Daily news articles of interest to health care consumers.

August 2013 Archives

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Familiarity may breed better hearing, new research reveals.

Canadian scientists report that it appears to be easier for people to hear and understand the voice of their spouse.

Apparently the familiar sound stands out among other voices in a crowd, sharpening auditory perception so it's easier to focus on one particular voice. However, the reverse can also hold true when necessary, the researchers added.

The finding is reported in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science.

"Familiar voices appear to influence the way an auditory 'scene' is perceptually organized," lead researcher Ingrid Johnsrude, of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, said in a journal news release.

The study involved married couples ranging in age from 44 to 79. The couples were asked to record themselves while reading instructions. Then each person was asked to listen to the recording of his or her spouse through headphones, along with the recording of a voice they did not recognize.

Some of the participants were told what their spouse was saying on the recording, while others were asked to determine what the unfamiliar voice said. The researchers found people were able to hear their spouse's voice more clearly. Those who were listening to what their spouse was saying were more accurate, regardless of their age.

"The benefit of familiarity is very large," Johnsrude said. "It's on the order of the benefit you see when trying to perceptually distinguish two sounds that come from different locations compared to sounds that come from the same location."

In contrast, the study also showed that when people had to determine what an unfamiliar voice was saying, there were differences among the age groups. The researchers said middle-aged adults could follow the unfamiliar voice relatively well, particularly when it was competing with their spouses' voice and not another unfamiliar voice.

"The middle-aged adults were able to use what they knew about the familiar voice to perceptually separate and ignore it, so as to hear the unfamiliar voice better," Johnsrude said.

This strategy, however, was less effective among the older participants. The researchers found that the older the participants were, the less likely they were to be able to make out what the unfamiliar voice was saying. They concluded that, as people age, their auditory perception may be less effective and the benefit of having a familiar voice to listen to increases.

"Middle-aged people can ignore their spouse; older people aren't able to as much," Johnsrude said. "These findings speak to a problem that is very common among older individuals: difficulty hearing speech when there is background sound. Our study identifies a cognitive factor -- voice familiarity -- that could help older listeners to hear better in these situations."

More information

The Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides more information on auditory perception.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Transitioning from summer to a new school year is hard for any kid, but it is particularly difficult for children who have trouble processing new sensations, according to an expert on what is known as "sensory processing disorder."

Sensory processing disorder is a neurological problem that affects behavior and learning. For kids with this disorder, too much sensory overload or the wrong kind of stimulation can lead to problems with attention, coordination and impulsiveness as the child tries to either increase or decrease the sensations they are experiencing.

Varleisha Gibbs, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, explained that the transition back to school disrupts the daily routines that these children have established during the summer. She noted, however, planning ahead can help ease the stress of this transition.

"Students with sensory processing disorders typically struggle with adapting to change," Gibbs said in a university news release. "A new school year brings an abundance of changes, including new teachers and classmates, schedules and routines, classrooms and settings, as well as new demands and expectations in the classroom."

To ease the transition to a new school year for children with sensory processing disorders, Gibbs recommended that children, teachers and parents or caregivers take the following steps:

  • Plan a visit. Before the first day of class, arrange a visit to the school to familiarize the child with the school setting and the teacher. If possible, take photos of the surroundings to help the child acclimate to the environment ahead of time.
  • Be proactive. Reach out to the school early to inform administrators about the child's therapy schedule. A child's private occupational therapy sessions should be coordinated with any therapy offered at school so they do not overlap.
  • Pack a sensory kit. Certain fidget devices may help keep children calm and focused during a stressful transition time. These objects include stress balls, seat cushions, gum and music with headphones. Teachers can also provide a variety of seating options in the classrooms, including beanbag chairs and therapy balls.
  • Be open. Because not all children with sensory processing disorders are placed in special education, communicating a child's needs to teachers and school administrators can help ensure they are able to benefit from their calming strategies. For example, these children may need to chew gum in class or listen to headphones between classes.
  • Shop early. Purchase backpacks and school clothes well in advance so children can try them on and identify any items that are bothersome or uncomfortable. Be sure to remove all tags, wash the clothes and find underwear that can alleviate any irritability from the fabric rubbing against the skin.
  • Set an example. When parents are calm and collected, it's easier for children to feel the same way about going back to school.

More information

The SPD Foundation has more about sensory processing disorder.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that more than three out of four Hispanics may fail to examine their skin regularly for signs of cancer.

"We know that the rates of melanoma, one of the deadliest skin cancers, are on the rise globally, and in the United States Hispanics and African-Americans often present to physicians with more advanced cases of the cancer," Dr. Aida Lugo-Somolinos, a professor of dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a university news release.

"We wanted to understand more fully why Hispanic patients weren't performing skin self-exams and what role the physician was playing in the process, especially since skin self-exams may lead to earlier melanoma diagnosis," Lugo-Somolinos said.

The researchers surveyed Hispanic patients at Piedmont Health Services in Carrboro, N.C.; the university's dermatology clinics; and El Pueblo, a Hispanic advocacy group in Raleigh, N.C.

Fewer than one in four patients knew about risk factors for skin cancer, such as sun exposure. Nine percent underwent regular skin exams, and fewer than one in four examined their own skin for signs of cancer.

Lugo-Somolinos said dark-skinned people in the United States face a lower risk of skin cancer, but they can still develop the disease.

"We want to encourage primary-care providers to help make their non-Caucasian patients aware that they are also at risk for skin cancer -- especially through sun exposure -- even with darker skin," she said.

Why might Hispanics face special challenges when it comes to skin cancer prevention?

"We did not find patient modesty to be a barrier, but what we did find was that patients felt they didn't have enough time with physicians to ask about preventive care such as skin exams," Lugo-Somolinos said. "We also learned that physicians were not taking the opportunity to raise the subject with their patients, as they do with other health promotion topics such as smoking cessation or seat belt use."

The study was published earlier this year in the journal Archives of Dermatology.

More information

For more about skin cancer, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Randy Dotinga

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Music may soothe the savage beast, but a new study argues that novice teenage drivers who rock out to a playlist of favorite tunes may end up with impaired motor skills.

Active listening -- humming along with, tapping out the beat of or otherwise getting absorbed by tracks youthful drivers know and like -- appears to distract them from the rules of the road, researchers report.

The result is an increase in error-prone behaviors, such as speeding, tailgating and one-handed steering, as well as aggressive and distracted lane-switching and passing.

On the other hand, the Israeli investigators said, certain types of music can actually promote safe teen driving, when comprised of less familiar, calming compositions.

"The car is the only place -- the only audio-related acoustic environment -- [in which] listening to music can be fatal," said study co-author Warren Brodsky, director of music science research in the department of the arts at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel.

"So the message has to be learn to choose music more appropriately," Brodsky said. "And if or when circumstances are more risky -- such as being tired, at night time, in highly congested traffic, after party duress, or [when a driver is] a bit tipsy or very emotional -- there might be music that could increase safety and lower risk factors for the ... ride home."

Brodsky joined his BGU colleague Zack Slor to discuss their research, funded by the Israel National Road Safety Authority, in the October issue of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

The study comes on the heels of recent Dutch research, in which Ayca Berfu Unal, of the University of Groningen, found that the driving abilities of young people were not negatively impacted by listening to music of their choosing. That research, however, was a conducted using a virtual road simulation test and involved university students between the ages of 19 and 25 with an average of two and a half years of driving experience.

By contrast, Brodsky and Slor focused on the real-world road experience of 85 new Israeli drivers between the ages of 17 and 18, all of whom had procured their licenses an average of only seven months prior to the study launch. Roughly 60 percent were male.

None of the participants had been to traffic court, and only 8 percent had ever been involved in a collision.

Music, the authors said, was a near-ubiquitous feature of the driving experience, with 86 percent saying they listened to music all the time when behind the wheel. Pretty much all (99 percent) described that music as "moderately fast or very fast," and nearly as many (94 percent) said they played it on the loud end of the scale.

All the teens were paired with one of two expert driving instructors, with whom they embarked on a series of six challenging 40-minute, 25-mile road trips, under three different conditions: two trips while playing their own music, two trips while playing author-supplied music and two trips with no music.

The participants' preferred music included an average of 12 songs taken from each driver's personal collection. About two-thirds were international tracks, while a third were Israeli tunes.

By contrast, the 30-minute "alternate" music collection (selected by Brodsky and Israeli composer Micha Kisner) included eight tracks of unfamiliar non-vocal tunes from the genres of easy listening, soft rock or light jazz, with a focus on lush harmonies and relatively modest rhythms, tempos, timbres, voice textures and instrumental arrangements.

In-vehicle data-recording devices and driving instructor observations revealed that while listening to their preferred music, 98 percent of the teens displayed (on at least one of the two trips) three or more driving deficiencies. Deficiencies included driving aggressively or inaccurately, miscalculating and committing a traffic violation.

Nearly one-third of the preferred trips required an instructor to yell out a sudden verbal warning or command, while one-fifth needed their assistance to steer or brake in order to prevent an accident.

On the no-music trips 92 percent of the teens also made similar errors.

The team found, however, that when teens drove with the calming alternate soundtrack in the background their deficient driving behaviors fell by 20 percent.

But will teen drivers turn down the volume on music they like? Brodsky pointed to the slow but steady acceptance of seatbelts and condoms, suggesting that this too "is an issue of awareness and changing attitudes."

"The car is not a dance floor, nor a karaoke bar, a sports facility or exercise class," he said, adding that "the music chosen to listen to should be more adaptive to the environment."

Although the U.S. National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration deems "adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player" to be a distraction that "could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving," it has not specifically studied how music itself might distract drivers.

The NHTSA, however, did point out that in 2011 more than 390,000 Americans were involved in a crash with a distracted driver, and that the under-20 set is the age group with the largest proportion of distracted drivers.

More information

For more on distracted driving concerns, visit the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- New research finds that black women are less likely to get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer.

"The HPV vaccine is a first line of defense to protect against cervical cancer," senior study author Dr. Sonya Borrero, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a university news release. "Given that cervical cancer is more common and associated with higher mortality in African-American and Hispanic women than in white women, it is especially important to understand the barriers to HPV vaccination for these populations."

About 12,000 cases of cervical cancer connected to HPV are diagnosed in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two vaccines are now available, and are recommended for all teens and young women.

The researchers examined statistics from a 2006 to 2010 national survey of nearly 2,200 females aged 15 to 24. Although one-third of white females said they'd at least started taking the vaccine (which is given in three shots), only 18 percent of black women said they had. The disparity persisted, regardless of income or access to health care. In contrast, those factors played a significant role in whether Hispanics received the vaccine.

"Our findings in African-Americans suggest that there are other unmeasured patient- or provider-level factors contributing to under-vaccination, and that alternate strategies need to be identified to increase HPV vaccination among African-Americans," Borrero said. "Further efforts are needed to understand how to overcome the patient-, parent- and provider-level barriers that hamper widespread uptake for this effective and safe vaccine."

The study was published Aug. 27 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

More information

For more about HPV, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Randy Dotinga

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- In the same way that a little wine may be good for the heart, it might also help avoid depression, a Spanish study suggests.

So while drinking a lot of wine or other alcohol may be a sign of depression or other mental health problems, alcohol in moderation may benefit mental health, the study authors contend.

"One drink a day, preferentially wine, may help prevent depression," said lead researcher Dr. Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, chair of the department of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Navarra, in Pamplona.

But several mental health experts not involved with the study had reservations about the findings. And the research only found an association between moderate drinking and emotional well-being; it didn't prove cause-and-effect.

Martinez-Gonzalez said he thinks the apparent benefit of wine in preventing depression may work the same way that moderate drinking helps prevent heart disease.

"Depression and heart disease seem to share some common mechanisms because they share many similar protective factors and risk factors," he said. However, he added that depression prevention is not a reason to start drinking.

"If you are not a drinker, please don't start drinking," he said. "If you drink alcohol, please keep it in the range of one or less drinks a day and consider drinking wine instead of other alcoholic beverages."

The report was published Aug. 30 in the online journal BMC Medicine.

Tony Tang, an adjunct psychology professor at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., said the new research "is consistent with other studies suggesting modest health benefits of very modest drinking."

But, Tang said other factors may be at work in the potential connection between wine and depression. He noted that compared to nondrinkers, those in the Spanish study who drank a moderate amount of wine were more likely to be married men who were also physically active.

Being single or divorced, living alone and being sedentary "are well-established risk factors of depression. Thus, perhaps the correlation between modest drinking and depression is a coincidence caused by these other known factors," he said.

"An adequate social life is the most important factor we know that protects people from depression," Tang said. "Perhaps not drinking is a sign of serious social isolation in Spain while drinking a glass of wine a day is simply a sign of having a normal social life."

For the study, researchers followed more than 5,500 light-to-moderate drinkers for up to seven years. All the participants were part of a large Spanish study on nutrition and cardiovascular health, and were between 55 and 80 years old.

None of the individuals had suffered from depression or had alcohol-related problems at the start of the study. Over seven years, with medical exams, interviews with dietitians and questionnaires, the researchers kept tabs on participants' mental health and lifestyle.

Wine was the most popular drink and participants who drank two to seven glasses a week were the least likely to suffer from depression, compared to nondrinkers.

These findings remained significant even after the researchers took factors such as smoking, diet and marriage into account.

Eva Redei, a distinguished professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, in Chicago, also expressed doubts about the direct effect of wine on depression.

"Considering the increase of major depression in the age group examined in this study, the finding of protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption is intriguing," she said.

However, it raises more questions than answers. "Is moderate wine consumption related to increased socialization, decreased cardiovascular events, or as it seems, increased activity? These questions are not answered by this study, but the findings are definitely worth noticing," Redei said.

"Is it possible that 'in vino veritas' [in wine there's truth] reflects a bigger truth?" she asked.

More information

To find out more about depression, visit the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Today's popular music often celebrates excessive drinking as a fun, beneficial pastime, even highlighting select booze brands in many lyrics, a new study finds.

Hip-hop, rap, R&B and country songs included references to Patron tequila, Hennessy cognac, Grey Goose vodka, and Jack Daniel's whiskey, which is featured in half of the songs that mentioned alcohol, the study found. But rock songs had no alcohol references at all.

Music can have a particularly powerful influence, the researchers said, because American teens spend about two and a half hours each day listening to music.

"Given the heavy exposure of youth to popular music, these results suggest popular music may serve as a major source of promotion of alcohol use among youth," study co-author David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a university news release. The findings were published online this month in Substance Use & Misuse.

Overall, Jernigan's team found that when drinking is mentioned in a pop song, it is almost always done so in a positive light. The downside of excessive drinking -- alcoholism, violence, incarceration -- is rarely portrayed.

The study was based on an analysis of lyrics from hits on Billboard's most popular song list for 2009, 2010 and 2011. The researchers from Johns Hopkins and Boston University School of Public Health examined 720 songs for references to alcohol and alcohol brands.

Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the songs mentioned alcohol. Of these, 6.4 percent mentioned specific alcohol brands. Booze references were especially frequent in rap, hip-hop and R&B songs, with nearly 38 percent of those songs mentioning some form of alcohol.

About 22 percent of the country songs had alcohol references, as did about 15 percent of pop songs. Most often pop and country songs mentioned whiskey and beer brands.

The lyrics of those that did have alcohol references often tied excessive drinking to sex, the authors noted. For example, the hip-hop song "One More Drink" by Ludacris (with T-Pain) contains the lines: "Was taking shots and tipping the bartender/Surrender to the woman end up bringing me home/Cause she started looking better every shot of Patron."

Drinking to get drunk and underaged drinking was also encouraged. In the Asher Roth rap hit "I Love College," college freshmen (who are typically to young to drink legally) are urged to "Chug chug chug chug chug chug."

The researchers note that 14 long-term studies have found that exposing young people to alcohol marketing in mass media boosts the likelihood they will start drinking or increase their drinking.

What's more, "a small number of alcohol brands and beverages appear to make frequent appearances in popular music," Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University of Public Health, said in the news release.

However, the promotion of heavy drinking in pop music and elsewhere could have tragic, unforeseen consequences, the authors said, noting that there were at least 4,700 alcohol-related deaths involving underage young people in the United States each year.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more information on children and media.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Within three years of the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown that was triggered by a tsunami in Japan in March 2011, the radioactive ocean plume resulting from the disaster will reach the shores of the United States, researchers say.

However, according to the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, by the time the plume hits the west coast of the United States it is expected to be harmless.

"Observers on the west coast of the United States will be able to see a measurable increase in radioactive material three years after the event," Erik van Sebille, one of the paper's authors, said in a news release from the research council.

"However," he added, "people on those coastlines should not be concerned, as the concentration of radioactive material quickly drops below World Health Organization safety levels as soon as it leaves Japanese waters."

Within four months of the incident, two currents off the coast of Japan, known as the Kuroshio Current and the Kurushio Extension, diluted the radioactive material to levels considered safe by the WHO, the authors of the report said.

Although atmospheric radiation was detected on the west coast of the United States within days of the nuclear disaster, the researchers said radioactive particles in the ocean plume take much longer to travel. Using various ocean simulations to track the path of the radiation, scientists plotted where the radioactive particles would likely move through the Earth's oceans over the next decade.

The study authors added that eddies, giant whirlpools and other currents in the open ocean accelerate this dilution process and will ultimately disperse radioactive particles along the west coast.

"Although some uncertainties remain around the total amount released and the likely concentrations that would be observed, we have shown unambiguously that the contact with the north-west American coasts will not be identical everywhere," researcher Vincent Rossi said in the news release.

"Shelf waters north of 45 degrees north will experience higher concentrations during a shorter period, when compared to the Californian coast," Rossi said. "This late but prolonged exposure is due to the three-dimensional pathways of the plume. The plume will be forced down deeper into the ocean toward the subtropics before rising up again along the southern Californian shelf."

The research, published online Aug. 28 in Deep-Sea Research 1, predicts that most of the radioactive material from the disaster will remain in the North Pacific, and only a small amount will move south of the Equator within 10 years of the incident. Eventually, the researchers said, a harmless amount of the radiation will spread into other waters, including the Indian and South Pacific oceans.

"Australia and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere will see little if any radioactive material in their coastal waters and certainly not at levels to cause concern," van Sebille said.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides more information on Fukushima radiation monitoring.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- A new analysis finds that new mothers and obese people are at higher risk of complications from severe cases of the flu.

Both groups have not been previously recognized as vulnerable, the researchers said.

However, the global analysis, sponsored by the World Health Organization, also found that pregnant women aren't especially threatened by complications of influenza. For that reason, the researchers said, pregnant women don't need to get special priority for vaccinations.

"Policy makers and public-health organizations need to recognize the poor quality of evidence that has previously supported decisions on who receives vaccines during an epidemic," study author Dr. Dominik Mertz, an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, said in a university news release.

"If we can define the risk groups, we can optimally allocate vaccines, and that is particularly important when and if there is vaccine shortage -- say during a new pandemic," he said.

The researchers reached their conclusions after reviewing 239 studies conducted between 1918 and 2011. They examined complications of influenza, including hospital admission, pneumonia, assistance with breathing via respirator, and death.

"These data reinforce the need to carefully define those conditions that lead to complications following infection with influenza," study senior author Dr. Mark Loeb, a microbiologist and professor of medicine at McMaster University, said in the news release.

The study was published in the Aug. 23 issue of the journal BMJ.

More information

For more about influenza, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Randy Dotinga

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Men tend to feel worse about themselves when their wives or girlfriends succeed, with their self-esteem sagging rather than basking in the glory of their partners' accomplishments.

That's the conclusion of a study published online recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

A series of social experiments revealed that men's subconscious self-esteem bruises easily when their partner succeeds in a task, even if they're not competing against each other in that task, said study lead author Kate Ratliff.

"It makes sense that a man might feel threatened if his girlfriend outperforms him in something they're doing together, such as trying to lose weight," said Ratliff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida.

"But this research found evidence that men automatically interpret a partner's success as their own failure, even when they're not in direct competition," she added in a news release from the American Psychological Association.

At the same time, a male partner's success had no effect at all on a woman's self-esteem, the researchers found.

"We sort of expected that women would internalize the success of their partner and actually feel better if their partner succeeded, but we found that nothing was going on," Ratliff said. "It could be that women are used to the idea that men are expected to be successful, so when they are it's no big deal."

The study involved 896 people in five experiments conducted in the United States and the Netherlands.

The first experiment included 32 couples at the University of Virginia who took a problem-solving test. Then they were told that their partner scored either in the top or bottom 12 percent of all university students. Participants did not receive information about their own performance.

The news of their partners' success or failure did not affect how participants said they consciously felt about themselves, which the study authors referred to as "explicit self-esteem."

But, tests gauging "implicit self-esteem" -- a person's unconscious and unspoken sense of self -- found that men who believed that their partner had scored in the top 12 percent had significantly lower self-esteem than men who believed their partner had scored in the bottom 12 percent.

"I want to be clear -- this really isn't the case that men are saying, 'I'm so upset my partner did well.' The men aren't acting different toward their partners. It's not like the men are being jerks," Ratliff said. "It's just hurting their sense of self to be in a relationship with someone who has experienced a success."

These findings were replicated in a pair of follow-up studies done in the Netherlands, a country that boasts one of the smallest gender gaps in labor, education and politics. Like American men, Dutch men outwardly said they felt fine, but subconsciously they felt worse about themselves when faced with a wife's or girlfriend's success.

The final two experiments were conducted online and involved 657 people from the United States.

Some were asked to think about different types of success -- for example, their partner's social success as a charming host or their partner's intellectual success at solving math problems. Others were asked to specifically consider a time when their partner succeeded or failed at something at which they themselves had succeeded or failed.

Regardless of whether the achievements were social or intellectual, men subconsciously still felt worse about themselves when their partner succeeded, rather than failed.

However, men's implicit self-esteem took a bigger hit when they thought about a time when their partner had succeeded at something while they had failed.

Ratliff speculated that these results could be tied to men's competitive urges, which previous studies have shown tend to burn much hotter than those of women.

The results also might reflect the gender roles that society reinforces on a daily basis. "We have these ideas that men should be smart and successful, and when it turns out that women are experiencing some kind of success, it violates men's idea of what it should be to be a man or a woman," she said.

Martin Ford, a professor of education at the George Mason University College of Education and Human Development, called the findings "fascinating and somewhat disconcerting."

"Many of us have known men who seem to want to turn everything into a competition, so it is not hard to imagine that this evolved motivational tendency might be rather widespread among males at some level, even if it is not so dramatic and often outside awareness," Ford said. "Yet it is unclear from this study if the inclination to frame social comparison information in terms of 'winners and losers' is unique to one's romantic partner. Would the same tendency apply to male buddies? Or work acquaintances? Or total strangers?

"But perhaps that is the point," he added. "If seeing things in competitive terms is such a powerful motivational orientation for some men that they can't get past that even with a romantic partner, how are they going to sustain relationships based on principles of equity and concern for others' welfare?"

More information

To learn more about differences between men and women, visit the American Psychological Association.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- It's no secret that fruit is good for you. But what kind? A new study links whole fruits -- especially blueberries, grapes and apples -- to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, but suggests that fruit juices may actually raise the risk.

The design of the study, however, doesn't allow it to prove that whole fruits or fruit juices directly affect the risk of diabetes.

"While fruits are recommended as a measure for diabetes prevention, previous studies have found mixed results for total fruit consumption," senior author Qi Sun, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a school news release. "Our findings provide novel evidence suggesting that certain fruits may be especially beneficial for lowering diabetes risk."

The researchers base their findings on an analysis of nearly 190,000 people who took part in three studies from 1984 to 2008 and weren't initially diagnosed with diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer. About 7 percent of the participants were later diagnosed with diabetes.

People who ate fruits, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, at least twice a week were up to 23 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate them no more than once a month, the researchers found. But those who drank a serving or more of fruit juice a day had an increased risk, up to 21 percent higher than the others.

What's going on? It's possible that something other than fruit and fruit juice consumption could explain the differences. Perhaps people who eat certain fruits share something else in common that affects their risk of diabetes.

"Our data further endorse current recommendations on increasing whole fruits, but not fruit juice, as a measure for diabetes prevention," lead study author Isao Muraki, a research fellow with the Harvard School of Public Health department of nutrition, said in the news release. "And our novel findings may help refine this recommendation to facilitate diabetes prevention."

The study appeared online in the Aug. 29 issue of the journal BMJ.

More information

For more about diabetes, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

-- Randy Dotinga

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- A quick switch to mellow music in the car may make you a safer driver, researchers say.

Promptly changing to soothing music is the most effective way to calm down while driving in stressful conditions that could trigger road rage, found the study published in the Aug. 30 issue of the journal Ergonomics.

It was already known that music can influence mood and driving styles. More accidents occur when drivers listen to "upbeat" music, possibly because the music is more distracting or because it causes drivers to go faster. Downbeat music is more relaxing and associated with safer driving.

However, there were questions about whether a quick or gradual switch from upbeat to downbeat music was most effective in changing drivers' moods. To get answers, researchers had volunteers tackle demanding driving conditions in a simulator while they listened to different types of music.

Participants who switched to more mellow music abruptly or gradually both reached the same levels of calmness eventually. However, those who made the switch quickly became calm sooner and made fewer driving mistakes, according to a journal news release.

The results show that "during high-demand driving, abrupt changes in music led to more physiological calmness and improved driving performance and were thus safer and more effective," concluded researcher Marjolein van der Zwaag, of Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven, and colleagues in the Netherlands and at Stanford University in California.

The investigators said their findings could also apply to office or hospital settings to encourage or relax listeners.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development outlines solutions to risky driving.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 30, 2013

By on

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Actress Valerie Harper's Brain Cancer Is Close to Remission, Doctor Says

A doctor treating Valerie Harper said the actress' brain tumor is close to remission.

Harper, 74, announced in March that she had an incurable form of brain cancer and had only a few months to live, the Associated Press reported. However, speaking to NBC's "Today" show on Thursday, her physician, Dr. Jeremy Rudnick, said that the star of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Rhoda" has beaten the odds. He stressed, however, that Harper's prognosis could change at any time.

Harper continues to work and has been hired for a TV movie that filmed in August, the AP said.

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Tylenol to Come With New Warning

Caps on bottles of the popular pain reliever Tylenol that are sold in the United States will soon come with warnings alerting consumers to the potential for liver failure and even death, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The warning will state that Tylenol's active ingredient is acetaminophen, the nation's leading cause of sudden liver failure. The new cap is designed to alert consumers who may not read similar warnings that already appear in small print on the product's label, the AP said.

In addition to Tylenol, acetaminophen is contained in more than 600 over-the-counter products used by nearly one in four American adults every week. Those other products include such popular brands as Nyquil cold formula, Excedrin pain tablets and Sudafed sinus pills, the AP reported.

Tylenol's maker, Johnson & Johnson, said the warning will appear on the cap of each new bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol sold in the United States starting in October, and on most other Tylenol bottles in coming months, the news service said.

Overdoses from acetaminophen send an estimated 55,000 to 80,000 people to U.S. emergency rooms every year and kill at least 500 people, according to the federal health officials.

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NFL, Former Players Agree to Settle Concussion Lawsuit

The National Football League has agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 former players with dementia and other health problems. The recipients will also include families of ex-players who died from what the families claimed were the effects of head injuries, The New York Times reported Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said Thursday that she was told by Layn Phillips, a court-appointed mediator, that the money would be used for medical exams, concussion-related compensation and medical research for retired players and their families, the Times reported.

Brody still must approve the settlement, which has yet to be filed.

The Times said the money, which may not be dispersed for months, will be available to all eligible retired players, not just those who filed the lawsuit. The players will have an opportunity to opt out of the deal.

The plaintiffs include Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon and the family of Pro Bowler Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year.

Individual awards would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer's disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain; and $3 million for players with dementia, The Associated Press reported.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: If Your Child Has Diabetes

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(HealthDay News) -- Children with diabetes should be able to participate in field trips and after-school activities, as long as parents take precautions to help keep them safe.

The American Diabetes Association offers these suggestions for out-of-school activities:

  • Pack the child's diabetes supplies in a safe, but always accessible, place.
  • Arrange with the school to have a trained staff member available at all times to help your child in the event of a problem.
  • Consult the child's doctor for any needed insulin-dosage adjustments.
  • Make arrangements with your child's teacher to make sure that water, snacks and restroom access are available.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: At Risk for Alzheimer's?

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(HealthDay News) -- Researchers believe they've identified at least some of the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. While there are some factors that you have no control over, you may be able to influence some potential triggers.

The Alzheimer's Association offers this list of examples:

  • Head trauma -- Serious head injuries are thought to predispose some people to Alzheimer's. You can help prevent head injuries by always wearing your seat belt in a car, wearing a bike helmet or sports helmet, and by safeguarding your home against falls.
  • Heat health -- There's growing evidence that the health of your heart is linked to the health of your brain. With the help of your doctor, be sure to monitor your heart health and treat any problems that surface.
  • Age healthy -- Get enough exercise, skip junk food in favor of lots of fruits and vegetables, and be sure to lose any excess weight.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Unlike fast-food advertisements geared toward adults, which feature burgers and fries, those targeting children focus more on free toys, movie tie-ins and other giveaways, according to a new study.

In light of their findings, researchers called for more regulation of fast-food marketing to children.

"Given health concerns about obesity and its relation to fast-food consumption, enhanced oversight of fast-food marketing to children at the local, state and federal level is needed to align advertising to children with health promotion efforts and existing principles of honest and fair marketing to children," the study's authors wrote.

The study, led by Dr. James Sargent, a professor of pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, involved fast-food ads appearing on children's television networks, such Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. These ads were compared to fast-food marketing campaigns geared toward adults.

The study, published Aug. 28 in the journal PLoS One, revealed that the advertisements aimed at children featured food packaging, movie tie-ins and exterior shots of the fast-food restaurants. Almost 70 percent of the kids' ads also included free toys or other giveaways.

In contrast, the campaigns targeting adults focused on the taste, cost and portion size of the foods available at the restaurant. The researchers noted that only 1 percent of the adult ads included a giveaway.

"Fast-food companies use free toys and popular movies to appeal to kids, and their ads are much more focused on promotions, brands and logos -- not on the food," Sargent said in a news release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the study.

"These are techniques that the companies' own self-regulatory body calls potentially misleading," Sargent said.

The researchers noted that previous studies have shown that associating fast food with cartoon characters can influence children's perceptions about how food tastes and also increase their consumption. The Better Business Bureau has also stated that children's ads should feature food that has met certain nutritional criteria.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on child nutrition.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- A simple urine test may be able to identify type 2 diabetes patients at increased risk for mental decline, according to a new study.

This study of nearly 3,000 type 2 diabetes patients, average age 62, found that those who had persistent protein in their urine over four to five years had greater declines in their brain's information-processing speed than those with no protein in their urine. The decline in patients with persistent protein in the urine was greater than 5 percent.

The findings suggest that protein in the urine -- a condition called albuminuria -- may be an early warning sign of future mental decline, according to the study, which was published online Aug. 29 in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

"Our finding was a subtle change in cognition," Dr. Joshua Barzilay, of Kaiser Permanente of Georgia and the Emory School of Medicine, said in a journal news release. "However, were this decline to continue over 10 to 15 years it could translate into noticeable cognitive decline by the age of 75 to 80, when [mental] impairment generally becomes clinically evident."

People with diabetes are 50 percent to 60 percent more likely to suffer mental decline than those without diabetes, according to the news release.

"Given how common albuminuria and diabetes are in the older population, these findings have a great deal of importance from a population point of view," Barzilay said. "Moreover, albuminuria is also common among older people with hypertension without diabetes."

Although the study linked protein in the urine with a sign of mental decline in older adults with type 2 diabetes, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians outlines ways to look after your brain.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Not enough teens are getting the vaccine that protects against the human papillomavirus (HPV), and doctors' reluctance to recommend it may be part of the reason why, U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

Although the tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccination rate has risen to 84.6 percent of teens, only 20.8 percent of boys and 53.8 percent of girls have had a least one dose of the HPV vaccine, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We have continued to have increases in coverage for 14- to 17-year-olds for the Tdap vaccine and there is still progress on the meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) vaccine, but our coverage is not moving forward with the HPV vaccine for girls, and coverage is low for the HPV vaccine for boys," said Dr. Melinda Wharton, deputy director of the CDC's National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.

The reason HPV vaccination among girls is lagging is because doctors aren't routinely recommending it when they give Tdap and MenACWY vaccinations, Wharton said.

"Although providers are very good about conveying the need for Tdap and MenACWY, they are less strong in making a recommendation for the HPV vaccine," Wharton said. "This could be because they are anticipating parental concerns."

The CDC now recommends that every boy and girl aged 11 to 12 get the HPV vaccine, which is given in three shots. The vaccine is both safe and effective, and prevents up to 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of vaginal warts.

In addition, the vaccine protects against some cancers of the head and neck, according to the CDC.

Some people worry that getting the HPV vaccine will make girls more sexually active. "But we need to protect them, because if we don't we are leaving them unnecessarily vulnerable to serious and deadly diseases that could be prevented, and we just can't do that, " Wharton said.

Wharton said HPV vaccination is a regular part of the vaccine schedule and should not be treated as anything special or different.

The fact that HPV is sexually transmitted shouldn't be a concern, she said. "The fact of the matter is this vaccine prevents cancers," she said.

"We don't have to get into a conversation about how pertussis is transmitted," she said. "We say what the vaccine is for and we make a recommendation, and if people have questions they can ask those questions. It is not necessary to get into long discussions about questions that people haven't even asked."

The report was published in the Aug. 30 edition of the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Dr. Jennifer Wu, an ob/gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that "some parents see HPV as a sexually transmitted disease and they are worried that it will encourage sexual activity, but I don't think most children are looking at HPV that way."

Another barrier to getting the HPV vaccine is the cost. "It's very expensive," Wu said. "But the cost of treating cervical cancer and genital warts can also be very expensive."

According to the American Cancer Society, the vaccine can cost about $130 per dose. When doctor's fees are added, the three shots could cost $500 or more. The vaccine, however, is covered by most health insurance plans and government programs.

The MenACWY vaccine also is important, the researchers added. It protects against meningococcal disease. Although not common, 16- to 21-year-olds have the highest rates of the bacterial infection, according to the CDC.

Meningococcal bacteria can lead to severe diseases, including meningitis and sepsis, resulting in permanent disabilities such as amputations, brain damage, hearing loss and blindness. The disease can even be fatal.

According to the report, the Tdap vaccination rate for teens increased from 78.2 percent in 2011 to 84.6 percent in 2012, while the MenACWY vaccination rate increased from 70.5 percent in 2011 to 74 percent in 2012.

For boys, the HPV vaccination rate went from 8.3 percent in 2011 to 20.8 percent in 2012; the recommendation for vaccinating boys is new, so coverage is expected to be low at first.

At 53.8 percent, the HPV vaccination rate among girls in 2012 was the same as it was in 2011. Moreover, only one-third of those girls received all three doses of the vaccine, according to the report.

Vaccination rates also varied by state. The National Healthy People 2020 targets for teens were met or exceeded in 36 states for Tdap and in 12 states for meningococcal vaccination, but no state met the HPV vaccination target set for girls, the researchers said.

More information

For more on the HPV vaccine, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- How much you like Facebook may be connected to how a certain part of your mind works.

Using MRI scans, German researchers found that activity in the nucleus accumbens -- the reward center of the brain -- was higher after receiving positive social feedback among those who were avid users of the social media site.

"As human beings, we evolved to care about our reputation. In today's world, one way we're able to manage our reputation is by using social media websites like Facebook," wrote study author Dar Meshi, a postdoctoral researcher at Freie University in Berlin. "Our study reveals that the processing of social gains in reputation in the left nucleus accumbens predicts the intensity of Facebook use across individuals. These findings expand upon our present knowledge of nucleus accumbens function as it relates to complex human behavior."

The study, published in the current issue of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, involved 31 people. The participants were asked about their Facebook use, including how many Facebook friends they had and how much time they spent on the social media site each week. Facebook use varied dramatically among members of the group, the researchers said.

Although their brains were scanned, the volunteers also underwent a video interview. They were told how highly people viewed them, and also saw what people thought about another volunteer. The group also performed a card task to win money.

The study showed that those who received positive feedback had stronger activation of the nucleus accumbens than when they saw another person receive positive feedback. How big this difference was corresponded to the intensity of that person's Facebook use. The researchers pointed out that the card task to win money did not predict use of the social media site.

"Our findings relating individual social media use to the individual response of the brain's reward system may also be relevant for both educational and clinical research in the future," the study authors wrote in a journal news release.

They added, however, that their findings do not determine if positive feedback on social media sites drives people to these sites or if long-term use of these sites alters how the brain processes this feedback.

More information

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides more information on the human brain and how it works.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Despite recent gains against substance abuse by American teens, hundreds of thousands of them use marijuana and alcohol on a given day, U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

On a typical day, an estimated 881,684 kids aged 12 to 17 smoke cigarettes, 646,707 use marijuana and 457,672 drink alcohol, according to a report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The number of teens smoking pot on a given day could almost fill the 250,000-seat Indianapolis Speedway two and a half times, the report pointed out.

"This data about adolescents sheds new light on how deeply substance use pervades the lives of many young people and their families," SAMHSA administrator Pamela Hyde said in an agency news release. "While other studies indicate that significant progress has been made in lowering the levels of some forms of substance use among adolescents in the past decade, this report shows that far too many young people are still at risk."

The report also said that on an average day:

  • 7,639 kids aged 12 to 17 drink alcohol for the first time,
  • 4,594 use an illicit drug for the first time,
  • 4,000 use marijuana for the first time,
  • 3,701 smoke cigarettes for the first time,
  • 2,151 misuse prescription pain relievers for the first time.

The report also provided numbers on how many 12- to 17-year-olds receive treatment for a substance abuse problem in a typical day:

  • More than 71,000 get outpatient treatment,
  • More than 9,300 receive nonhospital residential treatment,
  • An estimated 1,258 receive inpatient treatment at a hospital.

More information

For more on teens and substance abuse, visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

-- HealthDay staff

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Poverty May Tax Thinking Skills

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THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- People living in poverty may face more than a shortage of money: A new study suggests it might also drain brain power.

A team of international researchers found that poverty and its related concerns consume so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining thinking skills to devote to decision-making, leaving them more apt to make mistakes that both trigger and perpetuate financial woes.

"The human cognitive system is limited. When you don't have enough resources -- money, time and other ways to deal with problems -- there's a trade-off in thinking," said study co-author Jiaying Zhao, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "What we're arguing is that these poverty-related concerns consume mental resources and affect problem-solving skills ... and, as a result, the poor have fewer mental resources for other problems."

The study was published Aug. 29 in the journal Science.

About 20 percent of the global population faces poverty, and about 15 percent of Americans fit the classification in 2010, according to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. Prior research linked poverty and counterproductive behavior, such as poor financial management, but the new study is the first to suggest that poverty actually causes diminished mental function.

Zhao and her colleagues performed a series of experiments on two continents, finding that people preoccupied with money problems demonstrated a drop in mental function equivalent to a 13-point loss in IQ. The study authors said the results help explain why the poor often are seen as less capable at certain tasks.

The first set of experiments involved about 400 people in a New Jersey mall who had an average annual income of about $70,000, with the lowest income level at about $20,000. Participants were asked to ponder how they would solve financial problems such as a sudden car repair, being randomly assigned to a scenario in which the cost was low or high -- such as a $150 repair or a $1,500 repair.

Split into "poor" and "rich" groups based on income, the study indicated that the poor and rich performed equally well on cognitive tests when the scenarios were "easy," as in the $150 car repair. But when they pondered the "hard" scenario of the $1,500 car repair, those at the lower end of the income scale performed significantly worse on fluid intelligence and cognition tests, while rich participants performed just as well with the more difficult decision.

The second set of experiments involved about 500 sugarcane farmers in India who rely on the annual harvest for at least 60 percent of their income, finding themselves poor before the harvest and rich after it. Given the same thinking tests before and after the harvest, the farmers performed better on both tests after the harvest compared to pre-harvest.

The study authors ruled out stress as the cause of poor participants' cognitive diminishment, noting that stress often can prompt better mental performance. Rather, they said, the brain drain -- which is reversible -- occurs because poverty-related concerns simply consume mental abilities, leaving less capacity for other tasks.

"The idea is that people only have a certain amount of energy toward making decisions ... and overcoming temptations," said Kathleen Vohs, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota. Vohs wrote a commentary that accompanies the new study.

"It makes perfect sense," Vohs said. "Those facing poverty are constantly having to battle temptations and make choices."

Although the study found an association between poverty and reduced thinking skills, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Zhao, who took part in the research while studying for her doctoral degree at Princeton University, said policy makers can use the findings to help poor people use social programs such as Medicare and food stamps more effectively.

"Having to fill out long forms, prepare for a long interview or decipher the rules of a program all consume cognitive resources, and these are resources the poor don't have," she said, noting that forms should be simplified and reminders offered to boost recipients' mental resources. "Reducing the 'cognitive taxes' of the poor is one immediate implication for public policy."

More information

The University of Michigan's National Poverty Center offers more facts about poverty.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- It might be a good idea to back off a bit when dealing with people who suffer from anxiety, according to a new study, because the disorder seems to affect the need for more personal space surrounding the body, also called "peripersonal space."

British researchers found that people with anxiety perceive threats as closer, compared with those who are not anxious. They said their findings could be used to link defensive behavior to levels of anxiety, particularly among those with risky jobs, such as firefighters and police officers.

In conducting the study, Dr. Chiara Sambo and Dr. Giandomenico Iannetti, from University College London, recruited 15 people ranging in age from 20 to 37 and gave them a test to rate their level of anxiety in certain situations.

In addition, the researchers applied an electrical stimulus to a nerve in each participants' hand, which caused them to blink. This hand-blink reflex, which is not controlled by the brain, was monitored as the participants held their hand at four different distances from their face: ranging from about 2 inches to nearly 2 feet. By measuring the strength of their reflex, the investigators determined how dangerous the participants viewed each stimulus.

The study, published in the Aug. 27 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, revealed that those who scored higher on the anxiety test reacted more dramatically to stimuli about 8 inches from their face compared with those who had lower anxiety scores. People who reacted strongly to the stimuli farther away were classified as having a large "defensive peripersonal space," the study authors said.

Anxious people viewed threats as closer than those who were not anxious -- even if the perceived threats actually were the same distance away, the researchers said. Although the brain does not trigger defensive reactions, the study authors said, it could control their intensity.

"This finding is the first objective measure of the size of the area surrounding the face that each individual considers at high risk, and thus wants to protect through the most effective defensive motor responses," Iannetti said in a university news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about anxiety disorders.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Children are natural explorers and imitators. But, they don't have the capacity to understand the potential danger in some activities. That helps explain why among 2-year-olds, one of every 180 ends up in the emergency room due to medication poisoning every year.

For most children, the outcomes are good. They're treated, and they suffer no lasting damage. But, some drugs can be deadly with only a single dose -- including a medication prescribed to help adults combat drug addiction.

Buprenorphine is used alone (brand name Subutex) or in combination with another drug called naloxone (brand name Suboxone) to ease the symptoms of withdrawal in people trying to beat addictions to heroin, certain prescription painkillers or other opioid drugs. One dose of this medication can be fatal to a small child.

Each year, nearly 1,500 children under 6 years old are treated in U.S. emergency departments as a result of accidental ingestion of buprenorphine. A new study examines 2,380 of these cases from October 2009 to March 2012.

"These were small children, so it was unintentional ingestion, and we were interested to find out what happened to these kids after the ingestion, and what led to this exposure in the first place," explained Dr. Eric Lavonas, lead study author and associate director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver.

"Most of the children did well. About 500 had to go to the intensive care unit, and tragically, four children died," Lavonas said.

Results of the study were released online Aug. 29 in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The average age of the children was 2 years. Symptoms included lethargy, small pupils, trouble breathing and vomiting.

Lavonas and his colleagues found that most of the accidental exposure to buprenorphine occurred in the home. However, about 6 percent of the cases occurred in other places.

The most common places that children found the medications were in wallets, purses, couches, cars, parents' pockets, floors, hotel rooms, cups, cigarette packages, eyeglass cases, cellophane, tissue paper, breath mint containers and trash cans, according to the study.

At the time of the accidental ingestion, parents were usually the ones taking care of their children. But in 117 cases, a grandparent, babysitter or other caregiver was watching the child.

The medication comes in either tablet form or as a film strip. Tablets were far more likely to be the source of accidental ingestions -- 95 percent of the cases involved tablets. Lavonas said this is likely because the film strips are packaged individually in foil wrappers, which adds an additional layer of protection.

Often, medication was stored within the sight of the child. In at least 110 of the cases, a child accessed the medication from a bag or purse. And, 75 of the children were able to access the medication because it wasn't stored in its original childproof container.

One expert explained why medication gets shifted to unsafe storage areas.

"It's not uncommon for people to load up a week's worth of medication in a purse or desk drawer. It's easier to get to and remember," said Dr. Michael Hobaugh, president of the medical staff at LaRabida Children's Hospital in Chicago.

"But, if you're taking buprenorphine, you need to remember that you have a very dangerous medicine in your possession. You may be on it for weeks or months, and it will become part of your routine to have it around, and it's that sense of routine that leads to a lack of caution. This is not the type of medicine you can drop on the floor and give up if you can't find it. You have to find it or your child might," he cautioned.

Study author Lavonas said that other commonly used medications, such as high blood pressure medications, some diabetes drugs, strong painkillers, some medications used for arthritis and some drugs for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, can potentially be fatal to a small child with just a single dose.

He'd like to see a change in the way these types of medications are packaged. "For medications where one dose can be life-threatening to a child, the default packaging should be single-dose child-resistant packaging," Lavonas said. "Though, of course, there need to be provisions for older people with arthritis. But, right now, we're not doing everything we can to prevent exposure to medications where one dose can kill."

Both experts recommended leaving medications in their original child-resistant containers, and storing them up and out of sight of children. Lavonas also recommended checking the floors when you visit someone who takes medications, or even when staying in a hotel. He said it's easy for someone to drop a pill, especially small ones, and not even realize it. But, a small child who's crawling around on the floor might find it.

More information

Learn more about keeping your children safe from accidental medication poisonings from the Up and Away campaign.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- A new medication appears to be highly effective in combating a heredity-based form of the organ-damaging genetic disorder known as amyloidosis, according to researchers.

Amyloidosis refers to a family of more than a dozen diseases in which different types of abnormal proteins called amyloids lodge in major organs and nerves. These amyloids build up to the point that they cause damage and, ultimately, organ failure.

The new therapy caused a marked decline in blood-borne levels of an amyloid protein called transthyretin, or TTR, in 32 patients suffering from amyloidosis during one of the two Phase I drug trials, said the study's co-author, Dr. Akshay Vaishnaw, chief medical officer for Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, which developed the medication and funded the trials.

"We can dramatically reduce the levels of TTR protein," Vaishnaw said. "In fact, we can reduce them by 94 percent. One shot a month will produce this reduction."

The study findings are published in the Aug. 29 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Amyloidosis is a very rare disease. Between 1,500 and 2,500 Americans a year are diagnosed with AL amyloidosis, the disorder's most common form, according to Harvard Medical School. Heredity-based forms of amyloidosis, most of which are related to transthyretin, are even rarer.

People suffering from TTR amyloidosis eventually become wheelchair-bound as the buildup of abnormal proteins along the nerves causes painful neuropathy in their arms and legs, Vaishnaw said. Transthyretin amyloids also lodge in the heart, causing heart disease that can lead to irregular heartbeat and heart failure.

Nearly all transthyretin amyloids are produced by the liver and, up to now, liver transplant has been the only effective treatment for TTR amyloidosis, Vaishnaw said.

The new medication -- tested in the trials in two versions, called ALN-TTR01 and ALN-TTR02 -- is delivered via an intravenous infusion and works by inhibiting the genetic process that prompts the creation of transthyretin. Blocking transthyretin production in the liver causes blood levels of the amyloid to drop.

The drug produced no major side effects in the patients tested, Vaishnaw said, noting that one patient did suffer an infusion reaction unrelated to the drug.

"This is a very exciting report, but it's also a very early report," said Dr. Raymond Comenzo, director of the Blood Bank and Stem Cell Processing Laboratory at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. "There was clear-cut evidence of safety and of effectiveness in reducing circulating levels of transthyretin."

However, more research will need to be done to show that the drug not only reduces TTR amyloid levels but also helps improve amyloidosis symptoms in patients, Comenzo added.

"One has to wonder what the road ahead is, how will the clinical development process work its way out," Comenzo said. "The [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] is going to want to see a benefit that's measured in terms more than just levels of circulating TTR."

For example, he added, regulators will want to see a reduction in organ damage or an overall improvement in survival rates.

Vaishnaw said he expects to be able to show those kinds of results, given that previous studies have shown that amyloid deposits will begin flushing from a person's organs if the levels of amyloid in the bloodstream decrease dramatically.

"It's allowing the organs to clear the deposits that are already there," Vaishnaw said. "We're hoping that over time we'll allow clearing of the existing deposits, which has been seen in other amyloidosis disorders."

However, it will likely be years before the medication passes through drug trials and receives FDA approval, he added.

More information

For more on amyloidosis, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- By suppressing a gene involved in metabolism and energy balance, researchers extended the average lifespan of a group of mice by about 20 percent -- thought to be one of the longest lifespan increases ever observed in mice.

This is the equivalent of extending the average human lifespan by 16 years, from 79 to 95 years old, the U.S. National Institutes of Health researchers said.

Although the study also revealed that this gene, known as mTOR, does not affect every tissue and organ the same way, the researchers said their findings could help scientists develop new therapies for aging-related diseases -- such as Alzheimer's -- that target specific organs.

Scientists note, however, that research conducted in animals often fails to provide similar results in humans.

"While the high extension in lifespan is noteworthy, this study reinforces an important facet of aging: It is not uniform," lead researcher Dr. Toren Finkel, of the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, said in an institute news release. "Rather, similar to circadian rhythms, an animal might have several organ-specific aging clocks that generally work together to govern the aging of the whole organism."

In conducting the study, the researchers engineered mice that produce only the minimum amount of mTOR needed for survival. With about 25 percent of the normal amount of this protein, the engineered mice were smaller than average but otherwise normal.

The study, published Aug. 29 in the journal Cell Reports, found that the average lifespan was 28 months for engineered male mice and 31.5 months for female mice. In contrast, the normal male mice had an average lifespan of 22.9 months, and the normal female mice had an average lifespan of 26.5 months.

Seven of the eight mice that lived the longest lives were engineered mice, the researchers found. Although the engineered mice aged better overall, the researchers pointed out that improvement was seen only in specific organs.

For example, the engineered mice retained better memory and coordination as they aged, but their bones deteriorated more quickly than normal. In addition to more bone loss, the engineered mice also were more vulnerable to infection. The researchers said this could signal a compromised immune system.

They added that more research is needed to determine how aging in different tissues is linked on the molecular level.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about longevity.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 29, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

NFL, Former Players Agree to Settle Concussion Lawsuit

The National Football League has agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 former players with dementia and other health problems. The recipients will also include families of ex-players who died from what the families claimed were the effects of head injuries, The New York Times reported Thursday.

U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said Thursday that she was told by Layn Phillips, a court-appointed mediator, that the money would be used for medical exams, concussion-related compensation and medical research for retired players and their families, the Times reported.

Brody still must approve the settlement, which has yet to be filed.

The Times said the money, which may not be dispersed for months, will be available to all eligible retired players, not just those who filed the lawsuit. The players will have an opportunity to opt out of the deal.

The plaintiffs include Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon and the family of Pro Bowler Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year.

Individual awards would be capped at $5 million for men with Alzheimer's disease; $4 million for those diagnosed after their deaths with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain; and $3 million for players with dementia, The Associated Press reported.

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Gay Couples Under Medicare Should Have Equal Access to Same Nursing Home, HHS Says

In what U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius calls her department's first response to the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian Medicare recipients will now have equal coverage for and access to the nursing home where their spouse already resides.

"Today, Medicare is ensuring that all beneficiaries will have equal access to coverage in a nursing home where their spouse lives, regardless of their sexual orientation," Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in an agency news release.

"Prior to this, a beneficiary in a same-sex marriage enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan did not have equal access to such coverage and, as a result, could have faced time away from his or her spouse or higher costs because of the way that marriage was defined for this purpose," Tavenner explained.

In the past, a senior covered by Medicare Advantage who had a same-sex spouse often had to face difficult choices when it came time for nursing home care. According to the HHS news release, some may have had to accept care at a separate nursing home facility from where their loved one was receiving care. Or, if they wanted to reside at the same facility, they might have to drop out of Medicare and pay the cost out-of-pocket.

"HHS is working swiftly to implement the Supreme Court's decision and maximize federal recognition of same-sex spouses in HHS programs," Sebelius said. "Today's announcement is the first of many steps that we will be taking over the coming months to clarify the effects of the Supreme Court's decision and to ensure that gay and lesbian married couples are treated equally under the law."

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Men Just as Likely to Suffer Depression as Women: Study

A new study counters the common wisdom that women are more likely to experience depression compared to men. The research finds that when differences in symptoms are factored in, males may suffer from depression even more often than females.

Reporting in the Aug. 28 issue of JAMA Psychiatry, a team from the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University tested the usefulness of a symptom "checklist" tailored to both men and women. On top of established symptoms of depression such as sadness, insomnia and feelings of guilt or unworthiness, the team added symptoms more typically seen in men, such as outbursts of anger, substance abuse and "risk-taking behavior."

They used the new diagnostic criteria to assess rates of depression in nearly 5,700 adults who had taken part in a long-term study of mental health.

The researchers found that 30.6 percent of men and 33.3 percent of women had experienced depression at some point in their lives, the Los Angeles Times reported. The researchers then assessed people using the "male symptoms scale" and found that the number of depressed men exceeded that of women, at 26.3 percent and 21.9 percent, respectively.

"These findings could lead to important changes in the way depression is conceptualized and measured," the study authors said.

"When it comes to depression in men, to some extent we have blinders on," Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a psychiatrist who studies depression at UCLA, told the Times. "We have not been asking about and taking into account a range of symptoms that may be gender-specific."

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- About 4 percent of American adults -- more than 8.5 million people -- have used a prescription sleep aid in the past month, and the use increases with age, U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

In addition, more women (5 percent) than men (3.1 percent) over the age of 20 take these drugs, and those with higher education levels are more likely to use them, the researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

"This is the first time we have a national estimate on how many people are taking prescription medications for sleep," said report coauthor Yinong Chong, an epidemiologist at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

In the past 20 years, there has been reports of an increased number of prescriptions for sleep aids in the United States. But, Chong said, the use of such drugs has remained stable in the past decade, rising about only 1 percent between 1999 to 2010.

The drugs included in the research were: butabarbital (brand name Butabarb), chloral hydrate (Aquachloral), estazolam (Eurodin), eszopiclone (Lunesta), flurazepam (Dalmane), quazepam (Doral), ramelteon (Rozerem), temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion), zaleplon (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien).

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005 to 2010, the CDC researchers found that self-reported use of the sleep aids was lowest among the youngest age group (those between 20 and 39 years old) at about 2 percent, but it increased to 6 percent among those aged 50 to 59 and reached 7 percent among those 80 and older.

Dr. Jordan Josephson, a nasal and endoscopic sinus surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said he was not surprised by the numbers because "sleep disorders have been estimated to affect 50 million to 70 million Americans."

"More accurate diagnosis and better education has led more people to seek treatment for these disorders, which affect them in every aspect of their lives," Josephson said.

For example, snoring and sleep apnea are the No. 1 medical cause of relationship breakups and divorce, Josephson said. Insomnia leads to fatigue, which leads to poor performance at work and school, as well as motor vehicle accidents and injuries while using heavy machinery, he added.

"For those people who suffer from fatigue and/or daytime somnolence -- being tired and feeling sleepy -- it is important for them to seek treatment from a board-certified sleep specialist," he said. "With proper diagnosis and treatment, these patients will have an improved quality of life."

Sleep-aid drugs have, however, become a new focus for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over concerns that they may impact people's ability to drive the next morning. New evidence appears to confirm what many people have long suspected: that the effects of sleep drugs can persist well into the next day.

Last month, the FDA rejected an application for suvorexant, a new sleep drug from Merck, in part because tests showed that some people had difficulty driving the day after taking the drug.

The FDA said it was taking a closer look at all sleep medicines on the market and will ask manufacturers to conduct more extensive driving tests for all new sleep drugs.

For many people, insomnia may be tied to other chronic conditions that also need to be treated, another expert said.

Sleep medications are only part of the story, said Dr. Alon Avidan, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Many patients with insomnia also suffer from other problems, such as depression, chronic pain and mental disorders, he added.

"We should be looking at insomnia as not just managing the insomnia itself, but also treating the underlying disease," he said.

"But treating the underlying condition doesn't mean the insomnia will go away," he said. "What we generally do is we treat the insomnia separately from ... the underlying condition. When we treat both conditions, the end result is much better than addressing one symptom alone."

Other highlights of the report included:

  • Whites (4.7 percent) were more likely to use sleep aids than blacks (2.5 percent) or Mexican-Americans (2 percent).
  • People who used sleep aids the most were those who slept less than five hours (6 percent) and those who slept at least nine (5.3 percent). The researchers used the National Sleep Foundation's suggested guideline of seven hours of sleep as the minimum amount adults need for optimal performance.
  • One in six adults diagnosed with a sleep disorder and one in eight with trouble sleeping said they use sleep aids.

More information

For more information on insomnia, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

New Clues to Causes of Autism Found

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THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- A group of enzymes in the brain appears to be key to the activity of many genes linked to autism, a new study reveals.

Experts hope the findings will shed light on the causes of autism, and possibly lead to new treatments.

The study results, published online Aug. 28 in the journal Nature, hint that if disruptions in enzymes called topoisomerases occur during brain development, they might contribute to the development of autism spectrum disorders.

The enzymes are found throughout the body, and their main job is to "untangle the knots" in cells' DNA so the cells can function and reproduce themselves normally, explained senior researcher Mark Zylka, an associate professor of cell biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Topoisomerases have been well studied for their role in helping tumor cells to spread, and drugs that inhibit the enzymes are already used to treat certain cancers.

There have also been hints, though, that topoisomerases might contribute to autism. Last year, researchers reported that some people with autism spectrum disorders have mutations in these enzymes.

"But we've known little about how they work in the brain," said Zylka.

In lab experiments with mouse and human brain cells, Zylka's team found that a topoisomerase-inhibiting drug reduced the activity of 49 genes that past studies have linked to autism. That points to the importance of topoisomerases in the normal expression of those genes.

"A single drug down-regulated all of those genes," Zylka said.

That does not mean, however, that topoisomerase inhibitors should be tested for treating autism. If anything, Zylka explained, you would want a drug that enhances the enzymes' actions.

But now researchers can look for compounds that do just that.

What's more, the findings point to a biological process that ties together dozens of different genes that are suspected of being involved in autism. "Well over 300 (autism-linked) genes have been identified now," Zylka said. "That list looks daunting, but the goal is to figure out how all these genes are connected," he said.

"It can be overwhelming when you look at the list of genes," agreed Andy Shih, senior vice president for scientific affairs for the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

But if you can zero in on the "biological pathways" linking those genes, "it all starts to make sense," said Shih, who was not involved in the study.

In the United States, it's estimated that at least one in every 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder, with the severity ranging widely from child to child. Some kids have little or no ability to speak, and focus obsessively on just a few interests; other kids speak and have normal to above-normal intelligence, but may have problems socializing and communicating more subtly -- for example, trouble using and "reading" gestures, body language and facial expressions.

No one knows what causes autism spectrum disorders, but experts believe that it's a complex mix of genetic vulnerability and environmental exposures -- possibly chemicals or microbes.

Shih pointed to an "interesting" fact about topoisomerases: Their activity is believed to be influenced by environment, including compounds in food and in the physical world. So, he said, studying the enzymes might help researchers pinpoint some of the environmental factors that contribute to autism spectrum disorders.

"We've been talking for a long time about the interaction between genes and environment in autism," Shih said. Topoisomerases could offer a way for scientists to begin to connect the dots.

Zylka agreed, and said his team is searching for environmental compounds that inhibit topoisomerases -- and may, therefore, be important for pregnant women or young children to avoid.

There is still, however, a long way to go in fully understanding the underpinnings of autism spectrum disorders. "We've just scratched the surface of what's going wrong in the brain" in autism, Zylka said.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on autism.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Middle-aged Americans with a college degree are more likely to make healthy lifestyle changes when confronted with a health problem than those who dropped out of college or never went, new research finds.

The way in which people respond to new medical conditions could affect their health in the future, cautioned the author of the study published in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

"This study documents that there are very large differences by education in smoking and physical activity trajectories in middle age, even though many health habits are already set by this stage of the life course," said author Rachel Margolis, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario, in a journal news release.

"Health behavior changes are surprisingly common between ages 50 and 75, and the fact that better-educated middle-aged people are more likely to stop smoking, start physical activity, and maintain both of these behaviors over time has important health ramifications," she added.

Her findings involved more than 16,600 people ranging in age from 50 to 75 who participated in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study. Although 41 percent of the participants who dropped out of college reported smoking at some point between the ages of 50 and 75, only 15 percent of those who graduated college smoked in the given time frame.

Meanwhile, 14 percent of the college graduates in the study were consistently physically active, compared to just 2 percent of those who didn't graduate from high school.

"I found that having more education increased the odds that a person made a healthy behavior change when faced with a new chronic health condition. This finding helps explain why there are educational differences in chronic disease management and health outcomes," Margolis concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides a guide on healthy behavior change.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Children's attitudes toward people with disabilities improve when kids have more contact with them, according to a new study.

Greater exposure to people with disabilities could help reduce discrimination and prevent the low self-esteem and depression that can result, the findings suggest.

"Schools vary in the number of students with special educational needs and disability," study author Megan MacMillan, of the University of Exeter Medical School in England, said in a British Psychological Society news release. "We predicted that if children manage to make more contact with disabled people, better relationships are built."

The study involved 1,520 children ranging in age from 7 to 16. The children were surveyed on their attitudes about disabled people. They also were asked about their contact with those living with disabilities as well as their feelings of anxiety or empathy toward them.

Children with greater direct contact with disabled people had less anxiety about them, which also resulted in better attitudes, the study revealed.

Moreover, even indirect contact can help ease children's anxiety about disabled people and make them more empathetic toward them. For example, the research showed that just observing other people interact with disabled people or being aware of other people's friendships with them improved children's attitudes.

"We have known for some time that integrating children with disabilities into the regular classroom can improve attitudes. What we have established here is just how much of a difference a greater presence in day-to-day life makes," MacMillan said. "The effort to improve attitudes is worthwhile, as negative attitudes are often internalized. Improving attitudes can have long-lasting effects and can help children with disabilities to succeed."

The study findings were expected to be presented Thursday at the British Psychological Society conference at the University of Exeter. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on child development.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Cleaning Up From a Flood

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(HealthDay News) -- If your home has been flooded after a recent hurricane or rain, make sure you take precautions to avoid making yourself sick.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests how to clean up after your home has been flooded:

  • Don't reenter your home unless authorities have told you the structure is safe.
  • Make sure there's no leak of carbon monoxide -- a deadly odorless, colorless gas -- from the furnace.
  • Discard anything that can't be washed and/or disinfected.
  • Once you've finished the cleanup, thoroughly wash with soap and water.
  • If your community has a boil-water advisory in effect, make sure to only use boiled or bottled water to clean and wash.
  • If you notice any open sores, cuts or wounds, carefully wash them with soap and safe water, and apply an antibiotic ointment.
  • If you feel sick or are injured, get medical help immediately.
  • Promptly launder any clothing that you wore during cleanup in hot water with detergent, in a separate laundry load from uncontaminated clothing.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- So-called "button" batteries power many of the devices that keep little ones interested, so it's important to take steps to protect kids from ingesting these batteries.

The Children's National Medical Center offers this advice for parents:

  • Restrict access to any devices that use "button" and larger batteries, including remote controls, flameless candles, musical cards and pocket calculators.
  • If you think your child may have swallowed a battery, seek immediate help from a medical professional. Do not induce vomiting or give your child any food or drink unless so advised by a medical professional.
  • Recognize symptoms of ingesting a battery, which may include coughing, drooling or discomfort.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug 28 (HealthDay News) -- Although some reports have shown that high doses of the anti-fungal drug fluconazole (Diflucan) may raise the risk of birth defects, a new Danish review finds that more commonly prescribed lower doses of the medicine do not carry the same dangers.

Yet, in spite of this reassurance, experts may remain reluctant to prescribe the drug for expectant mothers who have yeast infections, since it is still linked to an increased risk of a rare congenital heart problem called tetralogy of Fallot.

"Many pregnant women suffer from a yeast infection called vaginal candidiasis, or vaginal thrush, which is the most common clinical indication for use of oral fluconazole," explained lead researcher Ditte Molgaard-Nielsen, an epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.

First-line treatment for vaginal candidiasis during pregnancy is vaginal preparations of topical anti-fungal drugs, she noted.

"However, in cases when topical treatment is ineffective this study provides comprehensive safety information, and may help inform clinical decisions when treatment with oral fluconazole is considered in pregnancy," Molgaard-Nielsen said.

Specifically, the researchers looked at 15 birth defects linked to fluconazole and found it was not associated with an increased risk for 14 of them, she said.

"However, we did see an increase in the risk of tetralogy of Fallot, an uncommon congenital heart defect, but the number of exposed cases were few and this association should be confirmed in other studies before anything can be concluded with any certainty," Molgaard-Nielsen added.

The report was published Aug. 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Scott Berns, senior vice president and deputy medical officer for the March of Dimes, said that "when pregnant it is important to avoid taking any medicines unnecessarily."

"I would chose the topical drug to treat a yeast infection. That is my first line," he said. "If I had to use oral fluconazole, this study is reassuring that most of the time the baby is going to be fine. But, there is that small chance of tetralogy of Fallot. So, why take that chance?"

Another expert doesn't think these findings will change clinical practice.

"Ob/Gyns are still going to be reluctant to prescribe this drug," said Dr. Kecia Gaither, director of maternal fetal medicine at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Gaither prefers to use natural methods for treating yeast infections. "One of them is increasing the use of yogurt intake," she said. "There is certain bacteria in yogurt that prevents yeast infections. I have not run into a person who continues to have recurrent yeast infections after that is done."

For the study, Molgaard-Nielsen's team collected data on more than 7,300 women who took fluconazole during their pregnancy, among whom 210 infants were born with birth defects, and compared them to a control group of more than 968,000 unexposed women, among whom more than 25,000 babies were born with birth defects.

In both groups, the risk for having an infant with a birth defect was 0.6 percent, the researchers found.

Moreover, fluconazole wasn't linked to a significantly increased risk for 14 of 15 birth defects to which the drug had been previously linked, they added.

These include craniosynostosis (a defect in the baby's skull), middle ear defects, cleft palate, cleft lip, limb defects, an abnormal number of finger or toes, fused fingers or toes, diaphragmatic hernia, heart defects and shifting of a lung.

There was, however, a significantly increased risk of tetralogy of Fallot, with seven cases (0.10 percent) among women who took fluconazole, compared with 287 cases (0.03 percent) in unexposed women, the researchers found.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, tetralogy of Fallot is a rare, complex birth defect where four different areas of the heart are malformed and the heart cannot pump enough blood or oxygen to the rest of the body. Surgery is usually required shortly after birth, although the long-term outlook for these patients has improved greatly in recent years.

More information

For more on vaginal candidiasis, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Your brain is hardwired to feel empathy for those close to you, according to a new study.

Empathy is the ability to understand another person's feelings. "With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves," study author James Coan, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, said in a university news release.

He and his colleagues used functional MRI to monitor the brain activity of 22 young adults while they, a friend or a stranger were under the threat of receiving a mild electrical shock. They saw that the same brain regions were activated when the participants were threatened with a shock or when a friend was under threat.

However, these brain regions showed little activity when a stranger was threatened with a shock, according to the study, published in the August issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

"The correlation between self and friend was remarkably similar," Coan said. "The finding shows the brain's remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it's very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat."

This reaction likely occurs because people need to have friends and allies they can side with and see as being the same as themselves, Coan said. And as people spend more time together, they become more similar.

"It's essentially a breakdown of self and other; our self comes to include the people we become close to," Coan explained. "If a friend is under threat, it becomes the same as if we ourselves are under threat. We can understand the pain or difficulty they may be going through in the same way we understand our own pain."

This is likely an evolutionary adaptation.

"A threat to ourselves is a threat to our resources. Threats can take things away from us. But when we develop friendships, people we can trust and rely on who in essence become we, then our resources are expanded, we gain. Your goal becomes my goal. It's a part of our survivability," Coan said.

More information

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has more about empathy.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Grandmothers who provide full-time care for their grandchildren are at risk for family strain and depression, a new study says.

The study included 240 Ohio grandmothers, average age 57, who were followed for 6.5 years to see how caring for grandchildren aged 16 and younger affected their health. Some of the grandmothers provided full-time care, some lived in multi-generational homes and assisted in their grandchildren's care, and others provided no care for their grandchildren.

"Although we expected the primary caregiver grandmothers raising grandchildren would have more strain and depressive symptoms, we were surprised at how persistent these were over the years examined in the study," study author Carol Musil, a professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve University, said in a university news release.

The researchers also found that the grandmothers in the study were generally open to receiving help, which suggests that they might welcome training to help reduce the risk of depression.

"They need support from others, but the most important thing is to maintain and perhaps develop new [thinking] and behavioral skills and approaches for handling some very challenging family issues," Musil said.

The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Nursing Outlook.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers advice for grandparents raising grandchildren.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- People with migraines -- either with or without an aura preceding the headache -- show changes in the structure of their brains on imaging tests, researchers say.

A new review of previous research shows that people who have migraines have abnormalities in the brain's white matter, lesions that resemble previous strokes, and changes in the volume of areas of their brains.

"The clinical significance of these changes is unclear," said senior study author Dr. Messoud Ashina, an associate professor and director of the human migraine research program at the Danish Headache Center and Glostrup Hospital, in Copenhagen. "It is not clear how and why these lesions develop, what they are and what long-term consequences they have for individuals with migraine. Therefore, I do not think the patient should be concerned, but treatment and control of migraine is recommended," he added.

Results of the study were published online Aug. 28 in the journal Neurology.

Migraine is a common neurological disorder. It causes one-sided, throbbing headaches, according to study background information. These headaches may or may not be preceded by an aura, which is described as a visual disturbance, such as flashing lights or zigzag lines.

The latest review of the research includes 19 studies on migraines. All of the studies included the use of MRI scans to identify changes in the brain.

The review found that people who had migraines were more likely to have changes in their brains than were people who didn't have migraines. Those who had migraines with auras appeared to be more likely to have these changes than those who had migraines with no auras, but the association wasn't found to be statistically significant, according to Ashina.

Only one study of those reviewed looked at the effect of treatment. This study found no changes to the brain as a result of anti-migraine therapy.

Dr. Alon Mogilner, a neurosurgeon and director of the NYU Langone Center for Neuromodulation, in New York City, pointed out that "this study provides more proof that patients with migraines have brain abnormalities on MRIs. The question is: Is that why they have migraines, because of these abnormalities? Or, do they get migraines, and then these changes happen?" Mogilner said.

"Most doctors believe these changes are nothing to worry about, but it would be nice to see if, over time, these changes correlated with the severity of migraines or with treatments," explained Mogilner, who was not involved with the study.

"If you have the [stroke]-like lesions, most neurologists will test you to make sure that you don't have any other problems or risk factors that might set you up for a stroke down the road. But, I don't think this should cause patients any more concern," he added.

Dr. MaryAnn Mays, a staff neurologist at the Center for Headache and Pain at the Cleveland Clinic, agreed that people with the stroke-like abnormalities should be assessed for stroke risk factors, but added, "in this study, I didn't see any increased risks. I don't think patients have to worry about these lesions."

Mays said she was happy to see that one study in the review followed patients for about nine years and didn't see any changes in thinking or memory even though brain lesions had been seen on the MRIs.

Although the study found an increased risk for certain brain changes among people who have migraines, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

A second study in the same journal issue looked at a completely different aspect of migraine -- why income seems to affect the incidence of these debilitating headaches. As with other research, this study confirmed that migraines were more prevalent in people with lower household incomes. Low income was defined as less than $22,500 a year.

What was more of interest to the researchers, however, was whether the migraines came first and affected the ability to work -- or if the stresses of living on a low income contribute to the development of migraines.

Because the incidence of migraine is higher in people with lower incomes, and pain from migraine is more severe and disabling in people with lower incomes, the authors suggested that the development of migraine is probably linked to physical or psychological stressors from living on a low income.

However, the good news from the study is that remission of migraine wasn't linked to income. The authors suspect that whatever causes migraines to develop may be different than whatever helps them go away.

More information

Learn more about migraine from the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Should Everyone Over 65 Take a Statin?

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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Men and women over 65 who are at risk for cardiovascular disease but don't have any known heart problems might benefit from cholesterol-lowering drugs, a new study suggests.

The researchers said statins such as Crestor and Lipitor can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, although they don't seem to prevent death from cardiovascular disease or other causes over the short term.

"This is the first time the benefit of these drugs has been demonstrated in this population of patients," said senior study author Dr. Pasquale Perrone-Filardi, from the department of advanced biomedical sciences at Federico II University in Naples, Italy.

These findings fill a gap in current guidelines, Perrone-Filardi said. To date, there has been no firm evidence that statins benefit patients who haven't had a heart attack or stroke, he said. There also has been no evidence showing the benefits of using the drugs for what is known as primary prevention.

"[This new data] would not [make me] recommend statins for all older patients, but maybe for patients with hypertension or atherosclerosis," Perrone-Filardi said.

For the new study, Perrone-Filardi's team reviewed data from eight previously published trails that included nearly 25,000 participants. These patients were at risk for cardiovascular disease but hadn't had a previous heart attack or stroke.

This type of study, called a meta-analysis, attempts to find common patterns in data from several unrelated trials.

In these trials, which compared statins and placebos in patients followed for an average of three and a half years, statins reduced the risk of heart attack by about 29 percent and stroke by nearly 24 percent, the researchers found.

In terms of preventing death from any cause, however, statins did not have an effect, the researchers said.

Despite the new findings, Perrone-Filardi doesn't think everyone over 65 should be taking statins. The patients who benefit are those with a high risk for cardiovascular disease, he said.

"The problem is that age is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease, so it's difficult to detect among a population of old people who are the patients at very high cardiovascular risk," he said.

The study, which did not receive any drug-company or other outside funding, was published Aug. 28 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In the United States, guidelines already recommend statins for primary prevention of heart attack and stroke, an expert said.

"Statins have been proven to substantially reduce fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events in individuals without known cardiovascular disease, even among men and women with cholesterol levels considered in the normal range," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Guidelines in the United States recommend statin therapy for primary prevention in men and women regardless of age. The guidelines from the European Society of Cardiology, however, do not provide recommendations for statin use in older people, Fonarow said.

The benefits of statins outweigh their risks for primary prevention in the clinical trials conducted so far, said Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"As cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death, disability and health care expenditures among men and women age 65 years or older -- and most men and women in this age range are at intermediate or high risk for cardiovascular events -- statins, together with a healthy diet and regular exercise, represent one of the most effective ... strategies for individual and population-level cardiovascular health," Fonarow said.

Cost is a consideration for any drug taken regularly. An April 2012 issue of Consumer Reports noted that statins vary widely in cost -- anywhere from $12 to more than $500 each month. The article, however, listed generic statins that can cost just a few dollars a month when supplied through programs run by major chain stores.

More information

For more about statins, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking even one alcoholic drink a day in the years before a woman's first pregnancy can increase her risk of breast cancer later in life, according to a large new study.

Other research has linked alcohol consumption to increased breast cancer risk, as well as finding that delayed childbearing can increase breast cancer risk.

The new research is thought to be the first to focus on the effect of alcohol intake during the time frame between the start of menstruation and a first pregnancy, the researchers said.

"The risk increased by 11 percent for every 10 grams a day of intake, about six drinks per week," said study author Dr. Ying Liu, an instructor of public health sciences at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis. "These risk values were estimated as compared with nondrinkers."

"One drink was defined as one bottle or can of beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine or a shot of liquor," Liu said.

Drinking about one drink a day also increased the risk for proliferative benign breast disease, a risk factor for breast cancer, by about 16 percent, according to the study, which was published Aug. 28 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers analyzed data from more than 91,000 women who took part in the Nurses' Health Study II who had no cancer history when they began. They answered questions on alcohol consumption in 1989 and were followed through 2009 to analyze their risk of breast cancer.

The new study also looked at whether the women contracted benign breast disease, and whether alcohol may have played a role in that condition, in a subgroup of more than 60,000 women who were evaluated from 1991 through 2001.

The researchers found more than 1,600 cases of breast cancer and 970 diagnoses of benign breast disease during the study period.

Drinking alcohol after the first menstrual period and before the first pregnancy was linked with a risk of both, regardless of whether a woman drank after the first pregnancy. The link held after accounting for multiple other risk factors, including family history of breast cancer.

The more the women drank, the higher their risk.

The researchers, however, found only a link between pre-pregnancy drinking and breast cancer risk, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

"Breast tissues are particularly susceptible to environmental exposures between [the onset of menstruation] and first pregnancy because they undergo rapid cellular proliferation," Liu said. During pregnancy, however, other cellular changes make the breast tissue less susceptible to cancer.

"Our results suggest that alcohol intake before the first pregnancy consistently increases the risk of breast cancer and the risk of proliferative [benign breast disease]," Liu said. She speculated that the benign breast disease may be a pathway linking drinking in early life and breast cancer, ''but not the only route."

It is crucial to put the 11 percent increased risk in perspective, said Dr. Laura Kruper, co-director of the breast cancer program and director of the Cooper Finkel Women's Health Center at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

Overall, a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer is about one in eight, or 12 percent. "If you take the baseline risk -- 12 percent -- and increase that by 11 percent, it is about 13 percent," Kruper said.

Liu said the one-in-eight statistic includes both drinkers and nondrinkers, but she did not know of a statistic for lifetime breast cancer risk for nondrinkers.

So although the study did find an increased risk, Kruper said, "I think the real take-home point is the more you drink the more you increase risk."

The research is another call for moderation, Kruper and Liu agreed. Liu said all women in the age category she studied "should reduce their drinking to less than one drink a day, especially before first pregnancy, to reduce their breast cancer risk."

More information

To learn more about risk factors for breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- More women are being diagnosed with kidney stones, and the obesity epidemic may help explain the increasing number of cases of this painful condition, a new study suggests.

"Women are becoming more and more obese. Obesity is a major risk factor for developing a kidney stone," study lead author Dr. Khurshid Ghani, of the Vattikuti Urology Institute at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, said in a health system news release. "One fascinating thing about women versus men is obese women are more likely to develop a stone than obese men."

In conducting the study, which was published online Aug. 8 in the Journal of Urology, the researchers examined emergency-room visits that occurred between 2006 and 2009. They identified more than 3.6 million visits for upper urinary tract stones. During the four-year study, the prevalence of kidney stones increased from 289 to 306 cases per 100,000 people.

"While the number of patients visiting the emergency department had increased over that time period, it was women who had the greatest increase in visits," Ghani said.

Of those included in the study, however, just 12 percent were hospitalized for kidney stones. The researchers suggested that more accurate diagnostic tools could help explain why fewer people are being admitted to the hospital with this condition.

"In the last 10 years, the way urologists manage kidney stone patients in the ER has changed dramatically," Ghani said. "Today, the emergency-room physician and urologist have access to better diagnostic tools that allow for a more precise diagnosis. We use a CT scan, which is a quick test that allows for an immediate diagnosis and is available in every emergency department."

Increased use of CT scans to diagnose kidney stones may be one reason the charges for emergency-room visits jumped from $3.8 billion in 2006 to $5 billion in 2009, he added.

"Fifteen years ago, around 5 percent to 10 percent of patients visiting the emergency department for a kidney stone would get a CT scan," Ghani said. "Today, 70 percent of patients who visit the emergency department get a scan. While they're wonderful tools of technology that allow an accurate diagnosis, they are expensive."

Ghani added that some people can pass stones with the help of medication and be monitored on an outpatient basis. Those who are admitted to the hospital for kidney stones often are being treated for related blood infections, which may occur when the stone causes a blockage.

More information

The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse has more about kidney stones.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Mental and substance abuse disorders were the leading cause of nonfatal health issues around the world in 2010, researchers say.

These disorders were responsible for more of the global burden of deaths and illnesses than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or diabetes, according to the new findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study.

Meanwhile, a separate study revealed that opioid dependence causes the greatest health burden of all illicit drugs. Of the roughly 78,000 drug disorder deaths in 2010, 55 percent were believed to be the result of opioid dependence.

The studies appeared in the Aug. 29 issue of The Lancet.

In conducting the first study, researchers in the United States and Australia examined information from 187 countries on 20 mental and substance abuse disorders to determine the prevalence, premature death and nonfatal illness caused by these disorders. Mental and substance abuse disorders were responsible for nearly 23 percent of all disease burden worldwide.

Although substance abuse disorders were reported to have caused relatively few deaths in 2010, the researchers pointed out that this is because these deaths were attributed to the physical cause of death -- not the substance abuse itself.

For the purposes of the research, deaths resulting from suicide were classified as injuries. Meanwhile, deaths from illegal drugs are often classified as accidental poisonings, so the actual number of deaths resulting from drug abuse may be higher.

Although drug and alcohol dependence was more common among men, the study revealed that females aged 10 and up had a greater burden of death and disease from mental disorders than males. Only China, North Korea, Japan and Nigeria had burdens of death and disease from mental and substance abuse disorders that were significantly lower than the global average.

"Mental and substance use disorders are major contributors to the global burden of disease and their contribution is rising, especially in developing countries. Cost-effective interventions are available for most disorders but adequate financial and human resources are needed to deliver these interventions," study leader Harvey Whiteford, of the Queensland Centre for Medical Health Research at the University of Queensland in Australia, said in a journal news release.

"Despite the personal and economic costs, treatment rates for people with mental and substance use disorders are low, and even in developed countries, treatment is typically provided many years after the disorder begins," Whiteford pointed out.

"In all countries, stigma about mental and substance use disorders constrain the use of available resources as do inefficiencies in the distribution of funding and interventions. If the burden of mental and substance use disorders is to be reduced, mental health policy and services research will need to identify more effective ways to provide sustainable mental health services, especially in resource-constrained environments," he concluded.

A separate study also showed that opioid addiction, such as heroin, causes the greatest health burden of all illegal drugs. The study found that more than two-thirds of those who were dependent on drugs were men, mostly aged 20 to 29. Of these, 64 percent each were addicted to marijuana and amphetamines, and 70 percent each were dependent on opioids and cocaine.

The burden in the worst affected countries, primarily developed nations, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, was 20 times higher than in the least affected countries, the results showed.

Although marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug, only 13 million people around the world are hooked on marijuana, the study authors noted. Meanwhile, 17.2 million were addicted to amphetamines and 15.5 million were addicted to opioids.

In addition, smoking and alcohol remain responsible for around 10 percent of the total death and illness burden worldwide.

The study's co-leader, Louisa Degenhardt, of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, pointed out in the news release that the study "results clearly show that illicit drug use is an important contributor to the global disease burden, and we now have the first global picture of this cause of health loss."

Moreover, Degenhardt added, "much can be done to reduce this burden. Although we have fewer means of responding to some causes of burden, such as cocaine and amphetamine dependence, well-evaluated and effective interventions can substantially reduce two major causes of burden -- opioid dependence and injecting drug use."

In a commentary accompanying the studies, Michael Lynskey and John Strang, with the National Addiction Centre at King's College London, said that "the importance of this project in guiding policy cannot be overestimated."

They noted that the "relative lack of information about the prevalence of mental and drug use disorders, and the harms associated with these disorders, emphasizes the need not only for continued and ongoing efforts to refine the methods used in the current project but also for increased efforts to quantify both the prevalence of mental and drug use disorders and the risks posed by these conditions."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about drug abuse.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- In another milestone for regenerative medicine, Austrian scientists report they have turned stem cells into a collection of tissues that resembles the beginnings of the human brain.

The tiny organoids, as the researchers call them, grow to around 4 millimeters in size. They have many of the same specialized regions that are seen in fetal brains around nine weeks into development.

Though these baby brains aren't likely to ever work as replacement parts, they are useful for understanding brain development, and where and how it can go awry.

Researchers have already used the model to better understand one problem called microcephaly, a genetic condition that causes a child to be born with smaller-than-average head and brain, and results in mental disability.

The new brain-growing method may also be useful for studying other neurological disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism, and for testing new drugs, the researchers said in a news conference Tuesday.

The study was published online Aug. 28 in the journal Nature.

Previously, researchers have coaxed stem cells to grow into the beginnings of a human eye and a functioning human liver. They've also created working pituitary glands and beating hearts for mice.

"But so far, the most complex of human organs, the human brain, has not been susceptible to these type of cultures," said researcher Juergen Knoblich, deputy scientific director of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Science, in Vienna.

For the new study, researchers bathed stem cells in growth factors to encourage them to divide. When the stem cells had formed tiny balls of cells and the beginnings of nerve tissue, they were implanted in droplets of a gel protein mixture that became both food and physical support. After the organoids had reached a certain size, they were transferred into flasks that were kept in constant motion to keep the cells and tissues exposed to oxygen and nutrients.

After two months, the brain organoids stopped developing, probably because they lacked a blood supply to deliver oxygen and food deeper into the tissues, researchers said.

By studying the gene expression of the different tissues of the organoid, researchers were able to identify discrete brain areas including the dorsal cortex, prefrontal cortex, the forebrain and ventral forebrain, the hippocampus, choroid plexus and immature retina -- the beginnings of the eye.

Not all of these areas developed in every organoid, however, and they didn't look exactly like the brains of human embryos as they grow in the womb.

"In a developing embryo, you have the cerebral cortex at the front, then the ventral forebrain below that, and behind that you have the mid-brain, the cerebellum and the brain stem," explained Madeline Lancaster, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology.

"In ours, we don't have that spatial organization. We have those regions, but they're not spatially organized in that manner," she said.

And while researchers found some evidence that the different brain regions were functioning, they don't think the organoids were fully wired and connected the way mature adult brains are, because that kind of connection is something that happens at later developmental stages.

"It's sort of like manufacturing all the transistors and resistors in a radio, but not actually wiring it all up so you can listen to the radio," said Amy Bernard, director of structured science for the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. "But certainly getting those building blocks set in is the first step."

However, "it's very impressive to see the level of differentiation that's achieved in this model," added Bernard, who was not involved with the study.

To further prove the value of watching early brain development this way, the researchers took stem cells from an individual with microcephaly, a developmental problem that affects about 25,000 of the roughly 4 million children born in the United States each year.

They treated the stem cells with chemicals to return them to an embryonic state and then watched them as they began to grow into an early brain.

Compared to the way previous organoids had grown, the stem cells from the individual with microcephaly stopped dividing earlier, so they had fewer total stem cells with which to build a brain, resulting in a smaller overall brain size.

"So in this, we understand how microcephaly developed in one individual patient," Lancaster said.

Their hope is that by studying the process of microcephaly and other developmental problems in many individuals, they will find new ways to diagnose and perhaps treat these kinds of conditions.

More information

For more on brain development through childhood and adolescence, visit the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Bacteria in people's digestive systems -- gut germs -- seem to affect whether they become overweight or obese, and new research sheds more light on why that might be.

The findings, from an international team of scientists, also suggest that a diet heavy in fiber could change the makeup of these germs, possibly making it easier for people to shed pounds.

"We know gut bacteria affect health and obesity, but we don't know exactly how," said Dusko Ehrlich, a co-author of the two new studies and coordinator of the International Human Microbiome Standards project.

The research finds that "people who put on the most weight lack certain bacterial species or have them at very low levels. This opens ways to develop bacterial therapies to fight weight gain," he said.

Experts believe the gut, where the body processes food, is crucial to weight gain and weight loss.

"It is now well known that bacteria in our gut play an important role in our health and well-being, possibly as important as our own immune response and proper nutrition," said Jeffrey Cirillo, a professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center's department of microbial pathogenesis and immunology. "This means that disruption of the bacteria in our gut by use of antibiotics or eating foods that help only particular bacteria grow can have effects upon our entire bodies."

A study released last March in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggested that gastric bypass surgery led to weight loss -- in mice -- because it changed the makeup of the bacteria in their intestines.

In one of the new studies, which are both published in the Aug. 29 issue of the journal Nature, researchers analyzed the gut bacteria of 169 obese Danish people and 123 Danish people who were not obese.

The gut germs in the obese people were less diverse than in the others, and had more abnormalities in terms of metabolism. Also, obese people with a less diverse supply of germs gained more weight.

It's not clear how the bacteria and obesity are related. But the research suggests that the metabolisms of the germs themselves are connected to the overall metabolism in the humans where they live, Cirillo said.

The finding could also have a practical application, the researchers said.

"The study lays ground for a simple test, which should tell people what their risk for developing obesity-linked diseases is," study co-author Ehrlich said. If they are, he said, diet changes may be necessary.

In a second study, researchers monitored gut bacteria as 49 overweight and obese people tried to lose weight with diets that were low-fat and low-calorie but high in protein plus fiber-rich foods like vegetables and fruits. The diet appeared to actually change the bacterial makeup in the guts of the participants.

"Although these are relatively early and small studies on the topic, they suggest that management of our own diets can improve the richness of the flora within our guts and decrease our chances of becoming obese," said Cirillo. "This does not mean that changes in diet will be effective for all people or that they can prevent obesity no matter how much someone eats, but that they can help the situation."

More information

For more on obesity, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- A protein in the brain could hold the key to reversing the age-related memory loss that causes "senior moments" of forgetfulness, Columbia University researchers report.

Deficiency of a protein called RbAp48 in the hippocampus appears to significantly contribute to the memory loss that creeps up on you as you age, said study co-author Dr. Scott Small, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the university.

This is a distinct process separate from the drastic memory loss that comes with Alzheimer's disease, Small added. And, he said, the finding should allay fears that normal "senior moments," like misplacing keys or forgetting an ATM number, are a precursor to dementia.

"It's been known for a long time that our memory declines just by the normal wear and tear of the aging process," Small said. "Our study provides compelling evidence that age-related memory loss is a syndrome in its own right, apart from Alzheimer's."

The study, published Aug. 28 in the online edition of Science Translational Medicine, used a combination of human and mouse studies to explore the importance of RbAp48 in memory.

Researchers focused on the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is key to memory and is affected by both age-related memory loss and by Alzheimer's disease. But while Alzheimer's is attributed to the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain's neurons, no such thing occurs in people experiencing memory loss due to natural aging.

The study began by researchers performing genetic analysis of the brain cells of eight deceased humans, ages 33 to 88, none of whom suffered from any brain disease. Doctors focused on the dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus that seems to be most affected by aging.

The most significant changes, they found, occurred in levels of RbAp48 in the dentate gyrus. The amount of RbAp48 declined steadily with aging across all the human subjects.

To confirm whether RbAp48 plays an active role in memory loss, the researchers turned to mice. Examinations of mouse brains found a similar decrease in the protein due to aging. "It turns out that age-related memory loss occurs very similarly in humans and mice," Small said.

Further, the researchers found that when they reduced the amount of RbAp48 in young mice, those mice experienced the same memory loss that occurs naturally in aging mice. Once the protein returned to normal levels, the young mice's memory returned to normal.

But what really raised eyebrows occurred when they increased the amount of RbAp48 in the brains of older mice. "We were astonished that not only did this improve the mice's performance on the memory tests, but their performance was comparable to that of young mice," said co-author Dr. Elias Pavlopoulos, an associate research scientist at Columbia.

If these findings pan out, doctors may one day be able to use this genetic pathway to improve aging people's memory through natural or pharmaceutical means, Small said. Physical exercise, dietary supplements or pharmaceuticals could be used to increase RbAp48 in the hippocampus.

Dr. Nupur Ghoshal, an assistant professor of neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, agreed that this study gives researchers a new take on exploring age-related memory loss.

"Clinically, we've known that normal aging and Alzheimer's are different, but we didn't really have the thing to work on for normal aging," said Ghoshal, who was not involved with the study. "This is really the first evidence of a molecule someone can focus in on. Now we have a pathway we can learn a lot more about, and somewhere within that pathway may be a target for intervention."

Dean Hartley, the director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association, said the researchers "present an intriguing, preliminary study that may eventually prove to be important in uncovering the pathways of age-related memory decline."

And, he added, "They provide some very elegant molecular genetics to illustrate the mechanism in mice." However, the study's results are weakened because only eight human brains were examined, Hartley said, and the results in mice might not necessarily carry over directly to humans.

"Nevertheless, there is enough preliminary data here that this line of investigation should go forward, especially in light of what it may contribute to our knowledge of 'normal' aging and the environmental factors affecting gene regulation," Hartley said.

More information

For more about age-related memory loss, visit the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- The way that the intestine "tastes" sweet foods may be defective in people with type 2 diabetes, leading to problems with glucose (sugar) uptake, a new study says.

This is the first such finding about the "sweet taste receptors" in the intestine and could prove important for a number of health and nutrition problems experienced by diabetes patients, according to the researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

They explained that taste buds in the mouth aren't the only way that the body detects sweetness.

"When we talk about 'sweet taste', most people think of tasting sweet food on our tongue, but scientists have discovered that sweet taste receptors are present in a number of sites in the human body. We're now just beginning to understand the importance of the sweet taste receptors in the human intestine and what this means for sufferers of type 2 diabetes," Richard Young, senior postdoctoral researcher in the nerve-gut research laboratory, said in a university news release.

The study included 14 healthy adults and 13 adults with type 2 diabetes.

Young found that the control of sweet taste receptors in the intestine of healthy adults allowed their bodies to regulate glucose uptake 30 minutes after the receptors detected glucose. However, people with type 2 diabetes had abnormalities that resulted in more rapid glucose uptake, according to the study published in a recent issue of the journal Diabetes.

"When sweet taste receptors in the intestine detect glucose, they trigger a response that may regulate the way glucose is absorbed by the intestine. Our studies show that in diabetes patients, the glucose is absorbed more rapidly and in greater quantities than in healthy adults," Young said.

"This shows that diabetes is not just a disorder of the pancreas and of insulin -- the gut plays a bigger role than researchers have previously considered," he said. "This is because the body's own management of glucose uptake may rely on the actions of sweet taste receptors, and these appear to be abnormally controlled in people with type 2 diabetes."

Further research is needed to learn more about these mechanisms in the intestines, Young said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about type 2 diabetes.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Brain Size May Yield Clues to Anorexia

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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Teens with anorexia nervosa have bigger brains than those without the eating disorder, a finding that suggests biology may play a larger role in the condition than realized.

Specifically, the teenage girls with anorexia had a larger insula, a part of the brain that is active when you taste food, and a larger orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that tells you when to stop eating, said researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

"While eating disorders are often triggered by the environment, there are most likely biological mechanisms that have to come together for an individual to develop an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa," Dr. Guido Frank, an assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, said in a university news release.

Anorexia causes people to lose more weight than is considered healthy. Larger volume in the orbitofrontal cortex could be a trait that causes these people to stop before they've eaten enough, the study suggests. And the right insula, which integrates body perception, might contribute to the sense of being fat despite being underweight.

The small study included 19 teen girls with anorexia and 22 teen girls without the disorder who underwent MRI brain scans. The findings were published recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Frank said similar results in children with anorexia nervosa and in adults who had recovered from the disease raise the possibility that insula and orbitofrontal cortex brain size could increase a person's risk of developing an eating disorder. This study did not, however, prove a cause-and-effect relationship between the two.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 28, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Some U.S. Schools Dropping Healthy Lunch Program

Faced with large numbers of students who simply avoid low-fat fare, some U.S. school districts are opting out of new federal healthy lunch programs, which have been in place for only a year.

While exact numbers aren't available, federal officials told the Associated Press that they've had reports of schools dropping out of the National School Lunch Program, which spends $11 billion to help fund school lunches nationwide.

School districts that dropped out of the program said they were forced to do so after too many students stayed away from the school lunch counter and began bringing food from home, or even went hungry. The federal healthy lunch initiative typically serves up lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains.

"Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn't eat," Catlin, Ill., Superintendent Gary Lewis told the AP. He said his district saw a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch sales, translating to $30,000 lost under the program last year.

"So you sit there and watch the kids, and you know they're hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behavior and some lack of attentiveness," Lewis said. He said fare from the days before the healthy lunch initiative, such as soups and fish sticks, will return to the cafeteria menu this coming term.

Dr. Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services division, said that kids may simply need more time to adjust to new, healthier choices. "Many of these children have never seen or tasted some of the fruits and vegetables that are being served before, and it takes a while to adapt and learn," she told the AP.

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Girl Who Got 2 Lung Transplants Goes Home

The 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl whose lung transplant sparked a national debate over organ-transplantation policy left the hospital and returned home Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Sarah Murnaghan, of Newtown Square, has end-stage cystic fibrosis and received two transplants of adult-sized lungs, even though current organ-transplant policy states that children only receive child-sized lungs.

However, Sarah's parents took her case to the courts. A federal judge intervened on her behalf, ordering that she be allowed an adult lung transplant.

The first set of adult lungs the child received failed within hours of transplant, but a second set, transplanted three days later, seem to have worked.

Sarah's mother, Janet Murnaghan, said in a Facebook page posting late Monday that Sarah would be leaving Children's Hospital of Philadephia on Tuesday. On Sunday, Janet Murnaghan said her daughter had been taken off oxygen but does get some breathing support from a machine. She is now able to walk around the hospital using a walker, and has gone outside for brief periods, the AP reported.

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Music Star Linda Ronstadt Has Parkinson's Disease

Singer Linda Ronstadt, a music star for more than four decades, has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which has robbed her of the ability to sing.

"No one can sing with Parkinson's disease," the 67-year-old Ronstadt said in an interview with AARP Magazine. "No matter how hard you try."

Ronstadt said she was diagnosed eight months ago and "can't sing a note." She said she initially experienced symptoms about eight years ago, but thought her singing problems were caused by a tick disease, the Associated Press reported.

She said she was "completely shocked" when a neurologist diagnosed her with Parkinson's disease. "I wouldn't have suspected that in a million, billion years."

Ronstadt sold tens of millions of records starting in the late 1960s. Some of her earlier hits included "You're No Good" and "When Will I Be Loved." She later sang pop standards and mariachi music, the AP reported.

Ronstadt now uses poles to walk on uneven ground and a wheelchair when traveling, the AARP story said.

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says Parkinson's disease is part of a group of conditions called motor system disorders that are caused by the loss of certain key brain cells. Typical symptoms include tremors, or trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and problems with balance and coordination. As symptoms become more severe, some patients may have trouble with walking, talking or other simple tasks. The disease usually affects people 50 and older.

There's no cure for Parkinson's, but a variety of medications can provide significant relief from the symptoms, according to the institute.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Certain radiation and chemotherapy treatments may increase Hodgkin lymphoma survivors' risk of developing stomach cancer, according to new study.

Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system and is one of the most common cancers among teens and young adults in the United States. Advances in treatment have led to improvements in survival. Between 2003 and 2009, the five-year survival rate was 88 percent.

Past research, however, has linked radiation and chemotherapy treatments to stomach cancer risk in survivors, but those studies were limited in scope. To learn more about the link between these treatments and stomach cancer risk, researchers from the U.S. National Cancer Institute examined data from more than 17,400 Hodgkin lymphoma survivors in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden who were diagnosed between 1953 and 2003.

Of those survivors, 89 were found to have later developed stomach cancer.

The analysis revealed that the risk of stomach cancer rose with increasing doses of radiation to the stomach. Patients who received the highest radiation doses were nearly three times more likely to develop stomach cancer than those who received the lowest doses.

The risks of stomach cancer associated with radiation were even higher for patients who also received the alkylating agent procarbazine, a type of chemotherapy known to damage DNA. Stomach cancer risks were highly dependent on the doses of both radiation and procarbazine.

This is the first study to provide clear evidence of a strong interaction between chemotherapy and radiation on Hodgkin lymphoma survivors' risk for stomach cancer, the researchers said. It did not, however, prove a cause-and-effect relationship between the two.

The study also suggested an increased stomach cancer risk for patients who received a similar alkylating agent called dacarbazine, which is now commonly used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma. However, more research is needed to confirm this link, the researchers said.

No other alkylating agent was associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer, according to the study, which was published Aug. 26 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"Our study adds strong support to the growing concern that stomach cancer is a rare but important adverse late effect of treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma," Lindsay Morton, of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, said in an institute news release.

"Because Hodgkin lymphoma patients commonly receive treatment in their 20s and 30s, many of the stomach cancers arise before age 50, nearly 20 years earlier than is typical for newly diagnosed patients who have never had cancer," Morton said. "Clinicians who follow these survivors should be alert to patient complaints related to the gastrointestinal tract."

More information

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has more about Hodgkin lymphoma.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Why Should I Stop Driving?

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(HealthDay News) -- Aging and chronic health problems can adversely affect your ability to drive safely. If you have a chronic illness, poor vision or arthritis, for example, it's time to speak with your doctor. He or she may recommend that you stop driving.

The American Academy of Family Physicians says other factors that can impair the ability to drive safely include:

  • Having problems with memory and concentration, including forgetting where you are going, or getting lost.
  • Difficulty seeing at night.
  • Having a tendency to fall asleep at the wheel.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Be Ready for a Hurricane

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(HealthDay News) -- If a hurricane is headed your way, taking steps to help protect your home and family can help avoid catastrophic results.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's ready.gov site suggests how to prepare for a hurricane:

  • Tune into local TV or radio stations for updates on the weather. Avoid using the telephone.
  • Make sure your home is secured, shutters closed, and garbage cans and outdoor furniture secured or brought indoors.
  • Make sure trees and bushes are well-trimmed, making them less prone to the effects of heavy winds.
  • Consider boarding windows with 5/8-inch marine plywood, cut to fit. The agency stresses that tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
  • Make sure propane tanks are shut off and any boat is securely moored.
  • Fill bathtubs with water for drinking, and stock enough safe food.
  • Identify the safest room in your home, which you and the family may need to occupy during the height of the storm.
  • Heed any evacuation order from local or state authorities.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Government efforts to keep minors away from tobacco appear to be working, with a new U.S. report finding sales of cigarettes and other products at near-record lows.

The Synar Amendment Program, initiated 16 years ago to prevent the sale of tobacco products to youth, has seen very low rates of retailer violations of the ban on tobacco sales to those under the age of 18.

Overall, only about 9 percent of retailers violated the ban, according to the latest annual report -- well under the target of 20 percent set by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It's the second lowest national retailer violation rate observed since the law's inception.

What's more, while 33 states and the District of Columbia are now registering local violation rates of below 10 percent, nine other states have seen their statewide violation rates plummet to below 5 percent.

"Over its 16-year history the Synar program has made remarkable strides in lowering the levels of illegal tobacco sales to minors across the nation," Frances Harding, director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, said in an agency news release.

The Synar program (named after its legislative sponsor, the late Representative Mike Synar of Oklahoma) was first enacted in 1996 as part of the passage of the Public Health Service Act.

Since its launch the program has required that all states and U.S. jurisdictions implement both laws and programs to enforce them, to prevent access to tobacco products among the under-18 set.

Despite the program's success, Harding said the fight to keep youth and tobacco apart is far from over.

"Far more needs to be done to prevent kids and young adults from using tobacco, which is still the nation's leading cause of preventable death," she said.

More information

There's more on ways to keep young people from smoking at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- Alan Mozes

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- A year-old nationwide effort to prevent the unnecessary use of antipsychotic medications in U.S. nursing homes already seems to be working, public health officials report, as facilities begin to opt for patient-centered approaches over drugs to treat dementia and other related complications.

So far, the program has seen more than a 9 percent drop in the national use of antipsychotics among long-term nursing-home residents, when comparing the period of January to March 2013 with October to December 2011.

The National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care was launched in 2012 by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). At issue: the broad over-prescription of antipsychotics among the nation's roughly 1.5 million nursing-home residents.

"This important partnership to improve dementia care in nursing homes is yielding results," Dr. Patrick Conway, CMS chief medical officer and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, said in an agency news release.

"We will continue to work with clinicians, caregivers and communities to improve care and eliminate harm for people living with dementia," Conway added.

As recently as 2010, more than 17 percent of nursing-home patients were being given daily doses of antipsychotic medications that were above recommended levels, according to the news release.

With that in mind, the campaign set out to provide enhanced dementia care training for nursing-home staff and statewide nursing-home assessors, by outlining alternative treatment options and making relevant antipsychotic medication information more easily accessible online on its Nursing Home Compare website.

The information provided is a collection of best-practices information gathered from a coalition of medical and quality-improvement experts, government agencies, consumer and patient advocates, and long-term-care providers.

The campaign's goal is to lower antipsychotic drug use by 15 percent by the end of this year.

To date, 11 states have realized -- or even exceeded -- this objective: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vermont.

As a result, an estimated 30,000 fewer nursing-home patients are on antipsychotics today than would have been prior to the launch of the CMS information program.

More information

For more on the CMS partnership campaign to improve dementia care, visit Advancing Excellence in American Nursing Homes.

-- Alan Mozes

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Vaccinating babies against rotavirus also protects older children and adults against infection with the stomach bug, a new study shows.

Since 2008, the vaccine has prevented up to 50,000 hospitalizations for rotavirus each year among children under the age of 5, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Before the vaccine was introduced [in 2006], about 60,000 to 70,000 children were hospitalized every year, and between 20 and 60 died," said report co-author Ben Lopman, an epidemiologist in the division of viral diseases at the CDC. "This study also shows that hospitalizations for rotavirus have also gone down in older children and adults who have not been vaccinated. In other words, there is an indirect effect that we call 'herd immunity,'" Lopman explained.

"By vaccinating infants, you prevent them from getting infected, but you also prevent them from infecting others," he said. The CDC now recommends that all children be vaccinated against rotavirus, starting at 2 months of age.

The report was published in the Aug. 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Rotavirus is very infectious, and is the most common cause of severe diarrhea," Lopman said. In addition, there can be fever, stomach cramps and vomiting that can continue for up to a week. "The real risk is that children can become dehydrated," he explained.

One expert said since rotavirus vaccinations began, cases of the stomach bug have become exceedingly rare.

"A resident trained now would say rotavirus was a disease that doesn't exist," said Dr. Marcelo Laufer, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Miami Children's Hospital. "That's the influence of the vaccine."

Laufer said it is important that infants be vaccinated against rotavirus. "The vaccine is safe and effective, and it does reduce the risk of rotavirus infections and hospitalizations," he noted.

Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a co-developer of the rotavirus vaccine, was surprised to hear that the vaccine has triggered a herd immunity to the disease.

"It surprises me, pleasantly, but it surprises me," Offit said. That's because even if one had the disease one could be re-infected with it, he explained.

At the time, Offit didn't think the vaccine would really change the amount of circulating virus in the community. "But that isn't true," he said.

"With vaccination, it looks like you are significantly decreasing the amount of circulating virus in the community, so you are getting a herd effect," Offit said.

For the study, the CDC researchers looked at hospitalizations for rotavirus before and after the vaccine was available.

The investigators found that, compared with the years before the vaccine was available, there were substantial reductions in hospitalizations of children under age 5 by 2008.

By 2010, these reductions were also seen among older children, teens and adults, the researchers found.

More information

For more on rotavirus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- The Mexican farm linked -- in part -- to a stomach bug outbreak that has sickened more than 600 people in 22 U.S. states can resume operations, even though the source of the infections remains undiscovered, U.S. health officials said Tuesday.

Taylor Farms de Mexico can resume operations after investigators found conditions there "in accordance with known food safety protocols," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said. The operation voluntarily shut down earlier this month after its salad mix served at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants was linked to 242 cyclospora infections in Iowa and Nebraska, the Associated Press reported.

The number of infections now stands at 610 illnesses in 22 states. At least 43 people, or 7 percent, have been hospitalized with severe cases of infection. No deaths have been reported, according to statistics released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The outbreak is unusual because U.S. investigators haven't been able to trace all 610 illnesses back to one source, and the farm in Mexico showed no signs of contamination, the AP said.

The source of the outbreak in at least two states -- Iowa and Nebraska -- was traced earlier this month to Taylor Farms de Mexico, the Mexican branch of Taylor Farms of Salinas, Calif.

"To date, only the salad mix has been implicated in the outbreak of cyclosporiasis in Iowa and Nebraska," the FDA said earlier this month.

Cases of cyclosporiasis are caused by a single-celled parasite and can't be spread from person to person. The parasite has to be ingested through contaminated water or foods such as fruit and vegetables, according to the CDC.

While cyclospora can make people very ill, it is not usually life-threatening, one health expert said.

"On the infectious disease scale, this ranks well below the more notorious and dangerous ailments like E. coli and salmonella," said Dr. Lewis Marshall Jr., chairman of the outpatient services at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in New York City.

"It is unlikely to be fatal, but certainly can make one's life miserable," he added. "Symptoms include crampy abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, fatigue, fever, headache and body aches."

He added: "The safest way to protect oneself and one's family is to always rinse fresh produce under water, and even put vegetables in a cold water bath ahead of time to properly clean them."

That wash-your-produce rule includes prepackaged salads too, another doctor said.

"Wash all your fruits and salads before ingesting," said Dr. Salvatore Pardo, vice chairman of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "My hunch is the public does not do this to 'prepackaged' salad, which is normally purchased for convenience and dumped into the bowl since it tends to be free from particles -- dirt, sand, critters -- one would normally find in locally picked ingredients."

More information

For more on cyclospora, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Combining an old drug with an experimental one may cure many cases of hard-to-treat hepatitis C -- without the harsh side effects of the standard regimen, a U.S. government study finds.

Experts said the study, reported in the Aug. 28 Journal of the American Medical Association, is an important research step. It focused on patients who often do not respond well to the current hepatitis C drug regimen because they already had liver damage, harbored a particularly stubborn strain of the virus or had other "unfavorable treatment characteristics."

In other words, they were the patients who often are left out of clinical trials.

"This was the real world, and the treatment response was really quite good," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the researchers on the work.

Of the 60 patients in the trial, 48 percent to 68 percent had the virus cleared from their bodies, depending on the drug dose.

The therapy included one older hepatitis C drug, called ribavirin, and one currently being considered for approval in the United States and Europe, called sofosbuvir. Most important, the regimen excluded interferon -- an injection drug that is part of the current standard treatment for hepatitis C.

Interferon is difficult to take and can cause side effects including sleep problems, depression, nausea, diarrhea, muscle pain, fever and fatigue. Researchers are working on various interferon-free drug regimens for hepatitis C.

There are dozens of drugs under development, with several expected to be on the market within the next year or two.

That means the best is yet to come, said Dr. Eugene Schiff, a liver disease expert who was not involved in the new trial.

"This is an important paper," said Schiff, who directs the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Miami. "But these results reflect an interim experience. It's a treatment that will be out there for only a short time."

Schiff said that in the next year and a half, there should be new oral drug combinations that allow hepatitis C patients to skip not only the interferon, but also ribavirin -- which can have substantial side effects of its own, including anemia.

"We're in the middle of an exciting time," Schiff said. "I'm very optimistic."

The current study included 60 hepatitis C patients with factors that make standard interferon-based treatment unlikely to work.

Most had a genetic strain of the virus that does not respond well to interferon. Many also had liver fibrosis -- scarring of the organ that can progress to more severe damage, known as cirrhosis, and possibly liver cancer. And most participants were black, a group that traditionally has not fared as well with hepatitis C regimens compared to whites.

All of the patients were given sofosbuvir, an oral drug, plus either low-dose ribavirin or a dose adjusted to their weight. After 24 weeks of treatment, 68 percent of those given the weight-based ribavirin had a "sustained virologic response," which equates to a cure, Schiff said.

Of the patients in the low-dose group, 48 percent were cured.

Headache, anemia, fatigue and nausea were the most common side effects, affecting anywhere from 16 percent to 33 percent of the patients. But none dropped out of treatment due to side effects, the researchers said.

Fauci agreed that drug regimens that bypass both interferon and ribavirin are the wave of the future. "The ultimate goal is to have a drug combination that would be nontoxic and have a high cure rate," he said.

The drugs under development also are expected to cut the treatment time from up to 48 weeks to 12 weeks or less, Schiff said.

More than 3 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis C, but most don't know it, Fauci said. "That's why there's a big push for screening," he said.

U.S health officials recommend that all baby boomers (people born from 1945 to 1965) get tested for chronic hepatitis C infection. The virus is mainly transmitted through infected blood, and injection-drug use is the top risk factor. But people who had a blood transfusion before 1992 also are at risk, because that predated widespread screening for hepatitis C.

In a small number of cases, the virus is passed during sex.

Schiff agreed that people would need to be screened for the new drug regimens to effectively prevent cases of liver cirrhosis and cancer. Only a small number of people with chronic hepatitis C develop those complications, but there is no way to predict any one person's course.

Treating all those people with the new drugs coming to market will be expensive, Schiff said. "But it's highly likely they'll be cured," he added. "And you'll be curing a disease that causes cirrhosis and cancer."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on hepatitis C.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Some people with type 2 diabetes might be at higher risk for heart disease if they also carry a particular type of gene, new research reveals.

The gene variant could raise diabetics' odds for heart woes by about a third compared to people without this DNA, according to a team from the Harvard School of Public Health and Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.

The finding might lead to new ways to prevent or treat heart disease in this group of patients, the team added. People with type 2 diabetes are already up to four times more likely to develop heart disease than those without diabetes, and heart disease remains the leading cause of death among the more than 370 million people worldwide with type 2 diabetes, according to information in a Harvard news release.

As reported in the Aug. 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Boston team analyzed data from more than 4,100 people with type 2 diabetes. About one-third of them also had heart disease.

The team tested more than 2.5 million genetic variants and found that one located near the GLUL gene was consistently associated with a 36 percent increased risk of heart disease .

"This is a very intriguing finding because this variant was not found in previous genome-wide association studies in the general population," lead author Dr. Lu Qi, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, said in the news release.

"This means that the genetic risk factors for cardiovascular disease may be different among those with and without diabetes," added Qi, also an assistant professor at the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Experts lauded the research, saying it expands scientists' understanding of the connection between diabetes and heart disease.

"Not only did [the researchers] find a new gene that is linked to coronary heart disease, they identified that this gene will only increase the risk of coronary heart disease if the patient also has diabetes -- in persons without diabetes this gene has no effect," said Dr. Jason Kovacic, assistant professor of medicine in the department of cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

According to Kovacic, the study "opens the door" to the notion that diabetes and other factors "can change the impact of any genetic alterations on the chance of having a stroke or heart attack. This is certain to be a very important line of research in the years ahead."

Dr. Tara Narula is associate director of the cardiac care unit at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She agreed with Kovacic that the Boston team's finding might have implications for better treatments.

"Understanding the mechanism of the gene involved could provide the key to creating drugs that might be protective against [coronary heart disease] in diabetics," Narula said. "Overall, this study expands our current knowledge base and offers hope of designer therapies and treatment plans that could at least ease the [cardiovascular disease] burden of diabetics: a population that already suffers tremendously from the toll diabetes takes on multiple other organ systems in the body."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about diabetes and heart disease.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Measles Outbreak Hits Texas Megachurch

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TUESDAY, Aug 27 (HealthDay News) -- A measles outbreak has sickened 21 members of a Texas megachurch, including a 4-month-old infant, and more cases are expected, according to local health officials.

Eagle Mountain International Church, in Newark, about 20 miles north of Fort Worth, has been running vaccination clinics since the outbreak began earlier this month, officials said.

In Tarrant County, where the church is located, 11 of the 16 people with measles weren't vaccinated against the disease. The others may have had at least one measles vaccination. None of the five people infected in nearby Denton County had been vaccinated, the Associated Press reported.

The church is part of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries, which urges members to "first seek the wisdom of God" and then "appropriate medical attention from a professional that you know and trust," NBC News reported.

Terri Pearsons, a senior pastor at the church and Copeland's daughter, has previously expressed concerns about possible links between childhood vaccines and autism, USA Today reported. That concern has been repeatedly refuted by health officials.

In a recent sermon, Pearsons encouraged followers who haven't been vaccinated to do so, adding that the Old Testament is "full of precautionary measures."

"I would encourage you to do that. There's absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. Go do it. Go do it. Go do it. And go in faith," said Pearsons. But she added, if "you've got this covered in your household by faith and it crosses your heart of faith then don't go do it," the AP reported.

Robert Hayes, the risk manager for Kenneth Copeland Ministries, said the church has never advised adults or children to avoid immunization for measles, NBC News reported.

Health officials said church leaders have been very cooperative in the outbreak investigation, NBC News reported.

Dr. Paul Offit is chief of the division of infectious diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He said that "there are only two ways you can develop specific immunity [to measles], either be infected by the natural virus or be immunized."

He added: "A choice not to get a vaccine is not a risk-free choice. It's a choice to take a different and more serious risk."

According to news reports, the outbreak began after a visitor to the church who had traveled to Indonesia brought the infection back, spreading it to unvaccinated church members. Texas health authorities notified the church of the first cases on Aug. 14 and issued a warning about the outbreak on Aug. 16.

In the interim, hundreds, perhaps more than 1,000 contacts, could have been affected by potentially infected people, Dr. Jane Seward, deputy director for the viral diseases division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC.

"In this community, these cases so far are all in people who refused vaccination for themselves and their children," she told the network.

Offit said measles is highly contagious. "If someone comes into our hospital with measles no one else can go into the room for the next two hours after the patient has left," he said.

"Before there was a measles vaccine there were about 3 to 4 million cases of measles in the United States, about 100,000 hospitalizations and 500 to 1,000 deaths," Offit said.

The CDC recommends that children get a measles/mumps/rubella vaccine at 12 months and again at 4 to 6 years of age.

More information

To learn more about measles, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- The higher your heels, the smarter the shopper you will be.

That's according to new research that found having to focus on physical balance tends to lead to more balanced buying decisions. Hitting the stores after a yoga class or riding an escalator can also have the same spillover effect.

"If you're someone who tends to overspend, or you're kind of an extreme person, then maybe you ought to consider shopping in high heels," study author Jeffrey Larson, a marketing professor at Brigham Young University, said in a university news release.

His team found that when consumers' minds are focused on staying balanced, they are more likely to consider all of their buying options and choose a mid-range product, as opposed to something high-end or of low quality.

In conducting the study, the researchers set up several ways in which physical balance was involved in consumers' shopping experience. For instance, people leaned back on a chair while shopping online, played a Wii Fit game while being questioned about certain products, or stood on one foot while making a buying decision.

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Marketing Research, found people focused on balancing were more likely to buy a 42-inch television for $450 than a bigger, more expensive model or a smaller, cheaper TV.

The researchers concluded that people should be aware of how physical elements can influence the buying decisions they make.

"We need to sit back for a minute and consider, 'Is this really what I want, or are the shoes I'm wearing influencing my choice?'" study co-author Darron Billeter said in the news release. "We need to be more aware of what is influencing our choices."

More information

This article from Psychology Today takes a look at impulse buying.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Obese people are generally believed to be at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but a new study suggests the risk may have more to do with inflammation than extra pounds.

Researchers in Ireland report that chronic inflammation may affect the risk for heart disease and diabetes, which are caused by so-called metabolic factors including high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The findings could help explain why up to 35 percent of obese people are not affected by metabolic disorders -- a phenomenon known as metabolically healthy obesity.

"In our study, metabolically healthy people -- both obese and nonobese -- had lower levels of a range of inflammatory markers," study author Catherine Phillips, of University College Cork, said in a news release from the Endocrine Society. "Regardless of their body-mass index, people with favorable inflammatory profiles also tended to have healthy metabolic profiles."

In conducting the study, the researchers examined information on 2,040 people between 50 and 60 years of age involved in the Cork and Kerry Diabetes and Heart Disease Study.

The participants were surveyed about their lifestyle, and underwent physical exams and blood tests to assess their body-mass index (BMI, a measurement based on height and weight), metabolic profile and level of inflammation.

After examining for certain signs of inflammation, the investigators found that those who were not affected by metabolic disorders had lower white blood cell counts and acute-phase response proteins, which are usually elevated in response to inflammation.

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, also found those without any metabolic disorders had higher levels of adiponectin, a hormone with anti-inflammatory properties. This was true for both lean and obese people who were metabolically healthy.

"From a public health standpoint, we need better methods for identifying which obese people face the greatest risk of diabetes and heart disease," Phillips concluded. "Inflammatory markers offer a potential strategy for pinpointing people who could benefit most from medical interventions."

More information

The American Diabetes Association has more about diabetes.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Patients with the common skin condition rosacea can now turn to the first topical gel aimed at easing the redness that comes with the ailment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved Mirvaso (brimonidine) for the treatment of the redness -- clinically known as erythema -- that is a hallmark of rosacea. The gel is made by Galderma Laboratories, of Fort Worth, Texas, and was approved based on two month-long clinical trials involving more than 550 patients.

"Facial redness is the most common symptom of rosacea, but until now, physicians have been without prescription treatment options to specifically address this patient need," lead investigator Dr. Mark Jackson, a dermatologist and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, said in a news release from Galderma.

"The FDA approval of Mirvaso marks a turning point in rosacea treatment: we are now able to provide patients that deal with the daily frustrations caused by the redness of rosacea with an effective therapy," he said.

One skin expert not connected to the company agreed.

"Up until this point, we have only had drugs to treat the bumps and pus pimples of rosacea," said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York City. "The approval of Mirvaso is very exciting because for the first time, we have a medication to treat facial redness of rosacea, which previously could only be addressed with lasers. Facial redness is a significant issue for rosacea patients, so this drug will fill a large, unmet need."

Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory and vascular ailment that affects the face, causing redness and visible blood vessels as blemishes appear on the forehead, nose and cheeks. The condition is most common in people over 30 and is thought to affect about 16 million Americans, according to the news release.

The studies that led to Mirvaso's approval showed that the drug outperformed an inactive placebo gel in providing "significantly greater improvement in the facial redness of rosacea," the Galderma release said. Another trial, involving 276 patients, was conducted for a year.

According to the company, Mirvaso is thought to work by constricting otherwise dilated facial blood vessels, cutting down on the appearance of redness. The gel is applied once a day to the forehead, chin, nose and cheeks, Galderma said. It will be available in pharmacies in September.

Another dermatologist cautioned that Mirvaso should not be seen as a cure for rosacea.

"This will not replace the need for other rosacea treatments for control of breakouts," said Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. However, she said, existing rosacea therapies "have been limited in their ability to treat or control redness."

Side effects from Mirvaso were rare. In the year-long study, less than 4 percent of the patients experienced reactions such as flushing, redness, burning sensations or headache, the company said. The gel is currently indicated for adults aged 18 or older, and should only be used "with caution" by people affected by depression or certain heart or autoimmune disorders.

More information

To find out more about rosacea, head to the National Rosacea Society.

-- E.J. Mundell

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- While techniques such as fluid restriction can help some children who have problems with bedwetting, alarms and medications are more effective, a new study finds.

"Simple behavioral therapies such as rewarding the child for dry nights or taking the child to the toilet during the night can sometimes help with bedwetting, and is better than doing nothing," said study leader Dr. Patrina Caldwell, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital at Westmead and senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

"However, there are more effective treatments such as bedwetting alarm training or medications," she said. But alarm training is more difficult, she noted.

Bedwetting affects about 5 million children in the United States, with up to 20 percent of 5-year-olds having the problem. Most kids outgrow the problem, known medically as nocturnal enuresis, and only 2 percent of adults are affected. However, bedwetting can be frustrating, stressful and traumatic. Remedies and treatments abound, but with much debate about which are best.

In the United States, two medications are approved for childhood bedwetting -- desmopressin (DDAVP) and imipramine (Tofranil) -- although others are also used off-label.

Dr. Trevor Resnick, chief of neurology at Miami Children's Hospital, said he only prescribes medication on an as-needed basis, such as to spare children embarrassment on a sleepover.

The new report was published recently in The Cochrane Library.

For the review, Caldwell's team reviewed 16 published studies involving more than 1,600 children, with about half trying simple interventions. Among them were fluid retention, rewards for dry nights (such as stars on chart), and lifting children and taking them to the bathroom after they have been asleep.

No one simple strategy worked better than another, the researchers found. When they compared alarm training with the simple strategies, the alarm training was more effective. And treatment with medication alone was better than the simple interventions.

However, the researcher noted that "the findings from this review should be interpreted cautiously due to the poor quality and small sizes of the trials."

Reasons for bedwetting are not totally understood, but experts think it may be associated with the time it takes children to develop control over the bladder, a complex milestone. The timing varies from child to child.

The findings suggest that parents may want to start with simple treatments, Caldwell said, "then move to alarm training or medication if simple treatments do not work after trying for six months."

"Younger children generally take longer to respond to treatment," she said. "Don't get annoyed with the child, because bedwetting is usually out of their control."

While the alarm system, which sounds an alarm when drops of urine are detected, is effective, it is difficult to do, Caldwell said. Another downside she has sometimes seen is when children become dry on alarm training then develop sleepwalking or night terrors. "Bedwetting and night terrors and sleepwalking are all parasomnias [sleep disorders] and are known to be associated," she said.

The new findings mirror what U.S. expert Resnick has seen in his patients. "I'd say behavioral therapies work about 50 percent of the time," said Resnick, who was not involved in the study.

If simple treatments don't work, Resnick said he may consider medications, but he only prescribes them on an as-needed basis, since the medications have side effects.

He agreed with the review authors that many of the included studies did not have sufficient children participating or who were receiving a single treatment to produce definitive findings.

More information

To learn more about bedwetting, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 27, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Girl Who Got 2 Lung Transplants Goes Home

The 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl whose lung transplant sparked a national debate over organ-transplantation policy left the hospital and returned home Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Sarah Murnaghan, of Newtown Square, has end-stage cystic fibrosis and received two transplants of adult-sized lungs, even though current organ-transplant policy states that children only receive child-sized lungs.

However, Sarah's parents took her case to the courts. A federal judge intervened on her behalf, ordering that she be allowed an adult lung transplant.

The first set of adult lungs the child received failed within hours of transplant, but a second set, transplanted three days later, seem to have worked.

Sarah's mother, Janet Murnaghan, said in a Facebook page posting late Monday that Sarah would be leaving Children's Hospital of Philadephia on Tuesday. On Sunday, Janet Murnaghan said her daughter had been taken off oxygen but does get some breathing support from a machine. She is now able to walk around the hospital using a walker, and has gone outside for brief periods, the AP reported.

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Music Star Linda Ronstadt Has Parkinson's Disease

Singer Linda Ronstadt, a music star for more than four decades, has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which has robbed her of the ability to sing.

"No one can sing with Parkinson's disease," the 67-year-old Ronstadt said in an interview with AARP Magazine. "No matter how hard you try."

Ronstadt said she was diagnosed eight months ago and "can't sing a note." She said she initially experienced symptoms about eight years ago, but thought her singing problems were caused by a tick disease, the Associated Press reported.

She said she was "completely shocked" when a neurologist diagnosed her with Parkinson's disease. "I wouldn't have suspected that in a million, billion years."

Ronstadt sold tens of millions of records starting in the late 1960s. Some of her earlier hits included "You're No Good" and "When Will I Be Loved." She later sang pop standards and mariachi music, the AP reported.

Ronstadt now uses poles to walk on uneven ground and a wheelchair when traveling, the AARP story said.

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says Parkinson's disease is part of a group of conditions called motor system disorders that are caused by the loss of certain key brain cells. Typical symptoms include tremors, or trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and problems with balance and coordination. As symptoms become more severe, some patients may have trouble with walking, talking or other simple tasks. The disease usually affects people 50 and older.

There's no cure for Parkinson's, but a variety of medications can provide significant relief from the symptoms, according to the institute.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

What Is 'Play' to a Child With Autism?

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TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- When free to choose, kids with autism pick games that engage their senses and avoid games that ask them to pretend, a new study finds.

Experts said the results are not surprising. It's known, for instance, that when children do not show an interest in pretend play, such as "feeding" a doll, by about age 2, that is a potential sign of an autism spectrum disorder.

What is unique about the new study is that it went out into the real world, said lead researcher Kathy Ralabate Doody, an assistant professor of exceptional education at the State University of New York, Buffalo State.

Doody's team spent six months observing children who attended a local museum's Au-some Evenings, a monthly program designed for children with autism. The program offered 20 exhibits with different activities, including a train that children could climb on, arts and crafts and a make-believe farm where kids could pretend to pick vegetables and collect eggs.

The researchers found that children with autism were naturally drawn to activities that got them moving, or allowed them to watch moving objects. The biggest crowd pleaser was an exhibit in which kids climbed a short staircase and dropped a ball into a track to watch it travel over hills. Another favorite was a windmill that the children could spin.

On the other hand, arts and crafts, and exhibits that required pretending were the least popular, according to the findings, which were reported in a recent issue of the North American Journal of Medicine and Science.

"We know that kids on the spectrum have a fascination with things that move, and with repetition," Doody said.

In contrast, she said, pretend play requires "putting yourself in someone's shoes," and talking and acting as if you were another person. That's an ability with which children with autism spectrum disorders struggle.

The current findings are what you would expect, said Dana Levy, a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City.

"I think it's a really nice idea," Levy said, referring to the museum's autism spectrum disorders program.

"We do know that kids with autism are able to practice social skills when they're doing something they enjoy," Levy said. So if an activity gets your child around other kids -- and talking or learning to take turns, for instance -- it could benefit his or her development.

"If it becomes just a solitary thing, though, it's not really helpful," Levy said.

Plus, letting children do only the things they're innately drawn to can be limiting. When young children with autism spectrum disorders are in therapy, pretend play is typically part of it, Levy said.

But if there is a social setting with activities a child with autism enjoys, parents can use that as a door, Levy said. If your child loves the museum's stair-climbing exhibit, on your next visit tell him or her that you're going to try one new thing first and then go to the stairs, Levy suggested.

It's estimated that about one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder -- a group of developmental disorders that hinder a person's ability to communicate and interact socially. Autism spectrum disorders range widely in severity: Some children speak very little and have an intense preoccupation with just a few things, while other kids have normal or above-normal intelligence and milder problems with socializing.

For the current study, Doody's team watched children during six Au-some Evenings events. An average of 31 children with autism spectrum disorders and 22 without (usually siblings) attended each night. One limitation of the research, Doody said, is that they had no medical information on the children, including the severity of their autism.

Doody, who has a child with an autism spectrum disorder, said it would be helpful if more public places had events like this, since parents can struggle to find activities the whole family enjoys -- particularly if they also have kids without autism.

She said the current findings could help community programs develop inclusive activities so kids with autism have more chances to interact with typically developing children.

"Being in a social environment is great for them," Levy said.

Even if your local museum doesn't have a special program, she said, it might have something that would appeal to your child. If he or she likes to look at maps, for instance, a museum or park that has maps scattered throughout might be a good place to start.

More information

Autism Speaks offers resources and advice for families.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Unlike the case with adult readmissions, higher hospital readmission rates for children may not necessarily indicate poor quality of care, according to new research.

Parents or guardians looking for a good pediatric hospital should not base their decision on its readmission rates, the study authors added.

The multistate study tracked rates of children being readmitted to the hospital or visiting the emergency room within one and two months of being discharged for common childhood conditions.

"As a national way of assessing and tracking hospital quality, pediatric readmissions and revisits, at least for specific diagnoses, are not useful to families trying to find a good hospital, nor to the hospitals trying to improve their pediatric care," study author Dr. Naomi Bardach, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, Benioff Children's Hospital, said in a UCSF news release. "Measuring and reporting them publicly would waste limited hospital and health care resources."

In conducting the study, the researchers examined nearly 1,000 hospitals that admitted children for seven common pediatric conditions: asthma, dehydration, pneumonia, appendicitis, skin infections, mood disorders and epilepsy. They determined the rates of readmissions and visits to the hospital within 30 and 60 days of being discharged for each condition.

The study revealed that 30-day readmission rates were 7.6 percent for mood disorders, 6.1 percent for epilepsy and 6 percent for dehydration. However, 30-day readmission rates for all the other conditions at all the hospitals were less than 5 percent. Given these findings, the researchers concluded that few hospitals that care for kids can be rated as being better or worse based on readmissions.

"With average 30-day readmission rates hovering around 5 percent, there is little space for a hospital to be identified as having better performance," Bardach said.

Only one of the hospitals performed better than average when it came to readmissions for asthma, while four performed worse. Two hospitals performed better than average on appendicitis readmissions and two performed worse. There were no differences among hospitals in average performance for pneumonia and dehydration. Only one hospital of more than 600 performed below average on seizure readmission rates.

"The low number of outliers is likely due to the fact that most hospitals just don't admit very many kids, because children are healthier than adults," Bardach said.

The researchers said larger studies involving children with similar diagnoses could improve the usefulness of readmission rates as a measure of hospital performance or quality of care.

The study will appear in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines efforts to reduce hospital readmissions.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Testing for certain proteins in spinal fluid may help doctors diagnose Parkinson's disease earlier and determine how fast the movement disorder is likely to advance, according to new research.

The team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania said their discovery of these protein "biomarkers" might also aid in the development of new Parkinson's treatments.

"Biomarkers for Parkinson's disease such as these could help us diagnose patients earlier," study senior author Leslie Shaw, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Penn Medicine, said in a university news release.

Shaw and Dr. John Trojanowski are co-leaders in the bioanalytics core for the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), an international study sponsored by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's. They led a team that collected spinal fluid from 102 people. Of these, 63 had early, untreated Parkinson's disease and 39 did not have the disorder (the "control" group).

The investigators examined the levels of five specific substances in the spinal fluid, including amyloid beta, total tau, phosphorylated tau, alpha synuclein and the ratio of total tau to amyloid beta.

The findings revealed that, compared with the healthy control group, people with early stage Parkinson's had lower levels of amyloid beta, tau and alpha synuclein in their spinal fluid.

In addition, patients with lower levels of tau and alpha synuclein had more problems with movement, the study authors noted in the report published Aug. 26 in JAMA Neurology.

The researchers found that patients with early stage Parkinson's and low levels of amyloid beta and tau were more likely to experience falls, freezing and trouble walking. Previous research has shown that this type of motor dysfunction in Parkinson's is associated with more functional disability and a faster decline in thinking skills.

"We are hoping to identify subgroups of Parkinson's patients whose disease is likely to progress at a different rate, as early as possible," noted Trojanowski, who is also director of the Penn Udall Center for Parkinson's Research. "Early prediction is critical, for both motor and dementia symptoms," he said in the news release.

PPMI trial site study leader and professor of neurology, Dr. Matthew Stern, added in the news release that "in addition to biomarker tests, validating risk factors could enable earlier detection of the disease and open new avenues in the quest for therapies that could slow or stop disease progression." Stern is also director of Penn's Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center.

The study authors pointed out that more research is needed to evaluate and confirm the spinal fluid testing procedure.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides more information on Parkinson's disease.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Middle-aged men with high cholesterol levels are at greater risk for a first heart attack than similar women are, Norwegian researchers report.

In a study of more than 40,000 men and women under the age of 60, men with high cholesterol had more than three times the risk of having a heart attack, compared to women with high cholesterol.

"In middle age, our results suggest that high cholesterol is much more detrimental for men than for women, and that prevention and treatment of high cholesterol in middle-aged men have a great potential to reduce the occurrence of heart attacks among men," said lead researcher Dr. Erik Madssen, from the department of circulation and medical imaging at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim.

Men under 60 should be diagnosed and treated for high cholesterol more aggressively than what often is the case today, he added.

To reduce the risk of heart attack, men should be counseled about making lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, as well as taking medication such as statins like Lipitor, to lower their cholesterol levels. "This is especially true in males that have a family history of heart attacks and in smokers," Madssen said.

Why there is this difference in risk between men and women isn't clear, but Madssen thinks it may have to do with the protective effects of hormones like estrogen, which is why they limited their study to women and men under 60.

"We believe that females below 60 years of age may be protected against some of the cardiovascular consequences of having high cholesterol due to female sex hormones such as estrogen," he said.

The report was published in the September issue of Epidemiology.

One expert said it is important for both men and women to keep their cholesterol in check.

"It is well established [that] men have a higher risk for heart attacks at an earlier age than women, with an approximately 10-year risk differential, but over a lifetime the cardiovascular risk in women exceeds that of men," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, spokesman for the American Heart Association and a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In addition, it has been shown that higher cholesterol levels are an independent risk factor for men and women, with both sexes deriving similar benefits in terms of protection from cardiovascular disease with statins, he added.

"The use of lifestyle modification and statin therapy is one of the most effective, cost-effective and high-value therapeutic approaches to prevent cardiovascular events and prolong life in men as well as women," Fonarow said. "Attention to cholesterol levels and other risk factors remain vital for both men and women."

For the study, Madssen's team collected data on 23,525 women and 20,725 men who were younger than 60 when they took part in the second Nord-Trondelag Health Study. In that survey, which was done in 1995-1997 across Norway, participants had blood samples taken and analyzed.

Over 12 years of follow-up, 522 men had a first heart attack, compared with 157 women.

The researchers also looked at heart attacks among 20,138 people aged 60 and older at the time of the survey. However, among these participants there was no gender difference in the risk for heart attacks, they noted.

More information

For more on cholesterol, visit the American Heart Association.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Pack Safe School Lunches

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(HealthDay News) -- As the kids head back to school, make sure you follow food-safety guidelines while packing their lunches.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests how to keep school lunches safe and healthy:

  • Wash your child's lunch box each day with warm, soapy water.
  • Even when in a rush, don't take shortcuts. Wash your hands before preparing your child's lunch, and make sure food-preparation areas are clean.
  • Pack perishable foods in an insulated container with an ice pack. Store perishables packed the night before in the refrigerator.
  • Pack shelf-stable lunchtime goodies such as trail mix, cut veggies, cereal, granola, fruit and whole grain crackers.
  • Wash all fruits and veggies, even those that need to be peeled.
  • Remind kids to wash hands before eating. Make sure they throw away or refrigerate any perishables left over from lunch.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- Limiting how much and what type of TV your kids watch is important, as too much screen time can be harmful for kids, experts say.

The Nemours Foundation mentions these possible risks of too much unmonitored television watching among children:

  • Increased risk of obesity, due to lack of physical activity.
  • Exposure to violence, which can be frightening and confusing for youngsters.
  • Exposure to risky behavior, such as cigarette use and alcohol abuse, which kids may try to imitate in real life.
  • Exposure to advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Men with a history of prostate cancer who drank four or more cups of coffee daily had a 59 percent lower risk of seeing their cancer worsen or return, a new study found.

However, the research did not prove that coffee drinking protected against prostate cancer, and there's no proof that coffee lovers had lower odds of dying from the disease.

The research, conducted by a team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, found no effect from tea drinking on prostate cancer. But that might be due to the study's own limitations, the researchers added.

"Few patients in our [study] cohort were regular tea drinkers, and the highest category of tea consumption was one or more cups per day," the authors wrote in the Aug. 26 online edition of Cancer Causes & Control. Therefore, any link between tea drinking and prostate cancer outcomes "should be investigated in future studies that have access to larger populations with higher levels of tea consumption," they added.

The study involved more than 1,000 prostate cancer survivors who ranged in age from 35 to 74 when they were first diagnosed between 2002 and 2005. All had been surveyed on their food and drink habits two years prior to their diagnosis.

The research team then tracked patient outcomes for at least five years after their diagnosis, looking for signs of cancer progression and/or tumor recurrence. A total of 630 of the men answered questions regarding their ongoing coffee intake, with 61 percent saying they drank at least one cup per day, while 12 percent drank four or more cups daily.

Over a median of eight years of follow-up, 38 men died from prostate cancer. Because there were relatively few deaths, it was difficult to reliably say whether or not coffee drinking affected the risk of dying from the disease, the study authors said.

One prostate cancer expert said the findings need to be interpreted with caution.

"This is an interesting study that provides additional evidence for an association between coffee consumption and prostate cancer behavior," said Dr. Matthew Galsky, an associate professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. "However, it is important to recognize that establishing an association does not confirm causality -- that is, that the coffee consumption was the factor that was responsible for the less aggressive prostate cancer behavior."

The study's lead author said the research effort was especially rigorous, however. "We used detailed information on follow-up prostate-specific antigen [PSA] levels, use of secondary treatment for prostate cancer and data from scans and biopsies to assess occurrence of metastases [spread] and cause-specific mortality during follow up," Milan Geybels, a doctoral student now at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, said in a Fred Hutchinson news release.

"Using these detailed data, we could determine whether a patient had evidence of prostate cancer recurrence or progression," said Geybels, who was a graduate student at Fred Hutchinson when the study was conducted.

The researchers did not have data on whether the men drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee, or whether the way the coffee was brewed made any difference.

The study authors said there's good reason to think that coffee could have cancer-fighting properties. For example, they pointed to research showing that caffeine and other chemicals in coffee have properties that inhibit runaway cancer cell growth. And prior studies have found similar benefits for avid coffee drinkers in terms of reducing the risks for basal-cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer), gliomas (brain/nervous system cancers) and ovarian cancer.

Still, the study authors said it's too early to recommend coffee as a cancer fighter, and larger, prospective trials are needed.

Galsky agreed. "Additional studies are needed to establish causality and then identify the specific components in coffee that could potentially be used to enhance prostate cancer treatment," he said.

Geybels also pointed out that too much coffee might even be unhealthy for some men.

"For instance, men with hypertension [high blood pressure] may be vulnerable to the adverse effects of caffeine in coffee," he said. "Or, specific components in coffee may raise serum [blood] cholesterol levels, posing a possible threat to coronary health. Patients who have questions or concerns about their coffee intake should discuss them with their general practitioner."

The study was funded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the Dutch Cancer Society and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

More information

To learn more about prostate cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

-- E.J. Mundell

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Encouraging weight maintenance, rather than weight loss, may be the most effective way to fight obesity among black women, new research suggests.

The finding stems from work with nearly 200 mildly obese young and middle-aged black residents of North Carolina, half of whom participated in a new yearlong food counseling and exercise program designed to maintain each patient's current body shape, rather than to shed pounds.

The bottom line: Although most of the women given standard weight-loss counseling continued to gain weight over the ensuing 18 months, those given maintenance counseling were much more likely to stabilize their weight.

"Black American women have some of the highest rates of obesity in the world," said study author Gary Bennett, director of the Duke University Obesity Prevention Program in Durham, N.C. "Frankly, 80 percent are overweight, which means that overweight has become the norm."

"Federal guidelines recommend that our primary-care physicians encourage all overweight patients to lose weight," Bennett said. "But black women may not necessarily want to lose weight, perhaps because they are less likely to value thinness as a cultural norm and have fewer social pressures to do so. What is clear is that we consistently see that black women do not do well when we try to deliver weight-loss treatment."

"Our focus was on weight stability," he said. "And we did not push the connection between health and weight. The goal was to help these women -- who are already slightly obese -- avoid further weight gains that, year after year, will give rise to all sorts of health complications down the road."

Bennett discussed his team's findings in the Aug. 26 issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Study participants were recruited from six different North Carolina community health centers starting in 2009. All were between the ages of 25 and 44, all were deemed "class 1" (mildly) obese and the majority were on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

Over the course of 12 months, roughly half were assigned randomly to receive the usual weight-loss counseling. The other half were enrolled in a highly individualized and flexible weight-stability-counseling program called Shape.

All Shape patients were given a YMCA membership. They also were encouraged to make slight food-consumption adjustments (no sugary drinks; more fruits and vegetables) that would result in a 200-calorie dip in daily consumption.

All the while, Shape patients were not told that the point of the program was to lose weight, but it was rather to feel better overall while keeping their current physique.

The result: By the one-year mark more than 62 percent of the Shape women had either maintained their initial weight (and body-mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight) or even shed some pounds, compared with about 45 percent of those receiving weight-loss counseling.

What's more, weight stability among the Shape participants was found to have continued through to the 18-month mark, six months after the program ended.

"What's important to know is that when black women are slightly overweight or obese, they don't actually have as many health risks as other groups," Bennett said. "We don't really know why, but they seem to have some sort of health advantage in that respect. At the same time, we also know that this advantage disappears over time as they continue to gain weight year after year, so if we don't prevent that [long-term] gain they will certainly come face-to-face with all sorts of cardiovascular issues, hypertension and diabetes."

"This preventive approach is very important," he added. "And certainly it may have benefits beyond black women alone. There are many people who are uninterested in weight loss or have been unsuccessful trying. For them, we now have a message that may work: Just don't gain anymore."

In an editorial published with the Duke study, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin lent her support to the Shape program.

"As Surgeon General, my whole focus was on prevention," Benjamin said. "This innovative approach fits right into that because it shows that, even if you don't call it 'healthy,' a doctor can give me a healthy lifestyle prescription that I can actually live with and incorporate into my family, my daily life, my church life."

"It's also a positive new way of thinking about health that isn't about telling people that you can't do this and you can't do that," Benjamin said. "It doesn't focus on your dress size or what the scales say. It focuses on feeling better and the enjoyable aspects of healthy living by telling people that [they're] going to have a better outcome overall. You and your family are going to feel better and be happier. That's the reward."

More information

For more on obesity and black women, visit womenshealth.gov.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Schools across America are showing progress in key areas related to health, including nutrition, physical education and smoking, federal health officials reported Monday.

The results of a 2012 comprehensive survey of school health policies showed some encouraging trends, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Schools play a critical role in the health and well-being of our youth," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in an agency news release. "Good news for students and parents -- more students have access to healthy food, better physical fitness activities through initiatives such as 'Let's Move,' and campuses that are completely tobacco-free," he said.

The report focused on those three areas. The highlights were:

Nutrition:

  • Between 2006 and 2012, school districts allowing soft drink companies to advertise on school grounds dropped from about 47 percent to 33.5 percent.
  • During the same time period, districts requiring schools to ban junk food in vending machines rose from nearly 30 percent to just over 43 percent.
  • Over the six years between 2006 and 2012, districts with food contracts addressing nutritional standards for foods purchased apart from school breakfasts or lunches rose from 55 percent to 73.5 percent.
  • Between 2000 and 2012, districts making nutritional and caloric data of school meals available to families rose from slightly over 35 percent to nearly 53 percent.

Physical education:

  • From 2000 to 2012, districts requiring elementary schools to teach physical education rose from about 83 percent to around 94 percent.
  • In 2012, a majority of school districts (nearly 62 percent) had agreements for shared use of school or community property; more than half having agreements with groups such as the YMCA, Boys or Girls Clubs, or the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, or local parks or recreation departments.

Tobacco:

  • Districts prohibiting all tobacco use during school-related activities rose from just under 47 percent in 2000 to 67.5 percent in 2012.

The 2012 School Health Policies and Practices Study is a national survey to assess health policies in schools, districts and classrooms.

According to the CDC, the survey assesses eight components of school health: health education; physical education and activity; health services; mental health and social services; nutrition services; healthy and safe school environment; faculty and staff health promotion; and family and community involvement.

More information

For more about school health, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- The way doctors describe precancerous conditions can affect the treatment choices patients make, potentially steering them toward surgery if more dire terms are used, a new study finds.

Researchers found that women more often chose surgery as treatment rather than medication or observation if the word "cancer" was used when describing a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, a noninvasive form of breast cancer, according to the study, which was supported by the American Cancer Society.

Two-thirds of women opted for a nonsurgical treatment if doctors did not use the term "cancer" when describing DCIS, the researchers reported in the Aug. 26 online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

"There's a strong connotation associated with the term 'cancer,'" said study co-author Elissa Ozanne, an associate professor in the Institute for Health Policy Studies and department of surgery at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. "This study suggests women aren't receiving the treatments they would prefer if they received a different kind of communication."

Much attention has been focused recently on the effect that terminology can have on patients with precancerous conditions. In July, a panel of experts commissioned by the U.S. National Cancer Institute concluded that the word "cancer" may need to be redefined to prevent overdiagnosis and overtreatment of conditions that are often not lethal.

The new study involved 394 healthy women who were asked what treatment option they would prefer for a diagnosis of DCIS, which is a noninvasive malignancy involving the presence of abnormal cells inside a breast's milk duct.

DCIS is not full-fledged breast cancer. "The actual words 'in situ' mean 'noninvasive,' but over the last 20 to 30 years we started referring to it as cancer," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. "It has become something people fear as if it is cancer, simply because people started calling it cancer. Even the ACS [American Cancer Society] website refers to it as cancer in places."

DCIS is diagnosed in more than 50,000 women a year in the United States. More than 90 percent of those women opt for either a mastectomy or lumpectomy, Ozanne said.

However, prior research suggests that low-grade DCIS will progress to full-fledged cancer in only about 20 percent of cases, over a time frame of five to 40 years, according to background provided with the study.

Some doctors argue that low-grade DCIS should be placed in the same category as low-grade prostate cancer, a condition that rarely kills men and often is treated with active surveillance, Ozanne and Brawley said.

The women in the study were presented three treatment options: surgery, medication or active surveillance. When doctors used the term "noninvasive cancer" to describe DCIS, 47 percent of the women surveyed said they would ask for surgery.

But only 34 percent said they would want surgery when doctors described DCIS as a "breast lesion." And the description "abnormal cells" prompted just 31 percent of the women to choose surgery.

"Significantly more women changed their preference from a surgical to a nonsurgical option than from a nonsurgical to a surgical option depending on terminology used," the researchers concluded in their paper.

There are two main takeaways for health-care professionals from the findings, Ozanne said.

"First, be as careful as possible so women fully understand the risks they face, and understand that the terminology may confer unintended risks," she said. "Second, really involve the patient in the decision-making, and make sure their informed preferences drive the decision-making."

Brawley said the findings also add more weight to the argument that the term "cancer" needs to be reassessed.

"We need to realize that we have a problem, and the problem is that everything that looks like cancer is not going to behave like cancer. Because it's localized and has this appearance doesn't mean it's going to grow, spread and kill," he said. "We have to develop a 21st-century definition of cancer that involves genomic studies. Right now we're working with an 1850s' definition of breast cancer, and we're not even being true to it."

More information

For more on ductal carcinoma in situ, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- A new implantable defibrillator accurately detects abnormal heart rhythms and shocks the heart back into normal rhythm, yet has no wires touching the heart, new research shows.

The device, called a subcutaneous implantable cardiac defibrillator (S-ICD), is placed under the patient's skin and has a wire under the skin along the left side of the breast bone.

"The device detects life-threatening arrhythmias from normal rhythms, and once it notices the life-threatening rhythm it will automatically shock the heart back to its normal rhythm," said lead researcher Dr. Martin Burke, director of the Heart Rhythm Center at the University of Chicago.

The advantage of the device is its durability -- it lasts longer because there is not as much flexibility in the wiring, Burke said. Wires in standard implantable defibrillators need to be flexible to pass through blood vessels to the heart.

"This makes the system enticing for younger patients who have risk of cardiac arrest who currently don't get standard systems because of [probable] failures of those systems over time," Burke said. "The heart beats 30 million times a year, and those beats put wear and tear on those wires."

The research was paid for by the device's maker, Cameron Health Inc., and then by Boston Scientific Corp. after it acquired Cameron. The report was published online Aug. 27 in the journal Circulation.

Burke said the new device won't replace standard implantable defibrillators because many patients who need an implantable defibrillator also need a pacemaker to keep the heart beating regularly and this new device does not pace the heart.

"It will, however, be a nice alternative for patients who don't need pacing," he said. The new device also can be used to replace a defective or worn out standard implantable defibrillator, he said.

The new device is a little more costly than standard implantable defibrillators, Burke said, with a price tag of about $24,000, compared with $18,000 to $22,000 for a standard implantable defibrillator.

The cost of the new device is covered by some insurance companies and Medicare, he added.

The S-ICD has been used in Europe and New Zealand since 2009 and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012, but long-term study is still required, the researchers said.

One expert said there's a place for the new defibrillator.

"The subcutaneous defibrillator adds additional value for patients with indications for an implantable defibrillator who are poor candidates for standard systems," said Dr. Leslie Saxon, chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Southern California and author of an accompanying journal editorial.

Since the device is not a pacemaker, however, it doesn't provide many options other devices do. "[Doctors should] think carefully about defibrillator selection and individualize patient care," Saxon said.

Another expert said more clinical experience is needed to determine which patients will benefit most from its use.

"It is estimated that 200,000 to 400,000 people die suddenly every year in the United States, and the majority of these deaths are the result of the heart rhythm abnormalities ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Although this study found the new device exceeded FDA-specified goals in terms of efficacy and safety, "additional studies with longer-term follow-up are needed to better define the effectiveness, safety and ideal patient population for this new device," Fonarow added.

For the study, 314 patients using the device were evaluated over an average of six months. During that time, 21 patients had 38 episodes of ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia -- abnormal rhythms that precede cardiac arrest. The average age of the patients was 52.

In each case, the device restored the heart to a normal rhythm, the researchers reported. Forty-one patients, however, received shocks when the heart wasn't in a dangerous rhythm.

Ninety-nine percent of the patients had no complications from the device in the 180 days following implantation. In testing, the device recognized and reversed abnormal, life-threatening rhythms 100 percent of the time.

More information

For more on implantable defibrillators, visit the American Heart Association.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- If you feel like talking to your fetus in the womb, a new study suggests you should: The research finds that babies develop a memory of words they hear frequently before they are born.

"We believe this shows how well the brain at this age adapts to sounds. It is a sign of very early language learning, or adaptation to the sounds they heard," said study co-author Minna Huotilainen, a docent at the University of Helsinki's Finnish Center of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research. "A newborn baby is not an empty canvas, but has already learned how his or her mother and other family members speak."

It may sound amazing that babies can recall sounds they heard in the womb, especially considering their brains are still developing the connections that allow them to process anything at all. Still, there are signs that fetuses actually remember sounds they encounter.

"There is already some evidence that fetuses can learn, and that babies can remember songs or passages of speech from the fetal period," Huotilainen said.

The researchers tested the memory of Finnish fetuses by exposing them to a single word -- "tatata" -- that means nothing in the Finnish language.

"It is a so-called 'pseudoword' that is important for research. It has three syllables, and we chose such a long word to make it challenging for the small brains to find the changes and give them something difficult to learn," Huotilainen said. "Such a word could exist in Finnish. It follows all the rules of the Finnish language."

From the 29th week of pregnancy until birth, about half of the 33 pregnant women in the study listened to recordings of the word repeated hundreds of times. Sometimes the recordings presented the word with a different middle syllable ("to") or pronounced differently.

After birth, the researchers used scans to test the activity in the brains of all the babies when they heard the word. Those who'd heard it before "showed an enhanced reaction to this specific word," Huotilainen said. "They were able to process the word better, and also they were able to detect changes in the word better."

Huotilainen said it appears that the type of learning revealed by the study probably happens in the late part of pregnancy, although this hasn't been studied. Babies begin to hear about halfway through pregnancy, she said.

Patricia Kuhl, a speech researcher and director of the University of Washington's NSF Science of Learning Center, praised the study. "The fact that learning from frequently presented sounds occurs while infants are still in the womb means that language learning does not begin on Day 1 at the moment of birth, but while the infant listens to sounds in utero. It's really quite amazing that the fetal brain has that capacity."

What can parents do with this information?

"Be aware that the fetus can hear something from the outside world and learn from it," study co-author Huotilainen said. "Speak during your pregnancy. You can speak to other people or to your fetus if you like."

The study appears in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

For more about pregnancy, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Many Americans are undergoing needless thyroid biopsies, researchers say, and simplifying clinical guidelines would go a long way toward curbing the problem.

The investigators from University of California, San Francisco analyzed the medical records of about 8,800 patients who underwent thyroid ultrasound scans. Reporting in the Aug. 26 online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, they said that more than 98 percent of the thyroid nodules found in patients were not cancerous.

"Right now, we're doing far too many thyroid biopsies in patients who are really at very low risk of having thyroid cancer," study lead author Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a professor in the department of radiology and biomedical imaging, said in a UCSF news release.

Based on the finding, her team is recommending that biopsies should be performed only when medical imaging reveals a thyroid nodule with tiny flecks of calcium, known as microcalcifications, or a nodule that is more than 2 centimeters in diameter and completely solid.

Patients with any other findings have too low a cancer risk to require biopsy or continued surveillance, the researchers said .

"Compared with other existing guidelines, many of which are complicated to apply, following these simple, evidence-based guidelines would substantially decrease the number of unnecessary thyroid biopsies in the United States," Smith-Bindman said.

She noted that the procedures are discomforting, cause worry for patients, and require time off from work and other activities. "Plus, they are often inconclusive. And that can lead us down the path of open surgical biopsy, which is hardly trivial, and quite risky in itself, even in patients without cancer," Smith-Bindman said.

Other experts agreed with the need to rein in thyroid biopsies.

"Due to the high prevalence of thyroid nodules in the United States population, the increase of incidental detection of these nodules, the demand for higher cost-efficiency, and the avoidance of unnecessary invasive procedures, it is crucial that we begin to limit the number of fine-needle biopsies of these lesions," said Dr. David Hiltzik, director of otolaryngology and head & neck surgery at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City.

Hiltzik believes the new study will help doctors "risk stratify each patient and to help decide which patients should and should not be biopsied."

"Any cancer diagnosis has a psychological impact," Hiltzik added. "However, in light of the fact that the majority of thyroid cancer has a high survival rate, we must become more judicious in our diagnosis of this disease."

Another expert in thyroid care concurred, and added that there may be better, noninvasive means of determining whether a thyroid growth poses a health risk.

"The majority of thyroid nodules, particularly in women, are benign," explained Dr. Eric Genden, chair of otolaryngology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "Although current techniques to assess a nodule for malignancy rely on cystology (viewing a sample of cells under a microscope), new techniques using molecular testing have the potential to decrease the risk of unnecessary surgery."

About 15,000 men and 45,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer this year and 1,850 people will die of it, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about thyroid cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers who identified 105 new genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis say their findings will improve diagnosis and could increase the number of patients who receive individualized drug treatment.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes a buildup of thick mucus in the lungs, resulting in frequent lung infections, breathing problems and decreased lung function. Eventually, the repeated infections destroy the lungs.

More than 1,900 mutations had already been identified in the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis, but it was unclear how many of them actually contribute to the disease.

In this study, researchers analyzed genetic information from nearly 40,000 cystic fibrosis patients in order to determine which of the 1,900 mutations are benign and which are harmful. Their findings increased the number of mutations known to cause cystic fibrosis from 22 to 127.

The study was published online Aug. 25 in the journal Nature Genetics.

Identification of these additional mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene will bring certainty to families about whether someone has cystic fibrosis or is a carrier, and will also help efforts to design new drugs that target specific mutations. There is already one such drug on the market.

"Since not all mutations cause disease, sequencing the DNA in both copies of your CFTR gene and finding an abnormality in one wouldn't tell us if you are a carrier for [cystic fibrosis] unless we knew if that abnormality causes [cystic fibrosis]," Dr. Garry Cutting, a professor of pediatrics in the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a Hopkins news release.

"Until this new work, more than a quarter of couples in which both partners were found to carry a CFTR mutation were left wondering if their mutations were going to affect their offspring. Now it's down to 9 percent," he explained.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about cystic fibrosis.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

More Links Seen Between Autism, ADHD

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MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are 20 times more likely to exhibit some traits of autism than children without ADHD, according to a new study.

One of every five ADHD kids in the study exhibited signs of autism such as slow language development, difficulty interacting with others and problems with emotional control, said study co-author Dr. Joseph Biederman, director of the pediatric psychopharmacology unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.

These kids also showed problems with "executive function," or the ability to plan, organize and conceptualize future action, said Biederman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Fewer than 1 percent of kids in the non-ADHD comparison group exhibited any traits linked to autism, according to the study appearing in the September issue of Pediatrics.

"These children are not having the full diagnosis of autism, but they have symptoms of autism," Biederman said. "It may be important to screen children with ADHD for autistic traits because they may need more support, particularly in the educational and interpersonal domains."

Previous studies of children with autism have found that many also have severe ADHD symptoms. This is one of the first studies to turn the tables and see if the reverse is true, said Dr. Alice Mao, an associate professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine. She was not involved with the study.

"Generally, autistic kids with ADHD are challenging to treat because they don't respond well to ADHD medications," Mao said. "You have to treat the autism symptoms and then treat the ADHD. The conclusion would be that perhaps we should screen these ADHD kids who are not doing well on traditional ADHD treatments to see if they have comorbid autism traits."

The study included 242 kids aged 6 to 18 with ADHD as well as a 227-member "control" group of kids without ADHD. The children were drawn from an existing large-scale sample pool that excluded any kids who had been diagnosed with autism.

The children and their parents filled out a series of questionnaires to grade their behavior and compare it to generally accepted definitions of autistic traits.

The researchers found that 18 percent of kids with ADHD exhibited some behaviors that are common in autism, compared with 0.87 percent of kids from the control group.

The ADHD children with autistic traits had many more social problems than typical ADHD children. They were more likely to fight with and be rejected by other kids, and displayed more school behavior problems, more difficulties using their spare time and more friction with their siblings, the study authors noted.

The children with both ADHD and autistic traits also tended to more frequently suffer additional psychiatric and learning disorders than either kids with only ADHD or children in the control group.

"Those with autism traits have greater severity of symptoms and dysfunction," Mao said. "Certainly it would be useful to screen kids with ADHD who have autism traits to see which kids may need more help socially, as well as to make sure they don't have lower intellectual functioning. You may be able to give other treatments that would be helpful in terms of improving their functioning."

These findings, along with previous research, point to the strong possibility that ADHD and autism share some genetic link, study author Biederman said.

"The genetic markers for ADHD have also been associated with autism," he said. "These autistic traits may be present in other conditions as well. I am quite convinced that these traits may be present in children with mood and anxiety disorders."

More information

For more information on ADHD, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Patients who leave the hospital against medical advice are more likely to be readmitted or die than other patients, a new long-term study finds.

Canadian researchers examined 1.9 million adult hospital admissions and discharges over nearly 20 years in the province of Manitoba. In 1.1 percent of those cases, patients left the hospital against medical advice.

People who left the hospital against medical advice were three times more likely than other patients to be readmitted within 30 days, according to the study, which appears Aug. 26 in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

One-quarter of those readmissions occurred within a single day and 75 percent within two weeks. Those most likely to be readmitted were older, male, poorer and had been hospitalized multiple times in the previous five years.

Patients who left the hospital against medical advice were two and a half times more likely to die within 90 days than other patients, according to a journal news release.

"For both hospital readmission and death, the elevated rates among patients who left against medical advice started out high and then declined, but remained elevated to at least 180 days," wrote Dr. Allan Garland, of the faculty of medicine at the University of Manitoba, and colleagues.

The increased risk of readmission and death among patients who leave the hospital against medical advice may be linked to both the illness for which patients were hospitalized and their health behaviors, such as ignoring medical advice or medication orders, the researchers said.

Although the study found a link between leaving against medical advice and worse outcomes for hospital patients, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

"Although strategies targeted at trying to convince patients not to leave prematurely might diminish the early effects of leaving against medical advice, reducing the persistently elevated risk will likely require longitudinal interventions extending beyond hospital admission," the researchers concluded.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers tips for choosing quality care.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 26, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Music Star Linda Ronstadt Has Parkinson's Disease

Singer Linda Ronstadt, a music star for more than four decades, has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which has robbed her of the ability to sing.

"No one can sing with Parkinson's disease," the 67-year-old Ronstadt said in an interview with AARP Magazine. "No matter how hard you try."

Ronstadt said she was diagnosed eight months ago and "can't sing a note." She said she initially experienced symptoms about eight years ago, but thought her singing problems were caused by a tick disease, the Associated Press reported.

She said she was "completely shocked" when a neurologist diagnosed her with Parkinson's disease. "I wouldn't have suspected that in a million, billion years."

Ronstadt sold tens of millions of records starting in the late 1960s. Some of her earlier hits included "You're No Good" and "When Will I Be Loved." She later sang pop standards and mariachi music, the AP reported.

Ronstadt now uses poles to walk on uneven ground and a wheelchair when traveling, the AARP story said.

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says Parkinson's disease is part of a group of conditions called motor system disorders that are caused by the loss of certain key brain cells. Typical symptoms include tremors, or trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and problems with balance and coordination. As symptoms become more severe, some patients may have trouble with walking, talking or other simple tasks. The disease usually affects people 50 and older.

There's no cure for Parkinson's, but a variety of medications can provide significant relief from the symptoms, according to the institute.

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Florida Boy Dies From Brain-Eating Amoeba

Zachary Reyna, a 12-year-old Florida boy infected with a rare but lethal brain-eating amoeba, has died, CNN reported.

Reyna is thought to have contracted an infection with the water-borne Naegleria fowleri amoeba on Aug. 3 while kneeboarding in a water-filled ditch near his house in LaBelle, Fla. His infection quickly developed into primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain condition that is nearly always fatal.

"This infection is one of the most severe infections that we know of," Dr. Dirk Haselow of the Arkansas Department of Health told CNN affiliate WMC. "Ninety-nine percent of people who get it die."

Reyna was hospitalized and underwent brain surgery to treat PAM, and he was also given an experimental drug used to fight the rare amoeba. But a post placed Saturday on a Facebook page that has provided updates on the case announced the boy's death. His organs will be donated to help others, the website noted. "Even though Zac has passed, he will still be saving many lives," the post said.

N. fowleri is rare but can be found in warm freshwater, most often in the southeastern area of the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain. N. fowleri cannot be transmitted by drinking contaminated water.

Another 12-year-old, Kali Hardig, was infected with N. fowleri this summer but has survived after being treated with the same experimental drug that Reyna received, CNN said. The Arkansas girl is only the third person to survive infection with the amoeba over the past 50 years.

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Girl Who Got 2 Lung Transplants Is Off Oxygen

The 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl whose lung transplant sparked a national debate over organ transplantation policy is off oxygen and doing well, the Associated Press reported.

Sarah Murnaghan of Newtown Square, Penn., has end-stage cystic fibrosis and received two transplants of adult-sized lungs, even though current organ transplant policy states that children only receive child-sized lungs.

However, Murnaghan's parents took her case to the courts. A federal judge intervened on her behalf, ordering that Sarah be allowed an adult lung transplant.

The first set of adult lungs the child received failed within hours of transplant, but a second set, transplanted three days later, seem to have worked.

Sarah's mother, Janet Murnaghan, told the AP that the girl has been taken off oxygen but does get some breathing support from a machine. She is now able to walk around the hospital using a walker, and has gone outside for brief periods.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Most breast-feeding moms can safely take the medications and vaccines they need, without fear they'll harm a nursing infant, according to a new report from a leading group of U.S. pediatricians.

The report, from the American Academy of Pediatrics in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, describes proposed changes to drug labels. The new labels would replace the current "Nursing Mothers" section with a heading called "Lactation," which would give much more detailed information about a drug's transfer to breast milk and potential to harm a breast-fed baby.

The proposed changes are part of a push by the FDA to require drug makers to study how medications may affect breast-feeding and to better communicate that information to women and their doctors.

"Because we know that breast-feeding has both developmental and health benefits for the mom and the baby, we are encouraging research in this area so physicians can make informed decisions about how best to treat their patients," said study author Dr. Hari Cheryl Sachs, a pediatrician and leader of the pediatric and maternal health team within the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Breast-feeding advocates cheered the new report, published online Aug. 26 in the journal Pediatrics.

"The general takeaway message -- that most drugs are compatible with breast-feeding, that mothers don't have to wean to take drugs and that the labels should accurately reflect the science -- is really great news and progress for breast-feeding mothers," said Diana West, a lactation consultant and spokesperson for La Leche League International.

Most drug labels now have a blanket legal statement that cautions against taking nearly any medication while pregnant, something that irks Thomas Hale, director of the InfantRisk Center at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. Hale has been doing research on the transfer of medications to breast milk for more than 30 years. He also is the author of the book Medications and Mothers' Milk, which has become something of a bible on the subject.

"If you pick up any package insert, you see the same language: 'There are no data available on this drug. Do not use in breast-feeding mothers,'" Hale said.

He said he was recently invited to give a presentation to the FDA committee developing the new drug labels. The first slide he put up was a picture of the blanket caution from the label of the antidepressant drug Zoloft (sertraline).

But in the case of Zoloft and many other drugs, he said, that's not the whole story.

Hale said 60 breast-feeding mothers who were taking Zoloft and their babies have been studied. "We knew exactly how much got into milk and it was almost nothing," he said. And that's just one example.

"We now know the risk of untreated depression is far, far worse than the risk of taking a drug," he said.

The report refers women and their doctors to LactMed, a database of information on the transfer of drugs to breast milk maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

LactMed contains information on more than 450 drugs, a fraction of the roughly 3,000 unique pharmaceuticals available. That's because other medications have not been studied in breast-feeding women.

Hale said even when specific lactation studies haven't been done, doctors can still make educated guesses about whether a drug will pass into breast milk and whether it will harm a baby, based on the size of the molecule and other chemical properties of the drug.

Doctors also should consider the length of treatment -- the risks of short-term therapy versus long-term therapy -- when making a determination about drug use, the report said.

There are some clear cases where medications can harm nursing infants. Radioactive compounds that are used as contrast agents in imaging studies or in cancer treatments require at least a temporary cessation of breast-feeding, according to the report. For that reason, elective imaging procedures should be delayed until a woman is no longer nursing.

Some narcotic pain relievers, including codeine, oxycodone (Oxycontin) and propoxyphene (Darvon), have caused serious problems in breast-fed infants. For that reason, the report suggests doctors steer clear of prescribing narcotic painkillers for nursing moms. Medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and naproxen (Aleve) may be safer choices for pain relief.

The report also cautioned against the use of herbal products and off-label drugs -- particularly metoclopramide (Reglan) -- to increase breast milk production. Off-label drugs are medications used for an unapproved purpose.

Metoclopramide, a heartburn drug, boosts levels of the milk-producing hormone prolactin by blocking the brain chemical dopamine. Blocking dopamine can have a host of negative consequences for infants and new moms, including depression and thoughts of suicide.

More information

For more information on medications and breast-feeding, head to LactMed.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Levels of mercury in Pacific Ocean fish are likely to rise over coming decades, say researchers who report they've discovered how mercury gets into open-ocean fish.

They concluded that up to 80 percent of the toxic form of mercury (methylmercury) found in deep-feeding North Pacific fish is produced in the ocean's depths, probably by bacteria that cling to sinking bits of organic matter.

Researchers say they also confirmed that mercury found in fish near Hawaii likely traveled through the air for thousands of miles before being deposited in the ocean by rainfall. They noted that the North Pacific fisheries are downwind from rapidly industrializing nations such as China and India. These nations increasingly rely on coal-burning power plants, which are a major source of mercury pollution.

The study was published online Aug. 25 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

"This study reinforces the links between mercury emitted from Asian countries and the fish that we catch off Hawaii and consume in this country," study lead author Joel Blum, an environmental scientist at the University of Michigan, said in a university news release.

"The implications are that if we're going to effectively reduce the mercury concentrations in open-ocean fish, we're going to have to reduce global emissions of mercury, including emissions from places like China and India," Blum said. "Cleaning up our own shorelines is not going to be enough. This is a global atmospheric problem."

The main way that methylmercury gets into people is through eating large predatory fish such as swordfish and tuna. The health effects of methylmercury include damage to the central nervous system, the heart and the immune system, according to the release. The developing brains of fetuses and young children are particularly vulnerable.

The nine species of fish included in the study were: flying fish, mahi-mahi, yellowfin tuna, skipjack tuna, moonfish (opah), bigeye tuna, swordfish, and two species of lantern fish.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about mercury in fish and shellfish.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Preschoolers who stutter typically do not suffer emotional or social problems because of it, and even tend to have stronger language skills than their peers, a new study suggests.

Researchers said the findings offer reassurance to parents, but also stressed that the study looked at averages. So, some young children who stutter may have emotional difficulties, such as being shy or withdrawn.

"Speech pathologists who treat young children who stutter certainly see evidence of those behaviors," said lead researcher Sheena Reilly, of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Victoria, Australia.

But when you look at young kids in the wider community, such negative effects may not be the "norm" -- at least in the short term, Reilly's team reports online Aug. 26 and in the September print issue of Pediatrics.

The study included 1,619 children from Melbourne, Australia, who were followed starting in infancy. By age 4 years, 11 percent had developed stuttering. Based on standard questionnaires given to the parents, those children were faring as well as their peers when it came to emotional and social development.

What's more, they had higher average scores on measures of vocabulary and other language skills.

That finding is not surprising, according to a speech-language pathologist who was not involved in the study.

There is evidence that children with stuttering may be "linguistically precocious," said Heather Grossman, clinical director of the American Institute for Stuttering in New York.

The theory is that for some preschoolers, the brain's language capacity is more developed than the "motor system" that allows them to physically speak. "In other words, the motor system cannot keep up with the cognitive system," Grossman said. And that may lead to stuttering.

Stuttering is most common in children aged 2 to 5, and it usually clears up; only 1 percent or less of adults continue to stutter, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The question is, which kids need speech therapy to help them get past the issue?

"Many cases of stuttering onset are mild, and we recommend 'watchful waiting' for a year as a reasonable approach," Reilly said.

However, it's likely to take more than a year, based on her team's findings. Of the 142 preschoolers who developed stuttering, only 6 percent saw it go away within a year.

Reilly said researchers still need to figure out how long stuttering "recovery" typically takes.

There are certain factors that experts have found to be important: Girls, for instance, are more likely than boys to outgrow it on their own, Grossman said. Once kids get to the ages of 6 or 7, the number of boys who stutter is a few times higher than the number of girls -- for reasons that are unclear.

Grossman said she wouldn't want parents to interpret the new findings as an indicator that stuttering is no problem for kids.

"There are some children who even at this young age do have these (emotional or social) issues," she said. And, if the stuttering does not improve, they could develop more problems when they are older and in school.

Reilly agreed that is a possibility. "This is something we now want to investigate as we follow the children up into the school years," she said.

And both she and Grossman said parents shouldn't hesitate to talk to their pediatrician or a speech pathologist if they are worried about their child's stuttering.

In the United States, Grossman said, speech-language therapy is widely available, though parents would want to make sure the speech pathologist has expertise in managing stuttering.

The number of therapy sessions, and the cost, would vary based on where you live and the severity of your child's stuttering, according to the Stuttering Foundation. But the charges generally range from $50 to $125 an hour, which insurance may or may not cover.

Once kids are in school, though, they may be eligible for free evaluation and therapy through their school district, according to the foundation.

More information

Learn more from the Stuttering Foundation.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- A simple blood test combined with an ultrasound exam may help doctors catch ovarian cancer while it's still treatable, a new study shows.

Ovarian cancer is a silent killer. It strikes with few, if any, symptoms. By the time a woman knows she has it, the cancer is often advanced and the outlook grim.

This new study "is a ray of excitement," said researcher Dr. Karen Lu, a professor of gynecologic oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "The important message is that this shouldn't change clinical practice right now. We don't have enough data."

Unlike breast, cervical or colon cancer, there's no reliable screening test to detect the disease. Many approaches to ovarian cancer screening have been tried, but none has proven accurate enough to use in the general population. Most produce high numbers of false positive results, which require doctors to perform invasive surgeries to rule out cancer.

Because ovarian cancer is rare -- about 1 in 2,500 postmenopausal women in the United States will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis in their lifetime -- any screening test that produces many false positives would harm far more women than it would help, making doctors very cautious about the tests they try.

In the new study, which ran for 11 years and included more than 4,000 women, most of whom were white, a two-stage screening method appeared nearly 100 percent accurate at ruling out these harmful false alarms in postmenopausal women.

A much larger study -- of more than 200,000 women -- testing the two screening methods is under way in the United Kingdom. Preliminary results from that trial, released in 2009, were positive, and researchers are eagerly awaiting the final results, which are due in 2015.

"We really need to wait for the U.K. data before we're able to institute this as a screening method," Lu said.

The new screening method combines two existing tools: a blood test that measures a protein shed by tumor cells called CA-125 and an ultrasound exam to give doctors a look at the ovaries.

Those two tests have been used together before, with disappointing results. But the current research differs in that it takes into account fluctuations in a woman's blood test results. The important thing isn't any single measure of CA-125 in the blood, but how it changes over time, the researchers said.

For the new study, published online Aug. 26 in the journal Cancer, the researchers recruited post-menopausal women between the ages of 50 and 74 who had no personal or family history of ovarian cancer. Women were screened, on average, for about four years.

Each year, women in the study were given a CA-125 blood test. Researchers fed the women's age and test results into a mathematical formula called Risk of Ovarian Cancer Algorithm, or ROCA, which was developed using a database of CA-125 test results from thousands of women in the United States and Sweden.

If the results came back as low risk, women were asked to repeat the test the following year. Women with intermediate-risk results were told to have another blood test in three months, while those with high-risk results were referred for a transvaginal ultrasound exam, a pain-free test that lets doctors see the size and shape of the ovaries.

If the ultrasound results also were abnormal, women were referred to surgery.

Over 11 years, 83 percent of women remained at low risk and had to return only for an annual blood test. About 14 had at least one intermediate-risk result that caused them to return in three months for a follow-up test. Roughly 3 percent were deemed high risk and were referred for an additional ultrasound exam.

Ten of the 117 women referred for ultrasound exams had suspicious results and underwent subsequent surgeries. Of those, seven had some type of cancer, while three had benign tumors. Four of the patients had early stage cancers. All of the women are still alive and free of disease following treatment for their cancers.

One expert said these results, along with the early results achieved in the British trial, are very promising.

"I was more excited reading this study than I have been in a really long time," said Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancers for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

"Not only was [the screening] finding cancers in both of those studies, but it was finding them early," Saslow said. "That's what we want to do."

Saslow pointed out that the study was small, however, and it had no control arm to help researchers see what would have happened to a similar group of women who were not screened over the same time period.

Whether the findings would apply to younger women or blacks and Hispanics also is unknown.

More information

For more information on ovarian cancer, head to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Parents sometimes fabricate an illness in children, and doctors and other health care providers need to be on the lookout for this type of child abuse, experts warn.

"It is probably more common than we realize" and often goes unrecognized, Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said in a university news release.

Although the occurrence is relatively rare, the death rate for children in such cases in 6 percent to 9 percent, with similar rates of permanent injury and long-term disability, said MacMillan, who conducts family violence research.

MacMillan co-authored a paper in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics that is meant to improve doctors' understanding of this issue, which has long been referred to as Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

Doctors should be suspicious when they see a child with a persistent or recurrent illness that can't be explained, especially when their signs or symptoms don't seem believable. There is no typical fabricated illness, and a parent might bring their child in for treatment of all types of problems, including bleeding, seizures, urinary tract infections or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

"It really comes down to conducting a very careful history and physical examination, with an emphasis on communication with all health care providers who have seen the child," MacMillan said. "It's important that we are thorough in seeking comprehensive information about contact with health care providers, while adhering to privacy legislation."

Communication among health care providers is critical because a child could be seen in many different settings.

"This is the type of condition where it is essential for clinicians to review medical records and speak with other health care providers to have complete information in conducting their assessment," MacMillan said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Primary-care doctors need to provide education and counseling to help prevent children and teens from smoking, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

"As a pediatrician, I believe that preventing tobacco use is critical in helping young people live long, healthy lives," task force member Dr. David Grossman said in a USPSTF news release. "The good news is that we have solid evidence that primary-care clinicians can help their young patients be tobacco free. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Research shows that behavioral counseling can reduce the risk that children and teens will start smoking. Doctors can provide counseling to youths in person or over the phone, and individually or in family or group sessions, according to the task force, which is a government panel of experts.

The task force also said doctors can provide children and teens with antismoking educational videos and print materials, such as activity guides, newsletters, workbooks and preprinted prescription forms with anti-tobacco messages.

"Many of these interventions are simple, low-costx and can be implemented in primary care," task force member Susan Curry said in the news release. "Even very minimal educational and counseling interventions, such as mailing materials to a child's home, can help to keep children and teens from starting to smoke."

The final recommendation statement was posted Aug. 26 on the task force's website and appears online in the journal Pediatrics.

More information

The American Lung Association has more about preventing smoking.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- When choosing cosmetics, cleansers and moisturizers, it's important to know your skin type.

The Cleveland Clinic mentions these factors to consider when shopping for skin care products:

  • Skin type: Is it sensitive, oily, dry, normal or a combination of these?
  • Complexion: Is it fair and burns easily, a medium skin tone that typically tans and rarely burns, or a dark skin tone that never burns?
  • Skin problems: Do you want to avoid premature aging, a condition such as acne or rosacea, or problems such as wrinkles or sun damage?
  • Personal lifestyle and habits: These include: history of smoking, sun exposure, and vitamin and nutrient consumption.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Triggers for Hiatal Hernia

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(HealthDay News) -- A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of the stomach protrudes into the chest through the diaphragm, often forcing stomach contents to back into the esophagus.

The Ohio State University Medical Center says factors that may trigger a hiatal hernia include:

  • Coughing.
  • Vomiting.
  • Straining to have a bowel movement.
  • Sudden physical exertion.
  • Pregnancy.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Doctors' Tips for Backpack Safety

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SUNDAY, Aug. 25 (HealthDay News) -- If made well and used properly, backpacks are ideal for carrying school books and supplies, but they can be uncomfortable and even lead to injury if they're too heavy or if children don't wear them properly, doctors warn.

"When used correctly, backpacks are the most efficient way to carry a load and distribute the weight among some of the body's strongest muscles," Dr. Eric Wall, at the orthopedic surgery division of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said in a center news release. "However, parents need to carefully select a backpack to ensure that they are comfortable and do not cause injury."

Doctors at the medical center recommend the following backpack guidelines for parents:

  • Keep it light. A backpack should be lightweight and no more than 15 or 20 percent of a child's body weight.
  • Look for padding. A child's backpack should have two wide and padded shoulder straps and a cushioned back.
  • Consider straps. Children's backpacks should have a waist strap. Parents should remind their children to also use both shoulder straps and make sure they are tight.
  • Keep it balanced. Students should organize their books so the heaviest are centered. They should also spread out their supplies, using all of the backpack's compartments.
  • Lighten the load. Encourage kids to stop at their locker to remove any unnecessary books from their backpack so they are not carrying extra weight during the day.
  • Teach proper lifting. Children should bend their knees and use their legs when lifting a backpack.
  • Be aware of surroundings. Remind children to not swing their backpack if other people are standing nearby. They should also not leave their backpack on the floor where someone might trip over it.

Backpacks often lead to shoulder or back pain. Children who complain about this discomfort should be evaluated by a doctor, the experts advised.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more information on backpack safety.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY, Aug. 25 (HealthDay News) -- A healthy diet can help students excel in school, a registered dietitian says.

One of the best ways to jump-start a successful school day is to provide children with a nutritious morning meal, says Debby Boutwell, a clinical dietitian in the division of nutrition therapy at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

This doesn't necessarily mean serving traditional breakfast foods, however. For school children, Boutwell recommends a breakfast that includes high-fiber grains, fruit and dairy products. Here are some options:

  • Fiber rich and whole-grain cereals with low fat milk
  • Yogurt and berries
  • Toast, eggs and 100 percent fruit juice
  • Whole-wheat bagels and cheese or eggs with low-fat milk
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with low-fat milk
  • Grilled cheese sandwich with 100 percent fruit juice

Children should be having even more nutrient-rich foods for lunch, to help them stay alert throughout the day, Boutwell advised. She noted that using the website, myplate.gov, can help parents pack healthy lunches for their children. Half of a child's lunch should be fruits and vegetables, and at least half of the grains eaten at lunch should be whole grains, Boutwell said. Fats and sweets should be kept to a minimum.

Among Boutwell's other lunchtime tips for school children:

  • Mix it up. Variety is good. For example, avoid packing the same type of bread every day and make sandwiches using pitas, bagels, crackers or tortillas.
  • Simplify things. Provide children with fruits that are easy to pick up and eat, such as apple wedges, grapes or strawberries. Packing a yogurt or peanut butter dipping sauce can also be fun for kids.
  • Limit sugary drinks. Even 100 percent juice contains a lot of sugar. Opt for low-fat milk, water or sugar-free flavored water. Don't give children drinks with caffeine or herbal supplements.
  • Review the school lunch menu. Even children who bring their lunch to school can buy a cheese stick or milk at school to ensure it's fresh and cold. Parents should check their child's school lunch menu to review what is being served.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on school nutrition for children and teens..

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Expert Tips for School Bus Safety

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SATURDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Many children are injured each year just getting on and off the school bus. Inattentive drivers, horseplay, unsafe street crossing and even clothing issues can all contribute.

By talking to children about school bus safety and reviewing certain rules at the beginning of the year, parents can help prevent avoidable accidents, an expert says.

"A blind spot extends about 10 feet in front of the bus, obstructing the driver's view," said Susan Laurence, the injury prevention coordinator for trauma services at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "Oftentimes, children are not aware of this blind spot and might mistakenly believe that if they can see the bus, the bus driver can see them."

Simple measures -- such as removing loose drawstrings or ties on children's jackets or clothing because they can snag on bus handrails -- also can help keep children safe, Laurence said in a medical center news release.

Laurence provided several safety guidelines parents should review with their children to ensure they are safe on the way to and from school.

While walking to the bus or waiting at the bus stop:

  • Don't be late. Arrive at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
  • Don't fool around.
  • Stay on the sidewalk or grass.

While riding the bus:

  • Always walk in a single-file line.
  • Use the handrail to avoid tripping or falling.
  • Stay seated and face forward the entire time.
  • Keep feet and backpacks out of the aisle.
  • Do not shout, so the bus driver can concentrate on the road.
  • Always keep all body parts inside the bus.

When getting off the bus:

  • Make sure the bus has comes to a complete stop before trying to exit.
  • Wait for a signal from the bus driver before crossing the street.
  • Exit from the front of the bus.
  • Look both ways before stepping into the street to make sure there are no cars attempting to pass the bus.
  • Cross the street at least 10 feet in front of the bus.

Kids should ask their bus driver for help if they've dropped anything when getting on or off the bus, Laurence said. Children also should never talk to strangers on their way to or from the bus stop, she added.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration reports that an average of 19 young bus riders and pedestrians die in school-transportation-related accidents each year.

"As children begin preparing to return to school, it's important for parents and children to go over school bus safety tips together," Laurence said. "This will help ensure a safe, enjoyable start to the school year for everyone."

More information

The U.S. National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has more about school bus safety.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SATURDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Some children feel anxious about going back to school, but parents can help ease their fears, experts say.

"Children going into first, sixth or ninth grades often have the most anxiety leading into the new school year because they likely are entering a new school," Larry Tyson, an associate professor in the department of human studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a university news release.

"When you are the new kid on the block, not knowing many people can make you self-conscious about how you will fit in. These transition years are big for students figuring out how they will initially fit into this big-school setting," he explained.

Tyson suggest that parents form a partnership with the school counselor.

"Parents should see counselors as child advocates, as their liaison in the school when something isn't working the way it should or they want," he said. "My advice is to not be a stranger; make an appointment once or twice a year, and let the people at the school see and hear from you. You don't have to have your child with you. This will help."

Entering a new school isn't the only cause of stress for children, according to Josh Klapow, an associate professor in the university's School of Public Health.

"New situations that arise during the summer -- changing to a different school system, hitting a growth spurt or experiencing a parental divorce -- all can lead to extra anxiety for a child," he said in the news release.

He offered the following tips to help children adjust:

  • Make social connections before going back to school. A familiar face can reduce stress.
  • Parents of children 12 or younger should notify the school/teacher/counselor about any family changes.
  • Preteens and teens can be reluctant to discuss what is bothering them. Ask open-ended questions and let them talk to you about what they think will help their situation.

"Change of any sort can be stressful, so watch your child and be a silent observer," Klapow said. "Give them time to adjust and transition. Recognize that there will be some tough times, but they can be worked through."

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about preparing for a new school year.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Most pregnant women don't get enough physical activity throughout the day to prevent excess weight gain, a new study finds.

If a woman gains too much weight during pregnancy, it increases her risk for complications such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine) and for obesity after delivery, and also ups the baby's risk for childhood obesity.

Along with helping control weight, regular physical activity can help reduce back pain, boost energy levels and reduce insomnia.

Many pregnant women have exercise programs, but they tend to focus on physical-activity guidelines of 30 minutes a day. This study, however, found that staying active throughout the day is more beneficial in preventing excess weight gain.

"We were able to show that pregnant women spend 75 percent of the time they are awake in sedentary behaviors," Christina Campbell, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, said in a university news release. "Many of these women met physical-activity guidelines, but just because you meet the guidelines doesn't necessarily mean you're a non-sedentary person."

Campbell and her colleagues monitored activity levels and the amount of calories burned by pregnant women. A woman who went for a brisk, 30-minute walk burned about three times the number of calories as when she was at rest.

But the amount of physical activity throughout the day had more impact. For example, a woman who didn't have a specific workout session but was active all day -- such as a waitress or a mother who has young children and is always on the move -- would get more exercise and burn more calories overall than a woman who had an exercise session but was otherwise inactive during the day.

The findings show that it's important for pregnant women to increase their overall daily levels of activity.

"Maybe it means that you make a conscious effort, if you have a desk job, to get up every hour and make a loop around your building for five minutes," Campbell said. "Or maybe you walk to work or make an effort to park farther away or take the stairs. Really just those simple little things that we've been saying all along, but instead we find so many ways to cut corners on being active."

This study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Data and conclusions of studies typically are considered preliminary until they are published.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about exercise during pregnancy.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Older women seeking a cure for swollen, painful joints likely will find that taking calcium and vitamin D supplements won't reduce the severity of their condition, a new study reveals.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 1,900 postmenopausal women in the United States who were randomly selected to receive either calcium carbonate with vitamin D3 daily or an inactive placebo.

Both groups had similar levels of joint pain and swelling at the start of the study period, and that was still the case two years later, the investigators found.

"Joint symptoms are relatively common in postmenopausal women," said lead investigator Dr. Rowan Chlebowski and colleagues at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. "However, daily supplementation with 1,000 milligrams of calcium carbonate and 400 international units of vitamin D3 in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial setting did not reduce the self-reported frequency or severity of joint symptoms."

The findings do not contradict current recommendations for vitamin D intakes for bone health and fracture-risk reduction, the study authors said.

The study was scheduled for publication in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Previous research looking at how low calcium and vitamin D levels affect joint health has produced mixed results.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about joint health.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The use of a potentially lifesaving, clot-busting drug -- called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) -- to treat patients with ischemic stroke nearly doubled between 2003 and 2011, according to a large new study.

An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain. Guidelines recommend giving tPA within 4.5 hours of stroke onset.

Researchers analyzed data from over 1 million ischemic stroke patients treated at nearly 1,700 U.S. hospitals between 2003 and 2011. All of the hospitals in the study were part of an American Heart Association quality improvement program to increase adherence to stroke guidelines.

At these hospitals, use of tPA increased from 4 percent to 7 percent during the nine-year study period. Among patients who were quickly brought to hospital and did not have any medical conditions that would prevent safe use of the drug, tPA administration increased from 43 percent to 77 percent.

There was also increased use of tPA to treat patients with less serious stroke symptoms, those aged 80 and over, and black, Hispanic and other nonwhite patients, according to the study published online Aug. 20 in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

"Hospitals have put tremendous efforts in the past decade into increasing the number of patients who can be treated with intravenous tPA, and this paper suggests those efforts are paying off," study corresponding author Dr. Lee Schwamm, executive vice chair of neurology and director of stroke services at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, said in a hospital news release.

"Today, more than three-quarters of stroke patients who are eligible for IV tPA are getting this treatment at the more than 1,600 U.S. hospitals we studied," he added.

It's likely that the increased use of tPA "happened because, as providers get comfortable using this drug and seeing good patient outcomes, they become more willing to treat all eligible patients and not just those they feel are the 'cream of the crop' for treatment," Schwamm said.

Despite these findings, tPA is still underutilized, he emphasized.

"We should be providing intravenous tPA to all eligible patients, which means that nearly a quarter of them are still missing that opportunity. Patients and their loved ones need to recognize the signs of a stroke and get to the hospital quickly by calling 911, and hospitals need to be ready to provide rapid diagnosis and treatment," Schwamm said.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about ischemic stroke.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women with gestational diabetes may have an increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea, a small new study suggests.

Gestational diabetes typically develops during the second trimester of pregnancy and occurs in roughly four to eight of every 100 pregnant women in the United States.

Sleep apnea causes brief interruptions in breathing during sleep. Left untreated, sleep apnea increases the risk for stroke, cardiovascular disease and heart attack, according to background information in the study to be published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

"It is common for pregnant women to experience sleep disruptions, but the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea increases substantially in women who have gestational diabetes," study author Dr. Sirimon Reutrakul, who conducted the research at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a journal news release.

The study included 15 pregnant women with gestational diabetes, 15 pregnant women without the condition and 15 women who were not pregnant and did not have diabetes. Pregnant women without gestational diabetes got an additional hour of sleep per night and had less fragmented sleep than those with gestational diabetes.

"Nearly 75 percent of the participants in our study who had gestational diabetes also suffered from obstructive sleep apnea," Reutrakul said.

While the study found an increased risk of having sleep apnea among pregnant women with gestational diabetes, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Previous research has shown that less sleep, fragmented sleep and shorter periods spent in deep sleep, which are all symptoms of sleep apnea, can increase a person's risk of developing diabetes.

"Based on these findings, women who have gestational diabetes should be considered for evaluation for obstructive sleep apnea, especially if other risk factors such as hypertension or obesity are present, and women already diagnosed with sleep apnea should be monitored for signs of gestational diabetes during pregnancy," Reutrakul said.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more about gestational diabetes.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Judy Blake knows all too well the difficulties that children with autism face when transitioning to adulthood. That's because she has two sons with autism spectrum disorders who are now legally considered adults.

Her oldest son is 21 and in his third year of college. Her younger son, who's 18, will probably go to community college after high school, but right now she's just not sure. He has more difficulties stemming from his autism.

"Autism affects so many parts of your life -- social, educational and in the workplace," Blake said. "With early intervention, you hope you've given them the compensatory skills they'll need, and then you just pray."

Blake said her oldest son is considered to be high-functioning on the autism spectrum disorder. "He's brilliant, very bright, but at times he has difficulty with social skills," she said.

Academic prowess doesn't come as easily to her younger son, and she said that, when it comes to maturity, he's probably more like a 12- or 13-year-old right now. "He doesn't drive, and I don't anticipate him driving," Blake said. "He's very trusting, and he isn't capable of making his own decisions. I don't see him living on his own. He's too introverted."

Her hope is that in 10 years or so he'll be able to move into a group home with other autistic adults that has staff to monitor and help the residents. One such home that she's aware of is reasonably priced, offers help finding jobs and provides transportation to and from work.

Most residential living facilities for adults with autism aren't affordable, she said, and "often cost a fortune" -- sometimes more than $50,000 a year. As a single mother, that's simply not something she can even consider, and she suspects it's out of reach for most families.

"There are just never enough resources," Blake said. "I think that may be because these conditions are invisible as they transition into adulthood. I think society is more accepting when they can see the special need. When we can't see something, we tend to speak before we think, and judge before we know. If my children had a condition like Down syndrome, in my opinion, I think more services would be available."

Blake said she's also noticed that people were more accepting when her children were young.

"As they transition into adulthood, kids with autism are perceived as weird, and they may find it difficult to make friends or keep a job," she said.

In addition to a lack of resources for daily living and education, Blake worries that her sons, especially her younger son, might be taken advantage of. She also gives talks at police departments to help police officers understand how a person with autism might behave when stopped by the police.

"If the police pull over someone who won't look them in the eyes, they assume that person is up to something," she explained.

Parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder need to "keep an open mind," Blake said. "What's going to work for one adult with special needs might not work for the next. Some may need a group home. Some may live in an apartment, but can't drive. There are no cookie-cutter solutions."

She also pointed out that the transition from a child with autism to an adult with the condition can be difficult for parents as well. "It makes you realize that you're not going to be around forever," Blake said. "It's really difficult for some parents to realize that their child won't follow in their footsteps. It can be the end of a dream for some parents. But, you have to do what is best for your children."

Many local and online support groups exist for parents who are having trouble coping, she said, or for those just looking for advice or support.

More information

Here's more on the difficulties of caring for adults with autism..

Health News Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The vast majority of youngsters with autism will grow up to be adults with autism.

An estimated one of every 88 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means that 45,000 to 50,000 kids with autism turn 18 each year, says autism researcher Paul Shattuck, from Washington University in St. Louis.

"This is an impending health care or community care crisis," said Dr. Joseph Cubells, director of medical and adult services at the Emory Autism Center at Emory University in Atlanta. "The services that are available vary from state to state, but often the resources just aren't there."

Public schools are required to provide services to people with an autism spectrum disorder until they reach age 22, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. After that, the responsibility shifts to the person with autism and family members to find educational or employment opportunities and appropriate living arrangements.

But experts note that a shortage of necessary programs for adults with autism already exists and is likely to worsen as the increasing number of children who are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders grow into adults.

One of the biggest challenges in providing services to people with an autism spectrum disorder is that the needs change from person to person.

"We say autism as if it's a single thing, much like we say cancer," Cubells said. "But, within the general category of things we call cancer are brain tumors, lung tumors, pancreatic tumors, and each requires different treatments. Autism is very individual. It varies from one extreme where someone needs custodial care for their entire life to the other extreme where someone is a highly functional, successful person who may be regarded as being a little quirky," he explained.

"There are some common themes," Cubells said, "but there's really nothing that applies to every single person."

Take higher education, for instance. An older child who's on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum may be able to go to college, but that presents challenges as well.

"There's often a substantial mismatch between verbal skills and performance skills," Cubells said. "You can be highly intelligent and able to do complex math and abstract reasoning, but you don't know how to ask someone out for coffee. Having to make friends, schedule meals, and get to class without help can be like hitting a brick wall for a lot of people on the spectrum. I often tell people with Asperger's that they have to learn in words what most people learn intuitively."

He said a college's disability services office could be helpful in some cases, as could peer mentorship programs that pair someone with Asperger syndrome, for instance, with someone of the same age who's learned about the condition.

For those who don't go to college, navigating the world of employment can be a significant challenge. Both Shattuck and Cubells said that while some employers might be understanding, and some might even make certain accommodations, what employers are most concerned with is their bottom line -- making it all the more important for people with an autism spectrum disorder to be placed in jobs that match their skills and interests.

A study done by Shattuck and his colleagues found that people on the autism spectrum are more likely to choose a college major in science, technology or math than people without autism. And, these types of careers may be just the ones where people on the autism spectrum find the most success.

"People on the spectrum can focus on the details," Cubells said. "In jobs that would be hideously boring and tedious to most of us, like jobs where you spend hours alone, having a social deficit can be a real strength." And Shattuck pointed out that people with autism aren't likely to waste work time looking at Facebook or socializing with co-workers.

But the overall picture isn't rosy for adults with autism. "A lot of parents describe the transition to adulthood as like driving over a cliff," Shattuck said.

In another study by Shattuck's team, the researchers found that more than one in three adults on the autism spectrum had no engagement in education or employment for the first six years after high school.

Those who are profoundly affected by autism generally end up staying with their families. Expensive, private options are often available but out of reach for many families. Services for housing options or vocational training are "very hit-and-miss," Cubells said. "There's a tremendous need for training about autism in the helping agencies."

For families with children on the autism spectrum, Shattuck said it's never too soon to start thinking about getting the child ready for the transition to adulthood. He suggested starting a conversation with your child's special education team at school during 8th or 9th grade to allow adequate time to investigate available resources.

"A lot of extra thought has to happen during high school to create a positive transition," Shattuck noted.

More information

Autism Speaks offers on its website a variety of resources for adults with autism.

Read about one mother who worries about how her two sons with autism will be able to handle adulthood.

Health News Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 23, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Porn Actress Who Tested Positive for HIV Working With Health Officials

A porn film actress who tested positive for HIV is "distraught" and working with health professionals to notify her past sexual partners, her agent says.

The 28-year-old performer goes by the screen name Cameron Bay, the Los Angeles Times reported. Porn film production was halted after Bay tested positive for HIV. The moratorium will remain in effect until Bay's sexual partners have been tested and cleared, according to Free Speech Coalition, a trade organization for the adult film industry.

Bay went in Monday for her regular screening for sexually transmitted diseases and the results came back inconclusive, Mark Schechter, owner of Adult Talent Managers LA, told the Times.

A second test with a new blood sample was conducted Tuesday and preliminary results that came back Wednesday were potentially positive for HIV. Bay's last test prior to Monday took place July 27 and was negative. She has done film shoots since then, Schechter said.

"As difficult as this news is for me today, I am hopeful that no other performers have been affected. I plan on doing everything possible to assist the medical professionals and my fellow performers. Following that, my long-term plan is to take care of myself and my health," Bay said in a statement, the Times reported.

-----

Thousands of Men Warned About Faulty PSA Tests

Thousands of men in central Pennsylvania have been told that their blood tests for prostate cancer may have been inaccurate.

Pinnacle Health of Harrisburg sent letters to 7,500 men to alert them that a faulty chemical in their prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests led to results showing higher levels of PSA than were actually present, ABC News reported.

Significantly elevated PSA levels may be a sign of prostate cancer and often lead to prostate biopsies. The faulty tests were used at Pinnacle from May 2012 to June 26, 2013.

It's likely that the Pinnacle Health patients are just the tip of the iceberg, because all lots of the "IMMULITE" PSA tests were recalled June 27 by Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics. The company shipped the faulty tests to labs from February 2012 through May 2013, ABC News reported.

-----

Porn Industry Halted After Actor's Positive HIV Test

The U.S. porn industry has temporarily halted production of adult films after an actor tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The performer wasn't named and officials didn't reveal when the positive test was recorded, CBS News/Associated Press reported.

The actor's sex partners are undergoing tests by doctors with Adult Production Health and Safety Services, which works with the porn industry.

"The moratorium will be lifted once the risk of transmission has been eliminated," Diane Duke, executive director of the industry trade group the Free Speech Coalition, told the AP in an email. The actor is not believed to have been infected on a film set, she added.

Last year, the porn industry briefly ceased filming after nearly a dozen performers were infected with syphilis. An HIV scare in 2011 also halted production, but filming resumed when a re-test showed the actor did not have HIV, CBS News/AP reported.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Volunteering may improve your mental health and help you live longer, a new review suggests.

Researchers analyzed data from 40 published papers and found evidence that volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than non-volunteers. In addition, volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being.

Further research is needed to understand the apparent link between volunteering and health, the review authors noted.

"Our systematic review shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in mental health, but more work is needed to establish whether volunteering is actually the cause," review leader Dr. Suzanne Richards, from the University of Exeter Medical School in England, said in a university news release.

"It is still unclear whether biological and cultural factors and social resources that are often associated with better health and survival are also associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place. The challenge now is to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to take up volunteering, and then to measure whether improvements arise for them," she explained.

The findings were published Aug. 22 in the journal BMC Public Health.

Worldwide, the number of adult volunteers varies, with estimates of about 23 percent in Europe, 27 percent in the United States, and 36 percent in Australia, according to the news release.

Common reasons that people cite for volunteering include giving something back to their community or supporting an organization or charity that has supported them. Some people also volunteer to gain work experience or to widen their social circles.

More information

The Nemours Foundation outlines the family benefits of volunteering.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Boys diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are more likely also to have asthma, allergies and skin infections than youngsters without ADHD, a new study finds, suggesting a possible link between these conditions.

Of those in the study, boys newly diagnosed with ADHD were 40 percent more likely to have asthma, 50 percent more likely to have needed a prescription for allergy medicine and 50 percent more likely to have had a bacterial skin infection than other boys.

"Our study provides additional evidence to support the hypothesis that atopic disorders, such as asthma and food allergies increase the risk of developing ADHD," the authors wrote, adding that further research is necessary to determine just how these conditions might be connected.

Their results were published in the August issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

ADHD, a chronic mental health condition involving difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, affects as many as 9 percent of American children, according to background information in the study conducted by Eelko Hak, of the University of Groningen, and colleagues in the Netherlands and Boston.

The increase in the prevalence of ADHD has been paralleled by an increase in allergic (also called atopic) diseases, such as asthma and allergies, the researchers reported. They also noted that environmental risk factors, such as foods that cause an allergic reaction, may trigger symptoms of both ADHD and allergic asthma.

To get a better idea of whether or not there actually is an association between these conditions, the researchers used data from a large U.K. study. Within that database, the researchers found nearly 900 boys who were first diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication for the condition between 1996 and 2006. All of the boys were between 4 and 14 years old when first diagnosed.

The researchers compared the children with ADHD to about 3,500 children without the condition.

After adjusting the data to account for age, and for low birth weight or premature birth, they found significant relationships between the diagnosis of ADHD and a history of asthma, impetigo or a prescription for antihistamines (allergy medicines).

They also found weaker associations between ADHD and cow's milk intolerance, and prescriptions for oral or topical corticosteroids, antibacterial or antifungal drugs.

The authors theorize that the links they found may be food-allergy related. However, this study didn't attempt to prove cause and effect, so the exact reason behind the association remains unknown.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, said the connection between ADHD and allergic diseases has been seen in other studies.

"The association seems to be real. The chicken-and-the-egg question remains unanswered. The challenge is in teasing out why they're linked," he said.

For her part, Dr. Jennifer Appleyard, chief of allergy and immunology at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, said, "This is an interesting, but very early study. They're definitely not showing cause and effect."

Appleyard pointed out that impetigo and milk intolerance aren't typically considered allergic diseases. Impetigo is a bacterial infection of the skin. And, a milk intolerance isn't the same as an allergy to milk.

"They looked at food allergies, too, and they didn't find an association. They also didn't find an association with atopic dermatitis [eczema], and impetigo is not necessarily correlated with an allergic reaction," she said.

The bottom line, she said, is that parents don't need to have any additional fears from this study. She added that parents of children with asthma or allergies shouldn't start worrying that their children will develop ADHD -- and parents definitely shouldn't make any changes to medications because of this study.

"All of these conditions seem to have increased. Let's pursue this link further, but there's no need for any changes right now," Appleyard said.

More information

Learn more about attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Help Manage ADHD

By on

(HealthDay News) -- If your child has attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder, there are things you can do to help your child succeed.

The U.S. National Institute on Mental Health offers this advice:

  • Understand your child's condition and work to let go of any frustration or built-up negative feelings.
  • Consider counseling for you and the entire family on how to handle your child's behavior.
  • Enjoy time together on activities you both enjoy, and praise your child for tasks done well.
  • Consider limiting playdates to fewer friends, to keep your child from becoming overstimulated.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Choosing Canned Seafood

By on

(HealthDay News) -- For cost and convenience, canned seafood can be a wise choice to help you eat more fish.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers these suggestions for buying canned seafood:

  • Read the label to see how the fish is packed. Avoid products packed in oil and choose those packed in water, which contain less fat.
  • For a more mild, drier flavor, opt for fish packed in spring water or vacuum-sealed packs.
  • Read the label to see if the product contains edible bones, which can provide a significant amount of calcium.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Getting a flu shot could help protect against a heart attack, Australian researchers say.

Their new study found that hospitalized heart attack patients were about half as likely to have received a flu vaccination and about twice as likely to have gotten sick with the flu as people living in the same city who had not suffered a heart attack, leading them to conclude that flu shots might shield against heart attacks.

Not everyone agrees it's fair to make that claim based on this study's findings, however.

"To draw any definite conclusions from this study would be a bit of a jump at this point," says Dr. Tara Narula, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the research.

Generally, in this kind of a study, researchers try to study two groups of people who are very similar except for their exposure to one or two variables of interest.

But in this study, which was published online Aug. 21 in the journal Heart, the two groups that were compared were very different, making it tougher to tease out the true effects of the flu or flu shots on heart attack risk, Narula said.

Researchers studied more than 550 people. About half of them had recently been hospitalized for a heart attack, while the other half lived in the same city but had no history of heart attacks or recent cardiovascular problems.

Heart attack patients were much younger, on average, than healthy adults in the same city. The majority of heart attack patients were between the ages of 40 and 64, while almost three-quarters of the adults who had not had a heart attack were older than 65. They also were more likely to be male, to be current or former smokers and to report other health problems.

And 33.5 percent of heart attack patients had received a flu shot the year they entered the study compared with nearly 65 percent of patients without a history of heart attack.

Influenza infections were diagnosed in about 12 percent of heart attack patients, compared to slightly less than 7 percent of adults who had never had a heart attack.

After researchers adjusted their data to account for the major differences between study groups, they found that getting the flu wasn't associated with having a heart attack, but flu shots were. Flu shots were associated with a 45 percent reduced risk having a heart attack.

The study was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, a company that manufactures several flu vaccines, and study authors reported receiving grant funding from several flu vaccine manufacturers.

"With this type of study, we can't say that giving flu vaccination will prevent a heart attack," Narula said. "It sort of intuitively makes sense that by decreasing infection rates or inflammation, you could, theoretically, prevent heart attack, which is a pro-inflammatory state. That being said, we don't have enough data yet to really prove that one is definitively linked to the other."

Narula noted that previous studies have shown links between infections of all kinds and the worsening of heart problems, and she counsels her patients to do everything they can to stay healthy to protect their hearts.

Flu shots very well may play an important role in preventing infections in this vulnerable population, she said. "It's just not something we've proven yet," she said.

Other experts agree.

"I struggle with the whole notion, in this study, that the flu isn't associated with heart attacks, but vaccination is associated with protection against heart attacks," said cardiologist Dr. Michael Blaha, director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, in Baltimore.

"But I don't struggle with the notion -- because I see it in everyday practice -- that people with the flu tend to get heart attacks more often," he said.

Blaha said all kinds of infections, as well as other physical stresses, such as shoveling snow, can trigger heart attacks.

"It does seem reasonable to me that curbing influenza infections may have a positive effect on reducing acute heart attacks," he said.

For that reason, he said, people who know they have heart disease should be especially vigilant about getting an annual flu shot. Everyone else, he said, should continue to get vaccinated to guard against the flu, which can be plenty serious on its own.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends flu shots for everyone six months and older, especially people with certain medical conditions, pregnant women and those aged 65 and older.

More information

For more about flu shots, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Giving immediate drug therapy to HIV-infected infants for a limited period of time protects their immune system and delays the start of lifelong treatment, according to a new study.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Currently, infants who begin so-called antiretroviral therapy must continue for life. However, long-term use of the therapy increases their risk of drug-related toxicity and drug resistance, according to background information in the study published Aug. 22 in The Lancet.

"This important finding indicates we may be able to temporarily stop treatment and spare infants from some of the toxic effects of continuous [antiretroviral therapy] for a while, if we can monitor them carefully," study co-leader Mark Cotton, a professor at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, said in a journal news release.

"With [antiretroviral therapy] coverage in children currently at just 28 percent, our findings highlight the urgency of increasing early (within the first 3 months of life) testing and treatment of HIV-infected infants," he added.

The researchers looked at five years of follow-up data from 377 HIV-infected infants who, at ages 6 weeks to 12 weeks in 2005, were randomly selected to begin immediate short-term antiretroviral therapy of 40 weeks or 96 weeks, or to wait until they showed signs of illness or a weakened immune system before beginning treatment.

On average, infants in the delayed-treatment group needed to begin taking lifelong therapy 20 weeks after the start of the study. In comparison, those completing the immediate course of treatment for 40 weeks were able to then delay restarting treatment for an average 33 weeks, and those who completed the immediate course of 96 weeks of treatment were able to delay restarting treatment for an average 70 weeks, the investigators found.

By the end of the trial, nearly 20 percent of infants who were given 40 weeks of early treatment and about one-third of infants who received 96 weeks of initial antiretroviral treatment were still well enough to avoid restarting what would eventually become lifelong treatment.

The researchers also found that the delayed-treatment group had a significantly higher number of deaths and hospital admissions, and had higher health care costs than the groups of infants who received immediate, temporary antiretroviral therapy.

"Early treatment followed by a break is definitely better and more cost-effective than delaying starting infants on treatment. But we do not know if a longer initial period of treatment, or early continuous treatment, might be even better," study co-leader Dr. Avy Violari, from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, said in the news release.

More information

AIDS.gov has more about children and HIV.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental drug may help some people who have inflammatory bowel disease that has failed to respond to current medications, two new clinical trials find.

The drug, called vedolizumab, is being developed to treat the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) -- ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Both arise when the immune system launches an abnormal attack on the lining of the digestive tract, leading to chronic inflammation and symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea and rectal bleeding.

In the new trials, reported in the Aug. 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that vedolizumab worked in some cases where standard IBD medications had failed.

The drug was more effective for colitis than for Crohn's, however, and an expert not involved in the studies said he suspects vedolizumab might be approved for colitis first.

Overall, the results are "very exciting," said Dr. Fabio Cominelli, chief of gastroenterology and liver disease at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in Cleveland.

"This is a potential new weapon in our armamentarium," said Cominelli, who wrote an editorial that accompanied the reports.

The two studies included more than 2,000 patients with either colitis or Crohn's who had failed to get enough relief from standard medications, which include immune-system suppressors such as corticosteroids, azathioprine (brand name Imuran) and mercaptopurine (Purinethol).

About half of the patients had also tried the most recently developed drugs for IBD, known as anti-TNF agents. Those drugs -- infliximab (Remicade), adalimumab (Humira) and certolizumab (Cimzia) -- are given intravenously, and block an inflammatory protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF).

In one trial, nearly 900 colitis patients were given two infusions of either vedolizumab or a placebo, two weeks apart. After six weeks, 47 percent of the vedolizumab patients had a "clinical response," or a meaningful drop in their symptoms.

Those patients were then randomly assigned to either stay with the drug -- getting infusions every four weeks or every eight weeks -- or receive placebo infusions.

After a year, 42 percent to 45 percent of the vedolizumab patients were in remission, compared with 16 percent of the placebo group.

"The results with ulcerative colitis were really striking," said Dr. Brian Feagan, director of clinical trials at the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ontario, who worked on both studies.

The results were somewhat less impressive in the companion trial of just more than 1,100 people with Crohn's disease. In that trial, 31 percent of vedolizumab patients responded to the drug after six weeks; of those who continued with the drug, 36 percent to 39 percent were in remission after a year, compared with 22 percent of patients given placebo infusions.

It's not clear why the drug seemed to work better for colitis than Crohn's. One possibility, Cominelli said, is that people with Crohn's need longer than six weeks to show an initial response.

In contrast to colitis, which is limited to the colon, Crohn's can affect any part of the digestive tract and is generally a more extensive disease.

The colitis patients also fared better when it came to side effects. Their rates of "adverse events," such as headaches, nausea, fatigue and respiratory infections, were similar to the placebo group's.

"It seemed to have a good safety profile," Cominelli said.

In the Crohn's trial, patients on the drug were more likely to have a serious adverse event, which means anything that requires a medical intervention of some kind. Almost one-quarter of vedolizumab patients had one, compared with about 15 percent of placebo patients.

There also were four deaths in the vedolizumab group, and one in the placebo group.

It's not clear, though, that the deaths had anything to do with the drug. Feagan said the patients who died were in poor health, and since the study participants were recruited from all over the world, their general healthcare varied widely.

Takeda Pharmaceuticals, the Japanese drug manufacturer that funded the trials, has submitted vedolizumab for approval in the United States and Europe. If that happens, it's not fully clear how the drug will fit in with current colitis and Crohn's treatments.

"I don't think it should necessarily be relegated to use only after patients have tried an anti-TNF," Feagan said. A big question, he added, is whether the drug could be more helpful if used earlier on, or if given along with an anti-TNF.

Vedolizumab works by interfering with the trafficking of certain immune-system cells into the gut. That targeted action, Feagan's team said, should help limit side effects -- including an increased risk of infections -- caused by medications that broadly suppress the immune system.

More Information

The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America has more on inflammatory bowel disease.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Smokers with a serious nicotine addiction are more likely to gain weight than folks who are less addicted when they try to quit, even if they use nicotine replacement therapy, according to a new study by Japanese researchers.

The people who quit smoking as part of the study gained an average 2.4 pounds over three months, even though they received support from nicotine patches or the oral medication varenicline (Chantix), which blocks the effect of nicotine on the brain, doctors from Kyoto Medical Center reported in the August issue of PLoS One.

But those smokers with a heavy nicotine addiction experienced three times more weight gain than smokers who were less addicted, the researchers found.

This finding is not unexpected, given that nicotine both suppresses food cravings and increases a person's metabolism, said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association.

"Smoking itself is a weight controller," Edelman said. "The more addicted you are, the more cigarettes you smoke, so you would expect weight gain to happen when you quit."

However, the Kyoto researchers found no significant difference in weight gain between patients who used nicotine patches and those who used varenicline, which does not replace nicotine but instead dulls its effects.

That appears to show there are more factors than nicotine withdrawal at play when ex-smokers gain weight, said Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-tobacco nonprofit group.

"You would think the group taking nicotine would have lesser weight gain. Instead, it's an underlying personality phenomenon," Healton said. "Some are just more addictive in their personality type, so they satisfied their unmet need with food. They can no longer smoke, and so they eat just a little more a day, which is how you gain weight."

Healton said she sympathizes completely, having quit smoking herself 20 years ago.

"I gained a lot of weight. I didn't care if I ate 12 cupcakes a day, as long as I didn't smoke," she recalled. "I definitely ate food to replace the desire to smoke."

The results suggest that heavily addicted smokers undergoing smoking cessation therapy might need additional behavioral therapy to help prevent weight gain, said study co-author Dr. Koji Hasegawa, director of Kyoto Medical Center's division of translational research.

"Measurement of nicotine dependence is very important before smokers try to quit," Hasegawa said. "Doctors seeing smoking patients, or smokers by themselves, can anticipate whether their body weight will increase or not after they quit smoking. There are effective interventions to reduce the extent of weight gain."

The study focused on 186 people who sought help for smoking cessation at the Kyoto Medical Center's outpatient clinic.

Doctors supplied roughly half with nicotine patches, and the other half with varenicline. They then tracked the patients' weight gain, as well as factors such as depression, cholesterol levels and nicotine addiction that might influence the amount of weight gained while quitting smoking.

"Body weight gain after smoking cessation is a proven syndrome of nicotine withdrawal, as nicotine in the brain facilitates release of dopamine, which suppresses appetite," Hasegawa said.

Nicotine also causes a metabolism boost that helps keep weight off. "You have to eat less when you quit smoking to not gain weight," Healton said. "If you are smoking a pack a day and you stop, but you continue eating the same amount of calories every day, you will gain weight."

However, the person's weight gain tended to be more pronounced if they received a higher score on a standard test for nicotine dependence, implying a more severe addiction to nicotine. In fact, nicotine dependence proved the most significant factor related to weight gain.

Healton noted that the average couple of pounds gained by the study participants is less than the usual weight gain experienced by smokers who are quitting. Men tend to gain about 6 pounds and women tend to gain about 8 pounds.

"As weight gain goes, this isn't much," she said. "This shows if people are receiving nicotine therapy, they should continue to have appetite suppression."

Both Hasegawa and Healton said it might be more beneficial for smokers to not worry about gaining weight and instead focus on successfully quitting tobacco.

"It raises the problem of trying to address two behavioral problems at the same time, depriving yourself of smoking and of food," Healton said. "There's nothing that will improve your life expectancy more than quitting smoking, and we know that at some point in time, usually a year out, smokers who quit are able to lose the weight they've gained."

More information

For more about smoking cessation, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Antipsychotic medications such as Seroquel, Abilify and Risperdal can triple a child's risk of developing type 2 diabetes within the first year of usage, according to a new study.

Powerful antipsychotics traditionally were used to treat schizophrenia. Now the majority of prescriptions for antipsychotic medications are for treatment of bipolar disorder, ADHD and mood disorders such as depression, according to prior research.

But antipsychotic drugs make a child much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the medications typically prescribed for these other psychiatric conditions, said corresponding author Wayne Ray, director of the division of pharmacoepidemiology at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, in Nashville, Tenn.

"We found that children who received antipsychotic medications were three times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes," Ray said. "It's well known that antipsychotics cause diabetes in adults, but until now the question hadn't been fully investigated in children."

Antipsychotics appear to increase diabetes risk by causing dramatic weight gain in children and by promoting insulin resistance, Ray said.

The boom in the use of antipsychotic medication has been particularly dramatic among children. Antipsychotic prescriptions have increased sevenfold for kids in recent years and nearly fivefold for teens and young adults aged 14 to 20, according to a 2012 study from Columbia University.

For the current study, which was published Aug. 21 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the researchers reviewed the records of nearly 29,000 kids aged 6 to 24 in the Tennessee Medicaid program who had recently started taking antipsychotic drugs for reasons other than schizophrenia or related psychoses.

They compared those kids to more than 14,000 matched control patients who had started taking other types of psychiatric medications, including mood stabilizers such as lithium; antidepressants; psychostimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin; alternative ADHD medications such as clonidine and guanfacine; and anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines.

Within the first year, users of antipsychotic drugs had triple the risk for type 2 diabetes compared to users of other psychiatric medications.

The risk continued to rise with cumulative antipsychotic dose, and remained high for as long as a year after kids were taken off their antipsychotics. When the researchers looked only at kids 17 and younger, the findings held.

"Diabetes can develop relatively soon after beginning these drugs," Ray said. "We found that the risk was increased within the first year of use, and this is consistent with case reports. The risk may need to be considered even for relatively short periods of use."

The specific antipsychotic medication used with children didn't seem to have any effect on reducing risk of diabetes.

"In our study, we didn't see a difference between different types of drugs," Ray said. "It may be an effect of the whole class of antipsychotics." The majority of participants were taking "atypical" antipsychotics, also called second-generation antipsychotics.

Another expert agreed that the study results are cause for concern.

The findings should lead doctors and parents to question the "off-label" use of antipsychotic drugs for conditions other than schizophrenia and psychosis, said Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"There aren't many antipsychotic medications that are FDA-approved for use in children," Duckworth said. "When you're using a compound that doesn't have an indication, you have to be very careful about the risk/benefit assessment of that medication. You want to make sure you've reviewed all the alternative medicines and alternative strategies."

Ray agreed, arguing that doctors should consider all other alternative treatments before resorting to antipsychotics.

If children must be placed on antipsychotics, then doctors and parents need to keep a close eye on them for early warning signs of diabetes. "Frequent monitoring of the factors that lead to diabetes would be important, including weight and glucose intolerance," Ray said.

In the past 20 years, growing numbers of U.S. children and teens -- especially overweight kids -- have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult onset diabetes. This puts them at risk of developing other serious health conditions such as heart disease and kidney disease.

Although the study found an association between the use of antipsychotics and a greatly increased risk of childhood type 2 diabetes, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

For more information on pediatric antipsychotic medication use, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- A devastating brain disease associated with the head trauma incurred by football players, boxers and other athletes typically affects patients in one of two major ways, a new study suggests.

Boston University researchers found that the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) initially impairs either behavior and mood, or memory and thinking abilities. The disorder, characterized by impulsivity, depression and erratic behavior, is only diagnosed after death.

"The study itself is relatively preliminary, [but] we found two relatively distinct presentations of the disease," said study co-author Daniel Daneshvar, a postdoctoral researcher at the university's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. "So little is known about the clinical presentation of CTE that anything we found is not necessarily surprising, simply because there's a dearth of information about CTE."

CTE has come to the forefront in recent years with a class-action lawsuit filed last year by nearly 4,000 former NFL football players who claim the league failed to protect players from traumatic brain injuries or warn them about the dangers of concussions. Also, the U.S. National Institutes of Health determined in January that former NFL star linebacker Junior Seau had CTE when he killed himself last year.

The condition is also documented in military personnel exposed to explosive blasts.

For the current study, published online Aug. 21 in the journal Neurology, researchers examined the brains of 36 male athletes aged 17 to 98 who had been diagnosed with CTE after death. The research is said to be the largest of its kind on the disorder, first described by scientists in 1928 and called "punch drunk syndrome."

Daneshvar and his colleagues interviewed participants' family members, finding that 22 of the athletes suffered behavior or mood problems as their first symptoms of CTE, while 11 first had memory and thinking problems. Three participants showed no CTE symptoms at the time of death. Most of the athletes played amateur or professional football, with the rest participating in hockey, wrestling or boxing.

Those with behavior and mood problems experienced symptoms at a younger age, with the first signs appearing at an average age of 35, compared to age 59 for those with memory and thinking problems. Those experiencing mood symptoms were reported to be more explosive, depressed, out of control and physically and verbally violent than the group enduring memory and thinking deficits.

Daneshvar cautioned that the findings were limited since no comparison group of former athletes without CTE was part of the research. Also, families who were interviewed may have witnessed more severe symptoms, making them more likely to participate in the study, he said.

Neuropsychologist Ken Podell, co-director of the Houston Methodist Concussion Center, said the research "is clearly a first attempt, and they present it as such."

"This whole concept of the clinical presentation of CTE is very much in its infancy, and we don't really know what it is," Podell said. "Understanding the limitations of this study are very critical, making sure that someone doesn't take this information and generalize it to the general population or someone with a single head injury."

Scientists have not yet determined if CTE is linked to the number of concussions an individual suffers, whether from sports or other causes. Another contributor may be an accumulation of subconcussive blows an athlete suffers that don't result in clinical signs of concussion.

Preliminary research such as this doesn't offer guidance for athletes or concrete ways to spot CTE earlier, Podell and Daneshvar agreed. But Podell offered one strategy: "Stay away from getting your head hit."

More information

The Sports Legacy Institute has more on chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental treatment for the deadly Ebola virus proved effective in about half of monkeys with disease symptoms, findings that show promise for the development of therapies for humans, according to researchers.

The death rate for people infected with the Ebola virus is as high as 90 percent, and the virus has caused numerous deaths in Africa over the past several years. In addition to being a health concern, the virus is also considered a potential bioterrorism threat.

In this study, researchers gave the treatment, called MB-003, intravenously to monkeys 104 to 120 hours after they were infected with the Ebola virus and had developed symptoms. Forty-three percent of the monkeys recovered, according to the study published online Aug. 21 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The MB-003 "cocktail" is made up of so-called monoclonal antibodies, which are able to recognize infected cells and trigger the immune system to destroy them, explained study first author James Pettitt, of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and colleagues.

No side effects of the antibodies were observed in the surviving monkeys, the study authors noted in an institute news release.

In previous research, the same team found that the treatment provided 100 percent protection when given one hour after Ebola exposure, and protected two-thirds of monkeys who were treated 48 hours after exposure.

The next step in the drug development process would be more extensive testing of the safety of the antibodies in animals. After that, the safety of the antibodies would need to be assessed in people.

Currently, there are no approved vaccines or drugs to treat or prevent Ebola virus infection. And while the findings of the new study are promising, scientists note that research involving animals often fails to produce similar results in humans.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the Ebola virus.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- People whose teeth and gums are in poor condition may be more susceptible to an oral virus that can cause certain mouth and throat cancers, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that of more than 3,400 U.S. adults, those who rated their oral health as "poor" to "fair" were more likely to have an oral infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), which, in certain cases, can eventually lead to cancer.

Overall, 10 percent of people with tooth or gum disease tested positive for oral HPV. That compared with 6.5 percent of those who rated their dental health as "good" to "excellent."

The results, reported Aug. 21 in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, do not actually prove that diseased teeth and gums cause HPV infection.

"We don't know if poor oral health led to the HPV infection," said Christine Markham, one of the researchers on the study.

Her team tried to account for other factors that could affect dental health or the odds of having HPV -- such as smoking or multiple oral sex partners. And poor oral health was still linked to a 56 percent increase in the risk of having oral HPV.

But there could be other explanations for the connection, and more research is needed, said Markham, an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

Still, she said, there are already plenty of reasons to take care of your teeth and gums. "Good oral health care is important for your health in general," Markham said. This study just offers some more incentive, she added.

HPV, which can cause genital and anal warts, is the most commonly transmitted sexual infection in the United States. Usually, the immune system clears the infection, but in some cases the virus persists in the body. And persistent infection with certain HPV strains can eventually lead to cancer -- with cervical cancer the best known.

HPV can also invade the mouth during oral sex. Those infections usually cause no symptoms, but a lingering infection with a cancer-linked strain can lead to oropharyngeal cancer, which affects the back of the throat, base of the tongue and tonsils.

It's a rare cancer, but cases tied to HPV are on the rise in the United States. No one knows why.

It's already known that poor oral hygiene is tied to a heightened risk of oropharyngeal cancer, even when smoking and heavy drinking -- two big risk factors for the cancer -- are taken into account.

But it has not been known whether dental health matters in the risk of oral HPV infection, Markham noted.

This study, however, does not answer that question, according to a specialist in head and neck cancers.

The study is hampered by some limitations, said Dr. Amy Chen, a professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery at Emory University in Atlanta.

The findings come from a large federal health survey that included more than 10,500 Americans. But Markham's team had to exclude two-thirds of them from the analysis because the participants lacked key information -- such as an HPV test result.

Paring down the group like that is problematic because it can bias the results, Chen said.

The "take-away," she said, is that people should be aware of the already-known link between oral health and cancers of the mouth and throat.

Anna Giuliano, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., agreed that the study leaves questions -- including whether people with poor oral health have a higher risk of a long-lasting HPV infection, which is the real concern.

If unhealthy gums and teeth do raise the odds of oral HPV infection, it's not certain how. But Markham said it's possible that diseased gums offer an "entry portal" for the virus.

Fewer than 12,000 cases of oropharyngeal cancer occur among Americans each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it's thought that HPV causes nearly three-quarters of them. So preventing the infection is key to preventing the cancer.

There are two vaccines available against the most common cancer-linked strains of HPV (Gardasil and Cervarix). Experts advise vaccination for girls, boys and young adults.

Of course, that would not be of help to most of the people in this study, the majority of whom were aged 30 or older, said Dr. Dennis Kraus, director of the Center for Head and Neck Oncology at North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute in Lake Success, N.Y.

Oral hygiene, on the other hand, is something we all can pay attention to, Kraus noted. "Taking care of your teeth, taking care of your gums -- it makes sense," he said.

To help keep your mouth healthy, the American Dental Association recommends dental visits at regular intervals determined by your dentist.

More information

Learn more about HPV and cancer from the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Taking an ice bath after a workout does not reduce soreness or strength loss, according to a new study.

"It doesn't help you feel better and it doesn't help you perform better," lead researcher Naomi Crystal said in a University of New Hampshire news release.

"Ice baths are very popular as a treatment, but the research is really mixed as to whether they're beneficial. They're miserable. If it doesn't work, you don't want to waste your time," she noted.

The study included 20 recreationally active college-aged men who ran for 40 minutes. Half of them then took a 20-minute ice bath in thigh-high ice water that was 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

"That's really cold," Crystal said. "I had some guys close to tears."

The participants underwent follow-up tests to measure their soreness while walking down stairs, their quadriceps strength, their thigh circumference, and levels of an inflammation marker in their blood.

There were no differences in strength or soreness between the men who took ice baths and those who did not. Thigh circumference did not change significantly for any of the participants.

The men who took ice baths did show a possible mild reduction in inflammation, but the findings were not conclusive, according to the study published online recently in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.

Despite the findings, Crystal isn't convinced that ice baths do not help at all.

"Use them sparingly. Use them in tournament situations, use them with an athlete who has done something extraordinary. But for day-to-day athletes, I wouldn't recommend them. They're painful, and they're time consuming," she said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the benefits of physical activity.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 21, 2013

By on

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Americans Warned About Cholera Risk in Cuba

American travelers to Cuba should avoid street food and under- or uncooked dishes such as ceviche to reduce their risk of contracting cholera, says a U.S. government advisory issued Tuesday.

Several foreigners -- an Italian, two Venezuelans and two Chileans -- who visited Cuba were sickened by cholera in late July and early August, according to the Pan American Health Organization, the Associated Press reported.

Last summer, Cuban officials acknowledged a rare outbreak of the waterborne disease. This January, authorities announced 51 new cases of cholera in Havana, but have provided no updates since then.

Cholera can cause death from severe dehydration but is treatable if detected in time, the AP reported.

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Health Insurance Premiums Rose 4 to 5 Percent in 2012

For the second year in a row, there were modest increases in premiums for employer-provided health insurance, a new survey finds.

The findings suggest that once-extreme health care inflation may be slowing, The New York Times reported.

The Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that the average annual premium for a family is now $16,351, up 4 percent from last year. Of that amount, workers paid an average of $4,565.

Annual individual premiums for workers rose nearly 5 percent, from $5,884 in 2011 to $5,615 in 2012. The average employee's contribution is $999, The Times reported.

The modest 4 percent increase in family premiums is still much higher than the 1.8 average increase in wages last year, the foundation noted.

----

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- If their kids are frequently tardy, truant or failing to turn in homework, parents of U.S. schoolchildren expect to be notified. And in some districts, they might be contacted about yet another chronic problem: obesity.

The "fat letter" is the latest weapon in the war on childhood obesity, and it is raising hackles in some regions, and winning followers in others.

"Obesity is an epidemic in our country, and one that is compromising the health and life expectancy of our children. We must embrace any way possible to raise awareness of these concerns and to bring down the stigmas associated with obesity so that our children may grow to lead healthy adult lives," said Michael Flaherty, a pediatric resident physician in the department of pediatrics at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.

About 17 percent of U.S. teens and children are obese -- three times the number in 1980, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And one in three is considered overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese puts kids at risk of developing serious health problems, such as heart disease. Too much weight can also affect joints, breathing, sleep, mood and energy levels, doctors say.

Massachusetts -- which has had a weight screening program since 2009 -- is one of 21 states that have implemented statutes or advisories mandating that public schools collect height, weight, and/or BMI (body mass index) information. Some states further require that parents receive confidential letters informing them of the results, advising that they discuss the findings with a health care provider.

But some parents in the Bay State and elsewhere consider such policies an unwelcome intrusion into private family matters. Other objectors say "fat letters," as they are sometimes called, have the potential to trigger bullying or eating disorders among the very children they're trying to help.

In Massachusetts, where parents are letter-informed of BMI results for students in grades 1, 4, 7 and 10, the state department of public health is currently debating a possible repeal of the letter portion of its screening protocol.

This would be a grave mistake, Flaherty believes. "The growing number of children and adolescents seen day in and day out in our clinics with hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and musculoskeletal issues secondary to weight do not lie," he said.

Flaherty, a clinical associate at the Tufts University School of Medicine, outlines his thoughts in a "perspective" piece published online Aug. 19 in Pediatrics.

While acknowledging that the effectiveness of such programs remains to be determined, Flaherty notes that school screenings are nothing new, with many states having done so for many years. And in 2005, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force determined that calculating a child's BMI -- a calculation of body fat based on height and weight -- should be considered the "preferred measure" for tracking weight issues.

What's more, he suggests that parental fears that BMI assessments may accidently identify healthy muscular children as overweight is a misplaced concern over a relatively rare phenomenon.

"Additionally, no studies have shown any increased risk in bullying, eating disorders or unhealthy dieting patterns," Flaherty noted. "While these risks exist, they have not been proven in states where these programs have existed for several years."

The very point is to have a "confidential way of mailing letters directly home to parents where these issues can be addressed in the privacy of the home without any other students being aware of other children's BMI," he said.

Other specialists are less enthusiastic about school BMI screenings.

Dr. David Dunkin, an assistant professor of pediatric gastroenterology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, cautions that simply legislating parental notification of school screening results will not help curb the obesity crisis without comprehensive and well-designed follow-up.

"While I feel that the intention is good [to] raise awareness among parents about their children being obese, and thus instilling motivation for behavioral changes or lifestyle modifications, this is unlikely to have effects in and of itself," Dunkin said.

To bring about change, notifications should include referrals to programs that could help parents make lifestyle modifications for their children, he added.

But Dunkin would prefer to see weight issues addressed by a family's pediatrician.

"I think it is the primary responsibility of the pediatrician to discuss obesity on a case-by-case basis with the child and the family, and try to help them with life changes," he said. "As a pediatrician I often speak to the family about this, and can assist them with advice on what to do to improve their child's health."

While Flaherty agrees that pediatricians should measure a child's BMI at every child's well-care visit, he said these check-ups are only performed annually.

"Pediatricians have 15 to 20 minutes per year to deal not only with BMI, but a variety of other preventive health issues," Flaherty said. "The public school system is a universal organization that has been used as a forum to reach children and parents for a variety of other issues: vaccinations, dental exams, and hearing and vision screening."

More information

For more on childhood obesity, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Alcoholism and certain types of eating disorders share common genetic risk factors, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at nearly 6,000 adult fraternal and identical twins in Australia. Of those, nearly 25 percent of men and 6 percent of women were alcoholics, nearly 11 percent of men and 13 percent of women reported binge eating, and about 14 percent of women reported purging tactics such as self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse.

Genes appeared to account for 38 percent to 53 percent of the risk of developing these conditions, and some of the same genetic risk factors that make people susceptible to alcoholism also make them vulnerable to binge eating or purging, according to the study in the September issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The findings support "the idea that there are common genetic factors contributing to alcohol dependence and these eating disorder symptoms," lead researcher Melissa Munn-Chernoff, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a journal news release.

Learning more about genetic and other risk factors may lead to better treatments for these disorders, she noted.

Previous studies found that women who binge eat or purge have higher-than-average rates of alcohol use disorders, but it wasn't clear if the disorders had genetic risk factors in common. While this new study indicates that this is the case, it's not clear exactly which genes are involved.

"We need to be aware that these problems can occur together, in both men and women," Munn-Chernoff said.

She suggested that when doctors see patients with a drinking problem, they may want to ask about binge eating and purging symptoms, or vice versa. Currently, that is something that is not routinely done.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Your feet may be less unique and evolved than once thought: A new study suggests that the mechanisms of human feet have much in common with those of great apes.

Current understanding of the evolution of human feet dates back to research from the 1930s. It concluded that people's feet work quite differently from those of their primate "cousins," due to the arches in the mid-region of human feet and the presumed rigidity of their outside edge.

But that theory was tripped up by U.K. researchers who analyzed more than 25,000 steps made by people on a pressure-sensitive treadmill. They found that human feet still have a surprising amount of flexibility, similar to that in the feet of great apes such as chimpanzees and orangutans.

"It has long been assumed that because we possess lateral and medial arches in our feet -- the lateral one supposedly being rigid and supported in bone -- that our feet differ markedly to those of our nearest relatives, whose mid-foot is fully flexible and makes regular ground contact," Robin Crompton, of the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease at the University of Liverpool, said in a university news release.

"This supposed 'uniqueness,' however, has never been quantitatively tested," he said. "We found that the range of pressures exerted under the human mid-foot, and thus the internal mechanisms that drive them, were highly variable, so much so that they actually overlapped with those made by the great apes."

The researchers added that it was previously believed that it was mostly people with diabetes or arthritis whose mid-foot region makes contact with the ground. Both conditions can affect the structure of the foot.

But the results from the pressure-sensitive treadmill showed that two-thirds of healthy people produced some footfalls where the mid-foot touched the surface, something that seems to be a part of normal healthy walking, the researchers said.

The study appeared Aug. 20 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Our ancestors probably first developed flexibility in their feet when they were primarily tree-dwelling, and moving on bendy branches, but as time passed and we became more and more ground-dwelling animals, some new features evolved to enable us to move quickly on the ground," Dr. Karl Bates, also with the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, said in the news release.

"We hypothesize that despite becoming nearly exclusively ground dwelling, we have retained flexibility in the feet to allow us to cope effectively with the differences in hard and soft ground surfaces which we encounter in long distance walking and running. The next part of our study will be testing this theory, which could offer a reason why humans can outrun a horse, for example, over long distances on irregular terrain."

More information

The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society outlines ways to keep your feet flexible.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- Lightning is one of nature's leading killers. As the old adage goes, "If you can hear thunder, you're close enough to be struck by lightning."

The New York State Office of Emergency Management mentions these safety tips as a thunderstorm approaches:

  • Take shelter in a sturdy car or building, never under trees, in a small shed or in a convertible car.
  • Stay away from bodies of water and get out of a boat.
  • Unplug any unnecessary electrical appliances, and stay off of the phone.
  • Do not take a shower or bath during a thunderstorm.
  • Turn off your air conditioner to avoid the effects of a possible power surge.
  • If flash flooding is possible, get to higher ground.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- Opioids are powerful prescription pain medications, and great care must be taken to avoid possible overdose and addiction.

The American Academy of Family Physicians mentions these potential warning signs of opioid medication overdose:

  • Stumbling while walking.
  • Feeling dizzy.
  • Slurring your speech.
  • Feeling confused.
  • Slow breathing and heartbeat.
  • Blue nails or lips.
  • Pale or clammy skin.
  • Feeling excessively drowsy or having trouble staying alert.
  • Having trouble waking from sleep.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Haloperidol, an antipsychotic drug that's widely used in hospitals to treat delirium in critically ill patients, is no more effective than a placebo, a new study contends.

Delirium is common in critically ill patients, and those who develop the condition are up to three times more likely to die within the next six months than those who do not. Delirium also adds to the stress and discomfort of both patients and their families.

In this study, British researchers looked at 141 critically ill patients on breathing machines who received either haloperidol (Haldol) or a placebo.

Over 14 days, treatment with haloperidol had no effect on the number of days that patients had delirium.

Over 28 days, getting treated with haloperidol failed to reduce death rates, time spent on ventilators, or the length of time patients spent in the hospital or in critical care, according to the study, which was published online Aug. 20 in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

Patients who received haloperidol did seem to require less sedation than those given a placebo. According to the researchers, that suggests that the drug may help to ease short-term agitation.

However, even though there is "limited eveidence" in its favor, "increasing numbers of patients are being exposed to haloperidol for the management of delirium," study leader Dr. Valerie Page, of Watford General Hospital, said in a journal news release. "Our results suggest a commonly used haloperidol dose regimen does not decrease delirium in critically ill patients requiring mechanical ventilation, when commenced early during ICU stay."

"Our results do not support the idea that haloperidol modifies duration of delirium in critically ill patients," Page said.

One expert said a closer examination of the use of the drug is welcome.

"Given the cocktail of sedating medications critically ill patients receive, the addition of another -- haloperidol in this case -- must warrant benefit," said Dr. Bradley Flansbaum, a hospitalist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

However, in the new trial "the patients had outcomes no different than placebo," he said. "Should critically ill folks receive haloperidol? For acute episodes of agitation or cognitive [mental] impairment -- yes, assuming no contraindications to the drug."

But when it comes to using haloperidol for routine prevention of delirium, the answer to that question is "no," Flansbaum added.

Another expert writing in an editorial in the journal agreed.

"Although haloperidol is used commonly, its use to treat delirium does not seem to be justified," wrote Dr. Yoanna Skrobik, critical care chair at the University of Montreal.

Skrobik questioned whether delirium even needs to be treated with drugs.

"Only non-pharmacological prevention measures have been shown to reduce its occurrence in critically ill patients," she said. "Non-pharmacological interventions are effective in numerous psychiatric and psychological disturbances. The challenge lies in the distress delirium symptoms cause in caregivers. We should be asking ourselves, are we treating the patients or our own discomfort?"

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about delirium.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- For people suffering from severe, short-term low back pain, an end may not be in sight: A new study finds that they're at increased risk for long-term pain and disability.

The study included 488 people who were treated for low back pain and were then sent questionnaires every six months for five years.

Higher levels of pain at the initial visit were associated with a 12 percent higher risk of pain six months later, and with a 9 percent increased risk of pain five years later.

Patients who will fail to find future relief may suspect it early on, the study suggests.

Participants' beliefs that their pain would persist was associated with a 4 percent increased risk at six months and a 6 percent increased risk at 5 years.

The study was published in the August issue of The Journal of Pain.

The findings confirm previous research showing that initial low back pain intensity is a key predictor of future pain and disability, but this study is the first to show this association over a long period of time, said researchers Paul Campbell and colleagues with the Arthritis Research U.K. Primary Care Center.

The investigators also said their study confirms the importance of pain relief in the early treatment of low back pain, and that patient beliefs that their pain will persist for a long time can predict progression to chronic low back pain.

Up to 70 percent of Americans will experience low back pain at some point in their lives and many will progress to long-term, chronic low back pain, according to a journal news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about low back pain.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- The rate of blood-pressure control among adults with hypertension who took part in an intensive program offered by their health maintenance organization nearly doubled in nine years, according to a new study.

One key part of the program is treating patients with a single combination blood-pressure pill, which is easier than taking multiple pills for the same condition.

"This study suggests that if you have high blood pressure, there is hope," said study researcher Dr. Marc Jaffe, an endocrinologist and clinical leader of the cardiovascular risk reduction program for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

From 2001 through 2009, the blood-pressure control rate of those participating in the program increased from about 43 percent to more than 80 percent, Jaffe said. "I would say it's a phenomenal increase," he said. By 2011, the control rate was even higher, at 87 percent.

Jaffe's team compared that control rate to a national database that found that blood-pressure control increased much less among the general population during the same time period, from 55 percent to 64 percent.

For the study, control was defined as a pressure less than 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) while on medication. Ideally, pressure should be below 120/80 in the general population.

The study is published in the Aug. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Hypertension, which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, affects about 29 percent of adult Americans, or 65 million people, the researchers said.

The program had five key points, Jaffe said. It established a comprehensive hypertension registry to identify patients with high blood pressure. Between 2001 and 2009, the registry increased from about 350,000 adults to about 652,000 among Kaiser's Northern California facilities. The average age of patients was 63.

It also promoted the prescription of a single combination blood-pressure pill, known from other research to work well. It included lisinopril (brand names include Prinivil and Zestril) and hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide, Esidrix). "We know a single pill is easier to remember," Jaffe said. It may also be more affordable, with one drug co-pay instead of two or more, he said.

The program also traded information about successful strategies among clinics. Kaiser clinics that achieved high rates of control shared their practices with other clinics, which then initiated them. The program also used evidence-based practice guidelines in guiding treatment.

Medical assistants were used for follow-up visits to monitor blood pressure. The medical assistants were not registered nurses or licensed vocational nurses, but were specially trained personnel who monitored blood pressure and other vital signs, Jaffe said.

"I think a lot of these components would be applicable to other centers," he said. Although the study did not examine whether blood-pressure control results in cost savings due to fewer hospitalizations and other fees, Jaffe said he believes it would.

Dr. Abhinav Goyal, an associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, said the improvement in blood-pressure control was impressive.

"This could work in other settings, provided they are willing to put forth the same long-term commitment and resources that Kaiser did to make the program work," said Goyal, who co-wrote an editorial to accompany the study.

Those with high blood pressure and other chronic conditions "should be aware that health systems are responding to the change in American health care by taking a more population-based approach to controlling chronic disease risk factors," he said. "Physicians will continue to be an important part of the process, but no longer the center of every visit."

Although the study focused on the five points of the program, Jaffe said, there is much those with high blood pressure can do on their own to control it. "Avoid tobacco, control your weight, get regular physical activity and eat a heart-healthy diet," he said. "This can make a big difference."

"What this study shows is, it's about a partnership," he said. "You should partner with your health care team."

More information

To learn more about high blood pressure, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Lateral wedge shoe inserts don't appear to relieve pain in patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, a new study finds.

These inexpensive plastic inserts (or insoles) are designed to shift body weight from the inside of the knee to the outside in hopes of reducing pain, but, according to a review of 12 studies, they don't do the job.

"This is a treatment that has been out there for a very long time," said senior study author Dr. David Felson, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University. "It's reasonably popular and there is data that suggests it works. It's only recently that better controlled trials have been done that haven't found anything."

The inserts are "cheap," he said. "They are a few dollars to maybe $20 or $30. It would be a terrific treatment if it were effective. But the trouble is, it doesn't work."

The report was published Aug. 21 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

One expert isn't surprised by the findings.

"Orthopedists always thought that these inserts wouldn't make much of a difference," said Dr. Leon Popovitz, an orthopedic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "It's good this study ultimately proved it."

Once the arthritis develops to the point where there is uneven pressure in the joint, or uneven wearing in the joint, using shoe inserts or a brace on the knee to balance the pressure will not make a difference, Popovitz said.

As the disease progresses, a variety of treatments are used, he said, such as physical therapy, medications to lubricate the joint, and steroid or platelet-rich plasma injections to try to relieve pain and slow disease progression.

"Pain relief does not cure the problem," Popovitz said. "Ultimately, if the osteoarthritis is significant and advanced, the only cure would be a knee replacement."

Dr. Victor Khabie, co-director of the Orthopedic and Spine Institute and chief of surgery at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., said that "as an orthopedic surgeon who treats a lot of arthritis, I have to agree with the finding in this study."

"This is not one of my main go-to treatments for osteoarthritis of the knee," he added. "It is not that helpful or successful."

The lateral wedges are supposed to relieve pain by realigning the angle of the leg so weight is transferred to the outside part of the knee, which typically does not have as much arthritis as the inside part of the knee, Khabie said.

To see whether these shoe inserts were effective, a team lead by Matthew Parkes, a research statistician at the University of Manchester, in England, looked at 12 trials that included a total of 885 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.

This type of study, called a meta-analysis, is designed to find common patterns among already published studies.

In this case, the researchers found that there seemed to be a small positive effect from the inserts in the studies that included the fewest patients. In the trials that included the largest number of patients and those that compared the wedge inserts with non-angled inserts, there was no benefit from the wedge inserts.

"These findings do not support the use of lateral wedges for this indication," the researchers said.

More information

To learn more about osteoarthritis, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Carbon monoxide gas can pass easily through drywall, and poison those living inside a home, apartment or condo, researchers from Seattle report.

The finding highlights the need for having carbon monoxide alarms in your home, since even checking your own appliances won't guarantee that the lethal gas might not seep through your walls from another source, experts say.

"What this study tells me is that carbon monoxide does not stay put in a building, that the barriers between apartments or condos will slow down carbon monoxide, but do not stop it," said Dr. Eric Lavonas, associate director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver.

"Therefore, the best way to protect your family is to have a working carbon monoxide alarm in your home," according to Lavonas, who was not involved with the study.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas found in car exhaust and in fumes from fuel-burning sources such as generators, charcoal grills, gas stoves and wood fireplaces.

"Any source of combustion produces carbon monoxide of some degree, no matter how clean-burning your appliances are," said study author Dr. Neil Hampson, with the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

The report is published in the Aug. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning kills between 400 and 500 people per year in the United States. The only form of protection is a carbon monoxide alarm.

"[Carbon monoxide] is undetectable to human senses. You cannot see it, you cannot smell it, and you cannot taste it, so you do not know you've been poisoned until you get sick and start getting headaches, vomiting or pass out," Hampson explained.

Twenty-five states require residences to have these alarms, but 10 of these states now allow exemptions for homes that have no internal sources of carbon monoxide. Many experts are concerned that these exemptions will lead to an increase in accidental poisonings, particularly in multi-family dwellings, where walls between homes are shared.

To prove that carbon monoxide can go through walls, researchers placed varying thicknesses of drywall in a Plexiglas container to observe how quickly the gas could travel through the walls. Because the pores in the wallboard are 1 million times larger than a carbon monoxide molecule, the gas passed easily through the porous barrier. Painted drywall slowed down the gas only a bit.

Only alarms can detect carbon monoxide gas once it is in a home, but far too many homes either don't have one or have one that isn't functioning because the batteries have died or have been removed. According to Lavonas, only 30 percent of American homes have a working carbon monoxide alarm. In North Carolina, a state that has a law requiring the devices, only 67.8 percent of homes do, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2012.

There have been many cases of poisonings in homes where carbon monoxide alarms were found, "but they either had no battery in them or they hadn't even been taken out of the package," Hampson said. In addition to changing the batteries regularly, it's important to check the expiration date on the alarm itself, he added.

"When you change your batteries, you should look at the back of the alarm to see when the expiration date is. It's either five or seven years, depending on the manufacturer," Hampson explained.

Unlike smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms may be placed anywhere, from the bottom of the wall to the ceiling, and only one is needed per level, preferably located just outside the sleeping areas.

Some alarms can be plugged directly into an electrical outlet or hard-wired, but both Hampson and Lavonas caution that if these are used, they should have a battery back-up. Most carbon monoxide poisonings occur during blackouts, when power is out, they noted.

If your alarm sounds, leave your home immediately, and call the fire department.

More information

To learn more about carbon monoxide, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Higher levels of the key blood protein albumin might help explain why blacks are at elevated heart risk compared to whites, a new study suggests.

Elevated levels of albumin in urine-based tests are tied to an increased risk of coronary heart disease in black Americans but not whites, the study found.

Rising albumin levels in urine samples are a sign of kidney damage and a strong risk factor for heart disease, said lead researcher Dr. Orlando Gutierrez of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Blacks tend to have higher levels of albumin in their urine than whites, which "may contribute to racial disparities in cardiovascular outcomes," according to background information in the study.

Gutierrez's team examined data from more than 28,000 black and white adults aged 45 and older. Over a median (midpoint) four and a half years of follow-up, there were 616 heart disease events, including 421 nonfatal heart attacks, among the participants.

Blacks with the highest urinary albumin levels were about 50 percent more likely to suffer a coronary event than whites, according to the study, which was published in the Aug. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Gutierrez's team said the findings confirm prior studies pointing to urinary albumin as an important signal for heart disease risk in the general population. In addition, the study is the first to show that this risk differs by race.

Future studies should examine whether measuring urinary albumin levels can improve the diagnosis and management of heart disease in blacks, they said.

One expert said the study reinforces the link between kidney dysfunction and heart trouble.

"Just as diabetes, hypertension and tobacco use are well-known strong risk factors leading to heart attack, vascular disease and stroke, there has been more evidence to suggest that chronic kidney disease is being recognized as another coronary disease risk marker," said Dr. David Friedman, chief of heart failure services at North Shore-LIJ's Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream, N.Y.

"Possibly on the basis of microvascular disease, these researchers are linking higher levels of ... albumin, which, if found in the urine, is not only an indirect measure of kidney injury, but now is associated with higher rates of heart attacks, perhaps more so in black than white study participants," he said.

Friedman said the new study suggests that urine albumin tests might help spot people at heart disease risk, "much like we use pre-diabetes or pre-hypertension as risk predictors. In this way, we could better target our strategies to try to help predict and better treat heart disease before it happens in certain higher-risk populations."

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about coronary heart disease.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Toddlers who watch too much television have a more difficult time when they start kindergarten, a new Canadian study suggests.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for kids under 2 and a limit of two hours a day of screen time for children aged 2 and older.

This study looked at how the TV-viewing habits of about 2,000 children in Quebec at the age of 29 months affected them when they started kindergarten.

Every hourly increase in daily TV viewing over the recommended two-hour limit at the younger age was associated with poorer vocabulary, math skills and attention; reduced physical abilities; and an increased risk of being picked on by classmates when the children started kindergarten.

"[The findings] suggest the need for better parental awareness and compliance with existing viewing recommendations put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics," study author Linda Pagani, a professor at the University of Montreal, said in a university news release.

The findings are important because a child's performance in kindergarten can predict their future success in school and life. However, although the study reported an association between more TV time and poorer skills in school, it did not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Study data and conclusions also typically are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about children and screen time.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Highlighting the harm caused by bullying, a new study finds the effects of childhood bullying last into adulthood and can lead to problems such as illness, job difficulties and poor relationships with others.

Researchers assessed 1,420 people four to six times between the ages of 9 and 16, and then again when they were between ages 24 and 26. The participants included victims of childhood bullying, bullies and those in both categories, known as bully-victims.

Bully-victims, who may turn to bullying after being bullied themselves, had the greatest risk of health problems when they were adults. They were over six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness, smoke or have a psychiatric disorder than people not involved in bullying.

Victims, bullies and bully-victims were all more than twice as likely as others to have difficulty in keeping a job or committing to saving money. As a result, they were more likely to be poor in young adulthood, according to the study published Aug. 19 in the journal Psychological Science.

The three groups showed no real difference in the likelihood of being married or having children, but did show signs of having difficulty forming relationships with other people, particularly when it came to maintaining long-term friendships or good ties with parents in adulthood.

However, after accounting for the influence of childhood psychiatric problems and family hardships, the researchers concluded that being a childhood bully had little impact in adulthood.

"Bullies appear to be children with a prevailing antisocial tendency who know how to get under the skin of others, with bully-victims taking the role of their helpers," study co-leader Dieter Wolke, of the University of Warwick, said in a journal news release.

"It is important to find ways of removing the need for these children to bully others and, in doing so, protect the many children suffering at the hand of bullies -- they are the ones who are hindered later in life," he added.

"We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless, almost inevitable, part of growing up," Wolke said. "We need to change this mindset and acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole; the effects are long-lasting and significant."

Although the study found associations between childhood bullying and serious health and social consequences in adulthood, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about bullying.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Hispanic teens are more likely to abuse illegal and legal drugs than their black or white peers, a new report finds.

Fifty-four percent of Hispanic teens surveyed said they had used an illicit drug, compared with 45 percent of black teens and 43 percent of white teens.

"Hispanic kids in grades nine to 12 are at higher risk," said Sean Clarkin, director of strategy and programs at The Partnership at Drugfree.org, the nonprofit group that released the report Tuesday.

Hispanic children perceive these drugs as less harmful than other teens, he said.

Why is that? "They see drug use among their peers and in their community, and the messages they are not getting from their parents -- these all may be contributing to this feeling that drug use is normal," Clarkin said.

The survey found that 62 percent of Hispanic teens have been offered drugs -- including Ecstasy, crack/cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine -- at least once, compared with 53 percent of white teens and 46 percent of black teens.

And schools are not drug-free zones, the report suggested. Forty-two percent of Hispanic teens have been offered drugs at school, compared with 30 percent of white teens and 28 percent of black teens.

Conducted yearly, the latest survey included responses from nearly 3,900 teens and more than 800 parents questioned in 2012.

In many cases, when it comes to teen drug use, parents aren't communicating disapproval, especially when it comes to marijuana, Clarkin noted.

According to the report, 21 percent of Hispanic parents "think it's OK if their teen smokes marijuana sometimes," compared with 11 percent of black parents and 6 percent of white parents.

In addition, 28 percent of Hispanic parents say using prescription drugs is safer than using street drugs, compared with 20 percent of black parents and 9 percent of white parents.

"Many parents feel there is nothing they can do; it's really the responsibility of the school. And parents are at a loss for what to say or what to do," Clarkin said.

"Parents, however, underestimate the influence and leverage that they have with their kids," he said. "The attitude of parents is often 'that's what kids do, I did it and I'm fine, so don't worry,' but the reality is the sooner action is taken, the lower the chance that this is going to develop into something problematic."

On the plus side, the report found that 85 percent of Hispanic parents know that teens who start using drugs and alcohol are more likely to have substance abuse problems later on. This awareness was seen in 74 percent of white parents and 73 percent of black parents.

Moreover, 94 percent of Hispanic parents say they are likely to take action when they find out their child uses drugs or alcohol at home. That compares with 93 percent of black parents and 86 percent of white parents, according to the report.

"It's all about parental guidance," said Dr. Metee Comkornruecha, at the department of adolescent medicine at Miami Children's Hospital. "It's about educating kids and changing views on drugs -- not seeing them as harmless, but as potentially causing abuse."

Highlights of the report include:

  • 47 percent of Hispanic teens used marijuana, compared with 39 percent of black teens and 36 percent of white teens.
  • 13 percent of Hispanic teens used Ecstasy, compared with 8 percent of black teens and 6 percent of white teens.
  • 13 percent of Hispanic teens used cocaine, compared with 8 percent of black teens and 3 percent of white teens.
  • 62 percent of Hispanic teens drank alcohol, compared with 59 percent of white teens and 50 percent of black teens.
  • 24 percent of Hispanic teens say they see frequent drug use in their communities, compared with 15 percent of white teens and 24 percent of black teens.
  • 26 percent of Hispanic teens have abused or misused a prescription drug, compared with 15 percent for white or black teens.
  • 16 percent of Hispanic teens have mixed alcohol with abusing prescription drugs, compared with 11 percent of white teens and 6 percent of black teens.
  • 10 percent of Hispanic teens abused over-the-counter cough medicine in the past year, compared with 5 percent for both white and black teens.

More information

To learn more, visit the The Partnership at Drugfree.org.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- The number of complications experienced by U.S. patients after major cancer surgery is rising, but fewer are dying from their operations, a new study reveals.

Researchers analyzed data from 2.5 million patients older than 18 who had major cancer surgery between 1999 and 2009. Procedures included partial or complete removal of a cancerous colon, bladder, esophagus, stomach, uterus, lung, pancreas or prostate.

The study found "marked and worrisome increases" in certain types of complications after surgery.

"Our report shows that while the incidence of preventable adverse events after major cancer surgery -- blood clots, infections, respiratory failure and pressure ulcers -- is increasing, the overall mortality of patients undergoing these procedures is decreasing in the U.S.," study co-author Dr. Jesse Sammon, a urologist at Henry Ford Hospital, said in a hospital news release.

"This paradox is explained in our report by the fact that physicians are probably getting increasingly better at identifying these adverse events early and managing them more effectively, thereby leading to lower mortality rates from adverse events and, by extension, lower overall mortality rates in the entire population of patients undergoing these procedures," Sammon said.

Despite the falling death rates, more needs to be done to prevent complications after major cancer surgery, the study authors noted.

"Just because physicians have become increasingly effective at managing these adverse events once they occur does not obviate the fact that there's still a lot of room for improvement in reducing the actual occurrence of these adverse events in the first place," Sammon said.

The findings, published online in BMJ Open, could lead to changes in national health care policy and a reallocation of resources, the researchers said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about cancer treatment.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Levels of certain blood proteins may rise before a person commits suicide, a small study suggests, and researchers hope the findings will lead to an objective way to measure suicide risk.

Any such test is a long way off, experts say. But the new research, published online Aug. 20 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, is a step in that direction.

Using blood samples from nine men with bipolar disorder, researchers were able to isolate a group of proteins that rose or fell when the men worsened from having no suicidal thoughts to contemplating suicide.

What's more, a few of those proteins were particularly high in blood samples from another group of men who had committed suicide.

It all raises the possibility of developing a blood test that could help psychiatrists gauge suicide risk in patients with bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses, such as major depression.

But nothing like that is "ready for prime time," said Dr. Charles Luther, director of inpatient and emergency psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"We're not yet ready for a blood test to predict suicide risk," said Luther, who was not involved in the study. But, he added, the results are "interesting," and an objective test for gauging suicide risk is needed.

"It's very difficult to pin down risk," Luther noted. Psychiatrists can look at a patient's history and what's happening in his or her life at that moment. Beyond that, Luther said, "all we can do is ask them what's going on in their mind."

The problem is, they may not admit the truth, said study author Dr. Alexander Niculescu, an associate professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

"They don't want to be stigmatized, or hospitalized. Or they may not want to be stopped," Niculescu said.

Suicide is, fortunately, relatively rare. Still, "over 1 million people worldwide commit suicide each year, and those deaths are preventable," Niculescu said.

For the new study, the researchers first focused on nine men with bipolar disorder who were part of a larger, long-term research project. During the course of that study, all nine men had gone from having no suicidal tendencies to contemplating or attempting suicide.

Looking back at the men's blood samples, Niculescu's team found 41 proteins whose levels changed when the men became potentially suicidal.

Next, the researchers turned to the coroner's office to get blood samples from nine men the same age who had committed suicide. In the end, six proteins stood out as being strongly linked to suicide risk: They had risen in the nine bipolar patients, and were even higher in the men who'd actually gone through with suicide.

The protein with the greatest change was one called SAT1, which is involved in "programmed cell death" -- where damaged body cells essentially commit suicide. Some of the other proteins are involved in inflammation and the body's stress response, Niculescu said.

It's not clear why the proteins were related to suicide risk. And Luther said the findings do not mean that spikes in the proteins "cause" people to commit suicide. "It's just a correlation," he said, and not a cause-and-effect relationship.

But he and Niculescu said the findings could eventually give some insight into the biology of suicide.

First, however, Niculescu said additional studies need to look at women and people of other ethnicities since the men in this study were all white. (One postmortem blood sample was from a black man.) They also need to focus on patients with other mental illnesses, such as major depression, he added.

Dr. Morton Silverman, senior science advisor to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center in Washington, D.C., agreed that the findings are preliminary and limited to this particular group of men.

Another issue, Silverman said, is the way the study defined "suicidality" in the men with bipolar disorder. They were considered to be "high" in suicidal ideation if they had attempted suicide, or if they'd had "any thoughts" about their own death, or wished they were dead. But those are very different states, Silverman noted; someone with a past suicide attempt is clearly at increased risk, while someone who has thought about death may not be suicidal at all.

Still, he praised the "sophistication and creativity" of the work, in finding blood markers that might be associated with "a range of suicidal thoughts, intent or attempts," at least in this group of men.

Even if a blood test for suicide risk becomes reality, it would only be one part of assessing patients, Niculescu said. "You're not just going to rely on a blood test to recommend that someone be hospitalized," he noted.

Instead, he said, a psychiatrist might use the test along with other information on a patient's risk factors, and questions about his current depression and anxiety symptoms.

No single test will ever determine a treatment plan, Luther agreed. "We're dealing with human beings, with complex emotions and experiences," he said. "We need to know more about them than just blood test results."

More information

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers help to people at risk.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- By the time they reach the fourth grade, children exposed to lead are nearly three times more likely to have been suspended, a new study contends.

The findings from nearly 4,000 children in the Milwaukee school district suggest that lead exposure may play more of a role in school discipline problems than was realized, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.

"Students who are suspended from school are at greater risk of dropping out, twice as likely to use tobacco, and more likely to engage in violent behavior later in life," study first author Michael Amato, a doctoral candidate in psychology and at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, said in a university news release.

Black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students nationally, according to background information in the news release. The same difference was found in this study, but differences in rates of lead exposure accounted for 23 percent of the disparity, the researchers said.

Black children are more than twice as likely as white children to have elevated lead levels, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers attribute this to black children being more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods and rental housing where lead remains in the buildings and soil.

Many previous studies have identified disparities in school discipline, but few have pinpointed the underlying factors, the news release said.

"We knew that lead exposure decreases children's abilities to control their attention and behavior, but we were still surprised that exposed children were so much more likely to be suspended," study co-author Sheryl Magzamen, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma, said in the news release.

The researchers noted that animal experiments have shown that lead causes decreased attention and decreased control over behavior when an animal is startled or touched. If children exposed to lead behave the same way, they're more likely to have disruptive classroom behaviors that can result in suspension, according to the researchers.

Although the study found an association between childhood lead exposure and increased risk of school suspension, it didn't prove cause-and-effect.

The study appears in the September issue of the journal Environmental Research.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about lead.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 20, 2013

By on

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

VP Biden's Son Undergoing Medical Tests

Beau Biden, who is U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's son, is undergoing medical tests Tuesday after experiencing weakness and disorientation last week. The vice president is in Houston while his son has the tests.

The younger Biden, 44, is the attorney general of Delaware. He suffered a mild stroke in 2010 and began experiencing the new symptoms after driving to Indiana for a family holiday, according to a Delaware Department of Justice spokesman, the Associated Press reported.

He was admitted to a Chicago Hospital and then went to Philadelphia to consult with his doctor.

The vice president had been at home in Delaware and accompanied his son to Houston, the White House said. It's not clear how long the elder Biden will remain in Texas, but is scheduled to join President Obama in Scranton, Pa. later this week, the AP reported.

-----

New Mexico Poultry Hatchery Likely Source of Salmonella Outbreak

A salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 300 people in 37 states since March has been linked to a poultry hatchery in New Mexico.

Nearly three-fifths of the people who've become ill are children. No deaths have been reported, but 51 people have been hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Associated Press reported.

Officials said the strain of salmonella causing the outbreak was found at Privett Hatchery in Portales, which sells live baby chickens, ducks and other poultry by mail and supplies them to feed stores.

But while the New Mexico hatchery is the most likely source of the outbreak, investigators have found that people sickened with salmonella bought poultry at 113 feed store locations that were supplied by 18 mail order hatcheries in several states, according to state public health veterinarian Paul Ettestad, the AP reported.

Further tests are being conducted, the CDC said.

-----

Radiation Rx for Prostate Cancer Prescribed More Often by Docs Who Profit: Report

Radiation treatment for Medicare patients with prostate cancer is much more likely to be prescribed by doctors with a financial interest in radiation treatment centers, according to report by Congressional investigators.

They also found that patients often did not know that their doctors would profit from the use of radiation therapy, according to The New York Times.

The Government Accountability Office report noted that alternative treatments may be equally effective and are less costly for Medicare and for patients with prostate cancer, which is one of the most common cancers in men.

In other recent studies, GAO investigators found that doctors who owned laboratories and imaging centers were more likely recommend CT scans and MRIs for Medicare patients, The Times reported.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- A child can drown in what may appear to be very little water, so it's important to take precautions to help protect your child.

The American Red Cross offers these water safety suggestions for parents:

  • Never leave a child unsupervised near a body of water.
  • Enroll a child in an age-appropriate swim class.
  • If you have a hot tub or pool, protect it with secure barriers, covers and alarms.
  • Make sure the pool barrier is at least 4 feet high and encloses the entire pool, has self-closing gates, has gates that open away from the pool and has latches that are too high for young children to reach.
  • Remove ladders and install covers on inflatable or above-ground pools that are not in use.
  • Remove anything that a child could use to climb into the pool, such as furniture or playground equipment.
  • Store toys away from the pool.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- Skateboarding and inline skating, once considered unusual sports, are now commonplace among our children.

But before your child trie either for the first time, make sure he or she follows these safety suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Replace wheels as soon as they show significant signs of wear, and make sure they are clean and free of debris.
  • Wear a properly fitting, safety-certified helmet.
  • Wear elbow and knee pads, as well as wrist guards.
  • Be aware of the environment you're skating in. Most accidents happen on public roads, parking lots and sidewalks.
  • Take notice of other skaters, walkers, bicyclists and cars that use the same areas.
  • Learn the proper skating techniques. Consider taking a skating class.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- A simple scoring system that may predict the risk of dementia in seniors with type 2 diabetes has been developed by researchers.

The system -- which scores patients based on their age, health issues and education -- could help doctors closely monitor diabetes patients at the highest risk of dementia and begin early treatment if needed, said Dr. Rachel Whitmer and her colleagues at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in California.

The researchers created the scoring system by examining data from nearly 30,000 patients who were older than 60 and had type 2 diabetes. Nearly one in five (17 percent) of the patients developed dementia over a decade.

The researchers identified 45 risk factors for dementia, and used sophisticated statistical methods to analyze the patients' medical records and identify the risk factors that most strongly predicted the onset of dementia.

Age, education level and six different diabetes-related health complications (acute metabolic event, microvascular disease, diabetic foot, cerebrovascular disease, heart disease and depression) were determined to be the most important predictors of dementia.

The researchers incorporated these factors into an easy-to-use point system that places patients in one of 14 categories. The lowest score (-1) indicates the lowest risk of dementia and the highest scores (12 to 19) indicate the highest risk.

Patients with the highest scores were 37 times more likely to develop dementia within 10 years than those with the lowest scores, and patients with higher scores developed dementia more quickly than those with lower scores, according to an article published online Aug. 20 in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

The researchers then tested the scoring system in another group of older patients with type 2 diabetes, and found that it accurately predicted their risk of developing dementia.

Scoring systems have been developed to predict the risk of dementia in other groups of patients, but this is the first one to predict the risk of dementia in people with diabetes, the researchers said.

"Unfortunately, there is an epidemic of both type 2 diabetes and dementia, and the link between these two illnesses portends a possible public health crisis," Whitmer said in a journal news release.

"Generally, risk scores might be useful in the identification of individuals who should be monitored for disease symptoms, selection of high-risk individuals for clinical trials, targeting of preventive interventions toward those at greatest risk, and assessment of the effectiveness of an intervention at reducing the risk of future illness," Dr. Anna-Maija Tolppanen, of the University of Eastern Finland, wrote in an accompanying commentary.

"[This new scoring system] might be useful for clinicians for the first purpose, but clinical trial data on effective preventive interventions for dementia are currently lacking," Tolppanen said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about dementia.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Eating lots of fruit might decrease your risk of developing a dangerous abdominal aortic aneurysm, according to a large, long-running study.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of the part of the aorta -- the largest artery in the body -- that runs through the abdomen. If an aneurysm ruptures, there is a high risk of death from bleeding. Ultrasound screening can detect the condition.

In this study, researchers analyzed data from more than 80,000 people, aged 46 to 84, in Sweden who were followed for 13 years. During that time, nearly 1,100 of them had abdominal aortic aneurysms, including 222 whose aneurysms ruptured.

People who ate more than two servings of fruit a day (not counting juice) had a 25 percent lower risk of the condition and a 43 percent lower risk of rupture than those who ate less than one serving of fruit a day.

People who ate two servings of fruit a day had a 31 percent lower risk of the condition and a 39 percent lower risk of rupture than those who didn't eat any fruit, according to the study, which appeared in the journal Circulation.

"A high consumption of fruits may help to prevent many vascular diseases, and our study suggests that a lower risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm will be among the benefits," lead author Dr. Otto Stackelberg, a Ph.D. student in the nutritional epidemiology unit of the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said in a journal news release.

High levels of antioxidants in fruits might protect against abdominal aortic aneurysm by reducing inflammation, the researchers said.

They found, however, that eating lots of vegetables, which are also rich in antioxidants, did not reduce the risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm. Vegetables lack some types of antioxidants that are found in fruits, Stackelberg said.

"Vegetables remain important for health," he said. "Other studies have found that eating more fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and several cancers."

Although the study found reduced aneurysm risk among people who ate more fruit, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about abdominal aortic aneurysm.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Despite the risk of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma, nearly 30 percent of white female high school students use tanning beds and nearly 17 percent use them often, a new report finds.

Among white women aged 18 to 34, nearly 25 percent use tanning beds and 15 percent use them frequently, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The high rates of indoor tanning among this population is very concerning," said report coauthor Gery Guy Jr., of the division of cancer prevention at the CDC.

Moreover, there have been no significant changes in the prevalence of indoor tanning in recent years, he said.

"Indoor tanning has been associated with skin cancer, particularly melanoma," Guy said. "The risk is increased among younger users and those who use it frequently."

Guy said young girls should be educated about the risks of ultraviolet ray exposure. Indoor tanning also should be restricted to adults, and claims about its benefits should be discredited, he said.

In addition, changing the perception that tanned skin is healthy and attractive would go a long way in reducing the use of tanning beds. "Tanned skin is damaged skin," he said.

The report was published online Aug. 19 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Dr. Melanie Palm, a spokeswomen for the Skin Cancer Foundation and director of Art of Skin MD in Solana Beach, Calif., said the study's finding are consistent with past research on the use of tanning beds.

More than 30 million Americans use tanning beds every year, Palm said. "There is a disproportionate number of girls and young women who use them," she said.

Although tanning is a known risk for skin cancer, there is a "cultural disconnect between the risk and the desire for a 'healthy glow,'" she said.

Parents need to be role models and educate their children about the dangers of UV exposure, Palm said. She said people should get into the habit of putting on sunscreen before going out, and girls and women who want a tanned look should use sunless tanning spray.

Cancer, however, is not the only risk of tanning. Exposure to UV rays ages the skin, making it less elastic, and causes wrinkles and spots, Palm said.

An industry spokesman, however, said the connection between indoor tanning and the risk for melanoma has not been confirmed.

"The body of studies on the relationship between UV exposure and melanoma skin cancer are replete with conflicting information," said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association.

"This study also ignores the many benefits of moderate exposure to ultraviolet light," he said. "With any human activity, there are risks and benefits, and the key is balance."

Another expert said many women weren't told about the dangers of tanning when they were teens.

"Most adult patients that I treat for skin cancers preface their discussion with me by saying that when they were teenagers they were never told that sunbathing or tanning was bad for them," said Dr. Jeffrey Salomon, an assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine.

"If there was a way for teens to be able to talk to their future self, the remedy would be easy," he said. "But since the cancerous effects of tanning beds take time to evolve into skin cancers, it is hard for teens to personally identify with the risks. It is going to be a combination of parents, teachers and social media that will have to be used to target this audience."

More information

For more on indoor tanning, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Children who have an older sibling diagnosed with autism are known to be at higher risk for the disorder themselves, but exactly how much of an increased risk has been debated.

In a large new study, Danish researchers have found that risk, which they call recurrence risk, may be lower than other studies have suggested. "The recurrence risk of autism spectrum disorders is about seven times the risk of the general population," said Therese Koops Gronborg, a Ph.D. student at Aarhus University who led the study.

"But whether that is considered a high or low risk is up to each affected family to decide," she said.

Other studies have pegged the increased risk as high as 19 percent.

Gronborg also evaluated separately children whose older full-siblings and older half-siblings had autism. She found that those with full-siblings with autism had an increased risk of 7.5 percent, while those with half-siblings had a lower risk.

If the children had the same mother, the increased risk was 7.5 percent for full-siblings and 2.4 percent in half-siblings.

If the children had the same father, the risk increased by 7.4 percent for full-siblings but was not significantly increased among half-siblings.

The study evaluated about 1.5 million children born in Denmark between 1980 and 2004 and followed until 2010. It is published online Aug. 19 in JAMA Pediatrics.

The Danish researchers found no time trends over the study period, "suggesting that the factors contributing to the risk for autism recurrence in siblings (perhaps a combination of genes and environment) have not changed over time," Gronborg said.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by difficulties in social interactions and communications. Those affected may also display repetitive behaviors. In the United States, one in 88 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which encompasses a range of severity. The Danish researchers say the overall risk of ASD for the Danish population is 1.18 percent. The causes of ASD are believed to be genetic and environmental.

The new study results will be valuable to families who have a child already diagnosed with autism, said Dr. Jefry Biehler, chair of pediatrics at Miami Children's Hospital, who was not involved in the study. "Because early intervention and diagnosis are important to the well-being of children, this information can be very important to families who have a child with known autism spectrum disorder," he said.

The overall increased risk found of 7 percent "should be relatively reassuring to families who already have one child with an autism spectrum disorder," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York. However, he added, "there is a possibility that this is an underestimate -- especially for families who have a more severely affected child."

For his part, Biehler said the findings continue to support the idea that the causes of autism arise from many factors. "Their conclusions support the view that both genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the risk of younger children developing these disorders when their older brother or sister are known to have ASD," he said.

To study author Gronborg, the findings suggest that "nongenetic and environmental factors may play far greater roles than previously thought."

The higher risk seen for siblings born to the same mother compared to the fathers may indicate that obstetrical factors may be playing important roles in causing the disorder, both Biehler and Adesman said.

Parents who have a child with autism should discuss the findings with their health care provider, Biehler said.

More information

To learn more about autism spectrum disorders, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Pilots of U.S. Air Force U-2 reconnaissance planes may be at risk of developing brain lesions, a new study suggests.

America's involvement in two wars has increased the workload of U.S. airmen, and cases of decompression sickness -- a potential hazard of high-altitude flying -- have tripled over the past two decades, the researchers say. But this study suggests that U-2 pilots in general are more vulnerable to bruises in the brain, a sign that decompression damages the brain even in the absence of illness.

The findings, published in the Aug. 20 issue of the journal Neurology, indicate that decompression sends tiny bubbles known as emboli into the brain where they don't necessarily make people ill but may still cause harm, said study lead author Dr. Stephen McGuire, a neurologist with the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio, Texas.

"If the bruise is not too severe, the brain recovers," he said. However, "we don't really know what the long-term implications are."

Decompression sickness, also known as "the bends," occurs when pressure around a person suddenly dips. High-altitude pilots, miners, mountain climbers and scuba divers can be affected.

Dr. Adam Bender, a diver and attending neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, described what happens with decompression sickness this way: "Tiny bubbles of nitrogen gas form in the blood and coalesce in the blood vessels of the joints. Bubbles can also coalesce in the blood vessels of the skin, causing itching and skin rash. Most dangerously, the blood vessels of the brain and spinal cord can be involved, causing multiple small strokes," he explained.

"The blood actually 'boils' at these very low atmospheric pressures," Bender said. "The effect is similar to the bubbles seen when you quickly open a bottle of soda or champagne. The decrease in pressure in the bottle causes the release of carbon dioxide gas, previously dissolved under pressure in the liquid, to come out in the form of small bubbles."

Bender said the resulting lesions can be harmful. "They can accumulate and result in symptoms varying from mild (slowed thought process) to severe (speech difficulty, confusion and unresponsiveness)," he said.

Commercial airline pilots and passengers fly in pressurized airplanes and shouldn't be concerned. U-2 pilots, however, fly at very high altitudes -- often above 18,000 feet -- with limited cabin pressurization.

The number of decompression sickness incidents per U-2 flight has grown threefold over the last 20 years, although they're still rare at well under 1 percent, McGuire said. The rise in cases could be attributed to increased flight demands related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

In the new study, researchers examined brain scans of 102 male and female U-2 pilots and 91 people of similar age, health and education level.

The U-2 pilots had 295 percent more lesions than the non-pilots and almost 400 percent more brain lesions by volume. The findings suggest that decompression sickness is caused by "micro-emboli" instead of large air bubbles, McGuire said. And these tiny bubbles often seem to enter the brain without causing symptoms, he added.

What do the study findings mean for pilots, divers and others? "If you have someone being exposed to altitude, even on oxygen (to prevent decompression sickness), you have to be concerned about potential brain injury," McGuire said. It's possible, but unproven, that the bruises contribute to senility, he suggested.

Bender said possible prevention strategies include oxygen treatment, fewer flights and less exposure to extreme altitude. Another idea is to make U-2 planes that don't expose pilots to extreme pressure.

"Although such planes are not yet being produced," Bender said, "research is currently underway to design U-2 planes with these specifications."

More information

For more about decompression sickness, see the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Copper appears to be one of the main environmental factors that cause Alzheimer's disease and contribute to its progression, according to a study of mice and, in some phases, human brain cells.

The common metal prevents the clearance and accelerates the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain, the researchers said.

"It is clear that, over time, copper's cumulative effect is to impair the systems by which amyloid beta is removed from the brain," study author Rashid Deane, a research professor in the department of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a medical center news release.

"This impairment is one of the key factors that cause the protein to accumulate in the brain and form the plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease," Deane said.

People have extensive exposure to copper. The mineral appears in drinking water carried by copper pipes, in nutritional supplements, and in foods such as red meat, shellfish, nuts, and many fruits and vegetables, according to the news release. Copper plays an important and healthy role in nerve conduction, bone growth, the formation of connective tissue and hormone secretion.

This study found, however, that copper can accumulate in the brain and cause the blood-brain barrier -- which controls what enters and exits the brain -- to break down, resulting in the accumulation of the protein amyloid beta, which has been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

The findings were published Aug. 19 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Although studies involving animals can be useful, they frequently fail to produce similar results in humans.

The researchers said their results must be interpreted with caution, as the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between copper exposure and Alzheimer's.

"Copper is an essential metal and it is clear that these effects are due to exposure over a long period of time," Deane said. "The key will be striking the right balance between too little and too much copper consumption. Right now we cannot say what the right level will be, but diet may ultimately play an important role in regulating this process."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials are continuing to search for the source of a nationwide stomach bug outbreak as the number of cases has climbed to 586, with illnesses reported in 20 states.

According to statistics released Monday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 36 people, or 8 percent, have been hospitalized with severe cases of cyclospora infection. No deaths have been reported.

The source of the outbreak in at least two states was traced earlier this month to Taylor Farms, which supplied salad mix to Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants and is the Mexican branch of Taylor Farms of Salinas, Calif.

On Tuesday, Taylor Farms de Mexico "officially informed FDA that, as of Aug. 9, 2013, the company voluntarily suspended production and shipment of any salad mix, leafy green, or salad mix components from its operations in Mexico to the United States," according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"To date, only the salad mix has been implicated in the outbreak of cyclosporiasis in Iowa and Nebraska," the FDA said. The agency added it is still trying to determine whether the prepackaged salad mix was the source of infections in the other states.

States that have recorded cases of cyclospora infection include Texas (244), Iowa (155), Nebraska (86), Florida (29), Wisconsin (16), Illinois (11), Arkansas (10), New York (7), Georgia (4), Kansas (4), Missouri (4), Louisiana (3), Minnesota (2), New Jersey (2), Ohio (2), Virginia (1), California (1),Tennessee (1), Connecticut (2) and New Hampshire (1).

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials said the overall investigation continues.

Prior outbreaks of cyclospora infection have typically been caused by tainted produce, the CDC noted.

One expert said recently that while cyclospora can make people very ill, it is not usually life-threatening.

"On the infectious disease scale, this ranks well below the more notorious and dangerous ailments like E. coli and salmonella," said Dr. Lewis Marshall Jr., chairman of the outpatient services at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in New York City.

"It is unlikely to be fatal, but certainly can make one's life miserable," he added. "Symptoms include crampy abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, fatigue, fever, headache and body aches."

Cases of cyclosporiasis are caused by a single-celled parasite and cannot be spread from person to person. The parasite has to be ingested via contaminated water or foods such as fruit and vegetables, according to Dr. Monica Parise, chief of the parasitic diseases branch at the CDC.

"It can be pretty miserable, because it can give diarrhea that can last for days," Parise said.

It takes about a week for people who are infected to become sick.

Marshall said there may be more cases of cyclospora infection out there than people realize. It is possible "that most occurrences go unreported, as many people wouldn't recognize the symptoms as any different than a common stomach bug," he said.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, has urged people who have suffered from diarrhea for longer than a couple of days to be tested for cyclospora.

Marshall agreed.

"If not treated, symptoms can last from a few days to a month or longer, go away and then return later," Marshall said. "Cyclospora can be treated with an antibiotic combination of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole [Bactrim]."

The best option, however, is to avoid the bug altogether.

"The safest way to protect oneself and one's family is to always rinse fresh produce under water, and even put vegetables in a cold water bath ahead of time to properly clean them," Marshall advised.

One expert stressed that the wash-your-produce rule includes prepackaged salads.

"Wash all your fruits and salads before ingesting," said Dr. Salvatore Pardo, vice chairman of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "My hunch is the public does not do this to 'prepackaged' salad, which is normally purchased for convenience and dumped into the bowl since it tends to be free from particles -- dirt, sand, critters -- one would normally find in locally picked ingredients."

More information

For more information on cyclospora, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- About 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, which is about 10 times higher than the number of cases reported each year to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a new report.

The findings are from three ongoing CDC studies that are using different methods to determine the number of Americans diagnosed with the tick-borne disease each year.

One study is analyzing six years of annual medical claims information from about 22 million people, another is based on a survey of clinical laboratories and the third is an analysis of self-reported Lyme disease cases from a survey of the general public.

More than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC each year, making it the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the nation. However, these new findings suggest that this figure is well below the actual number of cases.

"We know that routine surveillance only gives us part of the picture, and that the true number of illnesses is much greater," Dr. Paul Mead, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for CDC's Lyme disease program, said in a CDC news release. "This new preliminary estimate confirms that Lyme disease is a tremendous public health problem in the United States, and clearly highlights the urgent need for prevention."

Most Lyme disease cases reported to the CDC occur in the Northeast and upper Midwest, with 96 percent of cases occurring in 13 states, according to the news release.

The preliminary estimates were presented Sunday at an international conference on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, held in Boston. The final estimates will be released when the studies are completed.

In addition, the CDC and other researchers are trying to find new ways to kill ticks and prevent tick-borne illnesses in people.

"We know people can prevent tick bites through steps like using repellents and tick checks. Although these measures are effective, they aren't fail-proof and people don't always use them," Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of CDC's division of vector-borne diseases, said in the news release. "We need to move to a broader approach to tick reduction, involving entire communities, to combat this public health problem."

A community approach would include homeowners trying to kill ticks in their own yards, and communities tackling a number of issues, such as rodents that carry the Lyme disease bacteria, deer that play a role in the ticks' lifecycle, suburban planning, and the interaction between people, deer, rodents and ticks.

The bacterium that causes Lyme disease is transmitted to people through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a bulls-eye type rash. Left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.

To prevent Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, the CDC advises people to: use insect repellant; check for ticks daily; shower soon after being outdoors; and call their doctor if they get a fever or rash.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about Lyme disease.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Latino children typically are diagnosed with autism more than two years later than white children, and new research suggests that language-appropriate screenings and access to autism specialists are two big factors in that delay.

"Parents need to know that early identification of autism is important," said study author Dr. Katharine Zuckerman, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. "It leads to better outcomes for the child and better family outcomes. It may even save money. All children should be screened."

Yet Zuckerman's study found that only one in 10 pediatricians administered the general developmental screenings and autism-specific screenings in Spanish for their Spanish-speaking patients.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said there's a screening tool with yes-or-no answers that a pediatrician can still score and assess the risk of autism even if they don't speak Spanish.

But, Adesman said, language barriers can definitely pose problems when trying to assess a child's risk for autism. "To the extent that a language delay is the core symptom, it becomes more difficult to assess the language if the clinician doesn't speak the language," he said. "If the child is living in a bilingual household, it can be difficult to assess differences in language development."

"The signs of language issues can be subtle, and they're hard to identify in the first place," Zuckerman said, which makes it even harder if the pediatrician and the child don't speak the same language.

Still, according to the more than 250 pediatricians surveyed for the study, the biggest barrier to getting a firm autism diagnosis is access to autism specialists.

Adesman agreed that this is a big problem, especially in certain parts of the United States. He recommended, however, that any parent with concerns about their child should request an evaluation through their state's early intervention service, which typically is offered through the department of health. He said these services are free and offered whether or not a child has health insurance. These screenings also are often available in a child's native language.

The pediatricians included in the survey were all from California, and 60 percent were female. Slightly more than half have been in practice for more than 20 years. About half said more than 25 percent of their patients are Latino.

Seventy percent of the doctors said they didn't speak Spanish, or spoke it poorly. Thirty percent said they spoke good or excellent Spanish.

Eighty-one percent offered some form of developmental screening, but just 29 percent offered autism screening in Spanish, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. Only 10 percent offered general developmental and autism screenings in Spanish.

Communication and cultural barriers also were cited as reasons for the delay in diagnosis. The pediatricians said they felt that Latino parents don't have as much knowledge about autism as white parents do.

"Latino parents may know less about autism, so they bring up fewer concerns," Zuckerman said. She said autism awareness needs to be raised in Latino communities.

"We need to try to increase the information availability. Parents need to know the early signs of autism," she said, noting that a language delay, a lack of eye contact, not pointing to show interest, not wanting to play interactive games such as peekaboo, and playing with toys in an unusual way, such as only spinning the tires of a toy car instead of pretending to make the car drive, are some possible signs of autism.

Pediatricians need to be encouraged to conduct both developmental and autism screenings, and whenever possible these screenings should be done in the child's primary language. "Early identification of autism is super-important," Zuckerman said. "It's a condition that we know will get better with early therapy. We need to be assessing kids for this."

"Autism affects all genders and ethnicities," Adesman said. "Any family with a concern about their child should [have their child] screened by their pediatrician or through early-intervention services from their state."

Results of the study were released online Aug. 19 and in the September print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

More information

Learn more about the symptoms of autism from Autism Speaks.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- One way for recently discharged heart failure patients to boost their survival odds is to see a doctor within the first month after leaving the hospital, a new study finds.

And the survival advantage is higher among patients who see their regular doctor rather than an unfamiliar one, according to the report in the Aug. 19 issue of the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

For the study, researchers looked at data on more than 24,000 heart failure patients aged 20 and older who had been discharged from hospitals in Alberta, Canada. Of those patients, 22 percent did not see a doctor within the first month, 69 percent saw their regular doctor, and 9 percent saw an unfamiliar doctor.

Patients who saw a doctor within a month of being discharged from hospital were 3 percent to 8 percent less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital within three months to one year than those who did not see a doctor, according to Dr. Finlay McAlister, of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and colleagues.

The investigators also found that patients who saw their regular doctor had a significantly lower risk of death or hospital readmission than those who saw an unfamiliar doctor.

The findings show "that physicians should strive to optimize continuity with their heart failure patients after discharge, and that strategies are needed in the health care system to ensure early follow-up after discharge with the patient's regular physician," the study authors concluded.

Heart failure is costly in terms of lives and money, the study authors explained in a journal news release. It is one of the most common causes of hospitalization, and has a high risk of readmission and early death. And in the United States and Canada, more than $20 billion per year is spent on patients who need to be readmitted to hospital within a month of being discharged.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about heart failure.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Devices called insulin pumps may work better at controlling blood sugar in children with type 1 diabetes than insulin injections, a new study finds.

They might also cause fewer complications, the Australian researchers said.

"This is the largest study of insulin-pump use in children," wrote a team led by Dr. Elizabeth Davis of the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children in Perth. "It also has the longest follow-up period of any study of insulin-pump therapy in children. Our data confirm that insulin-pump therapy provides an improvement in glycemic control, which is sustained for at least seven years."

The study was published Aug. 18 in the journal Diabetologia.

Davis's team compared outcomes for 345 children, aged 2 to 19, who were using insulin pumps to control their type 1 diabetes to a similar number of children who were receiving insulin injections.

The children were followed for a median of three and a half years.

During the follow-up period, episodes of dangerously low blood sugar levels (severe hypoglycemia) in the insulin-pump group fell by about half, the researchers said. In contrast, episodes of severe hypoglycemia in the insulin-injection group rose, from about seven events per 100 patients per year to more than 10 events by the end of the study.

The researchers also looked at rates of hospital admission for diabetic ketoacidosis, a shortage of insulin that causes the body to switch to burning fats and to produce acidic ketone molecules that cause complications and symptoms. This a frequent complication in children with type 1 diabetes.

Admissions for diabetic ketoacidosis were lower in the insulin-pump group than in the insulin-injection group -- 2.3 and 4.7 per 100 patients per year, respectively, according to the study.

Of the 345 patients with insulin pumps, 38 stopped using them at some point during the study: six in the first year, seven in the second year, 10 in the third year and the remainder after three years.

The study authors said some children stop because they tire of the extra attention needed to manage the pump, or are concerned about the physical sight of the pump. Other children sometimes take a temporary "pump holiday" and then start using a pump again.

Two U.S. diabetes experts weren't surprised by the findings.

"The current standard of insulin treatment in type 1 diabetes is multiple daily insulin-injection therapy," said Dr. Patricia Vuguin, a pediatric endocrinologist at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

"[However], in the 1970s, continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion -- also know as pump therapy -- was introduced," she said. "Pump therapy has been gaining popularity, perhaps because of technical advances resulting in improved patient comfort and improved lifestyle."

Vuguin said the study succeeded in "confirming that insulin-pump therapy improved and sustained glucose control in type 1 diabetic subjects for at least seven years."

Virginia Peragallo-Dittko is executive director of the Diabetes and Obesity Institute at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. She said that "when treating insulin-deficient type 1 diabetes, there is more than one way to provide insulin that mimics what the pancreas usually provides."

"Compared to multiple injections, the insulin pump allows for more flexible insulin dosing when insulin needs decrease during exercise or increase during illness, and it also allows for more flexible meal-time dosing," Peragallo-Dittko said.

What has been missing, however, is a study that tracked children's outcomes with insulin pump use over the long haul, she said.

"The demands of diabetes self-management continue 24/7, and it is especially hard for children, teenagers and their families to manage these demands during growth spurts and puberty," Peragallo-Dittko said. "So what is important about this study is that the improvement in [blood sugar control] lasted over time in a real-life setting and that those who use insulin pumps may have an edge."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about type 1 diabetes.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- One-fifth of U.S. neurologists are unaware of serious safety risks associated with epilepsy drugs and are potentially risking the health of patients who could be treated with safer medications, a new study reveals.

The 505 neurologists who took part in the survey between March and July 2012 were asked if they knew about several epilepsy drugs' safety risks recently identified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

These risks included increased danger of suicidal thoughts or behaviors linked with some newer drugs, a high risk for birth defects and mental impairment in children of mothers taking divalproex (brand name Depakote), and the likelihood of serious hypersensitivity reactions in some Asian patients treated with carbamazepine (Tegretol).

One in five of the neurologists said they did not know about any of these risks. Neurologists who treat 200 or more epilepsy patients per year were most likely to know all the risks, according to the study, which was published online recently in the journal Epilepsy.

Although this study focused on epilepsy drugs, the findings suggest that the FDA needs to find better ways to inform doctors about newly discovered drug safety risks, said the researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Their results show that warnings about these risks are not getting through to doctors making important prescribing decisions.

There is no single place for neurologists to find updated drug risk information, said study leader Dr. Gregory Krauss, a professor of neurology. A few get emails from the FDA, while others get the information from neurology societies, continuing medical education courses or journal articles.

"There is poor communication from the FDA to specialists, and there's some risk to patients because of this," Krauss said in a Johns Hopkins news release.

"Unless it's a major change requiring the FDA to issue a black box warning on a product, important information appears to be slipping through the cracks," he said. "We need a more systematic and comprehensive method so that doctors receive updated safety warnings in a format that guarantees they will see and digest what they need to protect patients."

More information

The Epilepsy Foundation has more about epilepsy medications.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 19, 2013

By on

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Radiation Rx for Prostate Cancer Prescribed More Often by Docs Who Profit: Report

Radiation treatment for Medicare patients with prostate cancer is much more likely to be prescribed by doctors with a financial interest in radiation treatment centers, according to report by Congressional investigators.

They also found that patients often did not know that their doctors would profit from the use of radiation therapy, according to The New York Times.

The Government Accountability Office report noted that alternative treatments may be equally effective and are less costly for Medicare and for patients with prostate cancer, which is one of the most common cancers in men.

In other recent studies, GAO investigators found that doctors who owned laboratories and imaging centers were more likely recommend CT scans and MRIs for Medicare patients, The Times reported.

-----

Iams and Eukanuba Dry Dog and Cat Foods Recalled

Certain lots of Iams and Eukanuba dry dog and cat foods are being recalled due to possible salmonella contamination, the Procter & Gamble Company says.

The recall covers specific lots of the pet foods that were distributed in the United States. No illnesses have been reported in association with the recalled products, according to the company.

Salmonella can cause illness in pets who eat the products and in people who handling contaminated pet products, especially if they do not thoroughly wash their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products.

No other dry dog food, dry cat food, dog or cat canned wet food, biscuits/treats or supplements are being recalled.

For more information, contact P&G at 1-800-208-0172.

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FDA Needs to Regulate Flavored Cigars: Critics

The lack of federal government regulations for flavored cigars and other tobacco products threaten recent progress in reducing smoking among young Americans, critics say.

While a law passed in 2009 banned virtually all flavors in cigarettes, it did not address flavors in cigars and a number of other tobacco products. As a result, flavored cigars and cigarillos, including some that look like cigarettes, are common in convenience stores and gas stations, The New York Times reported.

"The 20th century was the cigarette century, and we worked very hard to address that," said Gregory Connolly, the director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Now the 21st century is about multiple tobacco products. They're cheap. They're flavored. And some of them you can use anywhere."

The Food and Drug Administration has broad discretion to decide whether to regulate flavored cigars and other tobacco products but has yet to take action. The agency acknowledges criticism that it has been slow to act, said Mitchell Zeller, director of the FDAs Center for Tobacco Products.

"What we've seen in the past 10 years is this remarkable transformation of the marketplace," Zeller told The Times. "There are products being sold today -- unregulated products -- that literally did not exist 10 years ago."

However, new rules on these products must be based on scientific evidence and written to survive legal challenges, Zeller noted. But critics say the FDA is moving too slowly.

"We shouldn't need 40 years of study to figure out that chocolate- and grape-flavored cigars are being smoked by young people," Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told The Times.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Prompt and liberal use of X-rays and CT scans is critical for assessing the injuries of blast victims, concludes a researcher who reviewed the medical response to the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing.

Doctors were able to save many people's lives and limbs by using imaging scans to quickly assess injuries, said lead author Dr. Ali Guermazi, a professor of radiology at Boston University School of Medicine and one of the many specialists who treated bomb-blast victims at Boston Medical Center.

"When you have blast injuries, you need to liberally use imaging as quickly as possible, because that will show you multiple things," Guermazi said. "It shows you shrapnel. It shows you soft tissue damage. It shows you the extent of damage to bone, and any fractures that have occurred."

Three people died and 264 people were injured when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded one after the other near the marathon's finish line. His report, published online Aug. 19 in Arthritis Care & Research, looks at how these critically harmed patients were managed and focuses largely on the use of radiological procedures.

Boston's efficient and effective medical response to the bombings was aided by the proximity of multiple hospitals, Guermazi said.

"We coped really very well with what happened, with at least six world-class hospitals in the area," he said. "If we only had one hospital, we would have been completely overwhelmed."

However, many of the blast injuries were unlike anything that emergency room doctors had seen before, he noted.

"It was the first time I ever saw a bone that was missing from a leg, as if you took the bone, you cut it surgically and took it out," Guermazi said. "It just went with the explosion, which also left a lot of shrapnel in the leg. It demonstrates how brutal a blast is and how the human body cannot cope with such an injury."

Because of this, Guermazi recommends that doctors prepare themselves by studying the ways a bomb blast can damage the human body -- by force of the blast wave, by flying shrapnel, by hurling the body through the air, and by exposure to chemicals or other toxins in the bomb.

"In an era of terrorism, even clinicians serving non-military patients need to understand the spectrum of injuries caused by bomb explosions," he said. "Critically ill bomb-blast patients needed quick assessments of their injuries, which had the most devastating effects to the lower limbs."

He also urged that hospital response plans emphasize the use of radiology to assess victims' injuries.

"Blast injuries in the civilian environment are rare, but when they occur, the severity of injuries as well as the need to treat a large number of victims at the same time will be challenging," Guermazi concluded in his report. "We suggest that in these urgent situations, radiology resources should be used liberally and promptly to allow swift assessment and patient management including life- and limb-saving treatment."

Guermazi said he was on hand when the first reports of the Boston Marathon bombing came in, but he initially was skeptical that the explosions were intentional. Those doubts dissolved when he saw the first imaging scan of a limb riddled by shrapnel.

"As soon as I saw it, I just put my hands on my head," he said. "I could see it was a terror attack because I could see all of the shrapnel."

The article's call for preparation is both smart and essential, said Dr. Sudip Bose, an emergency physician who handled the aftermath of hundreds of bombings as a U.S. Army doctor attached to an infantry unit in Iraq.

"I understand his concern and I think we need to be prepared," Bose said. "It's good that we think about the possibility of these injuries on our turf, because unfortunately it may happen again. But if it does happen again, I think with preparation we will be able to take care of this."

However, Bose added that emergency physicians may not be able to wait for imaging studies if a patient's wounds are dire.

"The number one priority is stopping bleeding, period," he said. "If you look at the Korean War, if a soldier had an amputation it was pretty much a death sentence. But now we've pretty much eliminated extremity injury as a cause of death. You have to focus first on the basics of trauma -- airway, bleeding and circulation."

More information

For more information on blast injuries, visit the American Trauma Society.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Chemicals used in plastic food wraps and containers could be contributing to childhood diabetes and obesity, two new studies claim.

One study links phthalates to increased insulin resistance in children, while another associates bisphenol A (BPA) with high body-mass index (BMI) and expanding waistlines. Both studies appear online Aug. 19 and in the September print issue of Pediatrics.

"There is increasing concern that environmental chemicals might be independent contributors to childhood diseases related to the obesity epidemic," said phthalates study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. "Our research adds to these growing concerns."

Trasande's study reviewed insulin resistance and urinary levels of phthalates in 766 kids aged 12 to 19. Previous studies have linked phthalate exposure to insulin resistance in animals and human adults.

Phthalates are chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics and vinyl. They are suspected endocrine disruptors, and manufacturers have discontinued their use in baby products like teething rings and pacifiers.

The study found that insulin resistance in children increased with levels of a phthalate called di-2-ethylhexylphthalate, or DEHP. The association held even after researchers took into account the children's caloric intake, BMI and other risk factors for diabetes.

"There are lab studies suggesting these chemicals can influence how our bodies respond to glucose," Trasande said. "In particular, they are thought to influence genes that regulate release of insulin. There are other potential mechanisms, but that is the main mechanism of concern."

In the other study, researchers Dr. Donna Eng and colleagues at the University of Michigan found that high urinary levels of BPA are associated with increased risk of obesity.

BPA is used to make polycarbonate and epoxy resins for a wide variety of products. For example, aluminum cans use a BPA lining to prevent corrosion. It has been linked to a wide variety of health concerns, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned its use in sippy cups, baby bottles and infant formula packaging.

The study reviewed data on about 3,300 kids aged 6 to 18, and found that children with high BPA levels tend to have excessive amounts of body fat and unusually expanded waistlines.

However, in a related journal commentary, Dr. Robert Brent of Cornell University pointed out the limitations of using urine levels alone to determine the extent or impact of chemical exposure.

Dr. Hugh Taylor, chair of the Yale School of Medicine's department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, said these studies "point out the vulnerability of children to environmental chemicals. It seems the younger you look, the more things are developing and the more vulnerable they are to these type of insults."

However, Taylor added that the food wrapped in containers with phthalates and BPA likely are doing as much or more to contribute to diabetes and obesity as the chemicals themselves.

"It's probably more about the type of diet these kids are eating," Taylor said. "A move toward healthier natural food is always a good idea, not just because of the elimination of BPA and phthalates but for all the other health benefits. If we think about more common-sense eating of healthy foods that aren't packaged in a way that would introduce BPA and phthalates, we would be so much better off."

Trasande recommends that parents avoid using plastic containers with the recycling numbers 3, 6 or 7, in which phthalates or BPA are used.

"I also advise families not to microwave plastics, hand wash plastic containers, and throw away plastic containers where there is etching or other damage to them," he said.

While the new studies found associations between chemicals in plastic and insulin resistance and obesity in children, they did not establish cause-and-effect.

More information

For more about phthalates, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- Mercury is commonly used in household items such as thermometers, and it may be found in high quantities in some types of fish.

Children are more prone than adults to the harmful effects of mercury, since kids' brains and nervous systems are still developing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests how to protect children from exposure to mercury:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet, but limit fish that may be high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
  • Throw away old thermometers that contain mercury and replace with digital thermometers.
  • Never allow a child to play with or handle mercury.
  • Do not burn or heat mercury.
  • If you spill mercury, do not vacuum it. Instead, contact the nearest health department or environmental agency.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- Listeria, a bacterium that may lead to a form of food poisoning, is unusual in that it can thrive in the cold temperatures of your refrigerator, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says.

The agency's foodsafety.gov website says these foods can harbor the germ and trigger listeriosis, an infection that can be dangerous to pregnant women and others with a weaker immune system.

Common sources of listeria include:

  • Prepared deli meats and hot dogs.
  • Refrigerated meat spreads and pates.
  • Unpasteurized milk and other dairy products.
  • Brie, camembert, feta and other cheeses that may be made with unpasteurized milk.
  • Smoked, refrigerated seafood.
  • Raw vegetable sprouts.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY, Aug. 18 (HealthDay News) -- As the start of a new school year approaches, parents need to think about the comfort and safety of their children's backpacks, an expert says.

"Backpacks are designed to distribute the weight of load among some of the body's strongest muscles," orthopedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons spokesman Dr. Michael Wade Shrader, said in an AAOS news release.

"But when worn incorrectly, injuries such as strains, sprains and posture problems can occur," he said. "While some of these injuries can be minor, others can have a lasting effect on kids, and follow them into adulthood."

More than 24,000 people were treated in U.S. hospitals and doctors' offices for backpack-related injuries in 2012, and more than 9,500 of those patients were aged 5 to 18, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Children should carry no more than 15 percent to 20 percent of their body weight. They should use both shoulder straps on backpacks and adjust the straps to keep the load close to the back, the AAOS and Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA) advised.

Other tips: When lifting backpacks, bend at the knees. Remove or reorganize items if a backpack is too heavy. When packing, place heavier items low and toward the center. Carry only items that are required for the school day or for homework.

Parents should buy a backpack that's an appropriate size for the child. They should encourage their child to alert them about numbness or tingling in the arms or legs, which may indicate that a backpack fits poorly or that a child is carrying too much weight, the AAOS and POSNA said.

Watch your child put on or take off a backpack to see if they have difficulty. If a backpack appears too heavy, have the child remove some of the books and carry them in their arms to ease the load on their back.

Children should be encouraged to stop at their locker throughout the day to drop off heavier books.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about backpack safety.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SATURDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Having an organized workspace seems to encourage positive behaviors such as generosity, while a messy office may promote creative thinking and stimulate new ideas, according to new research.

For the study, researchers asked volunteers to fill out some questionnaires in an office. Some did the task in a clean and orderly office and others did it in an untidy room, with papers and office supplies strewn about.

After completing the questionnaires, the participants were allowed to take a candy bar or an apple on their way out and also were given an opportunity to donate to a charity.

Being in tidy surroundings seemed to encourage people to do what was expected of them, said study author Kathleen Vohs, a psychological scientist at the University of Minnesota. The participants who were in the clean office were more likely to donate more to charity and to choose the apple over the candy bar, the University of Minnesota researchers said.

But the investigators believed that a messy office might have some benefits, too. They conducted another experiment in which participants were asked to come up with new ways to use ping pong balls.

People who did this in either the cluttered or tidy office came up with the same number of ideas for using ping pong balls. However, the ideas generated by those working in the messy office were considered more interesting and creative, according to the study, which was published in the Aug. 1 online edition of the journal Psychological Science.

"Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries and societies want more of: creativity," Vohs said.

The researchers also found that, given a choice between a new or established product, people in the the messy office were more likely to prefer the new item while those in the tidy office preferred the established product.

"Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights," Vohs suggested. "Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe."

More information

Zero to Three explains how creativity helps children learn.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SATURDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Summer can be a particularly bad time for skin allergies such as eczema and hives, as well as reactions to poison ivy, oak and sumac, an expert says.

This summer, high rainfall, humidity and temperatures combined with increased levels of carbon dioxide in the air have resulted in an "exceedingly potent" growth of poison ivy-related plants, said Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergy specialist with the Rutgers Center of Environmental Prediction and an attending physician at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J.

"When picnicking or hiking though our parks this summer, beware of certain plants, especially some trees," he said in a hospital news release. "Many trees have leaves that are actually part of the (allergenic plant) vines that have embraced them."

Some of these allergenic plant vines are extremely large and clearly noticeable, said Bielory, recalling the saying that helps people avoid these troublesome plants: "Leaves of three, let them be."

Bielory added: "Some individuals are sensitive to the point that their conditions can flare up when in contact with grass or other plants. For protection, wear long pants and long sleeves if outdoor plants cause a reaction."

He also offered tips to prevent eczema and hives or at least reduce their symptoms:

  • Be careful when outdoors. Heat or sweat can trigger hives. Drink plenty of fluids, avoid becoming too hot and use sunscreen.
  • Be prepared. Eczema can get worse in the summer, especially with added sweating. Have a skin care treatment plan. This may include using mild bathing products.

More information

The American Academy of Dermatology has more about poison ivy, oak and sumac.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Talking to Your Daughter About Puberty

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FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Some parents may be reluctant to talk to their daughters about puberty, but it's important that they do, an expert says.

"Most girls enter puberty without much education on the topic," Dr. Akua Afriyie-Gray, an obstetrician at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill. "Parents should be proactive about talking to their daughter about puberty so that she knows what to expect when her body begins to change."

Parents need to be prepared and have their talk ready when the time comes for them to discuss puberty -- the physical changes that precede sexual maturity -- with their daughter, Afriyie-Gray said in a Loyola news release.

Your daughter might not say anything to you when she begins experiencing puberty-related changes to her body, so you need to watch for these changes and let her know what to expect.

Puberty typically starts around age 8 or 9 with hair development under the arms and in the pubic area. Breast development usually occurs next at age 9 or 10 followed by menstruation, which begins on average at age 12. Puberty typically takes three to four years to complete.

Parents should ask their daughter if her friends have started wearing a bra, menstruating or shaving. This takes the focus off your child and may provide a good opening for talking about your daughter's body and the changes she may be experiencing, Afriyie-Gray said.

Explain that puberty is a natural process that all girls experience. Emphasize that there is no need for her to be embarrassed, but be sensitive to what she is ready to discuss, Afriyie-Gray said. Answer any questions she may have and correct any misconceptions she may have about puberty.

Tell your daughter what products are available for menstruation and that she can keep doing her normal activities when she has her period. It's also important to make sure your daughter understands that the start of menstruation means she can become pregnant, Afriyie-Gray said.

Parents who feel uncomfortable talking with their daughter about puberty should make an appointment for her to see a pediatrician or gynecologist who specializes in treating children and teens.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about puberty.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Regular exercise can give a brain boost to people with HIV, according to a new study.

Trouble with memory and thinking, something doctors call "neurocognitive impairment," affects nearly half of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It can interfere with the ability to do daily tasks such as handling finances, driving and taking medication as scheduled, experts say.

However, the new study suggests that exercise "may reduce or potentially prevent neurocognitive impairment in HIV-infected persons," according to a team led by Dr. David Moore of the University of California, San Diego.

Their study included 335 people with HIV who were asked how much they exercised. They also underwent testing to assess seven brain functions commonly affected by HIV: verbal fluency, working memory, speed of information processing, learning, recall, executive function and motor function.

Those who got regular exercise were half as likely to show signs of impaired mental function as those who did not exercise, according to the study published in the August issue of the Journal of NeuroVirology.

The major benefit of exercise in people with HIV seems to be the reduction of risk factors that can affect the brain such as high blood pressure and abnormally high levels of fats in the blood, Moore said.

The findings add to previous research showing a link between exercise and brain health in people with HIV.

"Physical exercise, together with other modifiable lifestyle factors such as education, social engagement, cognitive [mental] stimulation and diet could be fruitful interventions to support people living with HIV," Moore said in a journal news release.

More information

AIDS.gov has more about HIV and the brain.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Five brands accounted for the largest amounts of beer consumed by people before they were treated for injuries at an emergency department in a large U.S. city, according to a new pilot study.

Of the five brands (Budweiser, Steel Reserve, Colt 45, Bud Ice and Bud Light), three are a type of "malt liquor," which has a higher alcohol content than regular beer.

Four brands of malt liquor (Steel Reserve, Colt 45, Bud Ice and King Cobra) accounted for 46 percent of the beer consumed by the patients, even though those four brands account for only 2.4 percent of beer consumed in the general population.

For the study, researchers interviewed patients at the Johns Hopkins Hospital emergency department in Baltimore on Friday and Saturday nights between April 2010 and June 2011. Of the 105 patients who admitted to drinking before they were injured, 69 percent were men.

The study, thought to be the first of its kind to assess injured ER patients' alcohol consumption by brand and type, was published online Aug. 1 in the journal Substance Use and Misuse.

The researchers also found that the proportion of vodka, gin and brandy/cognac consumed by ER patients was higher than the proportion of those drinks consumed in the general population.

"Recent studies reveal that nearly a third of injury visits to Level I trauma centers were alcohol-related and frequently a result of heavy drinking," lead author David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, said in a Hopkins news release.

"Understanding the relationship between alcohol brands and their connection to injury may help guide policy makers in considering taxation and physical availability of different types of alcohol given the harms associated with them," he explained.

The next step in this line of research would be to conduct a larger study in multiple ERs and cities, the study authors suggested. They added that policy changes from this research could include: requirements for clear labeling of alcohol content on malt liquor beverages; limits on malt liquor availability and marketing; and graduated taxation of beer based on alcohol content to discourage people from drinking beer with higher alcohol levels.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism outlines the health effects of alcohol.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- People with sleep apnea are at increased risk for glaucoma and should be screened for the eye disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined the medical records of more than 1,000 people 40 and older who were diagnosed with sleep apnea between 2001 and 2004, and compared them to a "control" group of more than 6,000 people without sleep apnea.

Those with sleep apnea were 1.67 times more likely to develop the most common type of glaucoma (open-angle glaucoma) within five years of their sleep apnea diagnosis than those in the control group, according to the study, published in the August issue of the journal Ophthalmology.

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness worldwide. While previous research has found that glaucoma is more common among people with sleep apnea, this study concluded that sleep apnea is an independent risk factor for open-angle glaucoma.

"We hope that this study encourages clinicians to alert obstructive sleep apnea patients of the associations between obstructive sleep apnea and open-angle glaucoma as a means of raising the issue and encouraging treatment of those who need it," wrote Herng-Ching Lin, of the College of Medical Science and Technology at Taipei Medical University in Taiwan, and colleagues in a journal news release.

Sleep apnea -- characterized by disrupted breathing during sleep -- affects more than 100 million people worldwide, and nearly 60 million people have glaucoma. If untreated, glaucoma reduces peripheral vision and eventually may cause blindness by damaging the optic nerve. Only half of people with glaucoma are aware of it, because the disease is painless, and vision loss is typically gradual.

All adults should get a baseline eye exam by age 40, when signs of disease and vision changes may start to occur, the American Academy of Ophthalmology advises.

The study found an association between obstructive sleep apnea and open-angle glaucoma. It did not prove cause and effect.

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about glaucoma.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Young children who use hand gestures are better at problem-solving than those who don't use gestures, a new study contends.

It included children 2.5 to 5 years old who were asked to sort cards printed with colored shapes, first by color and then by shape. The switch from color to shape can be challenging for children in this age group, the San Francisco State University researchers explained.

The children who used hand gestures were more likely to make the mental switch and group the shapes accurately, acording to the study in the August issue of the journal Developmental Psychology.

Gestures included children rotating their hands to show the orientation of the card or illustrating the image on the card using their hands. For example, they might gesture "rabbit ears" for a card depicting a rabbit.

The researchers were surprised by the impact that gesturing had on the children's ability to sort the cards.

"Still, the findings are consistent with a growing body of research showing that mind and body work closely together in early cognitive development," Patricia Miller, a professor of psychology, said in a university news release.

She added that the "findings are a reminder of how strong individual differences are among children of a particular age. Certain 3-year-olds look like typical 4-year-olds. This likely reflects an interaction of natural talent and particular experiences -- both nature and nurture, as usual."

Increasing evidence suggests that gesturing may play an important role in the processes that people use to solve a problem or achieve a goal, according to the news release. For example, research has shown that gesturing can help older children learn new math concepts.

"Really, though, there is evidence that gesturing helps with difficult cognitive [mental] tasks at any age," Miller said. "Even we adults sometimes gesture when we're trying to organize our tax receipts or our closets. When our minds are overflowing we let our hands take on some of the cognitive load."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about child growth and development.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- As U.S. health officials continue to try to track down the source of a widespread stomach bug outbreak, the number of cases continues to climb, with 576 illnesses now reported in 19 states.

According to statistics released Friday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 36 people, or 9 percent, have been hospitalized with severe cases of cyclospora infection. No deaths have been reported.

Last week, the source of the outbreak in at least two states was traced to Taylor Farms, which supplied salad mix to Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants and is the Mexican branch of Taylor Farms of Salinas, Calif.

On Tuesday, Taylor Farms de Mexico "officially informed FDA that, as of Aug. 9, 2013, the company voluntarily suspended production and shipment of any salad mix, leafy green, or salad mix components from its operations in Mexico to the United States," according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"To date, only the salad mix has been implicated in the outbreak of cyclosporiasis in Iowa and Nebraska," the FDA said. The agency added it is still trying to determine whether the prepackaged salad mix was the source of infections in the other states.

States that have recorded cases of cyclospora infection include Texas (240), Iowa (153), Nebraska (86), Florida (29), Wisconsin (14), Illinois (11), Arkansas (10), New York (7), Georgia (4), Kansas (4), Missouri (4), Louisiana (3), Minnesota (2), New Jersey (2), Ohio (2), Virginia (2), California (1), Connecticut (1) and New Hampshire (1).

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials said the overall investigation continues.

Prior outbreaks of cyclospora infection have typically been caused by tainted produce, the CDC noted.

One expert said recently that while cyclospora can make people very ill, it is not usually life-threatening.

"On the infectious disease scale, this ranks well below the more notorious and dangerous ailments like E. coli and salmonella," said Dr. Lewis Marshall Jr., chairman of the outpatient services at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in New York City.

"It is unlikely to be fatal, but certainly can make one's life miserable," he added. "Symptoms include crampy abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, fatigue, fever, headache and body aches."

Cases of cyclosporiasis are caused by a single-celled parasite and cannot be spread from person to person. The parasite has to be ingested via contaminated water or foods such as fruit and vegetables, according to Dr. Monica Parise, chief of the parasitic diseases branch at the CDC.

"It can be pretty miserable, because it can give diarrhea that can last for days," Parise said.

It takes about a week for people who are infected to become sick.

Marshall said there may be more cases of cyclospora infection out there than people realize. It is possible "that most occurrences go unreported, as many people wouldn't recognize the symptoms as any different than a common stomach bug," he said.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, has urged people who have suffered from diarrhea for longer than a couple of days to be tested for cyclospora.

Marshall agreed.

"If not treated, symptoms can last from a few days to a month or longer, go away and then return later," Marshall said. "Cyclospora can be treated with an antibiotic combination of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole [Bactrim]."

The best option, however, is to avoid the bug altogether.

"The safest way to protect oneself and one's family is to always rinse fresh produce under water, and even put vegetables in a cold water bath ahead of time to properly clean them," Marshall advised.

One expert stressed that the wash-your-produce rule includes prepackaged salads.

"Wash all your fruits and salads before ingesting," said Dr. Salvatore Pardo, vice chairman of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "My hunch is the public does not do this to 'prepackaged' salad, which is normally purchased for convenience and dumped into the bowl since it tends to be free from particles -- dirt, sand, critters -- one would normally find in locally picked ingredients."

More information

For more information on cyclospora, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Inflating a blood pressure cuff on a patient's upper arm just before heart bypass surgery reduces heart damage and may improve long-term survival, according to a new study.

This practice, called "remote ischemic preconditioning," involves using the blood pressure cuff to briefly cut off, and then restore, blood supply to an area of the body distant from the heart, such as the arm.

The study appears in the Aug. 17 issue of The Lancet.

Heart muscle damage is a common consequence of complex heart procedures such as bypass surgery and is associated with poorer long-term survival and health problems such as heart attack, according to a journal news release.

This study included 162 patients who had remote ischemic preconditioning before heart bypass surgery. A blood pressure cuff was inflated on their left upper arm, restricting blood supply for five minutes, followed by five minutes of normal blood flow. This was repeated three times.

These patients were compared to a control group of 167 patients who did not undergo the procedure before heart bypass surgery.

Following surgery, the researchers measured the patients' blood concentrations of troponin I, a protein that indicates heart muscle damage. Higher concentrations indicate more damage. Seventy-two hours after surgery, troponin levels were an average of 17 percent lower among patients who had remote ischemic conditioning than among those in the control group.

The researchers also followed patients for up to four years to determine if remote preconditioning had any effect on long-term health. One year after surgery, patients who had remote ischemic preconditioning were 73 percent less likely to have died of any cause, and 86 percent less likely to have died from heart attack or stroke, compared to those in the control group.

"The results of our study are very encouraging that remote ischemic preconditioning not only reduces heart muscle injury but also improves long-term health outcomes for heart bypass patients, and we hope that these benefits will be confirmed in larger prospective studies which are currently taking place," study co-leader Professor Gerd Heusch, of the University School of Medicine Essen in Germany, said in the news release.

Dr. Matthias Thielmann, also of the University School of Medicine Essen, said remote ischemic preconditioning is noninvasive, cheap and safe. "This procedure could be a promising and simple strategy to protect patients' heart muscle during surgery and hopefully improve health outcomes after surgery," he said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about heart bypass surgery.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Children with certain types of major birth defects not caused by chromosome abnormalities are at increased risk for childhood cancer, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed data from Arizona, Iowa and Utah and found that children born with eye defects, cleft palate, some heart and kidney defects, and a condition in which the head is smaller than normal (microcephaly) were two times more likely to develop cancer before age 15 than children without these birth defects.

The increased risk was for cancers such as neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma and hepatoblastoma, all which typically develop in early childhood, according to the study, which was published recently in the journal PLoS One.

"There is a large body of evidence for increased cancer risk in children with Down syndrome, a genetic birth defect caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21," study first author Dr. Lorenzo Botto, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

"However, studies to date have provided inconsistent findings on cancer risk in children with structural birth defects that are not caused by chromosome abnormalities," Botto added.

Although the study found an association between certain birth defects and higher odds of having some types of childhood cancer, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

"While there is an increased risk for cancer in young people with certain types of birth defects compared to children without birth defects, the overall cancer risk for a child with a birth defect is still relatively low," Botto said. "So it is important for health care providers to be careful not to produce unnecessary concern among parents and families."

"In addition, we found that the incidence of cancer was highest in the first three to five years of life, so clinical surveillance can be focused by age, as well as by birth defect," he said.

The researchers also found that children with Down syndrome had a 14-fold increased risk of cancer, mainly leukemia. But they also found that children with many common birth defects -- including cleft lip, hydrocephalus and hypospadias -- did not have an increased cancer risk.

"It's reassuring that many of the common major birth defects are not associated with any increase in cancer risk," Botto said. "Our study helps to identify who is and who is not at increased risk for cancer, and this information can be used to focus future research on potential genetic or environmental factors that contribute to cancer risk."

Each year in the United States, about 3 percent of babies are born with major birth defects.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about childhood cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Keeping up on food safety and nutrition can be confusing: One day a food is reported as good for you, and the next a study finds that it's not so healthy after all. It also can be frightening when a foodborne illness outbreak occurs.

But eating isn't optional. So, food safety and nutrition experts offer their best advice on what you need to know to eat healthily and safely.

1. Rely on thermometers.

If there's one message Tina Hanes, a registered dietician and nurse with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, wants you to remember, it's to check the temperature of your foods with a thermometer.

"Color and texture aren't reliable indicators of how safe a food is," said Hanes. "You have to use a food thermometer to ensure that food is cooked to a safe temperature." For whole cuts of beef, pork or lamb, that means cooking them to a minimum of 145 degrees F and letting them rest for three minutes when they come out of the oven. All poultry, including ground poultry, should be cooked to 165 degrees F. Ground meats should be cooked to 160 degrees F.

The best way to take the temperature of such foods as hamburger or chicken breast is to go in through the side to the thickest part of the meat. Hanes suggests using oven-safe thermometers or instant-read thermometers designed for meat.

2. Carbohydrates and gluten may not be your enemy.

For some time, dieters have been shunning carbohydrates, and the latest food craze appears to be forgoing gluten, a protein found in wheat. People with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that affects a person's ability to process gluten safely, definitely need to avoid gluten. But, according to Amy Frasieur, a registered dietitian with Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash., there's no evidence that people who do not have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity will benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Along the same vein, dieters who've been trying to stay away from carbohydrates should make sure they're not missing out on vital nutrients. "Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the human body," Frasieur said. "Many carbohydrate foods provide us with essential nutrients. Refined carbohydrates such as sugars, candy and processed grains can be very low in nutrients, but other carbohydrates can be exceptionally good for the body, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and barley."

3. Leave it.

You might have heard of the "five-second rule." Some people say that if you drop food on the floor and pick it up quickly -- within five seconds -- it's still safe to eat.

Not so, said Frasieur. "Bacteria can adhere to food immediately upon contact," she said. Thus, from a food safety standpoint, the five-second rule is a myth.

4. Keep it separate.

You also may have heard that you should keep raw meat and produce separate, and that it's a good idea to have separate cutting boards for each. But have you ever thought about the things that might be contaminating your countertops and tables?

"In my house, nothing goes on the counter -- no purses, no school bags," said Cheryl Luptowski, a public information officer with NSF International, a nonprofit safety organization. "It's just not a good idea to put anything that was sitting on a floor somewhere on your counter or kitchen table."

She also said people who use reusable bags should make sure they have separate bags for groceries and other items. And, she said, all grocery bags should be washable.

5. Ponder produce selections.

Are organic foods worth the extra cost? Frasier said that results from studies on the nutritional content of organic produce have been mixed, so it's not clear if they provide any extra nutritional benefit. However, these foods do provide a clear benefit for reducing exposure to pesticides and additives in your foods.

And, whether organically grown or not, have you ever wondered if it's really safe to eat prepackaged salads, baby carrots and more? Hanes said that if the products are labeled as "ready to eat" or "prewashed," they should be safe to eat right out of the bag.

6. Watch the time.

When you're out shopping, keep an eye on how long you let perishable foods sit in your car. During the winter, when temperatures are below 40 degrees F, you have considerable leeway, Luptowski noted. But on hot summer days, you have less than an hour to get your food home.

Hanes recommends putting a cooler in the car if you know you're going to be out for a bit. Better yet, both experts said, make the grocery store your last stop and pick up perishable foods at the end of your shopping trip.

If you lose your power, food in the fridge (if it's been closed) will generally stay safe for about four hours. How long food in the freezer lasts depends on how full your freezer is. In a half-full freezer, food will stay frozen for about 24 hours, Hanes said, but in a full freezer, it might stay frozen up to 48 hours.

7. Skip the energy buzz.

Energy drinks often contain large doses of caffeine and other stimulants, but these products aren't regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Mega doses of caffeine from any source can have harmful side effects," said Frasieur. "Also, little research has been done to show the impacts of combining caffeine with other stimulant ingredients included in many energy drinks."

Children, pregnant women and anyone with high blood pressure or heart disease should avoid these drinks, she said.

"Consumers should consider why they are low in energy and using energy drinks in the first place," Frasieur said. "A balanced diet, regular exercise, stress reduction and adequate sleep should reduce the need for energy drink consumption."

8. Clean it.

Many people use their kitchen sponges for a variety of tasks, which often makes the kitchen sponge the germiest thing in a kitchen, said Luptowski. But, she said, "you can prolong the life of your sponge by wetting it, and then microwaving it for two minutes to kill the germs."

She also recommends having separate sponges for human dishes and dog bowls because, contrary to popular belief, Fido's mouth just isn't very clean.

If you've prepared food that could potentially harbor bacteria, such as raw meat, Luptowski suggested running your dishwasher on the sanitizing cycle. The cycle takes longer and uses more energy, but it ensures that any pathogens are killed. Those who don't have a dishwasher, she said, can sanitize dishes by washing them in hot, soapy water, then dunking them in a gallon of hot water with a capful of bleach in it and then rinsing the dishes.

More information

The U.S. government website FoodSafety.gov has more on food safety.

To read about one reporter's near-fatal bout of food poisoning, click here.

Health News Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- As a health reporter, I'd heard plenty of stories about food contamination and had taken steps to make sure my family's food was as safe as it could be. If I saw friends eating undercooked ground beef, I'd gently chide them about the possible dangers of eating food that wasn't prepared properly. Friends dubbed me the "food police."

Contracting a foodborne illness was not something you'd expect would happen to me.

Nonetheless, three days after a barbecue with friends at my house, I woke up feeling sicker than I'd ever felt.

I had terrible heartburn and abdominal pain. I had cold sweats and a strange pain in my left arm, along with a feeling that something was terribly wrong. Then, the diarrhea started. Within an hour, I'd had more than 10 bowel movements. I couldn't shake an incredible feeling of dread.

Then I began vomiting, forcefully and repeatedly. I felt myself quickly becoming disoriented. I managed to make it back to bed and, before I passed out, mumbled "9-1-1" to my husband.

At the hospital, blood tests showed that my kidneys and liver had shut down, and I was immediately admitted to the intensive care unit.

I knew I was dying. No one said so, but I could feel it. Later, my doctor told me that I had only a 15 percent chance of surviving that first night.

The diagnosis: two disorders caused by an infection with E. coli -- hemolytic uremic syndrome and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. In addition to kidney and liver failure, my red blood cells were now forming small clots and blocking small blood vessels. This caused bruises to form all over my body. My entire right arm was black and blue, as was half of my left arm, from where they tried to take blood from me.

The pain was excruciating. And, because my kidneys weren't working, I was swollen almost beyond recognition. When they weighed me in the ICU, I had gained more than 20 pounds in fluid in three days. My fingers, which were so filled with fluid that they couldn't bend, felt like they might just pop like a balloon.

My treatment included kidney dialysis and plasmapheresis, a procedure that removes blood from your body and separates the plasma from the blood. Then the rest of the blood is mixed with donated plasma and returned to the body. Though normally a cream color, the plasma removed from my body was black, apparently because of all the dead red blood cells. For almost two weeks, I spent four to eight hours a day hooked up to blood-sucking machines. I also received blood transfusions.

Eventually, though, the treatments worked. My blood cells started behaving normally, and my kidneys started functioning again. After nine days in the ICU and another 10 days in the hospital, I went home.

Recovery was a long and slow process. It took several months before most of my blood work came back normal. I saw countless doctors for lingering problems, which included a painful, reactive arthritis (a type of arthritis that can develop after a bad infection) and nerve damage from where the dialysis shunt had been placed. The arthritis persisted for about a year, but I did not need long-term kidney dialysis, and my health in time returned to normal -- though no one can say definitively that I won't have trouble down the road. I was grateful to have survived.

So how did all this happen to someone who'd been so careful to make sure that burgers were always well-cooked, with no pink meat. A doctor who specializes in infectious diseases explained that, even though the meat was gray and looked cooked, there must have been an area of the meat that hadn't reached a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria.

At the time, food safety experts weren't stressing the need to take the temperature of food to ensure that it's cooked well. That's changed. So have my precautions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I now own several well-used food thermometers. And hamburgers at my house are now always cooked to 160 degrees at the thickest part of the meat.

More information

To read a story on experts' advice on food safety, click here.

Health News Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 16, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

People Who Have More Sex Make More Money: Study

People who have sex four or more times a week make more money than those who have less sex, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at data from 7,500 people, ages 26 to 50, in Greece and found that the wages of those who had sex four or more times a week were 5 percent higher than those who didn't have sex as often, CBS News reported.

People who weren't having sex made 3.2 percent less money than those who were having sex, according to the study recently published by the Institute for the Study of Labor, an economic research institution in Germany.

"People need to love and be loved (sexually and non-sexually) by others. In the absence of these elements, many people become susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety, and depression that could affect their working life," study author Nick Drydakis, an economics lecturer at Angila Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, said in an email to CBS News.

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U.S. Adult Obesity Rate Nearly 28 Percent: CDC

The proportion of American adults who were obese in 2012 was nearly 28 percent, which is about the same as it's been since 2008, according to recently released results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention annual telephone survey.

"A plateau is better than rising numbers. But it's discouraging because we're plateauing at a very high number," Kelly Brownell, a Duke University public policy expert who specializes in obesity, told the Associated Press.

Louisiana and Mississippi had the highest adult obesity rates -- nearly 35 percent -- and 11 other states had rates higher than 30 percent: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

It's no surprise that so many states in the South and Midwest have high obesity rates because many states in those regions have high poverty rates, experts say.

"When you have a limited income, you have to buy foods that are cheap. And foods that are cheap tend to have a lot of sugar and salt and fat," Dr. George Bray, an obesity expert at Louisiana State University, told the AP.

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Vasectomy in 'Best Interests' of Man With Learning Disabilities: U.K. Court

A British man with learning disabilities should have a vasectomy because it is in his "best interests," a court ruled Friday.

The 37-year-old man lives with his parents and has a long-term girlfriend who also has learning disabilities. The couple had a child in 2009 and the man, known only as DE, decided he did not want any more children, the Associated Press reported.

DE's parents applied to the court for the vasectomy and the judge ruled that it was "overwhelmingly in DE's best interests" to have the procedure.

Experts testified that DE is able to consent to a sexual relationship and a vasectomy would give him a measure of independence, the AP reported.

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"That 70s Show" Actress Dies

Actress Lisa Robin Kelly, best known for her role as the older sister of the main character on "That 70s Show," has died.

The 43-year-old died in a rehab facility of unknown causes, USA Today reported.

"Unfortunately Lisa Robin Kelly passed away last evening. Lisa had voluntarily checked herself into a treatment facility early this week where she was battling the addiction problems that have plagued her these past few years," Kelly's agent, Craig Wyckoff said in a statement released to People.

"I spoke to her on Monday and she was hopeful and confident, looking forward to putting this part of her life behind her. Last night she lost the battle. Cause of death has not been issued yet and no death certificate has been issued either."

On "That 70s Show," Kelly played Laurie Forman, the older sister of Eric Forman, played by Topher Grace.

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FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Children with autism and average IQs consistently did better on math tests than non-autistic children in the same IQ range, according to a small new study.

The superiority in math skills among children with autism was tied to patterns of activation in a particular area of the brain, an area normally associated with recognizing faces and visual objects.

"There appears to be a unique pattern of brain organization that underlies superior problem-solving abilities in children with autism," study senior author Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said in a university news release.

The study included 18 children with autism, aged 7 to 12, and a control group of 18 children without autism. All participants showed normal verbal and reading skills on standardized tests, but the children with autism outperformed their peers without autism on standardized math tests.

The researchers also had all of the children work on math problems while their brain activity was measured using MRI. The brain scans of the children with autism revealed an unusual pattern of activity in the ventral temporal occipital cortex, an area of the brain specialized for processing faces and other visual objects.

The study will be published online Aug. 17 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

"[Previous research] has focused almost exclusively on weaknesses in children with autism," said Menon, a member of the Child Health Research Institute at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. "Our study supports the idea that the atypical brain development in autism can lead not just to deficits, but also to some remarkable cognitive strengths. We think this can be reassuring to parents."

Menon said children with autism sometimes exhibit exceptional talents or skills. For example, some can instantly recall the day of the week of any calendar date within a particular range of years, and others have outstanding math skills.

"Remembering calendar dates is probably not going to help you with academic and professional success," Menon said. "But being able to solve numerical problems and developing good mathematical skills could make a big difference in the life of a child with autism."

About one in 88 children has some form of autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Five-year-olds who drink soda every day may have more behavior problems than kids with soda-free diets, a new study of U.S. children suggests.

After looking at nearly 3,000 urban families, the researchers found that 5-year-olds' scores on a standard measure of aggression tended to climb along with their soft drink intake.

Kindergartners who downed four or more servings per day were particularly aggressive, based on mothers' reports. They were twice as likely as other kids to get into fights or destroy property, and also displayed more attention problems than children who didn't drink soda.

The findings were reported Aug. 16 in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Experts were quick to stress that none of this proves that soda, itself, is at fault.

"This is a correlation. We're not saying soda causes aggression," said lead researcher Shakira Suglia, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

Still, Suglia added, there are already reasons to keep children from drinking sugar-laden and caffeinated sodas. "There's no nutritional benefit of soda for children," she said.

A child psychologist not involved in the research agreed.

It's "impossible to disentangle" the effect of one part of a child's diet on aggression, said Rahil Briggs, director of pediatric behavioral health services at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.

"That being said, the American Academy of Pediatrics has repeatedly advocated for the elimination of soft drinks in children's diets [and] schools," Briggs added. "Not limiting their intake, but total elimination." The academy is a leading group of U.S. pediatricians.

That advice, Briggs noted, is based on evidence linking kids' soft drinks to increased risks of obesity, cavities and, possibly, behavior problems.

Some past research has tied high soda intake to aggressive behavior in older kids, Suglia said. The new study extends the findings to young children.

The results are based on more than 2,900 mother-child pairs from 20 U.S. cities, many of whom were from single-mom, lower-income households. At age 5, the mothers reported, 43 percent of the children drank soda at least once a day, with 4 percent downing four or more every day.

Overall, the children's scores on an aggression scale rose in tandem with their soda intake, Suglia's team found. Those scores were based on moms' responses to a standard questionnaire, asking how often their child got into physical fights, destroyed property or otherwise acted out.

"We tried to account for other things that could affect both a child's soda intake and aggressive behavior," Suglia said.

That included mothers' education levels, any reports of domestic abuse and how often kids watched TV or ate sweets. In the end, high soda intake -- four or more a day -- was still linked to a higher risk of aggressive behavior.

The researchers could not account for everything that might explain the link, however. "There's still a possibility that something else is driving this," Suglia said.

It's also not clear how drinking soda would directly affect young children's behavior. Suglia said that in theory, caffeine or sugar might play a role -- though scientific studies have doubted the common notion that sugar makes kids hyper or aggressive.

"One of the limitations of our study is that we don't know what types of soda kids were drinking," Suglia said. "We don't know if they were regular or diet, or caffeine-free."

The beverage industry dismissed the findings.

"It is a leap to suggest that drinking soda causes these or any other behavioral issue. The science does not support that conclusion," the American Beverage Association said in a statement. "The authors themselves note that their study 'is not able to identify the nature of the association between soft drinks and problem behaviors.' Importantly, our member companies do not promote or market the consumption of soft drinks to children in the age group examined in this study."

However, Suglia and Briggs both said parents would do well to ban sugary drinks for kids.

Water is a calorie-free way to hydrate, and milk gives kids needed nutrients, such as protein, calcium and vitamin D. Even fruit juice, Suglia noted, should be avoided if it has added sugar.

"Whether or not research reveals that this link between soda and aggression holds true, there are plenty of well-documented negative effects of soda consumption in childhood," Briggs said.

"Why take chances?" she added.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has advice on kids' diet and lifestyle.

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FRIDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- An innovative fusion of MRI and ultrasound might be a better way to detect and assess prostate cancer, while helping men avoid unnecessary biopsies, researchers say.

The technology blends real-time imaging from both MRI and ultrasound devices, allowing doctors to more accurately direct the biopsy needle that draws cell samples from suspected tumors.

"This approach does detect cancers that can go missed by standard biopsy," said Dr. Art Rastinehad, assistant professor of urology and radiology and director of Interventional Urologic Oncology at Hofstra University-North Shore LIJ School of Medicine in Hempstead, N.Y.

In particular, the MRI/ultrasound fusion technique can guide physicians to tumors at normally neglected regions of the prostate gland.

"There are two screens in front of you, and the MRI is capable of pointing out areas that might contain cancer," explained Dr. Scott Eggener, associate professor of surgery and director of translational and outcomes research in the University of Chicago Medical Center's urology section. "Using the two screens, you can more intelligently direct your biopsy needles toward those areas."

The technology is part of an overall approach to first use MRI scans to best determine which men need to undergo prostate biopsy, and then use the MRI/ultrasound fusion to perform the most efficient biopsy possible.

Right now, doctors typically rely on blood tests to look for elevated levels of prostate-specific antigen, or PSA. A man with an elevated PSA is often urged to undergo a biopsy, most often conducted using a needle guided by ultrasound that draws cell samples from the prostate.

However, these biopsies only sample a small portion of the prostate, leaving the rest of the gland unchecked. Such random sampling can easily miss tumors, experts say.

Under the new approach, a man with elevated PSA levels would first undergo an MRI that would provide a visual scan of the entire prostate, Rastinehad explained. If potentially cancerous areas are found on the prostate, then the man would undergo a biopsy.

Studies have found that using an initial MRI scan to figure out who needs a biopsy can reduce the overall number of biopsies by about a third, according to a review of the data published this summer in the journal European Urology.

"We are working toward a goal that if you have a PSA that is elevated, you would instead get an MRI," Rastinehad said. For some patients, that may mean that "you may never need a biopsy," he said.

MRI also would be used during the biopsy itself. In that scenario, an electro-magnetic field generator is placed over the patient's hip, creating real-time MRI images that are combined with ultrasound readings to guide the needle biopsy. Images from the earlier MRI screening can then be overlaid with the real-time images to provide visible "targets" for the doctor to biopsy.

Studies have found that MRI-targeted biopsies are better at both detecting prostate tumors and determining which tumors are more advanced, Rastinehad said.

The technology helped detect advanced prostate cancer in Robert Herr, a Long Island, N.Y., resident who had high PSA levels but underwent a biopsy a couple of years ago that detected no cancer.

"Then the PSA elevated again and my urologist said, 'Why don't you go for this new MRI biopsy and see how it works out for you?'" said Herr, 66.

The fusion biopsy conducted in May ended up detecting high-grade prostate cancer near the top part of the prostate gland, an area normally not sampled in standard biopsy. Herr will begin radiation treatment in August.

"If I had gone for the regular biopsy again, it might not have shown up again and then I'm living with the cancer not knowing anything, and I don't think that's a good idea," Herr said. "To me, I don't think anybody wants to have cancer of any type, but if I have it I want to know about it and do whatever I need to do to treat it. To put your head in the sand, I don't think that's any kind of solution at all."

At this point the technology is both rare and expensive. Only five medical centers in the United States use MRI/ultrasound fusion prostate biopsy, and the devices cost about $180,000, Rastinehad said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the device, which was developed in collaboration with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, in April. It is being manufactured by Invivo, a division of Philips Healthcare. Rastinehad said he does not have a financial stake in the company.

While the technology is expensive, Rastinehad believes hospitals will end up saving money because they will be able to cut back on the amount of pathological examinations needed to assess suspected prostate cancer.

For his part, Eggener said the new MRI approach can help doctors meet the overall goal of finding serious cancers in a timely fashion.

"There are some early data to suggest it may be a better way of targeting cancers, finding more cancers and finding more meaningful cancers," Eggener said. "MRI is the best picture we can get of the prostate. It's not perfect, but it is better than what we've had."

More information

For more information on prostate cancer detection, visit the American Cancer Society.

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(HealthDay News) -- The way you prepare food can go a long way toward cutting the amounts of fat and calories in your diet.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers these fat-trimming suggestions:

  • Use a skimmer to remove the fat from the top of stews and soups.
  • Skip French fries and bake potatoes in the oven instead.
  • Swap proportions of healthy vs. high-fat foods. For example, instead of a big bowl of ice cream topped with a little fruit, opt for a big bowl of fruit topped with a little ice cream.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Prepare for Hiking

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(HealthDay News) -- Even hiking to enjoy nature has its rules and safety precautions.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation offers these tips:

  • Make sure you're in good physical shape before tackling a challenging trail.
  • Tell a friend or family member where you're going and when, so you can be reached in case of emergency.
  • Hike with at least one buddy.
  • Learn to identify and avoid common poisonous plants.
  • Learn the safety and behavior rules that apply to the area where you'll hike.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- A Mediterranean-style diet and low-carbohydrate diets may help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.

Based on eating habits in Greece, southern Italy and Spain, a Mediterranean diet consists largely of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads, whole grains and olive oil. This eating plan also limits red meat, cheese and sweets.

For the study, published Aug. 15 in the journal Diabetologia, researchers followed more than 22,000 people in Greece for about 11 years. During that time, about 2,300 of them developed diabetes.

The researchers examined the participants' eating habits and developed a 10-point Mediterranean diet score. Participants with scores above six were 12 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those with Mediterranean diet scores of three or lower, they found.

People with the highest levels of carbohydrates in their diets were 21 percent more likely to develop diabetes than those with the lowest carbohydrate intake. People with a high Mediterranean diet score and low carbohydrate intake were 20 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those with a low Mediterranean diet score and high carbohydrate intake, according to the study.

"The role of the Mediterranean diet in weight control is still controversial, and in most studies from Mediterranean countries the adherence to the Mediterranean diet was unrelated to overweight," said Dr. Carlo La Vecchia and colleagues from the Mario Negri Institute of Pharmacological Research in Milan, Italy.

"This suggests that the protection of the Mediterranean diet against diabetes is not through weight control, but through several dietary characteristics of the Mediterranean diet," they said in a journal news release. "However, this issue is difficult to address in cohort studies because of the lack of information on weight changes during follow-up that are rarely recorded."

Although the study showed an apparent association between a Mediterranean diet and a lowered risk for type 2 diabetes, it did not prove cause-and-effect.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about a Mediterranean-style diet.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Psychiatric patients who took part in a smoking-cessation program while they were in the hospital for treatment of mental illness were more likely to quit smoking and less likely to be hospitalized again for mental illness, a new study shows.

The findings challenge a common belief among mental-health experts that smoking is a useful tool in treating some psychiatric patients. For example, cigarettes may be used as part of a reward system or doctors may sometimes smoke with patients as a way of creating a connection, said Judith Prochaska, an associate professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Prochaska and her colleagues studied 224 patients at a smoke-free psychiatric hospital in California. All the patients smoked at least five cigarettes a day prior to being admitted to the hospital. The patients had a range of mental-health conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Three-quarters were suicidal. All of the patients were offered nicotine patches or gum during their hospitalization.

The patients were divided into two groups. One group took part in a smoking-cessation program while a control group received usual care. Patients in the control group were given a pamphlet about the hazards of smoking, along with information on how to quit.

The patients in the smoking-cessation program completed a computer-assisted program with individualized feedback, received a print manual, met for 15 to 30 minutes with a counselor and were offered a 10-week supply of nicotine patches if they decided they wanted to quit smoking.

The computer-assisted program was repeated three and six months after patients left the hospital to support patients who wanted to quit smoking, according to the study, which was published online Aug. 15 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Eighteen months after leaving the hospital, 20 percent of those in the treatment group had quit smoking, compared with 7.7 percent of those in the control group. Forty-four percent of patients in the treatment group and 56 percent of those in the control group had been readmitted to the hospital.

The findings show that helping patients quit smoking did not harm their mental-health recovery and may have even improved it, Prochaska said.

"I think some of the therapeutic contact that addressed participants' tobacco dependence, and supported them with this major health goal, may have generalized to them feeling better about their mental-health condition," Prochaska said in a Stanford news release.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.

-- Robert Preidt

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THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Baby boomers -- the generation known for sex, drugs and rock and roll -- are the most likely Americans to develop hepatitis C, and too many of them aren't tested until it's too late to prevent liver damage, U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

A survey of nearly 5,000 hepatitis C patients found that three-quarters were born between 1945 and 1965 -- the post-war baby boom years -- and almost half had not been screened until symptoms surfaced.

"When they do become aware of their infection, they already have symptoms such as jaundice, and they have abnormal lab tests," said report co-author Dr. Stephen Ko, of the division of viral hepatitis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hepatitis C -- a leading cause of liver disease and liver cancer -- is considered a silent killer because it progresses without any indications of illness. Unlike other types of hepatitis, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. An estimated 3.9 million U.S. residents have the infection.

Since 1998, the CDC has advised doctors to test high-risk individuals, including injection drug users and dialysis patients. The agency expanded its recommendation in 2012 to include everyone born between 1945 and 1965 because there is such a high prevalence in that age group. Last June, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also recommended routine screening for all adults born in that timeframe, along with injection drug users and anyone who got a blood transfusion before 1992.

Others who need the simple blood test include health care workers and children born to mothers with a hepatitis C infection, Ko said.

For the study, published in the Aug. 16 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers surveyed patients treated at four U.S. health care systems for confirmed hepatitis C between 2006 and 2010.

Of the 4,689 respondents, about 60 percent had their first screening in a doctor's office. The remainder were screened in other locations such as emergency rooms or blood banks, Ko said.

Slightly more than 45 percent of the patients were screened because they had symptoms of liver disease, he added. Less than one-quarter said risk factors were their reason for testing.

Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said it is important to know about hepatitis C early. By the time symptoms appear, "your liver can be shot," he said.

"There is a pretty high incidence of undiagnosed hepatitis C in baby boomers," Siegel said. "The reasons are probably because of sex and drugs." Also, before the early 1990s, "we did not know what hepatitis C was and people were passing it around without knowing it," he noted.

As with all diseases, the earlier it's identified, the better, he said.

This will require doctors to be more proactive in testing patients for hepatitis C, he said. "We should be screening for this whether the patient has symptoms or not," he said.

More information

For more information on hepatitis C, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- In a study of more than 500,000 Americans, those who ate a healthy diet reduced their risk for pancreatic cancer by 15 percent.

The diet used in the study followed federal dietary guidelines from 2005 and recommended eating a variety of nutritional foods and limiting saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt and alcohol.

"Maintaining a healthful diet has many potential health benefits," said lead researcher Hannah Arem, from the division of cancer epidemiology and genetics at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

"Our study specifically suggests that individuals who reported dietary intakes in adherence with the federal dietary guidelines had a lower risk of pancreatic cancer," she said.

Arem said this finding shows only an association, and does not prove that eating a healthy diet prevented pancreatic cancer.

"The study was conducted in an observational cohort, meaning that we cannot draw conclusions about cause and effect," she said.

Arem also admitted that other things might explain the findings. "While we tested the influence of other characteristics and behaviors including education, smoking history, physical activity and vitamin use, in addition to other factors, the finding could be due to healthful behaviors other than diet that we did not query about on the questionnaire," she said.

The report was published in the Aug. 15 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"Identifying dietary risk factors for pancreatic cancer has been elusive," said Marji McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology at the American Cancer Society. "But following dietary patterns like these may not only reduce the risk of this fatal disease, but a host of other diseases."

McCullough added that it is important to focus on eating an overall healthful diet and not on a single nutrient, supplement or specific food in hopes of preventing cancer or any other disease.

"The effect of eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limiting sugar, unhealthy fats and alcohol, is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to lowering the risk of chronic disease," she said.

Pancreatic cancer is usually fatal and its incidence has been increasing, McCullough added. "It's very important to identify ways to prevent pancreatic cancer," she said.

Besides diet, there are other modifiable risk factors that increase the odds of pancreatic cancer, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, McCullough said.

Another expert, Samantha Heller, senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said that "by engaging in a healthy lifestyle, you can help block the cascade of ill health effects that is associated with poor food and lifestyle choices such as smoking and being sedentary."

"The body's physiology is complex and highly integrated, so we want to keep the entire organism healthy rather than focusing on trying to avoid one singular disease," Heller said.

For the study, Arem's group assessed the eating habits of more than 500,000 people, aged 50 to 71, who took part in the U.S. National Institutes of Health/AARP Diet and Health Study.

They compared pancreatic cancer rates among those who were best at following the dietary guidelines with those who didn't adhere to the diet. In all, there were more than 2,300 cases of pancreatic cancer.

The researchers found that those who followed the diet lowered their chances of pancreatic cancer by 15 percent, compared with those who didn't.

The association was stronger in men who were overweight or obese, compared with normal-weight men, the researchers said. There was, however, no difference between normal-weight and overweight or obese women.

More information

For more on pancreatic cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

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THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have vastly underestimated the number of deaths caused by obesity in the United States, a new report reveals.

Obesity accounts for 18 percent of deaths among black and white Americans between the ages of 40 and 85, according to a study published online Aug. 15 in the American Journal of Public Health. Previous estimates had placed obesity-related deaths at only 5 percent of all U.S. mortalities.

"This was more than a tripling of the previous estimate," said study author Ryan Masters, who conducted the research as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholar at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City. "Obesity has dramatically worse health consequences than some recent reports have led us to believe."

Earlier estimates erred by overlooking generational differences in the way the obesity epidemic has affected Americans, Masters said.

Because younger generations have been exposed longer to risk factors for obesity, they are at even greater risk of becoming overweight or obese and suffering all the health problems that accompany the extra pounds, the researchers warned.

"A 5-year-old growing up today is living in an environment where obesity is much more the norm than was the case for a 5-year-old a generation or two ago. Drink sizes are bigger, clothes are bigger and greater numbers of a child's peers are obese," study co-author Bruce Link, a professor of epidemiology and sociomedical sciences at Columbia, said in a statement. "And once someone is obese, it is very difficult to undo. So, it stands to reason that we won't see the worst of the epidemic until the current generation of children grows old."

The researchers investigated this possibility by breaking the population down into "cohorts," or generations, and studying the effect of obesity on deaths for those age groups.

Using these generational groups, they analyzed 19 years' worth of annual U.S. National Health Interview Surveys from 1986 through 2004 and compared those findings to individual mortality records from the National Death Index. They focused on ages 40 to 85 to exclude deaths caused by accidents, homicides and congenital conditions, the leading causes of mortality for younger people.

"Successive cohorts are living in this new environment and are at greater risk of obesity at earlier times in their lives," Masters said. "Each specific cohort looks like a wave that's grown bigger than the cohort that has come before it."

For example, Masters and his colleagues noted obesity's increasing effect on mortality in white men who died between the ages of 65 and 70 in the years 1986 to 2006.

Obesity accounted for about 3.5 percent of deaths for those born between 1915 and 1919, but it accounted for about 5 percent of deaths for those born 10 years later. Obesity killed off around 7 percent of those born another 10 years later.

Women appear to be more vulnerable than men to dying from obesity. Black women had the overall highest risk of dying from obesity or being overweight at 27 percent, followed by white women at 21 percent.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the new research provides a helpful framework for understanding and tackling the obesity epidemic.

"Up to now, it's been a unilateral discussion about how obese you were or how much body fat you had," Benjamin said. "The solutions are not only more exercise and eating better, but a whole range of environmental factors we're going to have to address. The generation we have now is expected to be obese longer. That's a core reason we need to change things now if we're going to make this a healthier generation."

To that end, the study does validate current efforts by public health officials to combat the obesity epidemic by focusing on youngsters, Masters said.

"The fact they've been trying to stave off obesity earlier and earlier in life, I think, is the right thing," Masters said. "It's a reaffirmation of the public health campaigns that are putting obesity at the forefront."

More information

For more about obesity, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The Obama administration said Thursday that it has given $67 million in grants to 105 community groups to help the uninsured choose and sign up for coverage when new health insurance marketplaces kick in this fall.

Many Americans may feel bewildered by the new system of health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. But these "navigator" groups are meant to be intermediaries helping people find the coverage plan that's right for them.

Enrollment for the new coverage options in the marketplaces begins Oct. 1 and actual benefits start Jan.1

"Navigators will be among the many resources available to help consumers understand their coverage options in the marketplace," Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a department news release.

"A network of volunteers on the ground in every state -- health care providers, business leaders, faith leaders, community groups, advocates, and local elected officials -- can help spread the word and encourage their neighbors to get enrolled," she said.

The program grants were open to eligible private and public groups and self-employed people who met certain standards. They are required to follow strict security and privacy standards, including how to protect consumers' personal information, HHS said.

Navigators will have to complete 20 to 30 hours of training to be certified, will take additional training throughout the year, and will renew their certification yearly.

In the same announcement, HHS also recognized more than 100 national organizations and businesses that have volunteered to help people learn about the health care coverage available in the marketplace.

HHS said these latest initiatives add to the resources available to help people shop for and select coverage in the health insurance marketplace. Consumers can learn about and enroll in coverage later this fall through HealthCare.gov, and HHS launched a 24-hour call center ready to answer questions in 150 languages.

More than 1,200 community health centers nationwide are preparing to help enroll uninsured Americans. And a partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services will help local libraries be a resource for consumers who want information on their insurance options. In addition, HHS said it has started training other individuals who will provide in-person assistance, such as agents and brokers and certified application counselors.

More information

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has more about in-person assistance in the health insurance marketplace.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Many people who have tried to give up fatty foods in favor of healthier choices have found themselves obsessing over cookies or chips. Choosing a salad over a cheeseburger can feel like a Herculean act of will.

Now scientists believe they've found an important clue about why this happens.

Working in mice, researchers say they've discovered how the gut talks to the reward centers of the brain, and how high-fat diets can jam this communication, potentially leading to overeating and obesity.

The study, which was published online Aug. 15 in the journal Science, also found that high-fat diets actually led mice to turn up their noses at their normal, low-fat chow.

"The implications to humans are huge," said Paul Kenny, a professor of pharmacology at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Fla.

"You're trying to lose weight. You have a bad diet and you're trying to adjust it, [but] your body and brain in concert are saying, 'No, I don't want that type of food,'" said Kenny, who was not involved in the research. "The chips are stacked against you -- literally, potato chips. And that's why you're very likely to fail."

Eating food -- especially food high in fat -- triggers the release of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine.

Previous studies have found that as people and mice become obese, the brain's dopamine system stops working properly. Eating becomes less rewarding.

As food becomes less stimulating, one theory holds that people need to eat more and more to feel satisfied -- creating a vicious cycle of weight gain and overeating.

But researchers have never really understood why or how this happens, or, crucially, how to stop it.

For the new study, researchers studied two groups of mice. The first group was fed a normal, low-fat diet. The second group was put on a high-fat diet. Researchers fed the mice through catheters that ran directly into their stomachs to eliminate any influence from the taste or chewing of the foods.

As expected, the mice consuming a high-fat diet made less dopamine in their brains. But surprisingly, they also made less of a lipid (fat) signal called oleoylethanolamine (OEA) in their intestines.

OEA plays an important role in digestion, said the expert who first identified the signal.

"It prevents the excessive eating of fat," said Daniele Piomelli, a professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine.

When the researchers gave the mice on the high-fat diet an infusion of OEA, they also made more dopamine in their brains, suggesting that the signal also plays an important role in the reward value of food.

"The fact that this compound is connected with the reward centers of the brain is beautiful and makes sense because all survival mechanisms depend on reward," said Piomelli, who was not involved in the current study.

When humans hunted and gathered their food, it would have made sense for fat to be highly rewarding to the brain.

"Fat is in such short supply in nature. Not in our refrigerators, but in nature it is," Piomelli said. "It is very important for the body to be able to eat the small amounts it finds in the wild and to be able to absorb it completely. That's what this compound does."

Now that dietary fat is hard to escape, this ancient feedback loop may be working against humans.

"We do know that people who have problems making the lipid signal OEA tend to become more morbidly obese," Piomelli said.

But the study also shows there may be hope on the horizon for frustrated dieters.

Mice on a high-fat diet given infusions of OEA lost weight and started to show more interest in low-fat food, suggesting that the compound makes the brain more sensitive to smaller amounts of calories in the gut, said researcher Ivan de Araujo, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University.

Experts say, however, that results from animal studies often don't turn out the same in humans.

Whether medications that boost OEA might one day help cottage cheese become as rewarding to the human brain as cheesecake remains to be seen.

"We don't know whether this can successfully be translated into humans," he said.

More information

To learn more about healthy eating, head to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Hold the java and listen up: A new study suggests that people under 55 who drink four or more cups of coffee a day are more likely to die early than others.

Skeptical experts cautioned that the study of over 40,000 adults has major limitations and the findings don't show that coffee actually causes an early death. But study co-author Dr. Carl Lavie, professor of medicine at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans, believes there's reason to be worried if you down a lot of joe.

"Small amounts of coffee, up to 28 cups a week, seem to be safe," he said. "But there's a reason to try to keep your intake at below four 8-ounce cups per day, particularly for younger people."

At issue is the hotly debated topic of whether coffee is good for you, and if it is, how much is too much? In recent years, scientists have pored over existing research and found signs that coffee drinking -- even heavier consumption -- actually reduces the risk of cancer, heart failure and other conditions.

It's hard to know for sure, however. It would be difficult to launch the most rigorous type of research in which scientists would assign some people to drink large amounts of coffee and have others avoid it. It's also possible that coffee drinkers may share something other than a taste for brewed beans that affects their health. Hyperactive personalities? Trouble staying awake? Money to spend on hot drinks?

For a Starbucks-studded nation, this is not encouraging news. In the United States, more than 60 percent of adults report drinking coffee daily, consuming just over three cups a day on average, according to the National Coffee Association.

For the new study, published Aug. 15 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers tracked nearly 44,000 people aged 20 to 87 for an average of about 16 years. About three-quarters were men, and they entered the study between 1971 and 2002.

During the follow-up period, 2,512 people died from all causes. After adjusting their statistics for factors such as smoking and fitness, the researchers found that those who drank more than 28 cups of coffee a week were 21 percent more likely to have died. The risk was 50 percent higher in men and women younger than 55.

Lower levels of coffee-drinking didn't seem to affect mortality. "We were honestly hoping to find that low amounts of coffee were beneficial," said Lavie, "and we were hoping no dose was toxic."

Many questions remain unanswered, however, and the study authors said further research is needed. Lavie said it's possible that coffee might contribute to cancer, but researchers can't confirm that unless they dig deeper to see what killed participants in the study. It's also possible that certain genetic factors put heavy coffee drinkers at greater risk, the study suggests.

Rob van Dam, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, said the study has significant shortcomings. Among other things, he said, it didn't examine dietary habits or look at causes of death in depth. "There have been several previous studies on this topic, and recommendations about coffee consumption should consider the totality of the evidence rather than only the results from a single study," he said.

Rachel Huxley, chair of epidemiology at the University of Queensland in Australia, cautioned that smoking -- much more common among heavy coffee drinkers than others -- may have thrown off the results by contributing to death rates. The study results don't do enough to take this into account, she said.

Huxley added that previous research as a whole suggests that the level of coffee consumption in question actually helps people live longer.

More information

For more about caffeine, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- If your partner suffers chronic pain from knee osteoarthritis, your sleep and mood may suffer as well, according to a new study.

The study included 145 couples in which one partner had knee osteoarthritis that caused moderate to intense pain. The participants recorded their levels of pain, sleep quality and levels of feeling rested or refreshed in the morning over 22 consecutive nights.

When patients reported higher levels of knee pain at the end of the day, their spouses slept poorly that night and felt less refreshed in the morning. Spouses who awoke with symptoms of depression and bad mood were more likely to have poor sleep quality and less refreshing sleep.

Couples with the closest marriage bonds had the strongest association between patient pain levels and the spouse's ability to get a good night's sleep, according to the study in the September issue of the journal Pain.

"Sleep is a critical health behavior, and individuals whose sleep is affected by their partner's pain are at risk for physical and psychiatric problems," lead investigator Lynn Martire, of Penn State University, said in a journal news release. "Spouses whose sleep is compromised may also be less able to respond empathically to patients' symptoms and need for support."

Many patients with knee pain have trouble getting comfortable in bed and staying asleep, and their restlessness can disturb their partner's sleep, the researchers explained.

"Compromised sleep caused by exposure to a loved one's suffering may be one pathway to spousal caregivers' increased risk for health problems, including cardiovascular disease," Martire said.

"Our findings suggest that assessing the extent to which partners are closely involved in each other's lives would help to identify spouses who are especially at risk for being affected by patient symptoms and in need of strategies for maintaining their own health and well-being," she added.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about knee osteoarthritis.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The system that controls eye movements in humans is highly adaptable and can make changes within a few hours when something interferes with a person's ability to see, according to a new study.

The researchers said their findings may suggest new ways to help people with age-related macular degeneration better cope with vision loss. The disease causes progressive loss of so-called "foveal" vision, leading to visual impairment and blindness.

The fovea is the small, central area of the retina. People constantly move their eyes to aim the fovea at different parts of a scene in order to create a picture of their surroundings, explained the authors of the study published Aug. 15 in the journal Current Biology.

"The system that controls how the eyes move is far more malleable than the literature has suggested," Bosco Tjan, of the University of Southern California, said in a journal news release. "We showed that people with normal vision can quickly adjust to a temporary occlusion [blockage] of their foveal vision by adapting a consistent point in their peripheral vision as their new point of gaze."

Tjan and colleagues simulated the loss of foveal vision in six young adults with normal vision. The researchers did this by blocking part of a visual scene with a gray disc that followed the participants' eye gaze. The participants were then asked to do object-following and visual-search tasks.

Within three hours, the participants had adjusted their eye movements to cope with the challenge. They retained this ability for a few weeks and were able to use it whenever their foveal vision was blocked.

The rapid rate of adjustment in eye movement surprised the researchers. They noted that many people with macular degeneration adapt their point of gaze, but the process typically takes months. These findings suggest that practice with a visible gray disc such as the one used in the study may help speed this adjustment.

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about age-related macular degeneration.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- If you decide to hit the gym in hopes that a quick dose of exercise will cure your insomnia, a new study suggests that will not be enough.

While adopting an exercise program did ultimately help some insomniacs sleep better, the scientists found the impact was far from immediate.

"Where the idea to explore this came from is that my patients were coming in and saying that they heard that exercise is good for sleep," explained study author Kelly Baron, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program with the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. "But people generally want a quick fix. And they weren't seeing improvements right way. So, they were getting discouraged," she said.

"The message here is that exercise is not a quick fix, which I don't really think is discouraging at all," Baron said. "Our previous work found that exercise over a 16-week period is very effective in promoting sleep, on par with any kind of medication. But like with weight loss or any sort of behavioral change, it doesn't happen immediately. You have to measure progress over months, not day-to-day."

Baron and her colleagues published their latest findings online Aug. 15 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

With this latest study, the dashed expectations came after the researchers took a closer look at earlier data on the sleep habits of 11 sedentary middle-aged and elderly women. All had been diagnosed with insomnia before beginning a four-month, monitored regimen of aerobics.

By the end of the four months, the exercise regimen did help boost sleep, mood and vitality among older women with insomnia who had not previously exercised.

All of the women had kept track of their sleeping patterns using sleep logs, both before starting to exercise and four months into their new routine. All were outfitted with wristwatch monitors that kept a record of activity rhythms during sleep.

The result of the new look at the numbers: A single exercise session during the day did not help promote improved sleep that same night.

Not only that, a reverse relationship was noted, in which sleeping poorly one night led to a decrease in the amount of time a person spent exercising the next day. This meant that the insomniacs were at risk of falling into a vicious cycle, in which they ended up being too tired to exercise regularly to get better sleep in the long term.

"So, what this means is that patients need to plan ahead," Baron advised. "They need to schedule exercise. Make it premeditated and part of one's routine, especially on those days when they feel tired or fatigued or didn't sleep well, because even if the sleep benefit doesn't come quickly, with time and commitment it may eventually come."

However, Dr. James Pagel, director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, sounded a cautious note on the findings, because "insomnia is not the same for everyone."

"Here they were looking at how exercise could specifically benefit primarily elderly women with insomnia who didn't exercise beforehand," he noted. "But there are at least 60 different diagnoses associated with insomnia. And 14 percent of the American population has chronic insomnia. So, it's a big group of people, and it's very diverse," Pagel said.

"So, yes, there was a long-term, if not short-term, benefit for this group, which I would expect we would see for many similarly aged-men as well," he noted.

"But I have a large group of patients who run marathons. I have people who are insomniac and run many miles a week. And they still can't sleep, because insomnia is an abnormality of arousal, and for some people you're not just unable to sleep, but you're also hyper-aroused during the day and often committed to a very intense exercise pattern. And for these individuals, and those with a genetic form of insomnia, for example, exhausting themselves with exercise will not induce sleep," Pagel explained.

"So, this is great news for this population that they looked at," he added. "But it won't apply to everyone."

More information

For more on insomnia, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- People who live at high altitudes and suffer from chronic mountain sickness may have their genes to thank, a new study finds.

About 140 million people worldwide live permanently at high altitudes, where oxygen levels are low. Many of them have adapted to their environment, but others have chronic mountain sickness, characterized by heart attacks, strokes and lung problems at an early age.

The new findings could point the way toward treating the condition, researchers say.

Chronic mountain sickness develops over time. It differs from acute mountain sickness, or altitude sickness, which usually strikes people within hours of reaching high altitude, often causing nausea, vomiting or headaches.

In this study, the researchers sequenced the entire genomes of 20 people living in the Andes, 10 with chronic mountain sickness and 10 without. The investigators found greater expression of two genes -- the blood cell regulator SENP1 and the cancer-associated gene ANP32D -- in people with chronic mountain sickness than in those without.

Reducing the expression of these two genes improved survival under low-oxygen conditions both in flies and in human cells, according to the study published Aug. 15 in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

"We showed that the genes that were identified by the whole-genome scan were actually linked causally to sickness in low-oxygen environments," study co-senior author Dr. Gabriel Haddad, of the University of California, San Diego, said in a journal news release.

"With further study, the two genes we identified and validated may become potential drug targets for treating conditions related to low oxygen levels, such as strokes and heart attacks. In addition, they may also be considered as targets for a potential drug treatment for chronic mountain sickness," Haddad said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about mountain sickness.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Brain scans show no evidence that people are predominately right- or left-brained, researchers report.

The new findings challenge the widely held belief that people use one side of their brain more than the other, and that this influences their personality traits. For example, left-brained people are said to be logical and detail-oriented, while right-brained people are creative and thoughtful.

For the study, University of Utah neuroscientists analyzed brain scans from more than 1,000 people, aged 7 to 29. The researchers examined thousands of brain regions for indications that people are more likely to use either the right or left side of the brain, but found no signs that this was the case.

The study was published in the Aug. 14 online edition of the journal PLoS One.

"It's absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don't tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection," lead author Dr. Jeff Anderson said in a University of Utah Health Sciences news release.

These are groundbreaking findings that may change the way people think about the right-brain versus left-brain theory, said study co-author Jared Nielsen, a graduate student in neuroscience.

"Everyone should understand the personality types associated with the terminology 'left-brained' and 'right-brained' and how they relate to him or her personally; however, we just don't see patterns where the whole left-brain network is more connected or the whole right-brain network is more connected in some people," Nielsen said in the news release.

"It may be that personality types have nothing to do with one hemisphere being more active, stronger or more connected," he said.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about personality.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Breast-feeding for more than six months appears to guard nonsmoking women against breast cancer for longer periods of time, a new study suggests.

Smoking canceled the benefits of breast-feeding, but there was a decade of difference in diagnosis among nonsmoking breast cancer patients, depending on how long they breast-fed, the researchers reported.

Nonsmokers who didn't breast-feed or did so for less than three months were diagnosed at an average age of 58, while women who didn't smoke and breast-fed longer than six months were diagnosed at an average age of 68. Those who breast-fed longer than six months but also smoked were diagnosed at an average age of 47.

"Those women diagnosed with breast cancer who did not smoke and breast-fed for longer than six months were diagnosed much later -- an average of 10 years later," said study author Emilio Gonzalez-Jimenez, a researcher at the University of Granada in Spain.

Although much research has linked pregnancy and a reduced risk of breast cancer, studies on the protective effects of breast-feeding have produced conflicting results, Gonzalez-Jimenez said.

His team looked at the medical records of more than 500 women, aged 19 to 91, who had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer from 2004 through 2009 at a university hospital in Granada.

The researchers found an association between breast-feeding and age at cancer diagnosis, but they did not prove a cause-and-effect link. The association held, however, even when they factored in a family history of cancer. Other research has linked smoking with breast cancer.

The new study is published online Aug. 15 in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

The study, however, is relatively small, said Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancer for the American Cancer Society. For example, only 26 nonsmoking women in the study breast-fed for more than six months.

Previous research, including a review of dozens of studies, has produced very mixed findings, she added, and this latest finding is not definitive.

"The jury is still out," Saslow said. "There have been many studies showing breast-feeding is slightly protective [against breast cancer], but that the effect is small and it's more protective the longer you breast-feed."

In one review, the risk of breast cancer declined by about 4 percent for each 12 months of breast-feeding, whether it was done with one child or several, she said.

The American Cancer Society expects more than 234,000 cases of breast cancer to be diagnosed in 2013. About 40,000 deaths are expected this year.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 77 percent of U.S. infants are breast-fed as newborns. Of infants born in 2010, however, just 49 percent were still breast-feeding at six months and only 27 percent were doing so at 12 months.

"There are various explanations why breast-feeding seems to prevent breast cancer," Gonzalez-Jimenez said. "The most probable of these are the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy and lactation."

Among those changes are reduced levels of estrogen, which fuel many breast cancers, and physical changes in breast cells.

"I recommend breast-feeding for longer than six months," Gonzalez-Jimenez said. Not smoking is his other piece of advice.

More information

To learn more about risk factors for breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Diabetes patients who take a certain class of antibiotics are more likely to have severe blood sugar fluctuations than those who take other types of the drugs, a new study finds.

The increased risk was low but doctors should consider it when prescribing the class of antibiotics, known as fluoroquinolones, to people with diabetes, the researchers said. This class of antibiotics, which includes drugs such as Cipro (ciprofloxacin), Levaquin (levofloxacin) and Avelox (moxifloxacin), is commonly used to treat conditions such as urinary tract infections and community-acquired pneumonia.

One expert said the study should serve as a wake-up call for doctors.

"Given a number of alternatives, physicians may consider prescribing alternate antibiotics ... in the place of fluoroquinolones (particularly moxifloxacin) to patients with diabetes," said Dr. Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. "In general, this study demonstrates that closer attention needs to be paid to particular drug-condition interactions."

The study included about 78,000 people with diabetes in Taiwan. The researchers looked at the patients' use of three classes of antibiotics: fluoroquinolones; second-generation cephalosporins (cefuroxime, cefaclor, or cefprozil); or macrolides (clarithromycin or azithromycin).

The investigators also looked for any emergency-room visits or hospitalizations for severe blood sugar swings among the patients in the 30 days after they started taking the antibiotics.

The results showed that patients who took fluoroquinolones were more likely to have severe blood sugar swings than those who took antibiotics in the other classes. The level of risk varied according to the specific fluoroquinolone, according to the study, which was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The incidence of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) per 1,000 people was 6.9 for people taking moxifloxacin, 3.9 for levofloxacin and 4.0 for ciprofloxacin. The incidence of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) was 10 per 1,000 for moxifloxacin, 9.3 for levofloxacin and 7.9 for ciprofloxacin.

The incidence of hyperglycemia per 1,000 people was 1.6 for those taking the macrolide class of antibiotics and 2.1 for those on cephalosporins. The incidence of hypoglycemia per 1,000 people was 3.7 for macrolides and 3.2 for cephalosporins.

"Our results identified moxifloxacin as the drug associated with the highest risk of hypoglycemia, followed by levofloxacin and ciprofloxacin," wrote Dr. Mei-Shu Lai, at National Taiwan University, and colleagues.

They said doctors should consider other antibiotics if they have concerns that patients might experience severe blood sugar swings.

"The study ... does not prove a causal connection between particular fluoroquinolones and blood sugar dysregulation," Ochner said. But he believes that it provides evidence that people with diabetes may be at special risk from moxifloxacin in particular.

"If moxifloxacin is to be prescribed to diabetic patients, there should be some additional expected benefit that justifies the increase in incurred risk," Ochner said.

But another expert said there could be other explanations for why people on fluoroquinolones had more blood sugar fluctuations.

"It is hard to draw conclusions that fluoroquinolones themselves are the culprit, as all of these patients had infections, and infection can lead to hypo- or hyperglycemia in persons with diabetes," said Dr. Alyson Myers, an endocrinologist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.

"In addition, those in the fluoroquinolone group were more likely to have chronic kidney disease or steroid use -- the former can increase rates of hypoglycemia and the latter can increase rates of hyperglycemia," Myers said. "Another confounding factor would be the type of diabetes treatments that patients were receiving, as sulfonylureas and insulin are both associated with greater risks of hypoglycemia than other diabetes medications."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about diabetes.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 15, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

53-Year-Old Woman Gives Birth to Own Twin Granddaughters

A 53-year-old Iowa grandmother who gave birth to her own twin granddaughters in July said the pregnancy was uneventful and similar to pregnancies with her own four children, ages 20 to 30.

Susie Kozisek acted as a gestational carrier for her daughter, Ashley Larkin, who cannot get pregnant because she has pulmonary hypertension. Kozisek was also the gestational carrier for Larkin's daughter, Harper, born in 2011, the Associated Press reported.

A gestational carrier is used when a woman cannot carry a pregnancy. The eggs and sperm are collected from the biological parents and conception takes place through in-vitro fertilization. The resulting embryo is then implanted in the carrier's uterus.

"I heard about the procedure on a talk show and decided to check out the possibility of me doing this for them so they could have kids of their own if they wanted," Kozisek told the AP.

Larkin said her children are a blessing and a miracle.

"I've always been close with my mom even before this so that hasn't changed and I'm grateful she will have such a special bond with her grandkids," Larkin told the AP.

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IKEA Recalls Children's Beds

Two models of IKEA children's beds are being recalled because a metal rod can break and potentially cause injuries.

The furniture chain said it had received seven reports concerning the metal rod connecting the guardrail to the bed frame. There have been no reported injuries, but IKEA said the broken rod could expose sharp metal edges, according to the Associated Press.

The recall covers KRITTER beds with the manufacturing dates 1114-1322 and SNIGLAR beds labeled 1114-1318. About 200,000 of the faulty beds were sold worldwide, IKEA said.

The company said people with these beds should contact customer service to get a free repair kit, the AP reported.

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Magnetic Stimulation Reveals Brain Injury Patients' Consciousness

Measuring the brain's response to magnetic stimulation offers a new way to measure consciousness and guide treatment of brain injury patients who can't respond to commands, a new study says.

Italian researchers tested a trans-cranial magnetic stimulation device on 52 brain-injured and healthy people and were able to measure the amount of information flow in the brain and determine various levels of consciousness with a numerical index, Bloomberg News reported.

The researchers also found that brain injury patients with low levels of response actually had much higher levels of consciousness than healthy people who were asleep or anesthetized.

The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"Measures that can reliably distinguish vegetative states from minimally conscious states are crucial and will have an impact on clinical practice," Nicholas Schiff, a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote in a comment accompanying the paper, Bloomberg reported. "Misdiagnosis rates are high when behavioral evidence of consciousness is limited."

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Study Offers New Insight Into Cancer Origins

Scientists who found that 21 major genetic mutations account for 97 percent of the 30 most common cancers say their achievement is a major milestone in cancer research.

Identifying the causes of these mutations could lead to new cancer treatments. Smoking, exposure to ultraviolet light and some other causes of these mutations are known, but more than half are a mystery, BBC News reported.

The scientists made their discovery after analyzing mutations in 7,042 samples taken from the 30 most common cancers. The effort was led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K.

"I'm very excited. Hidden within the cancer genome are these patterns, these signatures, which tell us what is actually causing cancer in the first place -- that's a major insight to have," Sanger Institute Director Sir Mike Stratton told BBC News.

"It is quite a significant achievement for cancer research, this is quite profound. It's taking us into areas of unknown that we didn't know existed before," Stratton said. "I think this is a major milestone."

The study was published in the journal Nature.

This is a "fascinating and important study" that identifies several new processes driving the development of cancer, Nic Jones, chief scientist at Cancer Research U.K., told BBC News.

"Understanding what's causing them could be an extremely important way to get to the bottom of how cancer develops in the first place -- and this will lead to new ways to prevent and treat the disease," Jones explained.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Underage Drinking is Risky

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(HealthDay News) -- The legal drinking age is 21 in the United States, and drinking before the legal age has its risks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these examples:

  • Having social trouble at school and in relationships.
  • Having problems with the legal system, such as when driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • Having physical problems such as a hangover. Also, drinking may increase risks of suicide or homicide.
  • Making poor choices about sexual activity.
  • Being at increased risk of alcohol-related injury, from a car crash to drowning.
  • Being at increased risk of drug use and alcohol-related death.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Tailgate With Safe Food

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(HealthDay News) -- Heading out to enjoy some tailgating? Pack the proper supplies to safely cook and store your food.

The U.S. Food Safety Administration mentions these tips:

  • Pack an insulated cooler filled with ice to carry cold meats and perishables -- such as lunch meats, potato salad, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken or sausages.
  • Place a food thermometer inside the cooler to make sure the temperature stays at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
  • Securely wrap all raw meat and poultry to make sure juices don't leak and contaminate other foods.
  • Eat hot takeout food within two hours of purchasing. If the outside temperature is above 90 degrees, eat within one hour.
  • Pack hot foods (such as chili, soup or stew) in a closed, insulated container that was preheated.
  • If hot food can't stay hot long enough, pack it cold and reheat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit when it's time to eat.
  • Pack additional essentials, such as utensils, grilling tools, a thermometer, fresh water for cleaning and disposable towelettes to keep your hands clean.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- The aggressiveness of prostate cancer doesn't appear to change over time, according to a new study that bolsters the argument for "watching and waiting" in cases of low-grade tumors.

When prostate cancer is diagnosed, a measure called the Gleason score helps predict the aggressiveness of the disease. But whether low-risk cancer turns into high-risk cancer over time wasn't clear, the researchers said. This new study, published Aug. 15 in Cancer Research, suggests it does not.

In the last 22 years widespread prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening has led to more prostate cancer diagnoses, but "the proportion of high Gleason score disease did not change drastically," said lead researcher Kathryn Penney, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "This suggests that Gleason does not progress to a higher grade over time," she said.

Therefore, men whose cancer has a low Gleason score may want to opt for active surveillance rather than surgery to remove the prostate or radiation therapy, Penney said.

The Gleason score is based on a microscopic analysis of tissue removed during a biopsy. Grading the severity, aggressiveness and stage of a prostate tumor helps doctors determine a patient's prognosis.

"The finding that Gleason score progression is uncommon may help men feel more comfortable choosing active surveillance," Penney said.

One expert said the study has the potential to influence current practice.

"This study should have a major impact on how we treat prostate cancer," said Dr. Louis Kavoussi, chairman of urology at North Shore-LIJ's Arthur Smith Institute for Urology in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

"We know prostate cancer is over treated," Kavoussi said. Many patients want treatment, he added.

"But in reality, a great number of patients can be managed with surveillance and have prostate cancer which will never cause them any symptoms or shorten their lives," Kavoussi explained.

"What is needed is a way to identify those patients," Kavoussi said, adding this study might help in that regard.

For the study, Penney's team collected data on 420 men who took part in the well-known Physicians' Health Study and 787 men who were part of the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. All were diagnosed with prostate cancer between 1982 and 2004 and had their prostate removed.

The researchers divided the data into four groups based on the time of treatment looking for differences before and after screening for PSA became common practice.

The percentage of men who had PSA screening nearly doubled between 1994 and 2000, they found. And the number of late-stage cancers dropped 85 percent from 1982-1993 to 2000-2004 -- from about 20 percent to just 3 percent. Staging refers to how far the cancer has spread.

However, Gleason scores decreased only 30 percent over the same time period.

Further analysis showed that the moderate drop in Gleason scores was not because cancer progression was prevented by screening, but rather because many low-grade cancers were found with PSA screening, the researchers pointed out.

Another expert, Dr. David Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said the decision to treat or not to treat a low-risk prostate cancer has to be decided on an individual basis.

"It's dangerous to say every low-risk prostate cancer should be treated the same," Samadi said.

Gleason scores range from 2 to 10. The higher the score, the greater the likelihood the cancer will spread quickly. But Gleason scores can be subjective, Samadi said. "One pathologist can read the slide and grade it as Gleason 6. Somebody else can look at it as Gleason 7," he said.

If samples from a biopsy show a low Gleason score and the patient also had a low PSA that hasn't changed over several months, then active surveillance is a good option, Samadi suggested.

But someone in his early 50s who has multiple samples with a Gleason score of 6 likely has an aggressive tumor, he added.

"We don't want to send a message that every seemingly low-risk prostate cancer should be treated with active surveillance," Samadi said.

Moreover, active surveillance doesn't mean doing nothing, he pointed out. It means yearly biopsies and regular PSA screenings to look for changes in the cancer.

Also, surgery and radiation treatment have improved, and the risks of side effects such as incontinence and impotence are greatly reduced. "If you remove the prostate and cure them, that's as good as any kind of active surveillance," Samadi said.

More information

For more information on prostate cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- The growing use of MRI in breast cancer patients may be leading to unnecessary breast removal in older women, according to a large new study.

Researchers examined the use of breast MRI and surgery in more than 72,000 American women aged 67 to 94 who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2000 and 2009. During that time, the use of MRI before surgery increased from 1 percent to 25 percent of patients.

Women who received an MRI were more likely to have more aggressive surgery. Among women who underwent breast removal (mastectomy), 12.5 percent of those who had an MRI had both breasts removed, compared with about 4 percent of those who did not have an MRI.

The researchers also found that women who had MRI were more likely to have surgery to remove both breasts when cancer was only found in one breast, a procedure called contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Among mastectomy patients, nearly 7 percent of those who had an MRI underwent contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, compared with about 2 percent of those who did not have an MRI.

The findings, published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, are concerning because the long-term benefits of having both breasts removed are unclear, said lead author Dr. Cary Gross, an associate professor of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine and director of the Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy and Effectiveness Research Center at Yale Cancer Center.

"Patient concern about recurrence and survival must be balanced with the increased risk for complications associated with more aggressive cancer surgery, particularly when there is no proven benefit of the more aggressive option," Gross said in a Yale news release.

"There has been no randomized controlled clinical trial demonstrating improved outcomes for women who undergo preoperative breast MRI at any age," study first author Dr. Brigid Killelea, an assistant professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine, said in the news release. "Breast-conserving therapy, when feasible, remains the preferred approach for women with early-stage breast cancer."

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about surgery for cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- An infection from a common type of mouth bacteria can contribute to colorectal cancer, a new study suggests.

The bacteria, called Fusobacterium nucleatum, can attach to colon cells and trigger a sequence of changes that can lead to colon cancer, according to the team at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine.

The researchers also found a way to prevent the bacteria from attaching to colon cells.

"This discovery creates the potential for new diagnostic tools and therapies to treat and prevent the cancer," lead investigator Yiping Han said in a university news release.

The findings show the importance of good oral health, said Han, a professor of periodontics. She noted that levels of F. nucleatum are much higher in people with gum disease.

Although the study found a possible association between oral infection and colon cancer, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study was published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, which also contained another study from a different research group showing how F. nucleatum can speed the accumulation of cancer cells.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians outlines how to keep your teeth and mouth healthy.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Despite the rise in fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization, infertility rates have actually decreased among U.S. women of childbearing age, a government report released Wednesday shows.

Infertility "decreased slightly but significantly, from 8.5 percent of married women to 6 percent of married women," between 1982 and 2010, said study author Anjani Chandra.

Looked at another way, nearly 2.4 million women had problems with infertility in 1982, compared with 1.53 million in 2010, she said.

Many people may think that difficulties getting pregnant are increasing because of the greater use of in fertility treatments and in vitro fertilization (IVF), "but that's just not shown in the data," said Chandra, a research scientist with the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chandra noted that many women are having children later in life than in past decades, which may involve fertility issues or delays. But the rate of infertility among older women has not increased, she said.

The study also compared another measure of difficulty in having a child, known as "impaired fecundity."

"Contrary to public opinion, infertility and impaired fecundity are not on the rise among women of reproductive age in the United States," said Chandra.

Infertility is the inability of a woman to conceive after at least a year of unprotected sex with her husband or live-in partner. Fecundity describes the physical ability to get pregnant or carry a child to full term.

There is some overlap between infertility and impaired fecundity, but they're not the same.

"Impaired fecundity among married women and among all women 15 to 44 showed a significant increase in 2002 (relative to earlier years), but has fallen back to levels seen in the earlier years," Chandra said.

Because many baby boomers delayed childbirth and took advantage of fertility treatments, there was a perception that this older, more educated and wealthier group of mostly white women were suffering from fertility problems, she noted.

Among married women in 2006-2010, black women were more likely to be infertile than white women, the study found.

But educational, racial or socioeconomic differences in themselves didn't have that much impact, Chandra said.

"Where the racial and economic differential comes in is in the use of medical services -- it's a health care disparity," she said.

Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that "IVF and fertility are more present every day in conversation and the media, so people feel it's a big problem -- everybody is having IVF."

The only difference in fertility is age, she said. "You might need more help at 44 than if you are 24," Wu added.

Wu noted that women can spend thousands of dollars on fertility treatments. For example, a single IVF treatment can run $20,000 and many women have several before they become pregnant, she said.

Among men, some form of infertility was reported by 9.4 percent of those aged 15 to 44 and by 12 percent of those aged 25 to 44 in 2006-2010, similar to earlier rates.

The report relied on data from a nationwide survey made up of more than 22,000 interviews with U.S. men and women.

More information

To learn more about infertility, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- After hearing about film star Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy, a growing number of U.S. women now say they may ask their doctors whether the same preventive measure is right for them, according to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll.

The survey of nearly 1,100 U.S. women, conducted in mid-July, found that almost all women (86 percent) had heard of Jolie's double mastectomy. And 5 percent of those women said they would seek medical advice on having a preventive mastectomy or ovary removal because of Jolie's decision.

That may seem like a small percentage, but it translates to about 6 million women nationwide, noted Harris Poll chairman Humphrey Taylor.

"The survey finds that the news of Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy has had an impact on many American women," Taylor said.

Back in May, Jolie announced that she had undergone a double mastectomy and also planned to have her ovaries removed, after learning that she carried a gene mutation linked to breast and ovarian cancers.

Jolie, 38, carries a mutation in a gene called BRCA1. According to the American Cancer Society, defects in that gene and another, called BRCA2, substantially raise a woman's lifetime risks of breast and ovarian cancers -- to a roughly 60 percent chance of developing breast cancer, and a 15 to 40 percent risk of ovarian cancer.

By comparison, the average U.S. woman has a 12 percent chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer over her lifetime, and only a 1.4 percent risk of ovarian cancer.

Experts stress that most breast cancers are not inherited, and gene mutations -- mainly in the BRCA genes -- account for only about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers.

And while many women in the new survey might have been interested in BRCA gene testing, most do not need it, experts said.

"Genetic testing is only recommended for women at high risk," said Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecologic cancer for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

Women at high risk either have a personal history or a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancers, and the survey found that interest in getting the gene test was somewhat higher among women who felt they had a family history of breast cancer versus those who did not have such histories.

"Strong" family history involves a number of factors, Saslow said, including the age at which relatives were diagnosed.

For example, "if your grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 70, that's not a reason to have genetic testing," Saslow said.

Certain other family history patterns, though, are linked to a higher risk of carrying a cancer-linked BRCA mutation. Some of those include having two first-degree relatives with breast cancer, one of whom was diagnosed at age 50 or younger; a first-degree relative with cancer in both breasts; or two or more relatives with ovarian cancer at any age.

Your doctor, Saslow said, should take a thorough family history -- which means you need to know about any breast or ovarian cancers on both sides of your family. If that raises a red flag, your doctor should refer you to a genetic counselor to see if BRCA testing is a good idea, Saslow said.

Cassie Connerty is a physicians' assistant who counsels women at the High-Risk Breast Clinic at Scott & White Hospital in Round Rock, Texas. She said she has not noticed an upswing in women seeking counseling since Jolie's story became public.

But she said she did seem to get more questions from primary care doctors in her health system. "It may have heightened their awareness of the issue," Connerty said.

The cost of a BRCA test, at around $4,000, could deter some women. Insurance plans often cover the test if it's recommended by a health provider -- but even then, Connerty said, women may have a steep co-pay.

In the survey, one-third of the women said they would "very likely" have a BRCA test if it were fully covered by insurance. Only 2 percent said they would if they had to foot the bill.

If testing is advised, and insurance pays for it, the challenges do not stop there, Saslow pointed out.

Ideally, the youngest person in the family who already has breast or ovarian cancer would be tested. If there's a BRCA mutation, other women in the family can then be tested for that same mutation.

"Depending on your family dynamic, it can be complicated to get a relative to undergo testing," Saslow said.

Of women who do undergo BRCA testing, only a small percentage are found to have a mutation, Connerty said. But they are still at greater-than-average risk of cancer. "Your risk factors don't go away," Connerty said.

Some of those women might be candidates for drug therapy with tamoxifen or raloxifene, to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.

For women who do have a BRCA mutation, double mastectomy is not the only option. Some women may opt to take drugs that help lower their cancer risk, while others may opt for intensive breast cancer screening.

Saslow said that screening for these high-risk women should include mammograms and MRI scans, and be done at least once a year. (Some experts suggest alternating between mammograms and MRI every six months; some suggest doing both tests at the same time, once a year.)

"A lot of women don't choose a mastectomy," Saslow said.

In general, experts say women with BRCA mutations should have their ovaries removed by age 40, because there is no way to detect ovarian cancer early. And that surgery, Saslow noted, also helps cut a woman's breast cancer risk, because removing the ovaries takes away the body's main source of estrogen. Estrogen has long been tied to increased breast cancer risk.

Connerty said it's important for women to know that there are options after a positive BRCA test result. "Once you know you're positive," she said, "there are things we can do to hopefully prevent cancer, or at least catch it early."

More information

There's more on breast cancer risk factors at the American Cancer Society.

For more on the poll results, visit Harris Interactive.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 14, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Florida Boy Infected with Brain-Eating Amoeba

A 12-year-old Florida boy has been infected with a rare, brain-eating amoeba found in warm freshwater, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Zachary Reyna's family told TV station WBBH that he was kneeboarding in a water-filled ditch near his house on Aug. 3 and slept the entire next day. This was unusual, so his family took him to the hospital, where he underwent brain surgery. He is currently in the intensive care unit at the Miami Children's Hospital.

The Naegleria fowleri amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain. An expert told CNN that it kills 99 percent of people who get it.

This is the second such infection in the U.S. in less than a month. The other case involved 12-year-old Kali Hardig in Arkansas. She is now in rehab and listed in fair condition.

The same experimental drug used to treat Hardig was released by the CDC to treat Reyna, but it's not clear if the drug has been, or will be, given to him, CNN reported.

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FDA Looking at Sleep Drugs' Impact on Driving

The impact that sleep drugs have on people's ability to drive the next morning is a new area of concern for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Recent evidence appears to confirm what many people have long suspected: that the effects of sleep drugs can persist well into the next day. This is something that consumer advocates have warned about for years, The New York Times reported.

Last month, the FDA rejected an application for a new sleep drug from Merck, in part because tests showed that some people had difficulty driving the day after taking the drug suvorexant.

The FDA says it is taking a closer look at all sleep medicines on the market and will ask manufacturers to conduct more extensive driving tests for all new sleep drugs. The agency also plans to take a closer look at any drug that causes drowsiness, The Times reported.

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NYC Meningitis Outbreak Halted by Vaccination Campaign

An aggressive vaccination campaign appears to have halted a bacterial meningitis outbreak among gay and bisexual men in New York City, according to health officials.

Twenty-two men have been infected and seven of them have died since 2010. The number of infections accelerated last fall and early this year and raised fears of a new AIDS-type epidemic, The New York Times reported.

City health officials launched a vaccination campaign and at least 16,000 people have been vaccinated. The last case of the highly lethal disease was in mid-February, which is the longest period of time without a new case since January 2012.

"We think that because we've had no cases in six months, we have to conclude that enough of the population has been vaccinated to provide protection at least for now," said Dr. Jay Varma, the city's deputy commissioner of disease control, The Times reported.

"Whether or not this provides protection for several years is something that we'll have to see," Varma added.

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Mouse Study Finds Even Small Amounts of Added Sugar in Diet Harm Health

Eating added sugars, even at levels that are within recommended limits for humans, could be toxic, a new mouse study suggests.

Researchers gave mice an amount of extra sugar in their diet that matched the current recommendation for humans of no more than 25 percent of a person's diet, Fox News reported Tuesday. When compared to a control group of mice that were not fed the added sugar, the first group of mice died sooner, produced fewer babies and gained control of less territory during their 32-week life spans.

"The odd things is our mice passed their physicals. They really didn't look any different from control animals," first study author James Ruff, a doctoral graduate from the University of Utah, told Fox News.

In terms of obesity rates or fasting insulin, glucose or triglyceride levels, there were no differences between the two groups of mice, the researchers reported in Nature Communication.

Only cholesterol levels were higher in the sugar-fed mice, and female mice who were fed sugar had more trouble clearing glucose from their bloodstream, Fox News reported.

"One common criticism of animals studies is they look at doses irrelevant to the human condition, which makes them more difficult to translate," Ruff said in explaining the amount of sugar they gave to the one group of mice. "We wanted to pick something relevant to human health."

The researchers noted that even though the effect on health was small, most people would be concerned that the added sugars everyone eats every day might be causing harm in the long run.

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New Coke Ads Defend Safety of Aspartame

A print ad from Coca-Cola defending the safety of the artificial sweetener aspartame will debut in USA Today in the Atlanta area Wednesday, followed by the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Thursday and the Chicago Tribune next week.

The ad contends that diet drinks can help people manage their weight and emphasizes the scientific evidence showing that aspartame, more commonly known under the NutraSweet brand name, is safe, the Associated Press reported.

A growing number of consumers are concerned about the safety of aspartame, despite reassurances from organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society.

"Coke is trying to get out front and proactively defend these diet sweeteners," John Sicher, editor of the industry journal Beverage Digest, told the AP.

The move comes as sales of both regular and diet soft drinks decline in the United States. Last year, sales of Coke fell 1 percent and Diet Coke fell 3 percent. Sales of Pepsi dropped 3.4 percent and Diet Pepsi declined 6.2 percent, according to Beverage Digest.

Both Coke and Pepsi are attempting to develop a drink that uses natural, low-calorie sweeteners, the AP reported.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Fit Your Teen's Feet

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(HealthDay News) -- Trying to find the right athletic shoes to fit your teen's growing feet?

The American Podiatric Medical Association offers these guidelines for choosing a teen's athletic footwear:

  • Choose the right shoes for a specific activity, such as basketball shoes or running shoes.
  • Take your teen to a store that specializes in athletic shoes.
  • Choose shoes that fit well in all areas of the foot and offer plenty of support.
  • Inspect the tread and replace the shoes when they show signs of wear.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Enjoy Sausage Safely

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(HealthDay News) -- Sausage is a popular choice for the summer grill, and there are many cuts to enjoy.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests how to enjoy sausage safely:

  • Look for the "safe food handling" label on the package, stating the product was properly processed and packaged.
  • Before buying, ensure that the sausage is tightly wrapped and properly sealed.
  • Buy sausage at the end of the shopping trip, which will help prevent premature thawing.
  • Store fresh sausage in the refrigerator. Eat within four days if cooked, and within two days if fresh. Freeze at below 0 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Make sure you cook sausage to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Here's another reason for young women to get their bad eating habits under control: Kids born to obese mothers are likely to die earlier than those born to normal-weight mothers, a new Scottish study suggests.

In the United States and Europe, about two-thirds of women of reproductive age are overweight and more than one-third are obese, according to the study. Previous research has suggested that obesity during pregnancy may boost the risk of high blood pressure and high blood sugar, which are linked to cardiovascular disease, in their offspring. The findings of the new study are even more ominous.

"We need to think about targeting children of obese mothers for lifestyle interventions to maintain a healthy weight," said study author Rebecca Reynolds, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

But the findings aren't conclusive, and it could be that the mothers' weight has nothing to do with the life spans of their children. It's possible, for example, that families with poor diets produce heavier moms and sicker kids.

Also, even if the link is confirmed, it's not clear if these offspring can alter their extra risk of dying earlier, the researchers added.

Earlier this year, a committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said all overweight or obese women should be offered nutrition counseling and be encouraged to follow an exercise program.

But the results of the new study suggest that weight-loss interventions should begin before pregnancy, according to Pam Factor-Litvak, author of an accompanying journal editorial.

For the study, published online Aug. 13 in the journal BMJ, the researchers tracked almost 38,000 people born in Scotland from 1950 onward who were aged 34 to 61 in 2011. They looked for data on the mothers body-mass index (BMI) -- a measurement of body fat based on height and weight -- and any deaths or heart disease among their children through that year.

Overall, more than 6,500 deaths from any cause were reported, and the leading causes of death were cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Those whose mothers were obese at birth -- meaning they had a BMI of 30 or higher -- were 35 percent more likely to have died by 2011 than those whose mothers were a normal weight.

These young and middle-aged adults were also about 29 percent more likely to have been admitted to a hospital because of a heart problem; overall, 8 percent were admitted for that reason.

The researchers came up with these numbers after adjusting their statistics to account for factors such as income level, gender, or maternal age at birth.

Children of mothers who were overweight -- a BMI of 25 to 29 -- were 11 percent more likely to die than those of mothers of normal weight.

The mechanisms behind this association aren't clear, and the researchers were lacking one crucial piece of information: whether the kids of obese pregnant moms became obese themselves. However, Reynolds said it's possible that genes play a role. Or, it's possible that the families of obese pregnant moms had poor eating habits that affected their children's health later on.

Shinga Feresu, an associate professor at Indiana University School of Public Health, said it's also possible that health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure could have thrown off the results. Overweight and obese children and teens are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, putting them at a higher risk of early heart disease, Feresu said.

Nonetheless, it's clear that "women who are obese need to reduce their weight to a healthy level before they become pregnant," Feresu said. "They will have a much healthier baby, with reduced risk of long-term disease and premature death."

Previous research has highlighted other obesity-related pregnancy problems. A study published in June in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that overweight or obese women who are pregnant are more likely to give birth prematurely, and the risk of preterm delivery increases with their amount of excess weight.

More information

For more about obesity, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Alzheimer's Research Takes a New Turn

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TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- A protein that accumulates in healthy aging brains could prove to be the culprit behind the natural forgetfulness that comes with growing old as well as advanced neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, according to a new study.

The protein, known as C1q, accumulates on the brain's synapses as people age, potentially gumming up the works, said Dr. Ben Barres, professor and chair of neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine and senior author of the study, published Aug. 14 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

A post-mortem review of mouse and human brains found that the amount of C1q in the brain increases as much as 300-fold with aging.

By comparing brain tissue from mice of varying ages as well as postmortem samples from a 2-month-old infant and an older person, the researchers found that the growing C1q deposits weren't randomly distributed along nerve cells.

Instead, they heavily concentrate at synapses (the junctions between nerve cells), where they could hamper the conduction of electrical and chemical signals in the brain.

"Synapses are not being lost," Barres said. "However, we see the synapses aren't working so good with all that C1q stuck to them. It's detrimental."

But C1q is known to play an important part in the developing brain during childhood, and Barres suspects that this function could lead the protein to attack the synapses if triggered. Such an attack could be the cause of Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

This hypothesis runs counter to prevailing theories about Alzheimer's, which have focused on the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain as a cause of the disease.

In a normal developing brain, synapses are both created and destroyed -- a process Barres likens to "pruning" the brain by preserving necessary synapses and eliminating the excess.

"What wasn't clear is what the molecular basis of the synapse pruning was," Barres said. "It involves a normal immune protein that people didn't even realize was in the brain -- C1q."

C1q is capable of clinging to the surface of foreign bodies such as bacteria or to bits of dead or dying human cells. This initiates a molecular chain reaction known as the complement cascade. One by one, the system's other proteins glom on, coating the offending cell or piece of debris. This in turn draws the attention of omnivorous immune cells that gobble up the target.

Barres now hypothesizes that diseases such as Alzheimer's might develop if the C1q that has accumulated on the synapses triggers an immune system attack against them.

"The first regions of the brain to show a dramatic increase in C1q are places like the hippocampus and substantia nigra, the precise brain regions most vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, respectively," Barres said. Another region affected early on, the piriform cortex, is associated with the sense of smell, whose loss often heralds the onset of neurodegenerative disease.

"Our findings may well explain the long-mysterious vulnerability specifically of the aging brain to neurodegenerative disease," he said. "Kids don't get Alzheimer's or Parkinson's," Barres pointed out.

"Profound activation of the complement cascade, associated with massive synapse loss, is the cardinal feature of Alzheimer's disease and many other neurodegenerative disorders. People have thought this was because synapse loss triggers inflammation. But our findings here suggest that activation of the complement cascade is driving synapse loss, not the other way around," Barres explained.

Heather Snyder, director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer's Association, said the new study "adds to the body of information that looks at how the immune system might work in Alzheimer's disease." She added that there are many hypotheses that need to be explored about what may be happening in Alzheimer's.

Noting that much of the research in the current study involved mice, Snyder said future studies need to focus on how C1q affects human brains.

"This is really opening the door that this should be explored further," she said. "It needs to be replicated in the laboratory and also correlated to what it may mean in human beings."

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and that number is expected to rise significantly as the baby boom generation ages.

More information

For more information on Alzheimer's disease, visit the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Brain scans may help diagnose people with the common reading disorder dyslexia, a new study reveals.

MRI scans in 40 kindergarten children revealed a link between poor pre-reading skills and the size of a structure that connects two language-processing areas in the brain, the researchers said.

Previous studies have shown that this structure -- called the arcuate fasciculus -- is smaller and less organized in adults with poor reading skills than in those with normal reading ability. But it wasn't known if these differences caused reading problems or resulted from a lack of reading experience.

"We were very interested in looking at children prior to reading instruction and whether you would see these kinds of differences," John Gabrieli, a professor of health sciences and technology and a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an MIT news release.

The study was published in the Aug. 14 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Dyslexia, which affects about 10 percent of Americans, is usually diagnosed in children sometime around second grade. These findings suggest that brain scans could help identify children with dyslexia even before they begin reading, so they can receive help earlier.

It's not clear what causes these brain structure differences, but they could result from both genetic and environmental factors, said Gabrieli, who also is a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT.

The researchers plan to follow groups of children as they progress to second grade in order to determine if the brain structure differences identified in kindergarten predict reading difficulties.

"We don't know yet how it plays out over time, and that's the big question: Can we, through a combination of behavioral and brain measures, get a lot more accurate at seeing who will become a dyslexic child, with the hope that that would motivate aggressive interventions that would help these children right from the start instead of waiting for them to fail?" Gabrieli said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about dyslexia.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment are neglected in low- and middle-income countries, a new study reveals.

This is in contrast to the substantial reductions in death rates and increased access to reproductive health care in those nations in recent years, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

In the study, published Aug. 13 in the journal PLoS Medicine, Ruby Singhrao and colleagues also outlined why cervical cancer screening and treatment should be included in efforts to improve women's reproductive health in low- and middle-income countries.

The researchers said that the burden of cervical cancer falls on women of reproductive age and that cervical cancer is associated with reduced reproductive capacity. They also noted that cervical cancer screening and treatment can be integrated into other health services and that recent evidence indicates that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination can protect girls from precancerous cervical lesions.

"For cervical cancer, we fortunately now have a wide range of feasible, affordable, and effective prevention options, which make dramatic global reductions in cervical cancer incidence a realistic goal in our lifetime," Singhrao's team concluded in a journal news release.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about cervical cancer screening.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- People with a leaky heart valve will live longer if surgeons repair the leak promptly, even if the patient isn't feeling any symptoms, a new study finds.

Doctors usually employ a strategy of "watchful waiting" when treating healthy people who have mitral valve regurgitation, which is backflow leakage through the valve that separates the two chambers on the left side of the heart.

"Traditionally, physicians are very reluctant to send patients for surgery, particularly for major operations like open heart surgery," said Dr. Robert Boova, chief of cardiovascular surgery at Jeanes Hospital in Philadelphia. "If they have minimal or no symptoms, physicians don't recommend surgery for them."

However, a 25-year Mayo Clinic study of more than 1,000 heart valve patients has determined that prompt repair of the heart valve can drastically improve survival rates. The findings are published Aug. 14 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Patients without symptoms who received early repair of their leaking heart valve had a 60 percent reduced risk of heart failure, and their five-year mortality rate improved by about half, the researchers found.

"We didn't expect the differences to be that striking," said Dr. Rakesh Suri of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. "We were rather shocked to see they were."

The study followed 1,021 patients with mitral regurgitation who did not have symptoms of heart failure. Doctors placed 575 patients on "watchful waiting," while 446 underwent mitral valve surgery within three months of detection.

The 10-year survival rate of people who had surgery was 86 percent, compared to 69 percent for people who did not get immediate surgery. The risk of heart failure also was lower -- a 7 percent risk for those with early surgery versus 23 percent for those placed on observation.

The mitral valve leak is doing damage to the heart even if patients aren't showing typical symptoms such as fatigue or shortness of breath, Suri said. The leak forces the heart to pump harder to circulate blood throughout the body, setting the stage for heart disease and high blood pressure.

"There really is no safe period to watchfully wait," he said. "Once patients have severe leakage, it's like having chest pain when you're having a heart attack. We need to act now."

Dr. Mariell Jessup, president of the American Heart Association, said the Mayo study could prompt a change in the guidelines doctors use to determine when heart surgery is necessary.

"People will certainly have to look at this large study and the lessons learned from it and take it into consideration when they're updating the valvular guidelines," said Jessup, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Suri said people who have a heart murmur should talk with their doctor about getting an echocardiogram, which can detect heart valve leakage.

If leakage is detected, the patient needs to seek out a cardiologist and a medical center with experience in repairing heart valves, he said.

"In the current era, it's 95 percent to 99 percent likely we'll be able to save that valve using their very own tissue," Suri said.

It is very important that patients seek out a top-notch heart center, Jessup said. Although heart valve surgery has improved dramatically over the years, it is still a complex procedure that must be performed by an expert.

"Just because the study says to go ahead and do it, don't have it done at a local hospital," Jessup said. "This is not routine surgery. It should be done in the hands of a surgeon who does this a lot."

More information

For more information on mitral valve regurgitation, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Sudden cardiac deaths in sports are much more common among men than among women, a new study finds.

Moreover, these deaths varied by sport among men, but not among women, the French researchers added.

"The risk of sudden death during sport is dramatically lower among women compared to men," said study author Dr. Eloi Marijon, from the Universite Paris Descartes at the Sorbonne Paris Cite in Paris.

"Whether this finding is related to the way of practicing sports or constitutional -- for example, difference in terms of coronary heart disease and risk of arrhythmia during acute coronary syndrome -- needs further study," Marijon said.

Because guidelines now recommend screening before taking part in sports, there may need to be different screenings for men and women, he suggested.

"We know that screening is very difficult in the subset of young competitive athletes, and undoubtedly will be much more difficult in the general population. Our results suggest that such screening should not be carried out on a similar basis in men compared to women," Marijon explained.

The report was published Aug. 14 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that "sports-related unexpected sudden death in athletes are highly visible, can have devastating consequences and frequently attract media attention, prompting interest in screening programs and wider deployment of public access defibrillators."

Specific screening measures have been introduced in certain countries, but their effectiveness and value have been debated, he added.

"The findings from this study may help to facilitate better targeting of screening programs for individuals prior to participation in recreational sports activities," Fonarow said.

For the study, Marijon's team looked at nearly 800 sports-related sudden deaths in France between 2005 and 2010.

A sports-related sudden death is one that happens within an hour after taking part in sports, the researchers noted. The investigators only included sudden deaths during moderate and vigorous exertion, assessing them by sex, age and sports common among women in France -- cycling, jogging, and swimming.

Among these deaths, only 5 percent involved women. For women, the average age at death was 44 while for men it was 46, the study authors found.

Based on these data, Marijon's group estimated sudden sports-related deaths among women to be at 0.51 per million sports participants, but for men it was 10.1 per million sports participants.

In addition, the incidence rate of sports-related sudden death increased with age among men, but not among women, the researchers found.

More information

For more information on sudden cardiac death, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- New research pinpoints how to spot which heart failure patients are most likely to benefit from getting a pacemaker.

Previous research has shown that receiving a pacemaker can improve symptoms and reduce the risk of hospital readmission and death in some heart failure patients. One-third to one-half of heart failure patients who receive a pacemaker do not improve, however, according to background information in the study.

Being able to identify which patients would be helped most by a pacemaker is important because the surgery to implant the devices is expensive and carries risks, the study authors said.

The researchers, from Denver Medical Health Center, analyzed data from Medicare beneficiaries with heart failure who received a pacemaker between 2006 and 2009. The patients were followed for up to three years. Death rates were 0.8 percent at 30 days after surgery, 9 percent at one year and almost 26 percent at three years.

Rates of readmission to the hospital for all causes were 10.2 percent at 30 days and 43.3 percent at one year, according to the study, which was published in the Aug. 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers found that pacemaker patients with left bundle-branch block and longer QRS duration had the lowest risks of death and readmission to hospital. Left bundle-branch block is a condition that causes disorganized electrical activity throughout the heart. QRS duration is a measurement of the electrical conducting time as measured with an electrocardiogram (EKG).

One expert said the findings will influence how doctors decide which heart failure patients should get pacemakers.

"This study shows that the EKG -- a simple, inexpensive tool -- can be very effective in determining who may benefit from this expensive but potentially harmful therapy," said Dr. Ranjit Suri, director of the Electrophysiology Service and Cardiac Arrhythmia Center at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"Consequently, heart failure specialists, referring cardiologists and implanting physicians should pay attention to this important study," Suri said. "It demonstrates that a simple EKG can help refine their ability to identify heart failure patients that they may be able to help with device therapy -- saving lives and dollars and decreasing the potential for complications."

Another expert agreed that the findings should alter the way heart failure specialists handle their patients.

"This is an important study that helps to clarify which heart failure patients are more likely to favorably respond to this type of therapy," said Dr. Sean Pinney, director of the Advanced Heart Failure & Transplantation Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

"This study also reminds us about how much heart failure patients suffer," Pinney added. "Forty percent of patients were rehospitalized within the first year of follow up, and one out of four patients died within three years. Obviously, there is still much work to be done to identify new strategies to extend and improve the lives of heart failure patients."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about pacemakers.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Excessive drinking is a major economic problem in the United States, costing billions of dollars in health care costs, lost worker productivity and other consequences involved, the federal government reported Tuesday.

The nationwide economic burden of excessive drinking in 2006 was $223.5 billion. The cost for each state ranged from $420 million in North Dakota to $32 billion in California. The median cost per state for each single alcoholic drink was $1.91, the report said.

The highest per-person cost from excessive drinking was $1,662 in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Utah had the highest cost per drink at $2.74. The government paid for about $2 of every $5 in state costs, ranging from 37 percent of costs in Mississippi to 45 percent of the costs in Utah, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Binge drinking -- defined as having five or more drinks per occasion for men and four or more drinks for women -- was responsible for more than 70 percent of excessive-drinking-related costs.

The share of excessive-drinking-related costs caused by lost productivity ranged from 61 percent in Wyoming to 82 percent in Washington, D.C., while the share caused by health care expenses ranged from 8 percent in Texas to 16 percent in Vermont.

Other contributors to the costs of excessive drinking include property damage, traffic crashes and criminal justice proceedings, according to the study, which appears online Aug. 13 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"This study alerts states to the huge economic impact of excessive alcohol use, and shows how it affects all of us by reducing productivity, increasing criminal justice expenses and increasing health care costs," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in an agency news release. "Effective prevention programs can support people in making wise choices about drinking alcohol, and help reduce the huge personal and social costs of excessive drinking."

The researchers believe the study's findings are underestimated because it did not include other related costs, such as pain and suffering among excessive drinkers or others affected by their drinking.

Excessive drinking causes an average of 80,000 deaths and 2.3 million years of potential life lost in the United States each year. Binge drinking causes more than half of those deaths and two-thirds of the years of life lost, according to the CDC.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol-use disorders.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Long-haul truck drivers in the United States have adapted to increasing demands for efficiency and speed in getting shipments from one point to another, but in doing so they've had to push their bodies to the limit, sacrificing sleep and a healthy diet, according to a new study.

Benjamin Snyder, a graduate sociology student at the University of Virginia, spent three years interviewing long-haul truck drivers and other American workers for his dissertation. His conclusion: The job requires a difficult balancing act.

"The drivers have higher rates of everything associated with obesity," said Snyder. "They have bad knees, shoulders, backs. I can spot a truck driver by how he walks. Most of them have a hunched-over, slow walk. They have a lot of chronic health issues."

The study's findings were scheduled for presentation Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City.

American companies looking to streamline business operations want to be more efficient and flexible in how they move freight, Snyder said. And clients and consumers have come to expect speedy delivery of their long-distance purchases and online orders. As a result, Snyder found truck drivers in the United States have been forced to meet these increased demands.

One way drivers have adapted is by gaining insight into the rhythms of their bodies and learning how to manipulate their sleeping patterns, Snyder said. Some may take caffeine pills or shower often at rest stops to stay alert. Some realize they get an energy boost from the rising sun.

Despite these tactics, the demands of the job have taken a toll on long-haul truck drivers. Many drivers have developed poor eating habits, often consuming fatty foods. Snyder said healthy food options are more difficult to come by at truck stops.

In an attempt to eat a healthier diet, some truck drivers have resorted to packing their own food for their trips or buying healthy foods while delivering to markets. Since they are constantly pressed for time, however, these options are not always easy.

Being a long-haul truck driver becomes a balancing act, Snyder said. On one hand, drivers need to stay on schedule. On the other hand, they battle fatigue, traffic, poor driving conditions and mechanical trouble.

Snyder said his research has helped him appreciate the mechanisms involved in moving goods from one point to another. "If I am shopping online, I know now that when I click that 'ship' button, I am putting into motion a whole system of people whose job is to get it there fast," Snyder said. "They are working in ways that are unhealthy to them so I can get things fast."

Data and conclusions presented at meetings typically are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides more information on the health effects of sleep deprivation.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Mediterranean diets heavy in two foods -- olive oil and nuts -- are linked to a lower rate of strokes in older people whose genetic makeup boosts their risk of diabetes, according to a new study.

The research suggests but doesn't conclusively prove that the diet lowers or even eliminates the extra risk of stroke, perhaps by lowering the rate of diabetes. Still, "our work has placed a solid step on the ladder of personalized nutrition and successful health," said study co-author Jose Ordovas, director of the nutrition and genomics laboratory at Tufts University's USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

The so-called Mediterranean diet is thought to help citizens of Greece, Spain and southern Italy lower their rates of heart disease and cancer. While the diet has received tremendous attention in recent years, there's no firm definition of what it is because foods vary from region to region.

The Mediterranean diet is generally defined, however, as emphasizing olive oil, nuts, fresh produce and fish along with whole grains, seeds and healthier kinds of fat. There's less focus on dairy products and meat, and -- despite the Italian connection -- not much consumption of pasta.

In the new study, researchers randomly assigned more than 7,000 people aged 55 to 80 in Spain to eat a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet high in nuts, or a Mediterranean diet high in extra-virgin olive oil. The researchers then followed the participants for an average of five years through 2010.

Some of the participants had a genetic trait in common: a mutation in a gene that boosts the risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 50 percent compared to others with another form of the gene. Ordovas said that about 30 percent of whites have the riskiest form of the mutation.

Those with the mutation who went on the low-fat diet were nearly three times more likely than others to have a stroke, the investigators found. But those who went on the Mediterranean diets had about an equal level of risk as those without the genetic mutation.

The percentage of people in the various groups who suffered strokes ranged from 1.4 percent to 4.3 percent, Ordovas said.

"Switching to a Mediterranean diet is not going to hurt anybody, and it will help those people with risk factors or a family history of disease," Ordovas said. "However, if switching is not totally possible, then incorporating elements of this diet such as extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, veggies, fruits, will get you somewhere. Or better yet, exchanging less healthy items with those in the diet."

Dr. Robert Eckel, a professor of medicine and director of the Clinical and Translational Research Centers Network at the University of Colorado, who was not part of the study, said that the findings are useful. However, researchers still don't know how the genetic variations are related to diabetes and stroke risk, he said.

In general, Eckel said, the variations -- differences in DNA sequences between genes -- "are common and may have no effect, adverse effect or favorable impact on cardiac health, the risk of complications from diabetes, or both."

The finding were published online Aug. 13 in the journal Diabetes Care.

More information

For more about the Mediterranean diet, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Swedish researchers have identified nine risk factors -- many occurring during a person's teens -- that are tied to early onset dementia.

The good news is that several of these symptoms and behaviors can be prevented or treated, experts noted.

Early onset (or young-onset) dementia occurs before the age of 65. Alcohol abuse was the most important risk factor found in the study, said lead researcher Peter Nordstrom. "In contrast, the influence of hereditary factors, that is dementia in the parents, was very small."

For the study, published online Aug. 12 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, Nordstrom's group collected data on men drafted into the Swedish military from mid-1969 through 1979. They were about 18 years old when they were drafted.

During the follow-up period of roughly 37 years, 487 men developed young-onset dementia at an average age of 54, the researchers found.

The risk factors identified "were multiplicative, most were potentially modifiable and could be traced to adolescence, suggesting excellent opportunities for early prevention," said Nordstrom, from the department of community medicine and rehabilitation at Umea University

Alcohol intoxication, stroke, use of antipsychotic drugs, depression, drug abuse, a father with dementia, poor mental function as a teen, being short and having high blood pressure were the risk factors they found.

Taken together, these accounted for 68 percent of the cases of young-onset dementia, the researchers said. Men with at least two risk factors and in the lowest third of overall mental ability had a 20-fold increased risk.

"Young-onset dementia, before age 65, is a devastating condition for patients and their families," said Dr. Deborah Levine, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan and author of an accompanying journal editorial.

One priority for young-onset dementia is research that identifies ways to prevent it, she said. Another is to improve care and access to long-term services for adults who are diagnosed with dementia before 65.

"This is urgent because adults with young-onset dementia and their families really need our help," she said. "More Americans may develop young-onset dementia because of increases in traumatic brain injury among young veterans and stroke among young African-Americans and middle-aged adults."

Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health in New York City, said the new study is "extraordinary and deserves attention by others studying adolescent populations to see whether this Swedish experience can be confirmed elsewhere and independently.

"I always prefer to see replication of data -- especially 'game-changing' data like these -- before I sound any alarm, but given the treatability of these risks, I would say that these observations should prompt aggressive attention by physicians with access to adolescents," Gandy said.

Dementia affects an estimated 35 million people worldwide and is expected to rise sharply by 2050, according to study background information.

More information

To find out more about dementia, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- College students today are not having more sex than they were two decades ago, according to new research that challenges the perception of a campus "hookup culture," in which students regularly have sex with no strings attached.

The study involved more than 1,800 students who graduated from high school and completed at least one year of college. Co-authors Martin Monto, a sociology professor at the University of Portland, and Anna Carey, a recent graduate, compared survey responses compiled between 1988 and 1996 to responses collected between 2002 and 2010.

"We found that college students from the contemporary or 'hookup era' did not report having more frequent sex or more sexual partners during the past year or more sexual partners since turning 18 than undergraduates from the earlier era," Monto said in American Sociological Association news release.

Instead, 65 percent of students surveyed in the late '80s and early '90s said they had sex at least once a week in the past year, compared with 59 percent of students surveyed between 2002 and 2010.

Moreover, 31.9 percent of the earlier group surveyed said they had more than one sexual partner within the past year, compared with 31.6 percent of students from the so-called hookup era. Similarly, 51.7 percent of the earlier group said they had more than two sexual partners since turning 18, compared with 50.5 percent of the students surveyed between 2002 and 2010.

All of the students involved in the study held similar views on adultery, premarital sex and sex between young people aged 14 to 16, the researchers found.

The study did reveal some differences between study eras. One was that contemporary students were more accepting of adults having homosexual sex. Students surveyed between 2002 and 2010 also were more likely to report having had sex with a casual date or a friend. These students were less likely to have a spouse or regular sexual partner than the students surveyed between 1988 and 1996.

The fact that more people are waiting until they are older to get married could have played a role in their results, the authors said, making it less likely that young people will hold off on having sex until they are married.

The new findings are expected to be presented this week at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in New York City. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about college health and safety issues.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

New Drug Approved to Treat HIV-1

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TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Tivicay (dolutegravir) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat infection with HIV-1, a strain of the virus that causes AIDS.

The drug, among a class called integrase strand transfer inhibitors, interferes with an enzyme that HIV needs to multiply. It's been approved in combination with other antiretroviral drugs and for people aged 12 and older who weigh at least 40 kilograms (approximately 88 pounds), the FDA said in a news release.

Some 50,000 Americans acquire HIV infection each year, and about 15,500 people died from the disease in 2010, the agency said, citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The drug's safety and effectiveness were evaluated in clinical studies involving more than 2,500 adults and children, the FDA said. The most common side effects included difficulty sleeping, headache and more serious problems including allergic-like reactions and abnormal liver function in people who had hepatitis B or C.

Tivicay is produced by GlaxoSmithKline, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services's AIDS.gov website has more about HIV/AIDS.

-- Scott Roberts

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 13, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Mouse Study Finds Even Small Amounts of Added Sugar in Diet Harm Health

Eating added sugars, even at levels that are within recommended limits for humans, could be toxic, a new mouse study suggests.

Researchers gave mice an amount of extra sugar in their diet that matched the current recommendation for humans of no more than 25 percent of a person's diet, Fox News reported Tuesday. When compared to a control group of mice that were not fed the added sugar, the first group of mice died sooner, produced fewer babies and gained control of less territory during their 32-week life spans.

"The odd things is our mice passed their physicals. They really didn't look any different from control animals," first study author James Ruff, a doctoral graduate from the University of Utah, told Fox News.

In terms of obesity rates or fasting insulin, glucose or triglyceride levels, there were no differences between the two groups of mice, the researchers reported in Nature Communication.

Only cholesterol levels were higher in the sugar-fed mice, and female mice who were fed sugar had more trouble clearing glucose from their bloodstream, Fox News reported.

"One common criticism of animals studies is they look at doses irrelevant to the human condition, which makes them more difficult to translate," Ruff said in explaining the amount of sugar they gave to the one group of mice. "We wanted to pick something relevant to human health."

The researchers noted that even though the effect on health was small, most people would be concerned that the added sugars everyone eats every day might be causing harm in the long run.

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New Coke Ads Defend Safety of Aspartame

A print ad from Coca-Cola defending the safety of the artificial sweetener aspartame will debut in USA Today in the Atlanta area Wednesday, followed by the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Thursday and the Chicago Tribune next week.

The ad contends that diet drinks can help people manage their weight and emphasizes the scientific evidence showing that aspartame, more commonly known under the NutraSweet brand name, is safe, the Associated Press reported.

A growing number of consumers are concerned about the safety of aspartame, despite reassurances from organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society.

"Coke is trying to get out front and proactively defend these diet sweeteners," John Sicher, editor of the industry journal Beverage Digest, told the AP.

The move comes as sales of both regular and diet soft drinks decline in the United States. Last year, sales of Coke fell 1 percent and Diet Coke fell 3 percent. Sales of Pepsi dropped 3.4 percent and Diet Pepsi declined 6.2 percent, according to Beverage Digest.

Both Coke and Pepsi are attempting to develop a drink that uses natural, low-calorie sweeteners, the AP reported.

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Out-of-Pocket Cost Limit Delayed Until 2015

The U.S. health care law's across-the-board limit on patients' out-of-pocket expenses has been delayed until 2015.

The limit was supposed to be $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family. But federal officials quietly granted a one-year extension to some insurers, which means they will be allowed to set higher limits, or no limit at all on some costs, in 2014, The New York Times reported.

The change was posted on the Labor Department's website in February, but went largely unnoticed because it was buried in layers of legal and bureaucratic language. When asked about it, department officials confirmed the policy.

Under the change, many group health plans will be allowed to maintain separate out-of-pocket limits for benefits next year. In those plans, consumers may have to pay $6,350 of their own money for doctor and hospital care, and an additional $6,350 in out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs under a plan administered by a pharmacy benefit manager, The Times reported.

And some people may face even higher costs, because some group health plans will not be required to set any limit on a patient's out-of-pocket expenses for drugs in 2014. Federal officials say that if a drug plan doesn't currently have a limit on out-of-pocket costs, it will not have to impose one next year.

The change was made because many insurers and employers said they needed more time to comply with the policy because they used separate companies to administer medical coverage and drug benefits, with separate limits on out-of-pocket costs, according to federal officials.

Many of the companies' computer systems cannot communicate with one another, The Times reported.

The delay on universal limits on out-of-pocket expenses was condemned by advocates for people with chronic illnesses.

"The government's unexpected interpretation of the law will disproportionately harm people with complex chronic conditions and disabilities," Myrl Weinberg, the chief executive of the National Health Council, which speaks for more than 50 groups representing patients, told The Times.

Out-of pocket costs can total tens of thousands of dollars a year for people with serious health problems such as multiple sclerosis and cancer, Weinberg noted.

Last month, the Obama administration announced a one-year delay in enforcement of a health care law provision requiring larger companies to offer health coverage to full-time workers, The Times reported.

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Plea Deal for Hospital Technician in Hepatitis C Outbreak

A traveling hospital technician believed to have infected dozens of people in a number of states with hepatitis C through contaminated syringes could receive a sentence of as little as 30 years after reaching a deal with prosecutors.

David Kwiatkowski is accused of stealing painkiller drugs in syringes and replacing them with saline tainted with his blood. In the plea agreement, he told investigators he had been stealing drugs for more than a decade and was "killing a lot of people," the Associated Press reported.

If convicted at trial, Kwiatkowski could have faced a sentence of up to 98 years. Under the deal reached with prosecutors, he pled guilty to 14 federal drug theft and tampering charges in exchange for a sentence of 30 to 40 years.

Kwiatkowski worked at 18 hospitals in seven states before being hired in New Hampshire in 2011. The number of patients diagnosed with the strain of hepatitis C carried by Kwiatkowski include 32 in New Hampshire, 7 in Maryland, 6 in Kansas and 1 in Pennsylvania, the AP reported.

One of the patients in Kansas has died and hepatitis C played a "contributing role" in the death, according to the plea agreement. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infection that can cause liver disease and chronic health problems.

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Study Offers Explanation for Near-Death Experiences

A possible explanation for near-death experiences has been discovered by University of Michigan researchers.

In experiments with rats, they found that the brain remains conscious after the heart stops beating and may even function at a higher level for a short time, CBS News reported.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help explain why about 20 percent of people who have survived cardiac arrest report having visions and heightened perception during their brush with death.

The findings are "the first dealing with what happens to the neurophysiological state of the dying brain," lead author Jimo Borjigin, an associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology and associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a news release, CBS News reported.

"It will form the foundation for future human studies investigating mental experiences occurring in the dying brain, including seeing light during cardiac arrest," she added.

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New HIV Drug Approved by FDA

A new drug to treat HIV infection was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday.

Marketed as Tivicay, the medication interferes with an enzyme that is essential to the ability of the HIV virus to multiply and spread within the human body, the agency said in a news release. It is a pill that is to be taken once a day with other HIV drugs, according to the FDA.

"HIV-infected individuals require treatment regimens personalized to fit their condition and their needs," Dr. Edward Cox, director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in the release. "The approval of new drugs like Tivicay that add to the existing options remains a priority for the FDA."

Approved for use in both people who have been diagnosed with HIV but have never taken medications to treat the virus and in those who have taken other HIV drugs, Tivicay (dolutegravir) is also approved for certain children under the age of 12.

The approval was based on the results of five clinical trials involving more than 2,500 patients. Insomnia and headaches were common side effects of the medication, along with hypersensitivity and abnormal liver function in HIV patients who have also been diagnosed with hepatitis B and/or C, the agency said in the release.

Almost 50,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 15,000 died of the disease in 2010.

Tivicay is made by GlaxoSmithKline, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., according to the FDA.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- The Mexican company that distributes a salad mix tied to a U.S. outbreak of cyclospora illnesses said Monday that it was suspending shipments of the product to the United States.

The company, Taylor Farms de Mexico, "officially informed FDA that, as of August 9, 2013, the company voluntarily suspended production and shipment of any salad mix, leafy green, or salad mix components from its operations in Mexico to the United States," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on its website.

The move was announced as U.S. health officials continue to try to track down the source of the widespread stomach bug outbreak, which now numbers 535 cases spread across 18 states. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 32 people in five states have been hospitalized with severe cases of cyclospora infection.

Last week, the source of the outbreak in at least two states had been traced to Taylor Farms, which supplied salad mix to Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants and is the Mexican branch of Taylor Farms of Salinas, Calif.

"To date only the salad mix has been implicated in the outbreak of cyclosporiasis in Iowa and Nebraska," the FDA said. The agency says it is trying to determine whether the prepackaged salad mix was the source of infections in the other states.

Taylor Farms chairman and CEO Bruce Taylor said in an email last week that the plant involved produced 48 million servings of salads for thousands of restaurants in the Midwest and eastern United States in June, the month the outbreak started, the Associated Press reported. He added that the plant has an extensive water-testing program.

"All our tests have been negative and we have no evidence of cyclospora in our product," Taylor said in the email. "We are working closely with the FDA to continue this investigation."

Taylor noted that Taylor Farms de Mexico does not supply Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants in Texas, the state that now has the highest number of illnesses in the outbreak.

States that have recorded cases of cyclospora infection include Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. According to the CDC, 215 of the illnesses reported so far were in Texas. Iowa has had 153 illnesses and Nebraska has had 86.

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials said the overall investigation continues.

In a posting on its website, the CDC said that it "will continue to work with federal, state and local partners in the investigation to determine whether this conclusion applies to the increase in cases of cyclosporiasis in other states. It is not yet clear whether the cases from all of the states are part of the same outbreak."

Prior outbreaks of cyclospora infection have typically been caused by tainted produce, the agency noted.

One expert said that while cyclospora can make people very ill, it is not usually life-threatening.

"On the infectious disease scale, this ranks well below the more notorious and dangerous ailments like E. coli and salmonella," said Dr. Lewis Marshall Jr., chairman of the outpatient services at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in New York City.

"It is unlikely to be fatal, but certainly can make one's life miserable," he added. "Symptoms include crampy abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, fatigue, fever, headache and body aches."

Cases of cyclosporiasis are caused by a single-celled parasite and cannot be spread from person to person. The parasite has to be ingested via contaminated water or foods such as fruit and vegetables, according to Dr. Monica Parise, chief of the parasitic diseases branch at the CDC.

"It can be pretty miserable, because it can give diarrhea that can last for days," Parise said.

It takes about a week for people who are infected to become sick.

Marshall said there may be more cases of cyclospora infection out there than people realize. It is possible "that most occurrences go unreported, as many people wouldn't recognize the symptoms as any different than a common stomach bug," he explained.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, urged people who have suffered from diarrhea for longer than a couple of days to be tested for cyclospora.

Marshall agreed.

"If not treated, symptoms can last from a few days to a month or longer, go away and then return later," Marshall said. "Cyclospora can be treated with an antibiotic combination of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole [Bactrim]."

The best option, however, is to avoid the bug altogether.

"The safest way to protect oneself and one's family is to always rinse fresh produce under water, and even put vegetables in a cold water bath ahead of time to properly clean them," Marshall advised.

One expert stressed that the wash-your-produce rule includes prepackaged salads.

"Wash all your fruits and salads before ingesting," said Dr. Salvatore Pardo, vice chairman of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "My hunch is the public does not do this to 'prepackaged' salad, which is normally purchased for convenience and dumped into the bowl since it tends to be free from particles -- dirt, sand, critters -- one would normally find in locally picked ingredients."

More information

For more information on cyclospora, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Are you looking for expert advice for your back-to-school health questions?

Dr. Cindy Haines (@DrCindyHaines), HealthDay's chief medical officer and host of HealthDay TV, will be discussing topics such as nutritious school lunches (at any age), juggling backpack weight, school year sleep habits, managing allergies and other chronic conditions, and more during a Twitterchat this Wednesday. Feel free to join the conversation and ask your own questions.

Date: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013

Time: 1 p.m. ET

Hashtag: #HealthDayChat

Hosts: @HealthDayEditor, @DrCindyHaines, @BrophyMarcus

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- How much time a man spends doing housework is related to the type of job he has, a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzed data collected from 1981 to 2009 and found that married or cohabiting men who worked in traditionally "female jobs" -- such as teaching, child care or nursing -- spent more time doing housework than those in traditionally male jobs.

In addition, the wives and partners of these men spent less time doing housework than the wives and partners of men in traditionally male jobs.

Married or cohabiting women who worked in traditionally female jobs spent more time on housework than those in traditionally male jobs, and their husbands or partners spent less time doing housework, according to the study, scheduled for presentation Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City.

"Importantly, occupational sex composition is largely unrelated to housework for single men or women, suggesting that occupation influences housework through interactions and negotiations between romantic partners," study author Elizabeth Aura McClintock, a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame, said in an association news release.

In general, women do about two-thirds of household chores, according to the release, but this study showed that the division of labor may depend on what they or their male partners do for a living.

More information

The American Chiropractic Association offers tips to protect your back while doing housework.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Job insecurity and uncertainty about the future may be a key part of what's keeping many working-class Americans from getting or staying married, a new study suggests.

Recent years have seen a big shift in the traditional American family. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, married couples now account for fewer than half of all U.S. households -- down from 78 percent in 1950.

But there are also clear economic divides. Women with college degrees, for example, are more likely to get married than women with only high school diplomas -- a stark reversal from years ago.

"It is definitely true that there is a class divide in marriage," said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who studies trends in marriage and family.

"Working-class adults are postponing marriage and marrying later than they used to," Cherlin said. "Marriage also seems to be on the decline as a context for having children among the working class."

That's what's going on in the big picture. In the new study, researchers interviewed about 300 Americans -- both working- and middle-class -- to get a sense of how economics and education are swaying people's views on marriage.

They found that, in general, working-class men and women pointed to job insecurity, low wages and a lack of resources as deterrents to walking down the aisle. In short, they had a hard time imagining being able to provide for someone else -- financially or emotionally, according to Sarah Corse, one of the researchers in the study.

"It doesn't make sense to people to plan for the future if you don't even know if you'll have a paycheck," said Corse, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.

The findings, scheduled to be reported Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City, offer some insight into why marriage is not the draw it used to be -- even though most Americans still say they want to get married at some point.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The decision to take the plunge is not just a personal or moral issue, Corse said. And for many working-class people, the upsides of marriage are not as clear: Committing to someone with a low-paying job and a hefty debt, for example, may not seem like a wise decision.

"We need to think about how income inequality affects other types of inequalities," Corse said. "It's harder to choose to get married, or to sustain a marriage, if you the lack resources that many educated, middle-class people have."

Cherlin, who was not involved in the study, agreed. "In our new economy, working-class young adults often lack the resources to make a long-term marriage work, so they opt for short-term relationships instead," he said. "Marriage plays less of a role in the lives of high-school-educated Americans than among college-educated Americans."

In years past, Corse said, Americans without a college education could still get secure jobs that pay well, in areas like manufacturing. Now, she said, the opportunities often are in the service industry, where jobs may be low-paying, only part-time or offer no health insurance or other benefits.

One of the people Corse's team interviewed was Cindy, a middle-aged woman who'd spent her whole life in the same small Ohio town. Cindy told the researchers that when she was a child, her father had a stable manufacturing job and her family lived comfortably.

But by the time Cindy married, those jobs were largely gone, and her husband could not find steady work. He eventually deserted her, and she was left as a single mom with a minimum-wage job at a convenience store. Her daughter, now 20, never finished high school and lives with Cindy and Cindy's boyfriend.

Such live-in relationships are more common among working-class and high-school-educated Americans than those with higher education, Corse said.

"For middle-class people, marriage generally increases stability," she said "For the working class, it often doesn't."

And that means both financial and emotional stability. "If you can't handle your own problems," Corse said, "how can you take on someone else's? Marriage just doesn't look very appealing."

For her part, Cindy told the researchers she has no plans to marry her current boyfriend. (A second marriage ended in divorce after her husband began to physically abuse both her and her daughter.)

Cindy said she still hopes for a long-term, fulfilling relationship. But, she told the researchers, she is "not optimistic."

More information

The U.S. Census Bureau has more on national marriage trends.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Stroke rates in older white and Mexican Americans declined over the past decade but remain higher in Mexican Americans, researchers have found.

The study looked at the incidence of ischemic stroke -- which is the most common type of stroke and is caused by a clot in the blood vessels of the brain -- among people aged 45 and older who lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, between 2000 and 2010.

During that time, more than 4,600 people in the study group experienced an ischemic stroke (2,604 Mexican-Americans and 2,042 whites). There was a 36 percent decline in the overall ischemic stroke rate in both groups during the study period, but it was limited to people 60 and older.

The researchers also found that Mexican-Americans aged 45 to 74 were still 34 percent more likely than whites to suffer an ischemic stroke, according to the study published Aug. 13 in the journal Annals of Neurology.

"The dramatic decline in stroke rates during the last decade is encouraging," lead author Dr. Lewis Morgenstern, of the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, said in a journal news release. "However, the ongoing disparity among younger patients emphasizes the need for further interventions to prevent stroke, particularly among young Mexican-Americans."

Morgenstern noted that Mexican-Americans are one of the largest and fastest growing minority groups in the United States.

"In minority groups, stroke occurs at much younger ages, often resulting in greater disability and significantly higher costs," Morgenstern said.

The cost of stroke in the first half of this century in the United States could be more than $1.5 trillion, according to experts.

Based on U.S. Census estimates, Hispanics/Latinos currently account for 17 percent of the U.S. population and that is projected to increase to more than 30 percent by 2050.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about ischemic stroke.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

TUESDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- The more brothers and sisters you have, the less likely you are to get divorced, a new study contends.

Each sibling that a person has -- up to seven -- reduces the likelihood of divorce by 2 percent. The findings come from an analysis of data collected from about 57,000 people in the United States between 1972 and 2012.

Although having more than seven siblings provided no additional protection, it didn't hurt either, according to the study, which is scheduled to be presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City.

The Ohio State University researchers said one of the most surprising findings was that there wasn't much difference between being an only child and having one or two siblings.

"We expected that if you had any siblings at all, that would give you the experience with personal relationships that would help you in marriage," study co-author and assistant professor of psychology Donna Bobbitt-Zeher said in an association news release.

"But we found that the real story appears to be how family dynamics change incrementally with the addition of each sibling," she said. "Having more siblings means more experience dealing with others, and that seems to provide additional help in dealing with a marriage relationship as an adult."

Although the study found a link between having more siblings and lower odds of divorce, it didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Because it was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The positive effects of having more brothers and sisters were seen among all generations included in the study. The research didn't examine why having more siblings reduces the risk of divorce, but there are many possible reasons, according to study co-author Doug Downey.

"Growing up in a family with siblings, you develop a set of skills for negotiating both negative and positive interactions," said Downey, a professor of sociology. "You have to consider other people's points of view and learn how to talk through problems. The more siblings you have, the more opportunities you have to practice those skills. That can be a good foundation for adult relationships, including marriage."

More information

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy offers advice about marriage preparation.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- If your child is afraid of the dark, you can take steps to ease the fears and help your little one feel comfortable.

The Cleveland Clinic suggests how to help comfort the child:

  • Talk to the child about these fears, and ask what he or she is afraid of. Reassure the child that he or she is perfectly safe.
  • Explain to your child that mythical creatures are not real.
  • Comfort your child in his or her own bed, rather than bringing the child into your bed.
  • Make sure the pre-bedtime routine is light and happy, without any frightening books or movies.
  • Let your child have security items and a nightlight for comfort, and reward your child with small treats and plenty of praise.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- Sensitive teeth can make drinking your morning coffee or eating an ice cream cone a painful experience.

The American Dental Association's mouthhealthy.org website suggests how to manage sensitive teeth:

  • Brush with a desensitizing toothpaste.
  • Get a fluoride gel treatment at your dentist's office.
  • Have the dentist apply a crown, inlay or bonding to correct tooth abnormalities.
  • Consider a surgical gum graft to protect an exposed root.
  • Talk to your dentist about the potential need for a root canal.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Women who regularly get some fish in their diet may have a relatively lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, a large new study suggests.

Swedish researchers found that of the 32,000-plus women they followed for nearly eight years, those who ate fish at least once a week were 29 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than other women were.

Fatty fish -- such as salmon, mackerel and herring -- seemed to be key, the researchers report in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases. Those fish contain an inflammation-fighting fat called omega-3, and women who had a higher omega-3 intake showed half the rheumatoid arthritis risk.

The findings do not prove that fish consumption wards off the painful joint disease, experts said. But there is a biological basis to believe that fish could offer some protection: Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by a misguided immune system attack on the joints, which leads to chronic and widespread inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids help ease inflammation.

"This fits a biological model that's very plausible," said Dr. Daniel Solomon, a rheumatologist and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Solomon, who was not involved in the study, said the findings are also in line with past research linking higher omega-3 intake with lower disease activity in people who already have rheumatoid arthritis.

What's "exciting" about the new findings, he said, is that they suggest that a dietary measure could help curb the odds of developing rheumatoid arthritis in the first place. "Right now, we don't have much in the way of [rheumatoid arthritis] prevention," Solomon said.

He added, though, that this study was not a clinical trial, and "it doesn't prove causation."

Another expert agreed.

"This doesn't mean fish will prevent [rheumatoid arthritis]," said Dr. Diane Horowitz, a rheumatologist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., who was not involved in the study.

She said many factors, including genes, are believed to affect a person's risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. And no one with the disease should "blame themselves" because of their past eating habits, she added.

"There is no one definitive thing that causes it," Horowitz said.

Still, she said, including fish in your diet is a generally healthy move. "If you want to make a healthy dietary change," Horowitz said, "you can have a fish meal instead of meat once a week."

For the study, Alicja Wolk and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm combed data on 32,232 middle-aged and older Swedish women who completed detailed diet questionnaires. Over an average of almost eight years, 205 of those women were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

Overall, women who said they had fish at least once a week were 29 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than women who ate fish less often. And that was with other factors -- such as smoking, body weight and some other diet habits -- taken into account.

The researchers said that the link seemed to be explained by omega-3 intake. They estimated that women who consistently got more than 0.21 grams of omega-3 per day over the years had a 52 percent lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis than women who consumed less.

And that amount is equivalent to one serving of fatty fish per week -- or four servings of leaner fish, such as cod.

The study looked only at whole fish intake and not fish oil supplements. "We would need more research to know if this would be seen in people using supplements," Solomon said.

Horowitz noted that fish oil can vary in quality. Plus, whole fish provide other nutrients important for overall health, and can take the place of less-healthy choices, such as red meat, she added.

"I think it's better to focus on getting more fish in your diet," Horowitz said.

In the United States, about 1.3 million adults have rheumatoid arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Women are at greater risk than men, and smokers face a heightened risk.

The best way people can curb their rheumatoid arthritis risk is to not smoke -- especially if they have a family history of the disease, said Dr. Patience White, vice president of public health policy and advocacy for the Arthritis Foundation.

"Fish is good for you, for many reasons," White said. "But I don't want people to think that if they eat fish, they won't develop [rheumatoid arthritis]. It's much more important not to smoke."

She added that a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and keeping a normal weight, may not help prevent rheumatoid arthritis, but it will put people in a better place to manage the disease if they do develop it.

More information

The Arthritis Foundation has more on rheumatoid arthritis.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Reducing emissions of only soot and methane won't do as much to limit global warming as some previous research has suggested, according to a new study.

Instead, a focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is needed to counter global warming by 2050, according to the report, which was published Aug. 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Cutting back only on soot and methane emissions will help the climate, but not as much as previously thought," study author Steve Smith, a climate researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said in a laboratory news release.

"If we want to stabilize the climate system, we need to focus on greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane," he said. "Concentrating on soot and methane alone is not likely to offer much of a shortcut."

Some previous studies have suggested that reducing soot and methane emissions could cut human-caused global temperature increases by an average of about 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. As a result, an international coalition was formed to reduce these pollutants.

But soot and methane remain in the atmosphere only for relatively short periods of time -- a few weeks for soot and up to a decade for methane -- while carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for 1,000 years or more, Smith and colleagues said.

Using a computer model, they concluded that cutting soot and methane emissions would reduce temperature increases by an average of only 0.16 degrees Celsius by 2050, which is far less than predicted in previous studies. Cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would reduce temperature increases by 0.27 degrees Celsius by 2050.

"Focusing on soot and methane may be worth targeting for health reasons, as previous studies have identified substantial health benefits from reducing those emissions," Smith said. "To stabilize the global climate, however, the focus needs to be on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the health effects of climate change.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Adults who were premature babies may be at higher risk for heart problems, a small new study suggests.

Being born prematurely might be associated with important changes in how the heart forms and works during adulthood, the study authors said.

Researchers tracked 102 premature babies from birth into their 20s, and compared them to 132 people born at full term. They found that the right lower heart chamber in young adults who were born prematurely was smaller and heavier, and had thicker walls and less pumping capacity.

The more premature the birth, the greater the effect on right ventricle size and function, according to the study, which appears Aug. 12 in the journal Circulation.

"Up to 10 percent of today's young adults were born prematurely and some have an altered higher cardiovascular risk profile in adult life," study leader Paul Leeson, a cardiologist at the University of Oxford's Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility in England, said in a journal news release.

"We wanted to understand why this occurs so that we can identify the small group of patients born premature who may need advice from their health care provider about this cardiovascular risk," he said. "The changes we have found in the right ventricle are quite distinct and intriguing."

The study found an association between being born prematurely and differences in heart size and function in adulthood, but it didn't establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

"We are trying to dig deeper into what's different about the hearts of those born preterm," study first author Adam Lewandowski said in the news release. "The potential scientific explanations for why their hearts are different are fascinating, and our study adds to the growing understanding of how premature birth shapes future heart health."

One expert said the study sheds light on the issue.

The finding "provided us with important information about the structure and function of these patients' hearts, but what remains to be seen is the impact of these findings on overall health and cardiovascular risk," said Dr. Denise Hayes, a pediatric cardiologist at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

"Further research in this field will help us to optimize the care of our patients in the neonatal period and far into adulthood," Hayes added.

Similar, slightly smaller differences in a different chamber of the heart -- the left ventricle -- among people born prematurely were seen in previous research by Leeson's group.

Although changes in the right ventricle may increase the risk of heart failure and cardiovascular death, the researchers reassured people who were born prematurely that there was no evidence of these problems in the young people in this study.

Another expert noted how the researchers used computer modeling to unearth valuable information about how the heart of someone born prematurely might be structured differently.

The study "is a great example of how computer models can help identify and analyze an individual's risk," explained Don Morris, vice president of scientific product & technology development at Archimedes Inc., a subsidiary of Kaiser Permanente. "Mathematical models using data from large studies established a connection between right ventricular structure and heart disease risk, which in turn led to this study of the relationship between prematurity at birth and heart structure."

"This information can be used today to help with better identification of people at risk so they can be treated proactively, for example, by more careful monitoring and control of blood pressure and cholesterol," Morris said. "Ultimately, a better understanding of the causes of these heart changes could lead to improvements in neonatal treatment."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the health issues of premature babies.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Inducing or helping along labor in pregnant women may raise the risk for having a child with autism, particularly if that child is a boy, a new study suggests.

Experts, including the Duke University researchers, are quick to caution that there are often overriding medical reasons to induce or augment labor that should not be ignored because of any potential risk of autism.

Inducing labor involves stimulating contractions before labor has started through various means, and augmenting labor refers to the practice of helping labor progress more quickly with oxytocin (Pitocin), a drug that stimulates contractions.

About one in 88 children born in the United States has autism, a spectrum disorder that affects behavior and the ability to communicate, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no consensus on what causes autism, but several factors are thought to increase risk, including advanced maternal age and/or pregnancy complications.

In the new study, researchers looked at the birth records of more than 625,000 babies born in North Carolina between 1990 and 1998, and compared those with public school records to see who was later diagnosed with autism.

According to the researchers, 1.3 percent of boys and 0.4 percent of girls were diagnosed with autism. Specifically, boys born to moms whose labor was induced or helped along were 35 percent more likely to develop autism, compared with their counterparts. Among girls, only augmented labor was associated with an increased risk for autism. The increased risk of autism held even after researchers controlled for other factors such as the mother's age.

The new study, published online Aug. 12 in JAMA Pediatrics, is the largest to date that looks at autism risk and factors affecting labor and delivery. The findings don't prove that labor induction or augmentation cause autism, they just show an association. Exactly how labor induction could affect autism risk is unknown, but the drug oxytocin may play a role.

"The risk is significant, but it is not grossly significant," said study author Simon Gregory, an associate professor of medicine and medical genetics at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He said the autism risk posed by labor induction or augmentation is similar to the risk seen with advanced maternal age.

"Autism risk is likely a cumulative effect of many genes and many environmental effects," he noted.

The new results should not be interpreted to mean that helping labor along is a dangerous medical practice, Gregory stressed.

"In the vast majority of cases, pregnancy should be induced or augmented for cogent medical reasons, and if it isn't, the risk to mother and child is significantly worse than risk for developing autism," he said. "Women should understand the medical reason for induction or augmentation. This is a discussion that they need to have with their health care provider."

Calling the new findings "hard to ignore," Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, said induction or augmentation of labor appears to be associated with a modest increase in the risk of autism. "The increased risk, even if real, is relatively small and must be weighed against the proven benefits of induction or augmentation of labor in cases where there are real concerns about the acute health of the mother and unborn infant in the hours prior to delivery."

Michael Rosanoff, associate director of public health research and scientific review at the advocacy group Autism Speaks, said much research on risk of autism focuses on the time around birth.

The new findings "warrant further research into the specific mechanism that may cause the relationship. We don't know if it's the drugs that bring on or speed up labor or the condition that causes labor to need help in the first place," he said. "Autism is a puzzle, and this is another piece that we have discovered."

More information

For more on autism, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Your eyes may provide a window into your risk for a stroke, a new study suggests.

By photographing the retina, researchers say they can predict the potential for stroke in people with high blood pressure.

"High blood pressure is one of the most important factors involved in the development of stroke," said lead researcher Dr. Mohammad Kamran Ikram, an assistant professor at the Singapore Eye Research Institute of the National University of Singapore. But determining which hypertensive patients face the highest risk of stroke isn't possible.

Now, a simple eye examination may provide that information, Ikram said. He said, however, that other studies are needed to confirm the findings, which were published Aug. 12 in the journal Hypertension.

High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the retina. When that happens, the condition is known as hypertensive retinopathy. Retinal imaging is a non-invasive way to view blood vessel damage and possibly assess risk for stroke, a leading killer of Americans.

Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain stops, either because of a clot or a hemorrhage.

One expert, Dr. Ralph Sacco, chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, welcomed the study results. He said the findings add to previous research on the value of retinopathy as an indicator of small vessel disease and increased risk of stroke.

"More aggressive management of blood pressure may be needed in patients with signs of retinopathy in order to reduce stroke risk," Sacco said.

"We often do not pay enough attention to even mild to moderate findings on a retina exam and should include this assessment in our global evaluation of vascular and stroke risk," he added.

For the study, Ikram's team followed nearly 3,000 people with high blood pressure for an average of 13 years. At the start of the study, each participant had photos taken of their retinas -- the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye.

The researchers rated each patient's hypertensive retinopathy as none, mild or moderate/severe based on the damage evident in the photographs.

During the follow-up period, 165 participants suffered a stroke. The researchers found those with mild hypertensive retinopathy had a 35 percent higher risk for stroke, while those with moderate or severe retinopathy had a 137 percent increased risk.

Retinal damage also predicted increased risk for stroke in patients taking medication to keep their blood pressure under control, the researchers found. In this group, mild hypertensive retinopathy corresponded with a 96 percent increased risk for stroke and for those with moderate to severe hypertensive retinopathy, a 198 percent increased risk.

The risk for stroke remained even after taking into account factors such as age, sex, race, cholesterol levels, smoking, blood pressure readings and body-mass index (a measurement of body fat based on height and weight), the researchers said.

Although the researchers found an apparent link between retinal damage and increased stroke risk, the study did not prove a definitive cause-and-effect relationship.

Although these results are preliminary and need to be replicated, they suggest that retinal imaging could be a good addition to a stroke-risk evaluation, said Dr. Floyd Warren, chief of neuro-ophthalmology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"There may be a need for more aggressive blood pressure management," he said.

More information

For more information on strokes, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- What do Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, John F. Kennedy and Oprah Winfrey all have in common? Widespread fame. And now new research suggests that middle-aged Americans who fail to recognize or name them and their like may suffer from a specific type of early onset dementia.

Called primary progressive aphasia, this particular form of dementia tends to initially strike men and women between the ages of 40 and 65. It is principally known for disrupting language skills, making it difficult for patients to understand or find the right words when trying to articulate their thoughts.

With that in mind, investigators believe they have devised a simple, cheap and easy-to-administer screening test that can accurately unearth evidence of the disease based on a patient's inability to verbally identify photos of well-known faces.

"Although several [other] tests assess knowledge of famous faces, many contain stimuli unfamiliar to younger individuals who are seeking neurologic treatment for early dementia," said study author Tamar Gefen, a clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago.

"[Our] test includes images of faces, like Oprah, that are appropriate for a younger generation," Gefen said. "And [ours is] the first study to look at face identification difficulties in a particular group of individuals with primary progressive aphasia, a disease that strikes early and destroys slowly a person's ability to communicate, speak, understand and write."

Gefen and her colleagues discussed their observations in the Aug. 13 issue of the journal Neurology.

To test the potential of photo recognition as a dementia screening tool, the authors focused on 30 patients (60 percent of whom were female) already diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, as well as 27 healthy patients.

On average, study participants were roughly 62 years old. All were asked to look at a series of 20 black-and-white images downloaded from the Internet. All depicted so-called cultural icons, including Lucille Ball, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali. About half of the images were of people who are still alive. About two-thirds were of men, and about a quarter were of black celebrities.

Participants were first asked to try to provide the full name of the person in each image. Partial credit was given for offering just the first or last name. If no part of the name could be recalled, participants were instead asked to offer some form of detailed and relevant description concerning the celebrated person at hand.

At the same time, MRI brain scans were taken of everyone in the study in the hopes of mapping brain irregularities linked to primary progressive aphasia.

The result: Those who were healthy fared much better overall than those with primary progressive aphasia.

Whereas 93 percent of the healthy group was able to successfully put a name to a famous face, the same was true of just 46 percent of the primary progressive aphasia patients.

And although 97 percent of the healthy group was able to recognize or describe the icons on view, the same was true of just 79 percent of the dementia group.

What's more, brain scan analyses revealed that those who had difficulty with name recall were more likely to have experienced brain-tissue loss in the left temporal lobe region of their brains, while those with difficulties in face recognition had suffered brain loss on both sides of the same region.

"We hope," Gefen said, "that this tool can be incorporated into a battery of tests to be used for younger patients who specifically complain of difficulties naming a person's face."

Catherine Roe, an instructor in neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, took a cautious view of the findings.

"To help us know how to use this test as a screening tool," Roe said, "more research needs to be done to figure out whether this test distinguishes all people with dementia from people without dementia or whether it distinguishes only people with one particular type of early-onset dementia from people without dementia."

Cheryl Grady, a senior scientist with the Rotman Research Institute at the Baycrest Center in Toronto, seconded the need for follow-up work. But she nonetheless described the work as "intriguing" and praised "the updating of such a test for middle-aged adults."

"[But] I would say that a lot more studies need to use this test before we will know how sensitive it is or whether it is more sensitive to early disease than other fairly sensitive tests," Grady said.

In research, the more true positive results a test produces, the more "sensitive" the test is considered.

More information

For more on primary progressive aphasia, visit the U.S. National Aphasia Association.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are worse drivers than their peers who don't have ADHD and texting only compounds their problems on the road, a new study shows.

What's more, texting behind the wheel is so distracting it makes normal teens drive as poorly as those who have ADHD, underscoring the danger to any driver of trying to text and operate a car at the same time, the researchers noted.

"Texting is on a different order of magnitude compared to other distractions. It's a concern for teens across the board, and kids with ADHD are at that much greater risk," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park.

Adesman has studied the problem of texting and driving in teens, but was not involved in the current research. About half of teenagers admit to texting behind the wheel, according to a study published recently in the journal Pediatrics.

About 6.4 million U.S. children under age 18 have received a diagnosis of ADHD at some point in their lives, U.S. health officials say. For the new study, published online Aug. 12 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers recruited 61 drivers who were 16 and 17 years old. About half of them had the disorder.

Kids with ADHD are frequently prescribed stimulant medication to control symptoms such as inattention and impulsivity. But since researchers say most teens drive at night and on the weekends, times when they are least likely to be medicated, the teen drivers were asked not to take the drugs.

All the teens operated a driving simulator for 40 minutes. For about half the time, researchers let them drive through urban and rural conditions without any distractions. For two 10-minute periods, they drove while talking on a cellphone or while texting with a researcher who was asking them questions from another room.

Overall, teens with ADHD had significantly more trouble staying in their lanes and maintaining a constant speed than kids with normal attention. On average, they drifted out of their lanes 1.8 percent of the time.

Their driving records appeared to reflect these difficulties. About 17 percent of teens with ADHD had received at least one traffic ticket compared to 6 percent of those without the disorder.

And when they were asked to text, their driving problems nearly doubled. They strayed across the lane line or onto the shoulder about 3.3 percent of the time.

"That's just a heck of a lot of time for a kid or any driver to be out of their lane when they're driving," said study author Jeffery Epstein, director of the center for ADHD at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

The impairments of texting were evident for all drivers. When teens without ADHD were asked to text, they spent about 2 percent of their driving time creeping out of their lanes, which made their distraction as severe as those with an ADHD diagnosis.

"All the kids need to stop texting behind the wheel," Epstein said. "The impact of texting is just so big that for these kids to be texting behind the wheel just poses such a danger to themselves as well as other drivers that there just needs to be not only a policy of stopping texting behind the wheel but also enforcement," he said.

Parents play a big role in reining in the problem. Adesman recommends that parents print out and get teens to sign an online pledge, such as the one available from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and use it as a way to start a conversation about the problem.

Also recommended: cellphone apps or easy-to-install devices for cars that will shut a phone off when they detect that the car is moving, Adesman said.

The attention troubles of ADHD are harder to tackle, but Epstein said he's testing behavioral interventions that he hopes will help.

"The deficit that kids with ADHD seem to have is that they tend to let their eyes look away from the roadway for longer glances than do experienced drivers," he explained.

Epstein said that eye-tracking systems that sound an alarm or cause the car seat to vibrate when drivers look away from traffic for longer than two seconds may help kids become more aware of the problem and help them self-correct.

"Those are the sorts of things that would be interesting if they work out," he said.

More information

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more about teens and distracted driving.

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MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Breast-feeding may reduce children's risk of being overweight or obese, a large new study from Japan found.

Researchers looked at more than 43,000 children, aged 7 and 8, with records of how they were fed during infancy.

The study was published online Aug. 12 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The investigators first took into account other factors that could influence the children's weight, such as gender and the amount of time they spent in front of the television or computer, as well as their mothers' education levels, smoking and employment status, according to a journal news release.

Children who were breast-fed at 6 months to 7 months of age were less likely to be overweight than those who were formula-fed, the researchers concluded.

"After adjusting for potential confounders, we demonstrated that breast-feeding is associated with decreased risk of overweight and obesity among school children in Japan, and the protective association is stronger for obesity than overweight," wrote Michiyo Yamakawa, of the Okayama University Graduate School of Medicine, Dentistry, and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and colleagues.

Although the study found an association between being exclusively breast-fed in infancy and a lower risk of obesity or overweight in young children, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. Office on Women's Health has more about breast-feeding.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- A healthy diet and moderate alcohol consumption may help people with type 2 diabetes reduce their risk of chronic kidney disease or slow its progression, a new study indicates.

Researchers looked at more than 6,200 diabetes patients, and found that nearly 32 percent of them developed chronic kidney disease and about 8 percent died during 5.5 years of follow-up.

Patients with the healthiest diets had a lower risk of kidney disease and of dying than those with the least healthy diets. Patients who ate more than three servings of fruit per week were less likely to develop chronic kidney disease than those who ate less fruit.

The study was published online Aug. 12 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Patients with the lowest intake of total and animal protein were more likely to develop kidney disease than those with the highest intake, the researchers also found. Moderate alcohol intake was associated with a lower risk of kidney disease and death. Sodium intake was not associated with kidney disease risk, according to a journal news release.

"A healthy diet and moderate intake of alcohol may decrease the incidence or progression of [chronic kidney disease] among individuals with type 2 diabetes. Sodium intake, within a wide range, and normal protein intake are not associated with [chronic kidney disease]," concluded Daniela Dunkler, of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues.

Could the new findings place an added burden on people who already have to be careful of their food choices?

"Patients with both type 2 diabetes and kidney disease may be frustrated by the numerous dietary restrictions that are recommended by their health care team," Dr. Holly Kramer, of Loyola University, and Dr. Alex Chang, of Johns Hopkins University, wrote in an accompanying commentary.

"Patients may even ask 'What can I eat?'" they added. "Perhaps the best dietary advice we can give to patients with type 2 diabetes and kidney disease is the same as the advice for those who want to avoid chronic kidney disease, and the same advice for preventing and treating hypertension, and the same dietary advice for everyone: Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains while minimizing saturated and total fat."

More information

The National Kidney Foundation has more about chronic kidney disease.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Vitamin D supplementation did not lower blood pressure in older patients with high blood pressure in a new study.

The study was published online Aug. 12 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

It included 159 patients, average age 77, with a common type of high blood pressure called isolated systolic hypertension. They were given vitamin D supplementation or a placebo every three months for one year.

Vitamin D supplementation did not lower blood pressure or improve any other measures of cardiovascular health, according to a journal news release.

"It is still possible, however, that vitamin D supplementation could have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health via non-blood-pressure effects, and ongoing large randomized trials are due to report on this in the next few years," said Miles Witham, of the University of Dundee in Scotland, and colleagues.

One cardiologist found the research intriguing, if disappointing.

"The findings are of interest because low levels of vitamin D have been associated with all of these conditions, and there was a hope that replacing vitamin D with supplements would help correct these conditions known to be causes of heart attack and stroke," said Dr. Nicholas DuBois, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "Being able to modify that risk with a vitamin that has no side effects and is low in cost would be a fabulous advance for cardiovascular protection.

"The key to me for this study is first that it is very small, and so has statistical ability to see only a large impact of the vitamin D supplement," DuBois added. "In other words, there would have to be a very large drop in BP [blood pressure] for this study to detect any effect. A larger study with several thousand patients could detect a more subtle change."

He added: "For me, the current study does not change much for current practice. If vitamin D levels are low, I will try to replete them, acknowledging that it's not certain how much benefit this does... I certainly will not begin using vitamin D in the hopes of controlling high blood pressure."

Another heart expert agreed that the research had its strengths and weaknesses.

"Several advantages of this study include its ability to randomly select a group of participants from a wide geographic area in England, all of whom were on several other medications for cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes," said Dr. Nicholas Gargiulo, a vascular surgeon at North Shore-LIJ's Plainview Hospital, in Plainview, N.Y.

However, the research lacked ethnic diversity and the way blood pressure was measured in the study was not consistent, he added.

"As with most research, a note of caution should be observed prior to making any drastic changes in one's health and particularly the medications one takes," Gargiulo noted. "There is no 'magic bullet' and, as with most things in life, a moderate balance of work, physical exercise, spiritual enhancement and diet should be observed."

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about high blood pressure.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- By using a simple rule to assess children's ankle injuries, doctors could reduce the use of X-rays by 22 percent -- and so spare kids unneeded radiation exposure, according to a new study.

The research appears in the current issue of the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). While X-rays are used to diagnose 85 percent to 95 percent of ankle injuries in children, only 12 percent of X-rays show fractures, according to a journal news release.

"Radiography is unnecessary for most children's ankle injuries, and these high rates of radiography needlessly expose children to radiation and are a questionable use of resources," wrote Dr. Kathy Boutis, a pediatric emergency department physician at the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto, and colleagues.

The investigators applied the "low risk ankle rule" in more than 2,100 children, aged 3 to 16, who arrived at six Canadian emergency departments with non-penetrating ankle injuries.

The rule states that if an examination of a child's injured ankle suggests that there is a low risk of fracture, an X-ray may not be necessary. If doctors miss a certain category of fractures, evidence shows that they are stable, pose a low risk for any future problems, and can be treated like an ankle sprain.

The 22 percent reduction in the use of X-rays when using the rule was consistent in the different emergency departments.

"The ankle rule has potential broad applicability to emergency departments throughout most of the developed world, and widespread implementation of this rule could safely lead to reduction of unnecessary radiography in this radiosensitive population and a more efficient use of health care resources," the researchers concluded.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about ankle X-rays in children.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- While some behaviors increase the risk of obesity for both boys and girls, new research shows there are gender differences.

For instance, although being on a sports team reduced the risk of obesity for middle school-aged boys, it did not for girls, said study author Dr. Elizabeth Jackson, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan School of Medicine.

On the other hand, "Girls who drank milk seemed to have more protection [against obesity]," she said.

Meanwhile, certain behaviors raised the risk of obesity for both boys and girls, the study found. Eating school lunch regularly increased the risk of obesity by 29 percent for boys and 27 percent for girls. Watching two or more hours of television a day boosted the odds of obesity by 19 percent for both genders.

The study, which found links but not cause and effect, is published online Aug. 12 and in the September print issue of Pediatrics.

Childhood obesity is a major public health concern. During the past 30 years, obesity has increased dramatically among children and teens. Among middle-school children, for instance, nearly 20 percent were obese, according to a 2010 report.

Earlier this month, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a glimmer of hope: Obesity rates among low-income preschoolers had dropped slightly in at least 19 states. However, there is still a long way to go, experts agreed.

In the new study, Jackson looked at data obtained from more than 1,700 sixth-grade students from 20 schools in Michigan between 2004 and 2011. The researchers had information on body mass index (a measure of body fat), blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other measures of health, along with habits such as TV viewing.

More than 37 percent of boys and about 31 percent of girls were overweight or obese.

The obese boys and girls had lower HDL ("good") cholesterol, higher blood pressure and other indicators of heart disease risk than the normal or underweight students.

When Jackson looked at the habits, she found the "predictors" of obesity.

Sports-team activity reduced the risk of obesity in boys by 23 percent. Milk drinking reduced the risk of obesity in girls by 19 percent. Jackson said it's possible that those who drank milk may be less likely to drink sugary beverages, which are linked with weight gain.

The link between TV viewing and weight issues is well known. The risk of obesity linked with eating school lunches regularly, she said, may be related to the fact that children who often eat school lunches (sometimes subsidized) may be from lower-income families, and lower socioeconomic status has been linked with a higher likelihood of obesity.

Jackson said sports may not have shown up as a risk-reduction behavior for girls because they may have underreported. For instance, they may not have considered dancing or cheerleading as sports activities.

"There are no big surprises really in the major findings, all have been previously reported," said Michael Goran, a professor of preventive medicine and director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. He reviewed the findings.

Strategies to reduce the risk of obesity vary by age, Goran said. For middle-school children, he suggests that parents reduce the intake of sugary beverages, set limits on television and other media time, limit desserts and other treats. "Establish patterns as early as possible for healthy eating and active living," he said.

"Shop, cook and eat together and include children in the decisions and planning around meals, treats and activity," he said.

To that, study author Jackson added that schools and parents could also encourage girls to participate more in sports.

More information

To learn more about fighting childhood obesity, visit Let's Move!

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Stomach pain is a common childhood complaint, and now a new study suggests it may place some kids at higher risk for anxiety disorders or depression as adults.

The researchers compared 332 young adults, aged around 20, who had abdominal pain as children to 147 participants who did not. Of those who had suffered from stomach pain, 51 percent had an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, and 30 percent had one currently. By contrast, only 20 percent of adults without stomach pain as children had an anxiety disorder.

"A decade later, individuals who had stomach pain continued to have high rates of anxiety disorders, even if they no longer had stomach pain," said study author Lynn Walker, a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Moreover, 40 percent of young men and women who had abdominal pain as children had depression during their lifetime, compared with 16 percent of adults who didn't have stomach pain, according to the study, which was published online Aug. 12 and in the September print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Exactly how stomach pain and anxiety are linked is not entirely clear, but "anxiety related to the pain, or even anxiety related to other things in the child's life, can exacerbate the pain and lead to increased suffering and disability," Walker said.

To break the cycle early, parents of children who complain of stomach pain should first take their child to the doctor to see if anything is going on medically, she said.

"If no significant disease is found, parents should encourage their children to continue their regular activities even if they are having pain or anticipate that they might have pain," Walker said. "When children stay home from school and other activities, they get behind in schoolwork and peer relationships, which increases stress, which in turn increases their suffering."

It spirals from there. "As they discontinue activities and isolate themselves socially, they have more time to focus on the pain and worry about it," she said. "As they fall behind their peers, they have additional things to worry about."

In the study, social anxiety disorder -- a paralyzing fear of being judged by others -- occurred among a quarter of children with stomach pain.

Experts agreed that parents should seek help early for kids with recurrent stomach pain to try to reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.

"Parents should take an active role in their child's life by seeking both medical attention and supportive counseling for their child. This will prevent potential worsening of anxiety, and will help children learn better ways of coping with stressors that may exacerbate their pain," said Dr. Scott Krakower, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.

Parents should take chronic stomach pain seriously from the get-go, said Dr. Sarah Rebstock, director of the Pediatric Pain Medicine Outpatient Clinic at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "Get referred early if your child has two weeks or longer of stomach pain," she said. "Don't wait."

Although the study tied childhood stomach problems to adult anxiety and depression, it didn't establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Dr. Mark Lowenheim, a pediatric gastroenterologist at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y., was quick to caution that not every child who has abdominal complaints will need to see a mental-health professional.

"Certainly there is a subset of children who have abdominal pain who also have anxiety and depression, so it's not a surprise that they also have a higher incidence of anxiety and depression as adults, but this is not a given," he said.

More information

Learn more about anxiety and its treatment at the American Psychological Association.

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MONDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- A good relationship between grandparents and their adult grandchildren can provide a psychological boost for both generations, according to a new study.

Researchers from Boston College found this type of close-knit bond was linked to fewer symptoms of depression for both the seniors and the young adults. And the closer the emotional ties, the bigger the benefit, they found.

In conducting the study, Sara Moorman, an assistant professor in the sociology department, and Jeffrey Stokes, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Boston College, examined survey data involving 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren collected between 1985 and 2004. The grandparents were born on average in 1917, and the grandchildren on average in 1963.

The study also showed the grandparents who provided their grandchildren with tangible support -- which included performing a household chore, giving advice, or offering some pocket money -- and received similar support from their grandchildren in return had the fewest symptoms of depression. This type of support, however, did not affect the psychological well-being of grandchildren, the researchers noted.

On the other hand, the grandparents with the most significant increase in symptoms of depression received tangible support but did not give it, the researchers pointed out. The authors suggested that grandparents who receive help but can't return the favor may feel bad or frustrated about having to depend on their grandchildren.

The study authors concluded that strengthening family bonds should go beyond the nuclear family and young children. They added that adult grandchildren who offer tangible support to their grandparents, and allow their grandparents to give them something in return could help reduce their symptoms of depression.

Moorman, who is also with the Institute on Aging at Boston College, is scheduled to present the findings Monday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, in New York City.

The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about depression.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 12, 2013

By on

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

All Sterile Products From Texas Company Recalled: FDA

A nationwide recall of all sterile products from a Texas company called Specialty Compounding was announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The recall was prompted by 15 reports from two Texas hospitals of bacterial bloodstream infections potentially linked to the company's calcium gluconate infusions.

All sterile products made and distributed by Specialty Compounding are being recalled and none of these products should be given to, or used by, patients. Health facilities, health care providers and patients who have received the products since May 9, 2013 should immediately stop using the products, quarantine them and return them to Specialty Compounding, according to the FDA.

"The FDA believes that use of these products would create an unacceptable risk for patients," Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in an agency news release. "Giving a patient a contaminated injectable drug could result in a life-threatening infection."

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Autism May be Linked to Cancer-Causing Gene Mutations

Certain gene mutations that cause cancer or tumors appear to be linked with autism in some people, according to researchers.

They found that 10 percent of children with mutations in a gene called PTEN -- which causes breast, colon, thyroid and other organ cancers -- have autism. So do about half of children with gene mutations associated with some forms of brain and kidney cancer, and large tumors in the brain and some other organs, The New York Times reported.

That is much higher than the autism rate in the general population. But scientists note that the findings apply to only a small percentage of people with autism.

The discovery of a possible link between cancer-causing gene mutations and autism has enabled researchers to genetically engineer mice with many autism symptoms, and has also led to the first clinical trial of a treatment for children with autism. The trial is testing a drug used to treat tumors with the same genetic basis, The Times reported.

Many scientists who had no role in the research linking autism and cancer-causing gene mutations say the work is changing their understanding of autism and why it develops.

The parallels between cancer and autism are "quite uncanny," according to Jonathan Sebat, chief of the Center for Molecular Genomics of Neuropsychiatric Diseases at the University of California, San Diego.

"We haven't solved it all; we have only solved a tiny bit. But the small bit we solved has been very illuminating," he told The Times.

But others question the findings. Autistic children with the cancer gene mutations have "a brain that is failing in many ways" and autism in these children could be due to general brain malfunction, according to Harvard University geneticist Steven McCarroll.

"The fact that autism is one of the many neurological problems that arise in these patients doesn't necessarily tell us anything penetrating about the social and language deficits that are specific to autism," he told The Times.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Comfort a Child With Croup

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(HealthDay News) -- Croup is a respiratory infection common in young children, producing a bark-like cough.

The American Academy of Family Physicians mentions these tips for parents of a croupy child:

  • Don't give cough medicine to a child under 4 years old. But you can offer Tylenol to help ease pain. Never give a child aspirin.
  • Run a humidifier in your child's room.
  • Place a warm, wet washcloth over your child's nose. Ask the child to breathe through the cloth.
  • Sit with your child for about 10 minutes inside a warm, steamy bathroom outside the shower. The shower should be running hot.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

(HealthDay News) -- As your child nears school age, you should focus on developing skills to help ease the transition.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests how parents can help prepare kids for school:

  • Teach your child to play well with others, including discouraging crying and fighting.
  • Teach the child to listen well and to be quiet when a story is read.
  • Practice using the potty independently.
  • Teach your child how to work with buttons and zippers.
  • Teach your child his/her name, address and phone number.

-- Diana Kohnle

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Five major mental disorders share common inherited genetic variations, a new study finds.

The overlap is highest between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (15 percent), moderate between bipolar disorder and depression and between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression (about 10 percent), and lowest between schizophrenia and autism (3 percent).

Overall, common genetic variations accounted for 17 percent to 28 percent of risk for the five mental disorders, according to the study published in the Aug. 11 issue of the journal Nature Genetics, which the researchers say is the largest genome-wide study of its kind.

The project involved more than 300 scientists at 80 research centers in 20 countries and was supported by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The investigators analyzed the genomes of several thousand people with the five mental disorders and people without the disorders.

"Since our study only looked at common gene variants, the total genetic overlap between the disorders is likely higher," study co-leader Naomi Wray, of the University of Queensland in Australia, said in an NIMH news release. "Shared variants with smaller effects, rare variants, mutations, duplications, deletions, and gene-environment interactions also contribute to these illnesses."

The genetic overlap between schizophrenia and depression could prove important in terms of research and diagnosing patients, according to the study authors. They expected to see more overlap between ADHD and autism, but said the moderate overlap between schizophrenia and autism is consistent with emerging evidence.

"Such evidence quantifying shared genetic risk factors among traditional psychiatric diagnoses will help us move toward classification that will be more faithful to nature," said Bruce Cuthbert, director of the NIMH's adult translational research and treatment development division. Cuthbert is also the coordinator of an NIMH project that is working to develop a mental disorders classification system for research based more on underlying causes.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about mental disorders.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- A new technique used to identify genes associated with severe forms of childhood epilepsy could be used to find and confirm other gene mutations that cause neurological disorders, researchers report.

The scientists performed a technique called exome sequencing to search for non-inherited gene mutations associated with epilepsy in 264 children whose parents do not have epilepsy. They identified 25 such mutations in six genes: two new genes and four that had been previously linked with epilepsy.

The two forms of epilepsy associated with these gene mutations are called infantile spasms and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, according to the study, which was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and published Aug. 7 in the journal Nature.

Exomes represent all of a person's genes. Their DNA sequences provide the instructions for building all the proteins made by the body. The study authors said their findings suggest that exome sequencing may be a highly effective way to find and confirm many disease-causing gene mutations.

"It appears that the time for using this approach to understand complex neurological disorders has arrived," study co-leader David Goldstein, director of the Human Genome Variation Center at Duke University Medical Center, said in an NIH news release.

"This moderately sized study identified an unusually large number of disease-causing mutations and provides a wealth of new information for the epilepsy research community to explore," he said.

More than 2 million people in the United States have epilepsy, and infants and children are more likely to have epilepsy than adults. Some studies have identified genes associated with rare inherited forms of epilepsy, but finding genes associated with the majority of epilepsies has been difficult.

"Unlike some diseases, many of the genetic mutations associated with severe childhood epilepsies appear to be new mutations that are not inherited," Randall Stewart, a program director at the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said in the news release.

The researchers estimated that up to 90 genes could have epilepsy-causing mutations and that many of the mutations associated with epilepsy risk have previously been linked to other neurodevelopmental diseases, including autism.

"It appears that a few pathways may be responsible for many severe pediatric epilepsies," Goldstein said. "If true, then understanding epilepsies will be more manageable and we can find common pathways to target with drugs and other therapies."

More information

The Epilepsy Foundation has more about children and epilepsy.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SUNDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Teens who have half-siblings -- brothers or sisters with a different father -- are more likely to use drugs and have sex by age 15 than teens with only full siblings, according to a new study.

Although this family scenario isn't new, researchers say it's becoming more common as a growing number of unmarried people have children.

In conducting the study, researchers from Bowling Green State University and Iowa State University examined how "multi-partnered fertility" -- re-partnering and having more children -- affects children's drug use and sexual behavior.

"We find that first-born adolescents with half-siblings with the same mother but a different father do have less favorable outcomes compared to their peers with only full siblings, even after accounting for the mother's background characteristics, socioeconomic factors the child experienced growing up, and family instability and structure," said researcher Karen Benjamin Guzzo, an assistant professor of sociology at Bowling Green.

The study's findings were scheduled for presentation Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

For first-born children, multi-partnered fertility often means enduring the breakup of their biological parents and living for a time in a single-mother household. It could also mean experiencing their mother finding at least one new partner, possibly living with a stepfather and watching their mother have another child with someone other than their father.

Although the study focused on mothers and their first-born children who lived with their mother for most of their lives, the researchers also considered the mother's level of education, household poverty and the number of changes in family structure the teens faced, such as whether their mother ever married or lived with their father or another partner.

The study showed that by age 15, teens who have a half-sibling with a different father are roughly 65 percent more likely to have used drugs, including marijuana, stimulants, inhalants, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens and sedatives. These teens were also about two and a half times more likely to have had sex by the time they turned 15.

The reasons for this association between risky teen behavior and having half-siblings remains unclear, the researchers said in an association news release. They hope to do more research to determine if younger siblings react in the same way as first-borns, and to explore differences in how teens view their relationship with their mother.

Although the study showed an association between having half-siblings and an increased likelihood of using drugs and having sex as a teen, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on teen alcohol and drug use.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SATURDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women's expectations about the changes they will face -- from morning sickness and shiny hair to peculiar food cravings -- are not only influenced by their doctors and nurses, but also by what they hear from their friends and find in the media, a new study says.

These "pregnancy mythologies" may affect what women take for granted in pregnancy and could influence the communication between them and their health care providers, the study suggests.

The findings are scheduled for presentation Saturday at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting, in New York City.

Danielle Bessett, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati, interviewed 64 pregnant women living in and around New York City from 2003 to 2006. About half of the participants were expecting their first child, while others had complicated reproductive histories. All of the participants received prenatal care. Of the group, 23 received care from public, hospital-based clinics, while the other women were patients at private practices.

After conducting the interviews, Bessett found all 64 women faced cultural hearsay about being pregnant, or what she dubbed pregnancy mythologies.

"My research shows that we may underestimate the extent to which all of us hold understandings of pregnancy built incrementally through a succession of ephemeral encounters over our lifetimes and the extent to which those understandings affect us," Bessett said in an ASA news release.

Although many of the women interviewed denied that cultural hearsay was an information source they trusted, they often cited entertainment or media sources when asked to explain why they had certain expectations for what would happen during pregnancy.

Bessett also noted some women relied heavily on their ethnic-religious traditions. In some cases, women had no explanation for how they learned what to expect during pregnancy.

Some women became concerned about the health of their fetus when they did not experience the side effects and symptoms commonly associated with pregnancy, such as morning sickness, the study found.

Bessett said that pregnancy symptoms are not just a side effect of pregnancy since women connect their symptoms to the desires, needs or personal characteristics of their unborn baby. For instance, one mother believed she developed intense morning sickness because her baby didn't like the food she ate.

Certain pregnancy-related symptoms, such as exhaustion, insomnia, gas, headaches, and swollen ankles, weren't as commonly linked to cultural influences. It could be that these side effects involve less openly discussed topics and are less frequently portrayed in the media, Bessett said.

About half of the women involved in the study were white, 12 were black, 16 were Hispanic, and two were Asian. One-third of the women reported household incomes of less than $40,000; just under half reported household incomes of at least $80,000.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more about the side effects of pregnancy.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SATURDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- People may feel more empathy for dogs than for some of their fellow humans, a new study finds.

When it comes to victims of violence, people may be less disturbed by the suffering of human adults, who are considered capable of taking care of themselves, the study suggests. Meanwhile, children, puppies and full-grown dogs are perceived as dependent and vulnerable.

The study involved 240 men and women. Most of the participants were white college students between 18 and 25 years old.

In conducting the research, Jack Levin, a distinguished professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University, and study co-author Arnold Arluke, a sociology professor at the school, randomly gave one of four fictional news stories to each participant.

The scenarios involved the beating of a 1-year-old baby, an adult in his 30s, a puppy or a 6-year-old dog. After reading the story, the participants rated how much empathy they had for the victim of the attack.

More empathy was shown for the child, the puppy and the adult dog than the adult human, the study revealed. Surprisingly, the participants had about the same amount of empathy for the child as they did for the puppy.

The study is scheduled for presentation Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City.

"We were surprised by the interaction of age and species," Levin said in an association news release. "Age seems to trump species when it comes to eliciting empathy."

The authors noted the findings would likely be similar if the study had involved cats instead of dogs. As family pets, they said, dogs and cats often are assigned human characteristics.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has more about empathy.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Close family members of children with cancer appear to have an increased risk of cancer themselves, a new study says.

Researchers examined the family medical history of nearly 4,500 children who were diagnosed with cancer over a 43-year period. They found that the parents, siblings and children of patients who were diagnosed with any kind of cancer up to age 18 had twice the risk of developing cancer compared to those in families with no childhood cancer patients.

And if a child was diagnosed with cancer at age 4 or younger, close relatives had a nearly fourfold increased risk of cancer, according to the study, which was recently published online in the International Journal of Cancer.

"No one had previously studied the question, so we simply told parents there was no evidence of increased risk to the other children. Now we can give an evidence-based answer -- the risk depends on your family history of cancer," study leader Dr. Joshua Schiffman, medical director of the High Risk Pediatric Cancer Clinic at the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute, said in a university news release.

Although the study tied cases of childhood cancer to higher cancer risk for family members, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

The researchers also examined known inherited genetic syndromes in adult relatives of pediatric cancer patients and found that cancers associated with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS) seemed to be a major factor in the increased cancer risk in families with a history of cancer.

"Not all children's cancers are hereditary. But the numbers in this study suggest that the proportion of hereditary childhood cancers may be significantly higher than the 5 to 10 percent generally cited in adult hereditary cancers, and likely even more than 20 percent," Schiffman said.

"LFS is one of the most devastating cancer syndromes," he noted. "It causes a variety of cancers in both children and adults. For people with LFS, the lifetime risk of getting cancer is 80 percent to 90 percent, but with increased and early screening for tumors, there's early indication of a very high survival rate, perhaps even approaching 100 percent. In a previous study, LFS patients who did not receive early screening only had a 20 percent survival rate."

The researchers said that doctors should collect three generations of family medical history for all newly diagnosed childhood cancer patients and that families with a history of early-onset cancers in children or adults should be referred for genetic counseling.

Parents who have a child diagnosed with cancer before age 5 and a family history of cancer should be told that their other children are at increased risk for cancer, the researchers say.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about childhood cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

What to Do If Your Child Chokes

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FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Choking is a leading cause of injury and death among American children, especially those age 3 years and younger, and parents and other caregivers need to know what to do in such cases, an expert says.

Food, toys and coins account for most choking incidents in young children, who put objects in their mouths as they explore their surroundings, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Should a child choke or swallow something dangerous, parents and caregivers may want to offer liquids and/or solids, but this is not recommended. Also, parents should not force the child to vomit. Have the child see the doctor as soon as possible or take the child to the emergency room," Dr. Grace Arteaga, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center in Rochester, Minn., said in a Mayo news release.

If a child is coughing forcefully after swallowing an object, encourage him or her to continue coughing and do not interfere. But if the swallowed object blocks the airway and the child can no longer cough and breathing becomes more difficult, parents and caregivers should use the "five-and-five" approach to choking first aid:

  • First, give five back blows between the child's shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
  • Next, give five abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver). For infants, use chest compressions because abdominal thrusts may cause injury.
  • Alternate between five back blows and five abdominal thrusts/chest compressions until the blockage in the throat is dislodged. At the same time, someone needs to call for emergency assistance.

The advice for choking infants is different. Hold the infant facedown on your forearm. The infant's head should be lower than his or her body. Thump the infant firmly on the middle of the back using the heel of your other hand, Arteaga said. The combination of gravity and force from the hand thumps should dislodge the object blocking the infant's airway.

Arteaga advised against the use of a finger sweep, which could lodge the object farther down the infant's airway.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers choking prevention tips.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- What's striped black-and-white, packs a nasty bite and is a tireless spreader of disease? No, it's not a B-movie horror creature -- it's the Asian tiger mosquito.

And though a relative newcomer to the American scene, experts now warn that this intruder is starting to create a fearsome buzz, with the potential to cause havoc across the United States. So far, however, it hasn't led to widespread disease in this country.

"What we have here is an invasive daytime-feeding, disease-carrying mosquito that, since it first arrived on the East Coast in the 1980s, has been pretty aggressive in mowing down its natural competitors," said Gabe Hamer, a clinical assistant professor in the department of entomology at Texas A&M University. "And now it's really starting to move through the country in full force."

"That makes it, at the very least, a nuisance and an annoyance," Hamer explained. "And at worst, a serious vector for major pathogens."

On its Asian home turf, the mosquito is a well-known carrier of dengue fever, with West Nile fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis among the other debilitating illnesses for which it has been pegged as a transmitter.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mosquito has so far been identified as a host for five different viruses in the United States. Two of those -- encephalomyelitis and Cache Valley -- can infect humans, while the others are a threat to dogs, cats, birds and other animals.

But U.S. experts are perhaps most alarmed that this mosquito potentially could become a prime North American vector for a particularly nasty joint and muscle pain illness for which there is neither a vaccine nor treatment: the Chikungunya virus.

Such concerns have escalated in light of recent research, such as that funded by the U.S. National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and reported in the January issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, which cautions that an imminent mosquito-driven American outbreak of the Chikungunya virus is a very real threat.

"The ongoing invasion of the Asian tiger mosquito in the U.S.A. represents an important risk," agreed Diego Ruiz-Moreno, a postdoctoral associate in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, who led the recent study. "Mainly because of the potential for disease to spread."

Otherwise known as Aedes albopictus, the CDC notes that the Asian tiger mosquito was first spotted on the U.S. mainland in 1985. Since that initial Houston sighting, it has spread across 26 states, moving as far north as Chicago, as far east as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as far west as Nebraska, and across a broad swath of the South, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Add now, Hamer said, California has been added to the list.

"The thing about this particular species is that it breeds and travels very well in small warm container environments," with an uncanny ability to adapt and thrive in shifting temperatures, he explained. "And it turns out that humans are really good at providing those spaces. A tire, a flower pot, a bucket, urns at cemeteries. All these are classic holders of stagnant water, which is all they need to hop from one country to another, one state to another."

And so, Hamer noted, "it's been going everywhere. Europe, certain parts of Africa, South America, and now here," where its aggressive mating habits have run roughshod over other local mosquito populations (such as the yellow fever mosquito), essentially replacing one illness-bearing mosquito threat with another.

But has the Asian tiger mosquito's troublesome potential really lived up to its hype?

"I would say that for the moment, while the concern is real and we should be paying a lot of attention to this particular mosquito, so far it doesn't seem to be playing a major pathogen-spreading role in the U.S.," Hamer suggested.

"Chikungunya hasn't come to the U.S. yet, and that's comforting. At the same time, this is a very aggressive mosquito that feeds during the day, rather than from dusk to dawn, which is different from the way West Nile virus was spread, by a mosquito that fed at night. So we're talking about the need for a kind of all-day vigilance against getting bitten that the American public is not really familiar with," he pointed out.

"So the bottom line is that if chikungunya does show up, this mosquito could be the vector for it," Hamer said. "And that means it's important that we have protective virus surveillance up and running throughout the country, which we already do. So that once things show up we can react quickly."

But as experts watch and wait, what can people do to protect themselves?

According to Ruiz-Moreno: "The best strategy is to reduce exposure to potentially infective mosquitoes, either by avoiding contact or reducing mosquito population in the wild. At home, we recommend removing all sources of standing water. And when going outside we need to wear insect repellent and cover up with long sleeves and pants to avoid mosquito bites."

More information

For more on the Asian tiger mosquito, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Women with drinking problems seek treatment an average of four to five years earlier than men with drinking problems, a new study reveals.

Researchers collected information from 274 men and 257 women in substance abuse treatment facilities and found that women sought treatment after about 10 years of having a drinking problem, compared with about 15 years for men.

In addition, the investigators found that women start drinking regularly around the same age as men -- average age was 19 for women and 18 for men -- and that self-reported drinking problems begin in the early 20s for both women and men.

The findings were released online Aug. 9 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Historically, alcoholism has been considered a 'male disease' due to its markedly higher prevalence among men," study corresponding author Ben Lewis, a postdoctoral associate in the psychiatry department at the University of Florida, said in a journal news release. "More recently it has been recognized that while men may have a higher prevalence, women may be uniquely vulnerable to negative consequences of chronic drinking."

While the study did not determine why women seek treatment sooner than men, the fact that they do so is important information for doctors and other health care providers, said Rosemary Fama, senior research scientist and senior research neuropsychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine and SRI International, in the news release. She was not involved in the study.

Fama suggested that women may attach less social stigma to drinking problems than men and may be more willing to admit that they have a drinking problem and need professional help to deal with it.

"The bottom line is that hopefully these results will raise awareness concerning the restricted time window between alcohol problems and the development of sufficient negative consequences to prompt seeking treatment among women," study author Lewis said.

"These findings emphasize the need for greater attention to women's issues, determining sex-specific risk factors, as well as identifying subgroups most likely to require treatment. Additionally, there must be a greater awareness of the importance of intervening when alcohol problems are first experienced. If we are able to develop appropriate interventions, we may mitigate the need for inpatient treatment for some of these women," he explained.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol use disorders.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Higher cigarette taxes help reduce drinking among certain groups of people, U.S. researchers say.

To assess the impact that increases in cigarette taxes between 2001-02 and 2004-05 had on drinking behavior, researchers analyzed data from more than 21,000 drinkers who took part in a survey from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The cigarette tax increases were associated with modest to moderate reductions in drinking among "vulnerable groups," according to the study, which was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Results suggest that increases in cigarette taxes were associated with reductions in alcohol consumption over time among male smokers," corresponding author Sherry McKee, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, said in a journal news release. "The protective effects were most pronounced among subgroups who are most at risk for adverse alcohol-related consequences, including male heavy drinkers, young adults and those with the lowest income."

Smoking and heavy drinking occur together at very high rates, McKee said, noting that tobacco can enhance the subjective effects of alcohol and has been shown to increase the risk for heavy and problematic drinking.

Cigarette taxes, meanwhile, have been recognized as one of the most significant policy instruments to reduce smoking, McKee said. "By increasing the price of cigarettes, taxes are thought to encourage smokers to reduce their use of cigarettes or quit altogether, and discourage non-smokers from starting to smoke," she said.

Christopher Kahler, professor and chairman of the department of behavioral and social sciences at Brown School of Public Health, welcomed the new study. "These findings suggest that if states increase taxes on cigarettes, they are not only likely to reduce smoking -- based on a large body of literature -- but they also may have a modest impact on heavy drinking rates among men, those with lower income and those who drink most heavily," he said in the news release.

"In other words, policies that target one specific health behavior may have broader benefits to public health by affecting additional health behaviors that tend to co-occur with the targeted health behavior," he said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol use disorders.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- The dispute over whether playing football raises the risk of developing a degenerative brain disorder has surfaced again with reports on the death of a former Michigan college quarterback and findings from a study involving 500 former NFL players.

A just-released autopsy revealed that Cullen Finnerty, 30, who played for Grand Valley State, died of pneumonia, complicated by the brain disorder known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Michigan's Lake County Sheriff's Office said Thursday, according to a report in USA Today. Finnerty's body was found May 28 in Lake County two days after he went missing from a solo fishing trip, according to news reports.

The progressive condition -- characterized by impulsivity, depression and erratic behavior -- has been reported in athletes who were subjected to repetitive trauma of the brain, including concussions.

But a new study involving interviews with former National Football League players challenges the widely held belief that retired NFL players are at risk for CTE.

Researchers from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., say they found no evidence to support the theory after interviewing more than 500 retired football players over age 50 who played in the NFL for an average of 7.5 years. Their research was published online July 31 in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

"We still do not know if NFL players have an increased risk of late-life neurodegenerative disorders," said researcher Christopher Randolph. "If there is a risk, it probably is not a great risk. And there is essentially no evidence to support the existence of any unique clinical disorder such as CTE."

Based on their interviews, the researchers said 35 percent of the pro-ball players showed signs of mental decline (cognitive impairment). The researchers then compared 41 players with probable mild mental impairment to a group of non-athletes with similar impairment and a group of healthy people.

The mentally impaired retired NFL players had obvious signs of mental decline when compared to the healthy people, the researchers said, but the patterns of their mental impairments were virtually identical to those in non-athletes with mild cognitive impairment.

"The retired NFL players basically look like regular patients who have mild cognitive impairment and have never played football," Randolph said in a Loyola news release.

The rate of possible mental decline in the NFL retirees was higher than the researchers expected, Randolph added. But, he said, "it is important to note that we did not have any controls in that part of the study, so we still do not know whether or not NFL players actually have a higher risk of later-life cognitive impairments than men in the general population."

Experts point out that the only way to diagnose CTE is by autopsy.

In Finnerty's case, a statement from Grand Valley College confirmed that he had suffered one concussion as a college player, but the brain injury was determined to be mild. "He was removed from the game shortly after halftime and did not play again that day. He was thoroughly checked by doctors and was later cleared for play in a subsequent game," the college said, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

After leaving Grand Valley, Finnerty joined the Ravens and then the Broncos but never played in any NFL games.

Finnerty, at the time of his death, had been taking painkillers prescribed for a back injury, according to news reports, and the medical examiner's report said these also probably played a part in his death, USA Today reported.

It's believed Finnerty became incapacitated, and then inhaled vomit, which resulted in pneumonia. The medical examiner said he probably became disoriented, anxious and paranoid from being on his own in the woods while waiting for his family to pick him up, according to USA Today.

The possible link between football-related head injuries and CTE arose again last year after NFL star linebacker Junior Seau killed himself. Experts suspect -- but can't prove -- that CTE may have led Seau to suicide.

After his death, the U.S. National Institutes of Health examined his brain tissue and concluded that the cellular changes that were seen were similar to those found in autopsies of people "with exposure to repetitive head injuries."

CTE was first noticed in boxers who suffered blows to the head over many years. More recently, football players have become the focus of study.

In recent years, concerns about CTE have led high school and college programs to restrict hits to the head, and the NFL prohibits helmet-to-helmet hits.

About 4,000 former NFL players filed a class-action lawsuit last year claiming the league failed to protect players from traumatic brain injuries or warn them about the dangers of concussions. The NFL has said that it never intentionally hid the dangers of concussion from players, and that it is now doing what it can to protect players against concussions. The league has given a $30 million research grant to the U.S. National Institutes of Health for that purpose.

Last December, Boston University School of Medicine researchers reported in the journal Brain that people with CTE experience four specific phases, beginning with memory disruption and thinking problems and ending with aggression.

The Boston researchers said the condition had been diagnosed in 34 former professional players and nine former college football players.

More information

The Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy has more about chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

--Margaret Steele

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Lasers in toys can be dangerous to children and those around them, posing the risk of serious eye injuries and even blindness, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"A beam shone directly into a person's eye can injure it in an instant, especially if the laser is a powerful one," Dan Hewett, health promotion officer at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in an agency news release.

Laser injuries to eyes usually don't hurt, but vision can deteriorate slowly over time. These injuries may go unnoticed for days and even weeks, and could be permanent, Hewett said.

Examples of laser toys include:

  • Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for aiming
  • Spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin
  • Hand-held lasers used during play as lightsabers
  • Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room

The FDA is particularly interested in toys with lasers because it's often children who are hurt by these products. Advertisers promote them as playthings, so parents and kids believe they're safe to use, Hewett said.

In recent years, the power of lasers has increased while prices have fallen, he added.

The FDA offers the following safety tips:

  • Never aim or shine a laser directly at any person or animal. The light energy from a laser aimed into the eye can be dangerous, possibly even more than staring directly into the sun.
  • Do not aim a laser at any reflective surface.
  • Keep in mind that the startling effect of a bright beam of light can cause serious accidents when aimed at a driver in a car or lead to injuries among people doing other activities, such as playing sports.
  • Look for labeling that a laser complies with 21 CFR (the Code of Federal Regulations), Subchapter J. "If you buy a laser toy or pointer and you don't see this information on the labeling, it's best not to make any assumptions about its safety," Hewett said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation outlines how to choose safe toys.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Having friends is healthy for anyone, and young homeless people are no exception.

A new study finds that homeless youths who have same-sex friends and acquaintances with stable housing are less likely to engage in risky sexual activity and are at lower risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Researchers looked at the association between STD rates and the characteristics of the social networks of 258 homeless people, aged 15 to 24, in San Francisco. Compared to males, females were less likely to have sex using condoms and more likely to have sex with intravenous drug users.

The study also found that males were more likely than females to have same-sex friends and to know people with stable housing. When males had people with stable housing in their social network, they were more likely to use condoms. Females were more likely to use condoms when they could name a same-sex friend, according to the study, recently published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"The presence of same-sex friendships and contacts living in stable homes seems to increase condom use," study senior author Dr. Colette Auerswald, an associate adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a university news release.

"Young homeless men seem to name these social network contacts more frequently than do young homeless women. It will be important in future investigations to ask why this happens," she added.

Having family members in their social networks also reduced females' risk of having sex with intravenous drug users. None of the females who had a family member in their social network had a sex partner who was an intravenous drug user, compared with about 26 percent of those without such a family member.

This study shows the importance of reconnecting homeless young men and women to mainstream society, lead author Dr. Annie Valente, who conducted the research while a medical student at UCSF, said in the news release. "It also emphasizes how same-gender friendships and family ties may be effective tools in our efforts to improve the health of homeless youth," she said.

More information

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has more about homeless youth.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Migraine sufferers are more likely than other people to have an incomplete network of arteries that supply blood to the brain, researchers have found.

It was once believed that migraines were caused by dilation of blood vessels in the brain, while more recently it has been attributed to abnormal brain signal activity. This study suggests that blood vessels play a different role than previously suspected.

An incomplete network of arteries may increase a person's susceptibility to changes in brain blood flow, contributing to the abnormal brain signal activity that triggers migraines, according to the University of Pennsylvania researchers.

For the study, the investigators used a special MRI method to measure changes in blood flow in the brain, as well as magnetic resonance angiography to examine blood vessel structure.

"People with migraines actually have differences in the structure of their blood vessels -- this is something you are born with," study lead author Dr. Brett Cucchiara, an associate professor of neurology, said in a university news release.

"These differences seem to be associated with changes in blood flow in the brain, and it's possible that these changes may trigger migraine, which may explain why some people, for instance, notice that dehydration triggers their headaches," Cucchiara said.

The study included 170 people in three groups: those with no headaches, those with migraines with aura and those with migraines without aura. An incomplete network of arteries in the brain was found in 73 percent of people with migraines with aura, 67 percent of people with migraines without aura and 51 percent of those who were headache-free.

Arterial network abnormalities were most common in the back of the brain, where visual images are processed. This may explain why the most common migraine auras consist of visual symptoms such as seeing distortions, wavy lines or spots, the researchers said.

The study was published recently in the journal PLoS One.

Because both migraine headaches and the types of arterial structures seen in the study patients are common, Cucchiara's team noted that the association does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. It is likely that the incomplete network of arteries is just one of many factors that could contribute to migraines, they said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about migraines.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) ---- More than 300 people in 37 states have been sickened to date in a major multistate outbreak of salmonella infection linked to baby poultry, U.S. government health officials reported Friday.

The report showed that 307 people have become infected with Salmonella Typhimurium, and that 60 percent of them were children aged 10 or younger.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a news release, said "Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback findings have linked this outbreak ..... to contact with chicks, ducklings, and other live baby poultry purchased from multiple feed stores and sourced from multiple mail-order hatcheries."

According to the CDC, the number of ill persons identified in each state was: Alabama (1), Arizona (7), California (9), Colorado (37) Florida (5), Georgia (4), Idaho (3), Illinois (1), Indiana (10), Iowa (7), Kansas (15), Kentucky (4), Louisiana (9), Massachusetts (2), Minnesota (3), Mississippi (6), Missouri (18), Montana (2), Nebraska (14), Nevada (1), New Hampshire (1), New Mexico (16), New York (17), North Dakota (5), Oklahoma (15), Oregon (10), South Carolina (1), Tennessee (2), Texas (32), Utah (10), Vermont (1), Washington (19), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (5), and Wyoming (4).

The CDC also said that among the 193 sickened persons with available information, 25 percent have been hospitalized.

The earliest date of reported illness associated with this six-month outbreak was March 4. But efforts to determine the ultimate source of the infected poultry have been challenging because of the complicated distribution network for these birds, the CDC said.

To guard against infection, the agency urged consumers to always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.

More information

For more on salmonella and baby chicks, visit the CDC.

--HealthDay Staff

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Pictures can make a strong impression: People who see images of skin cancer are more likely to do skin examinations, according to a new study.

An evidence review concluded that people who saw pictures of skin cancer were motivated to check their skin more often and accurately. Text descriptions of skin cancer alone were not effective in promoting skin self-examination.

The study was published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

"Visual images capture our attention and are persuasive. They also help us to learn and remember," study co-author Laurie Hoffman-Goetz, a professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, said in a university news release.

The findings could help improve early detection of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma.

"Skin self-examination plays an important role in detecting melanoma early. Many cases of melanoma are first detected by patients themselves," study co-author Jennifer McWhirter, a Ph.D. candidate, said in the news release.

"Incorporating images into clinical practice when educating patients can be a powerful tool in the fight against skin cancer," Hoffman-Goetz added.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in North America, the authors noted in the news release.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about skin cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- A common drug-resistant "superbug" spreads among hospitals through a domino effect, according to a new study.

Researchers found that a moderate increase in vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) at one hospital in Orange County, Calif., led to an average 2.8 percent increase in VRE in other hospitals in the county.

Hospitals in the most populated area of the county were most likely to spread VRE to other hospitals, according to the study, which was published in the August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

VRE is one of the most common types of bacteria that cause infections in health care facilities. There are between 20,000 and 85,000 cases of VRE each year in U.S. hospitals. The antibiotic vancomycin is often used to treat serious infections that resist other drugs.

For the study, researchers created a mathematical and computational model to track the movement of VRE-colonized patients -- who carry the bacteria but are not infected -- between hospitals in the county over one year.

The study authors also identified a potential for what they called "free-riders" -- hospitals that will have decreases in cases of VRE infections without implementing any infection-prevention measures, due to other hospitals' infection-control efforts.

The findings show the importance of communication and collaboration between regional hospitals in reducing VRE rates, the researchers said.

"Our study demonstrates how extensive patient sharing among different hospitals in a single region substantially influences VRE burden in those hospitals," study lead author Dr. Bruce Lee, an associate professor and the director of operations research at the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a journal news release.

"Lowering barriers to cooperation and collaboration among hospitals -- developing regional control programs, coordinating VRE control campaigns and performing regional research studies, for example -- could favorably influence regional VRE prevalence," Lee said.

More information

The National Patient Safety Foundation outlines what you can do to prevent hospital infections.

-- Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Imagine putting on special ultrasound headphones and cheering up when you're feeling blue. Such a device could someday be an option, a new small study suggests.

In the study, the researchers found that ultrasound waves applied to specific areas of the brain seemed to improve people's moods.

"It's like having a martini. It's not a cure, and we're not claiming one exposure will cure your depression, but it can improve mood," said Dr. Stuart Hameroff, lead author of the study and a professor of anesthesiology and psychology at the University of Arizona.

The concept of using ultrasound to improve mood, still in an early experimental stage, could potentially be used to help treat mental and neurological disorders such as depression and traumatic brain injury, Hameroff said. "It's cheap and apparently effective, accessible and safe, once we figure out the parameters," he said, referring to how much ultrasound wattage to use and exactly where to direct it.

Before starting the study, Hameroff tried using ultrasound on himself. He had a colleague put a standard ultrasound device on his right temple for 15 seconds. Immediately afterward, he felt nothing, but within the next hour or two, his mood noticeably improved.

Ultrasound, used medically since the 1920s, penetrates tissue including bone and is widely used to image the inside of the body, such as fetuses, blood vessels and organs. Although the study found that ultrasound can damage cells and tissues at extreme levels of intensity, Hameroff said, almost every part of the body -- including the brain -- has been safely imaged with ultrasound.

For the study, Hameroff and his team tested ultrasound on a group of 31 chronic pain patients. Most suffered from postsurgical back pain and described themselves as depressed. They ranged in age from 29 to 83. Nineteen were women and 12 were men. Fourteen received ultrasound to their temple for 15 seconds, while 17 were given a placebo (an ultrasound device in the "freeze" position), which was not discernible to the participant or the physician.

Participants who received ultrasound reported statistically significant improvements in mood 10 minutes and 40 minutes after the treatment, and a slight improvement in their pain, compared to those who received the placebo.

The study was published recently in the journal Brain Stimulation. And although it showed an apparent association between the use of ultrasound and improved mood, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The researchers aren't sure how ultrasound to the brain improves mood. Hameroff speculated that ultrasound affects the microtubules in the brain -- which regulate the connections between nerve cells -- making the neurons more likely to fire in the areas of the brain associated with mood.

Some experts think the connection between ultrasound treatment and mood makes sense.

"Mood is affected by the brain and affects the brain in a variety of ways, so I can understand the mechanism by which it might work," said Robert Thayer, a professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach. Thayer does research on factors affecting mood.

What is mood? It is a state of feeling, Thayer said. "It's represented in feelings people have and it varies with the time of day and very important variables, including the amount of exercise you've done and food you've eaten," he said.

Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, prescribes transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat depression without drugs, using magnetic resonance imaging to "balance out electrical activity and affect the neurochemistry of the brain."

He said he's intrigued with the potential for using ultrasound to affect the brain, which would allow patients to avoid medications that can have body-wide impact and sometimes tough-to-tolerate side effects.

But Manevitz said he wants to see the use of ultrasound for depression tested with more patients, and would like the researchers to better understand how ultrasound works and what doses would be most effective. "Right now it is all hypothesis," he said.

The researchers are working with Neurotrek, an electro-medical equipment firm in Los Gatos, Calif., to develop a prototype of a wearable device. Hameroff said he has no financial stake in the company.

More information

Learn more about ultrasound from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Highlights: Aug. 9, 2013

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Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Officials Investigating Large Number of Dolphin Deaths

A fast-spreading infection may be attacking dolphin populations on the United States' East Coast, federal wildlife officials report.

At least 124 dead or dying bottlenose dolphins have washed onto beaches since July, according to a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service. Most of the deaths, 64, have occurred off the coast of Virginia, while 26 have been recorded off New Jersey and 18 in New York state waters, The New York Times reported.

The service declared the deaths to be "unusual mortality event," which opens the way for federal funding to help find the cause. Tests on one dolphin carcass revealed possible signs of an infection called morbillivirus, which killed hundreds of East Coast dolphins during a 10-month period in 1987 and 1988.

However, other dolphins found beached in recent weeks had pneumonia, according to news reports. Officials said it could take weeks to determine the cause, if one is found, The Times reported.

Experts said people who find a beached dolphin should not touch it, keep pets away and contact authorities.

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Dogs May Help Improve Ovarian Cancer Detection

Researchers are unleashing dog power in an effort to develop a new way to detect ovarian cancer.

Three dogs are being trained to try to sniff out a signature chemical that indicates the presence of the cancer. If the dogs can pinpoint such a chemical, scientists will try to create an electronic sensor to identify the same chemical, the Associated Press reported.

The dogs are being trained at the University of Pennsylvania's Working Dog Center, using blood and tissue samples donated by ovarian cancer patients.

"Because if the dogs can do it, then the question is, Can our analytical instrumentation do it? We think we can," George Preti, an organic chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, told the AP.

Ovarian cancer is particularly deadly because it's often not discovered until it has reached an advanced stage. More than 20,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year.

Previous research has found that early-stage ovarian cancer alters odorous compounds in the body and that dogs can identify bladder cancer by smelling patients' urine, the AP reported.

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Camels May be Source of Mideast Respiratory Virus: Study

Camels could be the source of a new and deadly respiratory virus centered in the Mideast, according to a new study.

Scientists have been trying to determine the origins of the Mideast respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Some of the patients infected with the virus reported contact with cattle, goats and camels, so the international team of researchers analyzed blood samples from various animals, Time reported.

Antibodies to MERS-CoV were found in blood samples from all 50 camels tested in Oman, which neighbors Saudi Arabia, where the first human cases of the respiratory illness were identified.

The findings were published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

As of last week, a total of 94 people had been infected and 46 people had died from the virus, according to the World Health Organization.

"As new human cases of MERS-CoV continue to emerge, without any clues about the sources of infection except for people who caught it from other patients, these new results suggest that dromedary camels may be one reservoir of the virus that is causing MERS-CoV in humans. Dromedary camels are a popular animal species in the Middle East, where they are used for racing, and also for meat and milk, so there are different types of contact of humans with these animals that could lead to transmission of a virus," the researchers said in a news release, Time reported.

Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Taxing sodas and other sugary beverages won't help reduce obesity because consumers would switch to other high-calorie foods and drinks that aren't taxed, a new study contends.

The researchers came to their conclusion after analyzing data on household food purchases made by Americans in 2006. The findings were published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

"Instituting a sugary-beverage tax may be an appealing public-policy option to curb obesity, but it's not as easy to use taxes to curb obesity as it is with smoking," study lead author Chen Zhen, a research economist at RTI International, said in a journal news release.

"Consumers can simply substitute an untaxed high-calorie food for a taxed one," Zhen said. "And as we know, reducing calories is just one of many ways to promoting healthy eating and reducing nutrition-related chronic disease."

In the United States, about 36 percent of adults and 17 percent of children and teens are obese. A previous RTI study found that medical costs associated with obesity are $147 billion or more per year.

A soda tax has been proposed by public-health advocates who hope higher prices will deter unhealthy food purchases.

Taking another approach to combat obesity, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban the sale of many large-size sweetened drinks, but the effort has been struck down twice, most recently by an appeals court. The higher court ruled that the city's Board of Health did not have authority to approve the soda restrictions. The rule was also flawed by loopholes and exemptions, the court said.

For the current study, the researchers also looked at differences between lower- and higher-income households. Foods and beverages purchased by lower-income families tended to be higher in calories, fat and sodium content than those bought by higher-income families.

"Because lower-income families t