hypertension: The 2017 Clinical Guidelines

A visual guide to the new hypertension guidelines: https://www.medpagetoday.com/cardiology/hypertension/69399
In writing: http://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/ten-points-to-remember/2017/11/09/11/41/2017-guideline-for-high-blood-pressure-in-adults
I don’t watch television news, so I always hear about these things from patients first. “What do you think of the new hypertension guidelines?”

“Haven’t heard about them yet, so I don’t know.” Seems pretty embarrassing really, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t I be alerted as a doctor before it hits the news?

First of all, these guidelines are NOT JNC 9.

What is JNC 9, you ask?

One of the messy complications of medicine for people in the US and in the world, is that there is not ONE set of guidelines. There are multiple sets of guidelines. Take mammograms, for example. The US Preventative Task Force* said that the evidence in their review could not differentiate between yearly and every other year mammograms. They said you could do it every other year. The American Cancer Society and the Susan Koman Foundation yapped and had different guidelines, do it yearly. So as a physician I have to not only pay attention to the guidelines but know who is putting them out. The radiologists wanted yearly mammograms too, surprise, surprise.

And do you think some of it is driven by money? Well, it’s the US.

JNC 8 is the Eighth Joint National Committee and put out guidelines in 2014. Their job is to review all of the big hypertension studies since JNC 7 and put out new guidelines. JNC 8 took over a year, was multidisciplinary, and the final document was 400+ pages.

They said that if a patient was over 60, their blood pressure should be taken standing up, and the goal was under 150/90. Under 60, sitting, goal under 140/90. Normal is 120/70 and below.

Then there are pages and pages of recommendations about which medicines to use and in special circumstances, that is: diabetes, kidney failure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, etc, etc.

The cardiologists promptly started yelling about how JNC 8 is wrong and they put out a huge study saying that people have less heart attacks if their blood pressure is 125/80 or below.

But… the heart is not the only organ in the body. My patients are 77% over age 50 and 48% over 65. Once a person hits 80, their blood pressure may drop when they stand up. Most do. And low blood pressure, well, it’s bad for the over 80 crowd to get poor blood flow to the brain or to the kidneys or to faint and break things. That is why JNC 8 is multidisciplinary: because we need geriatrics and psychiatry and ortho and family medicine to be part of the guidelines.

So these NEW and IMPROVED guidelines. Well, who is putting them out? American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and a bunch of other mostly heart related organizations. And they are comparing it to JNC 7, not JNC 8. JNC 8 is being ignored. This document is a mere 192 pages, with the “short” version being 112 pages.

It says that blood pressure 130/80 to 140/90 is stage I hypertension, not prehypertension, and that we should treat it with lifestyle changes. Drugs are still to be recommended at anything over 140/90, though honestly, I start with lifestyle there too. Over 180/120 is now “hypertensive crisis”, consult your doctor immediately. 140-180/90-120 is stage II hypertension.

How will this change my practice? I am still thinking about the new guidelines and who has skin in the game. The AAFP (American Academy of Family Practice) put out a link to the guidelines and then a cautious comment to the effect of “We are studying how we should respond to this.”

Before this came out, I would tell people the JNC 8 goals. I do stand the people over 60 up, most of the time. I also tell people that the cardiologists want their blood pressure lower. And then that the cardiologists mostly ignore hypertension and cholesterol guidelines anyhow. If I follow the guidelines and then the patient sees a cardiologist, the cardiologist usually changes something. Guidelines be damned.

It comes down partly to a patient’s goal. I have people come in and say, “I don’t want to die of dementia!!” I see that as an opening. “What DO you want to die from?” People have different ideals. Some say, “I don’t want to die!” but then many do think about it. Sometimes this changes their ideas about what they want treated and what they don’t want treated.

Not everyone’s blood pressure drops in their 80s. Some people develop hypertension in their 90s. I tell them. They say, “I’m not taking a drug!”

I reply, “Let’s talk about strokes.”

They usually are not afraid of sudden death, but they don’t want the disability of a stroke. Many choose medicine after all.

One of the issues with guidelines is complexity. I could spend 20 minutes with a patient just talking about hypertension guidelines and choices of drugs and side effects and why they should be on an ace inhibitor or ARB if they have diabetes…. and there are guidelines for EVERYTHING. Sometimes conferences feel like all the specialists yelling: only half of diabetics are controlled, only one third of hypertensives are controlled, family doctors aren’t screening for urinary incontinence enough, osteoporosis, lung cancer, stop smoking! And then what my patient really needs is to talk about their adult child, in jail for addiction, and how frightened they are about overdose and the grandchild and the future…..

JNC-8 flowchart: http://www.nmhs.net/documents/27JNC8HTNGuidelinesBookBooklet.pdf
JNC-8: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497
*lots of guidelines: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/

bust

I took this in 2011, as a Mad as Hell Doctor, traveling around California talking about single payer.

We are losing more and more physicians. Our three counties, 450,000 people, are down from 8 neurologists ten years ago, to 2. The last one standing in the county of 350,000 says that he is really tired.

Single payer, medicare for all….. because I dream of other countries, civilized countries, countries where there is one set of rules, I can take care of any person who comes to me, I know what is covered and what is not, and I actually get paid….

 

Not quite acculturated

And she was unsympathetic
That doctor
That immigrant doctor
I heard she told a patient
“You’re too fat.”
This was whispered
In accents of pleased shocked horror

She came to dinner
That unsympathetic doctor
Southeast asian
Told a little of her story
To my wide eyed children

When she was 10
They were boat people
Escapees
Refugees
Pirates caught them
Real pirates
“They weren’t so bad,” she said
“We were about to die from lack
of food and water
Though we heard other stories
that were very bad.”

My daughter could imagine the boat.
She moved to my lap.
The pirates were too real.

Perhaps plenty is not always taken
for granted
And sympathy is a matter of degree.

 

previously posted on everything2.com in 2009 and here too, though I have not figured out how to find it….

for the Daily Prompt: enlighten.

Luminous night of the soul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OaRZrdoTQ0

 

Make a difference

In medical school I made a difference.

I was with two women and two men from class. We’d had a lecture on rape that day. One of the guys piped up, “If I were a woman and I was raped, I’d never tell anyone.”

“Man, I don’t feel that way.” I said, “I would have the legal evidence done, have the police on his ass so fast his head would spin and I would nail his hide to the wall.”

He looked at me in surprise. “Um, wow. Why?”

I took a deep breath and decided to answer. “You are assuming that you would be ashamed and that as a woman, it is somehow your fault if you were raped. I was abused by a neighbor at age 7. At age 7 I thought it was my fault. I thought I might be pregnant, because I was a bit clueless about puberty. I made it stop and tried to keep my sister away from the guy. When I went to the pediatrician the next time with my mother, I decided that since he didn’t say I was pregnant, I probably wasn’t. When I started school that year, second grade, I thought sadly that I was probably the only girl on the bus who wasn’t a virgin.

In college, I heard a radio show about rape victims, how they blame themselves, often think they did something to cause it, are often treated badly by the police or the emergency room, and feel guilty. All of the feelings that I had at age 7. I realized that I was 7, for Christ’s sake, I wasn’t an adult. It was NOT my fault.

If I walk down the street naked, I’m ok with being arrested for indecency, but rape is violence against me and no one has that right no matter WHAT is happening.

And child sexual abuse is one in four women.”

The two guys looked at the three of us. After a long pause, one of the other women shook her head no, and the other nodded yes.

The guy shook his head. “I never believed it. I didn’t think women could be okay after that.”

“Oh, we can survive and we can heal and thrive.”

We had the lecture on child sexual abuse a few months later. My fellow student talked to me later. “I thought about you and — during the lecture. I thought about it completely differently than before you talked about it. I would deal with a patient in a completely different way than I would have before. Thank you.”

 

previously posted on everything2.com in 2009

for the Daily Prompt: release

disaster and withdrawal

When I watch the disaster news, what I think about is withdrawal.

Everyone who is on a substance that causes dependence or addiction is withdrawing.

They don’t seem to ever discuss that, but think…. if you are in Houston or Florida when everything floods, are your cigarettes dry? I don’t think so. And put multiple people in close contact in a shelter, with many withdrawing… I am not surprised that tempers flare.

Let’s look at numbers.

Tobacco: in 2013, 21.3% of the US population age 12 and older, smokes tobacco. Disasters are a reason to quit. It’s hard enough to quit tobacco, but imagine going cold turkey if we have our Pacific Northwest really massive earthquake. Quit smoking now, don’t wait for a disaster. And think about being in a stadium with one in five of the people over age 12 withdrawing from tobacco. Is that fun?

Alcohol: “In 2013, 30.2 percent of men and 16.0 percent of women 12 and older reported binge drinking in the past month. And 9.5 percent of men and 3.3 percent of women reported heavy alcohol use.” Ok, that’s rather vague. If you have a drink or two after work every day or with dinner, will you notice the lack? Yes, I think so, but maybe only 10% of the adults are really going into alcohol withdrawal. That’s a conservative estimate. 30% are probably grumpy.

Illicit drugs: 4-8% of the 40-70 year olds used something in the past month. Are they addicted? Well, some are. And the 18-15 year olds are the most active, around 20%. Methamphetamines, cocaine, crack, crank, heroin, eeee-yuk.

Prescription drugs: “More than half of new illicit drug users begin with marijuana. Next most common are prescription pain relievers, followed by inhalants (which is most common among younger teens).” So let’s see, what percentage of the population is on prescribed opioids, benzodiazepines and barbituates? Ooooo, 1/3 of the US population has been prescribed opioids (2). Chronic opioids are prescribed to 3-4% of the US population, but of course, that is the prescribed chronic pain ones, not the illicit ones. Now, those can have a withdrawal. Alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal are the most dangerous for the patient, but in opioid withdrawal the pain receptors go absolutely crazy, like a volcano blowing up. And the tweakers withdrawing from methamphetamines. The sleep medicines like sonata and ambien avoid the issue of whether they are addictive by saying they are for “short term use” — 6 weeks for the former and 2 weeks for the latter, but some people have been on them for years. And marijuana daily, I have seen great difficulty with anxiety and sleep when people are trying to quit.

Marijuana: 7.5% of the population over age 12. How many of those are addicted? I see varying numbers, ranging from 10% to 50%. If you use marijuana regularly, check. Stop it for a week. See if there is a problem. I’d try it before a disaster, because it would add to the stress during….

Caffeine: Ok, I would withdraw from caffeine. 90% of US people are addicted to caffeine. I get a massive headache for 24 hours and then I am ok. I have gone off it more than once….

With ADHD medicines for children, a “drug holiday” is sometimes recommended. If you are regularly using any potentially addictive substance, try a “drug holiday” of your own.

And I think it’s the best motivator ever to quit smoking. Friday I had a couple of dedicated smokers and when I talked about flooded cigarretes, they blanched. Quit now, before you quit in circumstances…

And prayers for everyone in the disaster areas.

1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends
2. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/more-than-one-third-americans-prescribed-opioids-in-2015/
3. https://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/27/americans-consume-almost-all-of-the-global-opioid-supply.html  Hey, 80% of the world opioid supply is eaten by the US population! Why are US citizens in so much pain? Or are we under the impression that we shouldn’t have to feel pain and by gosh, we can afford the drugs….
4. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1507771#t=article Opioid Abuse in Chronic Pain — Misconceptions and Mitigation Strategies.

So WHY doesn’t the news talk about this? Because the cigarette and alcohol and prescription drug companies would yank the advertising?

Templates and the death of medicine

One of the many problems that are killing medicine in the US and especially primary care is templates.

Templates are a nightmare.

Why?

In a template, for back pain, there is a list of questions and in some there is also a list of answers. The “provider” asks the questions on the list and then checks off the answers. This is absolutely terrible brainless stupid failure of medicine. Because the most important answer that the patient gives is the one that does not fit the routine pattern of back pain or ear pain.

For example, I saw a woman for a new patient visit for back pain. Years ago. Half way through the questions about back pain I say, “How long have you been hoarse?”

She stops. She has to think about it. “Three months.”

“Continuously or does it come and go?”

Again, thought. “Continuously.”

On with the back pain. But she gets TWO referrals, one to an otolaryngologist. I ask other voice and throat questions.

When she returns she thanks me. Continuous hoarseness is worrisome for vocal cord cancer. You have to rule it out. She did not have vocal cord cancer. She did have vocal cord polyps and was going to have laser surgery.

But as a physician or “provider” you have to PAY ATTENTION. And ignoring the thing that doesn’t “fit” or isn’t relevant or isn’t on the god damned template — just don’t do it.

Another new patient. Back pain. Routine, routine, routine, one in four people get it in their lives. All the questions indicating that it’s musculoskeletal, not a disc, 99% are not discs, until:

“Sometimes my leg goes numb from the knee down.”

I stop. “How often? The whole leg?”

“Whole leg, yes.” She doesn’t know how often.

“If that happens I want to see you right away. Call.”

…because that is not a disc and it’s not musculoskeletal. And people say that but usually it can’t be confirmed on exam.

She calls. “Both legs are numb from the knee down.”

“Get in here.”

On exam she is not only numb but the muscles of her feet and ankles are weak and the reflexes don’t work right. I call neurology, anxious. “MRI from her head to her tailbone.”

She has multiple sclerosis lesions, more than one, in her brain. And a normal brain MRI from a few years before when she also had weird symptoms….

So it is NOT the template, the routine questions, that diagnose odd things in medicine. It’s the off hand comment, the puzzle piece that doesn’t fit, the symptom or sign that I notice and that gets my attention.

I hate the templates when we first get an electronic medical system. It sucks. It generates unreadable generic sentences: “The patient has ear pain. The quality of the ear pain is sharp. The ear pain has gone on for 6 weeks. The level of the ear pain is high.” Etc. Ok, that patient sounds like a robot. I quickly figure out how to type into the stupid boxes and avoid the templates as much as possible. I also start offering additions to the templates. “Ok, add this to quality of ear pain: It feels like being kicked over and over with the metal pointed tip of a cowboy boot.” Also to tachycardia: “It feels like a salmon is swimming upstream in my chest.”

See patients for one thing only. That would have really helped the hoarse woman, right?  Do the template. Do 10, 15, or 20 minute visits. The best doctors are rebelling and quitting, especially in primary care, because this is killing medicine. Why see people for one thing only? MONEY. MONEY MONEY MONEY. No. I like to work in medicine and I like to dig down, pay attention, listen and watch for the little details that stick out, the puzzle pieces that don’t fit….

….because that is what real medicine is. Not template robot medicine.

The pending healthcare bill

I’ve just seen an article from the American Academy of Family Physicians that more and more solo and small practices are closing.

Call your Congressperson, because the thing that is most likely to close my small clinic and clinics near you is the latest healthcare bill passing.

That is, to be even more specific, the thing that will most likely close MY one doctor clinic is THAT I WON’T BE ABLE TO AFFORD HEALTH INSURANCE.

Really? Oh, yes.

I was sick for ten months, June of 2014 until April of 2015. I managed to hire a physician’s assistant by November of 2014 and I returned to work April of 2015. I was only allowed to work half time initially, for a year. Actually, quarter time. Because the latest article on primary care has average salaries. What interests me is that every doctor they interviewed who is earning the “average” is working 60-70 hours a week.

So when I returned to work I was allowed to work half days. That is, four hours a day. So, 20 hours a week. One third to one quarter time.

Also I was paying for my own insurance and I had a $5000.00 deductible. Which I had to pay in both 2014 and 2015. I also had to spend retirement money and savings to keep the clinic open. Negative earnings and using up savings in 2014 and 2015. I worked 20 hours a week for a year. And guess what? My income for 2015 qualified me for Obamacare in 2016.

No deductible. By April of 2016 I am released to “full time”. But I have learned my lesson. My sister died in 2012 and my father in 2013 and these deaths were the trigger for me getting sick. I can’t retire yet. I have burned through savings for three years. I choose to work 40 hours a week.

This means that I stop seeing patients by 2:00 pm. I still do an eight hour day because there is at least three hours of phone calls, insurance prior authorizations, lab results, x-ray results, specialist letters — like yesterday. The specialist says the patient should have an MRI. But the patient is a veteran. So the specialist says I should order it. That means filling out the paperwork for the VA authorization, mailing the order to the patient, calling the patient to remind them that triwest will throw my order away unless the patient calls to get the test authorized. Yep. And the specialist gets paid 3-4 times what I make. How nice.

I also choose longer visits. The local hospital kicked me out of their clinics because I protested about a daily patient quota. I was not diplomatic. And I don’t care, because two years later they decided I was right and lowered it. And I like my private clinic better.

BUT if Congress passes this healthcare bill and I return to over $1000.00 per month health insurance for me and a 19 year old daughter, and with a $5000.00 deductible…. I don’t know. I think I will run a Go Fund Me and ask President Trump and my Congresspeople to donate to pay my health insurance and keep me open.

And by the way: I think Congress should have the same health care as their constituents. Give the ones over 65 medicare and the ones under 65 medicaid. Let them experience what older Americans and disabled and poor experience. And don’t let them bypass it with cash, either.

Call Congress. Stop the bill. Thank you.

 

I am a board certified board eligible family doctor for over 30 years, who has chosen to do rural medicine the entire time. I am small and ordinary…. like this song sparrow.

For the Daily Prompt: meddle.