Heart Beat: August 2015
Mitral valve study: early treatment better than “watchful waiting”
If you have degenerative mitral valve disease, you may want to consider a more aggressive treatment plan than “watchful waiting,” according to a recent Cleveland Clinic study. Researchers found that earlier surgical interventions, using less-invasive surgical techniques, lead to better outcomes for patients than waiting until some kind of intervention becomes necessary because the condition has advanced to heart failure or atrial fibrillation. Mitral valve disease is the most common type of heart valve problem, affecting about 4 million people in the U.S. Mitral valve regurgitation, in particular, represents the vast majority of mitral valve disorders. “Surgery is almost unavoidable in patients with severe degenerative mitral valve regurgitation,” says the study’s lead author Farhang Yazdchi, MD, formerly of Cleveland Clinic. “Our study has shown that the key to successful treatment is a timely referral for surgical intervention at an advanced repair center with highly skilled heart teams.” The study was published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery. If you have mitral valve disease, and are in a watchful waiting mode with your physician, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of intervening before the condition worsens. You should also be sure you understand the course your mitral valve disease is likely to follow in the months and years ahead. Remember that you may not notice obvious symptoms of mitral valve regurgitation at first. Eventually, you may notice signs such as palpitations, a cough, shortness of breath, fatigue or lightheadedness. If you feel your condition warrants a more proactive approach, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion. The mitral valve is located between the left atrium and the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber.
Even moderate drinking later in life may cause heart problems
You may have heard that moderate alcohol consumption—a glass of red wine per day, for example—is good for your cardiovascular health. But recent evidence suggests that older adults may experience heart problems with heavy or even moderate drinking. In a study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, researchers found that alcohol use may affect the structure and function of the heart. The study included more than 4,000 older adults (average age 76). Among men, consuming two or more drinks per day was linked to enlargement of the wall of the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle. This can lead to heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms and other complications. Among women in the study, averaging at least one alcoholic drink per day was linked to a slight reduction in heart function. The researchers noted that older women may be more vulnerable to the deleterious effects of alcohol, even when consumption is moderate. Moderate alcohol consumption is considered one drink per day for women and two drinks for men. Researchers say the findings underscore the importance of not exceeding moderate alcohol consumption guidelines. If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start because you think there may be heart-healthy benefits. There are many other risk-free behaviors that can help your heart.
Mixing walking with running still boosts heart health
Running can be an excellent exercise for heart health. And now you don’t need to worry about sacrificing those benefits if you slow down occasionally and walk. A German study, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, suggests mixing periods of walking in with your long runs doesn’t cost you any cardiovascular benefits. These occasional breaks from running may also lead to less wear and tear on your muscles and joints, resulting in fewer injuries and less long-term damage. While a period of walking may slow down your race times, the heart-health benefits are the same as those who run without pausing to walk, the study found. “Runners tend to beat themselves up if they stop and walk during a long run,” says Cleveland Clinic sports health specialist Laura Goldberg, MD. “But if your body is telling you to stop, it’s better for you to walk, give your muscles a break and then re-start.” She adds that as long as you don’t let your heart rate drop completely during your run, you won’t lose the cardiovascular benefits of running. She recommends walking breaks of 30 seconds to one minute throughout a long run.