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Here's What You Need To Know About The New Blood Pressure Medication Guidelines

If you have high blood pressure, your treatment may soon change.
New medication guidelines published Dec. 18 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggest that not everyone with high blood pressure needs to be on drugs for it.
Here's the bottom line: If you are 60 or older and the first number of your blood pressure is less than 150, you don't necessarily need to be on medication for it.
Keep in mind that this choice is up to your doctor — blood pressure is just one risk factor for heart disease, and people using medication to maintain a number in the 140s without serious side effects should not suddenly stop and let that number drift up.
The new guideline will decrease the number of people medicated for their high blood pressure, but not everyone's happy about it.
Blood pressure and heart disease
People with naturally low blood pressure (BP) have a lower risk of cardiovascular problems and live longer. High blood pressure, when left uncontrolled, can lead to heart attack, stroke, and aneurysm. Smoking, obesity, and inactivity are all risk factors for high blood pressure, which also has a genetic component that's passed down in families.
Lifestyle changes like exercise and healthy eating are our first line of defense against heart disease and are especially encouraged if BP creeps above the "normal" level of 120/80.
But not everyone gets their blood pressure low enough with just lifestyle changes, and if that first number climbs above 140 — a condition affecting about two-thirds of people 60 and older — you officially have high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Until now, that's when doctors suggest medication to help lower BP. About 50 million Americans are on blood pressure drugs of all different kinds, including diuretics ("water pills"), beta blockers (which slow your heartbeat), and ACE inhibitors (which help stop blood vessels from narrowing).
Why change the guidelines?
"Over the last ten years, doctors have had the notion that the lower blood pressure is, the better," study researcher Paul A. James, of the University of Iowa, told Business Insider.
The problem? While there's no question that medication is crucial for people at high risk of heart attack and stroke, the researchers concluded that there's not enough evidence that driving that number all the way to 140 — rather than simply to 150 — provides much additional benefit.
The panel arrived at the new guidelines after reviewing previous studies that looked at how patients fared on a variety of approaches to lowering BP — different drugs and exercise regimens, for example.
Blood pressure drugs, like any medications, have some side effects (such as dizziness), which can be especially serious in older adults. So, the new guidelines may come as a relief for some.
Still, says James, "I'm absolutely sure there will be controversy."
Not everyone's happy
James is right. Some people are wary that the new guidelines aren't officially endorsed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
The NHLBI initially assembled the panel but has since stopped being involved in making guidelines, so in the end they weren't certified by any official organization. Eric D. Peterson of the Duke Clinical Research Institute told Business Insider that this lack of official endorsement may leave some practicing doctors scratching their heads about how to proceed.
Most experts point out that more research needs to be done. "We have very limited data to tell us what the right thresholds are," said Peterson.
While he agrees that no study says 140 is the magic BP number for beginning treatment in older adults, he notes that one major study showed a notable benefit when older patients brought their number from the mid-150s to the mid-140s — so 150 isn't necessarily right either.
Though Peterson agrees that too-aggressive treatment to lower a patient's blood pressure down to a specific number can harm overall health, he compared the target numbers to speed limits: If you tell people the maximum speed is 65, they may drive at 75. Similarly, leaving the target at 140 may mean more Americans actually bring their number below 150.
"There is always some slippage between targets set for clinicians and [those] actually achieved in routine practice," he writes in an editorial in the same issue of JAMA.


The addition of carboplatin to a neoadjuvant regimen significantly increased the rate of pathologic complete response in patients with triple-negative breast cancer. The results from the CALGB/Alliance 40603 study were reported at the 2013 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (Abstract S5-01).
Bevacizumab (Avastin) was also evaluated in the study and had some effect when added to chemotherapy, but, due to its toxicity, was felt to be a less promising candidate for this approach.
“Based on these results, and those of theGeparSixto trial, if you decide that a patient with triple-negative breast cancer should receive neoadjuvant chemotherapy, then it makes sense to add carboplatin to your neoadjuvant regimen. You can comfortably do so with acceptable additional toxicities,” saidWilliam M. Sikov, MD, FACP, of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, who presented the findings.
The rationale for the study was the achievement of pathologic complete responses in about one-third of patients with triple-negative disease after taxane-based neoadjuvant chemotherapy, the likelihood that patients with pathologic complete responses will have improved recurrence-free and overall survival, the activity of platinum analogues in advanced triple-negative disease, and the finding that bevacizumab can increase response rates and time to progression, he said.
Study Details
The phase II CALGB 40603 study enrolled 454 patients with stage II/III triple-negative breast cancer, randomly assigning participants to standard neoadjuvant chemotherapy or chemotherapy plus either carboplatin, bevacizumab, or the combination of carboplatin/bevacizumab. 
Patients were randomly assigned in a 2×2 schema to receive weekly paclitaxel for 12 courses plus dose-dense anthracycline/cyclophosphamide with or without either the addition of bevacizumab every 2 weeks for nine cycles or the addition of carboplatin AUC 6 every 3 weeks for four cycles. The primary endpoint was pathologic complete response in the breast, and a secondary endpoint was pathologic complete response in the breast and the axillae.
Highest Rate Achieved With Combination
The investigators evaluated the effect of carboplatin on all patients receiving it (alone or in combination) and the same for bevacizumab.
“The addition of carboplatin to standard neoadjuvant chemotherapy significantly increased the pathologic complete response in the breast and also in the breast plus axillae,” Dr. Sikov reported.
For patients receiving carboplatin, 60% achieved a pathologic complete response, compared to 46% of those not receiving carboplatin, an increase of 76% (P = .0018). Defined by no disease in the breast or axillae, rates were 54% with carboplatin vs 41% without carboplatin, a 71% increase (P = .0029), Dr. Sikov reported.
Bevacizumab was active as well, yielding a statistically significant difference in the breast but not the axillae. Among patients receiving bevacizumab, 59% achieved a pathologic complete response in the breast, while 48% achieved this without bevacizumab, a 58% increase (P = .0089). Absence of residual disease in both breast and axilla was observed in 52% of patients receiving bevacizumab, and in 44% of those not receiving this drug, a 36% nonsignificant increase (P = .0570). 
When carboplatin and bevacizumab were used in combination in addition to chemotherapy, 67% of patients achieved a pathologic complete response, however, a significant treatment interaction between the two drugs was not shown.
Bevacizumab More Toxic
Bevacizumab was considered more toxic, as was the combination. The total number of patients with a serious adverse event was 15 in the chemotherapy-alone arm, 39 with chemotherapy plus bevacizumab, 39 with chemotherapy plus carboplatin, and 46 with chemotherapy plus carboplatin/bevacizumab. Bevacizumab was associated with more grade 3 hypertension, infections, and postsurgical complications, with a slight increase in thrombosis and bleeding problems. Patients receiving carboplatin were more likely to experience neutropenia and thrombocytopenia, Dr. Sikov said.
Bevacizumab was discontinued in 23% of assigned patients, vs 6% to 13% for other agents.
“Bevacizumab did increase pathologic complete responses but at the cost of significant toxicities, and we don’t think it should be routinely added,” Dr. Sikov said at a press briefing.
Other Studies Support Carboplatin Use
Dr. Sikov noted that several studies now show that the addition of carboplatin increases pathological complete responses in patients with triple-negative disease, although recurrence-free and overall survival benefits have not yet been observed, largely due to short follow-up and lack of statistical power. He said that the general assumption is that achievement of pathologic complete response will, indeed, improve long-term outcomes, and he said that he incorporates carboplatin in the neoadjuvant setting in his patients. 
Lajos Pusztai, MD, DPhil, of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, the formal discussant of the paper, said there is mounting evidence for using carboplatin, but less support for bevacizumab. He and his own research team have estimated that carboplatin plus chemotherapy will result in a 15% reduction in the risk for recurrence, “but this will most likely not reach statistical significance,” largely attributed to small sample size and limited statistical power.
“This provides a valuable new treatment option for patients with high-risk triple-negative disease,” Dr. Pusztai concluded. “The impact on survival may be modest, but real, I believe. Patient-level benefits, other than survival, exist that can be derived from more effective neoadjuvant chemotherapies.”
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Genentech, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Dr. Sikov reported no potential conflicts of interest.


Age is no longer a barrier to hemopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), but ageism still exists, and many older patients are not being referred for a transplant, even though transplantation offers the only chance of a cure for hematologic malignancies.
Advances in transplant technology have greatly improved success rates, so that the outcomes in older patients are now similar to those seen in younger patients, as shown here in several presentations at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) 55th Annual Meeting.
"However, these advances have not penetrated through to the general oncology community and are not widely appreciated, so the idea persists that transplants are only feasible for younger patients (under 55 years of age)," commented Mary Horowitz, MD, scientific director of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Resercah (CIBMTR) and chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee.
"There are many 55- to 65-year-olds who could benefit from a transplant, but these patients are not being referred by their primary oncologist," she commented in an interview with Medscape Medical News. "A 60-year-old now would be expected to live to 85 or so, and if they suddenly develop a life-threatening disease that is curable, well it is worth trying to cure it," she said.
Age Not a Barrier
That chronologic age need no longer be a barrier was illustrated in a study reported at the meeting by Yvette Kasamon, MD, of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Center in Baltimore, Maryland, and highlighted today in a conference press briefing.
Dr. Kasamon discussed data on 273 patients who underwent a haploidentical, or "half-matched," bone marrow transplant (BMT) without prior myeloablative therapy but with high-dose post- trasplantation cyclophosphamide. These patients had poor-risk hematologic malignancies (56% lymphoma, 35% acute leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome, 9% other disorders), and 15% of patients had undergone autologous bone marrow transplantation.
"The similarly positive outcomes we observed among patients in their 50s, 60s, and 70s clearly illustrate that advanced age need no longer be a significant barrier to successful outcomes after half-matched BMT," Dr. Kasamon said.
All 3 age groups showed similar 2-year probability of progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS), and there was also no statistically significant difference in the risk for nonrelapse death or severe graft-vs-host disease.
Patients' Age (years)Est 2-Year PFSEst 2-Year OS
50 - 5939%51%
60 - 6936%56%
70 - 7539%44%

"These results underscore that a reduced-intensity, related haploidentical transplant should be considered a very reasonable treatment option for suitable patients up to at least age 75 who require a transplant," Dr. Kasamon said. In fact, she added, her clinic has recently raised the age limit to 75 years for a transplant.
However, she also noted that there are not many treatment centers that carry out haploidentical transplantations on a regular basis, and that, age aside, the successful outcomes in this study using this approach represent an advance in their own right.
Until recently, haploidentical transplants carried excessive risk, she pointed out. The use of post-transplant cyclophosphamide for prophylaxis of graft-vs-host disease has been a major advance, she said, and with the use of this treatment, haploidentical transplantation has become a safe and effective treatment in the outpatient setting.
The outcomes with haploidentical transplants with post-transplant cyclophosphamide are now similar to those seen with matched BMT, Dr. Kasamon added.


There is palpable excitement here at American Society of Hematology (ASH) 55th Annual Meeting over results that are being reported with a new approach to treatment, engineered T cells. Although the results come from pilot clinical trials conducted in a small number of patients with leukemia and lymphoma, these are patients with very aggressive and refractory disease, and yet some of them have shown dramatic responses to the therapy, going into complete remission and no longer showing visible signs of tumor on computed tomography (CT) scans.
"It looks like the disease has disappeared after a single infusion of these engineered T cells," commented James Kochenderfer, MD, from the Experimental Transplantation and Immunology Branch of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland.
However, he cautioned that there is a significant patient variation in both efficacy and toxicity with this approach.
Several groups in the United States are working on this approach to treatment, and some have teamed up with pharmaceutical companies. The T cells developed at NCI have been licensed to Kite Pharmaceuticals, and a similar approach developed at the University of Pennsylvania, which has the most clinical data so far, has been licensed to Novartis.
Some observers say that this pharmaceutical company involvement, as well as accelerated approval for an urgent medical need, could result in these therapies becoming available as early as 2016, but others forecast a longer development time and suggest the therapies will not be available for clinical use until 2020.
Like a Smart Bomb
The novel approach to therapy involves extracting T cells from the patient, subjecting the cells to chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) cell engineering, and then infusing the engineered T cells back into the patient.
The engineering, which takes about 10 days, changes the T cell in 2 ways. First, it adds a receptor that targets the CD19 antigen that is found on most leukemic cells; when the cells are inserted back into the patient’s body, they home in on this antigen, latch on and destroy the leukemic cell. Second, the process inserts a viral vector mechanism into the cells which – once the cells have latched on to the leukemia – triggers these T cells to expand and proliferate, so that they seek out and destroy all the remaining leukemic cells.
There is tremendous excitement over this approach, because it acts like a smart bomb, said Mary Horowitz, MD, scientific director at the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research and chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. Whereas bone marrow transplantation is like carpet bombing of a city in order to destroy a specific building, these CAR cells are like smart bombs that seek out and destroy just the building, she commented to Medscape Medical News.
The clinical results have been dramatic and unprecedented in such advanced disease.
Results in Lymphoma
Dr. Kochenderfer presented results from 15 adult patients with advanced B cell lymphomas (abstract 168), including 9 patients with chemotherapy-refractory large cell lymphoma such as primary mediastinal B cell lymphoma and diffuse B cell lymphoma. They received reduced-intensity conditioning with cyclophosphamide and fludarabine and then an infusion of their own T cells that had been CAR engineered.
Thirteen of the 15 patients treated were evaluable for response, and 12 of those 13 responded: 7 patients had complete remissions, and 5 had partial remissions, Dr. Kochenderfer said. The remaining patients had stable disease.
Dr. Kochenderfer gave details of one of the patients who had a complete remission, showing CT scans with visible tumor in the liver and abdomen prior to the treatment, and none visible after treatment. This was a patient who had undergone 10 prior therapies, including many different combinations of rituximab plus chemotherapy regimens, and the disease progressed a month after chemotherapy finished, so she was "clearly refractory," he said.
"Our data provide the first true glimpse of the potential of this approach in patients with aggressive lymphomas that, until this point, were virtually untreatable," Dr. Kochenderfer told journalists at an ASH press briefing at which these novel therapies were highlighted.
"We are particularly encouraged by the partial and complete responses that we observed in a number of patients with diffuse large B cell lymphomas who had exhausted all other treatment options…and who are not generally thought to be good candidates for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation," he added.
However, he tempered his enthusiasm by adding that "this approach is still an early-stage experimental therapy."


After a median follow-up time of 39 months the results show DFS at two years was 98.1% (106 of 108) in the RIF group and 95.5% (107 of 112) in the ATO group. The DFS difference was 2.6%, and the lower limit of the 95% CI of DFS difference was greater than the 10% noninferiority margin, confirming noninferiority (p<0 .001="" p="">
No significant differences were noted between the RIF and ATO groups in complete remission rate (99.1% vs 97.2%; p=0.62) or in overall survival at 3 years (99.1% vs 96.6%; p<0 .18="" p="">
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Prostate terminology bewilders many inner-city men

Many inner-city men don't understand basic terms having to do with the prostate, according to a new survey, which could make it difficult for them to decide on treatment options for related cancers.
"The risk to benefit ratio of prostate cancer screening and treatment depend a lot on patient preferences, so it is critical that patients can understand the tradeoffs that are involved," said Dr. Stacey Loeb, a urologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.
"This is particularly true for high-risk groups such as African Americans, who are known to be at greater risk for aggressive prostate cancer," Loeb, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.
Another study this year indicated that the educational materials and websites doctors direct patients to are still too difficult for many patients to understand (see Reuters Health story of May 20, 2013 here:
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for men in the U.S., killing about 30,000 men each year according to the Centers for Disease Control. It's not always aggressive, however, meaning that men may be subjected to surgery or radiation, and side effects, without necessarily extending their lives.
Researchers distributed "pop quiz" surveys on common terms related to urinary, bowel and sexual functions at two clinics for low-income patients.
Of 109 men, 95 percent did not understand what the prostate does, according to results published in the journal Cancer. The numbers were better but still low for terms like "incontinence," "urinary function" and "bowel habits."
Many of the men read at a 9th-grade level.
"As our results indicate, most physicians likely overestimate patient understanding of these terms," coauthor Dr. Ashesh Jani told Reuters Health by email.
Prostate cancer can be confusing even for men with high literacy, said Jani, a radiation oncologist treating prostate cancers at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta.
These results are "exactly what I would expect," according to Dr. Mack Roach, chair of radiation oncology at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
But he's not necessarily worried about the patients as long as they're cared for by quality doctors, said Roach, who was not involved in the study.
"Allowing (patients) to feel comfortable about asking questions is most important, but this depends on the doctor," Roach said.
"For practicing clinicians, this is very important information," Dr. Durado Brooks of the American Cancer Society in Salt Lake City, Utah, told Reuters Health.
He found the numbers in this study "a little shocking," and stressed that doctors need to assess how much a patient understands, since some are embarrassed by their lack of knowledge.
Patients with low knowledge levels could jeopardize the patient half of "shared decision making," the collaborative process between patient and physician to come to a treatment decision, Loeb said.
"However, it is important to note that most of the men in this study did not have prostate cancer," she said. "Many people without any previous knowledge about a medical problem will read up on it if they are diagnosed."

Packaged diet foods may spur more weight loss

In a head-to-head comparison with a traditional diet, people who stuck to a diet of portion-controlled packaged foods lost almost twice as much weight as those who only got advice on how to trim calories, according to a new study.

Dr. Michael Dansinger, a nutrition expert at Tufts Medical Center, said having less freedom in choosing meals seems to help people meet their dieting goals.

"When there's less structure, then participants are making more decisions, and I think too often they're making decisions that undermine their goal to stick to a calorie target," said Dansinger, who was not part of the study.

The diet the researchers studied was the Medifast 5 & 1 Plan. It consists of five pre-packaged meals each day, along with one meal of vegetables and protein prepared by the dieter.

Dieters can pick from 70 different packaged foods to create five meals totaling about 1,000 calories a day.

People on the plan can also purchase different levels of support along with the meals, such as access to dieticians and recipes. Typically, the plan costs about $300 a month.

To see how effective the Medifast diet is in helping people lose weight and keep it off, the researchers asked 60 people to join the plan for free.

They compared these dieters to another 60 people who were given advice on how to meet a 1,000 calorie-per-day target, but who continued to buy and prepare their own food.

For everyone in the study, the goal for the first 26 weeks was to lose weight, and during the second half of the study the goal was to maintain weight.

All of the participants were obese, having a body mass index (BMI) - a measure of body size relative to height - between 35 and 50.

A BMI of 35 represents, for example, a person who is 5-feet 8-inches tall and 230 pounds.

By the end of the study, 15 people dropped out of the regular-food group and 10 dropped out of the Medifast group.

After six months, those who stuck with either dieting approach lost weight.

People in the Medifast group shed an average of 16.5 pounds, or 6.7 percent of their starting weight.

Dansinger said such a reduction in weight is modest, but it can have a meaningful impact on people's health.

"That's been demonstrated in numerous studies to be effective for improving blood sugar in people with diabetes or delaying the progression from pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes and to reduce other heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation," he told Reuters Health.

The regular-food group lost an average of 8.4 pounds, or 3.4 percent of their body weight.

The Medifast dieters also had greater reductions in body fat, waist circumference and cholesterol than the other group.

Of the average 16.5 pounds Medifast dieters lost, 14 were fat mass. Regular-food dieters lost an average of 8.14 pounds of fat. The study did not examine the diets' effects on bone and muscle mass.

Medifast users lost an average 2.24 inches around their waists and their total cholesterol dropped an average 8.4 milligrams, compared to 1.46 inches and 1.1 milligrams, respectively, in the regular diet group.

Over time, though, the dieters in both groups tended to rebound somewhat toward their original weights.

After one year in the study, the Medifast group ended up about 10 pounds, or 4.2 percent, lighter than when they started, while the other group was about four pounds, or 1.7 percent, lighter.

James Shikany, the lead author of the study, said the results show that sticking to the Medifast diet makes it harder for dieters to eat more calories than they should.

"It's more of a regimented type of diet, and some people find that's what they need in order to limit their portion intake," said Shikany, who is a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Preventive Medicine.

Dansinger said the weight loss results from the Medifast diet appear to fall in the middle of the pack of other weight loss interventions.

Some approaches, such as weight loss surgery or more extreme diets can have more dramatic results.

But in terms of dietary interventions or FDA-approved weight loss pills, the effect is roughly comparable, he said.

Lisa Davis, the vice president of science and clinical affairs at Medifast, said earlier studies of the diet actually found greater weight reductions.

One explanation she offered is that the current study participants' demographics, such as race, appeared to be different in Shikany's study than in earlier ones.

In particular, Shikany's study included a majority of African Americans whereas other studies had mostly caucasians, Davis said.

"I think that's worth investigating in the future," she told Reuters Health.

Medifast funded the current study, and one of the researchers has been a consultant to Medifast.

Dansinger said that based on this and other studies, he would recommend meal-replacement diets.

"In my opinion, for patients who have had repeated failures with other attempts at sustaining weight loss, the Medifast plan or other similar plans appear to be a good option," he said.

Shikany agreed, but said it's unclear whether cost could be a factor in the diet's appeal.

"If you take (cost) out of the equation, I think it would be a good option for some people, especially for people who need that extra assistance in weight loss efforts as far as determining portions," he said.

Sex and the Superbug: Meet Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea

Here’s a tidbit you probably didn’t know: Gonorrhea is the second-most frequently reported “notifiable” disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (That means that if you have it, your doctor or local health official needs to report it to the federal government so they can track it; gonorrhea is beaten out only by chlamydia.)

Though gonorrhea—being a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and all—doesn’t come up in conversation too often, it's way more prevalent than you probably think. It’s also a superbug, meaning it’s grown resistant to the usual treatments because the gonorrhea bacteria has mutated to become stronger than ever.  In fact, earlier this month you may have seen alarmist headlines (“Sex Superbug Could be ‘Worse Than AIDS,’” said about drug-resistant gonorrhea. The CDC was quick to respond, quelling fears about the bug’s presence in the U.S. Many reports were referring to gonorrhea strain H041, which is very resistant to ceftriaxone—the drug widely recommended for treating gonorrhea. That strain, though, hasn’t ever been reported in the U.S., said the CDC.

Gonorrhea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a gram-negative bacterium (which means the cells have a double cell lining). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 62 million people get gonorrhea every year. To get it, you have to have contact with the mouth, penis, vagina, or anus of an infected sexual partner. Once N. gonorrhoeae bacteria have been transmitted, they infect mucosal surfaces in the genitals and throat.

Symptoms of gonorrhea manifest differently in men and women, and also vary in severity (many people, in fact, are asymptomatic). When symptoms do appear, men may see a urethral discharge, or feel pain in their testicles or scrotum. Complications for guys can result in epididymitis, which is pain and inflammation of the epididymis (for those not into genital anatomy and physiology, that’s part of the testicle that stores sperm; we’re getting up close and personal now). In women, gonorrhea may also cause vaginal discharge or bleeding between periods.

Symptoms of untreated gonorrhea aren’t just uncomfortable and embarrassing, though. There are complications of gonorrhea infections that nobody likes to think about: In women, the STD can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, increasing the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy (a dangerous situation in which the embryo implants outside of the uterus). Gonorrhea can be passed from mother to child, and it also increases your risk for HIV. So, in the end, it’s a pretty serious infection.

For a while, gonorrhea could be treated easily with penicillin and sulfa drugs. In the late 1960s, though, studies began showing that gonorrhea was rapidly increasing its resistance to penicillin. It beat the antibiotics by making an enzyme—penicillinase—that made penicillin totally ineffective. Then, in the 1980s, strains of gonorrhea that did not produce penicillinase began showing resistance; they showed up in the U.S. in 1980 during an outbreak in North Carolina. This meant that certain strains of gonorrhea had undergone a genetic mutation: They had picked up a chromosome that allowed them to be resistant in a different way. (As a reminder, antibiotics target certain structural components in bacteria to defeat them. If these structural components change, even just a little bit, this change affects the susceptibility of the bacteria to an antibiotic.) What we learned in the ‘80s was that not only did some strains of gonorrhea produce an enzyme that destroyed penicillin, other strains were shifting so that penicillin couldn’t affect them.

Since 1986, the United States Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project (GISP) has been monitoring antibiotic resistance to gonorrhea. According to GISP, by 2010, 27 percent of all of the gonorrhea samples were resistant to penicillin, tetracycline, and ciprofloxacin, or some combination of these drugs.

By 2010, 27 percent of all gonorrhea tested was resistant to three major antibiotics or some combination of these drugs.

Cefixime, an oral cephalosporin antibiotic (cephalosporins are a sub-group of beta-lactam antibiotics, like carbapenems) was the recommended antibiotic for gonorrhea treatment, until gonorrhea began to develop resistance that drug too. In 2012, the CDC  updated its treatment guidelines and now recommends an injectable cephalosporin, called ceftriaxone, along with azithromycin or doxycycline, instead of oral cephalosporins. Combination therapies (meaning more than one antibiotic) provide almost a one-two punch against these bacteria—so the hope is that this remains effective. But cephalosporins are our last line of antibiotic defense against gonorrhea. As authors wrote in 2012 in a piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, it is now “time to sound the alarm.”

Simply put, the outlook is not good. In 2011, doctors from Japan published a case study revealing that gonorrhea was acquiring even more resistance—this time, to injectable ceftriaxone. Since then, samples of ceftriaxone-resistant gonorrhea have been detected in France and Spain, too, reports the CDC.

So what to do? We clearly need new options for treatment, but those don’t seem to be coming any time soon. The best method of protection against gonorrhea is abstinence. But that’s not always the most realistic prevention method. The CDC also strongly recommends the use of latex condoms—and not just for vaginal intercourse, but also for oral sex as well. In his New Yorker piece on antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, Dr. Jerome Groopman briefly explores condom use in fellatio; through interviews with medical professionals, Groopman explains that the most conventional (and effective) way to transmit gonorrhea is through fellatio, because the urethra can come into contact with the human pharynx (throat). The pharynx is a breeding ground for resistance in gonorrhea.

So while we wait for new antibiotics, the best advice we have when it comes to gonorrhea superbugs is: Don’t forget to use a condom.

Weight Gain May Change Personality

 After gaining a significant amount of weight, people may grow more self-conscious about their choices, while at the same time being weaker in the face of temptation, a new study finds.

Researchers already have an idea about how personality traits contribute to weight gain. For instance, people pleasers tend to eat more at parties, conscientious folk are more likely to have a regular exercise routine, and those with a Type A personality may be at increased risk for health problems like weight gain and heart disease. These are all averages, of course, and every person with a certain personality won't fall into the associated health group.

"What we don't know is whether significant changes in weight are associated with changes in our core personality traits," Angelina Sutin of the Florida State University College of Medicine said in a statement. "Weight can be such an emotional issue, we thought that weight gain may lead to long-term changes in psychological functioning."
[The 7 Biggest Diet Myths Debunked]

Sutin and her colleagues at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) looked at data on the personality traits and weights of more than 1,900 people at two time points, nearly a decade apart.

During that period, those who gained more than 10 percent of their body weight became more impulsive and were more likely to give in to temptations compared with those whose weight remained stable, the researchers found.

At the same time, weight gain was also associated with increased thoughtfulness in decision making. These results held regardless of how much participants weighed, specifically their body mass index (BMI, or a measure of body fatness) at the beginning of the study.

The researchers speculate that people who have put on pounds might feel more self-conscious about their actions because of negative comments they've received about their weight. But they may still have trouble keeping temptations at bay even as they become more aware of their choices, and those effects can snowball, the researchers say.

"The inability to control cravings may reinforce a vicious cycle that weakens the self-control muscle," the researchers wrote on April 29 in the journal Psychological Science. "Yielding to temptation today may reduce the ability to resist cravings tomorrow. Thus, individuals who gain weight may have increased risk for additional weight gain through changes in their personality."

The study drew from NIH's Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, whose participants ranged from middle to older age with an average age of about 59 at the study's start, and the Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area study, whose participants were younger, with an averge age of about 45 at the study's start.