2017 was a big year for medical research, and for heart disease research in particular. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, causing one out of every four deaths each year. In the last few years, we’ve covered heart disease and its many forms, including endocarditis, heart valve disease and heart disease in seniors. Caregivers, home care aides and loved ones living with one of the many forms of heart disease can, well, take heart from the latest advances in detection, prevention and treatment of heart disease.
High levels of LDL – bad cholesterol – contribute to heart attacks and stroke by clogging arteries in the heart, reducing blood flow and sending clots to the brain. The target level for LDL in the blood is 200mg or less, and exercise, lifestyle changes, and drugs like statins are usually recommended to bring LDL levels down in at-risk patients. A 2017 study from the Cleveland Clinic showed that these treatments plus a new kind of cholesterol-lowering drug called PCSK9 inhibitors can push LDL levels way, way, down. Trials have shown a 20% reduction in the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease in patients who added this new drug to their regimen. Wow!
Half of all heart attacks occur in people who don’t have high cholesterol, which means there’s at least one more risk factor at work. A 2017 study showed a clear connection between heart disease and inflammation, a natural response from the body that releases white blood cells into the bloodstream to attack foreign bodies. This response can cause redness, warmth, and swelling, and chronic inflammation can affect organs like the heart. The study followed 10,000 heart attack survivors who received injections of anti-inflammatory drugs after their heart attack and discovered a 15% reduction in the chances that a second attack or stroke would occur. Anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce the chances of recurrence, and may eventually become a preventative treatment, for heart disease when inflammation is discovered.
A Stanford cardiothoracic surgeon and researcher took a novel approach in 2017 to restoring blood flow to the arteries of the heart after a heart attack. The longer heart tissue is deprived of blood from a clog, the greater the danger that the tissue will die. Dead or weakened tissue, post-attack, impairs the function of the heart and if severe enough can only be fixed by transplant. The research shows that bacteria using photosynthesis increased the oxygen levels in the failing hearts of rats by 25%. Plant photosynthesis uses sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, and certain bacteria can perform the same conversion. It’s a long way from human use, since the bacteria need a light source, and that’s tricky to provide inside a heart. But it’s an exciting idea that could reduce the damage a heart attack causes on heart tissue.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke and a slew of other vascular diseases. When the pressure of the blood flowing through your arteries is too strong, lasting damage can occur to arteries, vessels and veins. This damage can cause blockages in the heart, burst vessels in the brain, eye damage, kidney disease or other problems related to impaired blood flow. Blood pressure is measured by two numbers, the systolic pressure (pressure exerted when the heart beats) over diastolic pressure (pressure exerted when the heart rests between beats). A score of 140 over 90 or higher indicated hypertension, and a cause for concern. Just recently, the American Heart Association changed the definition of HBP to 130 over 80, which means that now nearly half of all Americans have high blood pressure. Hypertension may not show itself in any other way aside from this score, but its consequences can be devastating.