Health Buzz: Statins and Other Health News

Rising nicotine dependence, aspirin's pros and cons, and staph infections in athletes.

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Statins May Offer Unexpected Benefits

Cholesterol-lowering medications called statins may reduce the risk of dying or ending up with deep vein thrombosis, Reuters reports. One study of 29,000 patients in Denmark being treated for pneumonia found that those who'd been taking a statin before being hospitalized had a 31 percent lower risk of dying from their illnesses than those who weren't taking such a medication. A separate study found that 21 percent of cancer patients who were not taking statins developed pulmonary embolism (which involves a blood clot that usually travels from the leg to the lung) and deep vein thrombosis (which involves potentially dangerous blood clots in the thigh or lower leg). The Danish study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, and the cancer study was presented at an American College of Chest Physicians's annual meeting in Philadelphia.

In January, U.S. News's Avery Comarow explained why users of the drug Vytorin, which contains a statin, don't have to panic about newfound safety concerns. In July, Adam Voiland listed seven reasons not to dismiss statin-caused pain.

Nicotine Dependence on the Rise

Dependence on nicotine increased 12 percent between 1989 and 2006, and the number of people who are highly dependent on nicotine has risen 32 percent, HealthDay reports. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the level of nicotine dependence among 630 smokers who were taking part in smoking cessation programs. The proportion of study participants who were considered "highly nicotine-dependent" increased from 55.5 percent to 73 percent during the time period studied. The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

"My clinical perception has been that over the last five years, patients that I am seeing require much more intensive treatment because tobacco dependence is more severe," lead researcher David P. Sachs, of the Palo Alto Center for Pulmonary Disease Prevention in California, told HealthDay.

U.S. News's Sarah Baldauf reported in 2006 that cutting back on smoking isn't good enough. And Lindsay Chura explored in June whether hypnosis can snuff out a smoker's cigarette habit.

What You Should Know About Aspirin

The American Heart Association has long recommended aspirin therapy for people who've had a heart attack, stroke caused by blood clot, unstable angina, or "ministrokes." The AHA also notes that even people who have not experienced such an event but who are at increased risk because of family history, say, may stand to gain from aspirin therapy. Still, this cheap, over-the-counter pill is not benign, and regular use should be discussed with a doctor. U.S. News's Sarah Baldauf provides a list of 12 things you should know about aspirin.

Also, beware marketing claims. Bayer was sent warning letters by the Food and Drug Administration yesterday for making unproved health claims about two products, Bayer Women's Low Dose Aspirin + Calcium (Bayer Women's) and Bayer Aspirin with Heart Advantage (Bayer Heart Advantage).

Avoiding Infections at the Gym

The Cleveland Browns's Kellen Winslow is only the latest player to develop an infection from staph, a bacterium that usually sits harmlessly on the skin but can turn dangerous when it gets into the body via a cut or scrape. Other high school, college, and pro athletes in sports, including wrestling and baseball, have also in recent years come down with staph infections, some caused by MRSA, the potentially deadly strain that is immune to antibiotics. It's not always clear where these and other infections originate, but athletes are at risk because they tend to get nicks and cuts, to have skin-to-skin contact with teammates and opponents, and to share equipment and towels.

U.S. News's Katherine Hobson lists six ways to avoid infections at the gym. And Lindsay Lyon wrote last year about the rising risk of MRSA.

—January W. Payne