Eight out of ten people will have back pain at some point in their lives says the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and current guidelines recommend treating it conservatively. Yet, the number of people being referred for surgery or given strong painkillers has increased in recent years, finds a study from the Harvard Medical School that tracked data on about 24,000 outpatient visits for ten years. The research indicates that the proportion of patients prescribed Tylenol and NSAIDs dropped from 37 to 25% while the proportion of those given narcotics including opioids rose from 19 to 29%. The NIH recommends treating back pain with exercise, including stretching and aerobics and for sufferers to be patient and to appreciate that recovery takes time.
Sign of the Times
According to a recent study, about 72% of internet users in the US searched for medical information in the past year - and doctors are ok with it. Perhaps that’s because online symptom checkers are more accurate. Or, perhaps it’s because doctors are using the web more frequently and are more familiar with the information that’s available to patients. CBS News contributor Dr. Holly Phillips said, "... [the internet is] the first place I turn if I have a tough diagnosis. I think we're all using it and we're all getting used to that idea.” But, she cautioned that searching the web does not replace a doctor’s diagnosis. She also recommends that people avoid commercial sites and look at sites from established institutions like those from the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic.
Fungi Fancy Feet
The human body is covered in fungus. In fact, say researchers from the National Institutes of Health, we are fertile breeding grounds for hundreds of different types of fungus. For their study, researchers examined 10 healthy volunteers, taking samples from 14 different spots on their bodies. The results: Malassezia fungus is predominant on the head and trunk of the body but the feet, perhaps not surprisingly, provide a home to about 80 different genera of fungi. They also remind us that there can be good fungi that keep the skin healthy. "We have to start thinking about our bodies as ecosystems," said team leader Julie Segre. "Just as many of the foot powders will cause your feet to be less sweaty, when you put on moisturizer you are fertilizing the fungal microorganism garden."
Sun, Sun, Sun, Let It Come
Women with low levels of vitamin D were more likely to develop uterine fibroids, finds a study of 1,036 women, ages, 35-49, from the National Institutes of Health. NIH researcher Donna Baird, Ph.D., with collaborators from The George Washington U, used ultrasound to screen participants for fibroids. Blood samples were used to measure vitamin D and participants completed a questionnaire on sun exposure. Those who spent an hour outside per day were 40% less likely to have fibroids. The findings are consistent with other studies but additional research on more women is needed, noted Baird. "It would be wonderful if something as simple and inexpensive as getting some natural sunshine on their skin each day could help women reduce their chance of getting fibroids," she said.
Seeking Treatment by 2025
In a first-of-its-kind-effort, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the formation of the National Alzheimer’s Plan, a strategy designed to find a better treatment for the disease by 2025. The plan will also provide help to the families of people afflicted by Alzheimer’s. To aid the effort, the National Institutes of Health will spend an extra $50 million on Alzheimer’s research this year. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading killer in the US and It’s projected that the number of Americans with the disease will reach 16 million by 2050, barring a research breakthrough. The plan lays out ways that the government plus private and nonprofit organizations can work together to battle the disease and provide resources to help families with afflicted loved ones.
Checklist Identifies ASD
A five-minute checklist, filled out in doctors’ offices, may help with the early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, allowing children to start treatment sooner, aiding in later development and learning, says the National Institutes of Health. The checklist includes questions about a child’s eye gaze, vocalizations, gestures, and other age-appropriate forms of communication. In early screenings of 10,479 infants, 32 were identified as having ASD, which is consistent with current rates of diagnosis. Currently, there is often a significant delay between when parents report concerns about their child's behavior and an eventual diagnosis. Doctors who participated in the research rated the early screening program positively. Researchers note that further refinement is necessary.
One-Third of US Adults Is Obese
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) seeks to combat obesity by funding research for new programs and technology designed to address the problem which affects more than one-third of adults and nearly 17% of US children. Research recommendations include using technology to advance obesity research and improve healthcare delivery, discover key processes that regulate body weight and influence behavior, and evaluate strategies to prevent and treat obesity in real-world settings. The NIH plan hopes to improve public health by highlighting education and community outreach. One advance by past NIH task forces was to help women achieve a healthy weight before and during pregnancy to ensure the future health of their children.
Lower BMI Reduces Death Risk
"The ideal woman's BMI from the standpoint of attracting men is 20.8. So you need to choose between a longer life, or a better love life."
- Mark in the comments
A body mass index between 20.0 and 24.9 is associated with the lowest risk of death in healthy, non-smoking, non-Hispanic white adults, finds a study from the National Institutes of Health. Researchers pooled data from 19 long-term studies and found that healthy, non-smoking, overweight women were 13 % more likely to die during the study’s follow-up period than were women with a BMI between 22.5 and 24.9. Researchers report a 44 % increase in risk of death for obese women with BMIs of 30 to 34.9. Results were the same for men. Researchers accounted for lifestyle risk factors and came up with similar results, indicating that BMI plays a large role as a risk factor for death. They plan to broaden the range of the study to include other ethnic and racial groups.
Reasons Are Unknown
Thousands of sixth graders enrolled in a school health program weighed less in eighth grade than their non-participating counterparts, finds the National Institutes of Health. Researchers followed more than 4.500 students and noticed an overall decline in the rates of obesity in both groups suggesting that childhood obesity may be on the wane. At the start of the study, 30 percent of kids were overweight. Students enrolled in the program practiced healthy eating and increased their physical activity. After two years, the percentage of overweight kids dropped to 24.6 percent for the participation group and 26.6 for the control group. “Something is going on in the environment that is leading kids to become less overweight or obese,” said Dr. Gary D. Foster, Temple U, Philadelphia.
Hope for HIV Vaccine
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health discovered two antibodies, VRCO1 and VRCO2, that prevent more than 90 percent of HIV strains from infecting cells. Both antibodies are present in the blood of HIV-positive individuals. These antibodies could allow a vaccine to be developed and will allow scientists to better understand how to use antibodies to treat other diseases. Scientists used an HIV protein to isolate the two specific antibodies that bind to parts of the virus that allow HIV to enter the cells it infects, which do not change between most strains. John Mascola, MD, one of the leaders of the two research teams, said "The antibodies attach to a virtually unchanging part of the virus, and this explains why they can neutralize such an extraordinary range of HIV strains.”
May Be a Factor in Dementia
Vitamin D has been linked to improved cognitive function, finds a study funded by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), among others. Cognitive function, measured by how the brain manages and uses information, is a matter of great concern as the US population grows older. Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating illness that impairs cognition, affects about 47 percent of US adults above the age of 85. The study, which involved more than 1000 home care recipients, ages 65 to 99, compared their Vitamin D blood levels to their performances on neuropsychological tests. The 35 percent who had sufficient Vitamin D levels performed better on cognition tests than those who were deficient in Vitamin D.
Common Myths Disproved
Alzheimer’s Disease, the relentless decline of memory and cognition, is not delayed by mental stimulation, supplements or exercise, finds a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health. "We wish we could tell people that taking a pill or doing a puzzle every day would prevent this terrible disease, but current evidence doesn't support this,” said Dr. Martha L. Daviglus, conference panel chair. The panel said that, because of the various definitions of what constitutes Alzheimer’s, understanding how to delay or prevent it is stymied. The strongest known risk factor is aging although a genetic variant of a cholesterol ferrying protein has an impact on who may develop the disease. The panel recommends continued study to define and characterize the progression of the disease.
Second Leading Cause of Death
A new study from the National Institutes of Health indicates that sleep apnea, a common disorder in which the airways are blocked disrupting breathing during sleep, more than doubles a man’s risk for stroke and is independent of other risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and weight. The risk of stroke is present in men with even mild sleep apnea and rises with the severity of the condition. Also, women with sleep apnea are at greater risk of stroke. Researchers studied more than 5000 participants for an average of nine years to determine their findings. More than 12 million Americans are thought to have sleep apnea which is treatable with mouth guards, surgery and even weight loss. These new findings support earlier evidence that sleep apnea is associated with CV risks.