Treating Heart Disease


New Medication: fish in a pill
Eat fish for a healthy heart, experts have long urged. But along with that advice has come concern about mercury and other contaminants in tuna, mackerel, and other oily fish. This year brought a welcome alternative: a medication called Omacor, made of highly purified omega-3s, a beneficial fatty acid. The drug is prescribed to deliver just the right dose to high-risk people with high triglycerides who cant or dont want to eat the real thing. In a 3½-year study involving 11,323 patients whod already experienced a heart attack, Omacor reduced the risk of a second attack or stroke by 16 percent, and the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 21 percent. Other findings have shown that high doses of Omacor can lower triglycerides by an average of 45 percent, and may also increase levels of good cholesterol.

Cardiac arrest: the defibrillator success story
Remember all the buzz about putting defibrillators (portable devices that restore abnormal heart rhythm) in public places? Well, the effort paid off. Studies show that their use can double the survival rate of heart-attack victims, says American Council on Exercise Chief Physiologist Cedric Bryant. In fact, using a defibrillator is so effective that some states like New York require them in public places such as sports arenas, schools, malls, and fitness facilities.

Exercise: fitness beats angioplasty
Doctors have long known that physical activity is good for your heart. But just how good surfaced in a study of people suffering from coronary artery disease. Researchers at Germanys University of Leipzig Heart Center recruited 101 heart patients whose arteries showed significant narrowing from deposits of cholesterol-laden plaques. Half were given angioplasty, a widely used technique in which cardiologists insert narrow tubes to clear blockages and widen constricted vessels. The rest started an exercise regimen at the hospital and continued at home with 20 minutes of stationary bicycling every day and an hour of directed aerobics each week. A year later, the exercisers were more likely to be alive and free of complications from heart disease than the other group. Not surprisingly, they were also fitter, with better exercise capacity.

Thats good news in itself, naturally. And so is the fact that exercise is far less expensive than angioplasty. Whether doctors counsel patients to undergo angioplasty or start to exercise will continue to depend on many factors. But the study offers convincing evidence that a simple get-fit program is powerful medicine.