Return to Transcripts main page

Sanjay Gupta MD

Early Alzheimer Detection; Cold vs. Flu; Election Year Politics: Candidates' Health

Aired February 16, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. You're watching HOUSECALL. We're making the rounds this morning of some of the most intriguing medical stories of the week.
A test that could detect Alzheimer's disease early. It could give you three more good years. And cold versus flu, which is it? And what can you do to feel better when you feel horrible? Plus, election year politics. The stressful demands of the campaign, the truest test of the strongest president.

Are you a good match with your doctor? Tune in for tips on finding Dr. Right.

We start, though, with one of the fastest growing diseases in this country. It's Alzheimer's. It's known to progress quickly, leaving family members with few options. But what if there was a device that could help determine your risk before you were even diagnosed?


GUPTA (voice-over): Scientists say they have developed a way to detect whether you're at risk of getting Alzheimer's, or what's known as mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment or MCI is a transition stage between when the brain ages normally and when a person develops Alzheimer's Disease. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's and that number continues to grow.

DAVID WRIGHT, DR., EMORY UNIVERSITY: This is a very significant problem. And the population is aging, it's only going to grow.

GUPTA: Scientists use a device called Detect.

WRIGHT: Your right hand will be the yes button, your left hand will be the no button.


GUPTA: And employs virtual images and sounds in a helmet like this one. A patient's memory and cognitive skills are challenged, and their answers recorded through a controller. Emory University researchers say the test is quick, portable, and provides consistent data to track memory loss.

WRIGHT: Earlier diagnosis, the earlier the treatment, the better quality of life and the longer they can live independently. GUPTA: Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer's, many people can offset the symptoms through brain exercises and medication. Dr. Wright says if you catch and treat MCI early, you can delay symptoms up to three years.

WRIGHT: When you have a family member with Alzheimer's disease, being able for them to be independent and you can leave and go to work and not worry about them for two months is important, much less three years.


GUPTA: Researchers are hoping to get the Detect system into doctor's offices as early as this fall. It will be used as an early screening tool starting around the ages of 45 to 50. The goal here would be to get a baseline of your cognitive skills early on, so doctors can act early if a drop in score is detected.

Now keep in mind, memory loss as you age is normal, just like forgetting parts of stories. But a possible warning sign of Alzheimer's is if person forgets an entire experience and cannot recall it later.

Plus, using the notes to remember things we need to do during the day, well, that's common. However, if even notes don't help, there might be a problem.

And finally, who doesn't misplace their keys? I'm not sure where mine are right now. That's normal. However someone with Alzheimer's may misplace things in unusual places, such as putting their keys in the freezer.

Researchers have looked at marijuana as one way to stall to progression of Alzheimer's disease. More research, of course, is needed. But meanwhile, marijuana has been a contentious ballot issue in many election seasons. Medical marijuana is legal in 12states for a variety of conditions from chronic pain to cancer. Now a new way to distribute this treatment is causing even more controversy. CNN's Chris Lawrence has this report.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over) We get everything from cookies to Cokes at these vending machines. And now, marijuana?

VINCENT MEHDIZADEH, HERBAL NUTRITION CENTER: That transaction took all of about ten seconds.

LAWRENCE: Vincent Mehdizadeh invented an armored box so customers can get their prescribed drug, even when stores like this are closed.

MEHDIZADEH: I felt like every other system to this point has been automated, while not have medical marijuana be automated too.

LAWRENCE: Marijuana's illegal under federal law. But with a doctor's prescription, it's legal in California. ANGEL RAICH, MEDICAL MARIJUANA USER: If I actually didn't have cannabis, I would be in a wheelchair.

LAWRENCE: Angel Rate suffers from a brain tumor and nine chronic pain diseases. Before a doctor described marijuana, she says the pain was unbearable.

RAICH: I was partially paralyzed in the living room floor and throwing up in a bucket because I didn't have the strength or the energy to get up and go into the bathroom in my wheelchair.

LAWRENCE: Mehdizadeh says the machine offers anonymity and prevents abuse.

MEHDIZADEH: If the patient's smoking more than an ounce a week, they might be overmedicating themselves. So my machine limits at an ounce a week.

LAWRENCE: That ounce isn't available to everyone. Fingerprints have to match the patient's encoded card.

(on camera): It says please touch the fingerprint reader. I'm not in the database, obviously. So I'll try it with my index finger.

(voice-over): The card's declined and won't work. But it will for patients like this, a man who's going blind and often can't get a ride to the store during the hours it's open.

EULOS GAULDING, MEDICAL MARIJUANA USER: It's the perfect for me because it's always there, it's always open, it's always there.

LAWRENCE: But the prescription vending machine or PVM is being closely watched by the DEA. One agent told us according to federal drug laws, the possession, sale or distribution of marijuana is illegal, regardless of the methodology. The DEA says it reserves the right to unplug the machine and confiscate the drugs inside, leaving some patients not high and dry.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Los Angeles.


GUPTA: Hundreds of cameras are following the presidential candidates every day, catching the perfect sound bite, but also tracking the strain furious campaigning puts on the human body.




JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will win here in the state of Alabama with your help.

GUPTA (voice-over): Running for president is a cross country endurance race, a marathon.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you Burlington for coming out this morning.

GUPTA: Beginning early each morning and ending late at night.

CLINTON: OK, we're on the road again.

GUPTA: It's a schedule that can leave candidates sick.

CLINTON: Can I have a losenge or something?

GUPTA: And tired.

RICK KELLERMAN, DR., AMERICAN ACADEMY OF FAMILY PHYSICIANS: Sleep deprivation is a very real problem for the candidates. It can lead to some foggy thinking, it can affect their memory, it can affect their concentration.

GUPTA: Fatigue appears to be one issue where the candidates agree.

OBAMA: You know what I got for Christmas? Eight hours sleep.

HUCKABEE: I'm finding just out how long I can go sleep deprived. You know, running for office is sort of like being waterboarded, I think.

CLINTON: You try to sleep whenever possible, which is usually on planes or in the car. And some days, you know, there's not enough caffeine in the world to keep you going. You just have to plow through.

GUPTA: Wherever they go, candidates are tempted by food, often fast food. Here's one thing you probably don't know about Hillary Clinton. She likes her food spicy.

CLINTON: I like hot food. And I am convinced that there is an ingredient in hot peppers that has kept me healthy since 1992.

GUPTA: Tight schedules leave candidates little time for any real exercise. This may surprise you. For most of us, stress depresses immune function, making us more likely to get sick. But Dr. Rick Kellerman at the American Academy of Physicians does not think stress is a big problem for the candidates.

KELLERMAN: These are people that have learned how to cope with that stress. In fact they may even thrive on that stress.

GUPTA: And Kellerman says the rigors of the campaign trail may be a good test for what is being called the toughest job in the world.


GUPTA: Coming up, it's flu season. If you're sniffling and sneezing, you're not alone. But how can you tell if you have the flu or just a nasty cold? We'll help you make the distinction. And later in the show, you just heard about Alzheimer's detection, but if you thought you were too young to worry, you're definitely going to want to stay tuned.


GUPTA: Some medical quick hits now. A big contributor to heart disease and stroke is increasing among American women but not men. I'm talking about high blood pressure. And among women, the incidence has jumped from 17% to 22%. An interesting note here, people in southern states and the District of Columbia are more likely to have high blood pressure as compared to residents of northeastern states and Midwestern states.

And get this. If you're a man with a desk job, it might be time to take a walk. New research shows men with active jobs were less likely to develop prostate cancer as compared to those with sedentary jobs. One possible reason? Scientists believe physical activity may alter hormone levels in some men. And that has been shown to fight off prostate cancer.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. We're also in peak flu season. And the CDC says there's been a spike in infections over the past few weeks. The problem is that cold and flu symptoms can be similar.

So how do you know which is ailing you? On this week, you voted to learn more about the differences between cold and flu. So we took some of your questions that Dr. Erica Brownfield at the Emory School of Medicine. I started off the questioning wondering just how bad the flu season is this year.


ERICA BROWNFIELD, DR., EMORY UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Well, Sanjay, generally ever year if you look at the flu, about 5% to 20% of the the population develop the flu. This year so far, the flu season is not over. Actually, the number of cases increased in January. And we're seeing a large number in early February. So it's a little too early to know exactly how many people are going to develop the flu this year, but it's basically on par to what we see on average.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question is what is really the difference between the cold virus and the flu because realistically they seem to have the same symptoms. And I would love have to the answer on that.

BROWNFIELD: The common cold is caused by multiple common viruses . Generally, people present with runny nose, stuffy nose. They may have a low grade fever. They may have a cough. They may have a sore throat, etcetera.

The flu, however, is caused by the influenza virus. There are multiple influenza strains. Generally, the symptoms that people have with the flu are on a much larger magnitude than people with the common cold. So people will have a fever. They will have extreme tiredness. They will have usually a dry cough.

The common cold will last for a few days. On occasion, it'll last for five to seven days. But when you're getting into that five to seven- day range, you're really talking about the flu. The flu will generally last about seven days. Some people can actually have a cough up to two weeks after having the flu.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are there any home remedies that we can take as consumers that are not harmful to us?

BROWNFIELD: So in general, you know, you all hear about things like chicken noodle soup. Chicken noodle soup is one thing that makes people feel better. It actually probably works to help with a common cold and the flu. We don't know exactly how. If nothing else, it makes people feel better. And it may be one thing they can actual tolerate to eat when they don't have an appetite.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are flu vaccines making kids sick nowadays?

BROWNFIELD: You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. However, people will have side effects from the flu. Some of these side effects include a low grade fever. Some people can have flu like symptoms on a much smaller scale. Some people will come in complaining they're sick from the shot, when actually the side effect of the shot. They don't get the flu from the shot.

Top tips I would give to people are number one, wash your hands and avoid people who are sick. Number two, if you are sick, stay away from people so you won't give them the flu. And number three, get your flu shot. It's not too late. Flu season goes until late April, early May at times. And so it's never too late to get a flu shot.


GUPTA: Dr. Erica Brownfield, thank you very much for that. Now if you can't find a doctor when you need one, a lot of pharmacies have health clinics that treat you on the spot. Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen investigates.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sonya Ataullah is feeling lousy.

SANYA ATAULLAH, PATIENT: I came in because I had headache and fever. And I had watery eyes.

COHEN: But instead of visiting her doctor, she went to this clinic in her neighborhood pharmacy. At Convenient Care Clinics, you don't need an appointment and new patients are always welcome. Sometimes you have to wait, but not always.

ATAULLAH: She took me right away.

COHEN: Right now there are more than 900 clinics like this in 30 states. And another 700 are expected to open this year. That's according to the Convenient Care Association, an industry group.

What kinds of things do people come to see you for?

AMY WARNER, FAMILY NURSE PRACTITIONER: They see us for sore throats, ear pain, minor skin problems.

GUPTA: The clinics are kind of like fast food restaurants. The menu is basic and the prices are set. The average visit costs about $60. Most clinics take insurance, but you don't need it to be treated. Most don't have doctors on site. Usually these clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners. That's one reason the American Medical Association has been critical of in-pharmacy clinics, but that's changing.

NANCY NIELSEN, DR., PRES.-ELECT, AMER. MEDICAL ASSN.: Our only concern about those, frankly, is what is the quality of care that's being delivered in those clinics? And if the quality of care is good, then that's fine.

WARNER: We tell them how important it is to have a medical home. We're not a substitute, we're not a replacement.

COHEN: For many, it's a convenient way to get care quickly when they're feeling sickly.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: Elizabeth is coming back to answer the question is your physician right for you. Why choosing the right doctor could be a matter of life or death.

And later in the show, eight years ago, doctors told Tracy Wygal to change her life. Find out why. Stay with us.


GUPTA: This week's empowered patient is about matchmaking. Not the romantic kind. But more important than that, how to find a special doctor, the one who's going to be there in the good times and the bad. And CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here to explain.

I feel like I'm asking you out on a date here. How do you go about finding Dr. Right?

COHEN: We asked a lot of people this question, Sanjay, because it's really important just like choosing your life mate. And your personal life is important. It's important to find that person who's going to help you get through your illnesses, your child's illnesses. So in the "empowered patient", we have some advice about what to do. And I'll share two tips now.

First of all, ask your friends to set you up. But be careful how you choose your friends. If you're a very aggressive person, and you have sort of a shy friend, don't ask that friend. You're going to end with a doctor who could be a mismatch. And the second piece of advice is that you need to date before you get married. Just the same way that you wouldn't choose - you wouldn't marry the very first person you found, you wouldn't want to marry the very first doctor you find. You can, for example, go for like a hangnail or something and see how they deal with it. See if you like them.

GUPTA: Date before you marry. As you point out, Elizabeth is not only a medical correspondent but also a mother of many daughters.

COHEN: That's right. And I'm going to be telling them that. You can bet, yes.

GUPTA: But how do you that in fact once you've gotten past that point, that the person is in fact Dr. Right?

COHEN: You know, you get that feeling in your gut. You know, that sounds silly because that's what people say about love. But that's what all the experts we talked to said about choosing a doctor.

You feel when it's right. You feel when you communicate well. And let's face it, I mean, doctors are qualified. I mean, most doctors unless they've been sued 27 million times, you know, they're qualified.

GUPTA: Right.

COHEN: So the qualifications usually aren't the issue. Get someone who you feel good with.

GUPTA: I hope I make the cut, you know.

COHEN: I'm sure you do.

GUPTA: See if I make the cut.

COHEN: I'm sure you do.

GUPTA: Thanks a lot, Elizabeth. I really appreciate. Great information as always. And to find more tips on this very topic by checking out Elizabeth's column at Every week, she writes about ways you can empower yourself to get the most out of your health care.

Coming up, an estimated 66 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. We talk about it all the time. But when it comes to weight loss, are there any quick fixes?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eventually, once the scale kept creeping up, I tried it. I never looked back.


GUPTA: How one woman shed 120 pounds and is keeping it off. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. Every week, we're bringing you stories of weight loss success, proving that whether you have 20 pounds or 120 pounds to lose, you can succeed.

This week, we meet Tracy Wygal. She's a West Virginia woman who tried quick fixes like diet pills before her doctor gave her a prescription that finally worked.


GUPTA (voice-over): Tracy Wygal is an exercise fanatic. She hits the gym every day. But eight years ago, Tracy was tipping the scale at 300 pounds. Now 120 pounds lighter, she likes the way she looks.

TRACY WYGAL: Fear of gaining the weight back continues to motivate me. I just do not want to look like that again.

GUPTA: As a middle schoolteacher, Tracy can relate to her students. Bad diets and no exercise in her early teen years. It led to fast weight gain.

WYGAL: By high school, I was probably in the 200s. And that lifestyle continued.

GUPTA: There was no magic moment for Tracy. She simply realized 300 pounds was far too heavy.

WYGAL: My doctor says, here's a 1,600 calorie diet. I thought that is impossible. I can't do it. And eventually, once the scales kept creeping up, I tried it. I never looked back.

GUPTA: At first, she worked out at home. Then she joined a gym. Now after three years of a healthy diet and working out, Tracey's maintaining a healthy weight. She keeps a food diary and she watches her calories.

WYGAL: If you are honest, and you write down everything you eat, I think that is the key.

GUPTA: She's a firm believer in losing weight in a healthy manner. No quick fixes, just keeping at it and working hard.

WYGAL: Consistency is the main thing. Sticking with it.


GUPTA: And you can read more about Tracy's story online at You can also share your own weight loss success story by submitting an i-report on the fit nation website. You may just end up being profiled.

Now my favorite segment called ask the doctor. We answer your questions about what was that again? Oh, yes, memory loss after the break.


GUPTA: It's time for our segment called "ask the doctor". We hit the streets to find out the medical questions that are on your mind. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, I was just wondering at what age should a person start worrying about pre-Alzheimer's symptoms? Or is it just stress that causes you to have, you know, temporary memory loss?

GUPTA: All right, let's clarify. There is a big difference between memory loss and Alzheimer's disease. It's normal to begin forgetting things as we age. This actually begins surprisingly in you 20s with small amounts of brain cells actually dying away.

But memory loss becomes serious when it affects your daily life. Alzheimer's on the other hand is a degenerative brain disease, which causes plaques and tangles in the brain and shrinks part of the brain, critical in the formation of memories. Alzheimer's Disease can start earlier Iife, but that's rare. And can also be caused by genetics.

The biggest risk factor is age. Alzheimer's affects about 4.5 million Americans a year, mostly over the age of 65.

Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. Remember, this is the place to get your answers to all of your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.