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Health Highlights: Sept. 5, 2006

EPA Orders Stores to Eliminate Illegal Confetti String Drugs for Overactive Bladder Offer Only Modest Benefits: Report U.S. Medicare Chief Resigns Aggressive Statin Therapy for Metabolic-Syndrome Patients: Study Experts Tout 3-in-1 Heart-Disease Pill Ban Junk-Food Ads Aimed at Children: Task Force

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

EPA Orders Stores to Eliminate Illegal Confetti String

Five national store chains in the U.S. have been ordered to clear their shelves of, and destroy, cans of illegally imported confetti string products that contain banned hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) propellants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.

HCFCs, which were banned in the U.S. more than a decade ago, deplete the Earth's ozone layer, which protects humans, animals and plants from the sun's harmful radiation. Damage to the ozone layer increases the risk of skin cancer, cataracts and crop damage.

The five chains -- American Greetings Inc., Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Target, and Too, Inc. (which owns Limited Too) -- have complied with the EPA order and pulled the children's products off their shelves. The companies will send more than 2.7 million cans of confetti string to a commercial incinerator for destruction.

The companies also agreed to audit their operation and adopt new policies to prevent a repeat of this kind of problem.

The illegal canned string products were made in China and Taiwan and went by various names, including Zany String, Crazy String, and Party Streamer.

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Drugs for Overactive Bladder Offer Only Modest Benefits: Report

Five prescription drugs used to treat overactive bladder are only modestly effective and can cause side effects -- such as dry mouth, constipation, and mental confusion -- that can limit their usefulness, says a report from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.

About 15 million to 20 million Americans have overactive bladder. People with severe overactive bladder may have to urinate up to 20 times a day. People without overactive bladder urinate an average of 6 to 10 times a day.

The report recommends that people with mild symptoms of overactive bladder try non-drug measures first, such as lifestyle changes and learning Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles. These techniques may also provide added relief for people with severe symptoms who are taking drugs to treat the condition, the report said.

People taking any of the five drugs -- oxybutynin (Ditropan, Ditropan XL and Oxytrol, a skin patch); tolterodine (Detrol, Detrol LA); trospium (Sanctura); solifenacin (Vesicare); and darifenacin (Enablex) -- can expect the number of times they need to urinate to drop from an average of about 12 per day to 7 to 10 a day, the report said.

Among people with severe overactive bladder, the drugs may reduce urination frequency from up to 20 times a day to about 15 to 18 times a day.

About half of people with overactive bladder also have incontinence. Among these people, the drugs reduce the average number of incontinence episodes from 3 to 5 per day to about 2 to 4 per day, the report said.

According to the report, studies have found that that lifestyle changes and other self-help measures -- when adhered to diligently -- can reduce the urge to urinate, decrease frequent urination, and restore sense of control in 80 percent of people who try them. One in four people get complete relief using such measures.

The authors said the report is based on a review of available medical evidence.

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U.S. Medicare Chief Resigns

U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Mark McClellan announced Tuesday that he is resigning and will leave the agency in about five weeks, the Associated Press reported.

No replacement has been named.

Over the past two years, McClellan's main priority was implementation of the new Medicare drug program, which was met with a barrage of complaints and criticism when it was introduced. However, the program's performance has improved in the past few months.

After his departure from CMS, McClellan said he will likely work for a think tank and write about how to improve health care in the United States, the AP reported.

A physician and economist, McClellan was one of President George W. Bush's economic advisors and was commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration before he was selected to take charge of CMS. He also worked in the Treasury Department during the Clinton administration.

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Aggressive Statin Therapy for Metabolic-Syndrome Patients: Study

Patients with coronary heart disease and metabolic syndrome require more aggressive treatment with statin drugs to lower their levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL -- "bad") cholesterol, says a study published online Tuesday in The Lancet journal.

Metabolic syndrome is a condition composed of three cardiovascular risk factors.

The study, which included 5,584 patients ages 35 to 75, was conducted at 256 sites in 14 countries between 1998 and 2004. The median patient follow-up was 4.9 years.

During the study, patients were assigned to receive either 10 milligrams a day or 80 mg a day (aggressive treatment) of atorvastatin. At three months, patients receiving 10 mg per day had mean LDL cholesterol concentrations of 2.5 mmol/L, compared with 1.9 mmol/L in patients receiving aggressive treatment.

Major cardiovascular events occurred in 13 percent of patients receiving 10 mg of atorvastatin, compared with 9.5 percent of patients receiving 80 mg per day, the study said.

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Experts Tout 3-in-1 Heart-Disease Pill

A new three-in-one heart disease pill that contains aspirin, statins and ACE inhibitors could save millions of lives worldwide by reducing the number of heart attacks and strokes, experts said Monday at the World Congress of Cardiology.

The three drugs in the so-called "polypill" all prevent recurrent heart disease. The experts said the pill would target developing countries, which are experiencing dramatic increases in heart disease, the Associated Press reported.

People in low- and middle-income countries account for nearly 80 percent of the heart attacks that occur worldwide.

A polypill could be ready within the next year or two and could cost a fifth of what currently available heart-disease therapies cost, according to the World Heart Federation, which is promoting the initiative.

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Ban Junk-Food Ads Aimed at Children: Task Force

There should be a global ban on junk-food advertising aimed at children, a group of experts said during a news conference at the International Congress on Obesity.

Obesity is affecting the health of more and more children around the world and the World Health Organization must take the lead in protecting youngsters from exploitive marketing techniques, the International Obesity Taskforce urged.

The experts said a ban on advertising junk food to children would be an important part of the fight against the worldwide obesity epidemic, Agence France Presse reported.

"No one can deny there is a link between food marketing and children getting fatter," task force spokesman Gerard Hastings said at a news conference.

More than one billion people -- one-sixth of the world's population -- are overweight, says the World Health Organization.

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