Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S. for many decades, 2020 being an exception due to COVID-19. Some 365,000 Americans die from heart disease annually – a rate of about 1,000 per day.
Making good lifestyle choices and seeking treatment early helps to prevent death by heart disease, says Dr. Haroon Chughtai, a cardiologist with Beloit Health System.
“In men, warning signs can be chest pain or shortness of breath with exertion,” Chughtai says. “But women may have a number of symptoms that include nonspecific chest discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea and an overall feeling of unwellness. Symptoms in men are fairly straightforward, but we need to be more diligent in assessing women.”
Assessing impending heart disease includes checking for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease.
“Usually, general practitioners treat rising blood pressure and high cholesterol levels with medications,” says Chughtai. “When those levels become too high or are not responding to the medications, then the patient is referred to me.”
Cardiovascular disease is not a single disease, but rather a spectrum of diseases involving the heart and vascular system. Some conditions involve the heart exclusively, but others involve our vast network of arteries and veins.
“For example, blockages in the legs also impact risk of heart disease,” Chughtai says. “Assessing overall cardiovascular health is the goal in patients referred to me, and there are various tools and tests available for this including stress tests, ultrasounds, CAT scans and angiograms.”
Recent advances in cardiovascular medications are proving helpful.
“The cholesterol medications now do an excellent job, and they’re not as likely to create problems with the liver and muscles,” Chughtai says.
“A healthy diet low in sugar and fat, consistent exercise, rest, not smoking and other good habits can go a long way toward keeping the heart and vascular system strong,” he says. “Knowing who in your close family has had heart disease is also essential to warding off trouble.” ❚