Ask Oz and Roizen: Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Consequences of CDC Opioid Guidelines

Ask Oz and Roizen: Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Consequences of CDC Opioid Guidelines

Find out what the experts have to say about these important health topics.

Q: I was training for a two-day, 187-mile bike ride called RSVP (Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party!) when my coach said he felt a little short of breath. He ends up in the hospital getting a stent for a 95 percent blockage in an artery! He’s one of the healthiest people I know. How is that possible? Sonja G., Tacoma, WA

A: It’s true, running, biking, and swimming convey enormous health benefits. People in their 70s who have been exercising regularly for a long time can maintain the heart, lung and muscle fitness of people at least 30 years younger. (That’s what we call a real younger RealAge!)

However, endurance training puts a big strain on not just your respiratory and musculoskeletal systems, but on your cardiovascular system, too. An NIH report that looked at eight runners who died from doing the London marathon found that only one of them had reported any cardiac symptoms to family or doctors.

But endurance athletes aren’t the only folks who get bushwhacked by potentially lethal cardiac events. About 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital—possibly because many people, especially if they’re generally healthy and younger than 60, don’t recognize or rationalize signs they’re on the road to problems. Those signs include dizziness, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, sweating, a rapid pulse or even heart palpitations.

That’s why everyone should have regular cardiovascular health screenings.

  • Check for high blood pressure: Every two years starting at age 20 to see if your BP is below 120/80mmHg. Higher? Ask your doc about more frequent checks and aim to get BP under 125/85.
  • Monitor cholesterol levels: Every four to six years starting at age 20. Younger, if you have a family history of hypercholesteremia, are overweight or have type 2 diabetes, and more frequently if your LDL is elevated or your HDL level is low.
  • Additional checks: Over age 50, get an evaluation of your diet and coronary calcium. Keep tabs on waist size and blood sugar levels.

Q: I had shoulder surgery and when I went to the pharmacy to get my pain medication (hydrocodone), the pharmacist asked how long I had been taking those pills. I told him I hadn’t been until the surgery, but he made me feel like a criminal. What was that all about? — Tony G., Madison, WI

A: What you experienced is a well-meaning overreaction by your pharmacist to the government’s attempt to curb the opioid epidemic. In 2016, the CDC issued guidelines for prescribing opioid meds, but they are just recommendations and each patient’s needs are unique. Far too often, doctors and pharmacists take these recommendations as written-in-stone directives.

This hyper-vigilance is a result of the bad eggs who’ve cranked out unneeded prescriptions for pain killers to anyone who will pay for them, and some doctors (and dentists) who don’t appreciate the risks of casually prescribing opioids when other pain control drugs or techniques would work. In 2017, more than 17 percent of Americans had at least one opioid prescription filled; the average was 3.4 opioid prescriptions dispensed per patient.

These bad actors have demonized legitimate pain management to the point where people like you, recuperating from an operation, have to argue with the pharmacist to receive your appropriate prescription. The result is that folks who need to have opioid medications for acute pain management are often undertreated—and that slows healing. Chronic pain sufferers or those in hospice face even more dire consequences if their medications are cut off.

So, if you have pain or expect pain, work with a pain management specialist who can, along with your doctor, make sure that you don’t become addicted and that your quality of life remains good as you heal and rehabilitate through your physical therapy. That’s a safe and effective approach. Remember, in 2017, 70,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses.

What You Need to Know About Telemedicine
What You Need to Know About Telemedicine
Telemedicine is a way of interacting with a physician by way of remote services such as text or video, without having to physically go into the office...
Read More
How can I get through airport security if I have a health condition?
Betty Long, RN, MHABetty Long, RN, MHA
Here are some suggestions to make air travel safer and easier for travelers dealing with health issu...
More Answers
The Year in Health 2016
The Year in Health 2016The Year in Health 2016The Year in Health 2016The Year in Health 2016
The Zika virus and the nation’s opioid crisis topped the list. 
Start Slideshow
How Is Social Media Changing the Healthcare Conversation?
How Is Social Media Changing the Healthcare Conversation?