Next week: What's up with irregular heartbeats. / Imagezoo/Getty Images
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An estimated 81 million Americans — more than one in three adults — have some form of cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease or stroke. Researchers here and across the globe have been working to reveal risk factors, methods of detection and potential treatments to help keep your heart healthy. Here are some of the latest findings, plus a look at what scientists are working on for the future:
NEW: Loud snoring, weight gain. Studies at the University of Pittsburgh found that people who snore loudly are twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. And women who sleep more than 10 hours a night have a 63% increased risk of stroke compared with those who sleep seven hours, Harvard scientists add. Obesity is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but new Danish research has gotten a little more specific: For every 8.8-pound weight gain, the risk for developing ischemic heart disease (caused by narrowed heart arteries, which reduce blood flow and oxygen and can lead to heart attack) increases by more than 50%.
FUTURE: Rheumatoid arthritis. One year after you're diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), your risk of heart attack increases by 60%, Swedish scientists have found. Though more research is needed to determine the link, experts say the findings show the importance of monitoring an RA patient's heart risk. The incidence of RA is on the rise; it afflicts an estimated 1.5 million Americans. RA occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks the membranes lining your joints, causing pain, swelling and stiffness.
METHODS OF DETECTION
NEW: Check your eyelids. Cholesterol deposits on or around them may help predict cardiovascular risk, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting. Danish scientists tracked nearly 13,000 patients and found that those with the condition — called xanthelasmata — had a significantly higher rate of heart attack and heart disease as they got older, and lower survival rate. The most surprising part: Half of the patients had normal overall cholesterol levels, which suggests that other factors, such as capillary leaks, may lead to deposits and artery disease.
FUTURE: More sensitive blood tests. A new version of a blood test typically used to help diagnose heart attacks may reveal heart disease before symptoms even start. The test looks for a protein called cardiac troponin T, which is released by injured heart muscles; the more sensitive version can detect protein levels 10 times lower than the standard lab tests. Two published studies found that people with detectable troponin T had significantly greater risk of developing heart failure or dying prematurely. Though more research is needed, the hope is the test can help find damage before it becomes advanced.