February is Heart Month and a good time to have a conversation about heart disease – the number-one killer of men and women in the United States.
“One in four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease,” said Dr. Nilay Mehta, a cardiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital. “While the statistics are staggering, the majority of patients are able to prevent or slow the progression of the disease.”
Coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease, is caused by fatty deposits, or plaque, that build up in the coronary arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. The accumulation of plaque over time along the inner wall of the artery narrows it, ultimately decreasing or blocking the flow of blood to the heart.
Reduced blood flow to the heart caused by an incomplete blockage can cause symptoms such as chest, arm or jaw pain, or shortness of breath. A complete blockage causes a heart attack.
Since the build-up process can take years, the earlier a person starts to control their risk factors, the better chance they have to slow or stop blockages from forming.
Risk factors for coronary heart disease include:
“The good news is that patients can take action to reduce their risk by making healthy choices and appropriately managing existing health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” added Dr. Mehta. “Simple lifestyle changes like avoiding tobacco, eating the right types of foods and limiting portions, and regular exercise can go a long way to prevent heart disease.”
Dr. Mehta also recommends a general physical with a trusted physician at least once a year.