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1.  Traditional Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy: A Drug–Drug Interaction? 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(5):e157.
Background
Suppression of prostacyclin (PGI2) is implicated in the cardiovascular hazard from inhibitors of cyclooxygenase (COX)-2. Furthermore, estrogen confers atheroprotection via COX-2–dependent PGI2 in mice, raising the possibility that COX inhibitors may undermine the cardioprotection, suggested by observational studies, of endogenous or exogenous estrogens.
Methods and Findings
To identify an interaction between hormone therapy (HT) and COX inhibition, we measured a priori the association between concomitant nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), excluding aspirin, in peri- and postmenopausal women on HT and the incidence of myocardial infarction (MI) in a population-based epidemiological study. The odds ratio (OR) of MI in 1,673 individuals and 7,005 controls was increased from 0.66 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.50–0.88) when taking HT in the absence of traditional (t)NSAIDs to 1.50 (95% CI 0.85–2.64) when taking the combination of HT and tNSAIDs, resulting in a significant (p < 0.002) interaction. The OR when taking aspirin at doses of 150 mg/d or more was 1.41 (95% CI 0.47–4.22). However, a similar interaction was not observed with other commonly used drugs, including lower doses of aspirin, which target preferentially COX-1.
Conclusions
Whether estrogens confer cardioprotection remains controversial. Such a benefit was observed only in perimenopausal women in the only large randomized trial designed to address this issue. Should such a benefit exist, these results raise the possibility that COX inhibitors may undermine the cardioprotective effects of HT.
It is controversial whether estrogens confer cardioprotection. This study suggests that even should such a benefit exist, COX inhibitors may undermine cardioprotective effects of hormone therapy.
Editors' Summary
Background.
There is currently a great deal of uncertainty regarding the effect of postmenopausal hormone therapy on heart disease in women. Premenopausal women are much less likely to experience heart attacks and strokes than men, a difference that does not exist between postmenopausal women and men. One mechanism that might explain these observations relates to the effect of estrogen, which is thought to have a protective effect on the heart. Hormone replacement therapy (HT) consisting of replacement estrogen, and sometimes progesterone as well, is often taken by women experiencing symptoms of menopause. Evidence from observational studies and the Womens' Health Initiative (WHI) trial has suggested that HT protects against heart disease in perimenopausal women. However, researchers have suggested that any beneficial effect of hormone replacement therapy on the heart might be counteracted by the effects of certain types of painkillers also being taken by women involved in the studies. These painkillers, nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs), prevent production of a molecule called prostacyclin. Prostacyclin plays a role in preventing blood clotting and is therefore thought to be important in protecting the heart. Estrogen, however, acts to increase production of prostacyclin, and it is therefore theoretically possible that hormone replacement therapy does have a beneficial effect on heart health, but which is counteracted by the negative effects of NSAIDs.
Why Was This Study Done?
In this study, the researchers wanted to find out whether there was any evidence for an interaction between NSAID use, hormone replacement therapy, and heart disease. Such understanding in turn might help to identify more clearly whether hormone replacement therapy protects against heart disease in specific subgroups of postmenopausal women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This study was carried out using information from the UK's General Practice Research Database, which is the largest computer database of anonymous medical records from primary care anywhere in the world. It contains information entered by UK general practitioners on their patients' drug prescriptions, diagnoses, referrals to hospital, and other data. The researchers here searched for all individuals from the database who were aged between 50 and 84 years on 1 January 1997, and then followed them up through the database for four years, or until the individual died, reached 85 years of age, or was diagnosed with a heart attack or cancer. From this search, the researchers found 1,673 women who had heart attacks or who died from coronary heart disease; these were considered “cases.” Then, these 1,673 women were matched against 20,000 “control” women of similar age. Information was pulled out for each case or control on their use of hormone replacement therapy, NSAIDs (covering 21 different drugs, but most commonly diclofenac, ibuprofen, and naproxen), and various risk factors for heart disease. The researchers then compared use of hormone replacement therapy and NSAIDs between the cases and controls, while making statistical adjustments for other risk factors (such as diabetes and smoking, for example).
  The researchers found that current use of hormone replacement therapy was associated with a lower risk of heart attack than non-use. The odds ratio (chance of a heart attack among HT users compared to the chance among non-users of HT) was 0.78. However, when looking at women who used NSAIDs at the same time as hormone replacement therapy, the researchers found no suggestion of a reduction in risk of heart attack: the odds ratio for the chance of heart attack among this group of women, as compared to nonusers of both NSAIDs and hormone replacement therapy, was 1.50.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that hormone replacement therapy and NSAIDs might interact, with NSAIDs acting against a role for hormone replacement therapy in preventing heart attacks. At face value, these results are in conflict with the findings of one large trial, the WHI trial, which failed to find a benefit of HT in preventing heart attacks. However, a recent analysis of WHI suggests cardioprotective effects of HT in women close to the time of the menopause and this coincides with the younger age of women in the observational studies such as the present one rather than in the WHI overall. Observational research studies, such as the present one, are often difficult to interpret because the groups being compared are not necessarily equivalent. It's possible that women who take hormone replacement therapy, or NSAIDs, are in some way different from women who do not, which will bias the findings. Determination of the clinical implications of these findings would most appropriately be resolved in future trials, designed to address the question of interest.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040157.
Resources from the US National Institutes of Health on menopausal hormone therapy, including links to information about the Women's Health Initiative trials, information about managing menopausal symptoms, and more
Resources from the US National Institutes of Health (MedlinePlus) about heart disease in women
Information from NHS Direct, the UK National Health Service, about hormone replacement therapy
The UK General Practice Research Database is the database utilized in this article
Wikipedia entry on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (note: Wikipedia is an internet encyclopedia anyone can edit)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040157
PMCID: PMC1872041  PMID: 17518513
2.  Knowledge of heart attack and stroke symptomology: a cross-sectional comparison of rural and non-rural US adults 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:283.
Background
Understanding the signs and symptoms of heart attacks and strokes are important not only in saving lives, but also in preserving quality of life. Findings from recent research have yielded that the prevalence of cardiovascular disease risk factors are higher in rural populations, suggesting that adults living in rural locales may be at higher risk for heart attack and/or stroke. Knowledge of heart attack and stroke symptomology as well as calling 911 for a suspected heart attack or stroke are essential first steps in seeking care. This study sought to examine the knowledge of heart attack and stroke symptoms among rural adults in comparison to non-rural adults living in the U.S.
Methods
Using multivariate techniques, a cross-sectional analysis of an amalgamated multi-year Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) database was performed. The dependent variable for this analysis was low heart attack and stroke knowledge score. The covariates for the analysis were: age, sex, race/ethnicity, annual household income, attained education, health insurance status, having a health care provider (HCP), timing of last routine medical check-up, medical care deferment because of cost, self-defined health status and geographic locale.
Results
The weighted n for this study overall was 103,262,115 U.S. adults > =18 years of age. Approximately 22.0% of these respondents were U.S. adults living in rural locales. Logistic regression analysis revealed that those U.S. adults who had low composite heart attack and stroke knowledge scores were more likely to be rural (OR = 1.218 95%CI 1.216-1.219) rather than non-rural residents. Furthermore, those with low scores were more likely to be: male (OR = 1.353 95%CI 1.352-1.354), >65 years of age (OR = 1.369 95%CI 1.368-1.371), African American (OR = 1.892 95%CI 1.889-1.894), not educated beyond high school (OR = 1.400 955CI 1.399-1.402), uninsured (OR = 1.308 95%CI 1.3-6-1.310), without a HCP (OR = 1.216 95%CI 1.215-1.218), and living in a household with an annual income of < $50,000 (OR = 1.429 95%CI 1.428-1.431).
Conclusions
Analysis identified clear disparities between the knowledge levels U.S. adults have regarding heart attack and stroke symptoms. These disparities should guide educational endeavors focusing on improving knowledge of heart attack and stroke symptoms.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-283
PMCID: PMC3365868  PMID: 22490185
Rural public health; Heart attack symptoms; Stroke symptoms; Knowledge of heart attack and stroke symptomology
3.  Knowledge of heart disease and stroke among cardiology inpatients and outpatients in a Canadian inner-city urban hospital 
The Canadian Journal of Cardiology  2010;26(10):537-541.
BACKGROUND:
Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in North America. Nevertheless, in 2003, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada reported that nearly two-thirds of Canadians have misconceptions regarding heart disease and stroke, echoing the results of similar American studies. Good knowledge of these conditions is imperative for cardiac patients who are at greater risk than the general population and should, therefore, be better educated. The present study evaluated the awareness of heart disease and stroke among cardiac patients to assess the efficacy of current education efforts.
METHODS:
Two hundred fifty-one cardiac inpatients and outpatients at St Michael’s Hospital (Toronto, Ontario) were surveyed in July and August 2004. An unaided questionnaire assessed respondents’ knowledge of cardiovascular risk factors, symptoms of heart attack and stroke, and actions in the event of cardiovascular emergency. Demographic data and relevant medical history were also obtained.
RESULTS:
Cardiac patients demonstrated relatively adequate knowledge of heart attack warning symptoms. These patients also demonstrated adequate awareness of proper actions during cardiovascular emergencies. However, respondents were not aware of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Knowledge of stroke symptoms was also extremely poor. Socioeconomic status, and personal history of heart attack and stroke were positively correlated with good knowledge.
CONCLUSIONS:
Future patient education efforts should address the awareness of the important cardiovascular risk factors and knowledge of cardiovascular warning symptoms (especially for stroke), as well as inform patients of appropriate actions during a cardiovascular emergency. Emphasis should be placed on primary and secondary prevention, and interventions should be directed toward low-income cardiac patients.
PMCID: PMC3006102  PMID: 21165363
Heart attack; Myocardial infarction; Prevention; Public health education; Stroke
4.  Heart Failure Care in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(8):e1001699.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Kazem Rahimi and colleagues examine the burden of heart failure in low- and middle-income countries.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Heart failure places a significant burden on patients and health systems in high-income countries. However, information about its burden in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is scant. We thus set out to review both published and unpublished information on the presentation, causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure in LMICs.
Methods and Findings
Medline, Embase, Global Health Database, and World Health Organization regional databases were searched for studies from LMICs published between 1 January 1995 and 30 March 2014. Additional unpublished data were requested from investigators and international heart failure experts. We identified 42 studies that provided relevant information on acute hospital care (25 LMICs; 232,550 patients) and 11 studies on the management of chronic heart failure in primary care or outpatient settings (14 LMICs; 5,358 patients). The mean age of patients studied ranged from 42 y in Cameroon and Ghana to 75 y in Argentina, and mean age in studies largely correlated with the human development index of the country in which they were conducted (r = 0.71, p<0.001). Overall, ischaemic heart disease was the main reported cause of heart failure in all regions except Africa and the Americas, where hypertension was predominant. Taking both those managed acutely in hospital and those in non-acute outpatient or community settings together, 57% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 49%–64%) of patients were treated with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, 34% (95% CI: 28%–41%) with beta-blockers, and 32% (95% CI: 25%–39%) with mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists. Mean inpatient stay was 10 d, ranging from 3 d in India to 23 d in China. Acute heart failure accounted for 2.2% (range: 0.3%–7.7%) of total hospital admissions, and mean in-hospital mortality was 8% (95% CI: 6%–10%). There was substantial variation between studies (p<0.001 across all variables), and most data were from urban tertiary referral centres. Only one population-based study assessing incidence and/or prevalence of heart failure was identified.
Conclusions
The presentation, underlying causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure vary substantially across LMICs. On average, the use of evidence-based medications tends to be suboptimal. Better strategies for heart failure surveillance and management in LMICs are needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
A healthy heart pumps about 23,000 liters of blood around the body every day. This blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body and carries carbon dioxide and waste products away from the tissues and organs. A healthy heart is therefore essential for life. Unfortunately, many people (particularly elderly people) develop heart failure, a life-threatening condition in which the heart no longer pumps enough blood to meet all the body's needs because it has become too weak or too stiff to work properly. Heart failure can affect the left, right, or both sides of the heart, and it can develop slowly (chronic heart failure) or quickly (acute heart failure). Its symptoms include swelling (edema) of the feet, ankles, and legs, tiredness, and shortness of breath. Heart failure, which is most commonly caused by coronary heart disease (blockage with fatty deposits of the blood vessels that supply the heart) or high blood pressure (hypertension), cannot be cured. However, lifestyle changes (for example, losing weight and avoiding salty food) and various medications can control heart failure and improve the quality of life of patients.
Why Was This Study Done?
In high-income countries (HICs), heart failure is a common condition that typically consumes 1%–2% of healthcare resources. Experts believe that heart failure may soon become a major public health issue in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) because fewer people are dying of infectious diseases in these countries than in the past. LMICs need to plan for this eventuality, but little is known about the current burden of heart failure in LMICs. Here, the researchers undertake a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished information on the presentation, causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure in LMICs. A systematic review uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; a meta-analysis uses statistical approaches to combine the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 49 published studies and four unpublished databases that provided information on nearly 240,000 hospitalizations for acute and chronic heart failure in 31 LMICs. Across these LMICs, the average age of patients admitted to hospital for heart failure was 63 years, more than ten years younger than the average admission age in HICs. Differences in mean age at presentation, which ranged from 42 years in Cameroon and Ghana to 75 years in Argentina, largely correlated with the human development index (a measure of national well-being) of individual LMICs. Notably, acute heart failure accounted for 2.2% of all hospital admissions in the LMICs for which data were available. Hypertension was the main cause of heart failure in Africa and the Americas, whereas ischemic heart disease was the main cause in all other regions. More than two-thirds of patients were prescribed diuretics for heart failure, whereas only 57% of patients were treated with angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, only 34% were treated with beta-blockers, and only 32% were treated with mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists, the three treatments currently recommended in guidelines for managing heart failure. Finally, on average, patients admitted to hospital for heart failure in LMICs spent ten days in hospital, and 8.3% of them died in hospital (compared to 6.7% and 4% of similar patients across Europe and the US, respectively).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the presentation, causes, management, and outcomes of heart failure vary substantially across LMICs. Importantly, however, these findings reveal that heart failure is already a major burden in LMICs and that the use of recommended medications for heart failure is currently suboptimal in these countries. Because the studies included in this systematic review and meta-analysis set out to answer different research questions and used different methods to diagnose heart failure, the estimates of the burden of heart failure in LMICs provided here may not be completely accurate. Moreover, because the data were derived mainly from urban tertiary referral hospitals, these findings may not reflect the broader picture of heart failure in the community in LMICs. However, although additional studies are needed to completely assess the burden of heart failure in LMICs, the present findings nevertheless highlight the need to implement better strategies for the management of heart failure in LMICs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001699.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Druin Burch
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides information for patients about heart failure
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about all aspects of heart failure
The American Heart Association, a not-for-profit organization, also provides detailed information about heart failure for patients and their carers
The British Heart Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, provides additional information about heart failure, including a personal story about heart failure; further personal stories about heart failure are provided by the not-for-profit organization Healthtalkonline
Heart Failure Matters provides practical information about heart failure for patients, families, and caregivers in several languages; its website includes an animated journey through heart failure and several personal stories about the condition
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources about heart failure (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001699
PMCID: PMC4130667  PMID: 25117081
5.  Prophylactic Perioperative Sodium Bicarbonate to Prevent Acute Kidney Injury Following Open Heart Surgery: A Multicenter Double-Blinded Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(4):e1001426.
In a double-blinded randomized controlled trial, Anja Haase-Fielitz and colleagues find that an infusion of sodium bicarbonate during open heart surgery did not reduce the risk for acute kidney injury, compared with saline control.
Background
Preliminary evidence suggests a nephroprotective effect of urinary alkalinization in patients at risk of acute kidney injury. In this study, we tested whether prophylactic bicarbonate-based infusion reduces the incidence of acute kidney injury and tubular damage in patients undergoing open heart surgery.
Methods and Findings
In a multicenter, double-blinded (patients, clinical and research personnel), randomized controlled trial we enrolled 350 adult patients undergoing open heart surgery with the use of cardiopulmonary bypass. At induction of anesthesia, patients received either 24 hours of intravenous infusion of sodium bicarbonate (5.1 mmol/kg) or sodium chloride (5.1 mmol/kg). The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients developing acute kidney injury. Secondary endpoints included the magnitude of acute tubular damage as measured by urinary neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin (NGAL), initiation of acute renal replacement therapy, and mortality. The study was stopped early under recommendation of the Data Safety and Monitoring Committee because interim analysis suggested likely lack of efficacy and possible harm. Groups were non-significantly different at baseline except that a greater proportion of patients in the sodium bicarbonate group (66/174 [38%]) presented with preoperative chronic kidney disease compared to control (44/176 [25%]; p = 0.009). Sodium bicarbonate increased urinary pH (from 6.0 to 7.5, p<0.001). More patients receiving bicarbonate (83/174 [47.7%]) developed acute kidney injury compared with control patients (64/176 [36.4%], odds ratio [OR] 1.60 [95% CI 1.04–2.45]; unadjusted p = 0.032). After multivariable adjustment, a non-significant unfavorable group difference affecting patients receiving sodium bicarbonate was found for the primary endpoint (OR 1.45 [0.90–2.33], p = 0.120]). A greater postoperative increase in urinary NGAL in patients receiving bicarbonate infusion was observed compared to control patients (p = 0.011). The incidence of postoperative renal replacement therapy was similar but hospital mortality was increased in patients receiving sodium bicarbonate compared with control (11/174 [6.3%] versus 3/176 [1.7%], OR 3.89 [1.07–14.2], p = 0.031).
Conclusions
Urinary alkalinization using sodium bicarbonate infusion was not found to reduce the incidence of acute kidney injury or attenuate tubular damage following open heart surgery; however, it was associated with a possible increase in mortality. On the basis of these findings we do not recommend the prophylactic use of sodium bicarbonate infusion to reduce the risk of acute kidney injury. Discontinuation of growing implementation of this therapy in this setting seems to be justified.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00672334
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Open heart surgery is a type of cardiac surgery that is used to treat patients with severe heart disease, where the patient's chest is cut open and surgery is performed on the internal structures of the heart. During open heart surgery, surgeons may use a technique called cardiopulmonary bypass to temporarily take over the function of the heart and lungs. This type of surgery may be used to prevent heart attack or heart failure in patients with conditions such as angina, atherosclerosis, congenital heart disease, or valvular heart disease. There are a number of complications associated with open heart surgery and one of these is the rapid loss of kidney function, known as acute kidney injury (AKI), and formerly known as acute renal failure. Symptoms of AKI can be variable, with diagnosis of AKI based on laboratory findings (such as elevated blood urea nitrogen and creatinine), or clinical signs such as inability of the kidneys to produce sufficient amounts of urine. Globally, more than 10 million people are affected by AKI each year. AKI occurs in about one quarter of patients undergoing cardiac surgery and is associated with longer stays in the hospital and an increased risk of death. Treatment of AKI includes administration of intravenous fluids, diuretics, and, in severe cases, patients may require kidney dialysis.
Why Was This Study Done?
The mechanism for why AKI occurs during cardiac surgery is complex and thought to involve multiple factors relating to blood circulation, the immune system, and toxins released by the kidneys. In addition to treating AKI after it occurs, it is important to identify patients who are at risk for developing AKI prior to cardiac surgery and then apply techniques to prevent AKI during cardiac surgery. A number of interventions have been tested for preventing AKI during cardiac surgery, but there is currently no strong evidence for a standard way to prevent AKI. One intervention that has potential for preventing AKI is the administration of sodium bicarbonate during cardiac surgery. Sodium bicarbonate causes alkalinization of the urine, and it is thought that this could reduce the effect of toxins in the kidneys. A previous pilot study showed promising effects for sodium bicarbonate to reduce the likelihood of AKI. In a follow-up to this pilot study, here the researchers have performed an international randomized controlled trial to test whether administration of sodium bicarbonate compared to sodium chloride (saline) during cardiac surgery can prevent AKI.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
350 patients undergoing open heart surgery with at least one risk factor for developing AKI were recruited across four sites in different countries (Germany, Canada, Ireland, and Australia). These patients were randomly assigned to receive either sodium bicarbonate (treatment) or saline control solution, given as a continuous infusion into the blood stream for 24 hours during surgery. Neither the researchers nor the patients were aware of which patients were assigned to the treatment group. The researchers measured the occurrence of AKI within the first 5 days after surgery and they found that a greater proportion of those patients receiving sodium bicarbonate developed AKI, as compared to those patients receiving saline control. On the basis of these findings the study was terminated before planned recruitment was completed. A key issue with this study is that a greater proportion of the patients in the sodium bicarbonate group had chronic kidney disease prior to open heart surgery. After adjusting for this difference in the statistical analysis, the researchers observed that the difference between the groups was not significant—that is, it could have happened by chance. The authors also observed that a significantly greater proportion of patients receiving sodium bicarbonate died in the hospital after surgery compared to patients receiving saline control.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that giving an infusion of sodium bicarbonate to induce alkalinization of the urine during open heart surgery is not a useful treatment for preventing AKI. Furthermore, this treatment may even increase the likelihood of death. The researchers do not recommend the use of sodium bicarbonate infusion to reduce the risk of AKI after open heart surgery and stress the need for discontinuation of this therapy. Key limitations of this research study are the early termination of the study and the greater proportion of patients with chronic kidney disease prior to surgery.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001426.
The Renal Association, a professional association for kidney doctors and researchers, provides information about acute kidney injury
The International Society for Nephrology and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations provide information about preventing acute kidney injury around the world and jointly initiated World Kidney Day
MedlinePlus has information on open heart surgery
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001426
PMCID: PMC3627643  PMID: 23610561
6.  Patients’ action during their cardiac event: qualitative study exploring differences and modifiable factors 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  1998;316(7137):1060-1065.
Objectives: To explore the circumstances and factors that explain variations in response to a cardiac event and to identify potentially modifiable factors.
Design: Qualitative analysis of semistructured, face to face interviews with patients admitted to two district hospitals for a cardiac event and with other people present at the time of the event. Patients were divided into three groups according to the length of delay between onset of symptoms and calling for medical help.
Subjects: 43 patients and 21 other people present at the time of the cardiac event. Patients were divided into three groups according to the length of time between onset of symptoms and seeking medical help: non-delayers (<4 h; n=21), delayers (4-12  h; n=12), and extended delayers (>12 h; n=10).
Main outcome measures: Decision making process, strategies for dealing with symptoms, and perception of risk and of heart attacks before the event according to delay in seeking help.
Results: The illness and help seeking behaviour of informants had several components, including warning, interpretation, preliminary action, re-evaluation, and final action stages. The length of each stage was variable and depended on the extent to which informants mobilised and integrated resources into a strategy to bring their symptoms under control. There were obvious differences in informants’ knowledge of the symptoms that they associated with a heart attack before the event. Non-delayers described a wider range of symptoms before their heart attack and twice as many (13) considered themselves to be potentially at risk of a heart attack compared with the other two groups. For most informants the heart attack differed considerably from their concept of a heart attack.
Conclusion: The most critical factor influencing the time between onset of symptoms and calling for professional medical help is that patients and others recognise their symptoms as cardiac in origin. This study suggests that various points of intervention in the decision making process could assist symptom recognition and therefore faster access to effective treatment.
Key messages Research using methods that can explain variations in response to cardiac events has been neglected Informants in this study thought of heart attacks as sudden dramatic events in which people collapse and probably die, rather than as the evolving event that they experienced Those who sought medical help within 4 hours were more likely to see themselves as potentially at risk, knew a wider range of symptoms of a heart attack, and were much less likely to use drugs to treat their symptoms compared with those who waited longer Intervention at various points in the decision making process could help recognition of symptoms and speed access to effective treatment
PMCID: PMC28510  PMID: 9552909
7.  Markers of Dysglycaemia and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in People without Diabetes: Reykjavik Prospective Study and Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(5):e1000278.
Background
Associations between circulating markers of dysglycaemia and coronary heart disease (CHD) risk in people without diabetes have not been reliably characterised. We report new data from a prospective study and a systematic review to help quantify these associations.
Methods and Findings
Fasting and post-load glucose levels were measured in 18,569 participants in the population-based Reykjavik study, yielding 4,664 incident CHD outcomes during 23.5 y of mean follow-up. In people with no known history of diabetes at the baseline survey, the hazard ratio (HR) for CHD, adjusted for several conventional risk factors, was 2.37 (95% CI 1.79–3.14) in individuals with fasting glucose ≥7.0 mmol/l compared to those <7 mmol/l. At fasting glucose values below 7 mmol/l, adjusted HRs were 0.95 (0.89–1.01) per 1 mmol/l higher fasting glucose and 1.03 (1.01–1.05) per 1 mmol/l higher post-load glucose. HRs for CHD risk were generally modest and nonsignificant across tenths of glucose values below 7 mmol/l. We did a meta-analysis of 26 additional relevant prospective studies identified in a systematic review of Western cohort studies that recorded fasting glucose, post-load glucose, or glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels. In this combined analysis, in which participants with a self-reported history of diabetes and/or fasting blood glucose ≥7 mmol/l at baseline were excluded, relative risks for CHD, adjusted for several conventional risk factors, were: 1.06 (1.00–1.12) per 1 mmol/l higher fasting glucose (23 cohorts, 10,808 cases, 255,171 participants); 1.05 (1.03–1.07) per 1 mmol/l higher post-load glucose (15 cohorts, 12,652 cases, 102,382 participants); and 1.20 (1.10–1.31) per 1% higher HbA1c (9 cohorts, 1639 cases, 49,099 participants).
Conclusions
In the Reykjavik Study and a meta-analysis of other Western prospective studies, fasting and post-load glucose levels were modestly associated with CHD risk in people without diabetes. The meta-analysis suggested a somewhat stronger association between HbA1c levels and CHD risk.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Among people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus (the commonest type of diabetes worldwide), poor management or lack of appropriate treatment can lead to long-term complications resulting from persistently high sugar levels in the blood. The long-term complications of type 2 diabetes are generally divided into two main groups: microvascular problems (such as nerve damage, kidney disease, and eye disorders), and macrovascular disease (such as heart disease, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease). A major goal of diabetes treatment is to keep glucose control as normal as possible through diet, weight control, exercise, and pharmacological treatments. However, it is unclear whether the link between high blood sugar and macrovascular disease (principally heart disease and strokes) also holds for people who have slightly higher than normal blood sugar levels, but in whom this level does not reach the diabetic threshold. Some previous research studies have suggested that a continuous relationship exists between blood sugar level and the risk of heart disease across the spectrum, i.e., below the diabetic threshold as well as above it. If such a relationship were confirmed this might have important implications for the management of high blood sugar levels even among people who would not normally meet the usual definition for a diagnosis of diabetes (the “diabetic threshold”).
Why Was This Study Done?
Studies which examine the risk of serious, but relatively common, outcomes (such as a nonfatal heart attack or fatal heart disease), often suffer from insufficient statistical power: a large number of participants need to be recruited, and followed up over a long time, to find out whether certain factors measured at baseline (e.g., fasting glucose) are indeed associated with a particular outcome (e.g., heart attack) or not during follow up. Given the inconclusive nature of some previous studies in this area, the researchers who carried out this work wanted to gather evidence from a large prospective cohort, and a reappraisal of all existing evidence, in relation to the possible link between high blood sugar and risk of heart disease in people without diabetes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In this study, the researchers report results from a prospective population-based study (in which participants are followed forward in time) from Reykjavik, Iceland. In the study, men and women without history of heart disease aged between 31 and 57 in 1966 were first invited to join the cohort, and were followed forward in time using national registries that recorded deaths (and causes of death), and incidence of heart disease. A total of 8,888 male and 9,681 female participants were recruited. At baseline, laboratory measurements were taken to record blood sugar levels using two different methods: fasting blood glucose and post-load glucose. Among the group of participants, 4,664 people were recorded as having either a nonfatal heart attack or fatal heart disease, during approximately 23 years of follow-up. In addition, the researchers attempted to identify from the published medical literature previous prospective studies conducted in Western populations that had looked at the association between blood sugar levels and risk of coronary heart disease. They requested, and obtained, re-analyses of data conducted in accordance with a common protocol for most of the identified studies and then analysed these, together with the results of the Reykjavik cohort, to produce a summary estimate (meta-analysis) of the association between blood sugar levels and risk of coronary heart disease in people without diabetes.
In the Reykjavik cohort, the researchers confirmed an increased risk of coronary heart disease among individuals with blood sugar above the diabetic threshold, as compared to those below it. However, when they looked at blood sugar in people below the diabetic threshold, they found no evidence that higher levels were strongly linked with greater risk of coronary heart disease. This held for both methods of measuring blood sugar levels (fasting and post-load).
In the meta-analysis, the researchers obtained data for 27 different studies, comprising 303,961 participants and 16,982 cases of heart disease. In this meta-analysis, very small increases in risk of heart disease were found with higher levels of blood sugar, when measured using fasting blood glucose or post-load glucose. However, studies using glycated haemoglobin (a measure of average sugar levels over the past 1–3 months or so) found this measure to be associated with a somewhat higher risk of heart disease.
What Do these Findings Mean?
In this prospective cohort and wider meta-analysis, the researchers did not find evidence of a strong or continuous association between blood sugar levels and risk of heart disease amongst people without diabetes. The prospective study, and analysis of other cohorts, was large, but only looked at participants of European decent, so it is not clear whether the findings will also hold for non-European groups.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000278.
Information is available from the US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse about diabetes, heart disease, and stroke
Centers for Disease Control provides information for the public and professionals about diabetes on their diabetes minisite
Medline Plus encyclopedia has an entry about coronary heart disease
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000278
PMCID: PMC2876150  PMID: 20520805
8.  Evaluating the Quality of Research into a Single Prognostic Biomarker: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of 83 Studies of C-Reactive Protein in Stable Coronary Artery Disease 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(6):e1000286.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis of 83 prognostic studies of C-reactive protein in coronary disease, Hemingway and colleagues find substantial biases, preventing them from drawing clear conclusions relating to the use of this marker in clinical practice.
Background
Systematic evaluations of the quality of research on a single prognostic biomarker are rare. We sought to evaluate the quality of prognostic research evidence for the association of C-reactive protein (CRP) with fatal and nonfatal events among patients with stable coronary disease.
Methods and Findings
We searched MEDLINE (1966 to 2009) and EMBASE (1980 to 2009) and selected prospective studies of patients with stable coronary disease, reporting a relative risk for the association of CRP with death and nonfatal cardiovascular events. We included 83 studies, reporting 61,684 patients and 6,485 outcome events. No study reported a prespecified statistical analysis protocol; only two studies reported the time elapsed (in months or years) between initial presentation of symptomatic coronary disease and inclusion in the study. Studies reported a median of seven items (of 17) from the REMARK reporting guidelines, with no evidence of change over time.
The pooled relative risk for the top versus bottom third of CRP distribution was 1.97 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.78–2.17), with substantial heterogeneity (I2 = 79.5). Only 13 studies adjusted for conventional risk factors (age, sex, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and low-density lipoprotein [LDL] cholesterol) and these had a relative risk of 1.65 (95% CI 1.39–1.96), I2 = 33.7. Studies reported ten different ways of comparing CRP values, with weaker relative risks for those based on continuous measures. Adjusting for publication bias (for which there was strong evidence, Egger's p<0.001) using a validated method reduced the relative risk to 1.19 (95% CI 1.13–1.25). Only two studies reported a measure of discrimination (c-statistic). In 20 studies the detection rate for subsequent events could be calculated and was 31% for a 10% false positive rate, and the calculated pooled c-statistic was 0.61 (0.57–0.66).
Conclusion
Multiple types of reporting bias, and publication bias, make the magnitude of any independent association between CRP and prognosis among patients with stable coronary disease sufficiently uncertain that no clinical practice recommendations can be made. Publication of prespecified statistical analytic protocols and prospective registration of studies, among other measures, might help improve the quality of prognostic biomarker research.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death among adults in developed countries. With age, fatty deposits called atherosclerotic plaques coat the walls of the arteries, the vessels that carry blood to the body's organs. Because they narrow the arteries, atherosclerotic plaques restrict blood flow. If plaques form in the arteries that feed the heart, the result is coronary artery disease, the symptoms of which include shortness of breath and chest pains (angina). If these symptoms only occur during exertion, the condition is called stable coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease can cause potentially fatal heart attacks (myocardial infarctions). A heart attack occurs when a plaque ruptures and a blood clot completely blocks the artery, thereby killing part of the heart. Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood levels of cholesterol (a type of fat), diabetes, and being overweight are risk factors for coronary artery disease. Treatments for the condition include lifestyle changes and medications that lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol. Narrowed arteries can also be widened using a device called a stent or surgically bypassed.
Why Was This Study Done?
Clinicians can predict whether a patient with coronary artery disease is likely to have a heart attack by considering their risk factors. They then use this “prognosis” to help them manage the patient. To provide further help for clinicians, researchers are trying to identify prognostic biomarkers (molecules whose blood levels indicate how a disease might develop) for coronary artery disease. However, before a biomarker can be used clinically, it must be properly validated and there are concerns that there is insufficient high quality evidence to validate many biomarkers. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, the researchers ask whether the evidence for an association between blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP, an inflammatory protein) and subsequent fatal and nonfatal events affecting the heart and circulation (cardiovascular events) among patients with stable coronary artery disease supports the routine measurement of CRP as recommended in clinical practice guidelines. A systematic review uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; a meta-analysis is a statistical method for combining the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 83 studies that investigated the association between CRP levels measured in people with coronary artery disease and subsequent cardiovascular events. Their examination of these studies revealed numerous reporting and publication short-comings. For example, none of the studies reported a prespecified statistical analysis protocol, yet analyses should be prespecified to avoid the choice of analytical method biasing the study's results. Furthermore, on average, the studies only reported seven of the 17 recommended items in the REMARK reporting guidelines, which were designed to improve the reporting quality of tumor biomarker prognostic studies. The meta-analysis revealed that patients with a CRP level in the top third of the distribution were nearly twice as likely to have a cardiovascular event as patients with a CRP in the bottom third of the distribution (a relative risk of 1.97). However, the outcomes varied considerably between studies (heterogeneity) and there was strong evidence for publication bias—most published studies were small and smaller studies were more likely to report higher relative risks. Adjustment for publication bias reduced the relative risk associated with high CRP levels to 1.19. Finally, nearly all the studies failed to calculate whether CRP measurements discriminated between patients likely and unlikely to have a subsequent cardiovascular event.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, because of multiple types of reporting and publication bias, the size of the association between CRP levels and prognosis among patients with stable coronary artery disease is extremely uncertain. They also suggest that CRP measurements are unlikely to add anything to the prognostic discrimination achieved by considering blood pressure and other standard clinical factors among this patient group. Thus, the researchers suggest, the recommendation that CRP measurements should be used in the management of patients with stable coronary artery disease ought to be removed from clinical practice guidelines. More generally, these findings increase concerns about the quality of research into prognostic biomarkers and highlight areas that need to be changed, the most fundamental of which is the need to preregister studies on prognostic biomarkers and their analytic protocols.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000286.
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has pages on coronary artery disease and C-reactive protein (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to other sources of information on heart disease
The American Heart Association provides information for patients and caregivers on all aspects of cardiovascular disease, including information on the role of C-reactive protein in heart disease
Information is available from the British Heart Foundation on heart disease and keeping the heart healthy
Wikipedia has pages on biomarkers and on C-reactive protein (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The EQUATOR network is a resource center for good reporting of health research studies
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000286
PMCID: PMC2879408  PMID: 20532236
9.  A Longitudinal Study of Medicaid Coverage for Tobacco Dependence Treatments in Massachusetts and Associated Decreases in Hospitalizations for Cardiovascular Disease 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(12):e1000375.
Thomas Land and colleagues show that among Massachusetts Medicaid subscribers, use of a comprehensive tobacco cessation pharmacotherapy benefit was followed by a substantial decrease in claims for hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction and acute coronary heart disease.
Background
Insurance coverage of tobacco cessation medications increases their use and reduces smoking prevalence in a population. However, uncertainty about the impact of this coverage on health care utilization and costs is a barrier to the broader adoption of this policy, especially by publicly funded state Medicaid insurance programs. Whether a publicly funded tobacco cessation benefit leads to decreased medical claims for tobacco-related diseases has not been studied. We examined the experience of Massachusetts, whose Medicaid program adopted comprehensive coverage of tobacco cessation medications in July 2006. Over 75,000 Medicaid subscribers used the benefit in the first 2.5 years. On the basis of earlier secondary survey work, it was estimated that smoking prevalence declined among subscribers by 10% during this period.
Methods and Findings
Using claims data, we compared the probability of hospitalization prior to use of the tobacco cessation pharmacotherapy benefit with the probability of hospitalization after benefit use among Massachusetts Medicaid beneficiaries, adjusting for demographics, comorbidities, seasonality, influenza cases, and the implementation of the statewide smoke-free air law using generalized estimating equations. Statistically significant annualized declines of 46% (95% confidence interval 2%–70%) and 49% (95% confidence interval 6%–72%) were observed in hospital admissions for acute myocardial infarction and other acute coronary heart disease diagnoses, respectively. There were no significant decreases in hospitalizations rates for respiratory diagnoses or seven other diagnostic groups evaluated.
Conclusions
Among Massachusetts Medicaid subscribers, use of a comprehensive tobacco cessation pharmacotherapy benefit was associated with a significant decrease in claims for hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction and acute coronary heart disease, but no significant change in hospital claims for other diagnoses. For low-income smokers, removing the barriers to the use of smoking cessation pharmacotherapy has the potential to decrease short-term utilization of hospital services.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the world. Globally, it is responsible for one in ten deaths among adults. In developed countries, the death toll is even higher—in the USA and the UK, for example, one in five deaths are caused by cigarette smoking. In the USA alone, where a fifth of adults smoke, smoking accounts for more than 400,000 deaths every year; globally, smoking causes 5 million deaths per year. On average, smokers die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers, and half of all long-term smokers will die prematurely because of a smoking-related disease. These diseases include lung cancer, other types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung diseases such as chronic airway obstruction, bronchitis, and emphysema. And, for every smoker who dies from one of these smoking-related diseases, another 20 will develop at least one serious disease because of their addiction to tobacco.
Why Was This Study Done?
About half of US smokers try to quit each year but most of these attempts fail. Many experts believe that counseling and/or treatment with tobacco cessation medications such as nicotine replacement products help smokers to quit. In the USA, where health care is paid for through private or state health insurance, there is some evidence that insurance coverage of tobacco cessation medications increases their use and reduces smoking prevalence. However, smoking cessation treatment is poorly covered by US health insurance programs, largely because of uncertainty about the impact of such coverage on health care costs. It is unknown, for example, whether the introduction of publicly funded tobacco cessation benefits decreases claims for treatment for tobacco-related diseases. In this longitudinal study (a study that follows a group of individuals over a period of time), the researchers ask whether the adoption of comprehensive coverage of tobacco cessation medications by the Massachusetts Medicaid program (MassHealth) in July 2006 has affected claims for treatment for tobacco-related diseases. During its first two and half years, more than 75,000 MassHealth subscribers used the tobacco cessation medication benefit and smoking prevalence among subscribers declined by approximately 10% (38.3% to 28.8%).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used MassHealth claims data and a statistical method called generalized estimating equations to compare the probability of hospitalization prior to the use of tobacco cessation medication benefit with the probability of hospitalization after benefit use among MassHealth subscribers. After adjusting for other factors that might have affected hospitalization such as influenza outbreaks and the implementation of the Massachusetts Smoke-Free Workplace Law in July 2004, there was a statistically significant annualized decline in hospital admissions for heart attack of 46% after use of the tobacco cessation medication benefit. That is, the calculated annual rate of admissions for heart attacks was 46% lower after use of the benefit than before among MassHealth beneficiaries. There was also a 49% annualized decline in admissions for coronary atherosclerosis, another smoking-related heart disease. There were no significant changes in hospitalization rates for lung diseases (including asthma, pneumonia, and chronic airway obstruction) or for seven other diagnostic groups.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, among MassHealth subscribers, the use of a tobacco cessation medication benefit was followed by a significant decrease in claims for hospitalization for heart attack and for coronary atherosclerosis but not for other diseases. It does not, however, show that the reduced claims for hospitalization were associated with a reduction in smoking because smoking cessation was not recorded by MassHealth. Furthermore, it is possible that the people who used the tobacco cessation medication benefit shared other characteristics that reduced their chances of hospitalization for heart disease. For example, people using tobacco cessation medication might have been more likely to adhere to prescription schedules for medications such as statins that would also reduce their risk of heart disease. Finally, these findings might be unique to Massachusetts, so similar studies need to be undertaken in other states. Nevertheless, the results of this study suggest that, for low-income smokers, removing financial barriers to the use of smoking cessation medications has the potential to produce short-term decreases in the use of hospital services that will, hopefully, outweigh the costs of comprehensive tobacco cessation medication benefits.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000375.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office on Smoking and Health has information on all aspects of smoking and health, including advice on how to quit
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site provides advice about quitting smoking; more advice on quitting is provided by Smokefree
The American Heart Association provides information on heart disease, including advice on how to quit smoking (in several languages)
Information about MassHealth is available, including information on smoking and tobacco use prevention
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000375
PMCID: PMC3000429  PMID: 21170313
10.  Statins in the Treatment of Chronic Heart Failure: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(8):e333.
Background
The efficacy of statin therapy in patients with established chronic heart failure (CHF) is a subject of much debate.
Methods and Findings
We conducted three systematic literature searches to assess the evidence supporting the prescription of statins in CHF. First, we investigated the participation of CHF patients in randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials designed to evaluate the efficacy of statins in reducing major cardiovascular events and mortality. Second, we assessed the association between serum cholesterol and outcome in CHF. Finally, we evaluated the ability of statin treatment to modify surrogate endpoint parameters in CHF.
Using validated search strategies, we systematically searched PubMed for our three queries. In addition, we searched the reference lists from eligible studies, used the “see related articles” feature for key publications in PubMed, consulted the Cochrane Library, and searched the ISI Web of Knowledge for papers citing key publications.
Search 1 resulted in the retrieval of 47 placebo-controlled clinical statin trials involving more than 100,000 patients. CHF patients had, however, been systematically excluded from these trials. Search 2 resulted in the retrieval of eight studies assessing the relationship between cholesterol levels and outcome in CHF patients. Lower serum cholesterol was consistently associated with increased mortality. Search 3 resulted in the retrieval of 18 studies on the efficacy of statin treatment in CHF. On the whole, these studies reported favorable outcomes for almost all surrogate endpoints.
Conclusions
Since CHF patients have been systematically excluded from randomized, controlled clinical cholesterol-lowering trials, the effect of statin therapy in these patients remains to be established. Currently, two large, randomized, placebo-controlled statin trials are under way to evaluate the efficacy of statin treatment in terms of reducing clinical endpoints in CHF patients in particular.
A systematic review found that patients with heart failure have been excluded from randomised controlled trials on the use of statins. Evidence from other studies on the effectiveness of statins for patients with heart failure is weak and conflicting.
Editors' Summary
Background.
When medical researchers test a drug—or some other treatment—for a particular medical condition, they often decide not to include in their study anyone who has, in addition to the disease they are interested in, certain other health problems. This is because including patients with two or more conditions can complicate the analysis of the results and make it hard to reach firm conclusions. However, excluding patients in this way can result in uncertainty as to whether treatments are effective for anyone who suffers from the disease in question, or just for people like those who took part in the research.
A great deal of research has been conducted with drugs known as statins, which lower cholesterol levels in the blood. (A raised level of cholesterol is known to be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which causes heart attacks and strokes.) As a result of this research, statins have been accepted as effective and safe. They are now, in consequence, among the most commonly prescribed medicines. Heart failure, however, is not the same thing as a heart attack. It is the name given to the condition where the muscles of the heart have become weakened, most often as a result of aging, and the heart becomes gradually less efficient at pumping blood around the body. (Some people with heart failure live for many years, but 70% of those with the condition die within ten years.) It is common for people with cardiovascular disease also to have heart failure. Nevertheless, some researchers who have studied the effects of statins have made the decision not to include in their studies any patients with cardiovascular disease who, in addition, have heart failure.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers in this study were aware that patients with heart failure have often been excluded from statin trials. They felt it was important to assess the available evidence supporting the prescription of statins for such patients. Specifically, they wanted to find out the following: how often have patients with heart failure been included in statin trials, what evidence is available as to whether it is beneficial for patients with heart failure to have low cholesterol, and what evidence is there that prescribing statins helps these patients?
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They did not do any new work involving patients. Instead, they did a very thorough search for all relevant studies of good quality that had already been published and they reviewed the results. “Randomized clinical trials” (RCTs) are the most reliable type of medical research. The researchers found there had been 47 such trials (involving over 100,000 patients) on the use of statins for treating cardiovascular disease, but all these trials had excluded heart failure patients. They found eight studies (which were not RCTs) looking at cholesterol levels and heart failure. These studies found, perhaps surprisingly, that death rates were higher in those patients with heart failure who had low cholesterol. However, they also found 18 studies (again not RCTs) on the use of statins in patients with heart failure. These 18 studies seemed to suggest that statins were of benefit to the patients who received them.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The evidence for or against prescribing statins for people with heart failure is limited, conflicting, and unclear. Further research involving RTCs is necessary. (Two such trials are known to be in progress.)
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030333.
General information about statins is available from the Web site of Patient UK
The American Heart Association Web site is a good source of information about all types of heart disease, including heart attacks and heart failure
For a definition of randomized controlled trials see Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit
More detailed information about the quality of evidence from medical research may be found in the James Lind Library
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030333
PMCID: PMC1551909  PMID: 16933967
11.  Renal Function and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in General Populations: New Prospective Study and Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(9):e270.
Background
End-stage chronic kidney disease is associated with striking excesses of cardiovascular mortality, but it is uncertain to what extent renal function is related to risk of subsequent coronary heart disease (CHD) in apparently healthy adults. This study aims to quantify the association of markers of renal function with CHD risk in essentially general populations.
Methods and Findings
Estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) was calculated using standard prediction equations based on serum creatinine measurements made in 2,007 patients diagnosed with nonfatal myocardial infarction or coronary death during follow-up and in 3,869 people without CHD in the Reykjavik population-based cohort of 18,569 individuals. There were small and nonsignificant odds ratios (ORs) for CHD risk over most of the range in eGFR, except in the lowest category of the lowest fifth (corresponding to values of <60 ml/min/1.73m2), in which the OR was 1.33 (95% confidence interval 1.01–1.75) after adjustment for several established cardiovascular risk factors. Findings from the Reykjavik study were reinforced by a meta-analysis of six previous reports (identified in electronic and other databases) involving a total of 4,720 incident CHD cases (including Reykjavik), which yielded a combined risk ratio of 1.41 (95% confidence interval 1.19–1.68) in individuals with baseline eGFR less than 60 ml/min/1.73m2 compared with those with higher values.
Conclusions
Although there are no strong associations between lower-than-average eGFR and CHD risk in apparently healthy adults over most of the range in renal function, there may be a moderate increase in CHD risk associated with very low eGFR (i.e., renal dysfunction) in the general population. These findings could have implications for the further understanding of CHD and targeting cardioprotective interventions.
John Danesh and colleagues conclude there may be a moderate increase in risk of coronary heart disease associated with very low estimated glomerular filtration rate.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Coronary heart disease (CHD), the leading cause of death in most Western countries, is a “cardiovascular” disease—literally a disorder affecting the heart and/or blood vessels. In CHD, the blood vessels that supply the heart become increasingly narrow. Eventually, the flow of blood to the heart slows or stops, causing chest pains (angina), breathlessness, and heart attacks. Many factors increase the risk of developing CHD and other cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure, high blood levels of cholesterol (a type of fat), or being overweight. Individuals can reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by taking drugs to reduce their blood pressure or cholesterol levels or by making lifestyle changes (so-called cardioprotective interventions). Another important risk factor for cardiovascular disease is end-stage chronic kidney disease (CKD), a condition in which the kidneys stop working. (In healthy people, the kidneys remove waste products and excess fluid from the body.) People with end-stage CKD (which is treated by dialysis) have about a five times higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with healthy people.
Why Was This Study Done?
End-stage CKD is preceded by a gradual loss of kidney function. There is a clear association between non-dialysis–dependent CKD and the incidence of cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks) in people who already have signs of cardiovascular disease. But are people with slightly dysfunctional kidneys (often because of increasing age) but without any obvious cardiovascular disease at greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases than people with fully functional kidneys? If the answer is yes, it might be possible to reduce CHD deaths by minimizing the exposure of people with CKD to other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In this study, the researchers have taken two approaches to answer this question. In a population-based study, they have examined whether there is any association in healthy adults between kidney function measured at the start of the study and incident CHD (the first occurrence of CHD) over subsequent years. In addition, they have systematically searched the published literature for similar studies and combined the results of these studies using statistical methods, a so-called “meta-analysis.”
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between 1967 and 1991, nearly 19,000 middle-aged men and women without a history of heart attacks living in Reykjavik, Iceland, enrolled in a prospective study of cardiovascular disease. Baseline blood samples were taken at enrollment and the participants' health monitored for 20 years on average. The researchers identified 2,007 participants who suffered a nonfatal heart attack or died of CHD during follow-up and 3,869 who remained disease free. They then calculated the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR; a measure of kidney function) for each participant from baseline creatinine measurements (creatinine is a muscle waste product). There was no association between lower-than-average eGFRs and the risk of developing CHD over most of the range of eGFR values. However, people whose eGFR was below approximately 60 units had about a 40% higher risk of developing CHD after allowing for established cardiovascular risk factors than individuals with higher eGFRs. This finding was confirmed by the meta-analysis of six previous studies, which included a further 2,700 incident CHD cases.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that people with an eGFR below about 60 units (the cut-off used to define CKD) may have an increased risk of developing CHD. They also indicate a nonliner association between kidney function and CHD risk. That is, any association with CHD became evident only when the eGFR dropped below about 60 units. These findings need confirming in different ethnic groups and by using more accurate methods to measure eGFRs. Nevertheless, they suggest that improving kidney function across the board is unlikely to have much effect on the overall incidence of CHD. Instead, they suggest that targeting cardioprotective interventions at the one in ten adults in Western countries whose eGFR is below 60 units might be a good way to reduce the burden of CHD.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040270.
MedlinePlus encyclopedia pages on coronary heart disease, chronic kidney failure, and end-stage kidney disease (in English and Spanish).
Information for patients and carers from the American Heart Association on all aspects of heart disease, including prevention of CHD
Information from the British Heart Foundation on heart disease and on keeping the heart healthy
Information on chronic kidney disease from the US National Kidney Foundation, and the US National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearing House (in English and Spanish)
Information on chronic kidney disease from the UK National Kidney Foundation
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040270
PMCID: PMC1961630  PMID: 17803353
12.  Are Markers of Inflammation More Strongly Associated with Risk for Fatal Than for Nonfatal Vascular Events? 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(6):e1000099.
In a secondary analysis of a randomized trial comparing pravastatin versus placebo for the prevention of coronary and cerebral events in an elderly at-risk population, Naveed Sattar and colleagues find that inflammatory markers may be more strongly associated with risk of fatal vascular events than nonfatal vascular events.
Background
Circulating inflammatory markers may more strongly relate to risk of fatal versus nonfatal cardiovascular disease (CVD) events, but robust prospective evidence is lacking. We tested whether interleukin (IL)-6, C-reactive protein (CRP), and fibrinogen more strongly associate with fatal compared to nonfatal myocardial infarction (MI) and stroke.
Methods and Findings
In the Prospective Study of Pravastatin in the Elderly at Risk (PROSPER), baseline inflammatory markers in up to 5,680 men and women aged 70–82 y were related to risk for endpoints; nonfatal CVD (i.e., nonfatal MI and nonfatal stroke [n = 672]), fatal CVD (n = 190), death from other CV causes (n = 38), and non-CVD mortality (n = 300), over 3.2-y follow-up. Elevations in baseline IL-6 levels were significantly (p = 0.0009; competing risks model analysis) more strongly associated with fatal CVD (hazard ratio [HR] for 1 log unit increase in IL-6 1.75, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.44–2.12) than with risk of nonfatal CVD (1.17, 95% CI 1.04–1.31), in analyses adjusted for treatment allocation. The findings were consistent in a fully adjusted model. These broad trends were similar for CRP and, to a lesser extent, for fibrinogen. The results were also similar in placebo and statin recipients (i.e., no interaction). The C-statistic for fatal CVD using traditional risk factors was significantly (+0.017; p<0.0001) improved by inclusion of IL-6 but not so for nonfatal CVD events (p = 0.20).
Conclusions
In PROSPER, inflammatory markers, in particular IL-6 and CRP, are more strongly associated with risk of fatal vascular events than nonfatal vascular events. These novel observations may have important implications for better understanding aetiology of CVD mortality, and have potential clinical relevance.
Please see later in the article for Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—disease that affects the heart and/or the blood vessels—is a common cause of death in developed countries. In the USA, for example, the leading cause of death is coronary heart disease (CHD), a CVD in which narrowing of the heart's blood vessels by “atherosclerotic plaques” (fatty deposits that build up with age) slows the blood supply to the heart and may eventually cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction). Other types of CVD include stroke (in which atherosclerotic plaques interrupt the brain's blood supply) and heart failure (a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body). Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood levels of cholesterol (a type of fat), having diabetes, and being overweight all increase a person's risk of developing CVD. Tools such as the “Framingham risk calculator” take these and other risk factors into account to assess an individual's overall risk of CVD, which can be reduced by taking drugs to reduce blood pressure or cholesterol levels (for example, pravastatin) and by making lifestyle changes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Inflammation (an immune response to injury) in the walls of blood vessels is thought to play a role in the development of atherosclerotic plaques. Consistent with this idea, several epidemiological studies (investigations of the causes and distribution of disease in populations) have shown that people with high circulating levels of markers of inflammation such as interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP), and fibrinogen are more likely to have a stroke or a heart attack (a CVD event) than people with low levels of these markers. Although these studies have generally lumped together fatal and nonfatal CVD events, some evidence suggests that circulating inflammatory markers may be more strongly associated with fatal than with nonfatal CVD events. If this is the case, the mechanisms that lead to fatal and nonfatal CVD events may be subtly different and knowing about these differences could improve both the prevention and treatment of CVD. In this study, the researchers investigate this possibility using data collected in the Prospective Study of Pravastatin in the Elderly at Risk (PROSPER; a trial that examined pravastatin's effect on CVD development among 70–82 year olds with pre-existing CVD or an increased risk of CVD because of smoking, high blood pressure, or diabetes).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used several statistical models to examine the association between baseline levels of IL-6, CRP, and fibrinogen in the trial participants and nonfatal CVD events (nonfatal heart attacks and nonfatal strokes), fatal CVD events, death from other types of CVD, and deaths from other causes during 3.2 years of follow-up. Increased levels of all three inflammatory markers were more strongly associated with fatal CVD than with nonfatal CVD after adjustment for treatment allocation and for other established CVD risk factors but this pattern was strongest for IL-6. Thus, a unit increase in the log of IL-6 levels increased the risk of fatal CVD by half but increased the risk of nonfatal CVD by significantly less. The researchers also investigated whether including these inflammatory markers in tools designed to predict an individual's CVD risk could improve the tool's ability to distinguish between individuals with a high and low risk. The addition of IL-6 to established risk factors, they report, increased this discriminatory ability for fatal CVD but not for nonfatal CVD.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, at least for the elderly at-risk patients who were included in PROSPER, inflammatory markers are more strongly associated with the risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke than with nonfatal CVD events. These findings need to be confirmed in younger populations and larger studies also need to be done to discover whether the same association holds when fatal heart attacks and fatal strokes are considered separately. Nevertheless, the present findings suggest that inflammation may specifically help to promote the development of serious, potentially fatal CVD and should stimulate improved research into the use of inflammation markers to predict risk of deaths from CVD.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000099.
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has pages on coronary heart disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to many other sources of information on heart diseases, vascular diseases, and stroke (in English and Spanish)
Information for patients and caregivers is provided by the American Heart Association on all aspects of cardiovascular disease, including information on inflammation and heart disease
Information is available from the British Heart Foundation on heart disease and keeping the heart healthy
More information about PROSPER is available on the Web site of the Vascular Biochemistry Department of the University of Glasgow
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000099
PMCID: PMC2694359  PMID: 19554082
13.  Reduced Glomerular Filtration Rate and Its Association with Clinical Outcome in Older Patients at Risk of Vascular Events: Secondary Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(1):e1000016.
Background
Reduced glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is associated with increased cardiovascular risk in young and middle aged individuals. Associations with cardiovascular disease and mortality in older people are less clearly established. We aimed to determine the predictive value of the GFR for mortality and morbidity using data from the 5,804 participants randomized in the Prospective Study of Pravastatin in the Elderly at Risk (PROSPER).
Methods and Findings
Glomerular filtration rate was estimated (eGFR) using the Modification of Diet in Renal Disease equation and was categorized in the ranges ([20–40], [40–50], [50–60]) ≥ 60 ml/min/1.73 m2. Baseline risk factors were analysed by category of eGFR, with and without adjustment for other risk factors. The associations between baseline eGFR and morbidity and mortality outcomes, accrued after an average of 3.2 y, were investigated using Cox proportional hazard models adjusting for traditional risk factors. We tested for evidence of an interaction between the benefit of statin treatment and baseline eGFR status. Age, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, C-reactive protein (CRP), body mass index, fasting glucose, female sex, histories of hypertension and vascular disease were associated with eGFR (p = 0.001 or less) after adjustment for other risk factors. Low eGFR was independently associated with risk of all cause mortality, vascular mortality, and other noncancer mortality and with fatal and nonfatal coronary and heart failure events (hazard ratios adjusted for CRP and other risk factors (95% confidence intervals [CIs]) for eGFR < 40 ml/min/1.73m2 relative to eGFR ≥ 60 ml/min/1.73m2 respectively 2.04 (1.48–2.80), 2.37 (1.53–3.67), 3.52 (1.78–6.96), 1.64 (1.18–2.27), 3.31 (2.03–5.41). There were no nominally statistically significant interactions (p < 0.05) between randomized treatment allocation and eGFR for clinical outcomes, with the exception of the outcome of coronary heart disease death or nonfatal myocardial infarction (p = 0.021), with the interaction suggesting increased benefit of statin treatment in subjects with impaired GFRs.
Conclusions
We have established that, in an elderly population over the age of 70 y, impaired GFR is associated with female sex, with presence of vascular disease, and with levels of other risk factors that would be associated with increased risk of vascular disease. Further, impaired GFR is independently associated with significant levels of increased risk of all cause mortality and fatal vascular events and with composite fatal and nonfatal coronary and heart failure outcomes. Our analyses of the benefits of statin treatment in relation to baseline GFR suggest that there is no reason to exclude elderly patients with impaired renal function from treatment with a statin.
Using data from the PROSPER trial, Ian Ford and colleagues investigate whether reduced glomerular filtration rate is associated with cardiovascular and mortality risk among elderly people.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—disease that affects the heart and/or the blood vessels—is a common cause of death in developed countries. In the USA, for example, the single leading cause of death is coronary heart disease, a CVD in which narrowing of the heart's blood vessels slows or stops the blood supply to the heart and eventually causes a heart attack. Other types of CVD include stroke (in which narrowing of the blood vessels interrupts the brain's blood supply) and heart failure (a condition in which the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body). Many factors increase the risk of developing CVD, including high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood cholesterol, having diabetes, smoking, and being overweight. Tools such as the “Framingham risk calculator” assess an individual's overall CVD risk by taking these and other risk factors into account. CVD risk can be minimized by taking drugs to reduce blood pressure or cholesterol levels (for example, pravastatin) and by making lifestyle changes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Another potential risk factor for CVD is impaired kidney (renal) function. In healthy people, the kidneys filter waste products and excess fluid out of the blood. A reduced “estimated glomerular filtration rate” (eGFR), which indicates impaired renal function, is associated with increased CVD in young and middle-aged people and increased all-cause and cardiovascular death in people who have vascular disease. But is reduced eGFR also associated with CVD and death in older people? If it is, it would be worth encouraging elderly people with reduced eGFR to avoid other CVD risk factors. In this study, the researchers determine the predictive value of eGFR for all-cause and vascular mortality (deaths caused by CVD) and for incident vascular events (a first heart attack, stroke, or heart failure) using data from the Prospective Study of Pravastatin in the Elderly at Risk (PROSPER). This clinical trial examined pravastatin's effects on CVD development among 70–82 year olds with pre-existing vascular disease or an increased risk of CVD because of smoking, hypertension, or diabetes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The trial participants were divided into four groups based on their eGFR at the start of the study. The researchers then investigated the association between baseline CVD risk factors and baseline eGFR and between baseline eGFR and vascular events and deaths that occurred during the 3-year study. Several established CVD risk factors were associated with a reduced eGFR after allowing for other risk factors. In addition, people with a low eGFR (between 20 and 40 units) were twice as likely to die from any cause as people with an eGFR above 60 units (the normal eGFR for a young person is 100 units; eGFR decreases with age) and more than three times as likely to have nonfatal coronary heart disease or heart failure. A low eGFR also increased the risk of vascular mortality, other noncancer deaths, and fatal coronary heart disease and heart failure. Finally, pravastatin treatment reduced coronary heart disease deaths and nonfatal heart attacks most effectively among participants with the greatest degree of eGFR impairment.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, in elderly people, impaired renal function is associated with levels of established CVD risk factors that increase the risk of vascular disease. They also suggest that impaired kidney function increases the risk of all-cause mortality, fatal vascular events, and fatal and nonfatal coronary heat disease and heart failure. Because the study participants were carefully chosen for inclusion in PROSPER, these findings may not be generalizable to all elderly people with vascular disease or vascular disease risk factors. Nevertheless, increased efforts should probably be made to encourage elderly people with reduced eGFR and other vascular risk factors to make lifestyle changes to reduce their overall CVD risk. Finally, although the effect of statins in elderly patients with renal dysfunction needs to be examined further, these findings suggest that this group of patients should benefit at least as much from statins as elderly patients with healthy kidneys.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000016.
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia has pages on coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart failure (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to many other sources of information on heart disease, vascular disease, and stroke (in English and Spanish)
The US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provides information on how the kidneys work and what can go wrong with them, including a list of links to further information about kidney disease
The American Heart Association provides information on all aspects of cardiovascular disease for patients, caregivers, and professionals (in several languages)
More information about PROSPER is available on the Web site of the Vascular Biochemistry Department of the University of Glasgow
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000016
PMCID: PMC2628400  PMID: 19166266
14.  Cardiac Complications in Patients with Community-Acquired Pneumonia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(6):e1001048.
Vicente Corrales-Medina and colleagues report estimates of the risk of cardiac complications among patients with community-acquired pneumonia from a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Background
Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. CAP can trigger acute cardiac events. We sought to determine the incidence of major cardiac complications in CAP patients to characterize the magnitude of this problem.
Methods and Findings
Two investigators searched MEDLINE, Scopus, and EMBASE for observational studies of immunocompetent adults with clinical and radiological evidence of CAP that reported any of the following: overall cardiac complications, incident heart failure, acute coronary syndromes (ACS), or incident cardiac arrhythmias occurring within 30 days of CAP diagnosis. At a minimum, studies had to establish enrolment procedures and inclusion and exclusion criteria, enrol their patients sequentially, and report the incidence of cardiac complications as a function of their entire cohorts. Studies with focus on nosocomial or health care–associated pneumonia were not included. Review of 2,176 citations yielded 25 articles that met eligibility and minimum quality criteria. Seventeen articles (68%) reported cohorts of CAP inpatients. In this group, the pooled incidence rates for overall cardiac complications (six cohorts, 2,119 patients), incident heart failure (eights cohorts, 4,215 patients), acute coronary syndromes (six cohorts, 2,657 patients), and incident cardiac arrhythmias (six cohorts, 2,596 patients), were 17.7% (confidence interval [CI] 13.9–22.2), 14.1% (9.3–20.6), 5.3% (3.2–8.6), and 4.7% (2.4–8.9), respectively. One article reported cardiac complications in CAP outpatients, four in low-risk (not severely ill) inpatients, and three in high-risk inpatients. The incidences for all outcomes except overall cardiac complications were lower in the two former groups and higher in the latter. One additional study reported on CAP outpatients and low-risk inpatients without discriminating between these groups. Twelve studies (48%) asserted the evaluation of cardiac complications in their methods but only six (24%) provided a definition for them. Only three studies, all examining ACS, carried out risk factor analysis for these events. No study analyzed the association between cardiac complications and other medical complications or their impact on other CAP outcomes.
Conclusions
Major cardiac complications occur in a substantial proportion of patients with CAP. Physicians and patients need to appreciate the significance of this association for timely recognition and management of these events. Strategies aimed at preventing pneumonia (i.e., influenza and pneumococcal vaccination) in high-risk populations need to be optimized. Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying this association, measure the impact of cardiac complications on other CAP outcomes, identify those patients with CAP at high risk of developing cardiac complications, and design strategies to prevent their occurrence in this population.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), that is, pneumonia infections contracted outside of hospital or health care settings, is a common condition and can be fatal, particularly to older people. For example, every year, an estimated 5–6 million people contract this form of pneumonia in the US, leading to 1.1 million people being admitted to hospitals and causing 60,000 deaths—the most frequent cause of infectious disease-related mortality. In the US for example, more than half of older patients who present to the hospital with CAP have preexisting chronic cardiac conditions—an important fact given that acute infections, such as CAP, can affect the cardiovascular system in various ways and precipitate acute cardiac events, such as heart failure, heart attacks, and cardiac arrhythmias.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although it is bio-medically plausible that a considerable proportion of patients with CAP have cardiac complications, systematic data on the scale of this potential problem are lacking—a concerning omission given the important implications for health policy-making and direct patient care. Therefore, in this study, the researchers conducted a systematic review to examine the published literature on cardiac complications in patients with CAP in order to characterize the nature and significance of this association, and to identify areas that require further research and investigation.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched MEDLINE, Scopus, and EMBASE for all relevant articles published in English, French, or Spanish languages until June 2010. The researchers used strict criteria to select appropriate articles (such as radiographic evidence of CAP) and only selected studies that had outcomes of the incidence of cardiac complications, such as incident (new or worsening) heart failure, acute coronary syndromes (acute myocardial infarction or unstable angina), and incident cardiac arrhythmias within 30 days of diagnosis of CAP.
Using these methods, the researchers identified 2,176 articles for review and selected 25 eligible papers for their analysis. Seventeen articles (68%) reported cohorts of CAP inpatients. In this group, the pooled incidence rates of overall cardiac complications (six cohorts, 2,119 patients), incident heart failure (eight cohorts, 4,215 patients), acute coronary syndromes (six cohorts, 2,657 patients), and incident cardiac arrhythmias (six cohorts, 2,596 patients), were 17.7%, 14.1%, 5.3%, and 4.7% respectively. Only three studies, (all of acute coronary syndromes) did risk factor analysis for these events. Possible risk factors identified included older age, preexisting congestive heart failure, severity of pneumonia, and the use of insulin by glucose sliding scales in hospitalized patients. No study analyzed the association between cardiac complications and other medical complications (such as acute renal failure, respiratory failure, shock, etc.) or their impact on other outcomes, such as death, in patients with CAP.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although limited to a mostly descriptive analysis, these findings clearly show that major cardiac complications occur in a significant proportion of patients with CAP, especially in those admitted to hospital. These findings have important clinical and public health implications. Clinicians should be more aware of the significance of the association between CAP and cardiac complications to better inform, treat, and manage patients. Physicians and health officials need to increase efforts to optimize the rates of influenza and pneumococcal vaccination among older people and those with chronic cardiac conditions to reduce the incidence of CAP in these high-risk populations. There needs to be more consideration given to the potential impact of cardiac complications on mortality and costs associated with CAP. Finally, these findings highlight the need for prospective, well-designed, and adequately powered studies of cardiac complications in patients with CAP. More research attention should be given to this important area in order to improve the outcomes for patients with CAP and to decrease the consequent burden on health care systems through recognition of risk, prevention, and intervention on acute cardiac complications.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001048.
Information can be found on Wikipedia on community-acquired pneumonia (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control provide patient information on community-acquired pneumonia
The American Heart Association provides information on heart failure, acute coronary syndromes, and arrhythmias
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001048
PMCID: PMC3125176  PMID: 21738449
15.  Unrecognized Non-Q-Wave Myocardial Infarction: Prevalence and Prognostic Significance in Patients with Suspected Coronary Disease 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(4):e1000057.
Using delayed-enhancement cardiovascular magnetic resonance, Han Kim and colleagues show that in patients with suspected coronary disease the prevalence of unrecognized myocardial infarction without Q-waves is more than 3-fold higher than that with Q-waves and predicts subsequent mortality.
Background
Unrecognized myocardial infarction (UMI) is known to constitute a substantial portion of potentially lethal coronary heart disease. However, the diagnosis of UMI is based on the appearance of incidental Q-waves on 12-lead electrocardiography. Thus, the syndrome of non-Q-wave UMI has not been investigated. Delayed-enhancement cardiovascular magnetic resonance (DE-CMR) can identify MI, even when small, subendocardial, or without associated Q-waves. The aim of this study was to investigate the prevalence and prognosis associated with non-Q-wave UMI identified by DE-CMR.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a prospective study of 185 patients with suspected coronary disease and without history of clinical myocardial infarction who were scheduled for invasive coronary angiography. Q-wave UMI was determined by electrocardiography (Minnesota Code). Non-Q-wave UMI was identified by DE-CMR in the absence of electrocardiographic Q-waves. Patients were followed to determine the prognostic significance of non-Q-wave UMI. The primary endpoint was all-cause mortality. The prevalence of non-Q-wave UMI was 27% (50/185), compared with 8% (15/185) for Q-wave UMI. Patients with non-Q-wave UMI were older, were more likely to have diabetes, and had higher Framingham risk than those without MI, but were similar to those with Q-wave UMI. Infarct size in non-Q-wave UMI was modest (8%±7% of left ventricular mass), and left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) by cine-CMR was usually preserved (52%±18%). The prevalence of non-Q-wave UMI increased with the extent and severity of coronary disease on angiography (p<0.0001 for both). Over 2.2 y (interquartile range 1.8–2.7), 16 deaths occurred: 13 in non-Q-wave UMI patients (26%), one in Q-wave UMI (7%), and two in patients without MI (2%). Multivariable analysis including New York Heart Association class and LVEF demonstrated that non-Q-wave UMI was an independent predictor of all-cause mortality (hazard ratio [HR] 11.4, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.5–51.1) and cardiac mortality (HR 17.4, 95% CI 2.2–137.4).
Conclusions
In patients with suspected coronary disease, the prevalence of non-Q-wave UMI is more than 3-fold higher than Q-wave UMI. The presence of non-Q-wave UMI predicts subsequent mortality, and is incremental to LVEF.
Trial Registration
Clinicaltrials.gov NCT00493168
Editors' Summary
Background
Coronary artery disease (CAD; also called coronary heart disease) is the leading cause of death among adults in developed countries. In the USA alone, it kills nearly half a million people every year. CAD is caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients. With age, fatty deposits (atherosclerotic plaques) coat the walls of these arteries and restrict the heart's blood supply, which causes the characteristic symptoms of CAD—angina (chest pains that are usually relieved by rest) and shortness of breath. In addition, if a plaque breaks off the wall of a coronary artery, it can completely block that artery and kill part of the heart, which causes a potentially fatal heart attack (doctors call this a myocardial infarction or MI). Heart attacks are often characterized by long-lasting chest pain that is not relieved by rest. Risk factors for CAD include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood levels of cholesterol (a type of fat), and being overweight. Treatments for the condition include lifestyle changes (for example, losing weight), and medications that lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol. The narrowed arteries can also be widened using a device called a stent or surgically bypassed.
Why Was This Study Done?
Not everyone who has a heart attack has chest pain. In fact, some studies suggest that 40–60% of MIs have no obvious symptoms. It is important, however, that these “unrecognized” MIs (UMIs) are diagnosed because they have death rates similar to those of MIs with clinical symptoms and need to be treated in a similar way. Traditionally, UMIs have been diagnosed using an electrocardiogram (ECG). When the heart beats, it generates small electric waves that can be picked up by electrodes attached to the skin. The pattern of these waves (the ECG) provides information about the heart's health. Alterations in the ECG, leading to so-called Q-waves, indicate that a UMI has occurred some time previously. However, not all UMIs result in Q-waves. In this study, the researchers use a recently developed technique—delayed enhancement cardiovascular magnetic resonance (DE-CMR), which can detect heart damage even in patients whose Q-waves are absent—to measure the prevalence (the fraction of a population that has a disorder) of non-Q-wave UMI. The researchers also investigate whether non-Q-wave UMI increases the risk of death.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used electrocardiography and DE-CMR to look for Q-wave and non-Q-wave UMI, respectively, in 185 patients with suspected CAD but no history of MI. They then followed the patients for 2 years to discover whether a diagnosis of non-Q-wave UMI predicted their likelihood of dying from any cause or from a heart problem. 27% of the patients had evidence of non-Q-wave UMI whereas only 8% had evidence of Q-wave UMI. Patients with non-Q-wave UMI tended to have only a small area of heart damage and, consistent with this limited damage, their hearts pumped near-normal volumes of blood. Examination of the patients' arteries with a technique called coronary angiography indicated that the patients with widespread and/or severe CAD had a higher prevalence of non-Q-wave UMI than those with limited CAD. Finally, patients with non-Q-wave UMI had an 11-fold higher risk of death from any cause and a 17-fold higher risk of death from a heart problem than patients without UMI.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that non-Q-wave UMI occurs more than 3-times as often in patients with suspected CAD than Q-wave UMI and that patients with non-Q-wave UMI have a much greater risk of dying than patients without MI. Thus, if all cases of UMI—both Q-wave and non-Q-wave UMI—could be identified, it might be possible to reduce the number of deaths among people with CAD. However, before any recommendations are made to include DE-CMR in the routine examination of people with suspected CAD to achieve this aim, additional studies must be undertaken to confirm that non-Q-wave UMI is a common feature of CAD and to test whether the early diagnosis of non-Q-wave UMI does extend the life expectancy of people with CAD.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000057.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Clara Chow
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and electrocardiograms (in English and Spanish). MedlinePlus also provides links to further information on all aspects of heart disease (in English and Spanish)
Information is available from the US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute on coronary heart disease
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides information about coronary heart disease (in several languages).
The Nobel Foundation provides an interactive electrocardiogram game
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000057
PMCID: PMC2661255  PMID: 19381280
16.  Effects of Intensive Blood Pressure Lowering on Cardiovascular and Renal Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001293.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis Vlado Perkovic and colleagues investigate whether more intensive blood pressure lowering regimens are associated with greater reductions in the risk of major cardiovascular events and end stage kidney disease.
Background
Guidelines recommend intensive blood pressure (BP) lowering in patients at high risk. While placebo-controlled trials have demonstrated 22% reductions in coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke associated with a 10-mmHg difference in systolic BP, it is unclear if more intensive BP lowering strategies are associated with greater reductions in risk of CHD and stroke. We did a systematic review to assess the effects of intensive BP lowering on vascular, eye, and renal outcomes.
Methods and Findings
We systematically searched Medline, Embase, and the Cochrane Library for trials published between 1950 and July 2011. We included trials that randomly assigned individuals to different target BP levels.
We identified 15 trials including a total of 37,348 participants. On average there was a 7.5/4.5-mmHg BP difference. Intensive BP lowering achieved relative risk (RR) reductions of 11% for major cardiovascular events (95% CI 1%–21%), 13% for myocardial infarction (0%–25%), 24% for stroke (8%–37%), and 11% for end stage kidney disease (3%–18%). Intensive BP lowering regimens also produced a 10% reduction in the risk of albuminuria (4%–16%), and a trend towards benefit for retinopathy (19%, 0%–34%, p = 0.051) in patients with diabetes. There was no clear effect on cardiovascular or noncardiovascular death. Intensive BP lowering was well tolerated; with serious adverse events uncommon and not significantly increased, except for hypotension (RR 4.16, 95% CI 2.25 to 7.70), which occurred infrequently (0.4% per 100 person-years).
Conclusions
Intensive BP lowering regimens provided greater vascular protection than standard regimens that was proportional to the achieved difference in systolic BP, but did not have any clear impact on the risk of death or serious adverse events. Further trials are required to more clearly define the risks and benefits of BP targets below those currently recommended, given the benefits suggested by the currently available data.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
About a third of US and UK adults have high blood pressure (hypertension). Although hypertension has no obvious symptoms, it can lead to heart attacks, stroke, and other forms of cardiovascular disease, to kidney failure, and to retinopathy (blindness caused by damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye). Hypertension is diagnosed by measuring blood pressure (BP)—the force that blood moving around the body exerts on the inside of large blood vessels. BP is highest when the heart is pumping out blood (systolic BP) and lowest when it is refilling with blood (diastolic BP). A normal adult BP is defined as a systolic BP of less than 130 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and a diastolic BP of less than 85 mmHg (a BP of 130/85). A reading of more than 140/90 indicates hypertension. Many factors affect BP, but overweight people and individuals who eat fatty or salty food are at high risk of developing hypertension. Mild hypertension can be corrected by making lifestyle changes, but people often take antihypertensive drugs to reduce their BP.
Why Was This Study Done?
Doctors usually try to reduce the BP of their hypertensive patients to 140/90 mmHg. However, some treatment guidelines now advocate a target BP of 130/80 mmHg for individuals at high risk of life-threatening cardiovascular events, such as people with diabetes or kidney impairment. But does more intensive BP lowering actually reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke? Although placebo-controlled randomized trials of BP lowering have suggested that a 10 mmHg fall in systolic BP is associated with a 22% reduction in the risk in coronary heart disease and a 41% reduction in the risk of stroke, it is unclear whether intensive BP lowering strategies are associated with greater reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease than standard strategies. In this systematic review (a search that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of studies), the researchers investigate the effects of intensive BP lowering on cardiovascular, eye, and renal outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 15 randomized controlled trials in which more than 37,000 participants were randomly assigned to antihypertensive drug-based strategies designed to achieve different target BPs. On average, the more intensive strategies reduced the BP of participants by 7.5/4.5 mmHg more than the less intensive strategies. Compared to standard BP lowering strategies, more intensive BP lowering strategies reduced the risk of major cardiovascular events (a composite endpoint comprising heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and cardiovascular death) by 11%, the risk of heart attack by 13%, the risk of stroke by 24%, the risk of end-stage kidney disease by 11%, and the risk of albuminuria (protein in the urine, a sign of kidney damage) by 10%. There was also a trend towards a reduced risk for retinopathy with more intensive BP lowering but no clear reduction in cardiovascular or noncardiovascular deaths. Finally, aiming for a lower BP target did not increase the rate of drug discontinuation or the risk of serious adverse events apart from hypotension (very low BP).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, although intensive BP lowering regimens have no clear effect on the risk of death, they may provide greater protection against cardiovascular events than standard BP lowering regimens. Indeed, the researchers calculate that among every thousand hypertensive patients with a high cardiovascular risk, more intensive BP lowering could prevent two of the 20 cardiovascular events expected to happen every year. Although intensive BP lowering did not seem to increase the risk of severe adverse effects, the accuracy of this finding is limited by inconsistent reporting of adverse events in the trials included in this study. Moreover, because most of the trial participants had additional risk factors for cardiovascular events such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease, these findings may not be generalizable to people with hypertension alone. Thus, although this study suggests that a target BP of 130/80 is likely to produce an additional overall benefit compared to a target of 140/90, more trials are needed to confirm this conclusion and to determine the best way to reach the lower target.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001293.
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has patient information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
The American Heart Association provides information on high blood pressure and on cardiovascular diseases (in several languages); it also provides personal stories from people dealing with high blood pressure
The UK National Health Service (NHS) Choices website also provides detailed information for patients about hypertension, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease; the NHS Local website has a collection of personal stories about hypertension and a series of films that explain hypertension
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001293
PMCID: PMC3424246  PMID: 22927798
17.  Analysing Recent Socioeconomic Trends in Coronary Heart Disease Mortality in England, 2000–2007: A Population Modelling Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(6):e1001237.
A modeling study conducted by Madhavi Bajekal and colleagues estimates the extent to which specific risk factors and changes in uptake of treatment contributed to the declines in coronary heart disease mortality in England between 2000 and 2007, across and within socioeconomic groups.
Background
Coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality in England fell by approximately 6% every year between 2000 and 2007. However, rates fell differentially between social groups with inequalities actually widening. We sought to describe the extent to which this reduction in CHD mortality was attributable to changes in either levels of risk factors or treatment uptake, both across and within socioeconomic groups.
Methods and Findings
A widely used and replicated epidemiological model was used to synthesise estimates stratified by age, gender, and area deprivation quintiles for the English population aged 25 and older between 2000 and 2007. Mortality rates fell, with approximately 38,000 fewer CHD deaths in 2007. The model explained about 86% (95% uncertainty interval: 65%–107%) of this mortality fall. Decreases in major cardiovascular risk factors contributed approximately 34% (21%–47%) to the overall decline in CHD mortality: ranging from about 44% (31%–61%) in the most deprived to 29% (16%–42%) in the most affluent quintile. The biggest contribution came from a substantial fall in systolic blood pressure in the population not on hypertension medication (29%; 18%–40%); more so in deprived (37%) than in affluent (25%) areas. Other risk factor contributions were relatively modest across all social groups: total cholesterol (6%), smoking (3%), and physical activity (2%). Furthermore, these benefits were partly negated by mortality increases attributable to rises in body mass index and diabetes (−9%; −17% to −3%), particularly in more deprived quintiles. Treatments accounted for approximately 52% (40%–70%) of the mortality decline, equitably distributed across all social groups. Lipid reduction (14%), chronic angina treatment (13%), and secondary prevention (11%) made the largest medical contributions.
Conclusions
The model suggests that approximately half the recent CHD mortality fall in England was attributable to improved treatment uptake. This benefit occurred evenly across all social groups. However, opposing trends in major risk factors meant that their net contribution amounted to just over a third of the CHD deaths averted; these also varied substantially by socioeconomic group. Powerful and equitable evidence-based population-wide policy interventions exist; these should now be urgently implemented to effectively tackle persistent inequalities.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Coronary heart disease is a chronic medical condition in which the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle become narrowed or even blocked by fatty deposits on the inner linings of the blood vessels—a process known as arthrosclerosis; this restricts blood flow to the heart, and if the blood vessels completely occlude, it may cause a heart attack. Lifestyle behaviors, such as unhealthy diets high in saturated fat, smoking, and physical inactivity, are the main risk factors for coronary heart disease, so efforts to reduce this condition are directed towards these factors. Global rates of coronary heart disease are increasing and the World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, it will be the biggest cause of death worldwide. However, in high-income countries, such as England, deaths due to coronary heart disease have actually fallen substantially over the past few decades with an accelerated reduction in annual death rates since 2000.
Why Was This Study Done?
Socioeconomic factors play an important role in chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, with mortality rates almost twice as high in deprived than affluent areas. However, the potential effect of population-wide interventions on reducing inequalities in deaths from coronary heart disease remains unclear. So in this study, the researchers investigated the role of behavioral (changing lifestyle) and medical (treatments) management of coronary heart disease that contributed to the decrease in deaths in England for the period 2000–2007, within and between socioeconomic groups.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a well-known, tried and tested epidemiological model (IMPACT) but adapted it to include socioeconomic inequalities to analyze the total population of England aged 25 and older in 2000 and in 2007. The researchers included all the major risk factors for coronary heart disease plus 45 current medical and surgical treatments in their model. They used the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2007 as a proxy indicator of socioeconomic circumstances of residents in neighborhoods. Using the postal code of residence, the researchers matched deaths from, and patients treated for, coronary heart disease to the corresponding deprivation category (quintile). Changes in risk factor levels in each quintile were also calculated using the Health Survey for England. Using their model, the researchers calculated the total number of deaths prevented or postponed for each deprivation quintile by measuring the difference between observed deaths in 2007 and expected deaths based on 2000 data, if age, sex, and deprivation quintile death rates had remained the same.
The researchers found that between 2000 and 2007, death rates from coronary heart disease fell from 229 to 147 deaths per 100,000—a decrease of 36%. Both death rates and the number of deaths were lowest in the most affluent quintile and the pace of fall was also faster, decreasing by 6.7% per year compared to just 4.9% in the most deprived quintile. Furthermore, the researchers found that overall, about half of the decrease in death rates was attributable to improvements in uptake of medical and surgical treatments. The contribution of medical treatments to the deaths averted was very similar across all quintiles, ranging from 50% in the most affluent quintile to 53% in the most deprived. Risk factor changes accounted for approximately a third fewer deaths in 2007 than occurred in 2000, but were responsible for a smaller proportion of deaths prevented in the most affluent quintile compared with the most deprived (approximately 29% versus 44%, respectively). However, the benefits of improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and physical activity were partly negated by rises in body mass index and diabetes, particularly in more deprived quintiles.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that approximately half the recent substantial fall in deaths from coronary heart disease in England was attributable to improved treatment uptake across all social groups; this is consistent with equitable service delivery across the UK's National Health Service. However, opposing trends in major risk factors, which varied substantially by socioeconomic group, meant that their net contribution accounted for just a third of deaths averted. Other countries have implemented effective, evidence-based interventions to tackle lifestyle risk factors; the most powerful measures involve legislation, regulation, taxation, or subsidies, all of which tend to be equitable. Such measures should be urgently implemented in England to effectively tackle persistent inequalities in deaths due to coronary heart disease.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001237.
The World Health Organization has information about the global statistics of coronary heart disease
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute provides a patient-friendly description of coronary heart disease
The National Heart Forum is the leading UK organization facilitating the prevention of coronary heart disease and other chronic diseases
The British Heart Foundation supports research and promotes preventative activity
Heart of Mersey is the UK's largest regional organization promoting the prevention of coronary heart disease and other chronic diseases
More information about the social determinants of health is available from WHO
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001237
PMCID: PMC3373639  PMID: 22719232
18.  Effects on Coronary Heart Disease of Increasing Polyunsaturated Fat in Place of Saturated Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000252.
Dariush Mozaffarian and colleagues conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to investigate the effect of consuming polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats for lowering the risk of coronary heart disease.
Background
Reduced saturated fat (SFA) consumption is recommended to reduce coronary heart disease (CHD), but there is an absence of strong supporting evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of clinical CHD events and few guidelines focus on any specific replacement nutrient. Additionally, some public health groups recommend lowering or limiting polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) consumption, a major potential replacement for SFA.
Methods and Findings
We systematically investigated and quantified the effects of increased PUFA consumption, as a replacement for SFA, on CHD endpoints in RCTs. RCTs were identified by systematic searches of multiple online databases through June 2009, grey literature sources, hand-searching related articles and citations, and direct contacts with experts to identify potentially unpublished trials. Studies were included if they randomized participants to increased PUFA for at least 1 year without major concomitant interventions, had an appropriate control group, and reported incidence of CHD (myocardial infarction and/or cardiac death). Inclusions/exclusions were adjudicated and data were extracted independently and in duplicate by two investigators and included population characteristics, control and intervention diets, follow-up duration, types of events, risk ratios, and SEs. Pooled effects were calculated using inverse-variance-weighted random effects meta-analysis. From 346 identified abstracts, eight trials met inclusion criteria, totaling 13,614 participants with 1,042 CHD events. Average weighted PUFA consumption was 14.9% energy (range 8.0%–20.7%) in intervention groups versus 5.0% energy (range 4.0%–6.4%) in controls. The overall pooled risk reduction was 19% (RR = 0.81, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.70–0.95, p = 0.008), corresponding to 10% reduced CHD risk (RR = 0.90, 95% CI = 0.83–0.97) for each 5% energy of increased PUFA, without evidence for statistical heterogeneity (Q-statistic p = 0.13; I2 = 37%). Meta-regression identified study duration as an independent determinant of risk reduction (p = 0.017), with studies of longer duration showing greater benefits.
Conclusions
These findings provide evidence that consuming PUFA in place of SFA reduces CHD events in RCTs. This suggests that rather than trying to lower PUFA consumption, a shift toward greater population PUFA consumption in place of SFA would significantly reduce rates of CHD.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death among adults in developed countries. It is caused by disease of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients. With age, inflammatory deposits (atherosclerotic plaques) coat the walls of these arteries and restrict the heart's blood supply, causing angina (chest pains that are usually relieved by rest), shortness of breath, and, if these plaques rupture or break, heart attacks (myocardial infarctions), which can reduce the heart's function or even be fatal. The key risk factors for CHD are smoking, physical inactivity, and poor diet. Blood cholesterol levels are altered by consuming dietary fats. There are three main types of dietary fats—“saturated” fatty acids (SFA) and unsaturated fatty acids; the latter can be “mono” unsaturated (MUFA) or “poly” unsaturated (PUFA). Eating SFA-rich foods (for example, meat, butter, and cheese) increases the amount of LDL-C in the blood but also increases HDL-C (the “good” cholesterol) and decreases triglycerides. Eating foods that are rich in unsaturated fatty acids (for example, vegetable oils and fatty fish) decreases the amount of LDL-C and triglycerides in the blood and also raises HDL-C.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because of the connection between eating SFA and high blood LDL-C levels, reduced SFA consumption is recommended as a way to avoid CHD. However, the evidence from individual randomized controlled trials that have studied CHD events (such as heart attacks and CHD-related deaths) have been mixed and could not support this recommendation. Furthermore, dietary recommendations to reduce SFA have generally not specified any replacement, i.e., whether SFA should be replaced with carbohydrate, protein, or unsaturated fats. Because of their beneficial effects on blood LDL-C and HDL-C levels, PUFA could be one important replacement for SFA, but, surprisingly, some experts argue that eating PUFA could actually increase CHD risk. Consequently, some guidelines recommend that PUFA consumption should be limited or even reduced. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a specific topic) and meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies) of randomized controlled trials, the researchers assess the impact of increased PUFA consumption as replacement for SFA on CHD events.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers' search of the published literature, “grey” literature (doctoral dissertations, technical reports, and other documents not printed in books and journals), and contacts with relevant experts identified eight trials in which participants were randomized to increase their PUFA intake for at least a year and in which CHD events were reported. 1,042 CHD events were recorded among the 13,614 participants enrolled in these trials. In their meta-analysis, the researchers found that on average the consumption of PUFA accounted for 14.9% of total energy intake in the intervention groups compared with only 5% of total energy intake in the control groups. Participants in the intervention groups had a 19% reduced risk of CHD events compared to participants in the control groups. Put another way, each 5% increase in the proportion of energy obtained from PUFA reduced the risk of CHD events by 10%. Finally, the researchers found that the benefits associated with PUFA consumption increased with longer duration of the trials.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the replacement of some dietary SFA with PUFA reduces CHD events. Because the trials included in this study looked only at replacing SFA with PUFA, it is not possible from this evidence alone to distinguish between the benefits of reducing SFA and the benefits of increasing PUFA. Furthermore, the small number of trials identified in this study all had design faults, so the risk reductions reported here may be inaccurate. However, other lines of evidence (for example, observational studies that have examined associations between the fat intake of populations and their risk of CHD) also suggest that consumption of PUFA in place of SFA reduces CHD risk. Thus, in the light of these findings, future recommendations to reduce SFA in the diet should stress the importance of replacing SFA with PUFA rather than with other forms of energy, and the current advice to limit PUFA intake should be revised.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000252.
The American Heart Association provides information about all aspects of coronary heart disease for patients, caregivers, and professionals, including advice on dietary fats (in several languages)
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site provides information about coronary heart disease
Eatwell, a resource provided by the UK Food Standards Agency, gives advice on all aspects of healthy eating, including fat consumption
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources on coronary heart disease and on cholesterol (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000252
PMCID: PMC2843598  PMID: 20351774
19.  The Relationship between Proteinuria and Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(10):e207.
Background
Markers of kidney dysfunction such as proteinuria or albuminuria have been reported to be associated with coronary heart disease, but the consistency and strength of any such relationship has not been clearly defined. This lack of clarity has led to great uncertainty as to how proteinuria should be treated in the assessment and management of cardiovascular risk. We therefore undertook a systematic review of published cohort studies aiming to provide a reliable estimate of the strength of association between proteinuria and coronary heart disease.
Methods and Findings
A meta-analysis of cohort studies was conducted to obtain a summary estimate of the association between measures of proteinuria and coronary risk. MEDLINE and EMBASE were searched for studies reporting an age- or multivariate-adjusted estimate and standard error of the association between proteinuria and coronary heart disease. Studies were excluded if the majority of the study population had known glomerular disease or were the recipients of renal transplants. Two independent researchers extracted the estimates of association between proteinuria (total urinary protein >300 mg/d), microalbuminuria (urinary albumin 30–300 mg/d), macroalbuminuria (urinary albumin >300 mg/d), and risk of coronary disease from individual studies. These estimates were combined using a random-effects model. Sensitivity analyses were conducted to examine possible sources of heterogeneity in effect size. A total of 26 cohort studies were identified involving 169,949 individuals and 7,117 coronary events (27% fatal). The presence of proteinuria was associated with an approximate 50% increase in coronary risk (risk ratio 1.47, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.23–1.74) after adjustment for known risk factors. For albuminuria, there was evidence of a dose–response relationship: individuals with microalbuminuria were at 50% greater risk of coronary heart disease (risk ratio 1.47, 95% CI 1.30–1.66) than those without; in those with macroalbuminuria the risk was more than doubled (risk ratio 2.17, 1.87–2.52). Sensitivity analysis indicated no important differences in prespecified subgroups.
Conclusion
These data confirm a strong and continuous association between proteinuria and subsequent risk of coronary heart disease, and suggest that proteinuria should be incorporated into the assessment of an individual's cardiovascular risk.
Vlado Perkovic and colleagues show, through a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies, that there is a strong and continuous association between proteinuria and subsequent risk of coronary heart disease.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death among adults in developed countries. With age, fatty deposits called atherosclerotic plaques coat the walls of arteries, the vessels that nourish the organs of the body by carrying blood and oxygen to them. Because they narrow the arteries, atherosclerotic plaques restrict the blood flow to the body's organs. If these plaques form in the arteries that feed the heart muscle (the coronary arteries), the result is CHD. The symptoms of CHD include shortness of breath and chest pains (angina). In addition, if a plaque breaks off the wall of a coronary artery, it can completely block that artery, which kills part of the heart muscle and causes a potentially fatal heart attack. Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood levels of cholesterol (a type of fat), having diabetes, being overweight, and being physically inactive are established risk factors for CHD. Treatments for CHD include lifestyle changes (for example, losing weight) and medications that lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol. The narrowed arteries can also be widened using a device called a stent or surgically bypassed.
Why Was This Study Done?
In addition to the established risk factors for CHD, several other factors may also increase a person's risk of developing CHD, including kidney disease, which affects one in six adults to some degree. An early sign of kidney dysfunction is high amounts of a protein called albumin or of total proteins in the urine (albuminuria and proteinuria, respectively). Some studies have suggested that proteinuria is associated with an increased risk of CHD, but the results of these studies are inconsistent. Consequently, it is unclear whether proteinuria should be considered when assessing and managing an individual's CHD risk. In this study, the researchers undertake a systematic review (a study in which predefined search criteria are used to identify all the research on a specific topic) and a meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies) of published studies that have investigated the association between proteinuria and CHD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers' systematic review identified 26 published studies that provided estimates of the association between CHD risk and proteinuria and albuminuria by measuring baseline urinary protein and albumin levels in people who were then followed for several years to see whether they developed CHD. Nearly 170,000 individuals participated in these studies, which recorded more 7,000 fatal and nonfatal heart attacks and other coronary events. In the meta-analysis, proteinuria (urinary protein of more than 300 mg/d or dipstick 1+ or more) increased CHD risk by 50% after adjustment for other known CHD risk factors. Furthermore, individuals with microalbuminuria (a urinary albumin of 30–300 mg/d) were 50% more likely to develop CHD than those with normal amounts of urinary albumin; people with macroalbuminuria (urinary albumin of more than 300 mg/d) were more than twice as likely to develop CHD. Finally, the association between proteinuria and CHD did not differ substantially between specific subgroups of participants such as people with and without diabetes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there is a strong, possibly dose-dependent association between proteinuria and the risk of CHD and that this association is independent of other known CHD risk factors, including diabetes. The finding that people with proteinuria have a 50% or greater increased risk of developing CHD than people without proteinuria may be a slight overestimate of the strength of the association between proteinuria because of publication bias. That is, studies that failed to show an association may not have been published. However, because this systematic review and meta-analysis includes several large population-based studies done in various parts of the world, these findings are likely to be generalizable. Thus, these findings support the inclusion of an evaluation of proteinuria in the assessment of CHD risk and suggest that medications and other strategies that reduce proteinuria might help to reduce the overall burden of CHD.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050207.
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, and chronic kidney failure (in English and Spanish)
Information is available from the US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute on coronary heart disease
The UK National Health Service Direct health encyclopedia also provides information about coronary heart disease (in several languages)
Information for patients and caregivers is provided by the American Heart Association on all aspects of heart disease.
The British Heart Foundation also provides information on heart disease and on keeping the heart healthy
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050207
PMCID: PMC2570419  PMID: 18942886
20.  Erectile Dysfunction Severity as a Risk Marker for Cardiovascular Disease Hospitalisation and All-Cause Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(1):e1001372.
In a prospective Australian population-based study linking questionnaire data from 2006–2009 with hospitalisation and death data to June 2010 for 95,038 men aged ≥45 years, Banks and colleagues found that more severe erectile dysfunction was associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Background
Erectile dysfunction is an emerging risk marker for future cardiovascular disease (CVD) events; however, evidence on dose response and specific CVD outcomes is limited. This study investigates the relationship between severity of erectile dysfunction and specific CVD outcomes.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a prospective population-based Australian study (the 45 and Up Study) linking questionnaire data from 2006–2009 with hospitalisation and death data to 30 June and 31 Dec 2010 respectively for 95,038 men aged ≥45 y. Cox proportional hazards models were used to examine the relationship of reported severity of erectile dysfunction to all-cause mortality and first CVD-related hospitalisation since baseline in men with and without previous CVD, adjusting for age, smoking, alcohol consumption, marital status, income, education, physical activity, body mass index, diabetes, and hypertension and/or hypercholesterolaemia treatment. There were 7,855 incident admissions for CVD and 2,304 deaths during follow-up (mean time from recruitment, 2.2 y for CVD admission and 2.8 y for mortality). Risks of CVD and death increased steadily with severity of erectile dysfunction. Among men without previous CVD, those with severe versus no erectile dysfunction had significantly increased risks of ischaemic heart disease (adjusted relative risk [RR] = 1.60, 95% CI 1.31–1.95), heart failure (8.00, 2.64–24.2), peripheral vascular disease (1.92, 1.12–3.29), “other” CVD (1.26, 1.05–1.51), all CVD combined (1.35, 1.19–1.53), and all-cause mortality (1.93, 1.52–2.44). For men with previous CVD, corresponding RRs (95% CI) were 1.70 (1.46–1.98), 4.40 (2.64–7.33), 2.46 (1.63–3.70), 1.40 (1.21–1.63), 1.64 (1.48–1.81), and 2.37 (1.87–3.01), respectively. Among men without previous CVD, RRs of more specific CVDs increased significantly with severe versus no erectile dysfunction, including acute myocardial infarction (1.66, 1.22–2.26), atrioventricular and left bundle branch block (6.62, 1.86–23.56), and (peripheral) atherosclerosis (2.47, 1.18–5.15), with no significant difference in risk for conditions such as primary hypertension (0.61, 0.16–2.35) and intracerebral haemorrhage (0.78, 0.20–2.97).
Conclusions
These findings give support for CVD risk assessment in men with erectile dysfunction who have not already undergone assessment. The utility of erectile dysfunction as a clinical risk prediction tool requires specific testing.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Erectile dysfunction is the medical term used when a man is unable to achieve or sustain an erection of his penis suitable for sexual intercourse. Although a sensitive topic that can cause much embarrassment and distress, erectile dysfunction is very common, with an estimated 40% of men over the age of 40 years experiencing frequent or occasional difficulties. The most common causes of erectile dysfunction are medications, chronic illnesses such as diabetes, and drinking too much alcohol. Stress and mental health problems can also cause or worsen erectile dysfunction. There is also increasing evidence that erectile dysfunction may actually be a symptom of cardiovascular disease—a leading cause of death worldwide—as erectile dysfunction could indicate a problem with blood vessels or poor blood flow commonly associated with cardiovascular disease.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although previous studies have suggested that erectile dysfunction can serve as a marker for cardiovascular disease in men not previously diagnosed with the condition, few studies to date have investigated whether erectile dysfunction could also indicate worsening disease in men already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. In addition, previous studies have typically been small and have not graded the severity of erectile dysfunction or investigated the specific types of cardiovascular disease associated with erectile dysfunction. In this large study conducted in Australia, the researchers investigated the relationship of the severity of erectile dysfunction with a range of cardiovascular disease outcomes among men with and without a previous diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used information from the established 45 and Up Study, a large cohort study that includes 123,775 men aged 45 and over, selected at random from the general population of New South Wales, a large region of Australia. A total of 95,038 men were included in this analysis. The male participants completed a postal questionnaire that included a question on erectile functioning, which allowed the researchers to define erectile dysfunction as none, mild, moderate, or severe. Using information captured in the New South Wales Admitted Patient Data Collection—a complete record of all public and private hospital admissions, including the reasons for admission and the clinical diagnosis—and the government death register, the researchers were able to determine health outcomes of all study participants. They then used a statistical model to estimate hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease events for different levels of erectile dysfunction.
The researchers found that the rates of severe erectile dysfunction among study participants were 2.2% for men aged 45–54 years, 6.8% for men aged 55–64 years, 20.2% for men aged 65–74 years, 50.0% for men aged 75–84 years, and 75.4% for men aged 85 years and over. During the study period, the researchers recorded 7,855 hospital admissions related to cardiovascular disease and 2,304 deaths. The researchers found that among men without previous cardiovascular disease, those with severe erectile dysfunction were more likely to develop ischemic heart disease (risk 1.60), heart failure (risk 8.00), peripheral vascular disease (risk 1.92), and other causes of cardiovascular disease (risk 1.26) than men without erectile dysfunction. The risks of heart attacks and heart conduction problems were also increased (1.66 and 6.62, respectively). Furthermore, the combined risk of all cardiovascular disease outcomes was 1.35, and the overall risk of death was also higher (risk 1.93) in these men. The researchers found that these increased risks were similar in men with erectile dysfunction who had previously been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that compared to men without erectile dysfunction, there is an increasing risk of ischemic heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and death from all causes in those with increasing degrees of severity of erectile dysfunction. The authors emphasize that erectile dysfunction is a risk marker for cardiovascular disease, not a risk factor that causes cardiovascular disease. These findings add to previous studies and highlight the need to consider erectile dysfunction in relation to the risk of different types of cardiovascular disease, including heart failure and heart conduction disorders. However, the study's reliance on the answer to a single self-assessed question on erectile functioning limits the findings. Nevertheless, these findings provide useful information for clinicians: men with erectile dysfunction are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and the worse the erectile dysfunction, the higher the risk of cardiovascular disease. Men with erectile dysfunction, even at mild or moderate levels, should be screened and treated for cardiovascular disease accordingly.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001372.
Wikipedia defines erectile dysfunction (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
MedlinePlus also has some useful patient information on erectile dysfunction
The Mayo Clinic has patient-friendly information on the causes of, and treatments for, erectile dysfunction, and also includes information on the link with cardiovascular disease
The National Heart Foundation of Australia provides information for health professionals, patients, and the general public about how to prevent and manage cardiovascular disease, including assessment and management of cardiovascular disease risk
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001372
PMCID: PMC3558249  PMID: 23382654
21.  Threshold Haemoglobin Levels and the Prognosis of Stable Coronary Disease: Two New Cohorts and a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(5):e1000439.
Anoop Shah and colleagues performed a retrospective cohort study and a systematic review, and show evidence that in people with stable coronary disease there were threshold hemoglobin values below which mortality increased in a graded, continuous fashion.
Background
Low haemoglobin concentration has been associated with adverse prognosis in patients with angina and myocardial infarction (MI), but the strength and shape of the association and the presence of any threshold has not been precisely evaluated.
Methods and findings
A retrospective cohort study was carried out using the UK General Practice Research Database. 20,131 people with a new diagnosis of stable angina and no previous acute coronary syndrome, and 14,171 people with first MI who survived for at least 7 days were followed up for a mean of 3.2 years. Using semi-parametric Cox regression and multiple adjustment, there was evidence of threshold haemoglobin values below which mortality increased in a graded continuous fashion. For men with MI, the threshold value was 13.5 g/dl (95% confidence interval [CI] 13.2–13.9); the 29.5% of patients with haemoglobin below this threshold had an associated hazard ratio for mortality of 2.00 (95% CI 1.76–2.29) compared to those with haemoglobin values in the lowest risk range. Women tended to have lower threshold haemoglobin values (e.g, for MI 12.8 g/dl; 95% CI 12.1–13.5) but the shape and strength of association did not differ between the genders, nor between patients with angina and MI. We did a systematic review and meta-analysis that identified ten previously published studies, reporting a total of only 1,127 endpoints, but none evaluated thresholds of risk.
Conclusions
There is an association between low haemoglobin concentration and increased mortality. A large proportion of patients with coronary disease have haemoglobin concentrations below the thresholds of risk defined here. Intervention trials would clarify whether increasing the haemoglobin concentration reduces mortality.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Coronary artery disease is the main cause of death in high-income countries and the second most common cause of death in middle- and low-income countries, accounting for 16.3%, 13.9%, and 9.4% of all deaths, respectively, in 2004. Many risks factors, such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol level, are known to be associated with coronary artery disease, and prevention and treatment of such factors remains one of the key strategies in the management of coronary artery disease. Recent studies have suggested that low hemoglobin may be associated with mortality in patients with coronary artery disease. Therefore, using blood hemoglobin level as a prognostic biomarker for patients with stable coronary artery disease may be of potential benefit especially as measurement of hemoglobin is almost universal in such patients and there are available interventions that effectively increase hemoglobin concentration.
Why was This Study Done?
Much more needs to be understood about the relationship between low hemoglobin and coronary artery disease before hemoglobin levels can potentially be used as a clinical prognostic biomarker. Previous studies have been limited in their ability to describe the shape of this relationship—which means that it is uncertain whether there is a “best” hemoglobin threshold or a continuous graded relationship from “good” to “bad”—to assess gender differences, and to compare patients with angina or who have experienced previous myocardial infarction. In order to inform these knowledge gaps, the researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of patients from a prospective observational cohort as well as a systematic review and meta-analysis (statistical analysis) of previous studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of previous studies and found ten relevant studies, but none evaluated thresholds of risk, only linear relationships.
The researchers carried out a new study using the UK's General Practice Research Database—a national research tool that uses anonymized electronic clinical records of a representative sample of the UK population, with details of consultations, diagnoses, referrals, prescriptions, and test results—as the basis for their analysis. They identified and collected information from two cohorts of patients: those with new onset stable angina and no previous acute coronary syndrome; and those with a first myocardial infarction (heart attack). For these patients, the researchers also looked at all values of routinely recorded blood parameters (including hemoglobin) and information on established cardiovascular risk factors, such as smoking. The researchers followed up patients using death of any cause as a primary endpoint and put this data into a statistical model to identify upper and lower thresholds of an optimal hemoglobin range beyond which mortality risk increased.
The researchers found that there was a threshold hemoglobin value below which mortality continuously increased in a graded manner. For men with myocardial infarction, the threshold value was 13.5 g/dl: 29.5% of patients had hemoglobin below this threshold and had a hazard ratio for mortality of 2.00 compared to those with hemoglobin values in the lowest risk range. Women had a lower threshold hemoglobin value than men: 12.8 g/dl for women with myocardial infarction, but the shape and strength of association did not differ between the genders, or between patients with angina and myocardial infarction.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there are thresholds of hemoglobin that are associated with increased risk of mortality in patients with angina or myocardial infarction. A substantial proportion of patients (15%–30%) have a hemoglobin level that places them at markedly higher risk of death compared to patients with lowest risk hemoglobin levels and importantly, these thresholds are higher than clinicians might anticipate—and are remarkably similar to World Health Organization anemia thresholds of 12 g/dl for women and 13 g/dl for men. Despite the limitations of these observational findings, this study supports the rationale for conducting future randomized controlled trials to assess whether hemoglobin levels are causal and whether clinicians should intervene to increase hemoglobin levels, for example by oral iron supplementation.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000439.
Wikipedia provides information about hemoglobin (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The World Health Organization provides an overview of the global prevalence of coronary artery disease, a factsheet on the top ten causes of death, as well as information on anemia
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000439
PMCID: PMC3104976  PMID: 21655315
22.  Rational Prescribing in Primary Care (RaPP): A Cluster Randomized Trial of a Tailored Intervention 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(6):e134.
Background
A gap exists between evidence and practice regarding the management of cardiovascular risk factors. This gap could be narrowed if systematically developed clinical practice guidelines were effectively implemented in clinical practice. We evaluated the effects of a tailored intervention to support the implementation of systematically developed guidelines for the use of antihypertensive and cholesterol-lowering drugs for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a cluster-randomized trial comparing a tailored intervention to passive dissemination of guidelines in 146 general practices in two geographical areas in Norway. Each practice was randomized to either the tailored intervention (70 practices; 257 physicians) or control group (69 practices; 244 physicians). Patients started on medication for hypertension or hypercholesterolemia during the study period and all patients already on treatment that consulted their physician during the trial were included. A multifaceted intervention was tailored to address identified barriers to change. Key components were an educational outreach visit with audit and feedback, and computerized reminders linked to the medical record system. Pharmacists conducted the visits. Outcomes were measured for all eligible patients seen in the participating practices during 1 y before and after the intervention. The main outcomes were the proportions of (1) first-time prescriptions for hypertension where thiazides were prescribed, (2) patients assessed for cardiovascular risk before prescribing antihypertensive or cholesterol-lowering drugs, and (3) patients treated for hypertension or hypercholesterolemia for 3 mo or more who had achieved recommended treatment goals.
The intervention led to an increase in adherence to guideline recommendations on choice of antihypertensive drug. Thiazides were prescribed to 17% of patients in the intervention group versus 11% in the control group (relative risk 1.94; 95% confidence interval 1.49–2.49, adjusted for baseline differences and clustering effect). Little or no differences were found for risk assessment prior to prescribing and for achievement of treatment goals.
Conclusions
Our tailored intervention had a significant impact on prescribing of antihypertensive drugs, but was ineffective in improving the quality of other aspects of managing hypertension and hypercholesterolemia in primary care.
Editors' Summary
Background.
An important issue in health care is “getting research into practice,” in other words, making sure that, when evidence from research has established the best way to treat a disease, doctors actually use that approach with their patients. In reality, there is often a gap between evidence and practice.
  An example concerns the treatment of people who have high blood pressure (hypertension) and/or high cholesterol. These are common conditions, and both increase the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. Research has shown that the risks can be lowered if patients with these conditions are given drugs that lower blood pressure (antihypertensives) and drugs that lower cholesterol. There are many types of these drugs now available. In many countries, the health authorities want family doctors (general practitioners) to make better use of these drugs. They want doctors to prescribe them to everyone who would benefit, using the type of drugs found to be most effective. When there is a choice of drugs that are equally effective, they want doctors to use the cheapest type. (In the case of antihypertensives, an older type, known as thiazides, is very effective and also very cheap, but many doctors prefer to give their patients newer, more expensive alternatives.) Health authorities have issued guidelines to doctors that address these issues. However, it is not easy to change prescribing practices, and research in several countries has shown that issuing guidelines has only limited effects.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers wanted—in two parts of Norway—to compare the effects on prescribing practices of what they called the “passive dissemination of guidelines” with a more active approach, where the use of the guidelines was strongly promoted and encouraged.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They worked with 146 general practices. In half of them the guidelines were actively promoted. The remaining were regarded as a control group; they were given the guidelines but no special efforts were made to encourage their use. It was decided at random which practices would be in which group; this approach is called a randomized controlled trial. The methods used to actively promote use of the guidelines included personal visits to the practices by pharmacists and use of a computerized reminder system. Information was then collected on the number of patients who, when first treated for hypertension, were prescribed a thiazide. Other information collected included whether patients had been properly assessed for their level of risk (for strokes and heart attacks) before antihypertensive or cholesterol-lowering drugs were given. In addition, the researchers recorded whether the recommended targets for improvement in blood pressure and cholesterol level had been reached.
Only 11% of those patients visiting the control group of practices who should have been prescribed thiazides, according to the guidelines, actually received them. Of those seen by doctors in the practices where the guidelines were actively promoted, 17% received thiazides. According to statistical analysis, the increase achieved by active promotion is significant. Little or no differences were found for risk assessment prior to prescribing and for achievement of treatment goals.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Even in the active promotion group, the great majority of patients (83%) were still not receiving treatment according to the guidelines. However, active promotion of guidelines is more effective than simply issuing the guidelines by themselves. The study also demonstrates that it is very hard to change prescribing practices. The efforts made here to encourage the doctors to change were considerable, and although the results were significant, they were still disappointing. Also disappointing is the fact that achievement of treatment goals was no better in the active-promotion group. These issues are discussed further in a Perspective about this study (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030229).
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030134.
• The Web site of the American Academy of Family Physicians has a page on heart disease
• The MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia's pages on heart diseases and vascular diseases
• Information from NHS Direct (UK National Health Service) about heart attack and stroke
• Another PLoS Medicine article has also addressed trends in thiazide prescribing
Passive dissemination of management guidelines for hypertension and hypercholesterolaemia was compared with active promotion. Active promotion led to significant improvement in antihypertensive prescribing but not other aspects of management.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030134
PMCID: PMC1472695  PMID: 16737346
23.  Air Pollution and the Microvasculature: A Cross-Sectional Assessment of In Vivo Retinal Images in the Population-Based Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(11):e1000372.
Sara Adar and colleagues show that residing in locations with higher air pollution concentrations and experiencing daily increases in air pollution are associated with narrower retinal arteriolar diameters in older individuals, thus providing a link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease.
Background
Long- and short-term exposures to air pollution, especially fine particulate matter (PM2.5), have been linked to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. One hypothesized mechanism for these associations involves microvascular effects. Retinal photography provides a novel, in vivo approach to examine the association of air pollution with changes in the human microvasculature.
Methods and Findings
Chronic and acute associations between residential air pollution concentrations and retinal vessel diameters, expressed as central retinal arteriolar equivalents (CRAE) and central retinal venular equivalents (CRVE), were examined using digital retinal images taken in Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) participants between 2002 and 2003. Study participants (46 to 87 years of age) were without clinical cardiovascular disease at the baseline examination (2000–2002). Long-term outdoor concentrations of PM2.5 were estimated at each participant's home for the 2 years preceding the clinical exam using a spatio-temporal model. Short-term concentrations were assigned using outdoor measurements on the day preceding the clinical exam. Residential proximity to roadways was also used as an indicator of long-term traffic exposures. All associations were examined using linear regression models adjusted for subject-specific age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, income, smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, body mass index, family history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes status, serum cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, emphysema, C-reactive protein, medication use, and fellow vessel diameter. Short-term associations were further controlled for weather and seasonality. Among the 4,607 participants with complete data, CRAE were found to be narrower among persons residing in regions with increased long- and short-term levels of PM2.5. These relationships were observed in a joint exposure model with −0.8 µm (95% confidence interval [CI] −1.1 to −0.5) and −0.4 µm (95% CI −0.8 to 0.1) decreases in CRAE per interquartile increases in long- (3 µg/m3) and short-term (9 µg/m3) PM2.5 levels, respectively. These reductions in CRAE are equivalent to 7- and 3-year increases in age in the same cohort. Similarly, living near a major road was also associated with a −0.7 µm decrease (95% CI −1.4 to 0.1) in CRAE. Although the chronic association with CRAE was largely influenced by differences in exposure between cities, this relationship was generally robust to control for city-level covariates and no significant differences were observed between cities. Wider CRVE were associated with living in areas of higher PM2.5 concentrations, but these findings were less robust and not supported by the presence of consistent acute associations with PM2.5.
Conclusions
Residing in regions with higher air pollution concentrations and experiencing daily increases in air pollution were each associated with narrower retinal arteriolar diameters in older individuals. These findings support the hypothesis that important vascular phenomena are associated with small increases in short-term or long-term air pollution exposures, even at current exposure levels, and further corroborate reported associations between air pollution and the development and exacerbation of clinical cardiovascular disease.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—disease that affects the heart and/or the blood vessels—is a common cause of illness and death among adults in developed countries. In the United States, for example, the leading cause of death is coronary heart disease, a CVD in which narrowing of the heart's arteries by atherosclerotic plaques (fatty deposits that build up with age) slows the blood supply to the heart and may eventually cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction). Other types of CVD include stroke (in which atherosclerotic plaques interrupt the brain's blood supply) and peripheral arterial disease (in which the blood supply to the limbs is blocked). Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood levels of cholesterol (a type of fat), having diabetes, being overweight, and being physically inactive all increase a person's risk of developing CVD. Treatments for CVD include lifestyle changes and taking drugs that lower blood pressure or blood cholesterol levels.
Why Was This Study Done?
Another risk factor for CVD is exposure to long-term and/or short-term air pollution. Fine particle pollution or PM2.5 is particularly strongly associated with an increased risk of CVD. PM2.5—particulate matter 2.5 µm in diameter or 1/30th the diameter of a human hair—is mainly produced by motor vehicles, power plants, and other combustion sources. Why PM2.5 increases CVD risk is not clear but one possibility is that it alters the body's microvasculature (fine blood vessels known as capillaries, arterioles, and venules), thereby impairing the blood flow through the heart and brain. In this study, the researchers use noninvasive digital retinal photography to investigate whether there is an association between air pollution and changes in the human microvasculature. The retina—a light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye that converts images into electrical messages and sends them to the brain—has a dense microvasculature. Retinal photography is used to check the retinal microvasculature for signs of potentially blinding eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy. Previous studies have found that narrower than normal retinal arterioles and wider than normal retinal venules are associated with CVD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used digital retinal photography to measure the diameters of retinal blood vessels in the participants of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). This study is investigating CVD progression in people aged 45–84 years of various ethnic backgrounds who had no CVD symptoms when they enrolled in the study in 2000–2002. The researchers modeled the long-term outdoor concentration of PM2.5 at each participant's house for the 2-year period preceding the retinal examination (which was done between 2002 and 2003) using data on PM2.5 levels collected by regulatory monitoring stations as well as study-specific air samples collected outside of the homes and in the communities of study participants. Outdoor PM2.5 measurements taken the day before the examination provided short-term PM2.5 levels. Among the 4,607 MESA participants who had complete data, retinal arteriolar diameters were narrowed among those who lived in regions with increased long- and short-term PM2.5 levels. Specifically, an increase in long-term PM2.5 concentrations of 3 µg/m3 was associated with a 0.8 µm decrease in arteriolar diameter, a reduction equivalent to that seen for a 7-year increase in age in this group of people. Living near a major road, another indicator of long-term exposure to PM2.5 pollution, was also associated with narrowed arterioles. Finally, increased retinal venular diameters were weakly associated with long-term high PM2.5 concentrations.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that living in areas with long-term air pollution or being exposed to short-term air pollution is associated with narrowing of the retinal arterioles in older individuals. They also show that widening of retinal venules is associated with long-term (but not short-term) PM2.5 pollution. Together, these findings support the hypothesis that long- and short-term air pollution increases CVD risk through effects on the microvasculature. However, they do not prove that PM2.5 is the constituent of air pollution that drives microvascular changes—these findings could reflect the toxicity of another pollutant or the pollution mixture as a whole. Importantly, these findings show that microvascular changes can occur at the PM2.5 levels that commonly occur in developed countries, which are well below those seen in developing countries. Worryingly, they also suggest that the deleterious cardiovascular effects of air pollution could occur at levels below existing regulatory standards.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000372.
The American Heart Association provides information for patients and caregivers on all aspects of cardiovascular disease (in several languages), including information on air pollution, heart disease, and stroke
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on heart disease and on stroke
Information is available from the British Heart Foundation on cardiovascular disease
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients and caregivers about cardiovascular disease
MedlinePlus provides links to other sources of information on heart disease and on vascular disease (in English and Spanish)
The AIRNow site provides information about US air quality and about air pollution and health
The Air Quality Archive has up-to-date information about air pollution in the UK and information about the health effects of air pollution
The US Environmental Protection Agency has information on PM2.5
The following Web sites contain information available on the MESA and MESA Air studies
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000372
PMCID: PMC2994677  PMID: 21152417
24.  I Don't Believe It, But I'd Better Do Something About It: Patient Experiences of Online Heart Age Risk Calculators 
Background
Health risk calculators are widely available on the Internet, including cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk calculators that estimate the probability of a heart attack, stroke, or death over a 5- or 10-year period. Some calculators convert this probability to “heart age”, where a heart age older than current age indicates modifiable risk factors. These calculators may impact patient decision making about CVD risk management with or without clinician involvement, but little is known about how patients use them. Previous studies have not investigated patient understanding of heart age compared to 5-year percentage risk, or the best way to present heart age.
Objective
This study aimed to investigate patient experiences and understanding of online heart age calculators that use different verbal, numerical, and graphical formats, based on 5- and 10-year Framingham risk equations used in clinical practice guidelines around the world.
Methods
General practitioners in New South Wales, Australia, recruited 26 patients with CVD/lifestyle risk factors who were not taking cholesterol or blood pressure-lowering medication in 2012. Participants were asked to “think aloud” while using two heart age calculators in random order, with semi-structured interviews before and after. Transcribed audio recordings were coded and a framework analysis method was used.
Results
Risk factor questions were often misinterpreted, reducing the accuracy of the calculators. Participants perceived older heart age as confronting and younger heart age as positive but unrealistic. Unexpected or contradictory results (eg, low percentage risk but older heart age) led participants to question the credibility of the calculators. Reasons to discredit the results included the absence of relevant lifestyle questions and impact of corporate sponsorship. However, the calculators prompted participants to consider lifestyle changes irrespective of whether they received younger, same, or older heart age results.
Conclusions
Online heart age calculators can be misunderstood and disregarded if they produce unexpected or contradictory results, but they may still motivate lifestyle changes. Future research should investigate both the benefits and harms of communicating risk in this way, and how to increase the reliability and credibility of online health risk calculators.
doi:10.2196/jmir.3190
PMCID: PMC4026572  PMID: 24797339
cardiovascular disease; prevention; risk calculator; risk assessment; risk perception; lifestyle; behavior change
25.  Enhanced External Counterpulsation (EECP) 
Executive Summary
Objective
To assess the effectiveness, and cost effectiveness of EECP in patients with severe anginal symptoms, secondary to chronic coronary disease, who are unresponsive to exhaustive pharmacotherapy and not candidates for surgical/percutaneous revascularization procedures (e.g., angioplasty, coronary bypass surgery).
To assess the effectiveness, and cost effectiveness of EECP in patients with heart failure.
Clinical Need
Angina
Angina is a clinical syndrome characterized by discomfort in the chest, jaw, shoulder, back or arm. Angina usually occurs in patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) involving ≥1 large epicardial artery. However it can also occur in people with valvular heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and uncontrolled hypertension.
Conventional approaches to restoring the balance between oxygen supply and demand focus on the disruption of the underlying disease through: drug therapy (β blockers, calcium channel blockers, nitrates, antiplatelet agents, ACE inhibitors, statins); life-style modifications (smoking cessation, weight loss); or revascularization techniques such as coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG) or percutaneous coronary interventions (PCI). (1) Limitations of each of these approaches include: adverse drug effects, procedure-related mortality and morbidity, restenosis after PCI, and time dependent graft attrition after CABG. Furthermore, an increasing number of patients are not appropriate candidates for standard revascularization options, due to co-morbid conditions (HF, peripheral vascular disease), poor distal coronary artery targets, and patient preference. The morbidity and mortality associated with repeat surgical revascularization procedures are significantly higher, and often excludes these patients from consideration for further revascularizations. (2)
Patients with CAD who have chronic ischemic symptoms that are unresponsive to both conventional medical therapy and revascularization techniques have refractory angina pectoris. It has been estimated that greater than 100,000 patients each year in the US may be diagnosed as having this condition. (3) Patients with refractory angina have marked limitation of ordinary physical activity or are unable to perform any ordinary physical activity without discomfort (CCS functional class III/IV). Also, there must be some objective evidence of ischemia as demonstrated by exercise treadmill testing, stress imaging studies or coronary physiologic studies. (1)
Dejongste et al. (4)estimated that the prevalence of chronic refractory angina is about 100,000 patients in the United States. This would correspond to approximately 3,800 (100,000 x 3.8% [Ontario is approximately 3.8% of the population of the United States]) patients in Ontario having chronic refractory angina.
Heart Failure
Heart failure results from any structural or functional cardiac disorder that impairs the ability of the heart to act as a pump.
A recent study (5) revealed 28,702 patients were hospitalized for first-time HF in Ontario between April 1994 and March 1997. Women comprised 51% of the cohort. Eighty-five percent were aged 65 years or older, and 58% were aged 75 years or older.
Patients with chronic HF experience shortness of breath, a limited capacity for exercise, high rates of hospitalization and rehospitalization, and die prematurely. (6) The New York Heart Association (NYHA) has provided a commonly used functional classification for the severity of HF (7):
Class I: No limitation of physical activity. No symptoms with ordinary exertion.
Class II: Slight limitations of physical activity. Ordinary activity causes symptoms.
Class III: Marked limitation of physical activity. Less than ordinary activity causes symptoms. Asymptomatic at rest.
Class IV: Inability to carry out any physical activity without discomfort. Symptoms at rest.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (7) estimates that 35% of patients with HF are in functional NYHA class I; 35% are in class II; 25%, class III; and 5%, class IV. Surveys (8) suggest that from 5% to 15% of patients with HF have persistent severe symptoms, and that the remainder of patients with HF is evenly divided between those with mild and moderately severe symptoms.
To date, the diagnosis and management of chronic HF has concentrated on patients with the clinical syndrome of HF accompanied by severe left ventricular systolic dysfunction. Major changes in treatment have resulted from a better understanding of the pathophysiology of HF and the results of large clinical trials. Treatment for chronic HF includes lifestyle management, drugs, cardiac surgery, or implantable pacemakers and defibrillators. Despite pharmacologic advances, which include diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, beta-blockers, spironolactone, and digoxin, many patients remain symptomatic on maximally tolerated doses. (6)
The Technology
Patients are typically treated by a trained technician in a medically supervised environment for 1 hour daily for a total of 35 hours over 7 weeks. The procedure involves sequential inflation and deflation of compressible cuffs wrapped around the patient’s calves, lower thighs and upper thighs. In addition to 3 sets of cuffs, the patient has finger plethysmogram and electrocardiogram (ECG) attachments that are connected to a control and display console.
External counterpulsation was used in the United States to treat cardiogenic shock after acute myocardial infarction. (9;10) More recently, an enhanced version namely “enhanced external counterpulsation” (EECP) was introduced as a noninvasive procedure for outpatient treatment of patients with severe, uncontrollable cardiac ischemia. EECP is said to increase coronary perfusion pressure and reduce the myocardial oxygen demand. Currently, EECP is not applicable for all patients with refractory angina pectoris. For example, many patients are considered ineligible for therapy due to co-morbidities, including those with severe pulmonary vascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, phlebitis and irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure. (1)
Very recently, investigation began into EECP as an adjunctive treatment for patients with HF. Anecdotal reports suggested that EECP may benefit patients with coronary disease and left ventricular dysfunction. The safety and effectiveness of EECP in patients with symptomatic heart failure and coronary disease and its role in patients with nonischemic heart failure secondary to LV dysfunction is unclear. Furthermore, the safety and effectiveness of EECP in the different stages of HF and whether it is only for patients who are refractive to pharmacotherapy is unknown.
2003 Health Technology Assessment by the Medical Advisory Secretariat
The Medical Advisory Secretariat health technology assessment (originally published in February 2003) reported on the effectiveness of EECP for patients with angina and HF. The report concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the use of EECP in patients with refractory stable CCS III/IV angina as well as insufficient evidence to support the use of EECP in patients with HF.
Review Strategy
The aim of this literature review was to assess the effectiveness, safety, and cost effectiveness of EECP for the treatment of refractory stable CCS III/IV angina or HF.
The standard search strategy used by the Medical Advisory Secretariat was used. This included a search of all international health technology assessments as well as a search of the medical literature from December 2002 to March 2006.
A modification of the GRADE approach (11) was used to make judgments about the quality of evidence and strength of recommendations systematically and explicitly. GRADE provides a framework for structured reflection and can help to ensure that appropriate judgments are made. GRADE takes into account a study’s design, quality, consistency, and directness in judging the quality of evidence for each outcome. The balance between benefits and harms, quality of evidence, applicability, and the certainty of the baseline risks are considered in judgments about the strength of recommendations.
Summary of Findings
The Cochrane and INAHTA databases yielded 3 HTAs or systematic reviews on EECP treatment (Blue Cross Blue Shield Technology Evaluation Center [BCBS TEC], ECRI, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS]). A search of Medline and Embase December 2005 – March 2006 (after the literature search cutoff from the most recent HTA) was conducted using key words enhanced external counterpulsation, EECP, angina, myocardial ischemia, congestive heart failure. This search produced 1 study which met the inclusion criteria. This level 4a study was inferior in quality to the RCT which formed the basis of the 2003 Medical Advisory Secretariat recommendation.
BCBS reviewed the evidence through November 2005 to determine if EECP improves health outcomes for refractory chronic stable angina pectoris or chronic stable HF. (12) BCBS concluded that the available evidence is not sufficient to permit conclusions of the effect of EECP on health outcomes. Both controlled trials had methodologic flaws (MUST EECP and MUST EECP quality of life studies). The case series and observational studies for both indications while suggestive of a treatment benefit from EECP have shortcomings as well.
On March 20 2006, CMS posted their proposed coverage decision memorandum for external counterpulsation therapy. (13) Overall, CMS stated that the evidence is not adequate to conclude that external counterpulsation therapy is reasonable and necessary for:
Canadian Cardiovascular Society Classification (CCSC) II angina
Heart failure
NYHA class II/III stable HF symptoms with an EF≤35%
NYHA class II/III stable HF symptoms with an EF≤40%
NYHA class IV HF
Acute HF
Cardiogenic shock
Acute MI
In January 2005, ECRI (14) stated that there was insufficient evidence available to draw conclusions about the long-term effectiveness of EECP, with respect to morbidity, survival, or quality of life, for any coronary indication (refractory angina, congestive heart failure, cardiogenic shock and acute MI).
GRADE Quality of the Studies
According to the GRADE Working Group criteria, the quality of the trials was examined (Table 1). (11)
Quality refers to the criteria such as the adequacy of allocation concealment, blinding and followup.
Consistency refers to the similarity of estimates of effect across studies. If there is important unexplained inconsistency in the results, our confidence in the estimate of effect for that outcome decreases. Differences in the direction of effect, the size of the differences in effect and the significance of the differences guide the decision about whether important inconsistency exists.
Directness refers to the extent to which the people interventions and outcome measures are similar to those of interest. For example, there may be uncertainty about the directness of the evidence if the people of interest are older, sicker or have more comorbidity than those in the studies.
As stated by the GRADE Working Group, the following definitions were used in grading the quality of the evidence. (11)
GRADE Quality of Studies
Economic Analysis - Literature Review
No economic analysis of EECP was identified in the published literature.
Estimated Prevalence of Angina in Ontario
3,800 patients with chronic refractory angina:
The number of patients with chronic refractory angina in the US is estimated to be approximately 100,000 (4), this corresponds to about 3,800 patients in Ontario (3.8% × 100,000) with refractory angina.
3,800 patients × $7,000 Cdn (approximate cost for a full course of therapy) ~ $26.6M Cdn.
Estimated Prevalence of Heart Failure in Ontario
23,700 patients EF ≤ 0.35:
This estimate is from an expert (personal communication) at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), where they examined a sample of echocardiography studies drawn from a diagnostic lab in 2001. They found that the prevalence of EF ≤ 0.35 was 8.3%, and if generalized to all patients undergoing echocardiography, there would be 23,700 patients.
23,700 patients with EF ≤35% × $7,000 Cdn ~ $166 M Cdn.
Conclusions
There is insufficient evidence to support the effectiveness and safety of EECP treatment for patients with refractory stable CCS III-IV angina or HF.
As per the GRADE Working Group, overall recommendations consider 4 main factors. (11)
The tradeoffs, taking into account the estimated size of the effect for the main outcome, the confidence limits around those estimates and the relative value placed on the outcome.
The quality of the evidence.
Translation of the evidence into practice in a specific setting, taking into consideration important factors that could be expected to modify the size of the expected effects such as proximity to a hospital or availability of necessary expertise.
Uncertainty about the baseline risk for the population of interest.
The GRADE Working Group also recommends that incremental costs of healthcare alternatives should be considered explicitly alongside the expected health benefits and harms. (11) Recommendations rely on judgments about the value of the incremental health benefits in relation to the incremental costs. The last column in Table 2 is the overall trade-off between benefits and harms and incorporates any risk/uncertainty.
For angina and heart failure, the overall GRADE and strength of the recommendations is “weak” – the quality of the evidence is “low” (uncertainties due to methodological limitations in the study design in terms of study quality and directness), and the corresponding risk/uncertainty is increased due to a budget impact of approximately $26.6 M Cdn or $166 M Cdn respectively while the cost-effectiveness of EECP is unknown and difficult to estimate considering that there are no high quality studies of effectiveness.
Overall GRADE and Strength of Recommendation (Including Uncertainty)
PMCID: PMC3379533  PMID: 23074496

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