Family Connections in Heart Disease

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 8, 2015

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy most commonly affects the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart.

Over the past several decades, researchers have discovered that many heart diseases are genetic (inherited), resulting in changes in how these diseases are diagnosed and managed.

“We believe that in cases of inherited heart disease, it is extremely important to focus care on the entire family,” explains Dr. Carolyn Ho, Medical Director of the Cardiovascular Genetics Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). “In addition to developing and delivering therapies that are tailored for patients with inherited heart disease, we work closely with their families to identify those at risk of also developing the disease.”

One of the most common genetic heart diseases is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (also known as HCM), which affects between one in 500 and one in 1,000 people in the general population. HCM is characterized by an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle. The left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart, is most commonly affected. BWH researchers determined that HCM is caused by mutations in a group of related genes within the sarcomere, a network of proteins that make up the molecular motor of the heart and coordinate the contraction and relaxation of the heart muscle. Other examples of inherited heart disease include Marfan syndrome, genetic dilated cardiomyopathy, and inherited cardiac arrhythmias.

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Gestational Diabetes: Managing Risk During and After Pregnancy

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 6, 2015

The initial approach to treating gestational diabetes mellitus is to control a mother’s blood glucose levels with healthy eating and physical activity.

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a type of diabetes that occurs only in pregnancy. It comes on in the second half of pregnancy, and it goes away after delivery. Obesity is one of the main risk factors for GDM. In the United States, most health centers screen all women for gestational diabetes, because obesity is becoming so common in the overall population. It’s estimated that five percent of all pregnancies are complicated by GDM. The rates of GDM are even higher in Hispanic and non-white populations, ranging from 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies.

Women with GDM may require high-risk pregnancy care due to complications that may arise during pregnancy and childbirth. Women with GDM have an increased risk of preeclampsia, a condition that is characterized by pregnancy- induced high blood pressure. Preeclampsia is a serious condition that can lead to early delivery. Women who have gestational diabetes also may have larger babies, increasing their risk of cesarean section.

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Eat and Work Earlier in the Day for Better Glucose Tolerance

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 24, 2015

Eating late at night and working overnight both increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A new research study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) suggests that it’s not only what we eat that impacts our health, but when we eat.

According to the research, eating later in the day lowers the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, also known as low glucose tolerance.  The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2015, also found that night shift workers who sleep during the day and work overnight had lower glucose tolerance than those who are awake during the day and sleep at night. This, in turn, can impact health issues like weight gain, insulin resistance, and risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

The study compared circadian rhythms, sleep/wake cycles, and mealtime to blood glucose levels in 14 healthy participants. All subjects participated in two protocols. In one protocol, the individuals were awake during the day, had their first meal at 8 a.m., their last meal at 8 p.m., and slept at night. In the second, they slept during the day, had their first meal at 8 p.m., stayed up all night, and had their last meal at 8 a.m.

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Progress in Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment – Targeting Amyloid Beta Protein

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 21, 2015

Development of plaques and tangles in the brain lead to the characteristic Alzheimer's disease symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline.

Alzheimer’s disease is a complex disorder of the most human aspect of biology: the thinking part of the brain. Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include a gradual loss of memory and other aspects of cognitive function over the course of 10 to 20 years. These symptoms appear to be due to the insidious buildup of a protein in the brain referred to as the amyloid protein, or amyloid beta protein.

Long before a person exhibits Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, he or she will build up plaques in the brain composed of the amyloid beta protein. Shortly after the initial development of plaques, tangles also will build up in the brain. The tangles are made up of the tau protein. The plaques and tangles together mount up over decades, leading to a short-circuiting of nerve cells in the brain and the characteristic Alzheimer’s disease symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline.

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Eating Whole Grains May Reduce Risk for Hypertension and Weight Gain

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 17, 2015

Studies suggest whole grains are healthful and reduce risk for disease and weight gain.

September is Whole Grains Month. Whole grains are healthful carbohydrates that come from a wide variety of sources and deliver tremendous nutrients and health benefits. While some forms of carbohydrates, such as refined grains, may be unhealthy, research suggests that eating whole grain carbohydrates can prevent weight gain and reduce the risk for some diseases.

A research study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital discovered that men who consumed whole grains had a reduced risk for developing hypertension compared to those who didn’t eat them. The 18-year study observed the eating habits of more than 31,000  healthy men aged 40 to 75 years old. At the start of the study, all participants were  without known hypertension, cancer, stroke, or coronary heart disease. Every two years, the men filled out food frequency questionnaires to assess their average whole-grain food intake. Compared to men who consumed little-to-no whole grains, men who consumed whole grains, especially in high amounts, had a significantly reduced risk for developing hypertension.

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New Biodegradable Gel Helps Heal Wounds

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 15, 2015

A hydrogel developed by the BWH Biomedical Engineering Division team is strong, flexible, and biocompatible.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) bioengineers have a developed a unique hydrogel whose properties could provide significant benefits in wound healing. The BWH Biomedical Engineering Division team, led by biomedical engineer Ali Khademhosseini, PhD, MASc, and chemical engineer Nasim Annabi, PhD, reported their findings in the July 1, 2015, online edition of Advanced Functional Materials.

“Hydrogels are widely used in biomedicine, but currently available materials have limitations,” says Khademhosseini, study senior author and Director of the BWH Biomaterials Innovation Research Center. “Some synthetic gels degrade into toxic chemicals over time, and some natural gels are not strong enough to withstand the flow of arterial blood through them.”

Preclinical testing by the BWH Biomedical Engineering Division researchers, however, shows that their hydrogel is strong, flexible, and biocompatible (harmless to living tissue).

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When Timing is Critical – Understanding Treatment Options for Cancers of the Pancreas and Biliary Tract

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 10, 2015

Dr. Thomas Clancy, surgical oncologist

Cancers of the pancreas and biliary tract are often difficult to diagnose and treat, as there are no established screening tests and often no early warning signs. Because these cancers tend to present when they are more advanced, avoiding delays in initiating treatment is important.

The Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/ Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center was created to bring together providers from multiple specialties to provide coordinated and timely care for patients with cancers of the pancreas and biliary tract. The Center also provides care for patients with premalignant lesions of the pancreas and biliary tract. These are tumors or masses that are not yet cancers, but may require surgery or careful monitoring.

In this video, Thomas E. Clancy, MD, FACS, Surgical Oncology, and Brian M. Wolpin, MD, MPH, Medical Oncology, review current treatment approaches for patients with pancreatic and biliary cancers and discuss research on new methods to improve diagnosis and treatment of these cancers.

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A NICU Homecoming – Twins Return to Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 8, 2015

Twin sisters Alex (left) and Justine Bryar haven't strayed far from their BWH birthplace.

In July 1987, twin sisters Justine and Alexandra Bryar were born at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) at 25 weeks gestation, each weighing only three pounds. For months, their parents visited the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) daily to be with their newborn girls. BWH became a home away from home for nearly the entire first year of their lives.

“There was a little family that formed around us,” said Justine, referring to the physicians and nurses who not only provided life-saving care, but also comforted the family throughout their journey.

Despite their struggles at birth, Justine and Alex grew into healthy young women. Now, years later, they have both rejoined the Brigham family in new ways – Justine as an assistant director for BWH Development and Alex as a primary care medical assistant at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. Alex dreams of becoming a nurse and working in the NICU someday.

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Tips for Grilling Food Safely

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 3, 2015

Grilling meat can produce cancer-causing chemicals.

Though Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer, many of us will continue to enjoy grilled food throughout September and early October. Follow these tips to enjoy grilled foods safely on the Labor Day weekend and beyond.

Handle Food Properly

  • Store raw meat, fish, and poultry away from other foods. All foods should be wrapped tightly to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Keep meat refrigerated until about 30 minutes before cooking.
  • Germs such as E-coli and salmonella can be present in undercooked food and cause severe illnesses. Don’t rely on external appearance: use a grill thermometer or cut into the meat to gauge if food has been cooked to the desired doneness.
  • To kill bacteria reliably, hamburgers have to be cooked until “well done” (160 degrees Fahrenheit), ground poultry to 165 degrees, and poultry parts to 180 degrees.
  • Do not return cooked poultry to a plate that held raw poultry. Bring along extra disposable dishes and containers to keep raw meats separate from cooked foods.
  • Do not use an implement (e.g., a knife) for cooked meat or any other food after using it on raw meat.

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Living with Atrial Fibrillation – Diagnosis and Treatment

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 1, 2015

It is important to treat atrial fibrillation, because the condition can worsen over time.

Are you or a family member one of the two million Americans living with atrial fibrillation? Atrial fibrillation (AFib, AF) is an abnormal heart rhythm that causes the upper chambers of the heart to beat in a rapid, irregular pattern. Seeking AFib treatment is important, as the condition can progress over time. Untreated, AFib can lead to an increased risk of stroke or heart failure.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation can include palpitations, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Although the exact cause of AFib is not completely understood, it often is associated with increased age, sleep apnea, surgery, and a number of heart ailments, including hypertension, valvular heart disease, heart failure,  or congenital heart disease. AFib treatment typically  includes medication or ablation therapy.

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