Prioritizing your cardiovascular health
Author: Dr. Aaron Whipp, cardiologist at IU Health North Hospital and IU Health Saxony Hospital – soon to be IU Health Fishers
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death worldwide. Indiana has the fourteenth highest cardiovascular-related death rate in the country. The good news is the majority of CVD is preventable.
How to prioritize your cardiovascular health
The first step in prioritizing your cardiovascular health is learning your family history. Ask about any heart attacks, heart failure, or heart arrhythmias in first degree relatives, especially disease onset at a young age. If you learn of a strong family predilection for heart disease, don’t be discouraged. Several of the more than 200 identifiable risk factors for the development of CVD are modifiable. The American Heart Association has identified seven of the most common modifiable risk factors. These include normal body weight, healthy diet, regular exercise routine, smoking cessation, controlling high cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, and managing hypertension. When all seven of these factors are optimized, studies show that people will have 80 percent less heart disease. Check your weight and height to see if your body mass index (BMI) is under 25. Commit to a daily exercise routine that includes 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly. Change your diet habits to include less processed foods and salt while increasing your fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Don’t start smoking tobacco or if you do smoke find an accountability partner to help you quit. If your blood pressure is consistently greater than 130/80 or your average blood sugar is greater than 126 despite healthy lifestyle choices, talk to your doctor about the benefits of medications.
Treatment options for cardiovascular diseases
If you have any of the risks above, do not wait to schedule an appointment with your doctor. There have been several advancements in diagnostics and preventative therapeutics that can reduce your chances of developing CVD. Some routine screening tests may include an electrocardiogram (EKG) that can screen for coronary artery disease or fatal arrhythmias. An ultrasound of the heart called an echocardiogram utilizes sound waves to directly look at your heart to diagnose valve disease and heart failure. Blood tests can look for high cholesterol, diabetes, and in some patients, genetic testing. An exercise treadmill test with functional capacity can provide a 5-year risk assessment for heart attack, while validated smart phone apps can estimate combined 10-year risk of both heart attack and stroke. In patients with a strong family history of CVD or borderline cholesterol, your doctor might order a CT scan of the chest. This HEART scan looks directly at the heart arteries to quantify plaque burden. Based on your total calcium score, you might be a candidate for medication or other lifesaving pharmacologic therapies.
To learn more about heart and vascular care, visit iuhealth.org/heart.