Category Archives: Alternative and Complementary Medicine

“Turning the Tide” on HIV/AIDS

In advance of the upcoming XIX International AIDS Conference, the International AIDS Society and the University of California, San Francisco, have issued the “Washington D.C. Declaration,” a nine-point action plan aimed at broadening global support for “Turning the Tide” of the AIDS epidemic.

Everyone is urged to sign the Declaration.

It calls for:

1) An increase in targeted new investments;
2) Evidence-based HIV prevention, treatment, and care in accord with the human rights of those at greatest risk and in greatest need;
3) An end to stigma, discrimination, legal sanctions, and human rights abuses against those living with and at risk for HIV;
4) Marked increases in HIV testing, counseling, and linkages to services;
5) Treatment for all pregnant and nursing women living with HIV and an end to perinatal transmission;
6) Expanded access to antiretroviral treatment for all in need;
7) Identification, diagnosis, and treatment of tuberculosis;
8) Accelerated research on new tools for HIV prevention, treatment, vaccines, and a cure;
9) Mobilization and meaningful involvement of affected communities.

Turning the Tide is the theme of this year’s biennial conference, which will take place July 22-27 in Washington.  It is expected to draw 25,000 attendees, including HIV professionals, activists, politicians, and celebrities. Sir Elton John will open the conference and Bill Clinton will close it. A large delegation of U.S. members of Congress will participate, and Bill Gates will moderate a session. An enormous “Global Village” outside the D.C. Convention Center will be open to the public. “If you haven’t been, it’s a conference like no other,” conference cochair Dr. Diane V. Havlir said at a press briefing.

The recent optimism regarding HIV/AIDS stems from major advances in knowledge regarding prevention of partner transmission with early patient treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and male circumcision as HIV infection prevention (new data will be released at the meeting), all of which are viewed as breakthroughs  in the fight against HIV/AIDS. “So we have now in our hands the tools. The question is how do we combine those tools together, and how do we roll them out,” said Dr. Havlir, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and chief of the HIV/AIDS division at San Francisco General Hospital.

Dr. Diane V. Havlir / Photo by Miriam E. Tucker

Monday’s plenary session will include an address from Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on “Ending the HIV Epidemic: From Scientific Advances to Public Health Implementation.” Other plenary topics during the week will include viral eradication, vaccines, TB and HIV, and HIV/AIDS in specific populations including minorities, women, youth, and men who have sex with men. On Friday, there will be a plenary talk that may be of particular interest to the primary care community, “The Intersection of Noncommunicable Diseases and Aging in HIV.”

Plenaries and other conference sessions will be webcast at http://globalhealth.kff.org/aids2012.

-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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Teens with Eating Disorders Try Yoga

If the thought of yoga doesn’t bring to mind long-haired, half-naked gurus in India, it probably makes you think of thin young people in pretzel poses. True that, but it’s also become popular among populations that you might not expect. Yoga increasingly is being incorporated into treatment programs for young people who may be too thin or too fat – adolescents with eating disorders.

Yoginis relax and stretch. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/zivpu/Creative Commons License)

Dr. Cora C. Breuner helped conduct a study of 50 girls and 4 boys with diagnosed eating disorders. Participants were randomized to treatment with standard care (every-other-week appointments with physicians or dieticians) or standard care plus individualized yoga for 12 weeks. The yoga group showed significantly reduced food preoccupation immediately after each yoga session and significantly decreased Eating Disorder Examination scores at 12 weeks (J. Adolesc. Health;2010;46:346-51).

Speaking at the annual meeting of the North Pacific Pediatric Society, she gave a brief update: the teens in the yoga group showed greater improvements in weight a year after the study ended compared with the control group.

Dr. Cora C. Breuner (Sherry Boschert/IMNG Medical Media)

“Pretty much every eating disorders unit in the country now has yoga,” said Dr. Breuner, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, Seattle.

I don’t know about every eating disorders program, but a quick look on the Web found plenty that include yoga and lots of independent yoga classes geared toward people with eating disorders. On this list of eating disorder treatment programs from EDreferral.com, for example, yoga is mentioned by nine facilities in California and one each in Arizona, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. I found others online in Michigan and Washington, too, with just a few clicks.

Dr. Breuner’s 2010 study isn’t the only one endorsing yoga for eating disorders. Here’s another (Psychology of Women Quarterly 2005;29:207-19). Columbia University reported on this trend in 2007. And the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 on increasing use of yoga not only for kids with disorders but for healthy students, under the clever headline, “Namaste. Now Nap Time.”

Some of the key goals of yoga are to strengthen the mind and body and the connection between the two. It’s not a solo treatment for eating disorders, but it supplements the standard strategies of weight stabilization, nutrition therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and family-based therapy.

That last one is another big change in the field that has happened since Stanford University researchers began showing in 2007 that it’s very helpful in treating children and adolescents to use parents as agents for positive change in a non-judgmental manner.

“Now we bring parents in right away to help with refeeding the child,” Dr. Breuner said.

It’s only a matter of time, I suspect, until we see special yoga classes for parents of children with eating disorders.

–Sherry Boschert (on Twitter @sherryboschert)

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Should Physicians Prescribe Positivity?

Scott Jordan Harris  is a U.K.-based blogger, editor, book author, movie critic, and sports writer. Remarkable, considering that he spends most of his time in bed. His primary diagnosis is myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

In a piece he wrote last week for the BBC’s website, Mr. Harris said that keeping a diary in which he focuses on the positive aspects of his life — at the suggestion of a doctor – keeps him “sane.”

©froglegs/Fotolia.com

“My depression told me my existence was filthy and barren…. After a few months of storing up the previously unrecorded richness of my life, my diary simply disproved that. I knew from re-reading the pages I’d written that I was doing interesting things — and I began to ensure I kept doing them simply to have something to write about. The diary was better than therapy; it pushed me forward through mental pain that had been holding me back.”

He added, “Doctors unaware of the realities of the lives of the chronically ill often suggest we waste what little energy we have noting down exactly how unwell we feel each day, how much we sleep and how little we do, so that they may study the results. These doctors are to be smiled at, and nodded to, and instantly ignored.”

So should physicians advise patients with chronic conditions to keep positive diaries?  I asked two experts.  Dr. Daniel Clauw, a rheumatologist who directs the University of Michigan’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, referred me to his associate, Afton Hassett, Psy.D.

“That was a compelling story in the BBC and it actually does reflect my clinical and research experience as a pain psychologist,” Dr. Hassett told me.

Negative and positive affect (emotions) have been well-studied  in health in general and chronic and acute pain states in particular. There are numerous studies suggesting that positive affect plays an important role in pain outcomes. While few formal studies have evaluated the effectiveness of the exact intervention Mr. Harris described, there are studies   supporting the efficacy of similar positive psychology interventions for depression, Dr. Hassett said.

“Enhancing positive affect is likely a good thing for one’s mental and physical health. Sometimes just keeping a gratitude journal like the BBC article writer noted is all it takes. I always tell people to write down three different things each day for which you are grateful. After the first week or so you really start looking for the small wonders in your life: a great cup of coffee, a kind gesture from a complete stranger, the first tiny yellow flowers of spring.”

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/4028mdk09/Creative Commons License

But Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist who heads the Stanford University Center on Stress and Health, urges caution regarding positive psychology.   “I think the drumbeat for upbeat can be a little overwhelming… I agree with [Mr. Harris] that just focusing on how bad you feel you can dig yourself into a pit, but at the same time you can’t deny your feelings. The worst thing you can do to a depressed person is to tell them to cheer up.”

However, Dr. Spiegel, who works with breast cancer patients, noted that “you can help them by saying let’s give dimension to what’s bothering you, but also put that in perspective, and see other things that are good, that are positive. So it’s not one or the other…Happiness is not the absence of sadness.”

Dr. Spiegel said that advising patients with chronic conditions to keep a diary in general is an “interesting idea,” and that there is a literature base  for the medical benefits of journaling.

He advised that physicians suggest to their patients, “See if it helps you to have a daily journal of your journey through this illness, what your problems were and what your little victories were, and what you did that helped you deal with it and get beyond it.”

—Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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Can Pill Color Prompt a “Nocebo” Response?

What’s the opposite of a placebo? An active drug, of course. But what’s the opposite of a placebo response? That would be a “nocebo” response, in which placebos produce adverse side effects.
 
“It’s somewhat hypothetical, but you can imagine that if somebody feels they will get better, they will get better, and if they feel that they’re taking something that’s not good for them, they might get worse,” according to Dr. Allan Krumholz, professor of neurology and director of the Maryland Epilepsy Center, Baltimore.

Image courtesy of Dr. Tricia Y. Ting

Pill color and appearance have been identified as a potential source of “nocebo” response, and differences in appearance between brand-name and generic drugs have been postulated to explain why some patients experience increased adverse events when they switch from brand-name to generics.

In response to this growing concern, in August 2010 the Food and Drug Administration solicited proposals for bioequivalence studies of the impact of switching from brand-name antiepileptic drug lamotrigine (Lamictal) to generic among patients with epilepsy in the outpatient setting.

This is a new way of conducting such trials. “Pharmacokinetics trials across all areas of medicine have traditionally been highly controlled single-dose studies in healthy volunteers dosed in the laboratory setting,” said lead investigator Dr. Tricia Y. Ting, a neurologist who works with Dr. Krumholz at the UMD epilepsy center.

Because the brand-name Lamictal and its generic counterparts look very different, the investigators decided to over-encapsulate the pills with identical coverings in order to “blind” the patients to which formulation they were taking.

But in order to do that, they first needed to determine whether the color of the pill would impact the patients’ perception of safety and efficacy. A group of 80 adult epilepsy patients were shown standard AA size capsules in five “global colors” (white, yellow, gray, caramel, maroon) and asked to select any color(s) considered “unacceptable” and to rank their preferences.

More patients deemed gray, caramel and maroon colors “unacceptable” (21%, 19%, and 20%, respectively) compared with the white and yellow (5% and 4%, respectively). There was a clear preference for white and yellow pills over the other, darker colors, without much difference between white and yellow.

But, there were patients who selected maroon as their “preferred” color. “Some people didn’t have any preference. Some had a very strong preference. One patient, an artist, liked the darker colors. It was different for different people,” noted Dr. Karen M. Aquino, a neurology fellow who worked on the nocebo study.

So what pill color will the bioequivalence study use? “To optimize drug adherence, white colored capsules will be used for over-encapsulation,” Dr. Ting wrote in her poster, which was presented at the American Epilepsy Society’s annual meeting in Baltimore. Dr. Krumholz and Dr. Aquino presented the pill color preference data in a separate poster at the meeting. The bioequivalence results are expected in 2013.

-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)

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Hypnosis Takes the Bite Out of MRI Anxiety

I’d rather have an MRI.

OK, it doesn’t have the same ring as the traditional punch line, but for many patients the fear of being slipped in a scanner surrounded by the clicking and banging sounds of an MRI ranks right up there with a root canal.

Rather than sedating these patients, a radiology group in France has been offering hypnosis on a daily basis since 2004.

Over a 15-month period, 45 patients were identified as being claustrophobic and refused the scheduled MRI, including four patients who experienced a panic attack.

All 41 patients who agreed to undergo a brief 3- to 5-minute single session of hypnosis just before the MRI completed the exam, including those with panic attacks.

Conversely, none of the four patients who refused hypnosis were able to withstand the procedure, radiologist and co-author Dr. Bruno Suarez reported at the Radiological Society of North America  meeting.

Dr. Bruno Suarez

“The more a patient is claustrophobic, the more hypnosis is efficient,” Dr. Suarez, with L’Hôpital Privé de Thiais in the outskirts of Paris, said in an interview. “For us it’s a surprise. It’s a very interesting technique.”

The technique is based on the late American psychiatrist Dr. Milton Erickson’s approach to hypnosis, but modified to integrate the repetitive noise of the MRI. Patients are given a tour of the MRI room, assured that the scanner and its magnets are safe and prompted to mentally recall a pleasant memory involving a repetitive noise while the MRI exam is performed.

During hypnosis, the brain is more susceptible to suggestions, Dr. Suarez said, noting that a Belgian study showed that hypnosis reduces the perception of pain by 50%.

Hypnosis requires a good memory and language skills, so it’s not used on those under five years of age or those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, he added.

So far, a radiologist, two MRI technicians and even the two office receptionists have been trained in the technique.

Marc Andre Fontaine (left) and Dr. Suarez

“I like the contact with the patient, and I want the best results for the patient,” MR technician and co-author Marc Andre Fontaine said in an interview.

The 45 patients in the series represent just 1.4% of the roughly 3,300 patients seen by the group over the 15 months, but the appeal of the drug-free method has attracted referrals from other centers. It’s also a big financial boon due to shorter exam times, fewer appointment cancellations and no procedural side effects, Dr. Suarez said.

A recent study by interventional radiologist and hypno-analgesia pioneer Dr. Elvira Lang reported that self-hypnotic relaxation added an extra 58 minutes to the room time for an outpatient radiologic procedure, but still saved $338 per case compared with standard IV conscious sedation.

That’s a big savings for just getting patients to relax with a few words, especially when you consider that  nine out of ten patients are probably already muttering something under their breath during their MRI.

—Patrice Wendling

Images by Patrice Wendling/Elsevier Global Medical News

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Mayo Clinic Takes on Facebook

On the same day that a Wall St. Journal article speculated that Facebook could be worth $100 billion by the time it goes public early next year (as has been rumored), the Mayo Clinic announced that it has launched its own online social networking community.

Via Koreshky at Wikimedia Commons

And it may be the first medical provider to do so. The Clinic says it knows of no other health system that has a social network.

The week-old community doesn’t have a catchy name, but it is populated with all the features of Mayo Clinic’s already robust online presence. The Clinic says it has the “most popular medical provider channel on YouTube, nearly 200,000 followers on Twitter and more than 53,000 connections on Facebook.”  It also has a library of condition-specific podcasts and a blog highlighting medical news from the Clinic.

The networking site will be “a place for community members to share information, support and understanding,” the Clinic says.

Essentially, the network aggregates all the Clinic videos, podcasts, and news and allows for interactive discussions on topics ranging from arthritis to travel to the various clinic sites. Just like on Facebook, users can “like” a topic or add their own comments to a post.

With so many chat rooms and discussion boards out there–not to mention that advocacy groups and individuals use Facebook to solicit and give advice on health conditions and share experiences–will the Mayo network attract many users?  The Clinic says that some 1,000 people have joined in the first week of operation. It’s open to any and all comers, not just Mayo patients or their families.

Presumably, the ultimate number of users won’t be of great importance to the Clinic, although it is potentially a great marketing tool. The Clinic also doesn’t have to worry about satisfying venture capitalists or stockholders.

But maybe Facebook should be worried.

—Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)

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Not This Life, Dear — I Have a Headache

A headache specialist's meeting doodle - is this picture worth a thousand words?

A headache is a mighty pain

That changes the defenseless brain,

It may go away.

It may come and stay.

Or rear again, again, and again.

Maybe not great poetry.

But certainly a statement – especially when we assume the author is a headache specialist.

I found this poem on a note pad left in a lecture room between sessions at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society, right after a talk on the genetics of migraine.

After a  lecture on the increased incidence of migraine in young soldiers with posttraumatic stress disorder, I found another note pad. This one depicted a stick-person, helplessly splayed across a tangled spider’s web.

Both, I think, represent the feeling of frustration that bonds headache specialists with their patients.

“We know what can turn it on, but how do we turn it off? That’s the question,” said Dr. Till Sprenger of the University of California, San Francisco. “We still don’t know.”

Headaches unremitting in the face of any treatment strategy are by no means a rarity. Medicines that benefit one may be useless to another. And drugs that can help can also hurt.

Almost anything used for a headache, from acetaminophen to opioids, can backfire if used often enough. Medication-overuse headaches are harder to treat and can start a cycle of using more and more drugs that become less and less effective. Triptans, the mainstay for many migraine patients, are most successful when used at the earliest signs of a headache. But they’re expensive, up to $32/dose, and most insurance companies impose a monthly limit. To save their pills for their worst moments, patients delay the dose, trying to figure out how bad the headache will be. The longer they wait, the less effective the medication.

The physicians at the American Headache Society know this. A number of speakers expressed frustration, not only at their inability to really help some patients but also at the still-rudimentary understanding of headache etiology – the only foundation upon which more effective treatments can grow.

The doctors at this meeting were a sympathetic lot or, perhaps more accurately, an empathetic lot. About half of the physicians I chatted with during breaks and in interviews said their own chronic headaches motivated them to specialize in treating others. They described their job as a mix of satisfaction and exasperation – because they know all too well the blessing of pain relief, the fear of impending pain, and the panic of unremitting pain.

Studies back up my very nonscientific observation of headaches among those who treat them. The most recent appeared in Headache, the American Headache Society’s own journal. It suggested that up to 40% of neurologists who treat headache suffer with their own.  Another 2010 study on migraine management noted that 48% of the  neurologists surveyed were themselves migraineurs.

While there no patients spoke at this meeting, Dr. Dawn Buse became their voice. Despite continuous evolution in headache medicine, her study showed that many continue to suffer.

“Forty percent have at least one unmet need regarding their headaches,” said Dr. Buse of the Montefiore Headache Center, New York.  The top reasons for continued problems? Dissatisfaction with current treatment. Continuing headache-related disability. Overuse of opioids or barbiturates. Other issues that presented in the survey were excessive visits to the emergency department or urgent care center and cardiovascular disorders, which can turn physicians off to the idea of a triptan-based migraine program.

The literature is replete with data confirming what headache physicians confront every day – migraine and other cephalgias worsen almost every quality of life measure.

A 2009 meta-analysis, coauthored by Dr. Buse and Dr. Richard Lipton, past president of the AHS, perfectly captured headache’s often all-consuming impact. Patients with a high headache burden “had higher lifetime rates of depressive disorders, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and suicide attempts than controls, were more likely to have missed work in the preceding month, to assess their general health as ‘fair’ or ‘poor,’ and to use mental health services.”

The relationship between headache and mental disorders is a complex one, not entirely understood, Dr. Buse told me during an informal chat. She likened it to the famous chicken-or-egg conundrum. “There is some evidence of bidirectionality – that each one predisposes to the other,” she said. “But if you think about it, it makes intuitive sense. If you are afraid of your next headache, you’re likely to be anxious,” which makes a headache more likely and can increase its severity.

The same thing goes for depression, she said. The neurotransmitter dysfunction associated with depression may predispose to headache, but months – or years – of intermittent pain very probably increase the risk of becoming depressed.

It was easy to see the concern in her eyes, and the caring of everyone who spoke at the meeting. Many of them, I suspect, have seen the doodle come to life …  Caught in that spider’s web, knowing that something bad is coming, but having very little power to stop it.

– Michele G. Sullivan

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