Cardiologist Speaks on the Importance of Heart Health
January 27, 2023
The impact of heart disease cannot be ignored. According to Dr. Khalid Chaudhry, Medical Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Summerlin Hospital, one in three American adults will have some form of cardiovascular disease in their life and two in three men and one in two women will experience a cardiovascular condition.
With such pervasiveness, experts in the field have risen to the demand with advancements in heart disease detection and treatment. Dr. Chaudhry shares important information about cardiovascular disease, diagnostic measures and effective treatment options.
What Is Considered Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular disease encompasses a number of conditions, such as coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart rhythm disorders, valve issues and pericardial disease.
Of course, many people are most familiar with a heart attack. Almost everyone knows a person who has experienced one. It’s important to know there are different intensities of heart attack, formally known as a myocardial infarction. Some people don’t even realize they have experienced one because the symptoms are so mild. Others suffer major heart attacks requiring immediate attention.
Expanding Upon Coronary Artery Disease
Heart attack falls under coronary artery disease. “We all have some degree of coronary artery disease,” says Dr. Chaudhry.
“That's the lifestyle we live. That's the diet we eat. If the heart is like a house, it has its plumbing and electrical wiring. Coronary arteries are like the plumbing of the heart,” he says. “With time and other factors, you can get plaque buildup in the walls of these arteries that slowly causes narrowing. Once you get a narrow pipe, the flow is not going to be normal.”
Two types of coronary artery disease exist: stable and unstable. With the stable version, an individual slowly develops a blockage over time. There may be anywhere from a 20-50% narrowing of the arteries that a person — often unknowingly — lives with.
Unstable acute coronary artery disease is essentially a heart attack. “That same plaque can become unstable and break. As soon as it breaks, it comes into contact with the blood. Within a matter of seconds, you get a blood clot and blood flow stops immediately. That is a heart attack,” explains Dr. Chaudhry.
The unknown might be scary for some people. Could you really have a dangerous blockage and not know it? That’s why it’s so important to have regular physicals with your primary care physician and know your family history as it relates to cardiovascular disease.
If you have heightened risk factors, your physician may order an electrocardiogram (EKG), which looks at the electrical system of the heart. If the EKG is abnormal or the EKG is on the borderline of normal but you have risk factors for coronary artery disease, the physician may elect to send you for further testing.
“For example, they're examining you. They hear a heart murmur and think there may be something going on with the heart valve,” says Dr. Chaudhry. “The next step would be to do an ultrasound of the heart, called an echocardiogram. Based on that scan, symptoms and risk factors, the physician may decide to send you for a stress test.”
If coronary artery disease is stable, the first line of defense is to treat it with medications alongside lifestyle adjustments. If these interventions are not effective in controlling the progression of the disease, the next step is to perform an angiogram to determine extent and severity.
Subsequent treatment options are to either fix the blockage with a balloon angioplasty and a stent or perform bypass surgery. Indeed, the best option to “fix” coronary artery disease is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
While the genetic component cannot be eradicated, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. The biggest culprits are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking. People who live a sedentary lifestyle and consume high-sugar, high-fat, processed foods are also more at risk.
“Anyone can work on quitting smoking. You can exercise and lose weight. You can treat your high blood pressure and diabetes. If someone has any of those risk factors, that conversation needs to happen with their physician. Should they be screened for coronary disease or heart disease? That should be the starting point,” urges Dr. Chaudhry.
To ensure you’re taking the most proactive steps possible to stave off heart disease, Dr. Chaudhry encourages regular checkups and lab work so you can actually “know your numbers.”
“Most primary care physicians will do a routine blood test at least once a year. If everything comes back normal for that person's risk factors and age, repeating the blood test once a year is fine,” says Dr. Chaudhry. “But, let's say cholesterol is off. Generally, what we do is institute some kind of a treatment plan, either diet or weight loss, exercise or some form of medication.”
Dr. Chaudhry’s biggest takeaway is for people to understand they can take control over their cardiovascular health, no matter their age or current condition.
“If you have risk factors, if you have symptoms, sit down with your physician, bring up these issues no matter how ‘typical’ your symptoms are. Listen to your body and take these symptoms seriously.”