AHA News: Scenes of Childhood Hunger Left Lasting Impression | Health News

(HealthDay)

TUESDAY, Oct. 13, 2020 (American Heart Association News) — While growing up in the Philippines, Lady Dorothy Elli witnessed childhood hunger and poverty that left her with lasting impressions.

She has made it her mission to address the problem of food insecurity and the negative impact it can have on the academic and personal well-being of students of all ages.

“Health inequity plays a big role in this,” said Lady Dorothy, 19, now a sophomore at the University of Arizona. “If health equity is present in the world, you wake up not having to worry about having an empty stomach and then going to school.”

Food insecurity is defined in a 2020 report by the federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion as a “disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources.” A 2019 study in the journal Pediatrics said that for children, “household food insecurity was related to significantly worse general health.”

A first-generation immigrant to the United States, Lady Dorothy said she felt fortunate to be able to eat two to three meals a day as a child. But she took to heart the stories her mother, Fatima Elli, recounted about her own childhood growing up in a household with 10 siblings in which there wasn’t always enough to eat.

In the Philippines, Lady Dorothy volunteered for the Red Cross and took an interest in helping to develop young leaders. She also would accompany her mother to outreach events like food donations in poor, rural areas.

The youngest of three daughters, Lady Dorothy is 10 years younger than her next oldest sibling.

“The age gap left her with me all the time,” her mother, Fatima, said. “She came with me whenever I went to outreach programs. That’s where she learned the idea of touching the lives of other people through providing basic necessities.”

The family arrived in the United States three years ago and settled in Tucson, Arizona, where she soon learned food insecurity also was a problem in the United States. At the time, a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that about 8% of U.S. households with children, or about 3 million homes, were considered food insecure.

“I want to help bridge that gap and make sure that everyone is able to get access to nutritious and healthy food,” Lady Dorothy said.

A year ago, she started the Nutrition Talks program, speaking to school-age children at churches and middle schools in the Tucson area about the importance of a nutritious diet and lifestyle. She was inspired by a similar program at a library at which she interned that provided free lunch to children.

She bought healthy snacks and created a presentation “that the kids could understand, emphasizing exercises and activities that they could do to actually realize what healthy living means.”

For now, Nutrition Talks are canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though Lady Dorothy is staying in touch with school districts as she

AHA News: Strokes and Heart Attacks Increase When Flu-Like Illnesses Rise | Health News

(HealthDay)

THURSDAY, Oct. 8, 2020 (American Heart Association News) — Heart attack risk increases quickly after a flu-like illness, while stroke risk rises slower, according to new research.

The study, published Oct. 8 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, examined the relationship between the flu, heart attacks and strokes, which all occur more frequently during winter months.

Researchers looked at New York state public health data from 2004 to 2015 and focused on adults who were hospitalized or came to the emergency department for stroke, heart attack or “flu-like illnesses.” Study author Amelia Boehme said pinpointing people with the flu from administrative records is difficult. Instead, her study relied on an algorithm developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify influenza and influenza-like symptoms through billing codes.

The study found that strokes and heart attacks increase during times of high flu-like illness rates, with a “time lag” occurring only for strokes.

“We found that if someone’s going to have a heart attack, it’s going to occur within seven days of the flu-like illness, during the acute phase,” said Boehme, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the department of neurology at Columbia University in New York City. “With stroke, we see an increased risk seven to 15 days after, similar to heart attacks. But with stroke, there is an additional higher-risk period after 30 days.”

She called for more research to help uncover why the flu and flu-like illnesses increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. “Our study is just a small piece of the pie in understanding this. It raises a lot of questions about mechanisms,” Boehme said.

The researchers didn’t have information on whether people included in the study had received a flu vaccine. But they did find that “in the years where the vaccine effectiveness was higher, overall, the number of people who had influenza-like illness and the number of people who subsequently had strokes and heart attacks after influenza-like illness was lower.”

Past studies have shown that those who skip a flu shot are six times more likely to experience a heart attack.

“We keep hearing from patients who say, ‘Oh, I’m young and healthy so I don’t need a vaccination. It’s no big deal.’ But it really is a big deal,” Boehme said.

Dr. Daniel Muñoz, who was not involved in the research, called it an important study that shines a light on a potential link to life-altering or life-ending events. “The flu may be what tips people over into a heart attack or a stroke.”

The study also “reinforces the importance of broadening our perspective to other things outside of traditional cardiovascular risk factors that might make our patients vulnerable,” said Muñoz, an associate professor of cardiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

With hundreds of thousands of people in the United States still testing positive for COVID-19 each month, public health officials have been warning of a possible “twindemic” of severe flu and COVID-19 in

AHA News: Your Pandemic Hobby Might Be Doing More Good Than You Know | Health News

(HealthDay)

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 7, 2020 (American Heart Association News) — Maybe it was the meme that pointed out how Shakespeare used his time in quarantine to write “King Lear.” Maybe it was all those photos of sourdough bread in your social media feed. Maybe you’re just bored.

Whatever the spark – you’re ready to take on a hobby.

“The process of being creative does a whole bunch of really good things for us,” physically and mentally, said James C. Kaufman, professor of educational psychology at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

Kaufman, who has written extensively about creativity, said there are many reasons why a stimulating hobby can help us. The first is pretty simple: It’s fun.

That’s mentally healthy, Kaufman said, because when we’re focused on such an activity, “we’re not thinking about any negative thoughts or fears or worries.”

At its best, a creative activity such as drawing or playing music can put you in a state of “flow,” where you’re intensely caught up in what you’re doing. “This is not shockingly different from what they call runner’s high, or what mountain climbers say they feel.”

Some activities, such as writing with an emphasis on a narrative, as in a journal or blog, can lower harmful stress by helping us organize our thinking, he said. “It helps put all these different thoughts, as if they were loose clothing, onto coat hangers. And it frees up space in our brain.”

That’s not the only way hobbies can help us, researchers say. A 2015 study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that engaging in leisure activities improved mood and stress levels and lowered heart rates. In 2017, a small study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that pleasant leisure activities lowered the blood pressure of Alzheimer’s disease caregivers.

And that’s important in the middle of a pandemic, said Jeanine Parisi, an associate scientist in the department of mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “Everything seems a little out of control. Activities are the one thing that could provide structure and give you back a sense of personal control.”

Parisi’s colleague Michelle Carlson, a professor who leads a Johns Hopkins lab devoted to brain health, said the precise mechanism of what’s going on in our brains when we’re happily engaged in an activity isn’t clear. But some of the effects are.

She led a small study published in 2015 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia of older adults who volunteered to mentor young students in Baltimore. Compared to the adults not enrolled in the program, the participants saw growth in both the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain related to executive function, behavior and thinking – and to the hippocampus, which is important to memory.

Others’ research has found benefits from all kinds of pandemic-safe activities: gardening, spending time outdoors, playing a musical instrument, even knitting. And of course, anything that increases physical activity is crucial for heart health and

AHA News: Despite Recent Setbacks, Americans’ Blood Pressure Has Dropped Dramatically Since 1960 | Health News

(HealthDay)

MONDAY, Oct. 5, 2020 (American Heart Association News) — Blood pressure among adults decreased significantly during a 45-year period, according to new research that may offer encouragement for the millions who continue to struggle to control their blood pressure.

The study, published Oct. 5 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation , sought to pinpoint the magnitude of blood pressure improvement in the United States between 1960 and 2005.

Researchers looked at rates of control for systolic blood pressure, the top number in a reading that indicates how much pressure blood exerts against artery walls when the heart beats. The study looked at data from 9,459 adults ages 45 and older, most of whom lived in the so-called “stroke belt” region of the Southeast.

It found major decreases in median blood pressure levels across the board, with larger decreases for Black participants compared to white participants. Among Black people aged 45 to 54, blood pressure dropped 38 mmHg, while their white counterparts saw an 18 mmHg drop. Dramatic shifts were larger at older ages for both groups, with a 45 mmHg drop for those 75 and older.

In addition, the severe blood pressure levels of greater than 200 mmHg reported in 1960 were practically eliminated during the study period. For example, among 65- to 74-year-olds with the highest blood pressure, the levels dropped 63 mmHg for white people and 77 mmHg for Black people – most likely because of aggressive high blood pressure control strategies, said study author Dr. Daniel Lackland.

He called the results “a great public health success story.”

“This shows we’ve made great improvements in reducing blood pressures for everybody, at all levels,” said Lackland, a professor of epidemiology and neurology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

But in recent years, some of those improvements seem to have weakened.

New preliminary research presented in September at the AHA’s virtual Hypertension Scientific Sessions showed the percentage of U.S. adults with controlled blood pressure dropped 11% between 2013 and 2018, from 54.5% to 43.4%. All age groups saw an increase in systolic blood pressure of 3-4 mmHg.

Those data, however, used the old definition of high blood pressure: 140/90. High blood pressure is now defined as a reading of 130 or higher systolic, or 80 or higher diastolic (the bottom number). Nearly half of U.S. adults – an estimated 116 million – have high blood pressure, according to AHA statistics.

Lackland said the lessons learned from 1960 to 2005 offer a roadmap for reversing recent setbacks through a combination of drug therapy and lifestyle changes that include getting more exercise and eating a healthy diet low in salt and high in fruits and vegetables.

“We’ve proven we can lower blood pressure if patients comply. We just need to put our foot back on the pedal and regain our focus. We can’t be complacent,” he said.

Dr. Sandra Taler, a nephrologist and hypertension specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said the findings are an

AHA News: Despite Same Symptoms, Men and Women Don’t Always Get Same Mini-Stroke Diagnosis | Health News

(HealthDay)

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 30, 2020 (American Heart Association News) — A transient ischemic attack, often called a mini-stroke, usually doesn’t last long or cause permanent damage. But it still needs medical attention, because it may be warning of a future stroke that can have dire consequences.

Research has shown women are less likely than men to be diagnosed with TIAs, and a study published Wednesday in the American Heart Association journal Stroke aimed to explore why.

“Unlike a heart attack, the diagnosis of TIA doesn’t depend on a biomarker or a diagnostic test where you can definitely say this occurred,” said lead author Sophia Gocan, a stroke prevention nurse specialist at The Ottawa Hospital in Canada. “So, it really relies on a stroke specialist’s expertise to say if this was a concerning event. That’s important because the specialist’s decision determines whether that patient is going to go on to have different diagnostic tests or be prescribed therapies to prevent a stroke.”

The researchers examined the records of 1,770 patients referred to The Ottawa Hospital Stroke Prevention Clinic in 2015 to see if men and women reporting common symptoms were diagnosed differently.

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 150,000 people each year, and is a major cause of disability for those who survive. It occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, either by an artery that is blocked or ruptures. In a TIA, the blockage is only temporary, so some people may not notice it or ignore the dangers.

But the symptoms are the same, including numbness, severe headache, confusion, slurred speech and dizziness.

While many of the symptoms led to the same diagnosis in both men and women, the Ottawa study found several gender-specific differences.

Women over age 60 who reported a sudden onset of symptoms or an event lasting more than one minute were more likely than men to be diagnosed with TIA or stroke. But men who reported pain or sensory loss, such as trouble seeing, were more likely to receive the diagnosis than women.

“We know this is really just scratching the surface,” Gocan said. “Maybe this is an indication that women need to use certain keywords when they’re talking about their diagnosis to be taken as seriously, or maybe women and men describe their symptoms differently. That could be an important thing to look at in the future.”

One factor in the disparity, Gocan said, could be migraine headaches are more common among women. That might make women less likely to suspect a headache is signaling a TIA or stroke – or doctors more likely to dismiss a woman’s headache as a migraine.

“We’ve (medically) treated men and women the same for so many years,” she said. “We need to make sure we’re not painting everyone with the same brush when they may need a different approach.”

Dr. Karen Furie, chair of neurology at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said