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Cognitive Decline Accelerates Years After Stroke

Stroke is associated with acute decline in cognitive function as well as a decline in new learning and memory, according to the first study to monitor cognitive function in a longitudinal manner before and after stroke.

About one-third of stroke patients have significant cognitive impairment within several months of the event.

In addition, silent strokes, experienced by 1 in 10 adults by their early 60s, are harbingers of both future stroke and cognitive dysfunction.

Downward Trajectory

Researchers led by Deborah A. Levine, MD, MPH, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, tracked the trajectories of cognitive decline before and after incident stroke in a prospective study of 23,572 participants age 45 years or older without baseline cognitive impairment.

The participants were part of the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke cohort.

Over a median follow-up of 6 years, 515 participants survived incident stroke and 23,057 remained stroke free.

All participants underwent cognitive function tests administered by telephone to assess their global cognition annually.

They also underwent a battery of cognitive tests administered twice a year.

The results show stroke was associated with acute decline in global cognition, new learning, and verbal memory.

Faster Decline in Cognition

“Participants with stroke, compared with those without stroke, demonstrated faster declines in global cognition and executive function, but not in new learning and verbal memory, compared with pre-stroke slopes,” they wrote.

Also, cognitive impairment was significantly faster post-stroke compared with pre-stroke.

As an example, the researchers note that for a 70-year-old black woman who had average values at baseline, stroke at year 3 was associated with greater incident cognitive impairment.

The absolute difference was 4% at year 3 and 12.4% at year 6.

The results suggest that stroke survivors should be monitored for years, they note.

In an accompanying editorial, Philip B. Gorelick, MD, MPH, and David Nyenhuis, PhD, from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Grand Rapids, state that “acute cognitive decline was associated with incident stroke and accelerated and persisted over the approximately 6-year follow-up period.”

Tracking Pre-stroke Cognition

They note that a novel feature of the study was that it allowed for pre-stroke cognition to be tracked, allowing the researchers to acquire rates of cognitive change prior to incident stroke.

These results suggest that clinicians may have an opportunity to intervene immediately following stroke to prevent accelerated stroke-related cognitive decline.

They support screening for cognitive impairment over the long term following stroke.

More Research Links Sugary Drinks with Type 2 Diabetes

Despite Coca-Cola’s new effort to shift the blame for obesity away from bad diets, now there’s more evidence that shows continued consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages leads to a greater likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.

An international team of researchers set out to assess whether habitual consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, artificially sweetened drinks, or fruit juice was associated with the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

They conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 17 studies to estimate the 10-year risk attributable to sugar-sweetened drinks in the US and UK.

2 Million New Cases of Diabetes in US from Sugary Beverages

The researchers estimated that 2 million new cases of type 2 diabetes would occur in the US and 80,000 new cases in the UK between 2010 and 2020 related to the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

After adjustments for body weight, even for thin or normal weight persons, 1 sugary drink per day was associated with a 13% increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The association between artificially sweetened drinks or fruit juice and type 2 diabetes was less evident.

The researchers suggested that substituting sugar-sweetened drinks with artificially sweetened drinks or fruit juice is unlikely to be the best strategy in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

So what drink should you choose?

Water or other unsweetened beverages are the better options.

Men Left Out of Weight-Loss Market

Even though men are more likely to be overweight than women, men are not getting the weight-loss services they need.

Recent data from Britain is easily applied to the US, and around the world.

Using a Freedom of Information request, the Men’s Health Forum in Britain asked local authorities how many people had been helped by their weight-loss programs in 2013-2014.

The results show 110,324 women as compared with 29,919 men, suggesting that a woman is 277% (3½ times) more likely to get help with weight loss than a man, according to a news release.

Two-thirds of men in Britain are overweight or obese as compared with 57% of women.

Shocking Figures

“These figures are pretty shocking,” said Martin Tod, CEO of Men’s Health Forum.

“We want to see local councils making much bigger efforts to design their services to work for men.

This is particularly important because men account for three-quarters of premature deaths from coronary heart disease—and middle-aged men are twice as likely as women to get diabetes.”

According to a recent publication from the Men’s Health Forum, How To Make Weight-Loss Services Work For Men, there are several reasons for the gender gap.

These include poor advertising or marketing, services that are inappropriate or unattractive to men, and unsuitable venues or times.

Here is a summary of the highlights from the forum guide on what works with weight-loss for men:

Key lessons

1. Obesity prevention and treatment should take into account sex and gender-related differences.

2. Weight reduction for men is best achieved and maintained with the combination of a reducing diet, advice on physical activity, and behavior change techniques.

Men prefer more factual information on how to lose weight and more emphasis on physical activity than women.

3. Men-only groups may enhance effectiveness.

Group-based interventions should also provide some individual tailoring and individual feedback to male participants.

4. Weight-loss programs for men may be better provided in social settings, such as sports clubs and workplaces, which may be more successful at engaging men.

No Strict Diets, Please

In general, men express a dislike of “strict” diets.

Intermittent periods of dieting may be more effective for men than regular periods of dieting.

► Men particularly enjoy the use of pedometers to monitor their physical activity.

► Men prefer interventions that are individualized, fact-based, flexible, use business-like language, and include simple to understand information.

► Men are less likely than women to do well using the drug Orlistat to help long-term weight-loss maintenance.

► Men differ from women when it comes to encouraging them and maintaining participation in weight-loss programs.

Men are significantly less likely than women to join a weight-loss program, but once recruited they are less likely than women to drop out.

► Middle-aged men in particular, are more motivated to lose weight once they become aware that they have a health problem, for example, being diagnosed as “obese” by a health care professional.

Understanding the health benefits of losing weight can act as a motivator for men, for example, knowing that weight loss may prevent the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus or that weight reduction may improve erectile function.

Even “Mid-low-T” Levels Make Men Depressed

Men referred for borderline testosterone levels may have high rates of depression and depressive symptoms that are under-recognized, according to the results of a new study.

“In an era where more and more men are being tested for ‘Low T’ — or lower levels of testosterone — there is very little data about the men who have borderline low testosterone levels.

We felt it important to explore the mental health of this population,” said lead author Michael S. Irwig, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of the Center for Andrology at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, DC.

The number of testosterone prescriptions has grown exponentially over the past decade.

Along with it has been a corresponding increase in direct-to-consumer marketing about the effects of “Low T” on decreased sexual function and low energy in middle-aged men.

The study included 200 adult men, mean age 48 years, who were referred for borderline total testosterone levels between 200 and 350 ng/dL.

Doctors typically treat men for hypogonadism if they have symptoms of low testosterone and their testosterone levels are below 300 ng/dL.

The researchers gathered information on demographics, medical histories, medication use, signs and symptoms of hypogonadism, and assessments of depressive symptoms and/or a known diagnosis of depression or use of an antidepressant.

All of the study participants who were not diagnosed with depression or who were taking medications for the condition answered standardized test questions aimed at measuring mood.

More Than Half Showed Signs of Depression

The results show that more than half (56%) of the men had depression or depressive symptoms, which is significantly higher than rates seen in general populations.

A recent survey of US adults found that 6% of those who are overweight or obese were depressed.

One-quarter of the men used antidepressants.

Rates of depression were 62% for those in their 20s and 30s, 65% for those in their 40s, 51% for those in their 50s, and 45% for those who were age 60 and higher.

Notably, the men had high rates of overweight or obesity and physical inactivity.

Common symptoms were erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, fewer morning erections, low energy, and sleep disturbances.

Sexual and nonspecific symptoms, such as fatigue, likely prompted measurements of testosterone in this selected population, the researchers pointed out.

They concluded that “clinicians should consider screening for depression/depressive symptoms and overweight and unhealthy lifestyle risk factors in men referred for tertiary care for potential hypogonadism.”

Testosterone replacement therapy can improve the signs and symptoms of low testosterone in these men, the researchers said.

The researchers published their results online on July 1, 2015 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Online Community Optimizes Epilepsy Management

Digital communities and online self-management tools have the potential to improve clinical outcomes among epilepsy patients, according to a new study.

Patients with chronic conditions are increasingly encouraged to self-manage their condition, and digital communities have the advantages of convenience, access to large populations, and building a community support network.

“We found that veterans with epilepsy who enrolled in an online patient community reported statistically significant improvements in previously validated self-efficacy and self-management measures,” wrote researchers led by John D. Hixson, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of California at San Francisco.

The researchers conducted a prospective study of 249 US veterans with epilepsy using validated survey measures of self-management and self-efficacy to determine the effectiveness of a patient-powered research network, PatientsLikeMe.

The 92 individuals who completed surveys over 6 weeks showed improvement in epilepsy self-management and epilepsy self-efficacy scores, with the greatest impact on an information management subscale.

Information management includes the use of a seizure diary, tracking of side effects, and tools for medication adherence.

Online Tracking Tools

“This result potentially demonstrates that study participants believed that the availability of online tracking tools or social support mechanisms improved their self-management capabilities,” they wrote.

About half of the participants agreed that the online network gave them more or better control over their condition and helped them understand their seizures.

The platform was accepted and used by a broad cohort of patients.

Older patients participated at the same rate as younger patients.

The median number of logins, postings to forums, leaving profile comments, and sending private messages were more common in completers than non-completers.

The researchers suggested that patients who are offered this type of service through their health care providers might overcome some of the self-selection bias typical of online communities.

“It is reasonable to hypothesize that this type of online intervention could positively affect other metrics of epilepsy health, such as health care utilization, morbidity, and even epilepsy-related mortality,” they wrote.

“We think that it would be compelling to explore more objective metrics of epilepsy-related health, such as emergency services utilization, frequency of interactions with epilepsy care teams, and medication adherence.”

Traditional medications and other technological interventions remain the essential elements of epilepsy treatment.

However, there is a growing recognition of the importance of psychosocial support, education, and self-management tools for patients.

“As a cost-effective and more time-efficient alternative, online networks and management platforms offer more ubiquitous accessibility and a larger support system than traditional methods,” they concluded.

Epilepsy Websites for Patients

Epilepsy Foundation Helpline. This 24/7 helpline has trained information specialists available to answer questions about epilepsy and seizures and provide support, guidance, and access to national and local resources.

PatientsLikeMe. This network provides an epilepsy-specific support system, as well as digital tools for tracking seizures, symptoms, medications, and comorbidities.

EpilepsyU. This online resource offers information and epilepsy education and access to educational materials, social networking, and group forums.

Lung Disease Often Missed in Long-term Smokers

As many as 35 million Americans who smoke or who are former smokers may have undiagnosed lung disease or impairment.

Long-term Smokers May Have Undiagnosed Lung Disease

• Current and former smokers who do not have airflow obstruction may assume that they are free of disease.

• But millions of long-term smokers with normal spirometry results may have undiagnosed lung disease.

• A cross-sectional, observational study included more than 9000 persons aged 45 to 80 years who had smoked at least 1 pack of cigarettes daily for 10 years.

• Most smoked more than 1 pack per day; about half were considered disease-free based on their lung-function test results.

Nearly Half of Smokers Have CT Evidence of Disease

• One or more respiratory-related impairments were found in 54.1% of patients. This group had worse quality of life compared with never-smokers, as well as a shorter 6-minute walk distance.

• In this group, 42.3% had CT evidence of emphysema or airway thickening.

• Current smoking was associated with more respiratory symptoms, but former smokers had greater emphysema and gas trapping.

• Advancing age was associated with smoking cessation and with more CT findings of disease.

Unrecognized Disease in 35 Million Older Americans

• Those with respiratory impairments were more likely to use respiratory medications, and the use of these medications was associated with worse disease.

• Lung disease and impairments were common in smokers without spirometric chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

• The researchers projected that 35 million current and former smokers older than 55 years in the United States may have unrecognized disease or impairment.

Take-home Message:

• The effect of chronic smoking on the lungs is substantially underestimated when spirometry is used alone.

Combo Diet-Exercise Programs Trim Diabetes Risk

A combination of diet and physical activity programs offered in the community reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in patients who are at increased risk, according to new federal data.

Programs Help Patients Revert to Normal Glycemic Levels

• Strong evidence suggests that a combination of diet and physical activity programs can reduce new-onset diabetes for persons at increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

• These programs also increase the likelihood of reversion to normal glycemic levels and improve diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk factors, including weight, blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and lipid levels.

• The US Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends the use of combined diet and physical activity promotion programs to reduce progression to type 2 diabetes in those at increased risk.

Combined Program’s Critical Components

• Critical components of a combined diet and physical activity program include trained providers in clinical or community settings who work directly with program participants for at least 3 months; some combination of counseling, coaching, and extended support; and multiple sessions related to diet and physical activity, delivered in person or by other methods.

• Programs also may use 1 or more of the following: diet counselors in various specialties (eg, nutritionists, dietitians, and diabetes educators); exercise counselors in various specialties (eg, physical educators, physiotherapists, and trainers); physicians, nurses, and trained laypersons; a range of intensity of counseling, with many or few sessions, longer- or shorter-duration sessions, and individual or group sessions; and individually tailored or generic diet or physical activity programs.

• Programs should include specific weight-loss or exercise goals and a period of maintenance sessions after the primary core period of the program.

US Task Force Conducts Systematic Review

• The task force recommendation is based on evidence from a systematic review of 53 studies that described 66 programs.

• Most programs used a combination of in-person individual and group sessions.

• Almost all programs led to weight loss, reduced risk of diabetes, or both.

• More intensive programs led to more weight loss and less development of diabetes.

Group Programs More Cost-effective

• These diet-exercise programs were cost-effective; group-based programs were the most cost-effective.

• Health care providers usually are the primary resource for patients at increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

• The task force suggests that health care providers keep informed about local prevention programs offered by community centers or run by insurers or nonprofit or other private contractors.

Take-home Message:

• A federal task force’s systematic review found combined diet and physical activity programs can help prevent or delay the development of diabetes.

Asthma Pops Up After Step Down

Many patients with asthma experience exacerbations within 2 years of receiving step down medications, new respiratory disease research shows.

Asthma Exacerbations Occur in One-third of Patients

• About one-third of patients with asthma have an exacerbation within 2 years of stepping down controller medication, according to the results of new retrospective study.

• Researchers used a US claims database spanning 2000-2012 to conduct a time-to-event analysis.

• A step down event was defined by a 50% or more decrease in days-supplied of controller medications from one event to the next.

Younger, Female, African American Patients at Increased Risk

• Researchers monitored each patient for 10 consecutive 4-month intervals, 3 prior to stepping down, 1 when the step down occurred, and 6 after the step down.

• Among the 26,292 patients in the study, 32% had an asthma exacerbation in the 2-year period after step down of asthma controller medication, although only 7% visited an emergency department or were hospitalized for asthma.

• Patients at increased risk for a quicker asthma exacerbation included those aged 19 years and younger, females, and African Americans.

Take-home Message:

• About one-third of patients have an asthma exacerbation in the 2 years after a step down event.

• Source: Rank MA, Johnson R, Branda M, et al. Long term outcomes after stepping down asthma controller medications: a claims-based, time-to-event analysis. Chest. 2015 May 21. doi:10.1378/chest.15-0301. [Epub ahead of print]

Physical Activity Trims Breast Cancer Risk

The risk of breast cancer tends to be lower in women who participate in physical activity.

Several studies presented at the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago demonstrate that even moderate levels of physical activity can help women who have breast cancer live longer lives.

However, women who have received hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may not get the same benefit from exercise.

Community-based programs at Curves or a LIVESTRONG program at YMCAs can help patients with breast cancer increase their fitness and lose weight, improving their quality of life.

High Levels of Physical Activity Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

• A lower risk of breast cancer among physically active women has been reported frequently, but the risk in women who use HRT appears to be higher.

• A systematic literature search of studies that measured physical activity in breast cancer identified 38 studies including more than 4 million women.

• The risk of breast cancer in women who engaged in the highest level of physical activity was 12% lower than in women who performed low levels of or no physical activity.

HRT Nullifies Exercise Effects

• However, there was no reduction in breast cancer risk associated with physical activity in women who used HRT.

• The capacity of physical activity to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women probably has been underestimated by studies conducted after 1989, when HRT use was more prevalent.

• Physical activity probably decreases the risk of breast cancer through lower circulating estrogen levels, but HRT use seems to nullify this action.

• Source: Pizot C, Boniol M, Mullie P, et al. Physical activity, hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer risk: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. J Clin Oncol. 33, 2015 (suppl; abstr 1561).

BMI and Physical Activity in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

• Modifiable lifestyle factors, including body mass index (BMI) and physical activity, have been well-studied for overall breast cancer prognosis.

• No prospective study has investigated BMI and physical activity in triple-negative breast cancer, defined as ER-/PR-/HER2-.

• These researchers conducted an analysis using data from 5 breast cancer survivor cohorts in the United States, the UK, and China.

High Physical Activity Extends Lives

• The 12,240 stage I-III breast cancer cases with known ER/PR/HER2 status included 1695 triple-negative cases (13.9%).

• Patients self-reported their recreational physical activity.

• After a mean follow-up of 9.5 years, the researchers observed a trend for increasing physical activity and improved breast cancer-specific survival and overall survival.

• This was significant only for high levels of physical activity, the equivalent of 4 or more hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.

• Source: Nechuta SJ, Caan BJ, Chen WY, et al. Post-diagnosis BMI and physical activity in association with triple-negative breast cancer prognosis: results from 5 prospective cohorts. J Clin Oncol. 33, 2015 (suppl; abstr 1507).

Weight Loss Study in Breast Cancer

• Weight loss among overweight and obese breast cancer survivors may lead to improved disease-free survival.

• Researchers conducted a 12-month, community-situated physical activity and telephone-based dietary change weight loss intervention in female breast cancer survivors.

• The 25 evaluable patients, median age 57 years, were assigned a telephone counselor and given a 12-month membership to a local Curves fitness center, which offered a 30-minute circuit-based exercise program.

• Patients were counseled 14 times over 12 months and were instructed to exercise 150 minutes per week, walk 10,000 steps per day, and decrease caloric intake by 500 kcal per day.

Meaningful Weight Loss Over 12 Months

• At 12 months, 96% of patients met the diet goal and 28% of them met the exercise goal.

• Average weight loss was 7.6%; the median weight loss was 7.1%.

• The researchers concluded that it is feasible to recruit and retain breast cancer survivors in a multicenter weight-loss trial using dietary change plus physical activity to achieve clinically meaningful weight loss over 12 months.

• Source: Greenlee H, Lew D, Hershman DL, et al. Phase II feasibility study of a physical activity and dietary change weight loss intervention in a subset analysis of breast cancer survivors (SWOG S1008). J Clin Oncol. 33, 2015 (suppl; abstr 9572).

LIVESTRONG at the YMCA Program for Cancer Survivors

• Physical activity has been linked to cancer risk and outcomes, yet many survivors are inactive.

• Researchers evaluated the impact of a 12-week LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, an exercise program available for cancer survivors at YMCAs across the United States.

Patients With Early-stage Cancer are Mostly Inactive

• A total of 186 participants were randomized, 95 to the LIVESTRONG Program and 91 to a control group.

• The majority of patients had stage I-II disease; half had breast cancer.

• A majority of participants were inactive at baseline; only one-third reported performing at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

LIVESTRONG Program Encourages Physical Activity

• Participants randomized to the LIVESTRONG Program attended an average 83% of scheduled sessions over the 3-month program.

• LIVESTRONG participants experienced significant increases in physical activity—three-fourths exercised a minimum of 150 minutes per week compared with one-fourth of controls.

• Exercisers showed improvements in fitness and quality of life compared with controls.

• Source: Irwin ML, Cartmel B, Harrigan M, et al. Impact of the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA Program on physical activity, fitness, and quality of life in cancer survivors. J Clin Oncol. 33, 2015 (suppl; abstr 9508).

Take-home Messages:

• The promotion of physical activity may help lower the risk of breast cancer, but HRT may ameliorate the effects of exercise.

• High levels of physical activity can help patients with breast cancer live longer lives.

• A combination of physical activity and caloric restriction can help patients with breast cancer achieve sustained weight loss.

• The LIVESTRONG program could provide a platform to increase physical activity, fitness, and quality of life in cancer survivors.

High Blood Sugar Elevates Breast Cancer Risks

Higher blood sugar levels that reflect prediabetes or undiagnosed diabetes lead to poorer outcomes in patients with breast cancer, particularly in young women, according to the results of a new study.

“In younger patients, doctors need to be aggressive in controlling blood sugar levels to improve their breast cancer-related outcomes,” said lead author Varinder Kaur, MD, a Fellow in Hematology/Oncology at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock.

Multiple studies indicate that type 2 diabetes is associated with an increase in mortality in breast cancer.

However, the class of anti-diabetic therapy remains an obvious confounding factor in these studies.

Higher mortality rates have been reported in patients with breast cancer who are treated with insulin than in those treated with metformin.

Choosing a population of patients with breast cancer who have prediabetes and are not receiving anti-diabetic therapy could overcome such confounders.


“We conducted a retrospective cohort study to evaluate the relationship between elevated random blood sugar (RBS) levels and breast cancer outcomes,” Dr. Kaur said.

The study included 234 patients, median age 53 years, who had no previous history of diabetes and who were not receiving any anti-diabetic therapy.

Some 159 patients had a documented RBS level.

The patients had stage I-III breast cancer, mostly stage II disease (177 patients); 72 patients had elevated RBS levels (higher than 120 mg/dL) and 87 had RBS levels lower than 120 mg/dL.

The effect of elevated RBS levels on overall survival, event-free survival, and time to tumor recurrence were analyzed.

“We observed that patients with elevated random blood sugar levels experienced significantly shorter overall survival, shorter event-free survival, and shorter time to tumor recurrence,” Dr. Kaur said.

“After adjusting for age, obesity, and race, elevated random blood sugar levels continued to display a high and statistically significant association with shorter survival and time to tumor recurrence.”

In addition, among patients younger than 50 years, elevated RBS levels were associated with a significantly greater frequency of high-grade tumors (80%) compared with RBS levels below 120 mg/dL (45%), suggesting that “elevated random blood sugar levels may have more impact in younger patients,” she noted.

Metformin may help reduce the risk of breast cancer and more tightly control blood sugar levels, Dr. Kaur said.

This may improve outcomes more than if patients are receiving insulin.


Metformin may be even more effective in younger patients.

The risk of shorter survival and shorter time to tumor recurrence was more than twice as high in the 97 patients who were younger than 50 years than in the patients older than 50 years, she stated.

In conclusion, Dr. Kaur said, “High random blood sugar levels, reflective of a prediabetic state or undiagnosed diabetic state, are associated with shorter overall survival and time to tumor recurrence in early-stage breast cancer patients. It makes sense to be aggressive and control their blood sugar.”

The researchers presented the results of the study (Abstract 1584) at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.