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Cardiovascular Risk Assessment

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Aug 6th, 2015


Heart disease is the number one killer in Canada and 90 percent of us have at least one risk factor for the disease. But there’s a new tool that is helping doctors and their patients understand their risks better.

Dr. Anthony Train, a family physician, says the goal of this new Cardiovascular Risk Assessment is to extend patients’ lives and reduce the disease burden on the health care system. Dr. Train explains doctors enter all the patient’s information into the online tool and it evaluates their cardiovascular risk as either low, moderate or high.  In the past, family physicians focused mainly on cholesterol levels. But Dr. Train says while cholesterol is important it’s more important in the bigger picture, in the full assessment of the patient that includes their age, their blood pressure, whether they smoke, what they eat and how much they exercise. The tool also helps doctors decide if a patient should be on a medication, usually a statin. Once the assessment is done, doctors will give their patient a customized “healthy living” prescription. Doctors hope if patients have a personalized plan, they’ll have an easier time achieving their new lifestyle habits and reduce their risk for heart disease.

Dr. Train hopes patients will ask their doctors for this Cardiovascular Risk Assessment. He says currently in Alberta only 15 percent of patients who need this assessment done are getting it. So, Dr. Train is encouraging patients to advocate for themselves, to ask their doctor to get it done.

For more information on this assessment, including a link to the tool online visit this website. 


Diabetes in the Summer

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Jul 9th, 2015


It’s hard to stick your diet and exercise regimen in the summer, and here in Calgary, during Stampede. But for those with Type 2 diabetes, the consequences of not sticking to those lifestyle choices can be dire.

Karen Kroeker was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at 40. She’s been living with the disease for years now and even though she’s on three medications, injects herself with insulin twice a day and regularly checks her blood sugars, she says summer is still hard. In fact, she says any type of celebration or even a dinner party is tricky when everyone else wants a few cocktails and lots of dessert. Summer is also challenging because she likes to go camping and travels often making a routine difficult.

But Endocrinologist and diabetes specialist Dr. David Lau from the University of Calgary says many patients don’t realize how dangerous it is to let your sugars get out of control, even for a short time. He says diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage. And these serious complications occur when sugars are too high or too low.

So, Dr. Lau recommends talking to your doctor or diabetes educator about strategies for staying on track over the summer. He encourages patients to ask about new medications. For example, he says there is a new class of medicines that increases the amount of sugar excreted through the urine which doesn’t affect insulin levels as much. These medicines may be easier to use through the summer.

Both Dr. Lau and Karen encourage those with type 2 diabetes not to let it rule their lives. They suggest taking control of the disease so you can have as normal a summer and Stampede as possible!

For more information about diabetes visit this website.

Stampede Medical

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Jul 7th, 2015


At its peak, there can be 100 thousand people at Stampede Park making it the third largest city in the province. And like in any city, medical emergencies can happen.

This year, the medical team has a staff of 242 people including volunteers that work 24 hours a day. During the busiest times on park, there are 40 medical staff on site. There are eight medical rooms, basically one in every building. However, the medical room at the Corral is not operating this year.

Scott Wardley, the Manager of Medical Services for the Calgary Stampede says they most commonly see people for heat exhaustion and blisters from new cowboy boots, but they also see more serious conditions like heart attack and stroke. But Wardley says they’re prepared for it all. They have paramedics and EMTs in the medical rooms and roving through the park wearing medical communications so they can be dispatched at any time to a specific location. The team also has a mini ambulance on site they can use to get a patient stabilized and taken off the park to a waiting Alberta Health Services ambulance that will transport that patient to hospital.

Wardley says with the advanced life support level of care on park members of their medical team can administer medications in more serious, time sensitive situations like a heart attack or stroke where care is required as soon as possible.

Also new this year is the Stampede Essentials store in Weadickville. It’s a London Drugs where you can buy anything from sunscreen to allergy relief, pain medications to stomach remedies. You can even talk to a pharmacist.

Wardley recommends coming prepared to Stampede. Make sure you’ve worked in your new cowboy boots, wear your cowboy hat, use sunscreen, drink plenty of water and take breaks in the shade. He also recommends anyone with a preexisting medical condition check in with the medical team when they arrive on park.

For more information about the Calgary Stampede visit their website.


Smartphones and Cardiac Devices

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Jul 2nd, 2015


One in five Canadians has a heart rhythm problem and that means there are millions of Canadians using cardiac devices like pacemakers, implantable defibrillators or the new resynchronization devices. There are also millions of Canadians who use smartphones. And a new study says there could be interference between the two.

But thankfully this intereference is not very common says Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist Dr. Derek Exner from the University of Calgary. In fact, Dr. Exner says the results of this study are actually very reassuring. He says this research shows less than a third of a percent of patients had problems. That said, Dr. Exner and this study still encourage those who use cardiac devices to use smartphones carefully.

Dr. Exner recommends keeping your smartphone at least 10 centimetres away from your cardiac device. So if the device is implanted on your left side, use your phone on your right ear. Also, don’t store the phone in your left breast pocket. Dr. Exner recommends male patients get a belt clip to hold their smartphone and that female patients carry their smartphone in their purse.

Even though the risk of interference is low, the reason these patients have cardiac devices is very real. So these devices need to work properly. For example, if a patient who has a pacemaker gets interference from their smartphone their pacemaker may not pace the heart properly and the patient could faint. Or if a defibrillator isn’t working properly, a patient could receive a painful shock, or not receive a shock when they need one.

So, doctors are recommending taking simple precautions to make sure these cardiac patients stay safe and their devices continue to work properly.



Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Jun 30th, 2015


Imagine being unable to say your name, not because you don’t know it, but because you suffer from a language disorder. This is often what it’s like for people living with aphasia. Up to 35 percent of those who suffer a stroke end up with aphasia, a language disorder caused by stroke or brain injury, that affects one’s ability to talk, read, write and understand spoken language.

Registered Speech-Language Pathologist Heather Tomlinson says aphasia is very frustrating, distressing and even embarrassing for those who have it because aphasia is a loss of language and not intellect, something people often misunderstand.

Tomlinson says most people do much better after working with a Speech-Pathologist, but many will continue to live with aphasia. This is why therapists will work with the patient, helping them to relearn how to talk, compensatory strategies like working with pictures to point to in order to facilitate communication,  but they’ll also work with the family and communication partners to educate them. For example, a therapist may ask a family member to resist finishing their partner’s sentences and help them understand it’s important to give the person with aphasia the time they need to find their words.

The good news is there are now more options for people with aphasia who have finished their formal rehabilitation in Calgary. The newly formed Calgary Aphasia Centre offers five workshops around the city where those with the disorder can come and practice their speech in a supportive environment.

For more information on these workshops, visit the Stroke Recovery Program’s website. 



Alberta Nose

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Jun 25th, 2015


Local Ear, Nose and Throat doctors hear this all the time, “I breathe better when I”m on vacation.” And this is one of the reasons ENTs working in Calgary have coined the term Alberta Nose.

Turns out, stuffy nose or rhinitis, is very common in Calgary. But specifically, the type of rhinitis where doctors don’t know what’s causing it. So, there are no allergies at play, no infections, no known irritants bothering the nose when doctors use this term.

Pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat specialist Dr. Warren Yunker from the Alberta Children’s Hospital says when he practiced in Houston he would rarely see cases of idiopathic non-allergic rhinitis. But here in Calgary, he sees about 5 patients a day with this condition. Hence, the more colloquial term Alberta Nose.

There are many theories about Alberta Nose, but no real research. However, doctors think this condition may be multifactorial, or have many causes. It’s not simply the lack of humidity here or altitude. Doctors think there could be some kind particulate matter coming off the Foothills that might be behind this stuffy nose.

Regardless, when it comes to Alberta Nose it’s about treating the symptoms. So, first off you have decide how irritated you are by your symptoms. For children with Alberta Nose, ENTs will talk to parents to see if the child’s sleeping is being affected by the inability to breathe properly. They’ll look at whether the child can eat with their mouth closed. Similarly, for adults, it’s a question of how bothered they are by the symptoms and whether their sleep is affected.

The doctor will then come up with a treatment plan. The first line of treatment includes a humidifier in the bedroom at night and saline nasal sprays. And for adults, regular nasal rinsing. The idea being if something is irritating the nose, wash it out.

If these methods are not working, talk to our doctor about prescription steroid nasal sprays. Dr. Yunker says if the patient needs them, they’re safe to use over the long term.

For more information talk to your doctor about non-allergic rhinitis or get a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor.

Men’s Health

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Jun 23rd, 2015


We all know men are not the best at getting to the doctor, particularly for an annual checkup. Men are more likely to go to the doctor once they have symptoms. And in fact, those symptoms have likely been bothering them for quite awhile.

For Men’s Health Month, Dr. Jonathan Chan of Imagine Health Centres, wants guys to start thinking of their bodies in a different way. He says men should treat their body just as they would their favourite vehicle. Dr. Chan says most men would take their nice car in for routine maintenance, would put only the best fuel in it and would take care of it in a way that would help it last as long as possible.

Same applies to the body. Dr. Chan says the annual visit is the best way for men to reduce their risk for the big bad killers like heart disease, stroke and cancer. The annual visit allows the doctor and patient to come up with a personalized road map for their wellness. It also allows the family doctor to help their patient with healthy eating (remember that fuel) and regular exercise. These lifestyle changes, says Dr. Chan can make all the difference at preventing disease.

Dr. Chan also encourages men to see their doctor before they start having any symptoms. Again, it’s about preventing disease in the first place.

And if that doesn’t get the guys in, Dr. Chan offers this advice. He explains that if you have clogged arteries in your heart for example, that can lead to heart disease. But those clogged arteries usually mean there is vascular disease elsewhere in the body. For example, clogged arteries to the brain could lead to stroke, or even sexual dysfunction. That’s usually motivating for most men, says Dr. Chan.

Either way, regular visits are about investing in your own machine. You can always get a new car, but you only have one body.

For more information about Dr. Chan and what they do at Imagine Health Centres, visit their website.

Baby Brain Research

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Jun 18th, 2015


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects five percent of school-aged children. Yet researchers still have so much to learn about this disorder.

One of the researchers at the forefront is Neuropsychologist Deborah Dewey at the University of Calgary. She and her team have found that ADHD often occurs with another neurodevelopmental disorder. This is called co-occurrence. In fact, Dewey says research shows co-occurrence is actually the norm and not the exception. She explains the chance of a child with ADHD also having a motor disorder is 50 percent. The chance of a child with ADHD having a reading disability is 30-40 percent. And these children also have a much higher rate of having some kind of mental illness like depression.

So this leads to the question of why? Dewey says early research shows what’s happening to baby’s brain in utero may be of more significance than what’s happening once they’re born. For example, she refers to when BPA or bisphenol A was taken out of baby bottles a few years ago. While this is great, the latest research suggests exposures to neurotoxins like BPA or phthalates which are ubiquitous in our environment may be more problematic before baby is even born, when their brains are developing in utero.

Research also suggests the co-occurrence of these brain disorders may have to do with what women eat while they’re pregnant. Dewey says research is underway into things like eggs and omega 3 fatty acids and the impact on baby brain development in utero.

What is clear is that this co-occurrence of neurodevelopmental disorders is being caused by more than just genetics.

For more information, Deborah Dewey will be giving a free public lecture at the Alberta Children’s Hospital tomorrow (Friday June 19th.) The lecture is on the 4th floor in the main amphitheatre.



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