Heart Attack Archive


Grieving may trigger heart attack

The dangers of a broken heart aren't just for poets and songwriters. Turns out, the risk of heart attack is 21 times higher than normal the first day after the death of a significant loved one and six times higher the first week, according to a study published in the January 9, 2012, Circulation.

"Grieving people are not getting enough sleep and are walking around with elevated levels of adrenaline and stress-related hormones," says Dr. Thomas Lee, a cardiologist and a professor at Harvard Medical School. "These tendencies can lead to increased clamping down of one's arteries, a faster heart rate and elevated blood pressure, all of which can increase the chance of a rupture of atherosclerotic plaques, causing a heart attack."

Moderate alcohol after a heart attack does no harm and may help

In a recent study from the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, a group of about 1,800 men who survived heart attacks and continued to consume alcohol moderately (up to two drinks a day) were less likely to die from heart disease or other causes than men who didn't drink at all or drink more than two drinks a day. Dr. Jennifer Pai, assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues published the finding in the European Heart Journal.

The study offers some reassurance to men who would like to continue to imbibe after a cardiac crisis, but it is neither an "all clear" for them nor a justification to start drinking if one isn't already. That said, the finding is certainly consistent with previous studies of healthy people that suggest a modest benefit to moderate drinking.

Exercise protects the heart when diabetes threatens

Lower resting heart rate may mean lower risk of diabetes.

People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those without diabetes, and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability among people with diabetes. But there is a positive side to this predicament: any healthy change you make to address one condition will help the other.

The wake-up-call heart attack

Four lessons we can learn from nonfatal cardiac events.

In the spring of 2005, driven by mere curiosity, Mike, a friend of the Heart Letter, calculated his 10-year risk for a heart attack using one of the tools available back then. The result: 5%. That put him in the low-risk category. Three weeks later, having just turned 49, Mike had a heart attack.

Heart attack risk soars soon after losing a loved one

Some events in life—like the death of someone important to you—are impossible to prepare for. If you find yourself mourning a spouse, family member, or close friend, take time to take care of yourself. That's the bottom line from a new study by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

They found that a person's risk of having a heart attack skyrockets to 21 times its norm in the first day after the death of a beloved friend or family member. The heart attack rate remains eight times above normal during the first week, but then steadily declines over the course of a month. The physiological explanation for these findings is that intense emotions can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and the tendency for blood to clot—all of which raise the risk of a heart attack.

Returning to work after a heart attack

Q. My 59-year-old husband just came home after being hospitalized for a mild heart attack. He was only in the hospital for five days and he feels great, though he does have to take three prescription medicines plus aspirin. I'm writing because my husband's doctor doesn't want him to go back to work for another six weeks even though his job doesn't involve any lifting. I think the stress of staying home would be worse than going to work. Please advise.

A. The treatment of heart attacks has come a long, long way in the past 30 years. Technology is responsible for many improvements; the outstanding change is that doctors can now open blocked coronary arteries with angioplasty balloons and stents or "clot-busting" drugs. Doctors have also learned how to use stress tests and echocardiograms to classify patients into low-, intermediate-, or high-risk groups at the time of hospital discharge. And most patients go home with a beta blocker, an ACE inhibitor, a statin drug, and low-dose aspirin to reduce the likelihood of another heart attack. Comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation programs can also help.

Can anxiety cause a heart attack?

Many studies have linked heart disease and depression, but heart problems may also go hand in hand with anxiety.

Several studies have shown that about a quarter of people with cardiovascular disease have some kind of anxiety problem and, in some cases, the anxiety seems to make the heart condition worse.

Small step forward for stem cells, giant leaps remain

Stem cell type and timing of treatment seem to matter most.

Results from the first-ever trial using stem cells that normally reside in the heart had the scientific community using adjectives like "astounding" and "compelling." But as encouraging as the findings were, keep in mind that stem cell research is still in its infancy and has a long way to go before yielding effective treatments for heart disease.


Hospital-to-hospital transfer times need work. In the November 2011 Heart Letter, we reported the good news that hospitals nationwide have substantially reduced the time it takes a heart attack sufferer to start getting artery-opening angioplasty after arriving at the emergency room.

But not all hospitals are equipped to do emergency angioplasty. In those situations, people having a heart attack are usually transferred via ambulance to a hospital that can. The news about how long a person waits between arriving at the first hospital and leaving in an ambulance for hospital No. 2 (so-called door-in-to-door-out time) isn't so heartening.

Niacin + a statin does not add up to benefit

In 2011, federal health officials ended an important government-funded clinical trial designed to test whether taking niacin in addition to a cholesterol-lowering statin might do more to lower heart attack and stroke risk than just taking a statin alone. Interim data indicated that the niacin had no benefit and may have been associated with a small, unexplained increase in stroke risk.

Full results of the AIM-HIGH trial, as it was called, were published several months later in The New England Journal of Medicine. Experts continue to fight over the AIM-HIGH results in that ferocious way that experts often do. Some say the results are strong evidence for not adding niacin to statin therapy. Others are adamant that AIM-HIGH missed the mark because of the way it was designed and that it will take the results of a different trial, dubbed THRIVE, to determine if niacin-statin combinations have cardiovascular benefits.

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