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Health Highlights: Aug. 30, 2004

Heart Attack Risk Factors Are Same Worldwide Aggressive Statin Therapy Benefits Heart Patients Separated Twins Released From NYC Hospital Miracle Diet, Smoking Pill Shows Promise Chocolate Offers Blood Vessel Boost: Study Man Finds 8-Year-Old HIV Diagnosis Was Wrong

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

Heart Attack Risk Factors Are Same Worldwide

The risk factors for a heart attack are the same for everyone, whether male or female, rich or poor, black or while -- unhealthy cholesterol levels and tobacco use.

That's the conclusion of a landmark international study that researchers say could lead to prevention of the majority of premature heart attacks around the globe, according to the Canadian Press.

"There hasn't been a study like this ever in the world," said lead investigator Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. "The impact of these risk factors in developing heart disease is global. It's there in every ethnic group, in men, in women, in every region of the world, in young and old," added Yusuf, who presented the findings Sunday at a European Society of Cardiology conference in Munich, Germany.

"It means we should be able to prevent the majority of premature heart attacks in the world," he said.

Other risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, abdominal obesity, stress and depression, a lack of daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, and a lack of daily exercise, the news agency said.

The researchers studied nearly 15,000 people in 52 countries who had had a heart attack, and compared them with an equal number of people with no heart disease and who were matched for age, sex, and city of residence.

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Aggressive Statin Therapy Benefits Heart Patients

Aggressive use of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins in heart patients may help prevent future cardiovascular problems. But the drugs may increase the risk of muscle-related complications, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found that quicker-than-normal use of statins in heart patients led to a substantial drop in LDL cholesterol levels -- down 39 percent within a month of treatment. The study included 4,497 patients from 41 countries.

However, a high number of participants had to drop out of the trial for a variety of reasons, including some cases of muscle-related adverse events.

"The findings support a strategy of aggressive LDL cholesterol lowering following (acute coronary syndrome) to prevent death and major cardiovascular events," the researchers said.

The study was released Monday on the Journal of the American Medical Association's Web site.

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Separated Twins Released From NYC Hospital

Two-year-old twin boys from the Philippines left a New York City hospital Monday, less than four weeks after they were surgically separated at their heads.

Carl and Clarence Aguirre rode in a double stroller pushed by their ecstatic mother, Arlene Aguirre, who exclaimed, "I have two boys!" The boys' lead surgeon, Dr. James Goodrich, called their recovery a medical miracle, the Associated Pressreported.

The separation surgery took place on Aug. 4 and was the culmination of a yearlong process that included four major operations. The boys were born joined at the top of their heads. Surgeons had to slice through a portion of brain tissue they had been sharing, the news agency said.

The boys will continue physical therapy at a nearby suburban children's hospital before returning to Montefiore Medical Center for reconstruction of their skulls, the AP said.

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Miracle Diet, Smoking Pill Shows Promise

A wonder drug that could help people lose weight, stop smoking, and perhaps even prevent heart disease could be available within two years, Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported Monday.

Researchers described clinical trial results of rimonabant at a European Society of Cardiology meeting Sunday in Munich. After 12 months of the scheduled two-year trial, at least 40 percent of overweight participants who took the drug lost 10 percent of their body weight, the newspaper reported.

The drug appears to work on a newly found brain system involved in motivating a person to eat and smoke. Its inventors learned about the system from observing how marijuana smokers developed an overwhelming urge to snack, a pattern often referred to as the "munchies."

Rimonabant also was shown to reduce harmful levels of fat in the blood, which together with overeating and smoking are major risk factors for heart disease, The Guardian reported.

Some 13,000 people worldwide are participating in seven human trials of the drug. Results so far indicate that participants lost an average of 3.5 inches around their waists over the 12 months, and so-called "good" HDL cholesterol rose by an average of 27 percent among these participants, the newspaper's account said.

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Chocolate Offers Blood Vessel Boost: Study

Chocoholics may have another reason to smile. A new study finds that dark chocolate appears to aid cells that line blood vessel walls, making the vessels more flexible and perhaps preventing hardening of the arteries, the Associated Press reported.

Some experts approached the finding by Greek researchers at Athens Medical School with caution, however, noting that the probable weight gain from eating lots of chocolate would cancel any cardiovascular benefit, the wire service account said.

Dark chocolate contains lots of flavonoids, which are natural antioxidants that have been shown to prevent heart disease. But chocolate also is high in fat, which is why experts aren't suggesting that binges could prevent heart attacks, the AP reported.

But eating chocolate isn't all bad, either. Recent studies show that chocolate consumption releases serotonin, a brain chemical involved in regulating a person's happy mood, the wire service said.

Results of the Greek study were presented at a European Society of Cardiology meeting in Munich.

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Man Finds 8-Year-Old HIV Diagnosis Was Wrong

A California man who has endured for the past eight years under the notion that he carried the deadly AIDS virus has now been told he is HIV-negative, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Hayward resident Jim Malone, 59, is gay and has lost several friends to AIDS. In 1996, he arrived at an Oakland Veteran's Affairs clinic with results from an outside testing firm that indicated he was HIV-positive. The VA did its own test to confirm the diagnosis. While that second test came back negative, Malone was never told of the result.

A VA computer that reviews past cases flagged officials to the error, the newspaper account said. Malone, who suffers from many other health problems including nausea, diarrhea, and weight loss, had never been prescribed anti-AIDS drugs, but always attributed his failing health to being HIV-positive, the Chronicle reported.

Malone's doctor, Richard Karp, was the person who told the patient about the mistake, for which the physician says he takes full responsibility. The VA says it has launched an investigation of the matter.

And while Malone is happy that the original diagnosis was wrong, his leftover anger is directed squarely at Karp.

"I said, 'You mean to tell me that all you have to say is you are sorry? Sorry that I lived for all this time believing I was going to die,'" he told the Chronicle.

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