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Health Highlights: July 18, 2005

Guidant Recalls Thousands of Pacemakers Checkup Finds Cheney Has Esophagitis Illinois Expands Import Drug Program Quitting Smoking Could Save Your Teeth S.C. Nuclear-Weapons Plant Didn't Harm Residents: Report

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

Guidant Recalls Thousands of Pacemakers

Guidant Corp., which last month recalled some 108,000 heart defibrillators, said Monday that it's now recalling at least 28,000 pacemakers that are still implanted in patients worldwide. A sealing component may degrade over time, allowing excess moisture that could dangerously affect the pacemakers' performance, the Indianapolis company said.

About 78,000 of these devices were implanted overall, including 18,000 still implanted in patients in the United States, the company said in a statement. The average implant age of these older devices is 69 months, and the risk of the problem occurring tends to increase over time, Guidant said. The products haven't been sold or implanted for four years.

As of July 11, Guidant said it had identified 69 devices that are likely to have experienced this problem -- none coming before 44 months of service. Several patients whose pacemakers failed have lost consciousness and may have developed heart failure, the company said.

Guidant said doctors should consider replacing the pacemakers in patients who are dependent on the devices. And patients should seek medical help immediately if they notice shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, or a prolonged feeling of a fast heart rate.

The devices include the Pulsar Max, Pulsar, Discovery, Meridian, Pulsar Max II, Discovery II, Virtus Plus II, Intelis II, and Contak TR. All were made between November 25, 1997, and October 26, 2000.

Pacemakers send electrical pulses to the heart to counter a slow heartbeat. They normally have a seven- to 10-year lifespan before they need to be replaced.

The defibrillators recalled earlier are also implanted devices that shock erratically beating hearts back into a normal rhythm. An estimated 88,000 of them remain inside patients, Guidant said.

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Checkup Finds Cheney Has Esophagitis

Vice President Dick Cheney has a mild case of esophagitis, his doctors said after he completed the second half of his annual physical over the weekend. Doctors didn't immediately mention a cause or course of treatment for the esophageal swelling, the Associated Press said. The condition frequently occurs when acidic fluids flow from the stomach back into the esophagus.

Cheney, 64, also underwent a colonoscopy and a vascular screening as part of his latest tests, a spokeswoman said. His colon was found to be normal.

In a prior round of cardiovascular testing a week earlier, Cheney was given a clean bill of health. He has had four heart attacks, though none while serving as vice president.

Cheney is said to be waiting for recommendations from his doctors about treating the esophagus condition, which typically can be treated with antacid medications, the AP reported.

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Illinois Expands Import Drug Program

The international prescription drug buying program for Americans begun by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will soon expand to Australia and New Zealand.

The I-SaveRx program, whose chief suppliers are now in Canada, said prescription drug prices may be even cheaper overseas than from America's northern neighbor. Canadian drugs cost an average of 32 percent less than their U.S. counterparts, the program said in a statement, while prices in Australia and New Zealand average about 51 percent less.

I-SaveRx cited recent pressure from U.S. drugmakers on Canadian pharmacies to curtail supplies. The Canadian government recently announced a ban on bulk sales from Canadian pharmacies to their U.S. counterparts.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long opposed efforts by governments and individuals to buy prescription drugs from other nations. The FDA says it can't regulate these imports, which the agency contends could be tainted, chemically unsafe, or mislabeled.

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Quitting Smoking Could Save Your Teeth

Smokers who quit are much less likely to lose their teeth at an early age than those who don't stop, British researchers at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne say.

Smokers are up to six times more likely to develop gum disease than those who don't smoke, BBC News Online reported. Experts think smoking weakens the immune system's ability to fight infections, prompting gums to recede from the teeth. Gum disease also may trigger destruction of the bone that holds teeth in place.

Results of the research are published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.

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S.C. Nuclear-Weapons Plant Didn't Harm Residents: Report

People living near a South Carolina plant that supplied the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal with plutonium did not receive dangerous doses of radiation during the Cold War, a 13-year federal study has concluded.

The report went on to say that few people living near the Savannah River Site had a substantially higher cancer risk from pollution between the early 1950s and 1992, when the atomic weapons production reactor was shut down, the Associated Press reported.

People born in 1955 probably received higher doses of radiation than those born in the 1960s, the report found. But it said there was a less than 1 percent chance that someone born in 1955 and living near the site would die from cancer, the AP said.

"This has been a long time coming," said C.M. Wood, of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We have learned that there were not significant doses to the public" from the site near Aiken, S.C.

But Arjun Makhijani, an atomic engineer and a critic of federal nuclear sites, said that because the Savannah River is a source of drinking water and recreation, it was difficult to believe that residents' health hadn't been compromised, the AP reported.

"Discharges from the Savannah site do pose a risk to the downstream population," said Makhijani, who had not reviewed the study.

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