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Cardiovascular wellness: the ultimate heart's desire

PacMed provider answers questions relevant to heart health

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The human heart could arguably be considered the most important organ humans possess. It's the catalyst for living, the metaphorical subject of countless romantic poems and the brain's counterpart for functionality. Thus, the emphasis placed on cardiovascular health and disease prevention is paramount for overall health and wellness. Dr. Rick Bowles, a family physician with Pacific Medical Centers, informs readers about proper care, risk factors and prevention techniques in honor of American Heart Month.

February is American Heart Month. In honor of this, can you speak to the most common concerns and conditions related to heart health?
Coronary artery disease is the most common heart condition, which can ultimately lead to heart failure or heart attack. The disease develops when major blood vessels that supply the heart become damaged due to cholesterol and plaque buildup, blocking the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.  

What are the most common risk factors associated with heart concerns and diseases?
One of the biggest factors leading to heart conditions is smoking tobacco. Smoking greatly increases the risks of developing cardiovascular diseases, which can include coronary heart disease and stroke.  Another major contributing factor to heart disease, besides smoking, is obesity. Overeating and not getting proper exercise are the main risk factors that can lead to diabetes and increase the chances of a heart attack.

While obesity and smoking tobacco are two of the biggest risk factors for heart disease, genetics and diabetes are also major contributors. Genetic factors such as high blood pressure and increased risk for heart disease can be passed down within the family. Additionally, while most patients develop diabetes over time due to lifestyle habits such as lack of exercise or a healthy diet, others develop the disease hereditarily. Diabetes tends to run in families, and some ethnic groups are more prone to it than others, such as Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans. Anyone affected by diabetes has an increased risk for heart disease. Other risk factors for heart disease include age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of physical exercise, being overweight and having an unhealthy diet. 

The military lifestyle can be a stressful one. Is there any advice you can offer specifically to our soldiers in order to limit the likelihood of developing heart-related issues?
Since members of the military are typically in good physical shape and exercise on a daily basis, I think the biggest piece of advice would be to stop smoking cigarettes. Many people smoke cigarettes to ease tension and reduce stress. However, smoking is a main contributor to heart disease, and the risk of heart disease decreases significantly soon after you stop.  

Are there any warning signs or symptoms people should be mindful of?
First and foremost, if you think you are at risk for heart disease, you should always consult your physician first. Some of the common symptoms to be mindful of include chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea or dizziness. If you are struggling with heart health, it's important to note that the chest pain is more of a pressure feel, not a sharp pain as some people believe. Additionally, if you feel chest pressure and shortness of breath during exertion, (e.g., running or walking the dog) but it goes away as soon as your body slows down, that is a definitive warning sign of a heart condition, and you should consult your physician immediately.

If diagnosed with a heart health issue, what measures can be taken to manage symptoms, pain, or even reverse the diagnosis altogether?
Once you have consulted your physician and been diagnosed with a heart health issue, it's important to implement a consistent healthy and active lifestyle. Any type of physical activity, whether it's walking, running, weight-lifting, or hiking, will greatly reduce the risks of heart disease. Additionally, a well-balanced diet goes a long way. Eating everything in moderation and making an effort to eat more vegetables and proteins will also help as well. Finally, staying on top of your medications prescribed by your physician will manage the symptoms of heart conditions.

Is there any other information you can offer concerning heart health that is relevant to readers?
I would highly encourage readers to take responsibility of their health as early as they can in life. Many times, the average American doesn't want to put forth the effort to exercise, eat healthy and lose weight, because it takes time and commitment. Often times, people wait until it's too late, until they're in a life-threatening position as a result of their declining health and then they decide to make a lifestyle change. I would advise readers not to wait for the wake-up call, take responsibility now so that you can live a longer, healthy, happier life.

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