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Healthy You

Q&A: Keeping Your Heart Healthy

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 9:45 AM

 With heart disease being the leading cause of the death in the United States, doctors are working harder than ever to provide education, treatments and lifestyle advice to steer their patients towards a better future. Heart Disease Awareness Month is the perfect time to get educated on how to improve your heart health. We sat down with Justin Levisay, MD, Cardiologist at NorthShore to ask a few questions about heart health.

Heart Doctor

Are there early warning signs that my heart is not healthy, or do all of the symptoms happen at once?

Most of the time, there are warning signs - but not always. Things to watch out for: Any type of chest discomfort (particularly when active), and shortness of breath with activity is another big warning sign. Symptoms can start gradually and worsen over time. Also, woman (more than men) often has very atypical or no symptoms.

Is there a relationship between traditionally "non-cardiac" diseases, such as erectile dysfunction and sleep apnea, and cardiovascular risk?

Yes. Erectile dysfunction is often caused by blockages in small arteries. It has been shown to be associated with a higher risk for heart attack. Sleep apnea is also associated with heart disease. Apnea can cause high blood pressure and cause abnormal heart rhythms. Good news is that apnea is easily diagnosed and treated. I personally screen a lot of people for apnea, and it is often overlooked as a possible cause of problems!

How does one prevent blood clots, and what are the top risk factors for getting heart disease?

Blood clots commonly occur in the veins of the legs. Sometimes, there are underlying disorders that lead to this, but often not. An easy way to help prevent clots is to be active, as prolonged sitting without moving can lead to clots. If one has a predisposition to forming clots, blood thinners are recommended. The most common risk factors for heart disease include: Diabetes, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, smoking, a strong family history of heart disease - particularly at an early age

What are the differences between a heart attack and a stroke?

A heart attack is a sudden event that occurs from a blood clot closing the flow to a certain area in the heart muscle, leading to damage. Usually, the clot develops over an area of pre-existing plaque from cholesterol build up. A stroke is the same kind of interruption in blood flow, but to an area in the brain. A stroke can also occur from different issues with brain circulation, such as bleeding, not just clotting. Wherever the area of damage is in the brain will lead to loss of some function, such as the ability to move an arm or leg. In the heart, a heart attack can reduce the strength of the heart.

How do heart conditions go undetected? Are there steps that people can take to make sure they’re really healthy?

It depends on what type of heart disease. Coronary artery disease (which leads to heart attacks) can be tricky. Sometimes, people have blockages that are not severe enough to cause symptoms, or even be detected on a stress test. These blockages can then become unstable and rapidly progress (within minutes) to a complete obstruction. While we are not perfect, a thorough evaluation will usually reveal a problem if it exists.