Round-Up of Global News In Health and Complementary Medicine
News Beginning Wk 10 Sept 2001
Asthma on the rise
The number of people suffering from asthma in the UK is far higher than previously thought, a new study has revealed. The Asthma Audit 2001, published by the National Asthma Campaign, puts the total figure at 5.1 million people, compared with an estimate of 3.4 million made in June 1999. The latest study is based on previously unreleased Government figures, but the campaign group also believes it represents a genuine increase in the last two years. This latest figure confirms a rising trend in asthma since the 1970s. The most popular explanation for the rise lies in the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, which maintains that children are growing more vulnerable to asthma and allergies because the cleaner environment they live in prevents them from developing a natural resistance to bacteria. However, the Asthma Audit 2001 also shows that the number of asthma attacks leading to emergency hospital treatment is falling. The incidence of hospital admissions for asthma has fallen by a third since 1993, with 74,000 cases of serious asthma attacks being treated in hospitals every year. The National Asthma Campaign has called for improved care for asthma patients to prevent more people ending up in hospital.
Body clock link to the heart
Working at night and regularly upsetting your body clock can put serious strain on your heart, scientists have claimed. A study at Maastricht University has found that working the night shift can increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, known as premature ventricular complexes (PVC). The study monitored changes in heartbeat and heart rate in 49 shift workers and 22 day workers over the course of a year. It found that almost twice as many shift workers developed PVC than the normal workers. The risk increased with the number of night shifts. The scientist who led the study, Dr Ludovic van Amelsvoort, said: ‘It might be that working at night acts as a chronic stressor. The increase in frequency of premature ventricular beats should be regarded as a potentially important factor in the relation between shift work and the increased cardiovascular risk of disease.’
Women’s longevity due to immune system
New research indicates that women’s tendency to live longer than men may be explained by their stronger immune systems. It had previously been believed that men’s shorter life expectancy could be blamed on a greater number of risks, in terms of accidents and illnesses related to lifestyle, such as heart disease and cancers. It was also thought that female hormones played an important part in protecting women from, for example, the development of heart disease. Now researchers at Imperial College, London, have found that women produce more white-blood cells that men of the same age. The team studied the number of new white cells, known as T-cells, in 46 healthy men and women aged between 20 and 62. They found that women had higher levels of T-cells than men of the same age. One of the team leaders, Dr Jeffery Pido-Lopez, said: ‘During old age, when old T-cells are not as effective, a higher replacement of old T-cells with new ones would be a bonus.’ A woman born today can expect to live to 79.8 years, five years longer than a man.
DVT more likely in winter
The chance of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is greater in cold weather, doctors warn. The narrowing of blood vessels induced by the cold and lower physical activity could be responsible by reducing blood flow to the limbs, according to doctors at the Nice Teaching Hospital. The researchers found a significant difference in hospital admissions for DVT between summer and winter – in February 1996 admission figures were 18 per cent above average. Author of the report published in the British Medical Journal, Dr Fabrice Boulay, said: ‘The first effect is that hospitals should expect more admissions in winter for this severe and frequent disease. For the public, it is important for people to know that the risk is increased in winter.’ Dr Boulay recommends that people take preventative measures during the winter months, including taking aspirin to help thin the blood and dressing warmly.
Hospital food revamp fails
A high-profile overhaul of hospital food fronted by TV food critic Loyd Grossman has proved unpopular with many patients during a trial period in several NHS hospitals. Top chefs devised dishes such as ‘shin beef with horseradish risotto’ and ‘navarin of lamb with couscous and grilled vegetables’ for patients’ delectation. While the innovative dishes have proved popular with younger patients, some older people found even the names of the dishes confusing and requested traditional staples instead. The facility service manager at the Royal Preston Hospital, Ahmed Jama, said: ‘"Couscous, what the hell is that?" they say.’ The chefs have now gone back to the kitchen with plans to revamp 40 ‘classic’ dishes that will be dubbed ‘patients’ favourites’ on hospital menus.
The changes were part of a plan to cut the wastage of £40 million worth of food in NHS hospitals every year. Studies had also shown that hospital food often fails to provide for all of a patient’s nutritional needs. Other measures have proved popular with patients, such as sandwich boxes and 24-hour catering. Other plans include making ward housekeepers responsible for food to allow nurses to concentrate on medical care, and the provision of a kitchen stocked with drinks, biscuits and toast on every ward.
The Sunday Times
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