Health Highlights: Jan. 24, 2011

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Fitness Guru Jack LaLanne Dies

American health and fitness advocate Jack LaLanne died Sunday in his California home. The cause was respiratory failure due to pneumonia. He was 96.

After developing an interest in fitness in his teens, LaLanne spent the next eight decades encouraging Americans to exercise and eat a healthy diet, the Associated Press reported.

"I have not only lost my husband and a great American icon, but the best friend and most loving partner anyone could ever hope for," Elaine LaLanne, Jack's wife of 51 years, said in a written statement.

"He was amazing," former "Price is Right" host Bob Barker told the AP. He said LaLanne's encouragement helped him start a regular exercise regimen.

"He never lost enthusiasm for life and physical fitness," Barker said. "I saw him in about 2007 and he still looked remarkably good. He still looked like the same enthusiastic guy he always was."

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Heart Doctor Group Assists Federal Investigation Into Defibrillator Use

The Heart Rhythm Society is providing expertise to Justice Department officials investigating the use of implanted defibrillators.

A spokeswoman for the group, the leading professional organization for doctors who implant defibrillators, declined to provide any further details, the Associated Press reported.

Defibrillators deliver electrical shocks to correct dangerous heart rhythm problems.

An article published two weeks ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that one in five heart defibrillators may be implanted for questionable reasons, the AP reported.

The devices are not recommended for patients with short life expectancies or for those who have recently suffered a heart attack or undergone bypass surgery. However, these patients and others outside the recommended guidelines account for one-fifth of people who receive defibrillators, according to the journal article.

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FDA Considering Reclassifying Electroshock Devices

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to lower the risk classification of electroshock devices.

Experts say electroshock therapy can help people with major depression and other mental illnesses, and the American Psychiatric Association and other leading specialists want the FDA to downgrade electroshock devices from a high-risk category to medium risk, The New York Times reported.

An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to meet this week to discuss the issue. The agency will make a formal decision later this year.

The two U.S. manufacturers of electroshock devices have been asked to submit all safety and effectiveness data as part of an FDA review to be released before the advisory committee meeting begins Thursday, the The Times reported.

Electroshock can cause brain damage and memory loss that outweigh its short-term benefits, say opponents.

"It's all trial and error -- it's all experimental," Vera Hassner Sharay, president of the New York-based advocacy group Alliance for Human Research Protection, told The Times. "All the years it's been controversial and there have not been clinical trials. Why not?"

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FDA Proposes Tougher Safety Measures for External Defibrillators

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is recommending tougher safety rules for external defibrillators, which are designed to shock back to normal the hearts of people who collapse with cardiac arrest, according to the Associated Press.

The agency's proposal -- posted online Friday -- follows years of reported problems with the emergency medical devices, which are widespread in schools, hospitals, airports and other public places. Device makers have issued 68 recalls of defibrillators in the last five years, and the agency has received 23,000 reports of malfunctioning devices, including some that failed during rescue attempts, the news service said.

Under the proposed measures, makers of external defibrillators would have to submit to regular inspections and turn in more clinical data before launching a new product.

The changes would not apply to implantable defibrillators, which function more like pacemakers and are designed for patients who suffer from abnormal heart rhythms that could lead to cardiac arrest, the AP said.

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House Republicans Outline Health-Care Objectives

Following up on this week's vote to repeal the new U.S. health-care law, House Republicans plan to pass bills that include some of the same measures as the current law, but with more limits on the use of federal power.

On Thursday, the Republican-controlled House voted 253 to 175 to direct four committees to draft legislation to replace the Democrats' health-care law, signed by President Barack Obama last March. The GOP directive outlines 13 objectives, including lowering health-care premiums through increased competition and choice, providing access to affordable coverage for people with pre-existing health conditions, increasing the number of people with insurance, and giving states greater flexibility to operate their Medicaid programs, The New York Times reported.

House Republicans also want stricter limits on abortion in federal programs, including those created by the new law.

Republicans did not outline how they plan to achieve their health-care objectives, but emphasized that they do not want to force individuals, families, employers or states to be burdened with detailed federal requirements, the Times reported.

On the House floor Thursday, Democrats said it was strange to hear Republicans advocating consumer protections that are contained in a law they just voted to repeal.

Democrats who control the Senate say they'll block any effort to repeal the health-care law and Obama has vowed to use his veto power. But Obama did say this week that he was "willing and eager" to work with lawmakers from both parties to improve the current law.

Under the law, federal money is being offered to states to help them create health insurance exchanges.

"Begining in 2014, these marketplaces will allow individuals and small business owners to pool their purchasing power so the mom-and-pop shop can have the same negotiating clout as the big chain down the street," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

She said a number of states have started work to establish exchanges and it "would be a huge mistake to undo this progress" by repealing the new law, the Times reported.

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Posted: January 2011


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