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Heart Disease Remains Top Killer, But Many Cases Are Preventable

Medical workers perform a procedure on a patient at the catheterization labor...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: Medical workers perform a procedure on a patient at the catheterization laboratory at UC San Diego’s Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center, Feb. 12, 2019.

Every day at the catheterization laboratory at UC San Diego’s Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center, a couple dozen patients undergo life-saving procedures to treat their heart disease. Meanwhile, next door at the UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center, an average of 100 others are hospitalized for heart-related conditions, said Dr. Lori Daniels, director of the Coronary Care Unit and an American Heart Association volunteer.

The patient load is representative of the widespread disease that affects people of all ages and remains the number one killer in San Diego County and across the U.S.

“Heart disease can present in so many different ways,” Daniels said. “Heart attacks account for a large proportion of what we see here, but we also see heart rhythm and valve disturbances, heart failure, and problems with the heart muscle.”

According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. live with heart disease or high blood pressure, and every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a heart attack.

Daniels said most heart disease cases are preventable by living a healthy lifestyle and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol numbers in check.



Healthy Heart Tips

Walk at least 20 minutes a day to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes and seeds.

Don't smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.

Know your family history of heart disease.

Watch your weight and keep your blood sugar in check.

Schedule regular wellness exams with your doctor.

Learn stress management techniques.

Know the warning signs of a heart attack or stroke.

Source: American Heart Association

“We like them to know their blood pressure and make sure it’s not elevated,” Daniels said. “We want them to know their cholesterol and make sure that they don’t have high cholesterol. Also, it’s important to take a look at their cardiovascular risk factors in general.

Risk factors of heart disease include smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, uncontrolled diabetes, and a family history of cardiovascular problems, Daniels said.

She said having a healthy heart begins with a screening.

“A screening for heart disease can be something as simple as a finger stick that can then measure your blood cholesterol,” Daniels explained. “At the same time they can measure your blood pressure and do a quick questionnaire with you to see if you’re at risk for heart disease."

Daniels said heart disease treatment and heart attack survival rates have improved in recent years.

“But we have a long way to go,” she added. “Heart disease is a lifelong process.”

On Valentine’s Day, free blood pressure screenings will be offered at 300 locations across San Diego County as part of “Love Your Heart Day,” an annual event organized by county leaders.

Residents can call 2-1-1 or go to loveyourheartsd.org for the nearest screening location. Locations include fire stations, libraries, community centers, health clinics, houses of worship, businesses and county facilities, among others.

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