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Jun 30
Laughter lights up our faces, brains
Our brains as well as our faces virtually 'light up', especially when we laugh on hearing or seeing something funny.

The more hilarious a joke is, the greater the activity seen in 'reward centres', specific neurons (nerve and brain cells) which create feelings of pleasure.

And learning how humour affects the brain could help determine whether patients in a vegetative state experience positive emotions, the Journal of Neuroscience reports.

A team of Medical Research Council (MRC) scientists scanned the brains of volunteers to compare what happened when they heard ordinary sentences and jokes. This showed that the reward centres 'lit up' much more in response to humour, according to the Daily Mail.

Researcher Matt Davis, from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, said: "We found a characteristic pattern of brain activity when the jokes used were puns."

"For example, jokes like "Why don't cannibals eat clowns? Because they taste funny!" involved brain areas for language processing more than jokes that didn't involve wordplay.

"This response differed again from non-humorous sentences that also contained words with more than one meaning," said Davis.

"Mapping how the brain processes jokes and sentences shows how language contributes to the pleasure of getting a joke."

"We can use this as a benchmark for understanding how people who cannot communicate normally react to jokes," added Davis.

Jun 29
Swine flu strikes back
The dreaded H1N1 virus that has claimed many lives over the past two years, has reared its ugly head once again in Mumbai

Yesterday, two Mumbaikars tested positive for the virus. After throat swabs were sent to Haffkine institute, pathological tests conducted on the samples diagnosed that the swine flu virus had infected a 37-year-old woman from Chandivli and a three-year-old girl.

The two diagnoses follow close on the heels of similar cases in Pune and Nashik. Alarmed by the re-emergence of the disease, the state health department had a closed-door meeting with experts last morning at the Mantralaya to think of measures that can safeguard the city from another pandemic.

Once may recollect at that the state health department had issued detailed precautionary guidelines to be adopted when the outbreak of the disease assumed the pandemic proportions two years back.

The state had even roped in private hospitals, which had prepared special quarantine wards for those afflicted with the disease.

Dr Abhay Chaudhary, director of Haffkine institute, said, "We have received samples from two city hospitals.

Tests were conducted in our Bio Safety level (BSL) 2 + labs, and the samples tested positive for the H1N1 virus. There is no use panicking, as the virus is here to stay.

It is an air-borne disease, and the weather is conducive to the multiplication and spread of the virus. There are bound to be more cases."

Dr Chaudhary added that the Haffkine Institute had started screening patients with severe acute respiratory illnesses in all outpatient departments (OPDs) of city hospitals in order to study the virus strains circulating in the city

Jun 28
Diastolic Dysfunction Of The Heart Associated With Increased Mortality Risk
A new report published in the June 27 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, suggests that diastolic dysfunction maybe an independent risk factor for increased risk of death. Diastolic dysfunction leads to an impaired relaxation of the ventricles, the pumping chambers of the heart, after contraction. This increased risk is independent of whether the patient has normal or abnormal systolic function. Systolic function is the ability of the heart to contract and push blood to the body. This risk seems to be also independent of whether the patient has any other cardiovascular abnormalities.

Each heartbeat has a systolic component and a diastolic component. The heart first contracts and pumps blood out of the ventricular chambers (Systolic phase) and then goes through a phase of relaxation which allows blood to refill the ventricles (Diastolic Phase). According to this report, even when the systolic function is normal, diastolic dysfunction (DD) has been associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular and other reasons. The researchers in this study attempted to determine if the mortality risk associated with DD was an independent risk factor for increased risk for death in the presence of a normal systolic function. They also set out to determine whether this held true for milder cases of DD as well. The researchers began to understand the clinical relevance of the presence of diastolic dysfunction and degree of DD in patients who had normal ejection fraction who underwent outpatient echocardiography. They used echocardiography since it is one of the most common cardiac non-invasive imaging tests in the United States.

Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic that included Dr. Carmel M. Halley, MD and his colleagues studied clinical records and electrocardiograms of 36,261 patients who had attended the Cleveland Clinic between 1996 and 2005 and had demonstrated a normal systolic function. The researchers then started collecting information on diastolic function in these patients, if any. If DD was found, it was graded as mild, moderate or severe.

The researchers determined rates of cardiovascular disease in the study population. This included congestive heart failure (3.5 percent), coronary artery disease (0.6 percent) and peripheral vascular disease (1.1 percent). DD was found in most of the patients that were studied. A total of 65.2 percent of patients had some degree of DD. When graded, it was revealed that 60.0 percent had mild DD, 4.8 percent had moderate DD, and 0.6 percent had severe DD. These patients were followed for an average of 6.2 years. During the follow up phase, 5,789 deaths occurred. It was found that the adjusted mortality rate was higher in patients with worsening DD. There were 4,469 deaths [21 percent] in the mild DD cohort, 429 deaths [24 percent] in the moderate DD cohort, and 49 deaths [39 percent] in the severe DD cohort. Nonetheless, when propensity matching techniques were applied during statistical analysis of the data, it was revealed that only moderate and severe DD were related to an increased mortality risk.

The authors note that since the prevalence of DD was so high in their study population, most patients who presented to the outpatient electrocardiographic testing had, by definition, preclinical DD. This is of great clinical relevance since DD can provide the physician with prognostic clues. Since in most cases, the electrocardiograms are ordered by non-cardiologists, this information is of particular importance. The researchers have pressed the need for more research to understand how DD increases the risk of mortality as an independent factor. They also added that the results of this study indicate that increased awareness about the clinical significance of moderate and severe DD may help in triaging patients who may be at a higher risk of dying from DD even if systolic function is preserved. This could be of particular importance when DD is at a preclinical stage.

Jun 27
Eating for two risks harm to the baby
Mothers who eat too much during pregnancy increase the risk of low IQ, eating disorders and psychosis in their children.

Every pregnant woman worries about eating properly to nurture her unborn child.

But between strange cravings and old-fashioned advice to start "eating for two" many find themselves tipping the scales far too heavily - with one in six women classed as obese within just three months of becoming pregnant, and many more putting on too much weight in later months - suggesting babies are being put at risk on a massive scale.

Now, a study has warned of new risks to their children, who are more likely than others to suffer from a range of problems including low IQs, eating disorders and psychosis.

The research found that the risks were increased not just in the early years - when children had a higher chance of suffering from attention deficit disorder, and a lower than average IQ - but also in adolescence, when eating disorders were more likely, and in adulthood, when the risk of disorders such as schizophrenia was increased.

Experts warned that even women who began their pregnancies at healthy weight, or slightly overweight, could put their child at risk if they used pregnancy as a time to ditch sensible eating habits.

The research, published in international journal Obesity Reviews, examined findings from across across the world on the impact of maternal weight on child development.

One study found that every increased unit in the pregnant woman's Body Mass Index (BMI) - calculated as her weight in kilograms divided by the square of her height in metres - was associated with a "significantly" reduced IQ in the child.

Overall, the average IQ of children of obese mothers was five points lower than those born to mothers of healthy weight, according to the study, one of 12 examined by researchers in psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience from McMaster University, in Ontario Canada.

Research from Sweden found children born of overweight mothers were more likely to suffer from attention deficit problems, while findings from Japan found every extra BMI point added in early pregnancy increased the offspring's chance of developing schizophrenia in adulthood by 24 per cent.

A study of Australian teenagers suggested their chance of having an eating disorder increased by 11 per cent for every extra BMI point gained by their mothers during the pregnancy.

Researchers said the reasons for the extra risks were not clear, but might be linked to changes in the hormonal, cardiovascular and immune systems during pregnancy as a result of excess weight.

While the studies attempted to "control" for some factors - such as the socio-economic background of obese parents, which could affect child development - the research could not pinpoint the extent to which risks were created in pregnancy, or might explained by genetic patterns or the way parents brought up their families.

Research has found that one in six women in this country are obese by the time they are three months into pregnancy - a proportion which has more than doubled in two decades, amid an obesity epidemic.

Earlier this year, scientists said more than 100,000 babies a year were at risk of dying or suffering serious problems because of the risks from obesity, which puts a woman's body under extra strain, when it is working to nurture new life.

Obesity in pregnancy increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, blood clots, miscarriages and still-births, while layers of fat can mean serious defects can be missed in scans.

The study, led by Teeside University, found massive variations in levels of obesity among expectant mothers cross the country.

In London, 13 per cent of mothers-to-be were obese, while in the West Midlands, the figure was 22 per cent.

Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum said too many women were not getting the message that they needed to "shape up" before planning a family.

Others who were a healthy weight, or slightly overweight when they conceived could easily fall into the category of obese if they used pregnancy as an excuse to ditch sensible eating habits.

He said: "There is still a lot of folklore about pregnancy, and a lot of women who still believe that 'eating for two' is the way to nurture their child.

"Those kinds of myths are really dangerous - in fact, pregnant women only need about an extra 200 calories a day in the last trimester."

"There are a lot of serious risks from obesity that we already know about, but this study shows others are still emerging, and the picture is incredibly worrying," he added.

Earlier this year, a study found that rates of foetal and infant death are twice as high among those born to obese mothers.

The study found that 16 in 1,000 babies suffered fetal or infant death if their mothers had a BMI greater than 30 in early pregnancy, compared with 9 deaths per 1,000 babies among those with a healthy BMI.

Big babies - those weighing more than 10 lbs - are around twice as likely as other babies to end up obese as adults.

Separate studies have found increased dangers of developmental problems like spina bifida and neural tube defects in infants of obese mothers.

Jane Munro, from the Royal College of Midwives, said more research was needed to establish whether the apparent risks highlighted in the latest study were a direct result of maternal obesity.

Mrs Munro said: "There are some clear risks from obesity that we already know about- hypertension, pre-eclampsia, larger babies, an increased risk of having a baby born by Caesarean section, and that the child is more likely to become obese.

"We encourage women to get to a healthy weight before conception, and eat healthily in pregnancy, but we do not encourage dieting in pregnancy, and we don't want women getting too frightened about all this."

Jun 27
Lithium prevents brain damage
A study has found that lithium profoundly prevents the aggregation of toxic proteins and cell loss associated with Parkinson's disease (PD).

The Buck Institute for Research, which carried out the study on a mouse model of the condition, is currently working toward initiating a Phase IIa clinical study of lithium in humans in conjunction with standard PD drug therapy.

"This is the first time lithium has been tested in an animal model of PD," lead author and Buck Professor Julie Andersen, PhD, said.

"The fact that lithium's safety profile in humans is well understood greatly reduces trial risk and lowers a significant hurdle to getting it into the clinic," she stated.

Jun 25
'People in metros suffer from tooth sensitivity'
Two out of every five people residing in the top six metro cities of the country suffer from tooth sensitivity, a survey has revealed.

The survey, conducted by research firm Nielsen for a leading oral care company and covering 1,800 respondents, was commissioned to gauge the existing condition of tooth sensitivity in Indian metro cities -- Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad.

The findings reveal that although tooth sensitivity is increasingly becoming a common oral health problem, awareness about this condition is fairly low.

Tooth sensitivity is the condition of a short, sharp pain experienced on consumption of hot or cold food and liquids.

Of the six cities surveyed, the incidence of sensitivity was recorded highest in Hyderabad with 55 percent of the population claiming to suffer from the problem. This was followed by Chennai, where 53 percent respondents had the problem.

46 percent respondents from New Delhi, 42 percent from Mumbai and 36 percent from Kolkata claimed to suffer from sensitivity. The incidence of sensitivity is lowest in Bangalore with only 18 percent of the respondents claiming to suffer from the problem.

"Most Indians tend to follow a remedial path where they seek professional dental care only at the time of severe toothaches as a result of which such problems go ignored," said Indian Dental Association (IDA) secretary Dr Ashok Dhoble.

"Some common causes of tooth sensitivity include receding gums or loss of enamel, incorrect brushing technique, tooth decay, fracture of teeth, teeth grinding and improper oral hygiene," he said.

Overall, over 40 percent of the respondents claimed to suffer from tooth sensitivity but only 21 percent of the respondents knew that they could get instant and lasting sensitivity relief, the survey said.

31 percent of the respondents suffering from tooth sensitivity think it is just toothache, said the survey.

Also, the incidence of sensitivity increases from 33 percent at the age group of 18-25 years to 54 percent for the age group of 51-55 years, it added.

Jun 24
Weight loss surgery may cure obese diabetics: study
The report in Archives of Surgery concerned a review of earlier studies led by Rick Meijer, at the Institute for Cardiovascular Research at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, who said the findings exceeded what was possible with more conventional diabetes treatments.

"In standard practice, only a very minor group of individuals with an iron will can lose enough weight to be cured from type 2 diabetes mellitus," Meijer said in an email to Reuters Health, referring to the most common type of diabetes.

Meijer and his colleagues pooled data from nine studies of diabetics who underwent either a gastric bypass -- which makes the stomach smaller and allows food to bypass part of the small intestine -- or gastric band surgery, in which the capacity of the stomach is reduced by using an adjustable band.

Eight of the studies included between 23 and 177 patients, while the last one traced 82,000 people. Each followed patients for at least a year.

After gastric bypass, 83 percent of patients could stop taking their diabetes medications, some within days of the surgery. After gastric banding, 62 percent could stop.

"Surgery ought to be considered front line therapy for diabetes among obese people," said Jon Gould, who heads the weight loss surgery program at the University of Wisconsin and was not involved in the study.

Meijer said about 90 percent of cases of diabetes are due to excessive weight, though not all diabetics would be eligible for the weight loss surgery.

It's also unclear how long surgery's impact on diabetes can last. One study included in the review found that 10 years after surgery, just one third of people whose diabetes had abated still had good control of their blood sugar.

Surgery of course has the potential for complications that wouldn't occur with drugs.

One study followed patients up to a month after surgery found that 7 percent experienced some problems, mainly minor wound infections. But massive bleeding, kidney failure and other serious complications occurred in more than 2 percent of patients.

Other side effects include nausea and some food intolerance, with some patients also gaining weight back over time.

Gould said the initial cost of the surgery, compared to the extended costs of diabetes care and other health effects of being obese, can be recouped after 18 months to two years.

"It would be a huge upfront cost, but looking at this from the bigger picture, I think if we can cure instead of manage the complications, we will save money in the long run," he told Reuters Health.

Jun 23
The Odds Of Surviving Colon Cancer Improve If You Are Married
A new study shows that being married boosts survival odds for both men and women with colon cancer at every stage of the disease.

Married patients had a 14 percent lower risk of death according to researchers at Penn State's College of Medicine and Brigham Young University. That estimate is based on analysis of 127,753 patient records.

Similar to studies of other types of cancers, the researchers did find that married people were diagnosed at earlier stages of colon cancer and sought more aggressive treatment. The researchers took those and other factors into account before calculating the benefit of marriage on survival odds.

"Controlling for the stage that the cancer was detected is key," said Sven Wilson, a study coauthor and professor at Brigham Young University. "Without that, it's hard to know whether the analysis is just picking up a diagnosis effect."

Colon cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in the United States for both men and women. Curiously, the marriage benefit seen in the new study was nearly identical for both men and women.

So what's driving the different survival rates? Marriage is a self-selected group, and Wilson is careful to note that the selection process makes it difficult to sort out the root cause. One intuitive idea is that spouses serve as an important informal caregiver during a critical time, and that extra support may translate into better disease management and, hence, better outcomes.

Jun 22
Mystery disease kills two more in Bihar
Two more children have died of a mysterious disease in Bihar, taking the toll to 34 in the state, officials said on Wednesday.

The children died after reporting high fever followed by convulsions and unconsciousness in Muzaffarpur district late on Tuesday.

Locals have termed the disease as 'chamki ki bimari' and said the symptoms were similar to encephalitis - a disease that causes inflammation of the brain.

However, state Health Minister Ashwani Kumar Choubey said experts were in the process of identifying the disease and it was 'not proper to term it encephalitis'.

Two expert teams - one from Pune-based National Institute of Virology and another from the union health ministry - visited a hospital in Muzaffarpur Tuesday where dozens of children are undergoing treatment.

"Both teams along with local health officials will also visit the villages where the children have died," Gopal Shankar Shahni, a doctor at the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) in Muzaffarpur said on telephone.

Principal secretary, health, Amarjeet Sinha said the experts would collect samples of animals to identify the cause of the disease.

The teams will Wednesday visit Kejriwal Hospital in Muzaffarpur. Over three dozen children are undergoing treatment in various hospitals in Muzaffarpur, Motihari and Patna.

Jun 22
Delhi bans use of calcium carbide for ripening fruits
The Delhi government has banned the use of calcium carbide for artificial ripening of fruits, recognising its harmful effects of health, and suggested ethylene gas as an alternate technique.

"Use of calcium carbide for artificially ripening the fruits is banned in Delhi under the PFA (Prevention of food adulteration) Act," Delhi Health Minister A K Walia has said.

Walia had chaired a meeting of state officials, scientists from ICAR and mango traders here yesterday to discuss the alternate techniques for maturing of fruits.

Officials from department of prevention of food adulteration, scientists from Shri Ram Institute of Industrial research and representatives of Mother Dairy were also present.

Based on inputs provided by the experts, the minister said ethylene gas can be used as alternate technique for ripening of fruits, which is not harmful.

"The fruits ripened with Ethylene have more acceptable colour than naturally ripened fruits and have more shelf-life than fruits ripened with calcium carbide," Walia had said.

Horticulture experts say that calcium carbide used for ripening of the king of fruits is carcinogenic and thus the final product is cancerous.

The minister said the government is soon going to organise special awareness campaign to spread awareness among the fruit traders and merchants for the adoption of ethylene as an alternative medium for ripening of fruits.

"The technique is also said to be very cost effective, so it won't affect the customer," Walia said, adding, similar technique is already being used by Mother Dairy and a few states.

Sudesh J Schdeva, President of Mango Merchant Association at Azadpur (Asia's biggest fruit and vegetable wholesale market) said a group of ICAR scientists are expected to visit the market tomorrow to educate mango merchants about advantages of ethylene gas for artificial ripening of the fruit.

The national capital receives over 200 trucks of mangoes containing about 10 tonnes of the fruit daily from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and South India, Sachdeva added.