Health Highlights: June 4, 2007

Medicare Cuts Will Reduce Access to Doctors: AMA Seven-Day Glucose Monitoring System Approved FDA Panel Aims to Improve Product-Safety Communication Doctors Alarmed About Wheeled Sneaker Injuries At-Home Fertility Test Makes Debut in U.S. Stroke May Raise Alzheimer's Risk: Study

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

Medicare Cuts Will Reduce Access to Doctors: AMA Poll

Next year's planned 10 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians will limit seniors' access to doctors, according to a survey of 9,000 doctors released Monday by the American Medical Association.

"The AMA is deeply concerned by the alarming news that 60 percent of America's physicians will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they will be able to care for next year when Medicare cuts physician payments," AMA Board Chair Dr. Cecil B. Wilson said in a prepared statement.

The AMA wants Congress to stop the payment cut and, instead, increase payments by 1.7 percent in 2008 to keep pace with doctors' cost increases.

Next year's 10 percent cut would be the first in a series of payment reductions. Over nine years, total cuts will amount to about 40 percent, while the cost of caring for patients will increase by about 20 percent, the AMA said.

The survey found that 77 percent of physicians said they'll be forced to limit the number of Medicare patients as a result of the cuts.

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Seven-Day Glucose Monitoring System Approved

A seven-day glucose monitoring system for people with diabetes has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The STS-7 Continuous Glucose Monitoring System (STS-7 System) measures glucose levels every five minutes throughout a seven-day period. This information can be used to track patterns and detect trends in glucose levels that can't be identified by a standard fingerstick test alone, the FDA said.

However, even when using the STS-7 System, diabetics must still use a fingerstick test to decide when additional insulin is needed, the agency said.

The new system, made by DexCom Inc. of San Diego, uses a disposable sensor that's placed just below the skin in the abdomen to measure the level of glucose in the fluid found in the body's tissues.

A three-day version of the device was approved by the FDA in March 2006.

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FDA Panel Aims to Improve Product-Safety Communication

A 15-member panel of experts is being formed to help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration improve the way it communicates with the public about safety issues involving drugs, food, and other products regulated by the agency, the Associated Press reported.

Creation of this kind of panel was recommended last year in a report by the Institute of Medicine, a nongovernmental advisory group. The report offered suggestions for improving the FDA's drug safety system in the wake of the controversy surrounding the pain drug Vioxx, which was withdrawn from the market in 2004 after studies showed it was linked with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

In forming the new panel, the FDA is seeking experts in marketing, communication and other social sciences who are not affiliated with the FDA, the AP reported. Nominations for panel members can be submitted by mail or via the FDA's Web site at www.fda.gov.

While the FDA is not obligated to follow the advice of its advisory panels, it does so in most cases.

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Doctors Alarmed About Wheeled Sneaker Injuries

Doctors say the worldwide craze for wheeled sneakers is leading to a rash of injuries among children, including cracked skulls, dislocated elbows, and broken arms, wrists and ankles, the Associated Press reported.

The sneakers have wheels in their heels that enable wearers to roll through malls, playgrounds and on sidewalks.

But doctors warn that that too many children are being hurt while using the sneakers. For example, an Irish study in the journal Pediatrics said during a 10-week period last summer, 67 children were injured while using shoes with built-in or strap-on wheels, the AP reported.

A spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said from September 2005 to December 2006, the agency received reports of one death and at least 64 injuries related to wheeled sneakers.

This week, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons plans to release safety guidelines that recommend the use of helmets, knee, and elbow pads, and wrist protectors for children who wear wheeled shoes, the AP reported.

The most popular brand of wheeled shoes are made by Texas-based Heelys, Inc. In April, the company said it commissioned a study that found that wheeled shoes are safer than inline skating, skateboarding, and even swimming.

The company said that its shoes are sold with safety information, including a recommendation to wear protective equipment, the AP reported.

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At-Home Fertility Test for Men and Women

The first at-home fertility screening test for men and women goes on sale in the United States Monday.

The test, called Fertell, allows couples to assess key elements of both male and female fertility with 95 percent accuracy, according to maker Genosis, Inc. The test can be purchased over-the-counter at CVS, Longs drug stores, as well as online, the company said.

The male portion of the test measures the concentration of motile sperm, a key indicator of sperm health. Results are available within 80 minutes. The female portion checks follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels in a woman's urine on the third day of her menstrual cycle.

FSH is a key indicator of ovarian reserve, a measure of the age of a woman's ovaries and their ability to respond to FSH in order to produce eggs that can be fertilized, Genosis said. The results of the female test can be available in 30 minutes.

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Study Explores How Stroke May Increase Risk of Alzheimer's

A lack of oxygen in the brain experienced by stroke victims, or even people who are heavy snorers, can trigger changes that increase a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, say British researchers.

They found that reduced oxygen levels can affect brain cells called astrocytes, which normally clean up excess amounts of a neurotransmitter called glutamate. But a lack of oxygen decreases the ability of astrocytes to carry out this task, BBC News reported.

This results in a build-up of glutamate, which is toxic and can cause brain cell death if it's allowed to accumulate in large levels. This could eventually lead to the onset of Alzheimer's.

Previous research found that low oxygen levels can cause astrocytes to increase production of beta amyloid, the protein that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.

This study suggests that increased production of beta-amyloid may block the expression of the proteins that astrocytes need in order to remove excess glutamate, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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