Heart Beat: April 2016
Systolic Blood Pressure of Less Than 140 Suggests a Lower Stroke Risk
In 2014, the Eighth Joint National Committee (JNC 8) issued a report that proposed a systolic blood pressure of 150 mmHg as the level at which anti-hypertensive treatment should start in older adults. The reasoning was that a systolic pressure of up to 150 mmHg didn’t significantly raise the health risks of most older adults, but that aggressive blood pressure-lowering therapies could be dangerous. The systolic pressure is the top number in your blood pressure reading. The bottom number is your diastolic pressure. Taking multiple medications to drive down one’s blood pressure may lead, in some cases, to an unhealthy drop in blood pressure and fainting, which in turn raises the risk of falls and fractures. However, a recent study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension suggests that having a systolic pressure between 140 and 149 mmHg elevates stroke risk as much as having systolic pressure of 150 mmHg or higher. The study also found that individuals with a 140 mmHg systolic pressure or higher at the start of the study were about 70 percent more likely to suffer a stroke compared to adults with systolic pressure of less than 140 mmHg. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined as having systolic pressure of 140 mmHg or higher. Ideal blood pressure targets remain a debated subject, but health experts agree that blood pressure goals and treatments should be set on a person-by-person basis. A person’s age shouldn’t be the only factor. Family history, diabetes, and kidney disease are among the many factors to consider when managing blood pressure.
Normal Caffeine Consumption Not Associated with Extra Heartbeats
If a cup of coffee with breakfast or an iced tea with lunch is part of your regular routine, a recent study suggests that your moderate caffeine intake isn’t likely to cause extra heartbeats. The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found no significant associations between the intake of coffee, tea or chocolate (which contains varying amounts of caffeine) and the hourly rate of premature atrial contractions or premature ventricular contractions. There was also no association with the prevalence of supraventricular tachycardia, an episode in which the heart beats more than 100 times per minute—sometimes as fast as 300 times per minute. There was some minor association between modest caffeine intake (four cups of coffee weekly) and ventricular tachycardia, a rapid heartbeat of more than 100 beats per minute with at least three consecutive irregular heartbeats. The researchers suggested that some individuals may be more sensitive to caffeine than others, and that the only way to know for sure if you’re one of those people is to experiment a little. The researchers also raised concerns that some beverages with high levels of caffeine, such as some newer energy drinks and high-calorie coffeehouse espresso drinks, may be to blame for triggering irregular heartbeats in some individuals. Future research should focus on these high-caffeine beverages.
Recent Asthma Activity May Be Linked to Aortic Aneurysm Rupture
An analysis of medical records of more than 33,000 adults age 50 and older found that those with recent asthma activity were more likely than non-asthmatics to experience abdominal aortic anuerysm rupture and sudden death. The research, published in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, found that the risk was higher in older men than women. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the portion of the aorta that runs down through the abdomen. The aorta is the largest artery in the body and helps supply blood to most of the body from the chest down. If the bulge ruptures, the bleeding event is often so severe that the fatality risk is very high. The analysis didn’t explain the link between asthma and aortic aneurysm. Individuals with asthma tend to have higher levels of the protein immunoglobulin E, which the body makes in response to allergies. This protein can also activate other types of cells, including those that promote aneurysm. More research is necessary to better understand the link and develop prevention and treatment strategies. Smoking remains the primary cause of aortic aneurysm. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about ways to quit. There are products, community-based programs and proven therapies that may help you. If you were a smoker, but have quit, talk with your doctor about getting checked for the health of your aorta and other cardiovascular concerns.