HealthONE - January 09, 2023

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. And while we can’t prevent all unexpected heart attacks, there are steps you can take to stay on top of your heart health.

Coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common form of heart disease, occurs when there is damage or disease in the major blood vessels of the heart. “Most often, a buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart causes CAD,” Regina Lee, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Denver Heart at Swedish Medical Center explains. “Plaque in the arteries is a collection of substances such as cholesterol and fat that have accumulated and calcified over time. Plaque can narrow, or clog, the arteries, blocking blood flow to the heart, and can sometimes lead to the development of chest pain or a heart attack.”

Prevention key to heart health

Experts estimate that nearly half of all Americans ages 40 and older have some degree of coronary artery disease and most do not experience symptoms. Dr. Lee encourages that the best defense against heart disease is preventative, “It is important to have regular visits to your primary care provider. During these visits, your doctor can monitor your risk factors and keep an eye out for any early warning signs of heart disease.” During annual physicals, your doctor will check your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose and weight. When these values are elevated, you are at a higher risk for developing heart disease. To keep these levels in a healthy range, your doctor will encourage you to live a healthy lifestyle, which includes:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Adopting a low-sodium, low-fat diet
  • Engaging in regular physical activity
  • Reducing stress or finding healthy ways to manage stress
  • Avoiding tobacco and avoiding alcohol in excess

“These factors are controllable and can make a big impact on your overall health,” says Dr Lee. “However, some factors like family history are outside of our control and that’s when additional testing can be a helpful tool in monitoring your heart health.”

Screening tests may detect early warning signs

For those ages 40-70 with a low to moderate risk of heart disease, a coronary calcium score can be considered in discussion with your primary care provider or cardiologist. It can provide valuable information about your future cardiac risk.

Further testing is sometimes recommended to those with a high calcium score. Tests may include:

  • An electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG)
  • An echocardiogram
  • A stress test
  • A coronary angiogram

Dr. Lee explains, “By working on reducing your risk factors and taking care to monitor your heart, you are impacting your overall health for years to come.”

To learn more about the award-winning cardiac care at Swedish Medical Center, visit us online.