February is American Heart Month

When you think of February, your thoughts turn to Valentine’s Day, love and heart-shaped boxes of candy. The American Heart Month was created so you spend some time also thinking about ways to keep that muscular organ in your chest going strong. About 2,200 Americans die each day of cardiovascular disease. Many believe that heart disease affects more men than women, so the National Wear Red Day (this year on Feb. 2) was created in 2003 to raise awareness about heart disease being the number one killer of women.

There are many interesting facts found on the American Heart Association’s website (heart.org) about American Heart Month:

-The first American Heart Month, which took place in February 1964, was proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson via Proclamation 3566 on December 30, 1963.

-The Congress, by joint resolution on that date, has requested the President to issue annually a proclamation designating February as American Heart Month.

-At that time, more than half the deaths in the United Stated were caused by cardiovascular disease.

-While American Heart Month is a federally designated month in the United States, it’s important to realize that cardiovascular disease knows no borders. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, remains the leading global cause of death with more than 17.3 million deaths each year.

-That number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.

Dr. Nathan Laufer

We posed some heart-related questions to Nathan Laufer M.D., FACC. Dr. Laufer is the founder and medical director of the Heart & Vascular Center of Arizona. He is board certified in internal medicine, cardiology and interventional cardiology and has been in practice since 1984.

Following are the questions and Dr. Laufer’s answers:

What are the risk factors for heart disease?
There are five main risk factors for heart disease: smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol (especially the bad cholesterol or LDL) and genetics.
What can someone do to lower his/her risk of heart disease?
Obviously, we can’t do anything about the genetic risk of heart disease. However, the other four can be controlled. Diet and exercise lower blood pressure and cholesterol and can limit diabetes.

How does diet impact heart health?
A strict low-cholesterol and low-carb diet will lower blood cholesterol, blood sugar and can decrease weight. In turn, this will then decrease the chance of developing plaque in the coronary arteries. Even if there is plaque present, a low-cholesterol diet will lower blood cholesterol which will lower the fat in the plaque, stabilizing it. This action will lead to a more scarred plaque with less fat in it, which is less likely to rupture and cause a heart attack.

What is the connection between high blood pressure and heart disease?
High blood pressure can cause stress and strain on the coronary artery, which can trigger the development of coronary plaques. Also, the heart muscle would be working against a higher resistance, which can eventually weaken the heart muscle and cause congestive heart failure. Finally, high blood pressure is one of the important risk factors for developing stroke by triggering plaque development in the carotid arteries.

What is the difference between good and bad cholesterol?
Good cholesterol, or HDL, takes cholesterol from the coronary artery plaque and deposits it into the liver where it is broken down. Bad cholesterol, or LDL, helps trigger the development of coronary artery plaque. LDL cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for coronary artery disease and heart attacks. More specifically, the dense particle portion of LDL has the highest risk factor for developing coronary artery disease. This particle can be measured by sub-fractionating the total LDL cholesterol.

What are the warning signs of heart disease?
The warning signs are different for men and women. In men, the classic symptoms are chest pressure, heaviness or tightness, occasionally with radiation to the neck or left shoulder, or down the arm. It can be associated with nausea and sweating. When the symptoms occur with exertion, it is called angina. If it occurs at rest, it could signify the beginning of a heart attack. In women, symptoms are significantly different. They can sometimes be confused with postmenopausal symptoms. They are sometimes described as chills, sweats, shortness of breath, or nausea. These symptoms tend to be more nonspecific, and the diagnosis is sometimes missed.

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