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Health Highlights: Aug. 16, 2007

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

Suicide Rate for U.S. Army Soldiers Highest in 26 Years

The suicide rate among U.S. Army soldiers in 2006 was the highest in 26 years, and more than 25 percent of those who committed suicide did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, says an Army report to be released Thursday.

The report said there were 99 confirmed suicides among active duty soldiers in 2006, compared to 88 in 2005, according to the Associated Press. The number of suicides last year was the highest since 1991, the time of the Persian Gulf War, when there were 102 suicides.

Over the past 26 years, the suicide rate in the U.S. Army has ranged from last year's high of 17.3 per 100,000 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001.

The 99 suicides in 2006 included 28 soldiers deployed to either Iraq and Afghanistan and 71 soldiers who weren't, the AP reported. Among women, the suicide rate was nearly twice as high for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan than for those who weren't sent to war.

Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and job stress were motivating factors in the suicides, according to the report. And about a one fourth of those who killed themselves had a history of at least one psychiatric disorder, including 8 percent who had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which includes post-traumatic stress.


Gestational Diabetes May Increase Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Women with a history of gestational diabetes may have a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer later in life, according to an Israeli-American study that looked at more than 37,000 women who gave birth in Jerusalem between 1964 and 1976.

Researchers found that 410 of the women had gestational diabetes in at least one pregnancy. Of those, five developed pancreatic cancer 14 to 35 years later.

Overall, there were 54 cases of pancreatic cancer among the more than 37,000 women in the study. None of the women who had type 1 diabetes at the time they gave birth developed pancreatic cancer.

The findings appear in the online open access journal BMC Medicine.

The researchers noted that women with gestational diabetes often go on to develop type 2 diabetes. There is ongoing medical debate about the relationship between diabetes and pancreatic cancer, which is the fourth leading cause of death among women in the United States.


AHA Program Reaches One Million Patients

The American Heart Association's Get with the Guidelines program reached the 1 million patient milestone this month.

The program, launched in 2000, is designed to encourage U.S. hospitals to use evidence-based medicine to improve treatment and outcomes of heart attack and stroke patients. Currently, 1,400 hospitals participate in at least one of the programs' three modules -- coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke.

"We compile extensive research, convert it into treatment guidelines, and help hospitals adhere to those guidelines," Dr. Gregg Fonarow, chair of the program's steering committee, said in a prepared statement.

There have been marked improvements in a number of areas.

For example, more than 94 percent of heart attack patients are now receiving aspirin upon admission, compared to 76.4 percent before the start of the program. The clot-busting drug tPA is given to more than 63 percent of stroke patients who arrive at hospital less than two hours after the onset of symptoms, compared to 23.5 percent at baseline.

In addition, many more heart and stroke survivors are receiving counseling about smoking cessation.


Drug Problems at U.S. Schools Getting Worse: Survey

Drug problems at schools are getting worse, say 1,063 American teens who took part in a 2007 survey to be released Thursday by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

The percentage of teens who said they attended high schools with drug problems was 61 percent, compared to 44 percent in a 2002 survey. Among middle school students, that percentage increased from 19 percent to 31 percent, the Associated Press reported.

About 80 percent of high school students said they've witnessed the use, sale or possession of illegal drugs on high school grounds, or have seen someone who was drunk or high on school grounds.

Interestingly, 24 percent of the teens in this new survey named drugs as their top concern, down from 33 percent in 1995, the AP said.

The researchers also surveyed 550 parents and found that about 60 percent of those with teens at schools with a drug problem said it was unrealistic to believe that those schools could be made drug-free.


Groups Condemn Camel No. 9 Cigarettes

Camel No. 9 cigarettes are an attempt to get young, fashion-conscious women and girls to start smoking, say a number of U.S. women's and public health organizations that want the brand taken off the market.

The cigarettes, introduced earlier this year by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., feature stylish packaging and are promoted in ads that include florals, hints of lace, and the slogan "Light and Luscious," the Associated Press reported.

"This product is nothing more than a veiled attempt to sell more cigarettes to girls and young women, putting them at grave risk for disease and a premature death," said a letter sent to R.J. Reynolds that was signed by Cheryl Healton of the American Legacy Foundation, which was established after the 1998 settlement between the states and the tobacco industry.

In related news, a group of more than 40 U.S. Congress members said Wednesday that they've had no success in their efforts to convince major women's and fashions magazines to stop publishing ads for Camel No. 9s and other cigarettes, the AP reported.

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Posted: August 2007