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Spinal Steroid Shots Found to Relieve Pain of Chronic Shingles

November 27, 2000|THOMAS H. MAUGH II | TIMES MEDICAL WRITER

Injecting a steroid into the spine can dramatically reduce the severe pain of shingles, sometimes eliminating it entirely, according to a Japanese study.

Shingles, which is caused by remnants of the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox, causes inflammation and sensitivity of spinal and other nerves, producing severe pain. It strikes as many as 850,000 Americans each year, with about 10% of those suffering persistent pain.

Dr. Naoki Kotani and his colleagues at the University of Hirosaki School of Medicine studied 277 volunteers whose pain had persisted for at least a year despite numerous other treatments. Eighty-nine of them received a combination of the steroid methylprednisone and lidocaine, 91 received lidocaine alone (a common treatment), and the rest received only a placebo.

The team reported in the Nov. 23 New England Journal of Medicine (http://www.nejm.com) that 81 of the 89 who received the drug combination showed marked reduction in pain, contrasted with 14 of the 91 who received lidocaine alone and only 4 of the 90 who received a placebo.

Supplement May Taint Athletes' Drug Tests

Taking the supplement androstenedione may cause athletes to test positive for a banned steroid called nandrolone, according to UCLA researchers. Androstenedione, often called simply andro, is the controversial supplement taken by St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire during his 70-home-run season in 1998. Neither andro nor steroids are banned by Major League Baseball, but most other sports organizations have outlawed them.

As much as $800 million is spent on andro and related supplements every year because they are touted as muscle-building agents.

Dr. Don Catlin and other researchers at UCLA gave over-the-counter doses of andro to 24 male volunteers. They reported in the Nov. 22 Journal of the American Medical Assn. (http://jama.ama-assn.org) that all 24 tested positive for a major metabolite of nandrolone. None of the 13 men who took a placebo tested positive. Catlin attributed the results to contaminants in the unregulated products.

Thyroid Test Urged for Pregnant Women

Screening women for thyroid problems should be part of routine prenatal testing because it could help to reduce miscarriages, according to Maine researchers. A team from the Foundation for Blood Research in Scarborough found that pregnant women with an underactive thyroid have four times the normal risk of miscarriage during the second trimester of pregnancy.

Dr. James Haddow and his colleagues studied 9,000 pregnant women in Maine. They reported in the December Journal of Medical Screening that women with elevated levels of thyroid stimulating hormone--which indicates a thyroid deficiency--had a 3.8% risk of miscarriage. Those with normal levels had only a 0.9% risk. They concluded that six of every 100 miscarriages could be attributed to a thyroid problem.

Nobody Walks in L.A.? Apparently Not

Despite Southern Californians' reputation for being physically fit--or even fitness-crazed--more than half of Los Angeles County residents are not physically active, according to a new study by the county's Department of Health Services. The report, released Tuesday, found that 41% of county residents are sedentary and another 20% do not meet exercise guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women were more likely to be sedentary than men, by a margin of 49% to 33%, according to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the agency's public health director. Latinos (46%) and Asian/Pacific Islanders (41%) were more likely to be inactive than Caucasians (37%) and African Americans (40%). Only 11% of the 8,000 people polled said that their jobs were physically demanding.

Warning Issued Over Fat-Burner Diet Pills

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned against the consumption of dietary supplements containing a potent thyroid hormone because the pills, commonly touted as fat-burners, may cause heart attacks and strokes. The problem products contain tiratricol, another name for the thyroid hormone TRIAC. The FDA has recalled the products but fears that many consumers still have supplies.

The recalled products are Tricana Metabolic Hormone Analogue, Tria-Cutz Thyroid Stimulator and Sci-Fi-Tri-Cuts Dietary Supplement. Consumers who do use them and then suffer such symptoms as insomnia, nervousness, sweating and diarrhea should contact their physician.

Study Cites Symptoms of Marijuana Withdrawal

Halting marijuana use produces withdrawal symptoms in as many as 60% of people, according to a new study. The symptoms include increased irritability, anxiety and physical tension, as well as decreased appetite and impaired mood. "Most people think marijuana is a benign drug, and there is disagreement in the scientific community about whether withdrawal causes significant symptoms," said psychologist Elena M. Kouri of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. "This study shows that using marijuana for a long time has consequences."

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