NPR Health

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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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.

Friday was supposed to be the deadline for a key part of the health care law: states were to tell the federal government about their progress on building a state exchange. But the deadline has been extended for the second time in a week. States now have until Dec. 14.

There's nothing quite like a deadline to focus the mind. Even a deadline that's not quite real.

Friday was originally the day that states were supposed to not only tell the federal government whether they planned to run their own health exchanges but also how they planned to do it.

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We turn now to Ireland and a controversy over a young Indian woman there, who died after being refused an abortion in a hospital.

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, her case is reigniting debate over the near total ban on abortions in Ireland.

Online insurance markets set to begin selling health coverage to consumers next October may be hampered by software delays.

State regulators learned late last week that an electronic system most insurers will use to submit their policies for state and federal approvals won't be ready for testing next month, as originally planned. The lag is being blamed on the wait for several regulations from the Obama administration that are needed to update the software.

Tens of millions of Americans can't follow the government's guidelines for healthful eating because they can't afford or access enough fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it's because they live in what's known as a "food desert," places devoid of markets with a good variety of quality fresh foods.

Update 8:20 p.m: Late Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius extended the deadline until Dec. 14 for states to decide whether to run an exchange on their own.


Come Friday, states will have to decide whether they will run their own insurance exchanges under President Obama's sweeping health law.

These exchanges will be where people and small businesses go to shop for insurance.

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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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

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.

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