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Health Highlights: Sept. 15, 2009

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

Broken Heart Increases Heart Attack Risk: Study

A broken heart can be a serious health threat, say Australian researchers who found that people mourning the loss of a loved one have a six times greater risk of suffering a heart attack.

The study of 160 people found that those who'd recently experienced the death of a partner or child were at significantly higher risk of heart problems than those who weren't in mourning, Agence France Presse reported.

"We found higher blood pressure, increased heart rate and changes to the immune system and clotting that would increase the risk of heart attack," said lead researcher Thomas Buckley.

The increased risk, believed to be caused by a sudden increase in stress hormones, was reduced after six months and was gone after two years, AFP reported.


Most U.S. Doctors Support Public Insurance Option: Poll

A majority of American doctors support inclusion of a "public option" to supplement private health care, according to a survey released Monday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The poll of 2,130 general physicians, specialists and surgeons found that 62.9 percent favored a government insurance plan option, 27.3 percent supported a private system alone, and 9.6 percent backed a completely government-owned health insurance system, Agence France Presse reported.

"It's clear that the majority of U.S. physicians support both public and private options to expand coverage," said the journal, which noted that between 52 percent and 69 percent of Americans support a supplemental public option.

The survey also found that 58.3 percent of doctors back expansion of Medicare to cover people aged 55 and older. Currently, the program is for those over age 65.


Actor Patrick Swayze Dies of Pancreatic Cancer

Actor Patrick Swayze died of pancreatic cancer on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 57.

"Patrick Swayze passed away peacefully today with family at his side after facing the challenges of his illness for the last 20 months," his publicist Annett Wolf said in a statement Monday evening, the Associated Press reported. She didn't offer any additional details.

The actor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2008, but continued to work. He shot 13 episodes of the TV series "The Beast," which aired on A&E. Swayze didn't take painkillers while making the show because he said they would have taken the edge off his performance.

Swayze was best known for his roles in the movies "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost."


Poor U.S. Economy Affects Blood Donations

The ailing economy is causing a decrease in the number of workplace-related blood donations in many areas of the United States.

For example, 33 corporate blood drives were canceled from June through August, resulting in 1,700 fewer units of blood collected, a spokeswoman with the Badger-Hawkeye Red Cross in Wisconsin told the Associated Press. The state's unemployment rate has doubled to 8.7 percent in the last year.

Michigan has the highest unemployment rate (15.6 percent) in the nation, and the Michigan Community Blood Centers has seen a 15 percent to 20 percent drop in blood donations.

"We are seeing a direct effect of the recession," spokeswoman Toni Gould told the AP. "So many businesses and factories are closing, and they accounted for a large share of mobile drives."

Despite the decline in blood donations in certain regions, there hasn't yet been a significant overall national decrease, according to the American Red Cross.

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Posted: September 2009