FRIDAY, Feb. 23, 2024 (HealthDay news) — Artificial intelligence can match and even outperform human eye doctors in diagnosing and treating glaucoma, a new study finds. The GPT-4 system from OpenAI did as well or better than ophthalmologists in assessing 20 different patients for glaucoma and retinal disease, researchers report Feb. 22 in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology. “AI was particularly surprising in its proficiency in handling both glaucoma and retina patient cases, matching the accuracy and completeness of diagnoses and treatment suggestions made by human doctors in a clinical note format,” said senior study author Dr. Louis Pasquale, deputy chair for ophthalmology research at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. The results suggest that AI could play an important support role for ophthalmologists as they try to manage patients’ glaucoma. “Just as the AI application Grammarly can teach us how to be better writers, GPT-4 can give us valuable guidance on how to be better clinicians, especially in terms of how we document findings of patient exams,” Pasquale said in an infirmary news release. Glaucoma is notoriously difficult to diagnose. About half of the 3 million Americans with glaucoma don’t know they have it, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Glaucoma occurs when fluid pressure builds up inside the eye, damaging the optic nerve and creating blind spots in…  read on >  read on >

Infection with the COVID-19 virus triggers the production of an immune system protein that’s long been associated with fatigue, muscle ache and depression. Trouble is, for folks suffering from Long COVID this protein overproduction does not stop, researchers at the University of Cambridge report. “We have found a potential mechanism underlying Long COVID which could represent a biomarker — that is, a tell-tale signature of the condition. We hope that this could help to pave the way to develop therapies and give some patients a firm diagnosis,” said study co-author Dr. Benjamin Krishna. There was another silver lining from the research: Vaccination against SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, appears to lower production of the culprit protein, called interferon gamma (IFN-γ). “If SARS-CoV-2 continues to persist in people with Long COVID, triggering an IFN-γ response, then vaccination may be helping to clear this,” said Krishna, who works at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease. According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 7% of Americans say they have experienced Long COVID. Most cite persistent fatigue as the major symptom, but Long COVID can also bring brain fog, chronic cough and other issues. The exact causes of the illness have remained unclear. In the latest study, Krishna’s team tracked outcomes for 111 COVID patients admitted to…  read on >  read on >

A ban on menthol cigarettes would likely lead to a meaningful reduction in smoking rates, a new review argues. Almost a quarter of menthol smokers quit smoking altogether after menthol cigarettes were banned in their country or community, researchers report Feb. 21 in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. “This review provides compelling evidence for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposed ban on menthol cigarettes,” said lead researcher Sarah Mills, an assistant professor of health behavior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In December, the White House in December announced that it would postpone until March a ban on menthol cigarettes that has been in the works for years. “Our review of the evidence suggests this delay is causing harm to the health of the public, especially among Black communities,” Mills said in a journal news release.  Menthol cigarettes have been targeted by public health officials because studies show the cooling effects of menthol masks the harshness of tobacco, making it easier for young people to start smoking. For this study, researchers conducted an evidence review, pooling data from studies that have examined the effects of menthol cigarette bans. More than 170 U.S. cities, two U.S. states, the European Union and several other countries have already banned the sale of menthol cigarettes, researchers said. About 50% of menthol smokers switched to non-menthol cigarettes…  read on >  read on >

A person’s diet can influence their risk of obstructive sleep apnea, a new study says. Those who eat a healthy plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and nuts are less likely to suffer sleep apnea, according to findings published Feb. 20 in the journal ERJ Open Research. On the other hand, people who eat more meat or indulge in unhealthy vegetarian diets high in sugar, carbs and salt are more at risk for sleep apnea. “These results highlight the importance of the quality of our diet in managing the risk of OSA [obstructive sleep apnea],” said lead researcher Yohannes Melaku, from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. People with sleep apnea often snore loudly and their breathing starts and stops during the night, causing regular brief wakefulness, researchers explained in background notes. Sleep apnea can increase a person’s risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, researchers said. For this study, the team analyzed responses from more than 14,000 participants in a regular U.S. survey on health and nutrition. This is the first large-scale analysis investigating the link between diet and sleep apnea, Melaku said. “There’s a gap in our knowledge of how overall dietary patterns affect OSA risk,” Melaku said in a journal news release. “With this study, we wanted to address that gap and explore the association between…  read on >  read on >

Postmenopausal or peri-menopausal women are often hampered by vaginal dryness, which can put the brakes on a healthy sex life. It doesn’t have to stay that way, experts advised. Numerous products are available to help maintain vaginal lubrication. “After and around the time of menopause, your body makes less estrogen,” Dr. Cynthia Abraham explained in a column from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Estrogen is a hormone that helps maintain the vagina’s lubrication, elasticity and thickness,” said Abraham, an ob/gyn at Mount Sinai in New York City. “Low levels of estrogen can cause thinning, drying and inflammation of vaginal walls. This is called vaginal atrophy.” Dryness can also affect the external tissues of the vulva, Abraham noted. “Women with vulvar dryness often notice irritation when they’re putting on their underwear,” she said. According to Abraham, it’s also common for women to develop the condition in the years that precede menopause. “Often, my patients notice symptoms when they haven’t been sexually active for a long time,” Abraham said. “Then they are intimate with a partner and find that sex is painful.”  What to do Luckily, there are numerous products to choose from to help lubricate the vagina. According to Abraham and the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Shannon Laughlin-Tommaso, these include: Vaginal mosturizers. These include (among others) brands such as K-Y Liquibeads and Replens, Laughlin-Tommaso said…  read on >  read on >

Niacin is an essential B vitamin, but new research reveals that too much of it may harm your heart. Found in many foods that millions of Americans eat, excessive amounts of niacin can trigger inflammation and damage blood vessels, scientists report in the Feb. 19 issue of the journal Nature Medicine. “The average person should avoid niacin supplements now that we have reason to believe that taking too much niacin can potentially lead to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” senior study author Dr. Stanley Hazen, chair of cardiovascular and metabolic sciences at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, told NBC News. The recommended daily allowance of niacin for men is 16 milligrams per day, while it is 14 milligrams a day for women who are not pregnant, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ever since the 1940s, when grains and cereals began to be fortified with niacin, Americans have gotten plenty of the vitamin in their diet. The move to fortify those foods was prompted by evidence suggesting that very low levels of niacin could trigger the development of a potentially fatal condition called pellagra, said Hazen, who is also co-section head of preventive cardiology at the Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute. Ironically, niacin supplements were once prescribed by doctors to improve cholesterol levels. Dr. Amanda Doran, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiovascular medicine…  read on >  read on >

Folks can lose weight even if they pack all their weekly exercise into one or two days, a new study finds. Guidelines recommend that people get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise. “Weekend warriors” who condense all that exercise into one or two days each week can lose about the same amount of weight as people who perform shorter sessions across more days, researchers report Feb. 20 in the journal Obesity. That’s good news for people who find it hard to fit physical activity into their daily lives, researchers said. “The weekend warrior pattern is worth promoting in individuals who cannot meet the recommended frequency in current guidelines,” said study author Lihua Zhang, a health care researcher at Fuwai Hospital’s National Center for Cardiovascular Diseases in Beijing. Zhang noted that office employees, bus drivers and other workers who have to sit for most of the workday could benefit from such an approach to exercise. “Those people are struggling to catch up in their exercise plan in daily life to offset the hazard of a sedentary lifestyle but have less free time to get to the gym,” Zhang said in a journal news release. “Our study could offer them an alternative choice to keep fit.” For the study, researchers analyzed data on more than…  read on >  read on >

When settling into your senior years, you need to be especially careful when taking medicines, herbal remedies and supplements, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says. That’s because older adults are likely to use more prescription and over-the-counter medications, which increases the risk of harmful side effects and drug interactions, the FDA said in a news release. In addition, physical changes associated with aging can affect the way your body handles medications, and even how different medicines work in your body. For example, the liver and kidneys might not work as well as they do for younger people, which can affect how a drug breaks down and leaves the body. Even medications that worked well for a person during their youth and middle age might need to be adjusted or changed later in life, the FDA says. Keeping all that in mind, the FDA has some important safety tips: Take medication as prescribed. The best medicine in the world won’t work unless taken correctly. Take prescriptions following the directions on the label and your doctor’s instructions. For example, medicines that treat chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes work only when taken regularly and as directed. Don’t skip doses or stop taking a prescribed drug without first consulting with your doctor. Not taking medicine as prescribed can lead to even worse illness,…  read on >  read on >

A shift in parenting early in a child’s development might help curb the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), new research suggests. When a preschooler exhibits an “excitable or exuberant” temperament, dialing down a “controlling” style of parenting in favor of what’s known as “directive” parenting could mean milder ADHD symptoms as a child ages, Canadian researchers report. “More directive parenting, which is not controlling but guides the child with verbal and physical cues, can help develop the child’s self-regulatory skills and prevent their ADHD symptoms from increasing,” explained study co-author Dr. Heather Henderson, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario. Psychologists have long understood that the interplay of a child’s temperament with their mom and dad’s parenting style can play a role in how ADHD unfolds. Both factors influence the executive function of the child’s brain, the researchers explained. One type of temperament — exuberant — has been tied to the onset of ADHD, the team added. Exuberance involves “high excitement, curiosity and positive responses to unfamiliar people and contexts,” Henderson explained in a university news release. While exuberance has some positive aspects, it is also linked to troubles with self-regulation of behaviors, as well as issues around working memory and flexible thinking. Combined with family factors, an exuberant temperament “might predispose some kids to develop ADHD symptoms,” Henderson…  read on >  read on >

The harms of smoking are many, but new research delivers evidence of another troubling type of damage: Lighting up alters your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to disease and infections even years after quitting. “Stop smoking as soon as possible,” study co-author Dr. Violaine Saint-André, a specialist in computational biology at Institut Pasteur in Paris, told CNN. “The key message of our study, especially to the youth, is that there seems to be a significant interest for long-term immunity to never start smoking.” The findings, published Feb. 14 in the journal Nature, show just how smoking lowers the body’s ability to fight off infection, and that it may also raise the risk of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. “The major discovery of our study is that smoking has short-term but also long-term effects on adaptive immunity associated with B-cells and regulatory T-cells and with epigenetic changes,” Saint-André noted. To arrive at that conclusion, the French scientists looked at blood samples gathered over time from a group of 1,000 healthy people ages 20 to 69. The researchers wanted to see how numerous variables, including lifestyle, socioeconomic status, eating habits, age, sex and genetics, affected immune response. During the study, they exposed the blood samples to common germs like E. coli bacteria and the flu virus while also measuring immune response. What did they discover? Smoking, body-mass index and a…  read on >  read on >