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Health Highlights: Sept. 7, 2004

Early Puberty Increases Risk of Substance Abuse Report: Former Medicare Chief Should Repay Salary Kids' Blood Vessels May Predict Later Heart Disease Clinton Recovering From Quadruple Bypass Antidepressant Approved for Diabetes Pain Study Touts Crestor Over Other Statin Drug IBM AC Adapters Recalled for Overheating

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

Early Puberty Increases Risk of Substance Abuse

Youngsters who begin puberty at an early age are more likely to experiment with and abuse alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana than kids who start puberty at a later age, says a Australian study in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The study found that early puberty was more important than school grade or age in influencing this kind of behavior. The researchers say early puberty extends the risk period for substance use and abuse.

"Where puberty occurs early, that individual enters the higher risk period at an earlier point, and hence the risk period is extended downwards -- widened, if you like," Dr. George C. Patton, professor of adolescent health at the Centre for Adolescent Health at Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, told HealthDay.

The study findings suggest that targeting anti-substance abuse messages at younger children may be an effective way to reduce youth substance abuse.

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Report: Former Medicare Chief Should Repay Salary

Former Medicare administrator Thomas Scully should repay his government salary because of his role last year in blocking Congress from learning about higher estimates of the cost of the Bush administration's prescription drug plan, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Tuesday.

Scully, who was Medicare administrator until late last year, threatened to fire chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster if he told Congress that the estimated cost of the prescription drug plan was $100 billion more than the stated $400 billion.

The GAO said that, under federal law, a federal agency is prohibited from paying the salary of an official who stops another federal employee from communicating with Congress, the Associated Press reported.

The GAO report says that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should seek to recover Scully's salary. The recommendation was in a report given to Democratic senators who requested it.

There was no comment from Scully or HHS officials.

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Kids' Blood Vessels May Predict Later Heart Disease

Changes in small blood vessels of children could provide an early warning about an increased risk of heart disease later in life, says a U.K. study.

These changes in small blood vessels called microvessels can be identified in children as young as age 11, long before heart disease actually develops, according to researchers at the Institute of Cardiovascular Research in Dundee.

They examined the health and performance of microvessels in a group of 11-to-14-year-olds who showed no clinical signs of poor health. But the researchers found that 20 percent of the youngsters already showed deterioration in microvascular health, BBC News Online reported.

Being able to identify children who are at risk for cardiovascular disease later in life would enable doctors to take steps to counter it, the researchers said.

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Clinton Recovering From Quadruple Bypass

Former President Bill Clinton underwent a successful four-hour quadruple heart bypass operation Monday morning and was breathing on his own after being taken off a respirator that evening, his doctors said Tuesday.

Speaking on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday morning, Dr. Craig R. Smith, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia who headed the surgical team, said the 58-year-old former president was sitting up in bed and was able to talk with doctors, HealthDay reported.

The operation began Monday morning at 8 a.m. and was what doctors termed "relatively routine."

Dr. Allan Schwartz, the hospital's chief of cardiology, told the news conference that an angiography had revealed extensive blockage in each of the blood vessels feeding Clinton's heart. The heart itself, however, was "strong with absolutely no damage," Schwartz added.

Clinton's recovery will start in an intensive care unit and progress to walking before he is released from the hospital within four to five days, Schwartz said.

Antidepressant Approved for Diabetes Pain

Cymbalta, newly approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat major depression, has been granted an additional FDA nod to combat diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain (DPNP) caused by nerve damage in the hands and feet.

As many as 5 million American diabetics have DPNP, which can cause intense pain, according to the drug's maker, Eli Lilly & Co. The FDA granted Cymbalta (duloxetine HCl) six-month priority review, the company said in a statement, noting that more than 18 million Americans have diabetes and are at risk of developing persistent pain.

Cymbalta targets two chemical messengers in the body, serotonin and norepinephrine, believed to play a role in both pain perception and depression, Lilly said. Approval for DPNP came after the FDA reviewed results from two 12-week trials among non-depressed adults. In both trials, improvements were noted as early as the first week of treatment, the company said.

The FDA granted its initial approval for Cymbalta as an antidepressant on Aug. 3.

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Study Touts Crestor Over Other Statin Drug

The recently marketed statin drug Crestor was more effective in treating high cholesterol than the competing medication Lipitor among patients with metabolic syndrome, according to a new study funded by Crestor's manufacturer.

Metabolic syndrome refers to patients who have three or more risk factors of heart disease, including abdominal obesity, low levels of "good" cholesterol (HDL), high blood pressure, and high blood sugar, according to an account from the Bloomberg news service.

According to the company-funded study involving some 400 participants, AstraZeneca's Crestor was found to be more effective in lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol than Pfizer's Lipitor, Bloomberg reported.

AstraZeneca said people with metabolic syndrome are almost twice as likely to die from cardiovascular problems, adding that their risk of heart attack and stroke is three times higher than among people without the condition.

Crestor's sales have been hampered by concerns that the drug could cause a rare muscle-weakening disorder called rhabdomyolosis. The consumer group Public Citizen has urged the FDA to ban the drug. AstraZeneca has maintained that Crestor is safe and effective, and that the incidence of the muscle disease among its users is similar to that of other cholesterol drugs, Bloomberg reported.

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IBM AC Adapters Recalled for Overheating

IBM Corp. says it is recalling 553,000 defective AC adapters shipped with its notebook computers from January 1999 to August 2000.

The adapters could overheat, causing the adapter housing to melt and possibly charring its circuit board inside. Though there have been an unspecified number of property damage reports, no users have been injured, the company said.

The adapters were shipped worldwide, primarily with ThinkPad i, 390, and 240 series notebook computers. Only adapters with part number 02K6549 are affected by this recall, IBM said.

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