September 2002 Health News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.

SCREENINGS CAN DETECT UNFORESEEN EYE PROBLEMS

People over 40 usually have annual physical examinations to determine their overall health. But many overlook eye screenings that can detect diseases before they rob a person’s vision, says an ophthalmologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

According to a recent study conducted by the National Eye Institute and Prevent Blindness America, more than 1 million Americans age 40 and older currently are blind and another 2.4 million are visually impaired.

“Unfortunately, the first time a person visits an ophthalmologist is after he or she notices a problem,” says Dr. Jess Whitson, associate professor of ophthalmology at UT Southwestern. “Some eye diseases, like glaucoma, have no symptoms in the early stages and can be detected only by an eye exam. That’s why early detection is the key to preserving your eyesight.”

People who have diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of eye problems are at high risk for developing eye problems and should see an eye-care professional, Whitson says.

Media Contact: Ione Echeverria

HOWEVER SHORT-LIVED, PLACEBOS WORK FOR SOME - SOMETIMES

There’s some truth to the joke in which the psychiatrist tells the patient over the phone to “take two placebos and call me in the morning,” says Dr. Janet Tekell.

Tekell, assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and colleagues found in a study of the antidepressant Prozac that placebos do work sometimes for some people. The study showed that while both Prozac and a placebo caused the same type response in some overlapping brain areas, there were other areas where the responses differed.

But don’t throw away your Prozac yet. “While we know placebos work for a while for some people, we know from other studies that their effect is not long lasting and doesn’t work for everyone,” Tekell says. Mental health professionals speculate that for some patients just the fact that a physician recognizes their problem and offers help may be a placebo in itself, she says.

Media Contact: Ann Harrell

HEAT CAN PROVOKE SYMPTOMS OF MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS

Hot, humid summer weather can be uncomfortable, but for people with multiple sclerosis (MS), heat can cause recurrence of MS symptoms.

“Heat - whether from infection, air temperature, prolonged exercise or even consuming hot liquids or foods - can provoke the return of old MS-related symptoms such as numbness, stiffness, weakness or even vision loss,” says Dr. Elliot Frohman, an associate professor of neurology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Researchers believe the heat can slow the speed of nerve messages for people with MS. Heat alone does not cause a new attack or any additional nerve damage, Frohman says.

“Most patients can manage their heat sensitivity by avoiding situations that could be dangerous, such as being out in severe heat without assistance, avoiding hot baths or showers, ingesting ice-cold beverages and, in some cases, avoiding hot liquids like coffee,” says Frohman.

Media Contact: Mindy Baxter

LET COOLER HEADS PREVAIL THIS FOOTBALL SEASON

Heat may be high school athletes’ most serious opponent as the football season kicks into high gear this month. But with a few simple precautions, heat-related injuries can be prevented, says Dr. Craig Crandall, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

“Hydration is the most important variable,” says Crandall, a researcher at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, a collaboration between UT Southwestern and Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas.

“Typically, if the individual is exercising for a couple of hours or less, water alone is sufficient if they have normal amounts of salt in their diet,” says Crandall. “A sports drink should be used during shorter duration of exercise if the individual chooses a low-salt diet.”

Crandall advises that athletes drink beyond satisfaction rather than drinking until satisfied, which does not adequately replace fluids lost during workouts.

Football players, he says, should also become acclimated to the heat by walking or running without pads and helmets, which are physical barriers to sweating.

Media Contact: Amy Shields

EXCESSIVE THIRST MAY SIGNAL KIDNEY TROUBLE

Now that scientific research has sent the old eight-glasses-of-water-a-day rule down the drain, devoted water guzzlers might be left wondering what to do.

The current advice is, as a recent soft-drink advertising campaign urged, “Obey your thirst.” But many people have conditioned themselves to drink water constantly throughout the day, equaling or surpassing the 64-ounce total prescribed by the old - and apparently unfounded - rule of thumb.

Dr. Robert Toto, a kidney specialist and professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says that while the old minimum standard is bogus, there’s little reason to worry about drinking too much water.

“It’s possible to drink so much water that you intoxicate yourself, but you’d have to drink about 25 liters (about six gallons) of water a day,” Toto says. “You’d practically have to put a hose in your mouth.”

Drinking lots of water can be a sign of kidney-related diseases such as diabetes. Toto says that if a person drinks lots of water and experiences frequent urination, the key question is whether high water intake is driving the excessive urination or whether excessive urination is causing the person to be thirsty all the time. If it’s the latter, medical tests are in order.

“We’ll ask if a person is drinking all the time because they’re thirsty or if it’s just habit,” Toto says. “If it’s just habit, it is not likely to represent a serious disease.”

Media Contact: Wayne Carter

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