Exercise-Induced Asthma; the Dangers of Drug-Coated Stents; Protecting Diabetics From Heart Disease; Smoking and Alzheimer's

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Athletes, Consider the Asthma Factor

Having a bad day on the soccer field or treadmill? Maybe you can blame asthma. According to a new study of 107 varsity athletes representing 22 sports, 39 percent experienced a constricting of their airways while working out. The constriction, caused by large amounts of cool, drier air entering the lungs during exercise, often is not severe enough to cause wheezing and chest tightness, so many athletes just chalk up lackluster performances to being tired or out of shape. Exercise-induced asthma has been studied mostly in top athletes, but people working out recreationally should be cognizant of the risk as well. Jonathan Parsons, associate director of Ohio State Medical Center's Asthma Center and lead author of the study, says that if you are working out regularly but are inexplicably tired or don't see fitness or performance gains in proportion to the time you spend training—you're running more than ever, but your 5K time hasn't budged—you should see an allergist or pulmonologist. — Katherine Hobson

The Latest Word on Stents Is Worrying

Troubling news about drug-coated stents continues to arrive. The tiny tubes of metallic mesh hold coronary arteries open after blockages are cleared; a thin drug coating over the bare metal inhibits growth of artery-narrowing scar tissue. Recent studies have shown that coated stents can raise the risk of a killer clot years later. And at an international meeting in Vienna last week, heart experts confronted worrisome evidence that heart-attack patients who receive the stents face a much-elevated likelihood of early death. In a study, their risk six months out was almost five times that of patients with bare metal stents—8.6 percent versus 1.6 percent. Employing coated stents in heart-attack patients has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but physicians are free to use them "off label" in this way at their discretion—and commonly do. - Avery Comarow

Diabetic? Lower Your Pressure

Using a combination of diuretics and ACE inhibitors to manage blood pressure in people with type 2 diabetes can help protect against heart disease, according to new data released last week. The combined therapy, administered as part of a worldwide study known as ADVANCE, reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 18 percent. The impact of the combined therapy occurred regardless of the participants' blood pressure at the beginning of the study. The study was released online by the Lancet to coincide with a presentation at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Vienna. In an accompanying commentary, Norman Kaplan, a hypertension expert from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, said, "I believe that other drugs, if they lower blood pressure as much and do not have metabolic side effects, would be as protective.... In most circumstances, lowering the blood pressure is what counts, not the way by which it is lowered." - HealthDay

It Isn't Good for Your Brain, Either

Smokers are 50 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or dementia than people who don't smoke or who gave up smoking, a Dutch report says. Researchers announced these results after analyzing seven years of data from almost 7,000 people over age 55 and published their findings in Neurology. "Smoking increases the risk of cerebrovascular disease, which is also tied to dementia," author Monique Breteler of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam said in a prepared statement. "Another mechanism could be through oxidative stress, which can damage cells in the blood vessels and lead to hardening of the arteries. Smokers experience greater oxidative stress than nonsmokers, and increased oxidative stress is also seen in Alzheimer's disease." Oxidative stress occurs when there are too many waste products from chemical reactions in the body. - HealthDay