University physicians look to raise awareness about heart disease


The Appalachian Online

Chamian Cruz

February is Heart Disease Awareness Month, aimed at educating people on how to reduce the risk of getting heart disease as well as remembering those who have fought and are currently fighting the disease.

Heart disease affects both men and women and is most common among older adults. Although heart disease is rare among young adults, it is still possible. Heart health should be taken into consideration early in life.

Every year, about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Data shows heart disease is most frequent among those living in the south and African American, Hispanic and white ethnicities, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart and can lead to atherosclerosis, chest pain, blood clots, heart failure, arrhythmia, heart attack or other heart issues, according to the CDC.

Appalachian State University physician Dr. Martha McKay said smoking and eating foods with synthetic or processed oils in them can create plaque buildup in arteries that lead to heart disease. She recommended restraining from smoking and eating foods with natural oils, such as fish oil and avocado oil.

High cholesterol levels caused by foods high in trans fat and saturated fat lead to a buildup of plaque when cholesterol is combined with fat, calcium and other substances in the blood.

Sophomore management major Ryan Chet said he remembers the frightening day his dad had a heart attack.

“The day of the heart attack he just felt really numb, he thought he was having an allergic reaction and went to his allergist, they told him to go to the ER and they said he had a heart attack,” Chet said.

The heart attack was caused by lifestyle choices, such as eating red meat once a week and his genes, because there is a family history of heart disease, Chet said.

“I have a pretty good chance of heart disease, but I lead a slightly healthier lifestyle than [my family,]” Chet said. “I am a vegetarian and I exercise at least an hour a day.”

Since heart disease is hereditary, it is important to be aware of risk factors, current heart health issues and family history of heart disease.

Risk factors include smoking, high blood cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, diabetes or prediabetes, overweight or obesity, metabolic syndrome, birth control pills, lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Risk factors may increase the risk of getting heart disease, especially if heart disease already exists.

“There are some other illnesses that make heart disease more likely such as diabetes and heart pressure, but the things that cause diabetes and heart pressure are lack of exercise and healthy foods rather than just the high blood pressure or diabetes,” McKay said.

More research needs to be done to determine how stress contributes to heart disease, but it has been proven that stress affects a person’s behaviors, which may lead to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

“Stress can make people exercise less, eat more, sleep less and raise their blood pressure, but if stress can be a reason to exercise more or meet up with more people, then stress can reduce the risk of heart disease,” McKay said. “It depends on what kinds of decisions people make with their stress.”

Diagnosis is usually determined by checking blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and by checking on the family history of heart disease.

Tests to diagnose heart disease include an electrocardiogram, chest x-ray, exercise stress test and others, according to the CDC.

For college students, diagnosis may simply include a visit with a family doctor and the doctor asking about exercise, breathing and shortness of breath after long exercise, McKay said.

“Often, treatment is very simple such as taking an aspirin once a day or taking some fish oil once a day and visiting a physical therapy department to do some more exercise with a therapist around,” McKay said. “I would say diet and exercise are the key points.”

Most of the time, heart disease is preventable by making lifestyle changes, but if heart disease is a family issue then taking the proper preventative measures is important.

“Some of the good things in life are also good for your heart, like whole wheat bread, fruit, home made foods, taking a walk with a friend or quitting smoking,” McKay said. “These things feel great now and are huge boosts to heart health.”

Story: Chamian Cruz, Intern News Reporter