NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

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Apathy unproven as early warning sign of dementia

17th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Elderly who lose interest in pastimes could be at risk of Alzheimer's,” reports The Daily Telegraph, with other papers reporting similar headlines.These incorrect headlines are based on the results of a study that looked for a link between symptoms of apathy and structural brain changes (on brain scans) in over 4,000 older adults who did not have dementia.The researchers were interested in discovering whether there were a combination of changes in brain volume and reported symptoms of apathy. These symptoms were defined as: giving up activities and interests preferring to stay at home rather than going out and doing new ...

NICE highlights how hand washing can save lives

17th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Doctors and nurses should do more to stop hospital patients developing infections, an NHS watchdog says,” BBC News reports. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has highlighted how basic hygiene protocols, such as hand washing, may be overlooked by some health professionals, which may threaten patient safety. NICE points out that one in 16 people being treated on the NHS picks up a hospital acquired infection such as meticillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA). “It is unacceptable that infection rates are still so high within the NHS” said Professor Gillian Leng, director of Health and Social Care at NICE. “Infections ...

PET scans may improve brain injury diagnosis

16th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“PET scans could predict extent of recovery from brain injury, trials show,” The Guardian reports. Evidence suggests that the advanced scanning devices may be able to detect faint signs of consciousness in people with severe brain injuries.The paper reports on a study that examined how accurate two specialised brain imaging techniques were at diagnosing the conscious state and chances of recovery in 126 people with severe brain damage. The people were scanned using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, which use a radioactive tracer to highlight cell activity, and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans, which show blood flow in the ...

Cannabis linked to brain differences in the young

16th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Using cannabis just once a week harms young brains,” the Daily Mail reports. The newspaper reports on an US study that took one-off brain MRI scans of a group of 20 young adult recreational cannabis users, and a comparison group of 20 non-users. They compared their brain structure, focusing on regions that are believed to be involved in addiction. They found differences between users and non-users in shape and volume of the nucleus accumbens and amygdala; areas of the brain involved in reward and pleasure responses, emotions, memory, learning, and decision making. However, a case could be made that the ...

Eating chocolate probably won't save your marriage

15th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“As blood glucose levels plummet, aggression levels rise, and people take it out on those closest to them,” The Daily Telegraph reports. This news is based on an American study into blood glucoses levels and aggression.Researchers aimed to find out whether people’s blood glucose levels predicted aggressive impulses and aggressive behaviour in married couples. The thinking behind the study is that as people’s energy levels fall, so does their self-control, making them more likely to lash out (either verbally or physically) to those closest to them. The study included 107 couples, who had their blood sugar measured over 21 days. ...

Salt cuts have 'saved lives,' says study

15th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Cutting back on salt does save lives," is the good news on the front page of the Daily Mail. The headline is based on a study of data obtained from the Health Survey for England, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, and the Office for National Statistics between 2003 and 2011. The researchers chose 2003 as the start date because this is when the Department of Health launched its salt reduction programme. This consisted of a range of measures, of which possibly the most influential was persuading food manufacturers to reduce the amount of salt put into processed foods. Salt ...

New hepatitis C drug treatment 'shows promise'

14th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"A new treatment for hepatitis C 'cured' 90% of patients with the infection in 12 weeks, scientists said," BBC News reports after a new drug protocol designed to target the protein that assists the spread of the virus through the body has shown promising results. The study the BBC reports on involved 394 people with hepatitis C who had not responded to previous standard treatment, or who had responded but later relapsed. They were randomised to either an active five-drug combination or a matching placebo for 12 weeks. The five drugs were ABT-450, ritonavir and ombitasvir, dasabuvir and ribavirin. At ...

Could statins also protect against dementia?

14th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Heart pills taken by millions of people in Britain could dramatically reduce the risk of dementia,” the Daily Express reports. A study from Taiwan has found an association between the use of statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) and reduced dementia risk. In this large study of older adults, researchers recorded people’s first prescription of statins and looked at their later development of dementia – comparing statin users with non-statin users. Over an average five-year period, statin use was associated with a 22% reduced risk of dementia. Risk reduction was greater among females than males, and greatest with high-dose statins and with statin ...

No way to reliably identify low-risk prostate cancer

11th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Men with prostate cancer being given 'false hope',” The Daily Telegraph reports. UK researchers have examined the accuracy of different methods that have sometimes been used (mostly outside the UK) to identify “clinically insignificant” prostate cancers – those that would not be expected to affect a man during his lifetime (meaning he is likely to die of something else). There has been considerable debate about overtreatment of such slower growing, low grade prostate cancers – not least because complications of treatment, such as erectile dysfunction can be life-changing. Monitoring a man (known as “active surveillance”) can often be the preferred ...

Lab-grown vaginas successfully implanted

11th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Doctors implant lab-grown vagina" is the headline on the BBC News website, reporting on the latest breakthrough in the increasingly exciting field of tissue engineering. In this latest study, tissue engineering was used to develop a vagina for reconstructive surgery in four teenage girls who had the rare condition Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome. In this condition, the vagina and uterus do not form properly while the female foetus is developing in the uterus. Various techniques have been used for vaginal reconstruction in the past, usually involving surgically creating a space where the vagina would normally be and lining this with graft tissue. ...

Removing copper from body could slow cancer

10th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Copper can block growth of rare cancer," is the rather unclear headline in The Daily Telegraph. Researchers have found that a drug that reduces the amount of copper in the body may also be able to lessen the growth of some kinds of tumours. These tumours – such as melanoma – have a mutation in the BRAF gene. BRAF helps create a protein that's vital for a biochemical pathway necessary for cell growth. Some cancers have a mutation in this gene, which means that the growth is unchecked and leads to a rapid spread of cancerous cells. The researchers previously ...

Effectiveness of Tamiflu and Relenza questioned

10th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Ministers blew £650 MILLION on useless anti-flu drugs,” the Daily Mail reports. The paper cites a large study, which investigated the effectiveness of the antiviral drugs Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). These drugs, called neuraminidase inhibitors, have been stockpiled in many countries, including the UK, to prevent and treat large influenza outbreaks. The systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration covered the benefits and damage of the drugs in both adults and children. It took into account new data that had previously been kept confidential by the drugs’ manufacturers: Roche (which manufactures Tamiflu) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) (which manufactures Relenza).It found that ...

Removing copper from body could slow cancer

10th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Copper can block growth of rare cancer," is the rather unclear headline in The Daily Telegraph. Researchers have found that a drug that reduces the amount of copper in the body may also be able to lessen the growth of some kinds of tumours. These tumours – such as melanoma – have a mutation in the BRAF gene. BRAF helps create a protein that's vital for a biochemical pathway necessary for cell growth. Some cancers have a mutation in this gene, which means that the growth is unchecked and leads to a rapid spread of cancerous cells. The researchers previously ...

Home HIV testing kits now legal in UK

10th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Kits allowing people to test themselves for HIV at home can be bought over the counter in the UK for the first time,” BBC News recently reported. The UK government has amended the law so “do it yourself” home testing kits for HIV are now legal to be sold over-the-counter. Can go I out and buy a test? No – at least not yet. No companies have applied for a license to sell self-testing kits within the European Union. Though this is understandable as self-testing kits were previously illegal. The charity the National Aids Trust predicts that self-testing kits will ...

Does paying drug users boost hep B jab uptake?

9th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Heroin addicts are being 'bribed' with £30 in shopping vouchers for agreeing to undergo vaccinations," The Daily Telegraph reports, while the Daily Mail said addicts were to get a "£10 supermarket 'bribe' to stay clear of drugs and £30 to have a hepatitis B jab". Some of the reporting makes it sound as if drug users will soon be awash with NHS cash. In fact, there are two studies being covered here – one of which is completed and published, and a second that is ongoing. The published study involved just over 200 injecting drug users being treated for heroin ...

Painkiller use linked to irregular heartbeat

9th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Painkillers used by millions of Britons have been linked to higher risk of an irregular heartbeat that could trigger a stroke,” the Mail Online reports. This headline follows the publication of a long-term study that aimed to find out whether older adults developed atrial fibrillation. The researchers looked at whether adults who had developed the condition had used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) recently, previously or not at all.NSAIDs are a type of painkiller and have been associated with a higher risk of atrial fibrillation – a condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. Complications of atrial ...

Could a blood test be used to detect lung cancer?

8th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Simple blood test could soon diagnose if patient has cancer and how advanced it is," reports the Mail Online. But this is a rather premature headline given the early stage of the research that the news is based on. The blood of people with cancer contains DNA from the tumour, which may enter the blood after some of the tumour cells naturally die. However, blood also contains DNA from normal non-cancerous cells. Researchers developed a technique called CAPP-Seq (cancer personalised profiling by deep sequencing) to detect the small amounts of tumour DNA in the blood of people with non-small-cell lung ...

Claims gambling is caused by brain damage

8th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“The gambler’s fallacy explained? Misguided belief in the big win just around the corner could be down to brain damage,” The Independent incorrectly reported. The news is based on a small experimental study that assessed performance in two gambling games in healthy people, and in people with damage to specific regions of the brain. One of the games was a slot machine game, which assessed motivation to continue playing after a near miss. The other was a roulette game. This game assessed gambler’s fallacy, the belief that past results have an influence on future results (see box). The researchers looked ...

Teen boy sunbed use linked to eating disorders

7th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Teenage men who regularly use sunbeds are more prone to eating disorders,” the Metro reports. A study has found that teen tanners are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviour, such as using laxatives and vomiting after meals, in order to lose weight or prevent weight gain.However, it shouldn't it be inferred from these findings that using sunbeds gives you an eating disorder. What it does suggest is that a pattern of unhealthy behaviours may cluster together, with body conscious teens potentially feeling pressurised to be both tanned and thin.The study involved young people (both males and females) from America, ...

Milk may slow progression of knee osteoarthritis

7th April 2014

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

"Milk could be the key to beating crippling arthritis," reports the Daily Express, while the Daily Mail adds that, "A glass of milk a day keeps arthritis at bay". Both headlines are potentially misleading. The study the papers were reporting on was about slowing the progression of osteoarthritis in the knee joints, rather than preventing it occurring in the first place. The study focused on a single aspect of osteoarthritis, rather than making a general assessment of the effects of the disease. This single aspect was the gap in the knee joint (joint gap width) seen on X-ray, which is ...