OVERACTIVE BLADDER

Acupuncture may help people control urination.

* THE QUESTION Knowing that the urge to urinate may strike suddenly and often, many people stay close to home, fearing public embarrassment. Might acupuncture help control an overactive bladder?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 85 women with overactive bladder and urge incontinence to receive weekly acupuncture treatments for bladder control or a placebo treatment (acupuncture designed to promote relaxation). After four weeks, both groups reported improvements, but the bladder-control group reported 59 percent fewer incontinent episodes (from an average of about six over three days to fewer than three), compared with 40 percent fewer for the placebo group. The bladder-control group also reported reductions in urgency and frequency of urination. About a fourth of the participants noted bleeding, bruising or discomfort from the needles but described it as insignificant.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Women with overactive bladders, a condition that is more common in older people, especially women.

* CAVEATS Findings were based on data from diaries kept by participants. The authors suggested that improvements in the placebo group showed the effect that intervention of any kind and a strong desire to improve can have on this condition. A larger, longer study would be needed to determine whether the findings can be sustained.

* FIND THIS STUDY July issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology; abstract available online at www.greenjournal.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT overactive bladder at www.mayoclinic.com and www.incontinence.org (click "Confronting Incontinence & OAB").

hypertension

Normal blood pressure at 50 may contribute to a longer life.

* THE QUESTION How long people live depends not just on genetics but also on a variety of health and behavioral factors. Does a person's blood pressure at middle age play a role in life expectancy?

* THIS STUDY followed 3,128 people for an average of 28 years after they turned 50. All were participants in a long-term study of cardiovascular health, and none had signs of heart disease at age 50. Overall, people who had normal blood pressure at age 50 lived about five years longer than people who had hypertension at that age. The higher the blood pressure at age 50, the more likely a person was to develop heart problems, including heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Anyone with hypertension, generally defined as a systolic pressure (top number) of 140 or higher and diastolic pressure (bottom number) of 90 or more. The study defined normal blood pressure as less than 120/80.

* CAVEATS Some of the differences in life span may have been attributable to cholesterol and physical activity levels, which were not taken into account. The findings may not reflect improvements in the treatment of hypertension that have been made since some of the data were collected 30 years ago.

* FIND THIS STUDY June 27 online issue of Hypertension; abstract available at http://hyper.ahajournals.org (click "Online First").

* LEARN MORE ABOUT hypertension at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health and www.americanheart.org.

dysmenorrhea

Contraceptive pills seem to ease menstrual pain for teens.

* THE QUESTION When painful cramps accompany menstruation, most teenage girls simply suffer through it, often missing school or other activities as a result. Some try over-the-counter painkillers. Might low-dose oral contraceptives, prescribed by a doctor, offer significant relief?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 76 healthy teenage girls with moderate to severe dysmenorrhea, or painful menstrual periods, to take an oral contraceptive (ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel) or a placebo for 28 days each month. Participants also could take pain medication as needed. After three months, based on pain scales of 0 to 24 for which lower numbers indicate less pain, average scores had dropped from about 11 to 3 for the contraceptive group and from 12 to 6 for the placebo group. The worst pains were less severe among the girls who took contraceptives, and they also used fewer additional pain pills. About 61 percent of the contraceptive group (vs. 36 percent of the placebo group) used no pain medication.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Teenage girls. Most young women have painful periods, with severe pain affecting about 15 percent of them.

* CAVEATS The study involved a small number of girls for a short period of time, and the findings were based on the girls' ratings of pain. It did not assess the effect of the pain reductions on school attendance and participation in activities. The girls received a small payment for participating.

* FIND THIS STUDY July issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology; abstract available online at www.greenjournal.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT dysmenorrhea in teenagers at www.kidshealth.org and www.familydoctor.org.

-- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.