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Health Headlines - February 7

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
U.S. Sleeping Pill Use Growing Rapidly

About 42 million prescriptions for sleeping pills were filled in the United States in 2005, an increase of almost 60 percent since 2000, according to research company IMS Health.

This huge increase worries some experts, who say sleeping pills are being overused without regard to potential problems associated with long-term use or known side effects such as sleep walking and short-term amnesia, The New York Times reported.

There's also concern that prescribing doctors may be ignoring depression and other conditions that can cause sleep problems.

The surge in sleeping pill use by Americans is the result of hectic lifestyles and advertising that promises the drugs offer safe sleep with minimal side effects. About 10 percent of Americans say they regularly have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night, The Times reported.

In the first 11 months of 2005, drug makers spent $298 million on sleeping pill ads in the United States, more than four times the amount spent in all of 2004.

Dangerous Chlamydia Strain Spreading in U.S.

A strain of chlamydia that increases the risk of getting or transmitting HIV appears to be slowly spreading among gay and bisexual men in the United States.

LGV chlamydia has caused a dangerous outbreak in Europe but, until recently, was not usually seen in the United States. So far, there have been only 27 confirmed cases in the country, but health experts say this is probably just a fraction of the actual number of infections, since LGV chlamydia is extremely difficult to diagnose, the Miami Herald reported.

Painful symptoms caused by the infection can be mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome and other illnesses and only a few U.S. clinics and laboratories can test for the illness.

In its early stages, LGV doesn't always cause noticeable symptoms. That means an unknown number of people may unknowingly be infected and spread the disease, along with increased risk of HIV transmission, the Herald reported.

Toxins Found in Newborns' Umbilical Cord Blood

Traces of the Teflon chemical PFOA were found in the umbilical cord blood of 99 percent of 300 newborn babies in a Johns Hopkins study, the Baltimore Sun reported.

PFOA is a suspected cancer-causing agent used in the manufacture of non-stick pans, computer chips, cell phones and numerous other consumer products.

The researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are now studying whether the presence of PFOA has harmed the infants, possibly by interfering with their thyroid glands and hormone levels, the Sun reported.

"It's very clear that PFOA is being released into the environment, and it's pretty much ubiquitous. But we don't know if it's toxic to people at these levels," said Hopkins researcher Dr. Lynn Goldman.

She and her colleagues are conducting the largest independent research project to study the effects of PFOA on newborns, who may be more vulnerable to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The study is supported by the federal and state governments.

"The fact that PFOA can cross the placenta from the mother to child is very troubling, given the fact that this is a chemical that is broadly toxic and linked to birth defects in lab animals, " Jane Houlihan, vice president at the Environmental Working Group, a watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C., told the Sun.

Monitor Kids With Early Cochlear Implants for Meningitis: FDA

Children with an early version of the cochlear implant need to be monitored as long as the hearing devices are in place because there's an increased risk of potentially fatal bacterial meningitis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

The agency said doctors need to monitor these children for signs of bacterial meningitis - an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord - for longer than just two years after the device has been implanted, the Associated Press reported.

In a letter to patients and doctors, the FDA said children fitted with the implants and a small rubber wedge positioner get bacterial meningitis more often than children with implants that don't have the positioner or children with no implants.

Advanced Bionics Corp. was the only company to make cochlear implants with positioners, which are designed to help doctors position the cochlear implant during surgery. These kinds of devices have not been used since July 2002.

The FDA said it's not clear why the positioner increases the risk of meningitis. The agency also said it does not have enough information to recommend surgical removal of cochlear implants with the positioners, the AP reported.

Doctors Should Pay Closer Attention to Children's Bone Health: Report

Children's calcium intake needs to be monitored and they should be encouraged to get exercise to help prevent them from getting broken bones later in life, says an American Academy of Pediatrics report released Monday.

American children older than age 8 don't get enough calcium and that increases their risk for osteoporosis later in life, said the report, which also said there's evidence that fractures may be on the rise among U.S. teens, the Associated Press reported.

"We really should be having more recommendations to pediatricians to think about long-term bone health in kids. This is an excellent first step in doing that," Dr. Craig B. Langman, a pediatric bone expert at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told the AP.

Calcium is needed for bone formation and weight-bearing exercise and sports strengthen bones.

The report recommended that pediatricians screen children for calcium intake and bone health at three points during childhood: at ages 2 to 3 after they've been weaned from formula or breast milk; at ages 8 to 9, before they begin their adolescent growth spurt; and during puberty or their teen years, the time of peak bone mass growth.

Food Fact:
The perfect food?

Here are five good reasons it just might be lentils. 1) Lentils, a fine source of plant protein, don't take hours to cook, unlike other dried beans. 2) Lentils are rich in soluble fiber, which helps control blood cholesterol. 3) Lentils provide some calcium, iron and other trace minerals. 4) Lentils are one of the best sources for folic acid, a B vitamin critical for preventing neural tube defects. 5) Lentils may protect against some types of cancers and lower heart disease risk.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Change the pace.

A few simple steps can make your walking routine a better cardio workout. The trick is to break from your usual pace with bursts of fast walking. For example, walk fast for one minute, then resume your usual speed for the next three minutes. Over time, shorten the slow intervals to two minutes and then one minute.

FAQ of the day:
Why are my hips and thighs so big?

The hormones that maintain a woman's fat reserves for pregnancy and lactation also help determine where fat is stored. Despite what you see in magazines, a so-called "pear" shape is perfectly normal for a healthy woman. In fact, the female distribution of body fat in the hips and thighs has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and breast cancer. Women who tend to have more of a male distribution of body fat, with fat stored around the waist, are at higher risk for these diseases.
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