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Health Capsules: April 11

By: Lisa Russell


The health hazards of heavy drinking are highlighted during the month of April, designated as Alcohol Awareness Month.

Spotlighting alcohol-related dangers – to young and old alike

Every April for the past three decades, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence [NCADD] has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public focus on the problems related to alcohol and other drug use and dependence in the U.S. This year’s theme, “Changing Attitudes: It’s not a ‘rite of passage,’” is primarily focused on parents who often see underage drinking as just another part of their children’s transition to adulthood. Instead of looking the other way, parents who have conversations with their kids about the potential dangers of alcohol and drugs can reduce their likelihood of using them by as much as 50 percent, according to the NCADD.

“Alcohol and drug use is a very risky business for young people, and parents can make a difference,” said Andrew Pucher, NCADD president and CEO. “The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child make smart decisions about alcohol and drugs.”

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One of the alcohol-related decisions all young people face, which recently was investigated in a study conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health, is whether to get into a car driven by someone who has been drinking. Alarmingly, about one-third of recent high school graduates in the study said they had ridden with a substance-impaired driver. The study also found that during the first two years after high school graduation, 23 percent of young adults had ridden with a marijuana-impaired driver at least once, while 20 percent had knowingly ridden with an alcohol-impaired driver and 6 percent had ridden with a driver who was under the influence of other drugs.

The authors noted that having ridden with an impaired driver in the past was linked to a higher risk of doing so in the future, as well as of driving while impaired themselves. For those in the study who attended a four-year college, living on campus increased their likelihood of riding with an impaired driver.

The researchers gathered data from the NEXT Generation Health Study, which took place over seven years and included more than 2,700 U.S. adolescents starting at grade 10, to reach their conclusions. Their results were published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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A second recent study, which focused on people at the other end of the age spectrum, found that alcohol use disorders are the biggest preventable risk factors for all types of dementia, especially early-onset dementia.

Conducted in France, the study included people who had been diagnosed with mental and behavioral disorders or chronic diseases attributable to long-term alcohol use. Of the 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia found in those under age 65, 57 percent were related to chronic heavy drinking. [The World Health Organization defines that as consuming four to five drinks per day on average for men, and three drinks per day for women.] Alcohol use disorders were also linked with other independent risk factors for dementia onset, including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression.

The study showed significant gender differences for early-onset dementia. While the overall majority of dementia patients in the study were women, almost two-thirds of all those suffering from early onset of the disease were men.

As a result of the strong relationship between heavy drinking and dementia found in this study, its authors suggested that public health efforts including screening and short-term treatment for alcohol use disorders should be considered, to reduce the burden of brain disease caused by alcohol use. “Alcohol-induced brain damage and dementia are preventable, and known-effective preventive and policy measures can make a dent into premature dementia deaths,” said study co-author Dr. Jürgen Rehm. Rehm added that, on average, alcohol use disorders shorten life expectancy by more than 20 years, with dementia being one of the leading causes of death among heavy drinkers.

Mothers whose labor is induced at 39 weeks’ gestation may have a lower risk of cesarean birth, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Labor induction may reduce need for cesarean deliveries

Inducing labor in healthy first-time mothers during their 39th week of pregnancy may reduce their likelihood of requiring a surgical cesarean delivery, and may also have other health benefits for both mothers and babies, according to a recent National Institutes of Health [NIH] study. Current medical guidelines recommend against inducing labor prior to 41 weeks without a medical reason for women in their first pregnancies. The NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD] funded this study to determine whether induction at 39 weeks is beneficial or harmful compared to its current policy of “expectant management,” where doctors wait for labor to begin naturally and intervene if problems occur.

For the study, more than 6,100 first-time mothers in the NICHD network were randomly assigned to either induced labor at the 39-week mark or to an expectant management group. Cesarean delivery was found to be less frequent in the induced labor group [19 percent] compared to the expectant management group [22 percent]. In addition, maternal health problems including preeclampsia and gestational hypertension occurred in 9 percent of the induced group, compared to 14 percent of the expectant management group. Among their newborns, 3 percent of babies in the induced group needed respiratory support during their first three days of life, compared to 4 percent in the expectant management group.

Employees need enough sick days to stay well

How many paid sick days do U.S. workers need to feel comfortable taking time off to look after their health? Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and Cleveland State University recently explored that question in a study designed to measure the relationship between the number of paid sick leave days and employees’ use of important preventive health care services such as getting an annual flu shot, having a mammogram or visiting a lab for cholesterol testing.

The study included a representative sample of 3,235 American workers between the ages of 49 and 57, almost all of whom [93.5 percent] reported having health insurance. Their paid sick leave days were divided into four categories: high [10 or more days]; moderate [six to nine days]; low [three to five days]; and very low/none [zero to two days]. The median number of paid sick leave days among the workers included in the study was seven. Almost 26 percent fell into the zero to very low category, while 43 percent fell into the high category.

The research found that working adults with 10 or more paid sick leave days were 33 percent more likely to get a flu shot, 28 percent more likely to have fasting glucose testing for diabetes, 69 percent more likely to have their blood pressure checked and 34 percent more likely to have cholesterol screening compared to those with zero to two paid sick leave days. Working women needed at least six paid sick leave days to have significantly increased odds of getting a mammogram, with the greatest participation [55 percent] among those with 10 or more days.

Results from this study provide compelling evidence that workers in the United States with paid sick leave, ideally about 10 days per year, are significantly more likely to engage in preventive health care behaviors than those without paid sick leave, the authors said. Unlike most industrialized countries, however, paid sick leave is not consistently included as part of U.S. workplace benefits, with about 72 percent of working Americans currently receiving some amount of paid leave. “Despite having access, only half of Americans get the recommended preventive health care services. There are many factors that contribute to this dilemma, including inadequate paid sick leave days,” they said.

Measles regaining foothold through unvaccinated children 

Potential measles exposures that took place in Chesterfield and Kirkwood in March serve as a reminder that the disease may be making a comeback.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], the majority of people who contract measles are unvaccinated. When measles is introduced into a community where not everyone has received the vaccine, it can spread quickly – in 2014, for example, the U.S. experienced a record 667 measles cases, the greatest number since measles “elimination” was officially declared in 2000. Through February of this year, 13 cases in seven states had been reported to the CDC [no 2018 cases have been reported in Missouri, as of the end of March].

Recent research conducted by Kaiser Permanente suggests that part of the reason for measles’ re-emergence may be that children with autism and their younger siblings are significantly less likely to be fully vaccinated than the general population.

The researchers reviewed whether children at six national sites received all recommended vaccines. They found that for the measles, mumps and, rubella [MMR] vaccine specifically, 84 percent of those diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder [ASD] were vaccinated, compared to 96 percent of children without an ASD.  This discrepancy in vaccination rates also applied to their younger brothers and sisters: When the researchers looked at all vaccines recommended between one and 11 months, for example, 73 percent of younger siblings of children with an ASD were fully vaccinated, compared to 85 percent of younger siblings of children without an ASD.

“We need to better understand how to improve vaccination levels in children with autism spectrum disorder and their siblings, so they can be fully protected against vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Frank DeStefano of the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office. The vaccine study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

On the calendar

BJC sponsors a Family & Friends CPR course on Tuesday, April 17 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Missouri Baptist Medical Center Clinical Learning Institute, 3005 N. Ballas Road. The course provides instruction and hands-on practice for parents, childcare providers and babysitters for adult hands-only CPR; infant and child CPR with breaths; introduction to adult and child AED use; and relief of choking in an adult, child or infant. The course does not include certification. The course fee is $25. To register online, visit www.stlchildrens.org/registration or call (314) 454-5437.

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St. Luke’s Hospital offers a Healthy Running program on Thursday, April 19 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the hospital’s Desloge Outpatient Center, 121 St. Luke’s Center Drive in Chesterfield, in Building A, Conference Room A. A physician and a physical therapist will discuss common running injuries, faulty running mechanics and injury prevention strategies. Attendance is free. Register online at www.stlukes-stl.com.

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A Red Cross Community Blood Drive is on Thursday, April 26 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at St. Luke’s Hospital, 222 S. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield, in the North Medical Office Building. To schedule an appointment, visit www.redcrossblood.org and enter the sponsor code SAINTLUKES or call (314) 658-2090.

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West County SDA church holds an annual Health Expo on Sunday, April 29 from noon-3 p.m. at the church, 16800 Baxter Road in Chesterfield. This interactive fair will feature a variety of health screenings, information for families with health concerns and help in locating community health resources. Vegetarian food samples will be available for tasting.  Attendance is free. More information is available online at www.westcountyhealthexpo.com.

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St. Luke’s Hospital presents a free educational program on foot health, “The Agony of De Feet,” on Wednesday, May 9 from 6-7 p.m. at the hospital’s Institute for Health Education, 222 S. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield. Join an orthopedic surgeon, a physical therapist and a certified pedorthist for an in-depth look at treatment options for foot problems including plantar fasciitis, bunions, hammertoes, achilles tendon issues, arthritis and others. To register, visit www.stlukes-stl.com.

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