Concerns about drugs, both prescription and illegal, made headlines during 2011. The possibility of cancer from cell phones came into the spotlight as well.
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.
4. 'Bath Salt' Street Drugs Temporarily Banned
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration made headlines with a temporary ban on three synthetic stimulants marketed as "bath salts" and "plant food." These substances mimic cocaine, LSD, MDMA, or methamphetamines.
The chemicals have been the subject of an increasing number of reports from poison control centers, hospitals, and police during the last six months.
Marketed under names such as "Ivory Wave," "Purple Wave," "Vanilla Sky," or "Bliss" in retail stores, head shops, and over the Internet, the chemicals can cause impaired perception, reduced muscle control, disorientation, extreme paranoia, and violent episodes. Long-term effects remain unknown.
5. FDA Approves New Drug for Type 2 Diabetes
The FDA on May 2 approved the diabetes drug linagliptin, sold under the brand name Tradjenta. The tablet helps improve blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes, either as a standalone treatment or in combination with other treatments.