Entries in Dr. Richard Besser (4)


What Dad Didn't Know Best: Heart Attack Signs

ABC News' Dr. Richard Besser and his father, Bill Besser (ABC News)By Dr. Richard Besser

(NEW YORK) -- It's the phone call you never want to receive.

"Hi, it's Mom. We're at the hospital. They are admitting Dad. Give us a call."

My dad is a doctor. He is one of the big reasons I went into medicine. Seeing the impact he had on people's lives every day was inspiring. My mind was racing through the possibilities. I'm fortunate in that I come from healthy stock. Neither of my parents has ever had a serious illness. Their parents all lived to old age with their minds and bodies in great shape.

I called her back immediately. Dad was being admitted to the hospital because they thought he may have had a heart attack. Sometimes, it's obvious. With a massive heart attack you may lose consciousness and your heart may stop. With a small heart attack, they need to do multiple blood tests over time to see if there has been damage to heart muscle; that defines a heart attack.

My dad having a heart attack? How could that be? My dad was more active than I am. My parents are in their 80s but play tennis several times a week, ride their bikes every day, and swim. He'd never mentioned that he had chest pain or heart troubles.

Turns out he did have a heart attack but he had ignored every symptom. When he finally thought it was his heart, he waited hours before getting help. He did everything wrong. He doesn't want you to make the same mistakes.

Here are some of his signs that you should not ignore.

  1. Heartburn -- My father had been having heartburn for the past couple of months. It wasn't relieved by an antacid. This was new for him. If you have new onset heartburn, get it checked out.
  2. Poor sleep -- sleep disturbance can be the presentation of a number of medical problems. If your heart isn't working well, lying down can make it harder to breath but sometimes, all you'll see is a problem sleeping. My father attributed his problem sleeping to a new bed. If you are having trouble sleeping for the first time, get it checked out.
  3. Trouble climbing steps -- This is a classic sign of heart trouble. My mom could go up two flights of stairs without a problem. My dad was short of breath after even one flight. He attributed it to aging. Don't do that!

And while my dad didn't have pain, remember that the pain with a heart attack can vary from crushing pain in the chest to simple discomfort in your neck and jaw.

When my dad finally thought that he might be having a heart attack, he proceeded to make even more mistakes. He had my mom drive him to the hospital! He didn't take the aspirin that was in the emergency pill case on his key chain. And rather than going to the nearest hospital, he went to a hospital further away that he liked more. Thankfully, despite his mistakes, the cardiologists were able to open up his blocked arteries (one was 95-percent blocked), and within days he was back to playing tennis.

I feel so lucky that my dad dodged a bullet here. He wants to make sure you do all you can to increase your chances of making it through a heart attack. If you think you or someone you are with is having a heart attack, time really matters.

Here's what you should do, according to

  1. Call 911. Emergency responders will start treatment on the way to the hospital. For the best outcome, you should be at the hospital within one hour of a heart attack. Nearly half don't get there until four hours afterward because they ignore the signs.
  2. Chew and swallow an aspirin. Aspirin can cut down on clot formation. With a heart attack, the usual cause is a blood clot forming in one of the arteries supplying your heart muscle.
  3. Take nitroglycerin if it has been prescribed by your doctor. Don't take it if it wasn't prescribed for you.
  4. Begin CPR if the person having the heart attack is unconscious. New CPR guidelines call for skipping the mouth-to-mouth and just doing chest compressions. Remember to call 911 first so they can be on their way.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Apple Juice Showdown: Dr. Oz Arsenic Claim Questioned

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- In a spirited showdown on Good Morning America Thursday, ABC News senior health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser confronted television's Dr. Mehmet Oz on what he called “extremely irresponsible” statements made on The Dr. Oz Show Wednesday concerning arsenic in apple juice.

“Mehmet, I’m very upset about this, I think that this was extremely irresponsible,” Besser said.  “It reminds me of yelling fire in a movie theater.”

“I’m not fear-mongering,” Oz fired back.  “We did our homework on this risk.”

Oz’s appearance on GMA is the latest development in a story that likely has many parents on edge about whether to continue serving apple juice to their children.

[Scroll down to watch Dr. Oz's appearance on ABC's Good Morning America.]

Oz and the show’s producers drew criticism for Wednesday’s episode of The Dr. Oz Show, which focused on the dangers of trace levels of arsenic present in many popular brands of apple juice.  Juice manufacturers, government regulators and scientists said the results of what the program called its “extensive national investigation” were misleading and needlessly frightening to consumers.

According to The Dr. Oz Show, a laboratory tested “three dozen samples from five different brands of apple juice across three American cities” and compared the levels of arsenic to the limits of arsenic for drinking water set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  They found 10 samples of juice with arsenic levels higher than the limits for water.

In a statement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said, “There is no evidence of any public health risk from drinking these juices.”

The FDA sent a letter to The Dr. Oz Show on Sept. 9 -- five days before the show was to air -- which warned that airing the show would be “irresponsible” and “misleading” because the testing ignored that there are two forms of arsenic: organic and inorganic.  Organic is generally thought not to be harmful to health, whereas inorganic is.

The FDA also conducted its own tests of the apple juice investigated by The Dr. Oz Show.  In some of the very same lots of juice tested for the show, the FDA reported finding very low levels of inorganic arsenic; six parts per billion at most, even lower than the 10 parts per billion recommended by the EPA as a safe level for drinking water.

Oz acknowledged that “no children are dying from acute lethal arsenic poisoning,” stating instead that his concerns were about the long-term effect of arsenic exposure.  Still, Besser said Oz was implying to parents that drinking apple juice poses a risk to kids’ health.

“You have informed parents they are poisoning their children,” he said, a charge that Oz denied.

“We just want to have the conversation, and we’ve been trying to make this conversation happen,” Oz said.

Oz also added, “I would not take apple juice out of my kids’ containers now.

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Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Nine Questions You Need to Ask Your Doctor for Good Care

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- ABC News' chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser has compiled a list of nine essential questions to ask your doctor in order to make more informed decisions about your care, along with a couple more helpful tips for good measure:

Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor

What is my condition called?

What are my treatment choices, and what are the pros and cons of each one?

What's the LEAST treatment I can get for this? What would the effects be? Will I feel better? Will I live longer?

What's the MOST treatment I can get for this? What would the effects be? Will I feel better? Will I live longer?

Knowing the "least" treatment and the "most" treatment, which would you recommend for me, and why?

What does medical science say is the best answer for me? In other words, what's the most up-to-date recommendation for people who have the same issue I do?

How can I get a second opinion on this? (You're not being rude, you're being thorough. Ask about websites, medical centers and another doctor with whom you could have a consultation.)

Do you have written information about my condition that I can read? Can you recommend a good website or support group?

Can I follow up with you by phone if I have any additional questions?

More Tips for Your Doctor's Visit

Take someone with you. They can take notes for you, help you ask questions or ask questions you find embarrassing.

Get answers in plain English. What you can't understand can't help you. Make sure you know what your doctor is saying.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


How a Sweet Potato Is Saving Lives

Ablestock[dot]com/ThinkstockDOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK
By DR. RICHARD BESSER, ABC News Senior Health and Medical Editor

(NEW YORK) -- In a little village in Burkina Faso, under the scorching heat of the dry African season, I met a woman who has been empowered by a sweet potato.

Fatiba is 30 and she has three young children. She manages the family, grows the crops, cooks the meals, and sells produce in the market. She has been learning new farming techniques at the model garden center supported by Helen Keller International.

She lectured me about the importance of eating fresh produce, the impact of drip irrigation and mulch for extending the scarce water, and the nutritional value of the orange sweet potato.

"The orange sweet potato has Vitamin A," she said. "Our white sweet potato does not. I want my family to eat the orange one to make them healthier."

Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of preventable blindness and death in children around the world. Fatiba is taking steps to make sure her children and community are spared this problem.

She rides her bicycle 10 miles from the garden center back to her family compound to show us her own garden. Her face beams as she shows me the crops: cow peas, sweet peppers, and eggplant. She has grown carrots this year for the first time.

"They are a very good source of vitamin A," she tells me with the pride of someone who has newfound knowledge.

The garden means independence for her. Not only can her family have fresh vegetables every day for the first time ever, but the excess produce brings in money that is liberating.

She is quick to give her husband credit, too. Without the strong thatched fence that he built, the goats, donkeys, cattle and other animals would have destroyed the garden.

She fries up some sweet potato so I can give it a try and we sit on a mat with her children for an afternoon snack. They are a bit suspicious of me, but absolutely love the potatoes.

What's not to love? Sweet potato fries -- trendy in America -- are saving eyesight in Africa and are doing much more than that. The agricultural lessons that come with the potatoes are empowering women and improving their lives and the lives of their families.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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