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An Easy Way to Stop Kids From Swallowing Gum

August 10, 1998

Children who are too young to understand that swallowing gum can cause them sticky medical problems shouldn't be allowed to chew it, doctors say. While it's age-old motherly advice not to swallow gum, researchers decided the subject merited more attention after three young children with gum-related problems were brought to the same Florida hospital within two years.

The children all needed medical treatment to clear wads of gum blocking their digestive tracts, researchers reported in the August issue of Pediatrics. A 4-year-old boy who chewed and swallowed five to seven pieces of gum a day was chronically constipated for two years after his parents gave him gum as a reward in toilet training. His intestine became blocked, and doctors had to remove the gum through his rectum, researchers said.

A 4-year-old girl had a similar experience, they said. In the third case, a 1-year-old girl who was brought to the hospital coughing and drooling was found to have swallowed gum and coins. Doctors removed a wad containing both from her esophagus, the tube that carries food to the stomach.

"When a toddler has chronic, unremitting constipation, you should think about whether they're gum swallowers," said the lead author, Dr. David E. Milov, of Nemours Children's Clinic in Orlando, Fla.

Hormone That's in Emergency Contraception Can Work Alone

Levonorgestrel, a hormone that is part of the so-called Yuzpe regimen for emergency contraception, may actually be more effective and have fewer side effects when it is used by itself, according to the World Health Organization. The Yuzpe regimen, taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse, prevents about 75% of potential pregnancies. But about 50% of women taking it report nausea, and about 20% vomit after taking the drugs.

Drs. Helena von Hertzen and Paul Van Look from the WHO office in Switzerland enrolled 1,955 young women who had requested emergency contraception. Half received the Yuzpe regimen--basically, high doses of birth control pills--and half received levonorgestrel.

The team reported in Saturday's Lancet that the pregnancy rate was 3.2% in the Yuzpe group, but only 1.1% among women receiving levonorgestrel. Nausea and vomiting were significantly less frequent as well.

New Crohn's Disease Drug Has Fewer Side Effects

People who suffer from mild to moderate Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, get more relief from a new drug than the standard treatment, Danish researchers report in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine. A team from the University of Copenhagen found that 9 milligrams daily of slow-release budesonide led to remission of the disease in 69% of patients after eight weeks. Mesalamine capsules, the standard treatment, caused remission in 45%.

Crohn's disease affects an estimated 500,000 Americans. Symptoms may include pain, fever, diarrhea and weight loss. Moderate to severe cases are treated with corticosteroids, which can have serious side effects, including suppression of the immune system, excessive hair growth, cataracts and glaucoma.

Budesonide is a new corticosteroid that is less easily absorbed and causes fewer side effects, making it safe enough for patients with mild to moderate Crohn's disease, researchers from the University of Virginia wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Colorful Fruit, Veggies and Eggs May Save Sight

Elderly people should eat more corn, eggs, orange peppers, red grapes and pumpkins to maintain their eyesight and stave off the effects of aging, doctors advise in the August British Journal of Ophthalmology. The foods are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, chemical components called antioxidant carotenoids that can help to prevent macular degeneration--the leading cause of blindness in people older than 50.

Antioxidant carotenoids protect eye tissue in the macula--part of the retina at the back of the eye--from damage by oxygen atoms called free radicals that harm cells. The only source of carotenoids for humans is food.

Doctors had already recommended leafy green vegetables as a preventive measure against macular degeneration, but a new international study by American, German, Dutch and British researchers found colored vegetables and fruit are also beneficial.

Study: Weight Is Major Concern of Girl Smokers

Teenage girls who smoke are 30% more likely to be overweight and twice as likely to be concerned about their bodies, according to a study in the August Postgraduate Medical Journal. The study, financed by the British Cancer Research Campaign, also found that most girls who take up smoking do so to lose weight.

The researchers surveyed nearly 2,800 girls in Britain and Canada ranging from 11 to 18. Twenty percent of the group smoked. Most of the smokers said weight control was the principal reason they took up the habit. More than 30% of them feared they would eat more and put on weight if they tried to give up cigarettes, researchers said.

Exercise Doesn't Appear to Cut Breast Cancer Risk

Researchers have reported more confusing news on breast cancer, saying that exercise may not cut the risk of breast cancer after all. But they said women should still exercise regularly to prevent other kinds of cancer and heart disease.

Several studies have shown mixed findings on whether women who exercise regularly have a lower risk of breast cancer. Dr. Beverly Rockhill of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and colleagues looked at the largest study ever done on women--the Nurses' Health Study of some 100,000 nurses. "Women who were more active in late adolescence were not at reduced risk of breast cancer compared with less active women," they wrote in Wednesday's Journal of the National Cancer Institute. "Similarly, higher levels of recent nonoccupational physical activity were not associated with reduced risk of breast cancer."

--Compiled by THOMAS H. MAUGH II

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