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Health Highlights: Aug. 22, 2007

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

Doctors Often Dismiss Concerns About Drug Side Effects: Study

Doctors often dismiss or ignore patient concerns about possible side effects of prescription drugs, says a University of California, San Diego study published this week in the journal Drug Safety.

The analysis of 650 patients taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs found that 87 percent of patients spoke to their doctors about possible side effects of the medications. Patients said their concerns were either dismissed or not addressed 50 percent of the time.

Responses from doctors included: "These drugs have no side effects" and "You're just getting older." Some patients were told they were imagining side effects, or they just didn't like taking pills.

The researchers noted that physician monitoring of drug side effects is essential to ensuring drug safety.

"If doctors don't acknowledge the possible connection of a patient's symptom to their drug, we are at risk both of missing important safety information and of having patient care compromised," lead author Beatrice Golomb, an associate professor of medicine, said in a prepared statement.


Melamine Found in Dog Treats Once Sold at Wal-Mart

Tests show that two Chinese-made brands of dog treats sold at Wal-Mart stores contained traces of melamine, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said. The treats were pulled from Wal-Mart stores in late July after customers complained that the treats made their dogs ill.

Contamination with melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, prompted a huge pet food recall in March.

The two brands of dog treats pulled from Wal-Mart shelves were Chicken Jerky Strips from Import-Pingyang Pet Product Co. and Chicken Jerky from Shanghai Bestro Trading, the Associated Press reported.

Wal-Mart did not issue a public recall when it stopped selling the treats in late July, but said Tuesday that customers could return the products to the nearest store for a refund.

Company spokeswoman Deisha Galberth said Wal-Mart didn't make a public announcement in July because it wanted to wait for test results on the treats, the AP reported.


43 Million Americans Regularly Use Aspirin

About 43 million people age 18 and older in the United States take aspirin every day or every other day, according to 2005 data from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Aspirin relieves pain, reduces fever, and can also reduce the risk of heart attack, blood-clot related strokes and other blood circulation problems.

The AHRQ data also show that:

  • Aspirin was taken regularly by 54 percent of the estimated 26 million adults who were told by a doctor that they had indicators of heart disease, compared with 15 percent of people with no indicators of heart disease.
  • Among people age 65 and older, 48.5 percent took aspirin regularly. Among people in this age group with indicators of heart disease, 64 percent took aspirin regularly.
  • About one-quarter of all people ages 45-64 took aspirin regularly. But that increased to 56 percent among those who had indicators of heart disease.
  • Among whites with indicators of heart disease, 55 percent took aspirin regularly, compared with 49 percent of Hispanics and 48 percent of blacks who had these indicators.


Suicidal Thoughts Increasing Among Katrina Survivors

As the recovery from Hurricane Katrina continues, thoughts of suicide and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are increasing among U.S. Gulf Coast residents, a new survey finds.

A survey conducted six months after the hurricane found that about three percent of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had contemplated suicide in the aftermath of the storm. The new survey by researchers with the Hurricane Katrina Community Advisory Group found that the number has doubled to 8 percent in the New Orleans area, the Associated Press reported.

The new survey found that 21 percent of respondents showed signs of PTSD, compared to 16 percent in the earlier survey.

The first survey included 1,000 people and the researchers were able to interview 800 of them for the most recent survey, the AP reported.

Lead researcher Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School said the findings are striking. He said initial underlying optimism about rebuilding has worn thin due to the slow pace of recovery in some areas, especially New Orleans.


FDA to Study TV Drug Ads

A study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will examine whether relaxing, upbeat images used in TV drug ads distract consumers from warnings about risks associated with the medications, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA study, announced on its Web site, will investigate whether 2,000 people who watch TV drug ads come away with a largely positive impression of the drugs, despite voice warnings in the ads that caution about potential side effects.

The FDA's announcement on Tuesday came a week after the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that suggested a steady decline in the FDA's enforcement of drug ad rules, which require drug companies to present a balanced depiction of a drug's benefits and risks, the AP reported.

Critics charge that images of smiling and relaxed people in TV drug ads weaken the voice warnings about possible risks.


State Attorneys General Condemn Ads for Alcoholic Energy Drinks

The U.S. government should investigate the ingredients and marketing of alcoholic energy drinks that often target underage consumers, says a letter signed by more than two dozen state attorneys general.

The letter -- sent to federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau administrator John Manfreda -- says aggressive, and possibly fraudulent, marketing of the drinks focuses on teens and young adults, the Associated Press reported.

The attorneys general also charged that some ads for these products make misleading health-related claims, such as increasing energy and stamina. This kind of marketing warrants investigation and possible enforcement action by the federal government, the letter said.

"Combining alcohol with caffeine hardly seems healthy and that false claim is what we seek to halt," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the AP reported.

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Posted: August 2007