Washington, Mo. – When it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease, people have more control than they think – and their physicians can offer additional guidance.
“One in three Americans will die from heart attack, heart failure or stroke, and most of these deaths are preventable by changing the way we live and managing our health risks,” said Mercy Clinic cardiologist John Mohart, MD.
The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) created a new set of guidelines for physicians to better identify patients with risks and help them manage or eliminate those risks for cardiovascular diseases that lead to strokes and heart attacks.
“Under the guidelines, patients would start with an overall health assessment with their primary care physician to determine their risks. They would go over weight, cholesterol levels and lifestyle where it directly affects your health,” said Dr. Mohart. “Based on that information, we recommend a plan to reduce your risks.”
A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is deprived or stopped because of a blockage. It can lead to instant death or, as heart muscle dies, people feel chest, arm and jaw pain, nausea and other symptoms often associated with heart attacks. A stroke is caused by a blockage in an artery that carries blood to the brain. Functions of the brain where the clot forms cause a patient’s symptoms, such as paralysis on one side of the face or body or difficulty with speech. How long the symptoms last and how severe they are usually are equal to the size and duration of the clot.
Risk factors for stroke and heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, being overweight or obese and long-term inactivity. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that nearly two-thirds of adult Americans have high or elevated blood pressure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 35.9 percent of American adults age 20 and older are obese.
“The typical American lifestyle is the cause of many of these risk factors. Not only have we adapted unhealthy habits, we’ve assumed things aren’t bad for us that really are,” said Dr. Mohart. “The new guidelines encourage physicians to help patients make healthier choices and create goals.”
Recommendations include programs to help patients quit smoking, increase physical activities and meet with nutritionists to learn better eating. Health professionals recommend a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts and limited in sodium, saturated fat and trans fat.
Maintaining an ideal weight and regular exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Diet and exercise, however, may not address everyone’s immediate health issues. For some patients, bariatric surgery may offer a more realistic weight loss option.
But physicians warn that thin people also are at risk. “If you’re heavy, losing weight will reduce weight-related risks. If you’re thin, you may have other risk factors, like high cholesterol or high blood pressure, or smoking may put you at risk. You should see your physician for a health assessment,” said Dr. Mohart.
Among the new guidelines is a more lenient recommendation on who should be given statins. More people qualify based on medical history rather than just cholesterol levels. Statins are a class of prescribed drugs that can stop or reduce the buildup of artery-clogging cholesterol.
“Our goal is prevention. In the short term, a combination of healthier living and medications will reduce peoples’ risks for heart disease and stroke,” said Dr. Mohart. “Over time, as more people achieve their health goals through lifestyle changes and healthier living becomes the norm, there will be less need for medications.”
Dr. Mohart added that cardiovascular disease is unlike many other life-threatening illnesses. “Imagine if you were diagnosed with a terminal disease. Now imagine being told there was something you could have done to prevent it,” he said. “We need to think of cardiovascular disease as a terminal disease that’s within our control. Now is the time to take action to live longer, healthier lives, and the medical community is here offering help.”