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Health Capsules: ‘Keepsake’ ultrasounds

Fetal ultrasound scans should be reserved for times when there is a medical need and should be performed by appropriately-trained operators, FDA officials said.

Fetal ultrasound scans should be reserved for times when there is a medical need and should be performed by appropriately-trained operators, FDA officials said.

‘Keepsake’ ultrasounds

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is concerned about the use of fetal ultrasounds for the creation of “keepsake” images.

“FDA is aware of several enterprises in the U.S. that are commercializing ultrasonic imaging by making fetal keepsake videos,” FDA officials said in a consumer update issued last month. “In some cases, the ultrasound machine may be used for as long as an hour to get a video of the fetus.”

According to the FDA, while there is lack of evidence of any harm due to ultrasound imaging, ultrasound can heat tissues, and the long-term effects of tissue heating are not known. For that reason, fetal ultrasounds should only be performed when there is a medical need.

“In creating fetal keepsake videos, there is no control on how long a single imaging session will last, how many sessions will take place, or whether the ultrasound systems will be operated properly,” FDA officials stated.


The best medicine?

Nitrous oxide – sometimes called “laughing gas” and used to make people more comfortable during dental procedures – might be useful in the treatment of severe depression.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine gave nitrous oxide to 20 patients whose depression was not alleviated by other therapies and reported that two-thirds of them said their symptoms improved after the treatment.

In comparison, one-third of the same patients who on another occasion were given a placebo reported improvements after placebo treatment.

According to investigator Dr. Charles R. Conway, nitrous oxide treatment resulted in “rapid and significant improvement” among many of the patients in the study.

“Although some patients also reported feeling better after breathing the placebo gas, it was clear that the overall pattern observed was that nitrous oxide improved depression above and beyond the placebo,” Conway said in a Washington University news release. “Most patients who improved reported that they felt better only two hours after treatment with nitrous oxide. That compares with at least two weeks for typical oral antidepressants to exert the beneficial, antidepressant effects.”

Researchers plan to conduct more studies.


Ignoring cancer symptoms

Many people could be depriving themselves of potentially life-saving medical treatment by dismissing cancer symptoms, a Cancer Research U.K.-funded study found.

Researchers gave more than 1,700 people health questionnaires listing 17 symptoms, 10 of which were highly publicized, “red flag alarm” cancer warning signs. More than half of respondents (53 percent) indicated they had experienced at least one of the red flag symptoms within the previous 90 days, but only 2 percent considered cancer to be a possible cause.

“It’s worrying that even the more obvious warning symptoms, such as unexplained lumps or changes to a mole, were rarely attributed to cancer, although they are often well recognized in surveys that assess the public’s knowledge of the disease,” the lead researcher Dr. Katriina Whitaker said in a news release. “Even when people thought warning symptoms might be serious, cancer didn’t tend to spring to mind. This might be because people were frightened and reluctant to mention cancer, thought cancer wouldn’t happen to them, or believed other causes were more likely.”

Cancer “alarm” symptoms listed on the questionnaire included unexplained cough or hoarseness; persistent change in bowel habits; persistent, unexplained pain; persistent change in bladder habits; unexplained lump; a change in the appearance of a mole; a sore that does not heal; unexplained bleeding; unexplained weight loss; and persistent difficulty swallowing.


Dangerous misuse

An overwhelming majority of Americans with severe allergies and asthma use the medical devices prescribed to treat their conditions incorrectly, and some have died as a result.

A study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that only 16 percent of people prescribed epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens) for severe allergies used their devices properly, and only 7 percent of those with metered-dose inhalers for asthma used them correctly.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), improper use of epinephrine auto-injectors has been documented in anaphylaxis fatalities.

Among epinephrine users, the most common mistake was failure to hold the unit in place for at least 10 seconds after triggering the device. Failure to place the needle on the thigh and failure to push down with enough force to activate the injection were other common errors.

For those prescribed inhalers, the most common error was failure to exhale before delivering the puff of medication. Not shaking the inhaler prior to administering the second puff was another common mistake.


Losing sleep over alcohol

Many people have a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage to help them fall asleep, but according to a study at the University of Missouri (MU), that is a counterproductive practice.

After spending more than five years studying the effects of alcohol on sleep, MU researchers concluded that alcohol interferes with the body’s natural process for regulating sleep. Specifically, researchers found, drinking caused study subjects to fall asleep and then wake up a few hours later and be unable to fall back asleep.

When people who were accustomed to relying on alcohol to fall asleep withdrew from drinking, they experienced a period of insomnia.

“If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, don’t use alcohol,” said Mahesh Thakkar, who led the research. “Talk to your doctor or a sleep medicine physician to determine what factors are keeping you from sleeping. These factors can then be addressed with individualized treatment.”


Safer, smarter, fatter

Compared to 20 years ago, American children for the most part are safer, better educated and more overweight.

A report reflecting the Duke University Child and Youth Well-being Index – a measure that since 1975 has tracked children’s well-being – found that in the past 20 years:

• Fewer young Americans are violent crime victims.

• Suicide rates have declined.

• Smoking and binge drinking have declined.

• Illicit drug use has increased due to the growing popularity of marijuana.

• American children and youth are pursuing more education at levels from pre-school through college.

• Students’ test scores have increased, especially in elementary and middle school.

• Fewer young people are dying, and more children have health insurance.

• The childhood obesity epidemic has continued to contribute to poor childhood health scores.

Professor Kenneth Land, lead author of the report, noted that technology might play both good and bad roles in the health of the nation’s children and teens. Kids are spending an increasing amount of time indoors playing with electronic devices, which may protect them from some physical dangers but also prevent them from getting the exercise they need.

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