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

Music engages many different areas of the brain, which may explain why listening to music may boost exercise ability, ease stress and anxiety, and enhance recovery from heart surgery and strokes. Listening to or creating music (playing an instrument or singing) triggers the release of a brain chemical that makes people feel engaged and motivated, which may allow people to exercise longer. Relaxing music may lower a person’s heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure—perhaps because sound processing begins in the brainstem, which also controls the heart rate and respiration. Patient-selected music shows more benefit than music selected by someone else. (Locked) 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?

The gut microbiome refers to the genes that govern the trillions of microbes in the human intestinal tract. These bacteria and other microbes make an array of substances that influence the body’s vascular, nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. These substances play a role in regulating blood pressure and blood sugar and the formation of artery-clogging plaque (atherosclerosis). Dietary habits that are helpful for preventing heart disease—such as avoiding red meat, keeping salt intake low, and eating lots of fiber-rich vegetables and whole grains—also have favorable effects on the gut microbiome. 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. (Locked) 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 »