If you had a chance recently to watch Brenda Watson’s Heart of Perfect Health special on PBS, you learned that heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. With the health of an entire nation at stake, scientists are continually working to understand the risk factors behind heart disease and the preventive measures essential for promoting cardiovascular health. Here are three recent stories that have been in the news:
A Better Blood Pressure Reading? Experts Say Yes
Results of a recent Harvard study may have you asking your doctor to put the cuff on both arms the next time you get your blood pressure checked. That’s because research has linked even a small difference in systolic blood pressure between arms—10 points or more—with a 38% increased risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Systolic blood pressure (the top number in a BP reading) measures the force of blood against the arteries and is considered a principal vital sign.
Stress-related Emotions May Increase Heart Disease Risk
Scientists now believe the emotions tied to stress—fear, anxiety, anger—can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. University of Pittsburgh researchers recently examined the neural circuitry associated with stress reactions and say the brain activity associated with controlling negative emotions is linked to physical signs of risk for heart disease, even after controlling conventional risk factors such as smoking. In essence, stress raises the level of pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines in the body, and inflammation is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis and premature death by heart disease.
FDA Advises Caution Regarding “An Aspirin a Day”
Though often recommended as a preventive measure against heart attack or stroke, taking an aspirin a day may not be appropriate for everyone. That’s according to a reminder this month from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in which health officials cautioned people to first talk their healthcare practitioner before taking a daily aspirin because of the potential serious side effects. “There’s been sort of a conception that since aspirin is so good that maybe it would be a good idea if everyone took it, but the data don’t really support that,” said Dr. Dr. Richard Chazal, vice president of the American College of Cardiology. However, for those currently taking aspirin under a doctor’s orders, experts warn against abruptly stopping treatment and advise first checking with their doctor.