Health Buzz: Cholesterol and Dementia and Other Health News

The cost of generic drugs, California hospitals and the debate over Lyme disease.

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Lack of ‘Good’ HDL Cholesterol Linked to Memory Loss

A study published yesterday indicating that low levels of the "good" HDL cholesterol raise a person's risk of memory loss and dementia may send many rushing to their doctors for a cholesterol check, Deborah Kotz reports. Study participants with the lowest HDL levels—defined as less than 40 mg/dL—were 53 percent more likely to perform poorly on short-term memory tests compared with those with high HDL, defined as 60 mg/dL or greater. Those whose HDL levels plunged over the six-year study—which was published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology: Journal of the American Heart Association—also experienced a decrease in the number of words they were able to recall on the memory test, says study leader Archana Singh-Manoux, senior research fellow in epidemiology at the University College London.

Matthew Shulman reported in April that there may be a link between Alzheimer's disease and cholesterol. Also, statin drugs, which are great at lowering the "bad" LDL cholesterol, only modestly boost HDL.

Mistakes Could Become Costly for California Hospitals

About 100 Californians a month are injured as a result of hospital errors, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis. Some patients have surgical equipment left in their bodies, others have surgeries performed on the wrong body part, and still others receive improper dosages of medication, U.S. News's Adam Voiland reports. Safety experts often call such accidents "adverse events," or "never events," because they are considered preventable. The California Department of Public Health has already fined 10 California hospitals a total of $25,000 since July of last year, the paper reports. Now, a bill before the legislature could make medical mistakes costly for hospitals statewide.

In November, U.S. News's Avery Comarow looked at a study that suggests there may be twice as many surgical mistakes as reported. In June, he pointed out that even the best children's hospitals have significant numbers of errors.New technology isn't always foolproof when it comes to preventing errors, he explains. And long hours for doctors and nurses are a serious problem.

Kmart Expands Generic Drug Program

Kmart has expanded its generic drug program, Reuters reports. The retailer said yesterday that more than 500 common prescription medications have been added to the approximately 300 drugs that were in the program. The retailer now provides certain medicines for $5 per prescription. Ninety-day supplies of most generic medications will now be sold for $10, although some will cost $15, a company spokesperson said. Kmart also offers 90-day supplies of about 50 generic women's drugs, including birth control, osteoporosis, and prenatal medications, for up to $25.

Michelle Andrews reported on Wal-Mart's generic drug program in 2006. And in March, she explained the results of a poll that said that 41 percent of Americans have trouble paying for their prescriptions.

The Debate Over Chronic Lyme Disease

Many people get Lyme disease, take antibiotics for a few weeks, and recover fully, experts say. But there is also a debate over whether some people, long after being bitten by a tick, continue to have a "chronic" form of Lyme disease. The crux of the issue is whether certain persistent symptoms—including pain and fatigue—that some people complain of are due to a lingering Lyme infection rather than some other cause. People who blame Lyme disease say chronic symptoms necessitate long-term antibiotic therapy, with pills or IV meds given for months or years. But many experts say that such aggressive therapy isn't necessary and doesn't help patients.

U.S. News explores the debate over chronic Lyme disease. Also, read three tips for avoiding ticks and Lyme disease.

—January W. Payne