Testing It Up

June is cataract awareness month

June is Cataract Awareness Month. cataract

Cataracts, the number one cause of blindness worldwide, affect an estimated 24 million Americans 40 and older.

The good news is that cataracts can be removed and cataract surgery has a 95% success rate. It is one of the most commonly performed operations in the Unites States and in addition to giving people their eyesight back, it has been proven to lower the risk of fall-related hip injuries.

According to the organization preventblindness.org, cataracts are caused by:

  • Intense heat or long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun
  • Certain diseases, such as diabetes
  • Inflammation in the eye
  • Hereditary influences
  • Events before birth, such as German measles in the mother
  • Long-term steroid use
  • Eye injuries
  • Eye diseases
  • Smoking

Blurry vision, double vision, seeing phantom images, or feeling like there is a film over your vision, being blinded by bright light, or feeling as though it is too dark to read are all common symptoms of cataracts. You can sometimes see your cataract as a milky or yellowish spot over your pupil, which would normally be clear black.

Cataracts are most common among older individuals, because the cells in the eye that replenish it are not able to leave the eye as you get older. Thus, they build up in a cloudy residue over the lens.

Even though they are manageable and potentially curable, it is important to take good care of your eyes your whole life in order to prevent cataracts later on. That means getting eye exams every year or every other year. It’s especially important to have dilated exams to check for developing cataracts.

June 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm Comments (0)

15 Year Old Develops Software to Identify Cancer-Causing Gene Mutations

Nathan Han, a 15-year-old from Boston, has won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for creating a computer program that can predict how harmful gene mutations related to cancer might be. 

Photo courtsy of fastcoexist.com

Photo courtsy of fastcoexist.com

Han says that he’s been fascinated with bioinformatics for awhile and when a close friend’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he started thinking about possible projects.

He eventually settled on his winning software, which evaluates mutations in the BRCA1 gene–a gene commonly associated with ovarian and breast cancer–to see how harmful they are.

Han programmed his software to differentiate between disease-related mutations and harmless mutations using data from public databases.

“I chose to focus on BRCA1 in particular for practicality. It’s one of the most studied genes in the human genome,” he says.

According to Han, his program has an 81% accuracy rate in identifying cancer-causing mutations. Existing algorithms have an accuracy rate of only around 40%.

His software could one day be customized to evaluate other genes and diseases.

“Down the road, as accuracy improves, I can imagine using this sort of process for personalized genomic analysis,” Han says.

For winning the Intel science fair, Han receives $75,000, which he will put toward college.

June 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm Comment (1)

Yelp used to identify food-borne illnesses at NY restaurants

Up until now, all restaurant owners had to worry about when it came to bad Yelp reviews was a hit to their business. But a new pilot project in New York could see them get pinpointed as the source for food-borne illness outbreaks.food

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report recently saying that New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has completed a pilot project that used Yelp reviews to help identify unreported outbreaks of food-borne illness.

The researchers used a software program developed by Columbia University to search nearly 300,000 Yelp reviews of restaurants in the city over a nine-month period in 2012-13. The researchers searched for specific words like “sick,” “vomit” and “diarrhea,” along with other details.

Using the research, health officials were able to pinpoint three instances when 16 people had been made ill by restaurant food. Furthermore, they were able to discern the restaurants patrons had eaten at and the food the patrons had eaten that made them ill.

Since diners who suffer food-related ailments rarely report them, using Yelp helps to keep track of these unreported outbreaks.

“With food-borne illnesses, it’s much better to reach people sooner,” said Dr. Sharon Balter, a medical epidemiologist with New York’s health department. “When investigating an outbreak, we want to know what people who got sick ate, who else was with them and what items they all ate together. If you wait, people forget.”

During the pilot program, the computers searched through a week’s worth of Yelp reviews at a time, but now that’s been bumped up to checking them daily.

Health officials don’t just rely on the reviews, though. Once it’s been determined that a restaurant has made two more people sick and that the incubation period was more than 10 hours, the researchers then reach out to the patrons through Yelp to ask if they’d be willing to talk with health officials.

Using this information, city health officials investigated the restaurants where the illnesses originated (as they do with all illness outbreaks) and although they weren’t able to identify the source of the illnesses, they did discover unsanitary practices and other health violations at the restaurants.

May 27, 2014 at 6:51 am Comments (0)

ABSI May be Better Indication of Healthy Weight

First there was Body Mass Index (BMI), then Waist Circumference (WC) and now there is a new number that may be the best yet at figuring out if you are a healthy weight for your age and size. overweight

Unlike BMI, which only factors in weight and height, and WC, which only takes into account the single measurement of girth, A Body Shape Index (ABSI) takes into account all three measurements: weight, height and waist circumference.

Developed by the father-son duo of Dr. Jesse Krakauer, an endocrinologist, and Dr. Nir Krakauer, an assistant professor of civil engineering at City College of New York, ABSI has been found to be a better predictor of mortality due to weight.

The two doctors calculated both the ABSI and BMI of more than 14,000 Americans (excluding pregnant women) and found that high ABSI appears to be more accurate than high BMI at predicting mortality.

People in the study with the highest ABSI numbers had more than double the risk of dying from any cause than those with the lowest. Even more telling, the researchers found that when people’s BMI fell within the normal range, if they had a high ABSI, they could still be in the danger zone.

By taking into account all three measurements, ABSI accounts for various body shapes and compositions.

To find your ABSI, plug your measurements into the ABSI calculator. The most important number is the relative risk from ABSI. A 1 means you’re at average risk of death for your age. Below 1 means a below-average risk; above 1 means greater risk.

May 20, 2014 at 8:59 am Comments (0)

Blood Test Accurately Predicts Alzheimer’s

A newly developed blood test can predict with 90% accuracy if a healthy person will develop mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease within three years. Alzheimer's disease

The study about the new test, published March 9 on the website of the journal Nature Medicine, says it could lead to treatment strategies for Alzheimer’s earlier, when therapy would be more effective at slowing down or completely preventing the onset of symptoms.

The test identifies likely candidates for the disease by identifying 10 lipids in the blood that point to the onset of Alzheimer’s. It could be ready for use in clinical studies in another couple of years, the researchers said, and it also has the potential for other diagnostic uses.

“Our novel blood test offers the potential to identify people at risk for progressive cognitive decline and can change how patients, their families and treating physicians plan for and manage the disorder,” said Dr. Howard J. Federoff, the study’s corresponding author and a professor of neurology and executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

There is no cure or effective treatment for Alzheimer’s. Worldwide, about 35.6 million individuals have the disease and, according to the World Health Organization, the number will double every 20 years to 115.4 million people with Alzheimer’s by 2050.

March 11, 2014 at 6:32 am Comments (0)

Stroke Risk Decreased By Regular Vitamin C Intake

Remember what your mother used to say about Vitamin C being a health booster? Results of a newly released study seem to support your mom.

vitamin c from orangesResearchers from France’s Pontchaillou University Hospital released a study that showed a link between Vitamin C intake and a decreased likelihood of stroke. Lead study author Dr. Stephane Vannier said in a news article, “Our results show that Vitamin C deficiency should be considered a risk factor for this severe type of stroke, as were high blood pressure, drinking alcohol and being overweight in our study.”

While not yet published in a public journal, the study is set to be discussed in full detail at the upcoming Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia by April of this year.

The research involved a comparison of Vitamin C levels in two groups — stroke patients and healthy individuals. Results showed that while more than half of the total respondent population registered low Vitamin C levels, most of these individuals came from the group of stroke patients.

The study, however, does not confirm a direct causality between Vitamin C deficiency and a higher risk of stroke. The research team recommends more studies to delve into further details, especially on how the vitamin could lower the risk of developing stroke. Dr. Vannier infers that Vitamin C could have played a key role in regulating a person’s blood pressure, thereby reducing the likelihood of having a stroke.

Stroke remains one of the leading causes of fatality in the U.S., according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

February 17, 2014 at 6:01 pm Comments (0)

Hospitals Often Don’t Follow Own Infection Prevention Checklists, Study Finds

Even though most hospitals have checklists in place to ensure people don’t get infections while they are there, a new study has found that many hospitals eschew their own infection prevention measures. drug addiction in nurses

The study, done by Columbia University and published in the American Journal of Infection Control, reviewed policies to prevent infections in 1,653 intensive care units (ICU) at 975 hospitals across the United States. Researchers found that preventive checklists for bloodstream infections, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia don’t meet adequate standards for safe health care, and that some hospitals don’t have any checklists at all.

Not following or having these infection prevention protocols in place costs hospitals $33 billion annually and results in 100,000 patients suffering preventable infections, the researchers say.

“Every hospital should see this research as a call to action,” study leader and Centennial Professor of Health Policy at Columbia Nursing, Dr. Patricia Stone, said in a statement. “It’s just unconscionable that we’re not doing every single thing we can, every day, for every patient, to avoid preventable infections.”

These infection prevention checklists can range from hand washing information to information on how often a patient’s catheter should be changed.

Nine out of every 10 hospitals in the study did have such protocols, but often didn’t follow them. Three-quarters of the ICUs in the study had checklists for patients on ventilators to help prevent pneumonia infections but only about half of the hospitals with checklists actually followed them. Patients with urinary catheters fared even worse, with less than a third of hospitals having bedside protocol for preventing catheter-associated urinary tract infections and among those hospitals that did have the protocol, it was followed less than 30% of the time.

“Hospitals aren’t following the rules they put in place themselves to keep patients safe,” said Stone. “Rules don’t keep patients from dying unless they’re enforced.”

The research team suggest hiring someone whose sole job is to make sure hospital staff follows the rules that are set out. More than a third of hospitals in the study had no such employee on staff.

An alternative would be for hospitals to use electronic monitoring systems that act as an honest broker for bedside staff. These systems keep tabs on which parts of the checklist have been fulfilled and which haven’t and also issue hospital staff “report cards” based on how thoroughly they follow the checklist. They have shown success in prior studies to increase hand washing rates, among other positive outcomes.

“We’ve come a long way in understanding what causes healthcare-associated infections and how to prevent them,” Stone concluded. “This study shows we still have a long way to go in compliance with well-established, life-saving and cost-saving measures that we know will lower infection rates.”

February 6, 2014 at 8:42 am Comments (0)

CDC Pushes People to Get Tested for Colorectal Cancer

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is urging people to get tested for colorectal cancer.colorectal cancer

This month, the CDC released statistics about colorectal cancer and the lack of testing happening in the country:
  • About 90% of people live 5 or more years when their colorectal cancer is found early through testing.
  • About 1 in 3 adults (23 million) between 50 and 75 years old is not getting tested as recommended.
  • 10% of adults who got tested for colorectal cancer used an effective at-home stool test.
  • About 23 million adults have never been tested
  • The people less likely to get tested are Hispanics, those aged 50-64, men, American Indian or Alaska natives, those who don’t live in a city, and people with lower education and income.
  • People with lower education and income are less likely to get tested.
  • About 2 of every 3 adults who have never been tested for colorectal cancer actually have a regular doctor and health insurance that could pay for the test. Providers and patients do not always know about or consider all of the available tests.

Colorectal cancer ranks second only to lung cancer as the second leading cancer killer of men and women in the US. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends three colorectal cancer screening tests: colonoscopy, stool tests (guaiac fecal occult blood test-FOBT or fecal immunochemical test-FIT), and sigmoidoscopy.

The CDC states that people are more likely to get tested if they are able to choose the test they prefer and that, while doctors typically recommend a colonoscopy, many people would rather perform a test at home.

 

November 6, 2013 at 6:34 am Comments (0)

Cervical Cancer Prevention Improved Through HPV Screening Instead Of Pap Test

Two tests can help anyone avoid development of cervical cancer: a human papillomavirus (HPV) screening and a Pap test. Now, a recent study recommends one over the other.

cervical cancerExperts in the field of cervical cancer research led by Italian epidemiologist Dr. Guglielmo Ronco recommends the HPV-based screening for cervical cancer prevention, as opposed to cytology-based pap tests. A study conducted by Ronco and peers involved four random trials within Europe to compare the accuracy of the two tests in detecting cancer of the cervix, according to a news item. Over 175,000 females between the ages of 20 and 64 were included in the research, wherein the respondents were monitored from the day they were tested until an average of 6.5 years.

While both tests succeeded in cervical cancer detection for the first few years since the test administration, the proponents of the study discovered that after 2.5 years, HPV screening was up to 70 percent more accurate than pap tests.

Published in the online journal The Lancet, the research was presented to a panel of cervical cancer experts and medical professionals. According to the study authors, HPV screening should be conducted “from age 30 years and extension of screening intervals to at least 5 years.”

The two tests have different approaches to cervical cancer protection. Pap tests involve extraction of cells from the cervix and examining them through a microscope for potential abnormalities. Meanwhile, HPV screenings involve detection of the human papillomavirus in the extracted cervical cells.

November 4, 2013 at 12:00 am Comments (0)

New App Allows Eye Exams to be Performed Anywhere with a Smartphone

Smartphones have replaced so many gadgets already, so why not optometrists’ instruments?healthy eyes

The Peek Vision app enables roving doctors to give patients a full eye exam using only their smartphones.

Developed at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine by members of the International Centre for Eye Health, the app uses smartphones’ cameras, flashlights and display to check how the eyes react to stimuli, while doctors can also track the progress of separate patients and also easily keep a record of their geolocation.

This allows doctors in rural or low-income areas to deliver eye care to citizens in a mobile and inexpensive way, checking patients’ abilities to see color, test for long and short-sightedness, and also detect the presence of cataracts and other eye conditions.

The team are currently carrying out research to ensure the app is accurate enough for medical purposes. A release date and price has yet to be announced.

October 29, 2013 at 5:54 am Comments (0)

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