Health Highlights: Sept. 29, 2004

Colorectal Cancer Screening Underused in United States FDA Launches Review of Adult Antidepressant Trials Caffeine Withdrawal a Medical Disorder Toxic By-Product Found in Mothers' Milk After 4 Storms, Floridians Are Stressed Out Medicare Widens Coverage for Heart Device

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

Colorectal Cancer Screening Underused in United States

Even many health conscious adults in the United States aren't getting screened for colorectal cancer, says an American Cancer Society study.

An analysis of 1997 data collected from more than 184,000 adults aged 50 to 74 found that just 58 percent of men and 51 percent of women reported ever having either a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.

These adults were taking part in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort and were considered to be more health conscious than the U.S. population at large.

The findings indicate that colorectal cancer screening tests are underused, even among health-minded adults. This, despite the fact that colorectal screening guidelines have been widely published and screening has proven effective in reducing colorectal cancer deaths.

"Efforts to increase colorectal cancer screening need to target women, all persons aged 50-64 years, and those with colorectal cancer risk factors," the study authors wrote.

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FDA Launches Review of Adult Antidepressant Trials

Data on approximately 40,000 depressed adults in 234 clinical trials of antidepressants will be examined to see if the drugs increased suicidal thought or behaviors, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The move comes after a similar analysis found that antidepressants increased suicidal thoughts or behaviors in children.

The FDA can't say how long the analysis of the adult data will take, the Associated Press reported.

The review will be conducted using an analysis technique developed at Columbia University that was used in the review of pediatric antidepressant clinical trials.

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Caffeine Withdrawal a Medical Disorder

Caffeine withdrawal is a disorder that should be included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), according to a Johns Hopkins study.

The study authors reviewed more than 170 years of research on caffeine withdrawal. They found that the more caffeine a person consumes, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms. As little as one standard cup of coffee a day can lead to caffeine addiction, the Johns Hopkins study concluded.

Along with inclusion in the DSM, considered the bible of mental disorders, caffeine withdrawal should be updated in the World Health Organization's International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, the researchers said.

"Caffeine is the world's most commonly used stimulant, and it's cheap and readily available so people can maintain their use of caffeine quite easily," Roland Griffiths, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, said in a prepared statement.

"The latest research demonstrates, however, that when people don't get their usual dose they can suffer a range of withdrawal symptoms, including headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating. They may even feel like they have the flu with nausea and muscle pain," Griffiths said.

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Toxic By-Product Found in Mothers' Milk

A toxic substance used in flame retardants has been found in the breast milk of 100 percent of nursing mothers tested in the Northwest, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.

The toxin, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), is used in the manufacture of foam furniture padding, textiles, and hard plastics used to encase electronic equipment. It was detected in 40 of 40 milk samples taken from women in Oregon, Washington state, Montana, and British Columbia, the newspaper said.

The study, conducted by the nonprofit group Northwest Environment Watch, found levels ranging from six to 321 parts per billion. These amounts are consistent with similar studies conducted elsewhere in North America, but are up to 40 times higher than levels found in Sweden and Japan, where the chemicals are being phased out, the Post-Intelligencer said.

A spokesman for the environmental advocacy group told the newspaper that levels in the United States have risen 15-fold over the past two decades. Researchers are still studying the health effects of exposure, and exactly how people are being exposed.

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After 4 Storms, Floridians Are Stressed Out

After four major hurricanes in six weeks, more than Floridians' homes have been torn apart.

Mental health centers across the state have been deluged with calls from distraught, depressed, and anxious residents who can't handle the unprecedented stress, the Associated Press reports.

And mental health experts predict the situation will only get worse, as reality sinks in and people grasp the devastating impact of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Experts warn of an upsurge in alcohol and drug use, child abuse, and other forms of violence, the wire service said.

Suicides in the southwestern part of the state are up 13 percent from previous years since Charley struck on Aug. 13, the CEO of a mental health insurer told the AP. Calls to Coastal Behavioral Healthcare are up 150 percent from last year, the executive told the wire service.

Counselors are urging people as best as possible to return to their regular routines, even if it means sticking to a normal bedtime in a motel or having cereal for breakfast on the front porch, the AP said.

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Medicare Widens Coverage for Heart Device

Medicare has agreed to expand coverage by one-third for implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) -- devices used to steady hearts that beat irregularly -- to 500,000 patients, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

In the first year alone, the increase will mean at least 25,000 more patients will be covered for defibrillator implantation at a cost of about $20,000 each, the newspaper said. The stopwatch-sized devices, positioned in the upper chest, shock the fluctuating heartbeat back into a normal rhythm.

Medicare's decision to expand coverage was bolstered by a government-funded study released in March that found ICDs reduced death by 23 percent in patients with moderate heart failure.

The study also found the devices benefited those with even mild heart failure, whereas ICDs had traditionally been implanted in only the sickest heart-failure candidates, the newspaper said.

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