Health Highlights: March 17, 2010

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

U.K. Hospitals Should Allow Sitting on Patient Beds: Doctor

Many British hospitals forbid visitors from sitting on a patient's bed, but the practice is unjustified and prevents patients from being close to loved ones, a doctor writes in a commentary published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.

Hospital officials say the policy helps protect patients from getting infected by visitors and health care workers, or vice versa. But Dr. Iona Heath says she was "shocked" when she heard about the sitting bans, the Associated Press reported.

She added that she wouldn't hesitate to sit on a patient's bed during a house call or while treating a patient in a hospital.

"Doctors should never be discouraged from sitting, because patients consistently estimate that they have been given more time when the doctor sits down," Heath wrote in the journal commentary. "Such interactions are precious and should be made easier rather than more difficult."

Rules that forbid sitting on patients' beds are determined by individual hospitals, said Britain's department of health, the AP reported.


FDA Cites Companies for Unapproved Nitroglycerin Tablets

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has told two companies to stop selling unapproved nitroglycerin tablets that are placed under the tongue to relieve chest pain or to stop a heart attack.

The pills, marketed by Glenmark Generics of Mahwah, N.J., and Konec Inc. of Tucson, Ariz., come in 0.3 milligram, 0.4 milligram, and 0.6 milligram doses, the agency said.

The FDA doesn't foresee a supply problem for nitroglycerin products. Pfizer Inc. markets FDA-approved sublingual nitroglycerin tablets in the same strengths and is able to supply the market with approved products, the agency said Tuesday in a news release.

In warning letters to the companies, the FDA told Glenmark and Konec to remove the unapproved tablets from the market. The unapproved tablets haven't been proven safe and effective, the agency said, adding that it hasn't reviewed their quality and labeling.

"Doctors and patients should know that not all drugs on the market are backed by an FDA approval," said Deborah M. Autor, director of the Office of Compliance at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Patients taking the unapproved tablets should continue to take their medication and consult with a health-care professional for guidance on alternative treatment options.

Glenmark and Konec have 15 days to respond to the FDA with a plan for removing their products from the market, the FDA said.


Reports of Pine Nut Syndrome Increasing

As more Americans use pine nuts in salads, pesto and other foods, reports are increasing of pine mouth syndrome -- a bitter metallic taste that can develop a few days after consuming pine nuts and last for up to two weeks.

Dozens of anecdotal reports are online, according to an article written by Marc-David Munk, a professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, USA Today reported.

Munk, who has firsthand experience of pine mouth syndrome, believes something in the pine nuts affects the signaling between the taste buds and the brain. His article appears in the Journal of Medical Toxicology.

In the past year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received 51 complaints of "taste disturbances" linked to pine nuts, USA Today reported.


Michelle Obama Speaks to Food Makers

Michelle Obama is taking her fight against childhood obesity directly to food producers. The Grocery Manufacturers Association invited the U.S. First Lady to speak Tuesday at its science forum, the Associated Press reported.

Previously, Obama has said she'd like to see easier-to-understand labels on foods "so parents won't have to spend hours squinting at words that they can't pronounce to figure out whether the foods that they're buying are healthy or not."

The First Lady has also said she would like companies that supply foods to schools to improve nutritional quality, the AP reported.

The food industry is open to cooperating with the federal government on finding ways to make healthier foods, according to Scott Faber, a lobbyist for the grocery association.

"Consumers are demanding more and more healthy choices," he said. "Our industry will do our part by changing the way we make and market our foods, but government has a big role to play as well," he told the AP.


Drug Combo Reduces Heart Patients' Risk of Bleeding Ulcers

Heart patients who take a stomach acid-suppressing proton-pump inhibitor with the anti-blood clot drug clopidogrel are half as likely to be hospitalized for bleeding ulcers as those who take clopidogrel alone, say U.S. researchers.

Combining the drugs did not increase the risk of serious heart problems, according to the study, which was supported by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

For this study, Vanderbilt University Medical Center researchers analyzed data from nearly 21,000 patients in the Tennessee Medicaid program between 1999 and 2005. The patients were prescribed clopidogrel alone or clopidogrel in combination with a proton-pump inhibitor.

The findings appear in the March 16 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine>.

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