While some people sent metaphorical hearts to their loved ones on Valentine’s Day, cardiologists want people to take better care of their actual hearts, which are responsible for pumping blood through the human body.
February is American Heart Month, and several health organizations use the designation to educate the public about heart health. Heart disease comes in various forms and is the leading cause of death among Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
February, maybe because of Valentine’s Day, engages the countryand the American Heart Association to bring awareness to heart disease in general or to more specific causes, such as heart disease in women, Texas Health Willow Park and Texas Health Physicians Group Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Brendan Reagan said.
“That’s been bringing focus and attention to those things whether it’s through improving people’s health or just fundraising for further research within heart disease,” Reagan said.
Heart disease claims the lives of more than 600,000 Americans per year. In 2018, 55 people in Parker County died of heart-related conditions, and more than 40 of these people were men, according to records from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner.
While most of those who died were between the ages of 40 and 90, the youngest to die of a heart-related condition in Parker County was a 16-year-old Hispanic male. The oldest was a 91-year-old white man.
Hypertensive cardiovascular or heart disease and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease were the most common conditions among those who died in 2018 in Parker County. Hypertensive cardiovascular or heart disease is linked to high blood pressure while atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is related to restricted blood flow because of the buildup of fats and cholesterol on artery walls.
What causes heart disease?
Cardiologists listed several factors that can contribute to heart disease. Some, like age, elevated cholesterol and family history, are nonmodifiable risk factors, Texas Health Fort Worth and Texas Health Physicians Group Cardiologist Dr. Sreenivas Gudimetla said. Other factors are preventable, such as diabetes type 2, hypertension, smoking and being overweight.
“The one thing that we’re really realizing is that it’s always better to prevent heart disease than to deal with it once you’ve already been diagnosed with it,” Gudimetla said.
Living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent heart disease more than any treatment from cardiologists, Gudimetla said.
“If you take care of yourself — keep healthy, exercise, eat right — starting at a very young age, maintaining that throughout your childhood and adult life, that’s actually a bigger factor in preventing heart disease and preventing deaths from heart disease than anything that we do once you’ve already been diagnosed with it,” Gudimetla said.
Reagan attributed unhealthy Western lifestyles, including poor diets and sedentary lifestyles, to the reason why heart disease is the No. 1 killer among Americans.
What are the symptoms and treatments of heart disease?
Medical City Weatherford Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Akif Mohammed, Gudimetla and Reagan said general symptoms of heart disease are chest pain or pressure, sweating, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, racing heart and swelling or failure of the legs.
Women tend to have atypical symptoms of heart disease, which can be challenging to diagnose and can result in misdiagnosing heart disease, Gudimetla said.
“A lot of women, they don’t have the classic chest pain that you read in a cardiology textbook for instance,” Gudimetla said. “They may have other symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue and nausea alone.”
Heart disease symptoms can also translate to failures in legs, Mohammed said. He has noticed more cases of peripheral arterial disease, in which there is reduced blood flow to a person’s legs.
“The rate of amputation in America is higher than intervention for the blockages, which means people are not paying attention to these kinds of disease problems,” Mohammed said. “It comes to a point where they have developed uncontrolled infections with sores in their legs because of circulation problems.”
Heart disease treatment can include medication for related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well as angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitors and blood thinners, the cardiologists said.
Bypass surgeries, which redirects blood flow after an artery is blocked, may be necessary for some patients, Gudimetla said.
Mohammed often performs a procedure in which a heart, kidney or leg blockage is cleared using an IV to open the blockage and a stent is inserted, he said.
What is a “heart healthy” diet?
Mohammed, Gudimetla and Reagan mentioned the Mediterranean diet as a food plan to live by. The plan, inspired by Greek and Italian food choices in 1960, recommends a diet of fruits, vegetables, poultry, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, seafood, dairy, eggs and healthy fats — like olive oil and avocados — among other choices. Highly processed foods, trans fats, added sugar and refined grains and oils are typically avoided by Mediterranean dieters.
Mohammed also recommended low fat and low carbohydrate food plans as well as eating baked foods rather than fried, he said.
Reagan suggested the Healthy Eating Plate, developed by Harvard University’s School of Public Health and editors at Harvard Health Publications, as a template for what to eat and how much. The Healthy Eating Plate is a diagram that gives a guideline of what foods people should consume and how much.
Gudimetla said people should consider limiting portions of food, comparing meat portions to the size of a person’s fist.
Eating healthy should be more than just a diet but a lifestyle change, Reagan said.
“I tell people, strive for a balanced diet and a diet that they can maintain consistently five years from now, 10 years from now and look at it more as a lifestyle change. It isn’t just a temporary diet that you’re going to go on for 30 days or 60 days,” Reagan said. “Most people the problem is that they get on what you’d call a fad diet or something like that, and they do well for a little while but once the fad is completed, they can’t continue it long-term, and then they just go back to their old lifestyle.”