Fully Consensual Heart Disease Treatment

Fully Consensual Heart Disease Treatment
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When doctors withhold dietary treatment options from cardiac patients, they are violating the cornerstone of medical ethics, informed consent.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

When he was a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn published a controversial paper in the American Journal of Cardiology. Heart bypass operations carry significant risks, including the potential to cause “further heart damage, stroke, [and] brain dysfunction.” Angioplasty isn’t much better, also carrying “significant mortality and morbidity,” and often doesn’t work, in terms of decreasing risk of subsequent heart attack or death. “So, it seems we have an enormous paradox. The disease that is the leading killer of men and women in Western civilization is largely untreated.” “The benefits [of the invasive procedures] are at best temporary,…with most patients eventually succumbing to their disease.” In cancer we call that palliative care, where we just kind of throw up our hands, throw in the towel, and give up actually trying to treat the disease. So, why does this juggernaut of invasive procedures persist? Well, one reason is that “performing [surgical] interventions has the potential for enormous financial reward.”

That’s considered one of the barriers to the practice of “preventive cardiology”—”adequate return.” Diet and lifestyle interventions “loses money for the physician.” “Although the practice of preventive cardiology is not…as lucrative…,” this article was hoping to nudge cardiologists in that direction by appealing to less tangible benefits.

Another barrier is doctors don’t think patients want it. Physician surveys show that doctors often don’t even bring up diet and lifestyle options, assuming that patients would prefer, for example, to be on cholesterol-lowering drugs every day for the rest of their lives. That may be true for some, but it’s up to the patient to decide.

According to the official AMA Code of Medical Ethics, physicians are supposed to “disclose all relevant medical information to patients.” “The patient’s right [of] self-decision can be effectively exercised only if the patient possesses enough information to enable an informed choice…The physician’s obligation is to present the medical facts accurately to the patient.”

For example, before starting someone at moderate risk on a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, a physician might ideally say something like, “You should know that for [folks in your situation], the number of individuals who must be treated with a statin to prevent one death from a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke—is generally between 60 and 100, which means that if I treated 60 people in your position, 1 would benefit and 59 would not. As these numbers show, it is important for you to know that most of the people who take a statin will not benefit from doing so and, moreover, that statins can have side effects, such as muscle pain, liver damage, and upset stomach, even in people who do not benefit from the medication. I am giving you this information so that you can weigh the risks and benefits [of drugs versus diet] and then make an informed decision.”

Yet, I mean, how many physicians have these kinds of frank and open discussions with their patients? Non-disclosure of medical information by doctors, that kind of “paternalism,” is supposed to be a thing of the past. Now physicians are supposed to honor informed consent, unless the patient is in a coma or something, and it’s an emergency. But, too many physicians continue to treat their patients as if they were unconscious.

At the end of this long roundtable discussion on angioplasty and stents, the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology reminded the participants of an important fact to place it all in context. Atherosclerosis is due to high cholesterol, which is due to poor dietary choices, and so, “If we all existed on a plant-based diet, we would not have [even] needed this discussion.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

When he was a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn published a controversial paper in the American Journal of Cardiology. Heart bypass operations carry significant risks, including the potential to cause “further heart damage, stroke, [and] brain dysfunction.” Angioplasty isn’t much better, also carrying “significant mortality and morbidity,” and often doesn’t work, in terms of decreasing risk of subsequent heart attack or death. “So, it seems we have an enormous paradox. The disease that is the leading killer of men and women in Western civilization is largely untreated.” “The benefits [of the invasive procedures] are at best temporary,…with most patients eventually succumbing to their disease.” In cancer we call that palliative care, where we just kind of throw up our hands, throw in the towel, and give up actually trying to treat the disease. So, why does this juggernaut of invasive procedures persist? Well, one reason is that “performing [surgical] interventions has the potential for enormous financial reward.”

That’s considered one of the barriers to the practice of “preventive cardiology”—”adequate return.” Diet and lifestyle interventions “loses money for the physician.” “Although the practice of preventive cardiology is not…as lucrative…,” this article was hoping to nudge cardiologists in that direction by appealing to less tangible benefits.

Another barrier is doctors don’t think patients want it. Physician surveys show that doctors often don’t even bring up diet and lifestyle options, assuming that patients would prefer, for example, to be on cholesterol-lowering drugs every day for the rest of their lives. That may be true for some, but it’s up to the patient to decide.

According to the official AMA Code of Medical Ethics, physicians are supposed to “disclose all relevant medical information to patients.” “The patient’s right [of] self-decision can be effectively exercised only if the patient possesses enough information to enable an informed choice…The physician’s obligation is to present the medical facts accurately to the patient.”

For example, before starting someone at moderate risk on a cholesterol-lowering statin drug, a physician might ideally say something like, “You should know that for [folks in your situation], the number of individuals who must be treated with a statin to prevent one death from a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke—is generally between 60 and 100, which means that if I treated 60 people in your position, 1 would benefit and 59 would not. As these numbers show, it is important for you to know that most of the people who take a statin will not benefit from doing so and, moreover, that statins can have side effects, such as muscle pain, liver damage, and upset stomach, even in people who do not benefit from the medication. I am giving you this information so that you can weigh the risks and benefits [of drugs versus diet] and then make an informed decision.”

Yet, I mean, how many physicians have these kinds of frank and open discussions with their patients? Non-disclosure of medical information by doctors, that kind of “paternalism,” is supposed to be a thing of the past. Now physicians are supposed to honor informed consent, unless the patient is in a coma or something, and it’s an emergency. But, too many physicians continue to treat their patients as if they were unconscious.

At the end of this long roundtable discussion on angioplasty and stents, the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Cardiology reminded the participants of an important fact to place it all in context. Atherosclerosis is due to high cholesterol, which is due to poor dietary choices, and so, “If we all existed on a plant-based diet, we would not have [even] needed this discussion.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia.

Doctor's Note

The lack of nutrition training in medical school is another barrier. See, for example, my videos Doctors’ Nutritional Ignorance and Doctors Know Less than They Think About Nutrition.

Shockingly, mainstream medical associations actively oppose attempts to educate physicians about clinical nutrition. See my four-part video series:

  1. Nutrition Education Mandate Introduced for Doctors
  2. Medical Associations Oppose Bill to Mandate Nutrition Training
  3. California Medical Association Tries to Kill Nutrition Bill
  4. Nutrition Bill Doctored in the California Senate

For more on why doctors don’t make more dietary prescriptions, see The Tomato Effect, Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Cause of Disease, and Convincing Doctors to Embrace Lifestyle Medicine.

Heart disease may be a choice. See Cavities & Coronaries: Our Choice and One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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