Have a Heart

February is American Heart Month—a great time to read up on the number-one cause of death worldwide

What Is It?

“Coronary heart disease (CAD) is the buildup of plaque in the lining of an artery. When the plaque becomes irritated and inflamed, it breaks open and triggers a cascade of inflammatory reaction from the body and causes the artery to be completely blocked,” says Dr. Jane Pearson, doctor of preventive cardiology at Dean and St. Mary’s Cardiac Center.

We have six miles of arteries and if blood cannot flow through the artery the muscle can die. It can happen all over the body with adverse effects—for example, if blood flow is prevented to the brain, it can cause a stroke.

Risk Factors

Heart disease is very common because it’s largely caused by “modifiable” lifestyle choices: diet, exercising and smoking, says Dr. Benjamin Kleiber, cardiologist with Dean Health System.

“Non-modifiable” factors that increase risk include age, sex and genetic predisposition, say both experts. Men are at risk if a first-degree relative had a heart attack before age 45; for women it’s age 55.

“Ninety to 95 percent of patients who’ve had a heart attack have at least one modifiable risk factor. It’s important to treat risk factors before a heart attack happens,” says Pearson.

Men Vs. Women

Heart disease risk factors are the same for men and women; however, physical symptoms and post heart attack outcomes vary, say the experts. Pearson says women may not experience the classic chest pain of a heart attack and might delay medical treatment, which worsens prognosis. It also appears that women’s arterial blockages are less severe in the larger arteries of the heart but instead they have abnormalities in tiny capillaries that are not well visualized with conventional testing—but is just as serious, says Kleiber. Women also die more often from heart disease than men for the above reasons, as well as not being as vigilant about post-operative care.

Prevention Advice

To identify your risk for CAD, assess your risk factors: are you obese, a smoker, physically inactive, have diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension or a family history of heart disease? If so, you’re at risk. If you’re uncertain, talk to a doctor. Simple tests like blood pressure, BMI and cholesterol can determine your risk. If you have symptoms such as chest discomfort or shortness of breath you may require stress testing, says Kleiber.

It's a Date

National Wear Red Day
February 5
Raise awareness of heart disease by sporting red—a dress, top, socks—even a tie! The Capitol dome and area businesses will also be illuminated red on February 4th.

St. Mary’s Heart Fair
Off the Square
February 11
5–8 p.m.
700 S. Park St.
Over 40 health care  professionals will staff educational booths. Get a free screening for cholesterol, blood pressure, BMI, peripheral arterial disease and carotid disease. Also check out healthy cooking demos.

Madison Heart Ball
February 13
6 p.m.
Nakoma Golf Club, 4145 Country Club Rd.
American Heart Association event raises funds and awareness of childhood obesity.
Go to americanheart.org and type in your zip code to find Madison events.

Shayna Miller is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

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