Archive for 2011

Fall back from daylight savings time may be good for the heart

Lloyd Resnick
Lloyd Resnick, Former Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Most Americans fall back from daylight savings 2011 during the wee hours of Sunday morning, November 6. Although the time change can be discombobulating, our hearts like it better than springing ahead. One study showed fewer heart attacks on the Monday after the end of daylight savings time in the fall; the opposite happens in the spring. Getting, or losing, that extra hour of sleep may explain the differences. Ways to ease into the time change include going to bed and waking up at the same time as usual, and getting some sunlight on Sunday as soon as you get out of bed.

Study supports alcohol, breast cancer link

Carolyn Schatz
Carolyn Schatz, Former Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

A 28-year study of 106,000 women found that moderate alcohol slightly increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Women who had the equivalent of three to six drinks a week had a modest increase in their risk of breast cancer (15%) compared to women who never drank alcohol. That would translate into an extra 3 cases of breast cancer per 1,000 women per year. The risks were the same for wine, beer, and spirits. Because moderate drinking appears to prevent some types of heart disease—which affects more women than breast cancer does—it’s important for women to think about alcohol in light of their own personal health situation.

Study says ADHD drugs do not boost heart risk in kids

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
Michael Craig Miller, M.D., Senior Editor, Mental Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

A new study involving 1.2 million children and young adults provided reassuring evidence that the drugs used to treat ADHD do not increase the risk of death from heart disease. Researchers analyzed medical records from a nationwide private insurance plan along with health plans based in Tennessee, California, and Washington State. They compared children taking stimulant drugs (like Ritalin and Adderall) that are commonly used to treat ADHD to children not taking these drugs. Cardiac problems were no more common among children using a stimulant as among those not taking one.

Pediatricians should ask teens about drug, alcohol use at every visit

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Although current recommendations call for pediatricians to ask their adolescent patients about alcohol and drug use at every visit, many don’t. To make it easier for doctors and nurses to do this, the American Academy of Pediatrics has just published a set of questions to guide the confidential conversation, along with advice on what to do with the answers. The first question is a simple one about drug or alcohol use. If the answer is no, the health care provider should praise the teen and encourage him or her to continue making good decisions about health and safety. If the answer is yes, six follow-up questions called the CRAFFT questions) can help separate those who are experimenting from those who may be headed for serious trouble and need more in-depth help.

Yoga can help ease low back pain

Peter Wehrwein
Peter Wehrwein, Contributor, Harvard Health

Two new studies, one from the United Kingdom and one from Seattle, show that people with lower back pain may get some relief by regularly doing yoga. In the British study, yoga classes were more effective than standard care at improving “back function,” meaning it reduced back-related problems that interfered with everyday activities like walking, standing, climbing stairs, and so on. In the Seattle study, yoga was just as good as special stretching classes designed for people with low back pain. In the real world, it’s probably easier to find a yoga class than a stretching class designed specifically for low back pain. While yoga is generally safe, if you want to use it to treat something like low back pain, talk it over with your doctor first—in both studies, yoga made back pain worse for a small percentage of people.

A conversation with Dr. Jerry Avorn about drugs and the drug industry

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

The new fields of pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics aim to understand how people use medications and how effective—or ineffective—medications are. A leader in this area is Dr. Jerry Avorn, chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In a recent issue of the Harvard Health Letter, editor Peter Wehrwein spoke with Avorn about generic drugs, the pharmaceutical industry, the high cost of cancer drugs, and more.

CDC panel says boys should get HPV vaccine, too

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

For the past five years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all girls and young women be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that is a key cause of cervical cancer. Members of a CDC advisory panel have now voted unanimously that boys and young men should also get the vaccine. Vaccinating boys and young men against the virus will help prevent its transmission to women, and will also help prevent some of the 7,000 HPV-related cancers that occur in men each year, including cancers of the penis, anus, head, neck, and throat. HPV also causes genital warts in both men and women. The vaccine works best when a child gets it before he or she becomes sexually active.

Taking blood pressure pills at bedtime may prevent more heart attacks, strokes

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

In most people, blood pressure begins to rise just before getting out of bed in the morning, and reaches its peak around mid-day. It falls during sleep, reaching its lowest point of day between midnight and 3:00 or 4:00 am. This drop is sometimes called “dipping.” But people with high blood pressure often have little or no decrease in their blood pressure at night. One possible reason for this is blood pressure medicines taken around breakfast time have worn off. That oft-quoted passage doesn’t A new study suggests that taking blood pressure drugs at night might improve blood pressure and prevent more heart attacks and strokes than taking the same medications during the day.

Erectile dysfunction often a warning sign of heart disease

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

For many men, trouble getting or keeping an erection, formally known as erectile dysfunction, is often an early warning sign of heart disease or other circulatory problems. Atherosclerosis, the same disease process that clogs coronary arteries with cholesterol-filled plaque, does the same thing to the arteries that supply blood to the penis. Since an erection depends on extra blood flow to the penis, any obstructions can prevent an erection from occurring. According to Erectile Dysfunction, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, blood vessel problems are the leading cause of erectile dysfunction and serve as an early warning sign of trouble in the heart or elsewhere in the circulatory system. Simple lifestyle changes like losing weight, exercising more, or stopping smoking can improve erections, as can Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs, devices, and sex therapy.

Do chronic diseases have their origins in the womb?

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis and other common chronic diseases are often blamed on genes, pollution, or the wear and tear caused by personal choices like a poor diet, smoking, or too little exercise. An intriguing hypothesis is that these and other conditions stem from a developing baby’s environment, mainly the womb and the placenta. During the first thousand days of development, from conception to age 2, the body’s tissues, organs, and systems are exquisitely sensitive to conditions in their environment during various windows of time. A lack of nutrients or an overabundance of them during these windows, so the thinking goes, programs a child’s development and sets the stage for health or disease.