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Is the new professionalism and ACP's new ethics really just about following guidelines?

The Charter ( Medical Professionalism in the New Millennium.A Physician's Charter) did not deal with just the important relationship of ...

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Detailed cardiac study on a group of really extreme endurance athletes

Much has been written about the issues of what is the point beyond which exercise is no longer health promoting but rather damaging to the heart or is there a point.

Larry Creswell writing on his blog Athlete's Heart Blog reviews a recent article that studied 33 endurance athletes  with a history of prolonged intensive aerobic training. These guys trained so long and so hard that you might think that surely what they did would approach that limit and have evidence of cardiac damage. Yet that was not the case. (Dr. Creswell'sl blog continues to be a great source for issues involving what the blog title suggests.)

The data are interesting but finding 33 white swans does not rule out the existence of black ones.The fact that these athletes continued to be able to exercise at a prodigiously high level suggested that that did not develop some serious heart problem. Is there a survivor bias at play here?

addendum 0ct 21 2017.Typo in headline corrected.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Biggest change in medicine in 40 years-loss of autonomy and change in ethics

In regard to what has changed most in the last near half century some would answer medical advances, mainly in diagnostic techniques and therapeutics.For someone who has seen those happen they are incredible and marvelous but that is not what has changed the relationship between physician and patient. In the sixties, physicians used the tools of the day to diagnose and treat patient, so do they today even as the tools are much better and more varied. No relationship change there.

I submit that three factors acting alone and interacting with the other two have brought about a sea change. The factors are: 1) loss of physician autonomy, 2) a change in medical ethics (even the name has changed to professionalism) and 3) method of payment for physician services. I argue that the third has been a major factor in loss of autonomy and has triggered the ethical changes.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The basic narrative of medical collectivism as voiced by the ACP and ABIMF

The following two paragraphs are from a viewpoint commentary  entitled  "Resolving the Tension between Population Health and Individual Health Care " in the JAMA by Dr. Harold C. Sox, former president of the American College of Physicians and former editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine: See (JAMA November 13,2013,volume 310, number 18). Yes, I have written about this article before, obviously I find that commentary as disturbing as any I can remember reading.



"Throughout history, codes of professional conduct have called on clinicians to make each patient’s interests their highest priority. If resources become limited, clinicians will find themselves unable to adhere to this standard of practice for all patients. In 2002, a new code of conduct, the Charter for Professionalism, addressed this conflict by calling on physicians to consider the needs of all when treating the individual: “While meeting the needs of individual patients, physicians are required to provide health care that is based on the wise and cost-effective management of limited clinical resources. The provision of unnecessary services not only exposes patients to avoidable harm and expense but also diminishes the resources available for others.




This remarkable passage indicates that the physician has an ethical imperative to balance the needs of the individual patient with the needs of society. With this foundational principle of the population health approach, the Charter, in effect, calls on clinicians to allocate resources. However, it does not provide specific advice. Recent programs, such as the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation’s Choosing Wisely campaign, are beginning to fill this knowledge gap, as do some practice guidelines."

 What  constitutes fairness-equal treatment for all? less treatment for all?only treatment if it meets  someone's definition of "high value" ,treatment based on considerations of "life years"? Who decides?



 Remarkable passage indeed. "consider the needs of all when treating the individual." How to bring about a fair and equitable allocation poses a problem for the practicing physician? Would ordering a MR on  Mrs. Jones somehow keep Mrs. Brown for having one?  The answer was so simple. Follow guidelines.They will be written by people who know that medical care is too important and too complex to be left to the individual physician and her patient, which is just the medical care application of the progressives' credo .

 The alleged necessity of radically revising medical ethics was justified on the basis of  "If medical resources become limited". The nature or magnitude of this limitation is not further explained nor is how this would come to pass.The conditional nature of the sentence implies that the author thinks such limitation has yet to occur. When have resources not been limited?

Later in the same article Sox seemingly justifies a scenario in which funds are shifted from the treatment of a sick person to fund some preventive program and in doing so admits there will be some short run harm to some for the greater benefit of a large group. This is much more than simply  eliminating "unnecessary "provision of services. Sox never tells the readers who will make these decisions or how such an allocation of resources will be carried out. Amazingly in 2002 a relatively small group of internists affiliated with the American College of Physicians and the American Board of Internal Medicine ( and  a few like minded European internists) proclaimed a new code of medical ethics.A ethical physician must consider the needs of all when treating the individual. The Charter (1) did not specify exactly how that new ethical imperative could be accomplished but the ACP and ABIMF subsequently revealed the way in which the new ethics could be practiced.It is called the Choosing Wisely Campaign which will offer specifics  on things physicians should not do,certain tests and procedures that are deemed wasteful and/or harmful.Further certain practice guidelines which are based on cost effective considerations are or will soon be available.

 Can a group of internists simply change medical ethics,ethics that had persisted for many years ? Well so far they have made much progress along those lines at least if  ethical change proclamations by numerous professional organizations are an indication. I hope the typical practicing physician thinks otherwise .






1) ABIM Foundation, American Board of Internal Medicine; ACP-ASIM Foundation, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine; European Federation of Internal Medicine.  Medical professionalism in the new millennium: a physician charter. Ann Intern Med. 2002;136(3):243-246.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Is a sedentary life style and not resistance exercise a cause of concentric cardiac hypertrophy?

Following the 1975 echocardiographic study by Joel Morganroth of endurance athletes and resistance exercise athletes and several cross sectional studies that seemed to validate his work the  "Morganroth's  Hypothesis became  the standard exercise physiology party line.

The story goes like this:

Endurance exercise brings about a volume overload or a preload stimulus to the ventricle that lead to eccentric hypertrophy which is an increase in ventricular cavity size and only slight increase in wall thickness. Resistance exercise brings about a pressure overload or an afterload stimulus which leads to concentric hypertrophy in which there is little change in cavity size but thickening of the ventricular wall.,The 2 types can be defined more precisely  by the relative wall thickness (RWT) which is 2 x the posterior wall thickness dived by left ventricular diastolic diameter with the value greater than 0.42 indicating  concentric hypertrophy.

Skeptics have argued that echo studies have inherent  methodological errors  ranges too great   to separate groups whose absolute values are not that far apart and MR is a much more precise method and that cross-sectional studies have limited ability  to sort out group difference that  are due to training  from other causes of individual differences.So what did a longitudinal study with MR imaging show.

A 2011 MRI longitudinal study provided interesting data from which one might conclude that endurance exercise does bring about eccentric hypertrophy but resistance exercise does not increase wall thickness.At least not in the small group of resistance exercisers who worked out three times a week for six months.

Spence et al (2) from Australia did a MRI study on   a small number  of subjects with one  group undergoing endurance training and the other resistance training.

 While Spence's study  suggests that six months of   resistance exercise does not lead to concentric hypertrophy,data from the group  Southwestern Medical School indicate that a sedentary lifestyle can bring about concentric hypertrophy at least some of the time.

 Brinker et al (3) studied cardiac function and structure in 2900 subjects from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. They found that the low fit subjects ( basically those with a sedentary lifestyle) had a higher prevalence of concentric remodeling as well as diastolic dysfunction that the fitter subjects. There was a 40% prevalence of concentric hypertrophy in the lowest fit group versus less than 20 % in the most fit group. So it is not a all of none thing.

In fact the notion of volume overload exercise and pressure overload exercise may well be a oversimplification. A recent meta-analysis provided data to support the notion that there is some pressure overload in endurance exercise and there is apparently some volume overload in such resistance exercise. Further a number athletics endeavors is mixed, such as rowing and cycling. The rowers and cyclists had the greatest remodeling changes with both increased left ventricular end diastolic volume and wall thickness. 

 But it may also be the case  to be the case there there is "inactivity remodeling", here referring to a sedentary lifestyle The ventricles remodel  whether  you exercise or have a sedentary lifestyle., you likely get a eccentric remodeling or hypertrophy with  aerobic exercise and  at least in some people without it you get concentric remodeling or hypertrophy.Further they suggest as have others that the latter may well be a precursor to heart failure and the former may help prevent it.



 1. Morganroth, Jet  al. Comparative left ventricular dimensions in trained athletes.Ann Int Med. 1975,82(4), 521-524
 2. Spence,A et al A prospective randomized longitudinal study of left ventricular adaption to endurance and resistance training in humans. J Phys 2011 589, 543
 3.Brinker, SK et al. Association of Cardiorespiratory Fitness with Left Ventricular Remodeling and diastolic dysfunction. JACC Heart Failure.Vol 2, no.3, 2014, p238

"Humans are pattern-seeking, story-telling animals and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns,whether they exist or not" Michael Shermer.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Will 2-3 hours a week of aerobic exercise keep your heart from getting stiff?

Will a few hours of aerobic exercise per week practiced over along period of time (years) prevent the ventricle from becomes stiff and could the current epidemic of diastolic heart failure be diminished if many people follow that practice. Does sedentary aging resulting in stiff left ventricles play a major role in the increasing numbers of older folks with heart failure (HF). If it does could the sufficient amount of  exercise prevent it?

Echocardiography and other imaging techniques have provided  detailed  information emphasizing the importance of diastole, the filling process of the ventricle priming the heart pump for systole or ventricular contraction.Indeed a key distinguishing feature of the endurance athlete's heart is its superior filling or diastolic function. The better diastolic function or ventricular filling the better is one's fitness or exercise level.

Knowledge of diastole has lead to a new concept of heart failure, one if which systolic function is said to be normal- at least at rest.Actually less than that is claimed as the systolic function is represented by one test of that function namely the ejection fraction done at rest. This has lead to the notion of  "HFpEF" or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction and HFrEF, or heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. HFpEF is said to represent at least half of HF cases and other than    exercise training there seems  to be little evidence of an effective therapeutic approach. There are several echocardiographic tests used to assess diastolic function: EA ratio. E/E prime ratio,left atrial volume, etc .


Woody Allen's basic axiom of physiology  can be paraphrased : as we get older everything that should be soft gets stiff  and everything should be stiff gets soft. Aging certainly makes the left ventricle get stiff  and the aorta as well.

The group from Dallas having the wealth of patient data available from the Cooper Longevity institute has published several articles claiming that long time endurance athletes are able to maintain a much more compliant left ventricle than matched persons with little on no regular aerobic exercise.  Further their data suggest that a group with exercise levels lower than that of the competitive runner group  ( about 2-3 hours  per week of aerobic exercise) fare almost as well in regard to  left ventricular compliance.This suggest that training or exercise far short of running marathon every year or doing the full Iron man type triathlon will suffice. 

Ventricular compliance is one factor to consider in regard to diastolic function- another is the relaxation capability and in that regard long term endurance exercise does not mitigate the age related loss of optimal function. One way to measure relaxation is with the isovolumic relaxation time  or.IVRT. This is the time interval after aortic valve closure and mitral valve opening. It is prolonged as humans age and the IVRT was no shorter in the fit group versus the sedentary group in the Dallas articles. .

The heart remodels itself. The remodeling pattern is different  observed in the fit person from that if  sedentary person, the latter  described by the Dallas group as a small heart, with concentric remodeling or  hypertrophy and impaired filling or diastolic function.

Heart size in this context  refers to the volume of ventricle at the end of diastole (end diastolic ventricular volume). Concentric remodeling means no chamber enlargement with ventricular wall thickening. The terms concentric and eccentric dates back at least to the Morganroth hypothesis in 1975 from his cardiac echo study of endurance athlees and resistance treaining athletes.

As more data was generated it appeared that there is more to it that what Dr. Morganroth suggested. Some data from the Dallas group suggested that in the first year of aerobic training at least some folks develop concentric type changes and only later does the classical runners heart pattern appear. Another study failed to show any concentric hypertrophy after a six month period of weight training.Studies involving rowers and cyclists show a mixed pattern

Basically,the athlete's heart (at least the endurance athlete's heart) is big (but not in a bad way) muscular and very compliant and can relax quickly so that it can pump large volume of blood rapidly for prolonged periods of time. How much of that picture is genetic and how much is due to long time training is not known Whether levels of exercise higher than the 2008 party line recommendations will mitigate the  current  "epidemic" of diastolic heart failure is an attractive hypothesis and one that I would like to believe.

"A man hears what he wants to hears and disregards the rest" - Paul Simon



Thursday, October 05, 2017

Review of deaths occuring during triathlons

Most deaths that occur in a triathlon happen in the swimming phase.

A detailed report on triathlon deaths can be found in a recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
See here.

There were 135 sudden deaths,resuscitated cardiac arrests and trauma related deaths recorded in the period 1985 to 2016.

90 occurred in the swimming phase,7 in the bike phase,15 in the running phase and 8 in the post race period.

85% of  the events occurred in males and the average age of death was 46.7 plus.minus 12.4 and the risk of death was greatest in participants over age 60.Almost 40% of the events occurred in first time participants.

One of the co-authors, Dr Larry Creswall,who writes the blog " Athlete's Heart Blog" discusses the results and offers suggestions for way to improve safety and response to incidents. See here

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

What is the signficance of "myocardial fibrosis" in endurance athletes?

The quote around myocardial fibrosis is to make the point that the discussion is not about large areas of fibrosis or athletes with extensive fibrosis resulting in heart failure. The fibrosis refers here to small areas of uncertain significance detected by Cardiac MR studies with gadolinium. These areas are referred to as  areas of delayed gadolinium enhancement (DGE) and are presumed ( probably correctly ) to be focal areas of fibrosis and are typically found at the insertion points of the right ventricle to the left ventricle. There is no question that DGE may indicate myocardial fibrosis-what has been questioned is whether DGE necessarily indicates fibrosis in endurance athletes and whether there is any clinical significance to those DGEs which do not fit a pattern consistent with a coronary artery distribution.

A recent article by Eijsvogel (1) et al described extensive cardiac function studies including MR and 2D speckle tracking imaging in 4 long term endurance athletes in whom DGE was demonstrated  and compared the results to 5 other long term athletes without DGE . Both group had normal echo studies and normal and normal global function (longitudinal strain and strain rate) . However the DGE group had larger cardiac volumes and some ( remember there were only 4) showed some attenuation of strain in the regions of DGE or fibrosis. Both group has a long history of endurance training  ( around 42-42 years) and both group were in their late fifties.

So as sophisticated as this extensive  physiologic testing was in this project is my take is all we have learned is that some endurance athletes have more exercise induced remodeling and have bigger hearts and some-but not all- of those who had DGE have subtle regional decrease in strain but normal global function.

Another conjecture regarding the significance of DGE was offered by Trivax (3) who postulated that a demonstrated DGE in a runner was the cause of an episode of ventricular fibrillation. To his credit Dr. Trivax emphasized this was only an hypothesis , one I think that  has not been further substantiated   by subsequent case reports.

Levine (2) has offered commentary challenging the claim there is an increase in fibrosis in endurance athletes and also has suggested that the DGE-at least in some cases- might actually represent edema from acute prolonged strain in the ventricular  insertion points.





1)Eijsvogel TM et al Global and regional cardiac function in lifelong endurance athletes with and without myocardial fibrosis.  Eur J. of sport Science 2017,

2)Levine BD Can Intensive exercise Harm the heart? Circulation 2014:130, 987-991

3)Trivax JE,  Phidippides cardiomyopathy: a review and case illustration. Clin Cardiol.2012 #%  69-73