Heart Attack Archive

Articles

How does inflammation increase the risk for heart attacks?

Ask the doctor

Q. My doctor says I'm at risk for a heart attack because a test shows inflammation. I know about high cholesterol and blood pressure, but how does inflammation increase the risk for heart attacks?

A. I can understand why you're puzzled. In medical school I learned that there is a simple road to a heart attack. First, cholesterol starts building up in the wall of a coronary artery carrying blood to the heart muscle. Over many years, the plaque of cholesterol slowly grows bigger. When it grows large enough that the heart can't get the blood it needs to work hard, the heart cries out in pain — chest pain, a condition called angina. Finally, when the plaque grows large enough, it blocks the flow of blood completely, causing a heart attack. It was a beautifully simple explanation.

Does aspirin stop a heart attack?

Ask the doctor

Q. Should I take aspirin if I think I'm having a heart attack, and what kind of aspirin should I take?

A. First, what symptoms indicate you might be having a heart attack? The main symptom is a squeezing, tight sensation in the middle of the chest that can travel up into the jaw and shoulders, and even down the left arm. Along with the pain you may begin to sweat and to feel weak, like you might pass out, and be short of breath. While other conditions besides a heart at-tack can cause similar symptoms, you need to take such symptoms very seriously. First, call 911.

Does "cough CPR" work?

Ask the doctor


 Image: © Duckycards/Getty Images

Q. A friend of mine shared a Facebook post about how to survive a heart attack when you're alone. It says that you should cough very forcefully every few seconds until help arrives. Can that actually help?

A. This "advice" has been circulating around the Internet for nearly 20 years. I was reluctant to even address this question out of concern for perpetuating the idea of "cough CPR" or causing undue worry. However, I think it's important to clear up the confusion around this topic.

High calcium score: What’s next?

Ask the doctor


 Image: © Tinpixels/Getty Images

Q. I recently got a coronary artery calcium scan and the results showed that I have quite a bit of calcium in my heart arteries (my score was 900). Should I have an angiogram to confirm the results? I don't have any heart-related symptoms, but I'm worried about having a heart attack.

A. That is a very high coronary artery calcium score. But the short answer to your question is no. The main reason to have an angiogram is to locate a narrowed heart artery that is causing chest pain or other symptoms. For the test, a cardiologist injects a dye that is visible on x-rays into the blood vessels of your heart, then takes a series of x-ray images. This is done in preparation for angioplasty, in which a narrowed artery is opened, or as a prelude to referral for coronary artery bypass surgery.

Sex differences in heart disease: A closer look

Heart attack symptoms can differ between men and women, but not as much as you might think.

Thanks to national campaigns to boost awareness, more people now recognize that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women as well as in men. For both sexes, cardiovascular disease is to blame for one of every three deaths in the United States.

Throughout the country, someone has a heart attack — the most common manifestation of this prevalent disease — about every 40 seconds, on average. Maybe you've heard that women are more likely to have "atypical" heart attack symptoms than men. But what does that really mean? A review article in the May 2020 Journal of the American Heart Association offers some perspective.

Taking statins later in life still offers heart benefits

In the journals

Age may not be a factor when it comes to who can benefit from statins. A study published online July 7, 2020, by JAMA found that people who started taking the cholesterol-lowering medication in their mid-70s or later had fewer heart-related problems and lived longer than non-users.

Researchers looked at 326,981 mostly male veterans, ages 75 and older, who were free of cardiovascular disease and did not take statins. Over the next 10 years, more than 57,000 began statin therapy.

Telemedicine: A good fit for cardiovascular care?

For monitoring conditions that contribute to heart attack and stroke, virtual doctor visits are much more convenient than in-person appointments. Where is this trend headed?

Virtual doctor visits — when you talk to a physician on a video call instead of during an in-person office exam — have been available in certain places for years. But they never really caught on until the pandemic hit earlier this year. Almost overnight, virtual care became an indispensable tool for managing coronavirus infections and other health conditions during the crisis.

In 2019, virtual visits accounted for fewer than 1% of the appointments at Mass General Brigham, a large health care system founded by Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). "But during the peak of the coronavirus surge in Boston, 80% of all visits were done virtually," says Dr. Lee Schwamm, director of the Center for TeleHealth at MGH and vice president of virtual care at Mass General Brigham.

FDA approves broader use of clot-prevention drug

Research we're watching

Ticagrelor (Brilinta), a drug that helps prevent blood clots, was approved in 2011 for treating people who had experienced a heart attack or acute coronary syndrome (a sudden loss of blood flow to the heart). Now, the drug can be prescribed to a broader group of people. In June 2020, the FDA expanded ticagrelor's approval to reduce the likelihood of first heart attack or stroke among high-risk people with coronary artery disease.

The expansion is based on results from a multiyear study of more than 19,000 people with coronary artery disease and diabetes at high risk for a heart attack. Participants who took aspirin plus ticagrelor were less likely to experience a heart attack, stroke, or death from heart disease compared with those who took aspirin alone.

Chronic pain linked to higher risk of heart attack and stroke

Research we're watching

People with chronic pain may be more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those without chronic pain, according to a study published online May 7, 2020, by the journal Pain Medicine.

From 2001 to 2005, researchers identified 17,614 Taiwanese people who had used pain relievers for at least three months. The most common causes of pain were spinal disorders, arthritis, and headaches; the pain relievers included both over-the-counter drugs and prescription opioids. For the comparison group, researchers used 35,228 people without chronic pain who were matched by age and sex to those in the first group.

The mental side of cardiac rehab

If you have experienced a heart attack or undergone a heart procedure, don't neglect your mental health during recovery.

Recovery from a heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, or heart surgery — what doctors call heart events — can be stressful. Depending on your condition, it may also involve cardiac rehabilitation. This medically supervised program focuses on exercise, diet, and lifestyle changes. While the primary focus is to help you physically, you also need to address your mental and emotional health.

"It's normal to have some anxiety and stress after a heart attack or heart surgery," says Dr. Christopher Celano, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. "But how long these feelings linger, and whether they are also associated with symptoms of depression, can affect your rehab recovery success and potentially increase your risk of future problems."

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