Statins Lower Risk of Second Stroke

Patients who took a high dose of cholesterol-lowering drug after suffering a stroke had a lower risk of a second stroke, according to a study is in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors knew that patients with heart disease have fewer strokes if they take drugs called statins. But nobody knew if statins could prevent a second stroke in patients without known heart disease.

The new study shows a modest benefit. Among 4,700 people with prior strokes, those who took high doses of the drug Lipitor had 16 percent fewer strokes over the next five years. To put it another way, for every 100 patients taking the drug, there were about two fewer strokes. The drug-taking group also had fewer heart attacks and needed less coronary surgery.

On the downside, there was about one additional case of hemorrhagic stroke, or bleeding in the brain, for every patient taking Lipitor.

The study was paid for by the makers of Lipitor. — Richard Knox

Infants Latest Victims in Obesity Epidemic?

Aug. 9, 2006 — The nation's obesity epidemic has reached all the way to infancy, according to research in the journal Obesity.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care health plan examined medical records for more than 120,000 children under the age of six over a 20-year period.

Overall, they found a 30 percent increase in the number of overweight children. But the most surprising was the trend was among infants. There was a 74 percent increase in the number of overweight babies between birth and six months of age.

The findings are particularly worrisome because previous studies show accelerated weight gain in the first few months of life is associated with obesity later in life.

Researchers say efforts to prevent obesity must start early: Women should avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy and breastfeed if possible — two factors known to help maintain a healthy weight. — Patricia Neighmond

Public Heart Debrillators May Not Work

Aug. 8, 2006 — Harvard researchers say that many of the automatic heart defibrillators in airports, sports stadiums and other public places may not work in a cardiac emergency.

There is more than a 20-percent chance of malfunction among the thousands of automatic defibrillators that hang in public spaces around the country. That's from an analysis of federal recalls issued between 1996 and 2005. The analysis is in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found that the devices failed during resuscitation attempts in 370 patients. They call for a system to identify and repair defective defibrillators.

An estimated 900 Americans die each day from sudden cardiac arrest. Studies show that timely use of automatic defibrillators increases the chance of survival, if the devices are in good working order. — Richard Knox

Study Suggests Caution on Casual Ultrasound Use

Aug. 7, 2006 — A new study suggests that prolonged exposure to ultrasound can cause subtle changes in brain development — at least in mice.

Studies of human babies have not found any risk from ultrasound during pregnancy. But researchers at Yale University wondered whether long exposure to ultrasound waves might affect a delicate process in the brain. It involves the movement of brain cells from the place they're made to their permanent home.

The Yale team gave ultrasound to several hundred mice still in the womb. There was no effect from brief exposures. But longer times appeared to prevent some brain cells from reaching their usual destination.

The researchers says the result doesn't challenge the safety of ultrasound done for a medical purpose. But they say parents shouldn't ask for ultrasound studies just to get a cute video.

The study appears in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. — Jon Hamilton

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