UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on Health Care
New Devices Zap Excess Pounds, but Are They Safe?
By Tara Hulen
Fat-zapping lasers and other new technologies offer appealing nonsurgical options for weight loss, but the techniques may not be for everyone.
For every woman who has squeezed into torturously tiny shapewear and every man who wants to flatten a fleshy spare tire, fantasy has now become reality. Two new devices recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can cause fat cells to die and disappear, along with an inch or so of bulges. But they aren’t for everyone, a UAB expert says.
Zeltiq freezes fat cells and causes them to shrivel and die over several months; Zerona uses low-level laser therapy to purge fat from surface-level cells over a period of weeks. The treatments don’t produce the same results as liposuction, but they offer a noninvasive option to smooth small trouble spots without any incisions, anesthesia, or downtime, and typically they are less expensive than surgery.
UAB Cardiologists Seek and Destroy Arrhythmias
By Tara Hulen
UAB specialists are focused on correcting heart arrhthmias as well as on preventing the most dangerous heart rhythm issues.
When the heart skips a beat, it may not be love. A little too much coffee, a just-missed fender bender, or a strange sound in the middle of the night can all cause a heart to flutter, race, and pound. But when those sensations are frequent, last more than a few seconds, or cause dizziness, fatigue, or fainting, it’s time to see an expert to find out why.
Cardiac arrhythmias—the term for abnormal heart rhythms—affect more than 14 million Americans, says Tom McElderry, M.D., a cardiologist in the electrophysiology program at the UAB Heart and Vascular Center.
Arrhythmias, in simple terms, are caused by faulty wiring. They occur when the electrical pathways that make each part of the heart beat in sequence develop short circuits or other irregularities, which can make the heart inefficient and reduce the amount of blood it pumps through the rest of the body.
The consequences are often relatively benign. “For most people who have not had heart attacks in the past and don’t have cardiomyopathy or a weak heart, palpitations are typically only a nuisance,” McElderry says. People with mild or infrequent symptoms might simply need to avoid caffeine, certain cold medicines, and similar triggers. Or they may benefit from starting medications such as beta blockers or calcium channel blockers.
But some heart rhythms—including atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia—can signal a greatly increased risk of stroke, heart failure, and death, McElderry says. At the Heart and Vascular Center, electrophysiologists specialize in finding and fixing the source of the trouble. Meanwhile, in UAB’s Cardiac Rhythm Management Laboratory (CRML), researchers are searching for better ways to treat and prevent the most dangerous heart rhythm issues—and to increase our understanding of what causes the problems in the first place.
See how UAB electrophysiologists repaired one patient's heart in this video. Story continues below video
Analyzing a New Prescription for Cardiovascular Disease
By Kathleen Yount
If you don’t already have a bottle of statins in your medicine cabinet, there could be one in your future. This class of cholesterol-lowering drugs has been so successful in treating millions of Americans with high cholesterol and heart disease that momentum is gathering to broaden its use: In March, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca secured the government’s permission to market its statin medication, rosuvastatin (Crestor), to some groups of people who don’t even have high cholesterol.
The move was prompted by a 2008 study called JUPITER, which showed that taking rosuvastatin reduced participants’ risk of death by 20 percent. The drug also reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events in men 50 years and older and women 60 years and older who had “near optimal” LDL—a.k.a. “bad”—cholesterol levels (less than 130 mg/dL) and no history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes, but did have elevated levels of high sensitivity C-reactive protein (see “Do You Need a Statin?”).
The interpretation of the JUPITER study results has been hotly debated in the scientific community. Some say the effects are statistically significant but don’t have much clinical impact for people at normal risk. Others, such as UAB cardiologist Vera Bittner, M.D., argue that many people who do not fall into a high-risk category in the near term still have a significant lifetime risk of heart disease, and that early medical intervention could be the key to preventing premature death and disability in these populations.
Bittner says that there’s good reason to consider broadening the prescription of statins: Our nation is at higher risk for cardiovascular disease than we think it is.
Examining the Draw of E-Cigarettes
By Tara Hulen
E-cigarettes offer a nicotine fix without the toxic smoke of traditional cigarettes, but are they really a healthier alternative to smoking?
Cherie wants to quit smoking—again. As with a lot of former ex-smokers, this busy Birmingham businesswoman found that stress triggered a relapse. But she doesn’t yet feel ready to give quitting another try, so, in the meantime, she has chosen what she sees as a healthier option: electronic cigarettes.
E-cigarettes, as they are called, are becoming a popular intermediary step for smokers looking to gradually kick the habit—and for those, like Cherie, searching for a less toxic, less offensive substitute in the interim. The basic e-cigarette design has a tan mouthpiece designed to look like a cigarette’s filter and an LED light on the tip that can glow when active. When a smoker breathes in, a battery-powered internal atomizer creates a water vapor that draws nicotine into the mouth from a replaceable cartridge.
Answers About a Dangerous Allergy
By Kathy Seale
It’s a sign of the times: Across America, the entrances to many elementary-school classrooms are now guarded by the image of a large peanut trapped behind the red circle and slash that is the international symbol for “NO.”
Potentially deadly allergic reactions to peanuts have become a serious issue at schools, birthday parties, and anywhere else children and food mix in uncertain ways. And according to a heavily publicized study in the May 12 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the problem is getting worse. Based on a 5,300-household survey, the study reported that the number of peanut allergies more than tripled over 10 years, from 0.4 percent of children surveyed in 1997 to 1.4 percent of children surveyed in 2008.
Extrapolating those findings nationwide is problematic, says UAB pediatric allergist and immunologist Prescott Atkinson, M.D. But the number of confirmed cases of peanut allergy in the United States is trending upward, he agrees.