Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
U.S. drug regulators this week cut the recommended doses of Ambien and other sleep drugs containing zolpidem. They said the current doses could impair driving the next morning for some people. A report on health in wealthy nations cited wide access to guns as one reason for the high rate of U.S. deaths from violence. Health officials reported this week that flu is widespread in 47 states. That's earlier than usual for seasonal flu. Four sisters have settled their suit against Eli Lilly Co. They claimed that their mother's use of the drug DES during pregnancy caused them to have early breast cancer. A poll released this week found that Americans know some health effects of obesity, but not others. A new study found less risk of dementia in people with high blood pressure who have it treated.
This Issue: FDA Cuts Doses for Sleep Medicines Guns Cited in Report on Lower U.S. Life Expectancy Flu Widespread Earlier Than Usual Sisters Settle DES Lawsuit over Breast Cancer Few Realize All of Obesity's Health Effects Blood Pressure Drugs May Cut Dementia Risk
In the News:
FDA Cuts Doses for Sleep Medicines
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week ordered the makers of some sleep aids to reduce recommended doses for the drugs. The decision came after the FDA reviewed recent driving simulation studies. They showed that the drugs remained in some people's bodies enough to affect driving 8 hours later. The new rule applies to sleep aids that contain the drug zolpidem. The drugs include Ambien, Edluar, Zolpimist and others. Problems with driving were seen most often in women. They process the drug more slowly than men. Therefore, the recommended dose for women will be cut in half, from 10 milligrams to 5 milligrams for regular products. Extended-release doses will drop from 12.5 to 6.25 milligrams. The FDA recommends that these doses apply to men, too. However, the changes will not be required for men. The Associated Press wrote about the announcement.
Guns Cited in Report on Lower U.S. Life Expectancy
Widespread access to guns is a major reason that the United States has far more violent deaths than other wealthy nations, a report released this week says. The report came from 2 major health research groups, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. The report looked at overall health and life expectancy of 17 countries. They included Canada, Japan, Australia and most of Western Europe. Life expectancy for U.S. men was 75.6. That was the lowest of all the countries. U.S. women's average, 80.7, was the second lowest for women. The report cited several reasons for the lower U.S. life expectancy. They included less access to health care and more poverty than the other countries. Violence also contributed. The United States has one-third to one-half of all the world's guns that are owned by civilians. It also has about 6 violent deaths for every 100,000 residents. The next closest rate of violent death, in Finland, was about one-third of the U.S. rate. Homicide and suicide accounted for about one-quarter of the years lost for U.S. men. Most U.S. homicides involve guns. The Associated Press wrote about the report.
Flu Widespread Earlier Than Usual
The U.S. flu season has hit early, and it's severe in some places, health officials said this week. Flu is widespread in 47 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. That usually doesn't happen until late January or February, officials said. The type of virus circulating this year also tends to make people sicker than other types. As a result, hospitals from the Rocky Mountains to New England are crowded with flu cases. Boston declared a public health emergency this week. A hospital near Allentown, Pa., set up a tent outside its emergency room to handle the onslaught of cases. Health officials said the season seems severe because last year's was so mild. But it's too early to say whether this will turn out to be a bad year or just average. There are also other viruses circulating that mimic flu and outbreaks of a type of norovirus, often called "stomach flu." Health officials said the flu vaccine is a good match for the viruses that are around this year. But protection is not perfect -- about 62% on average so far, the CDC said. The Associated Press and USA Today wrote about the outbreak.
Sisters Settle DES Lawsuit over Breast Cancer
Four sisters this week settled their lawsuit claiming they got breast cancer because of a drug their mother took while pregnant. It was the first of dozens of pending cases to come to trial. The Melnick sisters, who grew up in Tresckow, Pa., all developed breast cancer in their 40s. They blamed diethylstilbestrol, or DES, a form of synthetic estrogen. They said that their mother, like millions of other women, took the drug while pregnant to prevent miscarriages and other problems. In the 1970s, DES was linked to a rare vaginal cancer in the daughters of women who used it. As a result, it was taken off the market. It was later shown not to prevent miscarriages. DES was not patented and was made by many companies. The Melnick sisters sued Eli Lilly and Co. The trial was held in U.S. District Court in Boston. The settlement was announced on the second day of testimony. Details of the settlement were not revealed. The Associated Press wrote about the case.
Few Realize All of Obesity's Health Effects
About 75% of U.S. adults realize that being overweight or obese is a serious health problem, a new poll shows. And most know that it can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and heart attack. But few are aware of some other health problems linked with obesity, the poll found. About 21% said excess weight increases the risk of high blood pressure. Even smaller numbers linked obesity with arthritis (14%), high cholesterol (12%), depression (11%) and stroke (10%). Only 7% knew about the link between obesity and some forms of cancer. About 5% mentioned respiratory problems, such as sleep apnea. Excess weight increases the risk of all of these conditions. The Associated Press (AP) and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released poll results this week. More than 1,000 adults were surveyed. AP wrote about it.
Blood Pressure Drugs May Cut Dementia Risk
Treating high blood pressure may also decrease the risk of dementia, new research suggests. The study included 774 deceased men who had high blood pressure while alive. Autopsy results showed fewer signs of dementia in the brains of men who had been treated for the condition. They had less brain shrinkage and fewer areas of brain cell death caused by mini-strokes. They also had fewer amyloid plaques and tangles, signs of Alzheimer's disease. Treating high blood pressure can decrease the risk of strokes. But it's unclear why treatment would prevent Alzheimer's disease. Another surprise was that the men treated with beta-blockers had the healthiest looking brains. Beta-blockers are less effective than some other blood pressure medicines. But for those who used them brain damage was about half as severe as that for men who used other treatments. The study was published this week on the website of the American Academy of Neurology. It will be presented at the group's annual conference in March. USA Today wrote about the study.
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