Category Archives: Heart


Heart Health Myths Busted

13457372-smallToday we are busting myths. (See how we avoided copyright infringement there?) Occasionally, someone with more time on their hands than scientific evidence will make an untrue claim that something is (or is not) heart healthy…and then we have to spend a lot of energy setting the record straight. So, let’s set the record straight:

Water…will not cause or prevent heart attacks. Thank you, and good night.

Water and heart attacks: Maybe Facebook is to blame for the rise of a bizarre myth that claims that water can help you avoid hypertension, stroke and heart attacks if you drink it at a certain time during the day. This, of course, is false. The AHA – and every organization that promotes good nutrition – recommends that you drink plenty of water each day, but not to prevent heart attacks. Rather, it’s to promote hydration without adding sugar or calories.

Too young for heart disease: How you live now affects your risk for cardiovascular diseases later in life. As early as childhood and adolescence, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries and later lead to clogged arteries. One in three Americans has cardiovascular disease, but not all of them are senior citizens. Even young and middle-aged people can develop heart problems – especially now that obesity, type 2 diabetes and other risk factors are becoming more common at a younger age. Here in Birmingham, we can list about a dozen survivor volunteers under 25 that we work with on a regular basis.

Exercise after a heart attack: You may think you should avoid exercising after a heart attack? Don’t think that way. As soon as possible, get moving with a plan approved for you! Research shows that heart attack survivors who are regularly physically active and make other heart-healthy changes live longer than those who don’t. People with chronic conditions typically find that moderate-intensity activity is safe and beneficial. The American Heart Association recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity physical activity each week. Find the help you need by joining a cardiac rehabilitation program, or consult your healthcare provider for advice on developing a physical activity plan tailored to your needs.



Study: Skipping Breakfast Can Damage Your Heart

13175646-largeHere’s more evidence why breakfast may be the most important meal of the day: Men who reported that they regularly skipped breakfast had a higher risk of a heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease in a study reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Guys, eat your breakfast. It’s important for your heart.

Researchers analyzed food frequency questionnaire data and tracked health outcomes for 16 years (1992-2008) on 26,902 male health professionals ages 45-82. They found:

– Men who reported they skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease than those who reported they didn’t.

– The men who reported not eating breakfast were younger than those who did, and were more likely to be smokers, employed full time, unmarried, less physically active and drank more alcohol.

– Men who reported eating late at night (eating after going to bed) had a 55 percent higher coronary heart disease risk than those who didn’t. But researchers were less convinced this was a major public health concern because few men in the study reported this behavior.

– During the study, 1,572 of the men had first-time cardiac events.

“Skipping breakfast may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time,” said Leah E. Cahill, Ph.D., study lead author and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass.

“Our study group has spent decades studying the health effects of diet quality and composition, and now this new data also suggests overall dietary habits can be important to lower risk of coronary heart disease,” said Eric Rimm, Sc.D., senior author and Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School.

Men who reported eating breakfast ate on average one more time per day than those who skipped breakfast, implying that those who abstained from breakfast were not eating additional make-up meals later in the day. Although there was some overlap between those who skipped breakfast and those who ate late at night, 76 percent of late-night eaters also ate breakfast, researchers said.

The study collected comprehensive questionnaire data from the participants and accounted for many important factors such as TV watching, physical activity, sleep, diet quality, alcohol intake, medical history, BMI, and social factors like whether or not the men worked full-time, were married, saw their doctor regularly for physical exams, or smoked currently or in the past.

While the current study group was composed of men who were of 97 percent white European descent, the results should also apply to women and other ethnic groups, but this should be tested in additional studies, researchers said.

“Don’t skip breakfast,” Cahill said. “Eating breakfast is associated with a decreased risk of heart attacks. Incorporating many types of healthy foods into your breakfast is an easy way to ensure your meal provides adequate energy and a healthy balance of nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. For example, adding nuts and chopped fruit to a bowl of whole grain cereal or steel-cut oatmeal in the morning is a great way to start the day.”

Other co-authors are Stephanie Chiuve, Sc.D.; Rania Mekary, Ph.D.; Majken Jensen, Ph.D.; Alan Flint, M.D., Dr.Ph.; and Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D. The authors had no relevant disclosures.

The National Institutes of Health and a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to Dr. Cahill funded the study.

Try these American Heart Association tips for eating breakfast and these heart-healthy breakfast options.

For the latest heart and stroke news, follow us on Twitter: @HeartNews.

For updates and new science from Circulation, follow @CircAHA.

Connect with the American Heart Association by following us FacebookTwitterand Instagram. Text HEALTH to 27722 for healthy lifestyle tips and heart healthy information on the go!



A Tick’s Spit Leads to an Entire Lesson in Blood Clotting

13100550-largeThere really is such a thing as tick spit – that is, the saliva of a tick. And there’s something about it that might help fight heart disease and stroke.

The link comes from a protein found in the spit of ixodes (ik-SO-deez) ticks, which are also known as blacklegged ticks, or deer ticks.

These kinds of ticks tear their way into skin and feed on their host’€™s blood for several days. They damage small blood vessels, which would normally trigger the body to start a process called coagulation -€“ or blood clotting.

These kinds of ticks tear their way into skin and feed on their host’s blood for several days. They damage small blood vessels, which would normally trigger the body to start a process called coagulation – or blood clotting.

Clotting is important because it stops bleeding. But it also can play a role in heart attacks and strokes.

That leads back to the ticks, and their spitting.

These ticks spit where they bite their host. In doing so, they project a protein that blocks the body’s natural clotting process; it happens similar to the way blood thinners – or “anticoagulants” – work.

The new thing researchers have learned is that the two clotting factors, called factor X and factor V, that get blocked by the tick spit end up working together and activating a third clotting element, so the clotting eventually happens.

Scientists already knew which coagulation factors are able to activate Factor V but they didn’t know that factor X was extremely important in this process.

Thanks to these ticks – and their spit – we have a better understanding of the clotting process.

The result is a new model for blood coagulation, which is an important discovery for our understanding of how clots are formed, why certain anti-clotting drugs help and how new drugs could be developed.

Imagine all that information from those little ticks, and their spit.



New Study Says Exercise Can Reduce Stroke Risk


A new study from researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is one of the first to study the relationship between exercise and stroke in a large biracial cohort of men and women in the United States. The findings are published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.


Using 27,000 stroke-free blacks and whites ages 45 and older in the United States from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study cohort, researchers examined the association of self-reported physical activity with incident of stroke.


Participants were classified at baseline as being in active (i.e., no workouts in a typical week), moderately active (workouts one to three times per week) or vigorously active (workouts more than four times per week), and they were followed for an average of 5.7 years.


The results showed that physical inactivity was reported by 33 percent of participants and was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of stroke. Those who reported they exercised at least four times a week were less likely to experience a stroke or mini-stroke. Among men, only those who exercised four or more times a week had a lower stroke risk. Among women, the relationship between stroke and frequency of activity was less clear.


“The protective effect of intense physical activity may be through its impact on traditional risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes,” explained Virginia Howard, Ph.D., UAB professor of epidemiology and senior study author.


“These findings confirm past results of studies done in only men or only women in limited geographical areas,” Howard said. “By using the REGARDS cohort, our study was able to use a larger and more diverse population to show that participating in regular physical activity is associated with lower stroke risk.”


Howard added that stroke is preventable, and physical activity is a major modifiable risk factor for stroke.


“This should be emphasized more in routine physician check-ups, along with general education on the proven health benefits of regular physical activity on other stroke-risk factors including high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity,” Howard said.


Study limitations highlighted include that the results are based on self-reported levels of physical activity, and self-reported data may not be a reflection of the truth. Also, investigators did not have data on the type or duration of the exercise in which people engaged, nor the number of sessions. Howard suggested future studies should consider different ways to measure physical activity through: use of more questions; devices such as accelerometers and heart monitors that can provide more objective data; and capturing information on other dimensions of physical activity such as frequency, intensity and duration.


This study was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.





Repair leaky heart valves without open-heart surgery

iStock_000008966651XSmallEarlier this year, when leaks around Louise Calhoun’s replacement mitral heart valve kept her from walking more than a few feet before needing to rest, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) cardiologists used a minimally invasive procedure — available in Alabama only at UAB — to repair the leaks and give Calhoun back her independence.

In October, Calhoun was one of the first people in the state to have a percutaneous paravalvular periprosthetic leak repair by physicians inUAB Heart and Vascular Services, home to the state’s largest and oldest heart valve disease treatment program.

Only weeks after the procedure that used plugs originally designed to repair holes in children’s hearts, Calhoun is thriving.

“It is really wonderful for me because I wouldn’t be living today if they had not done it,” she said. “I was just in that bad of shape.”

Calhoun, 70, has had heart problems since contracting rheumatic fever as a child. Her mitral and aortic valves were replaced in 2009, but she never felt 100 percent.

“I was a lot better than I was before they were replaced,” she said. “But, I was always short of breath. I went back to the doctor because I couldn’t breathe. My cardiologist in Tuscaloosa found my leaky valve and sent me to Birmingham.”

Oluseun Alli, M.D., director of the structural heart program at UAB, and the interventional cardiologist who treated Calhoun, said that leaks around replacement valves are relatively uncommon, those as severe as Calhoun’s are even more rare.

“In the United States, about 60,000 valves are implanted each year,” he said. “About 5-10 percent will have some type of leak, which are basically gaps or defects around where the valves are sewn in. A lot are trivial and go away with time. In about 1-5 percent of cases, they become long lasting. In about 3 percent of those cases, they are symptomatic.”

Alli said valve leaks can cause red blood cells to be destroyed. This lays the groundwork for hemolytic anemia or hemolysis, where the patients need blood transfusions just to keep their blood volume up. They can also cause heart failure that creates shortness of breath and makes doing simple tasks difficult.

For Calhoun, the leak was causing heart failure with difficulty breathing. Her frail health and numerous other open heart surgeries meant repairing her mitral valve leak with an open procedure was not an option. Alli offered her the option of repairing the leaks in the cardiac catheterization laboratory using minimally invasive percutaneous interventional leak repair.

“I had a hard time with the surgery to replace the valves, and I didn’t feel like I could go through open heart surgery again,” Calhoun said. “When he told me he thought he could fix it without having to do open heart surgery again, I was thrilled.”

Alli said Calhoun fit the characteristics of the patient for whom this procedure was designed.

“It’s the sicker patients we offer this to,” he said. “The patients who get this type of intervention have had several heart surgeries. They may have coronary artery disease with prior bypass operation. They may have kidney problems or lung problems, and they are sometimes quite frail. They’re usually not candidates for redo surgery because of their multiple medical problems. Research data suggests these patients have a tough post-op course, with higher morbidity and mortality rates, because this may be their second, third or fourth cardiac operation with no guarantee that the leaks will not recur.”

Alli said physicians began looking at various ways to correct leaks around replacement valves in the 1990s without having patient undergo redo surgery. While not always a perfect seal, the plugs used to close holes in hearts, especially in children and in some adults, fit well enough to correct the leaks in most cases.

“We aim to take the leak from severe to trivial, trace or none,” he said.

Alli was able to repair Calhoun’s leaks, and she tolerated the procedure well. Her prognosis and symptoms are now much better.

While patients who come in with hemolysis may take time to get back to what they were doing before the procedure, Alli said most patients who come in with heart failure feel dramatically better immediately following the procedure.

“They’re able to walk around the halls and are in much, much better shape right away,” he said.

That was the case for Calhoun.

“When I got back to my room right after the procedure, I could tell a difference,” she said. “I could breathe better, and it was just wonderful. Before, my niece had to get a lot of my groceries and things for me. I just couldn’t do it. Since Dr. Alli fixed my valve, there’s a 100 percent difference. I can do my own grocery shopping, and I’ve just done really well.”



Birmingham Heart Walk is three months away

westinjpg-58d048fd53310d65The Birmingham Heart Walk is on the horizon.

Last June, more than 4,000 walkers and runners packed into Linn Park on what seemed to be the hottest day we’ve suffered through since the Mesozoic Era. Triple-digit temperatures aside, the event was undeniably successful, setting the stage for an even bigger celebration this year.

And while we can’t promise with certainly that the weather will precisely match our standard of optimal comfort, we can say that the 2013 Birmingham Heart Walk will be a truly groundbreaking, unique event, the likes of which has never occurred before in Birmingham.

Today, the countdown officially begins. Here’s what you need to know, three months out:

The date is set

This year’s Birmingham Heart Walk will take place on Saturday, June 22, which is eight days earlier than last year. Festivities will be underway in earnest at 8 a.m., followed by the walk/run at 9 a.m.

The venue is different

The 2013 Birmingham Heart Walk is launching from Uptown Birmingham, the new entertainment district adjacent to the BJCC and anchored by the Westin Hotel. It will be the first major event of its kind to take place at the new development and will add excitement and countless new amenities to the Heart Walk experience.

The walk is also for runners

The Birmingham Heart Walk could easily be referred to as the Birmingham Heart Run, depending on how hard you wish for your feet to smack the pavement. There is both a one mile walk and a 5K run.

We have timing clocks and all that jazz on site, so come set a PR with us.

Registration is open and free, but you can totally fundraise for us

Log on to to register as a single participant or to build a team of walkers from your Rolodex of friends, family and colleagues. There’s no charge to participate, but many of those teams do set fundraising goals. It is not required that your team fundraise, but it is a nice thing to do for your heart and the hearts of others.



‘High-glycemic’ foods tied to diabetes risk

glycemicPeople who eat a lot of low-fiber and processed foods that quickly spike blood sugars may, not surprisingly, have a significantly higher risk of the most common form of diabetes, according to a new study.

“By raising blood sugar and demanding that the pancreas keep pumping more insulin, meal after meal, day after day, a high-glycemic diet can put people at risk over the edge,” said Dr. David Ludwig, who studies obesity at Boston Children’s Hospital but was not involved in the work.

The report analyzes 24 studies published since 1997 that tracked what 125,000 adults ate. The new study confirms links prior researchers made between those so-called high-glycemic foods – including white bread and potatoes – and diabetes.

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the new report from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, Oxford University in the UK and others found that the 125,000 studied adults daily ate an average of 139 grams of sugar or its equivalent.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 8 percent of Americans have diabetes. More than 90 percent of those cases are type 2 diabetes, which prevents the body from properly using or producing the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin.

The analysis did not pinpoint precisely how many of the 125,000 participants actually developed the disease, but for every additional 100 grams of sugar per 2,000 daily calories, people had a 45 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

“It’s easy to get more than 100 grams, especially if you’re not being careful to choose the right kinds of foods,” research dietician Heidi Silver, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, who was not involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.

Low-glycemic foods include fish, meat, high-fiber fruits and vegetables, nuts, cheeses and other dairy products, brown rice and other unrefined grains. The glycemic load is calculated by multiplying the total of carbohydrate grams in a given food by its assigned glycemic index, a number that can be found in online tools.

It’s important for the general public to better understand what high-glycemic and low-glycemic mean, researchers said, and how to figure out their glucose intake. A very ripe banana, for example, has far more grams of sugar than one that’s still green. Eaten raw, rather than cooked, sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index.

There’s a “jungle of information and misinformation out there,” clinical dietician Kari Kooi of Methodist Hospital in Houston told Reuters Health.

“For instance, fiber (in prepackaged energy) bars is not the same thing as natural fiber you get in fruits and vegetables,” said Kooi, who was not involved in the current study. “That’s deceptive to consumers, who also may not realize that just having fiber…doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as being low-glycemic.”



4 Signs of a Heart Attack

Knowing these four signs can save your life—or the life of someone else. Watch our short video; then read on for more interesting heart attack facts from Jose Tallaj, MD, medical director of the UAB Heart Transplant Program.

Time is Muscle
“Intervening on a myocardial infarction (heart attack) can prevent death, and we also say “time is muscle,” Dr. Tallaj says. “The longer it takes to fix a blockage, the more damage you will have down the line. The damage can be immediate, for example if the patient develops arrhythmia or goes into shock and dies, or it can be long term, for example if someone develops heart failure.”

Different Symptoms for Different Patients
It’s also important to note that heart attack symptoms vary from person to person. “Men usually experience the typical symptoms: pressure radiating through the shoulder, jaw, and down the left arm,” Dr. Tallaj says. “Women, however, might have a more atypical presentation: their pain might be on the right side versus the left, or they might experience back or jaw pain only.”

Patients with diabetes also experience different symptoms. “Because diabetes affects the nerves, patients with the disease might have heart attack symptoms—shortness of breath, feeling faint, breaking out in a sweat—without the associated pain in the chest, shoulder, and down the arm,” Tallaj says.”

Anatomy of a Heart Attack
“A heart attack means that an area of the heart is not getting enough blood flow, indicating that the heart muscle begins to die, and this is what causes the pain,” Dr. Tallaj says. “To treat the condition, we restore the circulation to that vessel with either medication or a procedure like angioplasty or placing a stent to keep the artery open, to prevent long-term damage.”   Learn more about UAB’s renowned cardiovascular team »  

Call 911
If you experience heart attack symptoms or see someone who is, call 911 immediately. If you have aspirin on hand, take it, says Dr. Tallaj.

Make an Appointment
If heart attacks—or heart disease—run in your family, make an appointment with UAB. “Patients with hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or family history of coronary disease are at a greater risk for a heart attack,” Dr. Tallaj says. “For family history, we mean a first degree relative—either a sibling or a parent who had coronary disease at an early age: less than 50 in men and less than 60 in women.” To make an appointment at UAB, call 800-UAB-8816 (800-822-8816) or  make an appointment online.

Source: UAB