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Health Headlines - August 12

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Specialists Prescribing More OTC Pain Medicines

Specialists are prescribing more over-the-counter pain medications for people who have minor arthritis pain, a new survey of 250 orthopedic surgeons finds.

Seventy percent of specialists polled by Florida Hospital said they now recommended OTC pain drugs most often as a first course of treatment for minor arthritis, the hospital said in a statement. And 82 percent said recent negative news about some prescription pain relievers had had an effect on which medications they recommended.

Some 97 percent of the surgeons surveyed believed OTCs were an effective alternative to prescription pain relievers, the statement said.

When asked to rank the over-the-counter pain medications by brand, the survey found:

58 percent preferred Aleve,
35 percent preferred Advil,
7 percent preferred Tylenol.

In the past year, the arthritis pain prescription drugs Vioxx and Bextra were removed from the market after studies showed that the medicines -- part of a family of drugs known as cox-2 inhibitors -- increased users' risk of heart attack and stroke. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that another cox-2, Celebrex, carry a warning, highlighting the potential health risks.

Users of Suspended Drug Show No Sign of Deadly Disease: Report

Nearly 2,000 people who took the now-suspended multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri in clinical trials have shown no signs of developing the deadly illness that led to the suspension, the drug's makers said.

Irish drugmaker Elan Corp. and the U.S. pharmaceutical firm Biogen Idec Inc. said they are taking "preliminary steps" to resume trials of the drug. Tysabri was withdrawn from U.S. markets in February over concerns that it could cause a rare brain disease called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML).

The companies have acknowledged that three clinical trial participants contracted PML, and two died. One participant who died had MS, and the other fatality was associated with a trial evaluating Tysabri in people with Crohn's disease, a gastrointestinal disorder, according to the Associated Press.

The companies said they had asked more than 2,000 people with MS who had taken the drug during clinical trials to have a neurological exam and an MRI scan for signs of PML. About 91 percent have complied, the companies told the AP.

Medicare Drug Premiums Lower Than Expected

The average premium for the new Medicare drug benefit will be $32.20 a month, about $5 less than previously estimated, the Bush administration said Tuesday.

That lower-than-expected premium for the benefit that starts next January is the result of heated competition between private insurers and should make the benefit more attractive to more people, Medicare officials said.

They also said that the first-year cost to the government for each person who signs up for the drug benefit will be about 14 percent lower than first estimated. The estimated cost will be $1,129 per person instead of $1,310, The New York Times reported.

The cost difference produce billions of dollars of savings to government, according to Health and Human Services secretary Michael O. Leavitt. However, officials won't estimate the total cost savings, which depend on total enrollment along with the cost for each beneficiary.

The cost of the new Medicare drug benefit has been the target of criticism. Liberal Democrats charge that the Bush administration concealed the costs from Congress, while conservative Republicans opposed the expansion of federal entitlement, The Times reported.

The number of people expected to sign up for the new drug benefit has dropped from an earlier estimate of about 39 million people down to 28 to 30 million people, Leavitt said Tuesday.

FDA Delays Lycopene Decision for Fifth Time

For the fifth time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has delayed a decision on a health claim petition on the link between lycopene, found in tomatoes, and a reduced risk of developing certain forms of cancer.

The health claim petition was submitted by San Diego-based American Longevity, which submitted studies to the FDA indicating that consumption of tomatoes, tomato-based products and lycopene supplements may reduce the incidence of prostate, lung and stomach cancers.

The FDA has requested an extension until Oct. 10, 2005. A decision was initially expected on Dec. 24, 2004, but there have been numerous extensions since then. In recent months, the FDA has cited a lack or resources as the reason for seeking extensions in its reviews of a number of other health claim petitions.

"To say that we are disappointed by this fifth request for an extension would be an understatement," Steve Wallach of American Longevity said in a prepared statement. "Every extension further delays our ability to get this important information out to the general public."

Man Dies After Video Game Marathon

A 28-year-old South Korean man apparently died of heart failure stemming from exhaustion after playing video games almost non-stop for 50 hours, police said.

The man, who recently quit his job so that he could spend more time playing video games, went to an Internet cafe in the city of Taegu on August 3 and began playing online battle simulation games, CBC News reported.

Over the next few days, the man only left his spot at the computer to take bathroom breaks or catch short naps on a makeshift bed. When he didn't show up at home, his mother asked some of his former work colleagues to find him.

When the colleagues found the man at the cafe, he told them he'd finish the game and go home. He died a few minutes later.

Groups Ask for Probe of FDA Breast Implant Decision

A number of consumer advocate groups are asking Congress to investigate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's decision to allow the return of silicone gel breast implants, the Associated Press reported.

The National Organization for Women and a dozen other women's and health groups contend that the agency is violating its own safety standards in allowing the implants back on the market. The devices were withdrawn 13 years ago over concerns that they could leak and cause chronic illness.

Last year, the FDA told implant makers to provide long-term data on the implants' durability, and on the consequences of silicone leaking into women's bodies, the wire service said. But when the agency last month OK'd Mentor Corp.'s petition to return the devices to the market, it based its decision on a company study that tracked implant recipients for only three years, the AP added.

The consumer groups also are urging the FDA to release details of its criminal investigation of Mentor in the late 1990s. The FDA closed the probe without taking any action against the company, which has denied that it underreported problems with the implants. An agency spokeswoman said the FDA is working on releasing details of the investigation, the wire service reported.

Health Tip: Stop Teen Smokers Before They Start

The temptation to start smoking cigarettes can be strongest during adolescence. So if you have pre-teens at home, now's the time to steer them away from lighting up.

Here are some suggestions from St. Louis Children's Hospital:

Be a role model by not smoking.
If you do smoke, discuss your struggle to quit with your kids.
Make sure your kids know where you stand on smoking and give reasons for your opinions.
Remind them of the costs.
Many kids smoke to relieve stress or to help deal with awkward situations. Teach them other ways to handle pressure.

Health Tip: Preventing Toenail Fungus

Ugly, discolored toe nails may be a sign of a fungal infection. Besides being embarrassing, untreated fungal infections can spread.

Guard yourself against toenail fungus with these tips from the American Podiatric Medical Association:

Wash your feet regularly with soap and water.
Dry them thoroughly.
Make sure your shoes fit properly.
Wear shower shoes in public areas.
Change socks, hosiery, even shoes, daily.
Clip toenails straight across so the nail doesn't extend past the tip of the toe.
Use a recommended foot powder talcum, not starch.
Wear socks made of synthetic fiber.

Health Tip: Diabetics Prone to Dental Problems

If you have diabetes, you should pay extra attention to oral health. Diabetics are prone to mouth infections, dry mouth, and oral thrush.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research suggests these steps for keeping your mouth healthy:

Control your blood glucose.
Brush and floss daily.
See your dentist regularly, and make sure you tell him or her that you have diabetes.
Tell your dentist if your dentures don't fit properly, or if your gums are sore.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking makes gum disease worse.

Health Tip: Learning to Stretch

Stretching before and after exercising is key to avoiding injury. But the way in which you stretch is just as important.

Montana State University, Northern, offers these safe stretching tips:

Don't stretch a cold muscle. Warm up by walking, jogging, or by taking a warm bath.
Use a static stretch, which is stretching to the point where the muscle feels tight but not painful. Hold for 20 seconds to a minute.
Avoid lunging or bouncing.
Breathe naturally and stay relaxed.
Ease into the stretch slowly and rhythmically.

Food Fact:
Fillet buster.

When trying to decide on the freshest fish, a few simple rules will help end the debate. First, let your nose by your guide. Fresh fish should smell like seawater, not "fishy." Fillets should look moist, not slimy or dried out. Fish has a reputation as "brain food," and while eating it hasn't been shown to actually increase your IQ, it's certainly smart to eat fish often. Fish is a protein with little artery-clogging saturated fat. Lean, white-fleshed fish, such as cod or flounder, has about one gram of fat and 125 calories in a 4-oz. portion.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Write it down.

Stuck in a rut? Reached a plateau? Break the logjam with an activity log! Keeping a fitness journal to track your routine will give you insight into your performance, let you measure your progress and help you set goals.

FAQ of the day:
Why cut back on calories if I have diabetes?

Listen to your doctor. Cutting back on calories will improve your blood sugar, blood cholesterol profile and blood pressure -- classic signifiers of insulin resistance syndrome -- whether or not you lose weight. Even if you are eating only slightly more calories than you are burning each day, you are overloading your system, which is triggering an inherited tendency for Type 2 diabetes. If you continue to take in your current number of calories from middle age on, the imbalance will get worse, and your risk of heart disease will go up.
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