Originally created 10/18/01

Capsules



ALS-AIDS link

A connection between AIDS and a variant of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, has intrigued researchers looking for ways to treat ALS.

Reporting in the Journal Neurology, French researchers describe six people afflicted with ALS symptoms among some 1,700 AIDS patients being studied. Also in the journal was a report of a woman who first developed ALSlike symptoms who then was found to be positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In all seven cases, treatment for HIV either eliminated the ALS symptoms or stabilized them. Because ALS is a progressive disease with no treatment known to stop or reverse it, this was deemed significant.

Researchers long have debated whether ALS is caused by a virus, and the new findings argue for that possibility.

"This is exciting news because if this form of ALS caused by HIV is treatable, then other forms of ALS may be treatable as well," said Dr. Burk Jubelt, a neurologist at State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, who wrote an editorial that accompanied the two journal articles.

Delayed departure?

If you're at death's door, don't count on your doctor to give you the exact time of departure.

A University of Chicago study of 326 patients dying of cancer found that even when they requested survival times, doctors would give the patients frank estimates only 37 percent of the time and would provide no estimate or overly optimistic or pessimistic estimates the rest of the time.

Part of the problem is that patients want to hear good news, which makes physicians reluctant to be frank, said Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis.

An eye opener

A widely used treatment for Graves' disease - applying radiation to the area around the eyeball - is apparently useless, a Mayo Clinic study published in the journal Ophthalmology concludes.

The study, which included only patients with mild to moderately severe cases of the eye disease caused by an abnormal thyroid, compared eyes in the same patients, treating one but not the other. It found treatment made no discernible difference.

"The effectiveness of this treatment, which has been widely used for 80 years, has never been convincingly established," said Colum Gorman, an endocrinologist at the Mayo. "Because this treatment is still in wide use, is expensive and not without risk, it is our belief that it should not be used for patients with mild or moderately severe ophthalmopathy."

Graves' disease often remits naturally, Dr. Gorman said, and a patient's eye condition will improve on its own, which is probably why doctors using radiation therapy thought it was working.