News Roundup: Gel Cuts Mammogram Pain, Wii Therapy for Burn Patients, and More


Anesthetic gel numbs mammogram pain
An over-the-counter numbing gel (similar to the stuff used for sunburn pain) could make mammograms more tolerable, according to a study in Radiology. Researchers from St. Luke’s Mountain State's Tumor Institute in Boise, Idaho, pretreated 418 women aged 32 to 89 with ibuprofen, acetaminophen, a 4% lidocaine gel, a placebo pill, or placebo gel (either alone or in combination) prior to mammograms. Only the lidocaine gel reduced discomfort more than a placebo. The gel is applied 30-65 minutes before a mammogram and washed off just before the procedure; it doesn’t affect mammogram quality, the researchers say. You may not find this at local clinics anytime soon, though: The medical establishment doesn’t always pay as much attention to pain-killing measures as it should. (Learn more about breast cancer tests here.)

Wake up! Too much sleep linked to stroke?
A recent study in the journal Stroke suggested that postmenopausal women who slept more than nine hours a night had a greater risk of stroke than those who did not. In the study of 93,000 women, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that sleeping nine or more hours a night was associated with a 1.6- to 1.7-fold higher risk of stroke in women aged 50-79. (In comparison, migraine headaches increase stroke risk 3- to 4-fold, and a combination of smoking, oral contraceptives, and migraines is linked to 34-fold higher risk.) But don't read too much into this statistical analysis: Correlation doesn't prove cause. It’s possible that some other factor, such as sleep apnea or another health condition, could be responsible for the stroke risk. For now, stay tuned, but don’t lose any sleep over it. (Learn more about sleep and your health here.)

New York City calorie-posting law finally has teeth
How many calories in a Big Apple? Well, if it's baked into a McDonald's pie you'll get the calorie count along with the food in New York: The city's long-publicized law requiring fast-food and chain restaurants to post calories is now being enforced (it's been in place since May, and went through a round of legal appeals, but Saturday was the deadline for postings to go up). Restaurants that don’t pony up risk a $2,000 fine. We've blogged about this and shown photos of the new postings, and now we hope that other cities—including those in the South with supersize rates of obesity—will hop on the bandwagon. (McDonald's apple pie answer: 250.)

Alzheimer’s news: The good, the bad, and the depressing
For anyone who knows a person with Alzheimer's, it's been a frustrating week to follow the progress of research. First there was a promising vaccine that cleared amyloid plaques (thought to cause the disease) from patient’s brains—but didn’t improve their symptoms. Then a 12-person study captured attention because it suggested that treating patients with the rheumatoid arthritis drug etanercept (Enbrel) could restore speech. The problem? Questions about methodology and conflict of interest arose, according to the Reuters report. And a video released as evidence of the treatment's success did not offer much encouragement. In it, a nearly nonverbal patient appears to recover the ability to name objects, such as canoe and bench, but not much more. (Learn more about Alzheimer's Disease here.)

Wii-hab therapy: Video games for burn patients
We've already raved about the Nintendo Wii's fun games and health potential. It's been used as a tool for rehabbing seniors recovering from strokes and broken bones, and now therapists from the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center are using the Wii to help burn patients recover from their injuries. Unlike traditional video-game consoles, which engage only the thumbs and fingers, the Wii requires broader swinging and stretching motions (think tennis, baseball, bowling)—the kind of movements that are the most valuable (if the most painful) to recovering burn victims or patients with skin grafts. Also used at Cornell: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

Belly-button incision could make kidney donation easier
Cleveland Clinic surgeons have pioneered a new kidney-removal procedure that requires only one small incision to a donor's belly button. As the AP reports, the benefits of the novel navel job—compared with today's standard four-incision laparoscopic procedure—have been dramatic: You need one month to recover, down from three; you get back to work faster; and you take less pain medication. During the procedure, doctors insert a tube containing a camera and surgical tools into the navel and inflate the belly with carbon dioxide. The doctors cut the kidney from its surrounding connecting tissue, wrap it in plastic (it shrinks when the blood supply is cut), and pull it out.