Dr. Price’s Medical Note of the Month-Feb. 2009, American Heart Month

Today’s number is 2.

February is the second month of the year, and there are two important things to remember: your loved ones and the organ that you love with!

February is National Heart Month. Cardiovascular disease is still the largest killer of all, beating cancers and diabetes. Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, comes in many varieties: angina (chest pain syndrome), myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) and congestive heart failure.

Many habits that we may not realize affect our heart like smoking, sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating. Take heed and make sure you aren’t at risk.

Below is a list of things to make sure your heart beats strong for years to come:

  • Get your annual check-up. Everyone should start at 21 so that you’re in the habit of have a yearly exam.
  • Check your blood pressure. Recently some new standards came out about what abnormal blood pressures are. A normal blood pressure is anything around 120 on the top (called the systolic pressure) and 80 on the bottom (or diastolic pressure), usually seen written as 120/80. A pressure higher than this on a regular basis is now considered “pre-hypertension.” Hopefully, you and your doctor can talk and work on conservative things to prevent higher levels and having to take medicines.
  • Check your cholesterol. Especially if you have family members with heart disease. The standards say men should start at 35 and women at 40. I usually encourage my patients that are overweight or if their blood pressure is borderline to start checking earlier so we can work on lifestyle changes that may prevent having to take medicine.
  • An aspirin a day keeps the doctor away. We’re encouraged to tell our male patients starting at 40 and female patients at 50 to start taking a low-dose aspirin (81 mg) daily to prevent heart disease. This is especially important for post-menopausal women, as heart disease increases after menopause. It doesn’t matter which aspirin you take. If you have a history of stomach ulcers or irritation, there are coated aspirins available that are better tolerated.
  • Watch your sugar. Diabetes is a huge contributor to heart disease. If you have a family history of “sugar,” have yours checked at your doctor. A normal fasting blood sugar (eight hours since your last meal) is usually between 90-120. If yours is consistently above 120, you may need further testing to make sure you’re not at risk of developing diabetes later on.
  • Stop smoking. This is by far the biggest thing that leads to heart disease. Please make 2009 your year to quit, even if you fail. I’ve read the magic number of times to try before successfully quitting is seven, so keep trying. I like to tell my patients about QuitlineNC.com, a site that focuses on behavioral and mind tricks to stop smoking. Also, I always find that people are motivated by money. If you smoke a pack a day, imagine how much money you’d save if you stopped – about $1,500.
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