Heart Beat: November 2014
Be careful not to rely on the accuracy of blood pressure kiosksYou see them in drugstores, grocery stores and the local mall. They’re free blood pressure monitors. And though checking your pressure while shopping seems like reasonable idea, a recent statement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests you don’t rely too heavily on the accuracy of these machines. The FDA notes that several key factors are necessary for an accurate blood pressure reading. For example, correct cuff size is critical to get a proper reading. In a clinical setting, a health care provider can adjust the cuff to your arm size. These kiosks, however, have a fixed-size cuff that may or may not be an appropriate size for you. A cuff that is too small may lead to an artificially high blood pressure reading. A cuff that is too big may show an inaccurately low blood pressure, or may not work at all. In addition, the way you sit and place your arm for the reading can influence the measurement. Those are things that a health care provider can make sure are correct, unlike a kiosk. If you want to monitor your blood pressure on your own, buy a home monitor and take it to your doctor’s office to make sure you’re using it correctly.
Aspirin may reduce the risks of recurring blood clots
Despite recent advisories against the use of aspirin for primary prevention against heart attack, recent research does support the use of aspirin as a defense against recurring blood clots. People who have had deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the deep veins of the legs), are usually prescribed anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or dabigatran (Pradaxa®) to help prevent future clot formation. But for those patients who can’t continue on anticoagulant drugs, aspirin may be a safe and effective alternative. In a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, researchers found that aspirin reduced the risk of recurring blood clots by up to 42 percent. The researchers noted that aspirin shouldn’t be prescribed instead of anticoagulant therapy at the start of treatment, but rather to patients who have to stop anticoagulant therapy or to those for whom anticoagulants are unsuitable. Earlier this year, the FDA warned against using aspirin as preventive therapy against first-time heart attacks. That was because the risk of bleeding appears to outweight the protective benefits of aspirin. However, for individuals who have had a heart attack or have major risk factors for heart attack, daily aspirin therapy may be appropriate. Before beginning aspirin therapy, however, be sure to check with your doctor.
Your heart health may benefit from volunteering
Older adults who stay active by volunteering may derive a health boost. A study published online in Psychological Bulletin is the first to take a broad-brush look at all the available peer-reviewed evidence regarding the psychosocial health benefits of volunteering for adults age 50 and older. Researchers found that volunteering is associated with reduced depression, better overall health, fewer functional limitations, and greater longevity. The data also indicate that health benefits may depend on a moderate level of volunteering—there appears to be a tipping point after which greater benefits no longer accrue. The “sweet spot” appears to be at about 100 annual hours, or two to three hours per week. Volunteers of America’s retired senior volunteer program (http://bit.ly/1xcawas) can help you find local volunteering opportunities. Other studies have also shown heart-healthy benefits to volunteering, even among adolescents. One reason for these benefits is a reduction in stress, which can increase blood pressure and heart rate. By focusing on others, you place less emphasis on your problems and the causes of stress in your life. Volunteers also tend to be more physically active. By being up and around helping others, you’re spending less time sitting. The more you can fit physical activity into your day, the greater the benefits for weight management and blood pressure control. While the best type of volunteering for heart health hasn’t been determined in research, experts say the key is to do something you find enjoyable and rewarding. That way you’ll be much more likely to stick with it.