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Health Highlights: Sept. 4, 2007

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

New Study Finds Risks in Drug-Coated Stents

Drug-coated stents aren't the best treatment for all heart patients, even those at risk of heart attack, new research finds.

Heart attack patients who had the expensive devices installed to prop open arteries in an emergency situation were five times more likely to die after two years than similar patients who received bare-metal stents, according to results presented Tuesday at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Vienna.

Previous studies had found risks for using drug-lined stents, but mostly among non-emergency heart cases, the Associated Press reported.

Stents are wire mesh tubes used to prop open arteries, notably after a common artery-clearing procedure called angioplasty. Drug-coated stents are also used in as many as 30 percent of Americans having heart attacks, the AP said.

Dr. Gabriel Steg, of the Hospital Bichat-Claude Bernard in Paris, studied almost 2,300 patients from 94 hospitals in 14 countries. Some 75 percent of patients had bare metal stents, and 27 of those died. By contrast, of the 25 percent who had drug-coated stents, 49 died, the wire service reported.

Experts cited by the AP said there were differences among these patients that could have affected their outcomes. However, the findings were cause enough to re-evaluate drug-coated stents, they added.

The study was funded by Sanofi-Aventis, which makes anti-clotting drugs that could also be used to treat these heart problems, the AP noted.


Genome Pioneer Mapping Own DNA

Genome pioneer J. Craig Venter has just finished publishing about 96 percent of a person's genetic code, the most comprehensive publishing of the human genome to date.

He's quite familiar with the owner of this DNA blueprint, because it's his own, reports CNN.

"Our genes can tell us probabilities of what might happen and give us a chance to do something about it," the billionaire biologist told the network.

Venter just published almost all 6 billion letters of his genetic code in the journal PLoS Biology. His father died of a heart attack, and Venter said he found at least three genes linked to increased heart attack risk. He said he now takes a statin drug to lower his blood cholesterol.

Venter said he also found a gene linked to Alzheimer's disease, for which there is no known family history. He's also found genetic links to blindness, alcoholism, lactose intolerance, substance abuse, high blood pressure, and obesity, CNN said.

Venter stressed that the findings are not proof that he will go on to develop the conditions, only that he may be at increased risk.


Depressed Often Underserved by Primary Care Doctors: Study

Most clinically depressed people who are treated by their primary care doctors do not receive care "consistent with quality standards," a new Rand Corp. study concludes.

For the 1,131 people with depression studied, physicians showed low rates of adherence to nearly half of 20 standard treatment recommendations, the non-profit research organization said in a statement.

Fewer than half of the patients in the study completed the minimal course of treatment for either antidepressant drugs or psychotherapy, the researchers found. The lowest quality of care was given to patients with the most serious symptoms, including evidence of suicidal thoughts or substance abuse, Rand said.

"These findings are important for patients since most cases of depression are diagnosed and treated in primary care settings," said study lead author Dr. Lisa Rubenstein, a Rand scientist. "This shows that additional efforts are needed to improve the treatment of depression."

Study results are published in the September issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.


Overweight Kids Prone to Iron Deficiency

Overweight toddlers, especially those of Hispanic origin, seem to be more prone to iron deficiency, new research concludes.

Twenty percent of children ages 1 to 3 years are iron deficient, compared with 7 percent of toddlers of normal weight, scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said. Low blood iron levels reduce the amount of oxygen carried through the body, leading to mental and behavioral delays, the Associated Press reported.

Experts advised that toddlers should eat iron-rich foods including meats, beans, eggs, spinach, and fortified breads, the wire service said. Those who are still fed from bottles tend to drink low-iron milk and juice at the expense of eating sold foods, said study co-author Jane Brotanek.

"What you put in your baby's bottle can affect your child's future," she said.

Hispanic toddlers are more likely than those who are white or black to be obese, which could explain their increased tendency to be iron deficient, Brotanek said. Twelve percent of Hispanic toddlers were iron deficient, compared to 6 percent of whites and 6 percent of blacks, the AP reported.

The research is published in this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics.


Women May Need Different Heart Remedies Than Men

Cardiac surgeries that can save the lives of men may be deadly for women, a new study finds.

The notion that women with heart problems should be treated differently than men was raised by the study results, presented at the annual European Society of Cardiology meeting in Vienna. The study of 184 women found that those who had major heart surgeries like coronary bypass were more likely than men to die, the Associated Press reported.

The research was conducted at University Hospital in Linkoping, Sweden, and funded by global drugmakers Sanofi-Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline. Experts said while the findings offered no rock-solid conclusions, they said the notion that female and male cardiac patients should be treated differently warranted further study, the wire service reported.

In August, the American College of Cardiology revised guidelines to recommend that doctors should consider avoiding invasive surgeries on low-risk women.

"We want there to be equality between the genders, but that doesn't mean that women and men should get the same treatment," said Dr. Eva Swahn, the study's lead author.


Police Officer's Taser Demonstration Led to Spinal Fractures

A police officer who volunteered to participate in a Taser demonstration suffered spinal fractures and perhaps lasting spinal damage, according to a newly published case study in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The unidentified 38-year-old man was treated at the University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., the journal said in a prepared statement. In the first such injury reported in medical literature, the law enforcement officer suffered compression fractures of the spine, almost certainly caused by muscle spasms triggered by the model X26 Taser, sometimes called a "stun gun."

"Normally after Taser exposure, pain stops after the discharge is over. In this case, the pain continued for a long time, leading the patient to reduce his work hours significantly," said Dr. James Winslow, one of the physicians who treated the injured officer.

"Although rare, vertebral fractures as a result of severe muscle contractions induced by the Taser are a possibility, as this case makes clear," Winslow continued. "Medical personnel and law enforcement officers should recognize that these weapons are still associated with injuries."

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Posted: September 2007