Hypertension and Stroke

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.

Update on the SPRINT trial: Preliminary results pan out

Deepak Bhatt, MD, MPH

Formally published results of the SPRINT trial confirm the early conclusions released in September. A target systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 120 mm Hg or less offers real health benefits, including a lower risk for cardiovascular problems and even death. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, the results are so compelling that everyone should know his or her blood pressure and develop a plan with a primary care physician to achieve and maintain the “ideal” blood pressure for them.

The SPRINT trial: A major advance in treating high blood pressure

Deepak Bhatt, MD, MPH

The SPRINT study was a large clinical trial involving people with high blood pressure who were at increased risk for heart disease or who already had kidney disease. The results of this study showed that aiming for a systolic blood pressure of 120 mm Hg instead of the current 140 mm Hg target greatly reduced the chances of developing serious cardiovascular problems. On average, reaching the target required 3 blood pressure drugs instead of 2. If you already have well-controlled blood pressure, you don’t need to rush to see your doctor about this, but it’s worth having a conversation with your primary care physician about the potential benefits of a lower blood pressure target.

Mild high blood pressure in young adults linked to heart problems later in life

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

Young adults with even slightly above-normal blood pressure may be more likely to have heart problems later in life, according to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The study focused on nearly 2,500 men and women who were 18 to 30 years old when the study began and whose health was followed for 25 years. Those with slightly high blood pressure, a condition known as prehypertension, were more likely to have had signs of heart disease in middle age. Echocardiograms showed they were more likely to have developed problems with the heart’s left ventricle.

Folic acid, a B vitamin, lowers stroke risk in people with high blood pressure

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

If you’re among the one in three American adults with high blood pressure, be sure you’re getting plenty of the B vitamin known as folate. Doing so may lower your odds of having a stroke, an often disabling or deadly event linked to high blood pressure. That’s the conclusion of a large trial conducted in China, where many people don’t get enough folate. Most Americans get plenty of folate or its synthetic version, folic acid. That’s largely because grain folic acid is added to most grain products, including wheat flour, cornmeal, pasta, and rice. It’s a good idea for everyone to do a diet check to make sure it delivers enough folate. Good sources include green leafy vegetables, beans, and citrus fruits.

High blood pressure in midlife linked to later decline in memory, thinking skills

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

A new report in JAMA Neurology offers yet another reminder why keeping your blood pressure in the healthy range for as long as you can is a good life strategy. Researchers with the long-term Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Neurocognitive Study found that memory and thinking skills declined significantly more over the course of a 20-year study in middle-aged people with high blood pressure than it did in those with healthy blood pressure. Interestingly, those who had normal blood pressure in midlife but who developed high blood pressure in their late 60s, 70s, and 80s didn’t have similar declines as those who developed high blood pressure earlier. The main take-home lesson from this study? The longer you live with normal blood pressure, the less likely you are to have memory and reasoning problems when you’re older.

Daily protein needs for seniors still unsettled

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

A new study that linked eating more protein to lower risk of stroke isn’t the last word on the subject. But that doesn’t make dietary protein any less vital, especially in older adults who are at greater risk for malnutrition and illness. How much protein is enough? Current guidelines for adults of any age recommend 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Do older people need more protein than younger ones? That’s still an open question.

Keeping blood pressure under control reduces risk of second stroke

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

For anyone who has had a stroke, working to prevent a second one should be Job No. 1. Keeping blood pressure under control is an important part of that job. A study published yesterday in the journal Stroke shows that good blood pressure control after a stroke cuts the chances of having a repeat stroke by more than half. But the study also brought some bad news: less than one-third of stroke survivors in the study managed to get their blood pressure under control. Measuring blood pressure at home is one way to help control blood pressure—seeing that it is high can help you take steps to bring it down. These include lifestyle changes and medications.