Avert major risk factors for heart attack
You can control your risk of heart attack, the number-one killer of Americans, even if you were dealt a bad genetic hand with a family history of heart attacks, bypass surgery, or coronary stent placement.
A large majority of people who sustain heart attacks before age 40 are smokers. Even a few puffs on a cigarette initiate abnormal changes in the lining of arteries. Continued smoking promotes cholesterol-plaque buildup, plaque instability, and eventually plaque rupture that triggers blood clots. When the clot blocks a coronary (heart muscle) artery, a major heart attack results. Fatal abnormal heart rhythms can occur just seconds after a heart attack begins. If you don’t want a heart attack, don’t smoke!
Study after study has definitively proven that high cholesterol, particularly LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, is highly correlated with coronary artery disease and coronary events. The American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association provide easy-to-use risk calculators online. Guidelines recommend that if your 10-year risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is greater than 7.5 percent, then a cholesterol-lowering medicine called a “statin” should strongly be considered. Statins prevent thousands of heart attacks each year and cause no side effects in 95 percent of patients. A survey at a recent national ACC meeting found that well over half of all cardiologists attending were taking a statin. Maybe they know something? A statin may be right for you.
Diabetes is a major risk factor, and nearly 90% of patients with diabetes are overweight. If every person diagnosed with diabetes lost 15 percent of their body weight, most would no longer even have diabetes. Staying near ideal body weight, along with exercise, will dramatically lower your risk of getting diabetes – and a heart attack.
High blood pressure (>130/80) contributes to heart attack risk. Salt restriction, weight loss if needed, and exercise are the first line of treatment, but most people will still need medicine. Dozens of highly effective meds are affordable – there’s no reason to have high blood pressure in 2019, but sometimes it may take 3 or 4 different medications to achieve that goal.
Next, everybody’s favorite subject – diet. Nutritional guidelines keep changing, but there are certain dietary recommendations for preventing heart disease that are unlikely to change. Minimize red meat, and avoid processed meat. Eat more fatty fish like salmon, but skip fried fish! Eat lots of vegetables. Avoid fast food. Reduce your carbohydrate load to prevent hunger and weight gain. It is really that simple.
Lack of physical activity compromises life. Regular exercise prolongs life, lowers blood pressure, keeps weight in check, increases brain endorphins to bolster mood, and lowers risk of cardiovascular disease for a more productive earthly life to better serve the Lord.
DAVID A. KAMINSKAS practices cardiology in Fort Wayne, Indiana and is the treasurer of the Dr. Jerome Lejeune Catholic Medical Guild of Northeast Indiana.