The Tender Heart

February is American Heart Month, and I wanted to write a bit about heart disease and some of the ways to decrease your risk of a heart attack.  I have been making posts daily on my Facebook business page, one simple (and sometimes not so simple) suggestion daily that you can implement to improve your heart health.  Please feel free to “like” my Facebook page and follow me for regular updates!

About half my suggestions are diet-related, foods you can add to your diet (or avoid) to be good to your ticker.  Some examples are fish oil, ground flaxseeds, red wine, olive oil, soy, nuts, oatmeal, coffee and tea.  There are many foods that have been shown to decrease your risk of a heart attack.

The rest of my suggestions are a mixed bag of lifestyle changes and other medical/health related items that are good for your heart (and the rest of you).  The most important one is to not smoke cigarettes.  If I could pick one thing that would decrease your heart risk the most, not smoking would be it.  Smoking a pack of cigarettes daily more than doubles your risk of a heart attack.  Since heart disease is the number-one killer of Americans, that’s a huge number of extra deaths due to smoking!

Some other ways to decrease your heart disease risk are to see the doctor for a blood pressure check at least every other year and get treatment if your blood pressure is too high.  Elevated blood pressure is a significant risk for heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

It’s also important to get your cholesterol checked and be open to both lifestyle changes and possibly medications if you’re above goal.  Knowing your goal is more complicated than just the total cholesterol.  The different cholesterol fractions are important, like LDL, HDL and triglycerides.   The targets are also different based on your heart risk factors (age, gender, smoking status, weight, blood pressure, history of other medical problems like diabetes and family history of early heart disease are the most important ones).

If you have diabetes it’s critical to have all 3 parameters under good control:  sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.  Diabetics with NO known heart problems are as likely as a non-diabetic with known heart disease to have a heart attack over a given period of time.  That’s why we are so aggressive with cholesterol and blood pressure control in diabetics.  I tell patients all the time that if you’re a perfectly healthy and fit diabetic, I’m gonna treat you like you have heart disease.  Know why?  Because your risk is the same.  Sad but true.  Preventing the FIRST heart attack in a diabetic is as important as preventing the SECOND heart attack in a non-diabetic.

Some of my other suggestions are commonsense and pretty obvious, like losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight, exercising (it’s called cardio for a reason!) and managing your stress.  Some aren’t obvious.  For instance, I found that having a pet decreases your heart risk.  Also, married people are less likely to have a heart attack.  (That study was done in Finland.  Maybe married Finns are happier than married Americans?)  And childless men are 17% more likely to have a heart attack than men who have children.  Why?  Who knows?

So mosey on over to my Facebook page and click “like” to see more suggestions on how to keep your heart healthy and happy.  I’ve been posting pics from “the trenches” of Facebook fans who come to see me in the office, as well as operational updates like vacation notices and info about our waiting room remodel.

Hope you all had a happy Valentine’s Day!  Here’s to your heart!

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