Media Contact: Keith.O’Connor@baystatehealth.org, 413-794-7656
SPRINGFIELD – February is American Heart Month, a special time to raise greater public awareness concerning heart health risks for both men and women and how to prevent heart disease.
“It’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle to help avoid possible heart problems in the future. You can start right now by stopping smoking, which is the single best thing you can do to protect your heart from the damaging chemicals in tobacco which can narrow your arteries increasing your risk of a heart attack,” said Dr. Timothy Egan of the Heart & Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center.
According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with one in every three deaths attributed to heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,220 deaths per day. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Many of those deaths can be prevented by understanding your risks and setting goals with your doctor to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Egan.
In addition to smoking, the leading risk factors for developing coronary artery disease or having a heart attack include: age (the risk of heart disease increases for men after age 45 and for women after age 55 or menopause), sex (men have a greater risk than women), race (higher for African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans), high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, being physically inactive, stress, and having a family history of early heart disease.
“While you can minimize your risk of heart disease to a great degree, you can never bring it down to zero because there are some factors that are beyond your control
such as family history, sex, and age,” said Dr. Egan.
“Genetics plays a large role in developing heart disease and, unfortunately, this is something none of us has any control over. It’s important to discuss your family history of heart disease with your doctor, who may then decide to become more aggressive in the preventive measures taken to safeguard your heart health,” he added.
Dr. Egan said charting a course for good heart health begins with a visit to your primary care physician, who can assess your individual risk factors and then tailor a strategy for you to follow.
“Your doctor will want to take a thorough medical history and complete a physical exam, as well as screen for high blood pressure and high cholesterol which can damage your heart and blood vessels. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, your doctor may also prescribe a fasting blood sugar test to check for the disease. And, an electrocardiogram, or EKG as most people know them, might be done to establish a baseline and to check your heart health if other diseases or conditions are present such as diabetes or high blood pressure,” said Dr. Egan.
“Depending on the results of the tests and other factors, your doctor may simply suggest lifestyle modifications or prescribe medications to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If your blood sugars are running high, your doctor may also refer you to an endocrinologist for treatment of type 2 diabetes,” he added.
Lifestyle modifications could include working with a dietitian to eat a healthy, balanced diet, and to be more active by incorporating 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise into your daily routine. Both lifestyle changes can reduce your blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and help to maintain a proper weight, since obesity and being overweight leads to the many risk factors associated with heart disease.
Dr. Egan also cautioned parents to keep an eye on their children.
“Nowadays, we are seeing younger and younger patients at greater risk for heart disease as a result of high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and other factors related to obesity,” said the Baystate cardiologist.
And, Dr. Egan said you should always be able to recognize the signs of a heart attack – uncomfortable pressure in the center of the chest such as pain, squeezing or fullness; pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort; and breaking out in a cold sweat,
nausea or lightheadedness.
Truven Health Analytics has named Baystate Medical Center a 50 Top Cardiovascular Hospital in the U.S. To learn more about Baystate Medical Center’s life-saving cardiac capabilities, visit baystatehealth.org/bhvp.