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Am Fam Physician. 2001;64(3):355

According to an item published in a recent issue of America's Pharmacist, the incidence of America ns who self-medicate is on the rise. Results of a study conducted for the Consumer Health Products Association indicate that nearly 80 percent of Americans used over-the-counter medications during the past year to treat at least one ailment. That's more than twice the number of people who either consulted a physician or took a prescription medication. The study results also show that 57 percent of Americans actively use dietary supplements or are researching information about them.

The heart may not lie, but it does tend to conceal the truth. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that some human heart muscle cells are able to regenerate after a heart attack. Researchers had previously believed that scarring following a heart attack suggested that the heart was unable to make new cells. Unfortunately, not enough cells are regenerated to repair all of the damage.

Is weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) better for women than not losing weight at all? That debate is likely to continue for some time. Meanwhile, study results published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology support results of prior clinical trials in which weight cycling was found to be associated with lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in women. Weight loss, in general, has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular risk factors in obese patients. However, low HDL cholesterol carries a significant risk of cardiovascular mortality in women.

“Drill. Drill. Water pick. Water pick. Kleenex. Kleenex?” A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine shows that stress, pain and immune functions are linked. Researchers measured the cortisol levels of 33 dental patients before, during and after a root canal. Two weeks following the procedure, 13 of the patients had developed an upper respiratory infection. The patients who became ill had higher cortisol levels, and experienced more pain and stress during and after the treatment.

For gamblers, holding a winning hand is equal to sniffing a gram of cocaine. According to a study published in Neuron, gambling and drug addictions may have the same neural basis. The images of 12 volunteers' brains were tracked while they bet on where a flicker would land on a spinner, dictating how much they had won or lost. Using magnetic resonance imaging, it was shown that the same regions of the brain that respond to winning overlap with the regions that respond to cocaine.

Surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are using a robotic system to assist during minimally invasive surgery. The robot, named Zeus, is being used during endoscopic surgery in patients with chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease. Using this system, the surgeon sits at a nearby console and works the controls. The surgeon's hand movements are then replicated by Zeus's robotic arms (he has three of them!) at the operative site. The surgeon views the site on a monitor while manipulating handles that resemble surgical instruments. The surgeon's hand movements are scaled, and hand tremor is filtered and translated into precise movements. Very impressive. However, there is one burning question: if a robot is such a paragon of precision and efficiency, why does it need three hands to do what a surgeon does with only two?

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Copyright © 2001 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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