Heart Beat December 2012 Issue

Heart Beat: December 2012

The winter holidays are often synonymous with celebrations that involve sodium-rich foods and alcohol. But those celebratory ingredients can contribute to heart risks and a condition known as “holiday heart syndrome.” Unlike alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which is damage to the heart caused by heavy alcohol consumption over a period of years, holiday heart syndrome is usually a temporary condition resulting from too much alcohol at one time. It’s characterized by an irregular heartbeat, which can also feel like a racing heart. A recent study in the journal CMAJ actually found a link between moderate-to-high alcohol use and an elevated atrial fibrillation risk. The study found that moderate drinkers who binge drink occasionally face the same risks as heavy drinkers. To keep your heart safe this holiday season and beyond, limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day (or not at all if your doctor has advised against it due to health concerns), consume water throughout the day, avoid or eat sparingly foods high in fat and/or sodium, and if you do start to experience palpitation or other chest discomfort, seek medical attention right away, and don’t just assume it’s heartburn.

It may come as no surprise that patients with type 2 diabetes who are physically active on a regular basis have lower risks of cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality. But a recent study based on the Swedish National Diabetes Register also found that patients with diabetes who were previously sedentary, but substantially increased their leisure-time physical-activity levels over a five-year time span cut their risks of death by about two thirds. The study was presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in October. Researchers noted that exercise is a base-level treatment for diabetes, and that the more a patient exercises, the less he or she may require medications for the condition. Conversely, little or no exercise usually means an increase in medications. Researchers also explained that their findings underscore the message that it’s never too late to increase your physical activity level, and that noticeable health benefits can accrue with consistent exercise over time.

Extreme temperatures, both cold and hot, increase the risk of premature cardiovascular disease, according to new research in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. Exposure to extreme temperatures can cause changes in blood pressure, blood thickness, cholesterol and heart rate. Researchers noted that with the rising numbers of people with obesity and diabetes, vulnerability to very hot and very cold days could be an even greater health risk. The study did find that exposure to extreme heat posed a greater threat than extreme cold, but researchers suggested that one explanation may be that people tend to take more precautions against cold temperatures than hot. However, it should be noted that activities such as shoveling snow in cold weather has been identified as a risk factor for heart attack, and anyone with heart disease or heart disease risk factors is advised to limit physical exertion in extreme temperatures this winter.

The ongoing Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study reveals that, at the population level, even a slight drop in the prevalence of diabetes would avert a significant number of new heart failure cases. That’s according to report in a recent issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Diabetes has long been considered a risk factor for heart failure, but it’s never been thought of as one of the strongest risk factors. Researchers concluded that a shift in heart failure preventive care needs to take place, so instead of treating risk factors, such as diabetes and hypertension once they are present, we should make greater efforts to prevent those risk factors from developing in the first place. Other risk factors identified in the report were smoking, obesity and elevated LDL cholesterol levels.