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Breakthroughs in Heart Health

Some notable developments from scientists and researchers striving to improve methods for preventing and curing heart disease.

By ERIK JOHNSON

The medical community saw many significant breakthroughs in the field of cardiac care in 2004. As researchers continue to discover innovative technologies &ndash from prevention and detection to treatment of those with symptoms of heart disease &ndash patients can hope to regain full health after heart failure. Below are just a few of the notable developments by scientists and researchers striving to improve methods for preventing and curing heart disease:

Drug Combination Decreases Heart Failure for African-Americans

Researchers at the University of Southern California found that combining the drugs hydralazine and isosorbide dinitrate reduced the heart failure death rate by 43 percent among patients in the first year it was implemented. This is an important development, as African-Americans have a disproportionate rate of heart failure. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the medications worked so weltogether that the trial ended early so all patients could be put on this new treatment.

Computed Tomography (CT) Offers Alternative to Expensive Cardiac Catheterization

CT angiography of the heart is a computerized x-ray that allows radiologists to visualize the coronary arteries, but without catheretic procedures, which can take up to eight hours. This new test takes approximately 30-45 seconds and is now available at a handful of centers in the United States. According to NBC News, it is currently not powerful enough to fully look inside the coronary arteries, but could be powerful enough within a few years as "an effective tool for detecting heart disease before it is deadly."

"Fingertip Test" Used to Test for Early Stages of Heart Disease

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that this test may successfully measure how the volume of a fingertip changes as blood pulses through it. When the test is administered, affected patients have blood return slower to the fingertip after blood flow was initially restricted during the beginning of the test. The journal notes that further studies wilbe required to determine the future benefits of this test.

Acorn Cardiovascular Device

This device is used to "squeeze" an enlarged heart back into its normal shape. This involves encasing the heart in a surgically implanted mesh sleeve, which stalls the progression of heart disease. Heart failure occurs when the walof the heart expands to the point of losing fulpumping power. As USA Today reports, a study of this procedure shows 38 percent of patients' hearts improved after valve surgery with this new technique, compared to 27 percent without.

InSync Sentry

This implanted device can detect early symptoms of heart failure by detecting fluid buildup, which interferes with a normaheartbeat. The device, already successfully implanted in two patients. Approved by the FDA, it lasts between 5-7 years. Currently, 400,000 Americans would be candidates to receive this implant, and it should be available for widespread use this month.

New Drug Reduces Organ Rejection After Heart Transplants

A new drug, Sirolimus, can give transplant patients a 20-to 30-year survival period, rather than the current average of 10 years, according to Professor Anne Keough of St. Vincent's Hospitain Sydney, Australia. According to scientists, the drug is expected to be a standard treatment within two years.

New Research on Microwaving Hearts

The Chemistry and Industry Magazine reports that Australian scientists' studies indicate this procedure could be easier to control than the currently used radio-frequency waves. This is because radio waves produce high temperatures that cause blood clots, which can lead to further complications. Microwaves, on the other hand, are easier to control for temperature, thereby reducing the risks caused by radio-frequency waves.

Cardiac Psychology Growing in Importance for Patients

This method involves bridging mental health with physiology. This growing field assesses lifestyle risk factors and how the patient's emotions and stress levels could impact the heart. According to the Massachusetts Psychologist website, clinicaspecialist Aggie Casey, M.S., R.N., C.S., from the Mind-Body Institute says, "Only 50 percent of heart disease can be explained from a physical stand point...there's also a hostility component, and those with significant anger and depression are at an increased risk of heart disease."

Published: February 01, 2005
Issue: Winter 2005