By Phillip A. Koren, MD, FACC, FSCAI
Medical Director, Cooper Heart Institute
February is American Heart Month. While news headlines often highlight new or rare diseases, it is important to remember that heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the United States. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, about 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—that’s one in every four deaths. While this statistic can be daunting, the good news is that heart disease is often preventable with healthy lifestyle choices, and thanks to advances in treatment and technology, there are many new options available to patients with heart disease.
Here are some of the current trends in heart health:
High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol are still major contributors to heart disease for all types of people – young and old, overweight or thin, men or women. Good preventative care should include routine screenings for both. While diet and exercise is the first line of prevention, many new generations of medications are available. Researchers are also studying a new “polypill” (not yet available) which may successfully address high blood pressure and cholesterol in one medication.
Thanks to science and research, now there are new less-invasive options to treat heart valve issues. For many years, chest-opening surgery was the only option. Today, technology is evolving at a rapid pace. Many less-invasive options such as transcatheter aortic valve replacement, also known as TAVR, or the MitraClip procedure for select patients with leaky mitral valves are now available. These new procedures may be especially beneficial to older patients who may have multiple medical conditions who are at higher risk of surgical complications.
Heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should, can now often be managed with portable heart pumps. Known as ventricular assist devices (VADs), these battery-operated systems can be carried in a backpack. Once considered as only temporary bridge devices to keep patients alive while waiting for transplants, VADs are now also seen as permanent “destination therapy” for some patients.
Smoking continues to be a leading cancer and heart disease contributor. This is because smoking raises blood pressure and damages blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018, nearly 14 of every 100 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older (13.7%) smoked cigarettes. But the good news is this is down nearly 20% from 2015. Many people are turning to vaping as an alternate to smoking. Unfortunately, vaping is causing new respiratory issues, and because it hasn’t been studied at great length, the possible long-term dangers of vaping are still unknown. If you do smoke, the best advice is to stop. Support groups, smoking cessation classes, and medications are available to help those who want to quit.
Diet and exercise will always be important to maintain good heart health. While new diet fads come and go, a basic diet that is low in saturated fats and sodium, and high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fish will promote good heart health. In addition, don’t forget to move! Most Americans are too sedentary. Leading a sedentary lifestyle is becoming a significant public health issue and a contributor to poor heart health. Adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Be sure to check with your doctor before embarking on a new diet or exercise program. Your doctor can make recommendations specific to your current condition.