Approximately 39 percent of Americans mistakenly believe their heart health is ideal, says the latest American Heart Association survey. In reality, less than one percent of Americans have optimal heart health, says AHA CEO Nancy Brown. We live in an age where cardiovascular disease risk factors are increasingly well known, but doctors say you don’t always have to look like “a heart attack waiting to happen” to, in fact, be one.
For instance, one man in his sixties seemed the pinnacle of health and fitness. He passed his coronary stress test with flying colors. However, after a closer look with chest x-rays, it was discovered that he had four coronary arteries blocked at 90 percent or more, which required immediate surgery to prevent a heart attack.
Similarly, a 54-year-old man was thin, active, on a sensible diet, and taking statins to lower his hereditary cholesterol from 300 to 125, yet began having chest pains during a morning jog. He later found that he had so much plaque in his arteries that he needed a quintuple bypass operation. It turns out this particular man’s family history was full of heart disease. Both his mother’s parents died of heart attacks. His mother and brother both had heart surgery as well.
Riverside health is sometimes about more than just dieting. You can have oatmeal for breakfast, fruit and salads for lunch, and boneless, skinless chicken breast for dinner. You can avoid tobacco like the plague. You can be a healthy weight, not have diabetes, and exercise, but still have obstacles like genetic heart disease working against you.
So are you doomed if you have a family history of heart disease? Nutrition and health expert Dr. Dean Ornish doesn’t believe so. “It doesn’t mean you need ever to die from it,” he told CNN. “It just means you need to make bigger changes in your life than someone else who doesn’t have those kinds of genes.” For some people, a plant-based diet may be preferable, he says.
One of the tests you should get if you have a history of heart disease is the Coronary Calcium Scan, which can show if you have plaque building up in the arteries leading to your heart. Healthy scans are very low – around 5 for someone in their fifties. A score of over 100 indicates an elevated risk of heart attack. Another test is an Ultrasound of the carotid artery, which will show if there is plaque build-up in the main blood vessel leading to the brain, which will indicate whether a stroke or heart attack is likely. Both tests are covered by insurance, cost less than $100, and are available at most area hospitals.
If you are concerned about genetic heart issues, meet with one of our Riverside health professionals for nutrition and exercise counseling. We’d love to help!
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