Cases of Autism Continue to Rise

(CNN) — One in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a 30% increase from 1 in 88 two years ago, according to a new report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This newest estimate is based on the CDC’s evaluation of health and educational records of all 8-year-old children in 11 states: Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, Arkansas, Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, Utah and New Jersey.

The incidence of autism ranged from a low of 1 in 175 children in Alabama to a high of 1 in 45 in New Jersey, according to the CDC.   Children with autism continue to be overwhelmingly male. According to the new report, the CDC estimates 1 in 42 boys have autism, 4.5 times as many as girls (1 in 189).

“We look at all of the characteristics of autism,” says Coleen Boyle, the director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “So we look at the age in which they’re identified. We look at their earliest diagnosis. We look at co-occuring conditions that these children might have, other developmental disabilities, whether or not they have intellectual disability, so essentially their IQ.”

The largest increase was seen in children who have average or above-average intellectual ability, according to the CDC. The study found nearly half of children with an autism spectrum disorder have average or above-average intellectual ability — an IQ above 85 — compared with one-third of children a decade ago.

The report is not designed to say why more children are being diagnosed with autism, Boyle says. But she believes increased awareness in identifying and diagnosing children contributes to the higher numbers.

More than 5,300 children are represented in the data contained in the new report, she says.

“We comb through records. We accumulate all that information and then each one of those records is reviewed by a specialist to make sure that that child meets our autism case definition,” says Boyle. The definition of autism is unchanged from the 2012 report.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is that children are still being diagnosed late. According to the report, the average age of diagnosis is still over age 4, even though autism can be diagnosed by age 2.  The earlier a child is diagnosed with autism, the better their chances of overcoming the difficulties that come with the disorder.

“It’s not a cure, but it changes the trajectory,” says Dr. Gary Goldstein, president and CEO of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University.

“We need to continue our efforts to educate the health care community and general public to recognize the developmental problems associated with ASD and other developmental disorders at earliest age possible, so that intervention can be initiated, bad habits can be avoided and families will know what’s wrong with their child,” says Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland who diagnoses and treats children with autism.

This new report is based on 2010 data, when the children were 8 years old (born in 2002).

Since 2000, the CDC has based its autism estimates on surveillance reports from its Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

Every two years, researchers count how many 8-year-olds have autism in about a dozen communities across the nation. (The number of sites ranges from six to 14 over the years, depending on the available funding in a given year.)

 In 2000 and 2002, the autism estimate was about 1 in 150 children. Two years later 1 in 125 8-year-olds was believed to have autism. In 2006, the number grew to 1 in 110, and then the number went up to 1 in 88 based on 2008 data.


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OnMarch 27, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

Take Your Blood Pressure in Both Arms


People who have different blood pressure readings in their right versus left arm may be at increased risk for serious heart problems later in life, a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzed blood pressure readings from more than 3,300 people ages 40 and older in Massachusetts. The study looked at only the systolic blood pressure, or the “top” number in a blood pressure reading.

People whose systolic blood pressure readings differed by 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or more between their right and left arms were 38 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular problem, such as a heart attack or stroke, over a 13-year period compared with people with smaller differences between their arms.

The findings held even after the researchers took into account factors that might increase a person’s risk of heart problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

The results suggest doctors should consider measuring blood pressure in both arms, the researchers said. Although the American Heart Association recommends that people have their blood pressure measured in both arms at their first visit with a doctor, most have their blood pressure taken in just one arm.

“Blood pressure is easily obtained in an office setting, and our findings support recommendations for measurement of blood pressure in both arms,” the researchers wrote in the March issue of the American Journal of Medicine.

A 2012 study linked a difference in systolic blood pressure between the arms with an increased risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition that involves a narrowing of the arteries in the extremities

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OnMarch 24, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

Colon Cancer Rates Dropping

Colon cancer, which was once the most common cause of cancer death in America, has been on a steady decline for decades, according to a new study in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

In 1985, there were an estimated 66.3 cases of colon cancer for every 100,000 adults in the United States. By 2010 that rate had fallen to 40.6 cases for every 100,000 adults. Deaths dropped during the same time period as well – from 28.5 to 15.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

“Incidence is declining primarily because of screening and finding polyps, which are precancerous lesions that can be removed,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. “We find these precancerous lesions, remove them and ‘whala!’ the patient doesn’t get cancer.” The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society recommend regular colon cancer screening beginning at age 50.

“Colorectal cancer screening is only being done right now by about 55% of people over the age of 50,” Brawley said. “That’s one of the reasons why the federal government and the American Cancer Society and other organizations are really trying to push 80% by 2018.

“We actually have data that suggests this could save 15,000 to 20,000 lives a year.”

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OnMarch 17, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

How Dangerous is Sleep Deprivation?

Everyone has a night here or there where sufficient sleep just doesn’t happen. (Just ask anyone who’s ever been to Vegas… or cared for a newborn.) But a lot of people miss out on getting significant shut-eye on a regular basis. In fact, about one in five American adults are sleep deprived.  

The rumor: Sleep deprivation is harmful and can even be life-threatening

If you’ve ever come close to nodding off in the boardroom or behind the wheel, you know that the effects of sleep deprivation can range from embarrassing to downright terrifying. But are we really putting ourselves and others at risk, however inadvertently? And if we are sleep deprived, how do we fix it?  

The verdict: Sleep deprivation really is dangerous for your body and mind

I hate to break it to you, but sleep deprivation really can be life-threatening.

“Sleep deprivation is the single most dangerous aspect of any sleep disorder, because you have no idea that you are compromised cognitively, physically and emotionally,” says sleep expert and upwave reviewer Michael Breus.

Sleep deprivation affects three distinct areas of life. The first, and probably most life-threatening, is reaction time. People who operate heavy equipment or drive any kind of vehicle are likely to have dulled reaction times when sleep-deprived, making them more prone to accidents. In fact, recent research has found drowsy driving to be just as risky as drunk driving. So you might want to think twice before staying up late to catch the end of that football game.

Cognition — how we think, retain memories, process information and make decisions — is also negatively impacted by sleep deprivation. “It’s easy to miss a fine detail when sleep-deprived,” explains Breus. “We often don’t put information together correctly.” This may not seem like a big deal… until you mess up that major report for your boss, or forget what time your flight home is!

Emotions are also greatly heightened by lack of quality sleep, says Breus. Everything from anger to sadness to frustration all get blown out of proportion, making a potentially bad situation that much worse.

So, what can you do to fix the problem? Well, you could just try going to bed earlier. But a late bedtime is hardly the only cause of sleep deprivation. Others include stress, environmental factors (a snoring spouse; an excessively warm bedroom) and poor diet (heartburn; excessive alcohol; too much caffeine).

Also, there’s no one “ideal” amount of sleep. Some people function just fine on seven hours, whereas others (like me) need a heftier nine. “The minimum number of hours is six,” says Breus. “Anything less is, in all likelihood, sleep deprivation.”

To identify your ideal time for lights-out, Breus suggests counting backwards about seven and a half hours from your required wake-up time. “If you wake up five minutes before your alarm goes off, you’ve nailed it,” he says. By the same token, if you rise feeling refreshed, you’re right on the money. If not, you’re probably sleep-deprived, which can lead to those cognitive, reaction and emotional issues we’ve discussed.

I know that sleep often seems negotiable, but our bodies and minds really need the consistency of a quality night’s rest to prepare and reboot for the coming day.

So take an honest look at your sleep hygeine. Chances are, you can make a few changes to get more sleep. Of course, if problems persist, you may want to consult your doctor. We all need to be at our thinking, feeling and reactive best in order to thrive and stay safe. In most cases, a little extra shut-eye will get you there! Sleep tight!



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OnMarch 11, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

My life with multiple sclerosis

I had my first Multiple Sclerosis (MS) episode in 2005 (the formal diagnosis would come later). Naturally, I remember it well: we had just come off the most active hurricane season in history.   It was the year of Hurricanes Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita and Wilma. We had so many storms, the National Hurricane Center went to the Greek alphabet because we had run out of names.

I was working long hours that fall and was feeling overwhelmingly tired, stressed and depressed from all the devastation we were seeing on television.  Little did I know that as I was warning people of the next hurricane, my body was dealing with its own neurological storm, one that had been forming for years.

I took time off and decided to go back to Canada for a week with my boyfriend Sean. The first day of my vacation I woke up to numbness in my feet and parts of my legs. I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed.  I had no idea what was wrong.

I went to a doctor in my hometown to see if she could figure it out.  She was blunt and honest.  “This could be anything from a slipped disc to multiple sclerosis. You should get back to the U.S. to see a neurologist.”

I thought she was crazy.  MS?  Isn’t that the wheelchair disease?  I took her advice, though. When I got back to New York I went to a neurologist who gave me MRIs and a most unpleasant spinal tap.

I remember calling Sean in tears and telling him that he needed to pick me up at the doctor’s office; the news was not good.

I had lesions on both my brain and spine. The spinal tap fluid had also shown the protein they look for in MS patients.

He gave me steroids to help with the numbness and tingling and told me I more than likely had multiple sclerosis:  an unpredictable, chronic, incurable and possibly disabling disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body.

I was at an age when most women who have the disease have already been diagnosed. How I got it was a mystery, and still is – though having lived in Canada (northern countries show a higher frequency of MS, likely due to less sunlight) and the fact that my father had suffered with acute rheumatoid arthritis may have both been factors.

After days of feeling sorry for myself, I decided I had to find people to talk to.  Luckily, I knew  someone at work who also had MS:  Neil Cavuto. The Fox News and Fox Business senior vice president, anchor and managing editor had gone public with his illness (along with having suffered from cancer).

He told me to come talk with him right away.

I remember he kept a stream of tissues in motion, consoling me while I just cried and told him all my fears.  What would happen to my career?  My personal life?  My self-esteem?

Neil calmed me down, promised me I was going to be OK and reminded me that I was working at a great company that would support us, even if that support included building wheelchair ramps.

I’ll never forget that day, and what Neil did for me.

Afterward, I tried to find more people to talk to who were living with MS.  It was the one thing that kept me going – seeing others who were not just functioning, thriving.

In 2007, now formally diagnosed after a few relatively mild exacerbations, I decided that I would talk about my diagnosis in order to help others like me who had the disease.  It’s never been my goal to be the poster girl for MS, but I do feel called to be someone who can help others identify, and  live with, the disease.

Fast forward to now. I’m happily married (to the same boyfriend who was with me during my first flare-up and diagnosis) and have two beautiful boys. I’ve been working full-time at the same company for over a decade and I’m the author of a children’s book series about a frog who is a weather forecaster.

I’m not lying to you when I say I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I believe part of the reason I am so happy is that I learned almost 10 years ago that your life can change in an instant.

Yes, I live with MS.  And yes, I’ve been very lucky to have very few flare-ups since that diagnosis. There are ongoing reminders that my immune system isn’t the greatest, and I do know that this illness remains unpredictable (much like the weather I forecast) and can strike when you least expect it.

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me – this is bigger than me. If I can put a face on an illness that can help others who are diagnosed, then my openness to discuss this is all worthwhile.

But there is also bigger hope on the horizon for the 2 million of us who live with this disease.  The medications are getting better and less intrusive.  The fact that we have a few pills being tested now is a huge step forward.   For many of us, the painful injections are a constant reminder that there is something wrong with us.

I think we’re getting closer to stopping the disease in its tracks. I do believe there will be a day soon when having MS will no longer be associated with wheelchairs.

This weekend I will be the emcee for this year’s “MS Climb to the Top” event for The New York City – Southern New York Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Over a thousand people will participate, climbing 66 flights of stairs to from the ground floor the Rockefeller Center observation deck.

It’s a fitting event where people from all walks of life will take part to raise funds and awareness for those of us who live with MS. The climbing can be tough at times, but with support from others, we’ll get there.  And when we do, we’ll be stronger in ways that we never imagined.

Editor’s note:  The MS Climb to the Top will take place on Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 6 am ET at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It will be hosted by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) and premier sponsor Biogen Idec. To register or learn more,


Janice Dean is senior meteorologist for Fox News Channel.

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OnFebruary 25, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

New Study Suggests Air Pollution Consequences

Air pollution exposure has long been suspected to increase the risk of both heart and lung diseases, but another important organ may also be at risk of injury from this contaminated air: the brain.

Researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago recently detailed the impact that constant exposure to air pollution may have on the developing brain.  According to the panel, a series of mouse models have suggested that constant inhalation of air pollution may lead to enlargement of the brain’s ventricles – a hallmark of neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

The researchers believe that the world’s increase of air pollution levels may be somewhat linked to the rising rates of central nervous system diseases over the years.

According to the organizer of the panel, Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta, air pollution is a cocktail of various metals and gases, often consisting of many different sized particles.  The larger particles typically do not pose a risk to the body, as they are often coughed up and disposed, but the very small particles are the ones that health experts say pose the biggest health threat.

“The component people worry about the most are the smallest particles – the ultrafine particles,” Cory-Slechta, professor in the department of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, told  “And the reason is because those go all the way down into the bottom of the lung.  Once they get to the bottom of the lung, they can be absorbed into the blood stream.”

Cory-Slechta said she initially started looking at air pollution in relation to the brain by accident – after some of her colleagues sent her the brains of mice that had been exposed to moderate amounts of air pollution.

“They wanted to see what the effect was on the developing lung in mice.  And they didn’t have any use for the brains, so they contacted us and said, ‘Do you want to look at the brains?’ Cory-Slechta said. “…So we took the brains, and it had been a couple months since exposure, and we couldn’t find a brain region that didn’t have inflammation going on.  Not one.”

Hoping to further analyze the relationship between air pollution and brain injury, Cory-Slectha and her team began a series of rodent studies using unfiltered air from Rochester, N.Y.  During their third study, the researchers exposed the animals to air pollution from post-natal days 4 through 13 – a critical time for brain development in mice.  They then analyzed the mice’s brains the day after the exposures had ended.

Once the brains had been sectioned for better viewing, the researchers found that all had varying degrees of damage – but most notably, the lateral ventricles were significantly dilated.  Filled with cerebrospinal fluid, the brain’s ventricles help to protect the brain, keep it clean and boost its energy.  However, when these ventricles are enlarged, it often indicates a very poor prognosis for central nervous system development.

“When the brain ventricles are too big, it pushes on the rest of the tissue,” Cory-Slectha said.  “Also, you have these tracks of what’s called ‘white matter.’  And they cross over the brain; they connect the two hemispheres. And in these mice, those are either missing, or never developed, or died.  We don’t know which, but a lot of that is missing, and that too is very characteristic of autism and schizophrenia.”

Ventriculomegaly – the enlargement of the ventricles – is also associated with a range of other brain diseases, such as bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as a number of birth defects in children.  Cory-Slectha noted that this brain damage was largely seen in the male rodents – an interesting finding given that both autism and schizophrenia are mainly male-oriented conditions.

“And part of that that is so interesting is both autism and schizophrenia, not only are they primarily in males, but the rates of those have been going up,” Cory-Slectha said.  “And yet nobody can really ever explain why.  [They say] it’s the diagnoses, etc.  Well you know, air pollution has also gotten worse in some places, and you are exposed to it your entire life.  So now we have the [epidemiological research] and we have the animal studies [to support that].”

In order to further confirm the air pollution-brain injury relationship, Cory-Slectha and her team are working to get more funding to look into the potential behavioral changes that may be caused by prolonged air pollution exposure.  In the long run, she hopes that her studies will have an impact on the regulations already set in place to limit pollution in the atmosphere.

“Some of our air pollution comes from other places.  It can come across the ocean, basically,” Cory-Slectha said.  “But [our work] could change those regulations and lower them hopefully so that people aren’t exposed.  Obviously, some places are worse than others.”

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OnFebruary 18, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

Is Sugar Killing You?

A new study — the biggest of its kind — is warning that America’s love affair with sugary food and drink is also doubling our risk of a heart-related premature death.

While previous research has indicated that consumption of added sugars can negatively affect health, the new study — published inJAMA Internal Medicine — is the first nationally-representative study examining how added sugars affect rates of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Unlike the natural sugars existing in fruits and some vegetables, added sugars are introduced to foods during their processing and preparation. Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda are the leading source of added sugar consumption in the U.S., followed by grain-based desserts, like cookies and cake.

For their research, study author Quanhe Yang, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and his colleagues used national health survey data to examine how added sugar consumption affected rates of cardiovascular death among the population.

They divided the population into segments: those who consumed the least amount of added sugars – less than 10 percent of daily calories consumed – and those who consumed at least 25 percent of their daily calories from added sugar. Overall, they found that people who consumed the highest amounts of added sugars were more than twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

“If you are consuming in the medium quintile, compared to lowest, you increase risk [of cardiovascular death] by 18 percent,” Yang said. “[But for] the fourth quintile versus the lowest quintile, the risk is [increased] 38 percent. So highest to lowest it is more than doubled.”

Though previous studies had indicated that consumption of added sugars was harmful to health, the researchers hadn’t expected to see such a large increase in risk of death between the highest- and lowest-consuming groups.

“It’s not entirely surprising because we already have emerging evidence to show high consumption of added sugar is linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, hypertension and instance of CVD,” Yang said. “But what was a little unexpected is the appearance of risk is not linear, meaning when you have the higher consumption of added sugar your risk increases exponentially.”

Previous research has indicated that between 2005 and 2010, 10 percent of U.S. adults consumed 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugars. While recommended levels of added sugar intake vary, the CDC adheres to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends limiting added sugar intake to 5 to 15 percent of daily total calories.

It’s still not fully understood why added sugars increases risk of CVD.

“There are different explanations why it increases cardiovascular disease, probably the higher intake of added sugar may play a role in multiple pathways,” Yang said. “Some studies suggest suggest it will increase your risk of hypertension, a leading risk factor of cardiovascular disease; [it will also increase] accumulation of fat in your liver and promotes dyslipidemia; it’s also associated with increase of the inflammation markers, so those are the possible mechanics but we do not know why at a certain point your risk [becomes] accelerated.”

Next, Yang and his colleagues hope to study how the risk of cardiovascular death changes among people who have made efforts to improve their eating habits, including lowering consumption of added sugars. They are also interested in studying the effects of added sugar consumption among children – and how that affects their risk of death and disease later in life.

Overall, Yang said he hopes people will start to pay more attention to the amount of added sugars in their diet.

“Our study shows most of us are consuming too much added sugar, and higher added sugar [consumption] is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” Yang said. “If someone can…[they should] read [food] labels to see how much added sugar is in there and try to choose the lowest added sugar and reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which is number one contributor [to added sugar consumption].”

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OnFebruary 4, 2014, posted in: Latest News by