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Muscle Pain with Statins Likely the Result of Expectations

Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed medications. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that the benefits of statins greatly outweigh any side effects, there is an ongoing concern that some patients may stop taking the drug after experiencing muscle pain or soreness. Interestingly, a new study has found that patients taking statins report no increase in muscle problems – if they are unaware that they are taking the drug.

Published in the The Lancet, the study out of Imperial College London, analyzed data from a large randomized clinical trial which looked at lowering cholesterol in more than 10,000 patients in the UK, Ireland and the Nordic regions over three years. What the researchers found suggests that cases of muscle pain and weakness in patients are unlikely to be directly caused by statins, but rather by the so-called “nocebo” effect, where the very expectation of side effects can make patients more likely to report them.

Quick to acknowledge that patients can experience very real pain because of the nocebo effect, lead author Peter Sever, MD, PhD, said that he hopes the study’s data will help persuade physicians and patients that exaggerated concerns about statins are not supported by the available scientific evidence. “We know there is a significant emergence of heart attacks, strokes and deaths in people who have stopped taking statins, who would benefit from them,” he said. “It’s a huge problem affecting tens if not hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide.”

[This article originally appeared in The Beat.]

Is there an association between tendinopathy and diabetes mellitus? A systemic review and analysis

Tom A Ranger, Andrea M Y Wong, Jill L Cook, Jamie E Gaida

Ranger TA et al. Br J Sports Med 2016; 50: 982-989

The prevalence of Diabetes in our population is increasing, as is the morbidity and mortality associated with this chronic disease. As a primary care provider, we are well aware of the role ‘lifestyle’ plays in the development and control of Type 2 diabetes mellitus.  For this reason, the guidelines recommend exercise and diet as first line treatment for this condition.  It has been shown that up to 50% of participants who quit exercise as part of their management do so because of musculoskeletal symptoms.  So the question arises: Does tendinopathy, a condition that reduces exercise tolerance, have a role to play in lack of adherence to an exercise program in diabetics?

Earlier studies have shown that hyperglycemia does change the collagen cross-linking of tendons and reduced their proteoglycan content (Reddy, 2003) leading to weakened tendons and predisposing them to tendinopathy.  This study investigated the potential association between diabetes and tendinopathy by systematically reviewing and meta-analysing case control, cross sectional, and studies that considered both of these conditions.  In total 31 studies were selected for the final analysis with good attention paid to exclusion criteria and reduction of bias.  Confounding variables were identified: age, sex, adiposity, statin use and hyperglycemia.  There is observational evidence that statins may induce tendinopathy (Marie I, Arthritis Rheum 2008;59:367-72) as well as an association between adiposity and tendinopathy (Gaida, Arthritis Rheum 2009; 61 840-9).

This systematic review showed that “diabetics had greater than three times the odds of tendinopathy compared to controls; and people with tendinopathy had 1.3 times increased odds of diabetes compared to controls.  Therefore there is evidence of a strong link between diabetes and tendinopathy however cause and effect cannot be established even though there are plausible biological pathways by which high blood glucose can affect tendon structures.” It was also shown that those diabetics with tendinopathy have had a longer duration of diabetes.

Regardless of the cofounders that may exist, the compelling evidence supports the link between diabetes and tendinopathy. This has important clinical implications such as careful monitoring and structuring of load progression when initiating exercise to prevent the development of tendinopathy.  A slower, more graduated approach would be crucial for these patients. As well, those who have tendinopathy and require rehabilitation should ensure tight glycemic control to speed resolution.

“Co-management by medical and allied health practitioners may be indicated for people with tendinopathy and long standing diabetes.”

Keith Morgan BSC, MD, CCFP, Sport Medicine Fellow                               February 2017

Advisor: Dr. Taryn Taylor BKin, MSc, MD, CCFP (SEM), Dip Sport & Exercise Med

Cognitive Decline Not Impacted by Cholesterol or Blood Pressure Drugs

With populations aging in much of the world, the decline of mental capacity in later years  is of increasing concern. There has been hope in the medical community that effectively treating hypertension and atherosclerosis could slow or delay this decline.brain

In the HOPE-3 clinical trial, a study of people over the age of 70 taking either blood pressure medication or statins for the prevention of heart disease, neither drug slowed cognitive decline during treatment. These results, presented at the American Heart Association 2016 Scientific Sessions, were disappointing for researchers looking to delay or even prevent the cognitive decline that comes with aging.

However, the findings were encouraging in one respect. There have been persistent concerns among patients and regulators that the use of statins to control cholesterol could negatively impact cognitive function and memory. The trial found that the patients taking statins did not have a larger decline in cognitive ability than other participants.

Patients were randomly assigned to receive either one of three drug regimens (combination blood pressure medication, a statin, or both) or to corresponding placebo groups. At the beginning and end of the study, 1,626 older adults completed several questionnaires and tests of mental processing speed and cognitive function.

While participants in all groups experienced a decline in cognitive function over the time of the study, there was no difference in the amount of this decline between treatment or placebo groups.

Data from the trial seemed to suggest that there might be some prevention of cognitive decline in patients with the highest blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels at the start of the study, but this would need to be confirmed in other trials, said Jackie Bosch, PhD, of McMaster University, who presented the study results at AHA.

Dr. Bosch indicated that the results of this and other recent studies should put to rest concerns about statins and cognitive decline. “We have the data…that show that there is no adverse effect of statins” on cognition, she concluded.

[This article originally appeared in The Beat.]

Early Screening for Cardiovascular Abnormalities with Preparticipation Echocardiography: Feasibility study


Gleason, Kerkhof, Cilia, Lanya, Finnoff, Sugimoto, Corrado

Clin J Sport Medicine 2016; 0: 1-7

Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) is estimated to occur between 1/40000 – 1/80000 of our young athletes. Although the incidence is uncommon, it remains a concern because the consequences are so tragic.  So how should we screen our young athletes? This article aims to address this.

The traditional H&P often leads to a significant number of false positives and false negatives. The ECG has been mandated by the European Society of Cardiology and the IOC. This has led to a reduction of SCD in Italy by 90% however this effect has not been duplicated in North America. This is likely due to the fact that the etiology of SCD in Europe is arrhythmogenic RV cardiomyopathy whereas in North America the most common cause is structure cardiomyopathy (eg. HOCM). This is not picked up by the standard ECG. There has been an attempt to increase the sensitivity of ECG findings by using the ‘Seattle criteria’, however, there still appears to be some deficits with this method.

The American Heart Association has encouraged the investigation of a feasible and clinically relevant method to meet the shortcomings of the traditional H&P and ECG.

The ESCAPE protocol (Early Screening for Cardiac Abnormality with Pre-participation Echocardiography) attempts to meet this need. Essentially a front-line physician (non-cardiologist) performs an Echo of the heart using a portable ECHO to look for structural abnormalities in their athletes. Three measurements are taken: septal to free wall ratio <1.3; a septal thickness of >15mm, and/or a hypertrophied LV.  It has been shown that there is no significant difference between a cardiologist and a non-cardiologist in gathering these measurements with accuracy.

This study chose to compare the time it takes to perform H&P vs ECG vs Echo as the primary outcome regarding feasibility. They found on average the H+P and ECG took approximately 4 min each and the ECHO averaged approximately 2min 17 sec which is statistically significant. The goal of the ECHO screen is to determine who needs a formal CV workup, not to diagnose HOCM. One of the limitations of this study was its small sample size of n=35. Some barriers to successful implementation of ECHO screening would be physician training, and accessibility to portable ECHOs. However, access to improved diagnostic modalities may improve in the future allowing our screens to be more cost effective, as well as more reliable and accurate.

In summary, the writers felt that the portable ECHO is feasible and accurate if used for CV screening in our athletes. Primary outcome of ‘physician time’ needed to screen is significantly less than that required of an H&P and/or ECG.  Secondary outcomes are also encouraging. This included a reduction of false positive and false negative rates of ECG’s and H&P’s that led to unnecessary testing and costs. They conclude that a directed physical exam, a rhythm strip, and a portable ECHO screen may be the answer to the question, “How do we as healthcare providers best screen athletes at risk for Sudden Cardiac Death?”

View original research (PDF): Early_screening_for_cardiovascular_abnormalities-99503

Article summarized and presented by:

Keith Morgan BSc, MD, CCFP

Sport and Exercise Medicine Fellow

University of Ottawa.

Advisor: Dr. Taryn Taylor, BKin, MSc, MD, CCFP (CAC SEM), Dip Sport & Exercise Medicine

The Importance of Best Practices for Successful Smoking Cessation

Cigarette smokers face twice the risk of heart disease compared with non-smokers, and most of them—more than 60%—want to quit. Unfortunately, the likelihood of success for those who attempt to quit on their own is dismal: fewer than 5% will remain tobacco-free one year later.smoking-cessation

But “with effective treatments, we can quadruple or quintuple or even sextuple the success rate,” explained Robert Reid, PhD, deputy division head of Prevention and Rehabilitation at the Ottawa Heart Institute. “There are opportunities to intervene with smokers and offer treatment that are not being taken advantage of at this point in time.”

With the goal of highlighting recent advances in treatments to aid smoking cessation, as well as pointing out persistent myths about cessation that might be preventing doctors from providing the most effective tools to their patients, Dr. Reid and colleagues at the Heart Institute published the first review of smoking cessation treatment in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in over a decade.

The issues discussed in the review include:

  • Effectiveness: Combining smoking cessation aids is more effective than any single treatment alone. For example, combining a nicotine patch with a nicotine gum, lozenge, inhaler or oral spray is more effective than any single nicotine replacement (NRT) aid. Adding a nicotine patch to the oral cessation drug varenicline (Chantix®) works better than varenicline alone.
  • Safety: Contrary to earlier concerns, a recent large clinical trial showed that varenicline does not increase the risk of suicide, depression or other mental health issues. And NRT is both safe and effective for patients who already have heart disease.
  • Goals: Even though some smokers might not be ready to quit right away, many are interested in reducing their tobacco use, either as a step towards quitting or as a goal in itself, and many of the treatments for cessation can also be used to help people minimize their smoking.

The authors also address the fact that reliable systems are needed at every level of care “to make sure that all smokers are identified and offered assistance when you come into contact with them,” said Dr. Reid. “There’s a gap in that clinicians don’t seem to address this very routinely in their practice.” Many barriers keep this gap open, including competing medical priorities during visits and knowledge of what it is that patients need to help them quit, he explained.

“A cigarette is a finely tuned instrument of addiction,” added Dr. Reid. “People are generally smoking, particularly if they’ve been at it a while, out of compulsion and addiction, not as a choice.”

The practice setting itself must be changed “to make it easy for clinicians to intervene with smokers that they come into contact with. That’s everything from having materials close to hand, to having reminders and cues in the environment and in the electronic medical record, to having easy access to referral for follow-up,” he explained.

“Smoking is really the most preventable cause of why people are being hospitalized, why they’re accessing the healthcare system in the first place,” said Dr. Reid. “So it doesn’t make sense if we don’t address the root the cause of why people are coming to see us.”

[A longer version of this article originally appeared in The Beat.]

Changes in Blood Pressure Medication Temporarily Increase Risk of Serious Falls

Elderly patients who start taking blood pressure medication or change their prescription or dosage have a temporarily increased risk of serious fall-related injury. The findings, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, included more than 90,000 patients in the United States aged 65 years and older.BP medicine

Between 2007 and 2012, researchers found that 272 of the patients began taking drugs for high blood pressure, 1,508 added a new drug to their existing blood pressure regimen, and 3,113 had the dose of at least one blood pressure drug increased. The likelihood of a serious fall-related injury went up 36% for patients starting a medication regimen, 16% for patients adding a new drug and 13% for patients increasing a dose.

This increased risk dissipated after two weeks following the medication changes. The authors of the study stressed that, due to its observational nature, the research could only show an association between medication changes and fall risk, not determine cause and effect. However, it identifies a time period during which elderly patients may need closer monitoring for short-term side effects.

Aortic Valve Replacement: What’s Next for TAVI?

Aortic stenosis affects more than 100,000 Canadians over the age of 65. Until recently, surgical replacement was the only treatment option, but over the last several years, TAVI, or transcatheter aortic valve implantation (often referred to as transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) in the US), has emerged as a viable alternative with advantages over surgery. Because the TAVI valve is inserted through a catheter, the incision is small and recovery times can be much shorter than for the open heart surgical procedure.

First introduced in the early 2000s, TAVI is approved in Canada mostly for use in patients who are inoperable or whose condition makes surgery a high risk. As evidence for TAVI’s safety and durability grows and advanced technology comes on the market, the procedure is poised to become much more common.

Extending TAVI to Lower Risk Patients

“We do patients for whom surgery would be high risk, often higher risk patients than at other centres in the province,” said Interventional cardiologist Marino Labinaz, head of the TAVI heart team at the Ottawa Heart Institute.TAVI

The older and sicker high risk patients require hospital stays similar to surgical patients. In Europe, where TAVI is used in a broader range of patients, the time in hospital can be much shorter.

“In low risk patients, we are seeing expedited discharge. There is a trial underway in Vancouver where they are looking at 24-hour discharge,” he said. “Where I see the sweet spot for TAVI in the low-risk patient is in rapid recovery. You’re going to come in, get your TAVI and go home the next day. In our patients, we haven’t reaped the benefit of early discharge yet.”

“The use of TAVI in these patients will be, in part, patient choice. It may also become a societal choice,” he continued, “Because, if you can send a patient home in 24 hours, then TAVI could become very cost effective when compared to a five- to seven-day stay for surgery. This will particularly be true if the cost of the valves comes down.”

TAVI is currently a more expensive option than surgery due to the cost of the valves, but as demand for TAVI grows and as new vendors enter the market and increase competition, costs are expected to decline.

Conscious Sedation Over General Anesthetic

Another emerging benefit of TAVI over surgery is the use of conscious sedation.

“Currently, we give patients a general anesthetic and they are intubated. Conscious sedation means we give them short-acting medication,” he explained. “They are conscious, and they are never intubated. The patient doesn’t have the issue of the anesthetic to recover from, and it saves time so you can do more patients in a day.”

Given the Heart Institute’s emphasis on high-risk patients, conscious sedation is only just getting started in Ottawa.

Improved Technology

One of the limitations of TAVI is the size of the catheter. To fit the valve inside, the catheter has to be larger around than those used in angioplasty for delivering stents.

“From a patient perspective, one of the biggest changes is that the valves are becoming smaller in size,” said Dr. Labinaz. “The first generation devices were very large calibre and we would see higher rates of dissections or occlusions in the arteries. Smaller tubes mean fewer vascular complications.”

Another important advancement is retrievability. Until recently, the cardiologist had only one shot to position and deploy the valve. Poor positioning can impact the seal of the valve and cause leaking—known as paravalvular aortic regurgitation—as well as complications that can require a pacemaker. A retrievable valve allows for real-time adjustments to be made.

“They aren’t yet commercially available here, but there are three valves available on special access from Health Canada that have the ability to be retrieved,” he said. “With two of them, you can deploy the valve to 80% to get an idea how it is positioned and functioning, and then retrieve it. The only completely deployable valve that can be retrieved is the new Lotus valve. We will begin using it this spring.”

“Another advance related to leaking is the addition of flexible sleeves on the outside of the valves that provide a better seal with the calcium and nodules and crevices that can create an uneven surface. Preliminary data is positive.”

One complication of aortic valve replacement that’s common to surgery and TAVI is stroke. Material from the calcium deposits in and around the valve can break away during the procedure and travel up the bloodstream to the brain. For both surgery and TAVI, the rate of stroke is 5 to 10%. On the horizon for TAVI is the use of protective filters in the blood vessels to capture that material. Results so far have been mixed.

Looking Ahead

“TAVI has been a real game changer,” concluded Dr. Labinaz. “We’re getting lots of data now on the durability of the valves in people who have had them for five and 10 years. They have low failure rates and seem to be comparable to the surgical valves.”

“It’s my prediction that TAVI will become a standard way of doing aortic valve replacement in the next five years. In Germany, it already is. Sixty per cent of aortic valve replacements in Germany are now TAVI. That’s the way it’s going. In Canada, cost and funding are the limiting factors.”

Heart Health Infographics

Heart Health Infographics

This series of heart health infographics, developed by the Prevention & Wellness Centre at Ottawa Heart Institute, are good tools for reminding patients about the importance of staying healthy.

Download them, share them, and print them to use with your patients. More health information and resources are available at the Prevention & Wellness Centre.

(Click on the images below to enlarge and download.)

Blood Pressure Cholesteral Depression Diabetes


Weight MgtSmoking

Major Statement on Heart Attack in Women

Every year for more than three decades, cardiovascular disease has killed more women than men in North America. While that gap has been narrowing, it still remains. On January 26, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued its first scientific statement on heart attack in women in the journal Circulation.

The AHA released the statement as a comprehensive summary of what the cardiovascular community knows about heart attack in women: its causes, presentation, treatment and outcomes. No matter their age, more women than men die within a year of their first heart attack (26 per cent of women compared with 19 per cent of men). However, women are on average older at the time of first heart attack: 71.8 years compared with 65 for men. This difference explains, in part, the higher mortality that continues to be seen in women five to 10 years after a heart attack.

Although risk factors for heart disease are shared between men and women, some factors—such as high blood pressure, and diabetes in younger women—seem to confer greater risk to women than men. Symptoms of a heart attack can also differ between women and men, a fact that many Canadian women are unaware of.

Women in general seek treatment later for a heart attack than men, which may contribute to poorer outcomes. Women are less frequently referred for appropriate treatment during a heart attack compared with men and, following a heart attack, are less likely to use guideline-recommended medical therapies. Less than 20 per cent of women eligible for cardiac rehabilitation have participated over the last three decades, and even with a referral to rehabilitation, women participate and complete it less frequently than men.

More Information

Prescribing Physical Activity: A Call to Action

The health benefits of regular physical activity are well documented and hard to overstate, but too often they are left out of the doctor–patient conversation. In December 2015, JAMA, the Journal of the American Heart Association, published the Viewpoint “Making Physical Activity Counseling a Priority in Clinical Practice: The Time for Action Is Now.” In it, the authors issue a call to action advocating the use of physical activity prescriptions and treating a patient’s level of activity as a vital sign.

In a related commentary at, JoAnn Manson, MD of Harvard Medical School and co-author of the article stated, “A prescription for increased physical activity… could be one of the most important prescriptions that a patient receives.”

This is a topic of great interest to Andrew Pipe, MD, Chief of Prevention and Rehabilitation at the Ottawa Heart Institute, one that he is passionate about and has spoken on publicly. (See “Don’t Fear the Exercise Prescription” for coverage of his talk on this subject at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in 2013.)

“I’m very pleased to see this call to action in JAMA,” said Dr. Pipe. “It puts a spotlight on something we have known for a very long time: that regular physical activity is one of the most fundamental elements of good health and a powerful way to forestall the development of preventable disease.” The benefits apply not just to heart disease, but to a broad range of diseases and chronic conditions that include diabetes, cancer, stroke, dementia and many others.

Dr. Pipe is a well known advocate for health promotion and smoking cessation and is active in sports medicine with Canadian national teams.

“We have to be clear, though, that participating in physical activity does not mean people need to become athletes. It doesn’t mean that they need expensive equipment or access to special programs or facilities,” he explained. “It can be as simple as regularly walking most days of the week at a level that lets you still carry on a conversation.”

“I like to talk about the three Fs: fun, feasibility and forever,” said Dr. Pipe. “What kind of activity do you like to do the most, and how can you easily make it a part of your daily routine? If you can satisfy both of those questions, then it’s much more likely you will continue to be active for the rest of your life.”