Doctors promote prevention

May 12, 2002 11:00 pm
Baker City podiatrist Dr. Michael Rushton spent most of Saturday's Health Fair dispensing advice on dealing with foot woes.  (Baker City Herald photograph by Mike Ferguson).
Baker City podiatrist Dr. Michael Rushton spent most of Saturday's Health Fair dispensing advice on dealing with foot woes. (Baker City Herald photograph by Mike Ferguson).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

Saturday's Health Fair was a time for area residents to learn the results from their blood draw, and about 1,100 residents attended, many for that very reason. Cholesterol count? Calcium levels? All right there in the computer printout.

But the free event, sponsored each year by St. Elizabeth Health Services, also is a time to learn more about ways to prevent potential problems ranging from foot problems to breast cancer. The fair was sprinkled with nine such 30-minute talks offered by area physicians, pharmacists and nurses.

Many of the talks were geared toward women, and for good reason: breast cancer is the most common form of cancer found in women. Women develop arthritis at twice the rate men do. Osteoporosis — the thinning and loss of bone density — affects 20 percent of women older than 50 and 70 percent of women over 80.

Breast cancer

Each year, twenty-five hundred women in Oregon is diagnosed with breast cancer. One in nine women will experience the disease in her lifetime, Dr. Larry Levinger said during his workshop.

It's a disease "that women can do something about" through regular self-examination, he said.

"Most breast lumps are discovered by women themselves," he said. "I tell my patients to examine their breasts the day they pay their bills."

Mammograms, which are recommended every two or three years for women age 40-50 and yearly for women 50 and older, detect about 85 percent of cancer cases, he said.

Not all breast lumps are cancer, and some non-cancerous cysts feel quite hard — as do tumors, he said. Levinger displayed a handful of X-rays in which the cancerous areas were easy to spot.

Joint replacement

Dr. Eric Sandefur and the rest of the nation's orthopedic surgeons are replacing about 200,000 joints each year; hips and knees are by far the most common, he said.

Before it comes to surgery, of course, patients can regulate their pain by taking anti-inflammatory injections.

One of those, he said, is a viscous solution made from the combs of chickens.

"Think of it as an oil change for your knee," Sandefur said. "But when you're tired of dealing with all the pain, then you're talking about joint replacement."

New artificial joint material, including chromium cobalt and titanium, have lengthened the life of artificial joints to between 15 and 20 years. The weakest link, he said, is the plastic liner on which the joints hinge. When they wear out, they must be surgically replaced.

In Germany, where Sandefur spent a week last winter participating in surgical exercises at a teaching hospital, joint replacements are performed with ceramic liners rather than plastic. Ceramic liners offer less friction and therefore last longer, but "you can still jump out of a tractor and break it," he said.

"We only want to do surgery on you one time."

Joint-replacement patients are usually out of their hospital beds the day after surgery walking and putting weight on their new device, he said, but some patients can take up to a year to adjust to "having a foreign object in their body."

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis affects 25 million women in the U.S., Dr. Diane Nowak said, but many people don't even know they have it until they suffer their first bone fracture.

In nursing homes, that's a serious problem, because hip fractures, for example, increase the patient's mortality rate between 20 and 25 percent. Many such patients, she said, die of complications, including blood clots and pneumonia.

Each year, 1.2 million American women suffer a bone fracture due to osteoporosis. That's more than breast cancer, stroke and heart attack combined.

Getting more exercise, quitting smoking and laying off soft drinks (the excessive phosphorous leaches the calcium in bone) are ways to avoid osteoporosis, she said.

Six times more women than men are affected, she said. In addition to taking calcium, Vitamin D must be added to help the body to absorb the calcium, she said.

The heart

The heart is a lot more than just a pump, said Dr. Rex Wilson, who practices internal medicine. It's also tied in with the body's electrical, plumbing and hormonal systems.

"Think of your heart like you think of your house," he said.

Some of the first cells formed in the embryo are called myocytes, cells that help the heart to contract in synchrony.

The heart also has perkinje fibers that serve like electrical wires in a house. Like wires, they can short out and cause problems — a heart that misses just two beats will force a person to pass out, he said.

Sixty percent of people over 60 have some kind of electrical problem with their heart, Wilson said.

But the most common heart ailments are plumbing problems, he said — arteries that become plugged through high cholesterol and smoking.

Scientists have known about the heart's hormone output for about 15 years, Wilson said. They are working on ways to use the heart's Naturetic hormone to help direct therapy.

Researchers are also working on ways to inject myocytes into scar tissue to help get the pump activated again.

"They do that and you'll have a pretty decent pump again," he said.