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Health Highlights: March 25, 2002

Binge Drinking At Women's Colleges on Rise: Study FDA Issues Kava Warning Message to Heart Failure Patients: Give Nurse Your Number Mild Hypertension Not a Cause of Headaches Coffee and High Blood Pressure Link Groundless, Study Finds Missouri V.A. Hospital's Infestation Described Painkiller's Possible Link to Meningitis Explored

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

Binge Drinking At Women's Colleges on Rise

Binge drinking among college students in general has remained high, but steady over the past decade, but drinking at women's colleges stands out as increasing at a much higher rate, according to a new study.

The Harvard School of Public Health's College Alcohol Study, to be released tomorrow, indicates that binge drinking remains at a steady 44 percent in the overall college student population, while rates at women's colleges have increased to 32 percent, up from 24 percent in 1993, reports the Associated Press.

The study defines binge drinking as consuming five drinks in a row for men and four in a row for women.

Meanwhile, students at women's colleges who said they abstained from alcohol dropped from 26 percent in 1993 to 21 percent in the 2001 survey.

Students' living situations appeared to be a big factor in drinking levels, with 75 percent of students living in fraternities and sororities reporting binge drinking, as opposed to just 25 percent of those who lived with their parents.

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FDA Issues Kava Warning

Concerns about liver toxicity resulting from consumption of the popular herbal supplement kava escalated today with a warning from the Food and Drug Administration about the herb.

Responding to several cases of liver problems linked to the herb, the FDA warned that people who already have liver problems or who take medications that pose a risk to the liver should consult with a doctor before taking kava, reports the Associated Press.

Those already taking the herb should consult their doctor if they show any symptoms of liver disease, such as brown urine, nausea or vomiting, jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin or eyes or fatigue.

Traditionally known as a ceremonial drink in the South Pacific, kava has become popular in supplement form for the treatment of anxiety, stress and insomnia.

HealthDay reported two weeks ago that the FDA in December had sent a letter to U.S. physicians asking them to report any cases of liver damage they believe may be associated with kava. An FDA spokesman said that between 1998 and late last month, the agency received 38 reports of "adverse effects" believed to be kava-related, including one report involving a young woman who suffered liver failure and required a liver transplant.

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Message to Heart Failure Patients: Give Nurse Your Number

Upon leaving the hospital, what's the best thing heart failure patients can say to their nurse? "Stay in touch," because giving the nurse your number can in fact, can be a matter of life or death, says new research.

According to the study, published in today's Archives of Internal Medicine, a review of 358 heart failure patients showed that those who received routine follow-up phone calls after discharge from the hospital had a 36 percent lower rate of hospital readmission.

In addition, those receiving the calls who did require re-hospitalization had hospital stays that were 46 percent lower than those who had received just usual follow-up care. And the costs of the re-hospitalization for the follow-up call group was 45 percent lower than the others, according to the Associated Press.

The researchers say they're not sure what aspect of the phone calls prompted the improved prognoses.

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Mild Hypertension Not a Cause of Headaches

Contrary to what some might believe, adults with high blood pressure aren't any more likely to suffer headaches than those without the condition. Actually, they may be less likely to have headaches, reports HealthDay.

A Norwegian study of 22,685 people found that men and women whose systolic pressure -- the top of the two figures -- was above 150 at an initial reading were about 30 percent less likely to report having non-migraine headaches 11 years later as those whose pressure was below 140. A systolic pressure of 150 is considered to be mild to moderate hypertension.

The reason for the reduced risk isn't clear. But one possibility, which has evidence from both animals and people, is that as blood pressure rises, sensitivity to painful stimuli tends to drop.

A report on the findings appears in the current issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.

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Coffee and High Blood Pressure Link Groundless: Study

Drinking a couple of cups of coffee each day has no significant effect on a person's blood pressure or the risk of developing hypertension, say Johns Hopkins University researchers, citing results of a 30-year study.

The team followed the java-drinking habits of 1,000 white men who graduated from the university's medical school between 1948 and 1964. Coffee intake -- on average about two cups daily -- and blood pressure levels were checked at least 10 times during the ensuing three decades.

Only small, insignificant increases in blood pressure could be traced to coffee consumption, reports BBC News Online. "Long-term coffee drinking did not substantially increase the risk of developing hypertension," the researchers report in today's Archives of Internal Medicine.

While past studies had shown a connection between coffee drinking and small increases in blood pressure, none had explored the possible link between long-term coffee use and hypertension, the researchers say. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

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Missouri V.A. Hospital's Infestation Described

A Kansas City, Mo., veteran's hospital was so infested with rodents and insects four years ago that insect larvae were born in the noses of two comatose patients, according to a report in Archives of Internal Medicine cited by the Associated Press.

The Veteran's Administration hospital no longer has any cleanliness problems, the report says, noting that it scored 99 out of 100 in an October government inspection.

That wasn't the case in the summer and fall of 1998, when mice would somtimes scamper over employees' feet in the hospital director's office.

Hospital officials say the problems began when cafeteria and food-storage areas were mistakenly dropped from the housecleaning roster. Some areas weren't cleaned for a year or more, which attracted mice and later flies, the article says.

A hospital spokesman told the AP that the maggots were removed from the noses of both patients, neither of whom was hurt. "[The maggots] are ghastly but they're harmless," he told the wire service.

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Painkiller's Possible Link to Meningitis Explored

A popular painkiller used to treat arthritis and other acute pain has been linked to five cases of a nonbacterial form of meningitis, the Associated Press reports.

Approximately 52 million prescriptions for the drug, Vioxx, have been written in the United States since June 1999. The possible meningitis side effect, though rare, is serious, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

No one has died in any of the cases, federal health officials say.

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