When the Six Flags amusement park in New Jersey opens Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom this summer, it’ll become the tallest “drop ride” in the world – 41 stories! The park’s warning about the risks is not just marketing hype; folks on the “not recommended” list include anyone with high blood pressure. That knocks out more than 30 percent of Americans and nearly 20 percent of Canadians who have HBP (above 140/90) and are at increased risk for diabetes, heart attack, stroke, impotence, skin wrinkling and memory loss.
Unfortunately, almost 20 percent of you who have this silent disabler and killer don’t know it. So stop in at your local pharmacy or see your doc to learn what your BP is. And while you’re there, ask if any medications you’re taking can increase your pressure. A daily acetaminophen may, as can other pain relievers, including ibuprofen and naproxen. Many antidepressants also trigger a rise (switching may solve the problem). Hormonal birth control also may increase your BP and stroke risk (take two low-dose aspirins daily if you’re on BC pills or hormone therapy).
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration has been encouraged to establish new labeling guidelines so consumers will know when a drug may increase blood pressure. We agree. But until then, you need to ask your doctor and pharmacist about the possible blood-pressure side effects of the drugs and supplements you’re taking. And going forward, make it part of the conversation whenever you get a new prescription. Then your meds won’t take your blood pressure on a roller-coaster ride.
Mind your mind
It’s ironic that from 1968-78 Peter Falk’s character “Columbo” was best known for looking befuddled and forgetful and then suddenly recalling, “just one more thing.” Those well-scripted memory lapses predated a real-life battle with Alzheimer’s disease that Falk would fight some 29 years later.
That kind of forgetfulness is what researchers from UCLA’s Longevity Center spotted in many of the 18,000 folks ages 18 to 99 they interviewed recently. When the participants were asked if they believed that their thinking ability had declined in the past decade, 14 percent of younger adults, 22 percent of middle-aged and 26 percent of seniors said yes. That self-evaluated assessment of what’s called subjective cognitive impairment, or SCI, is a reliable indicator of possible future cognitive problems. Researchers asked about lifestyle habits, too. What they found: SCI is associated with depression, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking and lack of education.
Other research shows that 55 percent of folks with SCI develop clinically recognized mild cognitive impairment within seven years. (Only 15 percent of people without SCI progress to MCI after that length of time.) Once MCI develops, it can take about 15 years for mild dementia to set in.
Fortunately, SCI isn’t an inevitable precursor to dementia; you can do a lot to protect your brain if you avoid smoke (from cannabis and tobacco), seek treatment for depression, control blood pressure and weight, avoid diabetes, stay physically active and manage stress. Oh, and just one more thing: Keep your mind active by constantly learning new things.
Beware unreliable online health info
What did Orson Welles’ 1938 radio drama “War of the Worlds” have in common with today’s encyclopedic website Wikipedia? Too many people believed every word. Welles gave people notice that the tale was pure fiction, and Wikipedia has never claimed to be more than a website (often wonderful) with user-generated and curated articles. Nonetheless, as many as 150 million folks per month use Wikipedia’s 20,000 medical articles for health info, when they should not be the last word in medical advice. A new study compared info in Wiki’s medical articles to facts from peer-reviewed medical journals: 90 percent contained false or misleading information.
Examining entries for heart disease, cancer, mental illness, concussion, osteoarthritis, respiratory conditions, hypertension, diabetes, back problems and elevated cholesterol, reviewers spotted mistakes that could lead you to treat yourself incorrectly or pass along faulty info to your doc.
Another study found the online Medscape Drug Reference provided answers to 82.5 percent of researchers’ questions about medications; Wikipedia answered only 40 percent – and often had missing or incorrect info on dosages, interactions and contraindications.
So, what’s the smartest way to use the Internet for health info? Stick with sites with recognized medical experts who curate the info, those affiliated with the National Institutes of Health (health.nih.gov) and other dot-gov sites, established medical institutions and medical journals. On Wikipedia: Look at an article’s footnotes to see if they’re credible; if they are, use that article’s info for hints on what to search for on the more reliable sites. Then talk to your doc.