5 minutes with Vinnie….

Five minutes – that’s how long I got on the phone  with  footballer-turned-film star VINNIE JONES the other week to talk about his new Staying Alive Heart Start Campaign for the British Heart Foundation.  Not long – but  long enough  though to catch his drift about the importance of learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) techniques.

A paramedic once told me that for every minute that passes after someone’s heart has stopped their chances of  survival drop 10 per cent and yet many of us are too terrified of attempting CPR because we’re worried we won’t do it right and will inflict more harm than good, (incidentally I’ve always been shocked to learn that schools aren’t legally obliged to have defibrillators on the premises – although football stadiums and shopping centres are – but that’s a subject for another blog).

What difference does CPR make?

The latest ambulance trust figures, published this month,  reveal that in June 18.5 per cent of witnessed cardiac arrest casualties attended by paramedics survived to leave hospital –  that’s just 58 out of 314 casualties. In May 2011, survival rates peaked at 28 per cent but have since deteriorated and not risen above 20 per cent this year.
But teaching CPR to more people can make a big difference. In Seattle, for instance, where over half of the population are now trained in CPR, survival rates stand at 52 per cent. In some parts of Norway, such as Stavanger where CPR is part of the school curriculum, survival from witnessed shockable cardiac arrest is also as high as 52 per cent.
The BHF Campaign is all about persuading people CPR is  dead simple and worth having a go at and you don’t need to do the kiss of life but just concentrate  on chest compressions. It really can save a life.

Last year Vinnie, 47,  starred in a video showing how CPR can be performed  to the beat of the Bee Gees  disco classic Staying Alive – and it received 2.4million views on YouTube. Take a look below.

The BHF say 28 people have contacted them since last year  saying their lives were saved as a direct result of Vinnie’s video – something Vinnie is extremely proud of. He told me: ‘It’s quite incredible – and that’s just the 28 we know about. I actually got to meet three people last month who were each  saved by someone who had watched the video. One man was actually saved twice – once by a friend who performed CPR and by his fiancée when he suffered a second cardiac arrest. He went on to have a heart transplant and is now doing really well which is amazing.’

Alan Linton was saved by his mates when he collapsed on the golf course – they’d seen CPR on Vinnie’s Staying Alive video and remembered to pump the chest to the beat of Staying Alive.

This year’s video features some ‘mini-Vinnies’ –  showing how CPR  really is so simple kids can do it too – got to be worth a shot anyway.

Vinnie’s wife Tania had a heart transplant 25 years  ago so the BHF is a charity close to his heart. He looks after his own heart by having yearly checks (no problems with blood pressure or cholesterol so far he says), ditching “Geezer”  fried food and taking exercise. He says: I’ve always been fit because I was a sportsman and did lots of training – but now I work on action films – I’ve just been filming Tomb with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which  is due to be released in September 2013 and do my own stunts so it’s very important for me to stay in good condition.

‘I also take long walks – power walking is really effective. I also work out in the gym,  I do some weights, treadmill and boxing. I love to play golf and fish. I’m a very outdoorsy type.’

If you want to find out more about CPR – sign up for a British Heart Foundation Heart Start course http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/how-we-help/training/heartstart-uk.aspx.

How old are YOUR bones?

How old are your bones?

When Conservative MP Sarah Newton, 51, was diagnosed with the fragile bone disease osteoporosis  after falling outside the House of Commons she was stunned.

Mrs Newton had broken her hip in a simple fall and told newspapers how shocked she was to have an “old women’s disease”.

Osteoporosis is a fragile bone disease which can cause the bone structure to become weak and porous, making bone prone to fractures.

Like most people with osteoporosis, Mrs  Newton was only diagnosed after suffering a fall and breaking a bone. It’s a common scenario; most women (and men) diagnosed with osteoporosis in the UK  are over 50, there are three million people with the disease in the UK. Between them they suffer around 230,000 painful fractures every year. There’s no routine screening for osteoporosis in your 50s and beyond  as there is for breast cancer – even though osteoporosis affects such huge numbers.

                       Not just an “old women’s disease”

Fractures mainly happen in the over 65s but  did you know the damage that causes bones to weaken can start years before – even as far back as your teens? And that women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, can actually have the bone ages of  much older women?

Although the main risk factors for developing osteoporosis are age (one in two women over 50 have the disease), and losing the protection of the bone strengthening hormone oestrogen after the menopause , there are other risk factors too. These include having a mother with a history of hip fracture, suffering fractures yourself from minor falls/incidents, early menopause or hysterectomy, lack of calcium in your diet, vitamin D deficiency, eating disorders , rheumatoid arthritis, side effects of steroid drugs, over training (to the extent that your periods stop), thyroid problems  and  lack of weight-bearing exercise , as well as coeliac  disease.

                                                                                                How old are YOUR bones?

I’ve been writing about the risks  of  developing osteoporosis in  younger women in a feature in today’s Daily Mail Good Health section  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2235473/Brittle-bones-Are-bones-older-Brittle-bones-arent-just-problem-old-age-As-women-discovered-damage-start-DECADES-earlier.html We  sent six women in their thirties and forties for a DXA bone scan to test their bone density – and in some cases  got some very surprising results. Three of the women actually turned out  to have  osteopenia – a low bone density condition that can lead to osteoporosis – something they were completely unaware of. All of them said they were  grateful they’d found out now before it was too late to do something about it.

I’m not suggesting  for a minute that  all  healthy younger women start storming  their GP practices demanding bone scans; but greater awareness of the risk factors so you can take  positive steps to strengthen your bones before it’s too late,  is surely a sensible punt.   Consultant rheumatoloigst Dr Alex Brand  from the  NHS Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and  private Lister Hospital , Chelsea, says it’s just like realising you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure in your 40s and  then taking steps to bring both down to prevent heart disease in later life.

How can you strengthen your bones?

Although pre-menopausal women can’t be prescribed bone strengthening drugs – what they can do is take more  weight-bearing exercise (that’s any exercise which supports the weight of your own body and includes brisk  walking, jogging, tennis, aerobics, dancing and lifting weights), to help strengthen their bones.

Younger women can also eat a calcium-rich diet;  calcium is found in milk, yoghurt, cheese, leafy greens, bony fish and dried fruit), stop smoking (which has a toxic effect on bone), moderate their alcohol consumption to within safe limits and make sure they get exposure to the sun to ensure their body makes enough vitamin D ( vital for calcium absorption). They may even consider taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement. If they’ve had a premature menopause or early hysterectomy they can take Hormone Replacement Therapy to strengthen their bone density.

If you’re under 50 and  are worried you have some of the risk factors for osteoporosis though – it’s probably worth checking out this quiz on the National Osteoporosis Society website http://www.nos.org.uk/page.aspx?pid=1157&srcid=263.

If you’re scoring high for risk factors  have a chat with your GP – they now have a computerised  screening tool  called FRAX (http://www.shef.ac.uk/FRAX) developed by the World Health Organisation  and the University of Sheffield ,which calculates your risk of having a fracture within the next 10 years. If your risk score for  a fracture is high you may need a DXA bone density scan.

Bones  get porous as you age … so start taking care of them now.

Click here to read another article I’ve written about osteoporosis http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2053545/Fatal-toll-fragile-bones–women-suffer-osteoporosis.html

Why a simple pulse check could prevent you having a stroke


Heart disease deaths have halved in the last 30 years. And whilst that’s incredibly good news – experts are  now predicting a huge  three-fold increase in the irregular heart beat condition atrial fibrillation .

 I’ve been writing about the AF time bomb effect in today’s Daily Mail Good Health section http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2228350/Could-dodgy-ticker-realise-How-DIY-test-irregular-pulse-help-save-life.html?ito=feeds-newsxml .

Up to a million Britons are estimated to have AF (caused by an electrical fault in the heart) and this is predicted to increase to three million by 2050 as the populations ages.Some cardiologists are even saying it is the new epidemic in cardiac health.

Why should we care?  Well having atrial fibrillation is dangerous because it increases the risk of stroke by  five times. This happens because blood can pool in the heart and create clots, which may travel to other parts of the body including the brain and block an artery.

Weirdly though –  few people  seem to have even heard of AF and even  some of those who have been diagnosed – don’t realise it puts them at risk of stroke.  There’s still this idea that it isn’t really that  serious if your heart  skips a beat or is  generally all over the place. Patients I’ve interviewed have variously been told they’ve been drinking too much coffee or  suffering from stress – and in some cases misdiagnosed with epilepsy  – and often take years to get an AF diagnosis .  Some elderly people suffer blackouts and falls because they  have undiagnosed AF. The average delay in diagnosis is two and a half years.

Too often patients are not diagnosed with AF until they have suffered a stroke – an event that might  be have been prevented if their AF had been diagnosed and treated earlier. The Atrial Fibrillation Association says 8,000 strokes and 6,000 deaths a year could be prevented if AF cases were better controlled.

Treatments are changing

This is now about to change: last week the European Society of Cardiology called for anyone with an irregular heartbeat to see a doctor, explaining that in some cases  treatment  with blood thinning drugs can reduce the risk of stroke by 70 per cent. Unfortunately at the moment only 18 per cent of patients with atrial fibrillation are thought to be on anticoagulant drugs. This is mainly because many AF patients are undiagnosed, but also because one of the main  treatments – a drug called warfarin  has side effects, interacts with specific foods and drinks and needs monitoring visits via  a hospital clinic. However there are newer drugs – Pradaxa and Rivaroxaban – the first for stroke prevention in almost 60 years which are easier to take and do not require monitoring and now approved by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Symptom checker

If you’re wondering  what the symptoms are – the answer is they vary – but can include a feeling that your heart has skipped a beat, followed by a racing of the heart, an erratic heartbeat, strong palpitations or a fluttering feeling in your chest like butterflies or a ‘ flopping fish’ sensation. Other patients experience chest and throat pressure that mimic a heart attack or a heavy ache in the top of the left arm. In the elderly sometimes the only symptoms are breathlessness and feeling tired.

Why it’s worth checking your pulse

Taking your pulse is an easy way to check your heart beat  – an irregular heart beat doesn’t always mean you have AF though – that can only be confirmed by an electrocardiogram – but it can be a sign that you have a heart rhythm problem. If you want more information on how to check your pulse  go to knowyourpulse.org.

PS : This very non PC video of Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren pretty much sums up AF – enjoy …. (thanks  Dr Trish for the inspiration)

Did you know E.coli bacteria can reproduce a whole generation in 20 minutes?

It’s November and peak season  for winter nasties including the norovirus (the winter vomiting bug). How can you keep the bugs at bay? Hm mm well, if you’re struggling in on the Tube or bus every day and work in a crowded office it can be tricky (unless you turn Japanese and wear a mask), but on the home front there are some useful things you can do. Basically I’m referring to keeping your home clean –  I mean really clean – and that includes taps in the bathroom, toilet seats, shower screens, draining boards, dishwashers and kitchen sink plug holes, which when you hear about all the microbes multiplying at the rate of knots around your home is easier said than done.

The bacteria that bug us most

I heard Professor Mark Fielder, a microbiology expert from Kingston University, speak at a recent briefing on household cleanliness and was shocked to discover for instance that microbes from your toilet can be propelled onto  the atmosphere and land  on your toothbrush and hand towels if you forget to put the lid down when you flush!

Bacteria are tiny, single celled (or noncellular) organisms which are found everywhere. They are around one micrometre (one thousandth of a millimetre) in size but can multiply extremely quickly in the right conditions. For instance E.coli can replicate a whole generation in 20 minutes and within eight hours a single bacterium on a damp cloth can multiply to six million.

Dodgy chicken

Does it matter I hear you lazy types out there say? Aren’t we all too clean today anyway? Have you not heard of the hygiene hypothesis* you protest?(*which  by the way argues allergies are on the increase because our immune systems don’t encounter enough germs in childhood). Point taken – but apparently you can still use disinfectants and not kill those sort of useful organisms off. Unfortunately, hygiene hypothesis or not, if we don’t change our dish cloths once a week and disinfect our worktops – sooner or later we’re going to run into problems with food poisoning. In fact the World Health Organisation says that 40 per cent of all notifiable food poisoning outbreaks originate in the home. The Food Standards Agency’s Chief Scientist estimates  there are around a million cases of  food borne illnesses/ food poisoning cases resulting in 20,000 hospital admissions and 500 deaths. In the Chief Scientist’s report 2011/12 campylobacter  (a nasty microbe found in raw and undercooked poultry) is listed as one of the most common illnesses in England and Wales, responsible for an estimated 52 per cent of all cases of food poisoning. What is particularly worrying is that camplyobacter cases have risen every year since 2004, with nearly 72,000 cases reported in the UK in  2011 – clearly we aren’t getting the message about  those dodgy chopping boards.


Kitchen danger ( my kitchen on a good day actually)

In this era of antibacterial sprays and wipes you’d think most of us would have wised up to the dangers lurking on our kitchen surfaces – but according to a new survey by Zoflora (makers of the nation’s favourite disinfectant) just 54 per cent of us rate the kitchen as the most important place to keep clean and 27 per cent of us do not consider either their kitchen, toilet or bathroom as their top priority when cleaning. A scientific study conducted back in 1998 looked for levels of faecal coliforms (think you can guess what that they are) at 14 places split evenly between kitchens and bathrooms.It found the kitchen was more heavily contaminated than the bathroom and the toilet seat was actually the least contaminated site. The areas most heavily contaminated were the places that were moist and/or frequently touched – including the kitchen sink, bath drain areas and kitchen sink taps.

If you’ll excuse me  I’m off to disinfect my worktops……and I’m not liking the look of my keyboard much either…

PS  Feed your paranoia on this ….

What’s up with your health?

This is my blog for health and medical news junkies like myself who can’t get enough of  all the fascinating developments in the medical world.

I’ve been writing about health, medicine  and well being in the UK  national media  for a while and like to mull over what’s new and whether it matters or not .Unlike an article in a medical journal though, I not only speak to the  doctors  in the know but also the patients who have experienced the symptoms of  diseases at first hand. I think you need both perspectives and that these days most patients are pretty well informed about their condition and don’t want to be patronised. The best doctors (and there are lots of these around) don’t wince when you say that you’ve been reading about a new drug or treatment – they’ll welcome your interest in your own health and the fact you’re taking some responsibility for it.

This summer I’m really pleased to have been commended in the Medical Journalists’ Association Summer Awards in the best consumer freelance category.

All views are my own and not those of any publication I write for.