"Low salt" still the dietary rule

A panel of experts appointed by the Institute of Medicine was asked determine whether people who reduce their salt intake to the low level recommended by the American Heart Association have better health outcomes—not just markers of good health, such as normal blood pressure, but less disease and longer lives. The panel found very few studies of health outcomes in people with very low salt intake. Those they did find were in European studies of people who received an unusually extreme fluid-restriction treatment for heart failure not used in the U.S. Those people did worse when they also reduced their salt intake to very low levels. Some press reports wrongly took this to mean that low-salt diets aren't heart healthy. In fact, there's good evidence that the high-salt diets that most Americans eat are bad for health and lowering sodium intake is a smart move. (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Adding Plavix to Coumadin

Warfarin (Coumadin) belongs to the class of drugs called anticoagulants, which slow blood clotting. Clopidogrel (Plavix) belongs to another class of drugs called antiplatelet agents, which slow blood clotting in a different way. Sometimes both types of drug are needed to prevent stroke, a benefit that outweighs the added bleeding risk from this dual therapy. (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: The trouble with the body mass index

Body mass index (BMI) is easy to measure and is a good rough instrument for determining whether a person is overweight or obese. But it does not account for individual differences in body shape and muscularity. Muscular people with flat stomachs need not worry about a slightly high BMI—unless it keeps going up. (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Is warfarin plus aspirin safe?

People taking the anticoagulant drug warfarin (Coumadin) for atrial fibrillation may sometimes need to take a second type of anti-clotting drug—an antiplatelet drug such as aspirin. This dual therapy adds to bleeding risk, but lowers stroke risk. (Locked) More »

How to lower your stroke risk

Strokes don't usually come out of the blue. Many are years in the making. A few factors that boost the odds of having a stroke can't be changed, like age and family history. But there are a surprising number of things that can be done to prevent stroke. These include quitting smoking, losing weight if needed, drinking alcohol only in moderation, consuming less sodium, and exercising. Controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes are also extremely important. More »

Shortness of breath: A common reason for calling the doctor

Shortness of breath doesn't always signal a serious heart emergency – but it may. It's normal to be short of breath for a short period after strenuous exercise, at high altitudes, or upon sudden exposure to very hot or cold temperatures. But it's a good idea to call a doctor (or go directly to the emergency room) when unexplained shortness of breath appears for the first time, occurs at rest or with chest pain, or gets worse if you already have heart failure, asthma, or emphysema. (Locked) More »

Too much sitting linked to heart attack and stroke -- even if active

A report from the Women’s Health Initiative showed that women who sat for 10 or more hours a day were 18% more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke over a 12-year period than women who sat for five hours or fewer. While that’s not entirely surprising, the risk was increased even among women who sat a lot but got recommended levels of daily physical activity. Taken together with previous studies of sitting done in men and mixed groups, the findings suggest that prolonged sitting is a heart hazard for everyone. The other message from this line of research is that activity trumps sitting. (Locked) More »

What's more important than your life span? Your health span

The concept of aging is changing. Instead of thinking simply about length of life—the life span—attention is turning to "health span"—the length of healthy life. Because heart attack and stroke are the leading causes of death and disability in older age, doing everything possible to lower the likelihood of developing these so-called "cardiovascular events" increases the health span. Ideally, the process should start in childhood and last throughout life. More often, awareness begins with thoughts of retirement. People often wonder, "What will my life be like after I retire? How many years of good health will I have?" The approach one takes to growing older can mean the difference between a few years, or a few decades, of good health. (Locked) More »

Don't stop taking a medication if you experience an unpleasant reaction

Unpleasant or harmful reactions to medications are common and can range from mild—a little nausea or diarrhea, for example—to severe—such as fainting or palpitations. Such reactions cause some people to abruptly stop taking the medication without telling their doctor. This can make them feel better, but it may also create a problem—for example, seriously elevated blood pressure or heart rate. A better approach is to talk with a health-care provider first. He or she may be able to find a different medication, or offer ways to minimize symptoms. (Locked) More »

Dietary vitamin E and heart failure

A study links overconsumption of vitamin E to increased risk of heart failure. The study also found that people with high blood levels of vitamin C have a lower heart-failure risk, although it remains unclear whether increasing dietary vitamin C or taking vitamin C supplements can lower heart-failure risk. (Locked) More »

Thick air, thick arteries

People who live in parts of a city with high air pollution are at higher risk of stroke than residents of the same city living in less polluted areas. (Locked) More »

Stroke: Every minute counts

When ischemic stroke strikes, time is of the essence. The sooner a person is treated with the clot-busting drug tPA, the sooner blood flow is restored to the brain and the better the odd of recovery. A new study finds that every 15-minutes sooner tPA is given, risk of death and risk of brain hemorrhage each drop 4%. (Locked) More »