Doubts About Vitamin E

A large study casts doubt on the widely held belief that daily vitamin E pills help ward off heart problems.

The study of 9,541 high-risk patients looked at whether vitamin E or a widely used blood pressure pill, called an ACE inhibitor, could prevent heart attacks and strokes over 4 1/2 years.

The ACE inhibitor was very effective, and the results were announced at a medical conference in November. But the study, reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine, failed to find a benefit from vitamin E.

Asthma and Dust Mites

As doctors struggle to understand why asthma is rising at an alarming rate, a report released yesterday concludes that microscopic dust mites lurking in carpets and bedding can push children who are susceptible to asthma--but don't yet have it--to develop the disease.

Cases of asthma have risen about 75 percent since 1980, particularly among blacks and poor, inner-city populations, said the report by the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report concludes that dust mites, cockroaches, cat dander and, for preschool children, breathing secondhand tobacco smoke are proven culprits in making asthma worse for those who already have the disease.

Oxygen as Infection Control

A few pennies' worth of oxygen can cut the risk of surgical infections in half, according to a new study.

Air is about 21 percent oxygen. But patients routinely get 30 percent oxygen during and after surgery because the lungs do not work well under anesthesia. The study tested whether a richer mixture would improve the outcome.

Boosting the oxygen level to 80 percent made a big difference, researchers report in today's New England Journal of Medicine. Twenty-eight of 250 patients on the standard mix developed infections, compared with only 13 out of 250 who got extra oxygen.

Liposuction Death Rate

A survey of plastic surgeons suggests that more people die during liposuction than during other kinds of operations, perhaps because the procedure is often done quickly and without due care in doctors' offices instead of in the hospital.

Liposuction involves literally sucking fat from specific spots on the body. It has become the most common cosmetic plastic surgery procedure in the United States, according to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons.

Two researchers polled 1,200 plastic surgeons, asking them if they knew of any patient who died after liposuction. The 917 who answered reported 95 deaths in more than 496,000 operations. That works out to 19 deaths per 100,000 operations. The most common reported cause was a blood clot. The generally accepted death rate for any kind of elective surgery is 1 in 100,000.