Love your heart

“We are blessed to have
this special organ, and I’m
glad we are celebrating it.”

“We are blessed to have this special organ, and I’m glad we are celebrating it.”

In the time of COVID-19, taking care of your heart is more important than ever. That was the reminder the World Heart Federation (WHF) shared on World Heart Day 2020. This year’s theme was “Use Heart” in all decisions, as your heart is the only organ you can hear and feel. In their statement for 2020, the WHF proclaimed that “cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death on the planet,” which has produced significant health challenges and dangers to heart patients and their families. We invited Dr. Lance Sullenberger, a board-certified cardiologist, to a recent HeartTalk episode for World Heart Day.

Since the pandemic began in March, heart patients and Americans with underlying cardiovascular problems have held strong concerns about their safety from possible COVID-19 infection. It has been widely reported that health conditions like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or heart failure place people at higher risk for infection and complications. In some cases, death. The WHF noted the double-edged threat for patients, increased fear of protecting their health mixed with hesitation to seek ongoing care for their hearts. Dr. Sullenberger recognized patients’ fears when seeking health care. “At Capital Cardiology Associates, we wanted to create the atmosphere where patients feel comfortable coming to the office to be seen for issues that have nothing to do with COVID like high blood pressure, cholesterol, or chest discomfort.”

Heart health during COVID

One theme we have used several times this year is that heart disease does not take time off during a pandemic. World Heart Day is one day in September (September 29) that unites people from all countries and backgrounds to take action in their lives and communities to fight cardiovascular disease. One of the challenges in creating awareness for heart health are the medical terms associated with heart disease. Hypertension, for example, is high blood pressure. It’s one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease. As Dr. Sullenberger noted, it is also known as the ‘silent killer’ because it usually has no warning signs or symptoms. “High blood pressure is one of the most difficult risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but also heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and blindness,” Dr. Sullenberger added. When the compression sleeve is wrapped around our bicep with each pump, your health care provider measures the force of the blood against the artery walls in your vascular system. Uncontrolled high blood pressure leads or hypertension, over time, causes your heart to work harder than normal to pump blood through your body. Cardiologists, like Dr. Sullenberger, advise patients that “you don’t want to wait until you have a symptom like heart failure or you have a stroke until you realize that losing weight, cutting sodium intake, or starting an exercise program to get your blood pressure under control.”

How alcohol affects blood glucose levels

Alcohol, beer, and wine can cause blood glucose levels to rise or fall, depending on how much you drink. The American Heart Association defines a moderate amount of alcohol consumption as one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Specifically, a drink is one 12-ounce regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits, such as bourbon, vodka, or gin. For many people, an occasional glass does not pose a problem. Dr. Sullenberger expanded on how a lifetime of drinking affects the blood sugar levels in normal adults. “If you exceed the moderate levels (guidelines) on a daily basis, then you increase your risk of developing hypertension, blood glucose abnormalities, and heart disease itself.” He also cautioned that saving or excessive consumption on the weekends, for example, presents additional risks. “We, as physicians, need to educate patients on what is the recommended level of alcohol on a daily basis. I try to counsel patients on what is acceptable. A glass, not the bottle. And a glass, not a chalice.”

Cholesterol and heart health

Cholesterol is associated with around 4 million deaths per year; this is one reason why your health care provider will ask you about your diet or check your levels at your office visits. Many Americans do not understand cholesterol levels, as more than 100 million adults in the United States have high levels. While most adults are unaware of what cholesterol is, we understand that the risk of heart attack and stroke is based on the build-up of blockage in our arteries. Dr. Sullenberger broke down the long-term role this waxy, fat-like substance plays in heart disease development. “We know that cholesterol levels can help be predictive of coronary artery disease, but the level of blood cholesterol only tells part of the story. The rest is how predisposed the patient is to those deposits forming in their vessels and how angry the cholesterol is. The actual particles in cholesterol can differ in patients. One has a more angry or atherogenic, and the other has a more benign panel. There are multiple ways to determine this; one is with coronary calcium scoring. We use a non-contrast CT scan at Capital Cardiology, to get a picture of the heart to see if there is plaque developing in the blood vessels. If there is plaque in the heart, we can determine that the body has developed plaque and the need treatment no matter the cholesterol level. On the other hand, if a person has no plaque with a high cholesterol level, they may genetically be predisposed to high cholesterol levels. Regardless, based on many studies of a wide variety of ethnicities and populations, we know that patients with no plaque in the arteries have a good outcome over the next five to eight years. That’s how we gauge whether patients need to be treated with medicines for cholesterol. Eating a healthy diet and keeping your body in shape will help keep your levels within range; that is the best investment you can make in your health.”

Your heart is a muscular organ

The heart is an organ which is made from muscle. One line from World Heart Day worth repeating is; your heart is the only organ you can hear and feel. The fact that it is the hardest working muscle in my body is an amazing concept. “I think about periodically is that the heart beats 100,000 times a day, every day,” Dr. Sullenberger reflected. “It’s amazing when you consider that those muscle cells that we are born with can do that. The heart’s normal pacemaker system senses the changes in body chemistry and can adapt the heart rate second by second. We look at heart monitors that show the heartbeat and pulse rate that adapts to the activity level, walking up the stairs, getting in a car, and being excited about something you hear. We are blessed to have this special organ, and I’m glad we are celebrating it.”

Written by Michael Arce, host of HeartTalk, presented by Capital Cardiology Associates.