Heart disease is something to be taken seriously. People may be able to survive clogged arteries, heart attacks, arrhythmias, and other heart issues through medication and surgery. But preventing heart disease in the first place is preferable. Anthony Morise, MD, cardiologist with the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, gives some advice about preventing or overcoming heart disease.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is any disease that affects the heart. Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease. Coronary arteries become blocked making it difficult for oxygen and nutrients carried in the blood to get to the heart muscle. This condition can result in a myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack. Other heart diseases include heart rhythm disorders, heart failure, and valve disorders.

What are some of the risk factors for heart disease?

Some factors, such as age, sex, or family history, can put a person at higher risk for coronary heart disease. These factors cannot be modified, but a number of others can be. These include cholesterol level, blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and being overweight and sedentary. These usually begin with changing an established lifestyle, but medication may be involved if established goals cannot be met.

What if you know you are high-risk, but you don’t yet show any symptoms?

It’s important to see your primary care doctor for regular physical exams to keep track of your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other conditions that signal changes that can be a threat to your heart health. Heart patients are getting younger – a growing number of people in their 30s are showing up with a first coronary event. They often have a number of coronary risk factors, such as diabetes, smoking, or a strong family history of early coronary disease. Diabetes is a particularly bad condition to have. We emphasize the need for control of this problem, and a diabetologist is often the best person to help them get that control. Screening high-risk patients with diagnostic testing is commonly done.

So you’ve had a heart attack, what can you do to prevent a second one from happening?

People often survive a first heart attack, but their risk for a second one increases. Some significant lifestyle changes will need to occur to reduce that likelihood, and the patient must be committed to making these changes. Stopping smoking, engaging in some physical activity, attaining ideal body weight, and keeping blood sugar and cholesterol levels controlled are very important. Some of these factors become easier to control just by quitting smoking and becoming more active. In addition, dietary adjustments are usually required.