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Investigating Natasha Richardson's Death; Headaches and the Weather: Erratic Temperatures Could Make You Sick; Healthy Foods That Could Be Keeping You From Losing Those Last Few Pounds

Aired April 11, 2009 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Good morning. Welcome to HOUSE CALL, the show that helps you live longer and stronger. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks so much for watching.

You know, there are still some unanswered questions about Natasha Richardson's tragic death. I decided to investigate. I headed to the slopes to talk with experts to try and get some answers about this.

And, headaches and the weather. I get these headaches all the time. Learn why erratic temperatures could be making you sick.

Then, healthy foods -- yes, healthy foods that could be keeping you from losing those last few pounds. Sound familiar? We've got the culprits.

But first, the untimely death of Tony Award-winning actress Natasha Richardson. It was supposed to be a relaxing ski get away at Mont Tremblant in eastern Canada. But 911 calls obtained by the Canadian newspaper, "Globe and Mail," it illustrates what some doctors in the Quebec Province have been saying publicly for quite some time, getting to a trauma center fast simply can't happen here no matter who you are.


GUPTA (voice-over): It was Monday, March 16th. The conditions were clear, cold and sunny on the Montain when the first 911 call went out.

In French, an operator dispatches an ambulance to the Mont Tremblant resort. A woman has fallen.

(on camera): 12:43 p.m., a call comes in. Natasha Richardson has fallen somewhere on these slopes, gentle beginner slopes. What no one could have known then was that when she fell, she hit her head hard enough to fracture her skull and start bleeding on top of her brain. The clock had started ticking for Natasha, and that closest trauma center, two-and-a-half hours away.

(voice-over): Richardson likely doesn't know what was happening to her. She is up. She is walking.

(on camera): By 1:00 p.m., 17 minutes after the initial call, an ambulance did arrive here, but Natasha Richardson was already heading back to her room. She said she felt fine. I can tell you, as a neurosurgeon, that's not unusual. Something has a significant blow to the head and then has what is known as lucid interval, where they do feel fine, but that pressure is still starting to build up in the brain.

(voice-over): The paramedics are told to stand down. Richardson says she doesn't need medical attention.

(on camera): The Mont Tremblant ski resort is considered one of the best in eastern Canada. Yet, there are no medical helicopter services here, which got us wondering if this was less about the tragic story of Natasha Richardson and more about anybody who chooses to ski here. Remember, the closest trauma hospital is two-and-a-half hours away.

(voice-over): Richardson's story is about to take a turn.

(on camera): 2:59 p.m., another 911 call comes in. Natasha Richardson has been at this resort for more than an hour and she's feeling sick. From a head injury like this, that typically means she has a headache, she's feeling disoriented, she may have trouble seeing.

3:09 p.m., about 10 minutes later, another ambulance comes in here. The paramedics go inside. They work on Natasha for about 33 minutes. Precious time here before they bring her back into the ambulance.

What we now know is that she was suffering from an epidural hematoma.

(voice-over): An epidural hematoma, it occurs when a blood clot forms between the skull and the outer layer of the brain. Too much pressure is causing brain damage. Every moment counts.

DR. LIAM DURKIN, NEUROLOGIST, MONTREAL NEUROLOGICAL INST.: When symptoms are apparent, it can be a matter of 30 minutes to an hour to 90 minutes before there is major deterioration.

GUPTA: Dr. Liam Durkin is a neurologist with the Montreal Neurological Institute.

DURKIN: It is a rapidly deteriorating situation and the distance might have been just too much by, you know, by ambulance.

GUPTA: And that's the point. It happened to be Natasha Richardson, but for anyone who suffers a head injury on this mountain, a trauma center maybe too far away.

(on camera): Under the best of circumstances, it would have taken her a few hours, more than two hours to get to Montreal, the closest trauma center. Is that close enough?

DURKIN: It's difficult to say.

GUPTA (voice-over): Back in the ambulance, Richardson is lapsing in and out of consciousness.

(on camera): It is now 4:20 p.m., Natasha Richardson is brought to this hospital here in Sainte-Agathe. It's only 38 minutes away. But here's the problem -- it is not a trauma center. And they can't provide the sort of care that Natasha needs.

Keep in mind, it was recommended that anyone who has Natasha's condition needs to be at the trauma center within 60 to 90 minutes. It's now been three-and-a-half hours.

(voice-over): Way too long since she fell on the mountain. And doctors here, without the right equipment, without the right facilities, eventually send her to a trauma center in Montreal. She arrives close to 7:00 p.m. Time has run out.

Twenty-four hours later, she is flown to New York, where she's taken off life support and where she dies.

Flight time from the Medevac helicopter from the mountain to a trauma center is about 15 minutes. So, could it have saved Natasha Richardson? No one can answer that question. But let's pose the question this way: if this happened to you, what would you want?


GUPTA: Now, that goes without saying, as a neurosurgeon, I always recommend people wear helmets when skiing. That's the first point. Also, I want to be clear, there are some excellent neurosurgeons in Montreal. Just getting to them, that maybe was the problem.

Many of the officials talked to us about the area and on this issue but would not go on camera and refuse to make a comment officially.

Now, here's a question: have you been having more headaches than normal? It could be the rising temperatures. I'm going to explain.

And also, a third of smokers who want to quit may have some new inspiration, their pets.

But first, this week's medical headlines. New evidence linking heart failure to people with larger waists, but it's not the weight that should have you concerned.


GUPTA: A startling statistic now and warnings that Americans are becoming more complacent when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Every nine-and-a- half minutes, someone is infected with HIV in the United States. Now, government health officials announced this week a new campaign targeting groups most at risk, and here's why -- about half of all new HIV infections and AIDS deaths occur in the African-American community. So, get informed. Click on

A new research shows that having a larger waist could cause heart failure in middle age and older adults. Now, scientists examined thousands of Swedish men and women and found those who carried most of their midsection even if they had the normal weight, were more likely to suffer heart failure at an earlier in age.

Those are your headlines. And HOUSE CALL is back in 60 seconds with some help for those out there from headaches. Stay with us.


GUPTA: We are back with HOUSE CALL.

You know, it might be one more thing that you can blame on the weather, painful headaches. I suffer from this -- triggered by big changes in temperature. Now, researchers in Boston studied more than 7,000 people whose headaches were so severe that they went to the emergency room. That was the first criteria.

Now, looking at what the temperature was like outside on the days leading up to those headaches, scientists started to stumble upon an interesting connection. When the average temperature increased about nine degrees, there was a 7.5 percent increase in the number of headaches -- lots of numbers here. Researchers saw the same pattern throughout the year and they speculate that the rise in temperature could be reducing blood pressure in the arteries around the brain, triggering a headache -- interesting but not proven theory.

And not everyone is going to get headaches because of this, but the researchers closed that in parts of the country where temperatures vary a lot week to week, more people might be affected.

Now, meteorologist Chad Myers is joining us.

They blame everything on the weather.


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Well, you grew up in Michigan. Remember the old saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes, it will change."

GUPTA: That's right.

MYERS: I mean, we have one of the most changeable patterns because of the mountains; the dry air comes out of the mountains heats up. It could be Santa Ana this way, depending on it, right? We've also got cold air comes out of Canada. We're not blaming them on that, but it comes out of there. And then all of this moisture that comes up from the Gulf of Mexico. We've got it all.

GUPTA: Is there -- is there a particular time of year where this is particularly bad, all these variations in temperatures?

MYERS: Yes, really, two times, spring and fall. Why? Because the jet stream does this, you know? When it's this, it's cold. When it's this, it's warm. And this happens in the fall.

In the fall, the cold air says, hey, I'm charged. You got to get out of here, summer. And then it pushes it out.

And the exact opposite happens in the spring. It tries to push up the warm air and the spring push the cold air away.

You said, it changes -- the change is over seven days. Heck, we can get nine degrees over seven minutes.

GUPTA: That is pretty remarkable.

MYERS: You know, it is remarkable.

GUPTA: And you and I live around -- I'm not a weatherman -- but around here somewhere.

MYERS: Right.

GUPTA: Is there a part of the -- part of the country where you say if you suffer from this, stay away from it because it's a lot of variations in that area?

MYERS: I would say you are better off in the south because you have all the humidity around here. You're better off probably in the southwest. It doesn't go up very much day to day. The temperature, you know, it's going to be 110 or 109 in Phoenix all summer long. So, that's not the variation.

But anywhere up here through the Midwest, you get the cold air coming down, warm air coming up, or, obviously, this report was done in Boston.

GUPTA: Right.

MYERS: And you can get cold air. You can get nor'easters. You can get all kinds of bad things in the northeast as well. So, that's your bogey right there.

GUPTA: Fascinating subject. Chad, thanks so much.

MYERS: You're welcome, buddy.

GUPTA: Great having you on the show. We appreciate it.

MYERS: All right.

GUPTA: Really great stuff.

We want to stay on this topic though. I want to bring back -- bring in Dr. Merle Diamond. She's the co-director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, also on the board of the National Headache Foundation.

Dr. Diamond, first of all, welcome to HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: Sure. You just heard Chad Myers, our meteorologist, talking about this. And you saw the study, I'm sure, as well.


GUPTA: First of all, what did you think of that and what advice did you have for people who might be concerned that they are experiencing headaches because of the swings in temperature? I mean, you can't change the weather.

DIAMOND: You can't change the weather, unfortunately. I think the really good thing for patients to do is to keep a headache diary, because that way they can sort of track it and certainly recognize if that is the case. And I have gotten more than my share of phone calls from patients predicting barometric pressure changes.

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting because as Chad was talking, he pointed out that springtime maybe one of the times when this is particularly a big problem. But you also have a lot of seasonal allergy sufferers out there who may also suffer more so in the spring. Can -- how do you know the difference, and is there a better way to treat one versus the other?

DIAMOND: Well, it's sort of interesting, because the same nerve that enervates our sinuses and our nose is the nerves that carry the information for migraine. So, it's often very confusing for patients.

I think a good thing to do is to have good allergy treatment, and recognize that nausea, light and noise sensitivity aren't part of allergies, it's part of migraine. And so, you have to differentiate the symptoms.

GUPTA: You know, we get so many questions about headaches, Dr. Diamond, and one of the questions we get all the time is when should someone be seeing someone like you? When is it bad enough that they need to go and see their doctor, or when is it something -- they should take Tylenol or aspirin or something else for it?

DIAMOND: I think there are a couple of good rules with them. If you are missing time from your family, from your job, from school, you should talk to your doctor. Don't wait. The longer you wait the worse migraines get.

And so, we tell people the earlier you come in, the less likely you are to develop chronic, debilitating headaches that really, you know, cause patients to miss so much time from their family.

GUPTA: I thought that's a good rule of thumb.

Now, another thing that sort of struck us -- I understand your business is probably booming right now, lots of people experiencing stress-related tension headaches, if you will, I think in large part because of all the talk about the economy. First of all, are you seeing that? And what can people do on their own to ease pain?

DIAMOND: Well, I think, one of the things that makes both tension headache and migraine worse is stress. And so, a lot of things I tell my patients to do is to have good relaxation techniques. We like bio feedback like yoga, pilates, take a way, turn off the news sometimes. Take a break from it, have a good book to read, and try not to overload yourself.

Make sure to have good sleep habits. And try not to take in to much and make too many, you know, plans in one day.

GUPTA: Good advice. And you'll be happy to know that I started meditating recently. I spent about 15 minutes a day meditating. And, at first, I wasn't sure that it was working, but a quiet room, a darkroom, I find words that I repeat and it really seems to help. And sometimes, it helps with my headaches as well.

Dr. Merle Diamond, thanks so much. We hope to have you back some time on HOUSE CALL.

DIAMOND: Thank you. Thank you very much.

GUPTA: Thank you very much.

Now, you at home, if you are looking for another good reason to quit smoking, here's one.

Look at that face. I'll tell you what secondhand smoke can do to your pets and little doggies.

Stay tuned to HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We are back with HOUSE CALL.

You know, you've already heard about the dangers secondhand smoke can have on you and your family's health. Now, if that's not reason enough to quit, then, I'm not sure what is. But if you need one more motivation, consider the effects it might also have on your pets.


GUPTA (voice-over): Beth Labauve has five dogs and two cats at home. And she takes care of other pets for a living. But until just year ago, Beth says she spent as much time putting pets in harm's way as she did taking care of them.

BETH LABAUVE, FORMER SMOKER: I smoked a pack a day for about six or seven years. And I knew it wasn't good for the pets to be around it. So, I didn't smoke in the house, but I did smoke in my car.

GUPTA: And when her 8-year-old dog, Otto (ph), passed away from lymphoma, Betty worried that she might be next, and wondered if she may have caused it.

LABAUVE: If smoke got near him, he would sneeze. And his coat -- if he was in the car long enough, his coat would smell like smoke. And I'd tell myself that I was not the cause of it, but it definitely -- from what I've read, it can lead to cancer in dogs. GUPTA: She's not alone. According to a new study from the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, about a third of pet owners surveyed were smokers or lived with a smoker. And almost a third of them said they might quit if they knew it would affect their pets.

Veterinarian, Dr. Jennifer Rudolph, says smoking can affect pets in much the same way as humans.

DR. JENNIFER RUDOLPH, VETERINARIAN: We can see an increase incident of bronchitis, asthma, allergic rhinitis, and also, secondhand smoke can be linked to different types of cancer in cats.

GUPTA: As for Beth, she's now living smoke-free. And both she and her pets are breathing much easier.

LABUAVE: Everything smells nicer and I feel better and can walk more and do more activities without feeling crummy. My dogs now at least have a smoke-free life and no smoke in their lives.


GUPTA: She loves -- she loves dogs. I love dogs, too. You know what? I'm going to answer your question about secondhand smoke and lots of other topics. That's next in our "Ask the Doctor" segment.

Plus, could quenching your thirst be also fattening your waistline? You maybe surprised by the answer.

Stay with HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: It's time to talk to you with my favorite segment, "Ask the Doctor." Let's jump right in.

The first question comes from Kim in Virginia, who writes this, "My husband smokes outside, but when he comes back in, I often smell cigarette smoke. Does this constitute as secondhand smoke? And if so, should I be concerned with this level?"

Well, I'm happy that he's going outside, Kim. To answer your first question, though -- yes, that lingering scent does technically count as secondhand smoke. Now, there's been a lot of studies on this. The particles in the cigarette smoke are so tiny they can attach to your clothing and to your hair, and later, can also be absorbed by your carpet, furniture, and even dust inside the home. They have a term for that as well which is "third-hand smoke."

To answer your second question, there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Living with a smoker may increase a nonsmoker's chance of developing lung cancer by at least 20 percent. So to your husband, kick the habit for those you love, for certain and for you, Kim.

The next question now comes from Wendy in California, who writes this, "I have serious varicose veins in my right leg. I had a saline injection in the lower leg; that worked only temporarily. And I work out regularly. Do you know what else I can do?"

Well, great question, Wendy. You know, nearly half of people over age 50 are affected by this in some ways. That's something you should keep in the back of you mind. Varicose veins are enlarged, swollen veins that rise above the skin's surface as you see there. It's more of an aesthetic problem really than a serious medical condition.

To stop them from getting worse, continue to exercise, you're talking about, that does help with the circulation. Maybe elevate your legs while resting, avoid crossing your legs while sitting.

If you want to remove them, there are really three options, three popular treatment options. And they include something known as sclerotherapy therapy where they inject a solution of sorts that seals off the vein. There's also something known as phlebectomy. They can do this as an outpatient. The vein is surgically removed. And then, laser therapy -- where laser energy is use to actually sort of close those veins and get rid of them on the surface of your legs.

Now, if you at home would like me to answer your questions, just e-mail us: I'd be delighted to do so.

You can also go to our show page: You're going to find links; they are pretty easy to use. E-mail us. You can see recent stories, resources that we have on there as well, video from the show, and, of course, our weekly podcast. Check it out. We're doing it for you, and stay informed all weeklong.

Now, did you know Americans consume up to 300 more calories per day than they did 30 years ago? About half those calories come from drinks. I didn't know that until I read the study. Could reducing liquid calories be the key to weight loss? Judy Fortin is going to join us on the set and answer that question -- just ahead on HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We are back with HOUSE CALL.

You know, bathing suit season is right around the corner. You got to show off those six-pack abs.



GUPTA: If you're cutting calories, you already know to watch what you eat. But a new study shows you might also want to watch what you drink. And Judy Fortin has all the details.

It's scary, I think, for a lot of people to think about this season. But there are a lot of -- a lot of hidden calories out there they may not know about.

FORTIN: And we're always looking for ways to cut calories. But we're talking today about liquid calories. We're talking about the beverages that you grab on your way to work, or maybe at breakfast this morning, you're putting an extra, you know, cup of milk in your cereal, and they add up.


FORTIN: It turns out that researchers at Johns Hopkins University wanted to find out just how much a difference it would make if you cut out some of those liquid calories. So, they took a look. They had 800 study participants and they said, "What if you cut out one 150-calorie glass of liquid a day, a beverage like a soda, a smoothie, a glass of juice, what would happen?"

Well, it turned out that the study participants lost about 15 pounds in one year. Now, you may say 15 pounds, but, Sanjay, the major part about this is they kept the weight off for an average of 18 months and that is significant.

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting, because you're not asking people to change the world here.


GUPTA: You're asking them to cut out one specific drink. But, you know, they fall prey to a lot of the marketing that I've fallen prey to as well.

FORTIN: We all do.

GUPTA: They're healthy drinks, Judy, right?

FORTIN: That's right. It says healthy. It says fruit or vegetable on the label, maybe antioxidant. And you're thinking, this is really good for me.

Well, what are you actually getting in that glass or that bottle? Well, turn over the can or the bottle and take a look at the label -- not only look at the serving size, but look at the calories. And we were wondering, what exactly are you getting.

So, let's look at some examples here. That water that's labeled as enhanced, maybe it has extra vitamins in it. Did you know that it actually may have about 125 calories in it? That adds up.

What about a fruit smoothie? Those really can pack a wallop, 260 calories. In the south, we love to drink our sweetened tea, but 210 calories for a glass of sweet tea? That's something to think about.

Even a glass of orange juice can be about 190 calories. Maybe you don't drink just one glass, maybe you drink two, or the serving size is a little bit bigger. It adds up. Those liquid calories make a difference.

Now, a calorie is a calorie, right? You can swap out a bag of chips and lose the weight there.

GUPTA: Right.

FORTIN: But what are you more likely to give up? You know, a liquid beverage or that bag of chips? Some people have a hard choice to make.

GUPTA: I want to keep it all.

FORTIN: I know, we do. But you want to lose the weight. That's a choice.

GUPTA: That's really good advice. And let me add as well. Judy, I think this is your last appearance on HOUSE CALL.

FORTIN: It is.

GUPTA: We are going to miss you a lot.

FORTIN: Thank you.

GUPTA: Really good work. Really, it's been a pleasure for me to be able to work with you.

FORTIN: And it's been a pleasure for me, too. Thank you so much, and thank you to our viewers as well.

GUPTA: Yes, best of luck.

And, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. If you missed any part of today's show, make sure to go to Check out my podcast there. And also, remember, this is the place for the answers to all your medical questions.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More news on CNN starts right now.