2022 brings new hope for heart health
American Heart Month provides a valuable opportunity for people to take stock of their cardiovascular health, says Jonathan A. Fialkow, MD, population health manager for Baptist Health. It’s also an opportunity for the medical community to drive home the basics of heart health, which it says include knowing your “dashboard” numbers, knowing your personal risk factors, and taking active steps every day to maintain your cardiovascular health.
Dr. Fialkow, a cardiologist who is also associate director of the Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, says there are many reasons to be encouraged about cardiovascular health today. “I think more people are now aware of their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and how their numbers are in line with federal health guidelines.”
Additionally, Dr. Fialkow notes, more primary care physicians are now using coronary calcium scoring for early assessment of cardiac risk, which he says can be an excellent indicator of future cardiovascular health.
“Your calcium score is determined by a quick, simple and inexpensive chest CT scan that allows us to assess the amount of calcium in the walls of your arteries,” he explains. “With this, we can predict the cardiovascular issues you’re at risk for five or maybe 10 years and start taking steps to minimize those risks.”
Minimizing risk starts with making good — or, at least, better — decisions every day, says Dr. Fialkow, adding that diet is an easy and obvious place to start on your journey to better heart health.
“More people are now adopting low-carb diets and incorporating more plant-based foods, which is great,” says Dr. Fialkow. “I think we’re also starting to understand that it’s not so much about limiting fat in our diets as it is about avoiding all processed and refined foods. These contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, all of which can increase your risk of heart disease.
If you’re at risk for heart disease, new technology promises to help detect a heart attack before it even happens, according to Dr. Fialkow. “Soon we may be able to implant a tiny device in the patient’s chest that will allow us to remotely monitor their vital signs 24 hours a day, whether they are at home, at work or on vacation,” he explains. -he. “If certain conditions develop, the device alerts the patient to seek help immediately and then allows us to see exactly what was going on with their heart at that time.”
Another reason for encouragement, says Dr. Fialkow, is that certain drugs developed to fight diabetes have been shown to significantly reduce heart disease. “We’re looking at these drugs not just in diabetic patients, but in other high-risk people, and we’re seeing very promising results.”
Additionally, Dr. Fialkow says drugs such as semaglutide help people with type 2 diabetes, who are at high risk for heart disease, lower both their weight and their blood sugar levels. “We are also looking at the effectiveness of these drugs in helping protect against heart disease in people without diabetes.”
And what about the link between cardiovascular health and stress? “I think the more we talk about it, the better,” says Dr. Fialkow. “The pandemic has brought incalculable stress and uncertainty – and, for many, incredible sadness – into our lives over the past two years. Even though the long-term effects of COVID-19 on our cardiovascular health have yet to be documented, we do know that stress itself contributes to heart disease and other conditions, and there have been many.
Dr Fialkow says taking care of yourself and your heart starts with finding a diet and exercise routine that works for you, and doing something – anything, everyday – that brings you closer to your goal. In particular, Dr. Fialkow offers these tips for staying heart healthy in 2022:
• Get checked by your doctor.
• Consider medical treatment to reduce risk, if necessary (i.e. medicines to control blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar).
• Start exercising and keep going – aim for 30 minutes a day, every day.
• Focus on managing stress and taking care of your mental health.
• Minimize the amount of processed or refined foods you eat and limit alcohol.
• Get a good night’s sleep: there is a clear link between sleep disorders and heart disease
• Pay attention to your body and let your doctor know if something is wrong.
Additionally, advises Dr. Fialkow, learn to recognize cardiovascular disease symptoms, which may include:
• Excessive shortness of breath with less activity
• Tightness in the chest, jaw or arm
• Shiny ankle skin and/or ankle swelling
• Shortness of breath when lying in bed
• Indigestion with activity
• General tiredness
“More than 800,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic, and that’s just an awful number when you think about it,” says Dr. Fialkow. “But we lose 800,000 Americans every year to cardiovascular disease, so there’s clearly more work to be done on education and screening — not just now during American Heart Month, but throughout the world. ‘year.”