your health
November 13, 2017

More than a dozen medical groups have agreed to change the guidelines for what constitutes high blood pressure in adults, based on the findings of a major study conducted two years ago.

For decades, the upper threshold for high blood pressure has been a top reading of at least 140 or a bottom number of 90; the new guidelines, announced Monday at the American Heart Association's conference in California, drop the numbers to 130 over 80. That means an additional 30 million Americans now have the condition, and it affects half of all adults in the United States.

The study found that when people tried to keep their top number at 120, it lowered their risk of having heart problems. Doctors say that in 90 percent of high blood pressure cases, the condition is caused by little to no exercise, unhealthy diets, and other bad habits, The Associated Press reports, and as blood pressure improves, the risk for heart disease and stroke drop. Catherine Garcia

September 29, 2016

There's been a drop in the number of people getting the flu vaccination, a trend that's worrying infectious disease specialists.

"Flu is serious. Flu is unpredictable," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Thursday. "Flu often does not get enough respect." In 2015, about 45 percent of the U.S. population received vaccinations, down 1.5 percentage points from 2014, the CDC reports. The largest decrease was in people 50 and up — there was a 3.4 percent drop among people between the ages of 50 and 64, and a 3.3 percent decline among people 65 and over. While most people are hit with mild symptoms, the flu kills 100 children every year, and the elderly are among the most vulnerable to the virus.

While the CDC is urging Americans to get a flu shot now, they are not recommending the nasal spray vaccine, which is often used on kids, due to questions surrounding the vaccine's effectiveness. This year, there are also two new vaccines, NPR reports; one protects against four strains of the flu rather than three, and the other has an "adjuvant," which increases its effectiveness. The CDC expects as many as 168 million vaccines will be available, so "there's plenty for everybody," Frieden said. Catherine Garcia

February 22, 2016

Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they've found that since the CDC started recommending the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination a decade ago, the prevalence rate has dropped 64 percent for girls ages 14 to 19 and 34 percent for women ages 20 to 24.

Researchers for the study, released Monday in the journal Pediatrics, compared data from two periods: 2003 to 2006, the year the CDC recommended the vaccination for young women, and 2009 to 2012. Although the vaccination rate is still low in the United States, researchers say this is the first time a study has shown evidence that the vaccination is having an effect on women in their 20s, The Guardian reports. "As women who got the vaccine when they were younger move into these older age groups, we should continue to see a continued decrease," lead author Dr. Lauri E. Markowitz said.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, affecting 79 million Americans, the CDC says. There are more than 40 different HPV types, with subtypes 16 and 18 responsible for most of the cancers caused by the virus. Catherine Garcia

November 17, 2015

At a policy-making meeting Monday in Atlanta, the American Medical Association decided there should be warnings at marijuana dispensaries saying pot use by pregnant and breast-feeding women can cause premature births, low birth weights, and attention problems in children.

The AMA would also like to see the messages printed on packages of pot sold for recreational and medical use, The Associated Press reports, and plans to seek regulations to put the warnings into effect. Only Oregon requires a point of sale advisory warning for pregnant and breast-feeding women, the AMA says. Catherine Garcia

September 18, 2015

It's called A/Switzerland/9715293/2013, and it's one of the reasons why your flu shot might not have worked last year.

The viral strain of H3N2 flu was behind most of the illnesses during last year's flu season, the Los Angeles Times reports, but it surfaced too late to be included in vaccines for the United States. The overall effectiveness of flu vaccines was just 23 percent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, meaning those who got vaccinated were 23 percent less likely than those who did not receive flu shots to get sick enough to go to the doctor.

This year, federal officials said flu shots and flu mists offer protection against the strain, as well as H1N1 viruses similar to the strain that caused swine flu in 2009 and 2010. Officials said they recently found three patients who came down with the flu from viral strains never before seen in people — one in Minnesota in July, one in Iowa in August, and one in Michigan in August. The strains were similar to those found before in pigs, and all three said that they had been in direct contact with pigs in the week before they became ill. Each one has made a full recovery, and the CDC says there's no evidence that these new viruses were spread to other people.

The CDC recommends almost everyone over the age of six months get the vaccine, but is reminding people that even if you do get a shot, "it is not possible" to predict which flu strains will spread or how the vaccine will fight them. Catherine Garcia

June 27, 2015

University of California, San Francisco researchers have just begun an ambitious, decades-long study of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, the first such study of its kind. And it all hinges on the iPhone. Scientists are hoping tens of thousands of people will download an app or participate in the study on a website, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The study, called Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality (yes, that's PRIDE for short), will look at a number of health concerns in the LGBT population, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, obesity, and depression. The app is part of Apple's ResearchKit tool, which has also unveiled apps to study conditions like breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Julie Kliegman

April 29, 2015

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new injectable drug that gets rid of double chins in a noninvasive way, eliminating the need to go under the knife.

Kybella is a version of deoxycholic acid that dissolves fat underneath the chin. Dr. Derek Jones told ABC News that the drug destroys a fat cell's membrane, causing it to burst. "When it disappears, it disappears permanently," he said. The entire process should take about five minutes, with doctors marking areas of the chin with small dots and then injecting tiny amounts of the substance into the dots. Patients will heal over the course of three days, and won't even need any bandages. The drug's manufacturer, Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, believes Kybella will be commercially available starting in June. Catherine Garcia

April 13, 2015

Researchers are hopeful that a breath test could let patients with stomach issues find out if they are at a higher risk of developing cancer.

Going off of the idea that people with cancer may have tiny chemical compounds in their breath that others do not have, researchers studied the breath samples of 145 people, including 30 patients who were known to have stomach cancer, the BBC reports. The scientists were easily able to distinguish cancerous samples from non-cancerous ones, and had success in finding pre-cancerous samples. They did misdiagnose some patients as being high risk for cancer when they were not.

In most Western countries, stomach cancer is often diagnosed when in its later stages, because symptoms like pain and indigestion can easily be attributed to other diseases. Scientists want to detect stomach cancer earlier so more lives will be saved, and they are now conducting further tests on thousands of patients in Europe. Catherine Garcia

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