Thursday, May 3, 2012

Health Buzz: More Babies Born to Opiate-Addicted Moms

More Babies Born to Painkiller-Addicted Moms

The number of babies born addicted to opiates, the class of drugs that includes heroin, methadone, and some prescription painkillers, has nearly tripled in the past decade. In fact, a baby is born every hour with signs of opiate drug withdrawal, according to a study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Neonatal abstinence syndrome, or becoming addicted to drugs in utero, causes withdrawal once the baby is out of the womb. Symptoms include seizures and tremors, respiratory distress, vomiting, and an inability to eat without becoming sick. It's unclear what kind of long-term health effects kids born to opiate-addicted moms suffer; some studies suggest they grow up with a higher risk of developmental problems. The costs associated with treating these newborns, however, is more concrete, reaching $720 million in 2009. Most are covered by the publicly financed Medicaid program. "This study is part of a bigger call to the fact that opiates are becoming a big problem in this country," study author Stephen Patrick, a fellow in neonatal-perinatal medicine at the University of Michigan, told Reuters. Opiate-addicted infants "are far more inconsolable than other babies. They appear uncomfortable, sometimes they breathe a little faster... they're scratching their faces."

Can Your Mental Health Affect Your Longevity?

There's truth to the adage that you're only as old as you feel. "Physical well-being and subjective well-being are two sides of the same coin," says Howard Friedman, author of The Longevity Project, a research-based look at who lives the longest and why. "Mental health affects physical health, and physical health affects mental health."

Research paints a compelling argument. Adults with serious mental illness like schizophrenia die about 25 years earlier than the general population, according to a 2007 report from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. They're 3.4 times more likely to die of heart disease or diabetes, 3.8 times more likely to die in an accident, 5 times more likely to die of respiratory ailments, and 6.6 times more likely to die of pneumonia or flu, found the team led by Joseph Parks, director of the Missouri Institute of Mental Health.

Why? They often get little exercise, leading to obesity and hiking the odds of diabetes and heart disease. They're also more likely than others to smoke and have alcohol and drug-abuse problems. It's common for their medical needs to slip through the cracks, too, because they often cannot adequately advocate for their own health.

But evidence of the mind-body connection transcends serious mental illness and the unhealthy habits that often go along with it. Take negative emotions, for example. While they may not cause a disease, they appear to accelerate its progression, says Laura Carstensen, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of A Long Bright Future. Research suggests that HIV infections progress faster in gay men who are closeted than those who live openly. That's likely because the brain translates that fear of rejection and isolation into physical stress, which can weaken the immune system. "We're only beginning to understand the potential mechanisms that could be involved," she says. "But it's clear that people who are more positive are more likely to survive, and to survive longer." [Read more: Can Your Mental Health Affect Your Longevity?]

 Acid Reflux Relief—Without a Pill

Feeling the burn? That painful sensation in your chest or throat—acid reflux, or what doctors call GERD—isn't intractable. Lifestyle and dietary tweaks can bring relief, experts say. "Simple [changes] can make a big difference," says gastroenterologist Jorge Rodriguez, author of the new book The Acid Reflux Solution (Ten Speed Press, $21.99). That's promising, since researchers warn that heartburn drugs may do more harm than good, increasing the risk of infection with an intestinal bacteria or even the likelihood of contracting pneumonia.

Here are nine easy ways to alleviate heartburn without swallowing a pill:

1. Raise the head of your bed. Most acid reflux occurs during sleep. To prevent nighttime attacks, "you need to position your head at an angle," so it's higher than your abdomen, says Rodriguez. Elevate the head of your bed a minimum of 30 degrees, perhaps with a firm foam-rubber wedge, or by putting bricks under your bedposts. "The worst thing you can do is lie flat down, especially right after eating." Give yourself at least 30 minutes to digest a meal before hitting the sack.

2. Sleep on your left side. Research from the Stanford School of Medicine suggests that snoozing on your right side worsens reflux. So does stomach sleeping.

3. Chew your food well. Forget wolfing down your meals. Digestion begins in the mouth, and if you don't chew your food well, you're asking for trouble. Chew each bite for 20 seconds. [Read more: Acid Reflux Relief—Without a Pill]

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Angela Haupt is a health reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at

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