Roundup: New EKG Guidelines, Common Meds' Depression Side Effect, 'Added Sugars' at the Office

Electrocardiograms Not Recommended for Low-Risk Patients, New Guidelines Say

An electrocardiogram — commonly known as an EKG or ECG — is a test that measures the electrical activity of the heartbeat. Commonly done at the doctor’s office, there is normally no pain or risk associated with having the test done.

But the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, has concluded that the ECG test offers very little benefits for patients at low risk of heart disease and it could possibly trigger unnecessary and unsafe follow-up testing and treatment. The task force finalized its recommendation this week that the test be administered only to patients at above-average risk for heart disease.

However, the USPSTF stresses that an individual should consult with their doctor regarding any questions about the ECG or risk factors for heart disease, which can include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prediabetes or diabetes, smoking, being overweight or obese, or having a family history of early-onset heart disease.

ECGs use electrodes to measure the electrical activity of the heart and can identify irregular rhythms. The tests can be done on patients who are lying down at rest or while exercising on a treadmill. Despite years of recommendations against routine ECGs, data from the National Center for Health Statistics finds the test is being performed as part of about 4 percent of routine exams. In 2015, the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey found about 40 million ECGs were performed in doctors’ offices.

The task force concluded that “an abnormal ECG finding (a true-positive or false-positive result) can lead to invasive confirmatory testing and treatment that have the potential for serious harm, including unnecessary radiation exposure.”

The USPSTF’s recommendations were published this week in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Prescription Drugs with Depression as Side Effect are Common, Says New Research

More than 30 percent of adults in the United States are taking a prescription medication that has depression as a side effect. And this significant prevalence is likely contributing to increasing rates of depression in the U.S., according to a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The researchers identified more than 200 prescription drugs that have the potential to contribute to depression, and most of them are commonly prescribed. Medications to treat acid reflux such as proton pump inhibitors, beta-blockers to treat high blood pressure, birth control pills and other hormonal treatments, and corticosteroids like prednisone are included in the list.

Even some forms of prescription-strength and over-the-counter ibuprofen have the potential of depression as a side effect, the study authors found. The researchers analyzed the medications taken by more than 26,000 middle-age Americans between 2005 and 2014 to compile the list.

People who take multiple medications have a higher risk of depression, said the study’s lead author, Dima Mazen Qato, who’s an assistant professor and pharmacist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Workplace Foods, Soft Drinks Add 1,300 Unhealthy Calories Per Week, CDC Study Finds

This may not come as a surprise to many office workers. Those free meals, snacks and soft drinks you pick up at your workplace are adding excessive and unhealthy calories to your diet.

According to a new study by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the food people are eating at work amounts to an average of nearly 1,300 calories a week. About 70 percent of these foods are free, according to the study done by the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. These commonly consumed foods and drinks at the office include sodas, sandwiches, cookies, cupcakes and brownies, many of which are high in added sugar.

Researchers relied on data from a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey, which looked at purchases made by 5,000 employees from vending machines or cafeterias, as well as food provided for free in the workplace. The volunteers answered questions about the foods they obtained at work over a seven-day period.

Most of the food provided to employees are high in salt and refined grains, but low in whole grains and fruit. The leading foods were “pizza, soft drinks, cookies/brownies, cakes and pies, and candy,” the study found.

“To our knowledge, this is the first national study to look at the food people get at work,” said Stephen Onufrak, a CDC epidemiologist who took part in the study. “Our results suggest that the foods people get from work do not align well with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

The researchers are now conducting a similar study using separate data to examine foods specifically purchased from vending machines and cafeterias in the workplace.

“Worksite wellness programs have the potential to reach millions of working Americans and have been shown to be effective at changing health behaviors among employees, reducing employee absenteeism and reducing health care costs,” said Mr. Onufrak. “We hope that the results of our research will help increase healthy food options at worksites in the U.S.”

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