Heart disease is a preventable disease

Monday, February 4, 2019
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February is American Heart Month, which the American Heart Association uses to educate the public about the importance of recognizing signs and symptoms of heart conditions. Common ailments impacting the heart include heart attack, stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in every four deaths — or 610,000 annually — can be directly attributed to heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death amongst men and women. Every year, 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack, with 72 percent of those heart attacks first-time occurrences.

“When you talk about heart health, you really need to address prevention strategies. What are the things women can do to reduce their risk? Risk is something we look at as physicians and try to define on an individual basis. The most important part of this is lifestyle. There are some things that dramatically increase your risk of heart disease like smoking, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, family history, and stress can also be a risk factor. One excellent way to reduce your risk of heart disease and stress is to exercise,” said Matthew Oxford, M.D., family practice physician at Akeman-McBurney Medical Clinic in Slater.

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. This can be accomplished by walking 30 minutes per day all at once, or split up in multiple 10 or 15 minute segments.

“This can be as simple as walking the dog around the block. We have a wonderful YMCA here that has served this community beautifully. Planning your exercise doesn’t have to be stressful. You make a decision to brush your teeth everyday. Make the decision to go for a walk. Hopefully, you decide every day to brush your teeth; and hopefully you will decide to go for a walk, as well. The benefit of this basic choice for lowering the risk of heart disease is dramatic,” said Dr. Oxford.

In addition to simple exercise, another way to mitigate the risks associated with heart disease is as simple as modifications to diet, something with which Midwesterners struggle. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, while decreasing the intake of red meat, unhealthy fats such as those found in most fried foods, salt, carbohydrates and sugars can have an impact on blood pressure, which also is a risk factor for heart disease.

“Fitzgibbon has a tremendous nutrition department with outpatient dietitians that can sit down with individuals and work out diet plans. Having access to a registered dietitian is an awesome resource,” said Dr. Oxford.

Oxford cautions that smoking is a major factor in heart disease. Smoking raises blood pressure, which causes stress to the heart if it remains untreated. Saline County currently has a smoking rate which is well above the national average.

“Uncontrolled hypertension or high blood pressure is a problem for the heart, lungs and for the entire vascular system. The heart and lungs are connected, it is the Cardio-Pulmonary system, so when a disease modifies the lungs, you are putting a new type of stress on the heart. That is why smoking or any other type of intrinsic lung disease can dramatically impact the heart,” cautions Dr. Oxford.

Dr. Oxford is passionate about helping people kick the addiction to smoking, having been a smoker himself in the past.

“The No. 1 risk factor for lung or heart disease is smoking. There are really three parts to quitting smoking. You have to want to quit; you have to have a plan for combating nicotine addiction; and you have to deal with the habit itself. There are patches, lozenges and gum that can help with the addiction. And certainly if those aren’t helping, there are prescription medications doctors can help with. The habit itself can be that cigarette you are going to want after you eat a meal, or when you get into the car, or wake up in the morning. I advise people to get a box of patches and put one on. See how it makes you feel,” said Dr. Oxford.

Dr. Oxford concluded, “Quitting smoking is the most important thing a person can do to improve their health without a doubt. The second is exercise, and it doesn’t have to be stressful. If you do those two things, you will dramatically lower your risk of heart disease.”

Dr. Oxford, who has a special interest in diabetes management, sees patients at the Akeman-McBurney Medical Clinic in Slater. If you would like help in dealing with the risk factors associated with heart disease including smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure or diet, call 660-529-2251 to make an appointment.