heart-related problems

  1. Speed and strength now can predict health risks later

    You probably don't spend much time at all thinking about how fast you walk or how strong your grip is.

    But maybe you should -- because a new study shows how these basic tests could help predict serious health problems years down the road.

    Researchers from the Boston Medical Center measured the grip strength, walking speeds and cognitive function of more than 2,400 people with an average age of 62, and then tracked them for an average of 11 years.

    They found that the slowest-walking volunteers who were middle aged at the start of the study were 50 percent more likely to face dementia 11 years later than faster walkers.

    Slower walkers also had less overall brain volume -- another dementia warning sign -- and did worse on memory, language and decision-making tests, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

    That should be enough to make you want to pick up the pace as you walk -- and while you're at it, you might want to work on a firmer handshake, too: The study also found that people with a stronger grip at the age of 65 had a 42 percent lower risk of a stroke or mini stroke than those with weaker grips.

    That strong grip was also linked to larger brain volume and better performance on some cognitive tests.

    It's not the first study to link the telltale signs of frailty to poor health. One study from just a few months back found that people who walk the slowest have a much higher risk of an early death. Other studies have found that slower walkers are more likely to face heart attacks and other heart-related problems.

    It's not the walk or grip itself that's causing any of this, of course. These conditions are often the subtle early warning signs of physical or neurological problems -- and it might not always be obvious even to yourself when you've lost a step or two or let loose on your grip.

    But if you find yourself lagging behind your friends or you don't quite feel the power you used to, don't ignore it. Get yourself checked out now so you don't have to face these other problems later.

  2. New push to drug people with normal BP levels

    "Prehypertension" is a name that sounds like it was invented to scare patients -- and it's definitely succeeded.

    No one wants to be "pre" any disease -- so while the guidelines don't call for treating prehypertension with meds, many docs do so anyway... and their scared patients play right along.

    Now, they're being given a new piece of ammunition for those drugs as a study finds that patients who get medicated for this non-condition have a lower risk of stroke.

    But as you'll see in a moment, this ammunition has all the power of a marshmallow bullet.

    Researchers carefully selected 16 trials on BP meds that involved more than 70,000 prehypertension patients who were given either meds or a placebo -- and they didn't find what you'd expect for a condition that's supposedly linked to heart risk.

    Meds, as it turned out, made no difference at all when it came to heart attack and even death from heart-related problems -- which is more proof you don't need to worry about "pre" hypertension.

    But the researchers say they did find a small difference in the risk of stroke: Just 2.01 percent of patients on meds suffered one versus 2.61 percent of those on the placebo.

    Of course, when you're dealing with very tiny numbers, little differences can sound bigger than they really are -- and in this case, it's a headline-grabbing difference of 22 percent.

    The researchers claimed that was significant enough to begin drugging every prehypertension patient -- after all, they said, you'd "only" need to drug 169 people for 4.3 years to prevent a single stroke.

    That doesn't sound very small to me, either -- and that's not the only problem with this study. As a meta-analysis, the researchers were able to pick and choose the studies they included... so who knows what studies didn't make the final cut.

    There was also at least one glaring conflict: The lead researcher accepted a pile of money from Ranbaxy -- a leading maker of generic meds, including hypertension drugs.

    In fact, the same week this study came out, the company unveiled its latest generic: a pill that combines a statin with (drumroll please)... a BP med.

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