The year of 2013 was full of health-related headlines — stories that intersected with politics, pop culture, and the Boston Marathon bombing.
We asked Boston.com readers to rank the most significant or memorable health stories in 2013.
Here’s the ranking, in reverse order.
Pictured: Angelina Jolie, who revealed she had a double mastectomy. Next
10. Angelina Jolie has mastectomy after test reveals cancer risk
Jolie’s announcement in May that she had a double mastectomy underscored the difficult decisions women face when they have a frightening family history of breast cancer. Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer in her 50s after being diagnosed with the disease 10 years earlier. Jolie found out she carried a mutation on the BRCA1 gene that gave her an 87 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer.
With advances in genetic screening and cancer prevention research, women who have close family members with breast or ovarian cancer often face a string of maddening questions. Jolie’s decision to have her breasts removed is one that many women make after being told they carry one of the two known BRCA mutations.
9. Beth Israel Deaconess medical staff treat bombing suspect
The 29-year-old trauma nurse was on-call at home, unwinding in front of a “Friends’’ television marathon on a Friday night. She had been ministering to patients horribly injured in the Boston Marathon bombings and craved a distraction. But she couldn’t resist flipping to the news, and as she did, police surrounded Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, cowering and bloody inside a parked pleasure boat.
Then her phone rang.
A nursing supervisor told the young woman to hurry into work. She didn’t know it yet, but within hours, she would be one of Tsarnaev’s bedside nurses, soothing the accused terrorist’s pain and healing his wounds — just as she had done for some of his victims.
8. 100 businesses apply to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Mass.
Massachusetts residents head into 2014 poised to learn where the state’s first medical marijuana dispensaries will be located. Voters approved a ballot initiative in the fall of 2012 that legalized use of marijuana for medical treatment, and state regulators spent much of this past year crafting regulations and narrowing the initial field of 181 initial dispensary applicants to 100, who submitted applications by the November deadline. Regulators aim to announce the names of the finalists by the end of January. The 2012 ballot initiative stipulated that health officials could register up to 35 dispensaries in the first year, with no more than five per county. Next
7. The American Medical Association classifies obesity as a disease
Weight management specialists widely cheered the American Medical Association’s decision to label obesity as a disease at its annual meeting in July — including those who have previously argued that obesity isn’t always equivalent to poor health.
The definition of obesity as a measure of body mass index — a calculation based on weight in relation to height — is tied to disease risks.
Boston-area physicians who treat obesity believe that the AMA’s new designation will improve insurance reimbursements for obesity drugs, surgery to shrink the stomach and reverse the condition, and counseling to help overweight folks make lifelong changes to their diet and activity regimens.
New cholesterol treatment guidelines generate controversy
A smaller number of older Americans with hypertension could be put on blood pressure-lowering medications if doctors follow new advice from a panel of experts. The guidelines, published in December in the Journal of the American Medical Association, raise the threshold for treating those over age 60, recommending that doctors don’t prescribe medications until levels reach 150/90 mmHg instead of the previous recommendation of 140/90 mmHg that was issued 10 years ago.
State and federal insurance exchanges rolled out
In October, Americans lacking health insurance were supposed to be able to sign up for coverage, federal officials said, despite Tea Party Republicans’ efforts to torpedo President Obama’s health care law or cripple its implementation.
But the debut of the health insurance marketplaces — a critical component of the law that mandates most Americans obtain insurance by January — had been tarnished, politically and practically, by the threat of a government shutdown. Advocates feared that the added uncertainty would deter people from signing up for health insurance.
4. FDA seeks to ban partially hydrogenated oils, one of the main sources of trans fats
Heart-damaging trans fat may soon vanish completely from supermarket products such as microwave popcorn, pie crusts, frosting, and biscuit dough after the Food and Drug Administration in November proposed banning the artificially manufactured fat from the food supply.
Under the proposed regulation, partially hydrogenated oils, a type of trans fat, would be dropped from the agency’s list of safe ingredients and could no longer be added to foods. The FDA has taken such action only a handful of times — to remove certain artificial sweeteners in the 1970s, and when it prohibited adding caffeine to alcoholic beverages.
The average American eats about 1 gram of trans fat each day compared with 4.6 grams per day in 2003 — before the FDA began requiring food products to list trans fat content on their nutrition labels.
3. First responders, hospitals save lives at the Boston Marathon finish line
Boston’s trauma centers have been widely praised for saving dozens of victims of the Marathon bombings, treating one person after another who arrived at their doors with limbs torn off or mangled, some patients having lost most of their blood.
The day’s utter chaos made missteps inevitable, but in the months since, the hospitals have found lessons to be learned from the moments of confusion and occasional miscommunication.
Boston’s six major trauma centers, which treated the most seriously injured victims, have already made some changes for handling mass emergencies and are continuing to review their performance for ways to strengthen the city’s already sophisticated trauma system and share their lessons with hospitals nationwide.
2. Treatment, recovery of survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings
Three days had passed since the bombs went off.
Doctors had done what they could and left him to recover in a coma. She was sitting by his side when he opened his eyes. There was panic in them.
She asked him: Who’s the most beautiful girl in the world? It was a question he had posed rhetorically and answered a thousand times.
Jenny May, he whispered. He remembered.
Since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, the Globe has chronicled the recovery of several victims, including Marc Fucarile, who is adjusting to life with his fiancee and 5-year-old son after losing a leg.
1. Healthcare.gov full of glitches, preventing thousands from signing up for health coverage
The launch of the federal health insurance exchange, Healthcare.gov, on Oct. 1, experienced major glitches as thousands of Americans in 36 states attempted to log on to shop for health insurance. The political fall-out made this the story that kept making headlines day after day. The administration blamed unexpectedly high traffic, and software and system design flaws. As a result of the glitch-ridden website coupled with a looming Jan. 1 deadline to acquire health insurance, the Obama administration quietly released a last-minute deadline extension. State websites, including the Massachusetts Health Connector have also been plagued with problems that have prevented many state residents from signing up for needed health insurance by Dec. 31. Back to the beginning
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