The alcoholic personalityMore than a few scientists have...

Healthwatch

September 24, 1991|By Universal Press Syndicate

The alcoholic personality

More than a few scientists have been skeptical of claims that there's a gene for alcoholism. It seems just as likely that an inherited personality trait -- one that predisposes people to alcohol -- could explain why alcoholism runs in some families.

Doctors at the University of Connecticut came to a similar conclusion after studying 321 alcoholic patients. Almost half the patients were found to be anti-social -- a personality disorder that can be inherited. Anti-social patients tended to be aggressive and had a history of racking up petty crimes. They also tended to have started drinking at an earlier age than the other patients and relapsed more quickly after treatment. Because anti-social tendencies appear years before the drinking starts, the doctors think that it is this tendency that can be blamed for a drinking problem.

Of course, this isn't the only explanation for alcoholism, a complicated disease. But maybe we're treating the disease when we should be treating the personality disorder.

Ticklish test:

Doctors work hard to prevent babies from being born too soon because premature babies often arrive with health problems. For help in assessing a woman's risk of premature delivery, doctors now rely on a monitoring machine that's both cumbersome and expensive. Here with an alternative is Robert Eden, a gynecologist at Wayne State University, who claims that his test is cheaper and less time-consuming -- though many women may still find it awkward.

It works like this: After connecting the pregnant woman to a machine that measures uterine contractions, he asks her to stimulate her nipples. In pregnant women such stimulation triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone thought to make the uterus contract. The higher a woman's contraction frequency, the likelier her chances of an early delivery.

When Eden tried his test on 94 pregnant women, half showed a contraction rate that warned of premature delivery, including 16 of the 19 who actually went on to deliver well before the due date. These results point out the obvious -- the test isn't perfect. For one thing, there's a high probability that women who aren't in danger of an early delivery will be told they are. Another problem with Eden's test is its complexity. First, a woman must stimulate one breast for two minutes. If there are no contractions, she repeats the procedure three more times and then tickles both breasts for two 10-minute periods.

All in all, it's an awfully long time to be so uncomfortable. Many women may still opt for the other monitoring device, and to heck with the expense.

A fatal flu:

Every three years or so an outbreak of Kawasaki disease hits the United States. This is one of those years. We don't know what causes this flu-like disease, which hits toddlers, but it can damage a child's heart and even prove fatal if left untreated.

A gamma globulin shot can prevent heart damage, but only if given within the first few days after a child falls sick. Too often doctors fail to administer it in time because the disease is often mistaken for the flu. Kawasaki also begins with a high fever. Its other symptoms -- pink eyes, red tongue, inflamed throat and rashes on the hands and feet -- don't appear for several days.

So parents, be on the lookout for these symptoms, and if you recognize any, rush your child to a doctor.

Stress and illness:

People under stress from life's problems, such as job hassles, a death in the family or moving, are more than twice as likely as others to get colds, according to a recent study. The study of nearly 400 people, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, also found that the greater the level of stress, the greater the risk of developing a cold.

The results are the latest in a growing body of evidence that shows the impact of stress on illness and the body's defense against illness. Earlier studies have found a link between stress and such varied conditions as high blood pressure, chronic pain and infertility, but this study is the strongest evidence so far of the link between stress and the common cold.

"We still don't know how it works. That's a question that will need a lot more work," said Dr. David A.J. Tyrrell, who directed the British common cold research unit where the study was conducted.

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