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Health Highlights: Jan. 10, 2014

Health Highlights: Jan. 10, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Blood Test May Predict Heart Attack: Study

A blood test could help identify people at risk for heart attack, according to American researchers.

People who have a heart attack have unique cells in their blood and the team at the Scripps Research Institute in California is investigating whether testing people for these cells could predict who is about to have a heart attack, BBC News reported.

The researchers analyzed blood samples from 111 people and found that they could detect the difference between healthy people and heart attack patients. The study was published in the journal Physical Biology.

"The goal of this paper was to establish evidence that these circulating endothelial cells can be detected reliably in patients following a heart attack and do not exist in healthy controls, which we have achieved," said researcher Professor Peter Kuhn, BBC News reported.

"Our results were so significant relative to the healthy controls that the obvious next step is to assess the usefulness of the test in identifying patients during the early stages of a heart attack," he added.

"In the short to medium term, it is unlikely to change how people in the U.K. are treated as we already have good ways to treat and diagnose heart attacks, and targets to ensure rapid pain-to-treatment times," Dr. Mike Knapton, from the British Heart Foundation, told BBC News.

"This study appears to be laying the groundwork for future research to see if this test could be used to identify patients in the early stages of a heart attack," he added.

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Food Stamps Cuts Will Lead to Higher Health Costs: Critics

Cuts to the food stamp program could lead to bigger health bills for the federal government, critics warn.

Food stamps help feed 1 in 7 Americans and cost nearly $80 billion a year. A bill making its way through Congress is certain to include cuts to the food stamp program. Republicans want larger cuts than Democrats. Currently, Congressional negotiators are looking at cutting the food stamp program by about $800 million a year, the Associated Press reported.

The health and financial effects of hunger have not played a large role in the debate taking place in Congress. But critics say food stamp program reductions could lead to higher Medicaid and Medicare costs.

"If you're interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition," Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, founder of the Children's HealthWatch pediatric research institute, told the AP.

"People don't make the hunger-health connection," she added.

Potential hunger-related health risks include higher rates of diabetes and developmental problems among young children, the AP reported.

A study released last year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that a reduction of $2 billion a year in food stamps could lead to a $15 billion rise in medical costs for diabetes over the next decade.

Other studies suggest that children who don't get enough to eat are 30 percent more likely to have been hospitalized for a number of illnesses, the AP reported.

Children account for about half of food stamp recipients, and seniors for 10 percent.

"Food is medicine," Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, who has led the Democrats' efforts to protect the food stamp program, told the AP. "Critics focus almost exclusively on how much we spend, and I wish they understood that if we did this better, we could save a lot more money in health care costs."

 
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