More than 600,000 people die every day as a result of heart disease.
Cardiovascular disease, or coronary artery disease, kills more people than cancer, lower respiratory diseases and accidents, according to the St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana. February is American Heart Month, and there is a nationwide campaign known as “Million Hearts” calling for everyone to take part in preventing heart disease.
According to the Oklahoma Foundation for Medical Quality, heart disease claimed an estimated 12,600 lives in Oklahoma in 2012. The latest state health rankings report lists Oklahoma 48th in the nation in cardiovascular disease deaths, while the state’s overall health ranking improved from 46th to 43rd.
The “Million Hearts” campaign is an effort to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years. There are some risk factors that can’t be controlled like age, gender, heredity, race, but there are some risk factors that can be controlled like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, exercise, obesity and stress.
The first thing a person needs to address is weight, said W.W. Hastings Hospital Chief of Emergency Department Dr. Thomas Franklin.
“If you can maintain your weight at a reasonable level, that cuts down on certain [factors] like high blood pressure, diabetes and those kinds of things. Stroke, especially,” he said. “The things that we see that cause most of the heart attacks are issues surrounding excessive weight, or obesity, which is epidemic in this country. Also untreated hypertension, or high blood pressure and increased cholesterol [contribute to heart disease].”
Exercise is the first item on the list of simple things to do improve heart condition. Nearly 70 percent of Americans don’t get enough physical activity, according to Northeast Oklahoma Heart Center Chief of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery Dr. George Cohlmia.
“Exercise is very important in keeping a healthy cardiovascular system. You should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, such as brisk walking, or at least five times per week,” he said. “If you cannot do it five times per week, any amount is an improvement, but if it is done five times per week, you can almost guarantee yourself a healthier and more satisfying life with decreased risks of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”
Other tips include monitoring blood sugar levels, especially for diabetics, and cessation of tobacco use, or exposure to second-hand smoke.
Tobacco use, even indirect exposure, increases a person’s risk of having a heart attack, said Franklin.
“Studies have recently shown that if you are exposed to second-hand smoke, even just one or two occasions, that increases your chances of having a heart attack,” he said. “We ask people, as part of the history check when someone comes in with chest pains, if they smoke and a lot of times the answer is ‘no.’ Or if they live in a house where they have a spouse that smokes or if they work in an environment where a lot of people smoke. Their chances, or risk, of heart disease or coronary disease go up, as well.”
Franklin said it’s important for people to consult their physician to confirm their individual risk factors, and talking with your doctor is especially important if considering taking a baby aspirin as a preventive measure.
“In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that if you’re [at risk for heart disease], take one baby aspirin that’s 81 milligrams a day starting at age, for men, 45. That tends to reduce your chances of having a heart attack,” Franklin said
“If you’re a woman, the recommendation is start at [age] 55, and that has to do with estrogen and that sort of thing. I will say that anyone who’s thinking about starting an aspirin regiment should consult their doctor first. There are some other factors that you have to consider. If they’ve got ulcers or a history of bleeding ulcers or that sort of thing, that could be a problem.”
Women tend to have protection against heart disease until they reach menopause, Franklin said.
“At menopause, they tend to have less estrogen around, which is protected. There’s some controversy about using estrogen replacement to treat women who are menopausal,” he said. “There are some studies that have suggested women increase their risk of having heart disease by taking extra estrogen, but women tend not to be as at risk as men.”
Cohlmia said people to need to see their doctors on a routine basis to ensure proper understanding and knowledge of their physical condition.
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