Pull up your genes

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

I recently attended the Lifestyle Medicine Conference in San Diego and learned or was reminded of some amazing information.For example, Dr. Dean Ornish, a noted health researcher and cardiologist, pointed out what lifestyle factors we can choose to improve the expression of our genes.

It turns out that our behaviors are what largely affect our health and well-being or conversely, our disease risk.At least 70 percent of our health is dominated by our behaviors, and 70-90 percent of common chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease can be avoided or even reversed with optimally healthy lifestyles.

The “book of life” that we are born with, our chromosomes and genetic material, can likewise be significantly and positively modified by healthy lifestyle choices. Continue reading

More bad news for smokers

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Smoking isn’t the only thing that raises your risk of lung cancer. As it turns out, your DNA can have that effect too.
A scientific study scanned the genomes, the entire genetic code, of 11,000 people of European descent in an effort to identify if there was any correlation between gene sequences and a common form of lung cancer, non-small cell carcinoma. They discovered that variants of certain genes increase a person’s susceptibility to developing lung cancer, especially in smokers.

One of the three gene variants they identified, named BRCA2, can double a smoker’s chance for developing lung cancer. BRCA2 is a tumor suppressor gene. It encodes a protein involved in the repair of damaged DNA, which is critical to ensure the stability of cell’s genetic material.

When cellular DNA is damaged, there are several ways for the body to detect and repair that damage. If the damage to DNA cannot be repaired, then the cell is programmed to die by a process called apoptosis in order to prevent the damage being passed on to its daughter cells. Continue reading

Tips to help children have a fun and safe Halloween

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s almost Halloween again. Before sending your little ones out in search of candy, consider the following to ensure that he or she has a trick-free Halloween:

  • Don’t buy a costume unless it’s labeled “flame-retardant.”
  • Make sure that wigs and “beards” don’t cover your child’s eyes, nose or mouths.
  • Encourage your child to choose a costume without a mask. Masks can make it difficult for your child to breathe. Use face paint instead.
  • Suggest a light-colored costume for your child, or add glow-in-the dark tape on the front and back of a dark costume.
  • Avoid oversized or high-heeled shoes that can cause your child to trip and fall.
  • Make sure that accessories, such as swords or wands are flexible.
  • Put a name tag with your phone number on or inside your child’s costume.

If your child will be trick or treating: Continue reading

Smoke alarms dramatically raise fire survival rate

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

October is fire prevention month. According to the National Fire Protection Association, a home structure fire was reported every 87 seconds in 2009.

When a fire starts in a wooden home, the inhabitants often have no more than minutes to escape. Confusion about what to do wastes those valuable minutes. Early warning given by smoke alarms is very important. Fire alarms dramatically increase the survival rate of all of the family. Two-thirds of home fires that kill children 5 and younger occur in homes without a working smoke alarm.

Make sure you change your battery when daylight saving time changes late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Parents should install an alarm on each level of the home and outside bedrooms or other sleeping areas. Remember to test alarms monthly and change batteries at least once a year — preferably twice, at biannual time changes. If an infant sleeps in a separate room, place an alarm in the room. Keep the door closed to protect against the smoke of a hallway fire. Use a baby monitor to hear it if the alarm sounds. Continue reading

Death, anyone?

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The emerging fears about Ebola are only in part about getting an infection. To put the snake on the table, the real issue is our fear of death.

The subject of death and dying is almost always difficult. As a physician, I have had the opportunity to be present and bear witness as patients died from trauma, disease and old age. Attending these souls in their final days is one of the most profound experiences in medicine. Being with death challenges the families of the dying and each of us. It pushes each of us to examine and experience the emotions, beliefs, spiritual issues, as well as earthy and pragmatic matters tied to this ultimate material transition.

If you are not in health care, you likely do not have a lot of experience with death. Perhaps you have some experience of death those in your family, workplace or friends. This is predictably painful, bringing not only grief but also more questions than answers. Continue reading

Semiprecious pathogens

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Some diseases are older than others. AIDS, for instance, is a recent phenomenon, while malaria has plagued humans for millennia.

Recently, scientists examining ticks fossilized in amber found they were infected with bacteria similar to those that cause Lyme disease, a spirochete bacteria named Borrelia burgdorferi.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of an infected tick. The discovery of an ancient Borrelia-like bacterium, now named Palaeoborrelia dominicana, shows that tick-borne diseases have been around for millions of years.

Lyme disease was identified in the early 1970s when mysterious cases of rheumatoid arthritis struck children in Lyme, Conn. and two other nearby towns.

The first symptom is a rash called erythema migrans, which begins with a small red spot where the tick bite occurred. Over the next few days or weeks, the rash gets larger, forming a circular or oval red rash much like a bull’s-eye. This rash can stay small or can cover the entire back. Continue reading

Start reading to your child by 6 weeks old

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Learning disabilities are best defined as the failure of the child to learn subject matter despite adequate intelligence, instruction and motivation.

Although learning disabilities can occur in mathematics, written expression, language problems and information processing, most children with a learning disability have a problem with learning to read.

Reading disabilities can be more devastating than other learning problems because there is less available to help the learner, such as a calculator or spell check.

There are three types of reading disabilities:

Deficits in sound-symbol association, also known as the dyslexic type of reading disability, means the child has tremendous difficulty sounding out words. These children have difficulty in recognizing that the written symbols have a certain sound. They have trouble recognizing the symbols or sounds within words. They have trouble with creating rhyming words. Some children have trouble remembering to read from top to bottom and from left to right. They may start at the end of a word reading “saw” instead of “was.” This type of reading disability is sometimes inherited. Continue reading

Falling is big risk for older women

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Selves

While most women today no longer fight off wild animals for survival, we constantly try to combat other dangers. Cancer screenings are now on most women’s preventive health agendas. We know that regular mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies help keep us safe.But what about the risks posed by taking a fall?

As we age, we fall more frequently and recover more slowly.Falls are responsible for 70 percent of accidental deaths in people 75 and older.Only seven percent of woman diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer die of their disease within five years. Yet fully one-quarter of all elderly people who fracture a hip will be dead within six months.Among those who survive a hip fracture, half end up in a nursing home after hospitalization. Of women sent to nursing homes, half remain there for more than a year.With frightening statistics like those, we need to take the dangers of falling very seriously.

Everyone loses muscle, bone mass and strength as they age.Some women envision enjoying their golden years in a rocker on the front porch, passively watching the years roll by, rather than taking life by the horns and signing up for Zumba class.Pain, arthritis, neurological conditions or incontinence may hold them back. Yet maintaining and even gaining muscle strength is a very important way to guard against falls.Weightlifting or water aerobics can increase muscle strength and function without the dangers associated with high-impact sports. Building muscle is the first step to improved balance.As children, we darted side-to-side avoiding a tag in the middle of a game, all the while building our core strength and muscle memory to keep us upright. We need to regain that kind of agility. Pilates, yoga and water aerobics classes help women improve their flexibility and balance. They allow a woman to keep her body, rather than her rocker, moving. Continue reading

You ain’t from here

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Today, I finally met and had a nice conversation with ole John Dundee, whose father’s family has been in Galveston since long before the Storm. Not Ike, the 1900 one. Oh, that big one. It is fascinating what draws people to a place and how some just settle in for generations while others move on to happier hunting grounds.

Galveston seems to be a magnet for both the lifers and the gypsies and we are all richer for it. My talk with John and his mom, who is a relative newbie to the Island, only having lived here since 1942, reminded me of Cecil, a 93-year-old patient I took care of in Colorado.Sometime in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, Cecil and his family were traversing the U.S. looking for a better life. Their Model T pickup broke down in the high country San Luis Valley of Colorado. Their only possessions were a bag of potatoes and a bag of beans, so they decided to light there and became contributing members of the community, teachers, farmers, small business owners, and so on. Continue reading

Ebola — you won’t get it from shaking hands

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A strange thing happened to me last Monday when I went to the clinic.

With the report of a man in Texas with Ebola who had been discharged from a Dallas hospital, then readmitted very sick a couple days later, I realized that any patient I came in contact with that day, or any day, might have this deadly virus.

Now we don’t usually think of work in health care as inherently a hazardous profession — say like being a soldier, firefighter or policeman. Yet it has actually always been so. From doctors and nurses who cared for patients with leprosy and bubonic plague in medieval times to those caring for the Ebola epidemic in Africa today, our colleagues in white coats put their lives on the line caring for those who have no other recourse for help.

Emergency workers, ambulance crews, and paramedics are often called into dangerous settings after shootings, bombings, and other catastrophes where the sites are not always secure or safe. They transport people with unknown diseases and unknown risk.

Of course, we have developed methods of reducing risk. Part of annual training at UTMB for all clinical staff includes reviewing universal precautions, which include several levels of infectious disease control. These range from basic hand washing and use of rubber globes to advanced personal protective equipment, including specialized gowns, masks, and in some cases like the Galveston National Laboratory, even hazmat type suits and respirators. Continue reading