Tag Archives: heart disease

Bias or comorbidity? Risk factors for respiratory disease aren’t always what they seem

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Bias or comorbidityBy this point, anyone who’s been covering or following COVID-19 knows that several comorbidities substantially increase the risk of complications and severe disease. Among those mentioned most often are diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

We learned of the associations between those conditions and more severe disease first from clinical anecdotes, then case series, then observational studies. But observational studies can almost never show causation. (I don’t think they can ever, on their own, show causation, but I add the “almost” because nothing in science is ever absolute.) Although diabetes is linked to poorer outcomes with COVID-19, it doesn’t mean having diabetes causes poorer outcomes. Continue reading

New year might see more people treating high blood pressure through nutrition

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Amanda Mills/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

It’s a new year so, of course, the time is right to try a new diet. One approach that’s been consistently ranked as best for heart health and for healthy eating is the DASH diet. It’s a plan with particular relevance for older adults, who have the highest prevalence of hypertension in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Untreated hypertension can lead to stroke, kidney damage, heart disease and other serious conditions. Of course whether you’re examining rankings for diets, hospitals, or nursing homes, criteria and standards vary from publication to publication so some skepticism over the term “best” may be appropriate. Continue reading

How to be smart about socioeconomic status in studies

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health, working to help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or @rojasburke.

Image by Jay Reimer via flickr.

Image by Jay Reimer via flickr.

Medical study authors routinely claim to have “controlled” for socioeconomic status.

That kind of sweeping assertion should set off alarm bells. The authors probably haven’t come close to fully accounting for something as difficult to measure as a person’s place in the hierarchy of self-determination and power, neighborhood quality, working conditions, job security, income and wealth.

To assume otherwise is a mistake that can lead to misleading conclusions.

Consider, for example, a recent study in the journal Nature Medicine describing a genetic variation that might account for lower heart disease survival among African Americans. News coverage of the study caught my attention because whatever role genetics plays in the black/white disparity in heart disease, it’s probably small.

Some researchers have concluded that socioeconomic disadvantage is the most significant root of the problem, not genetic differences. And there is pretty good evidence that the traditional risk factors (diabetes, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking) account for all of the difference in heart disease mortality between black and white men in the United States, and most of the difference between black and white women. Continue reading

Heart research hits plateau

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Just in time for the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter John Fauber offers something of a “state of the heart” address, explaining why, after years of breakthroughs and broad progress, cardiac research has suddenly hit a plateau. The short answer seems to be that, in a crowded market with a high bar for comparative effectiveness, companies can’t just pump out any old heart-related drug and get a guaranteed blockbuster anymore.

“Cardiology is no longer low-hanging fruit,” said James Stein, a cardiologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “I don’t see anything in the next five years that is going to dramatically change how we treat, other than the new blood thinners.”

Fauber pegs drugs that target genetic variation as the sector’s next growth area, but it looks like those won’t hit the market for another decade. At present, the only thing the industry can really hang its hat on is anticoagulants.

New CDC data pinpoint heart disease hot spots

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Data from Medicare records of more than 28 million people each year between 2000 and 2006 in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were used to create a county-level report on hospitalizations because of heart disease.

The CDC’s “Atlas of Heart Disease Hospitalizations Among Medicare Beneficiaries” shows that the highest hospitalization rates occur among blacks compared to other racial and ethnic groups and rates were highest in Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, Texas and Oklahoma.

For more county-level health data, be sure to take a look at the County Health Rankings recently released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.