Massachusetts experts share knowledge at Scientific Sessions

One Nov. 16-18 the American Heart Association hosted Scientific Sessions, the largest cardiovascular meeting in the United State. The annual event attracted nearly 18,000 attendees from more than 100 countries to the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, as well as an additional two million medical professionals who participated virtually. We caught up with some attendees from Massachusetts to discuss with them the latest in science innovations aimed at reducing disability and deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and stroke.

President of American Heart Association’s Boston board discusses disparities in cardiovascular care
First the good news. Cardiovascular disease death rates have decreased substantially for both blacks and white Americans over the past 50 years.

The bad news? Deaths haven’t dropped at the same rate. Among African Americans, heart disease develops earlier and deaths from heart disease are higher than in whites.

This disparity can be explained, in part, by social determinants of health, according to Dr. Eldrin Lewis, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and president of the American Heart Association’s Boston Board of Directors. These are the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play.

Lewis said steps must be taken to address social determinants, such as increasing access to grocery stores, providing more places for people to safely exercise and stopping tobacco companies from marketing their products to communities of color.

“By reducing those things, hopefully you can reduce some of the disparities you see,” he said.

Boston physician highlights Know Diabetes by Heart initiative
You’re middle-aged, a few pounds heavier than you’d like to be, working every day to manage your Type 2 diabetes.

If you could talk to your 20-something-year-old self, what advice would you give? What steps could you have taken in your youth to be healthier as you aged?

That was the question moderator Rob Taub posed to a panel of diabetes and cardiovascular experts during a discussion about managing and preventing diabetes at Scientific Sessions on Saturday morning.

The consensus? Focus on your weight.

“The most important thing to reduce the epidemic is to get people to control their weight at a young age,” said Dr. Robert Eckel, incoming co-president of the American Diabetes Association. “Not only in the adult years, but during adolescence.”

The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association this year launched Know Diabetes by Heart, a joint initiative to help people living with diabetes to lower their risk for cardiovascular death, heart attacks, heart failure and stroke.

“Know Diabetes by Heart empowers people to be able to access high quality information,” said Dr. Jorge Plutzky, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It helps people understand what diabetes is, its implications and how best to treat it.”

Tufts researcher: Healthy habits key to combating AFib
The numbers are sobering.

An irregular atrial heart rhythm — a condition called atrial fibrillation — is present in about one out of five strokes.

There are steps people with AFib can take to reduce their risk of stroke, such as being prescribed medication or having a procedure called a cardiac ablation that can correct an abnormal heart rhythm.

Unfortunately, not all patients respond to these treatments. In these cases, the patient must make lifestyle changes, according to Dr. Mark Estes.

“Prevention is the best approach, and that’s through a healthy lifestyle,” said Estes, a professor of medicine at Tufts University . “That’s exercise, diet and maintaining a healthy weight. All of those things help prevent AFib from developing, and if you have AFib, prevent it from progressing.”

Estes discussed ways to prevent and treat AFib at Scientific Sessions on Saturday. The benefits of eating a healthy diet and exercising go beyond controlling AFib, he added.

“Blood pressure comes down. Markers of diabetes come down. People feel better, and they live longer,” he said. “It’s a pretty good trade off.”

Wellesley company teams with American Heart Association to raise awareness of sleep benefits
Andy Fligor, the president and chief executive officer of AirflowSleep, and James Duncan, the company’s chief operating officer, were at Scientific Sessions to discuss the link between poor or irregular sleep, sleep-disordered breathing and cardiovascular health.

AirflowSleep makes a pillow to help people with breathing difficulties sleep better. Headquartered in Wellesley, Mass., AirflowSleep is joining the American Heart Association’s Healthy for Good movement to help Americans live healthier lives. The two organizations will collaborate on marquee events such as Heart Walks, educational initiatives, consumer research and workplace integrations to raise awareness of sleep’s impact on overall well-being.

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