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Consumer Reports Health News

Friday, April 16, 2010 General News J E 4
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YONKERS, N.Y., April 15 Welcome to Consumer Reports Health News for health and medical journalists. Consumer Reports, Consumer Reports on Health, and ConsumerReportsHealth.org cover issues pertaining to the efficacy and safety of prescription and non-prescription drugs (including natural medicines), mental health, diet and nutrition, food safety, and fitness. Consumer Reports tests health and fitness products, rates the effectiveness and affordability of prescription drugs, and evaluates the claims made by drug companies and the health care industry--all without commercial agendas or advertiser influence.

APRIL IS WORST MONTH FOR ALLERGIES; REMEDIES TO EASE THE SUFFERING According to a Consumer Reports Health poll, nearly one out of five Americans missed work last year due to allergies. Those surveyed also identified April as the worst month for allergies. And this April has been a doozey with high pollen counts being recorded in several areas in the U.S.

Overall, according to the survey, non-prescription drugs were less likely to help manage symptoms than prescription medications. One in five surveyed were "highly satisfied" with the allergy relief they experienced when they implemented avoidance measures such as staying indoors with the windows shut and the air conditioner on, having someone else mow the lawn, and doing outdoor activities on low-pollen days. Consumer Reports Health recommends that you set your air conditioner to recirculate the air to reduce the amount of pollen and other outdoor allergens from flowing into your home. Allergen levels tend to be the highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. Go online to check the local pollen levels.

Only about one in four survey respondents said they found relief using prescription allergy drugs, but most who did felt they had successfully managed their symptoms. Common medications included fexofenadine (Allegra and generic), a "second generation" antihistamine that's less likely to cause drowsiness than older antihistamines; fluticasone (Flonase and generic) and mometasone (Nasonex), corticosteroid nasal sprays; and montelukast (Singulair), which blocks molecules than can cause inflammation. More than two-thirds of our respondents relied on nonprescription medications, including diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy and generic), an older antihistamine that can cause drowsiness; loratadine (Claritin and generic), or cetirizine (Zyrtec and generic), second-generation antihistamines; and pseudophedrine (Sudafed and generic), a nasal decongestant. For more information, go to www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.

MORE INVASIVE BACK SURGERY ON THE RISE DESPITE THE EVIDENCE

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that, while surgery for spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal) is on the decline overall, spinal fusion procedures increased 15-fold from 2002-2007 among Medicare patients with the condition. This more invasive technique, which fuses the vertebrae together, lacks evidence of efficacy compared to surgical decompression. Moreover, there are serious risks of life-threatening complications. The JAMA report gives new urgency to the long list of "Medical Gotchas" that Consumer Reports published in 2007 with back surgery at the top of the list of ten overused tests and treatments.

People who are thinking about back surgery should investigate with caution, ask a lot of questions, and make sure they are very clear about the risks associated with surgery and the type of recovery to follow. Click here to read the blog.

SALT: HOW LOW SHOULD YOU GO?

In a detailed report about salt intake, the April issue of Consumer Reports on Health says that most of us need to cut back on sodium, as well as fat and calories. How much depends on you. Nearly everyone should aim for getting no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily. Cutting back further is particularly important if you have high blood pressure (a systolic, or top number over 140 millimeters of mercury, or a diastolic, or bottom, number over 90 mm/Hg). It can also make sense for people who are African-American, those with a family history of high blood pressure, and those with high-normal but not optimal blood pressure levels.

Consumer Reports Health recommends exercise, weight loss, moderate drinking (if at all), and eating right. And if you were thinking about getting your body bikini-ready (i.e., losing the love handles) for the summer, Consumer Reports Health gives you one more reason. Too much body fat, especially in the abdomen, interferes with the hormone insulin to ferry sugar from the blood into the body's cells, and some research suggests that such insulin resistance may make the body more sensitive to sodium. More information and tips for cutting back on sodium are included in the report, available on request.

PUT YOUR HEALTH-CARE PAPERS IN ORDER

You can't predict when a medical emergency will strike but you can make it easier for your family and friends if that day comes. A number of documents can help guide your care when you can't, preventing overly aggressive interventions while ensuring that you still get the care you do want. Consumer Reports Health recommends that you have those papers in order before you need them:

APRIL 2010

© Consumers Union 2010. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports on Health® is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.

-- Get a living will. It's helpful to set up an appointment with your doctor to review in detail what you've set forth---including whether you want specific procedures such as a feeding tube or respirator to prolong life. -- Appoint a health-care proxy. Give someone you trust "durable power of attorney for health care" since living wills can't anticipate everything. -- Appoint a financial agent. Add someone you trust to your checking account so your bills will be paid if you're incapacitated. Consider giving that person "durable financial power of attorney" to oversee all of your finances. -- Consider a DNR. A do-not-resuscitate order is usually suggested by a doctor when you are very ill. It tells health-care professionals not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation if your heart or breathing stops, assuming that such actions would not restore you to a meaningful life. -- Store your paperwork properly. Give copies of all documents to your doctors and a few trusted family members and friends. Bring them to the hospital when you're admitted. And keep copies in a secure place in your home, making sure someone knows how to find them.

SOURCE Consumer Reports on Health
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