NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

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Painkillers may be making a million headaches worse

19th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

A warning that overusing certain painkillers can cause a "vicious cycle" of disabling headaches is widely reported in the papers today. "More than one million people in Britain may be suffering from constant, crippling headaches because they are taking too many painkillers," the Guardian explains. The stories are based on new guidance for doctors and other health professionals from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) on the diagnosis and treatment of headaches. While the guidance covered many different types of headaches, NICE was especially keen to highlight what are known as "medication overuse headaches" – possibly because ...

Smoking may make your sleep suffer

18th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

If you smoke, you get less sleep and a “lower quality of rest” than non-smokers do, according to today’s Daily Mail. The links between smoking and serious, potentially fatal conditions (such as lung cancer and heart disease) are well known. But this headline stems from a recent study suggesting that those of us who enjoy a puff may have sleepless nights too. The news is based on the results of a German case-control study that recruited smokers and non-smokers from the general population. The researchers asked them to complete a questionnaire on several sleep-related factors, such as how long it ...

Complaints about doctors at 'record high'

18th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

The number of complaints against doctors in the UK is on the rise, according to widespread media coverage. The Daily Telegraph has reported that complaints have reached a “record high”, while the Daily Mail says that GPs are “rude, dishonest and hard to understand”. The headlines are based on a new report by the General Medical Council (GMC), the organisation that oversees, registers, and licenses doctors practicing medicine in the UK. The three most commonly reported types of complaint were related to: concerns with investigations and treatment, such as failure to diagnose or prescribing inappropriate medications problems with communication – ...

Painkiller 'deafness fears' for older women

17th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

The Daily Mail has reported that women who regularly take ibuprofen or paracetamol are 'more likely to lose their hearing'. As millions of us take over-the-counter painkillers every year, the claim is an obvious concern, but is the science behind the story really worth listening to? This story was based on a study that followed over 60,000 women for more than a decade and found that those reporting regular use of paracetamol or ibuprofen (defined as taking the drug two to three days per week, or more), were more at risk of reporting hearing loss in later life compared to ...

Should 'three-parent IVF' be allowed?

17th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

What is the issue? “Regulator asks public whether to allow ‘three parent families’,” The Independent reports after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) – which regulates the use of fertility treatments and research in the UK – said it wanted to hear public views on a new fertility treatment. The HFEA wants to gather public opinions on mitochondrial replacements, a controversial fertility treatment that the HFEA concedes is “at the cutting edge, both of science and of ethics” because it uses genetic material from three people. Almost all of the genetic material in our bodies is contained in the ...

Horrible bosses: do they cause heart attacks?

14th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

'Being in a stressful job where you are bossed around could raise the risk of a heart attack by a quarter' the Daily Mail has warned. This story follows news published earlier this week that long working hours may increase heart disease risk. In the study that this latest news is based on, researchers wanted to know what effect ‘job strain’ had on the risk of heart disease for workers. Job strain was defined as having a combination of a demanding job with little freedom to decide how the job should be done. Previous research has found that this combination ...

Horrible bosses: do they cause heart attacks?

14th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

'Being in a stressful job where you are bossed around could raise the risk of a heart attack by a quarter' the Daily Mail has warned. This story follows news published earlier this week that long working hours may increase heart disease risk. In the study that this latest news is based on, researchers wanted to know what effect ‘job strain’ had on the risk of heart disease for workers. Job strain was defined as having a combination of a demanding job with little freedom to decide how the job should be done. Previous research has found that this combination ...

'Its not what you eat, its when you eat' claim

14th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

The Daily Telegraph tells us “why dieting is all in the timing”. Sticking to strict mealtimes is apparently the key, rather than snacking on healthy food. Sadly for those of us who enjoy a daily dose of high-fat fast food, the true story behind the headlines is a little more complicated. The research is actually in mice and researchers were trying to see if the body clock could have an impact on metabolism, which, in turn, could affect factors such as body fat. One group of mice was provided with a high-fat diet, which they only had access to at ...

Stem cell 'deafness cure' (but only in gerbils)

13th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Deaf gerbils ‘hear again’ after stem cell cure,” BBC News has reported. “UK researchers have taken a huge step forward in treating deafness” the broadcaster added. This news, reported in most places today, is based on a study that examined the possibility of treating a specific type of deafness known as auditory neuropathy. This is a condition where specialised nerve cells involved in hearing become damaged or die, for reasons that aren't fully understood. In this study, the researchers experimented by replacing the damaged nerve cells with new ones grown from human stem cells. Stem cells are essentially biological “building ...

Acute hospital services on 'brink of collapse' claim

13th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

A potential crisis in hospital care is widely reported in the media today, with BBC News reporting that standards of hospital care are slipping throughout England. The Daily Mail states that elderly patients are being shunted between beds “like parcels”. The headlines are based on a new report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) of London, which warns that acute hospital care is under pressure, leading to “unnecessary pain, indignity and distress”. Many stories lead with the frightening claim that NHS hospitals could be on the brink of “collapse” – a term that the RCP’s report does not use, ...

Sharp rise in hospital admissions for stress – 'recession to blame'

12th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

What is the issue? A sharp rise in hospital admissions for stress over the last year was widely covered in the papers today, with The Independent linking the increase to the recession and the Daily Mail pointing out that more men were treated in hospital for stress than women. The reports are based on figures showing that, in England, hospital admissions for stress rose by 7% in 12 months, with admission rates highest among people of working age. Admissions were highest in North West England and lowest in South West England. This geographical variation may be due to differing levels ...

'Working yourself to death' – overtime link to heart disease

12th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Working more than eight hours a day raises the risk of heart disease by 80%,” reported the Daily Mail, while The Sun said “overtime’s a killer…literally”. The news is based on a study that pooled the results of previous studies looking at the association between “longer working hours” and coronary heart disease (CHD). Those working longer hours were shown to be 80% more at risk of CHD than those not working longer hours. However, there were significant inconsistencies between the studies that cast serious doubt on the validity of any conclusion about a link between CHD and working hours. These ...

Controlled crying 'safe for babies'

11th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Leave your baby to cry,”, The Daily Telegraph today advised, along with the Daily Mail. Both were commenting on the “best” way to get your infant back to sleep. Unfortunately for exhausted new parents, the solution is not always that simple. This news is based on research looking at the long-term effects two controversial ways of improving infant sleep patterns, known as “controlled crying” and “camping out”. There is evidence that both techniques can be effective in improving sleep. But critics of these techniques have argued that leaving a baby to cry exposes them to unnecessary stress and trauma that ...

Vaccine 'hope' to end hay fever misery

11th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“New jab could relieve your hayfever for weeks,” reports the Daily Mail. The news is based on the results of a small trial that investigated whether injections of low doses of pollen into the skin reduced the allergic reaction to grass pollen in people with hay fever. Most hay fever treatments relieve symptoms when they occur using medications such as antihistamines. Currently the only effective preventative treatment for hay fever is known as immunotherapy, which involves injecting high doses of pollen into a deeper layer of skin. However, due to the high doses involved there is always a risk that ...

New zinc supplement Zytaze is a 'botox-booster'

10th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

A new supplement “keeps wrinkles at bay for 30% longer”, the Daily Mail reports. The news is based on the results of a small trial that found that dietary supplementation with “Zytaze” – a combination of zinc and the enzyme phytase – can increase the effectiveness and duration of botulinum toxin (botox) injections. Botox is a neurotoxin, which means it can disrupt normal nerve function. Neurotoxins can be useful at tiny doses as it can lead to a temporary smoothing of skin reducing wrinkles. In most cases this lasts for around three months. There are also several medical conditions that ...

Mammograms 'boost breast cancer risk' in women with 'faulty genes'

10th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Mammograms may boost breast cancer risk in women with faulty gene,” the Daily Mail reports. This story appears to suggest that mammograms increase risk of breast cancer. In fact, the research looked at whether exposure to radiation in general (including X-rays and CT scans) increased the risk of breast cancer in women who had a genetic mutation known to increase breast cancer risk. It found that exposure to radiation before the age of 30 increased risk of disease in these already high-risk women. Despite the media headlines, when exposure to mammograms alone was studied, the increase in risk was not ...

Breast cancer screening 'halves deaths'

7th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Breast cancer screening ‘works and we should move on’,” is the slightly confusing headline of The Daily Telegraph. It says that a new study shows that the risk of dying from breast cancer is halved in women who undergo mammography screening. The newspaper rather prematurely claims that this “draws a line under the controversy”. The Australian study looked at the mammography screening history of 427 women who had died from breast cancer, and compared this with the screening history of a group of healthy women. Simply put, they found that women who died from breast cancer were less likely than ...

Fish oil can 'make children less naughty'

7th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

Parents should give their children a daily dose of fish oils if they want to boost their brain power and stop them being naughty the Daily Express claims. This advice is highly premature. The news follows research into supplements containing DHA, which is the omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, seafood and algae. The trial looked at the effects of DHA on reading, memory and behaviour in children. In the study, children aged 7 to 9 who were underperforming in reading were given either DHA supplements or a placebo (dummy pill) for 16 weeks. The researchers actually found that, overall, ...

Tackles on the rugby pitch 'increase dementia risk' claims

6th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

Playing rugby could increase the chance of dementia if players receive repeated knocks to the head, The Daily Telegraph has reported. So should ‘egg-chasers’ – both amateur and professionals - be worried? The quick answer is probably not as The Telegraph has seriously dropped the ball when it comes to reporting on this study because it actually looking at an entirely different sport - American football. The study looked at retired American football players and found that they were at threefold risk of dying from neurodegenerative diseases than the general population. Neurodegenerative diseases are debilitating diseases where there is progressive ...

Altered sleep patterns 'early sign' of Alzheimer’s

6th September 2012

NHS Choices: Behind the headlines

“Bad sleep may predict Alzheimer’s,” the BBC has reported, saying that “problems sleeping may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s if a study in mice also applies to people”. This news is based on research into the association between sleep patterns and accumulation of plaques in the brains of mice. These plaques, which are made up of clumps of small proteins in the brain, are a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. They are reported to start to form in the brain 10 to 15 years before symptoms such as memory problems appear. The researchers investigated whether the early stages of plaque ...