• Infographic:

    Colors of the Eye

    From the famous lines of beloved songs to the stories of ancient legends, eye color has captivated audiences throughout time. The origins and genetic makeup associated with eye color makes the color of one’s eye more complex than a simple collection of aesthetic traits, however. Genes and pigment concentrations are two important factors in determining eye color. Some eye colors are more rare than others and can be linked to genetics or family origins and heritage.

    Hannah Scanga, MS, a genetic counselor at the UPMC Eye Center, explains, “The two primary genes that influence the color of the eye, primarily brown and blue eyes, are OCA2 and HERC2. Additional genes influence other eye colors and specific variations, including green or hazel eyes and gold rings.” The scale of eye color from most to least common is brown, blue, hazel, green, and silver.

    According to Ellen Mitchell, MD, “Concentrations of the pigment melanin in the iris of the eye is the primary determinant of eye color. Higher amounts of melanin lead to darker colors while lower amounts result in lighter eye colors.” Dr. Mitchell continues, “The pigment lipochrome also plays a role in determining eye color, specifically green eyes.”

    Eye color can also change due to factors like pupil size, emotions, and age. However, if these changes are drastic or only occur in one eye this may indicate a medical condition and you should discuss symptoms with a doctor.Eye Color Infographic

    Are you still curious about some of the fascinating facts behind blue (green, or brown) eyes? Visit the UPMC Eye Center website to learn more about the latest breakthroughs in the field of optometry and the different eye conditions we treat. Call 1-800-446-3797 to schedule an appointment today.

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  • 5 Ramen Noodle

    “Health Hacks”

    It’s that time of year again. The time when college students flock back to campus, ready to ace their tests, reunite with friends, and feast on the infamously unhealthy Ramen Noodles. Unfortunately, the beloved college-food was the subject of a recent health study, which linked it to series health issues. Even more disheartening? These issues were gender specific. Women who ate the noodles at least twice per week saw a 68 percent increase in their risk of cardiometabolic syndrome, while men saw no notable difference in their risk. But with all-nighters and deadlines looming, it’s not easy to toss the prepackaged delicacy into the trash for good. So what’s a busy college kid to do?

    Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, commented on the story and assured students that it doesn’t take much effort to make Ramen healthier. So next time late-night hunger strikes, try these simple steps to save your wallet and your health:

    Ramen Graphic

    1. Ditch the Seasoning

    The sky-high sodium content is the biggest health issue, so try adding flavor another way! Use water or broth and flavor it with garlic, ginger, herbs, chili, or sesame oil.

    2. Add Veggies

    If you live on campus, grab some vegetables from the salad bar to use in your Ramen. Otherwise, break out the frozen veggies to give your noodles an extra kick of nutrients!

    3. Pack in the Protein

    Chicken, shrimp, tuna, tofu, grilled salmon, eggs…the list goes on! Any protein you choose will make your Ramen healthier and keep you feeling full longer than Ramen alone.

    4. Use your Leftovers

    Have extra food from last night’s dinner? Combine it with ramen noodles (sans seasoning) for a delicious reworking that makes you forget you’re eating leftovers.

    5. Go Dry

    Cook the noodles, drain, and lightly toss in your favorite dressing or sauce! Think low-sodium soy sauce, Italian dressing, vinaigrette, or teriyaki sauce.

    6. Get Creative

    There are dozens (if not hundreds) of Ramen recipes for you to try. There are even Ramen Noodle cookbooks! So don’t settle for boring noodles, spice it up with a creative recipe.

    Eating habits tend to change when entering college mode, as campus life warrants an active and hectic lifestyle. Quick, convenient and unhealthy meals often take center stage, landing healthy eating and cooking in the bleachers. When you’re looking to get creative with regular old Ramen, check out some of our health hacks. Think of it as teaching an old dog new tricks, but this time you’re the dog and the tricks are disguised as noodles. Bring your dorm room dining to a new level while also becoming more conscious of the ingredients your putting in your body!

    How do you make your Ramen healthier? Share your ideas below!

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  • 7 Health Benefits of

    Lemon Juice

    There’s more to lemons than meets the eye. This fruit may pair well with some of your favorite dishes, but it also offers incredible health benefits. Lemons are packed with nutrients, promote weight loss, and have even been linked to kidney stone prevention and cancer treatment! This tangy fruit has also been known to possibly help halt bad breath and get rid of dandruff when applied to the scalp. In addition to its properties as a beauty treatment and health aid, there are a number of uses for lemons. Whether you enjoy the fruit alone or with your morning tea, here are just a few reasons to embrace lemons and their juice:

    1. Relieves a sore throat: Warm water mixed with honey and lemon can soothe a sore throat during cold season.
    2. Cancer-fighting benefits: Studies have shown lemons may have anticancer benefits.
    3. Prevents kidney stones: Lemon juice is shown to help prevent kidney stones by raising the urine’s citrate levels.
    4. Aid in digestion: Lemon promotes the production of digestive enzymes in the liver, which help eliminate waste from your body.
    5. High in essential nutrients: Lemons are high in many vitamins like Vitamin C (promotes immunity and battles infection), calcium (important for muscle function, intracellular signaling, and hormonal secretion), potassium (helps muscles and nerves work properly), and folate (Fights against spinal birth defects and helps red blood cell formation).
    6. Promotes weight loss: The pectin in lemons and their juice helps you feel fuller for longer, which will make your weight loss much more manageable.
    7. Helps clear skin: Lemons have natural antibacterial qualities and alpha hydroxyl acids, like many over-the-counter acne medications. It brightens, exfoliates, and helps remove blackheads!

    So how will you incorporate lemons and lemon juice into your life? Have you already seen the benefits of lemon in your daily diet or personal care regimen? Tell us in the comments below!

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  • Understanding

    Depression

    When you think of depression, you might think of being sad, or just down in the dumps. But in fact, it’s much more than that. It’s a clinical condition that can take control of your life and cause serious complications. According to the National Institute of Mental Health about 16 million people had at least one episode in the past year. To put that into perspective, that’s one out of every 10 people.

    depression graphic

    Symptoms of Depression and Treatment Options

    Depression symptoms may be different for everyone. One person may experience symptoms that seem to last for years, while others will only have moderate bouts and return to their normal life relatively quickly. However, depression can be treated, often with medication, psychological counseling or both. Other non-conventional treatments also may help. But before any type of treatment is initiated, the symptoms must be recognized. When people experience episodes of depression, they may suffer through:

    • Sadness, unhappiness, or an emptiness feeling
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Severe lack of energy where even the smallest tasks require extra effort
    • Loss of interest in hobbies or normal daily activities
    • Changes in appetite (some people may eat less and lose weight while some may overeat and gain weight)
    • Anxiety or restlessness
    • Fogginess, confusion, and slowed speaking or body movements
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide

    Causes of Depression

    Because depression is such a complex disease, the causes of it can greatly vary. One theory suggests that it may be caused from having too much or too little of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals communicate information throughout our brain and body. When the nerves that release these chemicals malfunction, too little or too much of these neurotransmitters may be released, which has been linked as a known cause of depression. Certain antidepressant medications work to control the release of these neurotransmitters.

    Yet, this information is not conclusive. Many researchers don’t agree that a simple increase or decrease of brain chemicals is the lone factor when determining that causes of depression. Rather, it’s a combination of factors, which may include:

    • Genetic vulnerability (depression may be more common in people whose relatives also suffer, or have suffered from depression)
    • Faulty mood regulation by the brain
    • Stressful life events (loss of a loved one, high stress, childhood trauma or recent trauma)
    • Medications or medical problems

    Depression Is Not Mental Weakness

    Often, people associate being depressed as a sign of weakness. In a recent study conducted by the National Mental Health Association, out of 1,022 adults interviewed by telephone, 43 percent said they believed depression is a personal weakness. However, this is far from the truth. Depression does not discriminate. It can affect anyone of any ethnicity. Whether, you’re rich or poor, or old or young, depression can affect you.

    If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, seek help. It’s never too late talk to someone about getting better. There are an array of hot lines and helpful information where you can seek the help of professionals 24 hours a day. There is also helpful information on suicide awareness and prevention.

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  • Dont Get Beat By

    The Heat

    The temperatures are rising and the weather is warm! As with every season, the summer months bring a whole new set of health risks due to the changing weather. In the midst of all the summer fun, you may be too caught up in the excitement to recognize when your body has been negatively affected by the heat. We sat down with Matthew Synan, MD, of Pulmonary Consultants–UPMC to discuss two particular health risks that people encounter during the summer: heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

    While they are two different conditions, many people often get confused because of their similarities. Both conditions are on the spectrum of temperature related illnesses, but differ in severity.

    Heat Exhaustion

    Heat exhaustion occurs when the body temperature is less than or equal to 104 F (40 C).

    Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

    • Dizziness
    • Mild confusion (which normalizes within 30 minutes of treatment)
    • A faster heart rate with normal blood pressure
    • Mild to moderate dehydration.

    Heat Stroke

    Heat stroke can be the more serious of the two conditions. It occurs when the body’s core temperature is greater than 104 F (40 C), and is characterized by:

    • Abnormal mental status (such as delirium, hallucinations, or slurred speech),
    • A faster heart rate coupled with low blood pressure
    • Moderate to severe dehydration

    There are two distinct types of heat stroke and heat exhaustion: classic and exertional. Classic heat stroke and exhaustion can occur without any activity or physical exertion and is more common in individuals age 70 or older, or those who have a chronic medical condition. Exertional heat stroke and exhaustion occurs as a result of physical activity and is most common in young individuals who engage in heavy exercise during high temperatures such as athletes and military recruits.

    Some medications, such as allergy, heart, or psychiatric prescriptions can put you at an increased risk because these medications may limit the body’s ability to sweat.

    In the event that you should develop any symptoms of heat exhaustion, take actions quickly to cool yourself down by:

    • Removing clothing
    • Spraying yourself with cool water or taking a cool bath
    • Using fans
    • Applying ice packs to the armpit, neck, and groin.

    If not taken care of quickly, both of these conditions may evolve and result in:

    • Kidney, respiratory, and liver failure
    • Muscle breakdown
    • Blood disorders
    • Death

    Some ways to prevent the onset of these conditions is to limit your physical activity outside when the temperatures are highest or perform them in the evening when it is coolest. Also, wear loose clothing and take frequent breaks. Dr. Synan stresses that by far the most important thing to do is to drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated!

    If you or someone you know has been hit with a heat-related illness, please follow these tips to help them recover. Do not hesitate to pay a visit to the Emergency Medicine at UPMC center for immediate treatment.

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NCAA Athlete Isaiah Austin Dreams Despite Marfan Syndrome Diagnosis

by Heart and Vascular Institute

Isaiah Austin, an NCAA athlete who played center for the Baylor Bears’ college basketball team, was destined to become a First Round NBA draft pick in June 2014. However, in the days leading up to the NBA draft, Austin tested positive for Marfan Syndrome. The diagnosis may have sidelined his career as an athlete —but not as an advocate for those suffering from the disease.

What is Marfan Syndrome?

Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects one out of every 5,000 men and women. It impacts the body’s connective tissue, which holds the body’s cells and organs together, playing a large part in growth and development.

The disorder is genetically inherited, and does not discriminate on the basis of gender or race. Occasionally, an individual may become the first person in the family to develop the disorder. This is known as a “spontaneous mutation.”

Marfan syndrome is present in a person from birth, though some of the signs aren’t visible until the teen years or adulthood.

Some telltale symptoms of Marfan syndrome are:

  • Aortic enlargement — This symptom may not be evident until a person is adulthood teenager or young adult
  • Tall stature
  • Thin body frame
  • Long arms, legs, and fingers
  • Crowded teeth
  • Flat feet
  • Flexible joints
  • Chest either sticks out or is sunken inward
  • Curvature of the spine
  • Stretch marks on skin not related to rapid weight loss or gain
  • Eye problems such as extreme nearsightedness, early glaucoma, or cataracts
  • Sudden collapse of a lung

Isaiah Austin fits the profile of many individuals with Marfan syndrome. He stands 7’1” and has very long limbs — one characteristic of those with the disease.  Austin is also blind in one eye as a result of a detached retina. Vision problems are a characteristic of Marfan syndrome, as well. 

Is Marfan Syndrome Deadly?

Marfan syndrome can potentially be fatal. The most common cause of death for those with the disorder is aortic dissection. Because Marfan syndrome affects the body’s connective tissues, this means that a small tear in the walls of the heart and aorta can become bigger and cause the aorta to grow wider, resulting in an aneurysm.

How Can Marfan Syndrome Be Treated?

There is no cure for Marfan syndrome, but early detection and treatment can help to prevent or slow the progress of complications. Routine heart tests can help monitor heart health for those with Marfan syndrome. In some cases, surgery may be required to replace the affected portion of the aorta or the aneurysm in order to prevent aortic dissection. Additionally, there are now medicines, such as beta blockers and angiotensin receptor blockers, that can help to delay the development of an aortic aneurysm.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC participated in a national study performed by the Pediatric Heart Network to compare the effects of treatment with beta blockers versus angiotensin receptor blockers to prevent aortic aneurysms in pediatric patients with Marfan syndrome.

What’s Next for Isaiah Austin?

As reported by Forbes, Isaiah Austin recently launched a website and is committed to raising awareness of Marfan syndrome. His website offers t-shirts that sport the slogan “Dream Again.” Sales of the shirts support the Marfan Foundation, a comprehensive resource for patients, loved ones, and health care professionals.

In an interview with ESPN, Austin said, “I had a dream that my name was going to be called,” despite his diagnosis. While he met with NBA officials ahead of the draft and discussed his ineligibility, the NBA planned to honor the young athlete and drive awareness to his cause.

In an emotional moment during the NBA draft, Austin was given a chance by the NBA to “Dream Again” when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called his name, making Austin’s dream come true. Although Austin may be sidelined from the court due to Marfan syndrome, he is destined to make one of the greatest rebounds of his career by raising awareness for those who also live with the disease.

Sources

http://www.forbes.com/sites/darrenheitner/2014/06/27/how-isaiah-austin-became-nbas-most-valuable-draft-pick/

http://www.marfan.org/about/marfan

http://www.marfan.org/about/signs

http://www.upmc.com/services/heart-vascular/programs/pages/genetics.aspx

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/mar/treatment.html

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000181.htm

http://www.isaiah-austin.com/

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About Heart and Vascular Institute

As a recognized leader in cardiovascular care — with a rich history in clinical research and innovation — the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers a full spectrum of personalized cardiovascular services. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the United States, UPMC has made significant contributions to the advancement of cardiovascular medicine.