For the past several months, Dr. Eric Chow has been working hard to gather and interpret answers from transplant patients who returned a survey on heart and blood vessel diseases.
And the news so far, he said, is encouraging overall.
"For example, we have a very low rate of smoking among transplant patients, less than 6 percent, compared to the 40 percent who smoked before transplantation," he said. "It’s obvious that transplant patients have taken to heart the message about not smoking."
The survey also shows that a large number of survivors have become more physically active … "and they’re more aware about monitoring heart health. They are staying in control. We see that over time, levels of physical activity increase for our patients," Chow said.
However, the survey so far also has shown some areas of concern, he said. About 10 percent of the respondents reported issues with diabetes, while 30 percent reported needing to be on medicines to treat high levels of cholesterol as well as high blood pressure.
"These numbers are worrisome because we know those problems increase the chances that people may develop more serious heart problems later on," Chow said.
At the same time, controlling these conditions may limit their negative effects on the heart. The survey is critical because it will help LTFU determine whether certain patients are at a higher risk for heart problems and other diseases following a transplant than their non-transplant peers in their age group and gender within the general population.
"We need to develop a knowledge base," Chow said. "How big of a problem do we have? What are the immediate issues for transplant patients? Patients often are not thinking about these chronic diseases, which for some are many years down the road."
This particular survey about the heart and blood vessel diseases was mailed to transplant patients between July 2010 and June of this year as part of the annual Patient Recovery Questionnaire. And so far, about 2,100 people have responded, a little below 50 percent.
"We would love to have more patients respond so we can generate a more complete picture of our transplant population’s health. With a greater return, it gives us more confidence about the quality of the data we have gathered," Chow said.
"Conclusions we make about heart disease in transplant survivors could be very different if people who have yet to respond differ greatly from those who have responded. This could affect how we prioritize our care and approach to survivors," he said.
"For example, if we found out that rates of cholesterol problems among people yet to respond were even higher, this may mean we need to do a better job of understanding why this is so common following transplant and whether we need to do a better job diagnosing and treating these conditions earlier."
So, don’t be surprised if you receive another questionnaire in the mail soon. It means that you have one more opportunity to be heard if you haven’t answered the survey yet.
Dr. Paul Martin, LTFU director, said answering these questions is important because the survey will help shape the Center’s response to the needs of its transplant population.
"We seek to improve the overall quality of life for our transplant patients. So the more we know about what is happening with them after a transplant, the better guidance we can offer," Martin said.
That’s why LTFU stresses healthy living as one of its messages to patients.
And as they do with their own patients, Drs. Chow and Martin encourage everyone to do three basic things to improve health: eat healthy, be active and don’t smoke.