Entries in Heart Disease (66)


Four Steps to Significantly Lower Risk of Heart Disease, Early Death

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, doing just four things could help significantly reduce your risk of death.

The study looked at over 6,200 healthy people over a span of eight years and determined that those who met four qualifications reduced their risk of early death by 80 percent and their specific risk of heart disease by nearly 40 percent.

The four things that the researchers recommend are:

Exercise regularly
Eat a Mediterranean-style diet
Keep a normal weight
Do not smoke

According to researchers the most important of the four is opting not to smoke, as avoiding tobacco had the largest individual impact of any of the four risk factors. In fact, smokers who maintained two or more of the other healthy habits still had a higher rate of early death than non-smokers who were both sedentary and obese.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Some Cases of Heart Disease May Be Reversible

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study has some doctors thinking that some cases of coronary heart disease may be able to be reversed.  

A study conducted by researchers at Duke University took MRI images of 1,055 patients with known heart disease. Of those patients, approximately 20% suffered from thinning of the heart wall. The study also found that approximately one-fifth of those patients with heart wall thinning also had limited or no scarring of the heart muscle.

In those patients with thinned heart walls but limited or no scarring, cardiologists were able to located the major blood vessel that supplies the thinned area of the heart and perform a surgical procedure meant to improve blood flow.

After the surgery, a common procedure known as revascularization, the patients' hearts were found to flow better and eventually the thinned area of the heart wall reversed itself.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, has researchers believing that an MRI of the heart could help doctors decide if their patients could see a reversal of coronary heart disease with revascularization.

According to the CDC, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Mediterranean Diet Cuts Risk of Heart Disease, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Could switching to a Mediterranean-style diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil and nuts, help reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart-related deaths?  A new study out Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests it could.

Researchers in Spain looked at over 7,000 patients who did not have heart disease but were at high risk.  The patients were then put on either a Mediterranean diet plus olive oil, a Mediterranean diet plus nuts, or a regular diet with a direction to reduce fat.  

The study's authors found that those on the Mediterranean diets had a 30-percent reduction in cardiovascular events.

"The study really is a potential game changer because it's the first large dietary study in many years which has looked at disease event outcomes, you know such as heart attacks or strokes, as opposed to intermediate markers, such as effects on cholesterol or inflammatory markers in the blood," says Dr. Eric Zacharias, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado and author of the book The Mediterranean Diet: A Clinician's guide for Patient Care.

"This is the best evidence we have to date that simple changes in your diet can actually reduce the chances that you're going to get heart disease and die from heart disease," notes ABC's Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser.

So what exactly is so healthy about the Mediterranean diet?

"The favorable nutrients and health-promoting properties of olive oils, plant-based foods and vegetables and fruit and also the avoidance of the unfavorable effects that come from simple and refined sugars and large loads of animal fats and red meat," explains Zacharias.

He says the diet change could not only help those at risk, but also the economy.

"The health care costs for hospitalization for heart attacks and strokes, even if there's just a tiny dent in the hospitalization, it would result in billions of dollars of health care savings each year," says Zacharias.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Four Facts Every Woman Needs to Know About Heart Disease

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Doctors used to think of heart disease as a man’s problem.  Now they know that it strikes men and women in equal numbers.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are the No. 1 cause of death in American women. The disease claims the lives of over 400,000 women each year. That’s more than the next three causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.

While deaths from heart disease are declining for men, they are rising for women, the AHA found. Yet women are more likely than men to be both underdiagnosed and undertreated.

ABC News chief health and medical correspondent, Dr. Richard Besser, held a Twitter chat Tuesday to raise public awareness for this issue. Health experts from the Mayo Clinic, National Heart Lung Blood Institute, American Heart Association, Every Mother Counts and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City tweeted facts and advice. Olympian and Heart Truth spokeswoman Gabby Douglas also tweeted her thoughts on the topic, as did women who signed on to share their personal stories.

Below is a summary of four important facts about women and heart disease highlighted in the chat:

Women don’t always know they’re having a heart attack.
Women should understand what a heart attack feels like -- and act fast if they experience symptoms.  Both sexes may have chest pain -- which is pain that radiates into the shoulders and arms -- nausea or dizziness.

“For women, symptoms may be different including shortness of breath, flu like symptoms, jaw, neck and back pain or fatigue,” tweeted Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a spokesperson for the AHA.

Women don’t always associate physical signs and symptoms with a cardiac event. As a result, the AHA reports that women are 15 percent more likely than men to die of a heart attack. And they are twice as likely to have a second heart attack in the six years following the first.

“Doubt contributes. Women think, ‘I can’t be having a heart attack,’” tweeted Dr. Andrew Arai, senior investigator for the National Heart Lung Blood Institute.

Women have heart attacks later in life than men
The average age for a first heart attack for a man is 66, AHA statistics show. For women, it’s 70.

The risk of heart attack climbs for women after age 55 when they’re past menopause and no longer enjoy the cardio-protective benefits of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen seems to decrease the amount of “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase “good” HDL cholesterol while also helping to keep blood vessels healthy and relaxed.

Menopause is the great heart disease equalizer. Once it occurs, estrogen levels drop by 90 percent and the type of estrogen in the body changes, with most of the estrogen being produced by fat cells instead of the ovaries. By age 65 women develop heart disease at the same rate as men.

This doesn’t mean that younger women aren’t at risk for heart troubles. Studies show Latina women are at risk a full decade earlier than most other women. Chatter Eva Gomez tweeted that she went through open heart surgery when she was just 39 years old to fix a malfunctioning heart valve.

Health events during pregnancy can be risk factors later in life
Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure are all conditions that happen during pregnancy, but their effects may linger long after the birth of a child. For example, preeclampsia increases risk of developing heart disease in middle age. Gestational diabetes can lead to glucose intolerance and other pre-diabetic conditions that contribute to obesity.

Reducing heart health risk factors during pregnancy is also essential for the health of your baby.

As the organization Every Mother Counts pointed out in a tweet, “High blood pressure during pregnancy reduces blood flow to the placenta, restricting oxygen and nutrients to the baby.”  They also noted that hypertension is a top killer of pregnant women worldwide.

Everyone has the same risk factors
In both men and women, certain lifestyle behaviors up your chances of developing heart disease. Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, family history and older age are considered the “big seven” heart health risk factors.

There’s nothing you can do about family history or your age, but you can take control of all the other risk factors.

“Simple prevention advice still applies: Walk more, eat less, sleep more,” Dr. Randall Thomas tweeted on behalf of the Mayo Clinic.  ”One of the best ‘medicines’ for preventing heart disease is exercise.”

Gabby Douglas chimed in with this advice about diet, “Eating healthy is important too. I love to snack on fresh fruits & veggies. Blueberries and snap peas are my favorites!”

One thing all the expert tweeters stressed: Prevention should begin early. Start by knowing your heart numbers, including cholesterol values, blood pressure and body mass index.  Eat a heart-healthy diet and exercise regularly.

“You’re never too young or too old to start thinking about heart health behaviors,” Dr. Julie Ramos, a cardiologist specializing in women’s health at Montefiore Medical Center.

The full Twitter chat transcript can be found here.


Heart Disease Is Number One Killer of Minority Women

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Minority women are 66 percent less likely than white women to be aware of the risks and symptoms of heart disease.  Even when they are aware, they are less likely to try to reduce their risks or seek treatment, according to a study published in the journal Medical Care.

Yet, minority women generally have a greater number of cardiovascular health risks than any other group.

More than 80 percent of African-American and 70 percent of Hispanic women are overweight or obese, compared to just 50 percent of white women.  A mere 10 percent of minority women have physically active lifestyles.  They also tend to suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes in record numbers.

Dr. Paula Johnson, the chief of women's health for Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said minority women are faced with higher rates of "almost" risk factors as well.

"For example, they tend to have elevated blood pressure that doesn't quite meet the threshold of hypertension and elevated blood sugar that isn't quite diabetes," she said.  "These take a toll on the heart."

Adding to the problem, minority women are more likely to experience risk factors and poor heart health earlier than other women, Johnson said.  

Although a comparatively small percentage of Hispanic women suffer from heart disease -- less than 30 percent -- a University of Rochester study found that they tend to develop symptoms a full decade earlier than white women.

"Language can certainly be a deterrent to diagnosis and treatment because of miscommunications and mistrust of the medical system," said Dr. Malissa Wood, a cardiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center.

If there isn't an interpreter to help doctor and patient communicate, Wood said it's virtually guaranteed that information will be lost.  She said she also suspects that many doctors have an unfortunate tendency to label non-English speaking women as hysterical and over-reactors.  As a result, care suffers.

Even when language isn't a barrier, culture can be.  Black and Hispanic women often ignore nutrition advice when the recommended foods are unfamiliar or pricey or when culturally favorite dishes wind up on a "bad" list.  

As for physical activity, many have been raised to view exercise as unladylike.  In some cultures, it's frowned upon to be seen sweating in front of men.

Johnson said she believes that the bias against minority women and their heart health starts at the research level.  Currently, not enough of them are included in studies to help understand their particular requirements and biological idiosyncrasies.

"There needs to be a stepped-up effort in research that includes a focus on minority women in a robust way," she said.  "There's still a significant knowledge gap of their underlying risks and how to decrease those risks."

Wood added that more culturally sensitive programming would also go a long way.  Her ongoing HAPPY Heart study and community outreach program delivers a combination of nutrition, exercise and stress management to minority and lower-income women.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Heart Disease Trigger May Be in Your Genes

Zoonar/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A type of cholesterol you've probably never heard of may be linked to the third leading cause of heart disease in the country.

In a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team of researchers from McGill University, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and other institutions report discovering an abnormality in the gene responsible for a little-known type of cholesterol called Lp(a).  This form of cholesterol appears to cause a condition known as aortic stenosis, which affects 1.5 million Americans.

In aortic stenosis, the main valve regulating blood flow between the heart and the rest of the body can become critically narrowed.  To better understand this, picture a room with a door that hangs on an old, creaky hinge so damaged by years of rust that it can only open a small crack.  Now imagine what would happen if you and your friends all tried to squeeze out through the door at once, and you'll have an idea of the trouble blood cells have leaving the heart through a heavily calcified aortic valve.

Patients with aortic stenosis often lack symptoms until it reaches a critical stage marked by fainting, heart attacks or early death.  On average, half of patients will die within two years once these symptoms develop, unless they undergo surgical correction.

In the new study, the authors found that people with a common genetic variant for Lp(a) have a 60 percent greater risk of developing aortic calcifications than others.

"We've all know that Lp(a) is strongly associated with an increased risk of heart attack for some time now," said the study's lead author, Dr. George Thanassoulis of McGill University in Canada.  "But now we can link it to heart valve disease for the first time."

"It is interesting that one molecule that we don't routinely screen for is linked to a number of cardiovascular diseases," he continued.

As for who should be screened for this type of cholesterol -- much as how patients are currently tested for "good" HDL and "bad" LDL cholesterol -- doctors are split.

"These results do not support widespread screening in and of themselves," Thanassoulis said, adding that although aortic stenosis is a common cardiac condition, it only affects 1 to 2 percent of the population.  In other words, even patients with the genetic variation still only have a roughly one-in-30 lifetime chance of developing aortic stenosis.

Dr. Lori Mosca, director of Preventive Cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, said that because of this fact, she would only recommend such screening in those at a high risk for heart problems.

"Lp(a) is an inherited risk factor for premature heart disease that is not responsive to lifestyle interventions [like diet and exercise]," she said.  "I consider measuring it if I have a patient with a personal or family history of premature heart disease or aortic stenosis."

These doctors say determining the level of this cholesterol could be important.  Learning which patients have extremely high Lp(a) can help to better predict risk for heart attack in some individuals, according to a study published last month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology by one of the new study's coauthors, Dr. Borge G. Nordestgaard.

And even though Lp(a) can't be lowered by taking cholesterol-busting statins, European guidelines currently suggest treating patients with Lp(a) levels in the top 20 percent with niacin, another type of cholesterol lowering medication that they say may have some effect.

On the other end of the debate are doctors like Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, who said that even when someone has a high Lp(a) level, there is little evidence that lowering it would have a benefit.

"Although Niacin lowers Lp(a) a little bit, there are no outcome data suggesting a favorable effect," Nissen said.

Dr. Stephen Kopecky of the Mayo Clinic agreed.  He said that when it comes to preventing heart disease, tried-and-true advice still applies.

"Too often, Americans may be looking for a quick fix that will allow us to trade in our bodies for new ones after 55 years or so," he said.  "But there is still no substitute for trying to prevent all types of heart disease through improvements in our diet and exercise."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Heart Disease: Women Can Miss the Warning Signs

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As the number one killer of women, heart disease is a bullet all women must dodge.  But despite the fact that many women have heard this statistic, only one in three of them thinks it applies to us.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can save your life.  But they can be subtle and sometimes indicate something other than a heart attack.

In medicine, it is always smart to put the worst case scenario at the top of the list.  So with that understanding, here they are:

Chest Pain, Pressure or Tightness

This is the most common symptom of a heart attack in women, as it is in men.  But the description of this pain can differ slightly in women.  It can be described as dull or uncomfortable pain, whereas men often feel the classic pressure of an "elephant sitting on their chest" or squeezing behind the sternum or breastbone.

Women experiencing chest pain or discomfort are likely to take an aspirin but not to call 911, according to the American Heart Association.  But chest pain bad enough to lead a woman to take an aspirin should be followed by a call to 911.

Flu-Like Symptoms

Heart attacks in women tend to produce symptoms that are vague in nature and even resemble that of a virus like the flu, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and difficulty sleeping.

These symptoms in women often go unreported because women tend to be accustomed to functioning with a variety of aches, pains and physical complaints and also tend to put others first.

Take This to Heart

While doctors don't understand why men and women seem to experience heart attacks in slightly different ways, they do have some medical theories.  Differences in heart attacks between the sexes may be due to hormonal factors or to the size of the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle, for example.

More research between gender differences in heart disease is always ongoing, but for now, doctors know that recognizing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack is something that every woman needs to know.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Vegetarians Have Lower Heart Disease Risk, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Going meatless gives vegetarians a 32 percent lower heart disease risk than non-vegetarians, a British study found, offering further proof that eating meat can be hazardous to health.

The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 44,561 people enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford Study, which began in England and Scotland in 1993.  Researchers sought to compare a range of diets and their impact on overall health, and 34 percent of all participants were vegetarians.

“It’s a very good study,” said Dr. William Abraham, who directs the division of cardiovascular medicine at Ohio State University, noting the large proportion of vegetarians.  “It’s further evidence that vegetarian diets are associated with a lesser risk of developing ischemic heart disease or coronary artery disease.”

He and Dr. Peter McCullough, a cardiologist at St. John Providence Health System in Michigan, agreed it’s not about what’s in the vegetarian diet that makes it so heart healthy -- it’s about what the vegetarian diet leaves out: saturated fat and sodium.

“Saturated fat is the single greatest dietary factor in the production of cholesterol,” McCollough said, adding that people assume dietary cholesterol increases cholesterol levels though it’s not true.  “Sodium intake is the single greatest dietary determinant of blood pleasure.”

Both high blood pressure and high cholesterol are known risk factors for ischemic heart disease because they constrict the blood vessels and cut off blood supply to the heart.

Abraham said he occasionally prescribes a vegetarian diet to patients who have already had heart attacks -- but this study might persuade him to prescribe them preventively to patients with heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

McCollough, on the other hand, has never prescribed a vegetarian diet and said limiting sodium and saturated fats can be done by picking the right meats, controlling portion sizes and avoiding what he calls the three S-es: sugars, starches and saturated fats.  He said the healthiest protein to eat is fish and the least healthy is beef.  Behind fish, beans and nuts are the best way to get protein, he said.

Vegetarianism isn’t always the answer because even vegetarians can eat too many sugars, one of the three "S" categories, he said.  For example, he added, vegetarians eat more cheese than non-vegetarians and, although it has some protein, about 60 percent of cheese is saturated fat.

Other studies have examined how daily servings of red meat can lead to early death and how processed meat can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports two million heart attacks and stroke a year in the United States, and about 800,000 deaths from heart disease.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Six Ways Your Body May Clue You In to Possible Health Problems

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- From the eyes and ears to the fingertips, the human body can offer small hints that reveal a lot about a person’s health, some medical experts say.

Dr. Michael Wald, a holistic doctor in Mount Kisco, N.Y. who calls himself the “Blood Detective,” said that people should pay attention to features like creases in their ears and the length of their arms because they can serve as clues to medical issues such as heart disease.

1. Ear Crease

A 74-year-old man with an increased risk for heart disease said that while he’d noticed the crease in his ear, he’d paid little to no attention to it.

“That diagonal earlobe crease that goes from the very bottom of the ear up in a diagonal fashion — it really is an enfolding of tissue and that is what is being associated with heart disease,” Wald said.

One study found that 71 percent of people with that crease suffered from heart disease.

2. Ear Wax

Wald said that even ear wax has been linked to heart disease.

“We’re basically born genetically with one of two different types of ear wax,” he said. “There is a wet, sticky type and a dry, brittle type and if you are more of a dry, brittle type, you are at more of a risk of heart disease as opposed to the wet one.”

Wald said the connection has something to do with the way the body handles oil and fat.

3. Five O’Clock Shadow

Wald said that the five o’clock shadow could mean that a man “probably will have a lower risk of cardiovascular risk in the future because that five o’clock is produced by testosterone. The more testosterone you have, the less risk of heart disease.”

4. Arms and Legs

Arms shorter than 60 inches could signal an increased risk of heart disease.

And long arms have been associated with a chance of reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors say they think it’s linked to the embryo’s exposure to different hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

Calves less than 13 inches around could also signal heart problems.

“Sometimes small calves reflect increased risk in circulation and increased risk in cardiovascular disease,” Wald said.

5. ‘Nail Clubbing’

Nail clubbing occurs when the tissue at the tips of the fingers start to cover the nail. Studies have shown that 80 percent of people with clubbing fingernails have serious illness, heart disease, lung disease or cancer.

6. Green Nasal Mucus

Green nasal mucus has been associated with a higher instance of heart disease. The green mucus contains a chemical that gives it that color. The chemical can damage tissues in the sinuses, in the lungs or in the heart.

Wald said that if a person had any of these traits, they should not panic.

“If you see something that you have just read or heard, take that to your doctor, and that might lead him or her to test you a little bit differently or question you a little bit differently, and then see what is really going on,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study Reveals the Costs of a Heart Attack

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. If you're lucky enough to survive a heart attack, then you know that your health is not the only thing that takes the hit. Heart attacks can hurt your finances and hinder your ability to work.
A study presented to the American Heart Association reveals more about the toll heart attacks and other coronary conditions take on our resources.

For the study, the researchers looked at 37,000 people from 2007 to 2010. Most were men, many younger than 65. They found that the cost of hospitalization and medication was $8,170 per person.
Patients lost an average of 60.2 workdays right after their heart attacks and -- over the longer term -- lost more than a year.
For employers, the disability costs were greater than the direct costs: $7,943 for short-term disability and $52,473 for long-term disability.
The study authors concluded that heart disease can impose devastating effects financially as well as in lost productivity -- arguing for more prevention in the form of no smoking, weight loss, a healthful diet and proper drugs to control high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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