Your Health

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HEART MONITOR You may be surprised to learn that if you rush to the emergency room with shortness of breath, there is a 40% chance that the doctors won't be able to tell if it's your heart, your lungs or something else that's failing. That may change, thanks to a study of 1,500 patients conducted at the San Diego Veterans Administration. Doctors showed that measuring levels of a particular heart hormone, BNP, could improve by 75% doctors' chances of accurately diagnosing heart failure in patients with difficulty breathing. The BNP test, which costs $20, is used in about 10% of U.S. hospitals.

MIND OVER MUSCLE About 30% of bypass patients suffer from what doctors call "pump head," a mental fog that physicians have long blamed on the heart-lung machine. The device pumps blood through the body when surgeons stop the heart in order to operate on it. Lately doctors have tried to avoid the problem by performing more bypasses on the heart while it is still beating. When researchers compared such "off pump" patients to those who have been on the heart-lung machine, however, they found no difference in memory, attention and motor skills one year after surgery.

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Sources: Am. Coll. of Cardiology (1); J.A.M.A. (2)