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Health Check


The BBC World Service's weekly round up of global health stories and topical issues in medicine.

The BBC World Service's weekly round up of global health stories and topical issues in medicine.
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The BBC World Service's weekly round up of global health stories and topical issues in medicine.




Daily Aspirin: Not for Healthy Elderly

Some older people take a daily low-dose aspirin on the advice of their doctor, if they’ve had a heart attack or stroke, to reduce their risk of having another one. And some otherwise healthy older people copy them. But a new study this week shows that the drug increases the risk of internal bleeding – commonly in the brain or stomach. Anyone worried about taking aspirin should talk to their doctor before stopping taking it. The “zero tolerance” policy in the United States saw some 2,300...


Europe Gets a Health Check

Europe has had its own health check this week – and the citizens of its 53 countries are living longer. But unhealthy lifestyles fuelled by smoking, drinking and too little exercise are causing a rise in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Cycling helps to keep Danish people healthy – and Estonia is considering following the UK by creating a sugar tax. The World Health Organization hopes more targets will further improve the health of Europeans. If you have drunk too much coffee...


More Problems for Zika Babies

The Zika epidemic which spread across Latin America in 2015/16 prompted the Brazilian government to advise women to delay getting pregnant – because of the link with babies born with heads smaller than usual – or microcephaly - after their mothers were infected. The number Zika cases has dropped dramatically – but now a new study in the United States highlights that some affected children in places like Puerto Rico have continued to develop problems with their brains and eyesight. Peggy...


How to Spot a Deadly Bleed on the Brain

Only 10-20% of strokes are caused by a ruptured blood vessel – instead of a blood clot – but this type is deadly, causing 40% of stroke deaths. A brain scan is used to tell which type of stroke a patient has had – and treatment is given to those with clots. There is currently no treatment for patients with a bleed on the brain – but now researchers in Edinburgh have worked out a simple checklist to predict which patients will recover – and which need close monitoring in case they bleed...


Genetic Link: Disrupted Sleep and Bipolar Disorder

Researchers in Glasgow have used data from the large UK Biobank to identify a genetic link between people with disrupted body clocks and mood disorders like bipolar disorder. They believe that identifying genes associated with disrupted circadian rhythms could help to pinpoint which patients might benefit from bright light therapy, which is commonly used in countries like Italy. Every year in Bangladesh 15,000 children die by drowning. It is the commonest cause of death in children under 4...


50 Years Since First Heart Transplant

The first ever heart transplant took place in Cape Town in South Africa fifty years ago this week. That patient died after just 18 days – but today around five thousand people have heart transplants every year. A shortage of donor hearts means there is often a wait – and an artificial pump called an L-VAD can buy time. We hear from doctors and a patient about the advances in technology which have made the pumps easier to live with. The World Health Organization says that more than 200...


Every Step You Take Counts

Millions of people wear electronic step-counting bracelets or use apps on their phones – aiming for ten thousand steps a day. Claudia Hammond asks whether this routine motivates her – or if it’s actually setting her up for failure. Some experts applaud the bar charts and graphs which track progress as proof of healthy activity. But can the constant checking take away the pleasure of exercise? American scientists found that after the novelty wore off people did less because the competitive...


Could Cholesterol-lowering Drugs Fight Pneumonia?

Thousands of people around the world take a statin pill every day – to lower their cholesterol levels and help reduce their risk of stroke and heart attacks. In some people they cause side-effects – but they might also have a hidden benefit - helping older people fight the serious respiratory infection pneumonia. A British researcher describes her delight when she saw that statins boosted the immune systems of older people – which could help them fight deadly pneumonia. Following the biggest...


When The Brain Wakes Up – But The Body Doesn’t

“When your brain wakes up but your body doesn’t” is how a sleep expert describes the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. Around 1 in 20 people will experience vivid hallucinations while falling asleep or waking up whilst being completely unable to move. Sleeping on your back can help to reduce the risk of an attack. Even less well understood is 'Exploding Head Syndrome' where people experience abrupt and very loud noises when going to sleep or waking up. To mark the 150th anniversary of Marie...


The 'Hidden' Virus That Attacks the Liver

Four out five patients with Hepatitis C do not know they are infected – and the virus can cause cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, leading to 1.3 million deaths every year. The World Health Organisation wants to eliminate hepatitis by 2030 – but only a handful of countries like Egypt and Australia are on track. The World Hepatitis Summit has been taking place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to explore the best ways to detect and treat those infected. Could boxing training help people with Parkinson’s...


Eye Diseases in Ebola Survivors

Around a quarter of survivors of the Ebola outbreak that started back in 2014 in West Africa have developed eye problems, including uveitis and cataracts. Dr Jessica Shantha and Dr Steven Yeh, both assistant professors of ophthalmology at Emory University in Atlanta US talked to Claudia Hammond about how they’ve been studying and treating the conditions. Loneliness is a huge problem amongst carers. Connecting via social media is a solution for some, but not everyone is comfortable with the...


Profound Psychological Impact of Heart Failure

Heart Failure This serious condition – where the heart can no longer pump sufficient blood around the body - affects 26 million people around the world. Symptoms can include breathlessness, fluid retention and tiredness - enough to have a severe impact on the quality of life. A heart failure diagnosis can be frightening and stressful but there is good evidence that psychological support can help. Claudia Hammond hears from patients and medical staff about the challenges of dealing with the...


The Game Encouraging Medics to not use Jargon

When you visit the doctor how much do you understand what’s being said? Communicating complex medical information – especially to sick children – can be a challenge for medical staff. Now a game called Dr Jargon has been created to encourage doctors to use simple language to explain common complaints to patients. The scientist who’s designed a way to “sniff out” polio viruses in the Israeli sewage system. For a number of years the world has been on the verge of eradicating the disease which...


Who is Best Suited to a Move to the Red Planet?

As we dream of sending humans to Mars, the psychological problems of such a mission loom large. Claudia Hammond ponders the most important qualities required from those who’d like to colonise Mars. Surviving a cramped nine-month journey and the pod-like homes on the red planet requires a mix of resilience, curiosity and the ability to get on with others. She meets the volunteers who have been sampling similar long term simulations here on earth - and the psychologists who've overseen the...


Can Gas Stoves Cut Indoor Air Pollution?

Around the world more than 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using fuel like wood and charcoal on open fires or traditional stoves. This inefficient method produces lots of smoke – creating indoor air pollution. The World Health Organisation says indoor pollution kills more than 4 million people every year. Our reporter Sammy Darko has been to the village of Kintampo in central Ghana where researchers provided cleaner gas stoves to see if they improved the health of pregnant women...