The Link Between Handgrip Strength and Healthy Lungs in Older Women

As we age, we may become weaker as our muscles tend to lose their mass and strength. This condition of losing muscle mass is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can lead to problems performing your daily activities, such as shopping, socializing, and taking care of yourself and your home. Having sarcopenia can lessen your quality of life—and your independence.

A simple, fast way to test your overall muscle strength is by measuring the strength of your handgrip. In the test, you grip a small device as hard as you can, and it measures the strength of your grip. Studies have shown that handgrip strength is closely linked to muscle mass and other signs of your general health, including nutrition and walking ability. What’s more, handgrip strength is considered an important test for diagnosing sarcopenia. Weak handgrip strength can predict low muscle mass and poor physical performance.

Research has linked handgrip strength to other health problems in older adults. Losing muscle strength as you age also means losing muscle strength in your respiratory system. (The respiratory system is the part of your body responsible for breathing.) This can lead to poor lung function. When your lungs don’t function properly, you are at higher risk for respiratory issues like bronchitis and pneumonia, as well as heart disease and even death.

However, little is known about the link between handgrip strength and lung function in older adults. A team of researchers recently decided to learn whether testing handgrip strength could help identify lung function in older Korean women. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers used information from the 2014-2015 Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES), which was conducted by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). KNHANES is a nationwide survey that looks at health and nutrition for Koreans.

The survey consists of three sections: a health interview, a nutrition survey, and a health examination. The health examination consisted of blood pressure measurements, eye and mouth exams, laboratory tests, and several other tests (including ones for strength). The researchers looked at a smaller group of survey participants: 1,773 healthy women between the ages of 65 to 79.

The researchers learned that among the 1,773 women they studied, handgrip strength was linked to lung capacity—a measure of how well your respiratory system functions. The researchers concluded that testing older adults’ handgrip strength could be a good way to test their potential for impaired lung health.

Source: The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging


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Seniors’ Lungs Can Tackle Exercise

If seniors want to start a vigorous exercise program, there’s a good chance their lungs can keep up with the extra demand, a new study finds.

Researchers assessed younger and older adults to determine their lungs’ capacity to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide (lung-diffusing capacity) during physical activity. This exchange between the lungs and blood delivers oxygen throughout the body, but typically decreases with age.

The study included four groups. One was young adults with an average age of 27. They had normal fitness levels. The second group was highly fit adults. Their average age was also 27. A third group was made of older adults. Their average age was 69 and they had normal fitness levels. The final group was highly fit older adults. Their average age was 65.

The study volunteers did increasingly difficult workouts on a stationary bicycle. As the study volunteers exercised, researchers measured their lung-diffusing capacity.

The researchers thought both older groups, especially the older highly fit volunteers, would have impaired lung function versus the younger groups. But the increase in lung-diffusing capacity wasn’t limited in any of the four volunteer groups.

These findings suggest that overall function of the lung’s circulation doesn’t become limited during vigorous exercise, no matter what your age or fitness level, the researchers said. And, that seems to be true even though negative age-related changes in pulmonary circulation do occur.

The study team was led by Kirsten Coffman, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The results were published recently in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Source: HealthDay


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Dental Cleanings May Help Keep Lungs Clean, Too

Regular dental cleanings not only keep your smile bright, they may also keep your lungs healthy.

A new study suggests that regular dental cleanings could lower your risk of pneumonia by reducing levels of bacteria that cause the lung infection.

Each year, nearly 1 million Americans develop pneumonia, the researchers said, and 50,000 die from the disease. Anyone can get pneumonia, but it is more common among older people and those with lung disease and conditions such as AIDS.

In this study, researchers reviewed the records of more than 26,000 people. The study found that people who never saw a dentist were 86 percent more likely to get bacterial pneumonia compared to people who got dental checkups twice a year.

The results were to be presented Thursday at IDWeek. IDWeek is the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the HIV Medicine Association, and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“There is a well-documented connection between oral health and pneumonia, and dental visits are important in maintaining good oral health,” study author Dr. Michelle Doll said in an IDWeek news release. She’s an assistant professor of internal medicine in the division of infectious disease at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Doll said the mouth will never be free of bacteria. But good dental care can limit the amount of bacteria that’s in the mouth.

“Our study provides further evidence that oral health is linked to overall health, and suggests that it’s important to incorporate dental care into routine preventive health care,” Doll concluded.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Clots in the Lung May Be the Cause of Fainting in Some Elderly

When elderly adults suffer a fainting spell, a blood clot in the lungs may be the culprit more often than doctors have realized, a new study suggests.

Italian researchers found that among 560 patients hospitalized for a first-time fainting episode, one in six had a pulmonary embolism — a potentially fatal blood clot in a lung artery.

One U.S. physician said the findings are eye-opening.

They do not mean that everyone who faints needs to be evaluated for pulmonary embolism, stressed Dr. Lisa Moores, a professor of medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

But the condition should be on doctors’ radar with certain patients, according to Moores, who is also with the American College of Chest Physicians. She wasn’t involved in the study.

“Pulmonary embolism may be a much more common cause than we’ve thought,” she said.

Most often, a pulmonary embolism is caused by a blood clot in the legs that dislodges and travels to the lungs, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The most common symptoms include chest pain, cough and difficulty breathing.

Pulmonary embolism occasionally causes fainting — and that has been considered a sign of a more-severe blockage, Moores said. That is, the clot is large enough to abruptly cut off blood flow to the brain and cause a loss of consciousness.

Still, Moores said, fainting spells are “certainly not at the top of the list” of pulmonary embolism symptoms.

Partly because of that, she explained, people hospitalized for fainting are not typically evaluated for pulmonary embolism — unless there are other suspicious symptoms, such as chest pain or swelling in the legs (a sign of a blood clot in the legs).

The new study appears in the Oct. 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Its aim was to figure out how often pulmonary embolism really is the culprit when people are hospitalized for fainting.

Researchers at 11 hospitals in Italy performed a “systematic workup” for pulmonary embolism in 560 patients admitted for a first-time fainting spell.

The patients were 76 years old, on average, and had been admitted from the ER for various reasons: The cause of their fainting was not apparent; there was reason to suspect a heart-related cause; they had other serious medical conditions; or they’d been injured when they fainted.

In the end, just over 17 percent — or roughly one in six — were diagnosed with pulmonary embolism.

That included 13 percent of patients who’d had a potential alternative explanation for their fainting, such as a heart condition.

Still, fainting spells can have many potential causes, Moores pointed out. Those include seizure, a drop in blood pressure (from dehydration or standing up quickly, for instance), and heart-rhythm disturbances.

So people who faint should not assume they have a pulmonary embolism, Moores stressed.

Study co-author Dr. Sofia Barbar, a physician at the Civic Hospital of Camposampiero in Padua, Italy, agreed.

Barbar stressed that the study focused on “high-risk” patients who had to be admitted to the hospital after arriving in the ER.

In general, she said, people who faint far more often have “reflex syncope.” That refers to a short-lived loss of consciousness due to certain triggers, such as seeing the sight of blood, or standing in a hot, crowded area.

But when it comes to certain patients, Barbar said, this study suggests that pulmonary embolism is a more common issue than thought.

“In elderly patients presenting with [fainting],” she said, “the attending physician in medical wards should consider [pulmonary embolism] as a possible differential diagnosis — particularly when an alternative explanation is not found.”

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


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Excessive Alcohol Consumption Impacts Breathing

A study led by researchers from Loyola Medicine and Loyola University Chicago has discovered a potential new health concern related to excessive alcohol consumption.

Adults who drink excessively were found to have less nitric oxide in their exhaled breath than adults who don’t drink. The finding, published in the journal Chest, is significant because nitric oxide helps protect against certain harmful bacteria.

“Alcohol appears to disrupt the healthy balance in the lung,” said lead author Majid Afshar, MD, MSCR. Dr. Afshar is a Loyola Medicine pulmonologist and an assistant professor in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine and department of public health sciences of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

This is the first study to report such a link between excessive alcohol consumption and nitric oxide.

Dr. Afshar is among the 50 researchers in Loyola’s Alcohol Research Program who are studying the effects of alcohol on multiple organ systems. They are researching the molecular, cellular and physiological responses to acute, binge and chronic alcohol consumption. Studies center on endocrine, gastrointestinal, immune, nervous and skeletal systems.

Dr. Afshar and colleagues examined data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES). NHANES conducts interviews and physical examinations to assess the health and nutritional status of Americans.

The Loyola researchers examined data from 12,059 adults who participated in NHANES between 2007 and 2012. Excessive drinkers were defined as heavy drinkers (more than one drink per day on average for women and more than two drinks per day for men) and people who binge drink at least once per month (four or more drinks per occasion for women and five or more drinks for men).

In the sample population researchers examined, 26.9 percent of the participants were excessive drinkers. After controlling for asthma, smoking, diet, demographics and other factors, researchers found that exhaled nitric oxide levels were lower in excessive drinkers than in adults who never drink, and the more alcohol an excessive drinker consumed, the lower the level of nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide is a colorless gas produced by the body during respiration. A nitric oxide molecule consists of one nitrogen atom and one oxygen atom. Nitric oxide and similar molecules play an important role in killing bacteria that cause respiratory infections.

In an asthma patient, the amount of exhaled nitric oxide in a breath test provides a good indication of how well the patient’s medication is working. Excessive alcohol consumption might complicate the results of such tests. “Lung doctors may need to take this into consideration,” Dr. Afshar said.

Dr. Afshar and colleagues concluded: “Accounting for alcohol use in the interpretation of [exhaled nitric oxide] levels should be an additional consideration, and further investigations are warranted to explore the complex interaction between alcohol and nitric oxide in the airways.”

Source: EurekAlert!