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July 2009 Mayo Clinic Health Letter Highlights a Positive Outlook, Bell's Palsy and Heart Valve Repair
Date:7/22/2009

Studies Show a Sunny Outlook is Good for Health, Longer Life

ROCHESTER, Minn., July 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Here are highlights from the July issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter. You may cite this publication as often as you wish. Reprinting is allowed for a fee. Mayo Clinic Health Letter attribution is required. Include the following subscription information as your editorial policies permit: Visit www.HealthLetter.MayoClinic.com or call toll-free for subscription information, 800-333-9037, extension 9771.

An ever-expanding body of research indicates that a positive outlook may improve health, decrease the risk of depression and increase longevity. The July issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter highlights some studies and their findings.

In a Mayo Clinic study, more than 7,000 people completed a personality test in the early 1960s, and researchers tracked participants for more than 40 years. They found that for every 100 participants, the 25 who had scored as the most pessimistic, anxious and depressed had about a 30 percent greater chance of dying young, compared with those who were most optimistic, least anxious and least depressed.

An earlier Mayo Clinic study found similar results. More than 800 people were tracked for more than 30 years. Pessimistic thinkers had a 19 percent increased risk of early death, compared with their optimistic counterparts.

Optimists reported having fewer health problems and fewer difficulties with work or daily routines, and they were generally happier, calmer and more peaceful. They experienced less pain, had more energy and reported greater ease in social activities.

Researchers from the Women's Health Initiative, a study involving nearly 100,000 women age 50 and older, recently found that women who have an optimistic outlook lived healthier, longer lives than pessimistic women. During eight years of follow-up that began in 1994, optimists were 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 14 percent less likely to die of any cause when compared with pessimists.

General attitude in life is likely a combination of nature and nurture -- genetics combined with life experiences. Changing one's thinking pattern can be challenging, but it's possible.

Change begins with awareness of negative thought patterns. For some people, self-help measures can change outlook. Options might be consciously looking for the good in life, being grateful, looking for pleasure in small things or practicing random acts of kindness. Other people may need treatment from a mental health professional to help shift to a more positive perspective.

Bell's Palsy: Facial Paralysis That's Not a Stroke

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Bell's palsy -- which causes sudden weakness or paralysis on one half of the face -- is not associated with stroke, and most people recover completely. But according to the July issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter, it's still advisable to seek emergency care to confirm a diagnosis and start treatment, which can up the odds of full recovery.

The disorder is often related to a viral infection. The nerve that controls facial muscles passes through a narrow corridor of bone on its way to the face. If the nerve becomes inflamed or swollen, typically due to a viral infection, it can become compressed, irritated and injured in this narrow pathway. The result is Bell's palsy.

Symptoms include:

  • Abrupt weakness or limpness on one side of the face (Most people don't experience total paralysis.)
  • A dry, irritated eye with tears dripping from the corner
  • Pain around the ear or jaw, ringing in the ears, sensitivity to noise
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or a decrease in saliva production

Bell's palsy can affect anyone, at any age. The risk rises until about age 40 and then begins to decrease. The condition is most likely to occur in people who have certain viral infections, such as cold sores or upper respiratory infections, and in those who have Lyme disease or diabetes.

Treatment increases the likelihood of full recovery and may help shorten the recovery time. A doctor may prescribe a course of oral corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation around the facial nerve.

Researchers have studied antiviral drugs as a way to speed recovery. There's some controversy on their effectiveness. Mayo Clinic doctors say there may be benefit if the drugs are given within the 72 hours of symptom onset.

For most people, symptoms begin to improve within a few weeks. Complete recovery may take three to six months or even longer in severe cases. About 85 percent of those with Bell's palsy recover completely.

New Ways to Repair Heart Valves -- Without Open Heart Surgery

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- New, less invasive ways to repair heart valves may fundamentally transform how this lifesaving procedure is performed. The July issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter looks at new technologies under study to repair heart valve disorders without open heart surgery.

Two main problems occur with heart valves: narrowing (stenosis) that limits blood flow; and backward leaking (regurgitation), where valve flaps don't close tightly and blood flows in the wrong direction.

Both problems traditionally have been addressed -- with good success and safety -- via open heart surgery. During surgery, the chest is opened, the heart is stopped, and the valve is repaired or replaced. Recovery can take six to eight weeks.

Researchers are looking at new technologies and techniques that can be done with smaller incisions and without stopping the heart. They include:

Artificial valve placement via catheter: A collapsible artificial heart valve surrounded by an expanding wire mesh (stent) can be placed via small incisions without stopping the heart. The device is placed via a slender tube (catheter) that's inserted in the groin or in the chest and carefully guided toward to the heart.

Mayo Clinic is participating in a randomized study comparing outcomes for patients who have standard open heart surgery and those who have an artificial heart valve placed via catheter-based techniques. Results aren't known yet. Researchers do know that when properly placed, the artificial valves are highly effective.

Tying and tightening valves to stop regurgitation: When tendons around the mitral valve become loose or break, the valve leaflet becomes floppy, allowing regurgitation. A device to repair this malfunction was invented at Mayo Clinic and helps patients avoid open heart surgery. Instead, a slender device is inserted through the chest to the tip of the heart while it's beating. The device grabs the edge of the floppy leaflet, attaches a string and is then removed, along with the string end. The string is tightened and tied to stop regurgitation. A trial of the device is planned to begin this summer in Europe.

Clipping mitral valve: In many cases, one of the two valve leaflets is floppy and the other one remains healthy. A mitral valve clip is used to staple the two leaflets together at the midpoint. The healthy side supports the flailing side. Clips are inserted via a catheter. Early trials showed this approach may not be as effective as other approaches. A larger study is under way.

For now, open heart surgery will continue to be the mainstay to repair and replace heart valves. As research advances, some less-invasive approaches may be viable alternatives.

Mayo Clinic Health Letter is an eight-page monthly newsletter of reliable, accurate and practical information on today's health and medical news. To subscribe, please call 800-333-9037 (toll-free), extension 9771, or visit www.HealthLetter.MayoClinic.com.


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