Ask A Doc – Dr. Schoeck, NOMG Internal Medicine

February is Heart Health month! Dr. Schoeck from NOMG’s Internal Medicine office answers questions regarding the heart disease and the best way to keep your heart healthy.

What are the best ways to ensure that I maintain a healthy heart?

The most important thing you can do for your heart is to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. This begins by eliminating activities that are harmful, including tobacco use and excessive alcohol intake. It is important to carefully consider the foods that you eat, as well. Salt is a main contributor to hypertension (high blood pressure) and the average American eats 3,400 milligrams (mg) of salt a day despite a recommendation of only 2,300 mg. The majority of this salt (75%) comes from restaurant, prepackaged and processed foods. The DASH diet – decreasing foods high in saturated fat (red meat, cheese) and adding more fruits, vegetables, lean meats (poultry, fish), low fat foods, and whole grains – can also help with heart protection. And remember – your heart is a muscle and the best way to strengthen a muscle is through exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (brisk walking, biking, swimming, mowing the lawn) per week. This is only 30 minutes, 5 days a week.

Are there recommended tests or screenings available to monitor my heart health?

There are a number of simple tests that your doctor can do to help monitor factors that affect the heart. These simple tests including getting regular blood pressure checks, testing your cholesterol, and screening for diabetes (checking blood sugar). These are recommended annually for anyone over the age of 30. If your doctor suspects a problem with your heart, further testing can be done. This may include a simple EKG (electrocardiogram) or echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart) to get a better idea of its function. For a more in-depth test, your doctor may have you run on a treadmill while cardiac monitoring is done (a stress test).

How do I know if I am at risk for heart disease?

Some risk factors for heart disease that you can control include having high cholesterol; elevated triglyceride or blood sugar levels; and smoking, which increases the plaque formed in your arteries and increases the risk of blood clots. Hypertension increases stress on the cardiovascular system; most adults should aim for a blood pressure of <140/90. Overweight and obese individuals have a greater risk for heart disease because of many of these factors. Additional controllable risk factors include sleep apnea (pauses in breathing while sleeping), physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, and high levels of stress or depression. There are also factors outside of your control including cardiac disease in a male relative (father or brother) before 55 years old or female relative (mother or sister) before 65 years old. Your risk for cardiac disease increases with age, particularly in women after they reach menopause. If you have any of these factors you should ask your doctor what further steps you can take to help lower your risk.

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