Over the last 11 months, the nation’s health care focus has been on protection from the COVID-19 virus.
“And rightly so,” says Tadeo Diaz Balderrama, MD, MS, FACC, an Agnesian HealthCare cardiologist. “In addition to protecting ourselves from COVID-19, it is equally important that we are attentive to our overall heart health, especially as we recognize February as American Heart Month. Even during a pandemic, heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States.”
Dr. Balderrama points to two ways to protect heart health. First, patients with risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, are at greater risks of complication from COVID-19 infection. It is important that these patients follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to avoid contracting the virus.
“While patients may be reluctant to leave home for cardiology visits in an effort to avoid the virus, it is important that they seek out care if they have active issues” according to Dr. Balderrama. “Regular visits can identify issues and help avoid hospitalizations or complications. Our clinics have taken multiple steps to ensure the safety of patients and staff during clinic visits."
Dr. Balderrama says it’s crucial for cardiology patients to maintain close contact with their cardiology team and reach out if they are having issues.
Second, Dr. Balderrama says American Hearth Month is a great time for everyone to become familiar with the risk factors for heart disease and how to lower or eliminate them. Even those with no previous cardiac issues should remain vigilant to avoid developing these risk factors.
“The most common risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking,” Dr. Balderrama explains. “Other risk factors include diabetes and obesity. Many patients discover they are living with one or more of these risk factors during a routine physical, so again, it is important that patients continue to work with their primary care providers to identify modifiable risk factors and work on them to decrease their risk of heart disease.”
To keep potential risk factors at bay, Dr. Balderrama recommends getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least three to four times a week. Healthy food choices are also important, and patients should work to increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, limiting consumption of animal fats and saturated fats, limiting alcohol, and avoiding all tobacco products.
If you know you have risk factors for heart disease talk to with your primary care provider to develop strategies to control them or eliminate them. Investing the time and effort early on will significantly improve long term outcomes and reduce the chances of complications later in life. Involve the whole family as well to instill healthy choices at an early age.
“The pandemic is not the time to let healthy choices slide,” according to Dr. Balderrama. “In fact, it is more important than ever to choose the healthy alternatives as we have more time to analyze our lifestyles and the choices that can affect our lives significantly.”
To learn more, visit agnesian.com/heartcare.