Anderson speaks about hypertension at Mini Medical School

One in three adults in America has hypertension, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, hypertension can be treated with lifestyle modifications and medications, said Dr. Brittney Anderson, resident physician at University Medical Center.

151127_zr_026_cchs_solicitation-1Anderson provided a presentation on hypertension on Nov. 3 as part of the Mini Medical School program conducted by the UA College of Community Health Sciences, which operates UMC, in collaboration with UA’s OLLI program.

Mini Medical School, which is open to the public, lets adults and community learners explore trends in medicine and health, and the lectures by UMC physicians provide information about issues and advances in medicine and research. OLLI, short for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, is a member-led program catering to those aged 50 years and older and offers education courses as well as field trips, socials, special events and travel.

Anderson started her presentation by illustrating hypertension, or high blood pressure.

“Think of it the way you would think of pressure from a water hose. What would alter that pressure? The size of the hose, and what the fluid in the hose is having to overcome,” she said.

Cholesterol buildup, for instance, can inhibit blood from moving at a normal pressure through blood vessels, she said.

Diagnosing hypertension starts with an accurate blood pressure reading, which can sometimes be challenging due to faulty or inaccurate measuring cuffs or other factors with the patient and environment, Anderson said.

She offered tips for an accurate blood pressure reading. First, be at your calmest—don’t worry about engaging in conversation. Second, support your back and feet, and keep your legs uncrossed. Third, empty your bladder so that it doesn’t affect your body’s stress level. And fourth, keep your arm supported at your heart level and make sure the cuff is over your bare arm (and not your clothes).

If patients are using an automated cuff for measuring blood pressure at home, the physician may ask that it be brought in for the exam to compare, Anderson said.

Normal blood pressure less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic. Prehypertension is between 120-139 mm Hg systolic and 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. When the systolic reads 140-159 mm Hg, and diastolic reads 90-99 mm Hg, the patient may be diagnosed as Hypertension Stage 1. Hypertension Stage 2 is when the systolic is 160 mm Hg or higher, and the diastolic reading is 100 mm Hg or higher. A Hypertensive Crisis, which requires emergency intervention, is when the systolic is read at higher than 180 mm Hg and higher than 110 mm Hg diastolic.

If a patient has an elevated blood pressure reading of greater than or equal to 180/110 mm Hg, then the diagnosis is clearly hypertension, Anderson says.

“But if not, then we have to do some more digging,” she said. It could be that the patient suffers from “white coat hypertension,” which means the patient is nervous simply from being in the doctor’s office. Patients in that case would be asked to wear an ambulatory blood pressure cuff 24 hours a day for a few days for an accurate measurement.

Or, if a patient is diabetic, it causes damage to blood vessels. That means that if a reading is greater than 130/80 mm Hg and the patient is diabetic, then it is a diagnosis of hypertension.

There are risk factors that lead to hypertension, Anderson said. Primary risk factors include age, obesity, family history, race, diet and exercise and alcohol use. Secondary risk factors include medicines (like decongestants, birth control and steroids), illicit drugs, sleep apnea and renal disease.

Hypertension can be treated through lifestyle modifications, like weight loss, adopting an eating plan, adding physical activity and reducing alcohol and sodium intake, Anderson said. There are many medications, too. Thiazides, ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers are some of the most common.

Mini Medical School topics include ADHD in grandchildren, geriatric depression and parkinsonism

The University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences, which operates University Medical Center, hosted its second semester of Mini Medical School, a lecture series for UA’s OLLI program put on by UMC providers. The series is open to the public.

Mini Medical School lets adults and community  learners explore trends in medicine and health, and the lectures by UMC providers give information about issues and advances in medicine and research. OLLI, short for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, is a member-led program catering to those aged 50 years and older and offers education courses as well as field trips, socials, special events and travel.

Parkinsonism — Dr. Catherine Ikard

Many people think of Parkinson’s disease as a single disorder, but it is actually more complicated than that, said Dr. Catherine Ikard, a neurologist at UMC.

Parkinsonism is a syndrome characterized by decreased movement and is associated with tremors and a loss of balance, Ikard said at her lecture, titled “Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s Disease,” which she presented as part of the Mini Medical School series on Sept. 15.

Parkinsonism can appear in an array of disorders, some even as a result of repeated head trauma or medication, but the most common one—the one most people refer to when they think of Parkinson’s Disease—is Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease.

Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease is the progressive loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. The disease is slow and degenerative. “We don’t know why this happens,” Ikard said.

There are motor symptoms, which include shaking, smaller and slower movements, becoming stiff and losing balance more easily. Motor symptoms usually start on one side of the body. Tremors can worsen when the patient is at rest, and they are suppressible by concentration.

Non-motor symptoms include affective disorders, such as depression, orthostatic hypotension (when blood pressure falls significantly when standing up too quickly), memory impairment, fatigue, constipation and sleep disturbances.

There is no test for Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease, Ikard said. The diagnosis is clinical. “We often have to watch a tremor over time—months, sometimes years,” Ikard said.

Medication and therapy can help treat symptoms, Ikard said. The most common medication is Levodopa, and physical and speech therapy can help improve lifestyle. “I cannot emphasize enough how important therapy is for patients with Parkinsonism,” said Ikard. Exercise improves symptoms, too, she said.

There are clues that the disorder might not be traditional Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease, Ikard said.

Some of these include: rapid progression of the disease, absence of tremors, frequent falls early in the disease, abnormal eye movement and poor response to Levodopa. If that is the case, the Parkinsonism could be tied to another disorder.

Grandchildren and ADHD — Dr. Brian Gannon

Children are very active from the ages of 2 to 5, but that busyness should decrease over time, said Dr. Brian Gannon, a pediatrician at UMC.

But as children get older and if they are easily distracted, can’t stick with a task for a reasonable amount of time and their activity level is not appropriate for their age, they could suffer from ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“ADHD is defined as an activity level that is inappropriate for age, that interferes with school work, that causes trouble in dealing with adults,” Gannon said during a lecture on Sept. 22, titled “Grandparents and ADHD.”

Gannon said about 5 percent of the general population in the US qualifies for an ADHD diagnosis. He said sometimes the markers of what appears to be ADHD are actually caused by other medical issues. He said hearing, vision and speech problems can cause some of the same symptoms of ADHD, as can developmental delays, autism and sensory processing disorder.

“We want to look at medical issues because they may cause similar issues to ADHD,” Gannon said.

A child’s living situation – unstable home environment, varying and inconsistent rules and food insecurity – is also a factor. “My job as a physician is to advocate for the child and help parents problem solve. We don’t want to just throw medicine at a child.”

Gannon said medication can help and should be part of efforts to manage ADHD, but is only part of the answer. “Children still need to follow the rules, and do their work. With medication, they can do it without your help.”

Geriatric Depression — Dr. John Burkhardt

Older adults are at risk for depression. One reason: The more medical burdens one has, the higher the risk of depression, said Dr. John Burkhardt, a clinical psychologist with UMC-Northport.

“Chronic pain conditions can be managed, but you never get a break from them. Heart problems can precipitate depressive episodes, and then you have to eat differently, go to physical therapy and deal with a chronic condition. What does that do to your mood?” said Burkhardt, also an assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral medicine for UA’s College of Community Health Sciences, which operates UMC-Northport.

His remarks came in a lecture titled “Geriatric Depression” that he provided on Sept. 29 as part of the Mini Medical School lecture series.

Burkhardt said changes in previous functioning, pain and sleep disruption, significant weight gain or loss, a loss of interest in activities, a sad and depressed mood, a feeling of being a burden – and if those conditions and feelings go on for two weeks or more – could signal possible depression. “A lot of people go through sad times. But when it starts to impact your functioning, that could be depression.”

With older couples, depression can also be “contagious,” Burkhardt said. “If one spouse is depressed, the other spouse is at an increased risk of depression.”

Late-life depression, which happens after the age of 60, can carry added risk because it can transition to dementia, Burkhardt said.

He stressed that depression needs to be treated, particularly in the elderly, who might not seek care because of an associated perceived stigma. He noted that suicide is the 17th leading cause of death in those aged 65 and older.

“When you’re depressed, you’re not good at coping with your physical conditions. Depression impacts the person who is experiencing it, and their families. Who wants to visit people when they aren’t happy? Then they’re alone.”

Burkhardt recommended that people watch for changes in behavior, thoughts, appetite, sleep and whether they lose interest in activities once important to them. “See a provider if you suspect depression. Don’t let stigma keep you from getting help. Don’t isolate yourself. Be social, stay active and have a daily structure.”

UA Matters: Heart Attacks — Different Signs for Men, Women

We’ve all seen the movie scenes where a man gasps, clutches his chest and falls to the ground. In reality, a heart attack victim could easily be a woman, and the scene not so dramatic.

While men and women share some of the same heart attack symptoms, The University of Alabama’s Dr. Joseph Fritz explains they can also have different symptoms.