Eric Cravey, The Clay Today
Nearly 5.7 million people in the U.S. live with heart failure and approximately 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Despite such large numbers, which sound daunting, cardiologists say the disease that claims 287,000 Americans each year can be prevented.
“You have to take charge of your health,” said Simone Nader, M.D., F.A.C.C., a cardiologist who serves patients at Baptist Clay on Fleming Island.
“Know your numbers –your cholesterol, your blood pressure and get a physical every year. Take charge.”
Nader recommends getting an annual physical as just one aspect of preventing heart disease. She said heart disease can be held at bay by having a sensible diet that is low in saturated fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. She also recommends having a consistent exercise regimen that includes at least a half hour of cardiovascular work, five days a week. Other things that will help prevent heart disease are avoiding tobacco products and smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and getting a good night’s sleep every night.
“The main thing to think about are the risk factors,” Nader said. “If a person has three of more of the risk factors, their chance of getting heart disease increases tremendously.”
She said patients need to know their family health history and whether either parent had heart disease. But then, the details enter into the picture. Which of the two types of heart disease did your parents have – systolic or diastolic?
“In systolic, the heart muscle becomes weak, like a balloon that cannot squeeze,” said Omar Dajani, M.D., who is a cardiologist at St. Vincent’s Clay County. “In diastolic, the heart muscle becomes stiff, or what is called noncompliant. When it’s stiff, it doesn’t expand as much.”
Dajani said diastolic heart disease is more often associated with a long history of high blood pressure or hypertension, whereas, in systolic heart disease, there are multiple causes.
“One is blockage, coronary artery disease, heart valve problems – either narrowed or basically leaking – but another is idiopathic, which means, for no reason, the heart gets ill after viral illness of severe emotional trauma,” Dajani said.
And, like most diseases, the treatment depends on the cause. Dajani characterizes heart disease as being very unique to each person – no two cases are ever alike.
“It’s a very multifactorial type of disease,” Dajani said. “There is not just one type of procedure or treatment to fix it.”
He said blockage or heart valve problems are typically corrected with surgery, but idiopathic heart disease can only be treated with a transplant. Either way, he said heart disease is one of the most costly diseases in the U.S.
“Heart disease is very common,” Dajani said. “It’s probably one of the most common reasons for people coming to the emergency room. It’s a very expensive disease for this country.”
Like Nader, Dajani agrees that prevention is within our reach. He said knowing the risk factors can open up a whole world of awareness and prevent a possible future problem.
“The best treatment is preventive treatment,” Dajani said. “We can reduce the risk by identifying the risk factors for it, such as blood pressure control – which usually doesn’t have symptoms unless it is elevated – diet and exercise and early detection of the problem. There are some medicines that can improve the heart muscle, but once the muscle is damaged, the only thing you can do is increase the medications in dosage.”
Nader suggests getting a baseline cardio exam at age 50, especially if your parents had a history of heart failure. Otherwise, your first cardio check-up should come at age 55.