Harvard Heart Letter

In Brief

Shingles and stroke. Shingles, a painful rash affecting adults that is set off by the same virus that causes chickenpox, increases the chance of having a stroke over the next year, especially when the virus affects the area around the eyes (Stroke, November 2009). If you are one of the million or so Americans who develop shingles each year, it's a good idea to pay extra attention afterward to your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors for stroke.

A bowl of avenanthramides. Oats, long recognized for their ability to reduce cholesterol, may fight heart disease in other ways. Tufts University researchers have shown that oat compounds called avenanthramides (avena is Latin for oats) decrease inflammation in artery walls, limit the growth of artery-stiffening smooth muscle cells inside arteries, and prevent white blood cells from sticking to artery walls (Agriculture Research, February 2010). Each of these activities helps arteries stay healthy and supple. Oatmeal for breakfast, anyone?

HIV drug warning. Saquinavir (Invirase), a drug used to fight HIV, can interfere with electrical signals in the heart when used with ritonavir (Norvir), another HIV drug. The combination can interrupt the steady flow of "beat now" signals from the atria to the ventricles or can trigger torsades de pointes, a rapid beating of the ventricles. The FDA recommends that anyone with heart disease or a pre-existing heart rhythm problem not take Invirase and Norvir together.

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