Harvard Heart Letter

In Brief

Meridia warning. The FDA is warning that people with any type of cardiovascular disease (coronary artery disease; a past heart attack, stroke, or transient ischemic attack; heart rhythm problems; heart failure; peripheral artery disease; or uncontrolled high blood pressure) should not take sibutramine (Meridia), a widely used diet drug. Data from the Sibutramine Cardiovascular Outcomes (SCOUT) trial showed that use of the drug increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.

De-salting. The average American takes in about 9 grams of salt a day. Cutting back to 6 grams (the upper limit now recommended by experts) would prevent between 90,000 and 165,000 heart attacks and strokes each year (New England Journal of Medicine, published online, Jan. 20, 2010). According to the study, cutting back on salt would be a more cost-effective way to prevent heart disease than using medications to lower blood pressure in all people with hypertension.

Lung disease affects the heart. Even mild cases of emphysema and chronic bronchitis affect the heart's ability to effectively pump blood (New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 21, 2010). If you have one of these breathing problems (often lumped together as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD]), pay extra attention to your heart. This study raises the possibility that treating lung disease could improve heart function.

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