Archive for the ‘Medical problems’ category

Just “Reducing C-Sections” shouldn’t be a goal

May 16, 2017

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Consumer Reports today released a report critical of the c-section rates of many US hospitals. Titled “Your biggest c-section risk may be your hospital”, the article encourages parents to choose a hospital based on c-section rates. The lower, the better.

That’s misguided advice, and focuses attention on the wrong parameter. Parents should concentrate on improving their odds of a healthy and safe delivery for mom and baby. Knowing the overall c-section rate of a hospital doesn’t tell you anything at all about whether the babies born there are healthy.

In an ideal world, we would easily be able to tell exactly which mom-baby pairs need a c-section. Sometimes, it is easy to tell – mom’s past medical history, or something about the baby, makes a c-section very clearly necessary. But most of the time, c-sections are a decision made based on “risk reduction”. And that’s not an exact science. We know that some babies with a certain kind of fetal heart tracing may be headed for trouble – they’re at an “increased risk” of problems with delivery (and those problems can be devastating, leading to death or permanent neurologic disability.) But most of the time, even these “higher risk” babies can probably labor longer, and could probably be born vaginally and do fine. But what’s probably? What if you were told your baby had a 1 in 3 chance of severe complications? Or a 1 in 50 chance of having brain damage, and never being able to walk? Would 1 in 100 be a reasonable risk, or 1 in 500? We do c-sections to mitigate, or reduce, those risks. It’s up to midwives and moms and obstetricians to discuss these risks and decide on the best course of action for each individual mom in labor.

The article points out that over half of the hospitals surveyed – or “nearly 6 in 10” — have a c-section rate above the rate of 23.9% established as a goal by the US Department of Health and Human Services. But that means that close to half of the hospitals actually had a c-section rate somewhat less than the government target. But the CR headline doesn’t read “Nearly half of hospitals aren’t doing enough c-sections.”

By the way, I have no idea where that 23.9% goal comes from. I know of no data that explicitly determines the percentage of c-sections that is ideal for health. I don’t think any such data exist, or that there even could be “one number” that’s perfect for every community.

Although the survey did try to look at the reasons behind c-section variability at hospitals, those can be difficult numbers to quantify. We know older moms, and overweight moms, are more likely to need a c-section – so hospitals catering to those groups are being unfairly targeted for their high c-section rates. (One reason why c-section rates have crept up over the last few decades is the changing demographics of pregnancy in the US. There are more twins, too.) In fact, if I were a hospital administrator who wanted to brag about my low c-section rates, I’d just drop out of the business of seeing high-risk pregnancies, or catering to older or obese women. That hospital would “win” the low c-section sweepstakes! But is that the best way to take care of women – to neglect the ones that make our hospital numbers look bad?

Also – and I know I’m going to lose some of you with this – I’m not entirely comfortable with the overall message here that even elective, non-medical c-sections are bad and should be discouraged. Moms deserve honest, science-based advice on the pros and cons of both vaginal and c-section delivery, tailored to their own circumstances and health histories. If a mom, given good information, decides that even without a specific medical indication she’d prefer to get a c-section, is that wrong? Aren’t we past the point where doctors are supposed to tell their patients what to do? And aren’t we past the point where women should be told what to do by their man-doctors? (Parenthetically, all of the MDs interviewed for the CR story were men*. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.)

C-section rates are one measure of a hospital – and for women who put a top priority on having a vaginal delivery, this Consumer Reports article gives some helpful information. But I don’t think most women ought to focus on that one parameter, or worry about taking steps to avoid a c-section. That’s my judgement, but you pregnant women should make up your own minds. I don’t think the “23.9 percenters” ought to try to take that decision away from you.

 

*Neel, Elliott, Aaron, Gilad, Robert – I’m assuming these are all male first names.

Molluscum: Maybe best to leave them alone

May 8, 2017

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Alina wrote in, “If Molluscum Contagiosum is limited to a few bumps, 10 or less, does it necessarily need treatment or will it pass on its own?”

Molluscum (plural, mollusca) will usually go away on its own. Eventually. Except when they don’t.

Some things I can say for certain: molluscum is one of the least-favorite things for pediatricians and dermatologists to deal with. There’s no great therapy, and they don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. Parents hate them, and whatever we try doesn’t work anyway. Stupid molluscum!

Molluscum contagiosum looks like little, waxy-looking, skin-colored bumps that usually affect children less than 10 or so. They sometimes show up in little clusters, or can be more widespread. They’re triggered by a viral infection – but the virus itself is ubiquitous and impossible to avoid, so pretty much all of us are exposed to it. We don’t know why some kids with this virus get bump, while many others never do. The good news is that this isn’t a serious issue, and doesn’t lead to any serious issues.

But the bumps can look ugly. And though most of the time they do go away entirely on their own, that process can take months or years. And sometimes they just insist on sticking around. So parents, understandably, want to find some way to get rid of them.

There are no FDA-approved medications that treat these, and no OTC or “natural” types of products that have ever been shown to be more effective than placebo. Dermatologists can scrape them off (ow!), or freeze them off (ow!), or dabble blistering agents on them (ow!). Though all of these methods work sometimes, they also sometimes lead to scarring or more lesions popping up nearby.

From my point of view, after about 20 years of fighting with these dang things on my patients, I usually encourage families to leave them alone. If they’re in a cosmetically important area or somewhere that’s hard to keep covered with clothes, I’ll sometimes try a gentle topical agent that seems to irritate them a bit, which hastens their destruction by the body’s immune system. But usually, if there aren’t a lot of them, and the family can just ignore them until they disappear, that’s the way to go.

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Simplified CPR – without mouth-to-mouth – can save children’s lives

May 1, 2017

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Quick action is essential if someone has a sudden cardiac arrest. You might be in Target, or on a bus, or in a classroom when someone nearby just drops to the ground. Or maybe you’re boating, and you help pull a drowning victim out of the water. What do you do next?

CPR training is a great way to learn the steps, and I strongly encourage it for all parents and everyone else. But we know that many bystanders are unable to perform CPR when it’s needed. There’s panic and indecision and trying to remember what to do. To make it more possible for anyone to help, the old-school ABCs of CPR (Airway, Breathing,  Circulation) have been simplified. The current recommendations for CPR in most situations is just a few steps:

  1. Check if the victim is OK. Ask “Are you OK?” and give a little shake. If the person doesn’t respond, you need to act quickly.
  2. Call for help or call 911.
  3. Start pushing the middle of the chest down, over and over, fast and hard, until help arrives. If someone can bring over an automatic defibrillator, use it.

Those are all the steps. Rescue breathing has been deemphasized (it can still be used by trained people, if CPR is prolonged, or in some other situations.) Checking pulses and breathing isn’t necessary. It turns out that doing something (calling for help and starting chest compressions) is better than doing nothing.

However, there’s been some concern that compression-only CPR may not be as effective for children. Kids don’t have the same kind of arrests as adults (they’re much less likely to have a heart attack, for instance.) A new study from Japan shows that compression-only CPR is probably about as effective as traditional CPR in children – and it’s far better than doing nothing.

In Japan, all out-of-hospital arrests are recorded in a tracking database. Researchers looked at all of these events from 2011 to 2012 in children from age 1 to 18 (infants less than 1 were excluded.) This was at a time when compression-only CPR was being promoted for use by bystanders in Japan. Data had been collected regarding whether CPR was performed, and what kind; and the study authors tracked down all of the child victims to see how they were doing 1 month after their event. A good outcome was considered to be living with with normal or nearly normal neurologic function.

Overall, 2,157 children experienced a cardiac arrest over 2 years. The most common causes were from drowning and trauma. About ½ of the time, no CPR was performed; among the 1,150 who received CPR, 733 had compression-only CPR. The authors were then able to compare the outcomes.

The overall chance of a favorable outcome for all of these children was 10% (which is about what we’d expect for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests.) When the causes and severity of the arrests were controlled, conventional CPR provided a 18% good outcome, compression-only CPR 16%, and no CPR 4%.

So: doing anything was far better than doing nothing at all. It’s still unclear what the “best” CPR for children should be, and further studies will likely work that out. But we know now that simple, compression-only CPR is about as good as full-scale, mouth-to-mouth+compression CPR. If you’re not sure what to do, just push on that chest, fast and hard, until help arrives.

The best way to learn CPR is a hands-on, in-person course with a qualified instructor. There are some good alternatives if you’re in a hurry. The CPR anytime course can teach you the basics online in about 20 minutes. If you don’t have the time for that, watch this brief video about compression-only CPR. Remember, you don’t have to remember everything, and you don’t need to be perfect. Call for help, and then push – hard and fast. You can save a life.

Nursing and vaccines: Two good things, great together

April 28, 2017

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Stefanie wrote in:

My question is related to the MMR vaccine. Would it be better to stop breastfeeding at 11 months and then get the MMR 1st shot vaccine at 12 months? Or did I understand correctly that the maternal antibodies from breastmilk will not interfere with the MMR vaccine to work? If they do not have an effect on neutralizing the vaccine, I would prefer continuing to breastfeed.

Stefanie, you can continue to nurse if you’d like – there’s no recommendation for anyone to stop or delay nursing before any vaccine.

What Stefanie is talking about here are the immunoglobulins in breast milk, and whether they could somehow interfere with the effectiveness of vaccinations. There are no clinical studies that have shown this to be a problem for MMR or any other vaccine. Breast milk antibodies don’t make vaccines less effective or less safe.

One study of a different vaccine, one that protects against the diarrheal illness caused by rotavirus, confirmed that breast milk contains antibodies against the virus. The titers of these antibodies were especially high among women from the developing world, compared with women from the United States. The authors speculated that this might explain why the vaccine is more effective in more-developed countries, and proposed a study to see if delaying (not stopping) breast feeding could make the vaccine more effective. In the US, the rotavirus vaccine is highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization, both in nursing and formula-fed babies. Moms can continue nursing right before or after the vaccine is given (it would be awkward to nursing during administration of this vaccine—it’s given orally. Not sure how that could be done.)

I’ve had a run of questions about nursing and vaccinations, some implying that breastfeeding is better than vaccinations, or that vaccinations and breastfeeding are somehow competing with each other, or that those that support vaccinations are somehow shortchanging or weak on breastfeeding. These kinds of stories seem to be a new “fad” among those who wish to sow an overlay of vague mistrust and doubt about vaccinations. Please, the science is overwhelmingly positive. Don’t rely on the Googlers and scaremongers. Immunizations are safe and effective. You do not need to worry. Protect your children. Vaccinate.

National Infant Immunization Week Blog-a-thon with woman holding baby. #ivax2protect

 

Vaccinations are the best immune booster

April 26, 2017

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

The human immune system is an amazing thing. There are thousands of microorganisms – millions, maybe – that are lurking out there, eager to make you sick. You breathe them in. They’re in every bite of food, and all over your hands when you rub your nose. We live in constant bombardment.

And they’re sneaky, too – with changing DNA and proteins to fool us. We’ve got soap and water and some pretty good antibiotics to fight them off, but, really, the vast majority of the work to keep us healthy is done by our own immune systems.

Wouldn’t it be nice to give your immune system a boost, to help it fight off infections? We know moderate (but not heavy) exercise can help, as can a good night’s sleep. What about those “immune booster” vitamin packs they sell? Hint: there’s a reason they say right on the package that they don’t prevent or treat any disease. Save your money.

Another idea: you can just get sick, and at least the next time around your immune system can recognize the germ and fight it off more effectively. Of course, you have to get sick first to enjoy those benefits. And some of those sicknesses can be pretty serious. Or might kill you. Still, no pain no gain, right?

Wrong. There’s a great way to get a real immune boost – a way to help your own immune system, or that of your children, fight off diseases without having to get sick first. They’re vaccinations. They give your immune system a glimpse, a quick safe view, of an infection in a way that won’t make you sick, but will still teach your immune system to recognize the infection if you ever have to fight it off. It’s the best way to prepare your immune army for battle against the infectious enemy, in a way that’s almost risk-free.

Get your sleep and exercise, and eat tasty, home-made foods. Grow a vegetable garden. Hug your kids. Sing like no one is listening, and dance like no one is watching. And vaccinate, too.  These are all great ways to keep your children happy, healthy, and safe.

National Infant Immunization Week Blog-a-thon with woman holding baby. #ivax2protect

Breastfeeding and vaccinations protect your baby in different ways

April 24, 2017

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

“Since I’m nursing my baby, she’s getting all of the antibodies in my breast milk. Doesn’t that protect her the same way vaccines do?”

There are antibodies in breast milk, and they can help protect your baby from some kinds of infections. But those kinds of antibodies are different from the ones your baby will make herself after vaccinations. Breastfeeding contributes to one kind of protection, but the protection from vaccines is more powerful and longer-lasting.

Antibodies (also called “immunoglobulins”) are proteins that are part of your immune system. They work by attaching to invading microorganisms and viruses, which helps signal your immune system to attack. Antibodies have to be specific to each kind of infection—one antibody doesn’t fight multiple germs—and your immune system learns how to make different antibodies based on your body’s exposures to infections.

There are two ways for your baby to get antibodies. She can get them passively, from mom, either across the placenta or via breastmilk. Both are important. Placental antibodies are IgGs, which circulate in the blood. These kinds of antibodies help fight off invasive diseases. After a baby is born, placental IgG antibodies fade away over several months. Moms can boost their own ability to give these IgGs by being vaccinated, themselves, during pregnancy (that’s why moms should get influenza and pertussis vaccines while they’re still pregnant.) Breast milk contains a different kind of antibody, IgAs, which aren’t found in the blood. They are a part of intestinal and respiratory mucus, protecting people from infections before they get to the blood. The effect of these IgA antibodies in breastmilk is especially important in the developing world, where safe water and food is harder to find, and where moms have especially high titers of their own antibodies from ongoing infectious exposures.

The other way for babies to get antibodies is to make them on their own. To learn to do this, they must either be exposed to the infection, or get an immune-boosting “glimpse” of the infection by receiving a vaccine. That’s the point of vaccines: to allow someone to make their own strong, protective antibodies without the risk of having to suffer through the disease. These antibodies, made after “active immunization”, are of very high titers and are long-lasting – in some cases, for a lifetime. They’re much more protective than the passive antibodies gained across the placenta or through breast milk.

Bottom line: families can help protect their babies from infection in many ways. Sick people should be kept away from newborns. Moms should get their own recommended vaccines. Nursing can help (though in the developed world, the impact of nursing on infections is modest.) And babies should get their own vaccines, as recommended, on schedule, to get the best possible protection.

National Infant Immunization Week Blog-a-thon with woman holding baby. #ivax2protect

Obesity: It’s not just the sugar

April 18, 2017

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

For a while, fat was the culprit – eating too much fat was making us fat. We were swamped by low-fat products, like cheese and salad dressings and even low-fat potato chips. Briefly, Burger King even offered low-fat French fries (Those quickly disappeared from the menu. Don’t mess with the fries.) Yet, with or without the low-fat foods, obesity rates continued to climb.

More-recently, sugar has emerged as the “deadly villain” in the obesity epidemic. Forget the fat – it’s the sugar, or the refined high fructose corn syrup, that’s messing with our metabolism and expanding waistlines. Just cut back—or eliminate—added sugar, and our weight problems will be over.

But a recent study from Australia shows that maybe it’s not so simple as blaming the sugar, either. Researchers there found that, on a population level, reduced sugar consumption was associated with an increasing rate of obesity. It’s funny how real-world data seems to clash with our little pet theories sometimes.

The authors used data about food consumption from several different academic and government sources, creating graphs of overall per capita sugar consumption among Australian adults and children from 1980 and 2011. Although the exact numbers vary by demographic groups, there was a clear overall trend towards less sugar intake over those years. They then looked at obesity rates, based on national surveys.

The combined data is in the graph below. Sugar consumption is in blue, and though it goes up and down some years, the overall trend is downwards. In red you can see the Australian obesity rates. There’s more data in the paper about specific groups (men versus women, children versus adults), but overall the trend is clear: less sugar consumption is associated with more obesity.

The authors conclude, “There may be unintended consequences of a singular focus on refined sugars…”

So if it’s not the sugars, and it’s not the fat, what is it? I think it’s unlikely that there is a single boogeyman, or a “one thing” we can point our fingers at as the culprit. Obesity has many contributors, including decreasing physical activity, eating bigger portions, and eating more frequently. Low-quality “fast food” is quick and convenient, but it’s certainly not cheap in the long run. A ton of extra sugar can’t be good for your teeth, and is one source of extra calories you don’t need. But it’s not just the sugar that we’re eating too much.