Health Highlights: Oct. 25, 2006

Doctors Told to Limit Effexor Prescriptions Extra Pounds Weigh Heavily on Gas Mileage Water Helps Dieters Lose Weight Scientists Test Dissolving Heart Stent Health Costs Hinder Americans' Ability to Save: Survey U.K. Docs Given Go-Ahead for World's First Full Face Transplant

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

Doctors Told to Limit Effexor Prescriptions

In order to reduce the risk of overdose, doctors should limit the amount of the antidepressant Effexor (venlafaxine) they prescribe to patients, drug maker Wyeth and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

The caution was issued in response to reports of deaths and serious injuries in patients who overdosed on Effexor. The FDA and Wyeth said most of those incidents occurred in patients who took Effexor with alcohol or other drugs, the Associated Press reported.

In a letter to doctors dated Oct. 17, Wyeth said physicians should prescribe the "smallest quantity of capsules consistent with good patient management." The letter was released Wednesday by the FDA.

The letter noted that the risk of a death from overdose may be greater with Effexor than with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Lexapro, but the risk associated with Effexor may be less than that with older tricyclic antidepressants, the AP reported.

It's unclear whether the increased risk of dying from an overdose of Effexor can be attributed to the drug or to the characteristics of the patients taking the drug, Wyeth said.


Extra Pounds Weigh Heavily on Gas Mileage

Losing weight can help you save money at the gas pumps. That's the message from new research that found Americans' expanding waistlines are affecting gas mileage and causing them to burn 938 million more gallons of gasoline a year than they did in 1960.

Based on recent average gas prices of $2.20 a gallon, that means that Americans are spending about $2.2 billion more a year to lug their extra pounds around in their cars, the Associated Press reported.

And the researchers noted that 938 million gallons is enough to fill almost 2 million cars with gas for an entire year.

The study will appear in the October-December issue of the journal The Engineering Economist.

"The bottom line is that our hunger for food and our hunger for oil are not independent," study co-author Sheldon Jacobson of the University of Illinois, told the AP.

"If a person reduces the weight in their car, either by removing excess baggage, carrying around less weight in their trunk, or yes, even losing weight, they will indeed see a drop in their fuel consumption," Jacobson said.

In 2002, the average weight for American men was 191 pounds and 164 pounds for women. That's about 25 pounds more than the average in 1960, according to U.S. government figures. The researchers used those weight figures in their calculations, which also included 2003 data on Americans' driving habits for nearly 223 million cars and light trucks, the AP reported.


Water Helps Dieters Lose Weight

Replacing sugary drinks with water can help dieters lose an extra five pounds a year, and people who drink a couple of more cups of water a day can lose even more weight, suggests a U.S. study.

The study authors analyzed weight loss data on 240 overweight women, ages 25 to 50, who were using diet plans that restrict carbohydrate intake to varying degrees, USA Today reported.

Before they began their diets, the women in the study drank an average of two cans of sugary drinks (such as juice or soda ) a day -- a total of about 200 calories.

The study found that women who switched from sugary drinks to water lost an average five pounds more per year than dieters who didn't make the switch. Women who drank more than four cups of water a day lost an extra two pounds more than dieters who didn't drink that much water, USA Today reported.

The findings were presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society.


Scientists Test Dissolving Heart Stent

A stent designed to dissolve after it completes its task of propping open narrowed heart arteries is being tested by scientists.

The first human experiment with the dissolving stent is being conducted with 26 patients at hospitals in New Zealand and Europe, the Associated Press reported. The study is designed to test whether the stent is safe enough to be used in larger studies.

Thirty days after receiving the stents, all the patients are doing well, Dr. John Ormiston of Auckland, New Zealand, said Tuesday at a meeting of cardiologists in Washington, D.C.

The stent is made of the same kind of material as some dissolvable stitches but is designed to last longer than the stitches. Tests in animals suggest that the stent completely dissolves within two years, the AP reported.

Millions of people worldwide have received stents -- tiny metal-mesh tubes -- to hold open arteries after doctors have dealt with fatty deposits that clogged the arteries. The stents are viewed as a way to prevent heart attacks without the need for open-heart surgery.

However, recent research suggests that drug-coated stents -- the most popular type -- can cause potentially deadly blood clots months or years after they're placed in patients, the AP reported.

A stent that could do its job and then dissolve would be "a major milestone," Ormiston said.


Health Costs Hinder Americans' Ability to Save: Survey

Fewer than 20 percent of Americans are satisfied with the cost of health insurance and with costs not covered by insurance, and many say medical costs hinder their ability to save money, says a survey released Wednesday by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) in Washington, D.C.

More than 50 percent said they were "not too satisfied" or "not at all satisfied" with healthcare-related costs, the Associated Press reported.

The ninth annual EBRI phone survey of 1,000 adults also found that 60 percent of the respondents rated the nation's healthcare system as "fair" or "poor."

Many of the respondents said rising healthcare costs are making it more difficult to save money. The 2006 survey found that 36 percent of respondents said they had to reduce contributions to their retirement savings plans, compared to 26 percent in 2005.

In addition, the 2006 survey found that 53 percent said they had to reduce contributions to other savings accounts and 28 percent said they had trouble covering basic expenses, compared to 45 percent and 24 percent, respectively, in 2005, the AP reported.


U.K. Docs Given Go-Ahead for World's First Full Face Transplant

Doctors in the United Kingdom have received permission to conduct the world's first full face transplant, but the London Royal Free Hospital team hasn't yet selected a candidate for the surgery, BBC News reported.

The hospital's ethics committee gave permission for the first transplant to take place within a few months.

Last November, a French woman became the first person to receive a partial face transplant.

The Royal Free Hospital team has been approached by about 30 patients who want full face transplants. The doctors will create a shortlist of adult candidates who meet the selection criteria for the surgery, which includes an assessment of how will they'll deal with the psychological effects of the transplant, BBC News reported.

Four patients will be selected and the transplants will be done at six-month intervals, said Dr. Peter Butler.

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