Heart Beat September 2016 Issue

Controlling Stroke Risk, Eating Omega-3's, Living with Congenital Heart Failure

Controlling Stroke Risk Factors May Also Delay Dementia Onset

If you can control risk factors, such as high blood pressure, you may be able to avoid or at least delay a first stroke. Even if you have a stroke, a healthy lifestyle before that event may go a long way in helping to prevent a second stroke and dementia. That’s according to a study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke. Researchers also found that if you had high blood pressure before your first stroke, your risks of having a second stroke or developing dementia within the next five years are significant. In the study of more than 1,200 stroke survivors and 5,000 people who had never had a stroke, researchers found that stroke survivors were more than twice as likely to have dementia as those who were stroke-free. Other findings noted that among stroke survivors, 39 percent of recurrent strokes and 10 percent of post-stroke dementia cases were attributed to pre-stroke cardiovascular risk factors. These included high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and transient ischemic attack (TIA or “mini-stroke”). The takeaway message is that the same risk factors that lead to an initial stroke appear to have a major impact on your physical and mental health years after a stroke. An earlier study cited by the researchers found that about 27 percent of all deaths after stroke are linked to risk factors that were present before the stroke. Researchers said their findings should serve as a reminder to make sure your blood pressure is checked regularly and that you are taking the proper steps to keep it well controlled. Diabetes control, smoking cessation and cholesterol control are also essential to help lower stroke and heart attack risks, and to help preserve cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health in the years ahead.

Greater Omega-3 Consumption May Lower Fatal Heart Attack Risk

Eating more foods high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids was associated with a lower risk of a fatal heart attack among people without diagnosed heart disease, according to a study published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine. The same level of protection didn’t extend to non-fatal heart attacks. Researchers had no specific reason for this difference. But the researchers did emphasize that the study subjects who were among the most heart-healthy were those who got most of their omega-3s from dietary sources. These include fatty fish, such as salmon, rainbow trout, and sardines. Other good foods high in omega-3s include flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and certain cooking oils, including canola. It’s also important, the researchers noted, that a healthy diet also include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Evidence that fish oil supplements provide the same benefits as dietary sources of omega-3s is less clear. However, some studies have found omega-3 supplements to be helpful, particularly if your regular diet doesn’t allow for two or more servings of fish per week. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian who works with heart patients about how to get enough omega-3s in your diet or as supplements. The researchers explained that omega-3s may help stabilize heart membranes and prevent ventricular fibrillation—a condition in which the heart’s lower chambers beat chaotically and not in rhythm with the heart’s upper chambers (atria).

More Adults Are Living Longer With Congenital Heart Defects

Advances in medications and medical procedures are helping individuals born with congenital heart defects live longer into adulthood than ever before. According to a report in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, there are more adults than children in the U.S. with congenital heart defects—about 1.4 million adults and 1 million children. This suggests that this type of birth defect shouldn’t be thought of as a pediatric medical condition. A congenital heart defect is simply an abnormality in a wall, valve or blood vessel of the heart that is present at birth. Many adults who grow up with a congenital heart defect, even those treated with one or more surgeries as children, face complicated heart-health challenges as they get older. Having a congenital heart defect raises the risk of heart failure or the need for a heart valve repair or replacement later in life. But the researchers noted that many people born with heart problems fail to get the care they require. Many of them should be on medications and see a cardiologist at least once every two years, depending on their health.

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