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This week in the medical journals

By Katrina Woznicki
Medpage Today Staff Writer

Editor's note: CNN.com has a business partnership with MedPageToday.com, which provides custom health content. A medical journal roundup from MedPage Today appears each Thursday.

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Heartsick women at disadvantage

The major medical journals turned this week to matters of the heart, and there was grim news for women with severe coronary-artery disease. The finding: Just being a woman adds to their woes.

In a study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers at the University of Chicago Hospitals reviewed the medical records of 15,440 men and women who had surgery for a coronary artery bypass graft. The doctors accounted for all the standard risk factors, such as smaller body size, age or having other pre-existing conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.

Yet, after all that, women still had a 22 percent greater risk than men of dying during and soon after the procedure. No one knows why, but the researchers said it's possible women's body fat composition and hormones could have a role in the phenomenon of extra mortality for women.

Gender is destiny in coronary bypass surgery

Good news for aspirin

In a second study from the same issue of Circulation, researchers at the Mayo Clinic showed that continuing to take low-dose aspirin in the days before coronary bypass surgery reduced the risk of death by 61 percent.

Some physicians had been concerned in the past that continuing to take aspirin in the days before surgery increased the risk of serious post-operation bleeding. However, the study, which compared about 1,300 patients who received aspirin five days before their surgery with 300 patients who did not take aspirin, showed aspirin didn't hurt. Instead, it helped immensely.

Aspirin before heart surgery associated with reduced mortality

It's never too late

Also from Circulation, a Canadian team of researchers said it's time to lace up the gym shoes. They found that for men with high cholesterol who are at a high risk for heart disease, hitting the gym or the treadmill four to five times a week could cut the risk of dying from heart disease in half.

Researchers at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, analyzed the cardiovascular risk factors and fitness of 19,000 men ages 20 to 79. The men who had the highest cholesterol and exercised regularly throughout the week lowered their risk of death from 15 times to only seven times that of men with the lowest cholesterol levels.

Fitness counts even for men with coronary risk factors

Statins aid heart attack patients

A study in the American Journal of Cardiology suggested that taking a statin drug within 24 hours of suffering a heart attack could cut the risk of dying in the hospital by just over half.

Statins, such as the popular Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Crestor (rosuvastatin), are a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs.

UCLA researchers looked at medical records of more than 170,000 patients and found those who started anew with statin treatment during the first 24 hours of a heart attack had a 4 percent overall risk of dying, those continuing taking their statin therapy had a 5.3 percent risk, and those who had never used statins had a 15 percent overall risk of death.

Early statin use halves heart attack deaths

Blood flow may ebb with age

On the dementia front, Dutch researchers reported that as individuals age their blood flow to the brain slows, increasing the risk for dementia and brain damage.

Researchers looked at the blood flow of 17 elderly dementia patients who had Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease and compared it with that of 16 elderly persons whose minds had remained clear.

They also compared the dementia patients with 15 young, healthy adults. The young patients had the best blood flow to the brain, followed by the elderly persons without dementia. The dementia patients had the lowest blood flow, according to researchers at Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, Netherlands, reporting in Radiology.

Reduced blood flow to the brain tied to dementia

What your genes say about you

When it comes to kicking the nicotine habit, quitting successfully may boil down to your genes, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania.

Reporting in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers found smokers who had two copies of a variant of a particular gene were more likely to respond better to the nicotine-addiction drug Zyban (buproprion).

On the other hand, smokers who carried a different variant gene responded better to nicotine replacement therapies, such as the patch or the nasal spray. However, there's a long way to go before these findings might help hopeless nicotine addicts.

Patch or pill for quitting smoking? Check your genes

A new treatment for PMDD?

Researchers may have found another use for birth control pills. A Yale study in Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that the low-dose oral contraceptive Yasmin could greatly reduce the symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, the most severe form of premenstrual syndrome.

The researchers studied 450 women with PMDD of whom half received Yasmin and half took a placebo. The study results showed that three menstrual cycles later, 48 percent of patients taking Yasmin experienced significantly fewer emotional, behavioral and physical symptoms compared with only 36 percent of women taking a placebo.

Yasmin proved to be as effective, the researchers said, as a group of popular antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which currently are the only FDA-approved treatment for PMDD. Yasmin is a contraceptive and SSRIs aren't.

Birth control pill also effective against PMDD

Hold the onions

Contaminated green onions imported from Mexico were found to be the cause of a hepatitis A outbreak in 2003 that killed three patrons at a Pennsylvania restaurant and sickened 124.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine, said the incident reveals how even when food is prepared properly and public health standards are met, products brought from areas outside the United States where public health standards may not be as high can still pose a threat.

Lethal hepatitis A outbreak traced to Mexican scallions

People aren't large mice

Finally, researchers at UCLA and the University of California at Irvine revealed that what works for mice won't always work for humans.

A study in the journal Aging Research Reviews showed that if humans cut their caloric intake to the bare minimum of 1,500 calories a day, they would extend their lives by only 7 percent, whereas a comparable calorie reduction in mice led to a 10 times greater increase.

The tradeoff, they said, is small and can come at a price. Caloric restriction can reduce fertility and increase the risk for disease. Another fad debunked.

Starvation diet not a major life extender for humans

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