The American Heart Association has declared February National Heart Month, meaning it’s the perfect time to check on your heart health. According to the American Heart Association, former President Lyndon B. Johnson declared February as American Heart Month over 50 years ago. Novant Health encourages you to Go Red this Friday, February 3rd by wearing something red to promote heart health awareness.
It’s common knowledge that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. According to the CDC, about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Dr. Gabriel Delgado, medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization and Vascular lab at Matthews Medical Center, has seen his fair share of patients over the past eight years. Board certified in both interventional cardiology and cardiovascular disease, Dr. Delgado works with patients who have problems with circulation in their heart, arms, legs, and kidneys.
For Dr. Delgado, most patients fall into two categories. There are those who have a heart issue such as blocked vessels that supply the heart with blood. These patients experience chest pain, trouble breathing, and discomfort when exercising. Other patients have pain when they walk or stand due to blockages in their legs. “It’s common that when you have one, you have risk for the other,” Dr. Delgado says.
Dr. Delgado explains how low-density lipoproteins – what we call “bad” cholesterol – are the building blocks that the body uses to build up a wall in the blood vessels. When this happens, Dr. Delgado preforms endovascular surgery, which involves inserting a flexible tube or catheter into the blood vessel to eliminate the blockage. But Dr. Delgado says he’d rather prevent the problem in the first place.
“Prevention is huge part of what we do,” Dr. Delgado explains. “By the time we see a patient in the clinic, the horse is out of the barn so to speak. We try and help patients prevent a new episode from occurring. We have a comprehensive program where we involve the patient’s primary care physician, the cardiologist, nutritionists, and the home health team. Exercise, diet, good control of blood pressure, and control of high blood sugar are also key.”
Dr. Delgado also addresses cholesterol with his patients. He notes that some people are born with the tendency to make bad cholesterol while others absorb bad cholesterol from their diet. “If we catch it early and treat cholesterol with exercise and diet, we can get by without using medication,” Dr. Delgado says. He says that monitoring cholesterol is important because without it, the body won’t have the building materials it uses to cause blockages in the blood vessels.
Dr. Delgado stresses the importance of heart health. He says, “Take care of your heart and your heart will take care of you.” As you celebrate Heart Health Awareness month, here are a few things you can think about to take care of your heart:
Understand your heart disease risk
Some people have a family history of heart disease. “You can’t overcome the contribution of genetics to your heart risk,” Dr. Delgado says. “If you have several family members with the tendency to have heart disease, it puts you at risk.” But he says that regardless of your heredity, there are enormous benefits of improving your lifestyle choices. “Have a conversation with your primary care provide (PCP) or cardiologist,” he notes. “Close control of blood pressure, diet, and exercise may help completely eliminate that risk.”
Understand the screenings that are right for you
Novant Health offers a variety of screenings for heart disease depending on your age, lifestyle, and family history. Knowing your cholesterol numbers can be an important first step. Also a stress test can help your doctor determine your heart health. This involves either walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike while your heart rhythm, blood pressure, and breathing are being monitored. Other screenings for vascular disease can include a variety of ultrasounds – painless procedures to see if you have a blockage or a buildup of plaque in a blood vessel. Dr. Delgado says there’s no recommended routine for everyone, so talk to your doctor about the screenings that are right for you.
Understand the differences between men and women
Many people are familiar with the typical symptoms of a man having a heart attack – he clutches his chest as the pain radiates down his left arm, he is sweating profusely, and he is having trouble breathing. For a woman, a heart attack may or may not look the same. While she could have the same symptoms, she might instead have right arm pain or even back pain, she might have an upset stomach, or she might not feel like anything is wrong. Because of these differences, Dr. Delgado encourages people to see their physician if they have any concerns that they may be at risk for heart disease.
One final thought
Certainly men or women experiencing chest pain and pressure should call 911 as heart attacks should be treated right away. But Dr. Delgado also gives one more situation for when a person should seek medical advice. “Having pain or a profound new fatigue while trying to engage in physical activity is a big cause for concern,” Dr. Delgado warns. “Men and women blame it on age, that they’re not able to do the things they did before. But a sudden decline can be a red flag. If a patient says, ‘I can’t walk like I did before,’ it may be hidden heart disease.”
For more information on your heart health or heart disease risk, visit novanthealth.org/RemarkableYou, or talk to your primary care physician.