Harnessing big data to help the heart

Advanced technologies are beginning to transform doctors’ ability to screen for cardiovascular disease. Examples include the analysis of data from smartphones and other devices using machine learning to predict a person’s risk of disease. Two promising applications include retina scans to predict heart disease and pulse monitoring with a smartwatch to detect atrial fibrillation, a common cause of stroke. Possible future applications include capturing varied data from electronic health records, such as electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, blood test results, and genetic information. (Locked) More »

Gene testing for antiplatelet drug response

A genetic test can determine how well a person might respond to the antiplatelet drug clopidogrel. But so far, it’s not clear whether the test results can help guide a person’s treatment or improve health outcomes. (Locked) More »

Tuning in: How music may affect your heart

 Image: © shironosov/Getty Images Whether you prefer Stravinsky's symphonies or the Beatles' ballads, you probably listen mostly because you simply like how they sound. You might not realize that music engages not only your auditory system but many other parts of your brain as well, including areas responsible for movement, language, attention, memory, and emotion. "There is no other stimulus on earth that simultaneously engages our brains as widely as music does," says Brian Harris, certified neurologic music therapist at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. This global activation happens whether you listen to music, play an instrument, or sing — even informally in the car or the shower, he says. And it helps to explain how and why music therapy works (see "Singing — and striding — stroke survivors"). More »

Varicose veins: Clues to a deeper problem?

People with varicose veins—gnarled, bluish veins near the surface of the skin—may have an elevated risk of developing a clot in the deeper veins of the legs, known as deep-vein thrombosis or DVT. About one-quarter of adults have varicose veins, and about half of these people have a family history of the problem. Varicose veins are also more common after age 65 and in women, people who are overweight or obese, and those who stand or sit for long periods of time. Most people with varicose veins won’t experience a DVT, but people should know the warning signs, which include swelling, discomfort, redness, and warmth in the calf, thigh, or arm. (Locked) More »

Healthy gut, healthy heart?

 Image: © KarpenkovDenis/Getty Images If you ask most medical experts about the hottest trends in health research, chances are they'll mention the microbiome. The term refers to the trillions of microbes living inside our bodies, known as the human microbiota. The vast majority of these bacteria, viruses, and fungi dwell deep within our intestines. These microbes help with digestion, make certain nutrients, and release substances that have wide-ranging health effects. "There's a complex interplay between the microbes in our intestines and most of the systems in our bodies, including the vascular, nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. All of these relationships are highly relevant to cardiovascular health," says Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital. More »

The new, potent cholesterol-lowering drugs: An update

Potent cholesterol-lowering drugs known as PCSK9 inhibitors lower harmful LDL cholesterol by more than 50%. They also appear to lower the risk of serious heart-related events by 15%. One of the drugs, alirocumab (Praluent) also appears to improve survival in heart attack survivors with stubbornly high LDL levels of 100 mg/dL or higher. To date, the high cost of these medications has prohibited widespread access. But potential changes in the drug’s pricing structure could mean that more people will have affordable access to these medications in the future. More »

Vegetable of the month: Avocado

Avocados are one of the few fruits that contain healthy unsaturated fats. These fats help lower undesirable LDL cholesterol when eaten in place of saturated fat. More »