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This week in health news: Preterm babies at risk for ADHD, other complications

Plus: Can empathy be taught? A new study says so.

Lack of eye-contact is just one sign to look out for; it isn't a diagnoses. Credit: Colourbox Lack of eye-contact is just one sign to look out for; it isn't a diagnoses. Credit: Colourbox

Premature birth linked to issues in brain development

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: 51 full-term and 30 preterm infants

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Results: Premature birth may trigger developmental processes in the white matter of the brain that could put children at higher risk of problems as they grow, a new study says. Researchers compared concentrations of certain chemicals associated with mature white matter and gray matter in full-term and preterm infants, and found significant chemical variation. The report states that later in life, premature babies risk various conditions from impulsiveness and distractibility, to autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The findings will be presented at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting.

Significance: “In the United States, we have approximately 500,000 preterm births a year,” says Stefan Blüml, Ph.D., director of the New Imaging Technology Lab at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and associate professor of research radiology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “About 60,000 of these babies are at high risk for significant long-term problems, which means that this is a significant problem with enormous costs.”

Over-consumption to fish can undermine its health benefits

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: 1,200 people

Results: Eating sushi can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the Journal of Risk Research. This was one of many unhealthy aspects to excessive fish consumption, which is thought to lead to dangerous methylmercury exposure in humans, researchers say. Mercury can cause neurodevelopmental deficits, poorer cognitive function and increased rates of cardiovascular disease. The study also notes that higher levels of methylmercury can be detrimental to the heart and and the health-protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Tuna sashimi was found to contain the highest levels of methylmercury in fish samples taken from across the USA.

Significance: The study found that 92 percent of participants ate an average of five fish and fish-sushi meals per month, and that the top 10 percent of all participants exceeded the Center for Disease Control Minimal Risk Level and the World Health Organization Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake of methylmercury.

Smokers may cut heart disease risk faster than previously thought

Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: 853 people who quit smoking 15 or fewer years before; 2,557 people who never smoked

Results:Previous research found that it may take up to 15 years or more after quitting for smokers to regain cardiovascular health to that of people who never smoked. But a new study found that many smokers, on average, reduce their risk within eight years. The research was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2013.

Significance: "It's good news," says Dr. Ali Ahmed, M.P.H., senior researcher and professor of cardiovascular disease at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Medicine. "Smoking is the most preventable cause of early death in America. If you smoke, quit and quit early.”People who quit smoking reduced their risk of developing heart disease, heart attacks and strokes, and dying from cardiac arrest.

Movie scenes can instill empathy in burnt-out medical students

Location of study: Philadelphia

Study subjects: 248 second-year students at Jefferson Medical College

Results:Lead study author Mohammadreza Hojat, Ph.D., a research professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Thomas Jefferson University, found that empathy toward patients tends to decrease during medical school. Butstudents who were shown movies that highlight a patient’s perspective became more empathetic, according to a new study published in the journal Medical Teacher.Previous research has shown that, overall, doctors who score higher on empathy tests have patients who do better.

Significance: Better patient care and outcomes is a point of interest for administrators of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, both for the patient’s benefit and for reducing costs. “We are proving that empathy is a quality that can be taught,” Dr. Hojat says.

 
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