eczema

For kids, milder medication seems to help minor outbreaks.

* THE QUESTION For more than 40 years, treating inflamed, itching and scaly skin on children generally has meant applying a corticosteroid cream or ointment. But many a parent has worried about possible side effects from using such a potent salve on youngsters with mild eczema. Might an alternative be a medication that stops the immune system from causing this skin problem?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 317 children, 2 to 15 years old, with mild to moderate eczema to have tacrolimus (Protopic) or a placebo ointment applied twice daily. After about six weeks, the skin was clear or almost clear on about 51 percent of the children treated with tacrolimus, compared with 26 percent of the placebo group. Skin problems in the head and neck area were deemed 59 percent better in the tacrolimus group, but they had gotten 4 percent worse in children treated with the placebo salve. Itching stopped much more quickly in those given the active medication.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Children with mild to moderate eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis -- a common, chronic skin disorder that usually begins in childhood and often becomes a lifelong ailment. An estimated 15 million people in the United States have this skin problem.

* CAVEATS The Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory in March that Protopic ointment may be linked to cancer, based mainly on animal studies and indications from a small number of patients; it urged that the medication not be used for eczema unless other drugs did not work or produced too many side effects. The study was funded by Astellas Pharma US Inc., which makes Protopic and which employed two of the eight primary authors; two others had received consultant's fees from the company.

* FIND THIS STUDY September issue of Pediatrics; abstract available online at www.pediatrics.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT eczema at www.skincarephysicians.com and http://www.nationaleczema.org.

foot pain

Fake magnets appear to quell pain as well as real ones.

* THE QUESTION Just how magnets may alleviate pain remains a mystery. Nonetheless, Americans spend an estimated $500 million each year on such therapeutic devices, including magnetic insoles. Put to the test, how do these insoles fare for pain relief?

* THIS STUDY randomly distributed insoles to 89 adults who had had foot pain of an unknown origin for an average of 1 1/2 years. Some insoles had a magnetic foil pad under the arch, while others contained a non-magnetized foil pad. Participants wore the insoles in their shoes for at least four hours a day, four days a week. After eight weeks, 33 percent of those with fake magnets and 32 percent of the magnet group described their pain as gone or nearly gone. There also was no real difference in the intensity of pain experienced by the two groups.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? People with chronic foot pain.

* CAVEATS People with plantar fasciitis were excluded from the study because research has shown magnets to be an ineffective treatment for this problem; however, because symptoms vary widely, some participants may have had this disorder. Whether the same results would have been achieved with insoles of a different design remains unclear. Some participants may have determined whether their insoles had real or fake magnets, which may have affected the results. The authors suggested that the lessening of pain experienced by both groups may have stemmed from the cushioning provided by the insoles. The study was funded by Spenco Medical Corp., which provided and markets the Active Comfort magnetic insoles used in the study.

* FIND THIS STUDY September issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings; abstract available online at www.mayoclinicproceedings.com.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT using magnets to treat pain at http://nccam.nih.gov/health; for more on foot pain, go to www.healthinaging.org/agingintheknow (click "Topics at a Glance," then "Diseases of the Foot").

diabetes

Even men with normal blood sugar may face a higher risk.

* THE QUESTION The number of Americans with diabetes has more than doubled in the past 25 years. Might looking at factors other than blood sugar levels, the standard gauge for this disease, identify seemingly healthy people who should be considered pre-diabetic?

* THIS STUDY analyzed medical data on 13,163 apparently healthy men who averaged 32 years old and had normal blood sugar levels (below 100 milligrams per deciliter after an eight-hour fast). During a six-year period, 208 men were diagnosed with diabetes. Men with high-normal blood sugar levels (between 95 and 99 mg/dL) were nearly three times more likely to develop diabetes than were those with levels below 81 mg/dL. However, when high-normal levels were combined with a high body mass index and high blood triglyceride levels, the risk of diabetes increased to roughly eight times that of men with lower numbers.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Men with blood sugar levels in the high end of the normal range, especially those who also may be overweight and have high triglyceride readings.

* CAVEATS Whether the findings apply to women remains unclear. The results were based solely on fasting blood glucose levels; other diabetes indicators -- including glucose tolerance tests and glycated hemoglobin levels, which indicate long-term blood-glucose control -- were not measured.

* FIND THIS STUDY Oct. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine; abstract available online at www.nejm.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT diabetes at http://ndep.nih.gov and www.cdc.gov/diabetes.

-- 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.