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Tweet Or Drink Your Way To Better Heart Health? Not Likely, Cardiologist Says

Cardiologist Andrew Kates talks to 'St. Louis on the Air' host Don Marsh about heart health on Feb. 4, 2015.
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio

Have you heard the one about Twitter predicting heart disease risk?

A study recently published in the journal Psychological Science found that anger- and anxiety-ridden tweets correlated with higher rates of heart disease deaths. “It’s a pretty aggressive action to be cursing, to dropping the f-bomb on Twitter,” the study’s lead author, Johannes Eichstaedt, said. The study said that while the tweets may not be deadly, they hint at a type of behavior the people behind the posts engage in.

Take that with a grain of salt, Dr. Andrew Kates, a cardiologist with Washington University Heart Care Institute at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, told “St. Louis on the Air” Don Marsh on Wednesday. There are bigger cardiovascular disease warning signs, he said.

“There are multiple factors that come into play,” Kates said. “We think in the terms of primary prevention, we look towards risk factors that predispose patients to cardiovascular disease, like hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking. We also look at other conditions, like lack of physical activity, and those play some part in it.”

Heart disease remains the No. 1 killer in the U.S., causing about one of every six deaths in the nation, Kates said. In 2010, about 400,000 Americans died from coronary heart disease; more than 600,000 Americans have a heart attack each year.

“What that translates to is about 2,000 Americans every day dying from cardiovascular disease,” Kates said.

Obesity also may be a cardiovascular disease warning sign, Kates said.

“In the younger population, childhood obesity becomes a very important issue,” he said. “We know that children who are obese are more likely to become obese adults. We know children of obese adults are more likely to become obese. That’s one of the challenges that we face. Are we training a generation that’s going to be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease? I think the answer is probably yes, but we also realize that there are important steps to take now.”

Heart disease prevention guidelines also have changed, Kates said, as studies have been reassessed.

“The updated guidelines, which just came out last year, really reassessed those studies that were done and said you know what, as we look at this, the idea of treating someone to a specific number isn’t necessarily as important as just treating them for their risk. It kind of redefined how we treat patients with elevated cholesterol,” he said.

“We’re trying to target patients who are at higher risk at an earlier age and earlier stage to help prevent cardiovascular disease.”

Kates said heart health screenings should start by age 20, especially for those with a family history of problems. Cholesterol screenings, blood pressure readings and diabetes screenings are important, he said.

“I encourage patients to ask questions. The idea of knowledge, if you’re at risk or not, I think is important,” Kates said.

If problems are found with cholesterol, for example, doctors can then work to address them, he said. “The reason why we treat patients isn’t to lower their numbers. It’s to lower their risk of having a heart attack or stroke.”

What about enjoying an alcoholic drink or two a day to help prevent heart problems?

“In general, alcohol causes more problems than it solves and the risk of significant liver injury or significant heart-related problems with high alcohol consumption is very important,” he said. A recent study found that one to seven drinks a week may be beneficial, but too much is detrimental and too little has no effect. There’s a sweet spot that may be difficult to find. Plus, the recommended drink size is usually smaller than what one would typically serve.  

And the aspirin-a-day theory that some promote isn’t for everyone, Kates said.

“We do know that patients who have cardiovascular disease benefit from aspirin for secondary prevention — to prevent it from reoccurring,” Kates said. “When it comes to primary prevention, that’s where the jury is still out. We think there’s specific populations that benefit. We think that women over 65 may benefit from being on an aspirin to help reduce the risk of stroke. We think that men over 55 may benefit as well. And I say ‘we think’ because there’s conflicting data, so we always have to weigh the risk with benefit. For a young person, being on aspirin, it may not be beneficial.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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