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Health Headlines - January 13

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Drug Doubles Risk of Premature Birth: Study

The antibiotic metronidazole -- prescribed to pregnant women at risk of premature birth -- actually doubled the risk of pre-term delivery, a British study of 900 women found.

The women, all at risk of pre-term birth, were recruited for the study when they were between 23 weeks and 24 weeks pregnant. They were divided into two groups. One group received a week's course of metronidazole while the other group was given a placebo, BBC News reported.

The study found that 62 percent of the women who took the drug had a pre-term delivery, compared to 39 percent of the women in the placebo group. The findings appear in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

"Clinicians and high-risk pregnant women should be aware of this research outcome so that we can avoid the escalation of pre-term birth and, in turn, save more babies' lives," said study author Andrew Sherman, professor of obstetrics for the baby charity Tommy's.

However, Dr. Jim Kennedy, of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors and patients need to carefully consider both the risks and benefits of the drug.

"The drug also reduces the risk of infection, so if a woman is at 35 weeks or so you have to consider whether the risk of an earlier birth is worse than protecting the baby against infection," Kennedy told BBC News.

Metronidazole is prescribed for a condition called bacterial vaginosis, an infection linked with increased risk of pre-term delivery.

FDA Warns About Brazilian Weight-Loss Drugs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to use two unapproved Brazilian drug products that are marketed as dietary supplements for weight loss.

Emagrece Sim Dietary Supplement, also known as the Brazilian Diet Pill, and Herbathin Dietary Supplement may contain several ingredients found in prescription drugs that could lead to serious side effects or injury, the agency said.

Emagrece Sim and Herbathin are labeled as "dietary supplements," but they contain prescription drugs, including several controlled substances that, if not used properly as prescribed by a physician, can be harmful. They contain chlordiazepoxide HCl (the active ingredient in Librium), and fluoxetine HCl (the active ingredient in Prozac). These drugs should only be taken by patients under the supervision of a health-care provider, the FDA said.

Emagrece Sim and Herbathin were also found to contain Fenproporex, a stimulant not approved for sale in the United States. Fenproporex is converted in the body to amphetamine, and has been noted to show up in urine tests as a positive test for amphetamines, the agency said.

The FDA urges consumers, health-care providers, and caregivers to stop using the drugs, dispose of them, and report any adverse effects to MedWatch, the FDA's voluntary reporting program, at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Science Retracts Stem Cell Papers

The journal Science announced Friday that it has unconditionally retracted two published papers by disgraced South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-Suk.

The retraction is based on a final report by an academic panel at Seoul National University (SNU), which concluded that Hwang's claims of extracting stem cells from cloned human embryos were faked.

"Because the final report of the SNU investigation indicated that a significant amount of the data presented in both papers is fabricated, the editors of Science feel that an immediate and unconditional retraction of both papers is needed. We therefore retract these two papers and advise the scientific community that the results reported in them are deemed to be invalid," the editorial retraction said.

One paper was published in 2004 and another in 2005.

On Thursday, Hwang apologized but insisted that junior researchers were really to blame for fake findings. He said the human embryonic stem cell research was doctored without his knowledge and called for an investigation into the matter.

The research had been hailed as a breakthrough and gave hope to millions of people with incurable diseases.

On Wednesday, the president of Seoul National University apologized for the scandal, calling it a "blemish on the whole scientific community, as well as our country" and a "criminal act in academia."

More States Take Steps Over Medicare Drug Plan Problems

Three more states -- Arkansas, California and Illinois -- are the latest to take emergency action to help people who are having trouble getting prescriptions filled under the new U.S. Medicare drug program.

California will cover the cost of drugs for seniors and the disabled for the next two weeks, while Arkansas said it will provide short-term aid to pharmacies to help them fill prescriptions, the Associated Press reported.

Illinois has sent notices to pharmacists telling them where to phone if Medicare patients can't get their drug prescriptions filled. If the issue can't be solved over the phone, the pharmacists will be able to bill the state for the cost of the drugs.

Rhode Island said it also plans to launch an emergency program to help Medicare beneficiaries obtain their medicines, the AP reported.

The problems include people who've enrolled in plans but aren't listed as participants when pharmacists check the Medicare computer records. Other people who should be paying only a deductible of a few dollars per prescription are listed as having a $250 deductible.

Earlier this week, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont all announced plans to help people having trouble getting prescription drugs through the new Medicare program.

Sharon's Failure to Regain Consciousness Worries Doctors

Israeli doctors are increasingly concerned about Prime Minster Ariel Sharon's failure to regain consciousness after his sedation was eased, the Associated Press reported.

Sharon, 77, was still comatose and in critical condition Friday, nine days after he suffered a massive stroke on Jan. 4. He shows no signs of waking up from an induced coma, Hadassah Hospital officials said.

However, there's no firm timeline for when Sharon should open his eyes. "This is something that differs from one patient to another," hospital spokesman Ron Krumer told the AP.

Sharon was put in an induced coma following the stroke. In recent days, his doctors have gradually reduced the amount of sedatives that kept him in the coma.

Sharon will undergo another neurological evaluation Friday. This will include checks on his blood pressure and intracranial pressure, as well as his reaction to pain stimulation, the news service reported.

Health Tip: Do You Have a Drinking Problem?

While you may see yourself as a social drinker, friends and relatives have hinted that your alcohol consumption is excessive.

Find out if you could have a drinking problem by asking yourself these questions, courtesy of the University of Washington:

Do I drink alone when I feel angry or sad?
Does drinking ever make me late for work?
Does drinking worry my family?
Do I ever drink after telling myself I won't.
Do I ever forget what I did while I was drinking.
Do I get headaches or have a hangover after I've been drinking.
If you've answered yes to any of these questions, you should consider getting help for your drinking behavior.

Health Tip: Take Care of Your Eyes

As you age, some eye problems, such as farsightedness, dry eyes and tearing, become more common.

You can help prevent problems later in life by taking good care of your eyes when you're younger.

The U.S. Army Medical Department suggests you:

Avoid overexposure to sunlight. Wear sunglasses that screen out ultraviolet rays.
Wear goggles or protective glasses when you are exposed to strong chemicals, operating power tools or playing racquet sports.
Have your vision checked every two years if you wear glasses, every five years if you don't.
Always wash your hands before touching your eyes, and don't rub your eyes.
Eat fruit and vegetables that contain beta-carotene or vitamin C.
Avoid frequent use of over-the-counter eye drops. They may irritate the eye and cause allergic reactions.

Food Fact:
Fish: Good fat vs. bad.

In seafood, it's key to know which fat can help your heart -- and which can hurt it. The fat in seafood is the kind you want to eat -- even in a low-fat diet. A "fatty" fish still has less fat than the "leanest" red meat. Better yet, the fat in fish helps prevent heart attacks. For maximum benefit, resist the urge to cook your seafood in butter, or ordering it fried out -- almost all oils used for commercial frying contain artery-clogging fats. Cook seafood at home with small amounts of canola or olive oil -- or no added fat.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Lift your spirits.

Feeling stressed going back to work? No one else will notice this yoga exercise in the elevator -- but it'll keep you from the panic button. Rest your right hand on the elevator wall for balance and stand on your right foot. Cross your left leg over your right shin, but don't let your foot touch the ground. Take a few deep breaths.

FAQ of the day:
Are fish-oil pills better for me than eating fish?

While fish-oil pills contain the same heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as seafood, they also add fat and calories to your diet, which may defeat the purpose. When you eat fish or shellfish, it often means you're not eating high-fat foods, such as burgers, you might otherwise have chosen at that meal. If you can't stand fish and want to explore taking a fish-oil supplement, check with your doctor first.
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