Health Highlights: July 28, 2011

Tylenol's Maker Reducing Daily Dose to Help Prevent ODs Childhood Asthma Drug Costs More Than Doubled Over 10 Years: Report New Brain Scan Technique Reveals Back Pain Severity Judge Dismisses Suit Barring Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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

Tylenol's Maker Reducing Daily Dose to Help Prevent ODs

To lower the risk of accidental overdose from acetaminophen, Johnson & Johnson is reducing the maximum daily dose of Extra Strength Tylenol, its popular painkiller, by 1,000 milligrams.

Consumers will be advised to take no more than 6 pills a day (3,000 milligrams total) instead of the 8 pills a day (4,000 milligrams) specified on current packaging.

The dosing interval also will be extended -- to every 6 hours, from every 4-6 hours, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the J&J division that makes Tylenol, said in a news release issued Thursday. Product packaging will bear the new dosing guidelines beginning this fall.

The changes stem from a 2009 Food and Drug Administration decision calling for tighter regulation of acetaminophen, the painkiller in Tylenol, which can cause liver damage and fatal overdose when used in excess. Next year, McNeil also intends to reduce the maximum daily dose for Regular Strength Tylenol and other products containing the pain reliever.

"Acetaminophen is safe when used as directed," the McNeil statement said. Taking multiple products or not following the dosing instructions can result in accidental overdose, the company added.

Acetaminophen is found in hundreds of over-the-counter headache, fever and cold medications as well as prescription drugs, including Percocet and Vicodin.


Childhood Asthma Drug Costs Doubled Over 10 Years

The percentage of American children treated for asthma increased slightly over 10 years, while yearly drug costs to treat the disease more than doubled, according to a federal government report released Thursday.

Between 1997-98 and 2007-08, the average annual percentage of children treated for asthma rose from 4.7 percent to 6.1 percent. The average annual prescription drug expenses increased from $349 to $838 per child, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Overall average yearly health care expenses for a child with asthma rose 37 percent, from $1,827 to $2,503.

The analysis of data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey also showed that children ages 5 to 11 were more likely to be treated for asthma than children ages 12 to 17.


New Brain Scan Technique Reveals Back Pain Severity

A new brain imaging technique may help doctors determine and monitor the severity of patients' low back pain, researchers say.

They found that the method, called arterial spin labeling and performed during MRI scans, enabled them to observe changes in blood flow in specific areas of the brain as chronic back pain patients held uncomfortable positions, ABC News reported.

The study was conducted by scientists at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and appears online and in the August print issue of the journal Anesthesiology.

"Normally, when you do studies with older techniques, you're not able to track the changes in people's chronic pain over time," study co-leader Dr. Ajay D. Wasan, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and psychiatry, told ABC News. "This provides a way to look at the physiology of the brain when someone has more or less chronic pain."


Judge Dismisses Suit Barring Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Obama administration will be able to continue funding embryonic stem cell research after a lawsuit challenging it was dismissed Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleged that a federal law that prohibits taxpayer financing of embryonic stem cell research that harms an embryo was being violated by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. But the Obama administration argued that federal policy allows research using embryos that were harvested long ago through private funding, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled last year that the lawsuit was likely to succeed and ordered a stop to federally-funded embryonic research while the case continued. But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled that the lawsuit was likely to fail and overturned the injunction.

As a result, Lamberth released an opinion Wednesday in favor of the Obama administration, the AP reported.

Scientists hope that embryonic stem cells will one day provide cures for a number of ailments, including spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease.

Consumer News