Your primary care physician plays a valuable role in fostering heart-healthy habits and catching heart disease early. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But with early detection and prevention measures, we can stop America’s number one killer.
What Is Heart Disease?
The term heart disease covers multiple conditions. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease. CAD occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This buildup of cholesterol and other materials blocks blood flow to the heart. CAD can also weaken the heart muscle and prevent it from pumping blood effectively. Other forms of heart disease include arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), congenital heart defects, valve problems and cardiomyopathy (a diseased heart muscle).
What Are the Signs of Heart Disease?
Unfortunately, many people aren’t diagnosed with heart disease until they have a heart attack. As internal medicine physicians, we aim to detect heart disease early and keep patients healthy with prevention measures. Symptoms and warning signs of heart disease include:
- Chest pain, tightness or a feeling of pressure.
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper belly or back
- Pain, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
How Is Heart Disease Treated?
As with many medical conditions, heart disease is easier to treat when we detect it early. If you’re diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor may recommend:
- Lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.
- Medications to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Surgical procedures to improve blood flow, including:
- Angioplasty: a balloon is inflated inside the coronary arteries to widen blocked areas and improve blood flow.Artificial heart valve surgery replaces a diseased heart valve with an artificial one.
- Bypass surgery treats CAD by moving arteries or veins from other parts of your body to bypass the clogged artery and restore blood flow to the heart.
What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?
We see heart disease in patients young and old, obese and of average weight. However, age and weight are significant risk factors. The following characteristics put you at higher risk for heart disease:
- Obesity and overweight
- Health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
- Physical inactivity
- Smoking/ tobacco use
- Unhealthy eating habits
- Family history of heart disease
- Age: the risk of heart disease increases as we age
- Men are at greater risk for heart disease. Women’s risk increases after menopause.
How Can I Prevent Heart Disease?
Staying physically active (aiming for 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day) is one of the best things you can do for your heart and overall health. Other steps to prevent heart disease include:
- Adopt healthy eating habits, focusing on low levels of sodium and saturated fats.
- Quit smoking and using other forms of tobacco.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
- Prioritize regular sleep.
- Take medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other conditions as prescribed by your doctor.
- Consider mental healthcare/counseling to reduce stress.
- Keep up with annual wellness visits with your primary care provider. Routine blood work is key to early detection.
How Can My Internal Medicine Provider Help Me Stay Heart Healthy?
If you have symptoms or concerns about heart disease, your internal medicine or primary care doctor is an excellent place to start. PrimaPatient in Ashburn VA combines internal medicine and primary care services. Through routine checkups and preventive care, our physician, Dr. Ojha, supports patients working to stay heart-healthy. Dr. Ojha also specializes in the diagnosis and management of chronic conditions. Our office can make referrals as needed for patients with a heart disease diagnosis. But in many cases, our office can help you manage your condition in-house with personalized care from a trusted doctor.