Top 2021 research shows how small steps can help you protect your heart


In this article

  • New research shows that a salt substitute can do more than reduce your blood pressure – it can also lower your risk for stroke and other cardiovascular events.

  • Another new study shows that children infected with COVID-19 respond well to cardiovascular therapy used for rare Kawasaki disease.

  • Getting a flu vaccine after a heart attack can reduce your risk of another cardiovascular event, a recent study shows.

  • Dr. Daniel Eisenberg, a Providence cardiologist shares his thoughts on what these studies mean for those looking to improve heart health.

According to the American Heart Association, someone in the United States has a heart attack every 40 seconds and a stroke every three-and-a-half minutes. It’s clear that, in 2022, heart disease remains a significant health problem nationwide.

Fortunately, over the last year, researchers have discovered new ways to battle heart disease and improve treatment options. While most efforts focus on adults, this year, thanks to COVID-19, there’s research on heart health in children infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well. Providence cardiologist Daniel Eisenberg, M.D., shares his thoughts on what these research findings mean for heart care.

Salt substitute reduces stroke risk

Before you reach for the saltshaker, there’s something you should know. Switching out your table salt for a salt substitute can dramatically lower your risk for stroke and other major cardiovascular events. It can even decrease your risk of dying from heart-related complications.

Regular table salt is 100% sodium chloride (NaCl). According to a September 2021 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, replacing it with a 70% sodium chloride/30% potassium chloride (KCl) combination, such as Morton Lite Salt, offers these benefits:

  • 14% stroke reduction
  • 13% drop in other major cardiovascular events
  • 12% decrease in risk of death

Cardiologists have routinely recommended reducing your salt intake to lower your blood pressure. The findings of the five-year study, which included nearly 21,000 participants over age 60 or with poorly controlled blood pressure, showed the impact of using a salt substitute goes even further.

“This is a major study,” Dr. Eisenberg says. “We already knew that salt substitutes did a good job in helping to reduce blood pressure. Now we have evidence that it can play a role in decreasing the number of strokes and heart attacks, particularly in patients who are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Overall, using a salt substitute will have the greatest effect on patients who have high blood pressure or who are already vulnerable to a cardiac event. Other patients can also benefit, Dr. Eisenberg says.

Borrowed treatments improve severe COVID-19 in kids

When you think of COVID-19 in children, heart problems probably aren’t your first thought. They’re rare, but they can happen. Between 1 and 10 children per 1,000,000 develop a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) if they contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It’s a severe syndrome that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood and oxygen throughout the body.

Fortunately, doctors discovered that borrowing a treatment for another rare condition – Kawasaki disease – can manage MIS-C and help children recover. Typically, children with Kawasaki disease receive both intravenous (IV) immunoglobulin and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels.

According to an August 2020 study published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, those same two medications can reduce inflammation and restore to heart’s ability to pump blood and oxygen in children with MIS-C. Within two days, the heart’s oxygen-pumping ability improved to 71%.

“Even though MIS-C is rare in children who get COVID-19, it’s important for primary care physicians, pediatricians and parents to be aware of it and to know the cardiovascular implications,” Dr. Eisenberg says. “Knowing this condition can potentially arise can save time in getting children the treatment they need.”

Flu vaccine lowers heart attack risk

Getting an influenza vaccine can offer some heart protection, especially for patients who’ve had a heart attack or who have high-risk coronary artery disease. According to a November 2021 study also published in Circulation, the flu vaccine can lower the risk of a repeated cardiovascular event or death.

Inflammation plays a big role in cardiovascular disease, and the flu virus can make that problem worse. Vaccination can help at-risk patients avoid future problems.

Study results showed that if patients received the flu vaccine within 72 hours of an invasive coronary procedure or a hospitalization, they had a lower risk of death, heart attack and stent thrombosis or closure than unvaccinated patients one year later. Study investigators compared the vaccine’s effectiveness to standard therapies, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) and statins.

“Even though guidelines exist to recommend and promote it, patients still aren’t getting their flu vaccines at the rate we’d like to see,” Dr. Eisenberg says. “This study shows getting the vaccine can offer some cardiovascular protection. That makes it an attractive option to become a standard part of in-hospital treatment after a heart attack.”

Ask a doctor about new treatments

Want to know more about the most recent research and treatments for cardiovascular disease? The American Heart Association has a wide variety of resources. You can also reach out to your doctor or cardiologist for help in finding new treatments that are right for you.


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.

Download the Providence App

We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records, and more. Learn more and download the app.

Related articles

Get up-to-date information about COVID-19 from Providence

Q+A with Dr. Simon: Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease

Stroke in younger adults: The risks and signs

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.

More Content by Providence Heart & Vascular Team
Previous Article
A life-saving artificial heart buys critical time for patient waiting for a dual organ transplant
A life-saving artificial heart buys critical time for patient waiting for a dual organ transplant

With the help of Providence Spokane Heart Institute, Greg Soumokil was given a artificial heart.

Next Article
Tender hearts
Tender hearts

Surgery to treat heart conditions takes place in a supportive environment. A patient and doctor connect to ...