Healthy Choices

Health Bites: ‘White coat’ syndrome can increase heart attack risk


Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting and intriguing studies from health researchers around the world. Here are the latest:

It’s long been known that anxiety in the doctor’s office can cause a spike in blood pressure. So-called “white coat syndrome” – blood pressure that runs high in a doctor’s office but falls back to normal at home – is nothing to laugh off, according to a new study.

Such patients suffer more heart attacks, heart failure and strokes than patients with normal blood pressure, say researchers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The study did not indicate why that occurs.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, were based on tracking more than 3,000 residents for nine years, noting their cardiovascular issues, including heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation and heart bypass surgery. Of those, 3 percent had white coat hypertension and 18 percent had masked hypertension.

While often viewed in the medical community as a benign condition, “our research suggests that white coat hypertension is associated with an increase in heart and vascular disease,” said Dr. Wanpen Vongpatanasin, a UT Southwestern internal medicine professor and the study’s senior author, in a statement.

Similarly, the study found that patients with “masked hypertension” – a reverse of white coat syndrome where blood pressure readings are normal in the physician’s office but high at home – have more cardiovascular events than patients with normal blood pressures.

Masked hypertension may be caused by stress at home, or because patients aren’t consistently taking medicine until a doctor’s visit is looming, Dr. Vongpatanasin said.

The study suggested that masked hypertension is more common than generally believed, with nearly one in five participants suffering from elevated blood pressure only at home.

Given “the high prevalence” of masked hypertension, “our study supports the routine use of home blood pressure monitoring for U.S. adults – both for those who are taking anti-hypertensive drugs, as well as those who are not,” she said.

Digital glasses a cure for lazy eye?

Electronic eyeglasses may be equally as effective as traditional eye patches in treating lazy eye in children, according to new research at Indiana University.

Lazy eye, also called amblyopia, occurs when one eye is more nearsighted than the other, or when one eye wanders or strays inward. It’s typically treated using eye drops or patches over the good eye to strengthen the poor eye, but parents and ophthalmalogists say getting kids to comply is difficult.

In the first U.S. trial of so-called “occlusion glasses,” conducted by the Glick Eye Institute at Indiana University, researchers compared 33 children between ages 3 and 8 who already were wearing prescription glasses to correct their vision. One group wore an adhesive patch for two hours a day. The other group wore occlusion glasses with LCD lenses where the lens over the lazy eye switched from clear to opaque every 30 seconds, acting “like a digital patch that flickers on and off.”

After three months, both groups of children showed the same amount of improvement in the lazy eye, gaining two lines of vision on a reading chart. According to the researchers, the “digital patch” is the first effective treatment for lazy eye in 50 years.

“When you talk to adults who underwent childhood treatment for amblyopia, they will tell you that wearing a patch was the worst thing ever,” said Dr. Daniel Neely, a pediatric ophthalmology professor at Indiana University who led the study. With the electronic occlusion glasses, “the child learns that the lens will be clear again in just a few seconds so they may be more cooperative with the treatment.”

The new occlusion glasses, sold by eye professionals, cost $450, according to the study.

Grilled meat tied to kidney cancer

Beware the grill? Those who eat a lot of barbecued or pan-fried meats may be at increased risk of developing kidney cancer. Carcinogenic compounds created by high-heat cooking techniques are the likely culprit, according to a new study from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

For the study, researchers surveyed the eating patterns of 659 MD Anderson patients newly diagnosed with kidney cancer and 699 healthy subjects. It found that those with kidney cancer consumed more red and white meat than those who were cancer-free. The study also found a 54 percent increased risk of kidney cancer due to certain carcinogens caused by high-heat cooking.

Rates of renal cell carcinoma, the most common form of kidney cancer, have been rising for several decades and Western diets could be partly to blame, the study noted. This year, more than 61,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with kidney cancer and 14,000 will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Our findings support reducing consumption of meat, especially meat cooked at high temperatures or over an open flame, as a public health intervention,” said Dr. Xifeng Wu, professor in epidemiology and the study’s senior author, in a statement.

The researchers did not recommend banishing meat, but consuming it in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables. When grilling or pan-frying meat, try to avoid charring it, the report said.

Claudia Buck: 916-321-1968, @Claudia_Buck