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March Health News

Written by Dr Tom Nolan for Doctify

With the worst of the winter out of the way and the days getting longer I’m in a positive mood. I’m looking forward to my next cough, I’m less worried about losing my memory and I might even donate a kidney.

Dementia epidemic? What epidemic?

Researchers reported this month that dementia rates have been falling. And they don’t know why. The research comes from the famous Framingham Heart Study, on which many of our guidelines for blood pressure and cholesterol control are based. The study has followed over 5000 people aged over 60 from the town of Framingham in Massachusetts for the last forty years. The fall in dementia rates, from 3.6 new cases per 100 people in the late 1970s to 2 cases per 100 over the last decade, is the opposite of what experts had been predicting. Whether it applies to the general population isn’t clear, but it’s good News nonetheless!


Doctor, I’m glad I have this cough

The next time you have a cough remember the next piece of research and think of your cough as a sign that your body is in great shape, doing what it’s supposed to do to keep you alive. That’s because coughing protects you from chest infections caused by inhaling liquid into your lungs, known as aspiration. This was shown in a study of 72 patients who were in hospital following a stroke the stronger their cough, the less likely they were to develop pneumonia. Although this was a small study in patients who were acutely unwell, its a reminder that having symptoms isn’t always a bad thing.


Exercise and blood pressure

Here’s some encouraging news for anyone who is getting fit but still struggling to lose weight. Even if you’re not losing weight, being fitter seems to help avoid problems like high blood pressure. Researchers recruited all conscripts to the Swedish army from 1969 until 1997. Over 1.5 million of them. They measured their weight and aerobic capacity (i.e. fitness level) when they joined the army aged 18 and saw who went on to develop high blood pressure. As you might expect, those who were overweight were more likely to develop high blood pressure. But being unfit was also a risk factor, even if their weight was normal. Whether fitness levels as a teenager have any effect on life expectancy isn’t clear as the study only looked at who went on to develop high blood pressure.


Donor dilemma

Fortunately I’ve never had to decide whether I’d donate a kidney to a loved one. Hopefully I never will. But if I did, I think I’d like to know what the chances were of my one remaining kidney packing up. What level of risk would you be prepared to take for a loved one? Fortunately, the chances of kidney donors going on to need dialysis are probably lower that you’d expect, as reported in a new study in the NEJM. It differs according to race and gender, but only about 1.5% of black men and 0.2% of white women kidney donors go on to need dialysis 15 years on.


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