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Health Headlines - December 31

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Accutane Registry Created to Help Prevent Birth Defects

A long-awaited national registry has begun accepting the names of Americans who take the acne-fighting drug Accutane, part of a federal effort to limit its use by pregnant women because the medication has a high risk of birth defects.

Doctors, wholesalers and pharmacies had until Friday to register with the computerized "iPledge" registry if they want to continue prescribing or selling Accutane and any of the three generic versions of the drug, known as isotretinoin. Generic versions are sold as Amnesteem, Claravis or Sotret, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tried for more than 20 years to limit fetal exposure to the drug. The reason: If a woman uses Accutane during pregnancy -- or becomes pregnant within a month of taking the drug -- her baby runs a high risk of brain and heart defects or mental retardation, the AP said.

The drug is prescribed to about 100,000 Americans a month; patients typically take it for five to six months.

To receive the drug, Accutane users must now enroll by telephone at (866) 495-0654 or through the Internet at They also must sign a document that tells them of the drug's risks, which also includes the chance of depression or suicidal thoughts, the AP said.

And women of childbearing age must undergo two pregnancy tests before they can be prescribed the drug, along with a monthly follow-up test before each refill. They also must agree to use two different forms of birth control at the same time or not to have intercourse for one month before starting the drug, during treatment and for one month after treatment has ended, according to the news service.

Company Says FDA Has OK'd its Sodium Treatment Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved an intravenous drug for hospital patients suffering from potentially fatal depressed levels of sodium, the drug's manufacturer said Friday.

Astellas Pharma US Inc. said it would sell the drug, conivaptan hydrochloride, under the brand name Vaprisol, the Associated Press said.

The drug will be used to treat euvolemic hyponatremia, a condition that can occur in hospital patients suffering from syndrome of inappropriate anti-diuretic hormone (SIADH), advanced kidney failure, hypothyroidism, cancer and chronic high blood pressure, according to the Tokyo-based company. Euvolemic hyponatremia occurs when the body retains excessive amounts of water but not sodium, the AP said.

Hyponatremia is typically treated by administering diuretics, saline solution or restricting fluid intake. Vaprisol works by increasing urine output while stemming the loss of electrolytes, including sodium and potassium, the company said.

New Jersey Medical School Agrees to Financial Monitor

The nation's largest medical school, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), has appointed a monitor to oversee its finances amid a federal investigation into whether it committed Medicare and Medicaid fraud, the Associated Press reported.

UMDNJ agreed to the appointment last week after U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie threatened to indict the school and effectively shut it down, the wire service said.

The school's University Hospital has been under investigation for allegedly improperly billing Medicare and Medicaid, and for allegedly awarding millions of dollars in no-bid contracts, the AP said.

UMDNJ has already reimbursed the federal and state governments $2 million for the improper bills, the wire service said.

On Thursday, the school's trustees named Herb Stern, 69, a former federal prosecutor and judge, as its federal monitor. Stern led the grand jury probe into the 1965 killing of civil rights leader Malcolm X, the AP reported.

Women in Labor Should Push Less: Study

The delivery room doctor's traditional mantra to "push, push" is largely unnecessary and may even lead to bladder problems, a new study finds.

Some 320 women were divided into two groups, one of which was coached to push for 10 seconds during contractions, while the other was told to "do what comes naturally," according to a study account by the Chicago Sun-Times. Those who were urged to push ultimately had slightly less bladder capacity and more overactive bladder muscles, the newspaper reported of the study, to be published in January's American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

While the coached women spent an average of 13 fewer minutes in labor, the tradeoff was an increased risk of incontinence, wrote study author Dr. Steven Bloom, interim chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Coaching made no difference in prompting a woman's need for Cesarean section, forceps delivery, or episiotomy, the study found.

Millions of American Teens Depressed, Study Finds

Some 2.2 million teenagers in America experienced at least one major bout with depression in the past year, according to a federal report released Thursday.

Nearly one in 10 adolescents was affected during the past year by a depressive episode lasting at least two weeks, with symptoms including depressed mood, loss of interest, and problems with sleep, energy, concentration and self-image, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) said in issuing the report.

"These new data serve as a wake-up call to parents. Mental health is a critical part of the overall health and wellbeing of their children," SAMHSA Administrator Charles Curie said in a statement. "Unfortunately, less than half of these children received any help for their depression."

Some 12.3 percent of teens ages 16 or 17 suffered a major depressive bout in the last year, compared to 9 percent of those ages 14 or 15 and 5.4 percent of those ages 12 or 13, according to the report, titled "The National Survey on Drug Use and Health."

Affected teens were about twice as likely as other adolescents to have used illicit drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, the report found.

Food Fact:
Snacking is a must!

By changing the way you snack, you may make it easier to lose weight. Eating something every 3 - 4 hours sustains energy, helps build a day's worth of good nutrition, and prevents hunger that may lead to overeating. Stock your desk with the right stuff: Ready-to-eat whole-grain cereal; single-serving microwave popcorn, fruit juices or low-fat pudding; vanilla wafers, fig bars or ginger snaps without hydrogenated oils; instant oatmeal; applesauce; canned fruit (in its own juice).

Fitness Tip of the day:
Pedal to the medal.

Want to tone your lower body, enhance circulation and strengthen your heart today? Ride your bike! Regular cycling also improves your cholesterol profile, lowers your blood pressure, reduces the risk of heart disease and colon cancer, and helps control your weight.

FAQ of the day:
What are the best non-dairy sources of calcium?

If you're looking for good non-dairy sources of calcium, try kale, red kidney beans, figs, almonds, calcium-fortified breads and breakfast cereals, calcium-fortified orange juice, and tofu processed with calcium sulfate.
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