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Are video calls a loneliness cure?

Updated July 1, 2020

If you haven't made a video call yet, give it a try to fight isolation.

When much of the world began lockdowns to battle coronavirus in March 2020, many people turned to video calls to fight off the loneliness that often accompanies social isolation. Tech companies reported that the use of video calls for socializing surged by as much as 80%, enabling people to "see" family and friends. But it doesn't take a lockdown to warrant the use of this technology.

The epidemic of loneliness and isolation

Loneliness affects more than a third of older Americans. Another third of older adults feel isolated: they may be living alone, lack transportation, or live far from loved ones. Or they may have outlived a spouse or friends.

Can controlling blood pressure later in life reduce risk of dementia?

Updated June 29, 2020

An analysis of multiple studies looking at the relationship between high blood pressure and cognitive health –– abilities like thinking, memory, and attention –– found that older people who lower high blood pressure are slightly less likely to develop cognitive impairment or dementia.

Vegetarian diet linked to lower stroke risk

Updated June 1, 2020

Research we're watching

Eating a vegetarian diet may lower your risk of stroke, according to a study in the March 17 issue of Neurology.

The study included two groups of people from Buddhist communities in Taiwan, where vegetarian diets are encouraged. About 30% of the more than 130,000 participants were vegetarian, meaning they didn't eat any meat or fish. Their average age was 50, and none had a prior stroke.

Two clot-prevention drugs for people with heart disease and diabetes?

Updated June 1, 2020

Research we're watching

People with clogged arteries in their hearts (coronary artery disease) or legs (peripheral artery disease) face a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke, particularly if they also have diabetes. For such people, a combination of clot-preventing drugs lowers the risk of those dangerous outcomes, according to a study published online March 28 by the journal Circulation.

The study included just over 18,300 people with coronary or peripheral artery disease; about 38% also had diabetes. They all took low-dose aspirin daily, but half also took 2.5 milligrams of rivaroxaban (Xarelto) twice daily while the others took a placebo. Like aspirin, rivaroxaban helps discourage blood clots, but through a different mechanism.

Digestive tract bleeding may signal colon cancer in people taking blood thinners

Updated June 1, 2020

In the journals

Bleeding is a common side effect of anticoagulants (blood thinners). However, people with atrial fibrillation (afib) who take the drug for stroke prevention should not ignore any bleeding from their lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract, as it may signal colon cancer. That study finding was published online Feb. 7, 2020, by the European Heart Journal.

Researchers analyzed 125,418 patients who took anticoagulants for afib. Only 2,576 had lower GI bleeding during the first six months of treatment, regardless of age. Yet those who did experience bleeding had 10 times the risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer during the subsequent year compared with those who hadn't had any bleeding.

Shingles vaccine may also reduce stroke risk

Updated August 16, 2021
The shingles vaccine was associated with a 10% to 20% lower risk of stroke among adults ages 66 and older, according to a recent study.

Take control of rising cholesterol at menopause

Updated May 1, 2020

Here's what the numbers mean — and strategies to lower your cholesterol if it's too high.

For some women who've had normal cholesterol readings all their lives, that changes at menopause. "Going through menopause often results in lipid and cholesterol changes for the worse," says Dr. Samia Mora, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a specialist in cardiovascular medicine the Brigham and Women's Hospital. Drops in the female hormone, estrogen, are associated with a rise in total cholesterol levels due to higher amounts of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, and another blood lipid (fat) known as triglyceride. Over time this can raise heart risks, which is a reason for concern, as cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in postmenopausal women, says Dr. Mora.

"So, it's especially important to track the numbers in perimenopause and the early years after menopause, as LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol tend to increase," she says.

The high cost of a poor diet

Updated May 1, 2020

Unhealthy eating habits cost the American health care system about $50 billion a year just for heart-related diseases.

What you choose to eat every day has a major influence on your cardiovascular health. But did you know that your dietary choices — combined with those of everyone else in this country — also have a big impact on our nation's economic health?

"About 45% of the cost associated with heart disease, stroke, and diabetes — what we call cardiometabolic disease — is related to an unhealthy diet," says cardiologist Dr. Thomas A. Gaziano, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Here's the key thing to know about an unhealthy diet: what you're not eating may be just as important as what you are eating.

Keeping tabs on triglycerides

Updated March 1, 2020

People monitor their cholesterol levels, but they should also watch their triglycerides.

Most people have heard of the two main kinds of cholesterol: the "good" HDL and the "bad" LDL. Doctors focus on controlling LDL, as high levels can lead to a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries and block blood flow, which can trigger a heart attack or stroke.

A blood test called a lipid profile measures your HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol levels. But within that test is another number you should not ignore: your triglyceride levels.

FDA approves fish oil-based drug for heart attack and stroke prevention

Updated March 1, 2020

Research we're watching

Late in 2019, the FDA approved a new use for icosapent ethyl (Vascepa), a drug that is a highly purified form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish.

The drug was originally approved in 2012 for treating people with very high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. Now, icosapent ethyl is approved for people with triglyceride levels greater than or equal to 150 milligrams per deciliter who also have an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease despite taking the highest tolerable dose of a cholesterol-lowering statin. A large trial found that the drug decreases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiac causes by 26% when compared with a placebo.

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