Health The latest Health news and blog posts from ABC News contributors and bloggers. Wed, 22 Oct 2014 19:57:12 +0000 en hourly 1 Doctors Combat ‘Ebolaphobia’ With Facts as Antidote to Fear Wed, 22 Oct 2014 19:57:12 +0000 ABC News ht emory ebola room kb 140801 16x9 608 Doctors Combat Ebolaphobia With Facts as Antidote to Fear

Ebola-stricken Americans are treated in isolation rooms similar to this. (Jack Kearse/Emory University)

By Dr. Crystal Agi, ABC News Medical Unit

Since Ebola arrived on American soil, the public has been bombarded with a series of facts and fictions about the virus. As a result, people are on edge, not knowing what to believe. Many are worried.

But are these concerns rational?

To help answer these questions, ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser moderated a Twitter chat this week. The goal was to help spread awareness about what’s true about Ebola — and what isn’t. Infectious disease experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Nebraska Medical Center joined the discussion, along with other doctors and members of general public.

Scroll through these eight tweets to learn the truth about Ebola:









Dr. Crystal Agi is a medical resident embedded with the ABC News Medical Unit. 

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Concierge Medicine: How At-Home Doctor Visits Yield Savings Mon, 13 Oct 2014 21:03:54 +0000 ABC News

It’s been a while since any member of the Basile family missed school or work for a visit to the doctor.

“We had perfect attendance two years in a row,” said mother Meredith Basile. “No lates. No sick days.”

Instead of waiting in a doctor’s office, she and husband Joe found family physician Dr. Brian Thornburg, who treats them and their two children at their home in Naples, Florida.

abc homecare mt 141013 16x9 608 Concierge Medicine: How At Home Doctor Visits Yield Savings

ABC News

Related: Save money and time by bringing doctor to you with telemedicine.

Thornburg is one of an estimated 10,000 concierge doctors in the US.

For a fee, these doctors offer personalized care and around-the-clock access, often treating their patients at home for everything from a routine checkup to the occasional stitch or two.

On top of their regular health insurance, patients pay Thornburg a $100 monthly fee for whatever home care they might need.

Although critics say the service is only for the rich and famous, ABC News’ consumer health advocate Michelle Katz disagrees.  She said there could be hidden savings in concierge medicine.

“They (parents) don’t have to take off work. They don’t have to find babysitters,” Katz said. “They can be in the comfort of their own home.”

Katz estimated how the Basiles saved about $2,000 a year with concierge medicine by following two money-saving tips:

1. Combining checkups. In the Basiles’ case, they pay $100 a month to Thornburg for all of their regular care. Four separate checkups at a doctor’s office would have cost this family $750 even with their insurance.

2. Reducing ER visits. US families visit emergency rooms on average twice a year at a cost of $1,200 a visit.  By saving the Basile family trips to the ER, Thornburg helped them cut their overall healthcare costs.

When their son, Luca, split open his chin on the kitchen counter, Thornburg came to their home and stitched up the wound.

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Broccoli Sprout Extract May Help Curb Autism Symptoms Mon, 13 Oct 2014 19:00:03 +0000 ABC News gty broccoli sprouts mt 141013 16x9 608 Broccoli Sprout Extract May Help Curb Autism Symptoms

A small new study found that a chemical in broccoli sprouts may help alleviate the symptoms of autism. (Credit: James Baigrie/Getty Images)

By Dr.Crystal Agi  

A chemical derived from broccoli sprout could help treat symptoms of autism, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins and Harvard hospitals.

The study authors say it is an “intriguing” first step that could lead to a better life for those with autism spectrum disorders, which affect one in 68 children in the United States and currently have no cure or medical treatment.

“If you tell people that you’ve treated autism with broccoli, they would say that that is a very far-fetched idea,” said study author Dr. Paul Talalay, a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Talalay and his team treated 40 autistic boys and men with autism over 18 weeks.  Twenty-six of them took pills with sulforaphane, a broccoli sprout extract, and the rest received a placebo.

Study authors found that patients who took sulforaphane improved. Almost half of the patients treated with sulforaphane had “much improved” or “very much improved” social interaction and verbal communication, and more than half exhibited less aberrant behavior. When the patients stopped taking the extract, they returned to baseline levels for these symptoms within four weeks.

Those who took the placebo did not show any improvement, according to the study.

Talalay said the way in which this extract might work in autistic patients has yet to be fully understood, but past research suggests that sulforaphane can cause the body to react as it would to a fever. Since fevers have been associated with a temporary improvement of symptoms in about a third of autism patients, sulforaphane may work in a similar way, according to the study authors.

The findings appear in the October issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Autism experts not involved with the research said the findings are encouraging, but cautioned that there are still many unanswered questions.

“The trial needs to be replicated and evaluated in larger and more age-diverse samples,” Dr. Susan Hyman, chief of neurodevelopmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in an email to ABC News. “But the data is certainly worth pursuing.”

Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, agreed.

“The results are intriguing because there is an improvement in some of the subjects,” Wiznitzer said. “However, [the authors] have not shown that they have treated the core essence of autism.”

Still, Wiznitzer said these findings would be “fascinating if true.”

“It might give us a whole new group of treatments to use in these individuals,” he said.

Doctor’s Take

Given the lack of effective treatment options available for people with autism, the results of this study deserve a closer look. The good news is that sulforaphane is associated with very few side effects and is generally regarded as a safe chemical given its natural origins, according to Talalay.

But Hyman said she would not encourage families to administer sulforaphane without guidance from their doctor because it’s unclear whether there are potential drug interactions and long-term side effects.

So should parents force their kids to eat more broccoli? Not so fast.

“It’s very difficult to get this amount of broccoli in your diet,” Talalay said. “You have to know which broccoli you’re eating because the variability of [sulforaphane] is enormous.”

Instead, he said he believes that the study provides “insight” into the mechanism of autism.

Dr.Crystal Agi  is a medical resident embedded with the ABC News Medical Unit. Doctor’s Take blogs explain the latest studies while offering residents’ medical opinions.

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The Flu: What You Need to Know in 7 Tweets Wed, 08 Oct 2014 19:24:45 +0000 ABC News GTY child sick jtm 141006 The Flu: What You Need to Know in 7 Tweets

Cold and flu season is upon us/ Photo credit" Getty Images.

By Anshu Abhat, ABC Medical Unit

As flu season approaches, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects expect about 200,000 Americans to be hospitalized with complications related to the seasonal bug.

Flu usually starts this month but really ramps up in late November and lasts through the spring. And this doesn’t even take into account the enterovirus that’s been surging through 44 states and the District of Columbia.

This week’s ABC News Health Twitter chat, moderated by chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, explored questions about the flu, enterovirus, and flu vaccines. Infectious disease specialists, patients and the public discussed what you should know to stay healthy this flu season.

In case you missed it, scroll through the top seven tweets below.








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Chain Restaurants Drop Calories From (Some) Menu Items Wed, 08 Oct 2014 18:25:18 +0000 ABC News By Dr. Meena Hasan 

Chain restaurants haven’t pulled all their higher-calorie items from their menus, but their new, healthier dishes have an average of 60 fewer calories than their traditional offerings, according to a study published today.

The new options could signal a change in direction for an industry whose menu offerings are often high in fat, calories and salt, according to study authors at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“I find the results very encouraging,” said lead study author Sara Bleich, an associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The impact on obesity could be significant.”

Researchers looked at the menu offerings at 66 of the 100 largest U.S. restaurant chains — which include Wendy’s, Chipotle and full-service restaurants like Applebee’s– between 2012 and 2013.

Bleich and her team found that restaurants’ overall menus didn’t have fewer calories from year to year, but the new menu offerings had 12 percent fewer calories than the old ones. Burger and chicken chains added more calories to their core menus, but pizza and sandwich chains dropped calories in their core menus, according to the study.

The findings appear in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Children’s items dropped the most calories, with a 20 percent decline overall, according to the study. Beverages and main course offerings also dropped 8 percent and 10 percent of their calories, respectively.

Previous research has shown that 33 percent of young children, 41 percent of adolescents and 36 percent of adults eat at fast-food restaurants daily, the study said.

Bleich said that asking individuals to change their behaviors by switching restaurants is “extremely challenging.”

“So the beauty of the findings in the new study is that restaurant-goers are potentially eating fewer calories without having to make any behavioral change,” she said.

Experts not involved with the study agreed the findings are important.

“I think these trends are positive and likely to have an impact particularly in younger populations,” said Dr. William Dietz, director of the Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. “Incremental changes in calorie content can make a difference.”

Industry groups said the research shows that restaurants are taking positive steps toward providing healthy options.

“Restaurants often don’t get credit for the menus they provide, so it’s great to see there is a study that captures this positive change,” said Joy Dubost, senior director of nutrition at the National Restaurant Association.

Doctors Take

Approximately 35 percent of U.S. adults and 17 percent of U.S. children are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And several studies suggest a correlation between eating out and obesity. So it is easy to view this research as a step in the right direction.

However, while this research shows a promising trend in a consumer’s ability to find lower calorie options at chain restaurants, it doesn’t mean these meals are necessarily nutritious. Furthermore, it does not tell us how often they are chosen by consumers.

The bottom line is that it is still important to look for meals that are higher in fruits and vegetables and in leaner sources of protein like turkey, chicken and fish. This will give you the biggest bang for your buck — no matter which restaurant you choose.

Dr. Meena Hasan is a medical resident embedded with the ABC News Medical Unit. Doctor’s Take blogs explain the latest studies while offering residents’ medical opinions.

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Sexting Linked to Sex in Teens, Study Shows Tue, 07 Oct 2014 18:00:38 +0000 ABC News

By Dr. Anshu Abhat

“Sexting” — specifically, sending sexually explicit photos — among teens may also be an indicator that they are more likely to engage in the real thing later, according to a new study.

University of Texas researchers embarked on a first-of-its-kind study to survey 1,042 high school students about their text and sex lives over a one-year period.

Teens who admitted to sending nude pictures of themselves were 32% more likely to report a year later that they had had sexual intercourse when compared to those who said they did not sext, according to the research, published in the Oct. 6 edition of the journal “Pediatrics.”

Researchers controlled for gender, grade-level, age, ethnicity, sexual behavior and dating behavior to try to isolate sexting as the variable as much as possible.

“This is probably going to raise some alarm,” said Jeff Temple, lead author of the study and a women’s health researcher at University of Texas Medical Branch Health.

For this study, researchers defined “sexting” as sending nude photos only and did not include racy text messages.

Risky behavior begets other risky behavior, said Dr. John Walkup, a leading child psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College who was not involved in the study.

“The big risks areas are premature sexual activity and premature drug and alcohol use,” Walkup said, referring to concerns about high school students in general.

However, sending a sext was not necessarily associated with risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex or multiple sexual partners, according to the study.

The study also found that peer pressure can play a role in sexting. Teens who asked for nude photos — or had photos requested of them — were more likely to send those photos.

Though sexting may be scary for parents to think about, Temple pointed out that it is an opportunity for parents to talk with their children.

“If you discover your child is sexting, you can talk to them about safe sexual practices,” he said.

Still, Walkup said there’s more to good parenting than monitoring text messages.

“Don’t focus on one behavior. If you’re doing that, you’re behind,” he said. “Take a big picture approach and look and at your child as a whole.  It all starts at home.”

Doctor’s Take

While this study is an interesting window into the lives and struggles of the modern day teenager, Walkup stressed that it’s important for parents to be aware of more than just their teens’ text messaging habits.  Rather than jumping for your teen’s phone, make an effort to tune into all aspects of your teen’s life, he advised.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends talking to children about sex when they first ask about it.  The AAP encourages parents to give their teens a chance to talk and ask questions.  Important topics to discuss include avoiding peer pressure, using contraception, preventing sexually transmitted infections, and knowing when a relationship is unhealthy or unsafe, according to AAP’s recommendations.

And if you feel like you’re in over your head, AAP says you can always call your pediatrician.

Dr. Anshu Abhat is a medical resident embedded with the ABC News Medical Unit. Doctor’s Take blogs explain the latest studies while offering residents’ medical opinions.


GTY texting teen mar 141007 16x9 608 Sexting Linked to Sex in Teens, Study Shows

"Sexting" -- sending sexually explicit text messages or photos -- among teens may also be an indicator that they are more likely to engage in the real thing later, according to a new study. (Cultura/C. Ditty/Getty Images)

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A ‘Sound’ Approach to Help Babies Talk Fri, 03 Oct 2014 23:13:33 +0000 ABC News By Bryan Sisk, MD

Many parents wait anxiously for their children’s first words, all the while carrying a lingering fear that those words might not come. Now, new research could provide hope for these parents.

Researchers at Rutgers University say they may have found a way to strengthen language development in babies. They trained 4-month-old infants to focus on specific sounds that are important for language development. If the babies paid attention to these sounds, they were given a reward – in this case a cute video played on a screen in front of them.

As the babies played this “game” they wore electrodes on their heads, which tracked signs of language development in their brains.

The results were promising. Babies who were trained to focus on these sounds had better development in the language centers of their brains, the area where words are formed.

“All the kids in this study got a bump – some a little bit, some a lot,” said Dr. April Benasich, lead author of the study and professor of neuroscience at Rutgers University. “We were actually surprised by the huge effect.”

Language delay is a serious concern for many parents. Up to 8 percent of children experience speech and language difficulties by the time they start preschool, potentially leading to future problems with learning and behavior.

“Sometimes it can be devastating for parents,” says Dr. Elizabeth Harstad, a developmental pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital who was not involved with the study. “As a parent, if you don’t know the underlying reason for language delay, then you don’t know what to expect for the future.”

Benasich said she hopes her research will help to prevent some of these language problems before they start. “We’ve already started to work on a prototype which is sort of like a toy,” she said. “Instead of saying, ‘We’ll just watch your baby, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,’ we could send them home with this device.”

The results of this study are promising, but preliminary. It is unknown if these benefits will lead to better language development in the long term. Benasich’s team will follow these babies for another year to see if these language benefits last.

“We hope that this is going to have a real-world impact,” she said.

Doctor’s Take

Language development is an important problem for many children. Ideally, we would be able to prevent some of these language problems before they start. While this research is preliminary, it could possibly lead to new ways of protecting our children and empowering parents. If this new technology helps even a portion of children with language problems, that would be a major success.

In the meantime, if parents are worried about their children’s language development, they should talk to their pediatrician. General pediatricians can screen for hearing and language development to pick up on problems and start interventions earlier. With developmental problems, the earlier that interventions are started, the better the results.

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IUDs, Implants Could Cut Teen Pregnancy Rates 80 Percent Fri, 03 Oct 2014 21:33:35 +0000 ABC News By Dr. Natasha Bhuyan

Long-acting birth control methods, such as the IUD and implant, could cut pregnancy rates by almost 80 percent in sexually active teens, according to a new study.

Researchers studied 1,404 teenagers who were offered free birth control of their choice. A majority chose a long-acting reversible contraception, such as IUD or implant. After three years, their pregnancy rate was 3.4 percent, compared with almost 16 percent in the general sexually active teen population.

The study appeared Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“It was really exciting to see these outcomes,” said Gina Secura, a lead author of the study and professor of epidemiology at Washington University in St. Louis. “We were thinking we would have reduction rates at less than 10 percent.”

An IUD is a t-shaped device placed into the uterus, while the subdermal implant is a small rod placed under the skin. Both methods involve more interaction with doctors than other commonly used birth control methods, such as condoms. But they are effective for three to 10 years, depending on the specific device. Unlike condoms, however, devices like these offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections.

Secura said there are several reasons that more teens don’t use IUDs or implants. In addition to their cost, she said, many providers don’t stock the devices or require patients to return for additional visits before placing them.

The new study follows a recommendation by The American Academy of Pediatrics earlier this week urging doctors to encourage sexually active teens and adolescents to look to IUDs and implants as their first option.

Dr. Mary Ott, an adolescent medicine specialist at Indiana University and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, said since teens often make errors when using other forms of birth control – such as neglecting to take birth control pills on time – these implants offer an edge when it comes to pregnancy protection.

“Teen pregnancy has both health risks and social costs,” said Ott, who was not involved with the study. “Teens who become pregnant are less likely to finish high school, go to college… there are economic and educational costs.”

Doctor’s Take

There are more than 600,000 American teen pregnancies per year, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Given the costs – both to individual teens and to society – it is clear that there are big upsides to preventing these pregnancies. And research shows best ways to combat teen pregnancy include medically-accurate sexual health education and access to contraception.

Adolescents who are sexually active should talk to their doctors about the best birth control options for them. Federally supported Title X family planning clinics offer reproductive care at a reduced cost.

But another essential part of preventing teen pregnancy is for adolescents to have a parent or other trusted adult in whom they can confide to discuss values and healthy relationships.

And because long-acting methods do not prevent sexually transmitted infections, it is important that teens know that barrier methods are also an important part of safe sex.


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How to Prevent Four of Five Heart Attacks Wed, 24 Sep 2014 14:14:31 +0000 ABC News GTY man stethoscope kab 140923 16x9 608 How to Prevent Four of Five Heart Attacks

A new study found that certain healthy habits can prevent four out of five heart attacks.(Credit: Buero Monaco/Getty Images)

By Dr. Natasha Bhuyan

We’ve all been told to maintain a healthy lifestyle to prevent heart attacks, but a new study shows just how important certain health habits can be.

Researchers in Sweden followed more than 20,000 men for 11 years. The ones who didn’t smoke and maintained several good health practices reduced their heart attack rates by 86 percent, according to a study published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In other words, they prevented four out of five heart attacks.

“What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors,” said Agneta Akesson, lead author of the study and nutritional epidemiologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

According to Akesson’s study, men at lowest risk for a heart attack didn’t smoke, walked or biked for at least 40 minutes per day, exercised at least one hour per week, consumed one to two glasses of alcohol daily, and followed a diet with fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish. A waist measuring less than 38 inches was also associated with fewer heart attacks.

About 1.5 million Americans have a heart attack every year, according to the American Heart Association. But less than 2 percent of Americans follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, according to the authors.

“Everyone wants to quickly grab a hamburger on their way somewhere…our eating habits are very poor,” said Dr. Prakash Deedwania, a cardiologist at the University of California San Francisco and member of the American College of Cardiology’s Prevention Committee.

But researchers found even a few small habits dramatically decreased the risk of a heart attack. For example, not smoking reduced heart attack rates by 36 percent, while a healthy diet plus moderate alcohol consumption lowered it by 35 percent.

“We are not asking people to do a whole lot, these are simple things,” said Deedwania, who was not involved with the study. “We need to make every effort to drive this message home.”

Akesson said she hopes to see more community-wide programs that encourage healthy behavior.

The study found that if only half the population followed a healthy lifestyle, up to 40 percent of heart attacks could still be prevented.

Even people who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a history of other heart attacks can change their future risk by leading a healthier life, Deedwania added.

Doctor’s Take

Heart disease continues to be the No. 1 killer in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While there are some risk factors people can’t change – such as genetics and age – many can be modified.

You’re probably not shocked that a healthy lifestyle can prevent heart attacks, but now studies are showing that even small lifestyle changes can make a big difference. The single most important step is to stop smoking.

People should meet with their family doctors to set personal goals about diet and exercise. Additionally, medications to control blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes can play an important role in heart attack prevention.

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‘Angelina Effect’ Boosts Breast Cancer Referrals, Study Finds Tue, 23 Sep 2014 08:50:57 +0000 ABC News GTY angelina jolie kab 140923 16x9 608 Angelina Effect Boosts Breast Cancer Referrals, Study Finds

Angelina Jolie is pictured on July 29, 2014 in Universal City, Calif. (Credit: Vera Anderson/Getty Images)

By Dr. Celine Thum

The so-called ”Angelina effect” may have led more women with family histories of breast cancer to undergo counseling and gene testing, according to a new study.

Researchers in the United Kingdom found that testing for the BRCA mutation – a hereditary genetic glitch known to put a person at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers – doubled in the six months following Jolie’s bombshell announcement that she had undergone a prophylactic double mastectomy because she tested positive for the mutation.

Jolie’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died in 2007 after a seven-year battle with ovarian cancer.

The researchers also found that in addition to the increase in BRCA testing, overall referrals to hereditary cancer clinics surged from about 1,900 per month to more than 4,800 per month in June and July 2013 – the two months immediately following Jolie’s announcement.

The study was published Sept. 18 in the journal Breast Cancer Research.

“A lot of us around the U.K. noticed that many of women were getting referred to us for hereditary breast cancer, and a lot of them mentioned Angelina as part of the reason,” said lead study author Gareth Evans, a professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Manchester. “It made women come forward who wouldn’t have otherwise,” Evans said. “It somewhat demystified the issue of genetic testing.”

Still, because the researchers did not survey patients directly, it is not possible to say for sure that Jolie’s revelation drove their decisions.

But experts not involved with the study warned that the “Angelina effect” could be a double-edged sword, particularly for women with breast cancer who don’t have the BRCA mutation. They feared that women without these high-risk mutations would opt for preventative mastectomy anyway, putting them at risk of having had unnecessary surgery and the multitude of side effects that come with it.

“I think [Jolie] is in a very different situation from the overwhelming majority of women,” said Dr. Harry Bear, division chairman of surgical oncology at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center. ”She had a known genetic mutation and known family history. Only 5 percent of breast cancer is BRCA positive, and it applies to very few women that have a breast cancer diagnosis.”

Bear added that for women with breast cancer who do not have a BRCA mutation, the risk of developing cancer in the other breast is very low, about 1 in 200. For these women, he said, removing the other breast could do more harm than good.

Doctor’s Take:

When a well-known public figure shares their personal struggle, people listen, as the “Angelina effect” dramatically demonstrates. But remember, talk to your doctor so that he or she may address your issues on an individual bases.

After all, while what a celebrity chooses to do may be the start of a life-saving intervention for some people, their actions may not be ideal for everyone.

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