In Brief


March 23, 2009

Achy head? It could be the weather

A variety of headache triggers are relatively well-known: red wine, chocolate, soft cheese and the beginning of the menstrual cycle. But although weather, especially changes in air pressure, is frequently cited as a headache trigger, the connection has not been shown in a large, well-designed study.

Now researchers have found that high temperatures and low air pressure can indeed trigger migraines, but say there doesn't seem to be a clear association between such severe headaches and air pollution.

In a large study published online in the journal Neurology, researchers from Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard School of Public Health decided to explore the role of pollution in headaches, because fine-particulate pollutants cause or complicate other health problems, such as heart attacks, stroke, congestive heart failure and asthma.

The study included 7,054 headache patients of both genders and varying ages and ethnic groups who were seen at the medical center's emergency room between May 2000 and December 2007. Researchers looked at temperature levels, barometric pressure, humidity, fine-particulate matter and other pollutants during the three days before each patient was seen in the ER and for a control day, in which the patient did not report a severe headache.

A rise in temperature was strongly associated with headaches: An increase of 5 degrees Celsius (or 9 degrees Fahrenheit) increased the risk of migraine by 7.4 percent. Low air pressure, which often precedes storms, played a smaller role.

Los Angeles Times

'Smart drug' might be risky for the healthy

A so-called "smart drug" popular with young people might carry more of an addiction risk than thought, a small government study suggests. Scans of 10 healthy men showed that the prescription drug Provigil caused changes in the brain's pleasure center, very much like potentially habit-forming classic stimulants. Modafinil, the drug's generic name, is sometimes used as an illegal study aid by college students.

"It would be wonderful if one could take a drug and be smarter, faster or have more energy," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who led the study with a Brookhaven National Laboratory scientist. "But that is like fairy tales. We currently have nothing that has those benefits without side effects."

The study, which appeared in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association, might bust the myth that the drug is safe for healthy people, experts said.

Associated Press

Kids' treehouses: Put safety first

Medical researchers in Ohio published a paper this month suggesting national safety standards for treehouses after statistics showed that 2,800 children a year are hurt in accidents linked to them. The injuries ranged from bruises to broken bones, but all were serious enough to send the children to the emergency room.

As springtime-building season nears, the findings put ambitious kids and handy dads on alert. To build or not to build is not the only question. Another is: If you were a treehouse, what kind would you be? "There are plenty of serious injuries if you look at any activity," said Lara McKenzie, lead author on the paper from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "But there are a lot of fractures and serious injuries from treehouses."

Using statistics from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, researchers found treehouse injuries to be far less common than playground injuries, which account for about 200,000 emergency-room visits a year.

But the experts suggested that many of the 2,800 treehouse injuries could be avoided by employing some common sense: Build a treehouse lower than 10 feet up, put several inches of soft mulch below it and use solid, 38-inch-high barriers instead of guardrails.

Chicago Tribune

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