Health Highlights: April 13, 2011

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Catherine Zeta-Jones Treated for Bipolar Disorder

Catherine Zeta-Jones, the actress and wife of actor Michael Douglas, was recently treated for bipolar disorder, her publicist said Wednesday.

“After dealing with the stress of the past year, Catherine made the decision to check in to a mental health facility for a brief stay to treat her Bipolar II disorder,” her publicist said in a statement. “She’s feeling great and looking forward to starting work this week on her two upcoming films.”

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness marked by dramatic mood swings. People with the disorder can alternate from energetic “highs” to episodes of feeling hopeless and sad, and then back again. They often have normal moods in between. Bipolar disorder can run in families, and it usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Bipolar II disorder is not as severe as bipolar I.

Zeta-Jones, 41, was outspoken about her anger after Douglas, 66, was diagnosed with throat cancer in August 2010, ABC News reported. “It makes me furious they didn’t detect it earlier,” Zeta-Jones told People magazine. “He sought every option and nothing was found.”

Zeta-Jones and Douglas were married in 2000, and they have two children together, Dylan Michael Douglas and Carys Zeta Douglas, ABC News reported.


Support for Health Care Law Falls: Poll

Support for the new U.S. health care law is at its lowest level since the law was passed last year, a new poll finds.

Support for expansion of health insurance coverage stands at 35 percent, opposition at 45 percent, and 17 percent are neutral, according to the Associated Press-GfK survey. Among seniors, support dropped below 30 percent for the first time.

Concerns about federal budget deficits caused by high health care costs appear to be a major reason for the drop in support for the health care law, the Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, Medicare chief Donald Berwick said the health care law requires more time and also said a Republican plan to deal with health care costs is “unfair and harmful.”


Long-Term Studies of Japanese Public Health Needed: WHO

Public health in Japan may need to be studied for up to 20 years after the catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, says the World Health Organization.

But there is no current risk to public health outside the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the damaged facility, according to Maria Neira, WHO director of public health and environment, Agence France-Presse reported.

“It’s clear that this 30-kilometer area provides the best shield for the protection of the population,” she said, but added that the WHO is also beginning to think about potential future health consequences of the nuclear crisis.

“We need to start to put the basis for the studies that need to be conducted for the next 10 to 20 years,” Neira said. “It may be too early because we are still in the very acute phase of detection for human health but we are discussing with Japan.”


OHSA Warns of Formaldehyde in Hair Straightening Products

A hair straightening and smoothing product called Brazilian Blowout can release harmful levels of formaldehyde, which was also found in other products labeled “formaldehyde-free,” warns the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In its hazard alert for hair salon workers and owners, the OSHA said air monitoring tests of salons found high levels of formaldehyde that in some cases exceeded federal standards, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Formaldehyde — a strong smelling gas that is considered a health hazard — can cause allergic reactions in the skin, eyes lungs and has been linked to nose and lung cancer.

A number of countries have pulled Brazilian Blowout off the market. In the U.S., some state agencies have already issued warnings about the product, the Tribune reported.


FDA Fails to Ensure Safety of Medical Devices: GAO

Dozens of high-risk medical devices that have not undergone rigorous testing are being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, even though the agency has promised to tighten its regulatory process, the U.S. Government Accountability Office says.

The GAO warned this lack of oversight is putting patients at risk, The New York Times reported. The office is the investigative arm of Congress.

While the FDA has taken some recent measures to establish whether some high-risk medical devices such as artificial hips should have to undergo more testing before being approved for sale in the U.S., the agency continues to approve dozens of such devices every year with limited review, according to the GAO.

The concerns are to be outlined by an GAO official who is scheduled to testify Wednesday at a hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. The committee will also hear preliminary GAO findings about deficiencies in how the FDA oversees recalls of defective medical devices, The Times reported.

Patient advocates and industry representatives will also testify at the hearing.

FDA officials had not seen the GAO testimony and therefore could not respond directly to it, agency spokeswoman Karen Riley told The Times. FDA officials plan to testify at the hearing, she added.

The Senate committee will look at a number of issues. It’s believed one of them will be the approval and marketing of a now-recalled artificial hip known as the Articular Surface Replacement, sold by Johnson & Johnson.

The FDA approved the artificial hip without requiring Johnson & Johnson to conduct clinical trials of the device. In some cases, the device began disintegrating a few years after implantation, releasing metallic debris that left some patients crippled, The Times reported.


More Americans Suffering Medicine-Related Illness, Injury: Report

The number of people treated in U.S. hospitals after taking or being given the wrong medicine or dosage rose 52 percent between 2004 and 2008, from 1.2 million to 1.9 million, a federal government report says.

Among the more than 838,000 people who were treated and released from emergency departments after suffering medicine-related illness or injury in 2008, the top five causes were: unspecified medicines (261,600); painkillers (118,100); antibiotics (95,100); tranquilizers and antidepressants (79,300); corticosteroids and other hormones (71,400).

Among patients admitted to hospital for medicine-related illness or injury in 2008, the top five causes were: corticosteroids (283,700); painkillers (269,400); blood-thinners (218,800); drugs for cancer and immune system disorders (234,300) and heart and blood pressure medicines (191,300).

Among hospitalized patients, 53 percent were 65 or older, 30 percent were 45 to 64, 14 percent were 18 to 44, and 3 percent were 18 or younger.

The data appears in the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.