Check in with us as we feature the latest trends, research and news in medicine, health and science. A team of Star Tribune staffers will aggregate updates from news wires, websites, magazines and medical journals.

Brain scans overused for headaches

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: March 18, 2014 - 6:17 PM

Too many patients are getting unnecessary brain scans for headaches, and that use is growing, according to a new study.

Since most headaches are benign, guidelines have recommended against routine MRIs or CT scans. Yet doctors frequently order the expensive scans anyway, researchers say.

"During headache visits, brain scans are ordered an incredible amount of the time," said lead researcher Dr. Brian Callaghan, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Health System, in Ann Arbor.

"There are a lot of MRIs and a lot of CTs and that adds up to a lot of money," he pointed out. "It's about $1 billion a year."

Brain scans for headaches jumped from about 5 percent of patient visits in 1995 to nearly 15 percent in 2010, the researchers found.

While brain scans are good for some patients, they are unnecessary for most, Callaghan noted. Scans often find some abnormality, which although benign, could lead to further unnecessary tests and treatment, he explained.

"In 1 to 3 percent of people you will find something on the MRI, whether it be a tumor or blood vessel malformation. You don't want to find something you weren't looking for. It can be anxiety provoking," Callaghan said.

Brain scans can cost as much as $4,000. Insurance, including Medicare, only pays from $500 to $2,000, he said.

Read more from CBS News.
 

Colon cancer rates drop as screening goes up

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: March 17, 2014 - 2:19 PM

Colon cancer rates have dropped 30 percent in the U.S. in the past 10 years among adults 50 and older, mainly because of colonoscopy screening. The largest cancer decrease is in people over age 65. Colonoscopy use has almost tripled among adults ages 50 to 75, from 19 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2010.

The findings come from Colorectal Cancer Statistics. The National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable hopes to increase screening rates to 80 percent by 2018.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States. An estimated 136,830 Americans are diagnosed with it in a year, and 50,310 will die from it.

Its slow growth from precancerous polyp to invasive cancer provides a rare opportunity to prevent cancer through the detection and removal of precancerous growths. Screening allows early detection, when treatment is more successful.

Read more from Medical Xpress.
 

Mental illness common among Army recruits

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: March 4, 2014 - 12:01 PM

Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. soldiers had a common mental illness, such as depression, panic disorder or ADHD, before enlisting in the Army, according to a new study that raises questions about the military's assessment and screening of recruits.
 
More than 8% of soldiers had thought about killing themselves and 1.1% had a past suicide attempt, researchers found from confidential surveys and interviews with 5,428 soldiers at U.S. Army installations.
 
The findings, published online in two papers in JAMA Psychiatry, point to a weakness in the recruiting process, experts said. Applicants are asked about their psychiatric histories, and those with certain disorders or past suicide attempts are generally barred from service.
 
"The question becomes, 'How did these guys get in the Army?'" said Ronald Kessler, a Harvard University sociologist who led one of the studies.
 
A third study looked at the increased suicide rate among soldiers from 2004 to 2009. The study, which tracked nearly 1 million soldiers, found that those who had been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq had an increased rate of suicide.
 
But it also found that the suicide rate among soldiers who had never deployed also rose steadily during that time. The study did not explain the cause.
 
The Pentagon did not make officials available to discuss the studies.
 
The three studies are the first from a massive research initiative started in 2009 by the Army and the National Institutes of Mental Health in response to the surge in suicides.

Read more from Los Angeles Times.
 

Another germ factory: Docs' stethoscopes

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: February 28, 2014 - 1:45 PM

Doctors should disinfect their stethoscopes after each clinical examination because they can be a major source of bacterial contamination, a new study reports.

Researchers in Geneva found that the diaphragm on the end of the stethoscope had higher bacteria levels than every part of a doctor's hand, except fingertips.

Lead investigator Dr. Didier Pittet, from the University of Geneva Hospitals, said in a statement: "From infection control and patient safety perspectives, the stethoscope should be regarded as an extension of the physician's hands and be disinfected after every patient contact."

Similar results were found after doctors examined patients contaminated with MRSA.

The authors of the study, published in the March issue of Mayo Clinical Proceedings, say that doctors should disinfect stethoscopes after each use.

Pittet said, "By considering that stethoscopes are used repeatedly over the course of a day, come directly into contact with patients' skin, and may harbor several thousands of bacteria (including MRSA) collected during a previous physical examination, we consider them as potentially significant vectors of transmission."

Read more from WebMD.
 

'Designer babies' feared with three-parent embryos

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: February 25, 2014 - 4:52 PM

U.S. medical advisers are weighing whether there is scientific justification for allowing human studies of a controversial procedure known as "three-parent in vitro fertilization (IVF)," a technique supporters say could prevent horrific genetic defects, but critics believe could lead to designer babies.

Over two days of public hearings starting on Tuesday, scientists were scheduled to present their research to outside advisors to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency will decide whether safety concerns raised by three-parent IVF are minimal enough to allow clinical trials to begin.

The committee is focusing only on the science, not the legal or ethical issues, Celia Witten of the FDA's Office of Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies said in comments introducing the hearing.

That did not stop members of the public from focusing on ethical issues. Speakers warned the panel that use of three-parent IVF "could alter the human species," represented "an unprecedented level of experimentation on non-consenting human subjects" (meaning any children born via the technique), and "could open the door to genetically-modified children" who would be "manufactured products."

In the three-parent procedure, one man would donate sperm and all its DNA for in vitro fertilization. The would-be biological mother would contribute the egg and most of its DNA. But if the mother carries harmful genetic mutations in cellular structures called mitochondria, scientists would remove her unhealthy mitochondria and substitute those of a second woman so the baby would not inherit a potentially devastating "mitochondrial disease."

Allowing such procedures "would produce genetically modified human beings," Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Berkeley, California-based Center for Genetics and Society, a non-profit that focuses on genetic and reproductive technologies, told the committee.

If the FDA allows clinical trials, she warned, it would introduce "a regime of high-tech consumer eugenics" and represent "the first time a government body had okayed genetic changes for humans and their descendants."

Although the FDA committee is considering only scientific issues, such as whether animal research can show whether mitochondrial manipulation is safe, the agency said it is prepared to go beyond that.

Read more from Reuters.
 

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