Is your heart at risk? It might be.
One in four deaths in the United States are caused by heart disease each year. Heart disease is so dangerous because many chronic conditions that lead to it may often go unrecognized while slowly damaging your heart. Julia Adrogue, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist with Houston Methodist Cardiology Associates, explained some of the most common cardiac conditions and what you can do to help protect yourself.
THREE DANGEROUS CONDITIONS
High cholesterol – Individuals with high cholesterol are twice as likely to develop heart disease as those with lower levels of cholesterol.
“The body uses cholesterol for many things that are useful,” Adrogue explained. “But, when you have too much cholesterol, it builds up in the walls of blood vessels. When this occurs in the arteries of the heart, it can lead to a heart attack.”
One of the most troubling aspects of high cholesterol is that it often presents no symptoms, meaning it’s crucial to have your cholesterol checked by your doctor regularly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults have their cholesterol checked every five years.
High blood pressure – One-third of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, a condition that can have potentially life-threatening consequences.
“High blood pressure has been called the silent killer,” Adrogue said. “It is a kind of background threat to your health when you have it. High blood pressure affects the entire body, putting you at higher risk for stroke, heart attack, atrial fibrillation and can also put strain on your kidneys, causing damage.”
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) – Irregular heartbeats, or heart arrhythmias, can put strain on the heart and the systems it supports. Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is one of the most common heart arrhythmias and a condition that often worsens with age.
“In a normal heartbeat, the heart has a natural pacemaker that fires electricity located in the right upper chamber of the heart,” Adrogue explained. “In between a normal beat, the heart rests. When the heart has beats coming from different locations than the natural pacemaker, it can cause extra heartbeats. This is atrial fibrillation.”
Among the most dangerous potential effects of AFib are stroke and heart failure.
REDUCING YOUR RISKS
While these cardiac conditions must be taken seriously, effective treatment options exist for all of them. Medications are available that can help reduce bad cholesterol levels and bring blood pressure levels to a normal range.
AFib similarly can be treated with medications as well as promising new surgical options. But, Adrogue stresses that in addition to proper medical care, it’s vital to begin by improving your lifestyle choices to lower your risk of future heart problems. Focusing on making healthy food choices and getting regular physical activity are two of the most important behaviors you can adopt for heart health.
“Many diseases of the heart are caused or worsened by living a sedentary life with poor eating habits,” Adrogue said. “Combining effective treatment with lifestyle changes offers the best hope for a healthier life for most people. That’s why the first thing we do for cardiac patients at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital is implement patient education to help develop healthy dietary and exercise habits.”
To schedule an appointment with Julia Adrogue, M.D., at Houston Methodist Cardiology Associates, visit houstonmethodist.org/appointments or call 713-776-9500.
HEART HEALTH SCREENINGS
Schedule an appointment to learn your 10-year risk for heart disease and receive cholesterol and blood pressure screenings. The event is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23, in the Brazos Pavilion Conference Center on the Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital campus. Registration required. For more information or to register, visit events.houstonmethodist.org/sl-heart or call 281-274-7500.