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Happy Heart Health Awareness Month

Posted on: 02/15/2021

by Steven Herrmann, MD

February is traditionally a time to share your heart with a loved one. Thus, it seems reasonable to review the steps you can take to protect your heart from cardiovascular disease. Whether it’s a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or peripheral vascular disease, odds are you or your loved ones will die from cardiovascular disease.

Some risk factors are not modifiable. If you’re over 45 years of age as a man or 55 years as a woman, you are now at risk. If your parents or a first degree relative had heart problems at a young age, you may be at increased risk as well. These risk factors we cannot change, however others are under your control.

1) Blood pressure: know it and monitor at home if possible. A normal blood pressure is at or below 120/80 mmHg, and increased risk starts at 130/90 mmHg and above. Reducing sodium intake by at least 1000mg/day, weight loss, and exercise will help reduce blood pressure. Minimizing alcohol consumption as well as limiting arthritis type medications is beneficial. Although most blood pressure medications can lower the numbers, some are clearly better than others depending on age, race, and other conditions.

2) Diabetes/ obesity: these are related and significant problems throughout the world. Getting your A1C sugar controlled to goal and reducing your body mass index toward optimal levels are major steps. This is often accomplished with diet, exercise, weight loss, calorie reduction, and minimizing poor carbohydrate choices. Newer drugs for management of diabetes have shown promising results in prevention outside of their effects on sugar control as well as weight loss.

3) Cholesterol: new guidelines have changed targets for your cholesterol. People with known disease need the bad, or LDL cholesterol < 70mg/ dl. Others need to have their risk calculated to guide their management, which always includes saturated fat reduction, exercise and weight loss. Although statin medications remain the backbone of therapy, newer drugs have shown to be quite impressive in preventing disease without some of the side effects often experienced.

4) Nicotine: it’s difficult but stopping must be part of the plan for optimal risk reduction.

5) Masking: say what? If COVID has taught us anything, it is that we know less about the heart than we thought. Throughout the pandemic, evidence has mounted that inflammation from COVID-19 can increase blood clots, cause damage to the heart, and lead to heart rhythm problems. Thus, stay safe by hand cleanliness, social distancing, and masking which are important not just for public safety, but for cardiovascular health as well.

Cardiac risk reduction can save your life. It is complicated and takes a team approach including your primary care provider, perhaps a specialist, dietician, and behavior modification. Focusing on risk reduction will benefit your life more than any x-ray, stress test, ultrasound, catheterization, or stent.... it makes more sense to prevent the disease than treat it after the fact.

Discuss your heart health risks with your physician today so that you can enjoy another Valentine’s Day with that special person in your life.

Dr. Herrmann is a cardiologist with General Physician, PC and an active medical staff member at Bradford Regional Medical Center, Olean General Hospital and Kaleida Health. He is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, echocardiography and nuclear cardiology. He is an American College of Cardiology fellow, has multiple listings in Top Doctors in America, Who’s Who in Academic Medicine, is a member of the International Society of Cardiology and a renowned teacher and author.

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