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Cell Phone Use May Raise Blood Pressure

June 22, 1998

Talking on a cellular telephone can raise blood pressure by 5 to 10 millimeters of mercury, a potential hazard for people who are already hypertensive.

Researchers at the University Neurology Clinic in Freiburg, Germany, attached phones to the heads of 10 volunteers and used remote switches to turn them on and off without the subjects' knowledge. They report in the June 20 Lancet that the subjects' blood pressures rose 5 to 10 mm Hg when the phones were on, then dropped back to normal when they were shut off.

The researchers speculated that the increase was caused by constriction of blood vessels caused by the electromagnetic field produced by the phone. Other researchers have previously linked cell phone use to increases in brain tumors, but that link has never been substantiated.

Smokers Have Higher Risk of Alzheimer's, Study Says

Cigarette smokers are more than twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop Alzheimer's disease, according to another study in the Lancet. They are also more likely to develop vascular dementia, another common form of mental impairment caused by vascular disease and strokes.

A team from the Erasmus Medical School in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, studied 6,870 men and women, 55 and older, who lived in suburbs of that city. Over the two-year course of the study, 146 developed dementia; 105 of those were found to have Alzheimer's.

People who were smoking at the time of the study were 2.2 times more likely to develop the disease than those who never smoked.

Tourette's Syndrome May Be Triggered by Infection

Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by chronic involuntary repetitive movements or vocalizations, called tics--may be triggered by an infection in children who are genetically predisposed to the disease, according to a report in today's issue of Neurology.

Some researchers think that infections by bacteria called streptococci trigger the formation of antibodies that attack not only the bacteria, but also cells in the brain.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine looked for such antibodies in the blood of 41 children with Tourette's syndrome and 39 healthy children.

They found that children with the syndrome had higher levels of the antibodies, and that the antibodies were directed against a region of the brain called the putamen, which helps control movement.

Women Not Safer Drivers Than Men, Study Finds

Contrary to popular belief, females are not better drivers then males, according to a study in the June 16 issue of Epidemiology. They have fewer accidents than males because they drive fewer miles, the study concluded.

A team from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging analyzed data from 1990 collected by the Fatal Accident Reporting System sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the General Estimates System and the National Personal Transportation Survey.

They found that, on average, men were twice as likely as women to be involved in fatal crashes. But men also drove 74% more miles annually than women. When this was taken into account, the team concluded that women have 5.7 crashes per million miles driven, compared to men's 5.1 crashes per million miles.

They conclude that, "despite their lower rates of fatal crash involvement, female drivers do not seem to be safer than male drivers in terms of involvement in all crashes."

Many Cancer Patients May Suffer Pain Needlessly

Despite the availability of potent painkillers, doctors do a poor job relieving the agony of many cancer patients, particularly older people and minorities, researchers reported in the June 17 Journal of the American Medical Assn.

In a study of 13,625 cancer patients in nursing homes, Brown University researchers found that as many as 40% were in pain every day, and a quarter of them received no painkiller whatsoever.

This "is no longer acceptable and should be considered a first-line indicator of poor quality of medical care," they said. Older patients and minorities were even less likely to receive painkillers, in part because they are less likely to reveal their suffering, the researchers found.

The study said blacks were 63% more likely than whites to be untreated for pain. Among patients 65 to 74 years old, more than 20% received no painkiller. The number rose to 30% for patients 85 and older.

Insurance Unaffordable for Millions, Study Says

An estimated 43 million American workers are without medical insurance, partly because the rates they pay for benefits continue to go up, but their wages don't, according to a UCLA study released June 17. "We have assumed that if people are offered insurance coverage, they will accept it," said UCLA health economist Thomas Rice. "It now appears we are reaching the point where many people just cannot afford to buy coverage."

Between 1989 and 1996, an employee's average share of health maintenance organization family premiums rose 90% to an average of $1,778, according to the study. During the same period, wages rose only 23%. Even though the share of health premiums that employers covered rose from 60% to 65% during the same period, many employees couldn't keep up with increased costs to their families. "It isn't their share of the bill; it's the actual dollar amount. Employees are increasingly unable to afford it," Rice said.

--Compiled by THOMAS H. MAUGH II

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