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How do you help your patients avoid cardiovascular disease?

To avoid heart problems we encourage our patients to:

1. Stop smoking tobacco
For heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking can be considered safe. Certain chemicals in tobacco can damage blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in the blood which can increase blood pressure, thus forcing the heart to work harder to supply the needed oxygen to the cells. All this can ultimately lead to a heart attack. Women who smoke and take birth control pills are at even greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. This risk increases with age, especially in women older than 35.

2. Exercise for 30 minutes at least 4 days a week
Getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. Exercise also helps to lower blood pressure, blood sugar (in diabetics), decreases bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol and aids in weight control while reducing everyday stress. All these factors are important in maintaining a healthy heart.

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Eating a diet that is low in fat, cholesterol and salt and rich in vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products can help protect the heart. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish like Salmon and Mackerel (with their omega-3-fatt acids) also can reduce your risk of heart disease. Avoiding saturated and trans fats (also called “”partially hydrogenated””), helps decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. Following a heart-healthy diet also means drinking alcohol only in moderation — no more than two drinks a day for men, and one a day for women. If you drink alcohol, please consider drinking red wine, as it has additional protective effects on the health of blood vessels and ultimately the heart.

4. Maintain a healthy weight
Excess weight can lead to conditions that can cause heart disease, namely high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Also, with every additional pound of body fat that you carry, the heart has to work harder. The good news is that you do not have to lose an enormous amount of weight to benefit, as even a small weight loss of just 10 percent can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and reduce the risk of diabetes, which in turn is beneficial for the heart.

5. Minimize gum disease
Keeping teeth and gums clean seems to have a significant impact on heart health as well. With brushing and flossing regularly, as well as with having regular dental exams and cleanings, you may be able to cut your risk for heart disease in half (when compared to people who do not brush or floss). Certain bacteria that collect under the gum line can cross into the blood and may damage blood vessels, thus increasing the chance of heart attack and stroke. The evidence is not quite conclusive yet, but according to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with gum disease may be almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease. And one study found that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (gingivitis), cavities, and missing teeth, were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.

6. Get regular health screenings
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar levels and gum disease can damage the heart and blood vessels. Therefore regular screening can show us whether we need to take action.
Blood pressure. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every year. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters mercury.

Diabetes screening. Ideally your doctor may recommend first testing you for diabetes sometime between ages 30 and 40, and then retesting every few years, depending on your other risk factors like a family history of diabetes.

Cholesterol levels. Adults should have their cholesterol levels measured at least once every five years, more frequently if there is a history of heart disease in the family.

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