Tim Russert and Metabolic Syndrome


Tim Russert’s sudden and untimely death should have been preventable. All the risks that contributed to his death were controllable, except his inherited risk. We will never know if he might have avoided his premature death had he taken better care of the controllable risks earlier. But it would have given him a better shot – and the same goes for you.

From what I have read, Mr. Russert got good routine medical care and was doing his best to take care of himself. So why do I say it was preventable? According to reports in the press by his doctors, he had a common condition, one shared by millions and millions of Americans, called Metabolic Syndrome.

This condition had probably done its dirty work inside his blood vessels for years before he ever knew he had a problem or started treating it. If that sounds scary – it is. But if you look for it, you can find it early and, in partnership with your health provider, take actions to protect yourself.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic Syndrome is a collection of risk factors which, together, increase the risk of a catastrophic cardiovascular event more than each risk does on its own. It is also called “pre-diabetes” because people with this condition are at greater risk for diabetes than those without it.

Metabolic Syndrome is diagnosed by having three or more of the following five conditions:

  1. High Triglycerides (a part of a Cholesterol Profile blood test)
  2. Low HDL (High Density Lipoprotein, the “good cholesterol” – also part of the Cholesterol Profile)
  3. Central Obesity (waist measurement greater than 35” in women and greater than 40” in men)
  4. High blood pressure
  5. High blood sugar

If you have it, what do you do about it?

Learn everything you can about your risk factors and take control of every single one. This is a condition for which you will need both aggressive lifestyle modifications and a number of medications. Regular surveillance by a health professional for lab work and monitoring is very important. There are various diagnostic tests that may be recommended such as nuclear stress tests, echocardiograms, carotid ultrasounds and perhaps even cardiac catheterization (a test Mr. Russert did not have) to look for blockages and fix them before a catastrophic event occurs.

7 Lifesaving Things You Can Do:

  1. Lose weight (get your waist circumference to less than 35” if you are a woman, less than 40” if you are a man).
  2. Exercise (But do not start a vigorous exercise program without seeing a health professional first if you have not been active. Walking is usually safe – unless it causes chest, shoulder, or back pain or increased shortness of breath. In that case, see a health professional immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.)
  3. Eat healthy food.
  4. Control your blood pressure.
  5. Control your cholesterol.
  6. Control your blood sugar.
  7. Take 81 mgs of aspirin every day if your health professional prescribes it.

Metabolic Syndrome is controllable, possibly even reversible, but you must take control. Don’t be comforted by a lack of symptoms. Be aggressive, be proactive, uncover your health risks and get them treated aggressively.

The care you get will be the care you ask for – so find out what kind of care to ask for.

Here are some links where you can find out more:

Frankly, the best resource I know for learning how to tame Metabolic Syndrome is my book but here are some others:

The Metabolic Syndrome Institute
American Heart Association
National Library of Medicine

And this is an interesting article from the New York Times showing how seriously Japan is taking Metabolic Syndrome.

These are the news articles I referenced to get information for this post about Tim Russert’s medical history:

The Los Angeles Times
New York Times
New York Times: A Second Opinion

We have all been shaken by the loss of such a visible and giving and dedicated man. Do you have any thoughts about Mr. Russert or experiences with Metabolic Syndrome that you want to post?

This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

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4 comments so far. (Post your own)

#1 | On July 06, 2008, linda roemer said:

Tim had just been in Italy for a family trip.
I wondered if he left his cholesterol medication home and if going without if he did for a few days could have destablized the plaque.  His Doctor said on Larry King Live that his heart attack was caused by the rupture of a plaque only 15% thick. 

We are learning that the smaller plaques are more dangerous than the large obstruction.  Some lipid medication claim they form a matrix over the plaque.  I have seen a few patients in my time have MI’s and reporting they stoped their lipid medicationn just 2 weeks before.

Anyone else heard of this?

#2 | On July 07, 2008, Ann Gaffka said:

My first words, before knowing cause of death, were “He died of a heart attack”.  Just by casual observation you knew this man was not taking care of himself as advised. Lipid medication is important, but diet and exercise will almost always achieve more than medication.  The media needs to address this with John Q Public.

#3 | On July 12, 2008, Carla Mills said:

Linda - VERY interesting question about whether Mr. Russert had stopped his medication while on vacation and whether this could have contributed to the plague rupture that caused his sudden death. Boy, just another reason to take prescribed medications regularly and seriously!

Ann - I SO agree about diet and exercise being the best treatments to preserve health and prolong life. But aren’t we lucky to have state of the art medications and interventions covering our backs when things go wrong? I think if Mr. Russert had lived in my community (which has some of the best cardiac care in the country), he would have had a cardiac catheterization and may well have been saved by either angioplasty or bypass surgery. That is what saved Bill Clinton’s life, and probabaly added another 20 to 20 years to it in the process.


#4 | On July 24, 2008, Claudia said:

Perhaps Tim did not walk around orstretch, exercise or move around enough in his seat on the long flight home and deveoped DVT which caused a ‘hit’ on a plaque only 15% thick…..hm-m-m-m

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