February means Valentine’s Day and sharing love with friends and family with the heart being the symbol of all that love.
But February also is American Heart Month, which showcases the need to be heart healthy every day of the year. The federally designated American Heart Association event, now in its 56th year, reinforces the importance of heart health and the need for more research, with a reminder to get families, friends and communities involved.
Holly Smith, communications manager for the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County, stated in an email, “Heart disease was the primary cause of death in 2018 for residents of Volusia County. The death rates for Volusia County were higher than Florida’s rates during each of the five years, 2014-2018. 2018 is the most recent data set we have.”
She added, “Heart disease can cause increased risk for heart attack, heart failure, sudden death, stroke and heart rhythm problems. It can be caused by structural defects, genetics, infection, inflammation and environmental factors. When considering those last two causes, heart disease is preventable in most cases by making healthy choices. Healthy choices include not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, treating high blood pressure, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and getting regular checkups.”
Dr. Sohit Khanna is a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon with UF Health Heart and Vascular Surgery at Halifax Health. His extensive biography includes interests in performing “beating heart” or off-pump heart bypass surgery with endoscopic vein harvesting, minimally invasive robotic cardiothoracic procedures and ascending aortic aneurysm repair.
Dr. Khanna stated that often people think of typical heart attack victims as the morbidly obese male who eats “Big Macs three times a day and doesn’t exercise.
“What gets lost in the translation is it is actually the number one killer of women,” he said. “Part of that is the caretaker in (women) is always in effect and (women) ignore their own symptoms. Women are less likely to seek medical attention because they are always mothers and sisters and daughters doing what they’ve done and do very well, but they tend to neglect themselves in the process. I think men are more apt to seek medical attention.”
Dr. Khanna emphasized things people can control, such as getting the daily amount of recommended exercise, making sure cholesterol is controlled and maintaining an appropriate weight with smoking being the biggest risk factor.
Genetic risk factors are the one thing that cannot be controlled, he stated.
He mentioned the new trend of vaping as not only causing potential heart problems but that vaping creates a whole separate set of lung and other issues due to chemicals ingested.
“Chest pain remains a prominent symptom (of a heart problem), but there is a whole slew of other symptoms that not only present as heart blockages but as heart attacks,” Dr. Khanna said.
He would much rather people come in and get checked for any concerns rather than ignore symptoms that could prove to be a life altering heart event.
“You are never too young for something to be brewing and it’s a matter of identifying it and correcting it before it becomes something really drastic where you have a big heart attack and you lose a lot of heart muscle and anything we do on our end becomes even more risky versus identifying it early on and getting the best possible outcome because you caught it early,” he said.
Dr. Khanna described how new technology is replacing the more invasive procedures of the past, such as heart catherizations, to more accurately diagnose potential heart problems. He said bypass surgery remains the gold standard for heart blockages, but with improvements there as well.
“Everything is progressive towards a less invasive strategy,” he said.
Dr. Khanna stressed education is key to being aware of what constitutes healthy heart habits and for people to be aware of and stay on top of potential problems.