Gout is a common, but complex, form of arthritis. It occurs when urate crystals (derived from uric acid) accumulate in joints, causing inflammation and intense pain, often in the big toe. It’s not uncommon for an attack of gout to happen suddenly, waking you up in the middle of the night.

A new study suggests that obstructive sleep apnea — breathing disruptions that affect sleep — may raise the risk of gout. Individuals with sleep apnea and gout share some common health challenges such as hypertension and diabetes, and risk factors like obesity and alcohol use.

The researchers did not propose any specific remedies but said that dealing with sleep apnea problems promptly may prevent other, seemingly unrelated problems later. That’s an idea worth sleeping on.

Pregnancy Prevention App

The Food & Drug Administration has approved the first-ever app to prevent pregnancy, though there remain plenty of folks skeptical that the device actually works. Called Natural Cycles, the app asks women to take their body temperature upon waking and keep a daily digital log, which the app uses to track when women are ovulating.

According to the FDA, the app’s typical-use failure rate was 6.5 percent in large-scale clinical trials, compared to the 24 percent failure rate for the similar and more familiar “rhythm method.”

The typical-use failure rate for birth control pills is around 9 percent, for condoms alone 18 percent and for hormonal IUDs less than 1 percent. Skeptics say just taking morning temperatures isn’t enough to calculate ovulation cycles. Other factors may confound.

The app, they say, may represent a technological boost to a time-honored method, but the latter has never been the safest nor most reliable.


A new study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reports that Montmorency tart cherries may boost gut health. Researchers had nine adults drink 8 ounces of tart cherry juice from concentrate every day. After five days, the researchers reported they found more “good” bacteria in the participants’ guts, though the actual bacteria measured varied by individual.

The pit in the study: It was sponsored by the Cherry Marketing Institute, which says it wasn’t involved in the research but, as STAT notes, claims its mission is “to increase the demand for Montmorency tart cherries through promotion, market expansion, product development and research.”

Body of Knowledge

Information travels at different speeds within the body depending upon the central nervous system cell involved. Some messages travel as “slow” as half a meter (1.6 feet) per second, while others cover 120 meters (393 feet) in the same amount of time. Given the actual distances involved, it’s all quite speedy.

Get Me That, Stat!

Apparently, Dr. Google is a psychiatrist, too. A new survey of 1,300 people, sponsored by Hopelab and Well Being Trust, found that 90 percent of 14- to 22-year-olds with moderate to severe symptoms of depression go online to research mental health issues. Seventy-five percent tap into blogs, podcasts and videos to explore other people’s experiences.


1 in 7: Estimate of babies exposed to Zika virus in the womb who have health problems, including seizures, difficulties hearing and swallowing and neurodevelopmental abnormalities.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Doc Talk

CC: Chief complain; the patient’s primary concern

Phobia of the Week

Aichmophobia: the fear of needles and other pointed objects

Life in Big Macs

One hour of jogging in place (which probably beats jogging to a fast food joint) burns 544 calories (based on a 150-pound person), or the equivalent of 0.8 Big Macs.

Never Say “Diet”

The Major League Eating record for cheese curds is 5 pounds, 2 ounces, in 6 minutes, held by Darron Breeden of Orange, Va. Cheese curds are moist pieces of curdled milk. Whey to go, Darron.

Best Medicine

A woman in labor suddenly shouted, “Shouldn’t! Wouldn’t! Couldn’t! Didn’t! Can’t!”

“Don’t worry,” said the doctor to the worried husband, standing nearby. “Those are just contractions.”


“A natural death is where you die by yourself without the aid of a doctor.” — Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Medical History

This week in 1953, at the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in Jefferson, La., Carolyn Anne and Catherine Anne Mouton were the first conjoined twins to be successfully separated through surgery. They were connected at the waist, the result of a single fertilized ovum that divided imperfectly.

Med School

Q: Which of these glands produces tears?

a) Lacrimal

b) Laryngeal

c) Latissimal

d) Longitudinal

A: Lacrimal, derived from the Latin word “lacrima,” meaning tear

Last Words

“God will pardon me. That’s his line of work.” — Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), a German poet best known for lyric poetry set to music by contemporary composers such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert

Scott LaFee is a staff writer at UC San Diego Health and the former chief science writer at The San Diego Union-Tribune, where he covered science, medicine and technology. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.