Progress in understanding and treating geriatric heart disease continues daily. However, such advances appear to be small in scope. What we call “breakthroughs” are relatively less common. Many recent advances, for example, have focused on areas like genetics, treatment options, and the personalized care and treatment of patients.
First, a clarification. “Heart disease” is a broad term, incorporating cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other categories like heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, aneurysms, and thrombosis. CVD itself refers to a class of diseases of the heart and blood vessels such as angina, heart attack, and stroke.
These illnesses account for the overwhelming majority of deaths worldwide. And, since the most susceptible population — those over 65 — is growing faster than other age groups, the high incidence of deaths is likely to continue. In turn, this puts heart disease at the top of the biomedical research agenda.
Here are some research areas with notable recent advances:
Given the variety of heart-related disorders, there are differing molecular “pathways” that drive the progression of each disease. Still, researchers recently uncovered genes that actually lower the risk of heart disease.
In recent promising studies, scientists learned how genes affect our balance of HDL and LDL (two types of lipoproteins created by our genes). It turns out that some individuals have genetic mutations that protect them against heart disease. These individuals appear to have abnormally high levels of HDL cholesterol or “the good cholesterol.”
Scientists also developed PCSK9 inhibitors, a new class of drugs that reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol to previously unattainable levels. At the end of last year, the Center for Biotechnology Information reported that PCSK9 inhibitors can lower LDL cholesterol extensively. In addition, it does this with few undesirable side effects.
This is but one example of how decades of genetic research have facilitated new discoveries and treatments.
Inflammation is an immune system response to infection and so, has a lifesaving role. Unfortunately, cardiovascular conditions or ailments like gum disease can provoke inflammation, as well. Recent research continues to focus on “pathways” by which inflammation reaches and affects the entire cardiovascular system.
Because inflammatory processes are central to the development of CVD, inflammatory “markers” have been used to assess a patient for the presence of the disease. The search is on for markers with greater predictive value.
Lifestyle and Care
Healthcare professionals continue to advocate changes in diet and other lifestyle choices to reduce the risks of heart disease. In addition, recent research has focused on examining how certain factors impact the care of heart patients.
To take a simple example, recent studies have made doctors wary of relying on the memory of their oldest patients for a list of current prescriptions. Mistakes and omissions can be deadly and result in adverse drug interactions.
New drugs continue to be tested and approved and may soon be a part of the arsenal in treating cardiovascular disease.
One new study focuses on the benefits of colchicine in treating patients after heart attacks. Anti-inflammatory therapy for heart attack patients has been limited by side effects. However, in a trial examining the safety of colchicine in the aftermath of a heart attack, the long-term risks to patients were 25% lower than those from other anti-inflammatory drugs.
Colchicine was especially protective against such side effects as stroke and angina.
This represents the kind of advance most common today. With a wide spectrum of drugs for treating every aspect of heart disease, there is little chance of a pharmaceutical “breakthrough.” Advances now tend to focus on reducing the side effects of drugs, individualizing drug therapy, and reducing prescription costs.
That leaves the potential for true “breakthrough” treatments to fields like genetic modification.
David York Agency Supports New Research on Geriatric Heart Disease
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