Coronary Heart Disease


Roundup: COVID can Inflame Arteries, Raise Heart and Stroke Risks; Sitting Too Much Everyday Linked to Dementia Risk; and More News

COVID can Infect Coronary Arteries, Increase Plaque Inflammation – Raising Heart and Stroke Risks

COVID-19 can “directly infect the arteries of the heart” and cause fatty plaque to become highly inflamed, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIH states that the findings, published in the journal Nature Cardiovascular Research, may help explain why certain people who get COVID-19 have “a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease, or if they already have it, develop more heart-related complications.”

Researchers focused on older individuals with fatty buildup in the arteries, or atherosclerotic plaque, who died from COVID-19. But the findings indicated that COVID infects and replicates in the arteries --no matter the levels of plaque. This means anyone who gets COVID-19 could be affected, the NIH states.

“Our findings provide for the first time a direct mechanistic link between COVID-19 infection and the heart complications it provokes,” said study lead author Natalia Eberhardt, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, in a statement. “The virus creates a highly inflammatory environment that could make it easier for plaque to grow, rupture, and block blood flow to the heart, brain, and other key organs.”

Researchers collected 27 artery tissue samples from autopsies of patients who had died of severe COVID-19 between May 2020 and May 2021. All had been previously diagnosed with heart disease. The team then trained an artificial intelligence (AI) computer program to measure coronavirus levels in plaque cells. Researchers also examined samples of plaque-covered tissue collected from patients who had received surgery to remove the fatty buildup from their arteries.

Though previous studies have shown that COVID can directly infect tissues such as the brain and lungs, less was known about its effect on the coronary arteries until this study, the NIH states.

“This study is incredibly important as it adds to the larger body of work to better understand COVID-19,” said Michelle Olive, Ph.D., acting associate director of the Basic and Early Translational Research Program at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH, in a statement. “This is just one more study that demonstrates how the virus both infects and causes inflammation in many cells and tissues throughout the body. Ultimately, this is information that will inform future research on both acute and Long COVID.”

Sitting for This Long Daily – Despite Taking Time to Exercise – Can Increase Risk of Dementia

Many studies have linked too much time sitting and a lack of physical activity to higher risks of chronic health issues. A new study finds that adults aged 60 and older who spend too much time sitting down at the office or at home may be at increased risk of developing dementia.

The findings, published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), were striking because the higher risk was similar even for those who took time to exercise regularly. The risk of dementia significantly increased among adults who spent more than 10 hours a day in sedentary behaviors – mostly sitting down. That’s nearly the average daily time U.S. adults report as sedentary time: About 9.5 hours each day, researchers said.

Whether sitting down occurred over extended periods spanning several hours, or spread out intermittently throughout the day, total sedentary behavior had a similar association with dementia, according to study co-author, David Raichlen, professor of biological sciences and anthropology at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, at the University of Southern California.

Researchers used data from the U.K. Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database of participants across the United Kingdom. As part of a U.K. Biobank project, more than 100,000 adults agreed to wear accelerometers — wrist-worn devices for measuring movement — for 24 hours a day for one week. The new study’s researchers focused on a sample of about 50,000 adults over the age of 60 who did not have a diagnosis of dementia at the start of the study.

After an average of six years of follow-up, the researchers relied on hospital records and death registry data to determine dementia diagnosis. They found 414 cases positive for dementia. They adjusted their analysis for certain demographics (such as age, sex, education level, race/ethnicity, chronic conditions and genetics) and lifestyle characteristics (physical activity, diet, smoking and alcohol use, self-reported mental health) that could affect brain health, states a news release on the study by USC.

“We were surprised to find that the risk of dementia begins to rapidly increase after 10 hours spent sedentary each day, regardless of how the sedentary time was accumulated,” explains study co-author Gene Alexander, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Arizona and Arizona Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, in a statement. “This suggests that it is the total time spent sedentary that drove the relationship between sedentary behavior and dementia risk -- but importantly lower levels of sedentary behavior, up to around 10 hours, were not associated with increased risk.”

CDC:  The Latest on Declines in Cancer Diagnoses, Screenings at Start of COVID Pandemic

New diagnoses of six major cancer types in the U.S. fell sharply in early 2020, coinciding with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, states part 2 of the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer

In a news release, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the findings suggest “many cancers were not being diagnosed in a timely manner during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, likely due to interruptions in medical care.”

“These missed opportunities for early cancer detection are alarming, particularly for those vulnerable populations that continue to face significant barriers in accessing cancer care,” said Monica M. Bertagnolli, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in a statement. “This report highlights the urgency in helping all Americans get back on track with their cancer care so that we can avoid unnecessary deaths and complications from cancer.”

This study is the largest to date based on data from central cancer registries to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer incidence (new diagnoses of cancer) in the U.S., says the CDC.

The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer is a collaborative effort among NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health; the CDC; the American Cancer Society; and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries to provide information about cancer occurrence and trends. Part 1 of the latest report

Part 2 of the latest report focuses on changes in cancer diagnoses during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors indicate that the decline in diagnoses were due in part to interruptions in medical care. “In particular, early 2020 saw a decline in cancer screenings,” said the CDC. “In addition, diagnoses made as a result of early symptoms or in the course of routine medical visits may have been delayed when people held off on seeing their doctors.”

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