Heart Beat February 2018 Issue

Heart Beat: February 2018

Despite Its Legalization, Marijuana May Not Be Entirely Safe

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As a growing number of states legalize marijuana, studies are finding that pot smoking might have a fatal impact on the cardiovascular system. A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology on Aug. 9, 2017, found marijuana users had a significantly greater risk of death from hypertension than non-users. The researchers asked 1,200 individuals aged 20 and older if they had ever smoked marijuana. The 686 who answered “yes” were defined as users; the other 527 as non-users. The average duration of marijuana use was 11.5 years. Study participants were also asked about current and past cigarette smoking. After adjusting for tobacco use and prior diagnosis of hypertension, death from hypertension was 3.5 times higher among marijuana users than non-users and increased with every year of use. No association was seen between marijuana use and death from heart disease or stroke. No increased risk of death was seen in cigarette smokers, likely due to the small sample size. The authors were not surprised by the link between marijuana use and hypertension death, since marijuana is known to have a number of effects on the cardiovascular system. However, they suggested the association be further investigated.

Stopping Low-dose Aspirin Increases Heart Attack and Stroke Risk

A daily low-dose aspirin is often recommended for the prevention of a first or second heart attack or stroke. Perhaps because aspirin is inexpensive and bought over the counter, it’s not always taken seriously, and patients often skip doses or stop taking the drug without telling their doctor. The results of a Swedish study may cause them to reconsider this practice. Researchers followed more than 600,000 long-term aspirin users who adhered to the regimen at least 80 percent of the time. Over a three-year period, 62,690 cardiovascular events occurred. Aspirin users who discontinued taking the drug without cause (such as internal bleeding or major surgery) had a 37 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. As detailed in Circulation online Sept. 26, 2017, the risk increased shortly after aspirin was stopped and did not decrease over time.

Warfarin Found to Deter the Development of Many Common Cancers

Millions of patients with cardiovascular disease take warfarin (Coumadin) to prevent potentially lethal blood clots from forming. Now, an observational study suggests this common heart drug might protect against cancer, as well. A review of 1.25 million adults in Norway’s national healthcare database found that patients who took warfarin for at least six months had significantly lower rates of lung, breast, prostate and other cancers. As explained online Nov. 6, 2017, in JAMA Internal Medicine, patients taking warfarin for atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter had the lowest rates of these cancers and were protected against colon cancer, as well. Warfarin’s anticancer properties likely stem from its ability to inhibit the activity of a receptor found on the surface of tumor and immune cells, rather than from its properties as an anticoagulant.

Statins May Help Prevent a Deadly Bacterial Infection

Statins are powerful cholesterol-lowering medications with a number of other beneficial effects on the body. Protection against infection with the Staphyloccoccus aureus bacterium may now be added to the list. As reported in the October 2017 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Danish researchers found that patients who currently take statins had a 27 percent lower risk of community-acquired S aureus infection, which can lead to the deadly condition known as sepsis. Risk dropped as the dosage of statin rose and was consistent for both sexes in all age groups and with all statins. The presence of other diseases did not negatively affect statins’ protective ability, which was particularly beneficial to patients with chronic kidney disease or diabetes. This finding adds to those of previous studies connecting statin use with a 20 percent lower risk of pneumonia, 26 percent reduced risk of postoperative infection and reduced risk of sepsis. 

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