Healthwatch: Study confirms hazards of secondhand smoke; Incidence of blindness drops

The smoke that harms you need not be your own. A unique study recently confirmed the hazards that accompany secondhand smoke.

Helena, Montana in 2002 passed an ordinance outlawing smoking in all public places-a ban that was repealed six months later. During that six-month smoke-free period, there were only 24 hospital admissions for myocardial infarction (heart attack) compared to an average of 40 admissions for the same six-month period in the other years from 1998 through 2003.

According to the American Heart Association, second hand smoke causes an estimated 35,000 to 65,000 heart-related deaths each year.

Source: Suzanne Hughes and Laura L. Hayman, "The 40-Year Public Health Battle against Cigarette Smoking: Are We Winning?" Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, March-April, 2005

Victory recorded in

war on blindness

Despite continuing population growth, the incidence of blindness decreased worldwide, from about 45 million in 2000 to 38 million today, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This was the first recorded decrease in the number of blind people and may be attributed in part to strategies developed by WHO'S Vision 2020: The Right To Sight campaign. With a strong focus on cataracts, the program involves training local medical staff and the purchase of the equipment needed for cataract surgery.

Cataracts are the most common reversible cause of vision loss or impairment worldwide. When access to cataract surgery is available, good functional vision can be restored in 90 to 95 percent of cases.

Source: "Number of Blind People Drops: WHO," Australian Associated Press, October 13,2005

New lens implant may reduce need for glasses

A new intraocular lens now being tested may eliminate the need for a person to wear eyeglasses or contacts following cataract surgery. The lens is designed to maintain distance vision while improving near vision.

In a study involving 118 patients in France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, 74 percent did not need glasses six months after the foldable lens was implanted.

Source: Jane Salodof MacNeil, "Lens Implants May Improve Post-Cataract Surgery Focus," Family Practice News, July 1, 2005

Cataract surgery is cost effective

Cataract surgery is expensive, but the cost of not treating severe vision impairment due to cataracts-in terms of reduced productivity and need for care-is much greater.

Especially in less developed countries, cataract surgery is considered one of the most cost-effective health measures. Yet in Africa, only 200 per million people get cataract surgery every year compared to 5,000 per million people in the United States.

Source: Penny A. Asbeli, el al, "Age-Related Cataract (Seminar)," The Lancet, February 2, 2005

Black people more likely to develop cataracts

African Americans are twice as likely as whites to develop cataracts, according to the nine-year population-based Barbados Eye Studies. Blacks were three times more likely to develop cortical cataracts, and the authors attributed this increased risk in part to the higher prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure and abdominal obesity in this population.

African Americans were advised to make lifestyle changes to control these conditions and to get regular eye examinations to identify cataracts early.

Source: Leonid Skorin, Jr. "Cataracts: The Case for Earlier Surgery," Consultant, August, 2004; "Blacks Have Higher Incidence of Cataract," Review of Optometry, April 15,2004

Mild hypothyroidism should be treated

Chronically low levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 must be treated because the deficit can lead to serious health problems such as hypertension, high cholesterol and heart failure. When hypothyroidism is mild (with high levels ofTSH but normal levels ofT3 and T4), doctors don't always agree about the need for treatment.

Supporting those who favor watchful waiting for mild hypothyroidism, the Leiden 85-Plus study found the lowest mortality rate among those with elevated TSH, indicating mild hypothyroidism. The highest mortality was among those with low blood levels of TSH, indicating mildly overactive thyroid.

Source: Louis Kuritzky, "Thyroid Status, Disability and Cognitive Function, and Survival in Old Age," Clinical Cardiology Alert, February, 2005

Thyroid not key to weight gain, loss

Although the thyroid gland regulates the body's metabolism, its role in weight gain and loss is not as great as commonly believed. An underactive thyroid often results in a mild to moderate weight gain-5 to 20 pounds-but rarely obesity. If prescribed at the right dose, thyroid medication is unlikely to lead to sudden weight loss, although patients are likely to find it easier to lose weight than before their hypothyroidism was diagnosed.

Increasing the prescribed dose in an effort to lose weight is unlikely to be effective since it will increase appetite. More importantly, the high dose could cause serious adverse effects, including heart problems and weakened muscles and bones.

Source: American Thyroid Association, "ATA Hypothyroidism Booklet," 2003

Radioactive fallout affects thyroid

Exposure to radioactive fallout, such as through nuclear accidents, is associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer. About four years after Eastern Europeans were exposed to radioactive fallout following the Chernobyl explosion of 1986, pediatric cases of thyroid cancer began to soar in this region.

A National Cancer Institute study concluded that more than 150 million Americans have been exposed to radioactive fallout great enough to cause an increased risk, most notably through above ground nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s.

Source: Janet Yagoda, Shagam, "Thyroid Disease: An Overview," Radiologic Technology, September 2001

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