PENSACOLA, Fla. – February is American Heart Health Month, a time dedicated to educating Americans about the risks and benefits associated with the health of such a vital organ.
Heart disease remains the nation's number one cause of death for both men and women. Every year heart disease takes the lives of about 715,000 Americans or approximately one out of every four deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control.
“Any kind of abnormalities of the heart can fall under heart disease,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Anh Nguyen, leading petty officer, Cardiology Clinic, Naval Hospital Pensacola. “The main areas we look at are the blood vessels of the heart, also known as the coronary arteries.”
One of the most common symptoms associated with heart disease is chest pain. A person can develop chest pains for various reasons such as a muscle skeletal disorder, muscle strain, muscle pull, acid reflux, heartburn, indigestion or a problem with the heart. It is often difficult to differentiate whether chest pain is associated with the heart or a different part of the body.
“We see patients of all ages and evaluate their chest pain to determine if it is a heart pain or non-cardiac pain, meaning not coming from the heart,” said Cmdr. Jerry Chandler, cardiologist at NHP.
If a heart disease is discovered during an evaluation, one of the most common types is coronary artery disease. It is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of arteries, which in turn restricts blood flow to the heart causing discomfort, chest pain and eventually heart failure.
“Coronary artery disease is when the fatty deposits in the plaque line the walls of the arteries that give the heart its blood supply,” said Nguyen. “Over time, as those arteries become significantly blocked, they can cause a heart attack.”
The coronary arteries supply the heart with the blood it needs to operate properly. When the heart cannot get the blood flow it needs, it stops. To help prevent this from happening, Chandler and Nguyen give two primary pieces of advice.
“Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!,” said Chandler. “Exercise is really important. You should exercise as many days of the week as possible for 30 to 45 minutes. Running is great if you can, but if you have some orthopedic problems or have knee pain and can’t run, you can get an effective cardiovascular workout while walking briskly.”
“Don’t Smoke,” added Nguyen. “Smoking may not affect you in the immediate term, but 10, 15, 20 years down the line, when you turn 50 or 60, it takes a toll. The longer your heart is healthy, the longer you can potentially live.”
Even with leading a completely heart healthy lifestyle, a person’s arteries will still get some clogging.
“As we go through life, our arteries, just through the natural process of aging, are going to get a little bit clogged with fatty deposits of plaque,” said Nguyen. “That’s why the [goal] is prevention. By having a healthy diet, exercise and controlling your blood pressure, our hope is that [arteries] don’t become so blocked that we have to do something.”
Naval Hospital Pensacola supports a heart healthy lifestyle with a variety of options for beneficiaries including smoking cessation classes, lifestyle coaches and dietitians. If beneficiaries would like more information, they can contact their Medical Home Port Team to discuss options.