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Health Insight April 2001:
New studies on heart disease

  The number of people in the UK suffering from angina is now more than two million. Angina is the most common symptom of coronary heart disease. It can lead on to heart attacks, or the necessity for a heart bypass operation. A study for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) shows there are 330,000 new angina cases diagnosed each year, and 750,000 people living in the UK with heart failure. The BHF data also show, however, there has been a steady rise in the likelihood of surviving a heart attack - 1.3 million people living in the UK have done just that. Although this is good news, it has serious cost implications. Coronary heart disease currently costs the UK £10bn a year. Health Secretary Alan Milburn, has recently announced that £60m is to be invested to expand and improve heart surgery, and an additional £5m to extend the number of rapid access chest pain clinics.

More details can be seen in the BHF's Morbidity Supplement 2001, compiled by the foundation's health promotion research group at the University of Oxford Institute of Health Sciences - www.dphpc.ox.ac.uk/bhfhprg.

The welcome news to men taking the anti-impotence drug Viagra is that it will not put them at an increased risk of a fatal heart attack. Scientists from the Drug Safety Research Unit in Southampton say the drug has passed initial safety tests, but further research is needed. Researchers sent questionnaires to GPs about the experiences of more than 5,000 men who had taken Viagra. After analysing the data, they found only 10 men had died - six had suffered heart attacks and four died following ischaemic heart disease. Peter Barker, coordinator of the Men's Health Forum, said they hoped the research would encourage the government to relax restrictions on who could and could not be prescribed the drug.

Researchers from London have concluded that prolonged breastfeeding could increase a child's risk of developing heart disease in later life. The team, from the MRC Childhood Nutrition Research Centre at the Institute for Child Health in London, studied 331 adults aged 20-28, born at the Cambridge Maternity Hospital between 1969 and 1975. Results showed that prolonged breastfeeding was linked to the stiffening of the arteries, which is an early symptom of cardiovascular disease. Subjects studied who had been breast-fed for longer than four months as babies had stiffer arteries than those who had been breast-fed for less than four months, or who had been bottle-fed. Every extra two months of breastfeeding also led to a rise in cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Professor Alan Lucas, Director of the Research Centre, said it was possible that breastfeeding stimulated the body to retain more cholesterol. He stressed, however, that, 'The public health message is to deal with the Western style diet rather than breastfeeding, which has so many advantages.'

Sources: BBC Online, Press release (DoH)

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