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Health Highlights: Sept. 19, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Parkinson's Drug May Raise Heart Failure Risk: FDA

A possible increased risk of heart failure associated with the Parkinson's disease drug Mirapex (pramipexole) is being investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Recent studies suggest the increased risk but do not prove that the prescription drug increases the risk of heart failure, the FDA said.

Some studies showed that patients who took Mirapex suffered heart failure more often than those who took a placebo, but the results were not statistically significant. Two studies suggested an increased risk of new onset of heart failure among patients who took Mirapex, but did not prove whether this increased risk was related to Mirapex use or other factors.

The FDA said it is continuing to work with the drug maker to clarify the risk of heart failure with Mirapex and will provide an update when more information is available.

In the meantime, healthcare professionals should continue to follow prescribing recommendations on the drug label and patients should continue to take the drug as directed, the FDA said.

Mirapex belongs to a class of drugs called dopamine agonists and is used to treat the signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease and moderate to severe symptoms of restless legs syndrome.

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FDA Testing Arsenic Levels in Rice

There's no evidence so far to suggest that rice sold in the United States has unsafe levels of arsenic, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency is analyzing arsenic levels in 1,200 samples of rice products bought in grocery stores, including short- and long-grain rice, cereals, drinks and rice cakes, the Associated Press reported.

On Wednesday, the FDA released the results from 200 of the samples. The agency's study will not be completed until the end of the year.

The FDA is being asked by consumer groups to set federal guidance on allowable levels of arsenic in rice. Currently, there is no federal standard for how much arsenic is allowed in food.

It's believed that rice contains higher levels of arsenic than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, optimal conditions for arsenic to be absorbed in the rice, the AP reported.

Two forms of arsenic -- organic and inorganic -- are present in water, soil, air and food. Organic arsenic passes through the body quickly and is essentially harmless, according to the FDA. Inorganic arsenic, which is found in some pesticides and insecticides, can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period, the agency said.

The FDA's findings from the first 200 samples were released after Consumers Union released its own study of 223 samples of rice products and called for federal standards on arsenic in rice. Both studies found similar levels of arsenic in the products, but there is no way to say how dangerous these levels are without a federal government standard, the AP reported.

Consumers shouldn't stop eating rice, but should eat a diverse diet just in case, according to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg .

"Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains -- not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food," she said, the AP reported.

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Pacifier Use Affects Boys' Emotional Development: Study

Heavy pacifier use during early childhood may lead to stunted emotional development in males, new research suggests.

The University of Wisconsin-led team conducted three experiments. In a test of interpersonal empathy, 6- and 7-year old boys who regularly used pacifiers when they were younger were less likely than other boys their age to mimic the smiles and frowns of other people, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The other two experiments involved college students. Males who were heavy pacifier users as young children scored lower than others on a test of their ability to assume someone else's point of view and on a test that required them to make decisions that relied on understanding the feelings of others.

The researchers said further research is needed to determine why the link between pacifier use and emotional development was found only in boys, the Times reported.

The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.

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