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Health Check: Taking measures to prevent heart disease

WTAP News @ 10
Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 10:45 PM EST
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women. One in four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. It primarily affects more men than women. West Virginia currently leads the nation in heart disease.

According to Dr. Geoffrey Cousins, a cardiothoracic surgeon from WVU medicine Camden Clark Medical Center, heart disease is defined as Coronary Artery Disease. The blood vessels that supply blood to the heart narrow over time due to plaque build-up, cholesterol, and fatty deposits. When the vessels get blocked, that is what causes a heart attack.

“Nothing is typical anymore, especially here in West Virginia,” Dr. Cousins said. “The age that I used to see more people coming in was in their 60s or 70s, and now we’re seeing more people coming in their 40s and 50s, and there is a narrative reason for that. One being uncontrollable diabetes which is a big problem here in West Virginia and even more so in southern West Virginia, and it is that metabolic syndrome of uncontrollable diabetes that also leads to severe heart disease, blockages of the arteries, and valvular heart disease.”

Dr. Cousins said he has primarily seen more men get heart disease than women; however, men and women have different symptoms when they have a heart attack.

“Typically for a male, they talk about chest pain, oftentimes they’ll talk about it feels like an elephant is sitting on their chest crushing substernal midchest pain with radiation to the jaw particularly on the left side or radiation to the left arm although it could be either side,” Dr. Cousins said. “Women oftentimes will present a little more subtle instead of having overt chest pains they may have just some fullness, some discomfort or just feeling different than they have before more fatigue, maybe more short of breath, some also complain of indigestion.”

According to Dr. Cousins, there are four numbers you should know when it comes to your heart health. First, your blood pressure should be at 120/80. Second, your fasting blood sugar should be less than 100 mg/dl. Third, your BMI or body mass index is a number that measures body fat based on height and weight and should be between 25 and 30 kg/m2. Finally, your total cholesterol levels should ideally be less than 200 mg/dl.

There are also three fixed risk factors, things you can not change, such as your age, gender, and genetics. If you are high-risk for heart disease or it runs in your family, Dr. Cousins says there are some things that you might want to consider changing that will cut down your risk for heart disease.

“If you are high risk meaning you have early cardiac or heart disease in your family, both of your parents may have had it, or you are diabetic if you’re overweight if you have smoked tobacco if your cholesterol is high, all those things make you high risk and so you have to begin to manage all those things you need to meet with your cardiologist or primary care doctor, get a diet plan which you can meet with a dietician. More of a plant-based diet. Eat more white meat than red meat, and when you cook it, you want to bake it or grill it instead of frying it, and so all those things of things getting exercise and all doing all those things can cut down your risk even if you are high risk.”

Dr. Cousins operated on Marietta resident Tom Vannoy back in 2020. Tom was doing everything right but was at high risk due to his family’s history of heart disease.

“My father passed away from a heart attack at 71, my grandfather passed away at 65 from a heart attack on one side, and on the other side, my other grandfather died 56 from a heart attack, so I had it from both ends,” Vannoy said.

Tom ended up having a triple bypass and was running and riding his bike again within two months.

As far as lifestyle changes go, Dr. Cousins stressed taking a walk 10 to 15 minutes two to three times a day. He says it’s free and doesn’t require a gym membership. It is also something almost anyone can do just to get some physical activity.

“The heart is the main pump that supplies the blood throughout the entire body, and this is oxygenated blood that comes back from the lungs into the heart, and then it is pumped throughout the body, and so your heart affects everything and when your heart is not working well everything else will in time begin to fail as well if you don’t get the heart disease under control,” Dr. Cousins said.

Dr. Cousins said he was born in McDowell County, West Virginia, and said because of the ruralness of the area, it was challenging to get the proper medical care. He said the reason he’s back in West Virginia is to provide state-of-the-art medical care to the citizens of West Virginia and our neighbors in Ohio and other surrounding states.

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