Got A fib? Get aggressive about losing weight

07/22/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

In “I Really Love You,” when George Harrison declared “my heart skips a beat,” he was describing a sudden heart flutter that signals a surge of romantic passion. But if your doctor says your heart is skipping a beat, it may mean you have (or are headed for) atrial fibrillation, or A fib.

A fib is a disturbed heart rhythm that happens when rapid, erratic electrical signals make the heart’s two upper chambers (called atria) contract quickly and irregularly. Sometimes you can feel it – but not always – and the problem may come and go or be persistent. For most folks, it increases the risk of stroke and heart failure.

Drugs to control your heart rate and rhythm, blood thinners to reduce the risk of blood clots and procedures that deliver low-energy shocks to the heart may treat the condition. But now a new study reveals that lifestyle changes can slash symptoms without using drugs.

Overweight people with A fib went on an eight-week, physician-led program to reduce underlying triggers of A fib: elevated levels of blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and blood sugar; sleep apnea; and tobacco and excess alcohol use. The participants saw a “substantial reduction” in A fib severity and symptoms.

So, if you’re diagnosed with A fib, talk to your doctor about starting a well-monitored program to lose weight if you need to and to reduce those A fib triggers. And start today. Then you and your true love can enjoy the flutter of your heartbeats for years to come.

Decorative contacts

When Lady Gaga pops in a pair of oversized, anime-inspired contact lenses or Jennifer Lopez subtly turns her hazel eyes a deep brown, you can bet it’s all part of The Show. But if you use decorative contacts without getting a prescription from your eye doctor, you’re opting for a look that might mean you won’t be able to see at all.

A 2012 American Optometric Association survey found that up to 14 million Americans have tried these products without using a prescription from an eye doctor. Instead they purchase one-size-fits-all lenses, made with who-knows-what kinds of dyes and paints, from the Internet, street vendors, beauty-supply houses and Halloween or novelty stores. A poorly fitted pair of contacts can scratch your cornea, and if they’re not properly cleaned and sanitized, they can trigger infections, corneal ulcers and even blindness.

If you want to change your eye color, transform your iris into a kaleidoscopic pattern, or put the crowning touch on a scary costume, you can use decorative lenses safely, if you:

• Get an exam from a licensed eye doctor, so you have a prescription that specifies the brand name of the contacts, lens measurements and an expiration date.
• Purchase the lenses only from someone who requires a prescription to sell you contacts.
• Follow all instructions on caring for and cleaning lenses.

Health going up in smoke?

When Cheech and Chong lit up the movie screens with their marijuana-fogged dialogue – “Hey man, how’s my driving?” “I think we’re parked, man” – they probably never imagined cannabis would become legal. But today more than 20 states have authorized medical marijuana, while Colorado and Washington have legalized it for personal use. So we say it’s time to back up and take a look at the health risks associated with recreational use.

The active ingredient in marijuana (THC or 9 delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) has been engineered to be much more concentrated in today’s crops than it was in the 1970s. That, combined with the highly individual way the drug affects the brain (20-somethings, listen up, you’re still developing neural wiring), makes it hard to predict who might be at risk for long-term marijuana-related problems.

What is known, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is that regular or heavy use is linked to traffic accidents and reduced lung function (the smoke contains carcinogens) and can encourage addictions. In addition, for some folks, THC’s effect on neurotransmitters may increase the risk for depression and the development of psychosis. It also can cause memory and attention deficits. And, particular to eating THC, there may be an increased risk of panic or anxiety.

Our advice? Go for a free twofer: An exercise high from aerobic routines, like interval walking, boosts both serotonin and endorphin levels. You’ll get smokin’ hot without craving a peanut butter and jelly pizza.

CT scanners

There are many instances in science (Masters and Johnson) and the arts (Gilbert and Sullivan, Lennon and McCartney) where two heads are better than one. Another example of the added value of two heads? The latest CT (computed tomography) scanners.

By delivering two low-dose X-rays at the same time, this second generation of dual-source CT scans, also called high-pitch spiral scans, dramatically reduces your total radiation exposure by more than 60 percent, compared with earlier CT machines – and they deliver equal or better images than the older scanners. This matters because the use of CT scans has more than tripled since 1996, and every CT scan zaps you with 10 times the ionizing radiation found in a conventional X-ray. Exposure to ionizing radiation is a known cancer risk, but no one knows exactly how much is too much over the course of a lifetime.

This lower-radiation, dual-source scanner vastly increases the already significant usefulness of CT imaging; the scans generate a 3-D image of the inside of your body, providing amazing detail of everything from a pulsing heart to the plaque levels inside your arteries. And they’re the current gold standard for identifying respiratory and cardiovascular problems, as well as many cancers.

TV to die for

A recent study followed 13,000 adults for an average of eight years and found that watching TV for three or more hours a day doubles your risk of premature death, compared with folks who watch 60 minutes or less. Are you at risk?

Keep track of your daily viewing for one week, and write down what you eat while you’re watching TV (some folks find that 40 percent of daily calories come from snacks – even healthy ones can add excess calories and extra weight). And observe (your notepad is right there) your reaction to shows you watch. Feel stressed or anxious afterward? That could increase snacking during commercials, putting more strain on body and soul.

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