Heart Attack Archive

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How much will fried foods harm your heart?

News briefs

Fried foods carry heart risks in part because they spur inflammation. But how many servings of crispy French fries does it take to raise your risk for cardiovascular disease? Not many, suggests a large analysis published online Jan. 18, 2021, by the journal Heart. Scientists pooled the findings of 17 studies on fried foods and problems like heart attacks, clogged coronary arteries, heart failure, and stroke. The studies included more than half a million people. Researchers also looked at the data from another six studies assessing the association of eating fried food and dying prematurely. Those studies involved more than 750,000 people. People who ate the most fried foods each week were 28% more likely to have heart problems, compared with people who ate the least. Each additional 114-gram (4-ounce) serving of fried foods per week bumped up overall risk by 3%. But the analysis failed to show that people who ate lots of fried foods were more likely to die prematurely. Besides provoking inflammation, fried foods are often also high in sodium as well as harmful saturated fats. If you choose to indulge in them, do it sparingly. And avoid foods fried in animal fats; instead, choose foods fried in vegetable oils.

Image: © Amarita/Getty Images

When it comes to activity, the more the better

In the journals

Regular exercise is good medicine, but more may be better, suggests a study published online Jan. 12, 2021, by PLOS Medicine. Scientists asked more than 90,000 people without heart disease to wear a fitness tracker for a week to measure the duration and intensity of their physical activity. Five years later, they found that the most active people were less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke or be diagnosed with heart disease.

That's no surprise, but the researchers also discovered that risk continued to shrink as weekly minutes of activity and intensity rose. People who exercised the most and at the highest intensity had the best odds of maintaining good cardiovascular health. Guidelines recommend people get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, but these findings suggest that trying to do a little extra — whether in time, intensity, or both — offers more reward.

Arm yourself to get better blood pressure readings

In the journals

Blood pressure readings are usually done on only one arm, but a new analysis makes the case for checking both arms, as the difference between them may suggest an elevated risk for heart disease. The findings were published in the February 2021 issue of Hypertension.

Researchers examined 24 studies that measured blood pressure in both arms in 53,827 adults without high blood pressure. They found that a difference of more than five points between the left and right arm systolic readings (the top number) was linked with a 9% higher risk for a first-time heart attack or stroke and a 6% increase in cardiovascular death within 10 years. The greater the difference between the two readings, the higher the risk.

Depression and heart disease: A double-edged sword?

Lifestyle changes — along with other proven therapies — can help improve these often-overlapping conditions.

Everyone goes through periods of feeling gloomy, irritable, or listless at least once in a while. And these emotions are perfectly normal after a diagnosis of a serious health problem such as heart disease. But if those unpleasant feelings drag on for weeks and gradually erase your sense of well-being, you may have depression.

Over a lifetime, about one in five Americans is affected by depression. But the risk of depression in people who've had a heart attack is three times as high as the risk among the general population.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for heart attack survivors?

Ask the doctors

Q. I experienced a heart attack a few years ago. I'm worried about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Is it safe for someone with my medical history?

A. Yes. The vaccine is safe and advised for people with a history of heart attack and cardiovascular disease. While you should always discuss the particulars of your situation with your doctor, the American Heart Association said in a statement issued on Jan. 15, 2021, that it's important for people who have had heart disease or stroke (or who are at high risk for these conditions) to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, because they are at higher risk for severe disease if infected. The benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks. Clinical trials of the first two approved vaccines found that both are safe and, after two injections, are about 95% effective at preventing illness from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine often causes soreness at the injection site. Other common side effects, such as headache and diffuse muscle pain, are usually mild and last only one or two days. More severe reactions, including allergic reactions, have occurred but are very rare.

Understanding "blood thinners"

These drugs actually help stop dangerous blood clots from forming. Here's when you may need them.

Nearly everyone has heard of "blood thinners." Maybe you or someone you know takes one. But these drugs don't "thin" blood at all.

"They are actually anti-clotting drugs," says Dr. Gregory Piazza, a cardiologist with Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "They prevent potentially dangerous blood clots from developing in people at high risk, like those who have atrial fibrillation or a stent in a blood vessel, or who are immobile after surgery."

A little-known factor that boosts heart attack risk

About one in five people has high levels of lipoprotein(a), a fatty particle linked to premature heart disease.

Most people probably haven't heard of lipoprotein(a), although that's not surprising. Cardiologists have known for years that having high levels of these fatty particles circulating in the bloodstream poses a risk to the cardiovascular system. But there wasn't much they could offer in terms of therapy, so widespread testing for lipoprotein(a) — also known as Lp(a) — didn't make sense.

Recent progress means the landscape may soon be shifting. Earlier research showed that injectable cholesterol-lowering drugs known as PCSK9 inhibitors, such as evolocumab (Repatha) or alirocumab (Praluent), may lower Lp(a) by up to 25%. Until last year, however, it wasn't clear whether that reduction actually helped people with high Lp(a).

Treating heart attacks: Changes from Eisenhower’s era to the present day

In the 1950s, doctors offered mainly morphine and bed rest — a far cry from the many procedures and medications provided today.

During a round of golf one autumn afternoon in 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower experienced what he assumed was indigestion. After he awoke at 2 a.m. the following morning with severe chest pain, his personal physician administered several shots of morphine. It wasn't until 1 p.m. that afternoon that an electrocardiogram revealed that the president had experienced a heart attack.

Cardiologist Dr. Thomas Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, detailed Eisenhower's experience in the Oct. 29, 2020, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. His piece focuses mainly on how Eisenhower's cardiologist, Paul Dudley White, communicated the event to the public. As Dr. Lee wrote, "Heart attacks became less mysterious and frightening to millions of Americans that day."

A different type of heart attack

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection is an underrecognized but important cause of heart attack, especially in younger women.

Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot blocks an artery feeding the heart. But a small percentage result from a tear in the inner wall of one of the heart's arteries. The resulting flap or swelling inside the artery wall obstructs normal blood flow. Known as a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD, the condition strikes both sexes but is more common in women.

In women who are under 50, SCAD is the most common reason for acute coronary syndrome. This medical emergency refers to inadequate blood flow to the heart; it includes both heart attacks and unstable angina (sudden chest pain that occurs at rest).

Googling "chest pain" during the COVID-19 pandemic

Research we're watching

Google searches for "chest pain" spiked in March and April of 2020 during the initial sharp rise in COVID-19 infections, according to a new study. The findings suggest that people were attempting to self-diagnose heart attacks — and may explain why fewer people sought treatment for heart attacks in hospitals during the pandemic.

The study relied on Google Trends, a tool that monitors search term queries over time. The authors looked at searches for "chest pain" and five control terms — "toothache," "abdominal pain," "knee pain," "heart attack," and "stroke" — from January 2017 through May 2020. Searches for chest pain (a common symptom of heart attack but not COVID-19) spiked in states with high rates of COVID-19 infection (New York, New Jersey, and Illinois), while searches for other terms stayed steady.

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