time for the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter John Fauber offers something of a “state of the heart” address, explaining why, after years of breakthroughs and broad progress, cardiac research has suddenly hit a plateau. The short answer seems to be that, in a crowded market with a high bar for comparative effectiveness, companies can’t just pump out any old heart-related drug and get a guaranteed blockbuster anymore.

“Cardiology is no longer low-hanging fruit,” said James Stein, a cardiologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “I don’t see anything in the next five years that is going to dramatically change how we treat, other than the new blood thinners.”

Fauber pegs drugs that target genetic variation as the sector’s next growth area, but it looks like those won’t hit the market for another decade. At present, the only thing the industry can really hang its hat on is anticoagulants.

Conference walks back description of partnership with heart news website

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

A medical conference has retreated from a claim suggesting a trade website was being used to promote it and that supporters would be able to “reach new audiences” through a partnership between the conference and the website.

The 2010 Dallas-Leipzig International Valve conference has issued a correction after it came to light that it was promoting its partnership with theheart.org as a “highly influential source of publicity” and said theheart.org will “cover the benefits of attending DLIV 2010; it will forecast key aspects the meeting will offer; it will report on the highlights of the two-and-half day event – and more.”

Conference organizers have since posted the following note on its website (emphasis added):

Given the success of DLIV 2009 and its potential to grow in years to come, the meeting organizers have partnered with theheart.org to promote DLIV through their banner advertisements and e-blasts. [Correction: the previous material erroneously stated that industry would have the opportunity to gain exposure through theheart.org’s news and editorial programs: this is incorrect, and the meeting organizers apologize for the error. theheart.org had no other involvement with DLIV’s offers to industry.]

Shelley Wood, managing editor for Heartwire news and theheart.org, said, “There is a firm firewall between news activities and any advertising or sponsored content on theheart.org and at no point would outside parties be able to dictate the news or editorial content of theheart.org.”  She pointed out theheart.org includes a staff of seven journalists.

Larry Husten, on his CardioBrief blog, pointed out details about sponsorships at the conference, including the opportunity for supporters to pay large amounts of money to meet with faculty members. He noted that its website linked to an Industry Prospectus, a document listing opportunities for exhibitors and sponsors. Sometime after he published the post with a link to the Industry Prospectus (now archived on Husten’s site), conference organizers removed it from the website.

In the prospectus the conference announced its partnership with theheart.org:

Given the success of DLIV 2009 and its potential to grow in years to come, theheart.org recognizes the impact the meeting has in the field of cardiac care. Through its website, online blog and print publications, theheart.org will cover the benefits of attending DLIV 2010; it will forecast key aspects the meeting will offer; it will report on the highlights of the two-and-half day event – and more.

With this highly influential source of publicity, DLIV 2010 offers to its supporters new benefits. By participating in DLIV 2010, you will not only reach the physician leaders who attend the meeting; you will also have the opportunity to make contact and establish relationships with a worldwide audience. Don’t miss out on the chance to reach new audiences, gain additional media benefits and connect your company with the specialty source for news and information.

Theheart.org’s editorial policy says it is committed to providing “balanced, accurate health information” and it “employs editorial professionals who are responsible for content selection, development and maintenance process.” It says it discloses “sources of funding and site contributors’ possible conflicts of interest.” It also says it complies with the HONcode standard for health information (more here).

It should be noted that Husten (aka @cardiobrief on Twitter) is the former editor of theheart.org, something he is quite open about.

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