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Health Highlights: Sept. 26, 2003

Women Must Take Care of Their Hearts, WHO Says Novel Motorized Scooters Being Recalled Many Britons Would Pay to Choose Baby's Sex: Survey Cancer-Stricken Workers Suing IBM Researchers Tout Controversial Psychiatric Drug Implant Summer Heat Killed At Least 19,000 in Europe

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

Women Must Take Care of Their Hearts, WHO Says

Not enough women are aware that heart attacks and strokes kill twice as many women every year than all form of cancers combined, the World Health Organization revealed Friday.

The combined death toll for heart attacks and strokes is 8.6 million women every year, according to the Associated Press, quoting the organization's statistics.

"Although most women fear cancer, particularly breast cancer, they do not make the same efforts to safeguard themselves from heart disease, which is eminently preventable," says the chief of WHO's noncommunicable disease division, Dr. Catherine Le Gales-Camus.

Her statement is timed with World Heart Day, which falls on Sunday. The day is devoted to raising awareness that cardiovascular disease is not just a problem for men.

The World Heart Federation also chimed in, noting that most women and even many medical professionals continue to underestimate the severity of cardiac disease among women, the AP reports.

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Novel Motorized Scooters Being Recalled

Segway LLC, maker of the Segway Human Transporter, says it's recalling 6,000 of the motorized scooters because some riders have been hurt falling off when the batteries ran low.

The company has three reports of injuries, including one user who required stitches to close a head wound. The firm says riders are particularly prone to the problem if they speed up abruptly, hit an obstacle, or continue to ride despite a low-battery alert, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The recall involves all Segway HT i167 ("i Series"), all e167 ("e Series"), and all p133 ("p Series") models. The highly touted scooters were sold by Segway and authorized dealers from March 2002 through this month.

For more information or to receive a free software upgrade, contact the company toll-free at 1-877-889-9020 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Segway says it also is contacting owners directly.

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Many Britons Would Pay to Choose Baby's Sex: Survey

At least 20 percent of Britons would pay more than £1000 to choose their baby's sex, BBC News Online reports of a new survey.

German researchers at the University of Geissen polled more than 1,000 Britons about the theoretical use of gender selection. The vast majority of respondents -- 68 percent -- said they preferred an equal number of boys and girls. This, the researchers noted, casts some doubt on the fear that sex selection could skew the delicate balance in favor of having boys.

Currently, there are certain legal "sperm-sorting" techniques in Britain that could make intentional sex selection possible, the BBC reports.

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Cancer-Stricken Workers Suing IBM

A group of cancer-stricken former IBM employees are finally getting their day in court Friday as a Superior Court judge in California considers whether their case filed in 1998 against Big Blue can proceed.

The group seeks unspecified damages, alleging the company knowingly exposed them to cancer-causing chemicals in its semiconductor factories, the Associated Press reports. IBM wants the suit dismissed, insisting it has no merit.

Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Robert Baines will decide if the case against IBM and its suppliers can go forward. Other firms named in the suit include Dupont, Union Carbide, Shell Oil, and Eastman Kodak, the AP says.

IBM and other companies still operate so-called "fabs" in several states and abroad, although experts note that the semiconductor industry has done a lot in recent years to rid itself of the worst chemicals and improve industrial hygiene.

The workers allege they were exposed on the job to cancer-causing chemicals, including trichloroethylene, cadmium, toluene, benzene and arsenic, the AP reports. Court records show while in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, they contracted various forms of rare cancers of the blood, lymph nodes, breast and brain.

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Researchers Tout Controversial Psychiatric Drug Implant

Researchers who developed a surgically implanted tablet to deliver psychiatric medications to severely mentally ill people say they plan to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the device, the Boston Globe reports.

Many patients' rights advocates oppose the move, saying the product would give the state too much power over people implanted with the device.

The implant -- a 1-centimeter polymer disk -- is inserted during a 15-minute outpatient procedure. As it gradually dissolves over the course of a year, it releases the drug, according to Dr. Steven Siegel, the University of Pennsylvania researcher who has led development of the product.

Proponents note that people with certain serious psychiatric disorders frequently stray from taking their medications. One recent study showed that over a two-year period, 80 percent of schizophrenia patients stopped taking their drugs at least temporarily, the newspaper reports.

Former users of the medications quoted by the Globe say that's understandable. They cite symptoms of anti-psychotic drugs like haloperidol, which can include sudden weight gain, jerky movements, and a constant feeling of being tired.

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Summer Heat Killed At Least 19,000 in Europe

August's record-setting heat wave in Europe claimed at least 19,000 lives, the Associated Press reports, making it among the worst hot-weather disasters in a century.

The wire service, quoting official estimates, says the tally could actually be significantly higher, noting that countries like Spain and Germany have blamed only a small fraction of summer deaths on the scorching heat.

France, which saw temperatures surge to 104 degrees, reported a staggering death toll of 14,802. Other official tolls included Portugal with 1,300 and The Netherlands with between 1,000 and 1,400.

French officials place part of the blame on inadequate care for the elderly and a dwindling supply of available medical workers in August, a traditional vacation period, the AP reports.

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