The Heart of the Matter
Heart Health Q&A with Dr. Mark Lampert, NorthShore University HealthSystem Cardiologist:
What are the contributing factors for heart disease?
The risk factors for heart disease are both genetic and environmental. Inherited factors may be related to diseases associated with heart disease such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, etc. Some patients may have abnormalities of cholesterol metabolism resulting in high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) or triglycerides, or low levels of good cholesterol (HDL). The environmental factors include obesity, tobacco use, inactivity or lack of exercise, a diet high in carbohydrates and saturated fats, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
What kinds of risks do women, in particular, face when it comes to heart health?
In general, women tend not to think about the heart as an issue until they get older. While it’s true that women, on average, get heart disease about 10 years later than men, heart disease is still a cumulative effect of what your body has endured throughout your life. And, it’s just as much of an issue for women as it is for men. Sometimes the symptoms of heart attacks and other heart problems are different in women than in men. I can say from my own experience that there are very few people who exhibit the classic textbook symptoms; most of them have some variation. So, women should be as concerned about heart disease as men, and the best way to start preventing it is to take good care of yourself when you’re younger.
What lifestyle changes can people make to promote their own heart health?
The biggest thing is being physically active. You don’t have to be a marathon runner; you just need to get out there and walk. The two things we know: Some exercise is better than no exercise; and more exercise—to a reasonable point—is better than less exercise. The other change you can make involves having a diet that restricts the intake of saturated fats and carbohydrates, and, most importantly, limit the quantity of food you eat. Smoking is another controllable risk. When it comes to heart disease, smoking is like adding gasoline to the fire. You also want to control your other medical problems; so if you have high blood pressure or you’re a borderline diabetic, make sure you see a doctor.
What heart health information should people have in mind at their annual physicals?
It’s helpful if they know something about their family history, in terms of which family members had heart problems and how old they were at the time, or if anyone died suddenly for any reason that was unexplained. Then, when you see the doctor, be invested in your health and ask questions. If the doctor says, “Exercise,” ask what types of exercise you should do, because he or she may just assume you already know.
Learning the Basics: Heart Disease Statistics
The Silent Killer: Women and Heart Disease
For more information on American Heart Month and heart disease, visit the American Heart Association website, americanheart.org, or check out the CDC website at cdc.gov.
*Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).