This week we are wrapping up our American Heart Month series of interviews with our York Hospital experts by sharing thoughts from Dr. Jonathan Bridges, interventional cardiologist with a specialty in vascular care (concerning the delivery of blood from the heart out to all the organs), as well as key insights from York Hospital cardiologist Dr. Krista Michelin.

Earlier in the month, we enjoyed conversations with nutrition and exercise experts, learning that diet and exercise are heart health risk factors over which each of us has a significant amount of control. Knowing that there are other risk factors as well, we asked our cardiologists for some information.

Dr. Bridges (JB), would you be able to provide a little background on some of the risk factors, aside from diet and activity level, that contribute to cardiovascular disease?
JB:  The overlap between heart disease and vascular disease is incredible. Atherosclerosis (a buildup of plaque—cholesterol, fats and calcium—also called hardening of the arteries) is the same process whether it is in the small arteries or larger veins. This means that major risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol, are similar. In vascular care patients, reduced blood supply can result in loss of oxygen to the feet and toes, leading to wounds to the lower extremities that won’t heal, in particular for smokers or diabetics. This often results in a referral to the Wound Center for further vascular testing and wound healing treatment.

What do you recommend to vascular care patients to reduce these risks?
JB:  General preventive measures for vascular care are the same as the heart healthy preventive measures that Nutritionist Megan Patten and Exercise Physiologist Anne Marie Prewitt detailed, such as choice of diet and exercise. If you smoke, try to quit. If you have diabetes, work on eating healthy foods and exercising enough to manage blood sugar levels (and help keep your weight down). Vascular screening is a preventive and diagnostic tool where ultrasound technology records images and takes measurements to determine whether blood vessels are healthy or show signs of disease. Screening can help with early diagnosis and lead to subsequent treatment to avoid dangerous, life-threatening problems. I would encourage more patients to be screened.

We posed a similar question about risk factors to Dr. Michelin (KM), asking her: What do you recommend to a patient trying to minimize their risk for heart disease, especially if there are factors such as family history that cannot be changed?
KM:  One of the most exciting things in the field of cardiology in recent years is that we now have a much greater understanding of prevention and treatment options for heart disease. Technology has improved. More research has led to evidence-based treatments with rapid improvements and better outcomes. Although heart disease is multi factorial, with many risks and many contributing factors, it’s important to acknowledge that many risk factors ARE modifiable. People now have the luxury of living longer because we are better able to actually reduce the illness, which is huge.

That does sound huge. Everyone has talked about risk factors that are modifiable. Why is that so important to recognize?
KM:  It’s important because knowledge is power, and for a patient who is dealing with a medical situation that seems very scary, feeling like maybe they can actually gain some control over the situation is extremely empowering. I really do think there are four basic steps everyone can take to improve their heart health. They are:

1. Realize you DO have power to make positive changes to become heart healthy, as we’ve been discussing all month.

2. Schedule a preventive care visit to discover and discuss your particular risk factors for heart disease with your primary care provider.

3. Find out what you can do to lessen those risks. Today we know that there are many choices, including diet and exercise and testing to determine the issues that can be resolved before they turn into serious problems. There is often a lot of flexibility with treatment or medication options that can help manage blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other factors that can contribute to heart disease.

4. Always remember that although these chronic conditions can be serious, we are able to effectively manage the risks much more today than 50 or 60 years ago when American Heart Month was first recognized. The American Heart Association has great patient-focused materials about managing risk factors on their website.

Thank you, Dr. Michelin and Dr. Bridges, for filling in more of the blanks when considering what we can do on our own, or with guidance from our primary care provider, to become more heart healthy. We encourage all readers to download the AHA Life’s Essential 8 fact sheet here as a quick reference to help you on your journey to better heart health.

Thank you to everyone at York Hospital who helped us shine a spotlight on heart health this month, from all the caregivers who wore red on February 3 to our clinical experts who provided a wide range of valuable information throughout the month. If you haven’t seen the previous articles yet, you can read them here: February 3;  February 12; February 20. For additional information, please contact Community Relations at (207) 351-2385 or [email protected]