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How Much Do You Know About Heart Health?

The American Heart Association recently reported that the death rate from cardiovascular disease has fallen more than 30 percent over the last decade, due to better treatment for heart attack, congestive heart failure and other heart disease. But this care comes at a cost: expenditures for the care for heart disease rose to more than $315 billion during the same decade. And heart disease continues to be the number one killer in the U.S. Every 39 seconds, someone dies of cardiovascular disease.

Education is the first step to lowering the risk of heart disease. Start by taking this short quiz to see how much you know about taking care of your heart. (Answers appear below.)

True or False?

  1. The heart is a muscle.
  2. Many diseases and conditions can contribute to the risk of heart disease.
  3. A heart attack always begins with sharp chest pain.
  4. The best thing to do if you experience heart attack symptoms is to call 911 right away.
  5. Women need to worry more about breast cancer than about heart disease.
  6. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
  7. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have exactly the same risk yourself.
  8. High blood cholesterol is one of the top risk factors for heart attack.
  9. As we grow older, it’s best to rest as much as possible.
  10. Even a person who has suffered a heart attack should exercise.
  11. It’s possible to eat a “heart smart” diet even if you dine out often.
  12. Emotional stress and anxiety can worsen a heart condition.

Answers to “Test Your Heart Health IQ”:

  1. The heart is a muscle.
    TRUE—The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body, pumping enough blood in your lifetime to fill a supertanker!
  2. Many diseases and conditions can contribute to the risk of heart disease.
    TRUE—A number of conditionsincluding hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of heart disease.
  3. A heart attack always begins with sharp chest pain.
    FALSE—A heart attack can begin slowly, with subtle signals. Symptoms can include:
    •    a feeling of pressure or discomfort in the chest
    •    discomfort in the arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach
    •    shortness of breath
    •    nausea, dizziness, sweating for no reason
    •    fatigue and lack of energy
  4. The best thing to do if you experience heart attack symptoms is to call 911 right away.
    TRUE—“Better safe than sorry” is very true when it comes to heart attack. Excellent treatments are now available, and the sooner treatment begins, the better the chance of saving the patient’s life and preventing disability. If you experience chest pain, especially if associated with any other of the signs listed above, call 911 right away. Acting quickly can save your life.
  5. Women need to worry more about breast cancer than about heart disease.
    FALSE—Women are far more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer. It is a myth that heart disease is primarily a men’s health problem. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women—and more women than men die within one year of a heart attack.
  6. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
    TRUE—Smoking is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smokers are up to four times more likely to develop heart disease. And even if you don’t smoke, exposure to secondhand smoke may raise your risk by up to 30%.
  7. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have exactly the same risk yourself.
    FALSE—Although your risk increases if a family member was diagnosed with heart disease, it’s not all in the genes! A healthy lifestyle can cut your risk. Obesity and inactivity are greater risk factors than genetic inheritance for most people. Here are the steps to take to lower the risk:
    •    If you smoke, quit.
    •    Take steps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol level.
    •    Increase physical activity.
    •    Maintain a healthy weight.
    •    If you are diabetic, follow your care plan.
  8. High blood cholesterol is one of the top risk factors for heart attack.
    TRUE—Lowering your cholesterol level through diet and lifestyle changes (and in some cases, medication) can cut your risk.
  9. As we grow older, it’s best to rest as much as possible.
    FALSE—The older you are, the more important regular physical exercise is to your well-being. Inactivity can lead to a downward spiral of decline. Ask your healthcare provider about an exercise program that’s right for you.
  10. Even a person who has suffered a heart attack should exercise.
    TRUE—For most patients, preventing another heart attack will include a cardiac rehabilitation program. Be sure you discuss your workout regimen with your healthcare provider and follow his or her instructions.
  11. It’s possible to eat a “heart smart” diet even if you dine out often.
    TRUE—Most menus feature at least a few low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium items. Avoid fried foods, instead selecting baked or broiled. (If you aren’t sure how a dish is prepared, ask your server.) Skip dessert, and order your salad with low-fat dressing served on the side.
  12. Emotional stress and anxiety can worsen a heart condition.
    TRUE—Stressful emotions can raise your blood pressure, causing your heart to work harder. Lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques help lessen the effects of stress.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Speak to your healthcare provider if you have questions about heart health or heart disease.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

 

Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Most of us know that we can take “heart smart” steps to promote cardiac wellness. But sometimes, even the researchers are amazed at what a difference these lifestyle choices can make.

The American College of Cardiology recently reported on a new study, this one on a group of over 20,000 healthy Swedish men aged 45–79. The researchers from Karolinska Instituet in Stockholm, Sweden studied the men for 11 years, questioning them regularly about their diet, exercise and other wellness factors.

Said study author Agneta Akesson, Ph.D., “It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks. What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors.”

The researchers found that each healthy lifestyle factor decreased the risk of coronary heart disease. The healthy choices include:

  • A healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish
  • Not smoking
  • Walking or cycling at least 40 minutes per day
  • Amount of belly fat under 95 centimeters (37.5 inches)
  • Moderating alcohol consumption

According to the study authors, these preventive choices also help patients avoid the potential side effects of heart medications and, as a side benefit, save patients and the healthcare system money.

Akesson and her team report that, at present, less than 2 percent of the American population follow all these recommendations.

February’s American Heart Month is a great time to make some heart-smart resolutions for ourselves, and to promote heart health for everyone. This is not just an issue for seniors. Says Akesson, “It is important to note that these lifestyle behaviors are modifiable, and changing from high-risk to low-risk behaviors can have great impact on cardiovascular health. However, the best thing one can do is to adapt healthy lifestyle choices early in life.”

Learn More

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers resources and information for American Heart Month.  http://www.cdc.gov/features/heartmonth

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on information from the American College of Cardiology. Read the entire study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology  http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleID=1909605

 

“Is This My Medication?”

Medications help millions of seniors control health conditions that threaten their lives and their quality of life. But managing medications can be a challenge. It’s important to take them as recommended, and to be alert for side effects.  Doctors report that in some cases, seniors stop taking their medications. Sometimes the warnings on prescription drugs can be frightening! Or seniors might wonder if they are experiencing side effects. Money or transportation challenges sometimes keep them from getting recommended refills.

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine sheds light on another surprising reason older adults might discontinue a medication: When a refilled prescription looks different than before, patients may be confused and stop taking the drug. Yet it’s not uncommon for a pill to look different, according to the American College of Physicians. Says study author Dr. Aaron Kesselheim of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “The FDA does not require consistent pill appearance among interchangeable generic drugs, and the shape and color of patients’ pills may vary based on the particular supply at the patient’s pharmacy.”

Dr. Kesselheim and his team studied the records of 11,000 heart patients to see if they had taken their medications as directed. They found patients whose medications had changed in color were 34 percent more likely to stop taking the drug—and a change in shape raised the odds by 66 percent!

Dr. Kesselheim concluded, “Medications are essential to the treatment of cardiovascular disease and our study found that pill appearance plays an important role in ensuring patients are taking the generic medications that they need.”

He urges physicians and pharmacists to be aware of changes in a patient’s particular medication, and to reassure patients that the particular generic they receive may look different from a previous refill.

If you or an older loved one are concerned about the change of appearance of a drug you take, check with your doctor or pharmacist right away rather than discontinuing the drug or skipping even a single dose.

Source: AgeWise reporting on study from the Annals of Internal Medicine; news releases from the American College of Physicians; Brigham and Women’s Hospital

May Is Arthritis Awareness Month

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 50 million Americans are living with arthritis. It is the most common disease in people over the age of 65, and approximately half of the population of that age has some form of the disease. It affects all race and ethnic groups, and is the most common cause of disability in the U.S.

Arthritis is not a single disease, but is a group of over 100 different conditions, all of which can cause pain, swelling and an interference with normal movement. Some types of arthritis are thought to be hereditary; some result from overuse or injury of a joint, or from years of “wear and tear”; some types are caused by infection and still others are caused by a malfunction of the immune system. Arthritis may affect only one joint, or many joints at the same time. The joints most commonly affected are the weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, and also the smaller joints of the hands and neck.

Although there is no cure for most types of arthritis, the pain and inflammation can be reduced by a variety of medical treatments. Appropriate treatment can often result in great improvement to a person’s condition, as well as preventing further damage. Treatment depends on the type and degree of the condition.

Analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications relieve pain and reduce inflammation, or both. Aspirin or ibuprofen are often prescribed. Alternative pain relievers such as corticosteroids, acetaminophen and topical ointments or rubs also may be prescribed, depending on the type and severity of a patient’s arthritis.

Exercise and rest are both important. People with arthritis tire more easily; the physician may also order rest of a painful joint. But it is just as important to remain active. Exercise helps strengthen the muscles surrounding affected joints, protecting them from further damage. It also increases blood flow and lubrication of joints, and helps keep the joint strong and mobile, preventing loss of function. Exercise also helps patients maintain a healthy weight; being overweight puts extra stress on joints. A physician-prescribed exercise program will usually include range-of-motion, strengthening and aerobic exercises.

Physical therapy benefits many arthritis patients and can include heat or cold treatments, whirlpool and massage, splinting to immobilize and rest a joint, and training in performing exercises to loosen and build up joints and surrounding muscles.

Occupational therapists help patients achieve the greatest level of independence possible by providing instruction in alternative ways of performing the activities of daily living and self-care. They can also evaluate a patient’s home environment to suggest any necessary adaptations, such as grab bars or a raised toilet seat.

Adaptive devices can make living with arthritis easier. Occupational therapists can instruct arthritis patients in the use of mobility aids that lessen the stress on joints, such as canes and walkers. For arthritis in the shoulder or hand, long-handled spoons, zipper pulls, built-up toothbrush handles and page turners make the activities of daily living easier.

Surgery may be recommended if arthritis is causing severe pain and lost joint function. Some surgical procedures repair or remove damaged tissue. Joint replacement is becoming more and more common, and most patients experience excellent results from an artificial hip or knee.

Good News for Guacamole Fans

Are you planning a Cinco de Mayo party? If you are also trying to eat a healthy diet, this might seem challenging! Nachos, beer and margaritas might fit your Aztec pyramid decorating scheme—but on the food pyramid, not so much.

But what about guacamole? There’s good news there! The American Heart Association recently reported that avocados, the main ingredient of guacamole, can help decrease the levels of bad cholesterol—the kind that raises the risk of heart disease. In a comparison test, a research team from Pennsylvania State University found that test subjects who ate an avocado a day as part of a moderate-fat diet lowered their level of bad cholesterol (LDL) more effectively than did subjects on the same diet but without the avocado. Their total cholesterol and triglyceride levels were also better.

So the good news is that guacamole—made with avocado, onion, perhaps jalapenos or salsa—is a heart-healthy food. The problem comes when we pair it with cheese-laden nachos, a fatty burrito, or even with plain tortilla chips, which are high in calories and sodium. Choose low-sodium chips and eat them sparingly. Or replace the chips with crispy jicama sticks. Create a delicious lettuce wrap with spicy chicken or fish.

Study author Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., RD, who is a nutrition professor at Penn State, reminds us that guacamole isn’t the only reason to put avocados on your grocery list. She says, “Many people don’t know how to incorporate them in their diet except for making guacamole. Avocados, however, can also be eaten with salads, vegetables, sandwiches, lean protein foods like chicken or fish, or even whole.”

Read more about the study here  http://newsroom.heart.org/news/an-avocado-a-day-may-help-keep-bad-cholesterol-at-bay, and find avocado recipes on the website of the Hass Avocado Board  http://www.avocadocentral.com/avocado-recipes.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study from the American Heart Association.

 

Raining? Snowing? That’s No Reason to Skimp on Physical Activity

Mom always told us to get outside for some exercise. But if you’re like many of us in the U.S. these days, freezing cold, snow and ice might make it unsafe—at the least unpleasant—to get our workout in the great outdoors.

If it’s too cold, rainy or icy (or in a few months, too hot), it takes a little creativity to be active indoors. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) offers these great ideas for seniors who want to get some exercise even when weather conditions aren’t great:

  • Walk on the treadmill, ride the stationary bike, or use the rowing machine that’s gathering dust in your bedroom or basement. Or use one at a nearby gym or fitness center.
  • Work out with an exercise DVD. You can get a free one from the NIA’s Go4Life program (www.nia.nih.gov/Go4Life).
  • Go bowling with friends.
  • Join a local mall walking group.
  • Walk around an art gallery or museum to catch a new exhibit.
  • Check out an exercise class at your neighborhood Y or senior center.
  • If you like dancing, take a Zumba or salsa class.
  • Try yoga or Tai Chi.
  • Go to the gym and work on your strength, balance, and flexibility exercises or set up your own home gym. All you need is a sturdy chair, a towel, and some weights. Soup cans or water bottles will do if you don’t have your own set of weights.
  • Go to an indoor pool and swim laps or try water aerobics.
  • How about a game of indoor tennis, hockey, basketball or soccer?
  • Go indoor ice skating or roller skating.
  • Maybe it’s time for some heavy-duty cleaning. Vacuum, mop, sweep. Dust those hard-to-reach areas.
  • Play ping pong with the grandkids.

The NIA reminds us that we’re more likely to exercise if it’s convenient. Put your weights next to the sofa so you can do some lifting while you watch TV. Walk around the house while you’re talking on the phone. Make an extra trip up and down the stairs when you do the laundry.
Visit www.nia.nih.gov/Go4Life to find more tips and resources for staying active.

Source: National Institute on Aging, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.

Is Online Socialization Really Socialization?

Spending time with others is crucial for the physical and cognitive health and all-around quality of life of seniors. University of Chicago researcher John Cacioppo even says, “Chronic loneliness belongs among other health risk factors such as smoking, obesity or lack of exercise.”

But many seniors live alone. Mobility challenges, retirement, vision problems, perhaps the loss of spouse and friends—all make it harder to stay connected.

Fortunately, like people of every age these days, many seniors are supplementing in-person social connections with social media and other online technologies. Indeed, Pew Research Center reports that people over 65 are the fastest growing group to take up email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Skype and other electronic communications. The question is: Are these forms of communication really effective in meeting the social needs of older adults?

Many experts say yes! While online connections can’t completely take the place of in-person visits, or a hug, or meaningful time spent in the presence of others, studies are showing that it can be a beneficial supplement to more traditional human interaction:

  • Online social contact builds continuity in relationships, allowing for frequent interaction that was not available in the days when letters or long distance phone calls provided the only connection with far away friends and loved ones.
  • Online communications provide intellectual stimulation, keeping seniors in touch not only with friends and families, but with the world at large.
  • These technologies can be a lifeline for those with health problems that keep them confined to home.
  • Seniors who socialize online are also likely to increase their in-person social activities.

In December 2014, University of Exeter researchers reported the results of a two-year experimental program that supplied vulnerable older adults aged 60 to 95 with a computer, broadband connection, and training. Reported the team: “Those trained had heightened feelings of self-competence, engaged more in social activity, had a stronger sense of personal identity and showed improved cognitive capacity. These factors led to overall better mental health and well-being.”

Said senior participant Margaret Keohone, “Having this training changes people’s lives and opens up their worlds, invigorates their minds and for lots of us gives us a completely different way of recognizing our worth as we age.” Keohone said that before she began the program, “I was just slipping away into a slower way of life.”

Families, senior living communities and other organizations that serve the senior population are finding that with a little help getting set up, older adults can take advantage of these tools to feel more plugged in to family and community events.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015.

The Best Way to Protect Your Memory? Follow an Overall Wellness Plan!

March is Brain Awareness Month.

We read a lot about the “mind-body connection” these days. Most of us realize that the way we think about things can influence the health of our entire bodies. But it’s important to know that this works both ways: our overall wellness affects the health of our brains.

We used to think of “the mind” in an abstract way, as something somehow separate from our bodies. But new imaging techniques now allow researchers to observe brain function in ways that would have seemed like science fiction only a few years ago. Some scientists have described these images as “portraits of the formation of thoughts.” And what they see confirms again and again that brain health is closely interrelated with whole body health.

Recent studies link brain health with:

Heart health. We’ve long known that getting enough exercise, and controlling our weight, blood pressure and cholesterol all benefit our hearts. Now, it is clearer than ever that the lifestyle choices we make for cardiac wellness also benefit our brains. According to the American Heart Association, “Preserving a healthy blood vessel wall is important in preventing cognitive impairment.”

Diabetes. The American Academy of Neurology released a study showing that people with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes appear to be at higher risk of developing the plaques and tangles in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Said study author Kensuke Sasaki, MD, “It’s possible that by controlling or preventing diabetes, we might also be helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dental health. Tooth loss and gum disease have also been linked to an increased risk of dementia. Several recent studies suggest that good oral hygiene protects cognitive health. According to Dr. Nozomi Okamoto of Nara Medical University in Japan, “Infections in the gums that can lead to tooth loss may release inflammatory substances which in turn will enhance the brain inflammation that hastens memory loss.”

Hearing loss. Johns Hopkins University researchers reported in the Archives of Neurology that older adults with moderate to severe hearing loss may be at higher risk of developing dementia. While the connection is not yet fully understood, the authors suggest that hearing loss may result in “exhaustion of cognitive reserve,” when our brains become stressed with the extra work required to hear. Hearing loss also leads to social isolation, which is another risk factor. The researchers emphasize that current technology often can help seniors improve their hearing—and this new study should provide extra motivation to seek out state-of-the-art hearing loss treatment.

These are just a few of the studies that demonstrate the importance of following our healthcare provider’s advice to best manage health conditions. We know more than ever before that healthy aging lifestyle choices serve double duty: when we improve our diet, add more exercise to our routine, give up smoking, reduce stress, and manage any health conditions we have, we benefit not only our bodies but also our minds.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle

Snacks can be a fun and valuable part of a person’s healthful eating plan – but they can also add unneeded calories, sugar, sodium and fat. During National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers smart snacking ideas that help everyone “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.”

“If you choose carefully, and plan ahead, sensible snacks can be part of any healthful eating plan,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy Spokesperson Isabel Maples. “Snacks can prevent overeating at mealtimes and throughout the day. For children and adults alike, snacks can supply foods and nutrients that we might miss in meals. Snacks especially offer a great way to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.”

Each March, the Academy encourages Americans to return to the basics of healthful eating through National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme encourages consumers to adopt a healthy lifestyle that is focused on consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices and getting daily exercise in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote overall health.

“A healthy snack can provide an energy boost, and satisfy your midday hunger. If you haven’t eaten for three or more hours, a snack can help bring up your blood sugar level for optimal energy. For older adults with smaller appetites or limited energy, several small meals including snacks may be easier for their bodies to handle,” Maples says.

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Maples offers ideas for biting into healthy snacks:

  • Plan your snacks. “Keep a variety of tasty, nutrient-rich, ready-to-eat foods nearby, for when you need a bite to take the edge off hunger. Then, you won’t be so tempted by less-healthy options from vending machines, convenience stores or the contents of your own kitchen.” Snack ideas include fresh fruit, air-popped popcorn, whole-wheat crackers, dried fruit and nut mixes, almonds and fat-free yogurt.
  • Make snack calories count. “Snack on foods that fill the nutrient gaps in your day’s eating plan. Think of snacks as mini-meals to help you eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy – foods we often don’t eat enough.”
  • Go easy on high-calorie snacks such as chips, candy and soft drinks. “They often contain solid fats, and added sugars. Make these occasional choices that fit your day’s plan.”
  • Snack when you’re hungry – not because you’re bored, stressed or frustrated. “Exercise can actually be a great way to feed those emotional urges.”
  • Snack on sensible portions. “Choose single-serve containers, or put a small helping in a bowl rather than eating directly from the package.”
  • Quench your thirst. “Water, low-fat or fat-free milk and 100-percent juice are just a few options. Flavored waters might be high in added sugars, so check the label.”

Making the right food and nutrition choices is a necessary part of biting into a healthy lifestyle. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help. To learn more and to find an RDN in your area visit eatright.org.

Source: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the Academy at eatright.org.

American Heart Association Confirms Connection of Memory Health, Heart Health

The risk of developing cognitive impairment, especially learning and memory problems, is significantly greater for people with poor cardiovascular health than people with intermediate or ideal cardiovascular health, according to a recent study appearing in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Cardiovascular health plays a critical role in brain health, with several cardiovascular risk factors also playing a role in higher risk for cognitive decline.

Researchers found that people with the lowest cardiovascular health scores were more likely have impairment on learning, memory and verbal fluency tests than their counterparts with intermediate or better risk profiles.

The study involved 17,761 people aged 45 and older at the outset who had normal cognitive function and no history of stroke. Mental function was evaluated four years later.

Researchers used data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study to determine cardiovascular health status based on The American Heart Association Life’s Simple 7™ score. The REGARDS study population is 55 percent women, 42 percent blacks, 58 percent whites and 56 percent are residents of the “stroke belt” states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The Life’s Simple 7™ initiative is a new system to measure the benefits of modifiable health behaviors and risk factors in cardiovascular health, such as smoking, diet, physical activity, body mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol, and fasting glucose. It classifies each of the seven factors of heart health as either poor, intermediate or ideal.

After accounting for differences in age, sex, race and education, researchers identified cognitive impairment in:

  • 4.6 percent of people with the worst cardiovascular health scores;
  • 2.7 percent of those with intermediate health profiles; and
  • 2.6 percent of those in the best cardiovascular health category.

“Even when ideal cardiovascular health is not achieved, intermediate levels of cardiovascular health are preferable to low levels for better cognitive function,” said lead investigator Evan L. Thacker, Ph.D., an assistant professor and chronic disease epidemiologist at Brigham Young University Department of Health Science, in Provo, Utah.

“This is an encouraging message because intermediate cardiovascular health is a more realistic target for many individuals than ideal cardiovascular health.”

The differences were seen regardless of race, gender, pre-existing cardiovascular conditions, or geographic region, although higher cardiovascular health scores were more common in men, people with higher education, higher income, and among people without any cardiovascular disease.

Cognitive function assessments involved tests to measure verbal learning, memory and fluency. Verbal learning was determined using a three-trial, ten-item word list, while verbal memory was assessed by free recall of the ten-item list after a brief delay filled with non-cognitive questions. Verbal fluency was determined by asking each participant to name as many animals as possible in 60 seconds.

Although mechanisms that might explain the findings remain unclear, Thacker said that undetected subclinical strokes could not be ruled out.

Source: The American Heart Association. Visit www.heart.org to find heart health information for consumers and professionals.