Heart Attack Archive


Winter weather warning

When the temperature drops, the risk of a heart attack rises. Here's how to stay safe in chilly weather.

Cold weather — especially when it's windy or snowy — can challenge your cardiovascular system. When you venture outside, the tiny blood vessels in your fingers and toes squeeze tight to shunt blood deeper into your body, keeping your vital organs nice and cozy.

To overcome the resistance from those narrowed vessels, your heart beats with extra force, causing your blood pressure and heart rate to rise. This normal physiological response usually isn't a problem, especially for healthy people.

The state of statin prescribing: Location matters

Research we're watching

If you've had a heart attack, national guidelines strongly recommend taking a high-intensity statin to prevent a second heart attack. But a study of Medicare recipients finds that where you live may affect your chances of receiving a statin prescription.

People living in New England were most likely to receive a high-intensity statin (74%), while those from the West South Central states (such as Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana) were the least likely (41%). The data came from nearly 140,000 people ages 66 and older who were hospitalized for a heart attack from 2011 to 2015. The findings were published online July 24 by JAMA Cardiology.

Protect your heart, preserve your mind?

Heart attacks may leave people more vulnerable to thinking and memory problems as they age.

Growing older often means slowing down, both physically and mentally. Just as people can't move quite as fast as when they were younger, their thinking and memory abilities — known as cognitive function — may also slowly wane.

Now, new research suggests that people who have a heart attack or angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart) may face a faster drop in thinking skills than people who don't experience those heart-related problems.

Ultra-processed foods linked to poor heart health

Research we're watching

Eating ultra-processed foods — such as packaged snacks, sugary cereals and drinks, chicken nuggets, and instant soup — may leave people more prone to heart disease and an early death, two new studies suggest. Both were published May 29 in The BMJ.

One study followed more than 105,000 adults for just over five years. Researchers found that for every 10% increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods people ate, their risk of a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event was 12% higher. The other study tracked nearly 20,000 people over an average of 10 years. People who ate more than four servings of ultra-processed foods daily had a 62% higher risk of dying from all causes compared with those who ate only two servings per day.

Red meat, TMAO, and your heart

A substance called trimethylamine N-oxide, which is produced when your body digests red meat, may raise the risk of cardiovascular problems.

Experts used to think that red meat raised your risk of heart disease simply because it was high in saturated fat. But today that picture has gotten more complicated thanks to the discovery of a metabolite — a substance produced during digestion and metabolism — called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO.

According to a news article published June 11 in JAMA, three recent analyses have linked high blood levels of TMAO with a higher risk for both cardiovascular disease and early death from any cause. In one of those studies, researchers found that people with higher levels of TMAO in their blood may have more than twice the risk of heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular problems, compared with people who have lower levels. Other studies have found links between high TMAO levels and heart failure and chronic kidney disease.

Heart disease may accelerate cognitive decline

Research we're watching

If you have coronary artery disease, you may be at higher risk for cognitive problems, according to a study published in the June issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. People with coronary artery disease have blockages in the arteries that lead to the heart. When blood flow to the heart is slowed or blocked, the result can be a heart attack or the chest pain known as angina.

Study authors looked to see whether this condition had any effect on thinking skills. They selected people with no history of heart disease and followed them for 12 years, administering three cognitive tests throughout the course of the study. Ultimately, 5.6% of people in the study experienced a heart attack or angina. Researchers found that these people were not more likely to have experienced cognitive decline before their heart episode or immediately after, but were at much higher risk for cognitive decline in the years that followed. It's not clear why this occurred, but the study authors say that doctors should be aware of this risk and should monitor people with coronary artery disease carefully.

Hands-only CPR: A lifesaving technique within your reach

The simple version of cardiopulmonary resuscitation — pushing hard and fast on the chest — can double a person's odds of surviving cardiac arrest.

If someone suddenly collapses and stops breathing, the most likely cause is cardiac arrest. An electrical malfunction causes the heart to beat rapidly and chaotically — or to stop beating altogether. But if a bystander immediately begins chest compressions, which mimic the heart's pumping action, blood keeps flowing to the person's brain.

For more than a decade, guidelines have recommended this simpler version of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which does not involve the mouth-to-mouth breathing used in standard CPR.

Heart attacks: Less frequent and less deadly than 20 years ago

Research we're watching

Fewer older adults are having heart attacks, and more are surviving them, according to a study published March 15 in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 4.3 million people ages 65 and older who had suffered heart attacks over a 20-year period beginning in 1995. Back then, 20% of those included in the study died from their heart attacks. By 2014, that number had fallen to 12%.

Put your heart in the right place

After a serious heart-related event, cardiac rehabilitation can help you feel better and live longer.

If you have a heart attack, heart surgery, or another cardiac event, what's the best way to prevent future heart problems? Participate in cardiac rehab, a program that provides supervised exercise and teaches you the fundamentals of a heart-healthy lifestyle over a three-month period.

"The benefits of cardiac rehab are indisputable. It's more effective than any other intervention for preventing future heart-related problems and hospitalizations," says Dr. Hicham Skali, associate director of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. Eligible people who participate in cardiac rehab have a 24% lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease compared with those who do not attend a rehab program. Cardiac rehab has also been found to improve your ability to exercise and your quality of life, he adds.

What happens if my stent stops working?

Ask the doctor

Q. I just got a stent placed in my heart artery and feel great again. If it develops problems, can it be treated?

A. Stents, the tiny wire-mesh tubes used to prop open blocked arteries, are useful for treating heart attacks and chest pain that occurs with physical activity. They're placed during a coronary angioplasty and stenting procedure, which usually involves snaking a thin tube (catheter) through a vessel in the upper thigh or the wrist up to the heart. After more than two decades of use, today's stents are safer and more effective that the original versions. Problems can still arise, but they are uncommon and treatable.

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