Heart Disease and Prevention: Cardiologist Answers Your Questions

alt text for image

By: Ivan Mendoza, MD, FACC, chief of cardiology at Jackson West.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States – in fact, one person dies every 33 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.

There are several factors, such as eating habits, alcohol consumption, and smoking, that can increase the risk for heart disease, but other risk factors are not as common. Hear from Ivan Mendoza, MD, FACC, chief of cardiology at Jackson West, and a medical director of cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology for Jackson Medical Group, as he discusses heart health tips and risk factors to look out for.

Q: Why is heart disease the number one killer in America for men and women?

Heart disease is the number one killer in our country because we have become a sedentary society. We are no longer walking to places; instead, we are driving everywhere.

Taking Steps Toward Cardiovascular Disease Prevention

Even if we are exercising and eating healthy, one of the newer risk factors for heart disease is sitting down for long periods. It is important to know that sitting for more than six hours without moving is as bad of a risk for heart disease as smoking. I highly recommend a standing desk, and smart watches or smart phones to alert you when you have been sitting for too long. It is also important to take breaks, to continue moving and to exercise before or after work.

A new study published in JAMA Cardiology and led by researchers from the University of Buffalo shows that walking 3,600 steps at a normal pace daily was linked to a 26 percent lower risk of developing heart failure. The study reports that the risk of developing heart failure was, on average, 12 – 16 percent lower for every 70 minutes spent in light activities every day or 30 minutes spent in moderate-to-vigorous activities. In addition, the study also showed that every 90 minutes of sedentary time was associated with a 17 percent higher risk of heart disease or heart failure.

Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors

In addition to alcohol, smoking, and prolonged sitting, there are new risk factors for cardiovascular disease that everyone should watch out for. Vaping and marijuana can have a negative impact on our heart’s rhythm. Lack of sleep can also lead to heart disease. It is recommended a person gets at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night; first, for longevity, and second, to be healthy.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

Most of the cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol and diabetes, tend to display their symptoms later on in life. A person may not know they have some sort of heart disease until it is too late.  If a person is showing symptoms like chest pains, shortness of breath, or if they are morbidly obese – they need to see their primary physician or cardiologist to check for heart disease.

Q: When should a person start seeing a cardiologist?

The number one reason we see patients is for high blood pressure. If a person has risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity or family history, we recommend they begin their preventive care by making an appointment with a cardiologist.

We encourage everyone to check his or her blood pressure and cholesterol regularly, and to remain proactive with heart health. A person can be asymptomatic for heart disease for decades until they unfortunately suffer a stroke or heart attack. We highly recommend that everyone schedule yearly check-ups with their primary care physicians, while also learning the numbers– that means monitoring blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose levels, and Body Max Index (BMI) regularly.

Q: What are some typical symptoms of heart disease that patients should look out for?

  • Irregular heartbeats that feel rapid, pounding, or fluttering.
  • Fatigue.
  • Frequent urination at night.
  • Shortness of breath during activity or at rest.
  • Chest pressure or tightness.
  • Feeling short of breath at night when trying to sleep, or waking up short of breath.
  • Swollen legs, ankles, or feet.

All of these symptoms could be silent killers and signs that a person may be suffering from a cardiovascular issue.

Q: What can we do to take better care of our heart health?

Everyone is looking for a magic pill that will make us healthy – the truth is, that magic pill is exercise and maintaining a nutritious diet. If a person works out at least four times a week, they will live longer and healthier by preventing diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. In addition, we have found that neurovascular conditions, like Alzheimer’s and dementia, can be prevented with more exercise.

Reducing stress is also important to help prevent heart disease. Stress may contribute to poor health behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, overeating, and lack of physical activity. All of these factors can increase a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke.

Q: How does heart disease affect different races and ethnicities differently?

Unfortunately, we know that some races are more susceptible to heart disease. One reason points toward genetics, but secondly, if we suffer socioeconomic barriers that make it difficult to regularly see our primary care physicians or cardiologists, heart health rapidly declines. There is no doubt that disparities in healthcare exist with different races and ethnic groups. At Jackson Health System, we have a diverse group of physicians, and we are able to target specific minority groups that may be at higher risk.

If you are part of these communities, like me, you have to go the extra step – be careful of eating and alcohol consumption habits, and try to exercise regularly.

Ivan Mendoza, MD, FACC, is the chief of cardiology at Jackson West, and a medical director of cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology for Jackson Medical Group. For more information on cardiology services at Jackson, or to book an appointment with Dr. Mendoza or one of Jackson’s primary care physicians or cardiologists, visit https://jacksonhealth.org/request-an-appointment/.

Ivan Mendoza, MD

Cardiovascular Disease, Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology, Internal Medicine

Jackson Medical Group