Find out the top health stories in among readers of Medscape, WebMD’s site for health professionals.
Concerns about drugs, both prescription and illegal, made headlines during 2011. The possibility of cancer from cell phones came into the spotlight as well.
But not all news was about warnings and scares. The FDA approved a new drug for diabetes, linagliptin, giving people with type 2 diabetes another treatment option.
Here are 2011's most popular stories about clinical issues on Medscape, WebMD’s site for health care professionals:
1. FDA Calls for Simvastatin Limits
The FDA played a role in most of this year's top news stories, starting with a June 8 recommendation that doctors restrict prescribing high-dose cholesterol medication simvastatin, sold under the brand name Zocor, because of a risk of muscle damage. The FDA says doctors should limit using the 80-mg dose of simvastatin unless the patient has already been taking the drug for 12 months and there is no evidence of muscle damage.
2. FDA Warns of Drugs That Interact With Antidepressants
On July 26, the FDA warned about two medications that were linked to a serious side effect called serotonin syndrome. The first, methylene blue, is a dye used in diagnostic procedures. The second, linezolid, is an antibiotic.
The FDA said in an Oct. 21 update that doctors should watch out for interactions with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs. These drugs are commonly used to treat depression.
Signs and symptoms of serotonin syndrome include confusion, hyperactivity, memory problems, and other mental changes; muscle twitching, excessive sweating, shivering, or shaking; diarrhea; trouble with coordination; and fever. In the case of linezolid, some deaths have been reported.
3. WHO Says Cell Phones May Cause Cancer
The World Health Organization (WHO) stirred controversy when it announced in May that radiation from cell phones may cause cancer. The announcement was based on an extensive review of studies on cell phone safety by a group of 31 scientists from 14 countries. They met regularly to evaluate the potential hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. They also reported that younger users had a higher risk.
The controversy continued when a different study, published in the July 27 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that children and adolescents who use cell phones do not appear to have a higher risk of brain cancer. Critics later lambasted the authors' interpretation of the data, which they said actually showed a risk of cancer in this population. They noted that the study was funded by cell phone companies.
Another study, published online Oct. 20 in BMJ, drew a similarly fierce critique from the organization ElectromagneticHealth.org.