NPR Health

Some rappers have an impressive ability to make up lyrics on the fly, in a style known as freestyle rap.

These performers have a lot in common with jazz musicians, it turns out.

Scientists have found artists in both genres are using their brains in similar ways when they improvise.

Members of a House subcommittee clashed repeatedly Wednesday with U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Margaret Hamburg over the outbreak of meningitis caused by contaminated steroid injections.

A liberal think-tank closely allied with the Obama administration is proposing a health care spending plan it says could save hundreds of billions of dollars in entitlement spending without hurting middle- and low-income patients.

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As the White House and Congress debate taxes and entitlement reform, an influential liberal think-tank is offering what appears to be an olive branch. It comes at a time when many Democrats are trying to protect entitlements, such as Medicare. At the same time, Republicans say those entitlements are too expensive in their present form.

In Coney Island, on the southern end of Brooklyn, long lines of EMS trucks and buses of National Guardsmen rolled down the roads this week — trekking from residential building to building.

Since Friday, dozens of troops and officials from the City Health Department have been dropping in at the hardest hit areas of New York, making sure all residents are equipped with the essentials: Do they have food? Water? Do they need medical attention?

In recent years, a disease spread by ticks has become more common across the country.

Lyme disease causes a skin rash, and in some cases, more serious symptoms. The rash usually goes away with antibiotics, but some people say they have other symptoms that persist for months or years.

Last spring, the global health community got some alarming news about its last, best treatment for malaria. The artemisinin-based drugs were losing their potency at two different places in Southeast Asia: in western Cambodia and along the border between Thailand and Myanmar.

I, Robot: Paraplegics Get An Assist

Nov 14, 2012

A robotic suit that gives the wearer superhuman powers sounds like the stuff of science fiction. But technology like that is making the leap from fantasy to reality.

Though much of the gear is still experimental, the equipment is giving some paraplegics a chance to walk again.

Pakistan Reaches A Milestone In Ending Polio

Nov 14, 2012

There's some fresh progress in the battle against polio in one of the three countries where it remains endemic.

Colorado has been moving to set up an insurance exchange since the health care law was passed. The government, insurance industry and the hospitals say they are glad their work over the last year has been worth it.

Since 2011, Nevada has been quietly implementing a state exchange. Although the state joined the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, its governor said Nevada made a decision to build the exchange on their own. Pauline Bartolone looks at how a Republican governor is implementing the federal health care law.

When reporter Tony Dokoupil was a teenager, he found out that his father had sold marijuana, but he just thought his parents "were hippies." A few years ago, while working on a story about his father's drug dealer past, he discovered that actually, in the 1970s and '80s, his father, Anthony Dokoupil, had been a big-time marijuana smuggler.

"He was arrested in the early '90s on a job selling 17 tons of marijuana," Dokoupil tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "which was enough at the time to roll a joint for every college kid in the U.S."

Skipping breakfast to take a medical test is nobody's idea of fun. And it's one reason why many people never get around to having a cholesterol test.

So it's good news that some doctors are now saying that for most people, a nonfasting cholesterol test will do just fine.

But who gets to take a pass on the unpleasant skip-your-breakfast routine? To find out, Shots called Samia Mora. She's a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Death, But Softly

Nov 13, 2012

It was 1569, or maybe early 1570, when it happened: A young French gentleman was out for a ride with his workers, all of them on horseback, when suddenly, "like a thunderbolt," he felt something thick and fleshy slam him from behind. (It was an overzealous, galloping assistant who couldn't stop in time.) Michel de Montaigne's horse crumbled, he went flying up, then down, he crashed to the ground. Then things went black.

When he came to, a minute or so later, he says,

High-Deductible Health Plans Can Cost Patients A Discount

Nov 13, 2012

As workers consider their health insurance options this fall, chances are there's one on the open-enrollment menu with a deductible of more than a $1,000.

Coverage like that is often linked to a tax-advantaged financial savings account to pay for medical expenses that fall below the hefty deductible.

Immediately after last week's election, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced the state would not be setting up its own health insurance exchange. Next door in Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback announced that Kansas will have no involvement in running a state exchange either. The moves open the door for increased federal involvement in health care in staunchly Republican territory.

Toothbutter: noun. Butter spread so thickly as to reveal teeth marks upon biting.

The fact that this word exists in the Danish language should help to explain what politicians were up against when they introduced the "fat tax" just over a year ago. This is a country that loves it some butter (and meat, and all things dreadful to the arteries).

Last week's election may have settled the fate of the federal Affordable Care Act, but its implementation after months of uncertainty has caught many of the players unprepared.

There's more than deer lurking in the New England woods these days.

Diseases carried by ticks that hitch rides on deer are rising in the Northeast, researchers said Monday at a meeting about tropical diseases.

In particular, babesiosis — a disease that mimics malaria — is catching up with Lyme disease in some communities.

Hundreds of health care workers in Georgia are losing their licenses to practice because of a problem created by a new immigration law in the state.

The law requires everyone — no matter where they were born — to prove their citizenship or legal residency to renew their professional licenses.

With too few state workers to process the extra paperwork, licenses for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals are expiring.

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I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later, if you wonder what Olympian Leo Manzano listens to to get fired up or cooled down, you need not wonder any more. We'll find out in a few minutes.

In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class.

With most Americans fat or fatter, you'd think we'd be lightening up on the anti-fat attitudes.

Alas, no. Even doctors often think their overweight patients are weak-willed.

But changing negative attitudes about body size might be as simple as changing what you see. When women in England were shown photos of plus-sized women in neutral gray leotards, they became more tolerant.

The public health world has waited for the results for more than a year. After a half-billion dollars in R&D, would the front-runner malaria vaccine protect the top-priority targets: young infants?

The results are disappointing. The vaccine — called RTS,S for its various molecular components — reduced infants' risk of malaria by about a third.

Malaria remains a huge problem in much of the world, but over the past decade the number of people getting sick and dying from the disease has gone down dramatically.

Health workers attribute much of this progress to the widespread use of artemisinin-based drugs. The problem now is that resistance to these drugs is starting to develop in Southeast Asia.

The promise of a quick boost has made caffeine-rich energy drinks all the rage among soldiers in combat zones.

The troops endure long hours under difficult conditions. But those convenient pick-me-ups could come with a steep price: difficulty sleeping.

Soldiers in Afghanistan who consumed three or more energy drinks daily were more likely to sleep fewer hours and have their sleep disrupted because of stress or illness, researchers found.

Maybe I've got too many election results on my brain.

But the Pew Research Center's report about how people are using their mobile phones to get health information sent me to the data from the exit polls. Really.

Why?

The bottom line of the Pew report is that cellphone "owners who are Latino, African American, between the ages of 18-49, or hold a college degree are also more likely to gather health information" than other people on their mobile phones.

Nigeria is the world's epicenter for polio. It's the only place where cases are ticking up, and it's been the source of outbreaks in other countries since 2003.

There was a disappointing update from public health officials Thursday about the polio situation in Nigeria. Despite beefed-up efforts to vaccinate kids and a flood of new resources, Nigeria still hasn't turned the corner on polio.

In an election that highlighted the political divide over abortion, female voters turned out to be a key to victory for President Obama.

Public outcry over Republican Todd Akin's comments on "legitimate rape" ultimately gave Democrat Claire McCaskill a U.S. Senate victory in Missouri. And in Indiana, Republican Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock lost his race at least in part because of his comments about pregnancy resulting from rape.

The Republicans' comments pushed the abortion issue to the forefront — and also united and motivated abortion rights activists.

When Stephen Wheeler realized he had an aching, swollen finger, he called his primary care doctor, who works for MedStar Health. The doctor referred him to PromptCare, an urgent care clinic in a strip mall in the Baltimore suburbs.

Wheeler says he probably would have ended up waiting a long time if he'd gone to the doctor. And even longer at the emergency room.

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