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Health Highlights: Feb. 12, 2002

Viagra Deemed OK for Men With Heart Disease Multiple In Vitro Infants Show Higher Brain Disorder Rates: Study Hormone Replacement Therapy Linked to Breast Cancer Increases Unprecedented Pollution Measured at WTC Always in a Bad Mood? Your Brain May Hold Clue Spine Implant Shows Promise in Treating Disc Disease

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

Viagra Deemed OK for Men With Heart Disease

Men with heart trouble can have safe sex with Viagra by their bedside.

However, they should get their doctor's approval before trying to perform, suggests a new study that finds no link between the impotence drug and cardiovascular complications.

Since its introduction in 1998, Pfizer, Inc's Viagra has been dogged by reports of potentially deadly heart problems in the men who take the blockbuster erection drug, HealthDay reports.

A research team led by Dr. Adelaide Arruda-Olson, a heart specialist at the Mayo Clinic, looked at the effects of Viagra on the cardiovascular system in 105 impotent men with known or likely coronary artery disease.

Viagra did lead to a small drop in resting systolic blood pressure -- the top number -- compared with placebo. Otherwise, the researchers could find no impact of the drug on any of the other measures of heart and vessel dynamics.

The study appears in tomorrow's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Multiple In Vitro Infants Show Higher Brain Disorder Rates, Says Study

Children who are among multiple infants resulting from in vitro fertilization (IVF) have higher rates of brain disorders and developmental delays, a new Swedish study concludes.

In looking at 5,680 IVF infants born from 4,354 women, researchers with University Children's Hospital in Uppsala, Sweden, found that about 2 percent of the infants later required treatment at a disability center for neurologically related problems, the Washington Post reports.

That's about double the rate seen in a control group of children who had been naturally conceived.

The most common problems the children experienced were cerebral palsy and "developmental delay."

In the study, published in the Feb. 9 issue of the journal The Lancet, the researchers speculate that such characteristics as low birthweight and low gestational age, common to IVF babies, may explain the problems.

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Hormone Replacement Therapy Linked to Breast Cancer Increases

Older women who use any type of long-term hormone replacement therapy face what appears to be an alarming risk for all types of breast cancer, HealthDay reports.

A new study reveals that post-menopausal women who used hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for five years had almost triple the risk of breast cancer compared to non-users. For women who were taking the hormones when their cancer was diagnosed, the risk almost quadrupled.

While the numbers may seem startling, cancer experts caution that the research needs to be put in context. Because the study is small and the findings so huge, they question whether the numbers are representative of all women who use HRT.

Although this isn't the first research to point out the dangers of HRT, it's the first to show it can increase the risk of all types of breast cancer.

The findings, coming close on the heels of research questioning the ability of mammograms to save lives, appear in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Unprecedented Pollution Measured at Trade Center Site

Unprecedented levels of pollutants measured at the World Trade Center site could lead to serious lung problems including emphysema, the Associated Press reports.

Air samples taken by University of California scientists show what they called "startling" levels of sulfur, silicon, titanium and other pollutants. The very fine particles are believed caused by the burning of jet fuel and glass in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the Trade Center. Levels of some of these pollutants were the highest ever recorded, eclipsing those measured during the Iraqi burning of Kuwaiti oil fields during the Gulf War, the AP reports.

The fact that the particles are so fine -- less than .001 inch diameter -- means they can easily make their way into the lungs. Many rescue workers at "Ground Zero" have complained of what's being called "World Trade Center Cough" and other lung problems.

A week after the Sept. 11 attack, the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Whitman, announced that the "air is safe to breathe." Some members of Congress are alleging that Whitman may have misled the public, the AP reports.

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Always in a Bad Mood? Your Brain May Hold a Clue

If you're one of those people who are always grumpy, you may have an overactive area in your brain, a new study suggests.

Brain scans of people who reported recent bouts of moodiness show a rise in blood flow in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain found behind the right eye, researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But it's not clear if the brain activity causes the bad mood, or vice versa, the researchers say. The same area of the brain has been linked to emotional activity in other studies.

"Such a connection does make sense because animal studies show that this region of the brain controls heart rate, breathing, stomach acidity levels, sweating and other autonomous functions that have a close connection to mood, lead author David Zald, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, told BBC News.

He said as researchers learn more about how brain activity affects mood, it could lead to effective ways to treat clinical depression and other emotional disorders.

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Spine Implant Shows Promise in Treating Disc Disease

An artificial implant is being tested in 10 medical centers nationwide as a treatment for chronic disc disease of the spine, HealthDay reports. If the current trials lead to approval by the Food and Drug Administration, the ProDisc could, as soon as 2004, rival spinal fusion as a treatment for crippling forms of lower back pain.

The ProDisc is not the first artificial disc to be tried in the United States. A separate trial recently concluded in New York for the SBIII Charité disc, and its manufacturer is awaiting the FDA's evaluation.

Artificial discs are used to treat degenerative disc disease, where wear-and-tear on a disc causes chronic low back pain. The typical treatment, involving surgery that fuses segments of the spine together, often has short-term success. Patients commonly end up in pain again two or three years later and have to go through more surgery.

Artificial discs have been used in Europe for 14 years.

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