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3 Key Medical News Stories: 20th December 2018

medical news chronic fatigue

Welcome back to our weekly medical news round up! In our latest edition, we bring you the healthcare topics that have been under the microscope over the past week, just in time for your med school applications. 

Joining us this week: advances in understanding chronic fatigue, overweight patients and virtual reality for patients.

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Advances in Understanding Chronic Fatigue

Scientists from King’s College London suggest an overactive immune system may increase the risk of developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

According to recent reports making the medical news, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, otherwise known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), affects 250,000 people in the UK. It is a chronic illness causing extreme tiredness and musculoskeletal pain.

Many patients state that their symptoms started with an infection. Currently, there is no known cure. Scientists recruited 55 patients with Hepatitis C and treated them with the drug interferon-alpha, the standard treatment for this condition. This drug affects the immune system in the same way as an infection.

The 18 patients who developed ME symptoms had a much stronger immune response to interferon-alpha. These patients also had an overactive immune system prior to treatment.

The study finds that people who have an overactive immune system are more prone to developing ME.

What can we learn from this?

Given that there is little understanding of the cause of this condition, it is a hot topic for current research. Research like this is working towards the end goal of a screening programme for patients and catching the disease in its early stages.

A current treatment is Graded Exercise Therapy (Get), which has recently caused controversy and debates on its effectiveness. NICE are currently updating treatment guidelines for ME in England.

Question to think about- Have you read about any interesting research recently? Discuss.

Read: Interview Questions – Depth and Breadth of Interest


Why not try one of our quizzes?


Overweight Patients

The NHS deny hip replacement operation for overweight patient.

Vale of York CCG denied Mr. Crooke, 67, hip replacement surgery due to his weight. The CCG guidelines state anyone with a BMI over 30 must lose weight or wait a year for non-urgent procedures.

Mr. Crooke was in severe pain, taking morphine to cope and only able to walk short distances.

Unfortunately, he discovered the BMI guidelines just weeks before his surgery was scheduled. He eventually took a £11,500 loan to pay for the surgery himself.

The guidelines to delay routine surgery for smokers and obese patients came into effect in 2017. There are concerns that it discriminates against overweight people and the elderly. On the other hand, it saved £2.2 million during the first year.

What can we learn from this?

As has been well documented across the medical news, NHS faces huge financial challenges, so although not ideal, assessing and prioritizing patient need is the best way to ensure those who need the help most do receive it sooner.

In relation to surgery, smoking and obesity are changeable traits that increase risk of complications and poor recovery. Therefore, whether patients with these traits should receive treatment on the NHS is an ongoing ethical debate.

Although the NHS is based on the idea of free, equal access to all without discrimination, there is also an issue of very limited resources and funds. Therefore, there needs to be an ethical but sensible middle ground.

Question to think about- Do you think the NHS should fund treatment for smokers/obese patients?

Read: Interview Questions – Ethics

Virtual Reality for Patients

Virtual reality headsets may help identify people who are likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

A loss of navigational skill is one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, as the area of the brain controlling navigation, the entorhinal cortex, is the first to degenerate. Scientists aim to detect these very early changes using virtual reality headsets to test navigational skill.

The new test will allow patients to enter an environment in which they have to navigate and remember details of.

According to the latest medical news, it’s thought that those who perform worse in the tests are those most likely to develop Alzheimer’s. The participants who do struggle will be followed up, to see if these early brain changes correlate with developing the disease.

It is hoped that in the future, early detection will allow for treatment that is more effective.

What can we learn from this?

This a good example of how technology is advancing and how the health care sciences are utilizing it.

The ageing population is presenting many challenges to healthcare, perhaps the biggest challenge is dementia. With poor understanding of the disease, extremely limited treatment options and communication and consent difficulties, both healthcare professionals and patients alike eagerly await a breakthrough.

Question to think about- What is your understanding of the challenge of the ageing population?

Read: NHS Hot Topics – Ageing Population

Words: Katie Burrell

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