12 December 2018
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 12, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Nearly 28 million Americans are affected by the skin condition eczema, and for some it may become so chronic and severe they consider suicide, new research shows. A new review of data from 15 studies, involving over 300,000 people, found that those with eczema had a 44 percent higher risk of suicidal thoughts compared with people without the immunological disease. People with eczema also had a 36 percent higher rate of suicide attempts, the study found. Eczema, clinically known as atopic dermatitis, often brings a “profound psychosocial burden” to patients, concluded a team led by Dr. April Armstrong, of the University of South California (USC) Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles. Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that often involves painful itch, blisters and sores. People can also have trouble sleeping due to itchiness and other symptoms. The disease can vary in severity and can be socially debilitating, prior research has shown. One such study involved 600 eczema patients interviewed by researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago. That study found that even for people with mild eczema, nearly 18 percent said they avoided socializing because of their appearance, while 23 percent said they limited their daily activities. Those figures rose to 40 percent and 43 percent, respectively, when moderate and severe patients were included. The findings were published in July in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. In the new study, the USC team found similar issues plaguing eczema patients. “Because of the visibility of the disease, patients may experience shame, embarrassment and stigmatization,” Armstrong’s team said. This can affect a child’s performance at school or an adult’s ability to thrive in the workforce, they explained. To learn more, the investigators analyzed data from 15 studies on eczema’s emotional toll on patients. The findings showed that “patients with atopic dermatitis are at significantly greater risk of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts,” and the level of distress rose along with the severity of the skin disease, according to the report. For example, while less than one percent of people with mild eczema said they had suicidal thoughts, that number rose to nearly 20 percent for those with severe disease, the researchers found. Two skin specialists weren’t surprised by the findings. Eczema “can be mentally stressful for patients who suffer from it,” said Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She believes the study reinforces the need for treatments that minimize the illness, to help patients mentally cope. Dr. Raman Madan practices dermatology at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y. He said that people with eczema often have to deal with concurrent health issues — conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever), metabolic syndrome and sleep disturbances. Now, the new study “casts light that dermatologists should screen for mental health in [these] patients,” as well, Madan said. For their part, Armstrong’s team stressed that treatments that ease eczema severity are available. Immune-targeted treatments, “such as interleukin 4 and interleukin 13, have been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients,” the study authors wrote. And as physical symptoms subside, and the social stigma around the illness eases, “we can work toward reducing suicidality in patients with [eczema],” the team noted. The new findings were published online Dec. 12 in JAMA Dermatology. More information For more on eczema, visit the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
12 December 2018
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 12, 2018 (HealthDay News) — For many obese people, weight loss surgery can be a new lease on life, but too few who qualify for the procedure opt for it. One big reason: The widespread notion that surgery is an “easy way out,” signifying a weakness of willpower to slim down using diet and exercise. Almost 40 percent of nearly a thousand surveyed in a new study thought weight loss surgery (or “bariatric surgery”) was this kind of lazy, quick fix for weight loss. And a “large percentage of the population — nearly 50 percent — think that weight loss surgery is performed for mostly cosmetic reasons,” added lead researcher Dr. Heather Yeo. She’s an assistant professor of surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. That’s “unfortunate, as there are clear health implications to obesity, and strong data which support the effectiveness and safety of weight loss surgery,” she said. Yeo believes people need to become aware of the health dangers linked with obesity. “Obesity is a public health epidemic that contributes to mortality and many other health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes,” Yeo said. “Weight loss surgery has a low rate of complications and also has excellent success.” The patients who want weight loss surgery are not doing it to look better, agreed Dr. Eric DeMaria, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Mostly, “they want better health,” he said. “The effective treatment for this disease of obesity is bariatric surgery, and 99 percent of the people who could benefit by this treatment aren’t getting it.” But given the stigma around obesity, many patients don’t consider weight loss surgery, DeMaria noted. “You’re almost admitting to being a personal failure as a human being, because you can’t lose weight by yourself,” he said. But that’s a false perception, DeMaria said. Obesity is a complex disease of metabolism. “It’s extremely difficult to treat without assistance of medications or surgery in addition to all the behavioral stuff,” he explained. DeMaria said the surgery is safe and effective. In addition, he noted, “It also treats all the serious medical conditions that accompany obesity and even reverses the risk of premature death.” For the study, Yeo and colleagues asked 948 people throughout the United States about their attitudes on obesity and weight loss surgery. The researchers did find that women were less likely to think the surgery was cosmetic, and more likely to believe it was done for health reasons and not an easy way out. The stigma of obesity is also shared by insurance companies, said Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of bariatric surgery at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y. “We are not operating on patients that we potentially could show the greatest benefit because the insurance process is so rigorous and blames the patient,” he said. But this is just an extension of society’s view that people choose to be obese, Roslin added. “People don’t understand that obese people don’t eat more to become obese, they eat more because they are obese,” he explained. “They have a regulatory disorder, and we blame them for their disease.” Obese people should stop blaming themselves and choose treatments that work, like weight loss surgery, Roslin said. The report was published online Dec. 12 as a research letter in the journal JAMA Surgery. More information For more on weight loss surgery, visit the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
11 December 2018
TUESDAY, Dec. 11, 2018 (HealthDay News) — The bites of insects, spiders and dogs are a $1 billion yearly drain on the U.S. health care system, a new study has calculated. And climate change is only going to make matters worse, researchers contend. Attacks by mountain lions, bears and alligators get the most press, but the tiniest critters create the most work for emergency room doctors. Bug bites and stings account for more than half of all animal-related trips to the ER, the study authors discovered. Bites from ticks, mosquitoes, fleas and spiders caused 41 percent of animal-related injuries, while another 13 percent of ER visits were prompted by a hornet, wasp or bee sting. “As climate change occurs, their habitat will increase,” said lead researcher Dr. Joseph Forrester, a trauma/critical care fellow at Stanford University in California. “We’ve already seen that with tick populations and mosquito populations. We would anticipate over time more people in traditionally temperate climates will be exposed.” For the study, Forrester and his colleagues reviewed five years of data to examine the extent and cost of animal-related injuries that are treated by emergency doctors. Between 2010 and 2014, nearly 6.5 million people wound up in an emergency department as a result of injuries sustained from creatures great and small. Beside insects, dogs were the next most common cause of injury, with canine bites accounting for 1 in 4 animal-related ER visits. Only 3 percent of people needed hospitalization due to an animal wound, with bites from insects and spiders accounting for a quarter of those admissions. Many of these hospitalizations likely were due to allergic reactions to insect venom, said Dr. Jennifer Stankus, an emergency physician with Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash. “The No. 1 cause for death in the back country is an allergic reaction,” said Stankus, who wasn’t involved with the study. “It’s funny to me how such a small little creature can take you down, but they can.” Another quarter of hospitalizations were due to bites from venomous snakes or lizards, which can be costly to treat, Stankus said. “If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, it requires an anti-venom, and often it requires multiple vials. Each of those vials is $10,000,” Stankus said. Only 1,162 patients in the study — 0.02 percent — died from their injury. Bites accounted for the highest rates of death, by rat (6.5 deaths per 100,000 bites), venomous snake/lizard (6.4/100,000 bites), or dog (6.1/100,000 bites). During the five-year period studied, treating animal-related injuries cost $5.96 billion, or about $1.2 billion per year. This figure is likely an underestimate, researchers said, because it doesn’t include doctors’ fees, outpatient clinic charges, lost productivity or rehabilitation. “We’ve seen our numbers in the emergency department go up as access to primary care physicians goes down,” Stankus said. “Where in the past people would go in on a same-day basis for a wasp sting or a minor dog bite, we now see those cases because people can’t get in to see their primary care doctor.” Dog bites, nonvenomous insect and spider bites, and bites from venomous snakes and lizards accounted for 60 percent of the total costs. The study findings were published Dec. 11 in the journal Trauma Surgery and Acute Care Open. Many bites associated with large animals and snakes can be avoided with a little common sense, Stankus said. “The demographics for a rattlesnake bite is a late-teen/early 20s male having consumed alcohol, on the right index finger,” Stankus said. “It’s typically because a human is antagonizing or messing with that animal.” Dog bites can be avoided by never leaving children unsupervised around dogs, Forrester said. People should not approach unfamiliar dogs, or disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or caring for puppies. People can avoid insect bites by using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants to cover exposed skin, and avoiding areas where insects nest, the American College of Emergency Physicians says. These include stagnant pools of water, garbage cans, and places where flowers are in bloom. More information The American College of Emergency Physicians has more about animal bites and stings.
11 December 2018
TUESDAY, Dec. 11, 2018 (HealthDay News) — You’d think vitamin deficiencies would be rare in the United States, but many people are running low on vitamin D, and it’s a serious health threat. Being short on vitamin D not only affects bone density, it’s also been linked to conditions such as heart disease, mental decline, some types of cancer, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and type 2 diabetes. The problem is twofold: Not knowing how much vitamin D you really need, and how to get it. While 600 to 800 International Units (IUs) is the recommended daily amount, it can take more than that to bring you up to a healthy level and maintain it once you have a deficit. The body can make vitamin D through sun exposure, but there are many variables, from time of day and the season to your location and your skin color. People with pale skin make vitamin D more quickly than those with darker skin. While there is concern about skin cancer risk, under the right conditions, exposing arms and legs (and your torso when possible) for only a few minutes two to three times a week allows the skin to produce enough vitamin D. Very few foods naturally contain D. Many others are fortified with it, but it’s usually only 100 IUs per serving, making it unlikely that you’ll get even the daily minimum just from diet. An effective strategy may be a combination approach — sensible sun exposure, fortified foods and a supplement. Talk to your doctor about getting the simple blood test that measures your level of vitamin D and the best way to get to — and stay in — the desired range, if necessary. More information Find out more about the importance of vitamin D from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
10 December 2018
MONDAY, Dec. 10, 2018 (HealthDay News) — In a feat that might help pave the way to restoring hair on patients with skin wounds from burns, injuries or surgery, scientists report regrowing hair on damaged skin in mice. In their experiments with the rodents, the researchers found that activating what’s called the sonic hedgehog cell signaling pathway triggered communication between cells called fibroblasts. These cells secrete collagen, a protein that plays a major role in maintaining the shape and strength of skin and hair. The sonic hedgehog pathway is very active during the early stages of growth in the womb, when hair follicles are formed, but is not active in wounded skin in adults. This may be why hair follicles don’t grow in damaged skin, the researchers said. “Our results show that stimulating fibroblasts through the sonic hedgehog pathway can trigger hair growth not previously seen in wound healing,” said study senior investigator Mayumi Ito. She’s an associate professor in the department of dermatology at NYU Langone Health in New York City. However, animal research frequently doesn’t pan out in humans. It had been believed that as part of the healing process, scarring and collagen buildup in damaged skin prevented hair regrowth. “Now we know that it’s a signaling issue in cells that are very active as we develop in the womb, but less so in mature skin cells as we age,” Ito said in an NYU news release. The team said it will continue its research in an effort to identify possible drug targets for hair regrowth. The study was published recently in the journal Nature Communications. More information The American Academy of Dermatology offers advice on wound care.
10 December 2018
MONDAY, Dec. 10, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Electronic health records are supposed to help doctors, but stress from using them may lead to burnout — and primary care doctors are at greatest risk, new research suggests. “You don’t want your doctor to be burned out or frustrated by the technology that stands between you and them,” said study author Dr. Rebekah Gardner. She’s an associate professor of medicine at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School in Providence, R.I. “In this paper, we show that EHR [electronic health record] stress is associated with burnout, even after controlling for a lot of different demographic and practice characteristics,” she added in a university news release. In the study, Gardner’s team analyzed the responses of nearly 1,800 doctors in Rhode Island who took part in a state health department survey about health information technology-related stress. Of the 91 percent who reported using EHRs, 70 percent reported at least one measure of EHR-related stress. Those measures included frustration with using EHRs, spending time on EHRs while at home, and not having enough time for documentation while at work. Doctors who didn’t have enough time for documentation while at work were 2.8 times more likely to have burnout symptoms than those without that pressure. The other two measures were associated with about a two-times higher risk of burnout symptoms. The researchers also found that all three measures were reported by more than one-third of dermatologists (36 percent) and primary care doctors, including general internists (40 percent), family medicine physicians (37 percent) and pediatricians (34 percent). Nearly 31 percent of hospital medicine specialists reported all three measures. Meanwhile, less than 10 percent of anesthesiologists and radiologists reported all three measures, according to the study. The findings are “a signal to health care organizations that if they’re going to ‘fix’ burnout, one solution is not going to work for all physicians in their organization,” Gardner said. “They need to look at the physicians by specialty and make sure that if they are looking for a technology-related solution, then that’s really the problem in their group,” she concluded. The study was published Dec. 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. More information The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more on doctor burnout.
05 December 2018
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5, 2018 (HealthDay News) — A new mint-sized, battery-free patch that alerts wearers to potentially harmful sunlight exposure in real time might become a powerful weapon in preventing skin cancer. Powered by the sun while designed to measure its rays, the patch automatically transmits sun readings to a user’s smartphone. It works wet or dry, is fully reusable, and weighs next to nothing. “In the U.S., we’re in a skin cancer epidemic, which is driven by excessive UV exposure,” noted study author Dr. Steve (Shuai) Xu. He is a dermatology instructor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “Thus, this technology would be useful for the majority of individuals by empowering them to know how much UV they are actually getting,” he said. So, what does it look like and how does it work? Xu said the device weighs less than a single tic tac, is half the diameter of a dime, and thinner than a credit card. What’s more, “the devices are virtually indestructible,” said Xu. “We’ve washed them, dunked them in boiling water. They will last forever.” As to function, Xu said a solar-powered sensor embedded in the patch picks up UV, infrared and/or visible light readings, sending exposure numbers wirelessly to the wearer’s smartphone app. Caregivers could also use the patch to monitor blue light phototherapy when treating jaundice (in newborns), psoriasis and/or atopic dermatitis, Xu explained. But the prized benefit is that “we’re able to give actionable, accurate information to the user” about sun exposure in real time, he noted. In fact, his team’s earlier work with a sensor prototype found that nearly two-thirds of patch users got fewer sunburns, while roughly one-third said they wore more sunscreen and looked for more shade. “We’re expecting even better results with this sensor,” Xu said. “It’s more accurate and sensitive than anything else out there.” Xu is also medical director for Northwestern’s Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics. In the study, two outdoor UV patch trials involving more than 10 participants per experiment were conducted in the sunny locales of Rio de Janeiro and St. Petersburg, Fla. In addition, blue light therapy patch trials were conducted in three babies undergoing neonatal care in a hospital setting. The cosmetics company L’Oreal contributed research funding (along with the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the U.S. National Institutes of Health), and has recently launched a UVA-monitoring version of the patch for consumers. On the downside, the trials highlighted a “fundamental limitation” of the patch: Given that not all parts of the body get the same degree of sun exposure, the small detection area of the patch means that readings may not truly represent sun exposure across the full surface of the body. But the results indicated that the patch was easily wearable on those parts of the body that might be of “critical” sun exposure interest, including the shoulders and ears. It could even be placed on a pair of sunglasses, the researchers noted. The findings were published Dec. 5 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Arielle Grabel, public relations manager for the Skin Cancer Foundation in New York City, pointed to the foundation’s cautionary position statement on the device. The foundation “can’t speak to the technology and reliability of these [wearable] devices,” the statement read. The group also warned “against relying on these devices to determine when to take sun protection measures. Rather, the Skin Cancer Foundation counsels the public to consider sun protection a healthy habit to be practiced daily. This includes seeking shade during peak sun hours, covering up with clothing, hats and sunglasses, and applying sunscreen daily. When spending time outdoors, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating,” the statement concluded. Each year, there are 5.4 million new cases of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin in the United States, alongside 178,000 new cases of melanoma, resulting in an estimated 9,000 deaths, the investigators noted. More information There’s more about sun protection at the Skin Cancer Foundation.
05 December 2018
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Botox has other uses beyond enhancing lips and minimizing facial wrinkles. Scientists now say it may help prevent atrial fibrillation after heart surgery. A-fib — an abnormal heart rhythm — is common after heart surgery, and it’s linked to stroke and heart failure. But two new studies suggest that botox injections during surgery temporarily freeze nerve bundles in the heart, preventing the dangerous complication. In one study, botox injected into the fat pads near each pulmonary vein reduced odds of atrial fibrillation by 64 percent. The effect lasted over three years, long after the botox itself dissipated, said lead researcher Dr. Jonathan Steinberg. “Atrial fibrillation typically lengthens hospital stays and can have complications. Other drugs have been tried, but nothing has come out that is a solid, reliable performer, and there is no standard of care,” said Steinberg. He is director of the SMG Arrhythmia Center at the Summit Medical Group in Short Hills, N.J. In his study, 60 patients undergoing heart bypass surgery were randomly assigned to either botox or an inactive placebo. All received implantable cardiac monitors that tracked occurrence of atrial fibrillation. In the botox group, risk of a-fib dropped immediately after surgery, and fell fivefold to ninefold each year of the three-year follow-up, the researchers found. Also during follow-up, significantly fewer botox recipients were hospitalized for a-fib or needed treatment for it compared to the placebo group. Botox, or botulinum toxin, blocks signals from the nerves to the muscles. It’s a well-known tool in cosmetic surgery, and some doctors use it to treat neurological disorders including migraine, excessive sweating and eye muscle problems. In heart surgery, Steinberg said the drug appears to interrupt “cardiac neural traffic.” He believes the findings suggest a new approach to treatment. In the other study, Dr. Nathan Waldron and colleagues randomly assigned 130 patients to receive an injection of either botox or placebo while undergoing heart bypass surgery. “Injecting botulinum toxin into fat pads surrounding the heart during cardiac surgery may be a promising strategy to reduce atrial fibrillation after cardiac surgery, but further study is needed,” said Waldron, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. The reduction in a-fib risk among the botox group wasn’t statistically significant — only 11 percent — but the episodes were shorter and less severe, researchers found. This finding may be due to the small size of the study, Waldron’s team said. Dr. Gregg Fonarow is director of the cardiomyopathy center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-director of the UCLA preventative cardiology program. Developing effective and safe strategies to lower a-fib risk after surgery has been a challenge, he said. “These new studies, while modest in size, suggest that there is the potential for epicardial fat pad injection of botulinum toxin performed during the cardiac surgery to lower the risk of postoperative atrial fibrillation,” Fonarow said. However, additional studies involving larger numbers of patients are needed, he added. The reports were recently published online in the journal HeartRhythm. More information For more about atrial fibrillation, visit the American Heart Association.
05 December 2018
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Checking for low hemoglobin in the blood — otherwise known as anemia — usually means drawing blood for testing. But scientists say they’ve developed a wireless smartphone app that does the same by “reading” a quick photo of your fingernail. The app converts fingernail colors into quick readings of blood hemoglobin levels, according to researchers at Emory University in Atlanta. They said the technology could be used by anyone at any time, but its use right now is limited to screening, not a formal diagnosis of anemia. Anemia is a blood condition affecting 2 billion people worldwide. If untreated, it can lead to fatigue, paleness and heart problems. Typical methods of screening for anemia “require external equipment, and represent trade-offs between invasiveness, cost and accuracy,” lead researcher Dr. Wilbur Lam, associate professor of pediatrics, explained in an Emory news release. But the new app has an accuracy that’s “on par with currently available point-of-care tests, without the need to draw blood,” Lam said. The investigators believe the app could be useful for screening pregnant women, women with abnormal menstrual bleeding, or runners and other athletes. Its simplicity also means it could help people in developing countries. The app could be available for download as soon as spring 2019, the researchers said. One member of the development team, Rob Mannino, had a personal stake in the technology’s success. The former biomedical engineering graduate student has an inherited blood disorder called beta-thalassemia. “Treatment for my disease requires monthly blood transfusions,” Mannino explained in the news release. “My doctors would test my hemoglobin levels more if they could, but it’s a hassle for me to get to the hospital in between transfusions to receive this blood test. Instead, my doctors currently have to just estimate when I’m going to need a transfusion, based on my hemoglobin level trends.” In the new study, published Dec. 4 in Nature Communications, Lam’s team used data on 237 people — some anemic, some not — to develop an algorithm that converted fingernail color to represent blood hemoglobin levels. It was then tested on 100 patients and proved highly accurate in people with both dark and light skin tones, the research team said. That’s because the nail bed does not contain melanin, which gives skin its color. The app should enable patients with chronic anemia to monitor themselves to know when they need to adjust their therapies or receive transfusions. This could reduce side effects or complications of having transfusions too early or too late, Lam’s team said. Mannino’s experience proved integral to the research. “This whole project couldn’t have been done by anyone but Rob,” Lam said. “He took pictures of himself before and after transfusions as his hemoglobin levels were changing, which enabled him to constantly refine and tweak his technology on himself in a very efficient manner. So essentially, he was his own perfect initial test subject with each iteration of the app.” One doctor who often treats anemia in children was optimistic about the new technology, with one caveat. Dr. Michael Grosso directs pediatrics at Huntington Hospital in Huntington, N.Y. He agreed that “the availability of a rapid, accurate and non-invasive anemia screening test could have significant benefits.” But he was concerned that the app might miss more subtle forms of anemia. “It turns out that mild iron deficiency can affect the body without triggering anemia, and children in that situation would be missed by the non-invasive test,” Grosso said. “So, the smartphone test definitely falls short of the tried-and-true blood count, but it is better than no test at all.” For their part, Lam and colleagues said further research, conducted with a variety of patient types, is ongoing. That means the app’s sensitivity and accuracy should improve with time. “This is just a snapshot of the accuracy right now,” Lam said. “The algorithm gets smarter with every patient enrolled.” The research was funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Lam and Mannino have filed a patent application for the anemia app, and will have financial interest in its success. More information The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on anemia.