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Health Highlights: Jan. 14, 2011

Multaq Heart Drug Linked to Liver Damage: FDA Hypertension Drug Avalide Recalled Chew Bars Recalled Due to High Lead Levels Aretha Franklin Says She Doesn't Have Pancreatic Cancer House to Vote Next Week on Repeal of Health Care Law End Free Medicare Home Visits: Panel Study Questions Exclusive Breastfeeding for Six Months Many Pregnant Women Have Toxic Chemicals in Body: Study

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

Multaq Heart Drug Linked to Liver Damage: FDA

There have been several reports of liver damage in patients taking the new heart drug Multaq, including two cases where patients' livers had to be removed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

A new warning about the risk of liver damage will be added to the drug's label, the agency said. The drug already carries a black box warning (the most severe type) that alerts doctors and patients the drug can cause severe complications, including death, in people with recent heart failure, the Associated Press reported.

Patients taking Multaq should contact their doctor if they notice symptoms of liver problems, including nausea, vomiting and fever, the FDA said.

The agency approved the drug in July 2009 to treat the heart rhythm problems atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, the AP reported.


Hypertension Drug Avalide Recalled

About 64 million tablets of the high blood pressure drug Avalide have been recalled due to a manufacturing error that could affect the drug's efficacy, say Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Sanofi-Aventis SA.

Certain batches of the drug may contain an active ingredient called irbesartan, which is less able to dissolve in the stomach than expected, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The recalled lots of Avalide were sold in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico and Argentina.

This is the second recall of the drug in recent months. About 60 million tablets were recalled in September, Dow Jones reported.


Chew Bars Recalled Due to High Lead Levels

Concerns about lead levels have prompted the recall of all Toxic Waste brand Nuclear Sludge Chew Bars.

A test conducted by the California Department of Health found that a lot of the bars contained elevated levels of lead (0.24 parts per million), which could threaten the health of infants, small children and pregnant women. The U.S. limit is 0.1 ppm.

The recall covers all flavors of 0.7-ounce (20-gram) Nuclear Sludge Chew Bars, which were made in Pakistan and sold in the United States by Indianapolis-based Candy Dynamics.

For more information, contact the company at 317-228-5012 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.


Aretha Franklin Says She Doesn't Have Pancreatic Cancer

Aretha Franklin says there is no truth to reports she has pancreatic cancer.

The 68-year-old Queen of Soul admits she had a recent health scare but wouldn't provide any details. She suffered pain so bad it brought her to her knees. She decided to cancel any further concerts while she sought answers from doctors.

"I went through a number of procedures before I knew what was wrong," she told ACCESS Hollywood.

Franklin said she doesn't know how the pancreatic cancer story starting making the rounds.

"I was sitting there reading the newspaper and it was saying someone in my family said that," she told ACCESS Hollywood. "No one in my family ever said that to anybody."


House to Vote Next Week on Repeal of Health Care Law

House Republicans intend to hold a vote next week to repeal the health care law. The vote was scheduled to take place this week but there was a weeklong pause in legislative business to honor the Arizona shooting victims.

Republicans contend that the health care law is too expensive. But Democrats point to an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimated that repealing the law will add $230 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade, CNN reported.

It's likely that the tone of the debate will closely watched in the wake of the Arizona shooting spree in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, was wounded and six people were killed.

Even if the House votes to repeal the health care law, there's little chance it will survive the Senate or a promised veto by President Barack Obama, CNN reported.


End Free Medicare Home Visits: Panel

A significant new out-of-pocket charge for home health visits could be imposed on Medicare recipients if lawmakers heed a recommendation released Thursday by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

Currently, there is no charge for home health visits from nurses and other health providers. The advisory panel said a copayment is needed to discourage overuse and possible fraud of the $20 billion-per-year program, the Associated Press reported.

The congressionally-appointed commission voted 13-1 to recommend that Congress implements the new charge. Two members abstained and one was absent.

While the panel did not specify an amount, its staff has suggested that Medicare recipients be charged $150 for a series of related home visits, the AP reported.


Study Questions Exclusive Breastfeeding for Six Months

Some experts are challenging a new study that questions whether breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months is best for a baby's health.

The British researchers concluded that babies fed only breast milk might suffer iron deficiency and be more likely to develop allergies. Babies should be weaned on to solids as early as four months, said the study, Agence France-Presse reported.

The researchers did say that breastfeeding exclusively for six months may be the best recommendation for mothers in developing countries, where there are higher infection-related death rates. But in developed nations, it may lead to health problems and "reduce the window for introducing new tastes."

"Bitter tastes, in particular, may be important in the later acceptance of green leafy vegetables, which may potentially affect later food preference with influence on health outcomes such as obesity," the study authors wrote.

"I really must challenge the suggestion from the review that the U.K. should reconsider its current advice on exclusive breastfeeding for six months," said Janet Fyle, professional policy adviser at the Royal College of Midwives in the U.K., AFP reported.

"I believe that this is a retrograde step and plays into the hands of the baby food industry which has failed to support the six-month exclusive breastfeeding policy in the U.K.," she added.


Many Pregnant Women Have Toxic Chemicals in Body: Study

The typical pregnant woman in the United States has a number of potentially toxic or cancer-causing chemicals in her body, according to a new study.

Detectable levels of eight types of chemicals were found in the blood or urine of nearly all the 268 women included in the study. The researchers said many of those chemicals pass through the placenta and concentrate in the fetus, USA Today reported.

The chemicals include: flame retardants; pesticides; car exhaust pollution; PCBs (toxic industrial chemical banned in 1979); perchlorate (used in rocket fuel); PFCs (used in non-stick cookware), and phthalates (used in many fragrances and plastics).

The study was published Friday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.


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