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How to Recognize and Prevent Heart Disease

Dr. Suresh Patel

February is American Heart Month which allows us an opportunity to shine a light on the prevalence of heart disease and encourage our patients to adopt healthier lifestyles. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death for men and women. While heart disease can be deadly, it’s also preventable in most people. By adopting healthy lifestyle habits early, you can potentially live longer with a healthier heart.

Below we share some of the basics about heart disease and provide insight from Dr. Suresh Patel, Dopson Family Medical Center’s resident cardiologist.

What Is Heart Disease?

The term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease (CAD), which affects the blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack.

Dr. Patel: “Heart disease is largely a preventable disease. A lot of people have a genetic predisposition for developing heart disease, however, lifestyle is the number one thing that can lead to the development of heart disease. Diet, cholesterol control, blood pressure control, diabetes control, and activity levels, will help prolong the onset of the disease, or prevent it.”

What Causes Heart Disease?

Heart disease can refer to different heart or blood vessel problems but the term often refers to damage to your heart or blood vessels by atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries. Plaque buildup thickens and stiffens artery walls, which can inhibit blood flow through your arteries to your organs and tissues. 

The most common risk factors of heart disease include :

  • A diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol
    • Foods high in saturated and trans fats can increase your cholesterol levels which directly increases your chance of developing heart disease. A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaques in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Click here to learn more about how to make your diet more heart-healthy. 
  • High blood pressure
    • Blood pressure refers to the measure of the force of blood pushing against the blood vessel walls. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when the heart is forced to work harder to pump blood out to the body and can lead to atherosclerosis, stroke and heart failure. Many of the risks of high blood pressure are the same as heart disease and stress the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.
  • Smoking and tobacco use
    • Smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. The chemicals in cigarette smoke cause the cells that line blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed. The plaque buildup caused by cigarette smoke can narrow the blood vessels which can cause blood clots and lead to heart attacks. 
  • Diabetes
    • There is a strong link between diabetes and heart disease and adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes. Diabetes is a risk factor that can be inherited from a parent or caused by lifestyle choices. It’s important to have an annual check-up with your primary care physician to help prevent the onset of diabetes or manage it to reduce your chance of developing any of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. 

Dr. Patel: “I would stress that people who are at risk genetically or are smokers, diabetic, or have a family history, should have a heart scan at least to figure out if they need to be on cholesterol-lowering medications, or figure out if they need to change their lifestyle to prevent the onset and progression of heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer in this country for years, and we need to work on decreasing this because, overall, this is a preventable disease.”

How Can Heart Disease Be Detected?

If you have any of the risk factors mentioned above or have experienced symptoms related to heart problems, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or cardiologist as soon as possible. 

At Dopson Family Medical Center, our doctors will take your personal and family medical history, record your current and past symptoms, order any necessary tests and assign you with a heart score which identifies your risk of developing heart disease and will determine possible treatments like cholesterol-lowering medications, diabetes control, hypertension, activity levels, weight levels, and more.

Dopson Family Medical Center’s Cardiology team is located next door to Ed Fraser Memorial Hospital which offers the latest in cardiac technology. Diagnostic tools include:

  • CT angiography which is the most advanced form of detecting early heart disease
  • Nuclear medicine provides details on the function and anatomy of the heart and can detect patients with ischemia or reduced blood flow which is often caused by the build-up of plaque in the arteries. 
  • Echocardiography which gives structural information about the heart function. This is most useful for people already diagnosed with a heart issue.
  • Chemical and non-chemical stress tests where patients are either chemically induced to have high heart rates associated with exercise, or put on a treadmill where their EKG results can be assessed for symptoms of heart disease.

Dr. Patel: “At Ed Fraser Memorial Hospital we have the latest cardiac CT machine that can detect coronary disease in its infancy. It is called the heart score. You can do CT angiography, stress tests, lipid profiles, and echocardiography, including nuclear medicine imaging. All these help detect coronary disease in various stages of development.”

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Suresh Patel by calling (904) 259-7815