Coronary heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of American men and women, responsible for more than 375,000 deaths each year. Heart disease strikes someone in the United States about once every 43 seconds. But the good news is that heart attacks are decreasing, and people who have an attack are more likely to survive.
We now understand the importance of adopting healthier lifestyles. Patients are now less likely to smoke and have succeeded in lowering their blood pressure and cholesterol. Less widely known is research showing that exposure to secondhand smoke creates a cardiovascular risk nearly as great as that of active smoking. Several studies have documented dramatic declines in heart attacks following passage of laws restricting smoking in public places.
The American diet has been changing gradually over the past four decades. The early emphasis on strictly eating a low-fat diet has been modified, now focusing on replacing unhealthy saturated and trans-fats with healthy ones (monounsaturated oils, nuts, fatty fish). Through the Mediterranean diet and similar plans, it’s possible to pursue pleasurable eating and good health at the same time.
Americans still consume too many calories and too much sugar, much of it in soft drinks. Obesity, particularly among children and adolescents, continues at an epidemic pace. Obesity leads to diabetes, and diabetes increases the risk of heart disease. Considering these facts, the progress found is heartening, although the battle is far from over.
The American Heart Association’s guidelines for regular exercise are also well known. Those who follow the guidelines have a way of controlling their weight, blood pressure and cholesterol through activities that strengthen the heart and blood vessels.
In addition to making lifestyle changes, patients are increasingly likely to use prescribed medications such as aspirin, anticoagulants and blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications.
Having proper facilities, equipment and personnel is crucial, of course. But so is timing. Reducing the “door-to-balloon” time has been a priority of hospitals; this is the time that elapses from the moment the patient enters the door of the emergency room until life-saving treatment is administered.
The battle against heart disease is being waged on many fronts. Prevention — through lifestyle changes and medication — is working. And when heart attacks occur, doctors are prepared to take definitive action.
Dr. Khalid R. Chaudry is a cardiologist/internal medicine physician with Baptist Cardiology of Corbin. He practices at Baptist Health Corbin.