Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February is Heart Month

February, with Valentine’s Day, is a special month for love and remembrance. It is also a good time to remember your heart health.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in the United States, ahead of all other causes of death. Heart disease accounts for more deaths than diabetes, accidents and cancer combined. The best news is that some of these deaths are preventable, and you can do something to lessen your chances of suffering this fate.

First of all, lose weight if you are overweight! Being overweight puts an added strain on every heartbeat, and losing just ten pounds will lessen your risk considerably. Of course, if you are obese, you will need lots of help accomplishing this weight loss, and my office is able to help you put the first foot forward. I can offer you a weekly weigh in, diet and nutrition advice, and lots of cheerleading to help you get some of the extra weight off and keep it off.

The best way to strengthen your heart is to exercise. Your aim is to exercise every day, not just twice a week (the week-end warrior), or once in a while. Walking for 45 minutes a day will keep your heart healthy. To lose weight, you will need more than this, and wearing a pedometer, as well as tracking your progress, will give you positive reinforcement. (Check out MyFitnessPal in your smart phone apps).

If you smoke, quit today. There are many programs designed to help you quit, and there are medications that may be helpful. If you are a victim of secondary smoke, make your partner quit, as this raises the risk of heart disease for you as well as your mate. Smokers have a 79% higher risk of death compared with non-smokers.

Alcohol consumption in moderation is good for the heart, and drinking a glass of red wine daily has been found to lower your risk of heart disease. However, drinking more than one or two drinks a day may be harmful, and more than this has been proven to increase your risk of not only heart disease but also, cancer. My best advice is to drink in moderation, and this means one glass, at the most, daily.

All of us need to reduce stress, and stress can cause heart disease. The best way to reduce stress is to do something you love to do, and this can be exercise, taking walks, doing yoga, meditating, or spending time with family and friends. Work less, or take breaks at work to break the strain of the day. Get outside and enjoy the day. Studies have found that people who have mates live longer and stay healthier. It is also known that laughter is the best medicine! Laughing reduces stress by raising the good neuro-hormones.

Be mindful of your diet, and eat the good foods. It has been said that eating at least 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables will lower your risk of having a heart attack by almost 20 %.  Avoid too much salt, lower your total daily intake of fats, and eat the good fats when you do eat them. My favorite diet is the Mediterranean diet. This is named for the countries of Southern Europe bordering this Sea; people from these countries enjoy better health and live longer than those from Northern Europe and America. What makes this diet better? Most importantly, it embraces the “three great foods”, olives, grapes and wheat. Our American wheat is too hybridized, and contains too much gluten. Eating old world wheat and other grains, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, a few “good fish”, beans, nuts and olive oil make this diet the perfect one for good heart health.

Take aspirin if it is good for you to do this. How will you know if you should take one a day? Come in for your annual examination, and discuss this with me. Taking aspirin prevents your platelets from being “sticky”. Sticky platelets can adhere to cholesterol plaque and cause the arteries around your heart to clog, thus causing oxygen deprivation and cardiac ischemia, or a “heart attack”.

Cholesterol is a leading cause of heart attacks and heart disease. Studies on men have proven that lowering the cholesterol to less than 200 (total) and less than 100 (LDL) lower your risk for heart attack by 50%. Women have not shown this in meta-analysis studies, though we hope more prospective studies are on the way to help us sort out the importance of lowering cholesterol in women as primary prevention. Lowering it after a heart attack is well known, and the goals are similar to men.

Know the warning signs of a heart attack. You need to be able to recognize the warning signs of an impending heart attack, and know what to do if it happens to you. The warning signs of impending damage to the heart, or “angina”, are chest pain in the setting of exertion or emotional stress, shortness of breath with exertion, pain that goes to your left shoulder and down your left arm, or to your jaw, neck or abdomen. People usually describe angina as “an elephant sitting on their chest”. Women are different, and may have pain in the abdomen after meals, nausea with exertion, lightheadedness, and fatigue. When in doubt, come in and get tested!

What to do if you think you may be having a heart attack? Keep aspirin on hand. If you know you have angina, make sure you have nitroglycerin in your medicine cabinet (or in your purse and refrigerator.) Take this if you have pain at the same time as your aspirin pill. If you have angina, it should get better with rest and nitroglycerin. Call 911 if you are not sure you are better. If you have never had angina, call 911, chew 325 mg aspirin, and get someone nearby to help as soon as possible. You need to get help within a few minutes to save permanent heart damage.

Be proactive. Lose the weight, lower your cholesterol, quit smoking, get your diabetes under control, exercise daily, drink less alcohol, take an aspirin if suggested by a doctor, and know the signs of a heart attack. These steps could save your life.

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