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Entries in Risks (8)

Tuesday
Jul102012

Top Seven Summer Health Risks

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The heat facilitates a great deal of summer fun, but it's also the culprit behind many threats to your health.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, causing more deaths annually than floods, lightning, hurricanes and tornadoes combined.

In 1980, a U.S. heat wave claimed more than 1,200 lives, and about 50,000 Europeans died in a 2003 heat wave. North American tends to have at least one heat wave each summer, according to NOAA.

A number of other health issues come with the summer heat. While not all are necessarily fatal, in many cases they are serious enough to send you scrambling for a remedy.

Here's how to avoid and treat seven common summer heat ailments:

Swimmer's Ear
When you get out of the pool this summer, make sure not to let any water stay behind in your ears. Swimmer's ear -- an infection of the ear canal --  most often develops with the help of water, which facilitates the growth of bacteria. The infection can be extremely painful and disfiguring, but it is eminently avoidable, says Dr. Iyad Saidi, an otolaryngologist at Metropolitan ENT in Alexandria, Va. Use a towel, not a Q-tip, he says, and treat the infection with antibiotic drops and by cleaning the ear canal. "The most important thing is to make sure all the water comes out," Saidi says.

Sunburn
As many have learned the hard way in this scorching summer, sunburns do not only strike at the beach. In fact, many are vulnerable to sunburns even when the sun is hidden behind clouds, partly because of the common misconception that clouds provide enough protection from the sun's rays. "I see the worst burns on cloudy days," says Dr. Doris Day, a professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. Day advocates the daily use of sunscreen — lots of it. Cover every inch of skin that will be exposed to the sun, she says, and use enough to make the most of your lotion's SPF rating. If you do get sunburn, get to some shade as quickly as possible, she says. Take a lukewarm bath, with whole milk mixed in if desired, and cool off.

Heat Rashes
The people most at risk for sunburn are also most vulnerable to heat rashes, which emerge when heat irritates the skin, particularly around body folds. The result looks much like hives, but this is no allergic reaction. To treat heat rashes, Dr. Day recommends using powder to absorb extra moisture — though not corn starch — and staying in the air-conditioned indoors.

Tick and Mosquito Bites
Camping trips are not the only times to worry about bug bites. Lyme disease-carrying ticks exist in all 50 states, and not only in wooded areas, says Dr. Day. The most troubling part: only half of people who contract Lyme get the telltale rash associated with it. Others get symptoms like headaches, but the disease remains under-recognized and under-treated, according to Day. If untreated long enough, the disease can become debilitating. Mosquitoes also pose an increased threat as the amount of clothing covering people's skin decreases. Among the mosquito-borne dangers to watch out for is the West Nile virus, Day says. While insect repellant is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal, she says, beware that mosquitoes may develop resistance to them. And be sure to check your body for ticks after you come in from the outdoors.

Grill Burns
Most Americans dusting off their grills this summer do not suspect that they are inviting any dangers. But grill burns tend to happen suddenly — in a rush to save the burgers from burning, for instance. If you are burned, do not apply ice to the burn, says Dr. Day. Doing so might result in an "ice pack burn." Cortisone and aloe work to soothe the inflammation, with the latter also serving as an anesthetic to quell the pain. Honey may also help, Day says. If the burn is deep and painful, head to the emergency room for proper wound care. The key, Day says, is caution and preparedness. Even if you're in a hurry, take care to avoid touching the grill, and make sure you have a cooking glove nearby at all times.

Jellyfish Stings
If you are stung by a jellyfish at the beach this summer, vinegar or urine should do the trick, right? Wrong, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Those two acidic liquids do not work nearly as effectively as hot water and painkillers, the study said. In particular, the study recommended painkillers containing lidocaine, which appears to inhibit the poison sacs left behind by jellyfish from spreading their venom. Hot water helps to denature the sacs. The trick, according to the study, is to avoid rupturing the sac, as may easily happen in an attempt to wipe the affected area off with a towel.

Food-Borne Illnesses
The heat is also a culprit in the rise of food-borne illnesses during the summer. Of course, industrial and agricultural mishaps account for outbreaks of food-borne illnesses throughout the year, but the hot temperatures allow bacteria to thrive, making food more vulnerable to contamination, says Dr. Jeff Bender, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota. There are three main steps consumers should take to avoid food-borne bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter, Bender says: prevent cross-contamination (for example, allowing meat juice to come into contact with food that will not be cooked), refrigerate foods appropriately, and cook meats thoroughly. A meat thermometer is a great help for the last step, Bender says. The symptom common to infections by all three of the above bacteria is diarrhea. If diarrhea persists for three days or longer, or if you develop a fever, Bender recommends a hospital visit.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May172012

FDA Investigating Z-Pak Antibiotic Linked to Heart Risks

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating the antibiotic azithromycin, commonly known as Z-Pak, after a study linked the drug to an increased risk of death.

The study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found patients prescribed Z-Pak were more likely to die than those prescribed amoxicillin, another antibiotic. The results were especially pronounced for those who died of heart attacks, strokes, sudden cardiac death and other cardiovascular causes.

Last year, doctors wrote 55.3 million prescriptions for Z-Pak, according to IMS Health. Like the popular antibiotic amoxicillin, azithromycin is commonly prescribed to help fight off bacterial infections. But while they are often prescribed for similar conditions, the two drugs work differently from each other.

Wayne Ray, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University and lead author of the study, says he believes many doctors prescribe azithromycin instead of amoxicillin because of its easier regimen; patients on azithromycin take fewer pills over fewer days, which means they are more likely to finish their entire course of medicine. Finishing the entire course not only leads to more effective treatment, but it also lessens the risk of the patient developing a drug-resistant bug.

But, Ray says of azithromycin, “the risk of death may outweigh convenience and compliance, at least for high-risk patients.”

These high-risk patients would seem to be those who have certain types of cardiovascular disease. Some doctors have suggested that azithromycin may cause irregular heartbeats known as arrhythmias, which in some people can lead to death. In Ray’s study, which looked at Medicaid patients from 1992 to 2006 and analyzed millions of prescriptions, he and his colleagues found that patients on azithromycin had two and a half times the odds of dying from a cardiovascular cause while taking their medication than did patients on amoxicillin. The gap was widest when looking at the 10 percent of patients with the worst cardiovascular disease.

The study couldn’t tease out which patients were on azithromycin because they had allergies to amoxicillin.

Cardiologist Leonard Ilkhanoff, director of the Inherited Arrhythmia Program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says that while it’s impossible to know what precisely is causing the increased risk of death, the study is very interesting. But he cautions that patients on azithromycin should not panic.

The FDA currently recommends that patients taking azithromycin continue to take the drug.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May172012

Coffee Drinkers Have Lower Risk of Some Conditions, Study Shows

Gerald Zanetti/FoodPix(NEW YORK) -- Hey, coffee lovers, here's another reason to defend that java habit you just can't kick. A study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found that coffee drinkers are less likely to die from several common health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, accidents and infections, than non-coffee drinkers are.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute conducted an observational study from data that included 400,000 adults ages 50 to 71. People who drank three or more cups of coffee per day had a 10-percent lower risk of death from the aforementioned conditions than the non-coffee drinkers.

"Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in America, but the association between coffee consumption and risk of death has been unclear," Neal Freedman, lead author of the study and an investigator in the National Cancer Institute's division of cancer epidemiology and genetics, said in a statement.

"We found coffee consumption to be associated with lower risk of death overall, and of death from a number of different causes,'' he said. "Although we cannot infer a causal relationship between coffee drinking and lower risk of death, we believe these results do provide some reassurance that coffee drinking does not adversely affect health."

And it may not be caffeine that is the protective ingredient. Those who drank caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee had similar health results, which suggests there is some other component in the coffee, not the caffeine, that plays a role in protecting one's health.

Several studies have found that coffee reduces the risk of several other medical conditions, including stroke, depression, dementia and several other cancers.

More than half of American adults drink some form of coffee each day, according to the National Coffee Association, and caffeine is the most frequently consumed stimulant in the world.

Despite the promising benefits, Dr. Cheryl Williams, a registered dietician with the Emory Heart & Vascular Center in Atlanta, said she would advise patients that coffee does indeed contain properties that may promote health, but it also has properties that can negatively affect health. Caffeine can raise blood pressure, she said, and boiled coffee lipids may increase already-high blood cholesterol.

"Overall, more research needs to be done to truly understand the compounds in coffee and their biological activity and effect on health," said Williams.

Drinking coffee is "fine," said Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

"It can be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle and may even contribute to such a lifestyle," said Ayoob. "I wouldn't want it to push out nutritious foods, but in and of itself, there is no reason to suggest that drinking coffee is negative, and it may be beneficial."

The study authors did note that coffee drinking was also associated with smoking, poor diets and alcohol consumption, but Ayoob noted that this doesn't necessarily mean coffee is bad for your health like some of the others.

"You're picking up on a long-term lifestyle, for better or worse," said Ayoob. "[But] just because coffee drinking accompanies smoking, inactivity, etc. doesn't mean it's bad, it means coffee is hanging around some bad company."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May162012

Z-Pak Antibiotic Raises Death Risk for Some, Says Study

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- Patients prescribed the antibiotic azithromycin are more likely to die than those prescribed a different antibiotic, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday. These results were especially pronounced for those who died from heart attacks, strokes, sudden cardiac death and other cardiovascular causes.

Azithromycin, commonly known by the trade name Z-Pak, is prescribed to almost 50 million Americans every year. Like the popular antibiotic amoxicillin, azithromycin is commonly prescribed to help fight off bacterial infections. But while they are often prescribed for similar conditions, the two drugs work differently from one another.

Wayne Ray, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., and lead author of the study, says he thinks many doctors prescribe azithromycin instead of amoxicillin because of its easier regimen; patients on azithromycin take fewer pills over fewer days, which means they are more likely to finish their entire course of medicine. Finishing the entire course not only leads to more effective treatment, but it also lessens the risk of the patient developing a drug-resistant bug.

But, Ray says of azithromycin, “the risk of death may outweigh convenience and compliance, at least for high-risk patients.”

These high-risk patients would seem to be those who have certain types of cardiovascular disease. Some doctors have suggested that azithromycin may cause irregular heartbeats known as arrhythmias, which in some people can lead to death. In Ray’s study, which looked at Medicaid patients from 1992 to 2006 and analyzed millions of prescriptions, he and his colleagues found that patients on azithromycin had two and a half times the odds of dying from a cardiovascular cause while taking their medication than did patients on amoxicillin. The gap was widest when looking at the 10 percent of patients with the worst cardiovascular disease.

The study wasn’t able to tease out which patients were on azithromycin because they had allergies to amoxicillin.

Cardiologist Leonard Ilkhanoff, director of the Inherited Arrhythmia Program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago, says that while it’s impossible to know what precisely is causing the increased risk of death, the study is very interesting. But he cautions that patients on azithromycin should not panic.

“Patients shouldn’t be thinking, ‘If I’m on azithromycin, I’m going to die,’” he says, adding that sometimes azithromycin really is the proper antibiotic for a patient.

“It’s appropriate, though, to discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May082012

Elderly Women with Common Heart Condition at Higher Risk for Stroke

Pixland/Thinkstock(MONTREAL) -- Elderly women diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a common type of irregular heartbeat, are at higher risk of stroke than elderly men with the same heart condition, regardless of the use of a common blood thinner to prevent strokes, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

People with AF have a much higher risk of stroke compared to the general population, but it's still unclear why older women with the condition are more likely to suffer a stroke, the authors wrote. One factor, they suggested, could be that women with atrial fibrillation may need to take more warfarin.

Canadian researchers compared patterns of warfarin use and later stroke incidence between more than 80,000 men and women 65 and older who were admitted to a hospital with atrial fibrillation.

Both men and women stuck to their prescribed warfarin regimen well, but stroke rates were significantly higher in women even though they were more likely to fill prescriptions for warfarin. Women who had stroke were also more likely to be 75 or older.

"Thus, women older than 75 years represent the most important target population in patients with AF, and the effectiveness of novel anticoagulants in this population in real-world practice will need to be closely monitored," wrote the authors, led by Meytal Avgil Tsadok of McGill University Health Center in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Preventing stroke using blood thinners can be effective, but doctors say it does carry serious risks.

"About 65 to 70 percent of strokes can be prevented using warfarin, but any anticoagulant presents a bleeding risk," said Dr. James O'Keefe, a cardiologist and clinical researcher at Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo. O'Keefe was not involved in the study.

"The decision to give patients with a-fib blood thinners is a balancing act," said Dr. Lawrence Phillips, an assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. "We have to carefully weigh the risk of getting a stroke against the risk of bleeding." Phillips was also not involved with the study.

While stressing the relationship between warfarin dosage and increased stroke hasn't been firmly established, the authors believe the study suggests older women's stroke risk may need to be addressed differently.

"These results suggest that current anticoagulant therapy to prevent stroke might not be sufficient for older women, and new strategies are needed to further reduce stroke risk in women with AF," they wrote.

"I think that the more research that comes out that talks about higher stroke risk in women, the more we're going to think about being aggressive in treating them with blood thinners," said Phillips.

There are newer blood thinners available now, and O'Keefe said these could someday be used in place of warfarin to prevent strokes.

"This is a very dynamic area. We don't really understand why older women have a higher risk of stroke than older men. We also don't know if these newer agents -- Pradaxa and Xarelto -- might be more effective."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar062012

Cancer Risk Among Women Taking Contraceptives Measured in Study

Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(JOHANNESBURG) -- Women who have used injectable or oral birth control in the past are at a significantly higher relative risk of invasive breast cancer, but they are at significantly lower risk of ovarian cancer, according to a new study based on black women in South Africa. As more time passed after a woman stopped using the contraceptives, her increased risk diminished.

The study, published in PLoS Medicine, pulled self-reported data from 5,702 participants with newly diagnosed invasive breast, cervical, ovarian or endometrial cancers.  There were 1,492 women in the study who served as controls. They had other types of cancers, including colon, rectal and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which are not influenced by contraceptive use.

Among the participants, 26 percent of women had used injectable hormones and 20 percent had used pills. After adjusting for confounding factors, including age, education, smoking and number of sexual partners, researchers found women were 1.7 times more likely to develop breast cancer and 1.4 times more likely to get cervical cancer than women who had never taken the contraceptives.

About 50 percent of women with breast cancer had used oral or injectable contraceptives whereas 26 percent of women with ovarian cancer had used the contraceptives and 17 percent with endometrial cancer had used them.

In women who had used birth control pills or injectable contraceptives, the cancer risk diminished with time after a woman’s last use of the birth control, the authors wrote.

Injectable contraceptives are very common among black women in South Africa, the authors noted. In the U.S., birth control pills are a more commonly used form of female contraceptive.

Hormone medications are among the most commonly prescribed and taken medications in the world. About nine percent of women ages 15 to 49 took oral contraceptive pills and four percent used injectable contraceptives or implants in 2007, according to a 2009 United Nations report. Combined injectable contraceptives provide a monthly dose of hormones to prevent pregnancy in the same way that oral contraceptives do. Brand names include Cyclofem and Novafem.

But despite the numbers, Dr. Diane Harper, director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at University of Missouri -Kansas City, said women should not necessarily be deterred from using oral or injectable hormones, in South Africa or anywhere else.

The authors of the study in South Africa did not return ABC News’ requests for comment.

“The very large benefit of contraceptives for women of reproductive age in preventing maternal deaths due to childbearing are largely overlooked by this study,” said Harper. "Any increased risk of breast or cervical cancer due to short-term use of contraceptives must be weighed by the quality of the data coming from the self-reports, by the large number of deaths prevented during childbearing, and by the multiple factors in addition to hormone exposure that play into pre-menopausal versus post-menopausal breast cancer and cervical [cancer].”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Feb022012

Death After Home Birth Raises Questions

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Before hospitals became the go-to places for giving birth, having a baby at home was considered the norm. Now, with celebrities including Giselle Bundchen and Jennifer Connelly publicly announcing they opted for a home birth, the method is increasingly becoming more popular.

Recent studies show that home births are up 20 percent. But even with this renewed interest, less than one percent of babies in the United States are born at home.

However, the death of a respected home birth advocate in Australia as she herself gave birth at home resurrects the question of how safe home births are.

Caroline Lovell, 36, once advocated for midwife funding and legal protection in Australia. But in January, Lovell died of a heart attack just one day after giving birth at home to her second daughter, Zahra, the Australian newspaper Herald Sun reported.

One of the main appeals of home birth is the woman’s comfort from being in her own surroundings, according to Brad Imler, president of the American Pregnancy Association.

“The families that tend to elect home birth favor a natural birth,” said Imler.

The report sparked a burst of comments among mothers and mothers-to-be on online chat boards -- some of whom strayed further from the idea.

“Just one reason why I would never feel comfortable planning a home birth,” one mother commented on the online community BabyCenter.com “Nothing against those that choose to, but this is too scary to convince me.”

Imler said that he found cardiac arrest an extremely uncommon complication, and it should not be attributed to the fact that Lovell had a home birth.

“Having birth at home or at a hospital does not trigger the heart attack itself,” said Imler. “We don’t really know that the home birth brought it on.”

A majority of mothers who commented on BabyCenter.com agreed.

“Things can go wrong in childbirth regardless of where you give birth,” one mother wrote.

But the difference between home birth and hospital birth lies in having quick access to care should an unforeseen complication emerge.

“The question would be: Had she been in the hospital, would there have been ample time to resuscitate and save her life?” said Imler.

The American Pregnancy Association doesn’t advocate a mother choose one birthing method over another, as long as a mother is educated about the risks and benefits. The Lovell case certainly doesn’t change its stance.

However, Imler said, there are many women who choose birthing centers that try to recreate the full home birth feel but are more medically equipped with staff and services.

“Labor and delivery is not a condition, and that tends to be one of the connotations of the hospital,” said Imler.

Many hospital maternity wards are starting to provide a more comforting feel to the birthing process.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), hospitals and birthing centers are the safest places to have a baby.

Evidence suggests home births carry a two- to three-fold increased risk of newborn death compared to planned hospital births, ACOG said in a public statement.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct202011

Women Drivers at Greater Risk in Car Crashes, Says Study

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new report by the American Journal of Public Health finds that female drivers are at a greater risk of injury or death when involved in car crashes, because seat belts and other life-saving devices installed in cars are not designed for their bodies.

The report said that on average, women are shorter, lighter, tend to sit in different positions and drive newer passenger cars when compared with men. Because of these factors, the odds of a woman sustaining an injury while wearing a seat belt were 47 percent higher than for men wearing seatbelts.

One reason safety systems are designed more for the male population is that men are three times more likely to be involved in a car crash that leads to serious or fatal injuries. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in female drivers getting into these types of accidents.

Although Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety says that the study had the right concept, it doesn’t apply to today’s vehicles. The researchers focused on crashes (and cars) between 1998 and 2008. All of the cars used in the study were an average of six years old.

“The average life of a car is around 12 years,” said Ditlow. “The study would have a lot more value if it were limited to 2000 and later model year vehicles to make sure all vehicles had female friendly airbags,” he said. Since new 2012 models are coming out now, some of the cars used in the study are almost 20 years old.

“There wasn’t even a dynamic side impact test standard in effect in 1992,” said Ditlow.

Ditlow also said that while the study did highlight the disparity between the risks for male and female drivers, that’s something the government and industry have been working on over the past three decades.

The authors of the study said in a statement that “female motor vehicle drivers today may not be as safe as their male counterparts; therefore, the relative higher vulnerability of female drivers…when exposed to moderate and serious crashes must be taken into account.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 







ABC News Radio