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Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(7):969

Radioactive material detected in some patients

It's no April Fools' joke—your patients could be radioactive enough to set off the “dirty bomb” detectors at the airport. Every day, nearly 60,000 patients undergo radiation treatment that leaves enough radioactive material in their bodies to trigger positive responses from radiation detectors for up to three months. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has distributed more than 12,000 handheld detectors to government buildings, airports, border crossings, and places considered to be potential terrorist targets. Many patients who have undergone internal radiation therapy could unintentionally trigger these alarms, which could lead to embarrassing situations. During a recent event at Rockefeller Center in New York, N.Y., six people tripped radiation detectors. Radioisotopes, which are used to treat thyroid disorders and some cancers, as well as to analyze heart function, were found in all six. (Reuters, January 29, 2007)

Retired linemen at high risk of cardiovascular problems

Linemen who formerly played for the National Football League (NFL) could be at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than other retired NFL athletes, according to research presented at the International Symposium on Endovascular Therapy. Linemen typically weigh 300 to 350 lb (136.1 to 158.8 kg), which makes them susceptible to heart conditions. The researchers found that 52.2 percent of the former linemen studied had metabolic syndrome compared with 22.2 percent of other retired athletes and 21.8 percent of the general population. Nearly 37 percent of linemen had an enlarged heart, which is common in athletes because of the intense conditioning associated with many sports. Unlike other athletes, however, the hearts of linemen often fail to return to normal size after retirement. Additionally, 75 percent of former linemen have sleep apnea compared with 50 percent of other former players and 7 to 10 percent of the general population. To compound the risk, playing football can cause chronic joint injuries, making it difficult for linemen to continue to exercise after they retire. (HealthDay, January 29, 2007)

Bilingualism may delay dementia

Sprechen Sie Deutsch und Englisch? A study published in Neuropsychologia suggests that speaking two languages throughout life may delay the onset of dementia compared with speaking only one language. Canadian scientists studied the records of 184 patients—93 who were bilingual and 91 who were monolingual. Although there were 25 different languages spoken among the patients, German, Polish, Yiddish, Hungarian, and Romanian were the most common. Overall, 132 patients met criteria for probable Alzheimer's disease; the remaining 52 patients were diagnosed with other forms of dementia. However, when considering differences among patients in level of formal education, immigration, sex, and employment status, the researchers still found that the average age at onset of dementia in monolingual patients was 71.4 years compared with 75.5 years for those who were bilingual. Although the authors note that these are only preliminary findings, they stress that the results suggest that bilingualism may enhance attention and cognitive control in older adults. (Neuropsychologia, February 2007)

Should hand sanitizer labels be revised?

Correspondence in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the labels on hand sanitizer gels should be rewritten to avoid possible confusion or deliberate ingestion. In two separate instances reported in the journal, a prison inmate and a patient with alcoholism ingested hand sanitizer gel. Most of these gels contain isopropyl alcohol, which can inhibit the central nervous system and depress myocardial function. The usually calm prison inmate, who was described as “combative” and “red-eyed” the day he was brought to the hospital, was seen drinking from a gallon container of hand sanitizer over the course of one evening. When health care professionals asked the patient with alcoholism why he drank the hand gel, he noted that the label said the product contained 63 percent isopropyl alcohol, adding that it had a higher alcohol content than vodka. Therefore, the authors suggest substituting the term “isopropanol” for “isopropyl alcohol” on the labels, which could reduce the confusion that these hand gels contain alcohol appropriate for consumption. (N Engl J Med, February 1, 2007)

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Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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