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Cardio Health

Smoking and Heart Disease

A cigarette is about five inches long and less than half an inch in diameter. You might think that something so small might be harmless. But tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including 250 that are known to be harmful, such as hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, benzene, chromium, and vinyl chloride. Smoking causes many different types of cancer, as well as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, diabetes, cataracts and heart disease.

People who smoke are up to six times more likely to have a heart attack compared to nonsmokers and have a greater risk of experiencing a major heart problem at least 10 years before their nonsmoking counterparts. Cigarette smokers also have a higher chance of developing atherosclerosis, the slow buildup of plaque that hardens and narrows the arteries. In addition, they may develop coronary artery disease that can lead to chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or death.

Chemicals in tobacco smoke not only damage blood cells, but also affect how the heart works and the function and structure of blood vessels. For example, nicotine can elevate blood pressure and make blood clots form more easily.

Smokers aren’t the only ones at risk for heart disease from tobacco smoke. The heart and blood vessels also are affected by secondhand smoke, which comes from the smoke exhaled by a smoker or the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe. According to the American Heart Association, each year approximately 22,700 to 69,600 premature deaths are due to heart and blood vessel diseases caused by environmental tobacco smoke. This type of smoke also increases the coronary heart disease risk for children and teens because it lowers HDL cholesterol, hurts heart tissue and elevates blood pressure.

Stopping smoking isn’t easy. But quitting reduces the risk of heart disease right away and the benefits of being smoke-free increase over time. Heart rate and blood pressure begin to return to normal immediately and within hours the carbon monoxide level in the blood starts to decrease. A few weeks later circulation improves, and there is less coughing and wheezing. Lung function increases in a few months and by one year after quitting the chances of developing heart disease drop by more than 50 percent. After several years, the risk will be near that of someone who has never smoked.

Regardless of how long, how often, or how much you have smoked, quitting will help. Even if you already have heart disease, not smoking can lower your risk of another heart attack, other chronic diseases or death. For people undergoing surgery, chemotherapy or other treatments, quitting can help improve the body’s ability to heal and respond to therapy.

Your heart health can’t wait and CVA is here for you! To make an appointment at one of our open and safe offices, visit CVAPC.com or call 855.93.HEART.

Heart Attacks in Winter

Winter means cooler temperatures and the holiday season, but did you know it also brings an increased risk of heart attack?  Studies show the risk of dying from a heart attack is greater in the winter than at any other time of year, with cardiac mortality at its highest in December and January. While the reasons for the increase in heart attacks are complex – including changes in hormone, stress and exertion levels – you can take steps to reduce your risk.

There are several reasons heart attacks are more frequent in winter.  First, during the winter months, changes in hormonal balances put individuals at greater risk for cardiovascular problems.  In addition, the colder temperatures cause arteries to tighten, restricting blood flow, reducing oxygen to the heart and causing blood pressure to increase, all of which can set the stage for a heart attack, especially in plaque-clogged arteries.  During winter months people tend to exercise and do yard work and other physical activity earlier in the day.  Since blood pressure rises naturally in the morning, increased exertion early in the day can contribute to heart attacks.  The flu season also may play a role in the increased number of heart attacks. The influenza virus may trigger inflammation of the heart, which may cause a heart attack.

The holidays may play a role in the increased number of heart attacks. People overindulge in food and alcohol, which often leads to weight gain and contributes to the risk for heart attack.  Alcohol has its own heart risks, increasing blood pressure, contributing to abnormal heart rhythms and increasing the risk of depression.  The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can also be a source of stress, with many people pressed for time and money.  Anxiety and depression tend to increase during this time of year, further increasing the risk of heart attack.

Though there are several reasons heart attacks are more common in winter, you can take steps to reduce your risk. First, avoid over-exertion and talk to your doctor about appropriate physical activity.  Winter chores such as shoveling snow can be particularly strenuous.  If you must shovel snow, take frequent breaks and be sure to bundle up and stay warm.  Experts recommend dressing in three layers: an inner layer that wicks away moisture, a middle layer that insulates the body and a top layer that repels rain and water.  If you are over 50 or have a history of health problems, get someone to shovel the snow for you.  If you are sore after shoveling snow, take symptoms seriously, as signs of a heart attack may be mistaken for a pulled muscle.

The holidays provide ample opportunities to eat and drink, but try to do so in moderation.  Avoid caffeine and nicotine, both of which can exacerbate heart problems, and consider taking at least 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D each day.  Low levels of vitamin D have been found more often in heart attack patients.  Finally, be sure to get your flu shot, which can cut your risk of heart attack in half.

In any season, the best medicine to ward off heart attacks is prevention: Cultivate heart-healthy habits, such as regular exercise, weight control, and a diet rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables.  Also, know your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.  Finally, to combat the holiday blues, take solace in the company of friends and loved ones.

The providers of Cardiovascular Associates and here for you and want you to know, YOUR HEART HEALTH CAN NOT WAIT!  Make that appointment today and let’s make a plan together to protect your heart this winter!

How can I prevent a heart attack?

This is a question I am asked frequently, not only from patients, but also from friends and family. Cardiovascular disease mortality has dropped dramatically in the past 25 years, but still remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. What many people may not realize is that over 80% of heart attacks are PREVENTABLE! Yep, that’s right. Our diet and lifestyle choices dramatically affect our chances of developing heart disease. While genetics certainly play a role in our susceptibility to heart disease (and we still are in the infancy of understanding these genetics), this is felt to play a minor role in causality. You can play a MAJOR part in prevention.

Let’s list what you can do:

1. If you smoke, stop. Smoking increases your risk of having a heart attack by about 30%, and stopping smoking is the main preventive thing you can do. There are medications and counseling available that may help you quit.

2. Diet is important. In the the 1950’s, Japan had a low incidence of heart disease. But starting in the 1960’s, this started to change significantly. What happened? McDonalds and other fast food outlets moved in, and the typical Japanese diet of fish, rice and vegetables started to change to a high fat, high calorie Western diet. Coincidence? Unlikely. What has been shown is that a Mediterranean type diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, and nuts does lower risk. The South Beach Diet was written by a cardiologist and is a good resource for healthy eating that I frequently recommend. Does that mean you have to completely give up mac and cheese or fried chicken? No, but when given a choice, maybe go with the healthier alternative on a regular basis, and save those for weekends or holidays.

3. Maintain a reasonable weight. I know, it’s hard. But being overweight is tied to increased risk of high blood pressure, higher cholesterol and diabetes, which are all risk factors for heart attacks.

4. Regular exercise. I’m not asking you to run the Mercedes Marathon. Simply walking for 30 minutes five days a week lowers risk by 25-30%. If you want to do more, that’s great!

5. “Hey, Doc…I take an aspirin every day. I should be good”. Not so fast. Aspirin is certainly good for those with a history of cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, etc.), but several large recent studies show that it has little benefit for primary prevention, and actually may be harmful, since it increases bleeding risk.

6. How about statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) like Lipitor? Should we just put them in the drinking water? Absolutely not. The benefits really depend on your baseline risk, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and your cholesterol levels. Doctors now even have computer programs that can quickly give us the risk/benefit levels of starting these medications that can be discussed during your office visit.

To sum things up, an ounce of prevention is at least worth a pound of cure when it comes to heart disease. Get off the couch, eat better, and quit smoking. It can make a difference!

Steven E. Jones MD, FACC

Health Resources

Find Out if You’re at Risk for Heart Disease

Are you one of the 1 in 3 American adults living with heart disease? There are many factors that contribute to heart health and cardiovascular disease. If you knew that you could do something now to reduce your risk, would you? Use this Heart Disease Risk Calculator to find out if you’re at risk. Use the results to take action to improve your heart health and reduce your chances of getting cardiovascular disease.

Knowledge is Power

We believe that patient education is one of the pillars of comprehensive healthcare, so we aim to provide you with thorough information about your cardiovascular condition. We are happy to answer any questions you have about your diagnosis and treatment directly, but we also understand that some patients find comfort in doing their own research.

Diet & Exercise

When we consider our heart health, we often worry about the variables that are out of control, such as age and genetics. The truth is, there are many decisions that we make everyday that contribute to our risk factors. If you’re concerned about the health of your heart, one of the best commitments you can make is to exercise and eat a healthy diet. Combined with exercising regularly, eating a Mediterranean diet that is rich in fish, nuts, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits can have a positive effect on your blood pressure, your cholesterol levels, and your risk of cardiac events such as heart attack and stroke.

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