Archive for 2011

Kay Cahill Allison

Treating neck pain with a dose of exercise

For neck and shoulder pain, doctors once recommended rest, maybe the use of a neck brace, and waiting until the pain had ebbed away. Today there are recommending movement instead of rest. As described in Neck and Shoulder Pain, a newly updated Special Health Report from Harvard Health Publications, there is mounting scientific evidence for the role of stretching and muscle strengthening in treating people with neck and shoulder pain. After a whiplash injury, for example, people heal sooner and are less likely to develop chronic pain if they start gentle exercise as soon as possible. For those with long-term pain (called chronic pain) results from controlled studies show that exercise provides some relief. Exactly how much exercise to do, what types are best, and how often it should be done have yet to be completely hashed out.

Patrick J. Skerrett

Long-term survivors are helping unlock the mysteries of type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, once called juvenile-onset diabetes, takes a toll on health and longevity. Some people, though, have managed to live with the disease for decades. Since 1970, almost 3,500 men and women who have lived with type 12 diabetes for a half century have been recognized by the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston with bronze 50-year medals. Forty-five of them have passed the 75-year mark. A study that includes several hundred 50-year Medalists is changing experts’ understanding of type 1 diabetes. Many of the 50-year Medalists have no signs of diabetes-induced eye or kidney damage, and some still continue to make small amounts of insulin. This work may uncover new ways to protect people from the damage diabetes can cause and point ways to new treatments for it.

Howard LeWine, M.D.

For some prostate cancers, waiting beats treatment

Many prostate cancers grow very slowly and never escape the prostate. They cause no symptoms, and never threaten health or life. Yet almost 90% of men told they have prostate cancer opt for immediate treatment with surgery or radiation therapy—which often cause trouble getting or keeping an erection and an assortment of urinary problems. Yesterday, a panel of experts convened by the National Institutes of Health recommended that many men with localized, low-risk prostate cancer be closely monitored, and that treatment be delayed until there was evidence that the disease was progressing.

Howard LeWine, M.D.

Does fitness offset fatness?

At least for men, being more fit may have a bigger health payoff than losing weight, according to a new study of more than 14,000 well-off middle-aged men who are participating in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. Researchers followed their health, weight, and exercise habits for 11 years. Compared with men whose fitness declined over the course of the study, those who maintained their fitness levels reduced their odds of dying from cardiovascular disease or any other cause by about 30%, even if they didn’t lose any excess weight. Those who improved their fitness levels saw a 40% reduction. For optimal health, being fit and maintaining a healthy weight are best. But if you are overweight and inactive, this study and others suggest that getting more activity is the best place to start to improve your health.

Peter Wehrwein

Obama going gray: Do presidents age faster?

It’s more than just a few flecks. President Barack Obama, who turned 50 in August, is definitely going gray. He’s said the color change runs in his family and has mentioned a grandfather who turned gray at 29. Dr. Michael Roizen, of fame, says presidents age twice as fast as normal when they’re in office. Not so, says new study of presidential longevity. According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there’s no evidence that American presidents die sooner than other American men of their time. In fact, quite the opposite: most of them lived long lives and beat the longevity expectations for their time. Seven of the first eight presidents lived to a ripe old age, with average life spans of 81.5 years. These men probably had some inborn hardiness, as well as fortunate circumstances.

Howard LeWine, M.D.

New York City pushes earlier treatment for AIDS

In an effort to halt the spread of AIDS, health officials in New York City recommended yesterday that treatment with anti-AIDS drugs should begin as soon as an individual is diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, rather than waiting for it to begin harming the immune system. Early treatment also lessens the likelihood of passing HIV to someone else.

Peter Wehrwein

World AIDS Day 2011: Is the HIV/AIDS glass finally half full?

On the 13th annual World AIDS Day, there’s cause for hope. The epidemic seems to have peaked. Drug therapy has turned HIV/AIDS into a manageable chronic disease. Drug therapy appears to prevent transmission of HIV from infected to uninfected individuals. And HIV cures are under investigation. Yet there is also cause for continued alarm. The AIDS epidemic is far from over, and the downward trends in infection rates could plateau or head up if prevention and treatment efforts slack off. The overalI trends don’t apply to everybody. In the United States, new HIV infections are still increasing among young black men, both gay and bisexual. And despite all the research into HIV and over two dozen ongoing trials of candidate agents, there’s still no HIV/AIDS vaccine.

Patrick J. Skerrett

Consumers could save as generic Lipitor hits the market

The patent on Lipitor, the world’s best-selling brand name prescription drug, expired on November 30th. That opens the door for less expensive generic versions of the drug, called atorvastatin, which are now available. In addition to atorvastatin, six other statins are currently available in the United States. Generic drugs are chemical clones of their brand-name counterparts. By law, generic drugs must contain the same active ingredients as the brand-name drug, work the same way in the body, and meet the same standards the FDA has set for the brand-name drug. One big difference is cost. Generic atorvastatin should be less expensive than brand-name Lipitor, although Pfizer, the company that makes Lipitor, is striking deals with insurers and pharmacy benefit managers to price brand-name Lipitor at or under the generic alternatives in order to keep sales of Lipitor as strong as possible for as long as possible.

Lloyd Resnick

No-surgery valve replacement a game changer—for some

The FDA has approved a nonsurgical alternative to open-heart surgery for replacing a failing aortic valve. For now, though, it is only available for people who can’t, or shouldn’t, have open-heart surgery.

Patrick J. Skerrett

Implants, tattoos, and tears could measure blood sugar without pain

Today, the only reliable way to check blood sugar is by pricking a finger, squeezing out a drop of blood, and placing it on a small test strip attached to a meter. For some people, this means five to ten finger sticks a day. Researchers across the country are exploring pain-free ways to measure blood sugar. University of California, San Diego researchers have developed a titanium sensor the diameter of a quarter that would be implanted under the skin and wirelessly send blood sugar readings to an external monitor. At Northeastern University in Boston, researchers are working on a blood sugar “tattoo” by injecting glucose-detecting nanosensors under the skin. Arizona State University researchers are working to perfect a device that measures blood sugar using tears instead of blood.