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AMA: Doctors Not Overdiagnosing Attention Deficit Syndrome

April 13, 1998

A review of two decades of studies has found no evidence that doctors are widely overprescribing stimulants such as Ritalin to hyperactive and inattentive children, according to the American Medical Assn. Concerns have emerged in recent years over the rapid increase in the diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit syndrome, or hyperactivity, including allegations that children sometimes are given drugs simply to control unwanted classroom behavior.

But based on a review of studies from 1975 through March 1997 by the AMA's Council on Science and Public Affairs, there is little evidence of widespread overdiagnosis or misdiagnosis of the disorder, or of widespread overprescription of Ritalin, by far the most popular drug treatment, the group reported in the April 8 Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The council did say, however, that some diagnoses are made in children after insufficient evaluations, and stimulants sometimes are prescribed when alternatives exist, such as behavior therapy and parent training.

Good Habits Point to Healthier Old Age

A study by Stanford University researchers has found that middle-age people who watch their weight, exercise and don't smoke not only live longer, but have fewer years of sickness and dependence on others when they get old.

The study in the April 9 New England Journal of Medicine was co-written by Dr. James Fries, who ignited a debate over aging and health 18 years ago when he challenged the common belief that those who live longer end up sicker and frailer than people who die younger.

The new study is the first substantial research to confirm his theory, said Dr. JoAnn Manson, a Harvard Medical School endocrinologist.

The study of 1,741 University of Pennsylvania alumni found that thin nonsmokers who exercised at least two hours per week remained free of even minor disabilities for up to seven years longer than those with bad habits.

Vaccine for Melanoma in Final Testing Stages

Researchers around the country have begun final testing of a melanoma vaccine developed by Dr. Donald L. Morton of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica. Earlier studies suggest that the vaccine is able to find metastatic melanoma--in which cells from the cancer start tumors at other sites in the body--and stimulate the immune system to kill the rogue cells.

The vaccine is made by using radiation to weaken live tumor cells harvested from the patient, which are then combined with an immune system-stimulating bacteria. A strong immune response has occurred in 90% of the patients treated so far.

Seasickness in Women Linked to Menstruation

Seasickness in women is more common during menstruation, according to British doctors who studied females participating in the 1997 British Telecom "Global Challenge" boat race, which has six legs lasting from eight to 45 days. Female crew members reported high levels of both seasickness and migraines.

Dr. E.A. Grunfeld of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London reported in the April 11 Lancet that both conditions were most likely to occur in the three days before and the first few days of menstruation. Seasickness was rare during ovulation. Male crew were also seasick, but there was no pattern to their illnesses.

Study: Kids Suffer When Religion Rules Out Care

Parents who refuse to seek medical care for their sick children for religious reasons are dooming the youngsters to untimely deaths, researchers report in the April issue of Pediatrics. Researchers led by Dr. Seth M. Asser of UC San Diego studied 172 deaths from 1972 to 1995 among children in several small religious groups and found that 140 of them could have been easily prevented by treatment. In all but three of the remaining cases, the children could have lived longer or suffered less pain.

In one example, parents of a 2-year-old called members of prayer groups and watched for an hour as the child choked to death on a banana. "A lot of people believe that this is a freedom-of-religion issue, but it's not," Asser said. "You can't be allowed to abuse your children based on your religious beliefs."

Vitamin C May Be Harmful in High Doses

High doses of vitamin C can be bad for your health, according to British doctors. The dietary supplement that is marketed for its cancer-preventive or antioxidant properties is effective if taken in the recommended daily allowance of 60 milligrams a day, but in larger doses it may cause genetic damage that could lead to diseases such as cancer or rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Joseph Lunec of the University of Leicester said Wednesday in an interview with Reuters.

"It's been shown in the test tube that vitamin C can cause damage to DNA. We've shown it is [true in] human subjects," he said. Lunec's team studied 30 healthy people who were given 500 milligrams of vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, every day for six weeks. After testing blood samples of each volunteer, the team found that in the higher dose, vitamin C's anti-cancer properties can be counteracted, although the damage it produces seems to be much less important than the damage it is preventing.

--Compiled by THOMAS H. MAUGH II

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