Heart Health

Understanding the heart attack gender gap

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

We tend to think of heart attacks (and heart disease) as primarily happening to men. That might be because women tend to minimize any heart attack symptoms they experience — and to delay seeking treatment much longer than men. Recent studies on this “heart attack gender gap” have revealed several things that can help make sure every patient with heart disease gets the best treatment possible.

How useful is the body mass index (BMI)?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The body mass index (BMI) has long been considered an important way to gauge your risk for many chronic conditions, from arthritis to sleep apnea to heart disease. But like all medical measures, BMI is not perfect — and a recent study has revealed that BMI alone may not be a solid measure of cardiovascular health. Here, we’ve examined the pros and cons of the BMI, and whether it’s a number worth knowing.

A twist on the genetic link between Alzheimer’s and heart disease

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Although the two conditions seem unrelated, Alzheimer’s and heart disease actually share a genetic link. People who have a certain gene variant have both a somewhat elevated heart disease risk and a significantly elevated Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, a recent study has suggested that when people know they have this variant, they’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that benefit their heart — and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Muscle problems caused by statins: Can a genetic test reveal your risk?

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

One of the most dreaded side effects of cholesterol-lowering statins is myopathy, or severe muscle pains. A new test on the market can evaluate whether you’re genetically susceptible to myopathy. But true statin-induced myopathy is uncommon, and most muscle pain a person experiences while taking a statin likely isn’t caused by the statin. So, is this test really worth the (significant) price?

Can your coffee habit help you live longer?

Mallika Marshall, MD
Mallika Marshall, MD, Contributing Editor

Coffee is nearly a national obsession in the United States. For years, experts have debated whether drinking coffee is good for you. Recently published research suggests that regular, moderate coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of overall mortality, and that heavy consumption of coffee isn’t linked with a greater risk of death.

Finding omega-3 fats in fish: Farmed versus wild

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Fatty fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But do is farm-raised salmon have a better or worse omega-3 level than wild-caught? While a recent study found that the omega-3 content of farm-raised salmon varies widely, the type of fish you choose probably isn’t as important as following the American Heart Association’s advice to eat two servings of fish a week, letting affordability and availability guide your choices.

Only the overworked die young

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Multiple studies have found a link between working long hours and having a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. The reasons why aren’t entirely clear, but may be related to chronically elevated levels of stress hormones, as well as lifestyle factors such as little exercise, poor eating habits, and a greater use of alcohol and tobacco among those who work the longest. But you can take steps to reduce the effects of long work hours on your health.

Reversing the effects of the new anti-clotting drugs

Samuel Z. Goldhaber, MD
Samuel Z. Goldhaber, MD, Contibuting Editor

Anticoagulants — drugs that reduce the blood’s ability to clot — are used to treat clots in the lungs and legs and to prevent strokes in people with the heart rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation. The anticoagulant warfarin has been used for these purposes for many years. But it is difficult and time-consuming to find the optimal warfarin dose, and it carries a risk of difficult-to-control bleeding. Newer anticoagulants offer an easier and equally effective way to control the blood’s clotting ability, but until recently, there was no way to reverse the effects of these drugs if necessary. The approval of new antidotes to these newer anticoagulants will enable doctors to prescribe these drugs with increased confidence.

Exercise: You may need less than you think

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Getting regular physical activity is one of the most important things one can do to protect and promote health, yet many people say they don’t have time to exercise. A recent study has confirmed that even a little exercise — just 8 to 15 minutes a day — reduced the risk of death. When it comes to exercise, some is always better than none.

Do statins interfere with the flu vaccine?

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

The statin drugs are very effective at reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and may also reduce inflammation throughout the body. Both of these properties can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems. At the same time, research — some of it conflicting — suggests that statins may also affect the body’s immune system. In particular, they may dampen the response to vaccines.