5 recent research findings are changing heart disease treatment

New research is paving the way for improved treatment that may help reduce cardiovascular events and save lives.  

  • Studies show a new form of omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent death from heart attack or stroke.
  • Smartwatches may detect irregular heartbeats and help people start treatment sooner.
  • Recent research indicates an active lifestyle continues to play an important role in older age.           

[4 MIN READ]

In 2020, heart disease and stroke will remain major health problems in this country. Nearly half of all U.S. adults (121.5 million) have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.

But for some of those adults afflicted with the disease, there’s hope on the horizon.

New research has made great strides in how doctors are treating heart disease and stroke, and there are more effective treatment options available than ever before. So, what does this mean to you?

We pulled together five of the most significant research findings from 2019 that are poised to affect the future of heart treatment, should you ever need it. Providence cardiologist Daniel Eisenberg, M.D., weighs in and gives his insight on what the future of heart treatment looks like.

More support for omega-3 fatty acids

Following a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved icosapent ethyl (commercial name Vascepa) in December 2019. Vascepa is a prescription form of an omega-3 fatty acid. The study showed that people who had high triglyceride levels and took Vascepa reduced their risk of having or dying from a heart attack or stroke by 25 percent.

Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. High triglyceride levels may cause arteries to narrow, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids — which are also found in flax seeds, rapeseeds and fish — have been shown to help lower triglyceride levels.

Omega-3 fatty acids — which are also found in flax seeds, rapeseeds and fish — have been shown to help lower triglyceride levels.

“This study shows that people who have had a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack, have less of a chance of another event when taking this prescription,” says Dr. Eisenberg. “However, it’s important to keep in mind this type of omega-3 fatty acid is prescription only and much more expensive and potent than the over-the-counter supplements many people already take.”

Dr. Eisenberg also advises all patients to talk with their doctor or cardiologist about this treatment to ensure it’s right for them.

New drug helps heart failure patients

Another finding published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the drug dapagliflozin helped heart failure patients in many ways.  This drug was previously used to help reduce the risk of heart failure hospitalization in patients with Type 2 diabetes.

However, the November 2019 study showed the drug may also benefit some heart failure patients without diabetes. The medication helped prevent heart failure from getting worse and reduced the risk of death from a cardiovascular issue.

“What this research shows is that patients with heart failure and a reduced ejection fraction may benefit from dapagliflozin regardless of whether they have diabetes,” Dr. Eisenberg says. “Right now, it’s being added on top of existing treatments, but researchers may continue to look into whether this drug may work in other scenarios.”  

Older women should stay active

Many of us know that moving more can benefit the heart, and those benefits appear to stick around as we age.

Two studies published last year showed that women with an average age of 79 had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease if they maintained regular light activity.

"An added hour of daily activity (for heart health) can be done in multiple instances throughout the day instead of all at once,” Dr. Eisenberg says. 

“Notably, the Circulation study showed that the added hour of daily activity could be done in multiple instances throughout the day instead of all at once,” Dr. Eisenberg says. “It underlines the importance of getting up and moving as much as possible, regardless of age.”

Smartwatches to the rescue?

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are all the rage these days, but it seems they may have more benefits than tracking our steps.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that Apple smartwatches accurately detected atrial fibrillation (AFib). The study surveyed roughly 419,000 people and the watch was able to detect AFib in more than a third of users.

AFib is a type of irregular heartbeat. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems, including heart failure.

While this study is positive news for Apple Watch owners, Dr. Eisenberg cautions people who may want to run out and buy the fitness tracker as a safety net.

“It’s great that the Apple Watch was able to detect AFib in some of the patients, but it’s still not identifying 100 percent of cases,” Dr. Eisenberg says. “Before buying a new fitness tracker, I would advise talking to your physician about your options and other products that may be more affordable and perhaps more effective.”

Minimally invasive cardiac care approach helps more patients

One of the most significant advances in cardiovascular care in recent years is the use of minimally invasive surgeries. Many people with heart valve diseases can now take advantage of transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a treatment that can replace or repair a heart valve without opening the chest or stopping the heart.

TAVR is typically used on patients who may have too many risk factors for open surgery, such as advanced age or other serious health problems.

However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year showed that TAVR may also have significant benefits for patients with low surgical risk. The study showed that TAVR helped lower the odds of stroke, rehospitalization and death compared to patients who had open surgery.

TAVR helped lower the odds of stroke, rehospitalization and death compared to patients who had open heart surgery.

“Typically, we would use open surgery on low-risk patients because it can sometimes be more effective and last longer than TAVR treatments,” Dr. Eisenberg says. “But this study shows that we can use a less-invasive approach and still have positive outcomes.”

Ask a doctor about new treatments

If you’re curious about the latest research and new therapies for cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association is a great place to start. You can also reach out to your doctor or cardiologist for help in finding new treatments that are right for you.

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Find a doctor

Providence provides renowned cardiovascular care with award-winning heart and vascular specialists. You can find a Providence cardiologist using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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New research is providing hope for people with cardiovascular disease. Learn about the latest treatment advances with insight from a @psjh expert. #hearthealth           

Regional resources

California: Heart and Vascular Center

Oregon: Providence Heart Institute

Texas: Covenant Health Heart and Vascular Center

Washington: Heart and Vascular Center | Providers

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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