Friday, July 20, 2007
Is Restless Leg Syndrome Real?
Imagine being stung by 20 mosquitoes and having that burning need to scratch, but your hands are tied behind your back.

That's how some people describe the irresistible urge to move, or kick associated with restless leg syndrome, or RLS, a condition so odd that some within the medical community think the pharmaceutical industry made it up just to sell us drugs.

But for the estimated 20 million Americans suffering with it, compelling new research suggests it's not in your head, but rather in your genes.

Two studies published this week, one in the New England Journal of Medicine, identify specific genes responsible for RLS. And it may affect many more of us than we think: As many as 65 percent of adults carry the gene variation that can lead to symptoms, says Dr. David Rye, co-author of the NEJM study, and an Emory University neurologist who himself suffers from this "riot of the foot," as some of his patients describe it.

So who has this gene?

Study participants were monitored in their sleep; they wore ankle bracelets to record the number of kicks. Interestingly, those who kicked 21 or more times per hour were twice as likely to have the variant gene, Rye's research found. Those with two copies --- one inherited from each parent --- kicked most.

Another revelation: The link between RLS and iron. In fact pregnant women, whose iron levels can drop during pregnancy, are at greater risk of developing the disorder. The good news is, experts say that for women who develop RLS during pregnancy, it often disappears weeks after you give birth.

This research could signal hope for treatment for people living with this annoying, sometimes debilitating disorder. Not only does RLS often hit at night, preventing patients from sleeping. Researchers say it can also contribute to depression, and put sufferers at greater risk of high blood pressure.

The next step, using the gene knowledge to help diagnose and treat RLS.

Do you have RLS, or know somebody who does? Or remain unconvinced it's real?

By Amy Burkholder, CNN Medical Producer
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Ad giants vow to curb marketing to kids
As a vegetarian and the parent of a 10-year-old, I have tried to be very conscious of what my daughter eats. She started out as a vegetarian too, but by the time she was 7, the lure of burgers via fast food joints proved too much for her--especially when friends and classmates were reveling in their trips to McDonalds and Burger King. Needless to say it broke my heart.

As a journalist who covers medical issues I'm very aware of the fact that childhood obesity has reached near epidemic proportions in this country. Today, at least one in five children are overweight. And overweight kids tend to become overweight adults putting them at higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Not to mention type 2 diabetes, a disease that used to only occur in adults! According to the National Institutes of Health, if today's overweight kids become tomorrow's overweight adults, a staggering 50 million Americans could have diabetes by the year 2050.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites a study that found about 80 percent of kids who were overweight at ages 10-15 were obese by the time they were 25. Who can ignore a statistic like that? Apparently not the Department of Health and Human Services or the Federal Trade Commission. Two years ago they challenged companies to change the way they advertise food and beverages to children. Eleven companies including Kellogg's, Kraft, General Mills, McDonalds, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have now responded, most of them pledging to advertise only foods that meet specific nutrition criteria to children under 12. And many won't advertise at all to kids under 6. (Full Story)

Disney and Sesame Street have also jumped on board promising to incorporate healthy messages into their programming--and in Disney's case, into the food offerings at their parks. This "self-regulation" is all voluntary of course.

I've witnessed firsthand the advertising onslaught in children's programming. I've been through the "Mommy can you buy that for me?" stage -- and it was usually some sugary sweet treat, cereal or drink! There had been many requests for character driven products including SpongeBob, Clifford and Blues Clues snacks. So I welcome these measures with open arms. But in the end, I know that childhood obesity usually happens because kids eat too much and don't exercise enough. So as a parent, I can't afford to abdicate my role in all this and rely solely on these companies for my daughter's health and well-being. I have to make the proper choices. These companies have made a start, but will it make a difference? Are parents doing enough?
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Facing rejection head on
Fresh out of college, I was absolutely enamored with the man I was dating. He could do no wrong. We communicated well, had many of the same values and made each other laugh. Walking by the jewelry store in a local mall, I remember stopping in and looking at rings -- you know, just in case. Then, on a cold winter day, I was DUMPED. Kicked to the curb. Poked in the eye with Cupid's arrow. For days, I lay in bed, watching "Little House on the Prairie" and crying. I was angry. I wondered what I had done wrong and what I could do to win him back.

Rejection. From playground pettiness to pink slips, it happens in a variety of ways. "There is virtually no one who doesn't experience rejection," says Mark Leary, a psychology professor at Duke University. And it hits us harder than it did our great-grandparents, he says. A hundred years ago, says Leary, "Life was not as fraught with rejection." Communities served as safety nets. Extended families lived nearby and the people you grew up with were often the people you grew old with. "Today people move from one town to another," says Leary. "We are constantly in a position where we have to constantly prove ourselves."

Rejection is not just emotional -- it is physical as well. One study found that rejection activates the same area of the brain that causes the same reaction to physical pain. "The thought is being separated from caregivers can be just as dangerous as the things that cause physical pain," says Naomi Eisenberger, a professor in the biology department at UCLA. She set up an experiment in which she asked participants to play a game of catch with virtual players on the Internet. The computer players stopped tossing the ball, replicating the feeling of rejection. Eisenberger believes the system that experiences rejection may have "piggybacked" on to the physical pain system at some point as humans evolved.

Feelings of rejection actually protect us, says Leary, much like when you learn the hard way what happens when you stub your toe. If we didn't have an emotional reaction to all rejection, says Leary, we may miss some big signs that could put us in danger.

Now today, in most cases, rejection won't kill us, but it still hurts. Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with rejection.


As Leary points out, rejection is just part of life. Sometimes people just won't like us and other times rejection is the result of an innocent oversight.


Leary says you should step back and ask in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that the cashier didn't smile at you? Does it hurt more because your ego was bruised or does it really have concrete consequences for your life? (We will get to that in a second.)


When we dwell on minor rejection, we often just make it worse. Leary says, "We can become so concerned about rejection that we become so sensitive that others are turned away." It is often best to just let it go and not try to "repair" the situation.


What if it is a serious case of rejection, like a divorce or you get fired? Leary says the worst thing you can do is run away. "It is a lot like grief," he says. "It's important to acknowledge that." Learn from rejection, he says, but don't let it consume the rest of your life. Keep it in perspective. "Ask yourself," says Leary, "in this VERY moment, is there anything really wrong? Yes some things may have changed, but overall your day will be relatively the same." Focus on the good things going on and whatever you do, don't isolate yourself from others. Now it's your turn. What works for you when dealing with rejection?
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Speaker's hope for a cure
Andrew Speaker is hoping today will mark the beginning of the end of a bizarre odyssey that began with his complaint of a sore rib last January and ballooned into a global health scare, with Speaker squarely in the middle.

Speaker is having surgery today at the University of Colorado Hospital, a surgery he hopes will cure his multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. (Full Story)

He has an area of infection about the size of a tennis ball in his lung.

The surgical team, lead by Dr. John Mitchell, will be using a technique called video assisted thoracic surgery, or VATS, to remove the upper lobe, of Speaker's right lung. They'll actually "suck out" the infected tissue. It will be fascinating to see the diseased tissue that turned Speaker's life upside down contained in a plastic bag.

As the only journalist invited to witness this surgery on perhaps the world's most famous TB patient, I'm struck by what a teaching moment this is.

Here are a few things of which I was reminded:

Many people don't realize that tuberculosis even exists in the United States. In fact, according to the CDC, there were 49 cases of extensively drug resistant TB in the U.S. between 1993 and 2006. And, there were 124 cases of MDR between 2004 and 2005. This isn't a condition relegated only to the Third World. What I'll witness today has value not just for Speaker, but for doctors all over the world as they struggle to treat a disease for which many drugs simply don't work.

I've performed countless operations but have never been in on one like this, where there are risks not only for the patient, but for the doctors and nurses as well. Every precaution, including specially outfitted masks, will be taken to keep everyone safe. There is little doubt from Andrew Speaker's doctors that his infection will be gone after today, but not his other troubles. A class-action lawsuit has been filed against him seeking more than $1 million dollars in damages.

So, now that we are starting to wind down this tale with a dramatic operation, do you think Andrew was at fault or do you believe health authorities mishandled the situation?
Monday, July 16, 2007
CNN's response to Michael Moore
Thank you for all of your comments.

Please take a minute to read CNN's response to Michael Moore.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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