Every Second Counts – Diagnosing and Treating Acute Aortic Syndrome

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital November 10, 2015

Acute aortic syndrome is a serious heart condition where the aorta, the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the rest of the body.

Acute aortic syndrome is a serious heart condition that affects the aorta, the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the rest of the body.

Acute aortic syndrome is a serious heart condition where the aorta, the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the rest of the body, malfunctions due to a tear (dissection), bleeding in the wall of the aorta (a hematoma), or an ulceration. Acute aortic syndromes are life-threatening and require immediate medical care. Statistics suggest that the risk of mortality increases quickly after the onset of an acute aortic dissection, so rapid diagnosis and treatment is critical.

Acute aortic syndromes occur in two groups of people. Most tend to be older people (65 years+) who have conditions such as high blood pressure or atherosclerosis. Another group is younger patients who may have a genetic predisposition, such as a connective tissue disorder like Marfan syndrome, or have experienced trauma. In cases where a patient has a genetic predisposition, physicians may recommend that family members also undergo screening and genetic testing to assess their risk of developing an acute aortic syndrome.

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E-Cigarette Smoking: A Better Option or Just as Harmful?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 22, 2015

The Association also calls for strong new regulations to prevent access, sales, and marketing of e-cigarettes to youth, and for more research into the product’s health impact.

The ingredients used in e-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA, and the risks of smoking them are unclear.

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are becoming a popular nicotine alternative to smoking combustible cigarettes. The e-cig industry is not federally regulated, and the potential hazards of smoking e-cig vapor has stirred up much debate. Some contend that smoking e-cigs may be a safe aid for weaning smokers off of cigarettes, while others are unsure about their safety.

Roughly 20 percent of Americans smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes are full of harmful carcinogens, tar, and the addictive nicotine that makes smoking a difficult habit to curb. It has been long known that smoking cigarettes can increase one’s risk for developing diseases such as asthma, cancer, and heart disease.

“E-cigarettes may help some people quit smoking, but the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends them only as a last resort,” says Elliott Antman, MD, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Immediate Past President of the AHA, who is studying the effects of e-cigs. The AHA’s policy recommendation is that e-cigarettes that contain nicotine are tobacco products and should be subject to all laws that apply to these products. The Association also calls for strong new regulations to prevent access, sales, and marketing of e-cigarettes to youth, and for more research into the product’s health impact.

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Inflammation and Heart Disease: Understanding the Link

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 15, 2015

Middle-aged men with higher blood levels of C-reactive protein (pictured), a measure of inflammation, are at increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the future.

You already know that high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and certain lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking, are major risk factors for heart disease. But science shows there’s another factor that could impact your heart health.

Research conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) over the past 20 years suggests that inflammation also may contribute to heart disease risk.

Inflammation can occur as a part of the immune response, our bodies’ attempt to fight off and attack foreign substances, such as infectious diseases. Inflammation also may occur in response to the buildup of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis) inside the walls of arteries, potentially leading to the formation of harmful blood clots.

In 1997, researchers led by Dr. Paul Ridker, Director of the BWH Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, discovered that middle-aged men with higher blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of inflammation, were at increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the future.

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Family Connections in Heart Disease

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital October 8, 2015

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy most commonly affects the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart.

Over the past several decades, researchers have discovered that many heart diseases are genetic (inherited), resulting in changes in how these diseases are diagnosed and managed.

“We believe that in cases of inherited heart disease, it is extremely important to focus care on the entire family,” explains Dr. Carolyn Ho, Medical Director of the Cardiovascular Genetics Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). “In addition to developing and delivering therapies that are tailored for patients with inherited heart disease, we work closely with their families to identify those at risk of also developing the disease.”

One of the most common genetic heart diseases is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (also known as HCM), which affects between one in 500 and one in 1,000 people in the general population. HCM is characterized by an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle. The left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart, is most commonly affected. BWH researchers determined that HCM is caused by mutations in a group of related genes within the sarcomere, a network of proteins that make up the molecular motor of the heart and coordinate the contraction and relaxation of the heart muscle. Other examples of inherited heart disease include Marfan syndrome, genetic dilated cardiomyopathy, and inherited cardiac arrhythmias.

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Living with Atrial Fibrillation – Diagnosis and Treatment

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 1, 2015

It is important to treat atrial fibrillation, because the condition can worsen over time.

Are you or a family member one of the two million Americans living with atrial fibrillation? Atrial fibrillation (AFib, AF) is an abnormal heart rhythm that causes the upper chambers of the heart to beat in a rapid, irregular pattern. Seeking AFib treatment is important, as the condition can progress over time. Untreated, AFib can lead to an increased risk of stroke or heart failure.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation can include palpitations, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Although the exact cause of AFib is not completely understood, it often is associated with increased age, sleep apnea, surgery, and a number of heart ailments, including hypertension, valvular heart disease, heart failure,  or congenital heart disease. AFib treatment typically  includes medication or ablation therapy.

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Heart Attack: Would You Recognize the Warning Signs?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 27, 2015

Dr. Kevin Croce, interventional cardiologist

When Boston-area resident Dana Mower sat down in 2015 to watch Save My Life: Boston Trauma, a medical documentary series about trauma patients treated at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and two other hospitals, he had no idea he would become part of the story about a man having a heart attack.

The program featured a man who was taken to BWH after experiencing symptoms of severe heartburn and indigestion while visiting with his daughter at nearby Boston Children’s Hospital. Diagnostic tests indicated Manny Couto’s symptoms were due to a heart attack, not indigestion. Dr. Kevin Croce, an interventional cardiologist, immediately took Manny to the cardiac catheterization laboratory, where he and his team performed a heart catheterization procedure. During this procedure, Dr. Croce used a small catheter inserted into Manny’s arm to go up to the heart to remove a clot and place a stent to open the blocked artery, restoring normal heart blood flow.

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Hybrid Operating Room – Not Your Typical Delivery Room

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 11, 2015

Chelsea Phaneuf and her family.

It’s not every day that a baby is born in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) cardiovascular hybrid operating room (OR), but that’s where a multidisciplinary cardiovascular and obstetrics team was at the ready as 29-year-old Chelsea Phaneuf delivered her daughter, Aria, this spring. Chelsea had been admitted to the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center with a failing heart valve about a month before Aria’s arrival.

At the age of 23, an echocardiogram showed that Chelsea’s bicuspid valve had suddenly deteriorated and needed to be replaced. At such a young age, Chelsea was concerned about how the surgery would impact planning for a future family. The daily blood-thinning medication required for patients who undergo a valve replacement with a mechanical device is a risk to a developing fetus. Chelsea, therefore, opted for a biological valve, even though they don’t last as long as a mechanical valve.

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Brigham and Women’s Hospital Jumps to #6 on U.S. News Honor Roll

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 6, 2015

For the twenty-third year in a row, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) has been named to U.S. News & World Report’s Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals, moving up three spots to number six. The Honor Roll highlights just 15 hospitals, out of nearly 5,000 nationwide, for their breadth and depth of clinical excellence.  

In today’s post, we’ve gathered a collection of videos highlighting life-giving breakthroughs in our top-ranked clinical specialties.

#2 Gynecology

Christopher P. Crum, MD, Division Chief of Women’s and Perinatal Pathology, discusses ovarian cancer risk and techniques for detecting ovarian cancer at earlier stages of the disease.

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology supports women through all the stages of their lives, offering specialized evaluation and treatment for complex women’s health conditions, including gynecologic cancers.

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When Should Blood Pressure Medication be Started?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital July 1, 2015

Recent findings may influence how doctors think about high blood pressure management.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the most common risk factor for heart disease and death worldwide, but key questions about management of hypertension have remained unanswered. In a recent study funded by the Harvard Center for Primary Care and published in the British Medical Journal, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) examined the outcomes of nearly 90,000 adults with hypertension to pinpoint the precise high-blood-pressure level and critical time points at which intervening was tied to a decrease in the risk of death and/or cardiovascular event, such as heart attack or stroke.

“We were the first to look at these metrics in a large group of patients with hypertension, and our findings may help guide doctors as they think about how to treat patients,” says Dr. Alexander Turchin, a physician and researcher in the BWH Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Hypertension and senior author of the paper.

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What Is Cardiac Amyloidosis?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital June 23, 2015

The green areas in the picture above represent a buildup of amyloid in the heart of a patient with senile amyloidosis.

Cardiac amyloidosis is a dangerous and progressive disease that is not yet well understood. As it is quite rare and produces symptoms very similar to other heart diseases, it is often misdiagnosed.

Amyloidosis refers to a group of diseases, caused by deposits of abnormal proteins (amyloid) that affect one or more organ systems in the body. Buildup of amyloid in the heart is known as cardiac amyloidosis, and whether it occurs solely in the heart or in conjunction with other organs, it is the presence of amyloidosis in the heart that determines the severity and outcome of the disease and its treatments.

To promote effective and efficient treatment and a better understanding of the disease among physicians and patients, Brigham and Women’s Hospital established the multidisciplinary Cardiac Amyloidosis Program that draws upon the expertise of some of the country’s leading cardiology specialists. The program is led by noted cardiac amyloidosis expert Rodney H. Falk, MD, who, in the video below, discusses the importance of early diagnosis and the progress being made in caring for patients with the disease.

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