Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Alzheimer's new drug 'halts' decline

Scientists in Britain have developed a drug which could represent a major breakthrough in treatment for people with Alzheimer's disease, they said on Wednesday. The drug, Rember, targets the build-up of tau protein tangles which form inside the brain nerve cells of people with Alzheimer's.

These tangles destroy nerve cells linked to memory, causing forgetfulness. Professor Claude Wischik of Aberdeen University in northeast Scotland, who co-founded the company which created the drug, hailed the results as "the most significant development in the treatment of the tangles since Alois Alzheimer discovered them in 1907".

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Can Statins Reduce Risk of Memory Loss?

In Study, Statin Users Were Half as Likely to Develop Dementia. The same drugs that protect against heart attacks and strokes by lowering cholesterol may also protect against age-related memory loss and dementia. In a study that included about 1,700 elderly people, those who took cholesterol-lowering statin drugs were about half as likely to develop dementia over five years of follow-up as those who did not.

After adjusting for known risk factors for age-related mental decline, such as education level, smoking status, and history of stroke or diabetes, the researchers found that study participants that had used statins were about half as likely to show evidence of cognitive decline.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

The case for hip resurfacing

In regard to the July 21 article on hip replacement: Having had one hip resurfaced more than 10 years ago and the other resurfaced more than four years ago, I read the article on hip repair with interest.

Perhaps the writer was overly influenced by total- replacement surgeons trying to protect their livelihood, but she unfortunately missed many of the advantages that resurfacing has over total replacement.

If you or your loved one needed hip implants, which procedure would you choose: the one that much more closely matches your original joint anatomically; the one with minimal chance that a future "revision" will be needed; the one that's more solid due to more surface area for stability and support; the one that doesn't wear out because it's not plastic rubbing against metal; the one enabling a more precise leg length meaning less stress on your back; the one providing a future with no activity restrictions?

Sorry, but the gold standard in hip repair is clearly resurfacing, not replacement.

David Grigg

La Quinta

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LA Times Health Articles

Shopping's dark side: The compulsive buyer
Compulsive shopping: Is it a disorder?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

AARP: Drug Offers a Ray of Hope for Alzheimer’s Patients

Your Health: Alzheimer's

This is the first of a five-part special report on Alzheimer’s. Check back next week for breaking news from the international conference on Alzheimer's.

Dimebon—a new drug for Alzheimer’s disease whose promising test results were reported with great fanfare earlier this month will make even more news next week at an international Alzheimer’s conference in Chicago.

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The Dish on Fish: It’s Good for You—Except When It’s Not

To some scientists and doctors, fish is a miracle food, a treasure trove of heart-healthy fatty acids and disease-fighting vitamins. To others, it’s a culinary curse, the carrier of health-endangering toxins. Which is it? The confusion is enough to make you go off the deep end.

If you’re 50 or older, dive in, say experts: The benefits—and there are many, among them a lower risk of dementia, vision loss and dying from heart disease—far outweigh the risks. “There is plenty of nutrition in fish, but most of the evidence points to omega-3s as the big-ticket benefit,” says Harvard Medical School cardiologist Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., who as the author of several major medical studies may be the nation’s most prolific researcher on the health impact of seafood.

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California bans restaurants from using trans fats

California on Friday became the first state to ban trans fats from restaurant food, following several cities and major fast-food chains in erasing the notorious artery-clogger from menus. The legislation signed by Schwarzenegger will take effect Jan. 1, 2010, for oil, shortening and margarine used in spreads or for frying. Restaurants could continue using trans fats to deep-fry yeast dough and in cake batter until Jan. 1, 2011.

Most trans fats are created when vegetable oil is treated with hydrogen to create baked and fried goods with a longer shelf life. Stephen Joseph, a Tiburon attorney who was a consultant to New York City in developing its ban, said trans fat is a larger health risk than saturated fat because it reduces so-called good cholesterol.

A 2006 review of trans fat studies by the New England Journal of Medicine concluded there was a strong connection between consumption of trans fats and heart disease. Studies also have linked trans fats to diabetes, obesity, infertility in women and some types of cancer.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

World's largest online medical encyclopedia planned

A plan to create the world's largest online medical encyclopedia was announced today. Known as Medpedia, the site will be free and available to the public when it launches at the end of this year. Physicians, medical schools, hospitals and health organizations are volunteering to build a comprehensive clearinghouse for information about health, medicine and the body.

The goal is to create Web pages with easy-to-understand information on 30,000 diseases, more than 10,000 prescription drugs and thousands of medical procedures. People can get a sneak preview of the site at

Participants include the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Stanford School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Drug Administration and many other organizations.

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Genetic Cause of Statin-Related Muscle Pain Found

British researchers have discovered a genetic variant that causes some people who take cholesterol-lowering statins to have the muscle weakness called myopathy. "We found a variant that affects the transport of statins into the liver," said Dr. Rory Collins, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford and a leader of the group reporting the discovery in the July 24 online issue of theNew England Journal of Medicine. "That variant produces a high level of blood statins and accounts for the greatest proportion of myopathy in people who use statins."

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Pre-diabetes must be treated, doctors urge

Diabetes experts created the first recommendations Tuesday for the treatment of people with pre-diabetes in the hopes of curbing the diabetes epidemic. There are now no solid guidelines for diagnosing and managing pre-diabetes, a condition in which a person's blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

If physicians do not recognize and treat pre-diabetes, diabetes will continue to inflate at great personal health and financial cost, says Daniel Einhorn, vice president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. The group is meeting in Oxon Hill, Md., near Washington, D.C.

In an early release of the new recommendations, members of the endocrinologist group agreed that diagnosing pre-diabetes should be based on more than the results of blood glucose tests, such as history of diabetes during pregnancy and family history of the disease. The group also decided that changes in ways of living, not medication, should be the first line of treatment in staving off diabetes.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Repairing more hearts with implanted pumps

When it comes to hearts, Taneal Wilson won the lottery. A small pump implanted to keep the 31-year-old alive long enough for a heart transplant somehow helped Wilson's ravaged heart completely recover instead. Only a lucky few are ever weaned off those implants, their rested hearts able to work on their own again. How to duplicate those successes is one of cardiology's biggest questions - as a new generation of the heart pumps begins U.S. testing.

Experts gathered by the National Institutes of Health recently urged testing heart pumps on patients who aren't quite as sick, instead of reserving them for the near-dead like doctors do today.

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Cancer drug dramatically shrinks prostate tumors in study

An experimental cancer drug shrank prostate tumors dramatically and more than doubled survival in 70% to 80% of patients with aggressive cancers, British researchers reported today. Although the study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology covered only 21 patients, the drug is now being tested in more than 250 men with what appears to be similar results, experts said.

"There is a general sense in the prostate cancer community that this agent is extremely promising and is very likely to have an important role in the management of prostate cancer patients," said Dr. Howard Sandler, a radiation oncologist at the University of Michigan who is a spokesman for the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Experts expect the new drug, called abiraterone, to be widely available by 2011. It could find use among most of the 28,000 U.S. men diagnosed each year with the most aggressive and almost always fatal type of prostate cancer.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Ask Ms. Medicare: Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Q. What is medigap insurance? Do I need it?

A. Medicare supplementary insurance is not part of the Medicare program. It is private insurance you can purchase separately, for an additional premium, to cover some of your out-of-pocket costs in Medicare. That’s why it’s often called “medigap.”

You can buy one of 12 standardized medigap policies. Each policy is labeled with a letter of the alphabet—A through L—and offers a different range of benefits from the others. For example, plan J (which has the most benefits) pays the full cost of the Medicare Part A hospital deductible and copayments, the Part B deductible and copays for doctors and other outpatient services, plus all or part of the costs of a few services that Medicare doesn’t cover. The greater the number of benefits, the more expensive the plan usually is.

There are also excellent HMO plans. See the Medical Services page in for more information. - Bill

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Check your cholesterol now

You can't see high cholesterol. You can't feel it. It doesn't have any symptoms. Yet it kills 500,000 Americans each year. It's a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. The first step to controlling cholesterol is to understand whether you're at risk for problems. This quiz can help you figure that out. This test is based on the treatment goals of the National Cholesterol Education Program and should be used as a guideline only.

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Lowering cholesterol in kids starts with diet, exercise

At first blush, the new guidelines on cholesterol control in children were shocking. Statins, one of the most frequently prescribed drugs for adults worldwide, could be prescribed for some children as young as 8, according to recommendations released last week by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But the vast majority of children will never in their pre-pubescence or teens pop a pill to lower cholesterol. Nor will their parents want them to. "I hear it every time I see parents," says Dr. Alan Lewis, a pediatric cardiologist and director of the lipid clinic at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. " 'I don't want my kid taking a pill.' "

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Natural approach to cholesterol is an alternative to Lipitor

Q. My husband took Lipitor and had a bad reaction with muscle weakness. Now my doctor is recommending that I take it, but I am reluctant. My total cholesterol is 284, my LDL 156, my HDL 114.

A. Your good HDL cholesterol is extremely high, which is great for your heart. The ratio of total to HDL cholesterol is an important measure of heart risk. Your ratio, 2.5, is excellent. Your bad LDL also is high. You might be able to get it down with the soluble fiber psyllium, walnuts or fish oil.

Q. I would like to take red yeast rice to lower my cholesterol. I heard that the Food and Drug Administration restricted sales of red yeast rice if it contained lovastatin, the ingredient in Mevacor.

A. Red yeast rice was introduced to the U.S. in the mid-1990s under the name Cholestin. A standard dose contained a little lovastatin (less than half that in a 20 mg Mevacor pill). The FDA challenged Cholestin on the grounds that it was an unapproved drug. Cholestin has since been reformulated, but there are many other red yeast rice products on the market. The FDA has warned consumers to avoid this compound, even though it lowers cholesterol.

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There are statin alternatives

"I saw dozens of people in my practice. I'd run the cholesterol panels, and I'd say, 'Good job. You're staying on the Lipitor or Zocor,' " he says. But it turns out their good results weren't because of the cholesterol-lowering statins he had prescribed. Instead, many of them had followed the advice of infomercials or the grapevine, and decided to begin taking fish oil and red yeast rice supplements instead of statins.

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Hip resurfacing rises as an alternative for younger patients

Jeff Stewart, 43, a house painter and former high school and college athlete, remembers the exact moment his hip gave out: Valentine's Day 2006. "I bent down to paint something low. When I got up, my hip never stopped hurting until I woke up from surgery in January 2007," he said. The pain, due to an anatomical abnormality made worse by years of wear and tear, was so bad that sometimes all he could do was lie on his recliner and watch TV: "When you are in so much pain, your life is reduced to that."

But like a growing number of young, active people, Stewart eschewed the gold-standard treatment -- total hip replacement surgery -- in favor of a new procedure that, propelled by aggressive marketing featuring vigorous, youngish athletes, is sweeping the U.S.: hip resurfacing. The main claim for hip resurfacing is that it can preserve more of the thigh bone, making any subsequent surgery more feasible if the initial repair wears out.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Weight gain halted by vitamins, study of mice finds

Scientists have used a special blend of vitamins and nutrients to stop successive generations of mice from becoming progressively more overweight. The researchers looked at three generations of genetically identical mice that were prone to obesity and found that the offspring got heavier even though they were fed the same diet as their mothers.

But the mice didn't get any plumper when that diet was supplemented with folic acid, vitamin B-12, choline and betaine, according to a study published Tuesday in the International Journal of Obesity. Because the genetic makeup of the mice was the same, the scientists concluded that the diet supplements had managed to suppress the activity of key genes related to obesity.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Congress Overrides Bush Medicare Veto

Almost as quickly as President Bush vetoed a controversial Medicare reform bill, Congress overwhelmingly overrode it early Tuesday evening, preventing a 10.6 percent cut in payments to 600,000 doctors serving Medicare patients.

Bush vetoed the legislation early Tuesday afternoon. At 4:48 p.m., Democratic members of the House of Representatives and 153 Republican members voted 383-41 to override. Senate Democrats were joined by 21 Republicans and voted 70-26 to override.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

L.A. city attorney sues Blue Shield of California over health insurance cancellations

When Blue Shield of California learned Ana Simoes needed emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder, the company OKd the operation but also turned the case over to an investigative unit, according to corporate records disclosed Wednesday.

The cancellation was highlighted by Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo as an example of the allegedly abusive practices at the heart of a lawsuit he filed Wednesday against Blue Shield. The suit contends that Blue Shield has illegally canceled the coverage of more than 850 policyholders including people like the Simoeses since 2002.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Ask Ms. Medicare: Medicare’s Private Plans

Q. I’m confused over how Medicare’s private plans work. If I enroll in one of these plans, will I still be in Medicare or in some other system?

A. Think of a big park. Every path you go down leads to a different section, offering a choice of activities—but whichever path you pick, you’re still in the park. That’s how it is in Medicare. You can choose different kinds of health care coverage within the program. And you can choose how you want your medical services delivered—the traditional way or through a private health plan. Whichever you choose, you’re still in Medicare.

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Patients struggle with lifetime health insurance benefit caps

Mary Wusterbarth thought her toddler was struggling with an ear infection when she seemed sluggish. Instead, a virus had attacked the little girl's heart, damaging it beyond repair. Brea needed a transplant. Within three weeks of a 2007 doctor visit, the 20-month-old had exhausted the $1 million lifetime maximum on her health insurance. Her parents have scrambled ever since for ways to cover thousands of dollars in monthly medical costs.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tony Snow, former Bush spokesman, dies at 53

Tony Snow, a conservative writer and commentator who cheerfully sparred with reporters in the White House briefing room during a stint as President Bush's press secretary, has died of colon cancer, Fox News reported Saturday. Snow was 53 years old.

He served just 17 months as press secretary, a tenure interrupted by his second bout with cancer. In 2005 doctors had removed his colon and he began six months of chemotherapy. In March 2007 a cancerous growth was removed from his abdominal area and he spent five weeks recuperating before returning to the White House.

There was likely no reason for this if he had gotten a regular colon exam. It is not painful and needs to be done regularly. - Bill

Friday, July 11, 2008

Americal Best Hospitals

A great hospital is different because of an internal culture of excellence.

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Soon, dialysis on the move

Soon, kidney patients will not have to undergo lengthy dialysis sessions. For, Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles are developing automated, wearable artificial kidneys.
The automated, wearable artificial kidney, or AWAK, would help avoid complications that often accompany traditional dialysis. "What's really new about it is the patient's freedom," said Roberts.

The design for the peritoneal-based artificial kidney is "bloodless" and reduces or eliminates protein loss and other dialysis-related problems. According to Martin Roberts, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the new technique is based on the principles of an artificial kidney machine developed in 1980.

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The Shocking Truth About Upfront Hospital Fees

After Dave Williams learned in April that the mass in his neck was malignant, his doctor referred him to a local cancer center. At his appointment, he was stunned at what he heard. “They said, ‘We’re looking at $30,000 worth of treatment, and we need $20,000 upfront,’ ” says Williams, 62, of Beeville, Texas. “I said, ‘I don’t have that kind of money.’ ”

His story is all too familiar to Anna McCourt, supervisor of the American Cancer Society’s National Cancer Information Center, which helps patients 24 hours a day. “We’ve seen this for quite some time, but it’s now happening more and more. Requests from hospitals for tens of thousands of dollars upfront are not uncommon,” she says, “and there are occasions where patients have been asked for hundreds of thousands before they can access the care they need.”

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Localized prostate cancer rarely helped by hormone therapy

Medical castration to treat localized prostate tumors does not prolong survival and its side effects far outweigh any potential benefit for most patients, researchers reported today. The technique, which involves using drugs to block the body's production of the male hormone androgen, is a powerful tool when used in conjunction with surgery or radiation for treating aggressive prostate tumors.

"This study suggests that physicians who recommend hormonal therapy for localized tumors are not doing their patients any favors," said Dr. Howard M. Sandler, a radiation oncologist at the University of Michigan Medical School who spoke as a representative of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Heavy Drinkers and Smokers Get Alzheimer’s Earlier Than Others

Research presented in April to the American Academy of Neurology by Ranjan Duara, M.D., of the Wien Center for Alzheimer’s Disease at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, shows that heavy drinkers—more than two drinks a day—developed Alzheimer’s nearly five years earlier than others, and heavy smokers—a pack a day or more—2.3 years sooner.

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Going gluten-free -- for many reasons

Judy Beckett, a retired educator, was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago: Her gut cannot tolerate gluten, and switching to these foods has improved her digestion and quality of life.

Users run the gamut: There are people like Beckett with celiac disease who must be on the diet; others who believe the diet can alleviate chronic intestinal complaints and boost energy; still others who believe the gluten-free diet may help in the treatment of autism and a host of other disorders, including schizophrenia, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, attention deficit disorder, migraine and even fertility problems.

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WellPoint settles with California hospitals over rescissions

Anthem Blue Cross parent WellPoint Inc. agreed Monday to pay $11.8 million to settle claims from about 480 California hospitals that it failed to cover the bills of patients it dropped after they were treated -- a controversial practice known as rescission.

The hospitals sued after scores of their patients contended in their own lawsuits that Blue Cross had illegally dropped them. The patients said Blue Cross had improperly investigated their medical histories after they submitted expensive bills in an effort to use purported preexisting conditions as an excuse for canceling their policies.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Must I wait to reach 65 before I can get Medicare?

Usually, yes. But there are some exceptions. You can become eligible for Medicare at any age before 65 under these circumstances...

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

HDPC not linked to “Monkey Doctor”

A local medical group is reeling after a Los Angeles television report mistakenly linked them to a doctor who was arrested Wednesday for punching a patient’s husband.

On Wednesday night, a KTLA reporter stood in front of the HDPC office on Hesperia Road while doing a report on Dr. Sukalpa Dutta, who allegedly threw a chair and punched a man after he called the doctor a “monkey,” according to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s officials.

Balginy said Dutta does not work for the medical group and that his office is across the street from High Desert Primary Care, apparently leading to the confusion. After an attorney for High Desert Primary Care contacted KTLA Thursday, the station removed an online video of the TV report.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

California sues Prime Healthcare over balance-billing practice

The hospital operator put HMO patients 'in the middle of billing disputes,' a regulator says. California regulators have moved to stop one of the state's biggest hospital operators from billing privately insured patients for unpaid medical services received at its facilities.

The Department of Managed Health Care, in a lawsuit filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, is seeking to bar Prime Healthcare Services Inc. of Victorville from billing insured patients for unpaid medical bills that the hospital chain contends it is owed from insurers and is seeking from patients as a last resort.

"Prime Healthcare's ongoing practice of putting consumers in the middle of billing disputes between providers and health plans is the largest example of this egregious practice we've seen to date, and it must be stopped," said Cindy Ehnes, director of the state agency. "Consumers who have purchased health coverage in good faith deserve to know that it will cover them in a medical emergency and not result in crushing medical debt," she said.
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Primecare Healthcare Services owns Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville