Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 17, 1997

In Brief
Medical News

Physician divorces linked to specialties

A prospective study has found that psychiatrists and surgeons are at greater risk of divorce than doctors in other specialties. Study results, published in the March 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that the increased risk is related to the demands inherent in these specialties as well as to the emotional experiences of those who enter them.

After decades of following 1,118 physicians who graduated from the Hopkins School of Medicine between 1948 and 1964, researchers found a 51 percent divorce rate for psychiatrists and 33 percent for surgeons, rates higher than those for internists (24 percent), pediatricians and pathologists (each 22 percent). The study revealed a 32 percent overall physician divorce rate.

According to Michael Klag, the study's senior author, "Marital counseling during residency might be beneficial for both career and family life. Also, alerting medical students to the risks in some specialties may influence their career choices or strengthen their marriages, no matter what field they choose."

Researchers note that study results did not support the common notion that job-related anxiety and depression were linked to marital breakups.

Those married before graduation had a higher divorce rate than those waiting until after graduation. "Marriage after medical school may allow the relationship to develop in a less stressful environment," Klag suggested.

The divorce rate for female physicians was higher than for males (37 percent versus 28 percent). Physicians who reported themselves to be less emotionally close to their parents, and who also expressed more anger under stress, had significantly higher divorce rates.

"Healthy marriages are characterized by deep affection, compatibility, expressiveness and successful conflict resolution," Klag said. "Feeling distant from one's parents may indicate a decreased ability to form an intimate relationship with a spouse."

Researchers added several caveats to the study's conclusions. Not only was the quality of marriages not assessed, researchers speculated that some physicians, rather than divorce, may have remained in unhappy marriages, perhaps for financial and social reasons. Too, in the 1940s and 1950s, when many of the graduates followed in the study were first married, divorce was not as socially acceptable as in later decades.

Researchers cautioned that 30 years of changing medical school student demographics may have influenced divorce risks facing today's graduating medical students and younger practicing physicians. Because most medical school graduates in the earlier years of this study were white males, today's divorce risk may vary for women and minorities, who are now enrolled in medical schools in greater numbers than in previous decades.

Klag recommended that future studies of divorce rates among physicians examine additional variables, such as the quality of marriage, physician and spouse views on their marriages, changing social views on marriage and the effect of medical school debt on marriage.

Anti-oxidants block cancer messengers, study reveals

Anti-oxidants, substances that inhibit reactions promoted by oxygen, have long been thought to be effective in fighting cancer. Now Hopkins scientists think they have zeroed in on just how anti-oxidants go about their anti-cancer tasks.

The new knowledge may help researchers not only understand the biochemical pathways of cancer, but help them develop new treatment strategies as well.

"Control of signaling pathways involving oxidants may explain why some antioxidants appear to prevent development of certain cancers," said Kaikobad Irani, a cardiology fellow and lead author of a multi-center study.

The Hopkins team found that free-radical overproduction was suppressed when cells carrying certain genes blocked the "superoxide" from signaling cells to become cancerous. Free-radicals, oxygen-containing molecules, have previously been associated with promoting cancer. The new study suggests that cancer cells themselves might cause the over-production of free radicals. If so, antioxidants, known as "free-radical scavengers," might fight the overproduction by interfering with a signaling process, thereby inhibiting cancer growth.

Anti-inflammatories reduce risk of Alzheimer's

NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, have been associated with reducing the risk for Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system characterized by mental deterioration. Recent study results showed that when over 2,000 older men and women used non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs over a 14-year period, they had a 30 to 60 percent reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

"We have seen consistent evidence that inflammation is linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease," said Walter Stewart, adjunct professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health. "It would make sense that an anti-inflammatory medication might slow the progression of the disease, and may even play a role in preventing it."

Researchers stressed that only non-aspirin NSAIDs were associated with the reduced risk. Neither aspirin nor acetaminophen seemed to offer protection. They also cautioned that because the long-term use of NSAIDs has been associated with a number of adverse effects, the public should not turn to a "wholesale" use NSAIDs. More studies are needed, Stewart added.

Other News

JHU Press puts political theory journal online

Theory and Event, a quarterly on-line journal from the Johns Hopkins University Press, has been launched. Journal editors say that the new journal will publish creative political thought in the humanities and social science and will apply the strength of electronic publishing to political theory and political science.

"This new journal will affect the way we think, it will broaden the range of issues we engage and it will embrace an enlarged cohort of participants," said professor William E. Connolly, former editor of the journal Political Theory.

Changes for international students topic of meeting

The March meeting of the Foreign Student Advisors will be held from 9 a.m to 3 p.m. on Friday, March 21, on the university's Homewood campus.

Morrie Berez, a senior immigration examiner for the Immigration and Naturalization Service will discuss upcoming changes in INS regulations as they pertain to F-1 visa recipients. Berez also will provide an update of the F-1 pilot program and expected institutional outcomes as INS further clarifies and defines occupational procedure. Sally Lawrence and Diane Culkin will discuss proposed regulatory changes pertaining to the J visa.

The meeting will convene in the morning in Remsen Hall, room 101. The afternoon session will meet in the Great Hall in Levering Hall. For more information, call (410)516-8058.

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