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Health Highlights: Nov. 20, 2003

Strokes on Left Side of Brain More Deadly Man Dies While Having Stomach Reduction Surgery Panel: Computerize Patient Records Nationwide Fla. Gov Wants Trial in Right-to-Die Case Home Fires From Candles Hit 20-Year High U.S. Health Officials Devising Autism Strategy

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

Strokes on Left Side of Brain More Deadly

The five-year risk for sudden cardiac death is 45 percent greater in people who suffer strokes on the left side of the brain compared with those whose stroke was on the right side, says a new Dutch study.

That study of nearly 3,000 patients also found that the risk of sudden death was 40 percent greater for people who suffered a left-sided stroke compared to those with a bilateral stroke. It also concluded that left-handed or ambidextrous people had a 76 percent lower risk of sudden death following a stroke than right-handed people.

Sudden cardiac death occurs when a person's heart suddenly stops beating. It's often associated with coronary heart disease, but also occurs in stroke patients.

The researchers noted that the association between sudden death and left-handed strokes was the opposite of what they expected to find in their study. Previous studies suggested that right-handed strokes were more likely to increase the risk of sudden death.

The research appears in the Nov. 20 issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

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Man Dies While Having Stomach Reduction Surgery

A 27-year-old man having stomach reduction surgery died about 30 minutes into the procedure at Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, R.I., reports WHDH-TV in Boston.

The patient, Robert Messa Jr. of East Providence, worked as a nursing assistant at the hospital. He was undergoing laparoscopic bypass surgery when he died.

The hospital is investigating the death but a spokesperson says there are no plans to stop doing this kind of procedure while it looks into this case.

Messa spent about three months preparing for the surgery, including consultations with a cardiologist, dietitian, and psychiatrist. He also attended a seminar that explained the risks and benefits of laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery, which is meant to help morbidly obese patients lose weight.

The surgery reduces the stomach to the size of an egg from its normal football size.

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Panel: Computerize Patient Records Nationwide

A nationwide network of computerized patient health records could significantly reduce the tens of thousands of deaths and injuries caused by medical errors each year in the United States, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine.

Such a system should be accessible by all health-care organizations and be able to provide a secure exchange of patient information.

Some hospitals and other health-care organizations already have computer systems to manage patient information, but this report calls for a national infrastructure for standardized data collection and exchange.

It would provide doctors and other health-care workers immediate access to complete patient information, along with tools that would guide medical decision-making and help prevent mistakes.

"When it comes to safety, the health-care industry needs to borrow a page from the airline industry," committee chair Dr. Paul Tang, chief medical information officer at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in California, says in a prepared statement.

"Pilots have instantaneous access to the data they need on weather conditions and mechanical functions to make informed decisions about navigation, delays, and mid-course corrections. When accidents or near-misses occur, the industry can analyze these events, and the resulting information can be used to prevent future errors," Tang says. "In health care, no such universal information system exists."

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Fla. Gov Wants Trial in Right-to-Die Case

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says a jury ought to decide the case of a brain-damaged woman whose husband wants to discontinue feeding and life-support but whose parents insist she can be rehabilitated and want her kept alive.

Terri Schiavo, 39, suffered a heart attack in 1990 that left her in a persistent vegetative state. Last month, she went for six days without food and water after her husband, Michael, won a six-year court battle to remove her feeding tube. The tube was reinserted, however, after the state legislature passed emergency legislation giving Bush the right to reverse the judge's order.

Michael Schiavo has since filed a lawsuit saying Bush's order was unconstitutional, in that it violated his wife's privacy rights. He says although his wife never filed a living will, she was adamant in her desire not to be kept alive by artificial means.

In a slew of legal briefs filed Wednesday, Bush sought to remove the judge presiding over Michael Schiavo's new lawsuit, the Associated Press reports. The governor also wants Schiavo removed as his wife's guardian. Attorney Ken Connor, representing Bush, says the governor should be able to step in when a disabled person's family cannot agree on a course of treatment.

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Home Fires From Candles Hit 20-Year High

With the holidays fast approaching, a fire safety group warns that home fires sparked by candles are at a 20-year high.

In 1999, 15,040 home fires were started by candles and caused 102 deaths, 1,473 injures and $278 million in damage, the National Fire Protection Association says. By contrast, there were only 5,460 candle-related fires in 1990, the NFPA says in a statement.

Candle fires peak on Christmas day, and are more common in December than in any other month, the group says. Four of 10 candle fires start in the bedroom, and two of 10 ignite in the living room, family room or den.

The NFPA offers these safety tips:

  • Use candles only in rooms where an awake, responsible adult can monitor them.
  • Keep candles away from materials that can ignite, including clothing, books, papers, Christmas trees, decorations, window blinds, and curtains.
  • Keep candles away from where they can easily be knocked over by people or pets. Make sure they are only used on stable surfaces in sturdy holders.
  • Use extreme caution if you carry a lit candle, holding it well away from clothing and anything else that may burn.

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U.S. Health Officials Devising Autism Strategy

Concerned about recent spikes in children diagnosed with the mysterious brain disorder autism, the U.S. government is mapping out a long-term strategy to address the problem, The New York Times reports.

The inter-agency effort includes objectives like identifying potential causes and treatments, providing adequate services for the young victims and their families, and devising a teaching program that would allow 90 percent of autistic children to learn to speak.

Experts concede the program is likely to have little immediate effect on the 150,000 autistic Americans, the newspaper says.

Symptoms of the poorly understood disorder range from those so mild that a person can function almost normally to those that require institutionalization and render the person mute.

In 1992, fewer than 20,000 of the nearly 5 million American special education students were considered autistic. A decade later, nearly 120,000 of the 6 million special ed students had autism. While experts suggest the disorder has become easier to identify and diagnose, no one is able to pinpoint the cause of the surge, the Times reports.

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