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  • Michael Wolff

The new vital sign; Muscle.

Adults go to the doctor roughly two times a year. During their visit, vitals are taken such as blood pressure, pulse, and weight, but are these measurements really showing the full picture of a person's overall health? Recent research shows health care professionals should be considering something often overlooked -- muscle mass. A new review paper published in Annals of Medicine, confirms the critical role muscle mass plays in health with studies demonstrating that people with less muscle had more surgical and post-operative complications, longer hospital stays, lower physical function, poorer quality of life and overall lower survival.

A couple of key bullet points from the studies reviewed:

  • A study of women with breast cancer, who had more muscle, had a nearly 60 percent better chance of survival.

  • Patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) with more muscle spend less time on the ventilator -- as well as less time in the ICU -- and have a better chance of survival.

  • People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who have more muscle experience better respiratory outcomes and lower occurrence of osteopenia or osteoporosis.

  • In the long-term care setting, a study found individuals with lower muscle mass had more severe Alzheimer's.

"Muscle mass should be looked at as a new vital sign," said Carla Prado, Ph.D., R.D., associate professor at the University of Alberta and principal author of the paper. "If healthcare professionals identify and treat low muscle mass, they can significantly improve their patients' health outcomes.”

Hopefully as physicians see some of the research cited above, they can steer their patients in the right direction.

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