Rapid Beats: Heart Disease News and Updates for May

May 2017

Woman cooling off in front of a fan

Hot Flashes May Indicate Increased Risk for Heart Disease

As many menopausal women know all too well, hot flashes can seriously impact their quality of life. A new study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has found that frequent hot flashes in younger midlife (age 40 to 53) may also signal emerging vascular dysfunction that can lead to heart disease.

The study, which involved 272 nonsmoking women aged 40 to 60 years, tested the relationship between physiologically assessed hot flashes and endothelial (the inner lining of the blood vessels) function using a measure of vascular health called brachial artery flow-mediated dilation. While there was no association between hot flashes and vascular health found among older women, poorer endothelial function was found in the younger participants, indicating that early hot flashes may be those most relevant to heart disease risk. Acknowledged limitations of the study include a lack of data from early perimenopausal women or from women in racial/ethnic minority groups.

“These findings point to the potential value in considering the role of not only hormones, but also hot flashes, in the cardiovascular changes that occur early in the menopause transition, while also underscoring the potential role that the endothelium may play in the physiology of early hot flashes,” concluded Rebecca Thurston, PhD.

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Illustration of the word "Unemployement"

Employment Status Linked to Heart Failure Mortality

Environmental and social factors can strongly impact the progression and outcomes of heart disease. Researchers at the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark recently found that unemployed people with heart failure are 50% more likely to die from the condition than employed people.

The study compared the risks of death from all causes and repeated heart failure hospitalization rates in patients with the condition, while noting their employment status. Participants were patients from ages 18 to 60 who were initially hospitalized for heart failure between 1997 and 2012. Of the 21,455 subjects, 11,600 were employed.

During an average follow-up of just under three years, 16%of employed patients and 31%of unemployed patients died, while 40%of employed and 42%of unemployed patients returned to the hospital for heart failure. After adjusting for age, sex, education level and comorbidities, the study indicated that heart failure patients unemployed at baseline had a 50% increased risk of death and 12% increased risk of re-hospitalization for heart failure compared to those who were employed.

“Employment status is more than just a physical measurement as it also has an influence on quality of life, and has been shown to be important for mental health and wellbeing,” said the study’s lead author Rasmus Roerth, MD, in a press release. “Thus, both from a physical and psychological point of view it makes sense to include employment status in the evaluation of young heart failure patients’ prognosis.”

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Packaging of Statin tablets

Muscle Pain with Statins Likely the Result of Expectations

As one of the most commonly prescribed medications, there is a good chance you know someone who is taking statins to help lower their cholesterol. While studies have repeatedly demonstrated that the benefits of statins greatly outweigh any side effects, doctors have long been concerned that some patients may stop taking the drug after experiencing muscle pain or soreness. Interestingly, a new study has found that patients taking statins report no increase in muscle problems – if they are unaware that they are taking the drug.

Published in the The Lancet, the study out of Imperial College London, analyzed data from a large randomized clinical trial which looked at lowering cholesterol in more than 10,000 patients in the UK, Ireland and the Nordic regions over three years. What the researchers found suggests that cases of muscle pain and weakness in patients are unlikely to be directly caused by statins, but rather by the so-called “nocebo” effect, where the very expectation of side effects can make patients more likely to report them.

Quick to acknowledge that patients can experience very real pain because of the nocebo effect, lead author Peter Sever, MD, PhD, said that he hopes the study’s data will help persuade physicians and patients that exaggerated concerns about statins are not supported by the available scientific evidence. “We know there is a significant emergence of heart attacks, strokes and deaths in people who have stopped taking statins, who would benefit from them,” he said. “It’s a huge problem affecting tens if not hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide.”

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