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The Heliotrope Sign of Dermatomyositis The Correct Meaning of the Term Heliotrope

Teresa Russo, MD; Vincenzo Piccolo, MD; Eleonora Ruocco, MD, PhD; Adone Baroni, MD, PhD
Arch Dermatol. 2012;148(10):1178. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2012.2596.
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A common misconception is that the word heliotrope refers to the localization of the cutaneous lesions on sun-exposed areas. The terms heliotrope and heliotropic mean “turning towards the sun” and derive from Greek helios (ηλιος), meaning “sun,” and trepein (τρϵ"πϵιν), meaning “to turn.” Over the years, the term heliotrope has been used to indicate things that either reflect or turn to the sun, including an instrument for land survey, a mineral, and, above all, a flower.

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Figure. Helianthus annuus.




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Heliotropium and Incredible History in Medicine, Art, Culinary Use et al
Posted on February 2, 2013
Patrick R Carrington MD
Adult & Pediatric Dermatology Greenwood Village Colorado
Conflict of Interest: None Declared
Heliotropium amplexicaule, the grasping or blue heliotrope, has a remarkable connection to gardens, animal life, art, cooking and medicine. As the authors iterate, the species in the genus Heliotropium with blue flowers (inflorescences) was selected to dramatize the bluish color of the eyelids associated with dermatomyositis. But, the particular species producing the blue color are geographically variable plus not all produce a blue flower. Hence, the main descriptor Heliotropium suffices to denote the bluish illusion in this disease. Heliotropium spp contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids which may function as a defense mechanism against insects but also may attract certain insects. Although only about 3-4% of flowering plants contain this toxic substance, it is also found in honey, eggs, grains, herbs and medicines. Medically, the pyrrolizidine alkaloids are associated with hepatic carcinoma, hepatic veno-occlusive disease, and is tumorigenic. Also, pigment from the Heliotropium flowers have been used as coloring agents in foods as well as in certain pigments for artists. So, there is an incredible and colorful history about this beautiful azure lavender plant that serves us so well in Dermatology.
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