Health Highlights: Dec. 3, 2009

Cluster of Rare Breast Disease in Indiana: Report Screening Reveals Heart Conditions in Grade 6 Students Obesity Increases Kids' Risk of Spinal Problems: Study Mammogram Task Force Defends Recommendations USADA Targets Easy Availability of Steroids NFL Issues Tougher Rules on Handling of Head Injuries

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Cluster of Rare Breast Disease in Indiana: Report

Seven young Hispanic women in Indiana were diagnosed with a rare breast disease called idiopathic granulomatous mastitis (IGM) between 2006 and 2009, making it the largest cluster of the disease ever reported in the United States, says a report released Thursday.

IGM features symptoms similar to breast cancer. The cause is unknown.

The cluster of cases among Hispanic women in Indiana is the first time in the United States that a higher prevalence of IGM has been identified in a particular ethnic group, researchers said.

All of the patients experienced delays in receiving care, with an average of five months between symptom onset and diagnostic biopsy. The women had a number of significant risk factors, including low education levels, positive tuberculin skin test results and medication allergies.

The researchers suggested that identifying barriers to prompt health care access may lead to earlier diagnosis of IGM.

The article appears in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Screening Reveals Heart Conditions in Grade 6 Students

Doctors who performed heart screenings on 94 Grade 6 students in Houston found that seven had heart conditions, including two who needed surgery. The results surprised the researchers, who want mandatory heart screenings for all sixth graders in the United States.

"Usually, the first time these kids have symptoms is during cardiac arrest," study leader Dr. John Higgins told the Houston Chronicle, CBS News reported. "We had at least two cases in Houston last year where it was the first episode and they died," the cardiologist said.

Most of the students screened by Higgins and colleagues were black and Hispanic, and nearly half of them were overweight. Three students were diagnosed with stage 2 hypertension, while early onset of high blood pressure was found in others.

As part of the study, Higgins plans to conduct heart screenings on 1,500 middle schoolers in the Houston area. The screenings include an electrocardiogram, an echocardiogram, a physical exam and a health history.


Obesity Increases Kids' Risk of Spinal Problems: Study

Along with an increased risk for high cholesterol and diabetes, overweight and obese children also may be more prone to spinal problems and back pain, according to U.S. researchers.

They examined MRIs of 188 young people, ages 12 to 20, who had back pain and found that 56 percent of them had some lumbar spine abnormalities, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The researchers then calculated the age-adjusted BMI (body-mass index) for 106 of the study participants and found that 54 had a BMI greater than the 75th percentile for their age. Of those, 37 (68.5 percent) had abnormal findings on their spinal MRIs. All the children at or below a healthy weight had normal MRI results.

The study was presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Radiological Society.

"These results demonstrate a strong relationship between increased BMI in the pediatric population and the incidence of lumbar disc disease," study lead author Dr. Judah Burns, a fellow in neuroradiology at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City, said in a news release, the Times reported.


Mammogram Task Force Defends Recommendations

While they concede they "communicated very poorly," members of a U.S. government-appointed task force are holding firm on a controversial new recommendation that most women shouldn't get regular mammograms until age 50.

Appearing before Congress Wednesday, the task force leaders explained their guidelines have mistakenly been taken to mean that women under 50 should forgo mammograms altogether. But their true message is that women under 50 should discuss the issue with their doctor in order to make the choice that's best for them, CBS News reported.

Some doctors are ignoring that advice and still recommending annual mammograms for their female patients.

The lead doctors on the task force also faced questions about another contentious recommendation regarding breast self-exams.

"The task force recommended against clinicians teaching women breast self-examination. They did not recommend that women not pay attention to their bodies," task force report co-author Dr. Diana Petitti told lawmakers, CBS News reported.

"Well, how are women to get that knowledge?" asked Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, asked. "They can't just get it by intuition!"


USADA Targets Easy Availability of Steroids

In an effort to stop "rogue" manufacturers from selling steroids under the guise of legal nutritional supplements, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency this week launched a new program called Supplement Safety Now.

These steroids are easily available to anyone, noted Travis Tygart, USADA chief executive officer. Earlier this week, he went to and found he could buy "P-Plex," a muscle-building product that contains a designer steroid called Madol, the Associated Press reported.

"When you can go onto a popular site like Amazon, and without ID, you can buy a product like this, it's an obvious problem, not just for athletes,'' Tygart said. "It undermines the legitimacy of the legitimate supplement industry. Until these problems are adequately addressed, even the most informed customer cannot have confidence in their choice.''

The new initiative, designed to increase awareness of the issue and develop solutions, has the support of a number of major athletic organizations, including the NFL, Major League Baseball and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Dietary supplement makers are mostly supportive of the USADA's new program. But instead of new laws, the industry wants better enforcement of existing laws.

"I do find that disturbing, if you're able to buy these kind of products off a Web site like Amazon and those kind of products are clearly illegal in a number of regards,'' Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, told the AP. "But that means someone's not doing their job if they're not enforcing the law."


NFL Issues Tougher Rules on Handling of Head Injuries

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday sent a memo to the league's 32 professional football teams outlining the toughest rules yet for when players with head injuries can return to games or practices.

In the latest development in what has become a heated controversy, the new rules state that a player who gets a concussion should not return to action on the same day if he shows certain signs or symptoms. Those include an inability to remember assignments or plays, a gap in memory, persistent dizziness and persistent headaches, the Associated Press reported.

The previous rule, which was enacted two years ago, only stipulated that a player could not go back on the field if he lost consciousness.

The memo also stressed that players "are to be encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion."

Nearly one-fifth of 160 NFL players surveyed by the AP in early November admitted that they have tried to downplay effects of a concussion. The league said on Wednesday that its concussion committee, team doctors, outside medical experts and the NFL Players Association developed the new standards.

This month, all NFL teams were told they must have an outside neurologist who can be consulted on concussions, and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday all of those independent doctors have been approved and are in place.

Since last month's congressional hearing on NFL head injuries, momentum has been building for changes in league policy.

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