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Today's Health Highlights

Sharon Stone Hospitalized Drugs Keep Heart Trim Potential Cure for Hepatitis C

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

Sharon Stone Hospitalized

Actress Sharon Stone was resting comfortably in an undisclosed hospital Monday after suffering what appeared to have been a tiny brain aneurysm, the Associated Press says.

Stone was taken to the emergency room Saturday, Sept. 29, by her husband after complaining of severe head pain, the AP says.

An angiogram showed the likely cause was a tiny aneurysm, which required no treatment, according to Stone's publicist, Cindi Berger. The 43-year-old actress will probably remain in the hospital for the remainder of the week, Berger says.

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Blood Pressure Drugs Also Keep Heart Sleek

A class of popular blood-pressure drugs that eases the burden on the heart also can keep it from becoming enlarged and, in the process, trim the risk of heart attacks and strokes, new research says.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow, appear to prevent and even reverse the unhealthy buildup of stiff muscle in the heart's main pumping chamber, a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), HealthDay reports.

LVH occurs when the heart muscle becomes too bulky and rigid from the extra burden of high blood pressure or valve problems. The condition, which occurs more often in blacks than whites and most often in people with hypertension, stymies proper circulation. That, in turn, causes potentially deadly heart attacks, strokes and heart failure.

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Potential Cure for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C kills an estimated 9,000 Americans annually. But a new study released Monday says early treatment with the drug interferon A can almost always cure the disease -- if it's diagnosed early, the Associated Press reports.

The study found that the drug can wipe out the virus that causes the disease, but it must be given as soon as symptoms appear. Iit's difficult to diagnose early stage hepatitis C infection, however, because typical symptoms -- including muscle ache and diminished appetite -- resemble the flu.

"This study may make people aware of how important it is to diagnose hepatitis C," says Dr. Michael P. Manns, a co-author of the study at Hannover Medical School in Germany.

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These Bean Bags Can Kill

A bean bag full of lead pellets, which police can use instead of a gun to subdue violent people, causes more severe injuries than previously thought, according to a HealthDay report.

A study of 40 people in Los Angeles who had been hit by the bean bags, which are approved for use in all 50 states, found that one person died and many had far more serious internal injuries than expected, say doctors at the Emergency Medicine Department at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Bean-bag weapons, introduced in 1996, are designed to subdue violent people with less danger of injury than guns. The bean bag, about 3 inches square, is fired from a shotgun.

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Painkiller Tougher to Get for Those Who Need It

OxyContin is a powerful prescription-only narcotic painkiller that has been a godsend for those suffering from the chronic pain of illnesses ranging from cancer to degenerative spinal disease. But it's also proved popular with drug addicts who crave its heroin-like high.

That abuse, coupled with increased scrutiny by legislators and law-enforcement agencies, has made many doctors and pharmacists increasingly reluctant to prescribe the drug, the Associated Press reports. And patients who say they've benefited greatly from the drug are now scrambling to find physicians willing to write them a prescription.

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Preparing to Combat a Bioterrorism Attack

The United States is ready to handle any kind of bioterrorism attack, the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, says.

Interviewed on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday night, Thompson said: "We've got to make sure that people understand that they're safe. And that we're prepared to take care of any contingency, any consequence that develops from any kind of bioterrorism attack,'' the Associated Press reports.

But many Americans have doubts about the nation's ability to repel such an attack. A new Newsweek magazine poll found that 46 percent of Americans say they aren't confident that national and local governments are ready to deal with a biochemical weapons attack.

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Breast Cancer Stamp Gets Vote of Confidence

The U.S. Senate has taken the first step toward extending the life of the Breast Cancer Research stamp beyond next summer by voting to continue its sale for another six years, until July 2008, HealthDay reports.

The House of Representatives is expected to OK the extension as well, thus ensuring continued sale of the stamp, which costs 40 cents instead of the 34-cent cost of a regular, first-class stamp.

Three hundred million breast cancer stamps have been sold since the stamp was introduced in July 1998. The sales have generated $22 million in research money.

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