Personal Health: News and Notes

Posted: August 13, 2012

Health coverage makes a difference in surviving heart attacks and stroke

Health insurance, not a patient's race, is a better predictor of who will survive heart attacks and strokes, according to researchers at the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Those who did not have coverage were more likely to die in the hospital, even after accounting for race and socioeconomic factors, their study found.

The study, published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, looked at 13,000 patients from three Maryland hospitals treating patients of all income levels. Uninsured patients had a 31 percent higher risk of early death after a heart attack and a 50 percent higher risk after atherosclerosis than those with private insurance.

"Our findings suggested that a lack of health insurance, or being under-insured, is a major cause of insufficient treatment and subsequent premature death," said Derek Ng, lead author of the study and graduate student in the department of epidemiology, in a statement.

- Baltimore Sun

U.S. kids still struggle with obesity, but at least their cholesterol levels are dropping

Finally some good news about cholesterol and kids: A big government study shows that in the last decade, the proportion of children who have high cholesterol has fallen. The results are surprising, given that the childhood obesity rate didn't budge.

Some experts think that while most kids may not be eating less or exercising more, they may be getting fewer trans fats. That's because the artery-clogging ingredient has been removed or reduced in many processed or fried foods such as doughnuts, cookies, and french fries.

The research, released online Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association, also showed that children's average overall cholesterol levels declined slightly.

Too much cholesterol in the blood raises the risk of heart disease. It isn't usually an immediate threat for most children, but those who have the problem often grow into adults with a high risk.

Last year, a government-appointed panel urged widespread cholesterol screening for children. It was controversial because of concerns it would lead to more kids being given medicine. Experts say cholesterol-lowering statins, commonly prescribed for adults, should be used in only the worst childhood cases - less than 1 percent.

- Associated Press

Fainting may have a genetic element, according to a recent study of twins

If catching sight of blood or standing all day makes you woozy enough to black out, your genes are partly to blame. Fainting, like dimples and dyslexia, can run in the family, a new study of twins shows.

Fainting is fairly common - nearly one in four people experience it at least once during a lifetime. The study, reported Tuesday in the journal Neurology, found that pairs of identical twins were much more likely to experience fainting than were pairs of fraternal twins.

Since identical twins have essentially the same genes, and fraternal twins share only 50 percent of their genes on average, this makes a strong case that fainting is partly genetic.

The researchers don't think the tendency to faint is controlled by a single "fainting" gene, however. The study authors say the reasons for fainting probably span a spectrum from mostly genetic to mostly environmental, depending on the individual.

- Los Angeles Times

Existing drug promotes mental functioning in adults at risk of Alzheimer's disease

Taking a drug that spurs human growth hormone production improved mental functioning in both healthy older adults and those with mild cognitive impairment, a study has found.

The healthy adults given Theratechnologies Inc.'s Egrifta had executive function improvements that were more than 100 percent greater than those in a placebo group, said Laura Baker, lead author of the study in the Archives of Neurology. Verbal memory improvements were 50 percent greater, she said.

The growth hormone is released from the brain and stimulates others that are important for normal brain function, Baker said. The system of hormones decline as people age.

The findings offer a possible new treatment for the aging brains of healthy older adults as well as those with mild cognitive impairment, who are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, she said.

More studies are needed to look at the safety and efficacy of long-term use on cognitive function in older adults before doctors can start prescribing it as a treatment, she said.

- Bloomberg

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