NPR Health

Most people try to avoid ticks. But not Tom Mather.

The University of Rhode Island researcher goes out of his way to find them.

He looks for deer ticks — poppy seed-sized skin burrowers — in the woods of southern Rhode Island. These are the teeny-tiny carriers of Lyme disease, an illness that can lead to symptoms ranging from nasty rashes to memory loss.

The nation's largest group of pediatricians is urging its members to write prescriptions in advance to enable teenagers to have fast access to the so-called morning-after birth control pill.

For the growing number of teenage girls who are incarcerated each year, detention may be the only time they get health care.

But the care provided to girls in juvenile detention is often a poor match for their needs.

One reason: It's a system that was designed for boys.

For centuries, European mothers who felt they were incapable of caring for a newborn could leave the baby in a "foundling wheel," a rotating crib set up at the entrance to a convent or a place of worship.

Today, there's a debate over the modern version of the practice: the baby box.

At least 11 European countries, as well as Russia and India, now have baby boxes, sometimes known as baby windows or hatches.

If your kids absolutely must jump around at their next birthday party, an inflatable moonwalk or bounce house may be a safer bet than a backyard trampoline. But only a little safer.

The wildly popular mosh pits for the school-age set have become a common source of injuries that send kids to the hospital.

In 1974, Phillip Kunz and his family got a record number of Christmas cards. In the weeks before Christmas they came daily, sometimes by the dozen. Kunz still has them in his home, collected in an old photo album.

"Dear Phil, Joyce and family," a typical card reads, "we received your holiday greeting with much joy and enthusiasm ... Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's. Love Lou, Bev and the children."

Albert Einstein was a smart guy. Everybody knows that. But was there something about the structure of his brain that made it special?

Scientists have been trying to answer that question ever since his death. Previously unpublished photographs of Einstein's brain taken soon after he died were analyzed last week in the journal Brain. The images and the paper provide a more complete anatomical picture and may help shed light on his genius.

Study Questions Mammograms 'Overdiagnosis'

Nov 22, 2012

New analysis in The New England Journal of Medicine finds mammography screenings overdiagnosed breast cancer about a third of the time. The study says that although mammograms have greatly increased the detection of cancer in its early stages, they haven't had much impact on reducing deaths from breast cancer. Renee Montagne talks with Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society about implications for screening.

Mixed Martial Arts Helps Some Veterans With PTSD

Nov 22, 2012

Mixed martial arts is a cross between kickboxing and wrestling. It isn't a replacement for PTSD therapies but it is a coping mechanism. And while one psychiatrist says mixed martial arts is not therapy, he adds it could be therapeutic.

The endless debate over routine mammograms is getting another kick from an analysis that sharply questions whether the test really does what it's supposed to.

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, coauthor of the analysis of mammography's impact, which was just published in The New England Journal of Medicine, tell Shots that the aim was to "get down to a very basic question."

Why people yawn is a mystery. But yawning starts in the womb.

Past studies have used ultrasound images to show fetuses yawning, but some scientists have argued that real yawns were getting confused with fetuses simply opening their mouths.

So Nadja Reissland, a researcher at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, used a more detailed ultrasound technique to get images of fetal faces that could distinguish a true yawn from just an open mouth.

LGBT Housing Helps Seniors Stay Connected

Nov 21, 2012

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CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, the duo of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis is breaking down barriers in rap. They talk with us about their music and its message in just a few minutes.

New HIV infections have dropped more than 50 percent across 25 developing countries since 2001, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS reported on Tuesday. And, transmission of the virus from mothers to infants has decreased by 24 percent in just the past two years.

The time has come for the pill to be available over-the-counter, the nation's leading group of obstetricians and gynecologists says.

Why? "There's a 50 percent unintended pregnancy rate in the U.S., which is extremely high for a resource-rich country," says Dr. James T. Breeden, president of the American Congress of Obstetrician and Gynecologists. Easier access to oral contraceptives could go a long way to bringing that number down, he tells Shots.

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Uncle Sam wants you to email your doctor. A federal law passed in 2009 says that physicians have to start offering their patients online communication, or Medicare will start docking how much it pays them in the future.

Some patients hope that having online access to their doctors will mean they can cut down on how often they have to go to the doctor's office. But fresh research suggests that patients with online access actually schedule more office visits.

If you haven't heard, yesterday was World Toilet Day, and its sponsors, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and the World Toilet Organization, suggest you take a moment to consider the profound luxury of good sanitation. A mind-boggling 2.6 billion people on Earth don't have toilets, and WSSCC and WTO are among the parties set on bringing that number down.

You've got questions about the health law? The Obama administration has some answers. Finally.

Now that the Supreme Court has found the Affordable Care Act constitutional and the president's re-election made clear that big chunks of the law will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, the administration is finally releasing rules of the road that states and insurance companies have been clamoring for.

It's natural for patients returning home from the hospital after surgery to feel a sense of relief that the worst is over. But, research published this week suggests those patients and their doctors shouldn't let their guard down too soon.

More than 40 percent of all patients who experience complications after surgery experience them at home, according to a study in the journal Archives of Surgery. Half of those complications occur within nine days of patients leaving the hospital.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia, but health insurance doesn't cover it and patients often scramble to cover the cost.

"It's an expensive medication, no doubt about it," says Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a patient advocacy group. "Patients are struggling to afford it, regardless of whether it's available in their state."

A massive research project in California is beginning to show how genes, health habits and the environment can interact to cause diseases. And it's all possible because 100,000 people agreed to contribute some saliva in the name of science.

Many teens aspire to have lean bodies and big muscles, like the professional athletes they so admire. But they don't always want (or know how) to sweat to get them. A new study finds a surprisingly high number of teens have used steroids to try to slim down and bulk up.

Six percent of teenagers say they've used steroid drugs in the past year, which is a lot higher than the 1.1 percent reported in a 2011 survey.

The Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, is an extreme event — a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, topped off by a marathon.

Throughout the event, racers drink plenty of fluids and eat energy bars or gels. Most also take a performance-enhancing substance that is legal and effective — caffeine.

"While I'm racing, caffeine is actually a pretty important part of my day, particularly in the Ironman, where it's such a long race," says Sarah Piampiano, a professional triathlete.

As we've reported, there's a backlash brewing to sedentary office life as more people realize how sitting all day can do a body wrong.

I work at home and often sit in front of my computer doing research and writing. So I thought I'd give a treadmill desk a try.

This Is How Diabetes Swept The Nation

Nov 16, 2012

When it comes to diabetes, just about everyone has heard there's an epidemic upon us.

In 2010, about 18.8 million people of all ages in the U.S. had been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 7 million had diabetes but hadn't been diagnosed.

How much have things changed?

Back in 1995, about 4.5 percent of adults in the U.S. had been diagnosed with diabetes. By 2010, the prevalence had zoomed to 8.2 percent.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Now, to an unusual drama playing out in the NBA. It involves the Houston Rockets and their first-round draft choice, the 6-foot-8-inch-tall forward named Royce White. White suffers from general anxiety disorder, and the illness is complicating his transition to life in the NBA. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now as he does most Fridays. Hi there, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

When it comes to tallying our liquid calories, we're not always so accurate. Does that tiny 5-ounce serving of wine really count as a glass of wine? (The answer is yes.)

So as the season of celebrations heats up, and holiday cheer is delivered in the form of bubbly, beer or booze, just how many calories are we consuming from alcohol on a random Tuesday night?

Almost as much as we get from soda, apparently — an average of about 100 calories a day. That may not sound like a lot, but it can add up.

It's a question that's baffled evolutionary theorists for decades: if survival of the fittest is the rule, how have the genes that contribute to serious, debilitating mental disorders survived?

James Watson: The Double Helix and Beyond

Nov 16, 2012

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Well, luckily that we lost Dr. Crabtree that - I'm sorry that we did lose him, but fortunately for us we have our next guest with us here, it's Dr. James Watson, sitting right here with us. Welcome to the program.

JAMES WATSON: I'm glad to be back with you.

FLATOW: Well, let me begin our interview a little bit early. You are certainly not unknown, Watson and Crick, and you have also a new book out now called "The Double Helix," and it's got all kinds of annotations, and what's new about this version of the book?

One of the world's largest health funding agencies — the Global Fund — made two big decisions Thursday.

The fund appointed Dr. Mark Dybul as its new executive director. Dybul is best known for leading the international fight against HIV during the Bush's administration through the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS.

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