Anand Rohatgi, M.D. Answers Questions On: Preventive Cardiology
How can someone with poor cardiovascular health make positive changes?
When you’re in poor health, small changes can actually have a huge impact. So there’s a lot that people in poor cardiovascular health can do to lower their risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Our preventive cardiology team sees patients across the spectrum of heart health – some have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, and some have already had heart attacks – and by taking a long-term approach to achieving a healthier lifestyle, we’re able to help many patients minimize their risk for heart disease.
By enabling individuals to improve their diets and activity levels in a gradual but step-wise manner, as well as making sure they’re on the right medications, we can help patients reverse or eliminate conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure so they require less medication or, in some cases, none at all.
What advances in preventive cardiology are exciting?
Several new classes of cholesterol-lowering drugs are being studied that can lower cholesterol to ideal levels if patients have been unable to do it themselves with diet and exercise or because of a genetic disorder. These medications can lower cholesterol so dramatically that they may usher in an era in which heart attacks are virtually eradicated.
Another exciting development is that many people now realize that the way for our society to be healthy is through prevention – by role-modeling healthy behaviors for others around us and by promoting and incentivizing health consciousness, healthful eating, physical activity, and fitness in our communities.
How can patients prevent complications of high blood pressure?
Having high blood pressure (hypertension) – even if only mildly elevated – harms cardiovascular health in several ways.
High blood pressure increases stress on the arteries and damages them. These damaged areas are where cholesterol can deposit and form plaques that can eventually rupture, causing a heart attack or stroke. And because hypertension makes the heart work much harder to pump blood into stiff or clogged blood vessels, it can lead to congestive heart failure.
High blood pressure also can cause damage in other parts of the body, resulting in stroke, kidney failure, or blindness.
Because most people with hypertension don’t have symptoms, the only way to head off related problems is to check blood pressure regularly – particularly if they tend toward high blood pressure or have a family history of it.
Patients with high blood pressure who experience blurry vision or changes in vision, a new or worsening headache, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, or chest discomfort should seek prompt medical care.
For patients with a family history of coronary artery disease, what is the best way to lower risk?
The most powerful way to lower the risk of heart disease and keep it low is by eating a diet that approximates the Mediterranean diet – one low in saturated fats, moderate in carbohydrates, and enriched in tree nuts and olive oil. Studies have shown this diet is the most natural heart-healthy diet overall.
Always be physically active on a daily basis, regardless of your weight. If you’re fit, that tends to really have a powerful effect in protecting you from heart disease.
Smoking is clearly a major detriment to health and markedly accelerates heart disease. Although that’s a well-known fact, many individuals don’t realize that secondhand smoke can also increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes and should also be avoided.