Author Archives: Karen Owoc

Fit TV | Healthy Aging

Find out what you need to know for healthy aging, that is, how to sidestep “getting old”…. from low testosterone (and its effects on sex drive and belly fat) to prostate cancer, robotic surgery, and osteopenia. Emmy Award-winning news anchor John Kessler, and Karen Owoc address a range of medical symptoms and treatments with Dr. Neil Okamura and Dr. Mark Lollar of San Ramon Regional Medical Center/John Muir Health.

Is Your Pet Allergy Linked to Heart Disease?

Pet allergiesYou finally give in to a family pet, but ever since you brought home Mr. Whiskers, your eyes are red and itchy, you’re sneezing and have a constant runny nose. You feel like you have a perpetual cold. Is being allergic to your pet a minor inconvenience or can it lead to something more serious?

How Prevalent Are Pet Allergies?

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), almost 62% of U.S. households have pets and more than 161 million of these pets are cats and dogs. Ten percent of pet owners are allergic to their pets and 25% of them decide to keep their pets.

Are You Allergic to Your Pet?

Some of the signs and symptoms of pet allergies include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Itchy skin
  • Hives (hives on your face and chest are symptoms of a more severe allergy)
  • Skin reaction where your pet licks you
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing

Be aware that if you have asthma as well as a pet allergy, your symptoms could be especially serious.

What’s the Allergen?

If your pet causes any of the above allergic reactions or aggravates your asthma symptoms, your pet’s hair or fur is not to blame as many people seem to think. But keep in mind that pollen, mold spores and other outdoor allergens can collect in your pet’s hair and fur. The real culprits behind these allergic effects are the proteins found in your pet’s saliva, urine and dander (flakes of dead skin).

Dander, Dander Everywhere   

Continue reading

When a Lower Blood Pressure is NOT Better

Blood Pressure Monitor_If you’ve been managing your blood pressure, you’re probably well aware of its high’s and low’s. You delight in a low blood pressure, but when your diastolic pressure (represented by the bottom number in your blood pressure reading) is low, you may be at risk for the following:

  • New-onset heart failure
  • Brain atrophy
  • Increased mortality if you have chronic kidney disease

Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure within your arteries as it flows through them. It’s the pressure between heartbeats, that is, when your heart is at rest. Your systolic blood pressure (represented by the top number in your blood pressure reading) measures the amount of pressure that your blood exerts on vessels when your heart contracts or ‘beats’.

Isolated Diastolic Hypotension

“Isolated diastolic hypotension” (IDH) is a condition that occurs when your diastolic blood pressure is low (less than 60 mm Hg), but your systolic blood pressure is 100 mm Hg and above.

If you’ve been congratulated for having a good systolic blood pressure (less than 120 mm Hg — or even less than 130 mm Hg), don’t be so quick to start your celebratory dance. What’s your diastolic blood pressure? Many clinicians don’t consider a low diastolic blood pressure reading as problematic.  Continue reading

Do Your Statin Drugs Cause Muscle Pain?

Myalgia or muscle pain is a common complaint made by patients on cholesterol-lowering “statin” drugs. Oftentimes the muscle pain, cramps, weakness, and tenderness become intolerable and patients must discontinue statin drug therapy.

Consequences of Low Vitamin D

A study of over 5,500 patients averaging 56 years old found a correlation between vitamin D deficiency, statin* use, and the development of statin-induced myalgia (SIM). Vitamin D blood levels of 30-40 ng/mL are considered ideal. When patients had low vitamin D levels  (≤15 ng/mL) at the time they started on the statin drug, SIM was accurately predicted.

*60% of the patients used Atorvastatin, a.k.a. Lipitor®
 29% of the patients used Simvastatin, a.k.a. Zocor®

In another study presented at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions, the following results were presented:

  • 81.3% had SIM when vitamin D levels <30 ng/mL
  • 17.6% had SIM when vitamin D levels >30 ng/mL
  • 62.1% had SIM when vitamin D levels <20 ng/mL
  • Four-fold higher rate of statin-induced myalgias occurred when vitamin D levels <20 ng/mL

They found low vitamin D is common in patients with hyperlipidemia
(abnormal lipid levels) — i.e., high cholesterol, high LDLs, low HDLs, high triglycerides.

Treatment for Statin Intolerance

Consult with your physician about your intolerance to your prescribed statin medication. Statin-induced myalgias are often treated by:     Continue reading

10 Factors That Affect Blood Pressure Readings

In “The #1 Biggest Mistake That Affects Blood Pressure Readings“, wrong blood pressure cuff size topped the list as one of the most frequent errors made when measuring blood pressure. Be conscious of the following factors the next time you get a blood pressure reading. They can affect it by 5 to 50 points, and artificially high or low readings could affect your medical treatment.

1. Arm Position

Correct blood pressure arm position

Your palm should be facing up and your arm should be supported and horizontal at the level of the midpoint of your sternum (chest bone) which is at the approximate level of the right atrium of your heart. It may be necessary to place a pillow under your arm or adjust the chair or table to achieve the correct position.

  • If your upper arm is BELOW the level of the right atrium, your blood pressure readings will be too high (blood is flowing down into the arm).
  • If the upper arm is ABOVE heart level, the readings will be too low (blood is flowing down from the arm).

Researchers studied a group of outpatients to determine the effects of arm position on blood pressure measurements. Blood pressures were taken and compared in the following arm positions:

  1. Sitting with arms supported on the armrests of a chair
  2. Sitting with arms supported at the level of the mid-sternum

Blood pressure readings are higher with arm resting on armrest of the chair.

The results showed that blood pressure readings were significantly higher when sitting with arms on the armrest of the chair. Readings can be over 10 mm Hg higher in both systolic (upper number) and diastolic (lower number) pressures.

Blood pressure readings are elevated significantly when the arm is hanging down.

In another study of 100 random emergency room patients, blood pressures were compared in two positions: 1) Arm lax and hanging down parallel to the body and 2) Arm in the “correct” position. Among the seated patients, 22% of them were diagnosed with hypertension, but twice as many patients were diagnosed with high blood pressure with the arm hanging down. Be sure to note the position of your arm whenever a clinician takes your blood pressure.   Continue reading

The #1 Biggest Mistake That Affects Blood Pressure Readings

Blood pressure_dollarphotoclub_15479127_600x400Have you ever had your blood pressure taken and were surprised to discover that it was higher or lower than you expected? Did you know that simple variations can cause your blood pressure reading to deviate between 5 and 50 points? Beware… the most common error when measuring blood pressure is improper blood pressure cuff size.

Whether you take your own blood pressure at home or rely on a clinician to do so, using the wrong size cuff happens frequently. Since your blood pressure reading predicts your risk of stroke, heart disease and renal failure and assesses your need for hypertensive medications, you want to be sure the reading isn’t artificially low or elevated.

Why Cuff Size Matters

An essential part of measuring a blood pressure involves compressing the artery, so that no blood flows through it. The “cuff” is the part that wraps around your arm and the bladder inside inflates to apply the compression. It is CRITICAL that the cuff is the right size.

When the Cuff is Too Small

BP Cuff_AdultWhen the cuff size is too small, your blood pressure will be artificially HIGH — and can deviate by as much as 50 mmHg. This happens because the undersized cuff may not be able to completely close off the artery. It has to inflate a lot and you’ll get a higher reading. The result: a false diagnosis and over-treatment. It’s not uncommon that some obese people are incorrectly diagnosed with high blood pressure when it is actually normal.

When the Cuff is Too Large

Large BP CuffWhen the cuff size is too big, your blood pressure will be artificially LOW — but may not deviate as much as from the error of using a cuff that’s too small. It will read low because the bladder in the cuff will overlap (covering more than 100% of your arm), so the cuff ends up inflating on itself. In other words, it will cut off the supply of blood too easily and you’ll get a lower reading. Taking your blood pressure with a cuff that’s too large is dangerous because you and your doctor may think your blood pressure is normal and not as high as it actually is.

NOTE: When you’re exercising, your blood pressure is expected to rise, but the wrong size cuff could produce a reading that’s low or too high which could be problematic and symptomatic of cardiovascular disease.

Why This Mistake Occurs So Frequently

Using the wrong size cuff is mainly due to a laxity in protocol and/or by the clinician or a lack of emphasis on proper blood pressure cuff sizing in medical training. As a result, neglecting cuff size becomes the standard practice in the everyday work environment, i.e., in doctors’ offices and in both outpatient and inpatient hospital facilities.

Measuring for Cuff Size

Measuring tape

Use a flexible measuring tape (not metal) and measure the circumference of your arm at about the midpoint between your shoulder and elbow. (Allow your arm to relax and hang down at the side of your body.) If you don’t have a measuring tape, you can also use a piece of string or ribbon. Your cuff size will be determined by your arm size.

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: After measuring your arm, MEMORIZE ITS SIZE! Whenever you get your blood pressure taken, ask the clinician the cuff’s range (it’s printed on the cuff).  Blood pressure cuffs do not come in uniform sizes, so you have to know your arm size. You may be an Adult Small in one cuff, but that could vary depending on the manufacturer.

Up Next! … “10 Factors That Can Affect Blood Pressure Readings(i.e., arm position, posture, and your bladder)

Fit TV | Anxiety and Depression Are Different in Men

June is Men’s Health Month

VIDEO: Three men/boys kill themselves every hour of every day. Would you recognize the symptoms if your son, husband, father or friend is depressed? Men generally don’t show the “classic” signs of depression nor do they typically reach out for help or seek medical attention.

Even trained clinicians are less likely to correctly diagnose depression in men than in women. In this episode, I talk with Dr. Will Courtenay, “The Men’s Doc”, an internationally-recognized expert on men’s emotional health. We discuss the symptoms and causes leading up to depression in men, including postpartum depression in men. (Yes, really!)

It wasn’t that long ago that actor and comedian Robin Williams shocked the world by killing himself. Williams battled drug and alcohol abuse for decades and had open heart surgery in 2009. Heart patients often experience anxiety after their cardiac event.

This episode also includes a three-minute segment on “Pet Health”. Pets often help alleviate depression. Find out how to care for your senior pet with San Ramon veterinarian Dr. Glen Weber.

Fit TV | Are Strokes Linked to Migraines?

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Migraines and Strokes
VIDEO: Studies reveal a definitive link between people who get migraines and strokes.  Host Karen Owoc, The Health Reporter, delivers a quick dose of health news in The Health Reporter Minute.

Mended Hearts® for Cardiac Patients

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking about cardiac health and rehab to an engaging group of Mended Hearts® members at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California. This was my second invitation to the Oakland chapter (#188) which meets one Saturday a month and I was pleasantly surprised by the hospital’s new look since my last visit.

However, what still hasn’t changed is that Kaiser does not offer cardiac rehabilitation to all their heart patients. The only accessible rehabilitation in Northern California is in Vallejo and San Francisco. Kaiser cardiologists prescribe “walking” to their patients — but for how long, how fast, how often for optimal results? Also, if you have ever participated in a outpatient cardiac rehab program, you’ve experienced the benefits of doing more than just walking.

NOTE: I learned that if you’re a Kaiser patient, you can participate in a non-Kaiser cardiac rehab program depending on your particular Kaiser plan AND if you’re on Medicare. If you’re looking for rehab options, check with your provider and also inquire about the co-pay. It’s also important to note that Medicare has stringent criteria that must be met for them to cover the costs (e.g., the time between your cardiac event to when you start cardiac rehab), so don’t wait too long to inquire.

Mended Hearts logoMended Hearts, Inc. is a national non-profit cardiac support group that is dedicated to inspiring hope, offering encouragement, and improving the quality of life for heart patients, their families and caregivers. The organization was started by Dr. Dwight E. Harken, a heart surgeon, with three of his open heart surgery patients in January 1951.

Over 60 years later, there are 300 Mended Hearts®  chapters in the U.S. and Canada where heart patients meet monthly for ongoing social, emotional and practical support. They are partners with over 460 hospitals and rehabilitation clinics. Mended Hearts offers services to heart patients through visiting programs, support group meetings and educational forums.

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: I encourage you to find out more about Mended Hearts. They are an extremely valuable resource. Contact: info@mendedhearts.org or 1-888-HEART99.

How Stress Causes Heart Attacks and Disease

You eat healthy and exercise, but you have clogged arteries or worse yet, had a heart attack. You wonder how that could possibly be. Well, here’s one of the key (and most overlooked) reasons why… STRESS. 

Are You Stressed Out?

Psychological stress can emerge when you’re unable to cope or respond to real-life demands (stressors), e.g.,  unemployment, caregiving for the the chronically ill, family dysfunction, poverty, and/or work, marital, or financial issues. According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2011), there are two types of stress:

  1. Acute stress – short-term form of stress that stems from the demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future.
  2. Chronic stress – long-term form of stress that derives from unending feelings of despair/hopelessness.

Coping with Stress

Coping skills are essential in stress management. How well do you manage your stress? Take this 20-minute Coping and Management Skills Test in Psychology Today and find out. Click here for the 38-question self test.

Various studies have shown that exposure to persistent stress can result in long-term or permanent changes in the way you respond:

  • Emotionally – e.g., increased likelihood of depression
  • Physiologically – e.g., decreased ability to regulate inflammatory responses due to decreased tissue sensitivity to cortisol (your primary stress hormone and regulator of inflammation)
  • Behaviorally – e.g., increased smoking, decreased exercise and sleep, poor medical compliance

These changes can affect your susceptibility to and the development and progression of disease.   Continue reading