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Health Highlights: Feb. 27, 2009

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

Black Box Warning Ordered For Heartburn Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's most serious warning will be added to the heartburn drug metoclopramide (brand name Reglan), which has been shown to cause muscle spasms and tics when used for long periods or at high doses, the FDA said.

These problems, including uncontrollable movement of the limbs, face and tongue, are usually irreversible even after patients stop taking the drug, according to the warning, cited by the Associated Press.

The drug is marketed by Schwarz Pharma (tablet form), Baxter International (injectable form) and by a number of generic drug makers. In addition to the black box warning, all manufacturers will be required to provide medication safety guides to users.

More than 2 million people in the United States use metoclopramide, which works by speeding up the muscles used in digestion and relieving painful stomach acid reflux, the AP reported.

"The chronic use of metoclopramide therapy should be avoided in all but rare cases where the benefit is believed to outweigh the risk," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.


Economy Pushing Americans to Cut Needed Health Care

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Wednesday found that more than half of Americans cut back on some kind of health care to save money in the past year, the Associated Press reported.

One in four put off general health care needs, including 16 percent who postponed surgery or doctor visits for chronic illnesses. To care for themselves, respondents said they relied instead on home remedies or over-the-counter drugs rather than seeing a doctor or a dentist.

Other findings in the poll, conducted by telephone with 1,204 adults from Feb. 3-12:

  • Overall, 53 percent of Americans cut back on health needs in the past 12 months because of the declining economy.
  • 10 percent delayed seeing a doctor for a chronic illness like diabetes or asthma.
  • 6 percent postponed minor surgery in the doctor's office, while 5 percent delayed major surgery that would have required an overnight hospital stay.
  • 19 percent skipped a doctor's visit for temporary illness or preventive care.


Smarter Living Could Cut World's Cancer Cases, Report Says

A simpler diet, more exercise and better weight control could prevent more than 40 percent of breast and bowel cancers in developed countries, a World Cancer Research Fund report released Wednesday says.

According to the report, almost a third of the 12 most common cancers in the United States, including throat and lung cancers, could be prevented by adopting lifestyle changes. It estimated that 45 percent of colon cancer cases and 38 percent of breast cancer cases were preventable by adopting the small changes. The figures do not, however, account for the impact of cigarette smoking, which is responsible for about a third of all cancers, BBC News reported.

A panel of 23 experts made 48 recommendations for governments, households and schools to curb an expected uptick in cancer cases worldwide in the coming years. "The good news is that this is not inevitable," project chairman Dr. Martin Wiseman, a physician in clinical practice focusing on diabetes and a visiting professor in human nutrition at Southampton University, told the BBC.

Among the panel's recommendations were for governments to plan more walking and cycling routes, and for schools, workplaces and institutions to cut unhealthy foods from vending machines. The food and drinks industry should make public health its top priority in all stages of production, and household shoppers should be more diligent in their purchases, carefully examining labels to ensure they are choosing the healthiest products.

The report was published by the World Cancer Research Fund in conjunction with the American Institute for Cancer Research.

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Posted: February 2009