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Health Highlights: Feb. 22, 2002

Hormone Therapy Cuts Leg Ulcer Risk in Older Women Thin May Be In, But Leaves Heart Patients Down and Out: Study Daily Alcohol Helps Cholesterol in Older Women Alzheimer's Vaccine Testing Halted High Court Upholds Medicaid Rules for Nursing Homes

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

HRT Cuts Risk of Leg Ulcers in Older Women

Besides easing the symptoms of menopause, hormone replacement therapy may also help keep your skin healthy, reports HealthDay

The latest study on the potential benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) found the treatment might help prevent leg ulcers and bedsores. Results of the study appear in tomorrow's issue of The Lancet.

"Women on HRT were about 40 percent less likely to develop either leg ulcers or pressure ulcers," says lead author Dr. David Margolis, an associate professor of epidemiology and dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Venous leg ulcers refer to a break in the skin on the leg. This type of injury occurs in about 1 percent of people over 65, says Margolis. They occur most often in people with poor circulation, and the older you get, the higher your risk for developing these painful sores.

Margolis and his colleagues studied data from 44,195 women in the United Kingdom, all of whom were 65 or older. Almost 5,000 of the women were on hormone therapy for six months or more.

Only 108 of the women on HRT developed venous leg ulcers, while 1,744 women in the whole group had the condition. Of the 802 women with pressure ulcers, only 49 of them were women on HRT, the study found.

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Thin Is In, But Leaves Heart Patients Down and Out: Study

Being overweight might increase your risk of heart disease, but that could actually be an advantage when doctors have to clear those clogged arteries.

That's according to new research that shows slender people - - especially women - - actually have a worse time than heavier people in recovering from the procedure known as angioplasty, which is conducted to clear blocked arteries.

The study of 9,000 angioplasty patients, appearing in the Feb. 20 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that while thin and even normal-weight people seemed to be in better shape before receiving angioplasty treatment, they experienced more complications, such as major bleeding after treatment.

They were also more likely than overweight and obese people to die while hospitalized after angioplasty, according to wire reports.

The researchers, with the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC, said they'd in fact expected to find the opposite results - - that the overweight people would have had more problems. And they caution that obesity is still a prime risk factor for heart disease.

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Daily Alcohol Helps Cholesterol in Older Women

Move over, oatmeal. Look out, whole wheat toast. Older women have a new way to fight cholesterol -- and it comes not on a plate but in a glass, reports HealthDay.

The latest buzz on lipid-lowering fares involves alcohol, which new studies show can drop cholesterol levels by a significant margin in post-menopausal women.

The new research, appearing today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that women can reduce their levels of both triacylglycerides (formerly called triglycerides) and low density lipoprotein (LDL, the "bad cholesterol" ) by drinking one alcoholic beverage (15 grams) a day.

Adding a second drink, for a total of 30 grams of alcohol a day, will increase high density lipoprotein (HDL, the "good" cholesterol).

"This study does not lead to a recommendation to consume or not consume alcohol. It does provide evidence that may help an individual make informed choices for their own health," says the study author, David J. Baer, a research physiologist affiliated with the United States Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center.

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Alzheimer's Vaccine Testing Halted

The trial of the first vaccine for Alzheimer's disease has suffered an unexpected, and potentially fatal, setback, HealthDay reports.

Elan Corp, an Irish company testing the compound, suspended its trial over concerns that the injection is causing severe brain inflammation. The experimental vaccine, AN-1792, is designed to provoke an immune reaction to amyloid beta plaques, the hard protein clusters whose buildup in the brain is believed to cause Alzheimer's.

The biotech firm first revealed trouble with the vaccine in a Jan. 17 press release posted on the company's Web site and distributed to reporters over the Internet. At the time, the company said it had stopped administering the vaccine after four study volunteers in France developed "central nervous system" inflammation.

However, the Washington Post reported today that eight more study volunteers had fallen ill after receiving the vaccine. The newspaper cited unnamed sources saying the inflammation appears to be either encephalitis or meningoencephalitis, potentially life-threatening swelling of the brain or of the membrane that surrounds the brain.

Virginia Lee, an Alzheimer's expert at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said that the trial's troubles seem to have appeared from nowhere.

"In animals, all the data have been very, very interesting and very positive," Lee said today, adding that the vaccine's initial human safety study turned up no inflammatory reactions. But, she noted, "anything that you generate from an animal model, you really never know how well it will work in humans."

Lee continues to believe Elan's approach is a sound one. However, she said, the vaccine in principle, and now apparently in practice, has the potential to aggravate the immune system, which she called the "worst-case scenario" for such a compound.

About 360 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's had been enrolled in the clinical trials, which were being held in four European countries and at 11 U.S. sites.

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High Court Upholds Medicaid Rules for Nursing Homes

A patient's income and that of a spouse can be used to determine Medicaid eligibility for nursing home residents, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The 6-3 ruling was a defeat for a 78-year-old Wisconsin woman, who had argued that her 82-year-old husband would have to spend his life savings before he would be eligible for Medicaid. The state had argued that without the rules, married couples could shelter or hide their assets.

The court, in a decision written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, found that the formula used by Wisconsin and about 30 other states did not conflict with a federal law designed to prevent the spouses of nursing home residents from becoming bankrupt.

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