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Published on February 15, 2019

Ticker Talk for a Healthy Heart

Ticker Talk for a Healthy HeartIn this Fox 8 House Call series, Cone Health experts explore heart health, including:

Ticker Talk for a Healthy Heart: Reduce Your Risks — Steps for a Healthy Heart

One of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy heart is to not smoke. More than 150,000 U.S. adults 35 years old and older die from smoking-related cardiovascular disease, and smokers have a significantly increased risk of having a heart attack. One cigarette is too many. The benefits of quitting occur after just a few months. We do not have a lot of data regarding e-cigarettes or vaping. But one recent study looked at data on individuals with a history of using e-cigarettes and found that compared to nonsmokers, e-cigarette users had a 25% higher risk of having a heart attack. There are multiple ways to quit smoking. Some medications can be helpful and you should discuss these with your primary care provider.

Maintaining a good diet and healthy weight, along with a regular exercise plan, are also key steps to a healthy heart. A healthy diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, and is high in fiber with foods like nuts, whole grains and seeds, as well as foods with a low glycemic index. Also, you should include good fats like omega-3s. Saturated fats, processed meats, refined grains and sugary drinks should be avoided as well as limiting your salt. A healthy weight is considered to be a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or less. Exercise is important and reduces your risk of heart disease and dying from heart disease. The goal is 30 minutes of moderate activity 5-7 days a week. If you are unable to do this level of activity, doing more than you are used to doing is better than nothing at all.

Managing your risk factors for heart disease is also very important. The optimal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. If you are being treated for high blood pressure, your goal is at least less than 130/80. Cholesterol management is based upon your risk for heart disease. Generally speaking, the “bad cholesterol,” or LDL, should be below 160. But if you are at moderate risk for heart disease, you may need a medication for cholesterol, called a statin. Lastly, if you have diabetes, strict control is important. The general goal for people with diabetes is an A1c of less than 7. This may be stricter for some people, like type 1 diabetics, or less strict for patients at risk for low blood sugar from treatment, like the elderly.

Scott Weaver, PAC, is a certified physician assistant with Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare at Church Street. He received his Bachelor of Science in Clinical Laboratory Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his master's degree in physician assistant studies from East Carolina University. He was also in the U.S. Army Reserves from 2000-2008. Weaver has practiced in cardiology since 2001.

Ticker Talk for a Healthy Heart: Important Numbers to Know for a Healthy Heart

Two of the best things you can do to make sure your heart is healthy are maintain a good diet and exercise regularly. Set a goal to exercise for 150 minutes each week, and eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Weight and body mass index, or BMI, are major contributors to heart health, and you should aim for a BMI of 25 or less. Blood pressure is another contributor. The top number (systolic level) should be less than 130, and ideally 120. The bottom number (diastolic level) should be less than 80.

High cholesterol significantly increases an individual’s risk of heart disease, especially if it goes untreated. Generally speaking, your LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” should be below 160. From a prevention standpoint, the most important message is to focus on a healthy lifestyle and modifying risk factors. It’s important to discuss your personal and family health history, as well as other risk factors for heart disease, with your health care provider, as treatment of your cholesterol may require medications and taking preventative action can be potentially lifesaving.

The hemoglobin A1c test shows your average level of blood sugar over the past 2 to 3 months. Individuals with an A1c of 6.5 or greater are considered diabetic, while those with an A1c of 5.7-6.4 are considered prediabetic. So, ideally, your HbA1c should be less than 5.7 and your fasting glucose level should be less than 100.

Signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pressure or tightness.
  • A burning feeling in your chest.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Discomfort that moves to your jaw, shoulder, neck and arms.
  • Nausea – light-headedness, dizziness or passing out.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to call 9-1-1 right away. Quick treatment can help limit the damage being done to the heart and increase the chance of a full recovery.

Christopher Berge is an advanced nurse practitioner with Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare at Burlington. Berge received his Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the College of New Jersey. After working as a cardiac cath lab and cardiac critical care nurse, Berge obtained his Master of Science in Nursing degree and Adult Nurse Practitioner certification from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2002.

Ticker Talk for a Healthy Heart: Have an Irregular Heart Rhythm? Here Are Ways We Get Your Heart Back on Track

There are many different types of an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Your cardiologist must first diagnose what the irregular rhythm is, usually through an electrocardiogram (EKG) or by having you wear a heart monitor for 2 to 30 days. There are also implantable monitors that last 3 years.

Many things can cause an irregular heartbeat, and each person is different. Some people are prone to an irregular heartbeat based on the development of their heart. Others are caused by health and environmental factors, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib), a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other complications. Patients who have had a heart attack or heart failure often develop scarring in their ventricles that can lead to arrhythmia.

If you have an irregular heartbeat, your cardiac electrophysiologist (heart rhythm specialist) will prescribe either medication or a procedure. For example, if you have AFib, your doctor may prescribe blood-thinning medications to help keep blood clots from forming. If your doctor can locate where the abnormal heart rhythm is, they can perform a procedure called ablation. During the procedure, your doctor will cauterize tissue over the affected part of the heart, breaking the arrhythmia and preventing it from happening again.

Will Camnitz, MD, is a cardiologist at Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare. He completed medical school at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. Camnitz completed his internal medicine residency and his cardiovascular disease fellowship at the University of Virginia Health System.

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