A Warning About Wireless Internet / Broken Heart Syndrome / A Question About Science and Engineering

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Gwen Outen. And I'm Doug Johnson. On our program this week: A medical condition called "broken heart syndrome. " A warning about a new way to steal computer information. And an answer to a listener's question about science and engineering.

A small, new study has found that sudden emotional stress can cause heart failure in mostly healthy older women. The condition is known as stress cardiomyopathy. Some people call it broken heart syndrome. That is because often the emotional stress is caused by sadness. But, it also can be the result of fear, anger or shock.

Although stress cardiomyopathy is not a heart attack, experts say the condition can be mistaken for one. A heart attack happens when a blood clot or other blockage in the coronary arteries cuts off blood flow to the heart. This can kill heart muscle cells and cause heart muscle to die. Some signs of heart attack include crushing chest pain, shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs, and heart failure.

A person with stress cardiomyopathy has similar symptoms. But the problem is caused by a weakening of the heart that decreases its ability to pump blood. It is a temporary condition. Unlike a heart attack, there is no lasting damage to the heart muscle after treatment. And most patients fully recover very quickly.

A group of Japanese doctors first recognized broken heart syndrome in the nineteen-nineties. But this is the first time researchers have identified the condition in the United States. Ilan Wittstein led a team of researchers at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers studied nineteen people who had been treated at the hospital for signs of a heart attack between nineteen ninety-nine and two thousand three. All but one of the people were women. The average age of the patients was sixty-three. All of the patients had experienced a sudden stressful event just before suffering heart failure. These events included a car accident, robbery and the death of a loved one. All the patients survived the heart failure. But, the researchers say some would have died without treatment.

Researchers say some people react to extreme emotional events by releasing very high levels of the stress-related hormone adrenaline and other chemicals. They say these chemicals weaken the heart muscle, making it temporarily unable to pump blood. The people in the study had adrenaline levels that were between seven and thirty-four times higher than normal. But when their level of stress eased, their hearts began pumping normally again.

Doctor Wittstein says it is important that doctors be able to tell the difference between a heart attack and stress cardiomyopathy. He says as more doctors recognize the condition, they will learn how to treat it. He says this will help people avoid unnecessary medical operations and having to take heart medicines for long periods of time.

The communications industry is warning computer users to guard against a new way to steal private information. They say this kind of theft is increasing. Thieves are linking their computers with other computers and stealing information that can cost honest computer users a great deal of money. They are doing this by using the most modern computer communications method -- wi-fi.

Wi-fi is a short way of saying wireless fidelity. Wi-fi permits computer users to link with the Internet communications system without using wires and a telephone.

Computer industry experts say wi-fi is the fastest growing part of the computer industry. The experts say there are about twenty thousand wi-fi Internet places in the United States.

This is how wi-fi works. Most modern wireless laptop computers have special equipment that links them with the Internet. They use an extremely low power radio in the laptop to make the link. The laptop must be within several meters of a device called a router. Routers can be placed almost anywhere.

The router is connected to another computer that is linked to the Internet. As a result, a person with a small laptop computer can use the machine to link with the Internet at any place that has a router.

Router links have become very popular. They are in hotels, airports and in eating places called coffee shops. Computer users can do work, read electronic mail, buy or sell products and send and receive business information. They can do this while they are eating or waiting for an airplane.

However, any information they send or receive with their computer can be stolen. One method used by thieves to steal such information is called the "evil twin." For example, a computer user is sitting in a coffee shop and wants to link his computer with a local router and the Internet.

Trying to link with the coffee shop's router will not succeed if a thief's computer is closer to the router. A nearby thief has made his computer copy the local router to make it a twin. The thief can then copy information from the other computer without that person knowing the information has been stolen. The honest person believes the connection is to a legal router and the Internet. There is no way of knowing the information in the computer is at risk.

Security experts say another method used by thieves is to gather information by reading a computer screen. Thieves do this in a public place. They have even used video cameras to record the information they are trying to steal.

Experts say it is easy to guard against this kind of theft. They say to make sure no one can read your computer screen while you are working in a pubic place. Other methods of protecting your information involve special computer programs. One of these is called a firewall. A firewall prevents anyone from electronically entering your computer to search for information. Some programs make your computer invisible to anyone on the Internet. Most also block any attempt to spy on your Internet activities.

One expert says more than half the computers in the United States that are used for business lack protection and could be attacked. Information theft from wi-fi connections is a problem for computer users everywhere.

Most experts agree that computer users should learn how to protect their computers and information from those who would spy or steal. Industry experts say only education and good security will stop information theft.

A listener from Nigeria has sent us a timely question. Abdulkadir Usman of Gombe State wants to know the difference between science and engineering. Since this is National Engineering Week, we feel we must answer!

The VOA Special English Word Book defines science as the study of nature and the actions of natural things, and the knowledge gained about them. The Word Book does not define engineering. But, it says an engineer is a person who designs engines, machines, bridges, roads and railroads.

Perhaps that definition is a little narrow. There are engineers who do not make any kind of engine or machine. For example, a chemical engineer may develop new drugs or plastic products. Other examples include biomedical engineers and environmental engineers.

Engineering is linked to science. However, we did not note that connection in the Word Book. In fact, engineers are sometimes called applied scientists. This is because engineers use science in their work.

For example, a structural engineer will use physics, mathematics, and material science to build bridges, underground passageways or other structures. So the simple answer is that scientists usually gather information in the field or laboratory. And, generally, engineers use that information to produce things.

If you have a general question about science, we would like to hear from you. Write to us at Special English, Voice of America, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, U.S.A. Or listeners can send e-mail to special@voanews.com.

This program was written by Cynthia Kirk, Paul Thompson and Caty Weaver. Cynthia Kirk was our producer. I'm Gwen Outen. And I'm Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

Source: A Warning About Wireless Internet / Broken Heart Syndrome / A Question About Science and Engineering
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