On heart transplants, leukemia, DOs and MDs

June 19, 2013

Q. How successful are heart transplants?

The survival rates for heart transplants have improved steadily since the first successful human heart transplants were done in the late 1960s.

Almost nine out of 10 patients survive the first year following a heart transplant. After five years, the survival rate drops to about seven in 10. After 10 years, the rate drops again to about five in 10. After 20 years, about one-and-a-half in 10 are still ticking.

Approximately 2,300 heart transplants are now performed each year in more than 150 heart-transplant centers in the United States There is no widely accepted age cut-off. However, most transplant surgery isn’t performed on people older than 70 because the procedure doesn’t have a high success rate for patients in that age group. The majority (52 percent) of candidates are between the ages of 50 and 64.

Q. What is leukemia? It sounds complicated.

Leukemia means “white blood” in Greek. If you get leukemia, your bone marrow- the soft material inside bones - makes abnormal white blood cells that block production of normal white blood cells, which you need to battle infections. Leukemia cells also interfere with the red blood cells that distribute oxygen throughout your body, and platelets, which help your blood to clot.

Leukemia symptoms include: fevers or chills, night sweats, frequent infections, weakness or fatigue, shortness of breath, headache, bleeding, bruising easily, bone pain, swelling or discomfort in the abdomen (from an enlarged spleen), swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck or armpit, weight loss, and tiny red marks on the skin. The two basic types of leukemia are acute and chronic. Acute leukemia develops quickly. Chronic leukemia develops slowly and usually occurs during or after middle age. Leukemia is also categorized by the type of white blood cell that is affected.

There are four common types of leukemia:

• Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Most people diagnosed with this form of the disease are over age 55. CLL almost never attacks children.

• Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), which primarily affects adults.

• Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), which is the most common type of leukemia in young children. It can also affects adults.

• Acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which occurs in both adults and children.

Q. What is the difference between a “DO” and an “MD”?

DO stands for doctor of osteopathic medicine. MD is the abbreviation for doctor of medicine. MDs are also called doctors of allopathic medicine.

Here are a couple of brief dictionary definitions:

• os·te·op·a·thy n. A system of medicine based on the theory that disturbances in the musculoskeletal system affect other bodily parts, causing many disorders.

• al·lop·a·thy n. A method of treating disease with remedies that produce effects different from those caused by the disease itself.

Osteopathic medicine is a safe, established practice. Like MDs, DOs must pass a state medical board examination to obtain a license to practice. There are about 15 MDs for every DO in the United States.

Both DOs and MDs are fully qualified to prescribe medication and perform surgery. Like a medical doctor, an osteopathic physician completes four years of medical school and can choose to practice in any medical specialty. However, osteopaths receive an additional 300 to 500 hours in the study of manual medicine and the body’s musculoskeletal system.

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