Pulmonary Medicine Update: Bariatric surgery for COPD exacerbations & The Mortality Indicator that Won’t Die.

Study Shows That Bariatric Surgery Reduced COPD Exacerbations by More Than Half

I often tell my patients with COPD that quitting smoking can have a greater effect on their respiratory health than any inhaler that I could prescribe them. Should I now also extend that advice to include weight loss for obese patients with COPD? In this journal CHEST® study, researchers used registry data to look at COPD exacerbations for patients both before and after bariatric surgery. In the year before bariatric surgery, risk of COPD exacerbations was 31%. Looking at the rate of COPD exacerbations during the year after bariatric surgery, that rate dropped to 12%, an astounding change.

The accompanying editorial proposes mechanisms explaining why this might be so and postulates whether obesity could be a modifiable risk factor in COPD. While these results are certainly exciting, we look forward to future investigation into whether bariatric surgery, or other weight loss means, could further help reduce risk of COPD exacerbation.

Pneumonia: If You Can’t See It, Does It Still Exist?

The diagnosis of pneumonia requires the radiographic presence of infiltrates on imaging. However, with its greater resolution, CT scanning can often demonstrate infiltrates when none are seen on chest roentgenogram. Do we treat these the same as a regular pneumonia? This study sought to quantify differences between patients with pneumonia as seen on a chest radiograph vs CT scanning. The differences between the two groups appeared to be minor, with procalcitonin levels appearing to be lower in the CT group. Otherwise, it would appear that patients with pneumonia seen only on CT scanning should be managed like other groups.

The accompanying editorial raises the question of what to do with patients who are suspected of pneumonia but have negative chest radiographs. Certainly, exposing them all to CT scanning can’t be the right answer. Perhaps we should err on the side of caution and treat these patients for pneumonia when clinical suspicion is high. Conversely, we should consider CT scanning in this group only if suspicion is low and the presence of an infiltrate would change management. Continue reading “Pulmonary Medicine Update: Bariatric surgery for COPD exacerbations & The Mortality Indicator that Won’t Die.”

Stem Cells and COPD: What You Need to Know.

I enjoy fielding questions from patients. Yes, I sense you’re rolling your eyes, but really, anything that I can answer that helps keep them out of the hospital is, I feel, time well spent. Recently though,  I’ve been fielding a number of questions that have me concerned. These questions often have a leading tenor about them like, “are you using stem cells for COPD yet?” The questions imply that stem cells are the de rigeur treatment for COPD. Now I may not be at the leading edge of any fashion, but being unfashionable in my treatment regimens? Never!

I can’t blame anyone for wanting to seek out treatments for COPD. It is after all, a leading cause of death and illness in the U.S. And it’s widely regarded that the changes caused by COPD/emphysema in the lungs are permanent. While there are now several different treatment options for emphysema/COPD, very few can prolong life. So if I had a family member with emphysema, I might naturally seek out treatments for COPD that go beyond the usual treatments, and with all the hype surrounding stem cells, why not take a look?

What people find when they google “stem cells and COPD” is in a word, distressing. It’s a fantasy world full of promises of health, healing, and better breathing. Equally distressing are the things that people who visit these sites aren’t recognizing: the greed, lies, lack of ethics, illusions, and misleading claims. Continue reading “Stem Cells and COPD: What You Need to Know.”

Smartphone App Allows COPD Patients to Individualize Their Care.

Health-care technology advocates have long been preaching about the potential of smartphones and other types of disruptive technology to improve health-care delivery. We in organized medicine have been slow to answer the call. Studies that showcase the ability of these tools in major medical journals are rare.  However, in a recent issue of CHEST, we see a welcome addition to the medical literature.

In this study,  researchers taught patients with COPD to create daily symptom diaries on smartphones (BlackBerry 8700s).  The results were uploaded to a research server and the program alerted staff when certain predetermined criteria were met. Using the data, researchers were able to accurately and quickly identify patients who were having an exacerbation of their COPD. They were also able to collect data on both the timing and length of the exacerbation.

This has exciting implications. Perhaps this kind of patient centered  data could be used to identify patients with severe symptoms and prevent hospitalizations, or to serve as a measure of response in clinical trials to various interterventions. The possible applications are numerous.

Though there is one aspect of this study that, as a tech geek, leaves me ambivalent. Should I be excited that even an obsolete smartphone could prove to be so useful? Or depressed that even an obsolete smartphone is so far ahead of current medical technology?

How do you feel about patient-centered smartphone apps that allow patients to individualize their care?

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This article is also posted at the ACCP Thought Leaders Blog.