May 2004 Health News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.

A regular eye exam can help manage diabetes

In honor of national Healthy Vision Month in May, ophthalmologists are focusing on diabetic retinopathy - a common complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness by damaging blood vessels in the eyes. A regular, simple eye exam is just as important for managing diabetes as monitoring blood sugar and watching the diet, says Dr. Yu-Guang He, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"Your eye is a unique organ - it is like a window to your whole body," Dr. He says. "Physicians can take a peek at the blood vessels inside the eye and get an idea of the damage caused by diabetes in other parts of the body.

"More important, we can identify lesions caused by diabetes in the early stages through eye exams. As a result, we may realize significantly better results for these lesions, before there is irreversible damage."

Diabetic retinopathy causes no symptoms in its early stages and patients should not wait to get a checkup until they notice problems, Dr. He says. By then it may be too late.

Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem


Macadamia nut oil is heart healthy - but at what cost? 

Will there soon be a run on macadamia nut oil at area groceries?

Another low-carbohydrate diet book scheduled to hit bookstores in May touts macadamia nut oil as a "powerful secret ingredient" that will help people lose weight and keep it off.

According to Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, macadamia nut oil is a "heart healthy choice" because it is high in monounsaturated fatty acids.

But it's also definitely costlier than other equally healthy alternatives.

"There are all sorts of nut oils out there, such as macadamia, cashew and even walnut," Ms. Sandon says. "But is the average person going to be able to find them, as well as afford them? Olive oil offers about the same features and is much more available and less expensive."

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard


In a quest for quiet, snorers should get in shape and lose weight   

Snoring, caused when the palate obstructs the airway, can be the result of several factors - one being obesity. Doctors say getting in shape and losing weight can help make things quieter around your house.

"We do know that when the whole body gains weight, the palate gets thicker," said Dr. J.R. Williams, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "That can create an obstruction in the airway. When people lose 15 pounds or more, we begin to see shrinkage in the palate that can help relieve the snoring."

Obstructive sleep apnea certainly needs to be considered when snoring is associated with symptoms of excessive daytime fatigue, relative insomnia and morning headaches. There is no substitute for a complete history and physical. Also, an overnight sleep study may be required before specific and realistic recommendations can be made for each patient.

Media contact: Steve O'Brien


How to avoid common warm-weather poison exposures 

Cooking outdoors can often result in poison exposures that bring a swift end to open-air activities, says Dr. Rebeca Gracia, clinical instructor of toxicology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and interim director of the North Texas Poison Center.

To avoid such exposures, she says, some simple safety precautions should be followed:

  • Do not pick foods in the wild. Eating wild plants that resemble grocery store produce can cause severe injury or death. Poison hemlock roots - possibly fatal if eaten - resemble wild carrots or parsnips. Mushrooms known as "death caps" also grow easily in yards and parks.
  • Do not use brush from campsites as a fire starter. If a twig of poison ivy gets into the fire, its smoke can cause blisters inside your nose, throat and breathing passages.
  • Keep alcoholic beverages and lighter fluid away from children. Any drink containing alcohol can cause low blood sugar, seizures, coma and death in children. Petroleum-based liquids such as lighter fluid can cause pneumonia if ingested by a child.
  • Keep cold foods on ice and hot food over heat. Once food reaches room temperature, it should be kept out no more than one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or higher. Raw meat and poultry should be kept separate from other raw foods and from cooked foods.

Keep the phone number to your local poison center handy. From anywhere in the United States, dial 1-800-222-1222 to reach the local poison center.

Media Contact: Rachel Horton


Limiting sexual partners best defense against virus linked to cervical cancer 

In the fight against cervical cancer, knowledge is the key.

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is linked to more than 95 percent of cervical cancer cases. It is transmitted through sexual contact and exposure is common, especially in women under age 30. There are usually no symptoms, nor is there a treatment to eradicate the viral infection.

Limiting the number of sexual partners and avoiding sex with people who have had many other partners decreases your risk of exposure to HPV, says Dr. Carolyn Muller, associate professor of gynecologic oncology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Condoms can reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of exposure. Although the virus is associated with cervical precancers and cancer, only a fraction of infected women will develop lesions.

"The best screening tool for detecting cervical precancers is a Pap smear, and this should be done annually in young women," Dr. Muller says. "The time between Pap smears may be extended in certain circumstances, and this should be discussed with the physician. There are times when the combination of Pap smears and HPV testing can be helpful for care planning, and this also can be best discussed with a physician."

The American Cancer Society estimates about 12,200 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, and 4,100 women will die.

Media Contact: Scott Maier

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