Heart disease stands as the leading cause of death in the United States and claims thousands of lives daily. In recognition of American Heart Month, OSU Medical Center Attending Physician and 2023 Castle Connolly Top Doctor Matt Wilkett, D.O. recently shared insight into preventative measures, warning signs of heart disease and the benefits of cardiac rehab in the event of a heart attack.
Prevent the Event
Cardiovascular disease is preventable, and evaluating yourself throughout your lifetime is crucial—this is Dr. Wilkett’s key takeaway in all things heart-health-related.
“If you develop high blood pressure or hypertension, treat it. If you develop high cholesterol, treat it. Maintain your weight, maintain your exercise and functioning capacity,” he advised. “What you do today will affect tomorrow.”
Early Recognition and Intervention
Early recognition and intervention significantly improve outcomes. Therefore, paying attention to signs like exertional symptoms – which often accompany heart disease – is paramount.
Dr. Wilkett detailed the relationship between exertion and blood flow and cardiac symptoms: “You’ll experience chest discomfort and tightness, like a squeezing feeling across your chest that emits to your back, shoulders, neck and arms.”
As you exert yourself more, these symptoms may worsen. As you relax, symptoms may improve as blood flow and oxygen levels change and demand decreases. “With a heart attack, however, your symptoms won’t improve because the artery is clotted off. With no blood flow, the muscle will begin to die, and you’ll experience more severe symptoms, like cold sweats and shortness of breath,” said Dr. Wilkett.
Primary and Secondary Prevention
For those with a history of heart disease, Dr. Wilkett differentiated between primary prevention and secondary prevention. Primary prevention maintains the young and healthy, while secondary prevention supports those who have already experienced a cardiac event.
Dr. Wilkett emphasized that, even after an event, you can still derive remarkable benefits from treating the risk factors. Taking control of cholesterol levels and blood pressure and adhering to prescribed medications – these simple solutions greatly reduce the risk of cardiac arrest.
“When I get a patient who feels like they’ve lost, I know I can give them hope. With the right treatment, they will their health improve,” said Dr. Wilkett.
Seeking Medical Attention
Emphasizing the importance of seeking medical attention, Dr. Wilkett urged individuals not to talk themselves out of getting checked. “A third of initial heart disease presentations result in death due to lack of awareness,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt to, at the very least, rule out the possibility.”
For individuals in their 40s with a family history of heart disease, Dr. Wilkett recommends consulting a cardiologist for evaluation. Procedures like calcium scores and carotid scans offer valuable insights into your cardiovascular health.
Five Steps toward a Healthy Heart
To maintain your heart health, Dr. Wilkett outlined five steps, with tobacco avoidance at the top. “No tobacco. I cannot express that enough,” he emphasized.
Additionally, he advised maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol treatment and keeping any sugar issues in check. Following these steps can incite positive changes in your cardiovascular health.
Take control of your heart health. Book an appointment with OSU Medical Center’s incredible Cardiovascular Medicine department today!