Health Highlights: Oct. 16, 2013
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Seniors' Prescription Drug Use Varies Widely by Region: Study
Seniors living the American South are more likely than those living elsewhere to receive prescriptions for drugs deemed risky by experts, but less likely to be prescribed certain medications that might help them ward off heart attacks, a new study has found.
Overall, more than 1 in every 4 Medicare patients across the United States received at least one prescription for medications deemed risky for seniors, according to the study from the Dartmouth Atlas Project, the Associated Press reported.
But the problem was more widespread in the South. For example, a senior in Alexandria, La., was more than three times as likely to receive one of these potentially harmful drugs compared to a senior in Rochester, Minn. Examples of these riskier medications include muscle relaxants or anti-anxiety drugs, both of which have been linked to excessive sedation, falls and other problems, the AP said.
There were disparities in who received potentially helpful drugs, as well. For example, seniors who had already had a heart attack were much more likely to get a cholesterol-lowering statin drug if they lived in Utah than if they lived in Texas, the study found.
"There's no good reason" for these regional disparities in prescribing trends, lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey Munson, an assistant professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, told the AP.
He said physicians "really need to ask themselves, 'Is there a good reason why my patients are getting less effective care than patients in the other regions.' "
Patients must be more vigilant, as well, Munson said, and ask their physician why a particular medicine is being prescribed, its pros and cons, and any available alternative therapies.
Bush's Recent Heart Trouble More Serious Than Thought: Report
Described at the time as a routine procedure, former President George W. Bush's recent heart surgery was actually aimed at fixing a potentially life-threatening condition, experts now say.
During a routine physical exam at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas in early August, doctors discovered that Bush, 67, had a blocked coronary artery, NBC News reported Monday. Bush agreed to undergo an operation where doctors place a mesh tube called a stent into the artery, to help re-open it.
Blocked coronary arteries can be life-threatening, although it's not clear how close to a heart attack Bush may have come.
"You can get along very well with some tight narrowings," Dr. Jeff Brinker, an interventional radiologist and a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told NBC News. He explained that when major arteries narrow, the body often finds ways to divert blood flow around the area of closure, using nearby blood vessels.
Another heart expert agreed. A blocked artery "doesn't mean you are going to drop dead or have a heart attack the next day," Dr. Howard Hermann, a professor of medicine and director of interventional cardiology at the University of Pennsylvania, told NBC. "There are other factors that go into the decision of whether to put a stent in, including where the blockage is, how fast it developed, whether there were symptoms, what the stress test showed and others."
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