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Pregnancy Monitoring Pays Off

January 19, 1998

Hourly monitoring of blood pressure can detect the risk of late-pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure and eclampsia as early as 23 weeks before symptoms begin, researchers at the University of Viga in Spain report in the January issue of Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Assn. Elevated blood pressure during pregnancy, called gestational hypertension, can cause convulsions in the mother and growth failure in the fetus. Eclampsia, characterized by high blood pressure, swelling and proteins in the urine, occurs in about 7% of pregnant women and is a leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths.

The researchers monitored blood pressure intensively--hourly during the night and every 30 minutes during the daytime--for 48 hours every four weeks. In the first trimester, the technique identified 93% of 60 women who later developed either of the two problems. By the third trimester, the accuracy rose to 99%.

Hitting the Books Instead of the Hay

Maybe ignorance really is bliss. Americans with college degrees get less sex than those who finished only high school, and those who went to graduate school get even less, according to a study in February's American Demographics. The study is based on 10,000 interviews with Americans conducted over the last decade by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

High school graduates average 58 sexual contacts a year, while those with some college average 62. Those with four-year college degrees average 56, and those who have been to postgraduate school average a paltry 50. About 15% of adults account for half of all sexual activity. Jazz fans, gun owners and those who lack confidence in the president are among the most sexually active Americans.

First Pregnancy: Thinner Is Better

Women who are model-thin when they get pregnant for the first time are far more likely to have healthy babies than obese women or even those of normal weight, Swedish researchers report in the Jan. 15 New England Journal of Medicine. The study, conducted by the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, contradicts the common belief that heavier women are more likely to have healthy, full-term babies.

Although the thinnest women are more likely to have underweight babies, they are no more likely to give birth prematurely or to have their babies die in the first week after birth, the study found. Among first-time mothers, normal women had twice the risk of stillbirth compared with lean women; overweight women had three times the risk, and obese women had four times the risk.

New Drug Fights Kidney Rejection

A new designer drug helps kidney-transplant patients accept the new organs without harming their immune systems, according to another study in the Jan. 15 New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers in the United States, Canada and Sweden studied a monoclonal antibody called daclizumab, which shuts down one type of immune cell but doesn't disable the whole immune system when used in addition to conventional drugs.

In the six months after surgery, 22% of the patients getting daclizumab had at least one episode of acute rejection, compared with 35% of those not receiving it. Those getting daclizumab also had fewer rejection episodes and went twice as long before the first episode.

A Warning Sounded on Decongestants

Decongestants in many over-the-counter cold and flu medicines can be dangerous to people with high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Assn. Decongestants work by shrinking blood vessels in the nose and nasal passages. But according to the association, they can shrink other blood vessels in the body as well, raising blood pressure and interfering with the effects of antihypertensive drugs. Some decongestants that appear on the labels of these products include pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, phenylephrine and phenylpropanolamine.

FDA Cuts New Drug Approval Time in '97

The Food and Drug Administration said that in 1997 it approved drugs faster than ever before. Last year the agency approved 121 new drugs, including 39 that had an active ingredient never before marketed in the United States.

The median approval time for the 39 so-called new molecular entities was 13.4 months, compared with 14.3 months in 1996. The FDA also approved 431 generic drugs in 1997, the highest total this decade.

--Compiled by THOMAS H. MAUGH II

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