American Heart Month: What You Need to Know About Cardiovascular Health

February is American Heart Month – a dedicated time for individuals to focus on cardiovascular health. American Heart Month is also a time to motivate Americans to adopt healthy lifestyles to prevent heart disease. It provides a reminder to examine our own health habits and risks and actively take steps to improve our heart health. With heart disease being the leading cause of death in the United States*, there is a critical need for individuals to educate themselves on the disease and learn about the steps they can take to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease. 

We talked with Dr. Keith Friedman, Medical Director of Cardiovascular Specialists of Central Maryland, about American Heart Month in order to bring our audience information about cardiovascular health and shed light on the importance of being proactive when it comes to your own health. Keep reading below to learn more about heart disease from Dr. Friedman.

What is heart disease?
Heart disease traditionally means critical heart artery blockages.  There are three main arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle. These can become clogged or blocked causing heart attacks or symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath. Risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, lack of exercise, eating an unhealthy diet, and a family history of heart disease can lead to the buildup of blockages in the arteries.

What are the symptoms of heart disease?
Usually, chest pain or shortness of breath with exertion are the main symptoms that people can get when they are having a heart problem. However, women can often present differently and have more atypical symptoms like back pain or nausea and vomiting.

Can you share more about the risk factors for heart disease? What health conditions and behaviors increase the risk of heart disease?
Risk factors include diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, family history of heart disease, smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, and being overweight.  On average most people should try to do at least four days/week of moderate exercise (walking at a moderate pace for at least 45 minutes) and eat mostly fruit and vegetables. Eating foods high in fats or carbohydrates can lead to diabetes and high cholesterol. Not being at an ideal bodyweight can also lead to diabetes and high blood pressure. Usually we recommend a BMI (body mass index) below 25.

We’ve read that self-care is a form of heart-health care. Can you touch on the benefits of self-care related to keeping your heart healthy? 
Certainly, anything that involves good self-care will decrease one’s chances of getting heart disease. Patients often ask me my opinion on non-western types of treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and using supplements. I often encourage patients to try these approaches. We usually have to go over exactly which supplements they wish to take as many can interfere with medications they are taking.

Can attending annual physicals help prevent heart disease?
Getting a general physical exam each year is beneficial as one should be getting bloodwork at least once a year and making sure their routine health maintenance schedule is on track (i.e. colonoscopy, mammogram, etc.).

Anything else you want to share?
Besides traditional heart artery blockages there are many other types of heart disease such as heart valve problems, electrical heart issues and structural heart disease. Most are common problems that either don’t need any treatments or medications but if one thinks they are having symptoms of a heart problem there are a few easy tests that one can do to rule them out.

Stay on top of your medical appointments by scheduling your annual physical with your primary care physician. Need health insurance? HealthCare Access Maryland can help! Learn more here. 



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