DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please tell me something about Marfan’s syndrome. I think I know someone who has it. I can tell just by looking at him. Is it serious? Where does it come from? Is it fatal? Is there a cure for it? – Anon.

ANSWER: Marfan’s syndrome is an inherited condition, but one-quarter of Marfan patients have no family history of it. The genetic change for those people occurred during their life in the uterus.

Marfan patients are tall with long, thin arms and legs. Their fingers are greatly elongated. They have loose joints and can easily bend into contorted positions. They frequently have scoliosis – an S-shaped bend in the backbone – and they often have a depression in their breastbones. All of this makes it sound like it’s easy to spot a Marfan patient with a quick look; it isn’t. Frequently, the changes are so subtle that it takes a practiced eye to detect them. Furthermore, not every Marfan patient has all these physical changes.

What lies beneath the skin is much more important than what takes place on the surface. Often, the lens of the eye is displaced from its normal position. The aorta, the body’s largest artery that comes directly from the heart, can be stretched out of shape and subject to tearing. Heart valves are often leaky.

There is no cure for Marfan’s, but much can be done to give Marfan patients a normal life expectancy and a normal life. Beta-blocker medicines keep blood pressure on the low side and thereby prevent the aorta from tearing. Leaky heart valves can be surgically repaired when necessary. The eye lens can be put back into place.

Marfan patients should never feel that they are alone. The National Marfan Foundation can provide timely information and keep people apprised of new treatments. The foundation’s number is 1-800-8-MARFAN.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Here I go again with a question posed quite a while back. Is there a physical danger when a person chooses to leave the TV on all night while sleeping? In some cases, animals are subjected to this, and it has to affect their sensitive ears, especially when a station goes off the air and the TV is left with nothing but constant static. I think it’s unhealthy to the ears and to the pocketbook. It’s a waste of electricity. Comment, please. – L.S.

ANSWER: Comment: I’m not aware of any physical harm to the body or to the ears from leaving a TV on all night. It strikes me as strange, but not unhealthy. I know quite a few people who never turn their TVs off. Apparently the sound soothes their jangled nerves.

I agree about wasting electricity.

Re animals and their sensitive ears: I’m not qualified to comment. I’d have to take this up with a veterinarian.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’m a female between 60 and 70 years of age and would like to know what makes my right knee click when I walk. It happens every time I bend my leg. There is no pain or tenderness, none at all. – L.S.

ANSWER: The clicking or popping noises a joint makes when it bends either comes from an air bubble that forms in joint fluid and bursts when the joint moves, or from tendons rubbing over bones.

If the joint isn’t swollen, painful or stiff, the noises aren’t a sign of bad things.

My brother has knees that snap, crackle and pop, and even as a kid he had noisy knees. He can waken an entire house when he goes up the stairs. He is quite ancient now, and his knees have never given him the slightest trouble.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I understand that eating poppy seeds makes your urine test positive for drugs. Is this true? – L.M.

ANSWER: There’s a piddling amount of morphine in poppy seeds ­- not enough to affect the brain, but enough to turn sensitive urine tests positive for opiates like morphine, heroin and codeine. The urine positivity doesn’t last long.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My blood pressure in my right arm is 118 over 78. In my left arm it’s 152 over 88. Do I have high blood pressure? Why the different readings in my two arms? – B.N.

ANSWER: There should be no more than a 10-point difference in the blood pressure between the two arms. A greater difference can indicate that blood flow to the arm with the lower pressure is obstructed. A clot, a congenitally narrowed artery or a kink in an artery can make one arm’s blood pressure lower than the other’s.

You take the higher reading as the true blood pressure.

The first number in a blood-pressure reading is systolic pressure, the force imparted to blood by the heart’s pumping action. The second number, the diastolic pressure, represents pressure in the blood between heartbeats. Both numbers are important.

Normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80. Systolic pressures between 120 and 139 and diastolic pressures between 80 to 89 are called prehypertension; hypertension is another word for high blood pressure. Stage 1 high blood pressure is a systolic pressure of 140 to 159 or a diastolic pressure between 90 to 99, or both. Stage 2 high blood pressure is a systolic of 160 and above or a diastolic of or greater than 100, or both. If either reading is abnormal, that counts as high blood pressure.

You fit into stage 1 high blood pressure.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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