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Today's Health Highlights: Jan. 24, 2002

U.S. Health Improving, But...Study: Fertility Drugs Don't Increase Ovarian Cancer RiskIs ER Overcrowding Causing Deaths? Panel Questions Mammogram Endorsement Fear of Flying to Blame for 'Economy Class Syndrome'? Head Injury Doesn't Swipe Implicit Memory

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

U.S. Health Improving, But...

Americans are getting healthier, according to the government, but not all racial groups are getting healthier at the same rate.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued its report on how healthy U.S. residents were in the last decade of the 20th century. Dubbed, "Healthy People 2000," the project measured national trends in racial and ethnic-specific rates for 17 health status indicators during the 1990s.

Here's how the CDC reported the findings: "All racial and ethnic groups experienced improvements in rates for 10 of the 17 indicators: prenatal care; infant mortality; teen births; death rates for heart disease, homicide, motor vehicle crashes and work-related injuries; the tuberculosis case rate; syphilis case rate; and poor air quality."

"For five more indicators, total death rate and death rates for stroke, lung cancer, breast cancer, and suicide -- there was improvement in rates for all groups except American Indians or Alaska Natives.

"The percent of children under 18 years old living in poverty improved for all groups except Asians or Pacific Islanders, and the percent of low birthweight infants improved only for black non-Hispanics."

For the complete press release and the CDC report, go to the the CDC Media Relations Department.


Study: Fertility Drugs Don't Increase Ovarian Cancer Risk

Women who use fertility drugs can breathe a sigh of relief. HealthDay reports that a new study -- the largest to date on the subject -- offers the best evidence yet that the popular medications used to increase the number of eggs a woman produces in a single cycle do not increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

For Dr. Jaime Grifo, the finding is welcome news that has long been anticipated. "We have always believed the drugs were safe, mainly because the original studies were flawed. They looked at only one population of women, those who were infertile. And we knew long before fertility drugs were being used that infertile women in general have an increased risk of ovarian cancer," says Grifo, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at New York University Medical Center.

The research was conducted under the direction of Dr. Roberta Ness, the study author and associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health.


Is ER Overcrowding Causing Deaths?

It's called diversion, but there's nothing diverting or amusing about it.

As CBS News' 60 Minutes II reports, U.S. hospital emergency rooms are becoming so overcrowded that critically ill or injured patients in ambulances are being sent away from the closest hospital because there's simply no room.

Correspondent Vicky Maybrey captures the essence and the tragedy of this development as she tracks the case of a five-year-old boy who had stopped breathing and was being rushed to a nearby medical center.


Panel Questions Value of Mammograms

The ongoing debate over the effectiveness of mammograms continues as a panel of cancer experts says there's insufficient evidence that the tests prevent breast cancer deaths.

The so-called P.D.Q. screening and prevention editorial board, which writes information for the National Cancer Institute's online database, concluded that although mammograms could be beneficial, it is also possible that they are not, The New York Times reports today.

The group had said previously that evidence showed that mammograms prevented breast cancer deaths starting at age 40. But it now says that that assessment should be reconsidered. The reason: Seven major studies on mammography that had been used in making the previous conclusion recently have been found to be flawed and invalid.

The National Cancer Institute has recommended since 1997 that women have regular mammograms, starting in their 40s.


Fear of Flying to Blame for 'Economy Class Syndrome'?

The potentially life-threatening condition known as "economy class syndrome" might more appropriately be called "fear of flying syndrome," according to a new theory.

Nicknames aside, the condition is medically known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). It is caused by the formation of clots in the veins of the legs that can migrate to the lungs and cause death.

DVT became known as "economy class syndrome" after it was linked to sitting in a cramped position for an extended period without movement. Several cases of otherwise healthy passengers dying after long international airline flights boosted the theory.

But a British DVT expert says the anxiety and stress of flying are the main factors in the condition, according to wire reports.

Though not a doctor, Peter Hughes, a developer of such DVT products as special compression stockings, was supported by five doctors in theorizing that the stresses of flying cause a buildup of adrenaline that exacerbates the other factors linked to DVT.


Head Injury Doesn't Swipe Implicit Memory

Your brain can retain at least part of its ability to learn even if a serious head trauma were to leave you temporarily comatose, HealthDay reports.

Tests of patients with severe closed-head injuries suffered in car accidents or high falls show they preserve -- or only temporarily lose -- their ability to absorb information implicitly.

That is, they can pick up on patterns yet fail to recognize that they're doing so, much the way people come to carry stereotypes without an awareness of how they've accumulated those beliefs.

If the brain proves so resilient, experts say, it may be possible to leverage this knowledge to help head-trauma patients recover from their injuries.

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