Hypertension and Stroke

Heart disease and brain health: Looking at the links

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

To keep your brain in tip top shape as you age, work to lower your risk for heart disease. Steps that can help protect both your heart and cognitive abilities include getting regular physical activity, quitting smoking, managing blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.

For the good of your heart: Keep holding the salt

Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD
Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD, Contributor

A recently published study claimed that people who ate a low sodium diet were more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and death. However, there were problems with this study – including difficulty with accurately measuring each study volunteer’s daily intake of sodium. Low sodium diets may be harmful for small subsets of people, but for the majority of people restricting salt intake is still important for cardiovascular health.

High blood pressure: Why me?

Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD
Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD, Contributor

It can be tough to accept a diagnosis of hypertension. It often causes no symptoms, and when doctors diagnose it, they often mention the consequences that may someday happen if it isn’t controlled. This can be a lot to take in if you’re feeling fine! Fortunately, hypertension is easily controlled — and staying on top of the treatment is the first step toward taming this “silent killer.”

Stress raising your blood pressure? Take a deep breath

Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD
Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD, Contributor

Stress is rampant these days, and repeated stresses can contribute to high blood pressure. Our bodies are primed to respond to stressors with an adrenaline-pumping “fight or flight” reaction that sends blood pressure soaring. Fortunately, we can learn to interrupt this automatic stress response — it’s as simple as taking a deep breath.

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.