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The strange case of the imperial earlobes

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Emperor Hadrian

The trouble with filling this page only once every six weeks is that topical events I might have written about are likely to pass into history before my contribution appears.

For example, had I been able to do so earlier, I would have suggested visiting the British Museum’s exhibition entitled “Hadrian: empire and conflict”. But I only experienced it myself after my last page was published and, since the exhibition closes this weekend (26 October 2008), there is no longer any point in plugging it.

So why might I have recommended the exhibition? Because of Hadrian’s imperial earlobes, that’s why.

OK, I know what’s on your mind. You are thinking: hang on — this is a journal for health professionals and not an appropriate forum for allowing this “Didapper” person, to admit to an an earlobe fetish. Well it’s not like that, honest.

Here’s the thing. Most sculptures of Hadrian show marked diagonal creases in his earlobes, which — and here comes the healthcare link to keep the editor sweet — are apparently characteristic of heart disease.

A possible connection between creased earlobes and coronary artery disease was first noted in the 1950s and was investigated in the 1980s in a study of 1,000 patients admitted to a large hospital.

Hypertension specialist William Elliott found that 74 per cent of the 373 patients with earlobe creases had coronary artery disease but only 16 per cent of the 627 with no earlobe creases had the disease.

One possible earlobe-heart mechanism suggested by Dr Elliott is the loss of elastin, which both causes earlobe creasing and contributes to the hardening of arteries.

But back to Hadrian. Born in AD76, Publius Aelius Hadrianus was installed as Roman emperor in 117. He is famous for being the first emperor to grow a beard, which he persisted with even though it made him look like the comedian Rory McGrath.

Oh, and he also ordered the erection of a wall across northern England. This is generally thought of as a military defence but it may well have been just a boundary marker or a monument to himself or simply a way of keeping his soldiers out of mischief.

Hadrian died in 138, aged 62. And guess what? Roman writers who recorded his failing health describe symptoms such as oedema that could well be related to heart failure.

So why don’t we all head for the nearest mirror and check out our earlobes?

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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