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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(10):1868

Can people really be scared to death or die of a broken heart? Yes, according a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers found that sudden stress such as shock, anger, fear, or grief can cause severe but reversible left ventricular dysfunction in otherwise healthy patients. Ninety-five percent of patients who reported symptoms of what is now called stress cardiomyopathy were women, and all recovered rapidly after admission to the hospital. However, researchers warn that some of the cases could have been fatal if the patients had not received medical attention.

“Have you had your flu shot?” Does it seem like that’s the never-ending question every autumn? Perhaps that question isn’t as important in a certain age group as people may think. Researchers recently studied all causes of death in the elderly for the 33 influenza seasons from 1968 to 2001 and published their findings in Archives of Internal Medicine. While flu vaccination rates in the elderly jumped from 20 percent before 1980 to 65 percent in 2001, researchers could not correlate increasing vaccination rates with a decline in mortality, and therefore concluded that previous observational studies had substantially overestimated the benefits of vaccination in this group.

The World Wide Web is introducing adolescent substance abusers to a whole new world of drug information. A study recently published in Pediatrics found that Internet-based drug information is affecting adolescent drug users’ attitudes and behaviors. In the study, 12 adolescents undergoing substance abuse treatment participated in a cross-sectional survey, and all said that they changed their drug-using behavior toward a range of drugs after viewing information on the Internet. These changes included using new drugs and drug combinations, and attempting to minimize the drugs’ negative effects. Researchers found that adolescents frequently obtained drug information from antidrug Web sites, government Web sites, online medical encyclopedias, and electronic medical textbooks.

Losing a job can be emotionally devastating, and it can also be hazardous to a woman’s physical health, according to a report published in Circulation. Researchers surveyed nearly 35,000 women and found a relationship between women who had been laid off or fired from their jobs and a higher risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, chest pain, and stroke. Unemployed women were in the poorest physical health, while employed women were the healthiest. Homemakers were comparable in health status to employed women, but they had a slightly higher risk for cardiovascular disease. The researchers say that further studies are needed to determine if these results reflect a causal relationship.

Many people may stick together “in sickness and in health,” but it isn’t always pleasant. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that elder abuse is most likely to occur in spousal caregiver situations. Researchers evaluated interview responses from over 250 pairs of caregivers and elder-care recipients (ages 60 years and older). Approximately 26 percent of care recipients reported abuse by their caregiver, with spousal caregivers as much as four times more likely to be abusive than nonspousal caregivers. The most common abusive behavior was yelling and screaming, followed by name-calling, swearing, threatening the care recipient, and, to a lesser degree, physical abuse.

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Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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