Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Apps can detect atrial fibrillation, but benefits and harms are uncertain

- Kenny Lin, MD, MPH

The March 15 issue of AFP included a recommendation statement from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and Putting Prevention Into Practice case study on screening for atrial fibrillation with electrocardiography (ECG). The USPSTF concluded that current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of testing for atrial fibrillation in primary care patients without suggestive symptoms. In an accompanying editorial, Drs. John Mandrola and Andrew Foy discussed several potential downsides of ECG screening for atrial fibrillation: low prevalence, a high number needed to screen to prevent one stroke, high costs, false positive results, and uncertainty about the effects of anticoagulants in persons with subclinical atrial fibrillation.

At the American College of Cardiology meeting last week, Dr. Mandrola interviewed Dr. Mintu Turakhia, a co-principal investigator of the Apple Heart Study, regarding initial findings reported at the conference. More than 400,000 U.S. adults with Apple Watches installed an app that used an algorithm to analyze heart rate variability and notified users if five out of six samples over a 48-hour period suggested an irregular heart rate. Of the 2100 individuals (~0.5%) who received these notifications, the positive predictive value for ECG-confirmed atrial fibrillation was 84%. The app's sensitivity and false negative rate are unknown because users who did not receive notifications did not have ECG monitoring. Also, the study was not designed to evaluate health outcomes.

A planned pragmatic randomized trial will enroll adults age 65 years and older to determine if screening for atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm abnormalities using the Apple Watch app leads to reduced stroke rates and/or improved cardiovascular health. In the meantime, family physicians will likely start seeing more patients for evaluation of possible cardiac rhythm abnormalities detected by wearable devices. A recent JAMA article reviewed the limitations of such devices at detecting atrial fibrillation, tachycardia, and bradycardia and offered a suggested approach to evaluation and management.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Connecting chronic stress and disease

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

The March 1 issue of AFP includes a feature article on "Gas, Bloating, and Belching: Approach to Evaluation and Management" which discusses the high prevalence of functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs). The authors note that "[t]hese disorders are characterized by disordered motility and visceral hypersensitivity that are often worsened by psychological distress." FGIDs, of course, are far from the only conditions precipitated or worsened by stress; a new study out last week found a correlation between years of stressful employment and type 2 diabetes in women. Increasingly, a history of highly stressful experiences, such as interpersonal violence (IPV) and/or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Identifying and responding to our patients' stress, regardless of degree or cause, may help them to lead healthier lives.

A recent article in Annals of Family Medicine elucidates the relationship between stress and physical symptoms:
Chronic stress profoundly impacts the body’s cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis, diabetes, and infection. Even when controlling for traditional risk factors, diseases like obesity, heart disease, asthma, and even certain cancers are more likely to occur in survivors of violence. The link between medical disease and history of abuse, however, is often obscured by the way these patients present: survivors rarely volunteer their histories of violence, often making somatic and nonspecific complaints the only tip-off to a deeper problem.
A willingness to explore our patients' sources of stress, and potentially dive into deeper issues, is a critical first step to making these connections. The BATHE technique is one way to explore these issues; there are also tools available to screen for a history of ACEs and/or IPV.

Several resources exist to help our patients respond to their stress. The American Academy of Pediatrics has information on their website to enable practices to become trauma-centered to better help patients with a history of ACEs. The National Domestic Violence Hotline website has resources for patients who are experiencing IPV, and additional local resources may be available in your area as well. Family physicians may choose to provide counseling in their offices and/or refer to a local counseling center. Basic stress management techniques can benefit most patients, regardless of the severity of their stress; familydoctor.org has a page on "Managing Daily Stress" with practical, simple steps.

Our willingness to engage with our patients' stressors, and normalize the strength of the mind-body connection, may help them improve their health-related quality of life. As family physicians who often have meaningful, long-standing relationships with our patients, we are well-suited to engage in these processes.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Guest Post: Family doctors can easily treat hepatitis B "in-house"

- Richard Andrews, MD, MPH

In 2008, I replaced another family physician as the sole physician at HOPE Clinic, a federally qualified health center in southwest Houston. The clinic was founded by members of the local Asian community to ensure that Asians would have a place to receive linguistically and culturally-appropriate medical care. From the outset, we treated anyone who came in the door, including many non-Asian patients. Due to our core mission, we cared for a large proportion of foreign-born patients from all over the world, speaking more than eighty different languages.

Many of our patients' countries of origin, including China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Iraq, and Nigeria, have a high (>= 8%) or intermediate (2-7%) prevalence of chronic hepatitis B (CHB), leading to a high prevalence in our patients. Initially, they were reflexively referred to hepatologists, but due to access and cost barriers, the community asked us to start treating hepatitis B right at HOPE.

I was an experienced, board-certified family physician, but I had never done any hepatitis B management. I sought training with local hepatologists, mostly through lectures and question-and-answer sessions, and gradually became comfortable with the vocabulary, epidemiology, concepts, and pharmacology of care for patients with hepatitis B.

Because of the HOPE Clinic's origins, most of our hepatitis B patients are of Asian ancestry. In the United States as a whole, roughly half of patients with CHB are of Asian descent, but in your community you might find a different ethnic/language mix. We are seeing an increasing number of non-Asian patients with CHB, including younger native-born Anglo patients with a history of unsafe drug use. Significantly, many American adults have not received hepatitis B vaccinations, leaving them susceptible to infection from sex, injection drug use, or snorting cocaine.

Different social approaches to drug use and addiction in some European countries (such as Portugal) have coincided with marked reductions in the number of new cases of viral hepatitis and HIV. Conversely, infection rates in Americans appear to be increasing. Now that a two-dose hepatitis B vaccine is available, family doctors have a valuable role to play in screening and immunizing susceptible patients, and in managing their patients with CHB.

Factors that make uncomplicated CHB care easy to learn for family physicians

Factor
Remarks

Many patients don’t need antiviral medications

These visits are particularly simple

Very few medications are used, usually just one at a time

1.       Entecavir
2.       Two forms of tenofovir:  TAF or TDF
3.       Interferon use is rare at primary care level
4.       Older medications not used in USA due to resistance

Medications are well tolerated

One pill per day, side effects are uncommon

Medications are effective

Most patients achieve viral levels below the limits of detection, viral resistance is uncommon.

Straightforward liver cancer surveillance

RUQ abdomen ultrasound and serum AFP every six months in cirrhotics.
Other patients:  RUQ u/s + AFP q 6-12 mos. based on guidelines.
Consider CT/MRI as appropriate

Infrequent visits needed

Once patient is established, 2-3 visits per year is a typical pattern

Telehealth/telemedicine

The availability of free online-video specialist consultation is increasing.
Example:  check for availability in your region, at https://echo.unm.edu/locations-2/echo-hubs-superhubs-united-states/

Though there are only two listed ECHO hepatitis B-specific programs in the USA, there are 64 infectious disease programs, many of which include viral hepatitis

Knowing when to refer

Decompensated cirrhosis:  ascites, esophageal variceal bleed, hepatic encephalopathy, bacterial peritonitis, hepatorenal syndrome, liver cancer.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Minimizing "spring forward" sleep disruptions

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

For most of the United States, next weekend marks the transition to Daylight Savings Time (DST), when we’ll “spring forward” an hour over the night of March 10 to allow for our dawns to start later and our daylight to last longer into the evening. While the pros and cons of DST continue to be debated, the health risks from disrupted sleep schedules certainly fall into the cons. Preparing in advance may help mitigate these negative effects.

Moving our clocks forward one hour may not seem like a big transition, but disrupted sleep schedules and sleep latency may last for at least a week afterward. An increased prevalence of heart attacks is noted in the United States the Monday after DST begins, as are an increased number of work-related injuries. A review of Australian suicide rates found an increase after DST arrives in the spring. Parents of young children, along with caregivers for developmentally disabled and cognitively impaired individuals, can struggle to transition their loved ones to a new time schedule. 

Sleep experts recommend beginning the transition at least a week prior to the official start of DST, gradually shifting bedtimes and wake-up times by 10-15 minutes every couple of days. Catching up any pre-existing sleep deficit before the DST transition can help, as can getting plenty of sunlight in the morning and dimming lights in the evening. 

Emphasizing good sleep hygiene is also important, as reviewed in this AFP article on the “Management of Common Sleep Disorders.” Minimizing late day caffeine and alcohol use, along with evening screen time, can help improve sleep quality year-round. For children struggling with sleep issues, this AFP article on “Common Sleep Disorders in Children” provides guidance regarding age-appropriate norms and strategies. Both of these articles are in the AFP By Topic on Sleep Disorders in Adults and the AFP By Topic on Sleep Disorders in Children, respectively, each of which also include useful patient education materials.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Does diet soda consumption increase stroke risk?

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

Perhaps your patients have been asking you, as several of mine have, about a new study getting lay press attention regarding stroke risk and artificially sweetened beverages. Published last week, this study from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) found an increased risk of stroke, coronary heart disease (CHD), and mortality among post-menopausal women who consumed 2 or more artificially sweetened beverages a day. Although observational studies like this one can only demonstrate correlation, and not causation, it still may provide an opportunity for discussing dietary changes that can meaningfully affect health.

This WHI observational study examined the diet soda habits of over 80,000 postmenopausal women. Participants self-reported their artificially sweetened beverage consumption, and researchers followed them for an average of 11.9 years. Only 5.1% of participants consumed 2 or more artificially sweetened beverages a day, but these participants were more likely to have a stroke (hazard ratio 1.23 [95% confidence interval 1.02, 1.47]) or coronary heart disease (HR 1.29 [1.11, 1.51]), and the risk of stroke was even higher in women with a body mass index of 30 or greater (HR 2.03 [1.38-2.98]). It’s difficult to know, in an observational study such as this one, whether these women had other risk factors that increased their stroke and CHD risk; the researchers state that recalculating their results excluding women with known diabetes, hypertension, and/or CHD from their analysis “did not materially change the association with risk.” As this study only included postmenopausal women, any conclusions generalizing its results to men or premenopausal women could be premature.

Certainly, however, this study may prompt some people to decrease their diet soda consumption. Plain water, water infused with fruit, and unsweetened sparkling/seltzer beverages are all reasonable alternatives. Working with parents and our youngest patients to avoid developing a preference for sweetened beverages is also important, as outlined in this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guide to Strategies for Reducing the Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. From a public health perspective, education campaigns such as this one urging people to “Stop. Rethink Your Drink. Go on Green,” which categorizes beverages as “Red: Drink Rarely” (sugar sweetened beverages), “Yellow: Drink Occasionally” (100% fruit juice, artificially sweetened beverages), and “Green: Drink Plenty” (water, seltzer water, milk) may help encourage new beverage consumption norms.

Conversations about beverage choice can easily lead to overall diet discussions as well; emphasizing a diet rich in whole foods and recommending apps to help with healthy food choices can empower our patients to make better choices. There's an AFP By Topic on Nutrition if you'd like more resources for yourself and/or your patients.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Therapies for type 2 diabetes: improving outcomes that matter

- Kenny Lin, MD, MPH

When comparing therapies for type 2 diabetes, physicians, patients, and quality measures often get caught up in the disease-oriented outcome of glycemic control. However, a 2014 editorial in AFP pointed out that of the medications then available to lower blood sugar levels, only metformin reduced mortality and clinically relevant complications. Since that time, studies of newer diabetes medications have demonstrated mortality benefits in patients with cardiovascular disease. However, the best second-line medication after metformin remains unclear. Although the World Health Organization guideline recommended inexpensive sulfonylureas as second-line therapy in low-resource settings, the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians suggested "the choice of drug [after metformin] should be based on a conversation with the patient about benefits, possible harms, and cost."

In the February 15 issue of AFP, Drs. Joshua Steinberg and Lyndsay Carlson applied the STEPS criteria (safety, tolerability, effectiveness, prince, and simplicity) to each of the 10 categories of diabetes medications (including insulin). Their analysis confirmed that metformin should be first-line pharmacotherapy for most persons with type 2 diabetes. Other key points from this article include:

Safety - Sulfonylureas, insulins, meglitinides, and pramlintide increase risk of hypoglycemia. Metformin and acarbose require monitoring, dose adjustments, or discontinuation in patients with chronic kidney disease.

Tolerability - Side effects across different drug classes range from gastrointestinal effects (metformin, acarbose, meglintinides, pramlintide, GLP-1 receptor agonists, SGLT-2 inhibitors) to weight gain (sulfonylureas), edema (TZDs), severe arthralgias (DPP-4 inhibitors), and genital and urinary tract infections (SGLT-2 inhibitors).

Effectiveness - Recent trials showed improved patient-oriented outcomes from some GLP-1 receptor agonists and SGLT-2 inhibitors in patients at high cardiovascular risk or with known cardiovascular disease. Acarbose also reduces cardiovascular events.

Price - Metformin, acarbose, sulfonylureas, and generic pioglitazone are the most affordable options.

Simplicity - Acarbose and meglitinides are taken three times daily before meals, while insulins, GLP-1 receptor agonists, and pramlintide require subcutaneous injections.