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The Broomfielder

Heart Health: It’s as Easy as ABC(DE) says Good Samaritan Medical Center Doctor

Feb 13, 2019 12:49PM

By Kristen Beckman

Hearts may be on your mind in February as Valentine’s Day approaches, which is appropriate because February is also American Heart Month, kicking off February 1 with National Wear Red Day. Both observances are designed to raise awareness of heart disease, and it’s a good time to take stock of your heart health.

“The heart is one of the most important organs in the body,” said Dr. Payal Kohli, a cardiologist at Good Samaritan Medical Center who specializes in both women’s and preventive heart health. “It’s going all day every day – morning, noon, and night – so it’s important to keep it strong and healthy because it can really affect the quality of your life if you end up developing heart disease.”

Despite huge strides made in treatment and prevention, heart disease continues to be the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States, exceeding cancer, diabetes, and lung disease combined, Dr. Kohli said. On average, a person dies from heart disease every minute in the United States, she said.

The good news is that we have some control over our risk for cardiovascular disease. Focusing on heart health through diet and exercise can not only increase longevity but also can give you more energy, decrease depression, and even lower the impact and incidence of other diseases like cancer.

Lifestyle change can be challenging, but there are five basic areas to focus on to reduce your risk of heart disease, said Dr. Kohli. She tells her patients to focus on ABCDE.

A is for Aspirin. Not long ago, a baby aspirin a day was thought to help keep heart attacks away, although recent data suggests aspirin may not be as beneficial as once thought. Still, Dr. Kohli recommends men over the age of 55 and post-menopausal women have a discussion with their doctor about whether taking a daily aspirin is a good idea.

 B is for Blood Pressure. If your blood pressure is high – new guidelines say anything above 120/80 puts you in a higher risk category – the walls of your arteries become damaged, making it easier for cholesterol to stick to them. Dr. Kohli recommends limiting salt intake to 2500 milligrams per day, which can be challenging as salt is added to many foods. In addition, maintaining an ideal body weight and limiting alcohol can reduce your risk of high blood pressure. Men should have no more than 2-3 drinks per day and women no more than 1-2, Dr. Kohli said. Finally, sleep apnea increases your risk of heart attack and drives up blood pressure, but is easily corrected, so it is important to speak with your doctor about a sleep test if you snore at night.

C is for Cholesterol. Cholesterol is largely tied to diet, so avoiding foods high in saturated fat and minimizing consumption of red meat can help lower your risk for heart disease. If your cholesterol levels remain elevated despite lifestyle changes, your doctor may want to prescribe a statin, which is a medication that has been shown to save lives and prevent heart attacks and strokes, Dr. Kohli said. (C is also for cigarettes. If you smoke, quitting entirely is your best bet for preventing heart disease and lung cancer.) 

D is for Diabetes. If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, have your levels screened regularly and do the best you can to reverse it. It can be helpful to limit simple sugars in your diet (the kind in processed food like cookies and cake) and increase consumption of complex sugars from fruit. Get at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. And try to lose weight if you are overweight.  

E is for Exercise. The American Heart Association recommends you get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise – which means getting your heart rate up enough to break a sweat but still being able to carry on a conversation with someone standing next to you – per week. That 150 minutes can be sliced and diced however you want, whether it is 30 minutes five times a week or taking a brisk walk or climbing stairs a few times a day. As long as you do at least 10 minutes of exercise at a time, your heart is reaping benefits, said Dr. Kohli.

Finally, be aware of your risk profile by having your blood pressure and lab work for cholesterol and diabetes checked once per year. If your results show an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease, you can be monitored more closely and make lifestyle changes to lower your risk profile.

“The best way to prevent heart disease is to control the risk factors,” said Dr. Kohli. “We still have a huge number of patients who have preventable heart attacks because their risk factors were not appropriately controlled.”

Heart Health at Good Samaritan

Good Samaritan provides a full range of cardiovascular services, from prevention to screening to surgery. The facility also houses the only women’s heart center in Colorado, founded by Dr. Kohli, focused on the different risks women have regarding heart disease. Because women often experience different symptoms of heart attack than men, they tend to receive care and diagnosis later and have worse outcomes. A specialist center is the best way to improve outcomes for women by addressing their specific needs, Dr. Kohli said.

In addition, Good Samaritan promotes heart health awareness through several initiatives in February and throughout the year. The hospital will celebrate Wear Red Day on February 1 in its main lobby with blood pressure checks and information available about a heart healthy lifestyle. The hospital also partners with the American Heart Association for Little Hats Big Hearts, a project that delivers hats knitted by community volunteers to babies in its Mom/Baby unit to raise awareness of congenital heart defects.