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Health Highlights: Nov. 15, 2004

FDA to Require Tougher Warning for Abortion Pill Obesity/Tobacco- Fighting Drug May Help the Heart Brain Inflammation Linked to Autism Study: Low-Carb Diets Work Better on Men Fewer Young Girls Giving Birth Bad Cold Blamed for Cheney's Illness; Heart Fine

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

FDA to Require Tougher Warning for Abortion Pill

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require a new, tougher warning for the abortion pill Mifeprex -- also known as RU-486 -- stating that the drug may lead to serious bacterial infections.

Mifeprex was approved by the FDA in 2000 for the termination of early pregnancies, defined as 49 days or less.

The FDA and Danco Laboratories, the drug's manufacturer, have received reports of serious bacterial infection, bleeding, and ectopic pregnancies that have ruptured. These reports prompted Monday's announcement to revise the so-called black box label.

While these risks are rare, the new labeling and accompanying Medication Guide will provide the latest information to health-care providers and consumers, the FDA said.

An 18-year-old California woman, Holly Patterson, died in September 2003 of septic shock caused by inflammation of the uterus. She died several weeks after taking Mifeprex to terminate an unplanned pregnancy.

Abortion opponents have lobbied against Mifeprex since it was approved.

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Obesity/Tobacco-Fighting Drug May Help the Heart

It's called rimonabant, and preliminary studies have shown it holds great promise in helping people lose weight and quit smoking. Now, the drug's manufacturer said it's preparing to launch a new round of studies to see if the drug can treat and prevent clogged arteries and heart disease.

Rimonabant -- brand name Acomplia -- is emerging as a potential wonder drug because one-third of study participants who took it but didn't lose weight still had improvements in cholesterol and other heart-disease risk factors, said Dr. Douglas Greene, vice president for corporate and regulatory affairs for Sanofi-Aventis, the French company developing the drug.

"We're trying to get the information forward without hyping or frightening people," Greene said. But he said the company considers the drug one of those "once-in-a-decade" developments that offer a radically new way to treat a variety of diseases, the Associated Press reported.

Greene discussed the drug Sunday at a meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.

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Brain Inflammation Linked to Autism

Autism may be caused by an immune system reaction that causes swelling of the brain, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. If this proves true, scientists might one day be able to devise a test for autism and even develop treatments to prevent the disorder, BBC News Online reported.

The researchers found that certain immune-system components that promote inflammation are consistently activated in people with autism, the news service said.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that often restricts a person's ability to communicate, respond to his or her surroundings, or form relationships with others. Typically, autism can't be diagnosed until it has already developed in the individual; the earliest diagnosis usually takes place in the second year of life.

Professor Carlos Pardo-Villamizar told the news service, "These findings reinforce the theory that immune activation in the brain is involved in autism, although it is not yet clear whether it is destructive or beneficial, or both, to the developing brain."

Results of the research appear in the journal Annals of Neurology.

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Study: Low-Carb Diets Work Better on Men

Low-carb diets like the Atkins and South Beach plans appear to work better on men than women, University of Connecticut researchers concluded from a new study.

In a trial involving 15 overweight or obese men and 13 women, a third of the males lost more than 10 pounds, with one male participant losing 25 pounds. Results among the women weren't as dramatic, the researchers reported in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism.

In a statement, the researchers said they compared the participants for 50 days on the low-carb regimen, followed by another 50 days on a more traditional low-fat diet.

Funded in part by the Atkins Foundation, the researchers also concluded that the low-carb, high protein diets were three-times more effective in losing fat from the stomach and chest areas than other parts of the body.

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Fewer Young Girls Giving Birth

The birth rate among girls ages 10 to 14 has fallen to its lowest level in the United States since 1946, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday.

The number of girls in that age bracket who have given birth peaked at 12,901 in 1994 to the current low of 7,315 in 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the agency said.

The 38 percent decline was noted despite a 16 percent rise in the female population aged 10 to 14 over the same span, the CDC said.

Birth rates among this age group were highest for Hispanics and blacks, the agency said. Across the U.S., the rates were highest in Mississippi and the District of Columbia, and lowest in the state of Maine, the CDC report concluded.

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Bad Cold Blamed for Cheney's Illness; Heart Fine

Vice President Dick Cheney was sent home from the hospital Saturday after doctors determined that a nasty cold, and not a recurring heart problem, was responsible for his shortness of breath.

"I feel fine," Cheney told reporters as he left George Washington University Hospital after undergoing three hours of tests. He entered and departed the hospital under his own power.

Cheney's cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan S. Reiner, issued a statement saying that the tests had ruled out "any cardiac cause for the vice president's symptoms," according to the Washington Post. "The vice president likely has a viral, upper respiratory infection."

His spokeswoman, Mary Matalin, said Cheney went to the hospital because of his long history of heart trouble, which includes four heart attacks -- the first when he was 37 years old -- and a pacemaker that was implanted in 2001. Earlier this year, doctors reported that the pacemaker was working fine. The tests were performed "out of an abundance of caution," the Post quotes her as saying.

Cheney 63, just finished a grueling re-election campaign that had him on the road a good deal of the year.

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